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Kathy Marshack News

Caring for Someone with Autism? Make Time for Yourself

Friday, September 05, 2014


Out of Mind Out of Sight Parenting with a Partner with Asperger ASDHow do you blunt the stress of parenting a child with disabilities? Do you feel like you can’t take time for yourself? A recent NY Times article, When the Caregivers Need Healing, reminds us all that it’s vital for caregivers to make time for themselves so they have enough emotional and physical strength to continue to care for others.

All parents experience stress-filled moments when raising their children. However, parents of children with autism often experience more stress, depression and anxiety. That’s in part because the care for their autistic child is relentless – day in and day out for the rest of their lives. Plus there are the worries over how to pay for the necessary therapies.

Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, the director of Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine sums the situation up, “Having a child that has a disability is all-encompassing. You can see how people would lose themselves.” The article reports that researchers at Vanderbilt University tested the effectiveness of mindfulness training and positive adult development as solutions for the stress of being a caregiver.

The study did not focus on sharpening parental skills, but rather on teaching parents to tackle their stress in positive ways that helped them accept life as it is. Both methods resulted in significant reductions in stress, depression, insomnia and anxiety. Which method worked best?

The ones in the mindfulness treatment group who practiced meditation, breathing exercises, and qigong saw greater improvement than those who received positive adult development training on curbing negative thoughts, practicing gratitude and reclaiming life as an adult.

What solution is best for your specific circumstances? Enlist the help of a trained psychologist to help you create a strategy for managing the stress you deal with daily. I also share in both of my books invaluable, practical tips that I’ve drawn from years of experience helping families to thrive despite the affects of Asperger’s. If you haven’t grabbed your copies yet, now would be a very good time to do so.

Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge? is available on Amazon and AAPC Publishing.

Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is available in Kindle edition and paperback.

Read more on my website: Depression and Stress.

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Treated?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


hope for those who suffer with bipolar disorderOur hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Robin Williams as they suffer such a terrible loss. It’s heart breaking that anyone, whether famous or not, suffers so much emotional and mental pain such as he did.

What especially concerns me right now is that some who suffer might to be frightened that they too could reach a point where they feel there is no hope. It is important for anyone, whether you have severe depression, bipolar disorder or a serious health condition such as Parkinson’s, to know that you can get treatment that will help you cope. Suicide is never the right option.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health “about 2.4% of people around the world have had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lifetime. The United States has the highest lifetime rate of bipolar disorder at 4.4% (more than 10 million people).”

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms for bipolar disorder. The manic phase can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased physical activity
  • Risky behavior
  • Spending sprees or unwise financial choices
  • Increased drive to perform or achieve goals
  • Increased sex drive
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Careless or dangerous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Delusions or a break from reality (psychosis)
  • Poor performance at work or school

Symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder can include:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sleep problems
  • Low appetite or increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Chronic pain without a known cause
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Poor performance at work or school

The sypmtoms in children are much harder to diagnose and needs immediate attention from a doctor trained to recognize both bipolar disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. Why these two disorders in particular?

Did you know Asperger’s Syndrome often displays the same symptoms as bipolar disorder? Oftentimes people with Asperger’s are misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, which can lead to the wrong treatment.

If you struggle with any of the above mental health issues or feel like life isn’t worth living, please don’t wait another moment to get help. Talk with someone you trust and consult a doctor trained in Bipolar Therapy and Asperger Syndrome. You deserve to receive an accurate diagnosis. If you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area please contact my office to set up an appointment.

For more information, visit Overcoming Depression.

New Research into the Link between Autism and Suicidal Thoughts

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


autism and suicidalityRecently I was interviewed by Sarah DeWeerdt for an article, Suicidal thoughts alarmingly common in people with autism. At the suggestion of Dr. Oren Shtayermman, PhD, MSW, she spoke with me about what it’s like to have an autistic child express suicidal thoughts. I shared with her the story of my daughter, who used to beg me to kill her so that we both wouldn't suffer any more. She was in so much emotional pain, and that was the only way she could tell me that she felt helpless. While this is a painful topic, I was glad that I could contribute to further understanding an issue that has for too long been ignored.

The alarming statistics show that both children and adults with autism have a much higher likelihood of suicidal thoughts and behavior. One study the article quoted says that “two-thirds of a group of adults diagnosed with Asperger syndrome said they had thought about committing suicide at some point, and 35 percent had made specific plans or actually made an attempt.” Research is showing that the very cognitive patterns that people with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome possess make them more vulnerable to suicidal tendencies.

Because those on the Autism Spectrum can’t express their feelings well, it’s been assumed that they don’t feel depressed. When they are asked if they feel depressed, they may say “No”. Yet at that same moment, they may be harboring thoughts of wanting to end their lives. They don’t make the connection. As a result, I am so grateful that research into this connection between autism and suicide is increasing.

It’s important to note that our autistic loved ones may have these suicidal feelings, but be unable to express them. It’s imperative then that we be alert and sensitive to hear their unusual way of crying for help.

Asking for help is another social skill that those with autism may be lacking. If you or someone you know is struggling with hopelessness or deep sadness, I urge you to get help immediately. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and set up an appointment. I assure you no matter how bleak your life looks, it can get better.

Read more on my website – Overcoming Depression and Asperger Syndrome.

How Can Families Thrive When It’s Mom Who Has Asperger’s Syndrome?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


mom has aspergers syndromeEven though it is more common for a husband to have Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s quite possible for a mother to have it too. Recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that five times more males are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) than females. And while males can reliably be diagnosed as early as 18 months to two years of age; females are often not diagnosed until adulthood.

This presents a real challenge to family happiness, because culturally women are revered as the nurturers of the family. And while women with Asperger’s generally accept that it is a woman’s duty to care for the children and maintain the household and in general keep the family happy and healthy, they just are not very well equipped to handle this role. As a result they are viewed as cold, uncaring, and selfish because they can’t live up to what’s expected of them.

Because women often go undiagnosed, dads are clueless as to why their family dynamics aren’t working. Nuero-Typical (non-Asperger) men need to learn about Asperger Syndrome and be able to talk about their experiences in order to learn how to cope and indeed help themselves and their families to thrive under these challenging circumstances.

How do many Neuro-Typical (NT) dads react when they are faced with a spouse that has Asperger’s Syndrome?

On the surface their reaction is the same as many NT mom’s. They’re angry and hurt. And since they see their wives as neglectful of and abusive to their children, because they expect their wives to be the more nurturing parent, these feelings are magnified for an NT dad. Without help, the NT father gets angrier and angrier. This clouds the real problem—his undiagnosed Asperger’s wife and her limited parenting skills. Anger and withdrawal are common ways NT dads deal with parenting problems associated with marriage to an Aspie wife.

NT dads should recognize the anger for what it is, depression. They feel trapped by the double bind of wanting to protect their children and wanting to be free of the emotional neglect in their marriage. Even in our contemporary society, the role reversal for NT dads is hard. Besides working full-time, these dads must come home and do much of the cooking, cleaning and caring for the children.

Something that exacerbates the problem is that many NT dads grew up in families with members who are autistic. These men may unconsciously have sought out an Aspie spouse, because it is a dynamic with which they are familiar. If they have not learned how to cope with Asperger’s in their childhood, which is very likely the case, they will carry this dysfunctional behavior into their married lives.

What can NT dads do to help their families to thrive?

Recognizing the problem is an important first step. If you’re a dad dealing with an AS spouse, get professional help immediately for your own sake and that of your family. Trust that your anger is not without reason, and realize that staying angry will only make you sick and destroy the family. Family counseling is good, but it’s also advisable for dads to find a personal therapist, separate from the marital therapist. NT dads need a safe place to talk and resolve their feelings of anger without being destructive.

Read a free chapter of “Our of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you and your children the emotional support you need.

Does Trying to Converse with your Aspie Partner Wear You Out?

Sunday, July 06, 2014


difficult talking with asperger partnerPleasant conversation is governed by unspoken rules. We listen carefully, ask relevant questions, make eye contact, show genuine interest in the one we’re conversing with and we don’t interrupt or go off on unrelated tangents. All of this social give-and-take is very difficult for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Their lack of social awareness and empathy allows them do insensitive things or blurt out inappropriate comments.

Because of not knowing or understanding the rules, our Aspies tend to either control or avoid the conversation or the situation. Because they don't really understand where their partner is coming from, they feel really anxious, and they conclude that the best solutions to their discomfort is to dominate the conversation or avoid the subject entirely.

Often those with Asperger’s find it impossible to say “No”. If they receive an invitation and they want to participate, they can easily say “Yes”. However, they resort to the avoidance mechanism rather than actually decline an invitation. It’s just too much to acknowledge the person and say "No". So they avoid the person that invites them until it all blows over.

Another social norm that Aspies struggle with is saying “Thank you”. You might ask him if he would like a cup of coffee. Rather than answering, the Aspie just talks on about something that interests him. When he gets the cup of coffee, he takes it and happily drinks the beverage, but acknowledging it is just too personal for him.

How can it be that these simple interchanges are so difficult for our Aspie loved ones? The simple empathic process that Neuro-typicals use daily to acknowledge the other person is lost on Aspies. Why is that?

More importantly, are these simple not-so-ordinary moments wearing you down?

Join us Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 1:00pm PST at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup in Vancouver, Washington as we discuss the topic, Aspies Tend to Avoid or Control. We’ll discuss the reasons behind this behavior and the best ways to cope. Sign up to learn more about this group and find the details for the location. If unable to attend in person, you can also join our teleconference Meetup on the same topic on Friday, July 25, 2014 at 2:30pm PST and connect with our international group of supporters.

Notice: This is the last Meetup until October 2014 due to a very busy summer schedule. I will continue to check in daily with our Meetup postings, so let’s keep the spirit and conversation alive.

Read a free chapter of “Our of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you the emotional support that you need.

So Grateful for Dr. Lorna Wing’s Pioneering Work into Autism

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Dr. Lorna Wing died on June 6th at the age of 85. It is with sadness that I think about the death of this wonderful psychiatrist, researcher and autism advocate. While I didn’t know her personally, I am filled with immense gratitude for all the work that she accomplished throughout her life. Dr. Wing has contributed so much to our understanding of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Like so many of us, she began her research into autism in the 1950’s as she looked for answers to her daughter’s behavior.

Dr. Wing’s outstanding contributions are numerous. She and her colleague, Dr. Judith Gould, determined that autism is not just one single condition, but is rather a wide spectrum of behaviors that stem from a common disorder that she described as “a lack of ability to understand and use the rules governing social behavior.” They subsequently established a clinic, Center for Social and Communications Disorders, that is a benchmark for diagnosis and treatment for autism in children.

She also brought to light the work of Hans Asperger, the Austrian psychiatrist who first described the behavior of the form of autism that is known today as Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Asperger’s work had been eclipsed by WWII and was forgotten until Dr. Wing rediscovered it. In his original writings he called this disorder, “autistic psychopathy”, but when writing about his findings, she titled her 1981 published paper as, “Asperger’s Syndrome: A Clinical Account”, and that name has become widely known.

You can read more in the New York Times article: Dr. Lorna Wing, Who Broadened Views of Autism, Dies at 85.

Asperger MicroAggression – What Is It and What Can You Do About It?

Friday, June 20, 2014


asperger microaggressionEver heard of MicroAggression? Maybe you’ve heard of it in connection with racism and sexism. It’s a phrase that was coined by psychiatrist, Chester M Pierce, MD, in the 1970’s and it refers to the intentional or unintentional ways of invalidating, degrading or insulting an individual based on a bias.
 
At last a word that describes perfectly those crazy making moments with your Aspie! What are some of these moments?
 
  • When your Aspie denies your reality with a deft chess move to a totally unrelated topic.
  • When they accuse you of always yelling when, in fact, you only exploded after great provocation.
  • When your Aspie gives you the blank look.
 
What damage does Asperger MicroAgression do to a Neuro Typical partner?
 
  • It destroys a person’s self-esteem.
  • There is a growing body of science that shows MicroAggression causes physiological stress, which can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. Chronic low-grade inflammation leads to a whole host of illnesses.
  • There’s even evidence of brain damage due to prolonged MicroAggression that looks like PTSD on brain scans. Buts it’s not Post Traumatic is it? Not when you live daily with these micro-assaults on your sense of self. We NTs refer to it as Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Disorder (or Syndrome).

This can leave you feeling tired, achy, depressed, and forgetful. There are healthy ways to confront and sidestep these debilitating MicroAggressions. When you create rules of engagement that satisfy your needs and that your Asperger’s partner can use to create systems that compensate for his or her lack of empathy, you can begin to reclaim your personal freedom and help your family to thrive.

Join us Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 1:00pm PST at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup. Its topic is Brain Scans, PTSD and MicroAggression. We’ll discuss the best ways to cope with these debilitating MicroAggressions. Sign up to learn more about this group and find the details for the location. If unable to attend in person, you can also join our teleconference Meetup on the same topic on Friday, June 27, 2014 at 2:30pm PST and connect with our international group of supporters.
 
If you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just for parents with young children, don’t wait another moment. The above information is just a sampling of the science behind Asperger that is explored in the book. If you want to understand your Aspie better, this is a must read.

Understanding the Science of Asperger Behavior

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Out of Mind Out of sight Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome ASDWhy do those with Asperger’s Syndrome act the way that they do? Why can’t they connect with the feelings of others? Science is unlocking the key to understanding these questions about Asperger behavior.

Our brains have an amazing intricate and complicated connection of circuits. If one part doesn’t work correctly, the system it’s connected with malfunctions. Take for example, just a few of the connections that needs to be made for the empathy circuits to work.

One area of your brain, the medial prefrontal cortex compares your perspective to another person’s. Another area, the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, helps you understand your own thoughts and feelings. Yet, it’s the ventral medial prefrontal cortex that registers how strongly you feel about something. Still another area, the inferior frontal gyrus helps you recognize emotions. Stick with me here, we’re not even half way through the list of connections that must be made to complete the empathy circuits.

Next, we have the area of the brain that is activated by the pain you feel or that you observe in others. That’s the caudal anterior cingulate cortex. But the tricky part is that it doesn’t tell us how to respond to that pain.

Add to the empathy circuits the anterior insula, which is involved in bodily self-awareness, and the right temporoparietal junction that governs judgment of someone’s intentions and beliefs.

And we can’t forget the amygdala because, when prompted by the fear response, we look at someone’s eyes to discern that person’s emotions and intentions. Are you seeing why people with Asperger’s Syndrome struggle. Don’t they generally avoid eye contact? Think of all the information that is lost by not looking someone in the eyes. 

And the list goes on, including the parts of the brain that make the connections and attach meanings to our emotional responses. If a part of your brain isn’t telling you why and how to react, you’ll lack empathy.

If you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just for parents with young children, don’t wait another moment. The above information is just a sampling of the science behind Asperger that is explored in the book. If you want to understand your Aspie better, this is a must read.

Would You Marry Your Aspie All Over Again?

Monday, May 12, 2014


Would you marry your aspie all over again?If you knew then what you know now…would you marry someone with Asperger’s Syndrome? Of course, second guessing yourself is a recipe for depression. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be learned when you ask yourself this question. If you knew about Asperger’s then and if he or she knew it too… and if both of you were committed to building an “interface protocol” would it all have worked out better?

What do I mean by interface protocol? Another way of say it is, what rules of engagement would you have implemented early on? This involves creating a template for how you and your Aspie relate to each other. While it might be distasteful to think of having to design rules to live by, it’s pointless to expect your Aspie partner to give what they are incapable of delivering, such as empathy. However, if your Aspie partner can master the rules of engagement, even though true empathy is lacking, you can accept their intentions as honorable. They can learn to express their care for you with the right responses while really not understanding the empathetic reasons for doing so.

For example, a husband may leap up to help his wife if she trips and drops something. That’s the right response, but when questioned, his motivation might be, “because she’ll be mad if I don’t”, not the empathetic “she might have been hurt and needs comfort”. You can help your Aspie understand the rules of engagement by explaining, “This is how it works. Since men are macho and may not want help, the rule is that you can offer help once to a guy and if he refuses, it’s okay to let it go. But if a woman trips, I want you to offer to help her at least three times and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She really wants your help even if she says ‘no’. Okay?”

Would creating a rules of engagement playbook have helped you prevent the anguish and depression? Would you have moved on more quickly? There are a hundred questions. Within these questions we’ll find seeds for healing.

If you are a Neuro-Typical who wants to discussion this topic: “Would you do it again?” with a group of empathetic listeners, join us May 17, 2014 at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup in Portland, Oregon. Sign up to learn more about this group and find the details for the location. If unable to attend in person, you can also join our teleconference Meetup on the same topic on May 23, 2014 and connect with our international group of supporters.

Would you like to understand more of the scientific reasons why our Aspies do what they do and what we can do to help them? My new book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is packed full of insightful, scientific research discussed in layman terms, so you can not only grasp the concepts but have sensible suggestions to apply in your own situation.

New Research Helps Those with ASD Recognize Compound Emotions

Monday, May 05, 2014


helping those with ASD to understand facial expressionsIn grade school art class we learned that our crayon box had primary colors and secondary colors. The primaries are red, blue, and yellow. When you start mixing these colors together you get the beautiful rainbow of endless colors. But what does this have to do with emotions?

A recent CNN article by Jacque Wilson explains that until recently, scientists classified happy, sad, fearful, angry, surprised and disgusted as the six basic human emotions. While scientists aren’t sure if it’s biological or learned, we use the same facial muscles to express these specific emotions.

In a new study, Aleix Martinez, associate professor at Ohio State University, and his colleagues have identified 15 additional “compound emotions”. He explains why this is important: “The problem with (only having the 6 basic emotions) is that we cannot fully understand our cognitive system ... if we do not study the full rainbow of expressions that our brain can produce.”

How does this research on facial awareness benefit us? Scientists plan on using these new categories while mapping out the brain activity of those who suffer from schizophrenia, PTSD, and autism spectrum disorder. By identifying the genetic and chemical changes in the brain, they can develop better therapies and medicines to treat these mental disorders. Also, by teaching those who lack facial perception (mind blindness) to recognize these additional categories of emotions, imagine how much their social interactions will improve.

Japanese engineers are also applying this to computer science. They are already working on creating a robot that reads facial expressions and thereby interacts naturally with the elderly, since there is a deficit of young caregivers.

What are these “compound emotions”? "Happily surprised", "happily disgusted”, “sadly fearful", “sadly angry”, “sadly surprised”, sadly disgusted”, fearfully angry”, "fearfully surprised", “fearfully disgusted”, angrily surprised”, “angrily disgusted”, “disgustedly surprised”, “hatred”, “awed” and “appalled”.

How good are you at recognizing facial expressions? Check out the faces in the CNN story and see if you can identify the compound expressions that have recently been classified.

Are you dealing with an ASD family member and are experiencing difficulty with communicating your emotions? Please reach out to a trained mental health professional without delay. If you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area, please contact my office to schedule an appointment.



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