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Kathy Marshack News

Brain Research May Unlock ASD Facial Perception

Monday, April 28, 2014


brain research may unlock autism spectrum disorder facial perceptionScience is making giant strides in brain research. Many scientists are devoting time to studying the brain from various angles. A recent article on CNN, “Scan a brain, read a mind", discussed some of these ongoing studies.

Here are some highlights from these studies:

  • ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, Kyoto suggest it’s possible to decode our dreams based on brain activity.
  • The BrainLab at the Georgia Institute of Technology is trying to create thought-directed wheelchairs and artificial limbs, which would greatly assist people with disabilities.
  • University of Washington researchers are studying how brain signals can cross the internet – so far they’ve been able to control the hand movements of the second participant.
  • A University of California, Berkeley group is trying to determine how the brain responds to language. They hope to eventually be able to decode our very thoughts based of brain activity.
  • Marvin Chun, professor of psychology at Yale is working on studying what happens when people's minds wander or are “zoning-out”.
  • Dr. Josef Parvizi, a neurologist at Stanford University, is working on how the brain retrieves memories.

The study that interests me the most is the one that could, in time, assist those with autism to “read” faces so that they can respond more appropriately in the social situations.

Alan Cowen, while an undergraduate at Yale University, conducted a study using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans. The brain was scanned as a person viewed hundreds of pictures of faces. The researchers noted what areas of the brain were reacting to the facial images. They then used a computer to generate what was recorded in the brain mathematically. The CNN article has a bank of pictures showing the actual images and then the computer-generated image based on the brain activity patterns. (Click here to see them.) It’s remarkable how identifiable they really are. Wouldn’t it be terrific if they could pinpoint and fix the area of the brain that causes the perception disorder in Autism?

Until that time, how can we assist those on the Autism Spectrum Disorder? Since this is still Autism Awareness Month, join me on Facebook at (https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Marshack.Ph.D) and share what you’re doing to help an individual or an organization dealing with Autism.

Tips on Finding the Right Support Group For You

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Finding the Best Support Group for YouWe all need someone to talk with that understands our unique situation and non-judgmentally supports us as we travel through our journey of life. A good Support Group will provide you with needed emotional support and often give you information on the latest treatment or research on your particular concern. In today’s technological world, you can either attend a local Support Group in person or you can join an online Support Group.

But you may have some questions before joining … How can you be sure the group you’re joining is going to be a healthy environment for you? What are some ways of identifying a good Support Group? I found an informative article written by John Grohol Psy.D, founder of PsychCentral.com that can help you identify characteristics of a good Support Group. Some of these are listed below:

A good Support Group has a community that is stable. You can determine this by how well it’s moderated and how long it’s been functioning. A group that has a moderator AND an administrative team will be able to continually bring new resources to you without the group leader burning out and shutting the group down.

Find a Support Group with members who are welcoming, non-judgmental and open to sharing. You want to be encouraged, not discouraged, in your chosen group.

The best Support Group has a non-techy, user-friendly site. If you’re stressing out over the tech stuff, you won’t be reaping any benefits from the group.

A reasonable Support Group clearly posts its guidelines and rules of conduct so everyone knows the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not.

A secure Support Group guards your privacy so nothing you say is splashed across the worldwide web inadvertently.

Look for a Support Group that offers you the features that are important to you. Are you interested in just reading what people have posted or do you desire more, such as mood tracking tools, treatment or product reviews, or a live chat room?

I facilitate two very supportive and secure Meetups. One is for Entrepreneurial Couples and Families. The other is for Partners & Family of Adults with Asperger Syndrome. Both of these Groups have local Meetups and International Teleconferences that are uniting members around the world.

I’m very excited about my newest Support Group – a Meetup for ENTREPRENEURS-Making It Work for Couples and Families. We focus on learning to balance Work and Love, the two things entrepreneurial families cherish most. The local Meetup is held once a month in Vancouver, Washington.

The Meetup for Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with AS has been supporting Neuro-Typicals who care for adult Aspie family since 2009. At our last call our international AS Group included people from around the globe. The local Meetup is held once a month in Portland, Oregon.

I am passionate about providing ongoing education for these two diverse topics. My team and I are working hard to provide you with a secure environment the gives the support you crave and deserve. If you have any questions about either one of these Meetup Support Groups, please feel free to contact us.

Coping With Asperger Eccentric Mannerisms and Behavior

Friday, April 11, 2014


Asperger Syndrome MeetupPeople with Asperger’s Syndrome often develop mannerisms and behaviors that can be very distracting and even annoying to Neuro-Typical family members. There are a number of reasons why they display this behavior. One reason is that their senses are overly stimulated. Another reason is that these Asperger mannerisms are a way of creating order in their disrupted world.

For example, their over-sensitivity to touch may make them picky about what clothes they wear – it needs to be soft with the tags removed. They don’t like strong smells, bright lights, loud noises, and most foods. Aspies rigidly crave routine so any variations in their schedule upset them. The same plate has to be used for dinner, objects must be lined up in a repetitive manner, certain items must never be moved, and the list of Asperger eccentricities goes on and on.

What’s up with these eccentricities? Why does one person eat an orange by peeling the membrane off of each segment and then eats one kernel at a time? Why does another collect lint and roll it into a ball to keep in a jar? And still others hoard everything that comes into the house? Nothing can be thrown away, even shoes that are holey and beyond the point of wearing.

What can family members do to deal with these Asperger mannerisms so that it doesn’t drive you crazy? You can find ways to accept these eccentricities if you understand the reason behind this Asperger behavior. Sharing information about “What’s Up with these Aspie Eccentricities” is the topic for our next Portland, Oregon Meetup on Saturday, April 19, 2014.

The same topic will be discussed on our Teleconference Meetup – Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with AS on Friday, April 25, 2014. If you are a Neuro-Typical family member who needs someone to talk with that truly understands what you’re going through, please join us in this discussion. We’re here to support you. These calls are uniting our members from around the world from Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Great Britain, South America and more!

For greater understanding of your relationship with your Asperger’s Syndrome family member, check out my book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD). It picks up where my first book, Going Over the Edge? left off and goes into more depth about the science behind Asperger’s.

April – Autism Awareness Month – What Can We Do About It?

Thursday, April 10, 2014


april autism awarenessEvery time I look at the statistics for the number of people with Autism it changes, and not for the better. Back in 2006 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it was 1 in 110. In 2008 it was 1 in 88. As of March 24, 2014 the CDC, declares that 1 in 68 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

They cited studies to support the following data:

  • “If one identical twin has ASD, the other will be affected about 36-95% of the time.
  • If one non-identical twin has ASD, the other is affected about 0-31% of the time. 
  • If one child has ASD, there’s a 2%–18% chance the second child will also.
  • About 10% of children with autism are also identified as having Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, or other genetic and chromosomal disorders.
  • 46% of children identified with ASD have average to above average intellectual ability.
  • Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for having ASD.
  • On average, children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age 4, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age 2.
  • Parents of children with ASD notice a developmental problem before their child's first birthday. Concerns about vision and hearing were more often reported in the first year, and differences in social, communication, and fine motor skills were evident from 6 months of age.”

Since this disorder is so prevalent, it’s important to educate ourselves about it. Teachers and first responders such as police, fire, and EMT personnel especially need special skills to help those with ASD.

April 2nd was Autism Awareness Day and many joined Autism Speaks in their Light It Up Blue initiative. In honor of this 7th annual United Nations sanctioned commemoration, many landmarks, buildings, and structures “went blue”.

During this Autism Awareness Month, let’s express appreciation for all the people who are working hard for this disorder. If you know any of them personally, take a moment to thank them for their hard work. If your circumstances allow, look into how you can make a difference. Every little bit helps! Then join me on Facebook and share with our community what you’ve done. It’s time to toot your own horn and encourage others to take action, too.

I’m passionate about providing education that will lead to the betterment of lives. Recently I’ve made myself available for providing Remote Education so many more people can be reached with this important information. Please, check out my Remote Education on Asperger Relationships

, a high functioning form of ADS, to learn more about this service.


Is There “Shame” in being Married to Someone with Asperger’s?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Asperger Syndrome Parnters and Family of Adults with ASDLet me say this right up front…No, I don’t think it’s shameful to acknowledge that your spouse suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a highly functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Nor is it shameful that your spouse has Asperger’s. But, the shame associated with living with Aspies can be extreme for some.

There’s such a stigma against being “labeled” Asperger or Autistic, that Aspies may fear losing their standing in the community or their business relationships, so they don’t want anyone to know of the diagnosis, if indeed they consent to being diagnosed at all. This puts pressure on the Neuro-typical family members to hide what their lives are really like. In fact, Neuro-typicals are terrified to come out of the closet and talk about their lives.

NT family members work so hard to please the person on the spectrum that they aren’t able to live their authentic selves. The Aspie thinks everything is fine and normal, but you can see your friends having loving relationships and you know that’s not what you have. Yet, you may start doubting yourself, thinking that maybe it is your fault, blaming yourself that you’re unlovable and unreasonable in your expectations. The pressure of keeping it secret and not having anyone who understands to talk to can make you question your own sanity.

This situation is so similar to the cycle of abuse. The victim is terrified to confront the abuser. They fear retaliation. But even worse, they fear that they are wrong about the abuse . . . and the abuser.

Sadly the nature of living in these relationships is that they cause confusion and defensiveness and shame. If we are to restore our lives to sanity, we need to be honest about our feelings and our situation. This doesn't mean blame and it doesn't mean shame. It means facing the problem squarely and developing a solution that works.

If you are a member of our Meetup group, Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Families of Adults with ASD, please join us for “The Skeleton in the Closet”. We’ll be discussing questions such as…why are we afraid to discuss our feelings or complain about our Aspie family members…and why are we afraid to admit we have failed in our relationships? Our Local Meetup will be on March 15th at 1:00pm PST.

The International Teleconference will be on March 28th at 2:30pm PST. Our first Teleconference was greeted with heartfelt thanks. One member wrote, “It is a small world when we all share the same difficulties, whether we're in London or LA. I think the teleconference was fantastic and absolutely historic. Look forward to talking to you all again in March!”

To be a member of Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Families of Adults with ASD Meetup you must be a Neuro-typical family member who loves and cares for an adult with Asperger Syndrome because we meet to openly discuss issues and concerns without hindrance of saving someone’s feelings. After joining the group you will receive an email with all the details. Join me on Facebook and let me know your thoughts on this.

Introducing International Education on Asperger Relationships

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Dr. Marshack is offering international remote education on Asperger RelationshipsI feel strongly that education is the key to creating strong and lasting relationships with our Asperger family members, so I have made it my mission to help neuro-typical (NT) partners and family members discover a deeper understanding of how to make relationships with Aspies, not only survive, but more importantly to thrive. Until now my reach has been somewhat limited by geographic location. Not any more – take a look at three new opportunities to learn about Asperger Relationships no matter where you live.

To open up a dialogue on this topic I am thrilled to offer a new service…Remote Education about Asperger Relationships! I am putting together webinars as well as video and phone sessions with individuals and colleagues. These sessions are completely confidential on my end, but total confidentiality depends on you also creating privacy in your own environment. (To make sure there’s no confusion, let me state that these services are all about education and not online therapy sessions.)

Not only am I ramping up education through remote access, I am also daily sharing important information on Twitter, plus regular postings to Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Please join me on the social platform you feel most comfortable with and let me know what topics you find interesting or want more information on.

Because our Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Families of Adults with ASD Meetup group meetings have only been available to those in the Portland area, and so many of our members have expressed a desire to join in, I am now offering to connect our Meetup Group by international teleconferencing every month. Members do not need to have a computer. Just call in.  We will use the same topics scheduled for the Portland Meetups, or if someone has a burning topic or question, we can be flexible.

The date and time for our first international Meetup, “Is It Codependency if You’re just Trying to Survive?” has been scheduled for Friday, February 21st at 2:30 PST.

To attend this teleconference, you must be a member of Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Families of Adults with ASD Meetup, a private place where NTs meet to openly discuss issues and concerns without hindrance of saving someone’s feelings. Members will receive an email with all the details.

Learn more about Dr. Marshack’s Remote Education here.

Spice Up Romance with your Asperger Partner this Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 04, 2014


spice up romance with your asperger partner this Valentine's DayAre you looking forward to Valentine’s Day this year? For many, it brings to mind sweet, romantic gestures. But for someone who has a partner with Asperger Syndrome, you may actually be dreading the day knowing your feelings are going to be hurt.

That’s because Aspies’ – a term coined and freely used by many with Asperger Syndrome – brains are wired in a way that skirts the ability to know, feel or demonstrate empathy and love.

Empathy is about reciprocal connecting; the ability to step into another’s shoes. The non-Aspie is wired to achieve a mutually satisfying solution. Aspies are not, and they can’t read their partner’s signals, or as I like to say, they have mind-blindness. Therein lies the rub. Aspies are unable to comprehend the meaning of the traditional gestures of love and romance. They don’t set out to hurt their love by withholding a Valentine, candy or flowers.

What are some things you can do to smooth the way to romance?

1. Non-Aspie partners – do not take your Aspie partner’s actions (or lack of actions) as a slight or personal affront, and your life will be sweeter.

Aspies simply don’t ‘get’ why a show of affection is important to their non-Aspie, or neurotypical, partner. They’re out of sync. Expressing love escapes Aspies, because empathizing is foreign to them. Not being romantic isn’t a hurtful decision they make. When the neurotypical more accurately understands the actions, or inactions, of their Aspie loved one, feelings get hurt less often.

2. Help your Aspie create his/her own rules of engagement in order to act in ways that really matter to you. This list that tells the Aspie what to do and when -- never mind the “why.”

Aspies need to learn ways to engage with their neurotypical spouse. One Aspie husband explained it to me like this, “I just can’t say or do the first thing that pops into my mind. It might be all wrong. It’s like I need a ‘politeness checker’ running in the back of my mind to remind me to be a gentleman.” This marriage was strengthened when he and his wife wrote down rules about appropriate engagement in a notebook. He keeps it with him and refers to it frequently for guidance. Without that tool, he says he’d be lost.

The Asperger Romance rules might include:

  • Kiss spouse goodbye each morning
  • Call spouse at lunchtime each day
  • Buy “For My Wife” card and flowers for Feb. 14
  • Hold spouse’s hand and say, “Thank you,” when receiving a gift or card from him/her.

Aspies may not understand why something is important to their loved one, but learning to make the effort, the gesture, represents good intention and love, just a different kind. If you want to build more romance into your ASP/NT marriage so that everyone feels loved, therapy is available. Please, contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office and set up an appointment.

If you haven’t done so yet, grab your free chapter from each of my Asperger Relationship books:

Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome,”

and

“Going Over the Edge? Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome.”

Is It Codependency if You’re just Trying to Survive your Autism Spectrum Relationship?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


meetup is it codependency if you're just trying to survive your autism spectrum relationshipWhen we love someone, we like to do nice things for that person even if it means sacrificing something that we want at times. But the operative words to indicate a healthy relationship are “at times”. There’s a balance of give and take. If on the other hand, you find that you are doing it all of the time, then you’re dealing with codependency.

Codependence is defined as “a state of mind where you put your needs and dreams aside in order to help the other person have a life. In a codependent relationship, no matter how much you give, the other person does not return the favor. Yet you keep on giving and getting more fatigued, frustrated and resentful.”

You make a lot of sacrifices for your family member who is on the Autism Spectrum. You become an expert at reading labels so your pantry is gluten free. You relearn how to cook and bake your family favorites with gluten free flours. You snip all of the labels from your AS husband's shirts. You pay for a laundry delivery service because your AS wife can’t handle it. You soundproof the "den" so your Aspie preteen can scream. You graciously sidestep every confrontation. You drink an extra glass of wine to calm your nerves.

At what point is it codependency? Is it really codependency if you are just trying to survive?

More to the point is the question: Who is there for you? If you are always giving and never getting what you need, you will eventually experience burnout. You need to explore self-care. See that your needs are met. Since your AS spouse or child loves you but has no idea how you tick, it’s important to make your beliefs and needs known in concrete ways.

This ongoing issue of dancing around the needs of your family members on the Autism Spectrum will be discussed at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Families of Adults with ASD Meetup, “Is It Codependency if You’re just Trying to Survive?” Make plans now to join us on Saturday, February 15, 2014.

Learn more about Asperger Syndrome and Relationships on my website.

The Hot Buttons of an Asperger/NT Marriage – Sex, Socializing, and Parenting

Friday, January 24, 2014


Sex Socializing and Parenting are three problems that can challenge a marriage between an Asperger and non-Asperger marriageIt would be nice if marriage was easy, but it’s not. Even with a lot of work, commitment and love, marriages will have ups and downs. If you are married to someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome, you especially face challenges that most people can’t even imagine.

Because of the lack of empathy in your Aspie partner, you will often feel misunderstood and unloved, and this may cause you to think that your marriage cannot survive, let alone thrive. So I wanted to share with an article by columnist, Regina Boyle Wheeler that I really appreciated. She centered on the hope-filled message that you CAN DEVELOP SKILLS THAT WORK in your NT/ASD relationship.

In writing this article, she sought my advice since I’ve written books on the topic of marriage and Asperger’s Syndrome; Going Over the Edge? And Out of Mind – Out of Sight. I was able to share with her insight into three specific areas of life that are critical for a marriage to go beyond merely surviving to actually thriving: Sex, Socializing, and Parenting.

Sex becomes a problem for two reasons. Generally we desire physical contact, yet those with Asperger’s Syndrome may have difficulty with being hugged, kissed or caressed. Shyness can cause a Neuro-Typical partner to be unable to speak about what is pleasurable sexually - you just want your partner to intuitively know what you want. However, those with Asperger’s can’t read your signals. It can quickly kill the mood when you have to talk your way through sex, saying what you like or don’t like.

Socializing becomes a minefield of potentially embarrassing situations. The NT partner is always on the alert to head off potentially embarrassing social blunders or topics, so the social event quickly become an exhausting and stress-filled occasion. Rather than endure this, some choose to avoid social settings, or they turn to misusing alcohol or pharmaceuticals to “cope” so it doesn’t matter so much. Either option is destructive for the individual and the marriage.

Parenting becomes a battle of conflicting views even though both parents love the child. It can tear your heart to pieces when your Asperger mate fails to recognize when your child needs comfort, reassurance, praise, or even loving correction.

There are ways that you can learn to cope and thrive as an individual and in your marriage. A mental health professional who has specialized training in Asperger Syndrome can help you develop the skills you need. Life is too short to be merely enduring a relationship, especially when you can learn skills that will turn things around for your family. Please contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office and make an appointment today to find out what they are.

Read more about Therapy for Marriages Impacted by Asperger Syndrome on my website.

Use Intuition when Co-Parenting with an ASD Partner

Thursday, January 23, 2014


parenting with a partner with asperger's syndrome asdParenting is a tough assignment under ordinary circumstances, but when Autism Spectrum Disorder or Aspergers Syndrome enters the picture, especially when one of the parenting partners has it, parenting becomes much more difficult.

For the ASD parent so many of the interactions within the family circle that require empathy to see, are literally out of mind – out of sight. He or she doesn’t fully understand the partner or the children. This leaves the Neuro-Typical (NT) partner feeling desperately alone, because the ASD spouse, the one person you should be able to confide in, can’t read your mind or fathom your feelings. Even worse is the disappointment that comes when you reach out to friends and professionals who do not comprehend the ongoing traumatic relationship disorder that is the center of your life.

When you’re dealing with the challenge of being an ASD/NT couple, it’s important to think about how you interact in marriage because it greatly influences your child’s well-being. Although it can be difficult, it’s essential to find ways to communicate as best you can. Intuition can go a long way toward helping NTs comprehend the AS environment in which you live and love. Couple that with increasing your knowledge of Asperger Sydrome and you’ll be empowered to thrive within your ASD/NT family.

Oren Shtayermman, Ph.D., M.S.W. Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences and NYIT School of Health Professions says it so well in the introduction to my book: “Dr. Marshack makes a huge contribution in her new book: She urges the NTs among us to meet our Aspies in the context of their lives instead of trying to change them. Many of us do not always Stop, Think and Reflect on what it may feel like to be on the “other side.” Yet the way we interpret the context of a situation impacts the way we respond to events in our environment, our live.”

To illustrate this point about intuition, one of the vignettes I share in my book is about a teenage boy. His mother wants him to clean his bathroom. She knows he loves his laptop so she withholds it until he finishes his chore. She hopes he will connect that she cares about the bathroom’s cleanliness as much as he cares about his laptop. What parent hasn’t used that approach? But it doesn’t work with someone with ASD. Yes, this boy sees the need to clean the bathroom and the need to get his laptop back, but he doesn’t see how they are connected or why he should act. Because he lacks empathy, he isn’t motivated by his mom’s displeasure. The solution came when I approached the situation with intuition and I gave him a clear call to action. You can read the whole account when you download the free chapter of Out of Mind – Out of Sight here.

Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is the NT/ASD parenting manual you’ve been waiting for. It’s available in paperback and as a Kindle edition.



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