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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.

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.

Let’s Support Northwest Autism Foundation Art Walk on Labor Day

Thursday, July 24, 2014


North West Autism Foundation Art WalkThe Northwest Autism Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides valuable education to those with autism, their families, caregivers, and health care providers. Their services include:

  • Publishing a detailed Autism Resource Directory of local and national resources for ASD information and services. (Download the Directory here.)
  • Continuing education to the medical professionals in Oregon.
  • Sponsoring workshops and lectures about the most up-to-date ASD topics.
  • Organizing and sponsoring the annual Autism OASIS conference, which enlists the best scientists and doctors to speak on the most effective treatment options.

They can now add to this list an annual Art Walk that raises money for worthy organizations. Their goal this year is to raise $25,000 for the Victory Academy, Oregon’s only year-round accredited school for children with autism. Victory Academy’s mission is “to provide children affected by ASD with an integrated academic and therapeutic program, carefully designed to address an individual’s strengths and challenges. They foster the development of meaningful relationships and the achievement of life-long learning.”

To support this Art Walk, you can either sponsor your own team or donate to one of the fundraising teams listed here. They are also looking for sponsors and volunteers to help them get this event off the ground. If you’d like to help you can email them at: autismnwaf@gmail.com.

This fun for the family event will be held at Clackamas Community College, 19600 Molalla Ave., Oregon City, Oregon during Labor Day Weekend on Saturday, August 30th from 11-3pm. I’m going to be there. Will you be able to come and support this worthy cause, too? If so, visit my Facebook page, (https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Marshack.Ph.D), and click on the upcoming event “First Ever Northwest Autism Foundation Art Walk” and say you’ll attend. And please share this with your friends and neighbors. I appreciate your help in getting the word out.

Learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder – Asperger's 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.

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.

Are You Using Tablet Apps to Help Children with Autism?

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


tablet apps for children with autismAs a parent, you know how much your autistic child struggles to communicate and learn. Whenever we discover new tools that can make this easier, we’re happy to share those with you. Recently the CNN story by Kelly Heather, “Using tablets to reach kids with autism,” brought to my attention different apps that, while they weren’t necessarily designed for those with autism, are proving to be very useful.

Tablets can be very entertaining as children play games and watching videos on them. But when you use the right app, they can do so much more to help those with autism to communicate and learn. Here are a few apps that you might find useful:

Puppet Pals allows you to recreate social scenes in a play format, so everyone can discuss how a situation can be improved. The article gives an example of when two boys who were playing together turned to hurtful behavior. Their speech therapist used this iPad app to recreate the incident using photos of the classroom and the kids involved to set the scene. As they watched it together they discussed what went wrong and how they could avoid a situation like that in the future.

Flummox and Friends is an app and a TV show that appeals to 6 to 12 year old children with autism. It uses humor to teach social skills. Inventors and their friends guide kids as they invent new ways of dealing with tricky social situations so your child discovers new solutions for themselves, too.

Siri is an interactive app that can help children with their articulation. A person speaks in a normal voice and it understands what is said and can send it as a message. It can even talk back.

Tablets are easy to use, since they can be held in the lap and don’t need a mouse. Your child simply touches the screen instead. They are relatively inexpensive tools that help parents and educators communicate with and teach those on the autism spectrum. For children who aren't speaking, there are even a lot of different voice-output apps available.

Sometimes to reach someone with autism you need to be creative. In my practice, I’ve discovered that use texting within the session helps autistic adults and youth who struggle with communication to be relaxed and actually enjoy our conversations. Have you found an app that would benefit those on the autism spectrum that you’d like to recommend? If so, please join me on my Facebook page, (https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Marshack.Ph.D) and let us know what it is.

Confused about which app to use? Check out Apps for Autism, a new Australian website designed to help you choose.

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.

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.



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