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Kathy Marshack News

Should Autistics Drive a Car?

Thursday, July 02, 2015


should those with autism spectrum disorder drive a carThere are so many things that Neuro Typicals (those without Autism Spectrum Disorder) take for granted. For example, it’s usually not a big thing when your spouse takes the wheel, unless he or she is a really bad driver. And even when your teen first gets behind the wheel of the car and starts driving, you may be only a little apprehensive.


But when you’re dealing with someone who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, this situation can become filled with anxiety. And when you add to the mix a divorce and your ASD ex is allowed free reign to drive your children, it can become a nightmare.

Drexel University has published its first study on the driving behaviors in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. They asked those with ASD how they felt about driving. They found that many regulate their own driving. For instance, some won’t drive on the freeway while others won’t drive at night.

The A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is funding further research. In the next phase, the team is using driving simulation in Dr. Maria Schultheis’ lab to examine actual driving performance of adults on the autism spectrum. If you’re interested in enrolling in these studies, contact schultheis@drexel.edu.

Interactive Autism Network points out the many with higher functioning autism can drive safely if they’re given extensive training. Processing the big picture of multiple events rather than focusing on one detail at a time is one challenge they must overcome. As well as staying calm and not getting overwhelmed and shutting down in stressful circumstances.

New York Times also reports on the challenges of driving with Asperger's. Parent of ASD teens are concerned about “their ability to concentrate, to understand nonverbal communication and to handle the unexpected.” Their rigidity in obeying the rules may cause them to lack flexibility in emergency situations. Some autistic adults have terrible road rage when other drivers violate the rules.

All of these articles stress the importance of personalized training so those with ASD can drive safely if they choose to do so. Is this an issue in your home? Would you like an objective professional to give you feedback on your concerns? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office so we can schedule an appointment and assess your situation.

For further information: Remote Education on Asperger Relationships.

How will Your Divorce Affect Your Children with ASD

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


how does divorce affect my child who has AutismSo many marriages end in divorce. This is especially true when there’s a daily strain from the special needs of autistic children. While I can’t determine how many special needs children have been affected by divorce in Oregon and Washington, I did find the following statistics:

During the first six months in 2015, Oregon has processed 3,098 divorces involving children 18 years of age or younger. Current Washington State statistics are not yet available. We do know that during 2013, Washington State processed 25,395 divorces and annulments.

This means that the potential is high for these extremely vulnerable children to be exposed to Divorce Court or child custody hearings. And while the judge and attorneys try to make decisions in the best interests of these children, they often apply rulings to autistic children that actually may harm them.

Take for example a Psychology Today article by Chantal Sicile-Kira. She discusses an example where custody of a child is usually split 50/50 with each parent. People knowledgeable about Autism and Asperger's Syndrome have shown that breaking an ASD child’s routine and structure is detrimental to him or her. Of course, the Family Court System knows that all children need structure and routine, and they have a set of standards that meet the basic needs. Yet they are often unaware that this basic structure is not nearly sufficient to meet the needs of autistic children.

The court system has found it helpful to enlist the expertise of psychologists specializing in Autism and Asperger's Syndrome to give testimony as to the best interests for these children. These trained professionals help the judges and attorneys understand the critical importance of the special needs and practical ways these special needs can be met.

The Psychology Today article also provided three vital questions to ask a prospective attorney if you’re faced with a divorce or child custody hearing:

  • “Do you have any experience with divorce involving special needs children, in particular autism and Asperger’s Syndrome?”
  • “In past cases, have you been able to convince the Judge to take the child’s special needs into account when considering ‘the best interest of the child’?”
  • “Are you aware of the complex needs of a child with autism as they grow older, and how these complex needs should be considered in the Matrimonial Settlement Agreement?”

Are you facing a Divorce Court or custody battle in the near future? Please seek the assistance of a mental health professional who can help your children adjust to their new circumstances, as well as help the Court understand your child’s special needs.

I’m licensed in psychology and social work, so I can provide this service for families in Oregon and Washington. I’m eager to educate and consult with those in the legal profession so they can make the best decisions for children with ASD. Please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Also check out my Remote Education on Asperger's Syndrome.

Do You Need Empathy in order to Love?

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


empathy plus love means husbands and wives show their feelings through words and actionsAre you in a relationship where you intellectually know that your partner loves you, but in day-to-day living there’s just not the emotional connection, affectionate physical touch or even conversation? Perhaps your spouse even gets angry when you express emotions? This is the life neuro-typicals live with their Asperger mates.

Is it possible to love if you don't have empathy? Is it possible to feel loved by your partner who may have an empathy disorder? Is it truly a loving experience if your ASD partner feels love in his or her heart but doesn’t share it with you?

I think of love as a verb rather than a noun. As an action, love is not really love unless it is shared, accepted and returned. This is the loving flow we have all experienced when we are in the presence of someone with empathy. Even if there are many other types of love, such as love of God and Country, or love of a book or favorite past time, the type of love that hangs up Asperger/NT relationships is the loving exchange between two people who empathize with each other.

Many Aspies are offended by the notion that they aren’t capable of love. Of course they’re capable of love, but it feels differently to those of us with empathy. One Aspie told me that she believes she has empathy because she feels love for family and friends and feels very comfortable in their presence. However, she seems totally unaware of how these loved ones feel in her presence. In other words, the love is in her heart but not shared. And as long as her loved ones make her feel comfortable, it ends there. She is puzzled that people pull away from her from time to time, and chalks it up to the belief that people just don't like to be around a depressed Aspie.

We can't discuss this topic too much because empathy is the center pin to everything Aspie. Please join us during the next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Teleconference. It will be help on Friday, June 26th at 2:30pm. Your relationship may be troubled, but there is hope.

Learn more on my website: Asperger Syndrome and Relationships.

Oregon Social Security Income and Social Security Disability Benefits for Autistics Free Workshop

Thursday, April 30, 2015


autism SSI SSDI free workshop in Portland OregonIt can be a nightmare negotiating the intricacies of benefits offered through SSI and SSDI for our loved ones with Autism. So I’m happy to alert my Oregon readers to a free resource coming up next week. I think it’s going to be something you’ll want to attend if at all possible.

Autism Society of Oregon (ASO) is hosting a free event that will improve the lives of all affected by autism. It’s a Workshop entitled, “Plan for Work” Benefits Planning: Busting Myths on Work and SSI/SSDI Benefits. It will cover the following topics:

  • Overviews of Social Security Administration disability benefits program
  • Work incentives associated with Social Security Disability (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid and Medicare connections to SSDI and SSI
  • Individual Development Accounts and the ABLE act.

Already registered? You may not be aware of this…there’s been such a huge response they’ve booked a larger venue and have moved the Workshop to a new location as noted below. Here are the details:

Date: Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Time: 6:00-8:00 pm
Place: Providence Portland Medical Center

Conference Room HCC1 (Basement level)

4805 NE Glisan, Portland OR 97213


It’s a free event, but you must register in order to attend by emailing events@AutismSocietyOregon.org or calling 503-636-1676.

Does Your Gut Health Really Affect Your Mental Health?

Thursday, April 23, 2015


good gut health promotes good mental healthYou’ve heard the expression “it’s a gut-feeling.” Is it merely a coincidence that the gut has been associated with our feelings and our mental health?? Science is revealing some fascinating insights into this question.

Scientific American reports that when a person’s digestion is impaired or leaky gut is present, the symptoms of depression worsen. This may be due to increased autoimmune responses and inflammation. A more recent article explores the connections between gut health and autism.

A NPR story about Dr Emeran Mayer, a profession of medicine and psychiatry at U.C.L.A. reports that gut bacteria influences our minds. He’s researching MRI scans to see how the brain structure compares to the type of bacteria found in the gut. He’s already found some interesting connections. This same story talks about a study on mice and how their brain chemistry and behavior changed when gut microbes were introduced.

Nature reported on a study that found that feeding mice the bacterium Bacteroides fragilis can reverse autism-like symptoms. They found that mice born by caesarean section had significantly more symptoms of depression since they didn’t pick up their mother’s microbes, which they would have done during a vaginal birth.

A recent Huffington Post article reports that treating participants with probiotics lessens negative thinking and depression.

Will all of these findings translate into real treatments for humans? Time will tell. I find these studies fascinating because of their impact on the world of Autistics. They often suffer from gut problems and learning new treatments for them is always exciting.

Improving a person’s physical health will improve their mental health. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and would like assistance in reaching your optimal physical and mental health through holistic methods, please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

What Happens to Autistic Children Aging Out of School?

Monday, April 20, 2015


what programs are there for aging out autisticsAccording to experts, within the next 10 years, an estimated 500,000 autistic children will become too old for education through the local school districts. At the age of 21, these children graduate and have to find their own way in the world that is ill prepared for them.

Autistics (the term they prefer to be called) don’t grow out of their disability. So losing their structured routine is terrifying to them. It can undo the progress they’ve made and send them spiraling back into self destructive or isolating behavior. Many parents who have already experienced this describe it as falling off of a cliff or even being pushed off of a cliff.

Recently on a must-see Dateline Show, On the Brink, they followed the stories of two autistic boys for three years, chronicling their experiences as they aged out of the school system. The struggle these families go through in order to find specialized care for their sons is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

It’s required that each school district has a transition plan, a set of measurable goals to prepare autistics for adulthood. The reality falls far short of what is needed.

Let’s raise awareness of this issue and give continuing support to those we know personally in addition to everyone across the nation who struggles with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s a growing problem that we cannot afford to ignore.

I realize the caregivers of those with ASD need extra support and comfort as they carry a heavy load. I’ve formed a supportive network through international teleconferences and local meetups called Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Familiy of Adults with ASD. And I’m happy to now let you know that there are groups forming around the country so you may soon be able to meet in your own local area. Check here for the currently scheduled meetups. Please come and join us. You’re not alone.

Listen to the full Dateline Show here.

Check out Autism Speaks Transition Tools here.

President Obama Proclaims April 2 World Autism Awareness Day

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


On April 2nd, President Barack Obama issued a White House Proclamation recognizing April 2, 2015 as World Autism Awareness Day. Here, in part, is what he said:

“We celebrate the countless ways they (those on the autism spectrum) strengthen our communities and enrich our world…individuals with autism live independent and productive lives, and our Nation is better because of their unique talents and perspectives. Their example reminds us that all people have inherent dignity and worth, and that everyone deserves a fair shot at opportunity.

My Administration is committed to helping Americans with autism fulfill their potential by ensuring access to the resources and programs they need. The Affordable Care Act prohibits companies from denying health insurance because of pre-existing conditions such as autism, and the law also requires most insurance plans to cover preventive services -- including autism and developmental screenings for young children -- without copays. Last year, I was proud to sign the Autism CARES Act of 2014, which bolstered training and educational opportunities for professionals serving children or adults on the autism spectrum. And as part of the BRAIN Initiative, we continue to invest in innovative research that aims to revolutionize our understanding of conditions like autism and improve the lives of all who live with them.

Today, let us honor advocates, professionals, family members, and all who work to build brighter tomorrows alongside those with autism. Together, we can create a world free of barriers to inclusion and full of understanding and acceptance of the differences that make us strong. I encourage all Americans to learn more about autism and what they can do to support individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.”

I truly believe that as we learn to make better lives for our loved ones with ASD, we make better lives for everyone on the planet. Education and research into how the brain works are vital for understanding how best to help them. I’m committed to sharing with you the latest information and tools for furthering these endeavors.

Teachers and Parents – Check out Autism Speaks’ Puzzle Piece Project Tool Kit, a K-12 grade educational tool for creating greater awareness among students. If the children of today develop greater awareness, as adults of tomorrow they can continue making a real difference in the lives of those with ASD.

Read the entire White House Proclamation here.

Please, come over to my Facebook Page and share what you’re doing in support of Autism this month.

Are You Feeling like a Misfit in your NT-AS Marriage?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


asperger husband makes the wife feel lonely and like she doesn't fit in anywhereAny marriage is subject to ups and downs due to human nature in general and the individual partners, in particular. When Asperger Syndrome is part of the mix, the challenges easily mount. This is not to say that the Aspie partner is to blame or is at “fault.” However, given that the core characteristics of Asperger Syndrome relate to communication, emotions, perspective taking and sensory issues, the very components upon which relationships are built, it is no wonder that misunderstanding and frustration often crop up in these relationships.

After years of adapting to your Aspie loved ones, many Neuro-Typicals feel "Aspergated" or as if they have one foot in the NT world and one foot in the ASD world. . . not quite fitting into either. Do you relate to this following scenario?

Little by little you lose contact with your friends as you retreat into your spouse’s Asperger comfort zone. You quit going out to dinner and you quit inviting people over, because you’re Aspie partner complains, so it’s just easier to disappear. And because your social needs aren’t being met, the only way you know how to cope is to “shut down”, pretending that it doesn’t matter. Sure you don’t give up without a fight, but the efforts to fix the situation seem to be pointless.

As a result, your evenings find you in one room watching TV or playing with the children, while your husband is glued to the TV in the den watching his programs. If you don’t start connecting with someone soon, you’re going to go crazy with resentment. But it’s been so long since you put yourself out there that it feels awkward, clumsy and so lonely. You feel like you just don’t fit in anywhere. Does this sound all too familiar?

Are you feeling like a misfit? Fortunately we have the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with AS group, whose members provide the deepest of understanding and caring. But where else can you go for this kind of support? Join us on March 21, 2015 1:00pm for our next local meetup in Portland, OR. Can’t be there? Then join the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with AS international teleconference on Friday, March 27, 2015 at 2:30pm PDT. Let's talk about how we can find this support or at the very least how to protect ourselves from the ravages of loneliness.

And if you haven’t purchased your copy of my books on how to nurture Asperger Relationships so that they thrive, here are links with more information:

Out of Mind - Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome

Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going over the Edge?

Read more on my website: Asperger Relationships.

Can Spiritual Support Help You Cope with Asperger Relationships?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


spiritual support is essential to maintain hope in your asperger relationshipsWhen caring for someone with Asperger’s, do you put self-care at the top of your list? People who travel by air are instructed, “In case of an emergency, put the air mask on yourself first and then your children or others.” Only in caring for yourself first can you truly care for others. Otherwise you have nothing left to give. Families with member who have Asperger’s Syndrome especially need to attend to and take care of their whole person. That means caring for your whole being - your mind, body and spirit.

Does this mean you need to be religious?

Spirit or spirituality is not synonymous with religion or religious. Church has nothing to do with spirituality directly. Rather the spirit is that part of each human that makes us a distinctive personality. It is the part of us that defines us and yet connects us to others. It has long been known that a strong healthy spirit will guide us successfully through adversity, whereas a conquered spirit will succumb to illness and death. It was Mother Theresa's strong spirit that transcended her small stature and seemingly insignificant role as a nun to profoundly affect thousands of people for the better. In other words, spirit is that singular life force that directs and shapes our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Therefore, keeping spirit or life force healthy is essential to the process of achieving healthy balance in any life.

Does spiritual practice and spiritual guidance help in your life with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Many of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD members post that their church and/or spiritual discipline helps them stay strong and loving. But not all are finding comfort from their religious organizations. In fact, some report the opposite. . .that they feel even more alone. We don't need platitudes. We need unconditional love and support for this life.

Join our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD local Meetup on Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 1:00pm PST or our international teleconference Meetup on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 2:30pm PST. We’ll discuss this topic: SPIRITUAL SUPPORT: Does It Help? Let's meet to discuss what works for you whether it is a formal religion, another form of spiritual discipline, or even atheism. What really matters is that we connect and know that we are not alone. . . In the material world or beyond.

Read more on my website: Asperger Syndrome Support and Asperger Relationships Remote Education.

Asperger’s Syndrome and Depression – A Deadly Combination

Monday, January 12, 2015


asperger syndrome and depression is often linked with suicideA large number of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome suffer from depression. Scientists don’t know if this is a result of the struggles and rejections they face in life or if it’s because of the way their brains are hard wired. As Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen said in a recently published study on Asperger’s and depression, “Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, underachievement, and unemployment.”

What we now know, regardless of the causes, when your loved one has Asperger’s Syndrome and shows symptoms of depression, alarm bells to go off. The study mentioned above found that there’s a significant increase in suicidality among adults with Asperger’s. They are ten times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicidal attempts than the general population, which is even more than those who have psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Up until now, studies on Asperger’s Syndrome and depression have been concentrating on preadolescents, and they show a low rate of suicidal behavior. So, even though previous studies have shown that there’s a link between autism and suicidal thoughts, these findings about adults with AS come as a surprise to many. What concerns me is that many adults with Asperger’s have lived their lives undiagnosed, so they haven’t sought help from a mental health professional unless they’ve experienced severe mood or psychotic changes.

Nomi Kaim of Asperger/Autism Newtwork (formerly Asperger’s Association of New England or AANE) describes poignantly how depression affects someone with Asperger’s. She highlights the paradoxical battle that goes on inside in the following areas of life:

  • Those with Asperger’s focus on and gain comfort from their special area(s) of interest. Depression steals any delight in doing such activities. This leaves an immense sense of emptiness.
  • People with Asperger’s Syndrome deal in concrete, black and white thinking. Depression forces them leave the comfort of these thoughts as they have to learn to deal with overwhelming emotions they are unprepared to handle.
  • People with Asperger’s Syndrome find comfort in being alone. Depression makes it essential to seek out others so they don’t spiral into self-destruction, which causes the pain of socializing to become more pronounced and threatens their sense of being self-sufficient.
  • People with Asperger’s Syndrome hate to be touched. Depression creates a need for physical yearning to be held and comforted, which, in turn, may leave them feeling violated.

This study highlights the need for us to be alert and prompt about seeking professional help for our Aspie loved ones who are depressed. If you live near Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, please contact my office and schedule an appointment. Together we can create new ways for them to cope with this situation before it becomes a tragedy.



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