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Kathy Marshack News

Maternal Depression Is Linked to Child’s Inability to Show Empathy

Monday, March 06, 2017


Maternal Depression Is Linked to Child’s Inability to Show EmpathyDid you know that 1 in 9 women suffer from depression during or after pregnancy? That’s the latest statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s appalling that not all of these sufferers feel free to seek treatment. Especially in the light of a recent study I want to share with you.

But first a little background… Last year I wrote about the increased risk of autism in the children born to women who take SSRIs for depression. While that is of concern to health professionals, untreated depression is too serious and outweighs that risk. As an alternative, I like to incorporate holistic health treatments and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as often as I can.

Because this is such a serious health concern, I continually monitor for the newest information to share with you. Recently I came across an article in the Science Daily that further enlarges on the topic of maternal depression and its effect on the child’s inability to show empathy, often a hallmark of autism.

The study followed over 70 mother-child parings – 27 with depressed mothers and 45 without. They tracked them for the first 11 years of the child’s life.

They found that maternal depression across the first years of life impacts children’s neural basis of empathy. In children of depressed mothers, the neural reaction to pain stops earlier in the area related to socio-cognitive processing. According to Professor Ruth Feldman, “this reduced mentalizing-related processing of others' pain, is perhaps because of difficulty in regulating the high arousal associated with observing distress in others.”

The way the depressed mothers interacted with their children was crucial to the difference between these two groups. They were less synchronized or attuned with their children and had more intrusive behavior that triggered this reduced empathetic response in their children.

Identifying this depressed mother-child behavior opens the way for more effective interventions at this crucial period in a child’s development. I’m awaiting further results from their ongoing study into the way that maternal care affects the development of a child’s brain, endocrine systems, behavior and relationships.

This new understanding highlights the absolute necessity to treat depression in mothers. The long-range consequences are too serious to ignore. If you or someone you know is suffering from depressive symptoms, please seek help from a mental health professional immediately. There are numerous, effective ways to treat it, with and without medication. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can explore your options.

ASD Emotional Sensitivity is Not the Same as Empathy

Wednesday, March 01, 2017


ASD sensitivity isn’t the same as Radiant Empathy, which is the highest level of empathy where you care for others’ feelings without needing reciprocity.John Elder Robison, whose Asperger’s Syndrome was undiagnosed until he was 40 years old, gets a lot of play for his books on his life with autism. His latest book about undergoing transcranial stimulation, "Switched On" leads readers to believe that for a short period of time he experienced empathy. This is simply not true.

Empathy is so much more than being sensitive. In fact many NTs are stumped by their Aspies because they appear to be very sensitive and they might be. Parents make this mistake often with their ASD children. Because your ASD child loves you or bursts into tears when they see a pet hurting doesn’t mean they have empathy.

Empathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that I sum up as Namaste – "the Soul in me recognizes and honors the Soul in you." It’s the ability to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant your own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person even if you sympathize. You don't confuse their pain or thoughts with your own. Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call "Radiant Empathy," or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity.

John Robison never experienced the state of empathy, but with transcranial stimulation, he was more aware of his own feelings and he was even more unable to regulate them (typical of an Aspie). If you have Radiant Empathy you can regulate your feelings and not run amok.

It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience. But science will keep trying to discover the components of life as if the sum total of a human is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

We’ll discuss this very important subject at our next TELECONFERENCE: “Sensitivity is not Empathy” on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. Our approach won’t be so much from an intellectual point of view but for two reasons…

1) When you better understand that your Aspie is operating in the relationship without empathy, you can more easily find ways to communicate.

2) You may find that you can be freer to strive for Radiant Empathy, which actually makes your life more joyful.

If you’d like to learn more about the science of Asperger’s Syndrome, click on the image below and download a free chapter of my book. And don’t forget to invite the ASD professionals you know to join the special Meetup I’ve created for them…Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists.

 


Autism or Narcissism – How Can You Tell?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Autism or Narcissism – How Can You Tell?Autism and Narcissism have something in common. They are both empathy disorders, the result of the individual not having a Theory of Mind. What this means is that they don’t recognize that another person has beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings and perspectives that differ from their own. Empathy is a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy.

Since Narcissism and Autism display similar traits, how can you tell the difference between Narcissism and Asperger’s?


  • First, Autism is a diagnosis and narcissism is only a trait of many disorders. 
  • Second, not all Autistics are the same since it is a spectrum disorder. 
  • Third, all Autistics are narcissistic since a defining characteristic of Autism is lack of empathy.

It’s important to know that it isn't narcissism per se that defines the Autistic. It is how the Autistic works with their tendency toward narcissism, self-absorption and lack of empathy. If the Autistic takes responsibility for their narcissism and truly wants to repair the rifts that their unempathic behavior creates, then there’s hope for the relationship.

On the other hand, if the Autistic believes that their singular narcissistic worldview is all that matters, then it’s probably irrelevant that they’re diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This person tips toward narcissism and that's how they need to be treated.

If you’ve wasted too much of your precious life trying to accommodate an ASD narcissist, whether it’s a family member, coworker or neighbor, then I invite you to join our Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD Meetup. We have monthly discussions that will help you deal with this crazy making life.


Our next free international teleconference: How is Autism different than Narcissim? will be held on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. You’ll find out how to distinguish whether it’s narcissism or Autism that you’re dealing with. That makes all the difference in how you’ll respond.

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and you need some 1-on-1 with me to discuss your situation privately, please feel free to contact my office and we’ll schedule an appointment to discuss ways to improve your situation.

Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More Resilient

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More ResilientAs we enter this season of thankfulness, it’s good to reflect on how often we ask ourselves, “What am I grateful for today?” Not only does a daily gratitude practice like gratitude journaling make us more pleasant to be around, gratitude also improves our health.

Asking yourself this simple question every day is powerful enough to change your brain’s chemistry! As a result, people who look for reasons to be grateful experience better mental health, emotional wellbeing and resiliency in the face of difficulties. Why does gratitude have such power?

When you experience gratitude, neural circuits are activated in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin production increases, and these neurotransmitters produce calming results. The more you stimulate these neural pathways, the stronger and more automatic they become, which is an example of Hebb’s Law that states, “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

This means that if you’re looking for the negative, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger. But if you begin a daily gratitude practice, you will start noticing what’s going right in your life instead. This is great news! You can remake yourself into a positive person, even if you’ve tended toward being negative your whole life.

One interesting study on gratitude was conducted by the Department of Psychology, at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. They partnered with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation to see how “gratitude ratings would correlate with activity in brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment and theory of mind.” Dr. Glenn Fox describes their research and finding:

“The stimuli used to elicit gratitude were drawn from stories of survivors of the Holocaust, as many survivors report being sheltered by strangers or receiving lifesaving food and clothing, and having strong feelings of gratitude for such gifts. The participants were asked to place themselves in the context of the Holocaust and imagine what their own experience would feel like if they received such gifts. For each gift, they rated how grateful they felt.
When the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference. These areas include the ventral- and dorsal- medial pre-frontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex."
A lot of people conflate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing. What we found was something a little more interesting. The pattern of [brain] activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us.”

In other words, gratitude doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves being a morally and socially aware individual who is able to display empathy. (This may help explain why you feel unappreciated and unloved by your partner who has Aspergers. Their brain functions differently so they are socially awkward and lack the ability to deeply empathize with you.)

Why not begin a gratitude journal today? Write down five things you’re grateful for. As your list grows, you’ll look at life differently, plus you’ll have something encouraging to read when you’re feeling down. High on my gratitude list is that you’re part of my community.

Diagnosing Asperger’s – Is It also Pathological Avoidance Disorder, Narcissism or OCD?

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Those with Aspergers may also be diagnosed with Narcissism, Pathological Avoidance Disorder and OCD, yet it’s wise to focus on treating the Empathy DisorderAs we seek to understand our friends and family who have Asperger’s Syndrome (a high-functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder), we discover a myriad of potential diagnoses that could fit, such as Narcissism, Pathological Avoidance Disorder and OCD. But before you wander down the Rabbit Hole with these variations on the theme of Autism Spectrum Disorders, it’s important to pay attention to the underlying problem for all of these disorders. . . namely an Empathy Disorder.

People who lack empathy are unable to step outside of themselves. They can’t tune in to what other people are feeling, thinking or believing. This self-centeredness often results in personal conflict, communication breakdown, and an adversarial attitude.

Research shows that empathy is "hard-wired" through a variety of neural pathways, some of which have mirror neurons. Regions of the brain actually light up in when you become aware of another person's emotions. Literally, you do feel what she’s feeling.

In the normal course of events, a person can lose his (or her) ability to be empathetic by becoming too self-absorbed, or he can increase his ability to be empathetic by retraining his brain.

However, the brains of people with ASD don’t function in the same manner. They can, however, develop other ways to navigate the world of personal growth and social interaction. Interestingly, research shows that when we find ways to manage our anxieties, we actually reduce our narcissistic and OCD behaviors. So too with Aspies.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, November 17th, 2016 at 1:30 PM. We’ll discuss “Is it Pathological Avoidance Disorder, Narcissism or OCD?” In this teleconference, we will discuss the challenges to empathy-disordered individuals. Regardless of their diagnosis, or the way they choose to adapt to their anxiety and empathy disorder, we want to speak to the underlying empathy issue, not just the symptom.

And 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 about parenting, don’t wait another moment. It also explores the science behind Asperger’s. It will help you understand your Aspie better. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.

TMS Treatment Helps Woman with Asperger's Experience the World in a New Way

Monday, August 08, 2016


Expand your frame of reference and see the world in a new wayRecently, Alix Speigel hosted a fascinating story on NPR's podcast, Invisibilia. It revealed the story of Kim who, “until she was 54 years old, was totally unaware that there were things in the world she couldn't see.”

Throughout her life, nothing happened in the way she expected and she hadn’t a clue as to why that was. It seemed to her that people said and did things that were completely unrelated. It didn’t make sense to her. You see she has Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes a person unable to pick up on social cues or the nuanced emotional meanings that most people can easily see.

Then Kim was given an opportunity to see what others see. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston were investigating how a procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) affected the brains of people with Asperger’s. An electromagnetic coil is placed next to the scalp and rhythmically sends 30-minutes magnetic pulses through the skull in order to stimulate brain cells.


After undergoing this treatment, Kim felt deeper emotions for the first time in her life. As she read different statements, she was able to see the larger context of situations alluded to and was able to see the true meanings attached to them. She explained it was like going from “black and white to color”.

While the effects didn’t last long, it made her aware of a different way of experiencing the world. Where she once thought she was better than others, she now saw that she was simply different, and not necessarily in a good way. She felt hopelessly depressed, so she begged for another session of TMS.

During the next session, instead of reading, she watched short videos as the magnet did its work. Once again her perception was drastically different before and after the treatment. Where once she saw nothing out of the ordinary, she now saw the nuances of the body language, the subtly of conversation and she actually understood sarcasm. It amazed her! Once again her results were short lived, but this time it left her with a greater understanding of herself and the world around her – without the depression and self-doubt that happened the first time.

Researchers don’t understand why a few like Kim respond so well to TMS and others don’t. At this time, the FDA approves TMS as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression, but not for autism. They’ve found that it slightly increases the risk of seizures in those who have epilepsy. Since the research into TMS is still in its infancy, I’m anxious to see what they eventually discover.

Kim’s story reminds us of an important truth. Whether we have Asperger’s or not, we all function within a confined frame of reference based on our biology and experiences in life. The good news is that this frame of reference can be shifted and expanded. Although I don't offer TMS, I can help in expanding your frame of reference so you can achieve better relationships and greater self-understanding, and if you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, please contact my office and schedule an appointment.


Be sure to
click on this link and read the NPR show notes or listen to the podcast.

Brain Concussion Issue Is Causing Ivy League to Rethink their Football Practices

Monday, March 14, 2016


Brain Concussion Issue Is Causing Ivy League to Rethink their Football PracticesWere you pleased to read in a recent New York Times article that the eight Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale) football coaches unanimously approved eliminating the full-contact hitting during practices for the regular season? I certainly was, since I’ve been calling attention to the problem of brain concussions for years. They had already limited the amount of full contact during spring and preseason practices.

The brain concussion issue is developing remarkable traction when college football coaches start reducing full body contact at practice. Their goal is to cut down on practice injuries and concussions so the players are healthy to play their best during the games. To keep their players in shape, they have hit pads, tackling dummies and a “mobile virtual player”. It hasn’t hurt their chances for winning either.

Coach Buddy Teevens of Dartmouth says that his players have become better tacklers, since they’re focusing on tackling without head collisions. He says it’s made them a better team, as winning the championship attests.

The Ivy League is also reconsidering the rules for men’s and women’s hockey, lacrosse, soccer, rugby, and wrestling to see if they can reduce concussions in those sports too. Other coaches across the country are following suit to varying degrees.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), whether from sports injuries, accidents, or military conflict, are changing the personalities of our loved ones. They have difficulty feeling, processing, and conveying their emotions, which as you can imagine, leads to relationship breakdowns.

One area especially affected is the ability to empathize. Professor Robert Wood, a head injury specialist, and Claire Williams at University of Swansea in Wales UK are studying TBI as it related to empathy deficits. They found that TBI patients have impaired ability to recognize emotions in pictures and video. Their further studies showed that persons with TBI experience alexithymia – having difficulty recognizing and/or describing their own emotions. They found that 60% of their TBI subjects suffered from this in comparison to 11% of the control population of their study.

Not only should the physical injury of TBI be treated, the emotional damage must be addressed as well. It helps to use medicines, whole foods, vitamins and supplements to help heal the brain. And various types of psychotherapy are beneficial for handling the emotional and relationship issues. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and need help, please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Looking at Autism through the Eyes of One Who Knows

Monday, December 14, 2015


what its like to have autismPerhaps you’re familiar with these phrases that describe empathy: “Put yourself in his shoes” or “Until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, you won’t understand”. If we’ve never experienced it, we can’t fully comprehend the feelings and emotions of another person.

Recently, in a Huffington Post article, Dr. Jordan Schaul, a board member and chief science officer for Zoo Nation revealed what it’s like to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s entitled, I Can't Fake it Until I Make It – I'm Autistic. Please take the time to read it. It sheds light on the autistic perspective. In the process, I hope it helps us be more empathetic, patient and understanding of those we meet, no matter what they’re dealing with.

Upon being diagnosed at the age of 40, Dr. Schaul’s first response was anger – anger at family, friends and professionals for not recognizing it sooner. (Earlier diagnosis was Attention Deficit Disorder.) He was also relieved to finally have an explanation for why he felt he didn’t fit in, why he felt exhausted and stressed at social interactions.

I’ve done extensive research on empathy and autism so he quoted me as a clinician and autism expert for the article. I said, "Empathy explains it all when it comes to Asperger's Syndrome. Regardless of where an individual falls on the autism spectrum, lack of empathy is the defining characteristic. Empathy is that ineffable skill of reading between the lines, knowing where the other person is coming from, sizing up the context and speaking in a way that respectfully cares for the feelings of others. Without empathy the autistic person is left in an isolated and disconnected world. They may feel compassion, sympathy and love without a clear way to express it to others with a few simple words or a look. "High Functioning Autism" is such a misnomer. What good is it to be brilliant, talented, well-educated or good looking, if you can't connect with others in a way that makes them feel acknowledged and cared for... and want to love you back?"

Rather than talk about someone’s lack of social skills, why not talk with them and see if you can help them discover the reasons for it. If you suspect autism, please consult with a mental health professional who specializes in Asperger’s Syndrome to make sure you arrive at the proper diagnosis. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Are You a Giver or a Taker? How to Deepen Your Relationships Doing Both

Tuesday, October 20, 2015



giving and receivingIt’s been said that there are “givers” and there are “takers”. Which one are you? There’s a well-known quote from the Bible that says, “It is better to give than it is to receive.” We really do get more out of life when we practice giving rather than focusing on getting. However, the giving-receiving concept has become foreign to many in our Society.

How can you learn to value giving and receiving gracefully as an important part of the human experience?

It begins by developing an awareness of what others need to be happy. If you can’t tell because you have a hard time reading them, simply ask them what makes them happy.

Notice how it feels when you receive something. Many people feel undeserving, and their hesitancy can be interpreted as not liking what’s been offered. If someone gives you something, they feel you are deserving, so don’t minimize or dismiss their feelings. Let their generosity reach your heart!

Recognize that accepting from others is actually giving them joy. Rather than questioning the complement or gift, see the happiness on their faces as they give it and focus on that. It makes them feel good that they’re making a difference in your life in some small way. You are honoring them by accepting gracefully.

Don’t feel obligated to reciprocate. When you feel obligated, you give grudgingly. If you love and appreciate a person, you’ll look for ways to make them happy. So you’ll keep your eyes open for opportunities. Spontaneously giving gifts out of love rather than feeling obligated means a great deal.

Let people be good to you. Notice when they say, “please” and “thank you”, and reward them with a smile. And when someone opens a door for you, it’s your turn to say “thank you”. When someone is talking with you, really listen to them. And then when you have something to say, they’ll be more inclined to listen to you.

We can nourish ourselves on a spiritual level if we deepen our ability to receive gracefully. Even if the gift isn’t something that we wanted or needed, a heartfelt “Thank you for thinking of me” acknowledges the greater gift – their love for you. It does take a measure of vulnerability to allow their kindness to touch your emotions. It’s not something you need to feel embarrassed about. And it does take internal strength to live in the moment because it may not feel comfortable. However, that moment of smiles, hugs and tears deepens your emotional connection and bonds.

Do you struggle with feeling unworthy? Is your low self-esteem draining your life and relationships of joy? Do you want to give to others but you have difficulty figuring out how to do it? Many people have found that various forms of psychotherapy have helped them to change. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and let’s work out a therapy that’s best for you.

Understanding the Aspie Mind – Our Next Video Call Topic

Monday, October 19, 2015


Understanding the aspie mindIt is often said that "Once you have met one Aspie, you have met only one Aspie."

While it’s true that those with Asperger’s Syndrome (Aspies) are as individualistic and idiosyncratic as Neuro Typicals (NT), there are patterns that define them that are distinctively autistic. It’s important to be alert to these patterns and to develop strategies to communicate and cope.

The major defining pattern in Autism Spectrum Disorders is their lack of empathy or the inability to connect and reciprocate in their relationships. The Aspie may care, may want to connect, but their lack of empathy prevents it. On the other hand NTs use empathy as a major organizing principle for how we think and plan and relate to everyone and everything. Obviously these are two very different mindsets.

Instead of bemoaning what they lack, let's take a look at how they construct meaning. In other words, if you are to relate to an Aspie and to teach them to relate to you, you need to understand how they think.

We had our first monthly Video Call on this subject already. Will you be joining us on October 29th at 2PM PT where we’ll discuss the same topic: Understand the Aspie Mind? The goal of this Video Call is to bring these two worlds together; the world of empathy inspired relating and the world of Aspie relating. We’ll examine this phenomenon of empathy disorders and then we’ll take it a step further by looking at the mind of the Aspie.

Here’s what one of our participants said about a recent Video Call:

“This group has been a lifeline to me and I can see it is for so many others as well. Even though we were not in the same room, and even though we didn't have time to say very much; seeing each other's faces and expressions and interest level – on top of the fact that we "get" each other – was a monumentally positive experience. Very encouraging and uplifting, and the information learned was vital.”

Have you been looking for a supportive group that “gets” what you’re going through in dealing with your Aspie husband or wife? Learn more about the paid Video Call or the free International Conference for families that deal with Asperger Syndrome.

If you want to understand those with Asperger’s better and how to make your family thrive, please make the time to read my books, Going Over the Edge? and Out of Mind – Out of Sight.



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