Autism, a world of contrasts

The festivities have all passed and we’re well into the second part of January which means … drum roll please …. Blue Monday is behind us and Spring is somewhere up ahead in the not too distant future.  

 

Executive Function challenges are not part of the diagnostic criteria for autism but they are strongly correlated and often pose major roadblocks in everyday life.  

 

So what are Executive Function Skills?

 

I wish there was a simple answer but unfortunately we have little consensus on the subject. Researchers are still debating which skills should be included under this umbrella term.

 

I like to think of them as the “office manager of the brain”. They are the complex brain processes we use in the many day-to-day tasks that keep life on track.  

 

Dawson and Guare’s 2009* model highlights key Executive Function skills which include the ability to:

  • think flexibly and revise plans when there are...
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When trust is broken

trust Nov 28, 2021

This morning I woke up to an email that brought a smile to my face. News I had been hoping to receive had finally arrived! There was quite literally a spring in my step until …. I discovered that it was a scam.

 

For some inexplicable reason, someone had put their amazing techy skills to bad use and I became another statistic. Two weeks prior to this, my daughter was caught by a scam which resulted in the entire contents of her bank account being emptied.

 

Scams, fake news, counterfeit vaccine passports … it seems to be everywhere at the moment. It’s hard to know who to believe and all too easy to distrust. I got so suspicious after my daughter’s scam that I ignored a perfectly valid message from Royal Mail!

 

Trust once broken is very hard to restore. Did you ever stop to consider why?

 

Being caught in a scam is one thing but close relationships that have been hurt by broken trust are extremely hard to repair.

 

When trust is...

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5 strategies for staying sane when uncertainty hits

uncertainty Oct 31, 2021

Uncertainty has been the theme tune for the past two years.  

So many things exist outside of our control on the world stage … fuel shortages, volcanos, pandemics … I could keep going but you get the gist.

When facing uncertainty, we have a tendency to unravel. By nature, most of us like to know what is around the next corner and often feel fearful when dealing with the unknown. 

The “not knowing” is often far worse than the actual difficulty itself. Once we are in the situation, we have no choice but to deal with it.

Bob Marley said,

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice”.

But in the anticipation stage, the battle with uncertainty rages in our minds … where we are prone to catastrophising.

Although this applies to the majority, it is likely to be more exaggerated for autistic people where there is generally a higher level of need for order, predictability and control.  So in addition to...

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Curiosity saved the cat

communication conflict Oct 17, 2021

Our cat went missing this week. On the global scale of things, not exactly a major issue but for our family, it was huge. This little guy has captured our hearts and it was hard to think of anything else besides whether or not he was OK.

Before you tell me to settle down because let’s face it, cats do roam, let me explain my “why”. He was found by a neighbour as a tiny kitten, injured and on the brink of death. We never discovered what caused his trauma but he survived against the odds and made his home with our family of humans and pets.

As time passed, he grew into a strong and feisty boy but he remained vigilant especially when outdoors. He stayed near and never delivered any birds or mice as presents - thank goodness! At best, he managed to swat a passing fly or spider.

So we were worried. Very worried. We hunted high and low. We put food out. Left the garage door open. Watched the windows incessantly … but nothing.

And then, something interesting...

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The Mirror that Lies

mindset negativity bias Oct 02, 2021

Did you look at yourself in the mirror this morning? Do you like the person who was looking back at you? Or perhaps, like so many of us, you noticed your flaws rather than your assets.

Some years ago, I visited a funfair which had distortion mirrors as part of the attraction. You know the ones that change your proportions to make you look ridiculous?

Well, if laughter is the best medicine, we certainly got a good dose that day! Elongated heads, enormous stomachs and bulging biceps to name a few altered body parts. Personally, I liked the one that made me look like a top-notch athlete!

I was thinking about those mirrors this week during a conversation with a client. Ben (not his real name) was describing what he thought of himself. He used the words: “worthless, a failure and not good enough.”

I was surprised by what he said since I know that he is a young man with many great qualities and talents. It sounded to me like a very distorted picture of reality.

But just in...

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What do chatting and gymnastics have in common?

autism conversation Aug 18, 2021

It’s summertime here in the UK –  though you won’t get any clues from the weather! Despite our gloomy skies, it’s the season for outdoor theatre. Across the UK, audiences swap their opulent theatre seats for picnics and deck chairs. And as they say … the show goes on … come rain or shine.

A few years back, I took my children to see a play in a walled garden near our home. When the performance ended, I was surprised to see only a handful of actors on stage. As it turns out, the rest of the cast hadn’t done a runner … there weren’t any others. Each person had cleverly played multiple roles.

I remember thinking how incredibly skilled they were to keep changing characters without lapsing into the wrong role. It seemed like a big ask … even if they were trained to act. And yet, what they were doing, is similar to the mental gymnastics we perform when we catch-up with friends or colleagues around the barbecue or water...

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When the going gets tough, the tough get wise

resilience Aug 04, 2021

Last week, we saw gymnast and gold medallist, Simone Biles, withdraw from the Olympics in Tokyo. As we now know, she chose to prioritise her mental health over her medal count.

 

For the most part, there was a wonderful outpouring of support – from the likes of Michael Phelps to Michelle Obama and Justin Bieber, but … not everyone was kind.

 

Some criticised her actions, painting her as selfish and weak. Piers Morgan, journalist and media figure, tweeted:

“Are “mental health issues” now the go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport? What a joke. Just admit you did badly, made mistakes, and will strive to do better next time. Kids need strong role models not this nonsense”.

 

Now, I must admit that my initial response when she pulled out, was disappointment. It looked like she was giving up. Surely this was just an “off” day?

 

But far from succumbing to defeat, Biles has given us a beautiful example of ...

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Why do you do that?

Embarrassing moments? Yep. We’ve going there today. We’ve all got a tale to tell and here’s one of mine …

 

In an effort to make friends when we first arrived in the UK, my husband and I would often invite people to tea over the weekend. There’s nothing like a good carrot cake and I loved having an excuse to eat some!

 

But it was only when my children started to visit friends of their own that the penny finally dropped. “Tea” has different meanings. English people use “tea” in the way that I would use “dinner”.

 

I don’t know how many people came to my home expecting a meal, only to be given a piece of cake, but there were quite a few. It was 5 years before my first child was even born so I had plenty of opportunity to offend!

 

That mini cultural difference is an example of the confusion that often happens in neurotypical / neurodivergent communication exchanges.

 

Autism is sometimes...

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Do you feel stuck?

mindset stress Jul 21, 2021

Who doesn’t love a good movie? My family and I recently watched “Knives Out”, a good ol’ fashioned “who dunnit” that keeps you guessing to the end.

 

“Knives Out” has all the elements of a great story. Drama. Mystery. Intrigue. Struggle. Villains.  Twists. Humour. Surprise and of course, a fitting ending.

 

You’re kept on your toes throughout as Detective Blanc works his way through all the possible suspects to find out who murdered Harlan Thrombey, the wealthy novelist. All along there are little titbits to dupe you into thinking you’ve figured it out but then … wham, something else crops up and it’s back to the drawing board. 

 

In most great stories, there is a struggle of some sort. The main character faces what looks like impossible odds. The prince must first slay the dragon and beat his way through a thorn forest before he can even think about rescuing the princess from the...

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How do you explain autism?

Here in the UK, summer is well … sort of happening. It’s 23°C outside so no complaints there but courtesy of high-pressure systems in other parts of the world, we have seen our fair share of unsettled conditions. We’ve had flooding in London earlier this week and some strong winds recently which were very reminiscent of my Cape Town years where the howling southeaster regularly showed us who was boss.  

When describing wind, weather forecasters tell us about the direction and speed but there aren’t, for obvious reasons, any words to describe what it looks like. Though we can’t see it, we can certainly see the effects. In extreme conditions, wind can decimate large areas leaving piles of rubble where houses once stood.

Like wind, autism is something that can’t be seen but nevertheless has a huge impact. An issue that regularly comes up in conversation with clients is, “How do I explain this to my friends and family?”  

A...

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