(WS) Autism In The Elderly?

 

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When I got a recent comment from one of my regular viewers I realized it was time for another post about Autism. This one is about senior citizens who are autistic but are generally undiagnosed.  A recognized statistics is that there are over a million of us that are autistic in the Baby Boomer generation alone.

Even if those million were suddenly officially diagnosed to be autistic it is very doubtful that any but a small percentage of them would even accept that fact.  It is kind of like another area that I am familiar with and that is hearing impairment. Only about one in five seniors who have hearing difficulties seek help.  They just insist that all of a sudden everyone started mumbling.

In that same vein, too many in our boomer generation see autism in any form as being a disgraceful thing that is to be locked in the closet, and for the most severe cases that was the general rule for our generation. Sadly, that is a totally misconceived notion that I want to try to put a small dent in with this meager post.

Autism is not a dreaded disease but instead is really just a way that a significant portion of the population see and react to the world.  Their perceptions in some ways make them unique and special.

I admit that I am just beginning to learn the intricacies of the autism spectrum so I have a lot to learn.  For that reason, I can’t really address the spectrum idea with any degree of knowledge. But, what I have studied is a condition called Asperger Syndrome so I will concentrate on that anomaly for the purposes of this post.

Here is what the Autism Speaks organization says about Aspergers:

Asperger syndrome was generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.

The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger syndrome. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:

• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms

Many in the Baby Boomer generation readily admit that they have always had several of the traits of Aspergers. The causes of those characteristics were labeled as just being: shy, timid, introvert.  Many say that they have problems with making eye contact or trouble with conversations/small talk that others seem to readily accomplish.

Some, who are much more knowledgeable than I have put together a list of possible undiagnosed Aspies in the celebrity world today.

  • James Taylor – Age 70
  • Dan Aykroyd – Age 65
  • Vladimir Putin – age 65
  • Susan Boyle – age 57
  • Isaac Asimov – died at age 72
  • Daryl Hannah – age 55
  • Bill Gates – age 62
  • Abraham Lincoln – died at age 56
  • Robin Williams – died at age 63
  • Bob Dylan – age 76

A good portion of this list is Baby Boomers. I would be proud to be included in this influential list with them. They, because of their Aspie traits are very creative people who speak their minds.  Aspergers is not something to be ashamed of but instead just describes some fundamental characteristics of our personalities that make us different from others. If you want to see more details on why these people are either confirmed or likely Aspies click here.

Before I close this topic, I want to delve a little more into the general topic of autism.

From Autism Speaks — Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.

In the end, what does in matter if seniors deny the possibility that they are Aspies? In most cases, there is likely no harm. But it is also known that these traits become more significant as we age and lose some of our inhibitions so maybe this information in the hands of our caregivers would be valuable.

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Autism and Meltdown

canstockphoto13659526.jpgBeing a person with some strong Aspie traits, I just don’t handle stressful situations well.  Fortunately, I don’t totally lose it as the word meltdown infers but I quit acting like an adult and instead am a panicked kid. In autism studies, these episodes are called meltdowns so I will call them that for the purposes of this post.

One of my most prominent stressors is criticism. I am plainly oversensitive. I often perceive my wife’s criticism as calling me a complete idiot. When those situations occur I frequently go into at least some level of meltdown. I start shouting back about how she doesn’t think I can flush a toilet without screwing it up!  Usually, when the episode is over I can evaluate what happened with a more adult view but that doesn’t ameliorate the damage done to both of us by these episodes.

From the studies I have read I know that over time, these types of situations alienate friends and peers. They have also caused marriage problems and even divorce.

My meltdowns for sensory episodes are less frequent as I just don’t allow myself to get caught up in them. Instead, I either avoid the causes or quickly flee the situation.  I don’t like crowds and especially people standing behind me. For that reason, I often shop in the off-hours. My photography helps with crowds.  I tell myself I am there to document the event and therefore manage to control my uneasiness more easily.

I know the severity of my personal meltdowns is much less than others on the spectrum. I am grateful for that and sympathetic to others who are worse than I.

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Autism & Sensory Sensitivity

2016-07-18_17-26-54.pngIt has been a while since I put out a post about Autism concentrating primarily on Aspbergers’ Syndrome. This post will be about sensory sensitivity.  Of course, that means being sensitive to sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell and is often a symptom of Autism.

I continue to discover new traits in my life that point me to Aspbergers. This one came from a billboard that I saw several times a month while traveling back and forth from my small town to a larger one with more services and medical options.

Let’s go through the list with my stories:

Sight –  I am a late riser in the winter months and an early riser the rest of the year.  The reason for that is two-fold. One is that I have too much to do around this 3-acre homestead to spend extra cool hours in the morning in bed. 😉 The other one, more relative to this post, is that I can’t sleep in a room filled with any significant amount of light. My eyelids just don’t filter out much light it seems. I am very sensitive to bright and flashing lights. Even TV flashes cause me to wake up from a nap.

Touch – Creases in my bed sheets are a cause of my frequent sleep interruptions.  I am an Apple watch guy now, and it tells me I am an extremely restless sleeper. Another touch sensitivity is that after about six months of use, I have to replace my bath towels as they just get too scratchy.  I could add a few more to the list but I think you get the idea.

Taste & Smell – These are two biggies for me. There are things that just make me wacky in the taste and smell area. I just can’t understand how anyone can put mouthwashes like Listerine in their mouth. The taste and smell are utterly intolerable to me. But something that is even worse is the smell of mint in any form! Whenever I get even a whiff of mint I pretty quickly abandon the area.

It seems that all the oral hygiene manufacturers think that adding mint to their products is a bare necessity! For that reason, I have to special order many toiletry items so they are mint free. If I had a choice between sitting next to a cigarette or even a cigar smoker, or a gum chewer, I would without a doubt chose the smoker. Mint just drives me up a wall.

Sound is usually included in sensory sensitivity but since I am totally deaf I am at least free from that one. 🙂

I recognize that for many on the Autism spectrum these types of things cause a panic meltdown. I am thankful that for me my reaction is not quite as severe.

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A Touch of Austism…

I have previously discovered that I have some characteristics that are identified with Asperger’s Syndrome which is part of the Autism spectrum. As a result, I have been more deeply studying the topic. I don’t call myself an Aspie as I have not been formally diagnosed with that condition but, I am certain  I have common traits with it.

I have recently discovered that there is a LOT of variation in what people say is the definition of autism. Here is a little more about that:

2016-07-18_17-22-29.pngPerhaps we could detach Asperger’s from autism and say that Aspies are different from other autists the way zoologists say that cheetahs are different from leopards. Let us stipulate the obvious: they are different species.

But in my analogy, naming them as different species does not erase the fact that they belong to a broader category called “big cats” or “predatory felines,” and giving Asperger’s a separate name does not erase the fact that there are large areas of overlap with what I call “deeper autism.”

The above was (I repeat) only an analogy. The point intended is to say: we can change our labels and create a more exclusive definition for autism. But the fact remains: the spectrum is broad because it is describing a fundamental reality.

Autism (broadly defined) is much more common than we thought.

Source:  Why is the autistic spectrum so broad and diverse? – Quora

To me, the classifying of autism is in a funk right now. No one knows just how to classify it. There is now a term labeled “Broader Autism Phenotype” (BAP) that describes people who are “sort of ” autistic but still highly functioning. I think that kinda describes me.

I know there are probably some people who have children with severe forms of autism that resent someone who is, for the most part, a fully functioning member of society using the label.  I can relate to that because when I hear that someone is “deaf” I immediately question if they can hear but not fully understand the spoken word. Many with that condition are labeled as “deaf.” when they are really just hearing impaired. There is a world of difference between the two and so I kinda, but really not too much,  resent them saying they are deaf.

Another example might be that someone proclaims they are a cancer survivor when all that entailed was to have a mole removed. To someone who is struggling with lung cancer that is demeaning of their condition.

I don’t know how this will all eventually work out. We can change our labels but as it presently stands autism is a very broad spectrum because it describes a fundamental reality that there are many of us who struggle with life’s social situations.

I will continue to proclaim that I have some Aspie type characteristics but will not call myself an Aspie. I hope I don’t offend those who struggle with this condition much more than I do.