How I use hypnosis to cope with Asperger’s Syndrome

Dan Jones is the author of  Look into my Eyes: Aspergers, Hypnosis and MeIn many ways I was an easy child.

One of three brothers, I was bright, well behaved and happy in my own company. But I was unusually calm and observant; unmoved by drama or emergencies. Once, when I was five, I noticed our babysitter was nudging the rug on the floor closer and closer to our fire. I didn’t panic or mention it; I just calmly made the situation safe and moved the rug out of harm’s way.

A similar thing happened when I was 11. My brother was in a canoe out at sea and it capsized. He couldn’t right it because of the waves rolling in. Without a word, I calmly swam out and helped him out.

I have always been cool and rational in emergencies because there is a clear pattern of what to do. It is everyday social interactions that are a problem.

People still say I’m a little ‘robot’ and call me ‘Dr Spock’ but I don’t mindDan Jones

At a school reunion recently, an old classmate said: “You’re the weird kid who always had his nose in a book about magic,” which pretty much summed me up. I was quiet and polite and slotted in to many different groups of children in school. That makes it sound as though I had friends; I didn’t. I just happened to be present. There was no connection.

This became evident when mum organised a birthday party for me when I was five and no one turned up. It didn’t bother me, but mum was devastated.

Home life was often chaotic and overwhelming. I struggled with too much sensory input such as excessive noise or touch, so I used to go into the woods as a way of escaping the stimulation. I didn’t know it was ‘meditation’ at the time, I just knew that when I sat in the trees with my eyes closed and concentrated on listening to birds, I felt soothed and safe.

The skills I learned doing this – how to focus my attention and relax – helped me to manage anxious feelings.

I knew I was different from those around me and at secondary school, so I decided to learn hypnosis. I thought I might learn how to control people to get along with them better, but I quickly learnt that’s not what it was about. Hypnosis is about reading and understanding people’s non-verbal behaviour.

I learnt that looking into someone’s eyes and holding their gaze can induce hypnosis. This confused me; people were always saying “Look at me when I’m talking to you”. Did people then spend their whole time hypnotising each other? Clearly not.

I started to watch how people made eye contact and noticed that the listener would look at the eyes and mouth of the person talking until shortly before that person had finished a sentence (or after about five seconds if it was a long sentence). They would look away while thinking of what to say in response, then look back at the person while speaking their reply.  So I started copying this.

I also learnt about hand gestures, and other non-verbal behaviours that people do, and how to mentally ‘ rehearse ’ social situations. People still say I’m a little ‘robot’ and call me ‘Dr Spock’ but I don’t mind. In general, it has made communicating with people easier.

I’ve worked full time nearly all my life, mostly in the care industry, but I have frequently faced ongoing workplace discrimination. I have been told there were complaints from staff about how I don’t say ‘good morning’, ‘hello’ or ‘good bye’ and how this is rude and if I don’t start doing it I will face disciplinary action that could result in me being sacked.

At one point, I got depressed because I felt powerless about it. It was this that led me to seek an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis; to get the occupational health support I needed at work. (I was made redundant before I could get the help but that’s another story.)

I always hated the idea of a label but actually the diagnosis has helped others understand and accept me better. Rather than thinking I am difficult or rude, people realise that when I sit on my own with headphones on reading a book in a corner I am actually keeping myself in my own calm little world with as little sensory stimulation as possible.

Now I try to share my experiences and knowledge, and I try to give parents of children diagnosed with Asperger’s hope about their child’s future possibilities. People with Asperger’s have many strengths, they just sometimes need help managing and understanding the challenges they face in daily life.

Normal or Not? Saying Goodbye to Asperger’s

Quirky, nerdy fictional characters have brought Asperger’s syndrome into the realm of popular culture in recent years. But, as of late May, the disorder that has defined these characters, and been applied to a growing number of real people, will no longer exist thanks to revisions to psychiatric disorders in the new version of the DSM, the DSM-5.

Asperger’s disorder was marked by difficulties interacting with others, along with abnormal behaviors and abnormally intense interests in topics such as baseball statistics or trains. These characteristics can give people with the disorder a savant-like quality portrayed in pop culture. For instance, on the TV show “Community,” the character Abed Nadir possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and television.

Fictional characters like Nadir tend to be portrayed as appealing and able to function in their work — not too far off from normal. And while difficulty with social interactions and idiosyncratic interests are experiences many have, for people with Asperger’s these traits cross into mental disorder territory.

Until May 22, with the official release of the DSM-5, Asperger’s was considered related to but distinct from autism. DSM-5 contains a new disorder that replaces both the old autistic disorder and Asperger’s: It is called autism spectrum disorder. [5 Things that Might Really Cause Autism]

The new autism spectrum disorder criteria include impaired social communication or social reciprocity, which could mean difficulty making eye contact, a lack of facial expression or no interest in one’s peers.

Peculiar behaviors or interests — technically described as “restricted, repetitive” in the DSM-5 — make up the second criterion. These could include hand flapping, insistence on a strict routine or a fixation on a specific subject, such as trains.

This change made to diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s has been among the highest profile and most controversial in the new DSM-5. A study,published in April 2012 using a preliminary version of the new DSM-5 autism spectrum criteria found about 75 percent of patients who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s under the old criteria would no longer qualify for a diagnosis, raising the possibility that they could lose access to services, such as special education in schools.

The experts who revised the DSM-5 have disagreed with the study’s findings, saying the revision will not substantially alter the prevalence of autism, which has been increasing.

Unlike most people diagnosed with autism under the old DSM criteria, those diagnosed with Asperger’s could generally function independently, because they could communicate adequately. Even so, aspects of their social skills might be impaired.

For instance, while many people are not gifted conversationalists, someone with Asperger’s may continue talking about a favorite subject for some time, remaining oblivious to his listener’s loss of interest by missing cues of disinterest that someone without the disorder would catch, said Robin Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the psychology textbook “Abnormal Psychology”(Worth Publishers, 2009).

Meanwhile, the old autism diagnosis could entail more severe problems, such as a lack of speech or abnormal use of language.

The new autism spectrum disorder also encompasses a condition in the old DSM called pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). This catchall category applied to people whose impairments didn’t quite meet with the criteria for autism or Asperger’s.

50 important facts about having “mild” Autism and Asperger Syndrome

Fifty Important Facts About Having Asperger Syndrome/”Mild” Autism:

1) The rest of you are weird. We are completely normal.

2) You definitely know a few autistic people. Maybe you don’t know it, but you do. Maybe they don’t know it either. We’re 1% of the general population, which is higher than it sounds.

3) Autistic people aren’t always similar to one another, for exactly the same reason that non-autistic people aren’t either.

4) 81% of us aren’t in full-time employment. Personally I’ve spent less than two years of my life being one of the 19%.

5) If you have it mildly, you’re at the awkward midpoint of being ‘normal enough’ for everyone to expect the same from you as everyone else, but ‘autistic enough’ to not always reach those expectations.

6) The above means that a LOT of things are Your Fault. They’re not actually your fault, but they are definitely Your Fault.

7) If you don’t notice that a girl is interested in you, it’s Your Fault. Not theirs for not bothering to actually tell you.

8) If someone drops an extremely subtle hint and it goes over your head, it’s Your Fault. Not theirs for not bothering to actually tell you.

9) If you ask people whether they want the last potato and everyone says ‘no, that’s fine’, it’s Your Fault if you take it. You should have read them correctly and interpreted their ‘no’ as a ‘yes’. Because that’s what normal people do, apparently.

Potatoes. You are correct.

10) We find it difficult to read people, and that’s Our Fault. Meanwhile other people find us difficult to read, and that’s Our Fault too.

11) 70% of people on the autism spectrum have something else as well (ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, for example). Special needs are often a bit of a Venn diagram.

12) Some people with autism are the nicest, most kind-hearted people you’ll ever meet. Other autistic people are dicks. You know, because we’re people.

13) Telling others about your autism is difficult. Sometimes because they don’t know what autism is (or have clichéd ideas), sometimes because they don’t know you very well so they’ll see you as a walking syndrome, and sometimes because you’re just bloody nervous about talking about it.

14) The correct category for me is ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ rather than ‘mild autism’. But it’s difficult telling people you have Asperger’s because it ends with the word ‘syndrome’. People are wary of syndromes. I don’t like using the phrase ‘social learning disorder’ either, because it ends with the word ‘disorder’.

15) So if you’re not going to tell people about your autism, the only way not to be seen as awkward or having poor interpersonal skills is to pretend to be like everyone else. And when you fail because that’s not how your brain works, it’s Your Fault.

beyourself

16) Hints don’t work. Just bloody tell us. (Seriously, on my first ever date the girl wanted me to pay for her lunch, so instead of just asking me honestly she hinted that she didn’t have enough money for food and for the bus. I just smiled and said “don’t worry, cheesy chips are only £1.75!” She did not appreciate it, even though it was a valid response to what she had said.)

17) If I do things at my own pace and use my own methods, I invariably succeed. If I go at the pace others tell to go or use someone else’s methods, I can crash and burn rather horribly. Guess whose fault it is when I do?

18) Our spoken grammar is not always up to scratch. I slur my words, and say them in the wrong order when I’m nervous. My last job interview (at a library) failed at the very first sentence when I started with “I think I’m fit for this writer because I’m an aspiring… oh, wait, let me start again.”

19) Eye contact is overrated. People say I act unnatural when I talk to them, but to me it’s unnatural to stare right into someone’s eyeballs just because everyone else is doing it.

20) If we’re taking a long time to phrase something correctly, then bloody let us finish. Sometimes it takes us a while.

Random note: placed here because only people who bother to read the article will see it. This article has been stolen by copy-paste websites more than ten times to date, and it will probably keep happening. If you’re not reading this on onthespot247.com, you’ve been tricked by an article thief who hasn’t even read enough of it to see this message! Please follow this link to the original. http://www.onthespot247.com/50-important-facts-about-having-mild-autism-and-asperger-syndrome/

21) Some of us (myself included) have a very slightly slower processing speed: it might take us an extra second to realise you’re joking, for example.

22) I always take an extra second or two to start talking, for the above reason. In groups of four or more people I’ve been known to ‘not talk’ for a full fifteen minutes despite always being a split-second away from breathing in to speak before someone else beats me to it. It’s like being interrupted non-stop for fifteen minutes, except people don’t know you want to speak so you’re not allowed to be annoyed with them.

23) The ‘taking things literally’ thing is real. Obviously I know it’s not really raining cats and dogs, but if you say something that’s not an idiom I’ll assume that you mean it.

You'd be amazed how many idioms we say that we think are literal.

24) We’re great in bed.

25) Just kidding. We have a sense of humour too, you know!

26) Yes, we can be geeks. We excel at it, and enjoy every minute.

27) It’s very easy for autistic people to misread someone’s signals, sometimes resulting in hilarious consequences.

28) Then again, it’s very, VERY easy to accidentally trespass into someone’s comfort zone. I’ve lost a number of valued friends this way, as a teenager and as an adult. It’s a problem we want to cure ourselves of, but just can’t.

29) I’m not convinced that people with autism are naturally more susceptible to anxiety issues (some are, definitely, but so are some non-autistic people). I think the demands of a weird society push anxiety onto them. I had a very happy childhood, and didn’t suffer from anxiety until people started telling me I was socially inferior.

30) Getting two bouts of therapy was NOT My Fault. It was other people’s for making me anxious about not meeting their social expectations, and not being bothered to meet me halfway.

31) Not all of us have the memory thing, but when we have it, boy do we have it. When I was in Year 2 (7 years old) I decided to brainstorm all the dinosaur species I knew from memory. I stopped when I reached 91. (I have a bunch of other examples that will either impress you or freak you out, but I’ve known autistic people- some with real learning difficulties- who can tell you what the day was on April 17th 1962.)

Note- since I originally wrote this I learned the trick for myself. It was a Tuesday, if anyone cares.

32) If you think I’m ignoring you in the occasional conversation, please don’t take it personally. I can only focus for lengths of time on things I find genuinely interesting. (And even now I’m not being rude- I may truly care about you as a person, but not always about the subject at hand. Everyone has to endure conversations they’re not interested in- I’m just the guy who can’t fake interest as convincingly as everyone else. This makes me rude, rather than the people who pull it off and successfully trick you.)

33) It’s easy to trick us as kids. As a child I had no concept of other people lying to me just because they thought it would be funny.

34) I mentioned earlier that autistic people are very different to each other. So please don’t assume after reading this that everyone with mild autism is a geek, or a maths wizard, or can play great chess. Those are my own strengths, and others have strengths that I do not.

35) Those who are further along the spectrum than me can often act up and some can even be aggressive. This is not because they’re nasty- it’s a standard response when the world makes you really anxious and you haven’t yet developed the social skills or coping strategies to deal with it. Counting to ten only works with those who never get so anxious that they can’t count to ten.

36) Asperger’s is sometimes called ‘Wrong Planet Syndrome’, because it often feels like that’s where you were born- on the wrong planet, among a bunch of aliens who don’t function like you do. So when I say that we’re normal and you guys are weird, that really is how it feels!

(See picture credits for a link to this awesome set of cartoons illustrating Asperger's.)

(See picture credits for a link to this awesome set of cartoons illustrating Asperger’s.)

37) Being born on a different planet can feel pretty isolating and lonely. Especially if none of the aliens understand your culture, or even think it’s something to be discouraged, feared or cured.

38) There is no cure, by the way. There may be treatment to help us overcome obstacles, but there’s no cure for autism for the same reason there’s no cure for having a brain at all.

39) Most of us don’t want a cure. Yeah, it’d be nice to have better social skills, but we’d rather not sacrifice the greater part of who we are in order to get them.

40) ← Forty is one of my favourite numbers. It’s in the 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 20 and 40 times tables, which means you can use it for a load of different useful things. I think 60 and 120 are more useful though, and I have a soft spot for 72. And 24, since it’s nearly as useful as 72 but easier to work with.

41) We work better when things are specific. Sounds obvious, but the less margin of error there is the easier things are to do.

You'd be amazed how much searching I did for this one specific cartoon that came to mind. It's only a year younger than me.

You’d be amazed how much searching I did for this one specific cartoon that came to mind. It’s only a year younger than me.

42) Like everybody else, autistic people shine when given the chance to play to their strengths. When the world dares to meet us halfway, we do brilliantly.

43) Personally I’m like a very fast car with very slow acceleration. I’m capable of some great things, but it often takes me a while to get there.

44) Asperger’s did not stop me from getting a maths degree, followed by a teaching degree.

45) Asperger’s did not stop me from becoming a primary school teacher.

46) Asperger’s did not stop me from captaining my local youth group for five years and counting, and being one of the youngest captains in the country (I was 25 when I took over).

47) Hopefully, one day I’ll be saying ‘Asperger’s did not stop me.

48) People with autism, even in the most severe cases, know how to love and be loved in return. They express it differently, but they mean it.

love

49) Autistic people don’t need awareness. Everyone in Britain has already heard of autism. They need acceptance now.

Since I originally posted this, I’ve had a little change of heart. A friend pointed out that knowing of a condition’s existence and understanding what it means are two totally different kinds of awareness, and she has a good point. Raising that second kind of awareness is one of the reasons behind this blog, and that kind of awareness usually leads to acceptance.

50) In general, autistic people are bloody awesome.

5 Things to Know about Living with Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a type of autism spectrum disorder. Doctors don’t fully understand what causes this syndrome, a neurological disorder that involves communication and social impairments. Children with AS struggle with understanding nonverbal cues and body language, and they are often fixated on one area of interest. AS sufferers may have high IQs and no learning impairments, creating a challenge for a suitable learning environment. Check out these key things to know about living with Asperger’s Syndrome to better understand how to teach a child or student that suffers from AS.

Understand Sensory Overload

Children with AS have sensitive sensory systems. Anything can trigger a sensory overload, from loud noises to bright lights or simply too many people talking in a room. Children with AS may shut down in these situations or self-stimulate to soothe themselves. Self-stimulation, commonly known as “stimming,” can range from rocking to hand flapping. The AS sufferer feels relief when stimming, which can help him/her manage the stress and anxiety from sensory overload.

Use Structure to Your Advantage

All children benefit from structure and routine in their lives, and children with AS are no exception. The stress from change or an unexpected event can cause anxiety for many children with AS and trigger a meltdown. Adhering to a schedule allows them to understand what is coming. Structure can allow the parent to work during downtimes, which allows their child with AS an opportunity to recover after periods of sensory overload.

Provide the Best Learning Environment

Given the challenges of having a child with AS, providing the right learning environment is crucial to their success. Children with AS need more breaks, better-structured days, more one-to-one attention, and a different learning pace. Online schools can offer individually paced learning that is customizable to your child’s needs. This allows children with AS to learn in the safety and comfort of their own home and can improve learning success.

Recognize that No Two Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are Alike

While there are general characteristics of children with AS, not every child with AS is the same. Because the symptoms can vary, many people have their own misconceptions about what AS looks like. Take the time to educate yourself about the differences in symptoms.

Take Care of Yourself

If you live with a child who has AS, you understand that challenging times are inevitable. It is crucial to take care of yourself so that you are mentally and emotionally prepared to handle those challenging times. Join a support group so that you have an outlet for sharing frustrations and brainstorming solutions. Have as much patience with yourself as you do with your child; and remember that stressful interactions with AS sufferers are a valid reason to give yourself some downtime too.

In Short

Living with or teaching a child with AS can present its own challenges, but don’t forget to enjoy the reward of seeing your child or student grow and develop. The issues with sensory overload, lack of sufficient structure, and misunderstanding about AS make finding the right classroom environment difficult. Fortunately, the resources at K12.com can help you create a learning environment catered to your child’s needs and help him or her succeed.