dinsdag 17 januari 2012

Love and Asperger's syndrome

He's gentle, unworldly, highly attentive and charmingly old-fashioned. The catch? The very things that make Keith so attractive to Sarah are symptoms of Asperger's. Anna Moore meets the couples living with this surprisingly common condition

Sarah Hendrickx and Keith Newton sit tilted towards one other, laughing a lot and disappearing down the occasional alley of in-jokes, as couples do when they're still in that early, besotted stage.

Keith has just arrived at Sarah's home in Hove and they're clearly delighted by the prospect of the next few days together. As always, Keith has switched off his mobile phone because, as he puts it, 'my time here is with Sarah'. They won't see anyone else - Keith has no friends of his own and doesn't feel comfortable socialising - but plan to eat lots of chocolate, walk and watch television. 'We spend a lot of time feeling smug,' says Sarah, 'because we see other couples who don't look very happy.'

In a few days, though, Keith will drive back to Wickham, Hampshire, 50 miles away, where he lives alone and works as a computer programmer. This will always be the case. Despite meeting five years ago, they won't 'progress' as other couples do. They'll neither live together nor have children. Although there's only a year between them, at 39 Keith is so gangly, gawky, boyish and cute that he could be ten years younger than he is.

Yet Sarah - who had a child at 19 and has two marriages behind her - is confident that few women could put up with him. 'God, he's so gorgeous he could have anyone - but not for long,' she says, laughing. 'Three or four months max… then, when the conversation turns to homes and babies and bank accounts, he'd be gone!' The two burst into laughter.

It wasn't always like this. The couple met through internet dating and the first stage of their relationship was fiery and fraught. To Sarah, Keith was 'a puzzle'. He'd plainly state that their blissful weekends were enough for him, that he'd never live with her or even move nearer. Sarah frequently found him selfish, cold and distant. Keith found Sarah hard work, demanding and 'screechy'.

Ultimately, only one thing allowed them to start again from scratch - they uncovered the reason for Keith's 'insensitivity', his aloofness, the fact that he could see no future with Sarah nor seemed to want one: Keith has Asperger's syndrome (AS).

Such a late diagnosis is not uncommon. Asperger's - a developmental condition that falls within the autism spectrum - was identified more than 60 years ago but became a standard diagnosis only in 1992 when it entered the World Health Organisation's diagnostic manual. As a result, the majority of adults with the syndrome almost certainly grew up without knowing they had it.
Estimates vary enormously as to the prevalence, but one in 100 people is thought to be on the autism spectrum, and it is more common in males by a ratio of nine to one. People with AS normally have above-average intelligence but great difficulties with empathy, communication and social interaction.

People with AS struggle to understand the unwritten social rules that help most of us act and speak appropriately. They find it hard to decipher figures of speech, facial expressions and tones of voice, and are frequently (but unintentionally) concise and literal to the point of rudeness. Since the 'real world' becomes an extremely stressful place, many retreat into their own safe haven of routine, solitude and obsessive special interests.

Today AS is likely to be recognised in a child, and his school will be told he needs special support. Twenty years ago, however, he'd be the 'geek' who didn't quite fit but was left to get on with it. And that struggle has continued into adulthood. For someone with AS, the minefield of relationships, marriage and parenthood can be the hardest part of all.

Louise Corbett manages the National Autistic Society (NAS) helpline and confirms that more calls are coming from couples who have recognised Asperger's in their relationship.
'When I started six years ago most of our calls were made by parents about their children,' she says. 'Now we get more adult-related calls than child-related.' As Asperger's seems to run in families, many women identify it in their husbands - or their husbands see it in themselves - only after their child has been diagnosed and they've read the literature. 'They call in absolute shock,' says Corbett. 'Often they've been experiencing difficulties for years without knowing why. There's no way around it: Asperger's can be very hard to live with.'

Maxine Aston, the author of Aspergers in Love (Jessica Kingsley, £14.95), is one of the few counsellors to work specifically with couples affected by AS. Her surveys and questionnaires from the past decade suggest that 75 per cent of such couples seek counselling. 'I'd almost say AS was a "relationship disorder",' she says. 'It affects communication, interaction and the ability to empathise. Any research will tell you they're the key ingredients for a successful relationship.' In Aston's experience - and desperate clients come from as far as Japan, New Zealand and Canada - Asperger's relationships follow a common pattern.
'A huge number seem to meet on dating websites,' she says. 'For someone with AS it's the perfect route.' Where once many people with AS were effectively barred from the dating game, the internet now provides the perfect point of entry (it has, as Aston puts it 'opened the floodgates').

Bypassing the enormous challenges involved in chatting someone up, it allows you to make a checklist and then select according to criteria. Although many people with AS are unemployed or underemployed, others are at the top of their profession. 'On paper they look amazing,' says Aston. 'Doctors, IT consultants, engineers, solicitors… They could be in their forties but have never married - so no baggage. The internet also allows them to build a rapport by email,' she continues. 'When they meet, women are often very charmed by this polite, gentle man with an old-fashioned appeal.'

This was certainly true for Sarah who found Keith completely different to anyone she had known. 'At the end of our first date he kissed my cheek and shook my hand,' she recalls. 'So different to all the guys that ply you with rioja. Keith seemed so untouched by needless fashion and peer pressure - I thought he was a Buddhist!'

However, in Aston's experience, this appeal can wear thin. 'Women fall in love and want to nurture this unworldly, slightly vulnerable man and help him grow up. As the relationship settles, though, they often find their own emotional needs aren't being met.
'Someone with AS probably has good intentions,' she goes on. 'He wants to make her happy but can't read the signs. At the beginning of the courtship the woman could become his obsession and she has probably never experienced such attention. Five years down the line, when he has focussed on something else and returns from work, yet again forgets to say hello and goes to the garage to take the car apart, things are very different. Women often say to me, "He's either got Asperger's or he's the most selfish man on the planet."'

Another problem can be the isolation. People with AS frequently have sensory difficulties - loud noise, strong smells and bright lights can be almost painful. This, coupled with difficulties in social interaction, means that parties, family gatherings and big birthdays drop off the radar.

'I once saw a couple in their eighties who, after 50 years of marriage, realised what the problem was,' says Aston. 'They decided to stay together, but she bought a cottage up the road and he visited for meals. She could have friends and family over and he had space for his routine and interests. Quite a few couples decide to stay together but live apart.'

Penny Jones, an accountant from Oxford, tried this, following the diagnosis of her husband Chris, an IT consultant, six years ago. Chris learnt about AS through a television programme while he was off work with stress. He subsequently saw a specialist who placed him high on the Asperger's scale.

'We got together in 1995 and he'd always been very unusual,' says Penny. 'There are lots of positives about Asperger's. I like its straightforwardness. There's no game-playing. Chris was the first person I had met who just let people be themselves. Most men want you to be a bit more like this or more like that. Chris just accepts you. He's also very intelligent - he has an IQ of over 150 - and very funny.'

However, AS was hard to live with. 'He did lock himself in the room with the computer,' she says. 'We were under the same roof but not together. Rarely did we share the preparation and clearing away of meals because Chris couldn't stand the noise of cutlery and crockery.'
When their children were born - Luke is nine and Beth is seven - Chris found the chaos of family life even more difficult. 'It wasn't predictable and calm enough. Family holidays we gave up on,' she says. 'He would try his best but by day three, without his familiarity, his routine, his computer, you could see all his systems shutting down. Then he'd spend each day with a large crate of beer in front of the television while I took the children out. Chris drank vast quantities to cope with Asperger's - that was another problem.'

When Chris moved out, the plan had been that they would remain a couple, but in the end this didn't work out. 'He drank far less and was clearly so much happier in his own space,' says Penny. 'He would spend a few hours with us, then go home to his bolthole and not talk to anyone for 24 hours. In the end, I couldn't cope with the massive periods of time alone.' The couple divorced last year.

Conventional counselling isn't recommended for AS couples - in fact, it frequently makes things worse. 'Counselling works on empathy,' says Maxine Aston, 'helping you understand each other's point of view. That won't happen if you have AS. You might be told to spend ten minutes a day talking about your emotions. Someone with AS can't do it, feels pressurised and disappointment sets in.' For this reason, the NAS has a (small) database of couples counsellors who specialise in AS - of which Aston is one.

There are many strategies that can help. One is to write things down instead of saying them. Another is for the non-Asperger's half in the relationship to spell things out in no uncertain terms. ('I am feeling sad and would like a hug'), rather than hope their partner will read the cues. However, the key is understanding the Asperger's label, accepting its limitations and adjusting expectations. 'It's almost like blaming it on the Asperger's,' says Aston.
The diagnosis that saved Keith and Sarah almost happened by accident - Sarah got a job working with ASpire, a charity that supports adults with Asperger's. The more she learnt, the more she recognised in Keith. 'At first, I thought it was just a mad, crazy Sarah idea,' he says. 'But as I researched it, the similarities became too great to ignore.'

Learning about AS, he says, was 'life-changing'. Suddenly what Sarah describes as his 'isolated, biscuit-eating life' made sense. Keith had been bullied at school and gone through university with no friends at all. He'd had only two jobs in his life doing the same thing and two very short-lived relationships (the first at 31). 'From an early age you try to join the world, but gradually, with rejection and not being able to understand social situations, it becomes too taxing,' he says. 'I wanted relationships with women but didn't have the confidence, the tools or the means.'

In Sarah, Keith has found the perfect partner. She works with AS adults for a living and now understands his thought processes and almost speaks his language. She can foresee stressful situations, accepts his frequent need to be alone and rarely asks for more than Keith can give.

In return, she has a charming, quirky, logical and attentive partner who is still touchingly old-fashioned - he always opens doors for her, carries her shopping and whips off her glasses to clean them if he sees they are dirty. Most importantly, the two clearly love each other's company, share the same sense of humour - and have co-written a book, Asperger Syndrome - A Love Story (Jessica Kingsley, £12.99), to show that happy endings are possible, even if they're not quite the endings originally envisaged.

There are no plans of marriage or moving in, and Keith certainly doesn't think he could cope with children. But they seem like soul mates. 'With Sarah, I get acceptance and understanding,' says Keith. 'I don't necessarily want to join the rest of the world - but I'd like someone to join me in mine. I'd like to know at the end of my life that there's been one person who got me. That's what Sarah does for me.'

You can order the book by clicking the link


zondag 15 januari 2012

Spatial Strengths

Spatial Strengths

Vivid Imagination

Picture thinkers have great—often wild—imaginations. They form strong, vibrant mental pictures that are often on the move. They make their own mind-movies as they read and listen. These mental movies can include voice-overs, close-ups, split screens, or panoramic shots. Anything they’ve ever seen on a screen they can imagine and use, including a zoom-in to enlarge something, an overlay of two or more images, transformation of one thing into another, rotation to see the other side of something, cartoon animation, or a graphic they can enter like a video game. They can organize information visually—laid out on an inner computer screen—and then file it away mentally to pull out later (handy for tests). Some picture thinkers may not know they have this mental computer capacity—so hampered are they by trying to listen and take notes at the same time (and then outline!). Picture Thinker’s spatial imaginations can run away with them in great leaps from one fantasy to another, but when under control, there is almost nothing they cannot bring into play in the arena of their mind’s eye.


Visualization takes imagination a step further. Picture thinkers are wonderful visualizers, although some need to be taught this skill to jumpstart it. Visualization is the most versatile tool in the picture thinker tool kit. It can be applied in every subject area in school and in life in general. Tapping into what you have visualized provides immediate rich experience that can be examined whenever you want to . It is the basis of a kind of mental organization and storage of information, ideas, and their interconnections that is like a computer and imitates a computer’s worldwide web potential.
There are two parts to visualization. There is the “cognitive scratch pad” that is like your computer screen where you input what you see. Then there is the long term storage of all the visuals that is like your computer memory. Visualization is so important that we devote an entire section of this book to the wonders of this tool. There we include sample classroom activities that build visualization skills, and we show how to use visualization in a wide variety of school situations. Here, we are just want to emphasize how important it is as a visual-spatial tool. Visualizing will work for all kinds of thinkers, but is home territory for picture thinkers.
One point. Good visual memory is needed for successful visualization. There are some picture thinkers, usually impatient ones, who never look at anything long enough to make an image. They just play with speed-of-light perceptions. These picture thinkers may need help to look “just a few nano-seconds longer” to form a real memory. Once this trick is learned, they will quickly pick up their innate visualization skills and then will be off and running.

Seeing the Big Picture

Perhaps this goes back to hunter-gatherer days. Upon encountering something new—a new subject, a new experience, some unknown object—picture thinkers want to know right away what that thing is. They want to get to the heart of it, what it IS. Once that need is satisfied, they can sit back and learn about the details, all the bits and pieces that part of the picture. To understand anything, they need to get its big picture first, which is why they ask so many questions. They are trying to hook this new thing to something that they already know. This questioning can be a frustrating time for them. They can feel stupid, impatient, upset, tense, as they “circle around something new,” trying out various viewpoints. Because they are active learners, not wanting to have ready-made explanations handed to them, they are hard to teach. They insist in understanding it in their own way.
It is hard for picture thinkers to experience significance if only parts are available to them without the essential whole. Remembering a detail and then attaching another detail doesn’t work for them. They must size the whole situation up and sort out what feels important to understand for themselves what something is about, and to make the right connections. Often they suddenly “see” the whole thing all at once, with everything in its place. Aha!

3-D Mastery

Although they may be called picture thinkers, visual-spatial learners are oriented to the dimension of space and see in 3D. Their world is far more complex than the flat worksheets or textbook pages in a classroom. Spatials often “see” ideas in a 3-dimensions like computer animation with depth. They look through both real and imagined space to see the whole of something and to check out the relationships and connections. This creates “inner territory” to explore. Picture thinkers can quickly scan all that their senses have taken in—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, sensing—and mentally connect the dots that spell out what is going on, or what the essence of something is We all do this all the time to some extent. It is called “perception.” But picture thinkers do it in spades. They take in 360 degrees of the space that surrounds them, making their input enormously richer and at the same time, more challenging to analyze. Having to pay attention a small set of details (like periods at the end of sentences) can feel like being pulled back from their normal range of awareness to a trivial pursuit. That tiny part better be important, or they discard it to return to scanning for significance.
Sometimes seen as having poor organization skills, picture thinkers have their order. It centers around significance, an emotional response. Rather than outline as step-by-step learners do, where main ideas stand out like trees on the plain, spatials respond to feelings about importance. If something strikes them as worthwhile, it becomes part of their web of essentials, a mental map of things worth paying attention to. Instead of outlines—so comfortable to the stepwise —a picture thinker’s scheme of reality is more like a 3D star map. The various stars and constellations stand out in different degrees of brightness, all shining against the dark space surrounding them and all interconnected in some way. Those connections are based on feelings and sensed importance.
At times, picture thinkers not only see but feel their way through concepts. They have kinesthetic input like those cyberspace reality games that evoke muscle response to what players “experience.” These spatials grope through space as if they could touch ideas and possibilities to find what is there. Einstein, who could visualize thought experiments, spoke of using “a kind of imagistic, kinesthetic shorthand” in his thinking process. (He was groping for words, typical of spatials when trying to explain themselves.) It seems he was trying to express the visual-spatial experience of thinking, seeing in imagination, and feeling muscular response to ideas. It is interesting that he recognized this as like “shorthand”—very minute, partial symbols, and tiny, nuanced muscle responses that could mark sensed relationships and also hold them in memory for future use. Spatials’ shorthand is different!
Certainly not all picture thinkers are Einsteins, but this explorative mode of operation is true for many of them, especially the deep thinkers and long processors. (They are covering a lot of mental territory and this takes time.) Thinking in 3-D mode means that all sorts of connections can be made in any dimension. Quantum physics and string theory would make us aware of more than 3 dimensions Spatials may lead the way to extraordinary feats of inner space exploration, making its complexity more approachable to us all, but that is another story.

Seeing Relationships

When spatials get the big picture, they see the whole of something and how the parts fit together. The relationship of the parts to each other and to the whole comes naturally to them. That is the way things are. They often think about putting something together with something else, like a cook trying out a new recipe. They wonder what that new relationship might like—how each would affect the other. Rather than sort things into categories, their most natural mode of thinking is to consider various new combinations of parts and what the flavor of the new relationship would be. Their ability to invent and explore goes along with this curiosity about how something might affect something else. For them, everything is interconnected and, of course, related. They are very aware of personal relationships among people as well as how things relate to one another. While they can become very good at sorting into categories, this skill is secondary to that of recognizing the balance of relationships.

Pattern Recognition

Scanning and the search for significance combine to produce a talent for pattern recognition in picture thinkers. It is part of their awareness of connections. If a pattern (recurring connection) exists, they will see it. This means, for one thing, that they will learn math facts better when made aware of the interconnecting number patterns than through rote memorization. Playing games that use number patterns works far better for these emotionally attuned learners than drilling, since their memories don’t hold isolated, disconnected facts. Picture thinkers immediately recognize patterns that are pointed out to them but really excel in finding their own, often seeing connections among things that are overlooked by others. Once pointed out, the connections make sense to others who wonder why they never noticed that.

Out-of-Box Thinking

An important aspect in understanding picture thinkers is that they need to think in their own way. They are uncomfortable with following some one else’s line of thought, partly because such linear thinking is not the way their minds operate. Sometimes they really just can’t follow along step by step. They can take in each step but without that Big Picture, the steps fade away. They don’t remember details well unless those details vibrate with significance, are tagged with their own feelings, or are part of as sudden gestalt. Picture thinkers blaze their own thought trail. Most need processing time to put together their own Big Picture. There seem to be no real steps in their thinking. Often they have a sudden insight that “things go together like this!” Either slowly or in a flash, a whole concept emerges, which may be brilliant or flawed. Picture thinkers need help in proving (or discarding) their new ideas. Trying them out is a good strategy in teaching them. If their idea actually works in a variety of situations, then it has validity. If not, it’s back to the spatial drawing board.
The tendency to originality can make teachers uncomfortable. Not only does it throw off lesson plans, but there is often an uncomfortable feeling that they are not doing their job, not teaching them. Shouldn’t they be the ones to tell spatials what they should know? They aren’t sure spatials have “got it right.” It is helpful to give spatials some processing time and to let them work in their own way, while insisting that they apply and test their ideas.

Radar Scanning

It is as if picture thinkers have radar out always scanning the environment, taking in every little thing. They are alert for changes, shifts in energy, or tones of voice in everything around them. They easily notice if some little thing they saw yesterday is missing today. They scan for signals that something is going to happen as well as for the general feel of things. They absorb what’s going on, intensely immersed in that experience. At school, if the lesson of the day can enter into their experience, these emotional picture thinkers will take it in and remember it forever. Otherwise, scanning makes picture thinkers vulnerable to distractibility. Their attention may be captured by all sorts of things. They can be equally aware of a bug bite on their arm, the way the lights are humming, someone’s simmering anger three rows away, or the relationship of a radius to its circumference.

Emotional Intensity

Picture thinkers live emotionally. They do not shut their feelings away to examine later. Instead, their emotions enliven, interpret, and underscore their experience all the time. Their emotions affect the way they think. Moods intertwine with learning, which means that their thinking can take off when they feel upbeat and confident. On the other hand, if they are upset, confused, angry, or depressed, picture thinkers may have difficulty learning much at all. It is as if their mind shuts down then, not able to function until their feelings are more positive. This may be why they try to liven things up with humor, games, tricks, and drama. Positive vibes just help them to learn better. It follows that picture thinkers will have days when they learn poorly, just as they will have days of remarkable accomplishment. Those around need to learn that variability is the name of the game..


Picture thinkers want life to be upbeat. They love humor, fun, excitement, and challenge. They are affronted by dullness and drudgery and will often sabotage a dreary atmosphere, creating excitement of some sort. They were usually happy, cheerful, fun-loving bon vivants as toddlers. Just as then, t hey have boundless curiosity, are natural explorers, and delight in discovery and excitement. Positive feelings are very important to them, partly because when they are down, they can be so very down. Their desire to liven things up—often by playing the clown or stirring up arguments—can be very annoying to a teacher with a lesson to impart, but they are (mostly) not behaving this way to be obstructive. They want life to be lively. Situations where games and play are used to aid comprehension or solve problems draw out the best in them. Teachers do well to make the most of picture thinkers’ creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and solutions that seem to come from nowhere. They add excitement and interest to learning.
In a classroom, hands-on participatory lessons work well for them—and for step-by-step learners too. Simulation games, board games created by students as part of a learning project, hands-on immersion learning situations, contests, construction and designing, art, music, poetry, skits, and dramatic enactment—all meet a deep need of picture thinkers to work in a rich, colorful, and stimulating environment. They remember their own experience best, so experiential lessons make their points memorably. Enlivening activities such as these also spice up things for step-by-step learners, who enjoy but won’t demand this kind of teaching. It is just these lively, upbeat, dramatic personality qualities that draw others to picture thinkers like a magnet. Life is more zestful around them, and classrooms are more exciting.

Source: http://www.visualspatial.org/spatialstrengths.php by

Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D.