Why my MA will be my new beginning

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Thursday, 18 April 2019

Why my MA will be my new beginning

In this blog, Alice talks about how even though her undergraduate experience wasn't the best, she's determined to have a more positive time studying for her Master's degree.
University wasn’t the place for me. I’m not saying it was bad. I’m just saying it wasn’t good. I didn’t care about the Mexican Revolution, religious symbolism in the work of J. L. Borges, or the exploration of the self and form in twentieth-century France. Likewise, I did not care about the difference between the pronunciation of “vu” and “vous”, “pero”, and “perro”. I did not care about getting an F in a relatively unimportant presentation. I did not care that my tutor declared my essay on feminism to be “decidedly mediocre”.
Instead, I cared about evenings in pubs, walks in the park and sessions at the gym. I cared about staying up all night watching films and reading books not on the syllabus. I cared about cycling from a bar to my friend’s house at 1am on a Monday morning. I cared about going to gigs, visiting photography exhibitions, and rummaging through Spitalfields market on a Sunday.
When it came to studying, I tried, but only sort of. Half an hour before class was due to start I would open my workbook and frantically scribble something down. In the evenings, I would read novels of my own choosing before embarking on (and then later abandoning) the set texts. As for the presentations, I would usually just miss those classes and carry the fail. Invariably, I would turn up to every class utterly unprepared, having no idea about what was about to be discussed, and caring very little.
At the end of my three-year degree (which took me five years to complete), I received a transcript of my results, telling me that I had received one fail, two thirds, 2:2s, 2:1s, and firsts – all of which averaged out into the most meaningless 2:1 the uni must have ever given.
What the transcript didn’t say was that, during my studies, I had experienced debilitating depression, unrelenting OCD, one terrible coming out, one terrible relationship, one terrible break up, and the onset of Tourette’s syndrome.
OK, maybe university was bad.
This year, though, I have a place on UEA’s Creative Writing MA, and I’m determined to go back to my studies.
But if my undergraduate was so tumultuous, why am I doing this?
The answer is simple: university is, for me, unfinished business. I need to go back: get consistently OK grades, stay on an even keel for the duration of the course, keep my depression and OCD at bay. There’s not much I can do about the Tourette’s, given that it’s both chronic and incurable.
It’s going to be hard. I have the stereotypical swearing kind of Tourette’s. I will be yelling out “fuck” in lectures. I will find it hard to concentrate. I will inevitably be a distraction to myself and others.
But, unlike my BA in French and Spanish, this course has been a dream for a long time. I will spend a whole twelve months doing what I love: reading and writing. Reading helped me through depressive episodes before, and getting my writing published since leaving university has given me a much-needed self-esteem boost.
And if mental illness has taught me anything, it’s to do what you love, and do it a lot.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m determined to go back, and I’m going to smash it.
Alice Franklin is a writer who happens to have Tourette's, OCD and autism. She writes at a leisurely pace, runs at a leisurely pace, and hammocks at a leisurely pace. Previously, her work has appeared in two Spanish short story anthologies, the online magazine Liars' League, and the Financial Times. Posted by Student Minds Blogging Editorial Team at 09:00 Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest Labels: Autism, Depression, OCD, Postgraduate study

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Autism Is But One Part of a Complex Personality Structure

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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April is Autism Awareness Month. To review: Autism is one of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) listed in the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) which provides diagnostic guidelines for mental health professionals. Autism is characterized by difficulties in social interactions, a narrow and particular range of interests and repetitive behaviors. Although it is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, research has yet to identify the differences in the brain that determine what makes people with autism different from the norm.

Since the combination of attributes can be extremely different from one individual to another, autism is described as being on a “spectrum”, depending on how much a person is affected.

When coupled with other disabilities, like intellectual disability, a seizure disorder, or a brain injury, for example, it can have a profoundly limiting effect on someone’s life. Such individuals may require services of others for the rest of their life. Their severely restricted communication and/or social skills make it difficult to impossible to communicate their wants and needs. Their narrow range of interests doesn’t help them to be functional members of society. Repetitive behaviors such as finger snapping or arm flapping separate them even more from comfortable social connections.

Elly is an example of a person on this end of the spectrum. She is nonverbal. She loves to look at fashion magazines and to tear out the pages, which she then stacks and restacks in orders that make no sense to her caregivers. Although she recognizes and seems to like family members and certain staff, she makes no attempt to interact with them, preferring her internal world.

On the other end of the spectrum are people with autism who are performing services on which the rest of the population is dependent. In fact, there is research that indicates that about a third of autistic Americans may have exceptional skills.

Max is a good example. He is the troubleshooter for a major medical facility’s computer systems. He is happy to tell anyone who is interested about the extraordinary complexities of the software required to keep all systems up and humming. Yes, he is socially awkward and doesn’t seem to understand that not everyone is as fascinated as he is by the minutiae of the computer codes he works with. But does it really matter that he can’t make small talk or look me in the eye during conversation? Excellence doesn’t require being the life of every party.

Once called Aspergers, Max’s particular set of autistic traits is now seen as part of the autism spectrum and is sometimes called “high functioning autism.” People like him are quietly working in the background of our lives, making our world safer, delving deeply into problems, and inventing and/or improving systems that the rest of the population takes for granted.

I suspect that Silicon Valley has more than its share of people with Asperger’s. (“Aspies” being a familiar term used by some people on this end of the spectrum to name themselves). Others have found places conducive to their single-minded pursuit of a “narrow range of interest” on college faculties or in laboratories where their ability to hyper-focus on a problem is highly valued.

Of course, most people with autism fall somewhere in between the exceptionally abled and the exceptionally disabled — just like the range of possibilities for the neurotypical population, just like you and me. We all have both gifts and deficits. Each of us is a complicated sum of many complicated genetic and nongenetic legacies that put us at risk (or not) for any number of both positive and negative qualities and traits.

In short, being on the autism spectrum is not a sentence to a restricted life. It is but one part of the complex personality structure of a person. And just like anyone else, with adequate treatment for any co-occurring issues and with support for learning more comfortable ways to be in relationship with others, most people on the spectrum can be all they can be. That includes growing up to live independently, have jobs, marry, and have children.

Which is why people who are anti-vaccine for their children concerns me deeply. The subtext of the anti-vaccine campaign is that it is better to die of measles or to contaminate classmates and neighbors than to risk having autism. Really? First and most important, there is absolutely NO connection between vaccines and autism. That is fact. It has been proven by countless studies.

But even if there was a connection (which there isn’t), why is the concern about the possibility of autism more compelling than the certainty of what can happen to a child and the surrounding population when kids aren’t vaccinated and disease spreads? Why are those who are pointedly against vaccines frightened by the specter of a highly disabled child and not hopeful they will get an Aspie genius?

Full disclosure: I have a personal perspective on this because I developed polio before there were vaccines for it. (Yes, I’m that old.) Do I wish there had been a vaccine? Absolutely. The physical issues that were the result have limited me in ways I wish they didn’t for my entire life. I’m grateful that a vaccine has almost eradicated the disease throughout the world and dread its recurrence due to some people’s insistent belief in a fraudulent study.

As we think about Autism Awareness, let’s think about how our culture can be more appreciative of the enormous range of personality types and talents that are found within the human species. Let’s provide the services that people with complicated and multiple diagnoses need and deserve, whether they are on the autism spectrum or they are set apart by other conditions. Let’s accept and enjoy those whose autism is simply one of their quirks and be grateful to those whose autism makes it possible for them to make unique and important contributions to our world.

Autism Is But One Part of a Complex Personality Structure

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8 Things Autistic People Wished You Knew about April

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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Every April, autism takes a center stage in global awareness. All around the world, well-meaning, good-hearted people “Light it up blue” for Autism Awareness Month, and they decorate their social media with the puzzle piece frames and the jigsaw rainbow awareness ribbons.

And, every March, autistic adults are already dreading April. Many of them report feeling traumatized by previous Aprils. They begin to mentally prepare for what is ahead, feeling powerless to stop it. They’re bracing themselves for what is on the horizon.

What autistic people wish their neurotypical allies knew going into April:

  1. We really don’t want or need awareness. To most neurotypical (non-autistic) people, awareness of autism is to be aware of a disease, to regard it with a somber recognition of how serious a problem autism is and how fervently a cure is needed. It doesn’t conjure the reverent solidarity that breast cancer awareness does for survivors, the bereaved, and their loved ones. Instead, it means that the world comes together to talk about the tragedy of autism.
  2. Most of us do not want a cure. The vast majority of autistic adults do not want a cure, nor do they see autism as a disease. It is simply their way of existing, perceiving, and being. Autism is inextricable from the identity and perception of the autistic person, and a “cure” would mean to erase from them what is their core self and what their divergent minds can contribute to society. Most of us are quite proud to be autistic.
  3. We wish you’d see us outside of the medical disability model. The medical model pathologizes our innate traits. We may develop on a different curve, have different strengths and weaknesses, and relate differently from the majority of the population, but those traits aren’t inherently negative. Our traits are interpreted in the most negative way because they are not what “most people” do. We express empathy differently, but a lack of eye contact or verbal expressions of emotional solidarity do not mean we lack empathy.
  4. We are offended by puzzle pieces, “Light it up blue,” and Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks has dominated the world’s narrative about autism. They are a fundraising monolith, and their information distribution campaigns rank at the top of search engine results around the internet. The focus of their campaign was originally to scare the world into realizing how important it was to find a cure and to eradicate autism and to implicate vaccines as the culprit. They have continued to deny autistic perspectives, and only a minuscule portion of their many millions in donations actually goes to helping autistic people (often less than 1%). Essentially, donations go to marketing puzzle pieces and the international “brand” Autism Speaks has created. They are responsible for the puzzle pieces and the “Light it up blue” campaigns. For a more detailed breakdown and alternative charities to support, click here. We ask that you share autistic-authored posts and articles in April and hashtag them #redinstead.
  5. We prefer identity-first language over person-first language. This means that we prefer to be called “autistics,” or “autistic people,” or “aspies” (if that’s how one identifies) as opposed to “person with autism” or “person with Asperger’s.” But, every individual’s preference should be respected.
  6. We are great at self-advocating, and we wish you’d learn about autism from autistic people. There are thousands of blogs, websites, organizations, and informational resources out there produced and managed by autistics. The autistic community is a thriving, tight-knit juggernaut of change and advocacy, and they uplift other marginalized populations by focusing on intersectional human rights outside of the neurodiversity paradigm. They’re fierce defenders of children and dedicated scholars and researchers. They can be found on social media by searching the hashtag #actuallyautistic. The Aspergian is a collective of autistic writers, or you can read more of my blogs here at PsychCentral.
  7. Autism doesn’t end at age 18. Most people tend to think of autism as a childhood disorder, but an autistic person is autistic every day of his or her life.
  8. Function labels are deeply offensive and inaccurate. When someone is autistic, it has been socially acceptable to comment on how high- or low-functioning he or she is. The truth is, autism is invisible, and a person’s struggles cannot be measured by how a person seems to be performing. Often, “function” comes at great price to the autistic person, meaning that they have to hide or “mask” their innate traits and behaviors to appear more “normal.” You can read all about function labels by clicking here.

Autistic people need neurotypical allies to be more than just aware of autism, but to accept our differences and see our strengths and our weaknesses as unique to the individual. We need your help to find our way into the conversation about autism, which means sharing articles by autistic people and supporting autistic organizations. We need employers and schools to accommodate for our neurological profiles, and individuals to understand how we relate differently.

So, let’s make April “Autism Acceptance Month” and shift the focus to autistic people as thinking, feeling, valuable human beings. By reading this article, written by an autistic person, you’re off to a great start as an ally.

8 Things Autistic People Wished You Knew about April

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On Stage on the Spectrum

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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About three years ago, I got an email publicizing a drama school called the Center for Applied Drama and Autism, C.A.D.A. I was instantly interested. A year before, my 10-year-old son Tommy had been diagnosed with autism. I had always wanted him to get into acting because I’d acted as a child, having been in shows such as Gypsy and Fiddler on the Roof at local dinner theaters. Tommy seemed as though he would be a natural because he had the ability to memorize scripts (he was an avid scripter; people who are autistic often are), and he was very funny.

The school was in downtown Akron, about fifteen minutes away from our home. I signed him up. Soon, one Saturday a few weeks later, we entered an old building on Main Street and searched for the acting studio. Down a staircase we went and soon we found ourselves in C.A.D.A.

Tommy was going to take improv. Improvisation classes, we would learn, are good for autistic people because they help them to be better communicators (learning to think on their feet) and ultimately find their own voices. These classes were also fun.

We’d done traditional social groups at centers for people on the spectrum, but these had turned out to be unsuccessful because they lacked vital context and purpose. Acting encouraged the participants to be social, but also to be creative, making up narratives and scenarios.

The first day at improv, Tommy and his classmates warmed up doing an exercise called “Zip, Zap, Zop,” in which they passed energy to each other. Then, they did an exercise called “Mirrors,” in which they mimicked each other as if they were looking in a mirror. Then came a game called “Bus Stop,” where they pretended to be waiting for a bus in a character of their choosing. Soon, they would be acting out fairy tales and even learning Shakespeare.

Tommy took to it. There was only one problem. Well, really two problems. The first was that there was a very loud service bell that people rang so that they could get in the building which was often locked. This service bell unnerved Tommy. He had sensory issues, so the bell was a hindrance in his play. The second problem was that I got cancer, and Tommy fell apart. While I was getting treatment, we had to stop going to drama for a time. But I survived cancer, and then, something else wonderful happened. C.A.D.A. moved! No more service bell. C.A.D.A. relocated to what is known as their blue box theater in Akron, where they currently reside.

Now in 2019 at the blue box theater, Tommy takes improv from Ruben Ryan and Brandon Meeker. He goes every Saturday. And he’s getting good. He can sustain a scene and create original dialogue that is purposeful and entertaining. Improv helps him stay in the moment, to be in the moment, completely engaged and fascinated with people and life. This is saying something for someone on the autism spectrum, who might often be disengaged and out of touch.

So whose brainchild is C.A.D.A.? C.A.D.A. was co-created by Wendy Duke, a drama teacher for over 40 years, and Laura Valendza, an actor and intervention specialist.

C.A.D.A.’s philosophy is as follows:

Our goal is to meet our students where they are now, and without coercion, help them to recognize their own abilities and gifts through empowerment and making connections. We do not wish to change the uniqueness of each student, but rather help each one deal with social and emotional situations that will occur throughout their lives.

We do this via individual and collaborative applied drama techniques such as theatre games, improvisation, role play, character study, voice and body work, mask work (commedia dell’ arte), and Play Back Theatre. Additionally, we encourage creativity and originality through student created puppet plays, playwriting and video production. Visual art, dance and music are all key components in theatrical productions and give our students an opportunity to expand their artistic gifts and interests.

What does all this mean? For a parent of a child on the spectrum, it means that my kid can study acting at a world-class acting school right in our own little Akron, Ohio.

Recently, Tommy was asked to be a “co-star” at C.A.D.A. This means that he will work with a class of younger students as sort of a mentor/helper. Tommy’s father and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Tommy has gone from a timid pre-teen who was frightened by everything, including a loud service bell, to a full-fledged teenage actor in a leadership role.

If your child has autism, you might consider enrolling him or her in acting classes in your hometown. I’m sure acting courses can benefit your child. These classes have made all the difference in Tommy’s life.

On Stage on the Spectrum

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Awareness Isn’t Enough: We Need Autism Acceptance Month

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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Why have a month for autism awareness? Look at the numbers — in 2014, the CDC suggests that 1.7% of the US population is on the autism spectrum, which is 1 in 59. The percentage is similar in other countries as well, and only 31% have co-existing intellectual disability.

Many people you would not suspect to be on the autism spectrum actually are, and they experience social stress, anxiety, and sensory challenges. They might seem sort of different or quirky, but also often talented and knowledgeable in areas of interest. Dan Ackroyd, who has Asperger’s (now referred to as Autism Level 1), took his interests and turned them into the movie, Ghostbusters.

Why call it autism acceptance?

There are different ways of processing the world, which is called neurodiversity. The medical model of autism focuses only on disability. The neurodiversity model recognizes whole people with strengths as well as challenges who process experience differently. In accepting that there are different ways of taking in experiences and expressing ourselves, we accept neurodiversity. Our brains can work differently; we’re still valuable people making our way in the world.

The disability model focuses on what people on the autism spectrum (neurodivergent) don’t do “normally,” like social relatedness. While it has its challenges, many with autism are proud to be neurodivergent and the popular phrase is “No two people with autism are alike.” People can mistakenly assume those on the spectrum are aloof, lack feelings, and are uninterested in others; it follows that the abilities of neurodivergent people are misunderstood. In fact, people on the spectrum have intense feelings, empathy, and often want relationships, although they express this differently. They value truth and integrity, have high standards, and in being detail focused, they often have insights or perceptions that others miss.
The people who fit the “normal” model of processing (neurotypicals) and those who are neurodivergent both have much to say, but they say it in different ways. There can be misunderstanding and “mind blindness” on both sides. We need to understand each other.

What better way is there to understand the experience and perspective of those on the autism spectrum than to read it in their own authentic voices? Terra Vance, a gifted autistic writer, has a blog on Psych Central – “Unapologetically Aspie.” In this thought-provoking piece she writes about the emotions of those with Asperger’s.

Other neurodivergent bloggers I suggest are:

Autistic writers can also give moving insight into understanding what it’s like being part of those who are neurodiverse. I strongly recommend the explorations of the experience and meaning of getting a diagnosis in these two blog posts: Searching for Identity in a Neurotypical World and A Life Illuminated.

So, let’s celebrate Autism Awareness Month with awareness, acceptance and curiosity about neurodiversity. Let’s improve the communication between neurodivergents and neurotypicals. Let’s address misperceptions, which I try to do in my blog, but importantly, by going directly to the experiences of neurodivergent people themselves.

And let’s call this “Autism Acceptance Month.”

Awareness Isn’t Enough: We Need Autism Acceptance Month

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Psychology Around the Net: March 23, 2019

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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Ever wonder how food affects your mental health? Do you think social media addiction should be formally classified (and should the companies behind them be taxed for help)? What’s your stance on Amy Schumer’s discussion of her husband’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis?

Let’s discuss it all and more in this week’s Psychology Around the Net!

Nutritional Psychiatry: Can You Eat Yourself Happier? We’re not talking about eating your feelings but eating foods that actually affect your feelings. After struggling with anxiety and depression throughout most of her life, Felice Jacka, the head of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry, found that her diet, exercise, and sleep had a major affect on her mental health. Before you scoff (duh, don’t we already know this?), her findings initially weren’t received with open arms. Now, a ton of research, studies, and and peer-reviewed papers under her belt, it’s obvious what we eat affects our mental health.

Fluctuation of Depressive Symptoms May Help Predict Suicide: According to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, the severity and fluctuation of depressive symptoms are better at predicting suicide in at-risk young adults than psychiatric diagnoses alone. Says the study’s senior author Dr. Nadine Melhem, “Our findings suggest that when treating patients, clinicians must pay particular attention to the severity of current and past depressive symptoms and try to reduce their severity and fluctuations to decrease suicide risk.”

Social Media Addiction Is a Real Disease, U.K. Lawmakers Say—And Facebook and Google Must Be Taxed for It: The negative effects social media can have on mental health — especially teen’s and young adult’s mental health — is no news. We’ve been talking about it for years. Now, U.K. lawmakers aren’t just saying that social media addiction should be formally classified as a disease, but they’re also kicking it up a notch and claiming the companies behind social media platforms should have to pay a 0.5% tax on their profits to help solve the problem.

7 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned: Frankly, my life isn’t going quite as planned right now. This was helpful, and so I’m passing it along.

New Study: Performance-Based Pay Linked to Employee Mental Health Problems: Pay-for-performance compensation systems such as bonuses, commissions, piece rates, profit sharing, and individual and team goal achievements — which are prevalent in approximately seven out of 10 companies in the U.S. alone — are meant to act as incentives; however, according to this big-data study that combined objective medical and compensation records with demographics, these systems are actually taking a negative toll on employee mental health.

Amy Schumer Tells Why She Revealed Her Husband’s Autism Spectrum Diagnosis: Since her latest Netflix special, Growing, began streaming last Tuesday, fans and non-fans alike have talked more about how Amy Schumer discusses her husband Chris Fischer’s diagnosis than anything else in the show. Some are offended, claiming she had no right to talk about his health; others are fine, stating we shouldn’t jump the gun because, you know, Chris is her husband and therefore probably knew — nay, probably was consulted — about it long beforehand. Well, according to Amy during her appearance on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, “We both wanted to talk about it because it’s [the diagnosis] been totally positive.” She then goes on to talk about the tools and resources they were given, how they’ve managed life and marriage, and how they both want to encourage people not to be afraid of the stigma. So, yeah. It sounds like Chris wasn’t a pawn in his wife’s comedy routine, nor was he ignorant to what she was going to say. Watch the interview clip.

Psychology Around the Net: March 23, 2019

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OCD and Autism

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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I have written before about atypical presentations of obsessive-compulsive disorder in children, where I discuss how the symptoms of OCD are sometimes confused with autism, schizophrenia, and even Bipolar Disorder. I’ve also written about how diagnosing these various conditions can be difficult, as symptoms of each one often overlap. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are talking about a whole person’s state of being, not just a specific diagnosis. No doubt people have manifested symptoms of these various illnesses long before the disorders were differentiated by names.

Still, a proper diagnosis is important to move forward with appropriate treatment, which varies for each above-mentioned disorder.

To confuse matters more, it is not unusual for someone to have comorbid mental health disorders — more than one diagnosis. As I discussed here, when my son Dan was diagnosed with OCD, he also received diagnoses of depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as well.

What doctors have recently confirmed is that autism and OCD frequently occur together. Autism and OCD initially appear to have little in common, yet studies indicate that up to 84% of people with autism have some form of anxiety and as many as 17% might have OCD. Additionally, an even greater proportion of people with OCD might also have undiagnosed autism. A 2015 study in Denmark tracked the health records of almost 3.4 million people over 18 years, and researchers found that people with autism are twice as likely as those without to be diagnosed with OCD later in life. The same study found that people with OCD are four times more likely than others to later be diagnosed with autism.

It can be tough to sort it all out. OCD rituals can resemble the repetitive behaviors that are common in autism, and vice versa. Also, people with either condition may have unusual responses to sensory experiences. Some autistic people find that sensory overload can readily lead to distress and anxiety, and the social problems people with autism experience may contribute to their anxiety as well. Anxiety is a huge component of OCD also, so it gets complicated.

How do we distinguish the two, or determine if someone has both conditions? It is interesting to note that people with both OCD and autism appear to have unique experiences, distinct from those of either condition on its own. Also, a crucial distinction found in this analysis is that obsessions spark compulsions but not autism traits. Another finding is that people with OCD cannot substitute the specific rituals they need with different rituals. Says Roma Vasa, director of psychiatric services at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland:

“They [those with OCD] have a need to do things a certain way, otherwise they feel very anxious and uncomfortable.”

People with autism, on the other hand, often have a repertoire of repetitive behaviors to choose from. They just need to perform rituals that are soothing, not necessarily a particular behavior.

More research is needed, not only in the area of diagnoses, but also treatment. The gold standard treatment for OCD is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) known as exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, but for those with both autism and OCD, it often does not work well. Whether this is due to auditory-processing difficulties, cognitive inflexibility, or something else, might vary from person to person. Researchers are trying to adapt CBT for people with autism, and agree that a personalized variation of the therapy can be beneficial.

We have a long way to go in figuring out just how OCD and autism are connected. Just knowing that there is a connection, however, should help clinicians when they are diagnosing and treating their patients.

OCD and Autism

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A Journey to Diagnosis

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Friday, 11 January 2019

A Journey to Diagnosis

Daisy speaks about her experiences of mental illness at university and eventual diagnosis of autism. -Daisy Shearer
I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I remember but it all came to a fore when I turned 16. With GCSEs over and done with, I started the transition into 6th form and struggled socially. Constantly self-criticising and feeling as if I did not fit in meant that I spiralled into a depression. At this point my body decided to manifest my stress in the form of shingles, giving me a good excuse to not attend school… for 10 weeks. This didn’t help me face my social anxiety and exacerbated my depression.
I scraped through A-levels and miraculously got offered a place on the physics BSc course at my first choice of University. I had applied for the MPhys course and was on the fence about whether I should take up my place as I had started to doubt whether I was cut out to be a scientist. I decided to go for it.
Moving away from home was hard. I had to learn to look after myself and no longer had the comfort of the routine I was accustomed to back home. My depression worsened and by the end of first year I was considering dropping out. Luckily one of my friends took me to the university counselling service. Although I didn’t realise it, I had become depressed and wasn’t looking after myself properly. I needed a helping hand from somebody who wasn’t in my head to acknowledge that I needed help. I was offered 6 sessions but didn’t go to all of them as, at the time, my anxiety often prevented me from leaving my room. At the end of second year I got the grades to transfer onto the MPhys which I had originally applied to; I began to think that I could be a scientist after all.
The MPhys included a year-long placement in industry and I chose a placement close to my family home. With another big change my depression got a lot worse, but this time my family was immediately around me for support. My mum accompanied me to the GP where I was prescribed antidepressants and referred to a psychiatrist. At last I was diagnosed: I had generalised anxiety, recurrent depression and mild OCD symptoms. 7 months later, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I applied for Disabled Students Allowance for my final semester and got examination adjustments plus a specialist mentor. My mood began to stabilise, and I developed techniques to manage what I now recognised as sensory overload. The adjustments made a huge difference to my results and in July 2018 I graduated from my MPhys with first-class honours! I was also offered a PhD project at Surrey. Now I’m a PhD student I have psychodynamic therapy fortnightly and prioritise my mental wellbeing. I’m more confident, self-assured and have fewer invasive thoughts as time goes on.
So, what should you do if you find things aren’t going to plan and you feel helpless? • Take opportunities that come your way • Seek help if you can • If you can’t bring yourself to access support services, ask a friend to accompany you, or seek out online counselling • Never give up! Managing mental health conditions can be an uphill battle and takes time • Build a support system- this can be family, friends, mental health professionals etc. • Use online resources like Student Minds- read other people’s stories and explore what support is available.
For more information and advice on finding support, click here.
Hi, I'm Daisy. I'm a first year PhD student in physics studying quantum technologies and spintronics. I graduated with an MPhys from the University of Surrey in 2018. I've suffered with anxiety and depression for many years and was recently diagnosed with autism. I wanted to share my experience on the Student Minds blog to help raise awareness about the support available to students.
I'm always happy to help discuss mental health as well as accessibility, equality & diversity so feel free to get in contact with me @DaisyShearer on Twitter or @notesfromthephysicslab on Instagram
Posted by Student Minds Blogging Editorial Team at 21:08 Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest Labels: Advice, Anxiety, Autism, Depression

1 comment:

  1. Read Smarty12 January 2019 at 09:06

    Rightly said, never give up. For health and information you can visit my blog on health and information.

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Foot-Tapping and Hand-Flapping: Why Do People Stim?

This is an interesting article I found on: www.goodtherapy.org

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Self-stimulatory behavior, better known as stimming, is a type of sensation-seeking that can ease feelings of anxiety, frustration, and boredom. Some people find stimming pleasurable and fun. Although stimming is commonly associated with autism, almost everyone stims from time to time. Stimming is especially prevalent among children.

Subtle forms of stimming, such as hair-twisting, may go unnoticed. More dramatic forms of stimming, such as face-slapping, may be alarming to witness. Forms of stimming that cause physical damage may qualify as self-injurious behavior (SIB).

What Is Stimming?

Stimming refers to a wide range of repetitive sensation-seeking behaviors. Some examples include:

  • Verbal stimming, such as repeating a phrase or humming seemingly at random.
  • Head-banging and face-slapping.
  • Nail-biting and thumb-sucking.
  • Repeatedly covering and then uncovering the ears, eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Repetitive movements such as twirling or pacing.
  • Banging on objects.
  • Staring at stimulating objects.
  • Turning lights or radios on and off.
  • Scratching or rubbing skin.
  • Twisting hair.
  • Chewing on objects.
  • Tapping feet, fingers, or other body parts.

Stimming exists on a continuum. Most people stim at least some of the time. For example, chewing on a pencil while in deep concentration is a form of stimming. Stimming does not necessarily mean a person has autism, ADHD, or another neurological difference. Yet frequent or extreme stimming such as head-banging more commonly occurs with neurological and developmental differences.

Why Do People Stim?

Stimming helps people cope with emotions such as frustration and boredom. It may also help them concentrate, especially on challenging or boring tasks. Over time, stimming can become a habit. A person might come to associate biting their nails or chewing their hair with deep concentration, making it more difficult to concentrate without these stimming behaviors.

Autistic people often feel overwhelmed by sensory input such as flickering lights or loud noises. Stimming can help them recover a sense of control, calming them and making sensory distraction easier to manage. Stimming is often a sign that an autistic person is overwhelmed and struggling to cope with their emotions.

Stimming can also be pleasurable, especially when people associate stimming with relaxation or concentration.

Do Allistic People Stim?

Many forms of fidgeting, such as twisting hair or tapping fingers, are also a type of stimming. These forms of stimming are so common that they often go unnoticed.

Toddlers and preschoolers may also stim to cope with overwhelming emotions and having little control over their own lives. Some parents worry this stimming behavior is an early warning sign of autism, but when stimming is the only symptom, autism is unlikely. According to United Cerebral Palsy, about 20% of neurotypical toddlers bang their heads.

Neurotypical people stim for the same reasons that autistic people do—to cope with boredom, alleviate feelings of sensory overload, manage frustration and anxiety, and because stimming can become a pleasurable habit. Fidget spinners, a recent toy fad, are a stimming tool popular among both neurotypical and neurodivergent children.

Why Punishment for Stimming Behaviors Can Be Harmful

In generations past, some experts recommended punishing stimming behavior—either with aversive correctives (such as slaps, spanks, or shocks) or by taking away or withholding rewards.

The autistic self-advocacy community strongly opposes any type of punishment for stimming. Many adult autistics say punishment caused lasting harm to their self-esteem, undermined their sense of bodily autonomy, and left them with feelings of trauma. Just as adults are permitted to touch their faces or twirl their hair, autistic advocates emphasize that children should be able to stim—especially when doing so is not harmful.

Instead of punishing stimming, it’s important to examine and address the underlying cause.Stimming happens for a reason. Punishing the symptom does not address the underlying cause. Instead, it penalizes a person for their attempts to manage their own emotions. This can make emotions such as anger and anxiety feel more out of control. It also erodes trust between a caregiver and child. Over time, punishing stimming may even make the issue worse by triggering anxiety and fear.

Instead of punishing stimming, it’s important to examine and address the underlying cause. For example, an autistic child might need a quiet space to do homework, or they might find certain fabrics irritating. A toddler might need help coping with the stress of waiting for a meal. A person feeling overwhelming anxiety might need support to develop new anxiety management strategies.

When stimming is not physically harmful, there is rarely a reason to stop it. Often stimming is merely embarrassing to the caregiver and not something that puts a person in real danger. When a person engages in aggressive or violent stimming behavior, redirecting their attention may help.

How Therapy Can Help Manage Stimming Behaviors

Therapy can help families and individuals manage stimming behaviors, especially when those stimming behaviors seem dangerous or interfere with daily life.

Family therapy can help families to:

  • Address and manage overwhelming sensory environments.
  • Develop strategies for managing the emotions and sensations that trigger stimming.
  • Address conflicts between caregivers about how best to manage stimming.
  • Determine whether a person is stimming because of an underlying neurological or mental health issue.
  • Help caregivers differentiate age-typical stimming from stimming that may signal a problem.

Individual therapy can help children and adults who engage in stimming find healthy outlets for their emotions. A therapist may:

  • Help a person manage harmful stimming behavior such as head-banging.
  • Offer different strategies, such as meditation, for managing anxiety.
  • Help a person talk to loved ones about stress and frustration.
  • Offer alternative stimming options that may be less disruptive or harmful.
  • Help an autistic person better control their sensory environment by identifying and addressing triggers for stimming.
  • Support a person in advocating for their needs, including disability accommodations, at work or school.

A compassionate therapist can help with stimming and the emotions that trigger it. Find a counselor today!

References:

  1. Bennie, M. (2016, February 22). Stimming: The good and bad side of anxious behaviors. Retrieved from https://autismawarenesscentre.com/stimming-the-good-and-bad-of-anxious-behaviours
  2. Living with children: Head-banging [PDF]. (n.d.). United Cerebral Palsy. Retrieved from http://ucphuntsville.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Head-Banging.pdf
  3. Perry, D. M. (2018, November 27). The art of stimming. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/education/the-art-of-stimming
  4. Wang, K. (n.d.). Autism and stimming. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/autism-and-stimming
  5. What is stimming? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/what-is-stimming

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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My Experiences of University as an Autistic Student

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Saturday, 29 December 2018

My Experiences of University as an Autistic Student

Niraj writes about the challenges of being at university with autism, and gives advice on settling in, making friends, getting involved, and finding support. Niraj
As someone diagnosed with autism, I have faced many challenges at university. However, I have learnt from my experiences and made a lot of good memories. Here, I give my advice on managing four areas of University life as an autistic student.
1) Living Out and Settling In A good proportion of autistic students aren’t fond of change. Therefore, the prospect of having to live out and be away from their parents can seem extremely nerve racking. Even if you are living at home and commuting, there is still a lot of things you have to adapt to. Luckily, my university allowed me to arrive 2 days early which allowed me to adapt and settle in before things got busy with Arrivals Weekend. However, it can take time to settle in to university life, and you will make mistakes initially– this is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of, and one thing I always advise to any upcoming fresher is to give this process time. You will learn from your experiences and mistakes as you begin to settle in, which will help your personal development.
One thing I would also highly recommend is to visit the university beforehand, so that you can get a feel for the environment and the surroundings. I visited the university twice before I started, and it certainly made things easier when I moved in.
2) Making Friends Before university, I had massive doubts over whether I would be able to make friends due to my autism. However, despite my worries I went to university with an open mind and ensured that I made an active attempt to meet people and initiate conversations. And that worked extremely well for me! On my very first day at university I met someone from my course who also moved in early, and we are still really close friends today. This put me immediately at ease, and after meeting lots of people I quickly came to realise that everyone you meet is very understanding of autism so I didn’t need to worry about whether I would make friends just because I had autism! The advice I would specifically give to autistic students is to just be yourself, and don’t try and change your personality just to “fit in”; if you be true to who you are and give yourself opportunities to meet people, you will make real friends that accept you for who you are!
3) Extracurricular Activities and Getting Out of My Comfort Zone University can throw many challenges for students with autism, but at the same time it also offers a lot of highly rewarding opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person. Whilst at university I have joined several societies, including the Hindu Society, Krishna Consciousness Society, Badminton Society, which have allowed me to try new things and gain new perspectives. I have also been fortunate enough to have taken 3 different society committee positions and volunteered in India, all of which have allowed me to develop many soft skills and expand my comfort zone. My advice to autistic students would be to keep an open mind and take every challenge that comes your way as an opportunity to engage, enjoy and thrive at university. Getting out of your comfort zone can be challenging but the rewards are certainly worth it.
4) Specific Support Available for Students with Disabilities There is lots of support that is available at university for autistic students. Before fresher’s week, I visited the Disability Services support team at my university and they were extremely helpful in ensuring that arrangements were put in place to guide my transition into university, such as allowing me to arrive 2 days early. Throughout university, they have always been easily approachable whenever I have needed something.
It is completely up to you whether you want to disclose your autism to your university. But if you do, you can be assured that it is against the law to be discriminated against due to your autism. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the university wants you to do well, and they are willing to help in any way they can.
Remember that autistic people have unique qualities that enable them to thrive and succeed at university. Good Luck!
For more advice on looking after your mental wellbeing at university, click here.
Hi, I'm Niraj! I am a third year student from the University of Warwick studying Maths, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics. Having suffered from anxiety issues whilst at university, I know about the various mental health issues that university students face, and how tough it can be. I therefore want to raise awareness on different aspects of mental health and wellbeing, and help as many people as I can by sharing my own experiences.
Posted by Student Minds Blogging Editorial Team at 18:34 Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest Labels: Advice, Autism

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous1 January 2019 at 17:59

    This is an amazing article. Wish you all the success. Keep helping people.

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    1. Niraj Shah3 January 2019 at 18:26

      Thank you very much!

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  2. Tia5 January 2019 at 22:58

    This article is so inspiring.I hope that you never stop writing cause you have a gift.

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  3. Health Write for us8 January 2019 at 10:12

    these is very useful&best article.
    now a day keeps helping peoples.

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  4. Anonymous11 January 2019 at 08:23

    Well done for sharing what sounds like a great experience to inspire others.

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  5. travel write for us22 January 2019 at 08:43

    very very nice

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