Friday, 18 April 2014

Society's Expectations

As with anything, there is a process that I go through when writing my blogs. There is the research, which often involves gaining others perspectives/opinions through social media and other channels, researching in books, reputable websites etc. I also think about my own perspective, all while taking notes down on paper to remind me of what ideas I am going to go through in my blog. 

The original topic for the blog was society's expectations. After exploring this topic extensively I have realised that self-esteem goes hand in hand with escaping from society's expectations/norms. The problem is that the term "normal" is often wrongly interpreted to mean adequate and correct. The thing is what may be normal to the majority (which is often not questioned and just out of habit) may not be suitable to be expected of everyone especially minority groups such as those on the spectrum.

Being an individual is important as it shapes a person's identity. The role of individualism has to do a lot with diversification, independent thought, and freedom of emotion. It allows you the freedom of knowing that you are traveling under a path of your own determination dictated by your own system of wants and needs, and nobody can tell you that you are wrong because, after all, you are unique.

On the flip side, if you spend your life trying to fit a mould you will end up losing your identity. People who work hard to conform, often suppress their own thoughts and desires in order to fit in, and eventually they simply forget these thoughts and desires. If everything an individual thinks is countered by their internal questions of  "Will that make me look stupid?" or "Is that what everyone else thinks?" the person will often get into a pattern of second-guessing themselves. This results in the thoughts that are eventually expressed that is of their own have gone through a series of re-examinations and end up not being the true thoughts of the person at all.

There are positive steps you can take to improve your self-esteem to become confident in yourself.   The first step towards better self-esteem is to focus on your abilities. Create two lists, one headed "Qualities in personality" and the other "Qualities in abilities." After you have wrote down some characteristics for both ask family and friends for more qualities you could add to the list. You could use this list to regularly record times when you exhibit these qualities. When you are doubting yourself/have low self-esteem you can look at this document and be re-assured of the admirable attributes you have and even use this list to help determine how to solve issues that you face.

You do not have to improve your self-esteem alone in fact it is beneficial to have people who have earned your trust in the process. Finding a like-minded peer group who have similar interests and/or characteristics such as a Aspie Social Group ran by fellow Aspies, a group that is based on a mutual interest like an art class or computer club can be a great way of boosting your self esteem as your qualities are recognised and appreciated more than other social situations. Spending time in nature and with animals can help by removing unnecessary sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming. Spending time with animals will improve your mood considerable as they are happy to see you and are nonjudgmental.  

Tony Attwood suggests "Sometimes people on the spectrum can be overly self-reflective and dwell excessively and pessimistically on their inner thoughts and feelings" and that "there may be a need to be guidance from a psychologist or counselor" to help "acquire realistic and positive self-reflection".

As your self-esteem improves, you will be able to do more and more things reflecting your own needs and wants as opposed to what others think. You should never be afraid to be yourself as trying to conform will only mean that you will deprive yourself of what you are capable of and deserve.

If you have any comments/questions on this article or there is anything that you would like me to cover in a future blog post please leave a comment.

 An article by Autism Advocate Jeanette Purkis on a similar topic (self-image, mental illness and body weight):

Special thanks to: Marie Lauzon

References and resources 
Been There. Done That. Try This! An Aspie's Guide to Life on Earth
Image attributed to

Friday, 11 April 2014

Aspie's and sexuality

I believe that the subject of sexuality and Asperger’s needs to be discussed more and in an open way. The purpose of this post is to help people understand the topic a little more and discuss some things that can be done to improve outcomes in regards to relationship understanding for Aspies.

I would like to firstly point out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it is a good framework to consider when looking at improving quality of life. As seen in the drawing below, arguably sex is one of the most important motivators with sexual intimacy and friendship being on the third most important level. Maslow acknowledged the likelihood that the different levels of motivation could occur at any time in the human mind, but he focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they should be met.

The difficulties that Aspies face vary from individual to individual, however there are a lot of commonalities. Research into the sexual understanding of Aspies is in its infancy however studies (and my personal experiences and of other Aspies) suggest that Aspies are as interested sex (and intimate relationships) as anyone else, but many struggle with the myriad of complex skills required to successfully negotiate intimate relationships. In my research into the subject I have also noticed that although some Aspies (like myself) don’t have major sensory issues, others do which can make intimacy a challenge. AS will also affect communication, both verbal and nonverbal, social interaction and empathic thought. It can also cause obsessive interests, need for structure and routine, motor clumsiness

People with Asperger syndrome can sometimes appear to have an ‘inappropriate’, ‘immature’ or ‘delayed’ understanding of sexual codes of conduct. This can sometimes result in sexually inappropriate behaviour. For example, a 20-year-old with Asperger syndrome may display behaviours which befit a teenager.

Even individuals who are high achieving and academically or vocationally successful can have trouble negotiating the ‘hidden rules’ of courtship. 

As Dr Tony Attwood says in the new book published by JKP “Been There, Done That, Try This!” “Their (Aspies) sources of information on sexuality may not be peers or personal experiences, but more likely the media, literature and possibly pornography.” This is why specific education needs to be provided to Aspies as more in-depth education will fill in the gaps that cause by lack of intuition. Specific sexual education is also important to help avoid such issues as Aspies getting into trouble with the law by acting inappropriately (such as accessing illegal pornography or stalking potential partners) and becoming victims of sexual assault because they got taken advantage of and in some cases this is caused (through no fault of their own) by not knowing what the intentions of their partner are. searching for a suitable educational programmes that relate to AS and sexuality I found one include many relevant topics and to be in a group structure which will also help participants to improve on their social skills. The program can be found in full in the book “Asperger’s Syndrome and Sexuality From Adolescence Through Adulthood” By Isabelle Henault. As far as I know this educational programme is the only programme to be developed and tested and is specifically to meet the needs of people with AS.  The course includes 12 workshops, each with its own topic. Although previously unpublished, the programme has been empirically validated and tested in practice with four groups. The results from these trials are also found in the book.

Through more exposure of this issue I believe that more organisations will realise that there is a need for specific education programs for Aspies and will look into the issue of sexuality more and develop and refine programs to suit this need for education. Also Aspies will realise there are resources out there to help them recognise their deficits and how to work around them.

If you have any comments/questions on this article or there is anything that you would like me to cover in a future blog post (as I want to write an article more in depth in the future regarding AS and sexuality) please leave a comment.

For anyone interested in reading about the perspective of a male Aspie (written in first person) using internet dating successfully please see Garry Burge's post here.