Tag Archives: psychiatry

A Professional’s Guide to Talking About Autism

Talking about Autism in  professional contexts should be done with utmost sensitivity and respect towards the individuals with the condition and their families. Having sat through assessments, consultations, education and health care meetings, annual reviews and planning meetings with familes and professionals, I have learned lessons of what to do and what not to do when it comes to talking about the said subject. I am aiming, through this article, to share with you what I have learned over the years.

1. It’s not an epidemic and no one is ‘suffering’ from Autism

Despite what the figures suggest, I do not consider Autism as an epidemic – it has been around for longer than we all think and we just got better at identifying it.

I would try to avoid using any negative terms at all when talking about Autism. Someone HAS Autism, but he/ she is not suffering. I prefer to call Autism as a condition, not a disorder or a disease.

Please note that I do not want you all to turn a blind eye on the difficulties that the individuals and their families are having at any point. Absolutely not! I urge you to acknowledge that. What I want you all to understand is that whatever it is that is happening now can be changed. Focus on what can be done (realistically) to make their situations better.

2. Individuals with Autism; not Autistic individuals

The jury is still out with this one – some actually want to be identified as ‘autistic’, as it is a major part of their identities, while some would like to be referred to as (for example) ‘a girl with Autism’. I always use the latter one, unless corrected by the individual or the family. I feel that by referring to them as ‘individuals with Autism’, I am acknowledging that there is more to them than having a diagnosis – that Autism is only a part of who they are. By doing so, I believe that I am opening up the opportunity for others to truly discover who the person really is as a whole.

3. Avoid using ‘High/Low Functioning’ and ‘severely/mildly Autistic’

I myself am guilty of this until recently. First of all, I know that levels of functioning depends (in a large part) on the individual’s IQ score. However, I began to understand that IQ is only a part of who they truly are.

I understand that levels of functioning may give professionals and parents a common language/ reference point to which they can base an individual’s set of abilities. But I feel like this should be avoided as it is misleading. I have met many people with Autism who have overall IQs of less than 70 but are amazing in specific things. One may be ‘low functioning’ but it does not mean that they cannot (or are not) good at something.

What I find helpful is to look at the overall picture. Try to understand every context, every behaviour, every aspect of the individual’s life. Then, if you need to talk to the individuals with Autism and/ or his/ their families, you should pinpoint the areas in which they have strengths and the areas in which they need to improve. Not only will you be able to offer a much better informed solution (if that’s what’s needed), you may also make the families feel that they were listened to.

4. SHUT UP AND LISTEN!

As professionals, most of us are eager to offer advice. But having spoken to a lot of families over the years, what they appreciate is being listened to – genuinely and empathically. I advise you to take a step back and listen to what they are saying before speaking or making your mind. Clarify what you heard and don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure that you truly understood what they meant.

5. No two individuals with Autism are the same

I know that you all may have read/ heard this before, but I want you to always keep this in mind. No matter how many people with Autism you have met, the next one would be completely different from the others. Never assume that you already know what to do. I suppose if you want to stay true to this advise, you would follow number 4.

Final comments

All of what I have said may not be a unique revelation to many of you. However, I feel like I owe it to the Autism community to remind you (and myself) of all of them. I know that we all want the best for the people we work with, which is why I am confident that the Autism community is in safe hands.

Please feel free to contact me and/ or leave comments if you wish to discuss anything further.

 

A Story That Needs to Be Told: Stephen Andrade-Martinez

Click HERE to watch Stephen’s story.

“Stephen has Autism, and has a history of displaying behaviour that challenges. Living at home with his parents and 2 siblings, his family were able to manage Stephen’s behaviour by implementing Positive Behavioural Support. When Stephen left the family to go to School his behaviour deteriorated and he was sent to a hospital, which has now become his permanent home.”

Stephen’s mum, Leo wants him back home. He is currently stays at a Psychiatric Ward 24/7. He is not getting the support and affection that he needs- both of which his parents are able to provide. Leo is campaigning to bring Stephen home. Help her by signing her petition HERE

UK Supermarkets Asda and Tesco Apologise for Disgraceful and Offensive Costume

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asdaUK supermarket giant Asda has apologised for their hugely inappropriate halloween costume marketed as the ‘Mental Patient Fancy Dress Costume’  which featured fake blood, a mask and a fake meat cleaver. They have withdrawn the sale of the said product and pledged to donate £25,000 to Charity Mind after they were bombarded with tweets from offended individuals such as ex-footballer Stan Collymore and charities such as Rethink Mental Illness.

Tesco, who had a similarly absurd ‘psycho ward’ costume (boiler suit, mask and machete) also withdrew their product subsequently and like Asda, have issued offical apologies.

tescoAs an advocate for teaching mental health awareness and diversity, I am hugely offended and horrified by the sale and  advertisement of the costumes. We are still living in an age where people with mental illnesses are stigmatized, and stupid publicity stunts such as this is totally unacceptable. Not only does it fuel the negative stereotype but it also gives the masses an opportunity to publicly mock those who are living with mental illnesses. I am sure that they are aware of the fact that several people have killed themselves because they could not live with the stigma.

In addition, neither of these costumes accurately depict people with mental illness. Having visited many psychiatric wards and mental institutions, and having worked with people with psychiatric conditions, I have not seen anyone who dressed and looked like the pictures on Asda’s and Tesco’s  advertisements. The mentally ill need support, understanding and acceptance. They certainly do not need any public mockery such as this. Apologies and donations are not enough.

Depression, Suicide Ideation and Attempts in people with Autism

depression-1_3People with Autism Spectrum Disorders have long been known to be susceptible to depression. In some cases, this can lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. A lot of people with Autism unfortunately have to endure heightened amounts of stress, difficulties in initiating and maintatining friendships and romantic relationships and bullying. In addition to these, not everyone with Autism are equipped with the necessary coping strategies tocombat these negative life events. As a result, these events may lead to derpession and suicidal tendencies.

A research conducted by Mayers, Gorman, Hillwig-Garcia and Syed (2013) found that 14% of people with Autism aged 1-16 have thougth about committing suicide and a large number of them actually attempted to kill themselves. This is an alarming statistic considering the age of the participants. It is therefore important to recognise the signs and react appropriately when they occur.

COMMON SIGNS

There are a few common signs that indicate that a person may be at risk of committing suicide.

  • Self-harming. 
  • Saying things like ‘I am better off dead’- Yes, it is pretty obvious, but a lot of peopl take these kinds of statements lightly.
  • Being withdrawn.
  • Drug abuse
  • Engaging in extremely violent behaviour

EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES 

  • Effective communication- Listening to the person’s perspective is very important. Understand what they are thinking and feeling (hard as it may be for them to communicate). Avoid aggressively confronting them or threatening them as this will only aggrevate the situation.
  • Remove potential means of suicide
  • Monitor their emotional state as much as possible
  • Seek professional help

The whole point of this article is to open your eyes to the unfortunate possibility (and high likelihood) that a person with Autism may be depressed and could be thinking about committing suicide. It is important for them to have a secure and open relationship with the people around them. Whether you are a parent, teacher, carer or a friend of a person with Autism, you can help reduce their risk of depression just by being there for them. Be patient with them and make sure that they communicate their feelings with you. Never ever ignore any signs of loneliness or unexplained aggressive behaviours. Remember that they need our support and guidance.

Reference:

Mayes, S.D., Gorman, A.A., Hillwig-Garcia, J. & Syed, E. (2013). Suicide Ideation and Attempts in Children with Autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(1), 109-119.

The Sally-Anne Test (Theory Of Mind)

The Sally-Anne test is a psychological test which is used to check a people’s understanding of others’ beliefs and points of views, also known as Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is important because it allows us to predict what others might say or do in certain situations (Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith, 1985). Frith and Frith (2002) proposed that a Theory of Mind deficit may explain the  social and communication difficulties displayed by people with Autism.

REFERENCES:

Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. & Frith, U. (1985). Does the Autistic child have ‘theory of mind’? Cognition, 21, 37-46.

Frith, U. & Frith, C. (2002). Development and neuropsychology of mentalizing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 358, 459-473.

 

More articles on Autism:

Getting off to a good start: Meeting students with ASD for the first time

Being Proud of Having Autism

What Would You Do If You Witness An Autistic Person Being Insulted?

Never EVER say these things to people iwth Autism!

He flaps his hands and screams a lot but he doesn’t mean to annoy you

Optimum Outcomes for people with Autism

DSM 5 and its implications to ASD diagnosis

Diagnosing Autism: What you need to know

Vote for Miss Montana 2012, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

DSM-V and Autism

The Autistic Me: BBC Documentary

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Practical tips to make your classroom Autism-Friendly

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

Simon Baron-Cohen on Daniel Tammet

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?

More on Autistic Savants

More articles on Autism:

Being Proud of Having Autism

What Would You Do If You Witness An Autistic Person Being Insulted?

Never EVER say these things to people iwth Autism!

He flaps his hands and screams a lot but he doesn’t mean to annoy you

Optimum Outcomes for people with Autism

DSM 5 and its implications to ASD diagnosis

Diagnosing Autism: What you need to know

Vote for Miss Montana 2012, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

DSM-V and Autism

The Autistic Me: BBC Documentary

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Practical tips to make your classroom Autism-Friendly

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?