Monday, August 31, 2009

All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome: Living the Metaphor (by Kate Altman)

My husband and I share our home with three delightful, quirky, and utterly adorable cats, Mikey, Miles (who are brothers) and Rose (a slightly more mature, elegant lady-cat). The five of us have existed in harmony (if surrounded by shredded furniture) for several years. However recently Mikey turned, swiftly and violently, on poor Rose. Suddenly he was the hunter and she was his prey, and he began routinely stalking and attacking her until things got so bad that we had to create separate “apartments” for the cats in our house.

Being a believer in therapy and a (some say overly) devoted pet owner, I enlisted the help of the behavior specialist in my vet’s office. She suggested we try a complicated “reintroduction” ritual that involved Valium, treat-rewards, and my husband’s patience. When (as all parents do) I asked the behaviorist, “why did this happen? Why is Mikey acting this way all of the sudden?” she replied with this lovely answer: “Honestly, I don’t know and we may never know the cause. That’s why I love cats so much. They are so complex and mysterious and fascinating. Something in the environment probably changed in some way that is unknown to you, and it ruffled Mikey’s feathers, so he is acting out.”

Her speech felt eerily familiar, but I could not place the source of the feeling for a little while. Then it hit me: her explanation of Mikey’s internal experience sounds exactly like how experts explain the causes of frustration and meltdowns in kids with developmental disorders.

As much as I love my cats, I can imagine that many people might find comparing cats to children offensive. However, it is a useful analogy when trying to understand a child’s frustrations due to sensory sensitivities and a limited ability to verbalize those frustrations. I am certainly not the first person to make such an analogy: Kathy Hoopmann wrote the fun little book, All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, which presents AS in a relatable way for children (and adults) by comparing cat behavior to typical AS behavior. Children with developmental disorders function differently, not deficiently, which Hoopmann’s book illustrates nicely. Another thing that children on the spectrum have in common with cats? As Mikey’s behaviorist would say, they are complex, mysterious, and fascinating, and that is why we love them.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Autism in the Media: Do Movies Like “Adam” Enhance Public Acceptance/Understanding? (by Kate Altman)

Though the CDC reports that now 1 out of 150 children are being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), individuals on the spectrum have been woefully unrepresented or misrepresented in movies and literature. When I mention that I work with individuals with autism, I often get the response, “Oh, like Rain Man?” For many people, Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of an autistic savant man in 1988’s Rain Man, co-starring Tom Cruise, is the only (or at least most accessible) representation of person with autism they can conjure. Luckily, authors and moviemakers have recently begun to introduce the public to a wider and more thoughtful array (spectrum?) of autistic characters. We have Christopher Boone, the 15 year-old protagonist of Mark Haddon’s widely-read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Aspies-in-love couple Donald Morton and Isabelle Sorenson (who are real people) from the autobiographical book and corresponding movie, Mozart and the Whale, and even Mary McDonnell’s brave (if overly-stereotypic) portrayal of a doctor with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) on the ABC hit, Grey’s Anatomy. And now, we have Adam, the male lead character (played by Hugh Dancy) in the new indie flick, “Adam”.

In my opinion, “Adam” is the best onscreen representation of an individual on the spectrum. Though it is an independent film and is not likely to attract as many viewers as a summer blockbuster, I’m sure that many film buffs will see it and learn a thing or two about AS. What do you think? Can fictional characters be helpful in educating the public about autism and AS? Do they increase understanding and sensitivity, or provide fodder for stereotypes and even teasing (after all, it is not exactly a compliment when someone is referred to as “Rain Man”)? Please share your thoughts with us by posting in the comments section below.

“Adam” Movie Review (by Kate Altman)

Click on's%20new.htm to read a review of the new movie, "Adam", which portrays a young man with Asperger's Syndrome (AS). Let us know what you think!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Alternative Choices is a private psychotherapy practice based in Philadelphia, PA. We provide short-term solution, focused counseling and long-term psychotherapy for children, adolescents and adults.  We have particular expertise in working with families who have a member with challenges like autism, a disability, or a chronic illness; we have published and presented extensively on these topics.

Overall, we are dedicated to helping individuals, couples, and families to lead more fulfilling lives. 

We hope you will find this blog to be a resource for topics related to psychotherapy, families with special needs, autism spectrum disorders, relationships, mental health issues, psychology in the media, and various other relevant topics.  However, we must stress that this blog is NOT a substitute for professional psychotherapy or for diagnosis or treatment of any psychological disorders.