Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adolescence and ASDs: Focusing on the Positive (by Kate Altman, M.S.)

Last week I gave a presentation on autism and adolescence. Since it is a broad topic, I talked about a lot of different areas, including puberty, growth spurts, sexuality and sexual identity, peer pressure, fitting in, and so on. Unfortunately, a lot of these areas seem to be cause for struggle and adversity for teens on the spectrum (as they can be for all teens). Adolescence is a confusing time full of change, which can be particularly distressing to teens with ASDs who may feel especially confused by unspoken changes in social rules, which rapidly become increasingly complex.

Since we focused so much on challenges throughout the presentation, I concluded by asking the audience, which included parents and therapists, what they thought might be the benefits of being a teen with an ASD. At first everyone seemed stumped, but then they started to brainstorm some possible benefits. For example: 1.) Teens on the spectrum often have a special interest which can be a source of passion and provide an escape from the “real world” of high school; 2.) Many teens with ASDs (though, of course, not all) truly do not seem to feel as pressured to conform as other teens, and so are able to maintain their identities and senses of self; 3.) Teens with ASDs can be more open-minded and less judgmental than other teens, so they can get to know a variety of people, often of all ages, and so aren’t so limited in their friendships.

Of course, the items we brainstormed are generalizations based on observations and speculation. Our list may not apply to all teens on the spectrum, but I think it is always a good exercise to focus on the positive aspects of a certain experience. Sure, adolescence can be rough, but it can also be a time of great self-discovery, growth, and exploration.

What are your thoughts on the positive aspects of being a teen on the spectrum?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"The Social Network" and Asperger’s Syndrome by Cindy N. Ariel, Ph.D.

Did anyone else who saw The Social Network notice that the character of Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg looks like a classic example of someone with Asperger’s syndrome? The Social Network is a recently released movie about the development and growth of Facebook and centers on a couple of huge lawsuits brought against the main founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It seems that Zuckerberg has made a lot of enemies in growing his social network site.

Researching a little on the internet, I found a good deal of controversy over whether Zuckerberg has AS or not. Many doubters have heated words to say about the possibility of him having Asperger’s syndrome. They see him as being fully conscious and calculating in the degree of human damage he caused. He is clearly viewed by many as a disloyal, cold blooded businessman.

But the guy who plays him in the movie probably displays enough symptoms to meet official diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome. He has a clear obsessive special interest and difficulty focusing on one subject unless it includes that interest (computer programming). He speaks rapidly, and demonstrates odd behavior at times. Socially, his interactions with his closest friend primarily involve his special interest and he doesn’t participate in the parties and celebrations going on around him even to mark major milestones in the growth and progress of his company. Earlier, he seems totally clueless about his own behavior when his girlfriend breaks up with him. His literal honesty during a legal deposition when asked whether he is giving opposing counsel his undivided attention and his self-involved alienation at college also resembles other adults with Asperger’s syndrome. It’s interesting that the guy portraying the developer of the largest social network in the world appears socially inept.

I do not know the real Mark Zuckerberg, and from what I understand, neither the director of this movie nor the actor who played him does either. Besides, whether the real Mark Zuckerberg has AS or not is his own private matter. The point that strikes me as important though is that if you assume that the character in the movie has Asperger’s syndrome, his actions and behavior come across much differently than if you go by the assumption that this guy is an avaricious capitalist. In the lives of Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg, none of us may be affected or really care. But in the lives of the people we care about, especially those with Asperger’s syndrome, perspective can make all the difference.