4 Suggestions for Aspergers Drivers to Get Comfortable Before They Hit the Road

Driving with Autism Series

Aspergers drivers like to have every detail in place in accordance with their personal preferences. They want to precisely change things like the climate control and the radio. These changes allow for comfort and, therefore, enjoyment while driving.

However, one thing to note is that the drivers may have trouble changing these things while they drive. The best thing to do is to make adjustments before the car rolls. Here is a brief list of suggestions for the Aspergers driver to feel comfortable in his/her vehicle in order for him/her to focus only on the road while driving:

Use This Visual Strategy to Reinforce Good Behavior: The Flip Card

A flip card is a quick and easy visual strategy that highlights one behavior, and clarifies through graphics and words when certain behaviors are acceptable, and when they are not. Place a visual that indicates that it is O.K. to engage in the target behavior on one side of the paper. Place a different visual that indicates it is not O.K. to engage in the specific behavior at this time.

Think of it as a version of an “Open” and “Closed” sign in a store window. The sign, or flip card, gets turned around to indicate when it is O.K. to enter and when it is not. Much the same, the flip card will tell the student when it is O.K. to do a particular behavior and when it is no longer appropriate. Of course, not every behavior lends itself to this strategy. It is only for behaviors that are acceptable some of the time.

Stop and Go sign in illustration

I had the pleasure of working with a young man at a Middle School campus as he attended a general education art class. The art teacher began each class with about 10 minutes of whole class lecture where she would explain the project and expectations for the day. It was this first part of the class that posed most problematic for Samuel. Samuel found great pleasure in singing and talking to himself . . . constantly.

Advice From College Students with Aspergers: Part 2

The best advice one can receive about effective support for college students diagnosed with ASD comes from, of course, students themselves.

Kristopher Kirk will graduate from Marshall University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering (with an emphasis in Civil Engineering) in early December, 2014.

At a recent university-sponsored Parent Weekend event, Kristopher – who has received supports from MU’s college support program during his four years at the school – provided these insights about his college experience.

Kristopher advises college students living on the spectrum:

Aspergers is Not the Same as ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)!

People with Asperger’s usually collect labels like ADHD, anxiety disorders, or bipolar disorder before they’re diagnosed with AS. The label that annoys me is Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Is there a difference between people whose Asperger’s-related behavior is misunderstood and ODD? I find that ODD is sometimes simply a description of behavior without a cause.

Insurers ask for diagnoses based on ICD 10, the “handbook” of diagnoses. One of the official ICD 10 descriptions of AS is that it’s a “neuropsychiatric disorder whose major manifestations is an inability to interact socially; other features include poor verbal and motor skills, single mindedness, and social withdrawal.”

ICD 10 describes ODD as a behavior disorder and a psychopathological disorder. It’s described as a “recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures.”  The criteria include “frequent occurrence of at least four of the following behaviors: losing temper, arguing with adults, actively defying or refusing to comply with requests or rules of adults, deliberately annoying others, blaming others for own mistakes, and being easily annoyed, angry or resentful.”

ICD 10 is right in my experience in describing those with Asperger’s Syndrome as “single minded.” This is a real strength when doing tasks, following rules and being honest. However, single mindedness can also include inflexibility or even severe rigidity in sticking to a point of view.

Middle School, High School, and College Through the Eyes of a Young Autistic

Middle school. The darkest and most hideous, oppressive years a human can fathom. When the hormones are just ripe enough to make you want to take on the whole world, but maturity has not yet developed enough to realize there are things such as consequences. But me, I did not get into any real trouble, instead I became profoundly confused and unhappy. These are years that are difficult to handle under even the best of circumstances. On top of this, my family moved from the Northeast to the Southwest just as I was about to start middle school. To take a young child from one environment and to suddenly thrust them into new ones is very distressing and painful.

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For the Autistic it can be hell. Somehow I managed to survive it all, and to escape being beat up by the other kids. One thing I didn’t escape? Humiliation. I had a tendency to laugh uncontrollably at the things I thought were funny at the time. I had always been led to believe that laughing at someone’s joke was the best genuine way to prove that you understood it, and that you admired their sense of wit. But somehow, laughing at everyone’s joke meant I was weird. Wanting to learn was weird. Humming music that I liked was weird. Reading books that I wasn’t required to because of a class was weird. My hair was weird.

Seriously. Other than my hair, someone explain to me what’s weird about any of that.

Understanding and Managing Sensory Issues While Driving

Driving with Autism Series

Every inexperienced driver experiences nerves when they first begin to drive. In the case of Aspergers drivers, those nerves jangle even more, as s/he takes in a lot more stimuli in the driver’s seat. Tension arises due to many, and frequently simultaneous, stimuli input. These include general anxiety, excessive sunlight, car and traffic noises (i.e. horns honking), bumps, significant speed, and excessively high and low temperatures in the car. Any one of these stimuli potentially triggers meltdowns and panic attacks; not ideal when behind the wheel. Fortunately, there are methods to manage and/or control such stimuli to make them pleasant, instead of unpleasant.

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First, allow the Aspergers individual to practice driving while paying attention to the stimuli that s/he finds most unpleasant and pleasant. Then, make a plan to control it all.

Societal Pressures and the Mask of Fitting In

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This comic actually touches upon two things (though, I hadn’t intended to do that). My main point is the “mask” we put up, and then I realized that it also lightly touches upon taking things/expressions literally.

On the shorter note, people on the spectrum have difficulties distinguishing between normal tones and sarcasm. There’s also trouble understanding expressions (like “two birds with one stone”), allegories, and metaphors. When I first heard the expression “apple of my eye”, I pictured someone’s eyes reflecting apples, for example.

When I had to read stories in high school on allegory and symbolism, it all went over my head. “Watership Down” is one of my favorite novels, but I still don’t pick up on the symbolism which is apparently in the novel. I’ll explain all that in further detail when I do a comic which actually delves more into the subject. The main subject I was trying to explain with this comic is autism vs society.

During a Meltdown

For the last couple of weeks we have addressed the complex topic of meltdowns. While the main message is to have a plan to PREVENT a meltdown, we must also be prepared if a meltdown does occur.

Portrait of unhappy screaming teen girl

I will start by outlining what NOT to do. I think this is best said coming from someone that has lived through a meltdown with neurological implications.  The following is an excerpt from a message from Mr. John Scott.