What are the Main Causes of Depression for Those with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Why are there higher rates of depression in those with AS? There may be some genetic predisposition to depression for some, but this doesn’t explain most cases of depression. One reason for depression is isolation and loneliness. Despite the misconception that people with AS prefer being alone, research shows that many with AS want friends. Children and teens with AS are often lonely and feel their friendships aren’t “quality.” They’re looking for company, safety and acceptance to give them a sense of confidence. Those who have friends may have a lower tendency towards depression. However, many with AS who experience social anxiety or lack social skills in joining, starting, and maintaining friendships don’t have the tools to have the friends they want.

Another reason for depression is the experience of being bullied.

Studies have suggested that a majority of those with AS experience bullying. This isn’t surprising given the drive towards conformity and the emphasis on social status among middle school children in particular, but also among high school students and even older individuals.

There isn’t a cultural norm of tolerance of neurodiversity, or even of most kinds of diversity.

Qualities of those with AS that engender bullying are

  • lack of awareness of social cues;
  • cognitive rigidity;
  • interests or behavior labeled ‘odd’;
  • and hypersensitivity.

AS individuals have difficulty flexibily and astutely responding to bullies. Some with AS tend to be submissive and anxious in response, which empowers bullies to continue. Still others lash back, which gets them in trouble.

In my own practice, my Asperger’s teenagers and young adults have often been bullied and carry the wounds of bullying deeply ingrained in their sense of self-esteem.

A Quote Worth Contemplating…

This blog was last posted in 2014. As the new school year begins, this young mans viewpoint of peer exclusion helped him (and his parents) to go in another direction altogether. We hope it inspires you too. – Aspergers101

When asked about living with Autism, without prompt nor expectation of any kind, this quote came from our son Sam (then 15 years of age) during an interview for the documentary “Coping to Excelling”. 

“Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package….think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.”                                                                             -Sam Allen July 2011

These are Sam’s words of advice to anyone living with an impairment, disability or challenge of any kind. His words, though brief, are quite powerful for someone in their mid-teens. I share this because as a person of faith, this is a good way of thinking…maybe for us all.

Chances are anyone with High Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome are not just challenged with the autism but with the comorbidities that typically go along with the diagnosis of ASD. Comorbidities such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, bi-polar or anxiety (to name a few) all challenge and can hinder daily life. We fight daily to overcome these obstacles while oftentimes losing sight of the strengths that do come with the Asperger or HFA diagnosis.

Strengths and ‘gifts’ may include that intense interest in one subject. That hyper-focus may drive family members batty but that is the very ‘good stuff’ Sam is talking about. Issac Newton, Einstein, Steve Jobs and John Nash are all said to have had Aspergers Syndrome. Their ability to focus intensely on one subject allowed them to do great things! Though Sam was never invited to his peer’s birthday parties or gatherings, his absorption in the topic of that time brought him to build a low-powered FM radio station from his bedroom as well as a high-powered gaming computer from scratch. This is a gift so go with it. If their interest happens to be the constellation, seek the stars with your Aspie by laying a blanket on the ground in the backyard at 2am. If it’s trains, go to train museums and allow them to ask the volunteers questions till their hearts content. You get the idea.

This quote now hangs by our front door so as we leave our house everyday…we are all reminded of our worth, no matter our flaws or challenges. Point being…the quote above came from a beautiful mind that is literally wired differently and who knows God doesn’t make mistakes no matter what bullying peers have said. Sam truly believes to his core not to “sweat the small stuff” but to focus on the good. I think that’s a good lesson for neuro-typicals as well!    

by: Jennifer Allen

The Path Less Traveled: Families, Autism, and the Church Today

Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. A new study has found children with autism are almost twice as likely to never attend church or other religious services. Families of children with other disabilities are missing from the pews as well. These are the parents who grew up in the church. Whose parents were preachers, elders, Sunday school teachers, and ladies Bible class members. These parents are aching for their children to know the same love of a church family as they did.

This certainly describes my family. Our oldest son has autism. For families like mine, it doesn’t take a study to know about the barriers preventing children with disabilities (and their families) from participating in worship. What are these barriers, and how can the church accommodate?

First, an understanding of God’s design is a great place for any church body to start. Differences can be frightening. Learning that my son’s brain is physically wired differently than that of a neurotypical truly fascinated me with God’s design!

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exod. 4:11)

In Luke 14:15-24 there is a story of how the church should welcome everyone. This story shows Jesus hosting a celebratory meal where the disabled are invited guests, just as those without disabilities are. The good news of salvation is that we ALL belong.

Here are a few suggestions for creating a sanctuary for these families at church, plus some suggestions for the family seeking sanctuary.

Creating Sanctuary: Suggestions for the Church

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. (Luke 14:21)

Church is a large social gathering that is, in itself, difficult for anyone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The service can be a radically unwelcoming, even dangerous, place for persons with ASD in ways nobody intends. Like school or grocery shopping, church is another potentially overwhelming situation autistic kids must endure on a regular basis.

Seeking Help For Depression with Aspergers: The Specifics

If you have: lost interest in your usual activities; trouble sleeping, wake up early or sleep all the time; a change in appetite (more or less); withdrawn from people with a down mood (for Aspies it might be sad, irritable or a sense of hopelessness – whatever negative mood or thoughts you recognize), you have what we call major depression.

Depression, Aspergers, Help, Resources

For this, you probably need professional help. Things are not hopeless but being depressed is like looking through dark glasses. While people with Asperger’s are prone to depression because of challenging life experiences, clinical depression is not part of Asperger’s Syndrome and usually responds to treatment. For those struggling with lower level depression, you might still consider therapy to look at ways to make life changes and feel better.

Professional Help

For finding professional help and other resources, Autismsource.org is a gold mine of resources including lists of local therapists in your area.

Online directories:

Psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), and other specialties all can provide therapy. Individuals should be licensed providers in their states. You can find this information by looking at their websites.

Only psychiatrists, other MDs (medical doctors), and APRNs can provide medication. Medication has been demonstrated to be effective in treating depression. Often a combination of medication and therapy are most useful. The form of therapy most recommended is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) has been shown to be effective for depression although there isn’t research on it with people on the spectrum. Most therapists specializing in working with those with ASD know how to modify traditional CBT to best work with those on the spectrum.

It can be very challenging, certainly in parts of the US, to find therapists who take insurance.

The prevailing cost of therapy varies widely across the country. Some therapists (usually psychologists) offer sliding scale fees or have some lower fee slots, so it’s worth calling and asking. Clinics generally take insurance but you want to be sure that the therapist is familiar with ASD. The first thing you should do is call the number for patient or customer service on your insurance card and ask for a list of providers (psychologists/psychiatrists/social workers) in your area. This way you can know all the providers near you who are in network with your insurance plan before you call around clinics. In network providers have more affordable rates than out of network providers. It is important to inform yourself about your insurance plan and coverage before you begin the search.

Also, check providers with Medicaid if you have it. Any MD or APRN will know about treating depression with medication. Some therapists who accept Medicaid might be experienced with ASD even if they’re not on a directory for ASD.

Self Care Strategies

Managing the Crushing Blow of Disappointment & Lies

Aspergers101 for the Parent

As neurotypicals, disappointments come early in life. We learn quickly that all we desire is not all that is intended for us. We learn, through a trail of unrealized dreams, to be content with our lot or find another pathway toward our goal(s).

Having a child on the autism spectrum redefines the above lesson. Managing your ASD child’s crushing blow of disappointment comes with a different manual altogether. When it comes to disappointment through deceivers and manipulators…those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are susceptible to exploitation. ASD is, at its core, a disorder of social functioning and cognition. Just saying old phrases like, “That’s life” or “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “That’s how the ball bounces” makes no sense to them and sets them off into further confusion and strife. Their brain is wired differently so their expectations and heightened sense of right and wrong may bring on pain when the expected turns unexpected. Knowing how to help them is first to understand that your autistic child is wired differently and being lied to will take more than standard sayings to overcome. In other words, like everything else in parenting a child on the autism spectrum, it may take a well thought out talk but you can relieve your child’s mind….and yours by a few steps.

Their brain is wired differently so their expectations and heightened sense of right and wrong may bring on pain when the expected turns unexpected.

-Jennifer Allen

Manage their Expectations

In looking back on raising a son on the autism spectrum, this was and still is an everyday activity. Managing their expectations takes time, communication and preparation. My part as a parent has waned a bit as our son ages, as I am beginning to see how he attempts to prepare himself for daily potential challenges. This preparation begins with a comforting knowledge of facts. Let me give an simplified example but one that you can plug most any upcoming event into. Remember, this is just about managing the small unknown(s). We will get into the larger scenarios later.

Here is the situation: Church is going to be extra crowded on Sunday because it’s Easter Sunday. We then think of the challenging ramifications that overcrowding may bring and discuss solutions.

The Challenges Discussed:

  1. We may not be able to sit in the same pew/area we usually do
  2. There may be louder sounds with more children in the service
  3. It may take us longer to go eat lunch as crowds are larger during Easter Sunday at restaurants

So we go over the potential challenges and discuss the following choices to avoid disappointment, expectations or meltdowns:

The Solutions Discussed:

  1. Let’s leave extra early to get our usual seating -or- would we take the opportunity to sit elsewhere and see what that is like?
  2. With the onset of more crying babies, would you want to use noise-cancelling headsets? Go to foyer if it gets too loud? Other suggestions?
  3. Since it may take longer to get to a restaurant can you set in your mind it might take 30 minutes longer than usual to eat lunch? Would you rather forego crowded Easter Sunday restaurant crowds and eat at home?

The challenge/solution exercise helps to prepare your child for what disappointments might be just ahead. The less amount of surprises the better for a factual mind. This activity prepared our son throughout his young life and now we are starting to see him work through this for himself as an adult. This practice certainly helps prepare for the unexpected but what happens when they are promised something and it’s never delivered. Or a blatant lie is told to them and they keep trusting the source will do as they say but you realize they never will? In other words, how to you explain to the pure believer that the world is corrupt and sometimes people are going to lie to you. Most deal with this topic when their children are very young, but to the parent of a child with Autism it’s ongoing. You know they take everything literally and hidden meaning or ulterior motives is a concept most difficult to grasp. For the autistic brain it’s confusing, painful and sometimes paralyzing.

Is Mindfulness Logical for Asperger’s and Depression?

Mediation and Self-Talk

Mindfulness, meditation and self-talk are important ways of helping yourself when you’re depressed, stressed out, anxious or emotional. They’ve been shown to help handle feelings and are actually often used as components of the most helpful forms of therapy, cognitive therapy.

Why is it important to talk about these three techniques, especially for those with Asperger’s?

Two typical traits for those with Asperger’s are black and white thinking and a tendency to ruminate, to stew thinking about something. With black and white thinking, we see things in extremes, all bad or all good. When we’re depressed, that tends to be all bad.

Mindfulness, Meditation, Self-Talk

All bad isn’t realistic; life is always a mix. Things don’t always go wrong. People aren’t always hostile or rejecting. Ruminating means dwelling on something, usually negative when we’re depressed. As we dwell on our thoughts, they tend to become more dramatic, more overwhelming, more conclusive of our negativity. It’s like a downward spiral.

Both black and white thinking and rumination focus on the past, revisiting what has happened, or in the future, anticipating what might happen. We’re rarely in the present. Most often, at this exact moment, nothing too stressful is happening.

The point of mindfulness as an outlook, a way of being, is that it focuses on the present moment – our awareness of what’s happening right now.

Mindfulness exercises include activities that force us to focus on the here and now. Focus can be on attending to our breath, what we hear, bodily sensations, or what we’re doing, like the feelings of washing dishes, the soap on our hands, the feeling of the water, the texture of the plate and glass. This pulls us out of the past and future into the present, which tends to be calmer.

Meditation is a practice for both the body and mind.

When we’re emotionally aroused or stressed, our entire autonomic nervous system is activated. Blood pressure goes up, breathing changes, stress hormones race through our bodies, and every system is affected.

We can be stressed in this way both by what goes on in the moment and by what goes on in our minds – thinking about something can trigger the same physical stress response as being in that moment. Emotionally we’re at a high level of arousal, regardless of what’s happening in the moment. Meditation turns off the stress response, and teaches our bodies what Herbert Benson of Harvard calls the “relaxation response.” Meditation has actually been scientifically proven to structurally change the brain to be more stress-resilient.

Gyms, Teenagers, and Asperger’s

Helping your teenager stay physically active and healthy

Your adolescent is getting taller, eating more, and gaining weight. It happens parents, our kids grow and eat more while moving less. Between school and therapies who has time for the gym, right? Well, unfortunately, we tend to place fitness in the back burner when in reality it should be in the forefront.

Teenager Workout

Our health should have as much importance to us as education or physical therapy or speech therapy. Adolescence is a great time to begin incorporating health and fitness and I will be discussing some quick pointers to help with that transition. 

Self Advocacy with Aspergers

Self advocacy is the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests. This includes: learning how to speak up for yourself, make your own decisions, pursue your interests, find the people who will support you, know your rights and responsibilities, problem-solve, listen to others, and express agreement and disagreement in a calm manner.

Self advocacy helps you to:

  • Obtain what you need
  • Make your own choices
  • Learn to say no without feeling guilty
  • Express disagreements respectfully

How to be a self-advocate

Self Advocacy

Believe in Yourself

The first step of self advocacy is believing in yourself. That also means believing in your strengths. Know that your worthy and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to care for yourself. Many people with disabilities struggle with self-esteem and motivation. You have to find out what makes you happy, learn something you enjoy and be good at it.

It is often hard for people with disabilities to ask for what they want when they are treated poorly; I know from experience. This makes it difficult to practice self advocacy.

It is time to invest in yourself and your self-worth. Make it a point to believe in yourself daily: whether it’s looking in the mirror and saying “I’m a terrific, a great person,” or writing a post it on the wall to remind yourself how good you are, or a reflection letter with all of your strengths and obstacles you have overcome.

Assess: On a scale of 1 to 10 rate how you are feeling that day. If it’s a zero, then find a way to make yourself feel better; if it’s a ten, then keep doing what makes you happy. When you can’t decide, give yourself a 5 and remind yourself: “what can I do to make things better?”

Appreciate: Give yourself credit when credit is due. It’s hard to believe in yourself and give yourself credit because you feel you can do better or feel as if you not doing your best. We can be our own worst enemies. Practice forgiving yourself when you’re sad or hurt.

Give yourself credit for everything you do that is great, even if it’s small, like getting out of bed when you are depressed.

Handling Social Anxiety for Self-Fulfillment

I’m emailing with Kris Jones, an eloquent writer on Linkedin about his Asperger’s Syndrome. We’re talking about the stressors he experiences that can create extremely self-limiting anxiety. We’re going to use several blogs to talk about different stressors. Kris’s first stressor was his lack of self–fulfillment. One of the causes of this lack of self-fulfillment was Kris’ social anxiety.

Tony Attwood, expert on Asperger’s Syndrome, suggests that around 65% of adolescents with Asperger Syndrome have a secondary mood or affective disorder (such as depression or anxiety); most have anxiety.

anxiety/stress

Kris describes his thoughts and feelings which I’m calling social anxiety like so: “No one likes you. No one wants to know you. You are not interesting. Stay where you feel most comfortable – inside your house and away from others. You are not fit to be out there amongst the human race.” He says that this is representative of how he feels and it is what keeps him from going out and mingling with others his age. Even though he knows these thoughts about himself aren’t true, he can’t get past the anxiety.

Let’s break this down into parts. What causes this social anxiety?