Category Archives: Asperger’s Syndrome

The Symbolism Behind the Autism Jigsaw Pieces

In 1963, the puzzle piece logo was first introduced by the National Autistic Society. We often see this logo on bumper stickers, pins, key chains, coffee mugs, license plates and any number of keepsake items or promotional materials. Historically the logo was meant simply as a method of raising autism awareness. For many families impacted by autism spectrum disorders, it has come to mean a commitment to funding research for a cure. Today, however, the symbol has come to be a bit more complex and is not without its critics. Here is a quick breakdown of the symbolism of the puzzle piece, its colors and the criticism of these.

Puzzles can be difficult to solve given the number of pieces and the intricacy of the puzzle. Autism, like a puzzle, has many complexities and mysteries. ASD is not easily defined within set terms and definitions. The logo tells people that even though the disorder is not easy to understand, it is worth understanding and spending time on for the sake of those who have it it. It is a rallying point for people who want to bring the attention of other people to autism. The different shapes represent the diversity of people who are dealing with autism whether they are autistic or they are the family members of someone with autism. The interconnectedness of the pieces symbolize that this disorder affects all of us. The colors used are bright and basic, which symbolizes hope for defeating the disorder.

While the puzzle piece logo seems like a memorable and harmless advocacy symbol, it does have its critics. Many families do not like the branding that their child is a puzzle to be “solved” but rather a unique individual. Others are critical of the logo in that it shows the puzzle is missing a piece, or something is missing from their child or family member.

What are your thoughts on this logo? For almost sixty years this logo has been raising awareness for research and funding for autism needs. Whether you are a critic or supporter, it seems this logo is here for a while longer.

 

Famous People with Autism

While autism spectrum disorders have gained recent notoriety and been the subject of much scientific research, it is not a new disorder. Men and women from across the world and throughout history have shown evidence of having an autism spectrum disorder. Some of these people have names that are highly recognizable and have accomplished great success in their field. Some have made amazing discoveries and been political leaders while others have shifted our way of thinking about math, the universe and science. These well-known people can serve as positive role models for children with autism on their way to adulthood.

 

While there was no evaluation process during the era of many of these famous people, there is evidence that points toward autism or one of  the autism spectrum disorders.

  • Albert Einstein – This German-born physicists who developed the Theory of Relativity was said to have difficulty with social interactions, and had tactile sensitivity. While his intelligence was well above average, he had difficulty with communication and language. Einstein most notably had difficulties with relationship and social interactions. These difficulties did not hold him back.  In fact, his unique view of life is one of the hallmarks of who he is remembered as today.
  • Thomas Jefferson – This famous Founding Father of the United States of America, former President of the United States and principle author of the Declaration of Independence was said to have been autistic or have Asperger’s syndrome. Norm Ledgin, author of Diagnosing Jefferson, indicates that Jefferson was shy, had an inability to relate to others, had difficulties in public speaking and was sensitive to loud noises. He was said to be very eccentric and had some social interaction difficulties along with difficulties understanding interpersonal relationships.
  • Michelangelo – This Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer of the High Renaissance was said to have a single-minded work routine, unusual lifestyle, limited interests, poor social and communication skills. These are all hallmarks of being on the autism spectrum. Michelangelo was also obsessive and followed repetitive routines. He was an artistic genius who possibly would have been on the spectrum if he lived today.
  • Emily Dickinson – This  American poet was regarded as one of the greatest poets. Her poems were in a number of ways unconventional for their time. Dickinson is one of the writers discussed in the 2010 book Writers on the spectrum: how autism and Asperger syndrome have influenced literary writing by literary academic Julie Brown.

 

What does it mean to be “on the spectrum?”

In the world of special education there are many buzz words and phrases thrown around that people “in the know” understand but tend to confuse the general public.  “On the spectrum” is one such phrase. Does this mean that a child or adult has autism?  Does  it mean they have Aspergers?  What does it mean exactly?  Let’s take a moment to examine this.

“On the spectrum” usually refers to the specific set of behavioral and developmental problems and the challenges associated with autism spectrum disorder. A diagnosis of ASD means that your child’s communication, social, and play skills are affected in some way. To add to the confusion, experts use different names to describe ASD.  These include:

  • Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD)
  • Pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
  • Asperger syndrome
  • High functioning autism

All of these names fall under the term ASD. We use the terms autism, autism spectrum disorder, or “on the spectrum.”

Professionals and laypeople alike refer to children who are on the spectrum meaning they have some form or degree of autism. Where your child falls on this spectrum means they exhibit different behavioral patterns. Classic autism, or autistic disorder, is the most severe of the autism spectrum disorders. Milder variants are Asperger’s Syndrome, sometimes called high-functioning autism, and PDD-NOS, or atypical autism. According to the Autism Spectrum Resource Center, only 20% of people on the autism spectrum have classic autism. The overwhelming majority fall somewhere on the milder range of the spectrum.

In order to determine whether your child has autism, a related autism spectrum disorder, or another developmental condition, clinicians look carefully at the way your child socializes, communicates, and behaves. Diagnosis is based on the patterns of behavior that are revealed during evaluation. The team of specialists involved in diagnosing your child may include:

  • Child psychologists
  • Child psychiatrists
  • Speech pathologists
  • Developmental pediatricians
  • Pediatric neurologists
  • Audiologists
  • Physical therapists
  • Special education teachers

Determining where your child falls “on the spectrum” is not a brief process. There is no single medical test that can diagnose it definitively; instead, in order to accurately pinpoint your child’s problem, multiple evaluations and tests are necessary.

 

Asperger’s- the Teen Years

Navigating the volatile, awkward  and many times, hormonal teen years can be overwhelming for even the most socially confident young people.  Navigating the teens with Asperger’s Syndrome can be downright difficult. Some of the biggest challenges revolve around social isolation, depression, and school challenges. While these may sound like pretty typical issues for teens to face, “Aspie” teens face these issues while grappling with social, emotional and communication struggles as well.  Let’s examine some of the challenges and how you can help your teen with Asperger’s Syndrome.

  • Social Isolation – The teen years are known for being a time when young people feel insecure about their behavior and appearance.  It can sometimes be a time when the adolescent who is seen as different is isolated. Dealing with isolation and watching it happen to your child can be heartbreaking especially for a parent who may remember high school with fond memories.  Help your child draw upon their strengths.  Encourage them to find friends who appreciate them for not conforming. Use your child’s special interests as motivation to meet and communicate with other teens. Stay with what has worked in the past.  Remind yourself and your teen that being hip and cool is not everything it is cracked up to be. Having one or two good friends may be more valuable in the long run.  However, do encourage your child to keep up with things that can isolate like poor hygiene, extreme social rudeness or dangerous activities.
  • School Challenges – As if it isn’t enough having to deal with the physical and social changes of the teen years, to add insult to injury, school has most likely gotten much harder for your teen. Many “Aspies” with their average to above average IQs can sail through grammar school, and yet hit academic problems in middle and high school. Now that teens probably have to deal with multiple high school or middle school teachers rather than one elementary school teacher things can get tricky.  As a parent, advocate for your child. Be sure each teacher knows about special accommodations that need to be made for your child.  Help your teen break down large projects or homework assignments into manageable parts so they don’t get overwhelmed. Find advocates such as special education teachers, guidance counselors and sometimes peer programs that can help your teen adjust.
  • Depression – The teen years are riddled with emotional stressors and hormonal changes that can trigger depression and anxiety. Don’t panic, however—there are interventions you can provide. Seek out activity-based, practical social skills groups designed especially for teens. Participating in such a group, being accepted by group leaders and peers, is probably the most powerful way to allay a teen’s potential despair at not fitting in socially and not having any friends.