“Male Ego and Autistic Progeny”

male-ego Ego is a funny thing.  It makes people proud and vain at one end of the scale or insecure and paranoid at the other.  It isn’t therefore, necessarily a good thing to possess.  But most people have one, unless they have learned to master it and let such burdens go.  The male ego is something that is famously guarded, it’s something females are not supposed to dent.  A man must not feel his “masculinity” is under question.  Machismo, manliness, masculinity…no matter how well hidden it is, in a metro man, a nerd or a hippy, they all have male pride…an ego.

When a man becomes a father, he often seems to see the progeny as a reflection of himself.  The participation of his seed in the process seems to take on a role larger than it played in reality.  It’s almost a primal thing.  He of course only contributed 50% of the genes and therefore characteristics, to that child, but the ego seems to be slightly blinded to that and if something goes awry, many men take it as a personal fault against their self.  This is probably more so in the case of an invisible disability, which is not apparent in the baby, lulling the father into a false sense of security for a while, only to be told later their child is disabled, is autistic.

Many dads of autistic children brush away the worried mum’s initial voicing of concerns, sometimes this leads to disagreement about whether to have the child assessed for autism.  Stories abound on community forums by such mothers, here is a sample:

  1. http://community.autism.org.uk/discussions/health-wellbeing/parents-carers/father-ex-husband-denial
  2. http://www.circleofmoms.com/autismaspergerspdd-awareness/i-need-help-my-husband-will-not-discuss-or-even-acknowledge-our-son-s-diagnosis-398383

Media articles and blog posts too:

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/9602643/Accepting-Autism-one-fathers-path-to-understanding-his-son.html
  2. http://www.popsugar.com/moms/When-Mom-Accepts-Child-Disability-More-Quickly-Than-Dad-27330829

Let me tell you what that type of ego-driven denial can do to a child and the family.

Mothers usually know their children intimately.  OK dads usually know their children well, but unless they have become the stay-at-home primary caregiver, they don’t know the child like the mother does.  Mother’s instinct is a very strong thing.  Mothers spent nine months growing that baby in their body, feeling it move, nourishing it, being joined to it by a cord. They often are the ones to feed the baby, sometimes from their own body.  They learn every habit, nuance, whim and personality trait of that child.  They take the child to playgroups and other places where mothers (who notoriously compare their child to the children of peers) congregate, so they pick up a lot.  Of course, if a child is severely autistic it will be blatantly obvious from early on.

So, when you have a dad dismissing mum’s concerns, telling her it’s all in her head, she often will believe it, especially if it’s a first child.  She will question herself, tell herself she’s worrying too much.  And if the dad is unsupportive and attributes the behaviours to the mother’s parenting-style, she will often believe that too.  Especially if she has spoken to any professional about her concerns as the initial reaction is to fob parents off on parenting courses to avoid conducting assessments.  He will cause self-doubt and insecurity in the mother.  He’s worried about his child being stigmatised and the disability being a reflection on himself.  So mum won’t take the child to the doctor for an autism referral, the child won’t be diagnosed and won’t get support.

You then have a situation, where mum is dealing with often very challenging behaviour and nobody believes her that something is up.  This may cause tension and arguments between mum and dad too, mum may be struggling with the majority of the child’s difficulties alone a lot of the time.  Even if mum takes the child to the doctor, if dad-in-denial is there, he will, with that ego of his driving his fear and denial, feel compelled to say that he hasn’t noticed anything wrong, hint that he thinks mum is worrying too much.  And of course, with age-old stereotypes still abounding in society, mum will be viewed as a worry-wort, a bit neurotic and if it’s a first child, inexperienced and needlessly panicking.

So mum may resort to internet research to help confirm or deny her fears.  The pet hate of the vast majority of doctors is internet research.  No matter how bone fide the source, many will dismiss it, because mothers couldn’t possibly know more than the doctors.  Only they usually do when it comes to autism: “Parental Recognition of Autism – Professionals Must Listen!”

Mother Research

Bearing in mind the incompetence of seemingly the majority of CAMHS, who are only too happy to fob families off with “not enough traits for a diagnosis” and the parent blame culture that is rife, with one parent unsupportive the child is almost destined not to be diagnosed, unless their autism is blatantly obvious.  Because all too many doctors say “we don’t want to label the child do we”, what with them guarding resources tightly, we know the real reason they don’t want to.

What does lack of diagnosis do to a child?  They exist in a world of social confusion, struggling with friendships and not knowing why.  They likely have sensory issues and find the world a painful place, wondering why life is so difficult.  They become overwhelmed and meltdown, often feeling ashamed afterwards – because that’s the thing, “high-functioning” autistics are usually painfully aware of their differences.  They may stim and feel ashamed and compelled to hide it, because they’ve noticed other people don’t do it.  They are likely to think themselves weird and wonder why they don’t fit in or feel like other people.  They are likely have additional conditions (ADHD is co-morbid in around 43% of autistics and OCD is often in-built) placing additional pressures on them.  They are likely to go on to develop mental health issues such as anxiety and depression from finding things so difficult.  Mainstream school is very hard for most autistics and impossible for some.  But without a diagnosis that’s where they will be.  Figures of over 80% have been cited for autistics being bullied – other children seem to home in on someone who is different and target them. They will lack understanding of themselves, by secondary school things are likely to start falling apart if they haven’t before.  By then, mental health conditions probably more ingrained due to struggling with an undiagnosed primary condition for so long.

The parents will be seeking out mental health support for their child once things start falling apart, by that point it may be inevitable that a diagnosis follows, but what a tragic and unfair way to reach that point.  And if the child reaches adulthood without a diagnosis, by the time they do (hopefully) obtain one, they may well become very bitter towards their parents for not having them diagnosed sooner.  I have read of some autistic adults estranging themselves from their parents as they were so angry at what felt like a betrayal, for them choosing not to get them assessed and diagnosed and leaving them to live through the above difficulties all that time, without understanding or support.  Most autistic adults are relieved to finally have answers for their difficulties, they know their difficulties are not their fault and they are freed by the knowledge.  So who is any parent to deny their child that right?

The other thing of course, is that if dad is denying the difficulties and brushing them off to other reasons, the child will feel misunderstood and even disbelieved.  For instance, some dads believe a meltdown is the child being naughty and will treat it as such.  If a child school-refuses, they may blame mum for not being firm enough.  This will likely end up being the cause of a less than close relationship between father and child.

Ostrich

So any fathers out there, who are being told by the mother of their child that they believe they need assessing for autism, listen.  What have you got to lose?  If the child is not autistic they won’t be diagnosed.  If they are, you will be enabling them to access the support they need.  The diagnosis only needs to be disclosed on a need-to-know basis.  If the child’s difficulties are that obvious people will have noticed already anyway.  No matter what any official tells you, support usually is diagnosis-based not needs-based, no matter what it says in any policies and if your child has a high enough IQ to manage well enough academically, professionals won’t care about the other difficulties – so that means you must.  And you want your child to have the right support.  The earlier the intervention the better for their longer-term outcomes.  You owe that to your child.  After all, this is not about you, it’s not a choice, it’s a necessity.

 

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“Anosognosia and Autism – A Real Concern”

anosognosia_lobe_capture2
Image courtesy of http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org

Most strictly speaking, anosognosia is the individual’s ongoing lack of awareness of or insight into, a medically diagnosed condition they have, due to damage to the brain, a variety of anatomical structures are involved, especially the anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, medial frontal cortex, and inferior parietal cortex.  It is insufficient to simply be in psychological denial, for it to be termed anosognosia, but anosognosia is present in people with not only neurological injury e.g. from an accident, but also in people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  This means, that the brain differences in those conditions, are damage to the normal functioning of the brain.  Sometimes, the term anosognosia is used to describe denial of the diagnosis too.  I think this should be the case when the level of denial is so absolute, that the individual cannot move past it.

There is however, a dearth of literature on anosognosia in autistics.  Autism is genetically related to schizophrenia (as well as bipolar) and some autistics have co-morbid schizophrenia.  So it stands to reason the the brain differences in autistics can be such, that they could also cause, or contribute, to anosognosia about their autism.  Some autistics may simply deny their condition because they are newly diagnosed adolescents who are embarrassed about being seen as different than peers, or a late diagnosed adult who is struggling with the shock of re-evaluating their whole life through a new lens, or the individual may have co-morbid anxiety which makes them too scared to deal with it.  That’s not actual anosognosia though, time usually resolves this reaction.

Autistics can, not uncommonly, suffer with alexithymia, the difficulty in recognising emotions and the reasons  for them.  I believe this can  contribute to anosognosia.  My eldest autistic child seems to have true anosognosia.  Since being diagnosed with autism over 2½ years ago, she has steadfastly refused to accept her diagnosis.  And I tried selling all the positives, pointing out celebrities and historical figures known to be, or believed to have been, autistic and talking about the talents and abilities it conferred on her.  She was diagnosed late, at age 12, due to professional failures in recognising high-functioning female autistic presentation, but that’s a whole other story.  I thought it was fear and being an adolescent that made her refuse to believe it.  But over time, I have come to realise that it’s more than that.  When she was assessed, she completed self-report questionnaires and selected all the answers that highlighted her as having no problems whatsoever, for personal traits and difficulties.  Everything she was struggling with in school and elsewhere, she attributed to being the fault of others.

She struggled socially, but that was because everyone was “mean”, not because she was emotionally and developmentally behind her peers and couldn’t converse about the same things they did, or because she struggled with reciprocal conversation.  When the teacher’s voice was too loud for her, it was the teacher “booming”, not because she had sensory issues.  She described herself as very helpful, when for example, she has sat many a time, watching me struggling back and forth past her loaded with heavy shopping bags and never once offered to help.  When she wet herself several times in school, it was because she was laughing too much, not because she was so anxious and overwhelmed that she was unable to listen to her body and recognise that she had a full bladder in the first place, or had difficulty speaking up.  When she is constantly unable to manage basic daily minutiae without asking for guidance, it’s because I’ve brought her up to be helpless.  It’s very hard parenting a child who thinks this way.

Even her school, who were trying to deny there were any problems, whilst she was suffering an emotional breakdown failing to cope there, scored her as having difficulties in various areas that she didn’t admit to.  She couldn’t cope with the demands at secondary level, the adult content of the lessons – which was shocking and traumatic, to her developmentally delayed brain – it was like dumping a little 8 year old in high school and expecting them to cope.  She would come home from school and download at length, a monologue of her daily school stresses, pacing in a circle, followed by breaking down sobbing and having meltdowns, where she would bang her head repeatedly on the floor and pick her skin until it bled – but that was because the school was “horrible” and people were “mean”.  Her inability to cope in school and the effect it had on her, resulted her being diagnosed with co-morbid anxiety and depression.  She changed schools, but the same thing happened, so she clearly couldn’t cope in mainstream and then school-refused, she has been off now for 18 months.  Yet she is a very intelligent child, academically excellent with a very superior vocabulary.

So over time, I realised that her denial, is beyond being mere denial.  It’s a literal belief that she really isn’t autistic, an inability to believe it.  Never mind that she has an autistic sibling and parent, so genetically there is something going on, it still couldn’t possibly be her.  I thought time would make her come to terms with it, but it hasn’t.  If any support offered has been autism-related, she refused it.  She has refused social opportunities that would help expand her horizons, yet is upset at having no social life.  As I see signs of alexithymia and very low empathy in her, I believe there is a part of her brain that doesn’t see herself as she really is.  She is confident in some ways, but has a poor-self image at times and will tell me she’s “weird” or “a freak”, which to me are far worse terms than ‘autistic’.  She misunderstands people a lot, she thinks people have been mean all the time.  She externalises her difficulties to such a fervent degree, that the only conclusion is anosognosia.

But this worries me.  Quite a lot.  Her social misunderstanding, naivety and vulnerability mean she does not have the ability to be as independent in the way she imagines she should be.  Her life dreams revolve around fictitious cartoon characters, that ‘autistic living in a fantasy world‘ described by Tony Attwood.  Questions she has asked me, such as why a man would want to abduct a child, coupled with her inability to cope with learning “bad stuff” that would allow her to understand why, means she is stuck in a no-man’s-land of semi-reality.  Her inability to cope when unexpected problems arise, to overreact to phobias she has when outside, her hyper-reactivity and general tendency to panic, all leave her vulnerable.  She flatly denies particular difficulties she has and will only admit to something if she believes it isn’t related to autism (she doesn’t know difficulty speaking up and asking for help is a trait common in autism so she’ll admit to that!).  She has an EHCP because of her difficulties, but asks why she should have one when the other children don’t.

At the age she is now, she will all-too-soon, be considered to have rights, independence and responsibilities that would only be denied/managed on her behalf, if she was deemed to lack capacity.  Because of her high IQ, she would likely to be considered to have capacity, because she would be able to intellectually answer questions that would make it appear so.  And her superior vocabulary, alongside her serious and passive manner with strangers, makes her seem mature, but they can’t see what’s going on inside.  They wouldn’t realise that her understanding of consequences, potential scenarios, awareness of an adequate range of manifestation of danger, lag far behind.  She knows you aren’t supposed to talk to strangers, but she isn’t street-wise, she misunderstands people, she’s innocent and gullible, she panics at the unexpected.  Many autistics can answer questions about dangers and risks based on logic, but there is a mismatch between that logic and an ability to be able to apply it in real life, in real-time.  High-functioning autistic females can also be masters of camouflage and masking.  And parents are elbowed out of the picture sharpish when children reach a certain age.  She has actually said to me that as soon as she is an adult she will have herself “undiagnosed”.  So what happens when a child refuses to accept their difficulties, denies there is any problem and makes a superficially convincing show of it?  What happens when a parent knows that this puts them in a really vulnerable and potentially at risk position?  Professionals will put the rights of the child above the parent’s knowledge of their child and ignore the parent – especially when it conveniently means they can avoid providing resources.  What happens with in situations such as DLA/PIP interviews, if they arise?  She will deny any difficulties and likely lose her DLA.

So I asked myself, do I get a professional to state on record that she has anosognosia?  Trying to foresee the implications of that causes new concerns.  On the one hand, it will be officially recognised and is evidence for any of the above scenarios that might arise, on the other, what if it followed her to adulthood and caused her problems?  What if she became a parent one day and professionals deemed her (rightly or wrongly) as having parenting deficits and lacking insight into them and unable to change?  Knowing the parent-blame culture that exists now and the tragedies occurring to autism families misjudged by social services, it could happen.  It’s a scary prospect.  And if she became a parent, there is a significant chance she’d have an autistic child, what if she refused to recognise autism in her own child and seek help for them?  There are so many potential issues with this.

I believe there needs to be focused research on anosognosia in autistics, there needs to be a way to reach someone with this, to help them understand their neurology and be at peace with it.  Autism is an integral part of who someone is, you can’t separate it out.  If someone needs help, it’s important that they recognise that and accept help from others.  How can someone grow and problem-solve in their life if they don’t understand themselves?  We all need to recognise our weaknesses as well as our strengths, not to allow them to hold us back, but to work with what we’ve got and make the best of it.  And there needs to be recognition in the professional world, that a high-functioning autistic, no matter how high their IQ, cannot be deemed to have full capacity, if they do not have the capacity to recognise their own difficulties and the parental knowledge of the individual must not be dismissed.

The “It’s Just a Difference” Delusion

Brain structures implicated in autism I’ve read this so many times now.  And it gets more tired every time.  “Autism is not a disability, it’s just a difference.”  It’s oft-quoted by the more strident and vocal autistic campaigners, who are affronted by the mere hint of autism being seen as disabling, or an encumbrance for the autistic or their parent.  They talk of the gifts of autism, of how it’s only a different way of thinking and cite all the famous people either with it, or who are retrospectively suggested to have been autistic.

So who am I to say different?  I am an autistic adult, parent to two children who are also both autistic.  We are all considered “high-functioning” (that over-quoted misnomer).  Therefore I speak from two perspectives, as an autistic adult dealing with the difficulties autism has given me, surviving in a world that doesn’t understand me and as a parent of two children with immense difficulties and for whom I have to battle constantly, to get their needs met.

I am all for singing the positives of autism.  We do have them and some have splinter skills or special talents (my family included!).  I also believe in selling the positives to a child old enough to be told of their diagnosis, because childhood is a time when people are finding their place in the world and need to build confidence and self-belief.  This can apply to newly diagnosed adults too, who are re-evaluating their life to date through new eyes.

I’m still struggling to get my head around what “ableism” means.  I thought I knew, but it’s used at the drop of hat, sometimes about such subtle and complex scenarios, to the point I don’t know any more.  It’s the hotcake of the autism community, well at least among those strident campaigners.  All I can tell you is the truth.  I’m not interested in arguing about whether “person with autism” or “autistic” is more appropriate (although I much prefer the latter), I’m more interested in getting understanding of autism and the adjustments we need, out there.  Because all the while they are lacking, the world is way more challenging than it needs to be for autistics.

So I want to ask some questions, of those autistics who insist that autism is not a disability, not a deficit.  How is it not disabling when…

  • …my youngest child cannot understand what peoples’ intentions are, leaving her to constantly assume negative things, leaving her having a meltdown that lasts up to 2 hours?
  • …my eldest child (at the age of 13) has needed to sit on my lap for 4 hours sobbing, after first circling the room endlessly downloading what’s happened, because of the stress of her school day?
  • …I go to a meeting and my brain cannot handle all the voices contributing and it leaves me unable to process what’s going on properly, and afterwards I need days to recover?
  • …my youngest child has aggression and hyperactivity that cannot be curbed and which leaves me at times getting punched and hit with objects?
  • …we all have sensory processing disorder, causing much discomfort and difficulty?
  • …my intelligent eldest child with a superior vocabulary, is excluded by peers and cannot talk about things at their level, leaving her isolated and lonely?
  • …my youngest child has to control everything and everyone around her to an extreme degree and does not respond to any normal parenting technique, leaving her potentially unable to find a successful place in society?
  • …my eldest child has such bad OCD that she repetitively questions me until I think I will go crazy from no let-up and why she wastes hours on her OCD habits daily?
  • …I am overwhelmed instantly by every meltdown or incessant questioning episode from either child?
  • …my children are unable to cope with the “bad stuff” in the school curriculum and are in fact traumatised by it, left with nightmares, intrusive thoughts and panic attacks?
  • …we can’t bear busy, chaotic places, they tire our brains and make us overwhelmed?
  • …my communication is constantly misunderstood and criticised by neurotypicals, causing constant challenges and making things way harder than they should be?
  • …I suffer ‘Aspie burnout‘ with such ridiculous regularity, that I feel obliged to refer people to Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory on a regular basis?
  • …my children are emotionally and developmentally delayed, meaning they don’t have a full understanding of potential dangers (yet have irrational phobias that affect their lives) and cannot be left alone?
  • …my eldest child cannot handle plans changing and will shriek, cry and wail in an overwhelming way when they do, no matter how many times I have explained why life is like that?
  • …my youngest child hyper-focuses on sources of anxiety and will find everything a negative?
  • …my youngest child has sleep problems and cannot sleep without melatonin?
  • …why both my children are on medication for anxiety because nothing else has worked?
  • …I feel like an utter alien in the world, my differences are so apparent to me and it seems there is nowhere I fit?
  • …my children have all-consuming phobias that cause them to panic?
  • …my eldest is so offended by her diagnosis that she refuses to accept it?
  • …my eldest was bullied for her differences in school even though nobody knew she was autistic and someone once, outright incredulously asked her if she was autistic?
  • …my eldest was so stressed in high school that she was unable to listen to her body and wet herself several times?
  • …my eldest has been off school for 18 months and counting?
  • …my youngest was unable to integrate into mainstream because it stressed her too much?
  • …my children don’t have any idea or understanding of the impact they have on others?
  • …my children won’t go out with their dad if I don’t go too, because they have separation anxiety?
  • …I was repeatedly passed over for promotion in work and was once sent on a training course in how to interact with people (pre-diagnosis)?
  • …my children come at me with multitudes of worries day and night that they can’t stop thinking about, to pour onto me?
  • …why I’ve had to buy PECS social stories, punch bags for aggressive behaviour and sensory toys for my child?
  • …there have been times when I wanted to take my brain out of my head and leave it on a shelf just to get some peace?
  • …my youngest has major meltdowns and rants in public which show no signs of stopping at 11 years old?
  • …I find it so hard guessing when it’s my turn to speak on the phone and end up butting in accidentally and hate phone calls?
  • …when my youngest has a meltdown which overwhelms me she won’t let me escape to another room, she will follow me, screaming at and hounding me?
  • …why I have had endless battles and tribunals to get statements/EHCP’s, diagnoses, school places, support and more?
  • …why my eldest has no initiative whatsoever and needs to ask me endless daily minutiae to the nth degree?
  • …how even a simple planned or spontaneous outing can end up not happening due to meltdowns and other challenging or exhausting behaviour?
  • …you can get a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s syndrome, which by the nature of the diagnostic criteria, describes deficits and impairments?

I could have made that list so much longer, but I think you get my drift.  As a parent of autistic children, I can honestly say that I frequently go through hell with them.  It is interspersed with the odd moment of humour and there is a whopping amount of love, but the negatives far outweigh the positives and that’s the simple truth.  Not only seeing their difficulties and wanting so much to make things OK for them and feeling irrationally guilty for giving them autism (I had no idea I was autistic when I started a family), but also the awful, health-destroying, relentlessly challenging behaviour I have to deal with day-in, day-out. The sort of behaviour that is unimaginable to some and makes me wonder how I am still standing.

And don’t forget, being autistic myself, I try to see off as many problems as I can, I know in a general sense what things to avoid or will help, but still there is so much you cannot account for, so many difficulties that will still happen and so much behaviour over which you have no control.

I worry about my children.  They have difficulties I don’t remember having as a child.  They seem to be more autistic than me, I see traits that I desperately hope will ameliorate as they grow, I fear for what will happen if they don’t.  And I fear for what might happen when I am no longer here for them.  Who will care?  I have spent their lives anticipating and catering to their needs, nobody else will have that depth of care for them.  So many of their difficulties will not be understood and will be brushed off by others, even those designed to help.

I saw that today, as I have seen so many other times.  In meeting a professional specifically intended to advocate for children.  She didn’t get it and I could see that she would never fathom what she was doing wrong.  So please, don’t tell me it’s not a disability, that it’s only a difference.  I don’t want to be the same as everyone else, because from my autistic eye-view, I don’t like the way a lot of people are anyway.  But there are so many ways in which we are so disabled and it’s definitely not all down to the social model of disability, it’s down to our brains and our internal experience.  The world is never going to be able to change into everything we want or need, because there is too much of what we endure, that is nothing to do with the world.