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Intense emotional experiences are difficult for people with autism/Asperger’s. This is very true when the emotional experience involves other people and is not related directly to the needs or desires of the person with autism/Asperger’s. In this episode, Max is unable to relate to the feelings Sarah is experiencing when Amber is in the hospital. Indeed, the disability in being able to connect with other people and to develop an understanding of how someone else might be feeling is difficult and at times even completely alienating. A patient of mine (and an avid “Star Trek” fan) once told me that “having autism/Asperger’s is like being a Vulcan living among Klingons.”
For those of us who are “neurotypical,” we generally get a feeling of connectedness, satisfaction, and comfort when sharing in intensely emotional situations – especially those involving grief and/or death. For people with autism/Asperger’s, they just don’t get those same positive feelings that reinforce the interaction. In fact, a person with autism/Asperger’s will usually find encounters with others who are sharing feelings and comforting one another to be confusing and even frightening. The whole process simply makes little sense to them, and there is certainly nothing that is pleasant or reinforcing about the situation. Trying to get a person with autism/Asperger’s to understand and empathize is to reach the very core of their disability: social and emotional connectedness is the very thing that they are unable to do, or at least not able to do very well. Teaching empathy to someone with autism/Asperger’s is almost like teaching a pig to sing – it is a waste of time and annoys the pig (at least most of the time).
That being said, there are ways that people with autism/Asperger’s can learn to at least approximate feelings of empathy and compassion. With social stories and direct interventions in specific social situations, as Adam attempts to do with Max in this episode, people with autism/Asperger’s can at least “learn the rules” for how someone “should” act in an intensely emotional situation. When this goes well – when they get the rules correctly – they can feel a great deal of satisfaction with themselves for “getting it right.” As much as they don’t understand why people feel a certain feeling, they do often care if people respond to them in an odd or hostile way. When the important others get frustrated, disappointed or even angry with the person with autism/Asperger’s because they are not empathetic or “understanding” someone else’s point of view, it changes how that important other would generally interact with the person with autism/Asperger’s – and that’s confusing and scary.
When Frankie was very young, we began to intervene and attempt to teach the appropriate response to him when he was in a situation where he should clearly be expressing some empathy but “just didn’t get it.” This meant that we had to be vigilant about monitoring his interactions with others. It also meant we had to be ready to step in whenever there was a situation that provided a teaching moment. For many years, Frankie would not follow through independently on any of our “examples.” Eventually, he began to respond to situations in which he should show some empathy but in a very scripted way. Nonetheless, we would reinforce with praise and attention. As time has passed, Frankie has continued to respond in an almost appropriate way to situations where he should show empathy but he is clearly not directly impacted.
Like everything else with autism/Asperger’s, the key has been the intensity and persistence of the teaching. At this point, Frankie may even feel some semblance of empathy, but I know that he will never receive as much from these interactions as I do. I am grateful that at least at this point he, like Max, can feel good about himself and experience others feeling good about him as he struggles to connect socially in a world that often makes little sense to him.
Written by Roy Q. Sanders, M.D.
Visit our Topic of the Week, ‘How do you manage meltdowns?‘ to hear from the community.
James Durbin is simply amazing! He is such a talent and we are rooting for him on this season of American Idol. James has been diagnosed with both Tourette’s and Asperger’s Syndromes and is an inspiration to us all. He has overcome many challenges and we are proud to support him on American Idol! In order to support him fully, we’ve decided to create alerts to remind you to vote for him each week!
To get connected, friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to receive updates on your mobile phone! All you have to do is text ‘James’ to 30644. We will send reminders out each week to vote for tune in and vote for James and do our collective best as the autism community to support James!
TEXT “JAMES” TO 30644 to get updates on your mobile phone!*
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Fearing the worst, Adam and Kristina meet with Dr. Robertson, the principal of Footpath, Max’s school. But the news is good, great even. Max is doing so well, they’re having to look for new ways to challenge him in the classroom moving forward. In fact, Adam and Kristina might want to consider transferring Max to a school where he can reach his full potential both academically and socially – i.e. mainstreaming.
Have you mainstreamed your child? What has your experience been? Did your child grow academically and socially?
This week on Parenthood, ‘Qualities and Difficulties,’ Adam and Kristina sit down with Max. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, Max wants to know about autism – what is it? Adam starts off talking about disabilities, and Kristina corrects him, but their explanation isn’t anything Max can really understand, and his lack of response triggers his parents’ emotions. Asperger’s is tough to deal with but they will, and no matter what happens they’ll always love him. And no, no one else in the family has it, only Max. When Kristina starts crying, Max asks to go to his room and runs off. Adam tries to give Kristina some support, but she tells him to stop and dissolves in a puddle of sobs.
In this clip Adam and Kristina make an appointment with Dr. Pelikan to discuss telling Max about Asperger’s.
How do you react to this clip? Do you agree with Dr. Pelikan’s advice?
To watch full episodes of Parenthood visit here.
Zev Glassenberg, star of The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business, is a busy guy! When he is not off exploring the globe and participating in a massive scavenger hunt, he finds time for his art. Zev is a talented artist, that uses innovative techniques to create some amazing work. Zev will paint different types of canvas, than use a giant hole-punch to cut out circles. From there, he assembles a mosaic to form different objects. Here are a few to check out!
‘The Amazing Race:Unfinished Business,’ returns to a cast of familiar faces looking to make good on their mistakes. Tune in on Sunday, 8/7 EST, on CBS.
Catch up with Zev Glassenber and Justin Kanew in our exclusive interview here!
This week on Parenthood, ‘Do Not Sleep with Your Autistic Nephew’s Therapist,’ Adam and Kristina are dealt a huge blow when Gaby, Max’s behavioral therapist, gives notice that she can no longer work with them. Adam and Kristina are unaware at the time why she is leaving, but she is visibly upset.
Adam and Kristina are stirring and unsure what do. They are trying to pick up where Gaby left off, but Max is full-blown meltdown mode and it seems there is little hope in site.
Have you experienced the departure of a therapist that affected your family? How did you handle it?
Please stay tuned this week for even more Parenthood discussion. Watch the full episode here, so you will be ready to participate!
‘The Amazing Race:Unfinished Business,’ returns to a cast of familiar faces looking to make good on their mistakes. Tune in for the premier, Sunday February 20, 8/7 EST.
Zev and Justin’s friendship started six years ago when they were working as camp counselors and the two have been very close ever since. Zev has Asperger’s Syndrome, but they don’t let it affect their relationship. They share friends and interests, and the friendship is as mutually beneficial as any could be.
For more on Zev and Justin, check out their ‘Amazing Race’ Biography.
Are you excited about the upcoming season of Amazing Race?
Justin Kanew: We are really excited!
How are you guys connected?
J: We both went to Greylock Camp in Massachusetts as kids and was a little older…
Zev Glassenberg: You are still older than me…
J: (Laughs) I came back as a counselor and we ran a world-class flag football program together.
Why did you choose to come back?
Z: Well, we wanted to come back for redemption and also for an amazing adventure.
J: I was literally praying for the opportunity to return since Camp Zobio when we lost the passport.
What makes you guys such a good pair?
J: Zev says he’s the amazing and I’m the race!
What is the game plan for this season?
Z: Well we just want to win and to have a good time and compete the best we can. We just will rely on each other and not on other people.
J: We also want to keep up a good attitude and just to be good to each other. We do not trust anybody! Just wanted to make sure we were standing on our own feet
Zev, how does having Asperger’s Syndrome affect you as a player in Amazing Race.
Z: The first time I was going into this brand new world and didn’t know what to expect. I had to change my routine and that was bothersome and worrisome. This time I knew more of what to expect, but it was still worried.
What is it like being back on The Amazing Race?
Z: Amazing. I lived my dream twice! I had a blast! I want to do it again and again and again. They should just have us on every season!
J: Ha, Ha, Ha!
So what are your day jobs?
Z: I’m an aspiring actor.
J: I work for National Lampoon making movies. It is a fun place to be.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Z: Reading books.
J: And rooting for the lakers
Z: I’d say that’s an interest.
J: Explain your art
Z: I do stuff with whole punches. I use a special paper and punch holes then glue whole punches into a design.
We have to ask, did you hang onto your passports this time around?
Z: We were checking every 5 minutes.
J: I thought we’d get through one interview without that question! Zev had permission to ask me every 5 seconds. We were constantly checking!
Z: It was like a newborn baby. We wanted to make sure it was there and alive!
Catch up with the guys on Twitter at @zevglassenberg and @justin_kanew