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Autism & Asperger’s Conference with Dr. Tony Attwood, Part 1

by Trish on November 3, 2010 · 4 comments

in Autism, Awareness, Resources

It’s been two weeks since the Tony Attwood conference I attended courtesy of Future Horizons, and I have been thinking a lot about many of the things he shared. It was such a great day, and even though some of the information was quite familiar to me, there was so much more that I learned or saw from a new perspective. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you ever have a chance to go and hear him speak.

I have so much amazing information to share that I am going to break this up over several posts. I just can’t bear to only hit the highlights, especially because I don’t know which parts will be most helpful for each of you. So my plan is to publish a post 2-3 times per week until I am done.

For this first post, I will be sharing from my notes on Autistic Personality, Prevalence of ASDs and Asperger’s in Girls.

Autistic Personality

Dr. Attwood opened with a discussion of what Hans Asperger described “autistic personality.” This is not the whole list, but just a few that jumped out at me when Dr. Attwood commented on them.

  • A child with this type of personality talks like an adult, thinks like an adult and wants to be treated like an adult. However, the reciprocity is missing as the child usually has poor listening skills and lacks the ability to give a narrative that is succinct or interesting to the listener.
  • The main emotional issues Asperger saw were anxiety, sadness and anger management. Their emotions tend to be volatile, and there is a great tendency to worry and catastrophize situations.
  • Empathy isn’t missing but tends to be immature due to a difficulty in reading signals such as gestures and facial expressions. They can be sensitive to the emotional atmosphere, though, even when they can’t translate into words what they are sensing.
  • Motor clumsiness is common and, in the classroom, can translate to handwriting issues. Dr. Attwood made the point that practice doesn’t make perfect in this case because each handwritten word has its own formation and requires a significant amount of effort. The answer is not practice, but using a keyboard instead.
  • Sensory hypersensitivity is also common and what is different from typical children is the fact that they usually don’t habituate to sounds or other input, even over time. Again, practice does not make perfect.

Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Dr. Attwood shared a few observations from his own clinical practice as well as other data that has been collected. He stated that when you compare parents in the 20-25 year old range with those in the 35-40 range, there is a sixfold increase in the likelihood of the older parents having a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

Also, one in five families with a diagnosed child have more than one child on the spectrum, and usually the younger child is more severely affected. They don’t really know why, but again, parental age may contribute. He did say that one in six children with Asperger’s eventually move into a subclinical level and therefore lose the diagnosis.

Girls with Aspergers

Hans Asperger saw 1 girl to every 20 boys, but the ratio from what Dr. Attwood is seeing is more like 1 to 3. The reasons for this seem to be related to the way girls tend to cope and camouflage themselves compared to boys.

A couple of things he mentioned was that girls with Asperger’s may play with dolls as the other girls do, but in a different way – using them to replay and understand social situations. They also do a lot of observation and mimicking of others and may develop a special interest in reading fiction or watching soap operas to learn more about how people interact socially.

Often, girls only come to the attention of a clinician when they experience a secondary mood disorder such as depression or anxiety, often in adolescence. Dr. Attwood theorized that 1 in 6 girls with anorexia nervosa may actually have a primary diagnosis of Asperger’s and have developed the eating disorder as a special interest or as a means of having control in a world where they feel out of control.

Two books that he recommended on the topic of girls with Asperger’s are:
Asperger’s and Girls by Tony Attwood, Temple Grandin and several others
Aspergirls: Empowering Females With Asperger Syndrome by Rudy Simone

This area of girls with Asperger’s is not something I have spent much time learning about, so the information he shared was fascinating. I would love to hear your comments on any of the topics I have covered so far.

In the next post, I will discuss Dr. Attwood’s thoughts on the Reaction to Being Different, How to Explain the Diagnosis and the Social Tree versus the Sensory Tree.

For more information on other conferences, please visit the Future Horizons website. They also have a variety of books and other materials by Tony Attwood and a number of other authors in their online store.

Note: I attended this conference for free as a member of the Future Horizons blogger review team. I did not receive any other compensation for this post.

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