Thursday, July 29, 2010

It’s Not About You

“It’s not you, it’s me.” A cliched breakup line? Yes, it is. A true statement? Yes, again.

So often, when I’m talking to people, they’re stressed about someone else’s reaction to something that happened. They told a story, and the listener wasn’t paying attention. They tried to invite someone for lunch and the invitation wasn’t accepted. Or, a close friend has drifted away, for no clear reason. Then they start analyzing, worrying, ruminating. “What did I do wrong?” “Why does this always happen?” What should I do differently next time?”

For individuals with any degree of anxiety about social interactions, these “rejections” can feel so devastating, so personal. Of course it’s important to examine the situation, see if you did play some role in things not working out too well. But then, it’s okay to let it go and stop dwelling on it. We all lead busy lives, with so many obligations, pulled in so many different directions. Most of the time, you didn’t do anything wrong. You colleague really does have something else to do at lunchtime. Or, your story was fine, the listener was just caught up in remembering an important obligation.

Often, the true social damage happens after this minor disconnect. An insecure individual can read too much into it, start over-thinking, get too worried, pull back too much, turn a little issue into a big pattern of social issues. On the other hand, socially confident people assume the best, about their ability to be a good friend, and their interactions with others. If a friend says he’s busy, they assume he is, and issue the invitation again. If an invitation is rejected, they try again. After all, chances are, it’s about them, not you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Researching on the Internet

In my practice, clients frequently ask me what I think of some specific treatment option they’re hoping will help them or their child, and they show me websites and advertisements. It can be very confusing! Opinion is presented as fact, poorly run studies or misleading journals are referenced, and it’s hard to figure out what to believe. That’s the time to start reading carefully.

Frequently, for individuals on the spectrum, or people trying to manage ADHD, or the parents of kids with autism, Asperger’s, or ADHD, separating the facts from the nonsense is tough. All the information online can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for parents who worry that the window of opportunity on helping their child is closing fast. (It’s not! Although diagnosis and treatment should begin as early as possible, there is no magic point at which people stop growing, learning and overcoming their difficulties. And, there is no one magic treatment that you need to find. The fact is, there are still more questions than answers when it come to mental health treatment.)

The first rule when you’re trying to find information online is: be skeptical. Is the author clearly identified? Are their credentials listed somewhere? Are facts referenced in some manner?
Certainly, the target audience will influence the technicality of the site, but all reputable sites will  discuss or show references supporting their factual claims. Some less technical sites, such as this one, will present general “how to” type articles, but even here, facts are referenced and authors credited.

More technical blogs should be more thoroughly referenced. An example I recently found is called Psychotherapy Brown Bag: Discussing the Science of Clinical Psychology.  Less technical sites should still present information in a well rounded, more open manner. An example I frequently send people to is As an example, look at the site’s presentation about special diets. The article starts off with the statement that while there is little scientific evidence backing these studies, there is interest due to anecdotal evidence.

Which brings me to the most important rule. Almost always, the terms “always” or “never” should raise a big red flag. Any treatment that claims to be “the answer” or “the cure” for everyone, is misleading you. Treatments can be promising, useful, or even highly effective, but they’re never effective for everyone.

On the other hand, treatments can be unproven, yet simple, inexpensive, harmless, and they don’t preclude trying other treatments at the same time. They may be worth trying. An example of this might be setting up a specific behavior chart at home.

The fact is that there is no one answer. Individuals differ, their needs vary, and the treatments that will be most effective aren’t going to fall into one category. That’s a good point to remember in researching treatments.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Success with a Learning Disability

We all learn differently, and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. For both kids and adults, it’s important to remember that school success and standard academic achievement are not the same thing as intelligence, and how you do in school doesn’t determine how you’ll do in the rest of your life!

I’m always looking for examples of successful individuals who dealt with learning disabilities or a diagnosis like ADHD, Asperger’s or autism. One such list can be found in the article Ten Celebs Who Suffer From a Learning Disability.  Others lists like this can be found through Google or Yahoo searches.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mindfulness and Dealing with Stress

Stress and anxiety can be major problems for individuals on the autism spectrum. For all of us, modern life can be overwhelming, pressured, fast paced and demanding. For those on the spectrum, the stresses can be even greater, because they may include social anxiety, sensory problems, career difficulties, or managing repetitive thoughts.

One very effective way of dealing with stress is through mindfulness. Mindfulness, as the term is used in modern American society, is based on Buddhist ideas, although it is not a religious concept. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his classic book Wherever You Go There You Are (1994) defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” (p. 4) and states that it is “simply … the art of conscious living.” Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine Emeritus and the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is a program the center developed to integrate mindfulness and mindfulness meditation into modern medicine and healthcare. Mindfulness techniques have been shown to be effective not just for medical conditions, but for managing stress and anxiety as well.

You can learn more about mindfulness in Kabot-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are, or his Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness (1990). There are also websites and online videos on mindfulness based stress reduction, as well as eight week courses available in locations throughout the country.