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Suicidal Thinking in People with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Every 17 minutes, a suicide is completed, and every 42 seconds someone is attempting suicide. Research reveals that 80-90% of those who commit suicide had a mental health issue. The rates of suicide are rising among teenagers and young adults with High-Functioning Autism (Asperger’s). Professionals working with Asperger’s teenagers are suggesting that 50% of these adolescents have contemplated or attempted suicide, and they are at a 40-50% higher risk of completing suicide than their “typical” peers.

Suicide is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations. It may seem like there is no way to solve your problems, and that suicide is the only way to end the pain. Suicide warning signs include:
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Being severely anxious or agitated
  • Changing normal routine (e.g., eating or sleeping patterns)
  • Developing personality changes
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things (e.g., using drugs or driving recklessly)
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Getting the means to take your own life (e.g., buying a gun or stockpiling pills)
  • Giving away belongings
  • Having mood swings (e.g., being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next)
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
  • Talking about suicide (e.g., "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I had never been born")
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone

There's no substitute for professional help when it comes to treating suicidal thinking and preventing suicide. Don't try to manage suicidal thoughts or behavior entirely on your own. You need professional help and support to overcome the problems linked to suicidal thinking. Having said that, there are a few things that may reduce suicide risk and get you to start enjoying your life again:

1. Avoid drugs and alcohol, because they can worsen suicidal thoughts. They can also make you feel less inhibited, which means you're more likely to act on your thoughts.

2. Don't skip your medications is the doctor has prescribed some for you. If you stop, your suicidal feelings may come back. You could also experience withdrawal-like symptoms from abruptly stopping an antidepressant or other medication.

3. Employ the techniques called “thought-stopping.” The basis of this technique is that you consciously issue the command, “Stop!” when you experience repeated negative or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought with something more positive and realistic. Interrupting bothersome thoughts with a “stop” command serves as a reminder and a distraction.

4. Get treatment for the underlying cause of your suicidal thinking. If you don't treat the underlying cause, your suicidal thoughts are likely to return.

5. If you are already seeing a therapist, don't skip therapy sessions or doctor's appointments, even if you don't want to go or don't feel like you need to.

6. If you have depression, learn about its causes and treatments.

7. It is easy for negative thoughts to take over and run as out of control as a runaway train. But, always remember that you are the one who has ultimate control of your thoughts. What are thoughts anyway? They are simply words or pictures that flash across your mind. When you begin to see thoughts that way (temporary flashes in your mind), it is very liberating. When you begin to control your thoughts instead of letting them control you, then you are the ruler of your own destiny. Take several times a day and simply observe your thoughts. When a negative one pops in your head, first acknowledge it, and let it know that it's even ok that it is in your head. Then let it know that you are the ruler of your thoughts, and gently let it fly away like a bird. As you practice this, it will get more natural and you will easily be able to remove these negative thoughts.

8. Physical activity and exercise have been shown to reduce depression symptoms (e.g., walking, jogging, swimming, gardening, etc.).

9. Remember that suicidal feelings are temporary. If you feel that life is not worth living anymore, remember that treatment can help you regain your perspective — and life will get better.

10. Seek help from a support group. It may be hard to talk about suicidal feelings, and your friends and family may not fully understand why you feel the way you do. Reach out anyway. You may want to get help from your place of worship, support groups or other community resources. Feeling connected and supported can help reduce suicide risk. There are a number of organizations available to help you cope with suicidal thinking and recognize that there are numerous options in your life other than suicide.

11. Use the technique call “distraction.” Just as the name implies, distraction is anything you do to temporarily take your attention off of a strong emotion (e.g., reading, journaling, playing video games, watching a movie, calling a friend, etc.). Oftentimes, focusing on a strong emotion can make it feel even stronger and more out of control. Thus, by temporarily distracting yourself, you may give the emotion some time to decrease in intensity, making it easier to manage.

12. Work with a therapist to learn what might trigger your suicidal feelings. Learn to spot the danger signs early, and decide what steps to take ahead of time. Consider involving family members or friends in watching for warning signs.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Asperger’s Adults and Problems with Empathy

As men with Asperger’s (high-functioning autism), we are often blamed for lacking empathy. Empathy, as you know, is the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand his or her emotions and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.

Empathy is NOT agreement, commiseration, endorsement, pity or sympathy. Instead, it is getting into another person's world and connecting with him or her – both emotionally and compassionately. We don't have to agree with other people or fully understand them to be able to empathize, and we don't even need to be able to relate to what they are experiencing specifically (although sometimes that can help). We just need to be present, connect with others where they are, and acknowledge what they are experiencing.

Is it possible for anyone on the autism spectrum to become more empathic given that “lack of displayed empathy” is one of the major traits of Asperger’s?  I believe the answer is “yes.” But we must make the effort to “learn” this skill since it does not come naturally or instinctively to us. The best way to learn to show more empathy is to look at – and copy – the traits of those individuals who are already doing a good job in this area. Below is a list of such traits.

People who empathize – spontaneously and consistently – exhibit many of the following traits:
  1. adopt the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him”
  2. ask others how they are feeling – and really listen to what they say
  3. ask themselves where empathy is missing, taking inventory of their life and relationships and noticing where empathy may be wanted, needed, or simply absent
  4. challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them
  5. develop an ambitious imagination
  6. develop the ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs the other person is experiencing in that very moment
  7. embrace lifestyles and worldviews very different from their own
  8. empathize with people whose beliefs they don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way
  9. find other people more interesting than themselves, but do not interrogate them
  10. have an insatiable curiosity about strangers
  11. listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs
  12. make themselves vulnerable, removing their masks and revealing their true feelings
  13. master the art of radical listening
  14. realize that empathy doesn’t just make you good—it’s good for you, too
  15. realize that they may have an apology to give, an acknowledgement to make, or simply an admission that they want to bring more compassion to a particular relationship
  16. talk to people outside their usual social circle
  17. tend to be an “interested inquirer”
  18. try to understand the world inside the head of the other person
  19. understand that all genuine education comes about through experience
  20. will talk to the person next to them on the bus or in the check-out line at the grocery, for example

Obviously, it would be an impossible task for you to dive-in and employ all 20 of the traits listed above. However, it would be within your reach to pick one or two of these traits, and make an agreement with yourself to implement them on a consistent basis. You can do it! I have faith in you!!! It just takes practice.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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