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Fighting the Spring Blues: Tips for Adults with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism

Woo hoo! It’s springtime!!! You should be excited, right? Maybe you're somewhat disappointed because people around you seem to be so enthusiastic about the shift in seasons, but for whatever reason, you can’t seem to get out of your winter funk.

We often hear in the media talk about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which tends to affect individuals during the fall and winter months. But, believe it or not, seasonal changes and effects on mood are actually quite normal all year-round, especially for people on the autism spectrum.

If you feel worse during the winter - and you clear up later - you may have the winter blues. However, spring or summer too can cause SAD. Check if there is a seasonal pattern year after year that affects your basic functioning (e.g., sleeping, eating, mating, social behavior, weight, mood, energy level, etc.).

How to overcome a negative mood that occurs during spring: 
  1. Avoid excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or any other substance to overcome sluggishness and lethargy.
  2. Depressed mood makes one sluggish and sleepy. Sleeping excessively may actually increase depression. Therefore, force yourself to wake up in the morning (e.g., 6:00 AM rather than 9:00 AM – even on weekends). The sun comes up earlier in the spring, and so can you!
  3. To warm up in the morning, engage in a brisk and pleasurable activity (e.g., laughter with a comedy or slapstick humor DVD, walking the dog around the neighborhood, etc.).
  4. Plant some flowers, or cultivate a backyard garden.
  5. Exercise regularly, preferably outdoors (if the weather is stormy, go to the gym).
  6. Find a few friends and have a backyard barbeque on the grill. The important thing here to is stay social - the activity itself doesn't matter that much.
  7. Go to a park where there are other people and where you can move about freely. While you're there, get on the swing and relive your childhood for a moment.
  8. Hunger and craving for sweets and starches is common in SAD. People eat to beat the blues, and many of them become "carbohydrate addicts." Upset by the weight gain, they start dieting, which makes them a "yo-yo dieter." To avoid that, eat balanced meals that are high in complex carbohydrates and protein. Consult a meal chart and plan a 7-day program that is replete with the favor of vegetables, fruits, and grains.
  9. Try to take a summer vacation (preferably for at least 3-4 days), or plan frequent weekend “get-aways” throughout the summer months.
  10. Lastly, get an evaluation to check if you need counseling or medication for depression.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

How To Stop Condemning Yourself

Self-condemnation is when an individual has an extreme dislike of - or terrible rage against - oneself. This can occur at either a conscious or unconscious level. Self-condemnation is typically caused by the notion of “not being worthy of” something desired.

This phenomenon may grow from other roots as well, for example:
  • Shame is an emotion where you hate yourself instead of your mistakes. When you feel shame, you feel as if your every move is wrong, and soon you feel self-condemnation for feeling that way. With shame, you believe that you are a mistake. Shame keeps you immobilized because of your fear of being wrong.
  • Perfectionism is where people want things to be better than are. However, they soon reach a point where nothing is good enough. When they get criticized, or when something they have done is criticized, they feel like they have failed. They hate themselves for not being “perfect.”
  • People can easily begin thinking bad things about themselves if they notice they don’t fit the mold of society or their family’s expectations. And society usually won’t tell them anything different about themselves.
  • An individual might be “different,” or they might have some bad circumstances in their life that causes them to not be able to develop quality relationships. Others notice this strangeness, and insensitively point it out to the person or mock them.

How To Stop Condemning Yourself—

If you had someone in your life treating you the way you treat yourself, you would have told them to “go to hell” a long time ago. Self-condemnation is the polar opposite of self-love and high self-esteem. How can you heal yourself from hating yourself? Here are some important tips:

1. Be patient with your “self” as you learn to love yourself in the same way that God loves you. This change in perspective will not happen overnight.

2. If there is something about yourself that you don’t like, change it. But never change for others.

3. Think happy thoughts. This takes work, but you can - and must - change your own stream of consciousness if you hate yourself. Easier said than done, but re-program your mind to have a constant stream of positive self-talk.

4. Identify guilt-inducing thoughts and beliefs. Notice any thoughts that tend to recur. Listen to your self-talk. Note if these thoughts are legitimate guilt (e.g., "I shouldn't have yelled at my wife like that") or false guilt (e.g., "If I hadn't yelled at her, she wouldn't have gotten hurt. It's my fault she is hurt").

5. Jot down recurring themes like, "I'm dumb" or "I can't do anything right." Does it sound like a critical parent or a loving friend? You may be carrying the voice of a condemning mother or father with you long after he or she is gone, and replacing it with your own critical voice.

6. Learn to accept feeling love for yourself. The only way to be able to receive and accept love from others is by loving yourself first.

7. Make note cards with self-affirmations about your inherent worth. Repeat them to yourself often. Make cards that deal with specific situations (e.g., "I’m worth being loved" or "I’m valuable enough to be in quality relationships").

8. Release past pain. If can’t find a way to let go of the pains of the past, of rejection by others, of hurt and injustice, of loss and sorrow, you will inevitably not want to live your life as you are – filled with pain. This is only normal and natural.

9. Tell yourself the truth about you. Are you basically kind, courageous, honest, intelligent, etc.? Speak words such as, "I may make mistakes from time-to-time, but I’m a kind and loving person who deserves good things in life."

10. Talk to yourself in the same way you would a good friend. Give yourself grace and forgiveness. Say things such as, "Most people would get upset in that situation" or "Anyone could make a mistake like that."

11. Overcome perfectionism. The trick is to know when to be “all or nothing” and when to relax and see the shades of gray so you can give yourself and others credits for the effort and the attempt.

12. Don't punish yourself any longer. Whenever you think or say a negative thought about yourself (e.g., “I’m not good enough”), know that you are attempting to “punish” yourself. You may have come to the point where you’re not speaking negative things about yourself, but you are still thinking them, which continues to have negative effects in your life. So, stop punishing yourself with thoughts of self-condemnation. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment – regardless of any hurts you may have inflicted on others in the past.

The only thing wrong with you is your self-condemnation. It’s wrong for you to hate yourself!  Change your thoughts about yourself!!  Start now!!!

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Empathy 101: Tips for Husband’s on the Autism Spectrum

Empathy is the ability to understand others to the point that you can experience their feelings and internal drives. Most men with Asperger’s (high functioning autism) have difficulty in this area. So in your honor, below is a quick course in how to be more empathic (or less non-empathic).

Let’s first look at the things to avoid…

Don’t:
  • be contemptuous
  • correct the plot line
  • correct what you view to be a misperception
  • counter critique
  • explain why you did what you did 
  • get defensive
  • play the guessing game (in other words, don’t set your wife up to fail by requiring her to guess what you are feeling or what you need)
  • respond to your wife’s constructive criticism with your own criticisms
  • try to attach permanent negative labels on your wife
  • try to prove that your wife is inherently flawed
  • tune your wife out or put up a figurative wall
  • use justifications for what you said
  • use over-generalizations (they tend to not have solutions)
  • use your logic and reason to attempt to disprove the validity of your wife’s emotional reaction or narrative (it doesn’t matter if you believe your wife misperceived a particular event – her emotional reactions are related to her perceptions)

Now let’s look at the things you should be doing…

Do:
  • allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you feel (if you experience strong authentic feelings of your own – rather than feelings related to avoidance, denial or defensiveness – then simply let them flow as long as they are not disruptive, such as in the form of anger)
  • ask for what you want (if you want your wife to just listen and to not “fix” the issue in question – tell her that)
  • be curious and open-minded
  • be interested in your wife’s experience rather than being fixated on making her perception consistent with yours
  • be vulnerable and accepting of your body’s natural responses to conflict
  • free yourself from trying to create consistency between your perceptions and your wife’s perceptions
  • listen as if your only job is to understand
  • listen as though the narrative is not about you (when your wife makes a complaint about something you said or did – or something you were supposed to say or do, but didn’t – listen as if she was referring to a third party, which will help you control your defensiveness or guardedness)
  • listen without using your preconceptions
  • notice your bias and choose to not let it control your actions
  • stay emotionally available, tracking your wife’s narrative and the emotions being displayed
  • take a break when needed (if you are overwhelmed during an argument, ask for a break and take some time to cool down, but tell your wife what you are doing and when you will be able to return)

Practice these ideas, then practice some more. Eventually, you’ll get it. I have faith in you! We, as men on the spectrum, aren't stupid. We just need a little extra help in understanding other people's emotions.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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