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Kathy Marshack News

New Study: Bilingual Autistic Children Have Greater Cognitive Flexibility

Monday, March 05, 2018


being bilingual may improve an autistic child’s cognitive flexibility.Have you ever attempted to learn a new language? If so, you know what a workout it can be for your brain. In fact, it helps keep the brain healthy and has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. But did you know it can also be a way to help autistic children gain more cognitive flexibility?

Medical News Today reports on the study headed up by Prof. Aparna Nadig, from the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. It focused on this question: "Can being bilingual mitigate the set-shifting (cognitive flexibility) impairment observed in children with ASD?"

Cognitive flexibility, or set-shifting, is a part of the set of cognitive processes necessary for goal-oriented problem solving called executive functions. Also included in this set of abilities are attentional control, inhibiting behavior, and working memory. The theory of executive dysfunction in autism has been proposed by some researchers as an explanation for autism. I look forward to seeing more research done on this, so we become better at managing ASD.

In the study, the researchers measured set-shifting by using a computerized dimensional change card sort (DCCS) task and by parental reports of executive functioning in daily life. (In DCCS, children are required to sort a series of bivalent test cards, first according to one dimension, e.g. color, and then according to the other, e.g. shape.)

They found that bilingual autistics did better on the DCCS task than ASD children who speak one language, but not for set-shifting in daily life. Working memory wasn’t changed either. These findings suggest that “bilingualism may mitigate some set-shifting difficulties in children with ASD”.

It’s believed that switching between languages limbers up the set-shifting performance in the brain. It makes sense since we’ve been advised to treat the brain like a muscle that improves with use. Not all researchers agree, but it’s certainly worth a try if it improves the quality of life for your ASD child. Perhaps it even sparks your imagination to think about new ways to help autistic children.

It has been my life’s mission to help the NT/AS community navigate this complicated and life-altering world. One of the best resources I offer is my Meetup group, Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD. If you’re the neurotypical member in the NT/AS family, I strongly encourage you to join us. It’s a very supportive and informative group that daily faces, and learns how to cope with, the struggles inherent in living with an Aspie. If you feel more comfortable, you can even use an alias to protect your anonymity.

NT/AS Marriage Problems – Divorce, Separation or Alone Together?

Monday, February 26, 2018


Divorce is a tough subject, but we can’t ignore it because it’s all too common in Asperger marriages. I’ve heard many times people describing marriage with someone with Asperger Syndrome (AS) is like walking on eggshells. Add that to the “normal” stresses of marriage and it can get to be too overwhelming to deal with. To give you one example:

A man with undiagnosed AS often feels as if his wife is being ungrateful when she complains he’s uncaring or never listens to her. He knows what he thinks and how he feels, and assumes that she should too. It doesn’t even occur to him to understand her point of view, so her complaints bother him. When she asks for clarification or a little sympathy, he becomes defensive because he knows he has good intentions and he resents the pressure. This defensiveness may turn into verbal abuse (and sometimes physical abuse) because he needs to control the communication to suit his view of the world.

No wonder the wife feels like she’s walking on eggshells and looks for a way out of the marriage. But that can bring other problems…

What can you expect if you divorce an Asperger man? Unfortunately, he probably won’t understand why his wife wants a divorce and will become angry. Not knowing how to handle his distress he may turn the energy into revenge. Unfortunately, many high conflict divorces are the result of the negativity and obsessing of the AS partner regarding the wrongdoing he perceives of his NT spouse.

It is likely to be a long, painful and expensive divorce where all suffer.

On the other hand, some Aspies just leave quietly and never remarry because they can’t quite figure out how to rebuild a life separately from their former spouse. Some NT former wives report that their former husband even still refers to her as his “wife” years after the divorce.

Many of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD members contemplate divorce or separation. Even though our group is extremely helpful, there may come a time when the only way to save your sanity is to consider ways to leave. If you’re no longer strong enough to endure the loneliness of being Alone Together, it just might be time to strike out on your own and explore a new life.

I invite you to attend the upcoming teleconference: Divorce, Separation or Alone Together? It will be held on Thursday, March 22nd at 2:30 PM PT. Don't be shy about dialing in for this teleconference, even if you’re not considering divorce. We’ll discuss why the issue is relevant to our group. Even when you take your marriage vows seriously (and who doesn't?) it's very tough living without reciprocity and emotional connection.

I think it can be therapeutic to consider what your life would be like without your Aspie. It's not necessarily that you should get a divorce, but it gives you an opportunity to think about why you’re holding yourself back from the life you’re meant to live. Either way, divorce or not, you should be true to your authentic self, shouldn't you?

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you. The first chapter, “No One Calls Me Mom Anymore” is now available for free download. After you read it, I’d love it if you’d visit my Facebook page and tell me what you think.

The Odd Couple – Why Aspies and Nurturers Attract Each Other

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Someone with Asperger Syndrome is characterized by their lack of communication skills, social skills, and reciprocity of feelings. The Aspie knows what they think and feel but are often unaware of what others think or feel. With a deficiency in these critical areas, some have wondered how someone with Asperger's develops an intimate relationship or even gets married. The answer is simple, Aspies do love. They just love in a different way.

We tend to unconsciously seek mates who have qualities we lack. It's not so surprising really that Aspies seem to attract the ultimate nurturers. You know, the kind of person who is kind, self-effacing, open-minded, understanding, willing to carry a heavy load for their loved ones. It shouldn't be a bad thing, should it? To be a loving light to others is absolutely the perfect gift.

The NT (neurotypical – the one not on the spectrum) may be attracted to the unconventional nature and child-like charm of the AS adult. They may sense that the Aspie will allow the NT his or her independence. It’s only later that they learn their AS partner isn’t supporting independence. He or she is just not aware of – and may even be disinterested in – the NT’s interests.

So the trick is to remain this loving light even under the pressures of living with Aspies who don’t acknowledge the support you’re offering. My belief is that self-care is in order if you’re going to accomplish this task. Dig deeply into your insecurities and purge them. Accept yourself for the amazing, beautiful Soul that you are.

It's also possible to help our Aspies do better by us. They need instructions in what I call the Rules of Engagement (ROE). They can certainly learn to be more polite and attentive, just not empathic.

The next the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD video conference is entitled, “Odd Couples – Aspies and Nurturers.” It will be held at three different times for your convenience: Thursday, March 8th at 9:00 AM PT; Wednesday, March 14th at 11:00 AM PT; and Wednesday, March 28th at 3:00 PM PT.

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, and desire in-person counseling, please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.

When a Diagnosis of Autism Isn't Enough

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


What do you do after the autism diagnosis?Have you taken your child or marriage mate to a variety of health care providers in desperation to discover just what’s wrong? So many thoughts swirl through your mind…”is it dementia? Maybe it’s just a hearing loss? Or Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Or OCD? Or possibly even mild psychosis? No…it couldn’t be Autism!”

It’s frustrating to know there’s a problem but you can't get to the bottom of it, because no one understands. Could a diagnosis of ASD (formal or informal diagnosis) explain it all?

Many times the diagnosis of ASD does explain the underlying cause of the problems your family faces. However, there are some Aspies who have multiple problems that make their ASD worse. Either way, you need to know what you’re dealing with but it's tough when your Aspie is terrible at explaining their inner workings.

Some signs that indicate the possibility of ASD are:

  • Feels bewildered or unsure in social settings
  • Is overly bossy or withdrawn
  • Doesn’t make reciprocating conversation or eye contact
  • Can’t read a situation or people’s faces
  • Dislikes loud sounds, smells, or light

Being told that your loved one has ASD or Asperger’s can be very devastating. What’s most important is to remain positive. It’s vital to learn to accept your ASD family member as she or he is. As Psychologist Tony Attwood says:

“Being diagnosed with ASD is not a tragedy, it’s merely a difference.”

Making your Aspie feel confident and secure in your unwavering love and support is crucial and will act as a buffer against negativity. How do you do that?

If you’re a member of Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join our free teleconference: When a Diagnosis Isn't Enough on Thursday, November 16th at 2:30 P.M. We’ll discuss how to assess the situation when the diagnosis alone doesn't help. In other words, let's find practical ways to communicate and problem solve with your Aspie, even if you have to make it up!

If you’re not a member and want to join here are the qualifications: you are a Neuro-typical trying to deal with life with someone on the Autism Spectrum. That’s it. If that’s you, request an invite. It’s free to join the group and it has a lot of perks, like this free international teleconference or more intimate low-cost video conferences.)

If you’d like to learn more of the science behind ASD, download a free chapter from my book, Out of Mind - Out of Sight. Or click the image below.



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