The Science of Online Dating

Online dating sites are a popular place to seek relationships. While the majority of couples still meet offline at work, school, places of worship, bars and social events, today’s couples are almost as likely to meet on-line as they are to meet in any of these offline venues. This article explores whether online daters are wasting their time looking for love in all the wrong places, or whether an intimate partner can really be found online.

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How did the vaccine controversy start and why won't it go away? by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.

Facts are stubborn things, but study after study and warning after warning doesn't kill the intense fear that many parents have about vaccinating their children. My son, Tariq, received the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) in 1981 around the same time that he lost his speech and started flapping.  From my experience since then, I have gained insight into ‘the vaccine issue’ that makes it at least understandable and may help to even do something about it.

Generally the first signs or “Red Flags” of autism, that my son began to show as a toddler, appear in the second year of life often around 18 months when the measles vaccine is routinely given. Herein lays the connection which some parents and professionals were making by the mid-1980s. Some were convinced that the vaccine was the cause or the smoking gun.

Autism has no singular cause and no known cure. Not every individual with autism is disabled, but many are. Not every diagnosis is a trauma or tragedy, but many are. While every child is a unique and special human being with gifts as well as challenges, the unemployment rate for adults with autism hovers between 70 and 80%. As parents we want to have a cause for the problem. With a cause we can have the hope that a cure is possible.

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study in a prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, which proposed a causal link between the MMR vaccination and autism.  Even though most of Wakefield’s co-authors wrote a retraction and disagreed with the conclusion, parent activists, including high profile celebrities, were especially alarmed about the idea that the MMR vaccine caused autism. There was a perfect storm as the number of children diagnosed with autism was increasing rapidly due to several factors including increased awareness and changes in diagnostic criteria.

Besides the discredited research, several large studies found no evidence of a causal relationship between the MMR and autism. In 2010, The Lancet retracted the 1998 article because it was based on fraudulent data, and Wakefield’s medical license was revoked in the UK. But the parent community remained terrified that their children could be infected with autism through vaccinations.  Some parents felt certain and signed onto litigation against the pharmaceutical companies that made the vaccine. Vaccines do have documented but rare side effects, and a small number of parents won their cases.

So why does the controversy continue?

 When professionals and politicians merely recite facts and do not show an understanding or respect for the legitimate fears and needs of parents we cannot expect this controversy to go away.  From my own scientific training, I knew that the timing did not prove causation.  Like others, when my son changed at 18 months, I wondered about the causal link between autism and the vaccination.  As a social scientist however I was not convinced and read the scientific research with great interest. Still, I lived in fear that lightening could strike twice as it actually has for many parents. 

I have a view from the trenches of autism, and I feel the pulse of the parent community. Most of us love our children as much as life itself.  Tariq, now 35, does not speak, or read, or write, and he lives in a group home outside Philadelphia. It has not been an easy journey, but I don’t look back to his vaccinations.

As I have found through my work, compassion for parents’ point of view and honoring their perspective helps terrified parents to think through their options and make better informed choices. All of which still amounts to taking a chance at your best future. There are no guarantees. Everyone wants to welcome a happy, healthy child with a bright future into their family.  The outcome of any birth, and any day for that matter, remains uncertain– not just because of autism but because of any of life’s unpredictable events. 

Want to better understand someone diagnosed with Asperger’s? Try communicating only through texting By Bob Sher, Ph.D.

The other day, I received this text from my 10th grade, typically developing son: “Practice late bus. At school. Usual pick up.” Boy, was I stumped. Was the bus late, or was he? Did practice go late, so he missed the bus? Was practice over, or still going on? Did “usual” refer to place, time, both, or neither? It occurred to me that this is a pretty similar experience for people who interact regularly with people diagnosed with Asperger’s or high functioning Autism.

            What texting has in common with a typical Aspie’s communication style is both obvious and subtle. The more apparent aspects include things like inattention or disregard for things like tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and so forth. Texting is verbal communication stripped to its bare minimum (and emojis don’t really add much to this mix, and often make matters worse). There is little room for sarcasm, emphasis, or any emotion not explicitly stated. In some ways, this feels more efficient and direct when the thing to be communicated is simple and free of emotional content, but that leads me to the second, less obvious, type of similarity.

            Surely, there was a way for my son to tell me to come pick him up now in front of the main school building that would have been clearer (the most obvious being an actual phone conversation, but I digress). It just would have required him to spend a few additional seconds thinking about – planning – his choice of expression. It also would have asked him to use words like “and,” “is” and “the,” which  - I suppose – feels unnecessary and tedious. Because texting is (somewhat) more labor intensive than talking, we take shortcuts. When texting, we become impatient with adjectives, conjunctions, and all kinds of parts of speech we wouldn’t think of abandoning when talking to someone, especially if we are trying to let them know something of practical importance, like where and when to meet. Rereading my son’s text, it occurs to me that the punctuation could be re-arranged to give his text entirely different meaning. My phone automatically inserts a period if I hit the space button twice in a row (I bet yours does too), sometimes leading to further confusion.

            People on the spectrum often find the mechanics and rules of conversation to be tedious, baffling, arbitrary, and exhausting. They want you to know something, and are frustrated that they have to go through some intricate dance to get the information into your head, especially since no matter how many times someone tries to teach them the steps, they just can’t quite seem to get it right. So, they too become impatient, and resent being asked to rephrase or repeat something that was, in their mind, expressed with perfect clarity.

So, maybe the next time the person you live with or work with or teach is becoming irritated that you aren’t understanding them, imagine yourself trying to compose a particularly complicated and important text message to someone in a hurry, and you might have a glimpse of what they are going through.

A Different Perspective on Holiday Giving

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The holiday shopping frenzy extracts much of the joy and excitement out of this season for many people. Parents of special needs kids especially struggle with what gifts to buy and dread that nothing will work out.

When I sit with parents, the emotions are the same for birthdays and holidays. Most parents typically envision their excited child having fun with new toys, yet many parents of children with special needs are confronted with celebrations marred by meltdowns and disappointment.

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Fathers Talking about Post-Traumatic Growth

There was more than enough suffering to go around. For the most part, the shock and awe of the original diagnosis had worn off as 49 fathers of special needs children shared their stories at the annual conference of the Washington State Fathers Network in Seattle on October 11. Most men embrace the role of problem solvers and want to solve the problems of their child’s special needs. But it’s not that simple. The disability is a gritty and unwelcome reality that brings up difficult feelings that are hard to talk about. Read the rest at http://www.familyaffaires.com/fathers-special-needs-children/

Bouncing Back from Adversity

People bounce back from adversity and are even transformed by it far more often than we might guess.  How do they do it? Take for example, Malala Yousufzai, this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In October 2012, in Pakistan, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head on a school bus as she sat with her friends because of  her outspoken advocacy of girls' education. She attended the school that her father had founded.

Malala did not give up.  The bullets have intensified her commitment and garnered the support of the international community.  Closer to home, there are many unsung heroes who were celebrated at the 3rd Annual Family Resilience Conference sponsored by the Devereux Foundation on October 18, 2014.

The keynote speaker was Andrew Solomon, the best-selling  author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. His talk to about 175 parents and professionals was titled, “Our Differences Unite Us.” In his research about parenting children with special needs, he found difficult lives full of pain and complexity, but he was amazed at how much joy he discovered.

Solomon articulated the dilemma of parents needing to change and teach their children versus accepting them and loving them for who they are.  He found a vast gray area and concluded that equanimity is hard won between fixing (the illness model) and acceptance (the identity model).

While every child is a surprise and not as anticipated, he observed parents strongly attached to the child they have. He described how parents became in his words “grateful for the lives they would’ve done anything to avoid.” As the father of an adult child with autism, this has certainly been my experience.

What summed it up was Solomon’s statement that resilience is a shared commodity in that one person generates it in another. The individual, the family, and the broader society each facilitates the ability to bounce back and be transformed in the process.

After lunch, Paul LeBuffe, the Director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children (http://www.centerforresilientchildren.org/),  facilitated a town hall meeting and panel discussion about personal and family resilience. Inspired by the keynote address, there was a spirited discussion about how families keep it together in the face of the ongoing stress.

The overall lesson of the day is captured in this quote from Andrew Solomon’s landmark book:

 “Having always imagined myself in a fairly slim minority, I suddenly saw that I was in a vast company. Difference unites us. While each of these experiences can isolate those who are affected, together they compose an aggregate of millions whose struggles connect them profoundly. The exceptional is ubiquitous; to be entirely typical is the rare and lonely state.” 

Everyday Traumas and Lessons in Mindfulness

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I never thought when I woke up that I would have a lesson in mindfulness this particular day.  It was a beautiful day, and then in an instant I wiped out on my bicycle, and landed hard on my right shoulder. I thought I would be okay in a few days, but that was not the case.  My summer plans were out the window.

Read the rest at: http://www.familyaffaires.com/lessons-mindfulness/

A Magical Connection

While catching up on my reading, I found a real gem: Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism by Ron Suskind. I had heard and read about it, but the original motivated me to write about this family’s story and the wisdom of their son with autism.

Owen stopped speaking just before his third birthday, had trouble sleeping, and cried inconsolably. However, he remained fascinated with Disney animated movies which he loved before the autism emerged. His father’s account of how the family connected with him through this special interest led to a series of breakthroughs. The family watched those movies over and over and began to communicate with their son through the movie scripts.

Joining with a child’s interest is not a new concept; in fact it came from developmental psychology and has become an accepted part of most autism treatment programs. What is remarkable in this book is the intimate account of how this worked day in and day out in a family: their thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and experiences. We also learn how they built partnerships in their son’s interest with teachers, therapists, and mental health professionals.

Having read hundreds of autism books from parents, researchers, teachers, various therapists, and people with autism, and having written a few myself, I would have to say this is one of the best yet.

It's so much more than just the memoir by a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. It has a broad applicability across the autism spectrum and across cultures and social classes. Beyond that it's about what it means to be family.

Of course average families do not have the financial resources of the Suskinds who poured about $90,000 per year into resources to help their son. With adequate public support, the methods they used can be made broadly available to address the rapidly expanding public health crisis of autism which currently affects over 1% of children born worldwide, 80% of whom are boys.

There is real grit devoid of a storybook ending; Owen Suskind does not recover from autism. He does make amazing progress, graduates from high school, attends a transitional program on Cape Cod, and meets a Disney producer. He does not become a Disney animator as he had dreamed. Owen will likely never become completely independent as his parents had dreamed.

Nonetheless and maybe because of this, Owen, like my adult son with autism who is nonverbal, is a good son and a good brother who has taught his family incredibly profound lessons.

"Love doesn't keep score. Siblings do."

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400 people seemed to nod in agreement when Caroline McGraw used these words to describe some of her difficulties growing up with a younger brother who has autism. Few among us would deny this truth of family life-whether there is a disability or not. The scene was theKern Autism Network Annual Conference in Bakersfield, California on March 14. The theme of the conference was "Understanding DSM5 and Family Dynamics." 

With examples from her own life, Caroline enumerated what's hard in an honest clear voice:

  • the unfairness of sharing attention
  • being a third parent
  • feeling one doesn't belong or fit in with peers
  • guilt and shame
  • acceptance of your sibling as they are

Caroline loved her brother dearly, yet she did not want her friends to see the chaos that his meltdowns caused. She was jealous of the attention his condition required of her parents. On the other hand, she felt responsible at times for her brother's care and disappointed in herself when it was too much for her. With a calm presence, she explained her own three key coping strategies:

  • Honest conversations with parents and others about the struggles and joys 
  • Invaluable  feeling of solidarity when connecting with fellow siblings
  • Experience working as a caregiver for other individuals with special needs contributed to a balanced perspective.

Despite the difficulties, she wouldn't want a different brother. She could live without the meltdowns, but her love for Willie was palpable as she explained how she has come to appreciate "the inadequacy of language to express our deepest feelings and truths."

Her tale of anger, rivalry, and jealousy mixed with warm loving feelings can be difficult to acknowledge but an integral part of the reality that bonds siblings.

Check out Caroline McGraw's blog "A Wish Come Clear", inspired by Willie.

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The  Sibling Support Project is a national effort dedicated to the life-long concerns of brothers and sisters of people who have special health, developmental, or mental health concerns.   

Real Teamwork Led by a Father of a Teenager with Autism

On February 9, our featured contributor was Dr. Paul Abend the father of a teenage boy with autism and the founder of the New Jersey Autism Think Tank. 

Three years ago, I got a phone call from Dr. Paul Abend who was putting together a Think Tank of medical experts to help the children with medical complications such as his own son. Within a few months, he opened theComprehensive Autism Medical Assessment and Treatment Center of NJ. During our Google Hangout we talked about his journey as a father, and how the Think Tank he put together has been consulting on difficult challenging situations from around the country and the world.

 

Siblings Need Attention Too by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.

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I met a young woman recently who faked getting sick as a teenager. She explained to me it was the only way she could get to spend time one on one with her mother. She was growing up with a brother who has autism.

She would take a thermometer and run it under hot water until the mercury showed a fever then show it to her mother. This way she got to stay home and be with her mom all day.

Now she and her mom can laugh about it, but it wasn't funny at the time.

Celebrate the Children by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.

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Learning to appreciate the little things is one of the profound lessons that that family members experience from children with special needs or autism. There may be grief and frustration over what a child cannot do, but learning to celebrate what a child can do brings a very special joy. (Photo from the Parents of Special Needs Facebook)

At a parent support group meeting, a father of a boy with limited speech told how he was leaving for work and tried to give his son a kiss. His son said, "I don't need a kiss dad."  His father was very excited as he told this story. That his boy spoke in a sentence overpowered the momentary rejection of his wish to give his son a kiss.

A mother who had suffered through many failed play dates shared her happiness when her son enjoyed playing with a classmate after school in their home.

A little girl with cerebral palsy has a blast every time her dad takes her to the zoo. She notices other children walking, but she is perfectly happy as a five-year-old in a stroller.

A grandmother shared how her grandson has learned to take turns playing games that his sister likes.

My own son drank from a straw for the first time at age 9.

Many children and adults living with various differences and limitations may not reach typical milestones on time—or at all. Members of the Washington State Fathers Network celebrate their children's progress calling these steps "inch stones."

The joy I see in mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, and therapists as well rivals the thrill reaching typical milestones. Like beauty it's in the eye of the beholder.

Should you tell your child? by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.


Mark Walker (R), Founder of Dance with My Daddy

Mark Walker (R), Founder of Dance with My Daddy

Parents often agonize over if and when they should tell their child he or she has autism or other developmental issues.  If your child had asthma, or diabetes, you wouldn't keep it from her.  If she is on the spectrum or has ADHD or OCD, telling her is still the right thing to do.  Your child needs to know.  You need to be comfortable discussing your child's diagnosis intelligently and unemotionally. This means working to get past being tongue-tied when people ask you.  Talking about the diagnosis doesn't need to be THE talk.  It's actually better to share information as things come up.  For example, "We are going to occupational therapy to learn ways to calm down when your head hurts from all the noise around you."              

A child is ready to know about her diagnosis when she begins asking questions like why it's hard to have friends, or why handwriting is difficult, or why certain noises bother her more than other people.  Not beginning to talk about your child's differences will have a negative impact on self-esteem because by this point your child knows something is going on. 

Dr. Stephen Shore has developed a four step approach:

1. Discuss strengths and challenges which your child is experiencing.

2. Align your child's strengths and challenges in two columns.

3. Next make nonjudgmental comparisons by looking at friends and family members and how they compensate for their challenges by using their strengths.

4. Finally discuss the diagnosis by talking about how your child's set of challenges and characteristics match those with autism or other developmental conditions. 

Dr. Shore stresses that there is no particular age to begin discussing your child's diagnosis. There is no need for a "sit down" talk. Stephen recalled how his parents used the word autism matter-of-factly just like they would talk about brown hair or blue eyes, and this is how he recommends parents go about the process with their children.  Start with the positive aspects of ASD, such as what your child is really good at or knowledgeable about.  People with ASDs often have an incredible memory for detail, especially on their special interest.  They are usually very honest with other people and say whatever is on their mind. It's important to tell your child all the "good stuff" about him that you would never want to change.

Parents can explain in a matter of fact way that having a spectrum disorder or ADHD just means that your brain works a little differently which makes some things harder but some things easier. Stress your love and devotion in helping your child become all he can be.  These issues will come up repeatedly in various contexts, so it's important to realize that just one talk won't suffice. This is all part of the evolving journey of acceptance for parents, children with special needs, and their siblings.

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This Sunday, Professor Stephen Shore will be the featured contributor to Guy Talk atwww.autismbrainstorm.org. You can sign up and watch live at 9:00 PM eastern or see the recording later on YouTube.