Tag Archives: mental-health

The Athletic Aspie. No, really.

Aspies are notoriously unathletic. We tend to be clumsy and uncoordinated. Chalk it up to a motor planning deficit, poor executive function, proprioception difficulties, dyspraxia, or all of the above. Whatever the cause, the result is that we’re more likely to be branded a geek than a jock.

Unfortunately, I never got the memo on this. All my life I’ve loved sports and being physically active. Loving sports, in my case, isn’t the same as being good at sports, but I’ve never let that stop me.

Though my parents didn’t know I had Asperger’s they did know that I was clumsy. One of their nicknames for me was “Grace”–as in, “careful there, Grace” and “that’s our daughter, Grace.” I think this is funnier when you’re the one saying it than when you’re the one tripping over an inanimate object.

Perhaps in an effort to help me overcome my lack of coordination, they signed me up for a lot of individual sports: dance, gymnastics, bowling, golf, diving, swimming, karate.

Most of these were activities that I could do with other kids but didn’t require the type of interaction that team sports do. I was on a bowling “team.” All that meant was that I took turns with four other kids. The bowling itself was an individual pursuit. Other kids took a turn. I took a turn. I got to add up the scores. I wandered off to watch one of the arcade games. Someone called me back when it was my turn. It was great.

Golf and dance and karate were the same. I did these things alongside other kids but not really with them. There was an appearance of social interaction. The actual amount of interacting I did was minimal and that was fine.

I’ve always loved individual sports for exactly this reason. I learned to swim soon after I learned to walk. My family had a swimming pool in the backyard so I was in the water months after being born and enrolled in swim lessons as soon as the YMCA would take me. Swimming is still one of my favorite ways to relax. I love being in the water–the sensation of weightlessness, of gliding, of floating, of being surrounded and suspended–and I love the rhythmic movement and sensory deprivation of a long swim.

My YMCA Minnow patch – one of the few things I’ve saved from childhood.

As an adult I took up running. Like swimming, I enjoy the rhythm of running. I also like the way it gets me out into the quieter places–trails through the woods, quiet paths along the river, a beaten single track frequented more by deer than humans. I loved long bike rides as a kid for the same reasons.

The Beauty of Individual Sports

I tried team sports. In middle school, I was on the school softball and basketball teams. It was fun but I wasn’t very good at it and spent most of my time sitting on the bench during games. I also got razzed a lot by coaches for not making enough effort. My basketball coach was always yelling at me to be “more aggressive” but I had no idea what she meant.

There was a lot about basketball that I didn’t quite get. Team sports have many variables–the rules, the other team members, the fast pace, the ball (inevitably there’s a ball involved).  For the typical aspie, this is a lot to manage. By the time I got to high school, I knew that team sports weren’t for me.

But individual sports! This where aspies can shine. When I’m out on the trails or in the pool, I feel strong and athletic. I feel like I’m coordinated and connected to my body. I feel like I’m good at a sport! Forgive my exclamation points, but this is exciting for someone who grew up feeling clumsy.

So, let me sell you on the wonders of individual sports for aspies of all ages:

1. You can progress at your own pace. Individual sports allow you to measure your progress against yourself. While you might compete against others, most individual sports also encourage “personal bests.” Running a new best time for a mile or swimming a personal best for a 400 is as fulfilling as beating an opponent. Maybe more so, because it’s an indication that your practice is paying off and you’re better at your sport than you were a month ago or a year ago.

2. You can be part of a team without the pressures of a team sport. Individual sports can be less stressful than team sports when it comes to having to perform well every time. If you have a bad day as a team player, your actions can impact the whole team. If you have a bad day as a cross country runner, you might not place well, but one of your fellow runners could still win the race. There are team consequences, but they tend to be less severe.

3. You can practice by yourself. This is a huge advantage for aspies. Because of our motor coordination issues, we might need a lot more practice than the average person to learn or master a skill. When that skill is something that doesn’t require a team or a partner to practice, we can spend hours working on it alone, at our own pace.

4. You play side-by-side with others. Team sports put a big emphasis on bonding with other team members, which can be stressful for aspies. Individual sports allow you to play alongside others, interacting as much or as little as you feel comfortable.

5. Individual sports tend to be rhythmic, repetitive and predictable. And what do aspies like more than rhythmic, repetitive, predictable movement? Running, cycling and swimming are like large-scale, socially acceptable stims. And you can do them for as long as you like. The more, the better!

6. Individual sports can burn off a lot of excess energy. Many individual sports are endurance based, making them an ideal way to tire out a high-energy aspie. Even moderately vigorous physical activity will burn off excess energy and trigger the release of endorphins, which not only improve your mood but can reduce anxiety and help you sleep better.

7. Individual sports improve coordination. All sports improve coordination, but individual sports tend to be more “whole body” sports, requiring you to integrate all of the parts of your body to achieve the best possible result. Think of the type of movement required for swimming breaststroke versus the type of movement required for playing shortstop.

Why Exercise is an Essential Part of Managing My Asperger’s

I need to get in at least an hour of running, swimming or walking every day. I need to exercise every morning. When I say need, I’m not kidding. If I didn’t exercise religiously, I would likely be on medication for both anxiety and depression.

Hard physical activity burns up the unwanted chemicals in my body and generates a nice steady flow of good chemicals. Exercise takes the edge off my aspie tendencies and leaves me feeling pleasantly mellow.  If my physical activity level falls for a few days in a row, I start feeling miserable. I get short-tempered, cranky and depressed. I lose my emotional balance. I don’t sleep as well. I find it harder to focus.

Being physically active also keeps me connected to my body. I have a tendency to retreat into myself and become disconnected from everything that isn’t inside my head. I’m also still–in spite of decades of sports practice–more clumsy and uncoordinated than the average adult. Being physically active helps me combat this and makes me more physically resilient when I do take an expected tumble.

A Little Different Spin on Physical Activity

One of my favorite bloggers, Annabelle Listic, has written a wonderful post–Kinect with Me!–about how she is using the physical activity of gaming to address some of her concerns (which are different from mine). I’ve never played a video game that requires physical interaction but her post got me thinking that this type of gaming might have many of the same benefits as participating in an individual sport.

What’s so Special About a Special Interest?

First, I need to say that I hate the phrase “special interest.” It sounds demeaning or patronizing. All I can think of is a doddering old great aunt looking over my shoulder at my stamp collection and saying, “well, isn’t that special.”

I’d much rather use “obsession,” or if that’s too extreme, then “specialized interest,” which is more precisely descriptive. But the term most often used in the ASD community is special interest so I’ll use that here, cringing every time I type it.

Okay, with that bit of editorializing out of the way, we can talk about a topic dear to most aspies’ hearts: the special interest. According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome, having an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus” is a core symptom of AS.

You’ll notice there are two parts to that criteria: intensity or focus. A special interest can be an intense interest in a broad subject (architecture) or a narrowly focused interest (mid-12th century Cistercian monasteries). Generally, narrowly focused interests are also intense, but a special interest doesn’t have to be stereotypically narrow to qualify.

What Does a Special Interest Look Like?

A partial list of my special interests, starting in childhood:

  • Barbies
  • Construction toys (legos, lincoln logs, tinker toys)
  • Text (reading, writing, words, found text, Roget’s thesaurus)
  • Stamps
  • Coins
  • Guinness Book of World Records
  • Baseball cards
  • Sewing (making my own clothes)
  • The stock market
  • M*A*S*H (TV show)
  • The Doors
  • Star Trek:TNG
  • Martial Arts
  • Human detritus (abandoned places, found objects, discarded things, cemeteries)
  • Zen Buddhism
  • Dog training
  • Astronomy, especially Messier objects
  • The Choson Dynasty
  • Shamanism
  • National parks
  • Running
  • Autism (!)

You can look at the list and think, “but everyone has hobbies, what’s so special about yours?” Like much of what differentiates an Asperger’s trait from a general personality quirk, the answer is the degree to which the trait is present.

For example, when I took up running, I didn’t just go out and jog a few times a week. I read books about training for marathons. I found workout plans online and joined a training site to get personalized drills. I learned about Fartlek and track workouts and running technique. I signed up for road races. Ten years later, I spend more on running clothes and shoes than on everyday clothes. I use a heart rate monitor and a distance tracker to record my workouts. If I go on vacation, I pack all of running stuff. I don’t just like to run occasionally; running is an integral part of my life. It fills a very specific need.

A visual representation of some of my special interests over the years

Shelter from the Storm

That’s a key differentiator between a run-of the-mill hobby and an Aspergerian special interest. Spending time engaged in a special interest fulfills a specific need for aspies. It’s more than just a pleasant way to pass the time. For me, indulging in a special interest is how I recharge myself. It’s comforting. It allows me to completely immerse myself in something that intensely interests me while tuning out the rest of the world. If you have a favorite movie that you rewatch or a book you like to return to again and again, it’s a bit like that.

Special Interests Gone Wild

The danger in special interests is that they can become consuming. They can take over every conversation, every free minute of the day, every thought, if you let them. They can be a refuge or a hiding place.

There are days when I’m so engrossed in writing and/or work (I’ve made one of my special interests into a career) that I’ll happily spend eight or ten or twelve hours at the computer. I put dinner on the stove and then forget about it until I smell it burning. The sun sets and hours later I realize the house is pitch dark. If the dog didn’t nudge my elbow when it was time for her to go out or be fed, I would forget that she existed.

Clearly this can be a problem.

Another problem can arise if the object of a special interest is socially unacceptable. When my husband read my list of special interests, he jokingly added himself to it. He was being funny, but sometimes aspies do take on another person as a special interest. If that person is a celebrity, the aspie can safely spend hours learning about and admiring that person from afar. But if the person is someone in the aspie’s life, the special interest may be expressed as unwanted attention, harassment or stalking. (You can read an excellent first person account of this issue here:  Love or Obsession: When a Person Becomes an Aspie’s Special Interest.)

So while most special interests are “harmless,” if an interest involves behavior that is illegal, taboo or a threat to your or someone else’s health or wellbeing, it may be necessary to seek help in redirecting your attention to a safer alternative.

How Does an Aspie Find a Special Interest?

Special interests tend to find us, rather than the other way around. I have no idea what has drawn me to many of my special interests over the years. Most are things that I have an intense but inexplicable fascination with.

Take abandoned places. I can’t explain what the lure is, but I can spend hours roaming an old townsite or quarry. I’m especially intrigued by abandoned psych wards. I can easily get lost exploring websites like this one: 10 Abandoned Psych Wards Photographers Love Sneaking Into

Like writing, reading, and martial arts, my interest in abandoned places and things has been with me since childhood. But other interests have come and gone over the years. A special interest often arises suddenly, becomes intense for a period (months or years) then disappears just as quickly. My collecting-related interests from childhood were like that. I would spend hours organizing, sorting and rearranging my coins, stamps and baseball cards. I’d talk my parents into driving me to collector’s shows, my tattered value guide tucked under my arm, bouncing with excitement at the prospect of filling a hole in one of my collections.

Then, when my interest in one of my collections suddenly dried up, I’d pack my binders and reference books and collecting paraphernalia away in the closet where they’d sit collecting dust while I spent hours comparing annual editions of the Guinness Book of World Records to see which records had changed or clipping articles about M*A*S*H from magazines so I could add them to my scrapbook.

How Much is Too Much?

Special interests are important to most aspies’ happiness and perhaps to our mental health. If I go through a period where I can’t engage in my special interests, I get agitated and spend a lot of time thinking about what I’d like to be doing. For me, and for a lot of aspies, a special interest is our preferred way of de-stressing, recharging and just plain enjoying ourselves.

But like any good thing, it’s possible to overdo it and veer into unhealthy territory. I think it’s safe to say that a special interest has become too consuming when it keeps you from taking care of daily responsibilities (school, work, hygiene), negatively impacts your health (lack of sleep, poor eating habits), or has a significant negative impact on loved ones (limited social contact, financial burden).

However, there is one case where you get to pursue your special interest all day, five days a week, and society gives you an approving thumbs up: when you turn a special interest into a career. Suddenly, you’re no longer a geek who knows too much about C++ programming, production switchers or eighteenth century fashion. You’re a computer programmer, an audio equipment repair technician or a museum curator. Big difference, right?

I’ve been lucky enough to do this twice, making it perfectly acceptable to dedicate most of my waking hours to a favorite subject. I’ve read and heard about a lot of aspies who’ve done the same with their lifelong special interests. It’s certainly not possible for everyone with Asperger’s to turn a special interest into a job or career, but when it does work out that way, you get to be one of the lucky people who earns a living doing what you love.

—–

For another perspective on having a special interest feels, check out Focusing on Special Interests by Jeannie Davide-Rivera who blogs about Asperger’s at Aspie Writer. I especially enjoyed learning about her first special interest, because we shared some favorite baseball players in common as children.

The Angry Aspie Explains It All

The emotion I see most routinely associated with autism is anger. Again and again–on Facebook, discussion forums, blogs–I see pleas from parents for suggestions about handling anger outbursts in their autistic children. Adult ASD forums are an outlet for more direct expressions of anger–at friends, acquaintances, family, classmates, colleagues, strangers and the world in general.

We autistics are apparently an angry bunch. And it’s no wonder. As children, the world comes at us with an intensity that is confusing, frustrating and, yes, aggravating. Add to that years of miscommunication, bullying, rejection and being misunderstood and it’s not surprising to see the  “angry autistic” has become a deeply entrenched stereotype.

Yet when I sat down to make my anger constellation, I only got as far as rage and frustration before I was stumped. While anger has been a familiar companion over the years, it’s one that I’ve relegated to the shadows.

I created my happiness constellation unprompted, a nice little sketch on a small, clean notebook page. My anger constellation required a thesaurus and a good hour of hard thought to produce this:

The brainstorming notes for anger constellation

I’m including that page of notes here not because I expect anyone to read it but because it’s a good visual representation of how I experience anger–a chaotic, fractured and sometimes incoherent mess. I’ve spent days avoiding writing this next part, the part where I have to untangle the mess.

Anger makes me uncomfortable. I avoid it. I suppress it. The last thing I want to do is talk about it. Expressing anger feels wrong. Bad.

So first, a reminder:

And a word about the words I’ve chosen. They feel arbitrary. I’ve done the best I can to put names to the different ways anger manifests for me but even after much thought I’m still not sure they’re the most appropriate choices.

Frustration first, since it’s the first word that came to mind and one of the easiest to describe. Frustration is unmet expectations. It’s waking up to an ice storm on a day I’d planned to run. It’s spending far too long struggling to open a package of cookies and then tearing the package down the middle. It’s not remembering how to switch from the DVD player to cable and getting 500 channels of static. Frustration makes me grit my teeth and growl when what I should be doing is identifying my needs and articulating or acting on them. Serial frustration sometimes leads to a shutdown or a meltdown.

Annoyance. I’ve written and deleted more descriptions of this one than I can count. Which in itself is annoying. Annoyance is a disruption of my process or state of mind. I can’t find the right word to finish a sentence and lose the flow of what I’m writing. The people in the hotel room next to mine are watching TV when I’m trying to fall asleep.

Annoyance is the fly buzzing around my head; frustration is taking twenty whacks at it and missing every time.

Thanks to Asperger’s, I have more than a passing familiarity with irritability, which has roots in sensory overload. I’m overtired. I’m hungry. I’m hot. My shirt is scratchy. I’ve ignored my sensory limits one too many times and it’s turning me into a cranky toddler. Danger, danger, shutdown is imminent.

And thanks to being a mom, I’ve discovered wrath, which is what I’m calling that mama lion feeling that comes charging out its hiding place when someone messes with my kid. Bad idea. Enough said.

For some inexplicable reason, right after wrath, I added fuming to my notes. There’s little relation between the two–wrath is primitive and instinctive. This other thing–the one that makes me seethe with anger and vow to right some perceived bureaucratic wrong like I’ve just been granted membership in the Justice League–is purely intellectual. It doesn’t happen a whole lot, but when it does, I’m a force to be reckoned with. Pass me my cape and stand back.

The Big Three

All of that so far? I’m fine with it. It’s the kind of anger that comes and goes. What follows, the big three of indignation, alienation and rage, those are more firmly entrenched.

Let’s start with the one that’s been with me the longest: indignation. Indignation arises from humiliation, shame, fear of not being good enough, from feeling invisible, stupid or ignored. It’s the way my vision blurs when someone treats me like I’m an idiot for asking the same question too many times. It’s the hot blush I can’t control when I say something that falls on deaf ears. It’s the blood pounding in my ears when someone lectures me like I’m a child.

Indignation is wanting to scream I get it, I know, I understand, I’m here, I have something to say, slow down, I can do this, stop trying to fix-help-correct-educate me. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember. It festers in the broad gap between intellectual ability and social skill.

Alienation arrived later, sometime in early adulthood, but it sits stubbornly beside indignation with no plans to leave any time soon. It may be odd to describe alienation as an expression of anger, but as my husband put it, “you’ll shut someone out for 5 years instead of yelling at them for 5 minutes.” That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

My capacity for resentment is deep and wide.  I lack confrontation skills. Never learned them as a child, didn’t see much use for them as I moved into adulthood. It’s easier to stay mad. In my twenties and thirties, my anger fueled my actions and propelled me through a lot of pain. It’s probably responsible for a good deal of my success. But clinging to that anger also cut me off from people in deep, possibly irreparable ways. Because that was easier, too. Still is. I’m working on it.

Because I avoid dealing with the feelings that swirl around indignation and alienation, they revisit me at night in the form of dreams–nightmares really–filled with rage. When I first started having these dreams about ten years ago, the intensity of them was startling. I would wake up thinking, who is that crazy woman? For a while, I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. I was turning into a freakish mutant–mild-mannered woman by day, raging she-Hulk at night.

Recently I’ve discovered a pattern to the anger and violence of my nightmares. Understanding why they happen doesn’t make them any less disturbing, but it’s helped me formulate a strategy for reducing their frequency. Which is (and will be) a post in itself.

The Anger that Goes Straight to My Hands

Finally, another of those feelings that doesn’t have a name. In the same way that I experience pure undistilled happiness, I also experience a very pure form of anger. It starts in my brain and terminates in my hands. It’s reflexive. White hot. Short-lived. Irrational. More chemical or electrical than emotional.

It’s like this: my husband bumps into me in the kitchen and I impulsively, irrationally get the urge to punch him. And here’s the weird thing: I’m not mad at him. I’m not mad at all. I’m experiencing the emotional equivalent of touching my hand to a hot stove. Trigger→physical impulse to react. There’s no cognitive processing involved. I’m not thinking. I’m reacting.

This feeling is almost always triggered by a physical experience and only happens when I’m hovering near my limit for sensory stimulation. I’ve learned to control the physical impulse. The trigger hits, I feel a spike of intense negative energy surge from head down my spine, and I still my hands until it passes.

That last part is key. If I didn’t hold on tight and ride out the physical impulse, I would lash out with hands at whatever was nearby, punching, throwing or breaking something to dissipate the energy in my hands.

When I read stories about children lashing out violently, I wonder if this is what they’re feeling. Maybe it’s not anger in a traditional sense but the need to release a sudden incomprehensible surge of energy.

A Universal Reaction

Most often my reaction to any form of anger is that I want it to stop. I didn’t learn how to express anger constructively as a kid, only that it was undesirable.

While I was doing some research about anger and autism I can across an interesting study (Rieffe et al (2007) ): in a group of ten-year-olds who were surveyed, all of the neurotypical kids reported experiencing anger, but only 77% of the autistic kids said that they ever experienced anger. (All of the kids in both groups reported feeling happiness so we can rule out the myth that autistic kids simply don’t feel emotions as an explanation.)

I wonder if some of the autistic kids in that study were like me at that age–afraid to admit to an emotion that they’d been taught was bad. Because at ten years old, if an adult asked me if I ever got angry, I probably would have said no. I didn’t want to be seen as a bad kid and I thought only bad kids got mad at stuff.

My literal aspie brain didn’t perceive the difference between “expressing anger in destructive ways is bad” and “expressing anger is bad.” What I really needed was for someone to specifically say, “when you’re mad, here are some things you can do about it.”

Anger as a Protective Mechanism

Anger is an expression of a violation of my person. If I deprive myself of the right to express that, then I’m depriving myself of the right to have boundaries and to keep myself safe.

As I read back over that last sentence, I was struck with one of those big “aha” moments that sometimes happen while I’m writing. As I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten better at defining boundaries and structuring my life in a way that supports those boundaries.

So much of my anger as a teen and young adult was related to feeling vulnerable and inadequate. As those feelings have dissipated I’ve released a lot of the deeply entrenched anger that built up during those years. I’m arriving at a place of acceptance. I’m slowly dusting off the layers of my adult self, like an archaeologist at an ancient dig site, careful not to damage what I’m uncovering.

As each new layer reveals some fascinating little detail, I scramble to integrate it into my understanding of myself and marvel at the fact that this much self discovery is possible at my age.

Growing Older on the Autism Spectrum

What does it mean to grow older on the spectrum?

Thanks to my Aspergarian nature, I don’t feel middle-aged but my body often tells me otherwise. My hair is going steadily gray and I’ve got the beginnings of arthritis in my hands. My joints pop and crack after I’ve been sitting too long. I’m in denial about my need for reading glasses. Pretty standard growing older stuff, whether you’re on the spectrum or not.

It’s the nonstandard stuff I’ve been . . .

. . . worrying about?

Not quite. I don’t worry about much and certainly not the distant future.

. . . afraid of?

Too strong a word.

. . . wondering about?

That sounds about right. I’m perpetually curious about all sorts of important and unimportant stuff. Before I started writing this, I searched for studies about Asperger’s and aging. Not surprisingly, I only found one and it wasn’t conclusive. (It did have one slightly alarming hypothesis about why autistic adults might not fare as well as neurotypical adults in old age. I’ve summarized it at the bottom of this piece if you’re curious.)

So, here are the things that I’m wondering about as I get older.

1. I wonder if I’ll be able to avoid a serious fall when I’m less physically resilient. I have a tendency to trip, fall and bump into things. No matter how vigilant I am, it happens. In the past month I’ve taken a couple of dives, one while running on a country road and one on the slippery locker room floor after swimming. The first got me a nasty case of road rash and the second resulted in a sore shoulder–relatively minor injuries considering how hard I went crashing to the ground both times. I doubt that will be the case if I take a similar fall a couple of decades from now.

2. I wonder if the recent decline in mental endurance is the beginning of a downward trajectory that will eventually limit my capacity to concentrate or work as I get older. Since hitting my forties, I’ve noticed that I tire more quickly during tasks requiring intense concentration. Powering through is no longer as appealing or even as feasible as it was 10 years ago. To compensate, I’ve been taking more breaks during the work day and giving myself permission to rest when I need to. I set smaller goals and reward myself for reaching them. I try not to have unrealistic expectations of what I can accomplish in a day.

3. I wonder if my decreasing willingness to endure things for the sake of pleasing people will turn into a liability. So far it’s been a positive development–increasingly allowing me to say no when I want or need to–but I can see how, if I’m not careful, I might wake one day to find I’ve become a crazy old cat lady.

4. I wonder if I’ll be able to keep up my exercise routine. Exercise keeps me sane. I need to run or swim regularly to burn off my excess energy and generate the cocktail of good chemicals that balance my brain. I figure this should be possible at least into my sixties, assuming I don’t seriously hurt myself first (see #1).

5. I wonder what life will be like if my husband dies before me. I enjoy his company in a way that I don’t enjoy being with anyone else. He and my daughter are the only two people I feel truly comfortable being around. I can’t imagine wanting to meet someone else. I’ve never lived alone. Whenever I read a new story about a married couple who’ve died together–in a plane crash or some other horrible accident–my first thought is always how lucky they were to have passed away together and avoided being widowed.

Wow, where to go from there? How about some positives?

As I get older, I’m softening up. I’m more patient with myself, more accepting of my faults, more compassionate. I’m less concerned with pleasing others, less worried about being accepted or thought of as “normal”.

Since learning about my Asperger’s, I feel like I’m actively healing the scared little kid that I was and integrating the fragmented parts of my self. I don’t think this would have been possible in my twenties or thirties.

In a lot of ways, I feel like time is my ally. I still have a lot of it left and I’m determined to make the best of it.

Geek Alert: What the Science Says about Aging on the Spectrum

A search for some scientific background about aging and autism turned up only one study, which evaluated people over 60 with autism (mostly with Asperger’s Syndrome) against similar age controls on a variety of cognitive domains. The results were mixed, but the researchers threw out an interesting hypothesis in their discussion. Adults (and adolescents) with ASD tend to use more and larger areas of their brain than neurotypical adults when performing certain cognitive (executive function) tasks. As we age, the NT brain makes a similar adaptation so that elderly NTs also use more and larger parts of their brain to compensate for the degeneration of the brain associated with aging.

The researchers suggested that a faster decline in certain cognitive areas among elderly people with ASD might be a result of the brain’s inability to recruit additional areas for cognitive processing, since this was adaptation that they’d already made earlier in life. On the positive side, there were some areas where adults with ASD performed better than controls. Obviously this is only one study with a relatively small sample size so it what it can tell us about aging on the spectrum is limited. Either way, I suspect we can learn more by listening to older adults on the spectrum than by cognitive testing in the lab. If you’re an autistic person in your fifties or sixties or older, I would love to hear from you in the comments.