Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reading the Research: Day-to-Day Activities are Harder for Women with Autism

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article describes the results of a series of tests measuring executive functioning across girls and boys with autism.

For those of you not familiar, executive functioning is basically a person's ability to prioritize, regulate, and monitor their behavior and actions.  Your ability to plan your day, step by step, is one use of executive functioning.  You use executive functioning to decide what thing on your to-do list is the most important, the second most important, etc.  Your ability to focus on a single task despite distractions and other tasks is also part of executive functioning.  Needless to say, executive functioning is important for leading a stable, independent life.

This study is somewhat unusual in specifically looking at both boys and girls on the autism spectrum.  Much noise has been made, and most research done mostly on boys, since there are statistically so many more boys with autism than girls.  The thing is, it's beginning to become clear that autism simply manifests different in girls than it does in boys.  So research like this is important. 

So, onto the actual results.  The study showed that while girls with autism displayed better social and communication skills, they tended to struggle more with day-to-day functioning.  This flies in the face of current assumptions, which have it that autistic girls are overall better at managing life and its pitfalls despite their autism and challenges.

This is interesting to me because A) it's valuable to have data on how autism affects the two basic sexes, and B) because it makes me wonder about my own difficulties in school.  I don't think I would have ever qualified for a diagnosis of executive dysfunction, but it wouldn't surprise me if found I that I have more difficulty with it than most people.

I talk myself through a schedule for the day.  For example, this morning, unlike most mornings, I needed to run out for errands.  I put together my plan out loud: the library to return books, then a grocery store (for ingredients), then the fabric store (for blackout curtain materials).  I rehearsed that three times, visualizing the driving route I'd have to take, to make sure I'd remember it, then realized I needed to add the post office to the list.  So then I had to rehearse it a couple more times, adding the post office into the list, before I actually left to do the errands.

It's not that I have trouble going places.  I have my car, which I am comfortable with, and I have GPS if I get lost.  It's that I wanted to make sure I did the errands in the optimal route, and that I didn't forget any of the stops.  It would annoy me a lot if I missed a stop and had to go back. Talking to myself, and rehearsing the steps of my trip, helps me remember and make sure not to miss any stops.

I'm not sure how much other people direct themselves in this manner, but I do know that talking to yourself is popularly considered a sign of mental illness.  That's a load of bullcrap, by the way.  While there are some mental illnesses that manifest that way, there are plenty of other self-talk conversations that, like mine, are simply methods to promote self-regulation and effectiveness. 

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