Kids on the spectrum--Does yours have a flat affect?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by MidwestMom, May 20, 2010.

  1. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    I know my son has a gamut of emotions inside of him, but, unless he is talking about his obsession :tongue:, he speaks in a monotone. He is not depressed. If you ask him, he'll shrug and say, "Nah, I'm average." I wonder how many of our Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) kids have this flat demeanor when they speak. It's no wonder they get misdiagnosed with other things, such as depression.

    by the way, we already started th e ball rolling to get him services as an adult so that he can have a rich and fulfilling life in spite of needing some help for his lack of "life skills" as they call it.

    Anyhooooo...what about your Aspergers, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)-not otherwise specified, or autistic kiddo?
  2. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    Wiz varies. While I was preg with him I saw some doctor talking about how our society teaches kids, esp boys, to hide feelings. Esp ones that are unpleasant. So from before he could hold a book I worked with him on what expressions meant what emotions. Starting about a year old I would stand him on a counter in my bathroom and we would look into the mirror and make faces. We would guess what each other was feeling by the face they made. We also looked at people on tv and deciphered what they were feeling by their facial expression. It was esp interesting with the sound off.

    Later I got some big handheld mirrors to keep in other rooms. When he was upset because we didn't know what he was feeling I would have him tell me what a specific face meant. At one point I posted pics of him making these faces with the emotion written on them. And with husband and I with expressions for those feelings. Sort of a key of expressions for our family.

    So he can have that flat affect, and before he was on the right medications he only had 3 expressions: Hate, rage, and condescendingly derisive amusement. The amused look was not happy, it was to show you that he thought you were silly to think that whatever you do or said would make a difference to him. Know what I mean??

    With the right medications now, and now that he "gets" that he has to work as hard as the medications have to work to make a difference in his life, we don't see much of the flat look.

    When we went to social skills groups for spectrum kids there were a LOT of kids with flat affect. I went to a support group for parents of aspies when we lived back in OH. Over half of the twenty or so families had brought their aspies with them. I was really alarmed and depressed by some of the "kids" there. The older aspies, ranging from teens to mid thirties, almost all had that look. The two families with the over 30 kids seemed to do everything for them. Very little expecting them to fit in or be appropriate. One mom said that she never knew if she was too rough with her daughter's bath until the next time. daughter would scream and cry about the bath if the one the day before had been unpleasant. Mom couldn't tell at the time because her facial expression never really changed unless she was sewing.

    Most of the parents said that other than crying they saw little emotion out of their kids from infancy on. It was clear that working with the aspies helped. Parents of the older aspies were told to put them in a facility and forget them, that they would never be able to interact or care for themselves or learn anything. Parents of younger kids were told to find supports and therapies and to work with the kids. It makes a HUGE difference.

    I think that part of Wiz not having it is that he is at the less effected part of the spectrum, but the other things we did also helped. You might consider working with a mirror to help your son learn how to show what he is feeling? It is a pretty important form of communication and while it may not come naturally to him I bet he could learn it.
  3. ML

    ML Guest

    Not really. Manster does present as shy and quiet in uncomfortable situations but as soon as he finds his footing there is tons of emotion brewing. For him the trouble is regulating it. When he gets sad, he *really* gets sad. He would actually be a great actor because he can cry on a dime! He has trouble dealing with all the emotion that is there.
  4. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    Well, my son can vary his expression. However, I never really considered it a big deal, just interesting. As long as he's happy, I don't care about his demeanor. I was just curious.
  5. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    My son has a mildly flat effect, which our new psychiatrist said was, in fact, subtle, but he was amazed at the ability to cue and interpret. I told him that we had spent a lot of time in therapy, and time practicing facial expressions, I mean a LOT of time, and he was amazed.
    If you start young, it helps! :D
  6. confuzzled

    confuzzled Member

    well, if you want to count mine who, depending on which flavor of the week diagnosis you want to go with....

    mine doesnt at all.

    and my experience is VERY similar to susies post above. our social skills group is small, but before ours is a HUGE younger group, and after is a ginormous older group.
    and they all have it. my daughter and one other boy in ours who is the most severe (unmedicated no less!) adhd kid i've ever seen are the two exceptions. one sentence from any of these other kids and i wouldnt have a doubt in my mind they were on the spectrum--the affect alone would give it away.

    in the same vein, its interesting to me regarding maturity levels. when i was researching diagnosis's for my kid, it always struck me as how everything overlaps. most of these diagnosis's have immaturity as a sx, usually as a hallmark. i cant really explain it, but i see *VERY* distinct differences maturity wise between mine, the adhd kid (both very similar--maybe a tad on the immature, but you'd have to REALLY look to find these two kids immaturity issues...they are almost more alternative than immature, and the poor social skills magnify it) and the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) kids, who's immaturity is so blatant you'd be hard pressed to reason it away. and i mean, light years between maturity levels.

    again, maybe thats a very overgeneralized statement, but until my difficult child 2, the only real experience i had with the spectrum was on the severe end...not the shades of gray. and i know the current train of thought is that its a spectrum for a reason and everyone is still an individual, but the harder i look, the more i see distinct commonalities.
    i'm notorious for the thought that based on a questionaire, not only would *I* be on the spectrum, but so would most of the world...but now that i'm immersed it it (hey, i'll take help where i can get it, diagnosis or not, lol!), i see why the questionaire is just one tool...and it also illustrates why someone needs to be diagnosis'd by someone who has LOTS of experience with LOTS of people on the spectrum....

    more than you wanted to know, sorry, LOL.
  7. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    He started in They had him in speech as an infant, no kidding, and he has been in everything very young. He can read facial expressions. He just doesn't show much animation a lot of the time ;)
  8. MWM,

    Our difficult child has a wicked sense of humor - but he has an extremely flat affect. He'll tell a joke - all the while with the affect - it's a very odd sensation to watch him. The neuropsychologist said he was able to interpret emotions in a test with photos of faces - but that he took the longest of anyone he's ever tested to give the answers. He said that difficult child has to work VERY hard to interpret facial expressions.

    He'll ask us all a million times a day , "Are you O.K."? I used to think that it was just an obsessive question - but now I know that he really can't tell. But, as evidenced by the question, he really does care. He has gotten comfortable enough to ask us when he doesn't understand a situation, or say, a scene in a television show. I think that is a good sign, but I am shocked at how he completely doesn't get metaphors , allegories, etc. If it's not concrete information - it goes right over his head. Now I understand why he hates English!

    I think he has a type of "blindness" when it comes to the interpretation of emotions and drama, but he's working hard to compensate for it. The flat affect though, I think it is here to stay.

  9. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    My difficult child doesn't really have a flat affect, but his range of facial expressions is limited and they are very stilted looking, if that makes any sense.
    He was put into socialization classes very young, and learned to set his face into his interpretation of the expression he wants to convey. The classes also spent a lot of time on interpretation of expressions. Interestingly, difficult child is hopelessly bad at it, but he's very glib. He decides based on what he wants you to feel, or what he thinks you should be feeling, that the expression is displayed on your face. He also assumes that if your head is pointing in his general direction that you are looking at him and presenting a given expression. It was this that twigged me to the fact that he really doesn't see facial expressions at all. He's awfully glib and sounds convincing, but the misinterpretation of people's feelings based on what he thinks they should be feeling leads to some very awkward, and sometimes very unpleasant exchanges.

    At this stage in his life, further work on interpreting expressions doesn't seem to help him. I suspect that he has some degree of face blindness. So instead I focus on verbalizing things. I tell him, "I'm very happy right now." or "What you said made me angry", or whatever, so that there's no mystery.
  10. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    A lot of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) kids have face blindness.

    My son's expressions are EXACTLY what you described. Yet he CAN read faces and seems more able to pick up social norms than many Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) kids. Still, he has his shyness issue and that holds him back from socializing from home...he seems to think, "I got all the socializing I want and/or need in school and do NOT want any company once I'm home."
  11. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    husband has had to learn to smile at least a little, or give some little quirk to his mouth, when he tells a joke or makes some quip. Otherwise people think he is serious and saying really bizarre things instead of joking.

    difficult child 3 speaks with a lot of expression, because we practised it form when he was very young. because he was reading at such a very young age (two years old) we used to read books together. He would read the speech tags and I would read the dialogue and act it out. I would put on different voices and lots of expression, to try to engage him in the subject matter. Then difficult child 3 would take a turn and read the dialogue while I read the speech tags. It was interesting to hear difficult child 3 trying to read and act it it all out with expression also. But I do think this is one big reason for difficult child 3 having a lot of expression in his voice.

    Also, kids (boys especially) when they read aloud at school, tend to deliberately avoid showing expression, because it's not 'cool'. But with difficult child 3, he is totally unselfconscious about it, has no idea of 'cool' or not, he does what feels right. His autism has blinded him to the social side of public 'performance' in this. And so it is with his effect.

    difficult child 3 does have partial face blindness, though. So does easy child 2/difficult child 2.
    difficult child 3 can read facial expressions if they are obvious. We actually used to play a game with him as a baby, of mimicking facial expressions. He cold play this game, when he couldn't play any other "where is your nose? Where is your eye?" type of games. Odd.

  12. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    With regard to expression, difficult child has learned to produce quite a bit of expression vocally and with gestures. However, his expressiveness is--dare I say it--cartoonish. It's almost like you're watching a real, live version of a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

    For example, when difficult child wants to express surprise, he does an exaggerated double-take with a vigorous roll of the head. What husband and I call, "the wind-up...and, the delivery". The double-take is often accompanied by an exclamation, such as "What??!!" or "You're Kidding!!??" I often imagine those "ZAP" "POW" word bubbles from the 1960's Batman tv show appearing as difficult child expresses emotion.

    With difficult child, I think that some if not all of the socialization training has been to his detriment, as so much of his emotional expression is so exaggerated as to appear phony, sometimes even sarcastic. It is awfully hard for people to tell whether difficult child means something or not, because he is so very ham-actor-ish.

    My affect is pretty flat too, however my face naturally settles into something resembling a smile. As a result, no one seems to notice the flatness. I have been told that I'm "hard to read" sometimes, though. And I had a lot of elocution and public speaking training, so I don't have trouble with vocal expression. I do have trouble getting jokes sometimes, especially when the punch line relies on well understood social conventions. And I'm awfully bad at understanding sarcasm. The incongruity between the words and the facial expression just confuses me.
  13. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    My son's affect looks natural. He looks like one of those British comics, who say funny things deadpan. We never tried to teach him how he "should" look, but he was taught how to read faces and isn't bad at it. Sometimes though I do have to ask son "Is everything ok?" And he says, "Yeah. It's fine" in that same deadpan voice. However, he does get animated when we are doing something he really loves or he is with his friends.

    At our autism social group, which has about 100 kids in it, it's amusing to watch them. Most don't make good eye contact and look pretty deadpan. I should say NONE of them make good eye contact in this big group, especially at first. And they sure don't strike up conversations with one another until they have a common activity together and have been doing it for some time. That's when you see the true devestation of any sort of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), even Aspergers. Once, a boy who thought a lifeguard at the pool was pretty yelled out, "Hey, you look very pretty and I like your _____s!" He was about eighteen! He embarassed her and his parents, but he was grinning, not realizing he had been inappropriate. My son knew it though. He whispered, "Oh, boy. That's embarassing!"
  14. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Trinity, difficult child 3's responses often seem exaggerated also, especially his emotional responses. When he was in Kindergarten, his teacher thought he was being sarcastic or deceptive because he would give such an exaggerated response. For example when he was angry, difficult child 3 would 'put on' his angry face as a way of communicating that he was angry. His teacher's initial reaction was, "He's not really angry, he's only pretending to be."
    I finally convinced the teacher that this was the only way difficult child 3 had, of showing other people how he felt. Of course it LOOKED fake, but the emotions were real.

    These days he's had more practice and seems more genuine. But sometimes it does seem exaggerated, still. Especially where a verbal content is involved - difficult child 3 had significant speech dysfluencies (more than a mere stammer) and the usual spontaneous expostulations that someone else might say, including cursing, often come out of difficult child 3 as carefully considered responses. I've said to him, "If you've got time to think it through to say it right, then you don't need to swear, you've got time to think of something more creative to say."

    For example, difficult child 3 stubs his toe. He might begin to say, "Blast, I kicked my flamin' toe," [except he uses other words the mods won't allow here] but it won't come out properly for a minute or two. But the delay in this, which in anybody else would be modified as the person calms down after the initial shock, in difficult child 3 it seems to go n "pause" and still have to be expressed as if it's spontaneous, often a minute or two later. That is when it seems odd or contrived.

    It is fun when they get together with other similar people. As difficult child 1 used to say about his Aspie best friend, "He obsesses to me about reptiles, I obsess to him about birds, neither of us listens to the other and we get on brilliantly!"

    At difficult child 3's drama class and social group, when the kids would go ten pin bowling or even when they arrive at drama class, some of them are very 'huggy' and will hug one another. They do care about one another and when bowling and a kid got a strike (or, in some cases, managed to hit a pin and not roll a gutter ball) these kids cheer one another and high-five. It's wonderful to see. They get really excited for one another, people in neighbouring lanes find it lovely to watch and find their views on autism being challenged. Because these kids know one another well and feel safe with each other. Not all are Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), some have Downs, which actually teaches the Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) kids that hugging is OK. They all learn about tolerance and the differences between each of them, as well as accepting those differences and taking them into account in their interactions.

    It's all good. I think the mix works well for us, mostly, because it broadens their acceptance.

  15. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    We worked with Wiz on expressions not because he "should" have any certain expression at any certain time, but because it is one more way to communicate. I tend to approach things in groups, sort of as a whole. So helping him with communication focused on verbal and nonverbal, what to say, how to understand what is said, body language and facial expression, how things are said as much as what is said, etc... When we home-schooled we pulled all the lessons into a theme that interested him rather than as separate classes or lessons. Wiz learns better that way no matter what is being taught.

    Showing what you are feeling is just another aspect of communication. I knew he probably would have some trouble communicating simply because most of us on my side do have troubles. Me included. I just wanted him to be capable of using this skill so the skill would be there if he wanted to use it. He does do a great deadpan face for jokes. It can be REALLY funny.