Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ACC & the Drive to Succeed...

One morning as I was talking to the parent of an ACCer, it occurred to me that I haven't written specifically about the ACC "need to succeed."  Being driven to success isn't necessarily a bad thing, but with many ACCers and ASDers there is usually a very black or white, success or failure type of thinking.  We are highly driven to succeed, and to measure up to our peers.  When we don't we tend to judge ourselves very harshly.

Talking to this ACC mom this morning about her son "M" I recalled myself at his same age.  I was high school aged, and was so concerned with performing at my best, to make parents, teachers and others proud of me.  All the while though, having ACC and the socio-emotional and cognitive differences (and not knowing it) I would work harder to succeed than my peers. Especially at this age (in my teens and twenties) all I cared about was being pleasing to others, making them happy, wanting them to be proud of me.

I created for myself a most impossible benchmark to measure up to...

I do believe every adolescent wants their parents to be proud of them, but with ACC we can do this at an entirely different octave.  And I couldn't understand that why nothing I did was good enough to please my parents.  I could not understand (not knowing about the ACC) why I "was the way I was" (obviously different than my peers.)

For me, the drive to succeed is an "all or nothing" proposition.  If my success doesn't turn out exactly the way I envision it, I feel like an utter failure and fall into confusion about what to do next. Executive function is as much about planning for contingencies as it is planning, beginning and ending tasks, and I've clearly always had an issue with these vital mental processes.

As I am lacking in behavioral flexibility, planning for contingencies is a constant source of frustration for me.

I still strive to succeed, only now in life I don't constantly use others as the measure by which I judge myself.  I think this has been the most difficult thing for me to do, it is so engrained.   And I think it largely not my ACC but how I have learned to cope with it, and so beginning to look at my own unique talents and deficits I function better.

Learning about my ACC answered so many questions in 2008...almost immediately its effect was a positive one. That AHAA! moment lead to my accepting of myself just as who I am, not what others expect of me.

I still have to check myself now and again to see if I am trying measure myself to impossible standards...but at least I am aware of it now.

That is all! :-)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Anxiety Without Focus, as a State of Being

People with ACC and/or autism often have what is termed free floating anxiety or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  What this is, is a type of anxiety that simply comes and goes with more days anxious than not, all without a clear cause or reason.

Add on top of this any change, whether it be seen as "positive" or "negative" and the state of anxiety can be unbearable.  ACCers do not deal well with change.  This is not "psychological" or stubbornness, it is because we live with a brain that thinks and remembers differently.  Many of us have memory encoding issues, trouble remember things as they happen in sequence.  This being so, it makes all the sense in the world that any disruption to our environment or routine is anxiety provoking.

Anxiety presents itself with a mixture of both physical and mental attributes:

Physically we can experience a pounding heart, sweating, stomach upset or dizziness, frequent urination or diarrhea, shortness of breath, tremors and twitches, muscle tension, headaches, extreme fatigue, and insomnia. Mentally we experience  feelings of apprehension or dread, trouble concentrating, feeling tense and jumpy, anticipating the worst, irritability, restlessness, on constant watch for signs of danger, we feel like our mind has  gone blank.  Any given individual with ACC can experience any mixture of these symptoms.

These symptoms will often lead to anxiety/panic attacks.  Panic attacks come with a surge of overwhelming panic, feelings of losing control or going crazy, heart palpitations or chest pain,
feeling like you’re going to pass out, trouble breathing or choking sensation, hyperventilation, hot flashes or chills, trembling or shaking, nausea or stomach cramps, and feeling detached or unreal.  If these symptoms persist several times a day it is classified as a panic disorder.  This is highly debilitating and itself leads towards depression if not treated.

While there are medications that treat anxiety symptoms many people have success with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or dialectical behavior therapy.  I myself use a combination of all of the above.

Routine and consistency are really important factors in the life of someone with ACC or autism.  The moment these become in any way disrupted the door opens for anxiety.

As I have said, if this anxiety is allowed to continue for any length of time, it leads to symptoms of depression...I know, in fact, I am going through both anxiety and depression as I write this.  It's so frustrating too, because I have recently made some positive changes in my life...but as I've mentioned before, change of any kind can be incredibly anxiety provoking for both ACC and ASD people.

A not so pleasant look into the brain, on any given day, of someone with ACC...

Friday, March 13, 2015

ACC is...


ACC (Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum) is anxiety for no reason; anxiety when things go well, and worse anxiety when things go awry.  ACC is loneliness, even when surrounded by a room of people.  ACC is trying to get your point across, and no matter what nobody really understands what you are trying to say.

ACC is forgetfulness, but not like what typical people have.  ACC is having a conversation, turning away and completely forgetting we have talked;  it is reading a chapter and not being able to describe it to someone two minutes later.

ACC is just not getting the joke, not understanding the subtlety in which someone is speaking to me.  ACC is the ability to be ironic, to use metaphor and insinuation, but not to understand them when someone else uses it.

ACC is the frustration of overwhelming emotions, without the ability to interpret them or describe them to others.  ACC is so many other things I cannot possibly describe it...

sometimes...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Politic of Change, Sameness & Inconsistency...

We live in a world of change; nothing stays the same...in many ways this is the bane of my existence.

On some level, all people resist change, yet those affected by autism and/or ACC resist it with all their might (in my experience.) This is also complicated by our (seeming, by others) inconsistencies.

I imagine it is frustrating for our neurotypical friends and parents and the like, more so, I dare say for us with the condition.  I have often explained the inconsistency like this:  I will tell you with conviction that "I HATE broccoli, would never eat that garbage, I've ALWAYS hated it, and I COULDN'T imagine eating it" on a Friday, you come visit me on Monday we go out to lunch and low and behold I'm eating broccoli, and I'll say "I love broccoli, I can't get enough of it, I can't imagine life without it."  Now, I know that this is a silly example, but it does transfer to how we can appear to others.

In my case, I will hold to a religious, political or philosophical position, even fight to defend it, then another time I might hold exactly the opposite position.  This has got to be confusing to those around me, but it isn't to me, nor is it a contradiction.  I will have the typical autistic obsession on a given thing for a long time and then a switch flips in my head and it becomes something else.  Then, all of the conviction, all of the energy and commitment to the previous way of thinking or seeing something is completely supplanted by the new obsession/way of doing and seeing things, and I can no longer even imagine the old way.

So, on one level there is a fluidity in my brain and personality, although generally speaking I am not in control when the "fluid changes."  I live with a great deal of relativity on a certain level, and when faced with aggression, confusion, frustration I am apt to change positions on a whim...all appearing consistent to me while to others appearing confusing and incongruent.

I am resistant to change of any kind.  Be it good or bad, difference makes me feel very uncomfortable.  Even the foreknowledge of positive changes and moves evokes tremendous anxiety in me.  So, in some ways knowing in advance of negative things is less troubling, as I can work, I can fight, to change it.  Yet when I positive change is coming, I still have tremendous anxiety about it.  It's known that ASDers overthink things, and I'm sure it is true of ACCers as well.  When I have positive plans for change my mind races, overthinks, confabulates futures that do not yet (or may never) exist.  The end result is complete emotional exhaustion.

One of the major ways I combat this is to try with all my might to stay focused in the present moment.  It isn't always effective, but it is the best thing I can do to not enter a loop with my imaginative mind that leads to anxiety, frustration and depletion of any and all of my emotional energy.

I can be so stuck on sameness and having things presented in my life in exactly the same way, that when I learn a task, and learn it in a certain way, it only takes a single variable thrown in the mix for me to unlearn that task.  To an outsider many of these things might appear as OCD but I (personally) think it is a coping mechanism to deal with our memory encoding problems.

For example, when I do dishes, I must do the glassware, the dishes, the utensils and pots and pans all separately.  When I do the utensils, I will do all the forks, then spoons, then knives, (in whatever order) but will not do a fork, then a spoon, another fork, a knife.  And then each must be stacked separately.  The knives must not be put in the dirty dishwater because I know in my absence of mind I am likely to reach into the sink and cut myself badly (I have done this.)  I have IHSS, (in home support services) that help me with household cleaning, cooking, and order.  I will insist that they do (for example) the dishes in exactly the same way as I would do them, and if they didn't, I would do them over again, or worse let those dishes sit in the drainer and not use them for a long time.

This makes my life really very complicated when it comes to my ADLs.  IF I remember to do them at all, I have to do them in a certain order, and a certain fashion, and if anything interrupts or changes that order I will "loose" that habit for a long period of time.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is brushing my teeth.  All of my life I have had difficulty in "remembering" (processing?) the task of oral care.  I usually want to do it in a certain order, and also having sensory issues that make the task even more difficult.  I really dislike the feeling of anything against my teeth, and even more hate the feeling of dental floss.  When, a year ago I moved to my current location, I had up until that point, maintained an oral regime that I kept consistent for about 6 months.  This included using a water flosser with specially prescribed medication (I have dental implants, having lost most of my back teeth by my twenties, and both the water flosser and medicine were prescribed and deemed necessary because of my inconsistency) and where I would not consent to brush my teeth if I had to use floss, I worked with a dentist who had success with special needs clients and helping them learn consistent habits, for about a year, the water flosser and sonic brush made the task tolerable.

Yet, a month after I moved here, my flosser broke.  As they are very expensive and I'm on Social Security Disability as my only income I could not replace it.  So I stopped brushing my teeth altogether, except perhaps once every couple of weeks, until many months later when I had the extra money to buy a water flosser.  I am sorry if this example grosses you out, but, certainly not all with ACC have this issue, but I can guarantee that quite a few are probably not all that different than I am.

The thing is, you can transfer this inability to cope with change in a multitude of things in my life, from the most mundane to the most impactful.

Household moving, for example, while stressful for many is practically intolerable for many with ASD or ACC.  Even in the very best of situations it provokes an anxiety to be reckoned with.

It is as if the great factor called the unknown allows my ACC brain to start spinning out of control.  In just ten minutes, I am capable of fabricating dozens (if not hundreds) of possible scenarios.  In the right context, this is quite a gift but someone with ACC generally does not have a switch with which to shut this off.  Furthermore, our confabulations for all extents and purposes to us, are real things.  While cognitively we have the sense "this is my imagination" in reality we still have a great deal of difficulty not accepting these scenarios as real.  In many cases in my brain, they are in a sense "happening" as I'm imagining them.

Hence, my insistence that the major tool to combat this is to stay in the present.  I know often my therapist would "bring me back" by examining my imagination from a cognitive standpoint.  She would often remind me of the reality of the present situation, and that more or less what I am thinking about it are only possibilities, but not reality.  Often my confabulations occur because I really don't have a solid grasp on all the facts of the present situation, so she would rehearse with me, what is actually going on in the present time.

So, I would say to an ACC parent, that if your child is not wanting to do something, they are not (necessarily) being stubborn or indignant, there may be something else at work there.  I know it can be very difficult for us to express our thoughts to others.  Even today at 52 years old, when I am in the midst of this turmoil, that I can lack the ability to describe my internal process.  What you see here in written form is a skill that I have developed over decades of practice, yet often to describe the same thing to you verbally (in the moment it is occurring) is fraught with difficulties.  As I have said many times on my blog, encouraging skills that can evoke ToM (Theory of Mind) are likely the single most important skills, or at any rate foundational skills upon which to build positive changes in the life of an ACCer.  I recommend DBT and other mindfulness-based skills as they, in their very conception, are designed to develop ToM.

I hope you have found what I have written here helpful and welcome your feedback in the comments section and/or on Facebook.  Thank you for taking the time to look inside the mind of someone born without his Corpus Callosum.

~Joseph

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Relationships~Too Quick to Burn Bridges...aka Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop...

I want to write about relationships...everything from friendships to significant others, keeping in mind the old saw "if you've met one person with ACC you've met one person with ACC," my experiences are my own...

When I was very young, I recall trying to initiate relationships/friendships with enthusiasm.  I also remember this zeal dying quite early in my life.  Unlike typical ASD, most of us with ACC want to have friendships and relationships, but we tire of the cycle in which invariably it will turn south.  I have always been aware that I have the ability (in spades) of gaining rapport with people, it is just what to do after I have gained rapport that has always troubled me.

I'm charming, eloquent, intelligent, yet facing maintaining relationships I shrink at the task.

I suppose I'm jaded because in many ways I have given up trying.  I have come to accept that all people will come and go in my life, none will stay, not even family.  I can think of perhaps two exceptions to this, people I held dear and they the same of me, but unfortunately they are gone off this earthly plain.

Even besides the social difficulties present with my ACC, the truth is I am downright quirky, and I know it.  I know that my actions and reactions to all things of life can look odd or strange to those not looking through my eyes.  Again, the exceptions to the rule are those fully acquainted with ACC either because they or their loved ones are born with it.

In many ways, I just don't give people a chance to get close to me, because I expect that either they or I will burn the bridge that unites us eventually.  I have gotten so used to this happing that often I will jump the gun and sabotage a relationship, just to avoid the pain of them cutting it off and ending it.  I walk on eggshells, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

While this isn't the case in all of my life's circumstances it is for a large part of them.  I have come to accept and expect this so that when it does occur I'm not let down by it.  Every once and a while I am surprised by someone who, by hook or crook is exposed to me and my ACC and loves me not just in spite of it, but because of it.

Troya Patch
Troya Patch was one like this.  She so embodied acceptance and non-judgemental living that when I was first diagnosed with ACC she explained how she had already observed all of what I was, even prior to diagnoses and accepted me just as I showed up without and preconceptions.  It was this unconditional love and support that helped me through the initial discovery of my condition and beyond.

In a sense, it was she who taught me about unconditional love, or at the least demonstrated it to me so that I might model it within myself.

Even with all the above I've written about relationships and waiting for the other shoe to drop, Troya taught me first and foremost about self-acceptance. 

Discovering my ACC had two sides to it.  Immediately after I was diagnosed I experienced the "AHAA" moment, the light bulb over my head, the answer to so many of life's questions, the "why" of who I was.  Yet at the same time I remember looking at the brain scans with my missing corpus callosum and enlarged ventricles in horror and disgust.  The finality of being born with this congenital defect hit me like a ton of bricks a short time later.  Dealing with feelings of inadequacy, of brokenness, defectiveness, I was so grateful to have her in my life.

Troya would have been the first to admit how imperfect a human being she was, in fact, she would often laugh at herself, not take herself so seriously.  I also had this wonderful behavior to model, and I work daily now towards self-acceptance.

Those of us with ACC and ASD are always pre-judging our behavior. We over analyze pretty much everything we say and do, and second guess ourselves.  This is (for me) one reason that socializing is so exhausting.  On the one hand, we over analyze, on the other, through lack of executive function we jump the gun and over or under react to a given situation, then in retrospect beat ourselves up for it.  Day by day, little by little I grow some beyond this.  I don't know that I will never not do it, but through modeling behavior and learning to live with the hardware I was given life shines just a little bit brighter.

Another great example for me to model has been the many parents of children and adolescents with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum that I have almost daily contact with, via support groups, email and in person contact.  These parents strive to both improve their loved one's quality of life while also working to accept them just as they are.  Needless to say, I didn't grow up with the best of examples in this regard.

Also, a great help have been the many adults with ACC that I have contact with.  They have shown me that we all daily rise to our own challenge, bravely and brilliantly, and that I am not alone in this.

This post has been more "stream of thought" than anything else, I had intended to go into a detailed analysis of relationships, but it is what it is...

Thank you for listening,

~Joseph

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sundowning...and Socio-Emotional-Sleep Hygiene

Not everyone with ACC has this issue the way that I do, but I'm convinced we all have some form of it.  I have had to learn and develop a really strict care for a pattern of "hygiene" in regards to sleep, rest, and destressing.  I'm sure it's even common with NTs that after a long day, their tolerance for bullshit goes way down.  If this is true for them, it is a hundred times more so for those with ACC.

As adults, we tend to be able to hide the effects better, although they are still present, but one can see the lack of this "energy hygiene" most obviously in children.  Often, I hear reports of children "misbehaving" in the afternoon, after school or in the evening.  In most cases this is not a behavior issue, more than it is an issue of socio-emotional overload.  If the child (or adult) is giving time to relax, and let go of the energy and anxiety of the day, and perform a "reset" as it were things would look a lot different.

Personally, by the time evening rolls around, both my cognitive and memory processes, let alone my socio-emotional capabilities most often experience an extreme decline.  During this, I cannot perform the simplest tasks or functions.  If then, I am pushed beyond my limit while in this space, it can get very severe.  I've experienced more than a few times complete fugue states, forgetting my name, not able to speak nor respond in any intelligible manner, not knowing where I was, etc...  The decline is pretty dramatic and destructive if I cannot get to a place of complete silence and privacy.

Skills that I have gained, especially managing my energy input and output have helped.  I practice meditation twice daily, I take power naps, I arrange to have alone time.  The alone time doesn't even necessarily need silence, it is the lack of engagement that I need in order to reset myself.  I am practically "religious" about when I go to sleep and when I wake up.  Even with an hour long nap during the day, I usually need more than 8 hours of sleep at night.  If I keep up my meditation routine, the need for sleep lessens but is still there.

In retrospect, thinking about the times I tried to work (I have been on disability more years than I have worked now) I recall being on the verge of a complete meltdown (at work) on a regular basis.  Me thinks had I the ability to get alone, quiet and reset often enough, this outcome may have looked very different.  But, as I had not known about my ACC at the time none of this information was available to me.

If all of this is true for me as an adult, it would seem that it is all the more true for children with ACC who have not yet developed the coping skills available to (most) adults.

The downside to all of this is that I have had to, as I said, be quite regimented about sleep hygiene and protecting my energetic and emotional space.  I could not even imagine what this would look like for someone working at a job.  Even with such skills as those learned in D.B.T., which, I might add have helped tremendously, the need for regulating my energy and my environment remain at the forefront of maintenance for my mental and emotional health.

This immense breakdown of cognitive, memory, social and emotional skills, this sundowning is a terrifying experience, especially if one cannot escape the stimuli that trigger it.  If I allow myself to get to the point where this occurs, the resultant effects of it can last days before I can fully recover from it...as long as I continue good hygiene in the matter this is far less likely to occur...

...a (not so comfortable) day in the life of this man born without his Corpus Callosum...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I Am My Thoughts and Feelings versus I *Have* My Thoughts and Feelings...

I wanted to write today about a specific area within Theory of Mind (ToM) .  People with ACC, in my experience, have a great deal of difficulty objectifying our thoughts and emotions.  Because we have difficulty with executive function skills, we also have issues with regulating our thoughts and our emotions, they are either "full on" or "full off" regardless of what they are (happy, sad, angry, peaceful, depressed, bored, etc...) and why they arose in us in the first place.

It is my experience that "it is so crowded in there" that there is no space, no room for our cognitive process to work with and regulate, and know the appropriateness of both thoughts and emotions.

While it appears that those with ACC fall along a spectrum, this is more or less true for all of us.  I have met ACCers with well developed ToM, with none, and everything in between.  I imagine the ability to work on and develop ToM also falls along a spectrum.  As I have mentioned in other posts, there are exercises that can evoke ToM in an individual...As mentioned above, often those with ACC find no "space" between themselves and their overwhelming thoughts and emotions, yet there are methods possible to create breathing room in the psyche.  It is this breathing room itself that evokes ToM.

I found personally, that I could not identify my thoughts and emotions accurately, nor express them, until I first related to how they made me feel in and as my body.  What I mean is "I'm feeling this 'emotion', how does it make my body feel? Do I feel it in my chest, my stomach, my head maybe? Is it pain, is it nausea, butterflies?"  You see, another issue with our ToM is that we can be very unaware that emotional states are felt in the body...yet identifying these feelings in our bodies is a first step in being able to cognitively identify and be able to describe/relate these thoughts and emotions.  Once we have identified how it makes us feel, this gives us a "handle", it gives us something to work with in a concrete manner.

For example, I get anxiety attacks.  I could not always tell you that what I was feeling was anxiety, to me it was just "emotions" and any tags I would put on them, wouldn't be accurate, they would likely be only what I think you wanted to hear. I began to work with my anxiety, and I discovered that this feeling I had was a pain in my chest and that I could hardly breath.  My breaths, I discovered were very shallow and rapid.  I felt like my stomach was this large unprotected vulnerable area, and I was afraid of anyone going near it.

So, the next step for me was not a cognitive approach, decidedly not psychotherapy.  The next movement in my process after identifying how this felt in my body was to do its opposite.  I "could not breath", so instead I made my focus my breath.  Instead of shallow rapid breaths into my chest, I would take long slow breaths, in and out, all the way to my belly.  I would not force myself to do this versus the other, but I would treat myself gently.  Every time that impulse of anxiety would move me back up into my chest and my breath would want to become shallow again, I would gently redirect my attention into my belly, and long, slow, deep breaths, in and out.

What happens to me is that there becomes a "space."  A space between the bad feeling in my body (anxiety) and the feeling of relaxation.  There becomes a realization between "this feeling" and "that feeling."  The space between these two things is where I exist.  I begin to understand, that I am neither the bad feeling or the good feeling, but I am something other than that. 

I began to realize that I had these feelings in the body, instead of feeling that I was those feelings in the body. This step, in my opinion, is extraordinarily important.  It is an objectifying of the physical effects of our emotions felt in the body.

Once I was able to objectify how these emotions felt in my body, I was able to push them away slightly at "arms length."  After I'd gained a lot of practice doing this, my cognitive processes began to latch onto these sensations in the body and label them "anxiety" vs "peace and relaxation."

This is a very simple if dumbed down version of the process I have used that has helped me develop Theory of Mind.  I have been taught even more refined versions of this that have improved my quality of life greatly.  I practice a form of meditation, that in itself evokes this process very quickly and distinctly with my thoughts and emotions.  It has not been an instant fix or easy process, but remains a steady discipline I have embraced that continues to produce useful changes in my cognitive and emotional life.

I'm convinced that almost everyone with ACC is capable of some level of this process in development.  I would think the only barrier to such development might be someone who is profoundly intellectually disabled.

I would add, that this process continues to go on within me, and will likely never "end" or complete.  This is as it should be, (I feel) as human beings are meant to continue and develop, grow, and change throughout a lifetime of experiences, not just "once and your done."  In times of extreme stress or emotional upset, I can and still do appear to "lose" ToM momentarily.  I will get so caught up in the thought or emotion and its feeling in the body that I have no "room" to maneuver, no space to think about it objectively.  When this occurs, I go back to basics, and begin the process all over again, as described in this post.

I hope this post has given ACCers and parents of ACCers something to think about, ponder and explore.  I have not gone into any great detail about this process, as it really needs to be tailored individually to the person who experiences it, there is no such things as one size fits all.

Should you have any questions or comments, you can leave them here, or contact me via Facebook in one of the ACC groups.  I would be happy to help in any way possible.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Come on over and sit a while...

Normal, average, self controlled,
Round peg in a round hole.
Born to be what I would be,
Many parts make up the whole.
Yet what you'll get is what you'll see;
Unique is what I'm born to be...

Special talents, flair and flaws,
Different every way with different laws.
All I can speak, and this I know;
Torn from mediocrities' claws.
God's gifts upon me are bestowed;
He the maker, He the cause...

One of many, only singular,
Constant dialogue, I the listener.
Ladder of clouds and thoughts my norm,
Internal, eternal, entirely insular.
Loving and innocent, friendly and warm;
Never at home always a visitor...

Won't you come enjoy with me,
This variegated world to see;
An orchestra imperfect,
Unless everyone can be...
Prejudice deserted.
Our differences; our very beauty?
It's so much more pleasant over here, why don't you come on over here and sit a while?

Monday, February 16, 2015

" Why can't you just be normal like everybody else..? "

Am I jaded? Yes, perhaps I am....

My own father bullied me, almost on a daily basis with verbal threats and the sentence "why can't you just be 'normal' like everybody else?"  You cannot imagine this indignity, cannot comprehend what it does to a child's or adolescent's already fragile self-esteem.

Now, as there are two sides to every story, I can infer and recognize my parents wanted me to be "mainstream" as much as possible for my own hapiness" I would not be truthful if I didn't acknowledge this.  That being said, the absolute shame on my father's face and voice were obvious, even to me, who apparently cannot pick up on subtle facial and emotional cues.  In his eyes, I saw embarrassment that I was not "normal like everybody else."  His feelings more often than not escalated to frustration and anger about the same.

Just about the time that my Corpus Callosum would have kicked into high gear (if I'd actually had one), the time that I began to venture outside of family for a larger social and emotional circle is when he began his relentless negative mantra of disgust and shame.  Of course, I had no idea that mine was not a "normal" or average childhood.  I continually held myself  up to the rule of my peers and found myself lacking.

My father was also struggling with his own issues.  For as long as I remember he drank alcohol to excess and more so when under any stress.  He has also always had a problem with explosive anger, very often my being the direction it was vented.

I do understand, particularly for fathers, they want the best for their child and often think this means "measuring up" to their peers.  I do not think this necessarily "wrong", but one must ask themselves, about ACC children what is my child's "normal?"  Our wiring makes us different, and no matter the wishing, the trying the prodding, the hoping the wiring will not change.  Again, this does not mean we shouldn't strive for our child's very best, but we must strive for our child's very best, not our idea of what this is "supposed" to look like.

Individuals with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum have different cognitive, memory, social and emotional processes.  There is currently no medicine nor therapy, nor anything else that can change this fact.  What we should hope for and strive for is our child's, or in the case of an ACC adult our own personal best.  Measuring ourselves strictly and only by our peers is not only counter productive but damaging to the psyche of a human being.  This even holds as true for the neurotypical individual, but more so for us.

As parents, and as individuals, we do best by learning about our child's or our own unique neurology.

ACC appears to exist on a spectrum, yet regardless of where on this spectrum an individual exists, research bears out very specific cognitive and socio-emotional differences with everyone born with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum.  I know I spent far too many years of my own life in denial of these things, always hoping that the next greatest thing would "cure" me or "heal" me. Now this is the very think I strive to be healed of.  My true "cure" came about with my diagnoses of ACC.  Learning to recognize and accept that I am, in fact, different than one in 4,000 of my peers has done far more to heal me, strengthen me, to discover my own unique skills and abilities than any other single thing.

I no longer waste my time and precious energy and attention trying to fix something that is not broken.  It is who I am, and I am not broken, I am different.  Regardless of the hole in my head, I am a whole human being, possessed of unique skills, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, not unlike my peers.

~Joseph

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Personal Toolchest for Living...

It will come as no surprise to the parent of an ASD or ACC child that the typical tool chest for parents of an NT child, for the most part, do not apply.  It isn't that these approaches cannot work, they certainly can, but there are aspects to personality and maturity that necessarily must be in place for these common approaches to have any value or benefit.

Having said the above, it is also important to realize that if you have met one child or adult with ACC you have met one child or adult with ACC.  What works with one need not necessarily work with another, and visa versa.

One must also understand that "tools" need not necessarily be "methods" or "therapies", but can and importantly do represent knowledge and understanding.  

The first and most important thing to realize is that children/adolescents/adults with ACC will and must learn in their own time, not by anyone's schedule, and certainly not using an NT individual as the measuring stick by which to judge them.  It should be understood that when someone has ACC we are to expect "their teens, throughout their twenties."  The age numbers mentioned are arbitrary, but the principle holds true.

By the time I was 13 years old, I had an above average intelligence, however emotionally I was quite a bit younger than my peers.  In my experience, ego development happens differently, at a different rate than NT children.  I'll not go into specifics, only because "ego development" is looked at in different ways by different schools of thought...I only wish to stress that the "normal" or average developmental stages look very differently for us.

Again, this is only my personal opinion built of self-observation and observation of other ACCers, but a primary thing "missing" or incomplete in many ACCers is Theory of Mind. ToM (Theory of Mind) is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own...in short the ability to objectify mental and emotional states, to "step back from them" as it were, and "operate them" as a series of tools.  Without sufficient ToM an individual experiences that they actually are their thoughts and emotions...they are too close to them to objectively work with them.

Normally children develop ToM at roughly 3–4 years of age and through a progression of stages starting at around 18 months with the awareness that their own mental states are distinct from those of others.  It is found children on the Autism Spectrum as well as Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum do not develop ToM sufficiently, and in some cases not at all.

ToM itself is also on a spectrum, let's call it, from the completely "naive" to actualized, to advanced...Throughout my own life, my own ToM was very weak and underdeveloped.  Even though I myself had an above average IQ, read many books on "psychology," my knowledge were more like Legos that I would put together in various ways, to make interesting things, but said knowledge was never applied to me personally in a way that I could use for my benefit.

My own parents and educators and doctors being unaware of ACC, would see me present as very intelligent, I could "speak the words they wanted to hear" but this did not mean I understood them and applied them as personal experience.  I went through hundreds (thousands?) of hours of "psychotherapy" that (even in my own eyes) were largely unproductive, useless, and even created more difficulties for me.

I began to experience profound shifts in my own ToM in my late thirties to early forties.  The primary tool that I used, and worked with over and over again were mindfulness practices and meditation.  I'm aware that many people have concepts of what these things are (usually incorrect ones), yet I've not found one singly more powerful set of tools than these.

Mindfulness, per say is borrowed from the system of Buddhist psychology known as Abhidharma.  It need not have any religious or spiritual overtones attached to it.  The tools could be considered more a way of being rather than a thing for doing.

The particular set of tools I use(d) are borrowed from the Zen school, and include:

Meditation- (This could look as simple as following and paying attention to ones breathing, their inhale and exhale for one minute, when distraction/thoughts come (and they will) gently return to following the inhalation and exhalation.

Being Awake-We are ACC or not usually distracted in our daily life, in the middle of whatever we are doing we slip into dreams/thoughts/fantasies of the mind, so we practice "coming back to the present moment" of whatever we are involved with, recognizing the tendency to "slip away in thoughts" and recognizing "coming back from the thoughts" to whatever we are currently doing.

Watching Our Urges-ACCers have trouble with executive function and regulation of many things, sleep, food, sex, anger, you name it.  Learning how to become aware of when an urge to do something comes upon on, just examining it and not necessarily acting on it, and watching it disappear just as easily and quickly as it arose inside of us.

Watching Our Ideals-Our ideas about how things "should" go, how they should occur.  Someone cuts us off in traffic (to give an example) and we think "they SHOULDN'T have done that!!!", but really, who is to say?  Are we in their heads, do we know what they were thinking?  Perhaps that "SHOULDN'T" is really causing me anxiety and suffering, more than getting cut off in traffic.

Accepting People & Life As They Are-When I stop trying to change a loved one, and accepted them for who they are I am able to just be with them and enjoy my time with them. This acceptance has the same effect for anything we do — accepting our peer, a student, co-worker, another child,  but also accepting a “bad” situation, an unpleasant feeling, an annoying sound. When we stop trying to fight the way things are, when we accept what is, we are much more at peace.

Learning to Let Go of Expectations-This is really the same as the previous two tools but it’s useful to watch your expectations with an upcoming situation, with a new project or class, and see that it’s not real and that it’s causing you stress and disappointment. We cause our own pain, and we can relieve it by letting go of the expectations that are causing it. Toss our expectations into the ocean.

Learning to Become OK with Discomfort-The fear of discomfort is huge — it causes people to be stuck in their old bad habits, to not begin new projects or skills, to be stuck doing something they don’t really like, because we tend to stick to the known and comfortable rather than try something unknown and uncomfortable. It’s why many people don’t eat vegetables or exercise, why they eat junk, why they don’t start something new. But we can be OK with discomfort, with practice. ACCers need to start with tiny things, small things, with things that are a little uncomfortable, and keep expanding our comfort zone.

Watch Our Resistance-When we try to do something uncomfortable, or try to give up something we like or are used to, we find resistance. But we can just watch the resistance, and be curious about it. Watch your resistance to things that annoy you — a loud sound that interrupts your concentration, for example. It’s not the sound that’s the problem, it’s your resistance to the sound. The same is true of resistance to food we don’t like, to being too cold or hot, to being hungry. The problem isn't the sensation of the food, cold, heat or hunger — it’s our resistance to them. Watch the resistance, and feel it melt. This is a HUGE one for ACCers.

Learn To Be Curious- We are too stuck in our ways, and think we know how things should be.  Instead, learn to be curious. Find out. Experiment. Let go of what you think you know. When you start something new, if we feel the fear of failure, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m going to fail” or “Oh no, I don’t know how this will turn out”, try thinking, “Let’s see. Let’s find out.” And then there isn't the fear of failure, but the joy of being curious and finding out. We should learn to be OK with not knowing.

Learn To Be Grateful-We complain about everything. But life is a miracle. Find something to be grateful about in everything you do. Be grateful when you’re doing a new habit, and you’ll stick to it longer. Be grateful when you’re with someone, and you’ll be happier with them. Life is amazing, if you learn to appreciate it.

a very difficult one for ACCers: Learn to Let Go of Control-Often we think we control things, but that’s only an illusion. Our obsession with organization and goals and productivity, for example, are rooted in the illusion that we can control life. But life is uncontrollable, and just when we think we have things under control, something unexpected comes up to disrupt everything. And then we’re frustrated because things didn't go the way we wanted. Instead, practice letting go of control, and learn to let life happen.

Learn To Be Compassionate-This sounds corny, but compassion for others can change the way you feel about the world, on a day-to-day basis. And compassion for yourself is life-changing. These two things need remembering, though, so mindful living is about remembering to be compassionate after you forget.

As you can see, these are things "to be" not things to do...when practiced they can evoke ToM and develop it.  Above all, I (personally) think meditation is important...again it need not be anything religiously based, I have practiced the same form of meditation for many years now, and it is not directly related to any religion or way of thinking, in fact can be adapted to any religion or way of thinking...I practice of form of traditional meditation, albeit in a secular fashion, I also have taught it to many people.  It is suitable for adolescents over the age of 13 or so, and there are modified versions of it for very young children.  The only "requirement" is that the individual not be severely intellectually disabled, as the skill is learned like any skill, and minimally one should be able to follow simple instructions.

The twelve tools mentioned above are sort of a "support" for my practice of meditation...but it was the practice of meditation that is solely responsible for my developing ToM.  Having said that, there are times, when my mindfulness (another name for ToM) wanes and I become so identified in my thoughts and emotions I can't separate myself from them, but those days are rare now, whereas they used to be my constant experience.

I hope you have found this information helpful.  If you would like me to elaborate on anything or explain it further, please either leave a comment or reach me on Facebook, and I'll do my best to accommodate you.

Thanks for stopping by!
~Joseph

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Saying One Thing, But Meaning Another...

I have, for all of my life said one thing, while meaning another.  This doesn't really happen (so much) in writing as the process slows down both my thinking and my action making them more congruent.  Yet in any "time-bound" situation where I feel the pressure of needing to answer, especially if it is (perceived as) an emotionally charged question, I am likely to say the opposite of what I mean.

Those that know me, know I don't like to talk to people I don't know on the telephone. And, this is the reason why.  For example if I have to deal with a utility company, say phone, cable, electricity, I'm often frustrated, not believing that the other party hears me or even wants to know what I have to say.  I then open my mouth and strings of words and meanings come out, powered by my overpowered emotions and active imagination.  Usually this results in the situation becoming far worse than it needs to be.

It doesn't have to be a particularly emotionally packed situation though, it can be simply talking to someone who I don't know well, or at all.

I'm not sure, but I think this is related to our issues with Theory of Mind.  Although I've gone through a lot of training in self awareness, I still often am not able to describe my internal state accurately, especially when I am being asked to do so in the spur of the moment.  This isn't new news to me, even before I understood what Theory of Mind meant, I clearly understood that I was not able to describe my internal emotions well.

I often confuse for example; frustration, anger, sadness, joy, excitement...and can only describe them as "feeling."  When you read my finely articulated (so I am told) blog entries, this is through a long process of deep introspection.  I'm not able to just think and feel about something, sit down and write about it, it can sometimes take days, or even weeks for me to correctly identify the feelings I am experiencing.

I know that growing up, my parents, and educators and others around me would often react to what I said or did like it came out of left field.  Often though I am reacting/responding to something that happened long before  the present moment, so you would have no way to connect the two.  I understand how confusing that must be for others.

When Troya was still alive, we would have a discussion at 10 in the morning, and I would see her, say, at 3 in the afternoon and respond then how I should have responded in the morning.  By this time she would be completely disconnected from whatever we were sharing or talking about.  My dear soul sister though, she was a gem, because she innately understood what I was doing (apparently I did this a lot.)  She began to point it out to me on a regular basis (because it happened often), and only then did I understand that I had tremendous time lags in my processing of social and emotional data.

But this saying one thing and meaning another takes other forms...I may do something regret, and I may feel apologetic, yet I may answer you in a way that seems insulting or insensitive.  It may be that I am saying/repeating what I think you want to hear, not what I want to say.

If this all sounds confusing to you, then try to comprehend how confounding it is for those of us for whom this is our "normal" functioning.  Add to that that we cannot change it (easily, or at all), and you may begin to comprehend the stress, anxiety and frustration we feel whenever we communicate with people.

I know that I am always thinking "did I say the right thing", "did I say the wrong thing", "should I have said something differently" and in fear of how I will be responded to.

Sometimes, I have a clear intention of what it is I want to say (accurately) and STILL other words come out of my mouth, before I even have a chance to do anything about it.

I'm not so sure how coherent this post is to all of you, but I read something that triggered it, and felt like I needed to get it out.  If you require further clarification, by all means please leave a comment here or on Facebook, perhaps helping me to develop my thoughts more clearly.

Thanks for listening!

~Joseph

Monday, February 9, 2015

Am I Invisible?

Someone recently wrote me, asking from where comes my muse...
My muse is my pain, my sadness, my isolation...
The hope that an other need not experience life in the way I do...
The sadness in recognizing there will always be others that experience it as I do...

I am a 52 year old man, who, by all external appearances is intelligent, creative, a deep thinker, and at times I feel this is my curse. I have often prayed to be one of the ACCers that is intellectually disabled, but such is not my lot...Why you may ask, would I ever want to be ID'd and not possessed of my level of intelligence?  You think this odd? I ask you to step into my world for a moment.

I'm possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge...bits, factoids, words, paragraphs, concepts, whole sciences, but in an incomplete way.  When you speak to me, for all intents and purposes I come off as one who has a highly developed verbal acuity, and yet can often find myself without words to express the simplest of emotions...Given a keyboard, I can wax eloquent, but asked to speak of these depths on the fly and there is nothing but an empty cavern of vague emotion with no labels to speak of.

I have said in another post that you can't judge a book by it's cover.  There are really many ways to look at this.  I appear self-confident, self-assured, possessed of an inherent dignity...Yet there are many things, you take for granted that "anyone can do" that I find most difficult.

In daily life, I struggle to perform the simplest of tasks with regularity.  Even when I learn the task, I can just as easily forget it.  From the most basic task of brushing my teeth and washing my body, cleaning my clothes, my environment...knowing what and how much to eat, eating a "balanced" diet of any kind, remembering to take medications, remembering to balance a checkbook.  Remembering birthdays and anniversary dates of all kinds.

In many ways, I still feel like the 10 year old boy that I remember.  I'm expected to motivate myself, to know when and when not to do things, yet, left to myself unprompted mentally or physically, I can and will wonder aimlessly.

Most of us born with ACC that are of average or above average intelligence, view our life like a movie.  We are well aware of our deficits even if we are unable to verbalize them in a clear fashion.  So why would I envy those of us born intellectually disabled?  Because they don't go through life registering the difficulty, the disability...Everyday when I wake up, I am fully aware that I will never be like my peers.  I will always need help, will always remain dependent in some fashion to another adult to have my needs met.  I will always feel, in some way, that "I am not enough", that I am a burden to others, that I am less than. 

Most adults with ACC are intelligent enough, despite the disability, to see clearly how it affects our lives.  I struggle daily with this.  I've often thought (and said) that if any neurotypical were to spend just 24 hours in my brain, they would be balled up in the corner of the room, terrified of their lives.  I would wish, above all, that an NT could understand what it is like to be me.

Then there are those, who are so uncomfortable with my difference, with how I show up, that I am invisible to them.  They say things like "you don't look disabled." (Does disability have a "look"?) They will often shovel large amounts of "positive" thinking BS, and claim that "I am just not trying hard enough."  When any honest ACC parent will tell you that there child is likely trying harder than all her/his peers.  People will only see what they want to see, and when it becomes too uncomfortable for them to bear, they will find an excuse to reject us, putting it squarely on our shoulders.

Then there are those, who are loving, unique, genuine, and caring.  And we are so used to not trusting others that we have difficulty believing in other's goodwill.

As I grow older (I'm 52 now) I think about when the day comes that I am elderly.  I have no parents, no family (they exist, but they shunned me many decades ago.)  If it weren't for the internet, I would have no "friends", people seem to come and go so easily in my life...I fear continued isolation, I fear fading away into the background, dying unloved and alone.  When people see that I am possessed of different needs and "requirements" than an "average" person they can't handle it, and conveniently find excuses to move out of my life as quickly as they came in...at least it has always been this way for me.

I'm sorry that this is not one of my more uplifting posts...I'm just not feeling it today....feeling scared, alone, isolated and unloved, feeling only tears.

A day in the life of my brain.

~Joseph

Saturday, January 31, 2015

ACC...You Can't Judge a Book by It's Cover...and the Book has Difficulty Explaining Itself...

I think one of the most difficult aspects of living with ACC, both as a child and now as an adult is that we present so well.  Actually, we don't really to those who know what they are looking at/looking for, but to the average person they cannot see what goes on in the inside of us.  Not all disabilities are visible ones.  In some ways, I wish I had been born with a visible disability, then maybe I would be understood, or at least people would take me at face value...but this is not the case for most of us with ACC.

One of the striking things about (my) ACC is that I have always considered myself "the encyclopedia of useless information."  What I mean is that I collect lots of facts and figures, but I do not always understand what they mean...and when I do, I don't understand them in a higher cognitive concept, I may not understand how they relate to the greater world at large.

Dr. Brown and Dr Paul at the Cognitive and Psychosocial Abilities in Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum study I just undertook in Pasadena Ca, might disagree, but it seems to me, anyhow, that those of us with ACC can often test more highly in a controlled situation, but that the same knowledge in "real life experience" can often fall short.

Kim Peek
Dr Paul brought up some things that I initially was not all the comfortable with...We were discussing Kim Peek the ACC Savant.  I was talking to her about his absolutely profound ability to pick up a book, read two separate pages with his two separate eyes and memorize it's contents seemingly instantaneously.  She commented to me, that although Kim could do this, he would often not understand the contents he read, or it's relevance in the "bigger picture."

I have to admit, (firstly) I am not a savant, so I am not comparing myself to Kim's profound ability, however my brain can contain in inordinate amount of information but may not know how to use it in it's proper context.

This relates to my current topic in this way:  I learned how to pass very young.  Learned how to appear "normal" when I was in society (or so I thought I had.)  From a very young age I had a very high verbal vocabularly...I seemed to say the right words.  Yet by my own admission, also from a very young age, I learned how to manipulate words so that I seemed more on top of things than I really was.

The book of my brain that I was trying to explain to others, I could not do.  Although I have acquired some capability in Theory of Mind today, albeit not perfectly, I did not have this at all as a young child, or an adolescent.  Rather, for the most part, when at any time a parent, a doctor, a teacher or a therapist wanted to know "what I was feeling" (what was going on inside me) rather than (be able to) explain this, I most often confabulated great stories out of my imagination, parsing together the bits and the pieces of my knowledge and memory along with my profound imagination in order to come up with information that was "passable" (I thought "understandable") by those asking the question.

The unfortunate thing about this, is I went through the majority of my life, my childhood, adolescence and a great deal of my adulthood, never once being able to share what was really going on inside my world.  My ACC not being discovered until 2008, this led to many and fabulous wrong diagnoses by mental health "professionals", led to my being medicated with all kinds of inappropriate medications that made existing problems worse and created new problems of their own.

When ACC is not identified, it is my opinion that a lot of damage can be done by well meaning parents, educators and doctors.  It is also fair to mention that these same can only go by what is before them, by what they think they observe.  Having said that, I believe it is of the utmost importance for those working with ACC children and adults to learn the facts about this brain disorder...in essence do not judge the book by it's cover.

Probably the most common comment I hear from parents is that their child's educator is not responding to their child with ACC, but responding in a way that shows that they do not understand the disorder.  I have to believe that educators want to respond appropriately, but I have also seen so many that dig there heals in, and do not want or feel it necessary to understand this difference...this I will never understand.  I've also observed it in adults: "this didn't 'exist' when I was a kid, so it doesn't exist now 'they' should just 'cope' like I did/everyone else had to."  This kind of thinking makes me absolutely nauseous.

On the parent's or concerned adult's  side of things, I think it important to help the child or adult with ACC to develop self reference, Theory of Mind, mindfulness, a "framework with which to be able to relate their inner world in appropriate ways.

Whereas on the one hand, a non-verbal autistic can have a highly developed internal world but not be able to relate to the "outside world" with ACC we can and often do have highly developed speech, but this "speech" is not truthfully connected in a meaningful way with our internal experience/reference.  In my case, my speech and reference were tied directly to my imagination, rather than my reality.  I can understand how this can mislead parents, educators and doctors.

I will say that even today with a more developed sense of self and internal reference, there are many times when someone asks me to describe my internal experience that I cannot that I become at a loss for words, or that I will instead relate some "information" that I have currently going on in my mind but that may not really be linked to it in any way that an outsider can understand.

For me personally, this creates a great sense of frustration.  Like many of my peers with ACC I have average or above average intelligence, so people's expectation of me doesn't match the reality of who I am.  I still have cognitive, emotional and social differences that aren't apparent to someone until they spend any period of time with me.  After they do, they think I have "changed" but the truth of it is they have gotten to see me as I really am and they are confused by the incongruity of how I show up.

At the age of 52, I still experience a great deal of loneliness.  Unlike classical ASD, those with ACC often enjoy and desire to be social yet we do so falteringly.  I've always said that I can quickly gain rapport with just about anybody, but once I have it, I haven't a clue what to do with it, haven't a clue how to maintain that relationship in appropriate ways.

In short, I've come to expect all my friendships and relationships to eventually fail, or at the least stalemate.  The exceptions to this have been those who learned about my neurological differences, and choose to accept them as they are.  They acknowledge that I may show up in some rather unusual ways at different times, come to expect it, and do not reject me when that occurs.  It's my opinion that all relationships should be like this, yet society expects us to fill certain roles, to fit in certain notches, to not stand out.  Thing is, I will never not stand out.  I know this.

I am grateful today that not only are those that tolerate my differences, but they even celebrate them.  They themselves have come to realize that our world is far more variegated than the black and white reality many claim to only exist.

I would say to parents and educators, that your ACCer is not like her/his non-ACC peers.  What appears on the outside does not necessarily match the inside, the reality, the felt experience of your ACCer.  We must find ways to inside of the internal psychological/cognitive and emotional world of people with my condition.  Judging or comparing them to, or expecting them to show up as Neuro-typical people is just absurd, will lead to there frustration, failure and an incomplete outcome of all they can be.  When you ask your ACCer "what is going on?"  be aware that they themselves may not have a clear description of it, they may have an incomplete awareness of their internal experience, may have no frame of reference with which to relate to you what is going on in their world.  They may use words, explanations, even fantasies to try and do this.  They are not evading you, or being deceptive, rather you are asking them to do something that is simply not in their wiring.

Teaching Mindfulness, self-awareness, internal frames of reference...these things are not easy to teach, yet they are not impossible.  I myself was in my mid thirties before I had an accurate gauge of my internal world, and a way to describe it to another.  Even today though, I might default to some learned response of telling your, rather than "what is really going on" what is in my imagination, or comparing my experience to something I've read in books, but may not completely comprehend.  Luckily there are those around me aware of this, they can coax what self-awareness and mindfulness I possess out of me, helping me to use more cogent language and description of my internal world.

My thanks to all my friends who are helping me along this path~

~Joseph

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tantrums, Meltowns and Shutdowns, the ins and outs ups and downs and all arounds...

Today I had an ACC mom pull me aside on Facebook.  She asked me to "think back when I was in elementary school" and proceeded to share with me how her child is responding during the school day to a new learning situation.  To my utter amazement I found that not only could I relate to her child's experience, it was as if she were describing my own.  The more important thing for me, is that I had not ever shared these specific details as of yet.

Her asking me to go back and remember "what it was like for me" finds me awash in memories...putting pieces together that I've not been able to verbalize for a long time.  I have already, in several posts spoken about the differences between tantrums and meltdowns, but I hadn't touched on another part of this, that of the "shutdown" and my personal experience of the dynamics between these things.

Before I do get into this, I want to share what I told her today.  That is this, that I do not believe that children with ASD or ACC ever "grow out of" there perspective ASD or ACC.  As we age we do teach ourselves more "socially acceptable" ways of passing as an NT.  While I think on some level this is certainly necessary, we (personally) must never try to convince ourselves that we are something we are not...the amazing thing, is that her child's experience today in elementary school is still not unlike my day to day experience, when you pull away the vale of "socially acceptable behavior" and "maturity" that I have learned how to parrot.

You will also find much of this material in my previous post:
Meltdown Madness; Sensory Processing Disorder & Cognitive Overload

First I will address each separately, then I will speak about how they are related and connected and issues that go along with this.

Tantrums:
In a typical tantrum from either child or adult, one observes that they have control over their

behavior, choosing to engage in it.  The goal of a tantrum is specific to something one wants or does not want...if the individual gets what they want, the tantrum can rapidly end.  During a tantrum the child or adult focuses on others around them, communicating, yelling at them and drawing their attention directly.  Typical in a tantrum the individual is looking for a reaction, can talk, negotiate but with demands and yelling, even hitting or kicking or destroying property.

Meltdowns:
Meltdowns, on the other hand occur when the brain is overwhelmed with stress chemicals and has entered the fight or flight stress reaction; the stress building up to the point that the brain overwhelms and loses the ability to cope

In a typical meltdown, the individual seems to be in a panic mode, has no control over their behavior.
 They are unable to talk or problem solve, negotiate or reason.  Cannot easily or at all follow directions, argue with you, generally so overwhelmed they cannot even engage with you.  Someone experience meltdown feels unsafe and reacting from extreme fear.  If you try to talk to them, it will be nearly impossible to identify the cause of their emotions, or any wants or demands. The two most common causes of meltdown are sensory overload, cognitive stress or social demands that exaust the brain's resources.

Rather than what is seen in a tantrum, the individual is not trying to gain something they want, but escape what is overwhelming them.  They will often attempt to flee or escape the situation, but not seek attention. The only time someone in meltdown would become violent, hit, kick, bite, scream is when you try and attempt to calm or redirect them, if you back away from them, give them personal space, remove any demands made on them and stop interacting, the aggression will likely cease immediately. Unlike a tantrum a meltdown takes time to dissipate, needing time to escape stress, regroup and  reset.  The one having a meltdown often expresses remorse for their meltdown and actions occurring because of it.

In both ACC and ASD meltdowns are precipitated by fright and fear. Fight or flight is triggered and the person tries to escape the source of stress and seeks proprioception (physical stimulus, hitting, self injury, rocking and other behaviors, as these release stress chemicals.  During a meltdown we do not want to interact with anyone or seek their attention, and desire to isolate ourselves, withdrawing for the stressor(s).  If we don't feel safe, we act against the people or property around us to get them to back away, or release stress chemicals.

Shutdowns:
A shutdown may well be understood as a different model of meltdown.  This is a missing piece in my previous post, albeit I think an extremely important piece, one which if left out can cause a lot of damage to understanding these behaviors and working with them.

One may think of a meltdown as a fight response, and think of a shutdown as a flight response.  Whereas in a meltdown the child or adult will do everything they can to push away the stimulus that is affecting them, one in shutdown no longer pushes away but retreats from the stimulus.  It is important for educators and parents and involved individuals to understand that the shutdown, like the meltdown is not goal driven.  Rather it is "the end of the rope" "last stitch effort" response to a perceived threat, to over stimulation.

A shutdown can appear as extreme fatigue, tiredness, disinterest, withdrawal...in my personal experience everything sloooowwws down, my senses, one at a time become dull, become numb...my face goes blank...any incoming information is no longer interpreted at all it just becomes "background noise."  I may roll up into a ball, I may roll over in place and go to sleep, in class I may simply put my head on the desk (did this many times and was "punished" for it many times SMDH)

For the person experiencing a shutdown, it is not unlike a limbo state or a catatonic state.

In my personal experience the shutdowns are far more problematic behaviors than are meltdowns...WHY you may ask?  I'll tell you:

As explained earlier the meltdown/shutdown response are natural responses of fight and flight produced by our nervous system.  A child or adult will learn to shutdown, rather than meltdown if he or she thinks/knows that they will be punished for the behavior (not mentioning a child should never be punished for a meltdown or a shutdown.)  The problem with this, is that the meltdown allows a discharge and dissipation of the over stimulus, the pain, the confusion the child or adult is experiencing, but no such discharge occurs with the shut down.

Imagine, if you will the shut down is the dreaded "three finger solute" of ALT+CTRL+DEL on your computer until it is forced to shut down with all its programs still running.  We know this is damaging to the computer, in the same way it is damaging to the individual experiencing a shut down.  A meltdown that is not allowed to occur can result in PTSD...repeated shutdowns are that damaging to the psyche...just ask me...

I was screamed at, yelled at, beaten, punished, shunned because of my meltdowns, I learned rather young how to shut down, and (personally speaking) I became quite adept at them.  They became my default coping mechanism.  I cannot say for sure that "all of my PTSD" is related to my shutdowns, but I am absolutely certain they contributed greatly to it.

This is not to say that I never had tantrums.  I will be the first to admit that both in childhood and adulthood I have them, but a tantrum (goal driven) looks nothing like a meltdown or shutdown (no goal, no desired outcome.)  Having said this, it is important to understand that a tantrum can further devolve into a meltdown.  The trained eye can see the difference between the two and it is important to recognize.  If someone in meltdown is continually pushed they will go into shutdown mode.  To my knowledge and experience once in meltdown or shutdown, a "tantrum" is not even a possibility.

If shutdowns are continually ignored or punished, this is where PTSD comes in.  I remember the tremendous confusion I was in as a child...having learned a task and learned it well, and having new information thrust on me, I would just become overwhelmed.  I spoke well, but didn't have the self understanding to explain to others my thoughts.  I was often afraid (and justified so) that whatever I had learned would "disappear" as soon as I was asked to hold the new information in my mind.  New concepts in school did not come easily for me, my speed was not that of my peers.  I would either put my head on my desk, and go into "no man's land" as I knew it, or I would even on occasion become selectively mute and unresponsive.  Today, with all the knowledge at hand educators have no excuse, but in my day I was constantly and severely punished for this coping behavior.

The pain became so intense, that by 6th grade,  I no longer wanted to learn because the way I was being "taught" didn't register with me...I became disinterested in school, and school became a living hell for me.  Within a few years of this I was put in "special schools" where my actual education all but disappeared, I was expected to just "show up."  Thank God, once I was out of school, my hunger for learning returned and only increased, but I missed a lot of seminal and important education because educators were ignorant of ACC, ignorant of my personal learning style, ignorant of even the common information in this post.

I hope this post has been somewhat helpful, and again please refer to my earlier post:
Meltdown Madness; Sensory Processing Disorder & Cognitive Overload

Thanks for your time!

~Joseph