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April 2011



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Archive for April 13th, 2011


ScienceDaily (Apr. 10, 2011) — Being low mouse on the totem pole is tough on murine self-esteem. It turns out it has measurable effects on brain chemistry, too, according to recent experiments at Rockefeller University. Researchers found that mice that were bullied persistently by dominant males grew unusually nervous around new company, and that the change in behavior was accompanied by heightened sensitivity to vasopressin, a hormone involved in a variety of social behaviors. The findings suggest how bullying could contribute to long-term social anxiety at the molecular level.

“We found that chronic social stress affects neuroendocrine systems that are paramount for adaptive mammalian social behaviors such as courtship, pair-bonding and parental behaviors,” says Yoav Litvin, M. S. Stoffel Postdoctoral Fellow in Mind, Brain and Behavior. “Changes in components of these systems have been implicated in human disorders, such as social phobias, depression, schizophrenia and autism.”

Read in Full: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110407202536.htm


Dr Chris Steele explains the dangers of hypertension

Mon 11 Apr, 2011 10:00 am BST

Everyone knows high blood pressure is bad for you, but most of us are pretty ignorant of its symptoms and consequences. So what is it, and why should you be aware of it?

High blood pressure or hypertension is a condition in which the body’s blood pressure is above the normal range. Having high blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for both heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the UK.

Your blood pressure is the amount of force on the walls of your arteries which occurs when blood flows through them. If this is too high, your heart has to work harder to send blood around the body.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

Most people with high blood pressure don’t have symptoms. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it checked by your GP.

The medical gadget used to measure blood pressure is called a sphygmomanometer (pronounced sfig-mo-man-meet-er) or BP machine!

When your doctor checks your blood pressure, they will give you two figures e.g. 135/80.

The first or top figure (135) is called the systolic pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts.

The second or bottom figure (80) is called the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes between beats.

Medical experts now agree that systolic readings in or above the range 140-159, and diastolic readings in the range 90-99 need to be treated. For example, a BP reading of 170/100 would need to be treated with medication, whereas a reading of 135/80 is fine.

Health problems linked to high blood pressure

High blood pressure increases your risk of life threatening conditions such as:

  • *Stroke
  • *Heart attack
  • *Heart disease
  • *Kidney disease


Who should have their blood pressure checked?

High blood pressure is common. Around 40 per cent of adults and 50 per cent of people over the age of 65 have high blood pressure.

About 90 per cent of people with high blood pressure have no obvious cause for it – officially known as Essential Hypertension. Although the actual cause is unknown, there are known risk factors for high blood pressure, including:

  • *Age
  • *A family history of high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke
  • *Obesity
  • *Smoking
  • *Excessive alcohol consumption
  • *Lack of exercise
  • *Diet high in fat
  • *Diet high in salt
  • *Stress
  • *African-Caribbean or South Asian descent


Women who have had toxaemia in pregnancy may also be at an increased risk.

In the remaining 10 per cent of people, high blood pressure may be related to other medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or disorders of the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys.

Many experts think that everyone over the age of 35 should have their BP checked every three to five years.

What are the symptoms?

It’s not called a silent killer for nothing. High blood pressure is usually without any symptoms until it has reached a very high level. When it does cause symptoms, the most common are:

  • *Headaches – especially as pain at the back of the head, or as a tight band around the head
  • *Dizziness
  • *Nausea
  • *Nosebleeds
  • *Shortness of breath
  • *Blurred or double vision
  • *Palpitations – irregular heart beat
  • *Drowsiness


Anyone who experiencing some of these should contact their GP immediately.

Lifestyle changes which can help lower blood pressure

If your blood pressure is slightly high your doctor will probably suggest some lifestyle changes to try to lower your blood pressure. These will include:

  • *Stopping smoking
  • *Reducing your alcohol consumption
  • *Reducing the amount of salt and saturated fat in your diet and increasing fruit and vegetables
  • *Regular exercise
  • *Weight reduction if you are overweight


Reducing stress levels will also help, as may taking up some form of relaxation such as yoga, meditation or even self hypnosis. Alternative therapies such as aromatherapy may help, as can courses in stress management.


When lifestyle changes don’t help with controlling high blood pressure, treatment with drugs is necessary.

Drug treatment is not usually started until it is found that the blood pressure is consistently high over three or more measurements.

This is because many people experience’ White Coat Hypertension’, which is an increase in blood pressure, resulting from the anxiety caused by someone, such as your doctor, measuring your blood pressure!

Many people don’t feel relaxed when visiting hospitals or the GP’s surgery, and as result develop a raised blood pressure which eventually settles down as the patient becomes relaxed.

Initially a simple ‘water’ tablet or diuretic, which gets rid of excess water from the body, after being taken each morning, may be enough to bring the BP down into the normal range. When taking this type of medication, you either pass water more frequently or pass more water each time you urinate.

If a diuretic isn’t enough, extra drugs may be used, such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, or ACE (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme) inhibitors, Angiotensin II inhibitors, Alpha blockers and other types of hypotensives.

Side effects

Some of these drugs can cause an unfortunate side effects. In men, impotence, or to give it it’s full medical term, erectile dysfunction, can occur.

Sadly, some men with impotence don’t tell their GP that they have this problem. If they did, their GP might identify their medication as the cause and change the therapy immediately!

Other side effects of some of these medications can include dry mouth, feeling tired, cold extremities, drowsiness, nasal congestion, diarrhoea, skin rashes, anaemia and even loss of taste. These adverse effects are not common and do not occur with all hypotensives, but users should be aware of them and report them to their doctor.

Patients taking any of the ACE inhibitors could experience a dry irritating cough, which is not controlled by cough medicines, and may have to change their medication. Because ACE inhibitors can affect kidney function, patients have blood tests to specifically assess kidney health before they start treatment, within a few weeks of starting these drugs, and ideally every 3 to 12 months thereafter.

Patients taking beta blockers may experience sleep disturbances, dreams, asthma, alopecia (hair loss), dry eyes and skin rashes. Certain conditions such as gout, diabetes and raised cholesterol can be made worse by certain blood pressure drugs.

Most patients taking hypotensives experience no problems from their medication, so don’t be alarmed by this list of potential side effects. Raised blood pressure can kill, so treatments should never be stopped.

Thankfully, there are a large number of drugs for high blood pressure, so if one doesn’t suit you, your GP can easily suggest an alternative.

Source: http://uk.health.lifestyle.yahoo.net/Spotlight-on-blood-pressure.htm

Related Articles

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What do George Clooney and a healthy heart have in common?

Video: how to measure your own blood pressure

Why you need your blood pressure checked

Beetroot juice lowers blood pressure

By Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC


Following Boruch (Work-in-progress trailer), from Paula Eiselt.

“After battling bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and drug addiction for over thirty years, forty-seven-year-old Boruch Hoffman, a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, is sober and eager to live the life he never had. FOLLOWING BORUCH is a feature length documentary that follows Boruch over one year as he strives to find the job and wife he always prayed for but was never able to fulfill.” (From the web site).

Boruch Hoffman, the charismatic hero of “Following Boruch,” has been a much-loved dinner guest in our home on numerous occasions over the past several years. He possesses a “bigger-than-life” personality, a great sense of humor, and a sharp intellect, all of which have helped him on his quest for spirituality and emotional well-being. We are so delighted that he is sharing his personal story on film and a bit in awe of his unflinching courage.

One of the things that will make this film (it is currently in post-production) so unique, is that it is being made by the subject’s neice, director and producer, Paula Eiselt (along with executive producer, award-winning filmmaker, Marco Williams). Also, it gives viewers an eye into the intricate support network of the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities in Brooklyn.

Read in Full:



By John M Grohol PsyD
Founder & Editor-in-Chief

April is Autism Awareness Month, and in helping to promote awareness of autism, I’m pleased to provide an excerpt from the book, Living Well on the Spectrum by author Valerie L. Gaus, Ph.D. The book is a self-help book that helps a person with an autism spectrum disorder identify life goals and the steps needed to achieve them.

One of the concerns I often hear from people with an autism spectrum disorder is about work and their career. In fact, just last evening while hosting our weekly Q&A on mental health issues here at Psych Central, the question came up whether a person should tell a potential employer about their Asperger’s (the mildest form of autism).

While I am not a lawyer, my suggestion was that it probably wasn’t relevant for many jobs and not something that I personally would share with a potential employer during the interview process (while you’re trying to put your best foot forward). But as I said last night, it all depends on the situation, the specific job and its responsibilities, and how comfortable the person is talking about these concerns with a stranger and potential boss. It’s something that I feel like can always be shared later, after the job is obtained.

Read on for the excerpt…

Work is one of the greatest sources of pride and fulfillment for adults. Making an important contribution to others and maintaining financial independence are crucial to health, happiness, and self-confidence. Yet the majority of adults on the spectrum are either unemployed or underemployed. This is one of the most devastating issues for my patients and their families.

If you are on the spectrum, you may be having difficulty finding or keeping a job, or dealing with the multiple stressors that come with work life. Many of my patients ask me if they should disclose their ASD (autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis to their employer. Depending on your diagnosis and the extent to which your ASD differences have affected your work life, you may be considered a member of the class of people protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for any employee with a disability who is otherwise qualified to do the job.

This law covers all types of disabilities, but disclosure and accommodation can be a very delicate issue for people with ASDs. ASDs are not obvious, like visual or other physical disabilities. Also, the needs of employees with ASDs will vary greatly from one person to the next.

Because this is a legal issue, I advise you to consult an attorney specializing in disability law before disclosing to an employer. I always advice my patients to ask themselves the following questions and make sure they can come up with clear answers before moving forward on disclosure to any person. If you have any difficulty answering these, you may want to discuss the issue with a trusted person who knows you well.

Read in Full:


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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on April 12, 2011

Unbeknownst to most individuals, 90 trillion bacteria reside in the human digestive tract. The bacteria help the immune system stay on track and alert for infections.

New research suggests stress can harm the good bacteria and overstimulate the human immune system. However, the exact mechanism by which stress interferes with the bacteria has yet to be determined.

In new research, Michael Bailey, Ph.D., attempted to discover how stress changes these bacteria and if there was any sort of biological function associated with effects on these bacteria.

Bailey and colleagues used mice to learn how bacteria help to maintain a balanced immune system. In a series of experiments, researchers subjected one group of mice to stress by placing an aggressive mouse in a cage of more docile mice.

They then compared biomarkers from blood samples taken from the stressed mice to a control group.

Compared to the control mice, the stressed animals showed two marked differences: The proportion of one important type of bacteria in the gut (Bacteroides) fell by 20 to 25 percent while another type (Clostridium) increased a similar amount.

Also, levels of the two biomarkers jumped tenfold in the stressed mice, compared to controls.

Read in Full:


Self Harm


Article Date: 12 Apr 2011 – 0:00 PDT

A new study published in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics by a group of British investigators outlines the clinical characteristics of self-injury during treatment.


Deliberate self-injury (DSI) is significantly associated with personality disorder (PD). However, there are gaps of DSI as an indicator of severity of psychopathology, as moderator of outcome and with regard to its response to different treatment programs and settings. In this study, the investigators compare 2 samples of PD with (n = 59) and without (n = 64) DSI in terms of clinical presentation, response to psychosocial treatment and relative outcome when treated with specialist long-term residential and community-based programs. They test the assumption that DSI is an appropriate indicator for long-term inpatient care by contrasting the outcomes (symptom severity and DSI recidivism) of the 2 DSI sub-groups treated in the 2 different approaches. PD with DSI had greater severity of presentation on a number of variables (early maternal separation, sexual abuse, axis-I comorbidities, suicidality and inpatient episodes) than PD without DSI. With regard to treatment response, the investigators found a significant 3-way interaction between DSI, treatment model and outcome at 24-month follow-up. PD with DSI treated in a community-based program have significantly greater chances of improving on symptom severity and recidivism of self-injurious behaviour compared to PD with DSI treated in a long-term residential program. Although limitations in the study design invite caution in interpreting the results, the poor outcome of the inpatient DSI group suggests that explicit protocols for the management of DSI in inpatient settings may be beneficial and that the clinical indications for long-term inpatient treatment for severe and non-severe PD may require updating.

Sources: Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, AlphaGalileo Foundation.


NICE Consults On Draft Recommendations For The Longer-Term Management Of Self-Harm

Article Date: 12 Apr 2011 – 2:00 PDT

NICE is currently developing a clinical guideline on the longer-term care of adults, children and young people who self-harm. As part of this process, draft recommendations have been published on the NICE website today (12 April) for public consultation.

This new guideline will follow on from the NICE guideline on the short-term physical and psychological management and secondary prevention of self-harm in primary and secondary care (NICE clinical guideline 16). The new recommendations focus on the longer-term psychological treatment and management of self-harm.

Self-harm commonly involves self-poisoning with medication or self-injury by cutting. People can self-harm for numerous reasons, for example, they may self-harm in order to obtain relief from a particular emotional state or overwhelming situation.

Dr Fergus Macbeth, Director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE, said: “Self-harm is when someone damages their body on purpose. It is not usually an attempt at committing suicide, but a way of expressing deep emotional feelings, such as low self-esteem. Although the physical effects of self-harm can often be treated easily, the underlying cause of the behaviour needs further attention.

“Our previous guideline on the short-term treatment of self-harm focused on the first 48 hours of an incident. This new guideline aims to help healthcare professionals support people that are known to self-harm in reducing and then stopping the behaviour.”

The draft recommendations are now available for public consultation. Anyone wishing to submit comments should visit our website for more information on the consultation process. Draft recommendations issued for consultation include:

– Working with people who self-harm: Health and social care professionals working with people who self-harm should aim to develop a trusting, supportive and engaging relationship with them and ensure that people are fully involved in decision-making about their treatment and care.

– Risk assessment: When assessing the risks of repetition of self-harm or suicide, identify and agree with the person who self-harms the specific risks for them, taking into account:

– methods and patterns of current and past self-harm

– specific risk factors and protective factors (social, psychological, pharmacological and motivational) that may increase or decrease the risks associated with self-harm

– coping strategies that the person has used to either successfully limit or avert self-harm or to contain the impact of personal, social or other antecedents

– Care plans: Care plans should be multidisciplinary and developed collaboratively with the person who self-harms and their family, carers or significant others. The care plan should identify realistic and optimistic long-term goals, including employment and occupation and identify short-term treatment goals (linked to the long-term goals) and steps to achieve them

– Interventions for self-harm: Consider offering six sessions of a psychological intervention specifically structured for people who self-harm with the aim of reducing self-harm. The intervention may have cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic or problem-solving elements. Therapists should have significant experience of working with people who self-harm, and be able to work collaboratively with the person to identify the problems causing distress or leading to self-harm.

– Treating associated mental health conditions: Provide psychological, pharmacological and psychosocial interventions for any associated conditions as described in the relevant NICE guidelines, for example, borderline personality disorder (NICE clinical guideline 78), depression (NICE clinical guideline 90),bipolar disorder (NICE clinical guideline 38) etc.


About the guidance

1. The draft guidance will be available on the NICE website from 12 April, 2011.

2. The focus of this new guidance is the longer-term psychological treatment and management of self-harm, and does not include recommendations for the physical treatment of self-harm.



Reaching for a Rainbow


Article Date: 13 Apr 2011 – 9:00 PDT

It is strange, and a little scary, how quickly my physical, mental, and emotional condition can change. My main physical variables are fatigue and pain, and my emotional state tends to follow them. Last weekend the pain was low but fatigue was high. I spent most of the time sleeping, even though two of my best friends were visiting from out of town and I desperately wanted to spend time with them. This fatigue was different from the chemo fatigue I have felt before. With the chemo fatigue, I felt like lying down, but I usually couldn’t sleep. With this new fatigue, I felt like lying down, but I usually did fall asleep. I didn’t feel like eating, and I lost some weight. I could feel myself getting weaker. I felt like my body was shutting down. I felt like I was close to death. And, truth be told, I was kind of looking forward to dying. I was tired of the constant struggle, tired of my life being dominated by my medical condition, and tired of feeling sick all the time. Try to imagine feeling sick every single day for a year – sometimes more, sometimes less, but always sick, never well, never waking up and feeling like getting out of bed. There is no way to know what that feels like other than experiencing it. That’s what I didn’t grasp when I was initially diagnosed. They tell you that they can keep you alive for an average, in my case, of two years, but they don’t tell you that you may feel like crap most of that time. When you understand that, it changes your thinking.

Tuesday was an interesting day. I taught my class at the university in the morning, and then my partner Grace drove us down to Seattle for two different medical appointments with very different purposes. The first appointment was at the University of Washington Medical Center, where I received a radiopharmaceutical injection intended to decrease bone pain for several months, although it often increases bone pain for a few days after the injection. Unfortunately, although I had specifically requested a drug called samarium, the UW Medical Center, in their infinite wisdom, decided to give me a different drug called strontium instead, and didn’t mention that until after the injection, when it was too late to do anything about it. Strontium and samarium have similar efficacy, but samarium is supposed to harm blood cell production less. Oh well. I felt like just another cog in the medical machine.

Read in Full: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/222290.php

Mozart and the Whale



Variety critic Leslie Felperin responded to her son’s diagnosis by watching every movie about autism she could find

Some parents go into understandable denial when confronted with the evidence that their child is on the autism spectrum, and some become consumed with a zealous need to seek a cure or ameliorate the symptoms with therapies. Given my profession, my way of dealing with our three-year-old son’s diagnosis of an autistic spectrum condition (ASC) has been to try and understand the condition as best I could through reading books and watching movies about people with autism. So for the last two years, my husband Tom and I have been working our way – frequently in tears, sometimes laughing with recognition – through as many features and documentaries about people with the condition as we could source. It seems to me from where I’m sitting (on the sofa and in the cinemas) that there are far more, and many more varied, cinematic depictions of autism than there ever were before. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that, now, the condition is much more frequently diagnosed.

Rain Man


We started our home autism film festival, naturally enough, with Barry Levinson’s Oscar-winner Rain Man. For many people – myself included – this was their first exposure to the notion of autism, and back in 1988 I was rather impressed with it. Now, having been a film critic for 20-odd years, and more importantly after learning so much about ASC, the film seems deeply flawed – both aesthetically (it’s more mawkish and slow-moving than I remembered) and in terms of how it treats the condition, promulgating as it does the very misleading notion that people with autism are likely to be savants with incredible memory skills, when the vast majority of them aren’t.

Snow Cake


Even more irksome is the way the main function of the story’s autistic character, played by Dustin Hoffman, is to serve as a vehicle for delivering redemption – and, due to aptitude at card counting, a big bag of blackjack money to Tom Cruise as his shallow, car-dealer brother. Several other films have deployed autistic characters in a similar way – as quasi-holy innocents whose narrative function is to inspire those around them to be better people. There’s Nell (1994), for example, in which Jodie Foster’s autistic backwoods woman helps Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, playing her doctors, fall in love. Snow Cake (2006), in which Sigourney Weaver’s high-functioning autistic inspires Alan Rickman to get over grief for his dead son, is slightly less cringe-inducing than Nell, thanks largely to Weaver’s more credible, tics-and-all portrait.

My Name Is Khan


But something has seemed to shift seismically in the last five years or so, and people on the spectrum can now feature as proper protagonists, with the condition no longer their only defining characteristic. In the case of Bollywood megahit My Name Is Khan (2010), Shahrukh Kahn’s title character’s Muslim faith is just as important, and as much an engine for the film’s baroque melodrama, as the fact that he has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Adam (2009) is a far from perfect romantic drama, but at least it shows Hugh Dancy’s eponymous “aspie” hero trying to have a sexual relationship with a neurotypical woman (ie someone not on the spectrum) rather than just inspiring others to fall in love.

Temple Grandin


Of the recent crop of features about people on the spectrum, one of the strongest is biopic Temple Grandin, a made-for-HBO movie (it screened on Sky Atlantic on Sunday night) about arguably the world’s most famous person with ASC. Based extensively on her own autobiographical writings, the film follows Grandin (played as an adult by Claire Danes) through her childhood and young adult years as she learns to use her own growing understanding of her condition as a means to gain insight into how animals think, ultimately becoming a veterinary scientist. Deeply cherished in our house for its scabrous honesty is Mary and Max (2009), an animated account of a penpal friendship between a young girl in Australia and a middle-aged man with Asperger’s which doesn’t stint on showing the alienation and loneliness experienced by people with the condition.

Mary & Max


Some of the recent documentaries made about autism are even better, not just in terms of explaining and illustrating the nature of ASC but also as examples of excellent film-making. This year, the Thessaloniki documentary festival showcased some of the very best, alongside films about Down’s syndrome and other conditions, and programmer Elena Christopoulou was kind enough to send me several DVDs from the showcase.

Her Name Is Sabine


There are roughly two types of documentaries about autism: overviews, which tend to feature an ensemble cast whose degree of impairment spans the spectrum, and single-subject stories that follow one person or a family through a particular period.



Of the overviews, the two best I’ve ever seen are The Autism Puzzle, made in 2003 but still very relevant, and the last year’s Neurotypical. The Autism Puzzle is freely available online and skilfully blends stories about people with ASC (including director Saskia Baron’s own brother) into a history of the condition’s discovery, and interviews with experts. Neurotypical concentrates more on giving a voice to people with the condition who see autism not as a disability but as a difference to be proud of. My favourite bit features a highly articulate man with ASC who recalls crying as a child at the end of Disney’s The Jungle Book because he couldn’t bear to see Mowgli join the human village, a world he felt he’d never been accepted into.

Maria Y Yo(Maria and I)


The single-subject stories deal with a similar range of people and an even more heterogeneous range of attitudes about autism. Some depict families intent on finding ways to “recover” their children from autism with alternative therapies (Beautiful Son, by Don and Julianne King, and to an extent The Horse Boy by Michel Orion Scott), and some focus on those deeply damaged by institutionalisation (including actor Sandrine Bonnaire’s harrowing account of her own sister’s autism, Her Name is Sabine).



Read in Full:


Paddy Considine


Award-winning actor Paddy Considine talks for the first time about being diagnosed with Asperger’s – at the age of 36.

11:58PM BST 09 Apr 2011

One way or the other, Paddy Considine has been acting all his life. In recent years his talents have won him acclaim both in Britain and Hollywood but as a child, he says, it was pure survival. “I got through with my ability to mimic others and make people laugh,” he says. “I swaggered through life but, in reality, I lived in fear pretty much every day. I acted like a completely normal person, and I suppose I was good at it. But, inside, it was a very different story.”

You will recognise the actor from his roles in gritty television dramas such as Red Riding; or as New-Age mystic Graham in this year’s word-of-mouth hit Submarine; or perhaps from his collaborations with cutting-edge director Shane Meadows in Dead Man’s Shoes and A Room for Romeo Brass. Today, however, we’re talking about his sortie into more prime-time drama: his starring role in the adaptation of Kate Summerscale’s best-selling book, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.

What starts as a discussion about the problems facing a Victorian detective, placed under enormous public pressure to solve the brutal murder of a little boy, has suddenly segued into a conversation about the difficulties the actor himself faces on a daily basis.

Roughly a year ago, aged 36, Considine was finally diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, one of a spectrum of disorders relating to difficulties with communication and social skills that includes autism at its furthest extreme.

“For a few weeks after the diagnosis, I was wandering around thinking, ‘Who the hell am I?’ But naming my problem has helped me a lot. It’s allowed me to make sense of so many things I didn’t understand before – and is allowing me to move forward with my life.”

Indeed, so good an actor is Considine that if he wasn’t telling me about his condition now, I would never guess he was a sufferer. True, sitting opposite him, the wiry Midlander can seem intense and as nervy as a racehorse. Yet at the same time he is funny, open and warm with no sign of the inability to relate to others that often comes with the condition.

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James Durbin and Paddy Considine: Asperger idols

AP/”In America”
James Durbin and Paddy Considine

James Durbin and Paddy Considine: Asperger idols

Two high-profile performers are out to prove that being on the spectrum won’t get in the way of stardom

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

The entertainment industry gives a wide berth to stars who behave differently than most. Being unconventional or just a little off center has never stood in the way of stardom. But acting different is one thing. Being different has, traditionally, been a whole other kettle of fish. And nothing makes a person different in quite the way Asperger syndrome does. But in recent weeks, two very different high-profile performers have been out to prove that being on the autism spectrum doesn’t have to keep a person from going far.

First, “American Idol” contender James Durbin, the one with the fauxhawk who isn’t Paul, has been distinguishing himself this season not just for his shattering high notes but his groundbreaking role as “Idol’s” first contestant with either Tourette’s or Asperger’s (Durbin has both). Then, this week, British actor Paddy Considine, best known in the States for “In America,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and the “Red Riding” miniseries, revealed in The Telegraph that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome last year at age 36, and spoke candidly of the “debilitating sense of detachment” his condition can bring. “Basic interaction with people — the touch of strangers — becomes a problem,” he said. “My response is to retreat into myself.”

In the past few years, thanks to the success of books like “Look Me in the Eye,” the public understanding about people with Asperger’s has increased dramatically, though the condition itself remains deeply enigmatic. We understand now that Asperger’s exists among our colleagues, friends and families. But the notion of someone with a condition that affects socialization being able to pull off rock star charisma still seemed like a stretch, until very recently. Is it possible for a guy with talent and creativity — but serious challenges when it comes to human interaction — to make it big in show business? “With a script, I just can’t get past the words,” says Considine. “They start to float in front of my eyes and I can’t pull them down or animate them. It can lead to me giving a very withdrawn performance.”

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Apr 11 2011 By Samantha Booth

HEARING that your child has Asperger Syndrome can be devastating but mum Clare Johnson says discovering her son and daughter both had the condition was “like the sun coming out”.

The diagnosis of her two youngest children led Clare and her former soldier husband Malcolm to discover that they too have struggled with the condition all their lives.

She said: “We had always thought it was everyone else that was weird.”

And Clare’s eldest daughter, Ruth – the only member of the family NOT to have the condition – says that discovering the rest of the family have Asperger’s is the best thing that has happened to them.

She said: “It’s helped me understand why I’ve always felt so different. When I was a teenager, it used to make me so frustrated that they were so anti-social when all I wanted to do was be with my friends and do normal teenage things.

“They’ve always been so independent and happy with their own company. It was quite hard for me to understand.”

Clare, 55, and Malcolm, 57, who live in Brightons, near Falkirk, celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in May.

Malcolm has served in Germany, Ireland and Kuwait during the first Gulf War as a soldier with the Royal Artillery, while Clare stayed at home with the children.

It wasn’t until seven years ago that their son Stephen’s teacher, Janice Lewis – whom the family nominated for a National Autistic Society Award – suggested there might be something wrong.

Clare said: “He was always clumsy but he was a big child who took after his dad in size. We just thought it was normal, as was the way he took things so literally.”

Stephen, who was initially diagnosed with dyspraxia, is now 21 and works as a home carer.

Ruth said: “When Stephen was diagnosed, it began to explain a lot but really it was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Many people with the syndrome have trouble socialising and, while recognising these traits in Stephen and Malcolm, Clare could also clearly see how social awkwardness had always impacted on her own life.

She said: “We used to have lovely neighbours who would just pop in to say, ‘Hello’. I just couldn’t deal with it and would hide from them.

Read in Full: