Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book Review: Exploring Depression and Beating the Blues by Tony Attwood and Michelle Garnett

Twenty years ago when I was trying to understand my son's autism diagnosis one of the first places I turned was to the books written by Tony Attwood. He had a clear, concise and useable approach to the now DSM defunct term "Aspergers syndrome." This latest book, Exploring Depression and beating the Blues adds to that library of knowledge and support. The authors formulate a new avenue of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, geared towards those on the spectrum.

One aspect of autism is the reality of depression. Attwood explains it is not the inherent nature of autism to be depressed, but it is the challenges that autistic people face that leads to the depression. Hence, to help yourself and those you love, it is not simply about understanding autism, but understanding how autism, affects your day-to-day that will help any autistic figure out how to "beat the blues."

Persons with autism*, have unique challenges. It is because of these challenges and  the intense emotions they engender that depression may set in. Interestingly one of the issues listed by the authors that could cause depression is being sensitive to others. It is a longstanding myth that autistics do not care about other people and cannot identify other's hurt. In fact, one of the most challenging issues we personally have faced is how to help our sons navigate the world of cruelty, whether it is person to person, or human to the world. In truth, the saddest part of the recent election for MrGS2, is not how the President-elect talked about those with autism, but the hate engendered towards other groups be concerning gender identity, race, ethnicity, or religion. He is frightened for everyone else with no thought of himself. (See Here)

Now in understanding why an autistic person may be depressed,  the authors outline a program of identifying symptoms and how to evaluate what is going on. There are self awareness exercises to help the individual understand how they are acting and how they are not living up to their happiness potential. This is termed the "Energy Accounting."

Along with understanding the person's energy output, there is also an awareness exercise for the person to understand their "Discovery Criteria." This exercise is used to figure out the positive aspects and the gifts specific to each individual. Harnessing what you are good at will inevitably lead to a more fulfilling and positive life.

Once you have figured out what is making you sad, how it is manifesting itself in your daily life along with acknowledging the terrific things about yourself, then the program to help beat depression begins. The authors take you slowly, step-by-step through an actualized, helpful program. This next adjunct is aptly named  Tools to Combat Depression.

Here the authors direct their ideas to specific activities and how these activities should manifest in your daily life. They help you create a plan of action and explain what, why, and how their program can be implemented. You are given charts, exercises, and goals in order to accomplish each and every level:

Selfawareness Tools (Acknowledge the positive aspects of Aspergers syndrome)
Art and Pleasure Tools
Physical Activity Tools
Thinking Tools
Social Tools
Emotional Repair Toolbox
Positive Thought and Relaxation Exercises

Throughout the book, the authors teach the individual how to set up a scheduled program to help themselves. They are taught about organization, charting and the art of self-monitoring. But remember, none of this is necessarily easy. In fact, what is suggested here may be very challenging for some. Yet in the end it is rewarding. The individual is given permission to enjoy the world around them and to be happy.

But there is also an important reminder. The authors, help the individual set up an emergency plan. Nothing is perfect, and it is reasonable to assume that at some time in the future, depression may set in again, and a plan on what needs to be done to help yourself at that time is essential. They do not skip the reality, that for some depression also means self-harm. This can be anything from negative thoughts, to actual physically momentarily hurting yourself, or thoughts of suicide. It is important that a plan be in place so that there is a strategic way to access the medical help you will need. This is nothing to be nervous about. It is an essential part of repairing yourself as you look forward to, and plan a happy future.

As the parent of two youngmen on the autism spectrum, I would recommend this book to any autistic individual who is trying to understand themselves, or the parents of any autistic child. It will help you watch for and monitor signs of depression, and give you a good handle on how to help yourself or those you love.

NOTE: One caveat and it is important. If you or anyone you love is suffering from depression, this book is a good place to start. The program outlined is very useful. But please work with a medical professional too. As the authors mention, therapy (CBT), support and  medication are tools to be used in getting well.

You can buy the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or directly from the publisher JKP 
(I receive no compensation no matter where you buy the book, and was given a copy of the book to review.)

*You will notice that I vacillate between using the terms "autistic person" and"person with autism." This is simple. I use the former reference because that is the term I am told that most professional autistic advocates prefer. I use the latter term, because that is the term my sons with autism prefer. My sons prefer person first language, and since they are my guide through the "land of autism," I take their lead.