Living Well on the Spectrum: How to Use Your Strengths to Meet the Challenges of Asperger Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism

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Being "different" is old news for adults with asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism (AS/HFA), whether they were diagnosed as children or only recently. Meeting a huge demand and providing indispensable practical guidance, prominent therapist Valerie Gaus shows how difference can be a strength. By mastering specific coping and problem-solving skills that "neurotypical" folks take for granted, people with AS/HFA can achieve greater success in everything from dealing with daily routines and social interactions to building a career and negotiating intimate relationships. The straight-talking, methodical writing style is expressly tailored to this audience's preferences and needs. The book is packed with questionnaires and worksheets that help readers pinpoint their areas of greatest concern and develop personalized action plans to build the life they want.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"As an Aspie, I found this an excellent and readable guide. The book gives readers a better understanding of their social, intellectual, and physical strengths and weaknesses, and provides strategies for improving communication and social skills. It includes helpful techniques for choosing goals and setting course toward them. Kudos to Dr. Gaus for creating this manual--I hope it will be much read."--Eric Schissel, Ithaca, New York
"Dr. Gaus presents her ideas clearly and effectively and makes terrific use of practical examples. She offers great ideas to help those on the spectrum decrease stress and maximize their progress toward life goals by understanding, fully utilizing, and celebrating their special qualities."--Gary B. Mesibov, PhD, coauthor of Understanding Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism
"A marvelous book with extremely helpful and practical advice. This book will be of tremendous help to individuals with AS/HFA."--Fred R. Volkmar, MD, coauthor of A Practical Guide to Autism; Child Study Center, Yale University  

"Valerie Gaus offers readers on the autism spectrum a positive, powerful plan for living life to the fullest. Presenting autism as a different rather than a disordered way of being, Dr. Gaus personally guides readers toward self-discovery and then shows practical ways to address challenges. As a person on the spectrum, I find Dr. Gaus’s examples, ideas, and approaches ring true with my own life experiences....More than just a 'must read'; this book is a 'must experience' for everyone on the autism spectrum, as well as those who support them."—from the Foreword by Stephen Shore, author of Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome

Autism Asperger's Digest

"On a daily basis, adults on the spectrum face stressful, frustrating, and sometimes debilitating roadblocks that most neurotypical individuals don't appreciate or understand. Author Valerie Gaus, a psychologist who has been immersed in working with spectrum adults for more than 15 years, 'gets it.' Her newest a straight-talking roadmap that will provide both wind and rudder to help adults navigate daily life and meet long-term goals. Filled with practical strategies to minimize stress and maximize progress toward individual goals, this book exudes an unwavering strength-based, can-do attitude. Dr. Gaus reinterprets what could be considered deficits and weaknesses of AS/HFA into distinctive strengths that can be used to one's advantage throughout life. She infuses this attitude with candor and sensitivity...She combines an uncanny understanding of the challenges ASD presents with an array of practical, problem-solving tactics. What's different about this book is the methodical, concrete way she helps the spectrum adult assess his or her current way of thinking and functioning, recognize the patterns that are interfering with personal and professional success, and then create a customized step-by-step personal solution plan. Living Well is a powerful guide for achieving well-being in all areas of life."--Autism Asperger's Digest
Functioning Autism

"Dr. Gaus presents her ideas clearly and effectively and makes terrific use of practical examples. She offers great ideas to help those on the spectrum decrease stress and maximize their progress toward life goals by understanding, fully utilizing, and celebrating their special qualities. -Gary B. Mesibov, PhD, coauthor of Understanding Asperger Syndrome and High"--Functioning Autism
School Social Work Journal

"Dr. Valerie L. Gaus delivers on her intent to make a user-friendly guidebook to assist with the challenges common to individuals on the autism spectrum. She directs the reader to turn such challenges into accompanying strengths in order to cope with activities of daily living....This book can be described as practical. While it is best used with high-functioning older adolescent and young adult populations, it is very easy to read and can be assigned as homework for the client to work through on his or her own. Accompanying graphics, parallel language structure, and organization reinforce concepts throughout the book....A valuable resource. If used as a reference, especially the first section can be extremely helpful in better understanding, operationalizing, and reframing the deficit areas often associated with individuals on the spectrum."--School Social Work Journal
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

“If I was asked to define Living Well on the Spectrum in one word, the first one that comes to mind is: Pragmatic….Unlike some other books and material available, this book specifically address and opens up a dialogue on the issue of quality of life and the difference between being alive and living….The pragmatic approach within this book is commendable and most certainly one that is off the beaten path.”--Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Library Journal
Gaus, a clinical psychologist with 15 years' experience working with adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), has developed a how-to book for adults with Asperger's syndrome (AS) and high-functioning autism (HFA). Her goal is to help them use their autistic characteristics by turning them into positive traits through enhanced self-knowledge and awareness. By using this workbook, ASD patients are said to gain control over daily situations and tasks that normally cause great stress. The first section concentrates on strengths and weaknesses and accepting these differences to begin building self-confidence and developing coping strategies. The second section is a detailed explanation of the eight-step problem-solving process, with additional chapters on the most common areas in which ASD people struggle—home life, work, school, community, friendship, intimate relationships, and health. VERDICT While her text is very dense and involved, Gaus directly targets what adults and young adults with AS/HFA struggle with daily. Worksheets written in plain language will assist readers in discovering problem areas, strengths, goals, and more; recommended for ASD patients and their families.—Lisa M. Jordan, Johnson Cty. Lib., KS
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781606236345
  • Publisher: Guilford Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/21/2011
  • Pages: 383
  • Sales rank: 298,984
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 10.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Valerie L. Gaus, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Long Island, New York, where she lives with her husband and two children. With more than 15 years of experience providing mental health services to people with autism spectrum disorders, Dr. Gaus serves on the advisory board of the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association and has lectured internationally on Asperger syndrome and related topics. She is the author of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult Asperger Syndrome, a bestselling book for therapists.

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Read an Excerpt

Living Well on the Spectrum

How to Use Your Strengths to Meet the Challenges of Asperger Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism

By Valerie L. Gaus

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2011 The Guilford Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60623-634-5


A Typical Day in Your Life

Problems and Solutions

In today's society, everybody appears to be on the go much of the time, trying to juggle many things at once. Any person can feel pressured under these circumstances, but people on the spectrum may feel even more overwhelmed by the demands of daily adult life than typical people. In fact, when people on the spectrum come to my office for help, they often report a lot of stress in their lives. They describe how getting through the day, trying to complete the simplest things, seems so difficult and taxing. Even when a day is considered successful, they feel completely exhausted by the end, as if a supposedly simple set of tasks had drained all of their resources.

In this chapter I will help you identify the key parts of your life where you are feeling the most pressure or disappointment. First I will walk you through your own typical day to help you pinpoint the trouble spots. Then I will introduce several other people on the spectrum whose struggles may be familiar to you. Reading about these common problems may remind you of some that you experience but didn't identify at first. Then you will learn more about how the growing field of positive psychology, mentioned in the Introduction, can offer solutions to these problems and how this approach will drive all of the strategies and suggestions I offer throughout this book. The chapter ends with a description of self-help techniques that you can use to solve a wide variety of problems, discussed in full in the chapters ahead.

A Typical Day on the Spectrum

No two days are exactly alike, but I am going to ask you specific questions about each part of your average day. If it is hard for you to imagine your typical day, just pick one specific day from the past week, such as yesterday or last Friday, and use that as your example.

First think about your morning. Are there things that happen in the morning that cause you discomfort in any way? Here are some questions to help you assess for trouble spots during that period of the day. Jot down your answers in the blank lines if you find this useful.

* What time do you wake up and how do you wake up? __________________

* Do you use an alarm? ______________________________________________

* Does someone in your family wake you up? __________________________

* Do you feel rested when you wake up? ______________________________

* Are you able to get up when you want to? __________________________

* Are you getting up to go someplace (work, school), or do you typically stay home in the morning? ________________________________________________

* Do you have enough time to prepare if you are leaving? ____________

* Do you have breakfast? ____________________________________________

* Do you eat alone or with someone? _________________________________

* Do you get along with the people in your household in the morning? _____

* Do you have difficulty leaving on time? ___________________________

* Are you able to find everything you need, or do you struggle with things being misplaced (clothes, books, keys)? _____________________________

* How do you get where you are going (car, public transportation)? __


* Do you have any difficulty with your transportation? ______________

* Are you frustrated or bored because you have no place to go (e.g., unemployed)? ____________

* Are you nervous or scared about leaving the house? ________________

* If you have work or school, what is it like once you arrive at your destination? ________________________________________________

* Do you arrive on time, or are you late? ___________________________

* Do you greet other people when you arrive? ________________________

* How do you get along with your coworkers or fellow students/trainees? _____________________________________________________________________

Then move to midday as you picture your typical routine. The following questions can help you consider sources of stress during this time of the day.

* If you work or go to school, what is it like settling in for the day? _______ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Are you able to be productive with your work? _______________________________

* Do have difficulty getting your work started? _______________________________

* Are you able to follow the instructions given to you by your boss or instructors? _______________________________________________________________

* Do you feel pressured by the work? __________________________________________

* Do you enjoy what you are doing? ____________________________________________

* Are you able to use your talents in your work, or are you underutilized? _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you have time for a lunch break? _________________________________________

* What do you do for lunch? ___________________________________________________

* Do you eat alone or with others? ____________________________________________

* Are you reluctant to talk to others? ________________________________________

* Do you try to talk to people but find you are not making connections? _______________________________________________________________________________

* If you are not employed or in school, how do you spend the middle part of your day? _____________________________________________________________________

* Do you have meaningful activities or things to do that you enjoy? ___________ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Are you bored, depressed, or frustrated because you are at home? ____________ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you feel cooped up at home and wish to be out more than you are? _________ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Are you satisfied with the amount of contact you have with other people, or do you feel lonely? ___________________________________________________________

Now think about the afternoon and how it usually goes for you.

* As the day moves through the afternoon, do you tend to become more or less productive? ______________________________________________________________

* If you are at work, does the end of the workday bring more pressure? ________ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you have difficulty stopping your work when it is time to go home? _______ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you feel overwhelmed when the day draws to a close because you did not get done what you had hoped to? _______________________________________________

* If you are a student, is the afternoon a better or worse time to be in class or study? ________________________________________________________________________

* If you have been home all day, do you find more activities to do in the later part of the day, or do you continue to feel bored or frustrated? ______________

* Do you have any difficulty while running errands, such as going to the bank or post office? _______________________________________________________________

* If you commute home from work or school at this time of day, do you have any difficulty with travel, either by car or by public transportation? ________ _______________________________________________________________________________

As the day turns into evening, how do things shift or change for you?

* If you are arriving home from work or school, what is the transition back to your home like? _______________________________________________________________

* Who is there to greet you, if anyone? _______________________________________

* If you do live with someone, what is interacting with this person like at this time of day? __________________________________________________________________

* If you have been home all day and others in your household are arriving home in the evening, what is it like getting along with them at this time? _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you eat dinner? __________________________________________________________

Whom do you eat with, and what is it like getting along with them? ____________ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Is mealtime with your family stressful? _____________________________________

* If you eat alone, do you prepare a meal yourself or eat take-out? ___________ Do you feel lonely? ___________________________________________________________

* Do you have household chores to do in the evening? __________________________

* Do you find your household responsibilities overwhelming at this time? _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you look through your mail, and if so, do you find anything about that stressful? ____________________________________________________________________

* Do you have any time for recreational or leisure activities in the evening? _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you get bored in the evening? ____________________________________________

* Do you feel more or less energetic in the evening than at other times of day? __________________________________________________________________________

When the evening turns into late night, or a time that many people go to bed, what do you find yourself doing?

* Do you go to bed early or like to stay up late? _____________________________

* If you are a "night owl," do other people in your household complain about this? _________________________________________________________________________

* Do you have difficulty falling asleep? ______________________________________

* Do you spend more time than you meant to watching TV or using the computer because you get caught up in it? ______________________________________________

* Do you feel more depressed or anxious late at night than during the day? _______________________________________________________________________________

And finally, during the overnight hours:

* Do you get enough sleep? ____________________________________________________

* Do you fall asleep but then wake up frequently throughout the night? ________ _______________________________________________________________________________

* Do you wake up much earlier than you'd like? ________________________________

Are you starting to get a picture of the best and worst times of your day? To clarify the picture of your day further, fill out Worksheets 1 and 2. If you need an example of what to write down on your worksheets, look at the ones filled out by Blanca, the first person you will meet in the next section. I will ask you to refer to your worksheets later in the book as you do other exercises in the process of improving your satisfaction with your day-to-day life.

Common Trouble Spots

The preceding lists and worksheets may have helped you start to piece together a picture of your own typical day. The following "snapshots" from the typical days of others on the spectrum may help you fill in any gaps. These descriptions illustrate the most stressful point in each person's day and serve as examples of the most common trouble spots to be addressed in this book. The people in the following scenarios are all quite different, but they do have one thing in common: each person has been diagnosed with AS or HFA.

Blanca is 23 years old and single. She lives with her parents and her younger brother. Her most difficult time of the day is the morning. Her day begins when the alarm clock rings at 7:00 a.m. She gets out of bed immediately because she has been lying awake since 5:00 a.m. even though she goes to bed at midnight. She has morning class at the university, where she is working toward a master's degree in marine biology. She has about an hour before she has to leave to make the 30-minute drive to campus. As she gets ready, she feels very anxious, because she often forgets things she needs for her day.

She struggles as she packs her book bag because she has difficulty finding things in her messy room. She also has trouble concentrating in the morning because she feels tired from lack of sleep.

Henry is age 29 and lives with his father in the house in which he grew up. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and has been unemployed for 6 years. He spends most days home alone while his father works. He tries to look for a job by exploring advertisements on the Internet. The most stressful time of day for him is the late afternoon, because he begins to feel pressured by the fact that he has not gotten much done. He anticipates the argument that he and his father will have when his father gets home from work. Dad often asks him what he did all day and criticizes him for not having found work.

Arnold is an 18-year-old college freshman living in a dorm with two roommates. He dreads the evenings, because his roommates invite a lot of people in to hang out. He wants to make friends, but he is very shy. He has always tried to "disappear" when around kids his own age, a habit that protected him from the bullies in middle school. Now he wants to be more sociable, but he doesn't know how to start conversations and even when he thinks of something to say, he is too scared to try. For the most part, his roommates and their friends ignore him.

Jake is single, 20, and living with his parents. He recently dropped out of community college after only two semesters and now works part-time in the dairy department of a grocery store. The most difficult times of day for him are when he has to drive himself to or from work. He got his driver's license just before starting college and did so very reluctantly. He is anxious on any road other than his own suburban residential street, and his anxiety increases with the number of other cars on the road. He will not drive on highways at all. The 10-mile commute to work is extremely unpleasant for him, and when the anxiety is particularly high, he calls in sick. Though he does not feel comfortable admitting this to his parents, his fear of driving contributed to his decision to drop out of school.

Noel, age 37, owns his own house and lives in it by himself. He works full time as a computer programmer. The most difficult time of day for him is the evening, when he goes home to his empty house. Weekend evenings are even worse than weekdays because he feels very lonely. He wants very much to get married and have children, but he has had very little success with dating. He has joined several online dating services through the years, but he has gone on only two dates. Each time, he felt very uncomfortable making conversation with his dates, and neither woman was willing to go on a second date. He is frustrated because he thinks he is doing something wrong, but he does not know what it is.

Meredith is 46, single, and shares an apartment with a roommate. She has a law degree but has never worked as a lawyer. She currently has a part-time job at a nursery/home garden center. She has diabetes, and the most stressful time of her day is the morning, when she must take her first glucose reading and give herself a shot of insulin. The tasks involved in taking care of this chronic medical condition have overwhelmed her for all of her adult life. She often thinks that she would have been able to handle a career in law if she did not have to devote so much time to managing her health.

Even though none of these people is exactly like you, you might find yourself struggling in similar ways. You may have noticed that being on the spectrum can create dissatisfaction or difficulty in any area of life:

* Home life

* Work life

* Educational life

* Community life

* Social life

* Health

In the following pages you'll have a chance to look at your own experiences in each of these arenas of daily life to get an idea of where you struggle most. This self-knowledge will help you figure out which chapters in Part II may be most helpful to you. Each of them covers one of these areas of life in more depth, offering more answers about the causes and solutions for these difficulties.


Excerpted from Living Well on the Spectrum by Valerie L. Gaus. Copyright © 2011 The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission of The Guilford Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword, Stephen Shore
Introduction. How to Get the Most Out of This Book
I. Life on the Spectrum
1. A Typical Day in Your Life: Problems and Solutions
2. A Unique Brain: How Thinking Differences Can Affect Your Daily Life
3. How Social Differences Can Be Vulnerabilities and Strengths
4. The Role of Your Emotional Differences
5. How Sensory and Movement Differences Can Affect Your Interactions with Your Environment
II. Positive Solutions for a Quality Life
6. Positive Solutions: Your Bag of Tricks
7. At Home
8. At Work
9. At School
10. In the Community
11. Building Friendships
12. Dating, Sex, and Marriage
13. Health
14. Putting Yourself in Charge of Your Life and Finding Help When You Need It
Appendix: Problem-Solving Worksheet

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2012

    I received this book from my local library and began to read it

    I received this book from my local library and began to read it immediately when I got home. As a person who possibly has Asperger's, I found the first few chapters very interesting. However, as someone who is studying neuroscience, I didn't really enjoy the dumbed-down version of how the brain works in ASD people vs. neurotypical person. I got SO frustrated reading things that seemed like common sense to me, that I stopped reading the book and returned it to the library.

    If you're not studying neuroscience and don't have a complex knowledge of how the brain works, then this book can be very helpful to you. However, if you do study neuroscience, it doesn't really do enough justice to all the research that's been done on the brain. I would've liked to see more concrete, complex explanations of how the brain works.

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