Prosopagnosia and Asperger’s in the Family


When an average person meets 10 strangers, they can recall at least six of the new faces in the future. Two percent of the population does not have this facial recognition skill–they have prosopagnosia, or face blindness. My father is one of many on the autism spectrum living with face blindness.

In 1975, prosopagnosia caused the only lingering conflict in my parent’s marriage.

Mom, who became frustrated with her long hair tangling in her scuba diving apparatus, decided to go for a hip white-girl afro.  Dad was supportive until she returned from the salon.

Her transformation confounded him.  Dad spent the next six weeks giving her the side-eye, trying to wrap his mind around her frizzy not-my-wife locks.

Mom Hairstyles

Dad could not articulate why the change disturbed  him, but it did. At night, I heard them deliberate through the heating ducts:

“You look beautiful, Meem.  But it’s just not…you… The long dark hair is you. ”

“It’s not about beauty; it’s about me being tired of ripping my hair out on those goddamned regulators. I’m done with it. And I’m not braiding my (expletive) hair. That’s ridiculous. Then I’m yanking a whole braid out of my (unprintable) regulator….”

Mom felt fabulous with her new carefree hair but eventually realized something was awry—it was out of character for Dad to oppose her personal style choices.  Two frizzy perms looks later, she begrudgingly twisted her hair into tight, Miley Cyrus buns.

Problem solved!

We know about Dad’s face blindness now. Years of experience plus an Asperger’s diagnosis sorted it out for us.  We grasp at last why certain movies are hard for him to follow (how can you understand what’s going on when you can’t tell people apart?) and why large crowds disorient him (all blondes are the same person!).

Dad’s experiences clued us in to our son’s struggles with prosopagnosia. Tyoma has no sinister intentions when he insists I wipe off my lipstick.  The lipstick simply renders me unrecognizable as “Mama.” To this day, my hair is never over-curled, lest the whole family revolt, griping and complaining until I straighten and smooth my locks.



What a lovely excuse to remain forever unmade and unkempt!

Like my Dad and Tyoma, many on the autism spectrum are affected by face blindness.

In fact, those with moderate face blindness might not realize the extent of their inability to properly code and retrieve faces until they uncover the marvelous coping mechanisms they use to compensate.

If adults like my father and me stumble upon their facial recognition difficulties late in life, imagine the struggle children must face when they have prosopagnosia.

The sooner we identify prosopagnosia in children, the swifter we can offer supports and teach facial navigation skills. If your child is on the autism spectrum, these signs can help you recognize face blindness:

  1. Distress or aggression over changes in a family or friend’s appearance.
  2. Misidentifying people based clothing, hairstyle, height, or weight.
  3. A strong preference for cartoons or animal shows in conjunction with an aversion to live television programs/movies.
  4. Anxiety in daycare/school settings combined with a clinginess to teacher (children are the same age and size, whereas the adults are more recognizable).
  5. Fear of crowded areas.
  6. Confusing caretakers for others with similar hair or clothing.

Part two of this article will focus on coping strategies. Your stories and input are very welcome!

A silhouette of Mom before her haircut. If you look into the faint stream of bubbles rising from her air regulator, you can see her hair floating.


Taking the Famous Faces Test From Musings on an Aspie
Prosopagnosia–Face Blindness in Action From Autistic Aloha

Autistic Warriors


We have no autism warriors in this house. We do, however, have Autistic Warriors.

As the neighborhood mothers and children gather at the bus stop two houses down, two Autistic Warriors wait for their bus.

Autistic Warrior the Younger runs in circles and cries “Wooo!”

Autistic Warrior the Elder smiles. “Ahhhh, such ferocity! He fights a brave battle against the anxiety of imminent school bus arrival!”

At the craft store, Autistic Warrior the Younger dons fearsome headphones to shield himself from the horrifying banalities of cashier-induced platitudes.

He fights a more formidable battle another day. The sour faces of judgmental and prejudiced shoppers sneer. They expect silence and order as they purchase their bananas and frozen Celeste Pizzas. To defeat them, Autistic Warrior the Younger unleashes his greatest weapon:

“Hello! My name is Liev. Would you like to know a bit about me? I have autism, Tourette’s and OCD. I could read before I was two and I am profoundly gifted. Sometimes my Tourette’s makes me jumpy so I can’t be still. Thank you and nice to meet you.”

These are the Younger’s words–a script he wrote to relieve the inexorable internal pressure of not knowing what to say. He chooses when and where to use it.  More than one pretty brunette at Target has been startled by his impromptu delivery.  Scowling cashiers, previously confounded by chirps and defiant hops, soften their features.

His introduction often evolves into pleasant conversations about numbers or merchandise.  We hear, “My xxx has autism, too!” more frequently than you would predict. Once, a cashier with dangly earrings and sparkly eyes leaned forward and beamed, “My son is autistic, too.” I took a second glance, and noticed the warrior horns of a True Ally emerge, pointed and imposing.

Self-advocacy is potent weapon against Autistic Warrior’s foes, stigma and ignorance. And when the Younger Warrior is weary of the battle and chooses not to engage, I remember. People imbibe auras.  Emit calmness and confidence, I remind myself, never shame or exasperation.

Self-advocates and allies speak in many voices; some soft and peaceable, others loud and ferocious. Regardless of volume or style, connecting personhood to autism wins every battle.

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Compulsive Behavior: A Plan For Us All

Summer Curses

Tourette’s season is here.

The hottest, heaviest weeks of the year amplify tics to unprecedented levels. Clouds of stupids, shut ups, and other unmentionables thicken the air.

Such is the pressure to expel offending words, my son must do more than speak them: he must type them, scrawl them, and even print them out on our label-maker.

We are cool with this.

Tics are neurological. Time-outs, scolding, and other intuitive interventions not only don’t work, they actually exacerbate tics. To decriminalize forbidden words is to diminish their frequency.

So, Liev can sing a thousand foul verses and print innumerable rude remarks. We blithely ignore him.

Some tics are easier to disregard than others. For example, I cannot bear touching tics. On long rainy afternoons I find myself entertaining a child compelled to touch me a hundred times an hour.  Last year, he hinked my boozle, this year he’s punching me.

Little Punchies

I don’t mean painful, aggressive punches, I mean soft little fist taps, 10,000 times a day. We call them “little punchies.”

As accepting as I am to Liev’s neurology, I struggle with this particular tic. Unexpected touch sets off a four alarm fire in my head. I jerk, jolt, and avert my own impulses to misbehave. This involuntary dramatic, negative response ensured a plethora of future little punchies. We were stuck in a loop.

Self-pity was my first choice. Summer is inherently miserable for me, so resigning myself to punchies with a mournful sigh seemed the way to go. Within a few days, little punchie nightmares took over my sleeping world. Without a reprieve from insistent little fist taps, I woke frazzled and depressed to the core.

I needed to take action. I needed to find a way to de-criminalize punchies since ignoring them was not working.

The solution was so obvious; I can’t believe I didn’t think of it.

One day as I picked Liev up from swimming, our respite worker Danielle asked, “Have you ever considered getting him a punching bag?”

No, actually, I hadn’t. The elegance of this solution made me want to shout “D’oh!” to the heavens.

The next day, we picked up a mixed martial arts bop bag. The company who manufactures the bag could never appreciate the wonderful favor they did for us by emblazoning it with numbered strike zones. More attractive than my backside or torso, the target-styled numbers invited infinite little punchies (and some big punchies, too!).

Little Punchies

Our new bop bag accomplished two delightful things. First, it gave me control over the little punchies, so I did not spend my afternoons engulfed in adrenal hyper-vigilance.  Second, it gave Liev an outlet for his prodigious energy.   Any suggested number sequence redirected volleys of dopamine-fueled punchies to “Bopping Billy.” Hooray!

As I reflected on the success of Danielle’s suggestion, I recognized the existential issue of little punchies. Pointing my son to a punching bag is no different from me directing myself to a canvas or notebook. Our family experience of Asperger’s and Tourette’s includes such a superfluity of mental and physical energy that we must continually channel the excess or drown in the overflow. To master ourselves,  we must uncover new outlets, so energies blossom outward in useful, healthy ways.

Kid’s Crafting with Autism and Tourette’s

Summer Break

Summer break lurks. I am anxious in advance.

The unstructured days of summer challenge my son and me. We crave stimulation, yet our uneven executive skills leave us either aimless and bored or agitated and disturbed. Without advanced and detailed planning, summer will be miserable.

Over past school breaks and summers, I learned how to make time pass more agreeably.  I hope what brings us, a mother and child on the autism spectrum, brings you a full and happy summer.



Fun is Subjective

The key to a successful project is organization. No, I don’t mean being organized ahead of time (though it helps). The key is to let your little one organize! Do you remember when your child loved lining up toys? This is the exact same thing.  Fun is subjective. Smeary blobs of paint are yucky. Tidy rows of crayons are delightful.  Art can be chaotic but giving your child control over their supplies not only reduces anxiety, but it is also a fun activity itself.

Above, my son arranged his ink pads in a pleasing fashion. He similarly ordered his rubber stamps and ran off to get the label maker to identify the stations where the ink, stamps, and paper will be. His process took 45 minutes. On this day he only stamped for five minutes, but on others, we spend hours stamping.


Accommodate for Needs

Liev and I love colors and patterns. Potholder making is a favorite activity, but it has pitfalls. Looms require both a fleetness of fingers and a tedium tolerance that eludes most six-year-old boys. We tackle the loom together. To nix anxiety, we list Liev Jobs and Mama Jobs.

Clarifying who does what and when visually is essential to all our activities. T sorts the colors into piles, selects a pattern, hands me loops, and straightens each row I weave. I set up the loom and do the actual weaving.

This is an excellent activity for a young touretter. I wove while he hopped, chirped, and bounded. My hyperactive son shared in the process of making something and got the movement his body craves.

Anticipate and Redirect

Tie Dyed TWhen I told my mom that Liev and I made tie-dyed shirts, she gasped. When I told her we did it at the kitchen table instead of outdoors, she gasped even louder.  We used a delightful kit with dye squeeze bottles instead of buckets. Not only was the tie-dye easy, but it was also tidy!
Imaginative and impulsive brains may make art dazzling, but eight ounces of concentrated dye in a squeeze bottle is a terrible temptation.  As I shook up the pink dye, our kitty strolled by. I was seized by an almost irresistible urge to squirt her with dye. I resisted and put kitty away, covering visible carpet and furniture with blankets and plastic.

Anticipating potential catastrophes is easy because I think like my son. If you are not pre-wired with autism, imagine the biggest, most indelible mess and plan accordingly. Better yet, know what to do at the cusp of disaster: redirect.

Midway through our second shirt, Liev confessed to a compulsion to “make a fountain with the green dye.” I nodded, asked for the dye, and suggested he find a squishy ball. We set the ball on the table for “compulsive squishing.”

Sensory options like squeeze toys or something unexpected (such as making a green fountain in the sink) are great redirectors. Composure is essential as well. Emotion stokes compulsion fires and ignites meltdowns. Say, my son flipped over a jar of apple cider on the counter, I would serenely ask for towels and we clean up like it’s no big deal. Parental irritation and potential meltdown avoided.  It’s neurology, not personal!

Making Applesauce

Final Words

My son’s growing mind needs stimulation—but not too much!  Every successful activity is a discrete dose of the right stimulation at the right time. I enjoy our special projects but they exhaust me. I cut myself liberal slack–especially since I am on the autism spectrum. I don’t always have the abundant mental reserves to introduce new activities, so we tackle new projects once a week.

Whether or not you are on the spectrum, your child will still need structure, accommodations and something enjoyable in every project. I wish you luck as you embark on your summer vacation and would love to hear what activities are successful (and why!) in your household.



Entertaining Others With Your Aspie Gifts
Should I Indulge My Asperger Child?
Embrace Neurodiversity!
Excitability, Asperger’s and Tadpoles

Childhood Dreams and Autism

Nightmare World

It’s three am. My son hollers from across the house, “Rest with meeeeee!”

He’s had another nightmare.

Liev’s sleeping mind conjures strange and spectacular horrors. In his dreams, bathtub drains have teeth and eat little boy fingers.  Lurid moons peep through his curtains with “frowns and smiles so tight it hurts to look at them.” Limbs detach themselves and ambulate to our basement for exercise.

Tonight, the kitchen trash became sentient.  Liev’s dream-self heard its irritable rustling a half a house away.  I rest with him and doze off until Papa wakes me at 7:00.

Most nights are like this.

Prior to last spring, Liev slept well, waking only when routines went awry. That May, his brain began cranking out bizarre dreams regularly.

Part of me wanted to high-five him–weird dreams are a rite of passage in our family. The other part offered its tenderest sympathies.

Nightmare Factory

My childhood nightmare factory produced horrors similar to Liev’s.  In fact, my dreams resemble his so closely I suspect a genetic component.

My most frightening dream involved murderous dishtowels with superhuman strength. A pack of them stalked me in our living room, intent on smothering me.  When a ratty plaid terry towel flipped over the couch and found me cowering, I woke up screaming.

No alien or zombie-filled movie will ever equal the terror of the evil dishtowels. Perhaps Liev and I fear the mundane turned sinister because we crave predictability. The unexpected petrifies.

As we weather Liev’s nightmare surge, I’d like to share how our family manages to sleep well despite frequent wakings.

Accept sleep disruption.  Nightmares peak for all children five to eight years old. Children like Liev who have autism and/or Tourette’s syndrome are more anxious and creative, causing intense dreams.   Dreams are to my six-year-old what diapers are to a baby, a natural part of his development.

Adjust the sleep environment. Most autistic children do not have the skills to unwind alone after a frightening dream, requiring someone to stay with them until they fall asleep.  Any way you can secure sleep is excellent, even if it seems peculiar.

A happy accident worked wonderfully for us: Liev kept rolling off his twin bed so we gave him the queen guest bed.  He now boasts two beds for nightmare recovery. A parent keeps him company as needed, either on the spare twin or next to him, according to need.  I don’t worry about where I sleep, so long as I do sleep and so does everyone else.  Each parent has a thousand waking, calm moments to teach a child independence. Let sleep be their respite.

Redirect fear. We do not discuss nightmares in the bedroom.  I give Liev a courtesy sentence to relate his nightmare, but I don’t let him elaborate. I distract with a snack, brisk walk, or story if he can’t stop talking. Children with OCD or autism easily get worrisome thoughts stuck, so I act quickly to prevent Liev from reliving his fear and losing an entire night’s sleep.

Use tools.  Some parents make “nightmare spray” or “monster traps” for their children. Others train their child to change the ending of their dreams. While Liev invents multiple nightmare fighting tools, he eventually asks, “What if it doesn’t work?” This frightening realization can swallow a child whole.  I advocate honesty and composure. We tell Liev, “You will wake up and someone will be with you.”  Sometimes we need to say this a few times, but it ends the conversation. Knowing he is safe and loved is the most powerful tool of all.

My Mother's Day Card
My Mother’s Day Card

Liev’s sleeping mind is as extraordinary as his waking one. One day, I will look back at the night he dreamed his eyes got stuck in one socket. I will recall our trips to the mirror, deep breathing, and reading fairytales until he fell asleep. I will cherish the moments we shared together when I was an all-powerful mother and conqueror of nightmares.

Roach Nightmare Protecting my son from sinister forces.
Autism and Empathy: The Yogurt Incident Kickstarter for my son’s nightmares.
The Monkey Shower Dream Processing confusion before our Tourette’s syndrome diagnosis.
The Circle of Life A strange dream for a preschooler.
The Red Frog An early nightmare.
Finger Dream Vanity vs. responsibility.