Timothy Kowalski, MA on Asperger's Disorder
Excerpt from Wise Counsel Interview Transcript, by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series
sponsored by mentalhelp.net covering topics in mental health, wellness,
and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical
psychologist and your host.
On today's show we will be talking about Asperger's
syndrome with my guest, Timothy P. Kowalski.
Timothy Kowalski is a licensed speech-language
pathologist, and nationally known expert on Asperger's syndrome and
high-functioning autism. Currently, he's a consultant to private and
public schools and provides diagnostic, therapeutic, and consultative
services to children and adolescents with psychiatric and behavioral
disorders in his office.
Kowalski has worked in a variety of settings, including home health,
nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
He obtained his Master's degree in speech
communications from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio
and earned his Bachelor's degree in communications disorders from
Connecticut State University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Mr. Kowalski is the author of "The
Source for Asperger's Syndrome," a practical resource for anyone
working with this population. Mr. Kowalski's experience makes him a
skilled and knowledgeable instructor. Now, here is the interview.
Timothy Kowalski, welcome to Wise Counsel.
Timothy Kowalski: Thank you.
David: I found you through an educational flyer sent
out to psychologists around the country, and I saw that you do
workshops all over the place on Asperger's syndrome, which is a very
of the people that I have on my show are psychologists. You are
actually training psychologists-among others-on Asperger's, but you are
not a psychologist yourself. How did you develop this expertise?
Timothy: Well, I first started working with the
classic autistic population. I kept gravitating more towards the
higher-functioning individuals. This was way before we had the term
Asperger's Syndrome around.
I found the higher population to be more challenging
mentally in terms of trying to help them. We got them better; I got
them academically doing very well; but everybody hated them because
they were socially ineffective and inappropriate in terms of using
their social skills.
So I started to work more and more with this
particular population. Then we came around with the label of
Asperger's. I continued with my love of this particular population,
wrote a book, and from that developed a quote-unquote expertise that
people have been using.
My target population is all sorts of disciplines.
I've had psychiatrists and pediatricians come down to parents and
grandparents--and everybody in between.
David: What's your professional background, your
Timothy: My background is a speech-language
pathologist. So when I do assessments on these individuals, I am
assessing what's called social communication skills. So the best
diagnosis I give is a social pragmatic language disorder, and I tell
people that I'm suspicious that we may be seeing Asperser but I cannot
give you that label.
So when we have people come into my office, we are
very very specific that they are aware if they're looking for an
Asperger label, this office can't give it.
David: You refer them out then, to get formally
diagnosed, to either a psychiatrist or psychologist. Is that right?
Timothy: That's correct.
David: Ah, OK. It's interesting that you're working
with the high-functioning Asperger's people, and I'm surprised to hear
they're frustrating in some way. I know there are some very famous
high-functioning Asperger's people out there that maybe you could talk
a little bit about. I know of one who has even written a book, Dr.
Temple Grandin. You know her?
Timothy: Yes, some people say she has Asperger's and
some people feel she is more of a high-functioning individual. I
differentiate between Asperger's and high-functioning individuals.
David: What do you mean, high-functioning
Timothy: High-functioning autism.
David: OK. I didn't realize there was a distinction
between the two. Maybe you could talk about that.
Timothy: What is I usually tell people is there's
two debates. There's two groups of individuals. One group says that
high-functioning autism is synonymous with Asperger's. I subscribe to
the group that disagrees with that philosophy. I think they have two
Timothy: I think the biggest area of feature
difference between the two is the relative degree for desire for social
interaction. I find that high-functioning autism-whether I have you as
a friend or don't have you as a friend my life isn't going to be
impacted that much.
with Asperger's, they typically really really do desire to have a
social friendship, to have a relationship with other people, but they
are very very ineffective at going about that, and so they alienate
Timothy: That to me is the big difference. If you
look at Temple, she is brilliant in her area of expertise-- which is
slaughterhouse design--and ability to get up and give a talk on autism.
excellent at those skills. She has improved dramatically in her ability
to use public speaking, but if I'm correct, Temple still says that
whether she develops a relationship is not of interest to her.
would say that that is the biggest differentiating factor as to why I
would say Temple is more high-functioning autism as opposed to
David: OK. She invented something called her hug
box. Maybe you could describe that for our audience?
Timothy: Her hug box or squeeze box -whichever term
that you've used - was a technique that she used. She has some sensory
processing difficulties, and she found that deep pressure helped reduce
some of her anxiety and some of her stresses that she was experiencing.
developed this type of box out of wood that had compression. She
noticed it was from the slaughterhouse design again. That the cows that
were going through, when they were under deep pressure, seemed to calm
So she tried developing this on her own, and she has
a device that allows her to control the relative degree of pressure
that's presented. So she kind of gets inside this thing.
looks like a glorified refrigerator box laying on its side. She lies in
it, and the two sides compress, and she can control the degree of
pressure that's there. And it provides her with the relaxation
technique that she needs. It helps her in terms of organization.
David: That's so interesting. So, in a sense, she is
getting a hug, but it is a very impersonal hug.
David: As you point out, she has no real need for
people to be involved.
Timothy: That's my recollection. Every time I've
been around Temple: a very brilliant individual, but still very aloof
in terms of how she engages with other individuals.
David: Now, are there other authors or people in the
public eye that come to mind who are like Temple? Who are what you
describe as high-functioning autism?
Timothy: Not that I can think of off the top of my
head. I know that there's an individual by the name of Luke Jackson. He
was 13-years-old when he wrote a book describing Asperger's.
know that he's one of five siblings in the same household that has
autism-spectrum type labels. In his situation, he's pretty coherent in
terms of how he expresses things like dating and school and personal
hygiene. It's wonderful.
David: OK. Do we know anything at the physiological,
biochemical level that would differentiate the Asperger from the
Timothy: Not that I have read. I know that they're
doing a lot of studies in terms of structural differences with the
brain. They're looking at frontal lobe regions. They're looking at the
Courchesne is doing a lot of research in that particular area. But I
haven't read of anything specifically as yet, in terms of the
etiological aspects. And I'll also be honest with you, as a speech
pathologist, it's not an area that I can really deal with, shall we
say. So I'm not spending that much time in that area either.
David: Right. Right. So how does one recognize and
identify the behavioral symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome? I know that's
one of the things you cover in your workshop, and obviously, you can't
go into as much detail here.
Timothy: Well the things that I usually look for is
a relative degree of difficulty in terms of initiating conversations
with other individuals, or what are the three triads: the social
interaction, the social communication skills and the social-emotional
interaction, how they engage with others leaves a lot to be desired.
And typically in a preschool environment, you're going to see signs of
more aggressive-like behavior and inappropriate interacting.
The individual may go up to another child whose
playing peacefully on the playground and whop them one in the back, and
he tears off. And what usually happens is then the child who just got
hit chases after him.
child with Asperger's perceives it as "I'm interacting. We're having
fun", yet the child who just got hit doesn't see it that way. So how he
engages that other individual leaves a lot to be desired.
As they advance in years, they become a little more
savvy to certain things, however they're perceived as being odd and
idiosyncratic. Newsweek, a couple of years ago, ran an article called
"The Geek Syndrome", and they said that Silicon Valley would not be
Silicon Valley if it weren't for all the Asperger's out there.
[NOTE by Talent
Development Resources editor:
see The Geek
Syndrome, By Steve Silberman, WIRED magazine.]
And when you start to look at some of the things that those individuals
may do, most people perceive those types of behaviors as very odd and
idiosyncratic - the classic 'geeky' type of individual.
what happens, inadvertently, is that they have a tendency to make
themselves stand out from the crowd in a manner that's not perceived as
being positive, and so social isolation develops. They don't perceive
it as being an isolating type of thing, and as a result, it perpetuates
the whole cycle.
Then the other area that I look for is the
communication. There's a thing in Asperger's that's called 'pedantic
language', and that is also known as the 'little professor'.
the quality where I give you everything that you needed to know about
Glade Plug-ins and then some more. So it's way too much, above and
beyond, what we would expect.
And there's a classic phrase in Asperger's that goes
"Don't be blinded by the brilliance."
a lot of parents may perceive their six-year-old holding quantum
physics discussions and can tell you everything about the celestial
bodies, but they absolutely have no friendships whatsoever.
become blinded by that child's ability to be so brilliant in that one
particular area, but fail to see the whole picture of what's happening
with this child.
Continued in Wise Counsel
Interview by David Van Nuys,
Kowalski, MA on Asperger's Disorder
- see site for rest of
transcript and audio podcast.
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