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'Theory of Mind' probes Asperger's

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'Theory of Mind' probes Asperger's
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The play "Theory of Mind" will be presented by Mixed Blood Theatre at the New York Mills Cultural Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20.

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The play by Ken LaZebnik, dramatizing the life of a young man with Asperger's Syndrome, will be shown at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center.

"I always try to act normal but my normal isn't normal," said Bill, the lead character in this play.

Bill is a college-bound 17-year-old, equipped with scholastic brilliance, but low emotional intelligence; keen self-awareness, yet an inability to read social cues; and a charming directness. He is also uncertain about relationships, anxious about dating, and prone to taking everything he hears literally. His outing with a girl from his school becomes a memorable, insightful look at tugs, shifts and about-faces found on the autism spectrum.

How do people with Asperger's Syndrome respond to sensory experiences? Do they take in sights, sounds, smells in a different way than typical people? In Tony Atwood's book, "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome," he notes that people with Asperger's can have both hyper and hyposensitivity to sensory experiences. That is, they can either feel stimulus very intensely, as when a sound that doesn't seem loud to typical people seems overwhelming to them (hypersensitivity), or they can exhibit hyposensitivity, and not respond at all (as when they don't feel the heat of a flame on their hand in the way a typical person would).

People with Asperger's Syndrome can also easily experience sensory overload. Hearing two people talk at the same time is a common experience, but for someone with Asperger's that can be overwhelming. Sensory overload can also occur when information comes in on two different "channels": A man is speaking, but he is simultaneously gesturing, indicating that what he's skeptical about the words he's saying. A person with Asperger's may only be able to "read" one track; typically the verbal one, and will miss the subtext indicated by the gesture.

Atwood pointed out that as a result, "Some sensory experiences cause great discomfort and the person develops a range of adaptive coping mechanisms. However, some sensory experiences, such as listening to a clock ticking and chiming, can be extremely enjoyable and the person is eager to gain access to those experiences that are enjoyable."

One result of that eagerness to access those enjoyable experiences may be a physical tic. In children more heavily affected on the autism spectrum, that tic may be spinning. Spinning gives those children a sense of equilibrium; it's a centering technique for them. Other physical tics may be hand flapping, or rocking back and forth. Again, it's a coping technique, a way of experiencing something calming in a stressful (or highly charged exuberant) situation.

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