Sunday, 31 January 2016

Aspies with partners: how do you do it?

Aspies, Autists, and Spectrumesque folk:

If you have or have had a significant other of the romantic persuasion, how did you meet and how did you take it further?  And how do (or did) you make the whole relationship thing work?

Meandering around Aspie forums and blogs, I've often come across anecdotes like: "I really don't get on with people at all.  I don't have any friends... in fact I was saying to my wife of 14 years just the other day...."

Whaaa?  If you're bad with people and have "no" friends, how on earth have you pulled off one of the biggest, most challenging, most significant relationships in our social structure?

But this is a thing.  Looking at my own network, I know about as many Aspies who are married or in long term relationships as ones who have always or mostly been single.  It's clearly something that lots of us can pull off.  (No pun intended, get your mind out the gutter.)

I can't.  I've had one relationship that could be called serious, that lasted a few months when I was 19.  The whole turn-out was a dreadful mistake for both of us.  Since then there's been nada, but I haven't really made much of an effort to be honest.  The whole business sound like far more trouble than it's worth.

But I am genuinely curious about those who can make a significant relationship happen. How did you meet?  How did you fall in love, or realise you were into each other?  How do you cope with shared living space and competing sensory needs?  Does one partner do most of the emotional labour to keep the relationship afloat, or do you share it evenly?  It sounds utterly impossible to me - so how are you doing it?

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Picking your battles

Twice in the last week I've heard someone use "retard" in passing conversations.

And both times, I've let it go.  I've silently judged the speaker to within in inch of their lives, but haven't called them on it.

That's not because I've softened my stance that using that word and others like it is a hateful, hurtful and hugely clueless thing to do.

It's because, in both instances, I just don't think it was worth it.

In one case it was an amateur comedian doing a set into their webcam, for a YouTube video that had views barely into double figures.  (Don't ask why I was watching it, it's a long and not at all Aspergers-related story.)

The other was a random from one of several projects I'm involved with at the moment, whose presence I endured for one meeting and with a bit of luck will never have to clap eyes on again.

I'm pretty busy at the moment, but still only have the same energy reserves as when I was doing half as much.  That means I have to budget my effort sometimes, and I just don't think either of these jerks are worth dignifying with an education.  In both cases it's likely to have ended with a fight, and been unlikely to make any lasting change to those people's opinions.  (You know the sort, I'm sure.)

I think there's a tendency sometimes in activism-type circles to think you have to fight ALL THE BATTLES; as though if you don't have an opinion on every nuance of the autism community and every autism issue in the news you're Doing Activism Wrong and are unworthy.

Occasionally - back in the days when I used Tumblr - I've had other Aspie bloggy types have a go at me for not getting involved in their fights.  Usually it was US-specific things that I have no business getting involved in, or things that are completely outside my sphere of understanding or experience.  And one delightful individual who insisted if you weren't doing in-person placard-waving type protest you were pretty much The Enemy, even though there are any number of very real reasons why not everyone with disability can do that.

But we can't do everything.  There will always be one more jackass, one more troll, one more time-waster, one more not-like-my-childist, one more person wrong on the internet.

Sometimes, we have to decide which ones are worth our attention, time and effort.

And which aren't.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Career planning for Aspies

Can Aspies have a career plan?

This is a question very much on my mind lately, as I sort through my muddled employment history, juggle multiple part-time jobs, and wonder what on earth comes next.

It's not that I don't have skills.  I have lots, some of which someone might even conceivably pay money for.  But being a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees type, as detail-loving Aspies tend to be, I struggle to pull them all together into something that looks good on a job application.

Some people on the spectrum have had success with jobs tied to their special interests - Temple Grandin being the obvious example, and John Elder Robison's first career in music electronics.  But I've always been leery of this because special interests aren't carved in granite.  As we grow and age and change, our obsessions can too.  It'd be dreadful to have to engage for eight hours a day with something you used to love but now can't stand the sight of.

Like the rest of the population, our jobs depends on our skills too.  My main splinter skills are to do with language and verbal skills, and that's led me to various wordy things from journalism to PR to hosting trivia nights, and whatever comes next will probably be wordy as well.

The environment of the job is something we need to keep in mind too, around both sensory and social pressures.  Some workplaces, like hot, dusty mine sites or busy newsrooms with multiple TVs and radios going can be so sensory hostile some of us simply won't be able to work there, regardless of our skill. In the media, there are the many huge and often fragile egos that tend to cluster there and the extra social shenanigans that come with those.

And that's before we think about the trouble finding work in the first place.  As well as the general unemployment rate, and trouble finding work commensurate with your skills, people on the spectrum face some specific problems finding work:
  • Tending to have smaller social networks, meaning we're less likely to hear about or be suggested for jobs on the grapevine
  • Trouble selling ourselves, like my problems turning my various skills and experiences into an overall employable narrative
  • Social anxiety making job applications and interviews harder
  • Specific and unusual skill sets limiting the number of positions we're skilled for
  • Plain old fashioned discrimination.
What's the answer to all this?

There isn't one: there are multitudes.  There are as many as there are people on the spectrum working, or not working, or thinking about working.

So, over to you: Are you employed or freelance, entrepreneur or happily salaried?  Do you change jobs often or have you stuck to the same once since you left school? Are you between jobs and looking? Maybe you can't work, or choose not to?  Sound off in the comments:

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Building new routines and changing old ones

Happy New Year!  I hope 2016 is treating you well so far.

I have lots of new years resolutions this year - including updating this blog more regularly!.  But let's be honest, resolutions are pretty much a joke.  On January 1 we all say this is the year we'll be more organised, exercise, eat healthily, meditate, spend less time online... and by Valentine's Day it's all forgotten and our fancy new sportswear/diary/meditation CD is gathering dust.

Building new routines is hard.  It's especially hard for people on the autism spectrum, given that we tend to be creatures of habit.  Routines provide safety, security and a sense of control in a world that often seems to have none of those things.  They provide defence against sensory overload and social dealings we're not equipped to handle.  They make life easier, and sometimes make life tolerable.  So messing with them isn't to be trifled with.

However, sometimes you have to.  Sometimes you recognise that a routine has become unhealthy or could be improved.  But making that change means fighting against human nature in general, and Aspie nature in particular.

But it can be done... I've had some luck in the last year with some of my ongoing executive function issues, and have managed to step up my self care and housework a notch too.  Here are some tips that helped:

Building new routines and changing old ones

1.   Decide what you want to do - and why
If it's a resolution you don't really care about - like reading more books because you think you should, even if you don't really like reading - you have no reason to stick to it and if you do it'll be a complete drag.  Even important things like losing weight or getting more exercise don't work in themselves - it's about the underlying reason.  If you're motivated by wanting to be healthier, be able to move more freely, get a medical condition under control or look smokin' in a tiny bikini, that gives you a reason to persevere.

2.  Get your gear together
A resolution to eat healthier isn't going to go far if you started January with a fridge full of chocolate and cake and a big tin of those chocolate wafer things you only see at Christmastime.  A pledge to write every day won't go far if you don't have a pen, paper and space to write.  Water aerobics is right out if you don't have togs. 

It can take some trial and error to find the tools that work best for you, but if you don't have the basic gear to start with you're making your job much more difficult.  And the more difficult it is, the easier it is to give up.

3.  Work out how it fits into your existing routine
Early morning exercise is never going to happen for me.  I know it's a great way to start the day, but my work schedule and sleeping pattern just aren't interested in giving me an extra hour (or even an extra ten minutes) in the morning.

It's much easier to try to work one new thing into your existing routine than change everything at once.

4.  Nag yourself
Constant reminders have been a huge contributor to the changes I have managed to make to my routines.  You're trying to break years of conditioning (a lifetime, in some cases) and that means being aware of something you might never have had to consciously consider before.

For me this has meant multiple phone reminders every day, sticky notes on door handles, steering wheels, computer screens and mirrors, and changing passwords to reminder phrases. (5veg2fruit, for instance - and no, that's not one of mine!)  You can also email your future self reminders to check in using Future Me.

5.  Create an environment that makes it easier
If there's an environmental trigger for the behaviour you're trying to change, get rid of it.  If you want to avoid a time-wasting website, block it.  Freeze your credit card into a block of ice to avoid impulse purchases, ask the bar or tobacconist not to serve you any more.

One of mine was stopping myself from turning on the computer first thing every morning, and learning to wait til I'd had breakfast, done some housework, and got something done in the real world.  Moving the computer to a different part of the house so I didn't walk past it as soon as I left my bedroom made that a lot easier.

6.  Respect your sensory and social limits
Exercise can come with a host of new sensory triggers.  Stopping smoking can remove a long-term stim.  The gym might turn out to be a hotbed of interpersonal drama.  All that means extra trouble, discomfort and excuses to throw in the towel.

Try to harness the Aspie tendency to think outside the box to find solutions: will earplugs, sunglasses, or tighter/looser clothes help?  Exercising at night, in sunlight, indoors, outdoors?  Taking up knitting or learning sleight of hand to occupy those cigarette-less fingers?  Sussing out the quietest time of day to visit the gym, or maybe finding a different drama-free one?

Change a process.  It's not like flicking a switch; you don't have to be perfect from day one, and one slip up (or two, or three, or a hundred) doesn't mean you've failed.  And that leads to the most important tip of all:

7.  Give yourself time, be gentle with yourself, and recognise you're awesome for trying new things and bettering yourself.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Aspie sleeping habits

Question: are you (or the Aspie in your life) a morning person or a night owl?  Or do you (or they) have sleeping habits that don't fit the usual pattern at all?

My Aspie tendencies become more pronounced when I'm tired or sleep-deprived - my sensory processing goes to hell, I get even more socially awkward than usual, and my tiny shred of executive functioning deserts me completely. I reckon a solid eight hours z's a night would make a big difference to my health and my general ability to function - if I could get it.

The first problem is I'm a serial night owl.  I've really never been able to handle mornings, by which I mean anything before about 9:30am.  Which presented a particular dilemma when I had a job that started at 5:30am, and is still a problem now that I work office hours.

I've tried just going to bed earlier, but that doesn't work.  It usually ends up either like this:
  • I try to get to bed earlier, but thanks to the disorganisation that comes with executive dysfunction I don't get around to it until the usual time anyway
  • I get to bed earlier and then can't sleep because it's earlier than my body's used to going to sleep, and I've got too many racing thoughts about life and work and whatever I'm currently obsessing about and deconstructing my latest social failure in minute detail and worrying about how I'm not getting enough sleep.
I usually don't sleep in a lace dress or full makeup, though
Plus, I genuinely feel more alert and do my best work later at night.  It comes in handy when I get involved in sporadic performance-related things, but isn't so helpful for 8:30 starts at the office job.

On top of owlishness I also get pretty epic insomnia which resists everything I've thrown at it: warm milk, various prescription meds, herbal supplements, get-ready-to-sleep guided meditations, listening to whalesong and burbly Enya-type nonsense, exercising, not exercising, reading before bed, not reading before bed, and liberal quantities of booze*.

 I'm not sure whether any of this is an Aspergers issue or not.  I only have one brain, and a variety of bullshit going on it it, so it could be any combination of:
  • Aspergers-related sleep issues
  • ADD-related sleep issues
  • Depression-related sleep issues
  • Sensory processing issues - I love the weight of heavy blankets and featherbeds and the heavier the bedclothes the better I sleep.  But I also feel the heat something awful and am way more comfortable when I'm cool, so for most of the year heavy blankets are an impossibility
  • I should probably get checked out for sleep apnea, because I tick a couple of boxes for that.  It's on my list of things to do, along with seeing a dentist, getting my eyes tested, getting a few not-dangerous-but-still-annoying moles lopped off, updating my mental health care plan and getting my eyebrows sorted out.  Don't hold your breath on any of that actually being done anytime soon, though.
I really like the sound of the way we apparently used to sleep until the 17th century, in two blocks of four hours with an hour or two's wakefulness in the middle.  That's a lifestyle I reckon I could get behind, but it'd be hard to make that schedule work around the commitments of the modern day.

Anyway, enough about me.  I'm interested to hear from other people on the spectrum: are you a night owl too, or are you an early riser?  Or do you have a non-standard sleep pattern?  Do you have insomnia?  (And do you have any tips to deal with it???)  I'm really interested to see what trends emerge...

*Alcohol is not recommended as a sleep aid because even if it does knock you out it screws up the quality of your sleep.  But it should be pretty clear that I'm not a how-to guide for sleep hygiene.