Friday, 31 January 2014

City or country?

Where's an Aspie most likely to find a place to belong?  In the city, in a regional area, or properly out bush?

You know how they say if you've met one Aspie, you've met... one Aspie?  Well, the answer to this question's much the same - it entirely depends on the individual.

Floor walkersCity life does have much to recommend it to those of an Aspie persuasion.  Sheer strength of numbers means you're more likely to have access to services and specialists if you need them, and if you have interests like tabletop gaming or cosplay, you're more likely to find venues that cater to you and people who share your passions.  If sensory issues or seizures mean you can't drive, cities also tend to have much better public transport than regional and rural areas.

Personally, while I love visiting big cities (the galleries!  the shows!  the public transport!) I really wouldn't cope well if I lived in that environment.  I don't deal well with the crowds and the general chaos.  I really struggle with navigation, both on the streets and inside large buildings like train stations and shopping centres.  I can't handle the traffic at all - when I did live in a major city for a few months, I didn't even take my car because I knew I wouldn't be able to drive while I was there.  (Relying on Brisbane's suburban bus services as your main means of getting around kind of sucks, by the way.)

Emu Swamp Creek
Part of me would really like to live in the bush, far away from all the noise and clutter and chaos.  But, for me, that's based more on a romantic image of what country life is like than what it is actually like.  I grew up in the bush, after all.  And bloody hated it.  Having no friends in a city teeming with strangers is infinitely better than having no friends in some dry godsforsaken place where every kid on the school bus run actively hates you because you're a freak.

Finding a good balance is an ongoing challenge.  Ideally I need a place that's small enough to be liveable yet large enough to have reasonable social and career opportunities.  It needs to have all the health and aged care services my parents are going to need in the next 20 or 30 years.  It needs to be near the coast (because I like the seaside) but not directly on it (because my parents don't).  Given the sometimes erratic income that comes with freelancing, it needs to be pretty cheap to live.  It needs to not get too hot in summer (although in winter it can get as cold as it likes - snow would be a bonus) and not have too many cyclones, rapists, floods, crocodiles, bushfires, murderers, or other horrid things.

If you know of such a place, please do let me know. :)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

All experiences are valid

Everyone's experiences are different.  Sometimes they're contradictory - different people could have very different experiences of any given person, event, or situation.  We all experience the world differently, through different sets of senses.  That's why the response to "my experience is..." should never be "no, it isn't."

Original (without text) here.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Monday Muster

Happy Australia-Day-long-weekend-Monday, cats and kittens.  Hope you're not too sunburned and/or hungover.

Want to waste some hours on something ridiculous yet rather clever? Get ye hence to Behind the Gifs, a place on Reddit that's exactly what it sounds like - people coming up with funny yet logical(ish) back-stories for some of the odd gifs that float around the internet. Here's one of my favourites.

Or maybe you'd rather make a bag out of the seams from old jeans.  You can do that, too.

If you've ever had an argument or debate on the internet, you'll know there's just no convincing some people.  You could produce the most compelling argument in the world, with science signed off by Einstein and narrated by Stephen Fry, and they still wouldn't buy it.  But, Luna Lindsey argues, that doesn't mean it's a hopeless case - because it's not just about the two of you, going head to head, but the bystanders, readers and lurkers as well.

"Now and then a lurker will timidly post and reveal that their minds have been changed. But most keep this fact to themselves. More often, the change is slow. These lurkers continue to follow similar arguments, until eventually, they are swayed by whichever side has collectively made the best case. I myself have drastically changed my mind on deeply held beliefs in this way, both by debating and merely watching debates. I've also seen it happen to other people. But it's rarely instant."

Lindsey's post also pokes at lots of big questions about persuasion and activism.  It just happens to touch on some of the reasons I'm personally less involved in online activism and autism circles than I used to be, too.

Emma's an autistic four-year old in country Queensland, who faces a two hour drive to Rockhampton every time she needs speech or occupational therapy.  Her mother Claire wants that to change, and is working with the local council, health care providers and the state government to make that happen.  You can hear her story here.  (WARNING: autoplay audio)

Your job might suck, but at least you get paid, right?  Not so much, if you're employed by an Australian Disability Enterprise, where some workers earn the princely sum of $1.79 an hour.  Stella Young writes that the system used to work out those wages has already been deemed discriminatory by the Federal Court, but because the court case related to two specific people, others are still being paid that way.

The comments section makes for a harsh dose of reality too, with stories from people who've worked for ADEs and their friends and supporters.

Could you commute around Sydney in a wheelchair? Here's how Pauline David describes it:

"The services are terrible: whether it’s being put in the wrong section of the train, not being able to get a ramp, or being described as “a wheelchair” - not a person - there’s so much that needs to be fixed.  And the plan that the Minister says reflects how "passionate" she is means it could take until 2032 to fix it.

"My work as well as my social life requires me to travel a lot, all over Sydney metro, and despite the huge costs I often have to opt for taxis because it’s the only way I know I can get to my destination on time and safely. I rely HEAVILY on public transport. The government says they want to encourage us to work, but they’re making it almost impossible."

Pauline's started a petition challenging Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian to spend a day trying to navigate Sydney's public transport in a wheelchair.  There are 16,412 signatures at time of writing, and you can add yours here.

Here's a kick in the pants to end on.  Over on Quora, someone asked "what did you do today that scared you?"

Here's Ashutosh Goyal's answer:

"Nothing. I did nothing today. I just wasted so many hours again. It scares me a lot."

Does that scare you too?

Friday, 24 January 2014

Don't mention it

I have a cough at the moment.

Prescott's Golden Rye & Rock for coughs and lung disorders. (front)
photo from the Boston Public Library
It's a lingering relic of the chest infection that knocked me flat late last year.  I'm all better, and have been for ages, but this wretched cough still sticks its head up every so often.  It won't even be shifted by the fluorescent pink codeine-laced cough medicine that gets you a bit high if you forget you've already taken it and accidentally overdose.  Umm... not that I'd know anything about that.

It's become something of a conversation starter.  "Gee, that sounds like a bad cough."  "That cough of yours is no better, is it?"  "You've had that cough for a while now, haven't you?"

Yes, it is.  No, it isn't.  Yes, I have.

And if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not discuss it.

I know people only say that because they're expressing sympathy, or they're trying to make conversation, but I also know it's loud and annoying and sounds gross, and the constant reminders that I'm still making this damn noise because my immune system just won't get its act together just makes me feel like an even bigger freak than I usually do.  I don't much care for attention - I'm one of nature's lurkers - so getting it, for such a crap reason and one I can't control, is awkward.

And I've only had this for two months.

I can only imagine what people go through if they have a permanent cough or tic or twitch or limp or stammer, or any other easily visible or audible sign of difference.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Pick your battles

Most of my posts this year have been about getting involved with things, making friends and getting to know people.  You've probably guessed that one of my new years resolutions is to do just that.  But just like it's not healthy to go straight from the couch to a marathon, similarly you can't go straight from little-to-no socialising to being a glittering social butterfly.

Not only am I a bit out of condition at social stuff, but I also don't have as much energy to expend on it as most people do.  Social interaction takes a fair bit of energy, so does the 'executive function' stuff that seems to come naturally to some people, and dealing with sensory shenanigans makes my batteries drain more quickly too.  The end result of all this is that I can't just go to every class, group and shindig that looks interesting - rather, I have to acknowledge that I only have a finite amount of energy to spend, and use it wisely.

That's where this comes in.  It's a spreadsheet of my planning so far, with potential activities prioritised by how interesting and fun they sound, how likely I am to meet people there, how much they cost, their energy commitment (all-day events versus things that just run for an hour or two) and how well they fit into the rest of my life (10am on Wednesday morning isn't going to happen if you work office hours.)

Now I've consciously sorted them out, I can attempt them one or two at a time.  (One or two social events a week is my limit, with my current working hours.)  If the first ones on the list go well and turn out to be activities that are fun, rewarding and a source of social interaction and potential friends, I won't even get to the later ones.  But if the first few don't work out, it's not the end of the world because I have other options.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Monday Muster

Drop everything and go and read this right away.

If you're still here (why?) it's a piece from the Pacific Standard profiling cafe owner Giulietta Carrelli.  It starts off as a 'LOL hipsters' piece about artisan toast, but then takes a sharp turn and becomes the story of Carrelli's life with schizoaffective disorder, and the community she's built around her cafe that keeps her anchored and safe.  The community building work she's done sounds - from my shy, anxious, Aspie perspective - utterly terrifying and bewildering, but the article will give you plenty to think about re: community, connection and how reliant we are on others.  Also toast.  And coconuts.

Speaking of food, a lot of people on the spectrum have reputations for being picky eaters.  I'm one of them.  But what's not apparent from the outside is that it's often less about just not wanting to eat your greens, and more a defence mechanism to deal with sensory issues that make some foods genuinely repulsive.  This is something Autisticook has been looking at lately:

"Picky eating in autistic kids is not obstinacy or temper tantrums to get candy. It’s tied up with a whole boatload of sensory issues: not only taste, but also smell, texture and temperature. We are far more sensitive to these things than you realise. That’s why some autistic kids don’t like crisps, or ice cream, or bubblegum… things you imagine every child would like."

If you move and shake in disability circles at all, you've probably come across the phrase "inspiration porn".  If you're not sure what that is, or you don't understand why a picture of a kid on prosthetic legs with the caption "what's your excuse?" is skeevy and not particularly respectful towards people with disability, this explanation from That Crazy Crippled Chick might help.

Speaking of inspiration porn, We're Not Here For Your Inspiration is an older piece by Stella Young on the same topic.  The comments do contain a few rabbit holes of the "but how can it be wrong to objectify people and use them to make us feel better, if we do it in a nice way?" variety - something That Crazy Crippled Chick's explanation covers.

Here's an example from my own life: once up on a time, quite a few years ago now, someone from an autism support group suggested I should come and do a guest spot because I was "such an inspiration".  At the time my life was a bit of a basket case; I had no friends or meaningful connections of any kind, my health was a mess, work was... interesting... and my main hobbies were watching The Goodies and being miserable.  There are plenty of genuinely inspirational people out there.  I'm not one of them just because I'm at large and have Aspergers.

Do you have dreams of leaving the rat race for a peaceful retreat on a mountain or by the sea, to spend your days meditating and seeking enlightenment?  Yeah, don't we all, but Jason Miller from Strategic Sorcery says we've got quite enough professional guru-types already.

"It's a lot easier to be the Dalai Lama when you wake up in a world that tells you that you are, gives you all the time in the world to meditate, and as everyone treat you like you should be. Would HH the DL be able to maintain clarity while raising three kids and working full time like a single mom?"

Miller's argument is that we need more people who are spiritual and aware and caring, but who are also actively part of everyday society, working as bankers or cops or teachers or whatever else needs doing.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Are you friend material?

In the last post we were talking about friendship, and where you might start looking to find potential friends.  But there's another thing to think about before you start filling up your social calendar: are you friend material?

It's like bringing a plate, but you're the plate
You don't have to be awesome to have friends, but it helps if you have something going for you.  Are you trustworthy?  Honest?  Helpful?  Interesting? (No, just knowing a lot of trivia does not automatically make you interesting.)  Are you fun to be around?  Witty? (Tip: if you have to tell people you're funny, you're not.) Do you respect other people?  Are you genuinely interested in their lives and their issues?  Can you discuss politics without picking a fight?

You don't have to be all of those things, but if you can cultivate one or two, it can improve your friendship prospects.  It's not about pretending to be someone you're not, it's about making a point of showing off your best attributes, just like you'd talk up your skills on your resume.

Where it differs from a job interview, though, is that it's generally not helpful to tell prospective friends that you're honest or funny or interested in their hangnail.  These things are demonstrated rather than told, so in most casual social situations verbalising it will probably make you look a bit weird.  Rather, jut wait for an opportunity to show that you're honest, you're witty, or you're willing to lend a hand.  Friendships are an investment of time and emotion, and every time you show you're suitability as a friend, you're showing that you're worth that investment.

(In case you'd like it, here is some research into what people consider important characteristics in their friends.)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Where to find friends

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to strengthen my connections in my local community and, to put it simply, to make friends.

Online friendships are great, but they can't give you a hug through the internet.  Or hold your hand.  Or come to your birthday party, help you move a couch, or just be with you in a physical, companionable, endorphins-generating kind of way.  For that, you need people you know and get on with in real life.

Advice for making friends usually starts with joining a group or taking a class on something that interests you.  I think that advice needs a caveat before it's useful to Aspies, though.

I've taken all sorts of classes and tried out all sorts of groups in the past, and it usually hasn't worked.  That's because I'm a fairly straightforward do-the-thing type person: if I go to a knitting class, I knit.  If I join a dance group, I dance.  And then fifteen minutes into the knitting or the dancing, everyone else has paired themselves up into little chattery groups, and I'm alone.

That's because I have to make myself consciously aware that the point of the exercise, for me, is not to knit or to dance.  Those things are great, but they're not the key reason I'm there.  I'm there to meet people, or at least observe them, and figure out if these are people I want to be around and who will accept me and let me in.

The second point is that it's not so much about just finding stuff you personally enjoy, but sussing out what other people are there and whether they're the sort of people you want to hang around with.  For instance, I once went to a community choir.  That must have been all very Julie Andrews and tra-la-la-la-la, right? No, actually - during the tea break it was all snark and bitching about politics.  I didn't go back.  For all that I love singing and music, I wasn't a good fit for the interpersonal dynamic of the group, so there was no point continuing to take part.

So, before you start planning your social calendar, maybe it'd be helpful to ask yourself:

What sort of people are you looking for?  
What do your potential friends have to have in common with you?
Where are you likely to find people like that?

If you're a devout Christian, for instance, and it's important to you that your friends share your beliefs,  a church choir or a faith-based service group might net you better results than a yoga class or a drumming circle.  On the other hand, if it's important your friends share your love of thrash metal, a church group might not be the first place you'd start.

As for me, I'll be rifling through the heap of fliers and leaflets I picked up at an arts centre open day last year - not just to see which ones look like things I'd like to do, but which ones look like people I'd like to be around as well.

Monday, 13 January 2014

So, what are you going to do with this year?

Happy New Year, dear ones!  Now Christmas is over with and 2013's been shown the door, it's time to crack on with this shiny new year and make it wonderful and worthwhile.

Did You Throw A Little New Year's Party?
Photo by JD Hancock on Flickr
Do you have plans for the new year?  There's an interesting discussion on Quora about new years resolutions - the answers range from big, general life changes like improving one's education and being more social, to specific goals like passing a certain exam, getting a drivers licence, or losing Xkg.

One of my resolutions for the year is to learn to code: I'm a freelance writer and web content creator, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that some up to date html and javascript knowledge would be a useful addition to my toolkit.  So far, I've been getting by with bits remembered from high school IT and snippets taken from online tutorials and forums, but it really is time to sit down and learn this stuff properly.  I signed up with Codecademy late last year, and am currently working through the "web fundamentals" course.

Another goal for this year is to get the book based on this blog, which I've been talking about for ages, written, published, and released out into the world.  I was going to make it one proper, book-sized, made-of-squashed-tree book, but now I'm wondering if maybe a series of shorter ebooks in specific topics might be a better way to go.  A quick look around Amazon will confirm there are already more books about Aspergers and autism available than there are fleas on a dog, so maybe it'd be more useful to do a series of shorter resources looking at specific things - sensory issues, for instance, or managing executive function.

While I'm working on that - however I end up doing it - things might be a little quieter around here.  I'm still aiming for three posts a week, but they might be shorter and lighter than a lot of last year's posts.  I'm also cutting down my involvement with the online autism community, and focusing more on strengthening my local network and working on things that matter in my own community.  

Monday Muster will still be a thing, and speaking of which...

Monday Muster

Kitt McKenzie from AutisticChick has written a gentle, sad piece about having their challenges and the effect autism has on their life diminished:

"Every time. EVERY SINGLE TIME I mention that my disability causes me to struggle,

"I am told that "everyone goes through that."

"Or that I'm selling myself short and need to work harder to do everything everyone else does with little effort.

"That I can do it if I just try. ...

"It is a disability. It is not an act."

On The Third Glance, E has been to see Frozen, and found some interesting analogies for autism and how and Autistic people are treated in this film loosely based on the Snow Queen:

"When she is being crowned, and has to remove her gloves, you see her muster every tiny ounce of self-control she has, so that her hands will work the way “normal” people do. She is able to do it, but only briefly. Because that’s not how her body works, and there are limits to how much anyone can do to “pass” as normal, and she is finding her limits. And when she is pushed past her limit later at the party, she has a meltdown, and her magic spills out uncontrollably. She accidentally hurts someone she loves, terrifies everyone around, and spirals into a complete shutdown, running away from everyone in the process. I’m sure I am not the only one who has had this experience…"

Rubyvroom has written a piece not just for Aspies but for anyone who grew up different - particularly those who grew up different in a small town, before the internet gave us a way to find each other.  It ends on a hopeful note - as the internet becomes more useful and easier to access, it'll be easier for young people to find the information and connections we never could when we were young - but that doesn't stop it being very sad in places:

"And maybe you got out of some hell-hole as soon as you were old enough, and even when you went somewhere better you found out that you never learned how to talk to people, you didn't know how to go to a gay bar on your own or how to find an anime club or where you might learn how to play tabletop RPGs or any kind of social activity you would have any hope of being comfortable with, and now this prison of isolation you grew up in was going to last you the rest of your life."

That's a pretty accurate picture of what happened to a lot of people, particularly people older than me - assuming they were able to even get away in the first place.

Here's something happier to finish on, from Jennifer on Fickr:

In the end, only kindness matters