Thursday, 27 February 2014

Have you tried NOT having Aspergers?

To hell with your bullshit!
I have a magic bullshit-detecting eyebrow.  As soon as someone starts talking crap, it starts rising.

One thing that really makes it shoot up is skinny people who've never been fat talking about how easy it is to lose weight.

You know the ones: "Just eat less and move more!  Don't give me your tedious details about metabolism and insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome and malfunctioning pituitary glands!  Ignore that awkward knowledge that most people who do lose weight gain it all back, plus more, within five years!  Stop using reality as an excuse and listen to my one-size-fits-all platitudes and accept that I know better than you because I've never been in your situation."

Excuse me while I retrieve my magic eyebrow from the ceiling.

The same sort of thing tends to happen when it comes to giving advice to people on the spectrum, particularly on matters of relationships.  I've had a fair bit of advice lately, whether I've asked for it or not.  And a lot of it boils down to "have you tried not having Aspergers?"

Seriously, "just talk to people" or "just be friendly" is not useful advice for someone who has an actual disability in that very area, any more than "have you tried breathing?" is a sensible thing to ask someone with airways disease.  Do you think it hasn't occurred to me to try that at some stage in the last 33 years?  What sort of chump do you think I am?  If I could just do it, I would.  The whole point is that I can't.

Bullshit 'advice' like this is a quick and easy way to prove you're either not listening, not thinking, or just don't know what you're talking about.

The other useless advice I've had lately has been of the simply impractical variety.  For instance, someone who knows I'm currently working full time tried their damnedest to get me along to a support group that meets midmorning on a weekday.  Even if I was interested, I simply don't have two free hours in the middle of a workday.  I don't know if it was naivete on their part - maybe in their job it doesn't matter if they disappear for several hours in the middle of a shift - or whether they assumed that because I'm on the spectrum, my job must be some inconsequential day-respite-in-disguise fluff where it doesn't matter whether I show up or not.  It isn't.

On Twitter the other day, someone was grumbling that after a decade with chronic insomnia, their doctor was still lecturing them on basic sleep hygiene like having a set bedtime.  It's the same situation here.  Advice is great, knowledge is power, and thank you for showing an interest, but if we've been living with this for years (or our whole lives) there's a pretty good chance just might have covered the 101 stuff already.

Don't make me get out my magic eyebrow.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Monday Muster

Happy Monday, dear ones.  Have a happy little weed:

Not autism related, but very important: have you read The Global Mail's At work inside our detention centres: a guard's story?  If you haven't, please do. 

Heard of "supernormal stimuli"?  I hadn't, until I read this fascinating article from Sparring Mind.  The idea is that our instincts tell us to do certain things and behave a certain way, but our instincts were developed in the natural world - and if you screw with that in unnatural ways, your instincts don't know when to say "enough with this bullshit!"  So, a bird that lays bluish eggs with grey spots will have instincts telling it that blue spotty things are its eggs and it should sit on them.  If it's presented with a big fluro blue ball with black spots, it'll sit on that, too.  It would actually rather sit on that than on its real eggs - as far as its instincts can tell, that thing looks more like its eggs than its actual eggs do.  It's bluer and spottier, after all.

So what does all this gibberish about birds that are too dim to know their own eggs from a volleyball have to do with us?  Well, humans are still animals, and we still have instincts.  And what's our modern world, replete with the internet and junk food and Top Gear/Doctor Who crossover slash fiction, doing to our own instinctive behaviour?  You'll find the article here.

What's the point of social skills training?  I dodged this particular bullet through not being diagnosed until well into adulthood, but I've heard some horror stories from other people on the spectrum.  We Are Like Your Child has a new post up exploring social skills training as a means of creating healthy people able to advocate for themselves, rather than compliant little doormats.

Speaking of speaking up, if you're having an online discussion about autism or Aspergers or related issues, is it appropriate to ask if the other people are on the spectrum?  Autistic blogger Alyssa got told off for being "crass" when she asked that recently.  I'm with Alyssa on this - I think it's totally valid to ask what someone's stake in the conversation is - if nothing else, it facilitates better communication if you actually know who you're talking to and where they're coming from.

Can technology help you cope with loneliness?  ABC Health and Wellbeing gives this question a thorough shake-down, from people living on remote stations to online dating, seniors, and staying in touch with distant family during hard times.  The general gist is that it depends what you do with it: it's a tool, rather than an end in itself.  Read the whole report here.

In my own news, you may have noticed the name I use on this blog's changed.  There are a lot of reasons behind that decision, from uncertainty at the moment about my future career plans to my personal online footprint, to being sick of the creepers and weirdos in my inbox.  I'll be using this new identity, Aspergia Jones, for all my internet stuff relating to Aspergers and autism from now on.  You'll find me on Twitter and Pinterest, and Google Plus.

In other blog developments, I've now got some Adsense ads running on this site, because it's time it started paying for itself.  I've blocked a lot of categories from showing up - anything relating to gambling and loan sharks for instance, and the entire health category to make sure skeevy "cure autism with homeopathy and bleach!" ads don't turn up here.  If you do see anything objectionable, please let me know so I can nuke it from orbit.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

There's a difference between "can't" and "don't want to"

There's an odd tendency for people to think "can't" just means "doesn't want to".

Day 225: Makeup Brush Holder
photo by Sodanie Chea on Flickr
For instance, I wear no makeup.  I have low-maintenance hair. I don't do anything to my eyebrows.  I don't wear high heels or anything with frills or lace or frou-frou bits.  This isn't because I'm a "male brain" Aspie woman who doesn't care about her physical appearance.  Nor is it some sort of feminist rejection of traditional feminine grooming, or a political statement about gender roles.  Nor is it some sort of lesbian identification thing*, as has been assumed from time to time.

It's because I can't.

I just don't have the motor skills for makeup or eyebrow plucking or complicated hair.  My ropey balance means I can't walk in heels.  My sensory shenanigans mean I can't cope with clingy fabric, lace, underwire bras, or the various other trappings of feminine dress.  I go about in my bare face and my t-shirts not because I want to, but because that's the best I can manage.

The same goes for various other things that Aspies and autistic people do or don't do.  Eye contact.  Stimming.  Making friends.  Finding a partner.  It's not necessarily the case that we don't want to, or we haven't grasped the concept.  It may be that we genuinely can't.

*I thought lesbianism was about ladies who liked ladies, but judging by feedback I've received it's apaprently something to do with wearing jeans and boots and a leather jacket.  Who knew?  And has anyone told the Ninth Doctor?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Alone versus lonely

Alone is being contented, happy and fulfilled, with a full and rich life that just happens to involve fewer people than usual.

Loneliness is a sad, gnawing feeling, when you have an aching need for human contact but, for whatever reason, you just can't make it happen.

Original (without text) here.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The problem is not the problem. The problem is the way you define the problem

Day 010/366 Outtakes - January 10th
photo by Amanda Hatfield on Flickr
There's a trend in blogging and social media to turn vast, complicated states of being into verbs. Despite the ropey grammar it's a very efficient way to convey an idea.

It means that, for instance, this whole paragraph:

Due to executive dysfunction, I struggle with tasks most independent adults complete without undue difficulty.  This may include self-care, such as preparing appropriate meals and attending to personal hygiene; basic organisation and keeping track of possessions, paperwork and commitments; time management; meeting deadlines and returning borrowed items in a timely manner; and the timely management of administrative tasks such as financial paperwork, tenancy and employment contracts and government forms.

Can be distilled into the phrase:

I can't adult.

And that really does cover everything in the longer paragraph, and a lot more besides.  It's a succinct way to express a frustrating place a lot of Aspies have been at some point.

But I don't think it's an altogether helpful way to approach the problem if you want to fix it, and to explain why we need to flash back to the mid 1990s.  Here's a little something to set the mood:

(This is in no way relevant to the point of this post, by the way. It's just here because Bush.)

I'm in high school.  If you'd like a mental picture, I'm wearing a long blue skirt with pleats that show off how much it's faded since the start of grade eight, a yellow shirt, and a tie covered in badges that will catch on the edge of the desk and strangle me when I stand up.  We're in the only class that taught me any genuinely practical skills I used in later life: IPT with Mr Fitzgerald.  As well as a surprisingly useful amount of html, Mr Fitz taught us (or tried to, anyway - we weren't an easy class) a definitive set of steps for problem solving.

Step one was define the problem.  You can't find a sensible solution unless you know what you're actually trying to solve.  In the class, the problem was fairly straightforward, like "we need a program to convert from base 10 to binary" or "we need to move this block from point X to point Y using a contraption made from computer controlled Lego".  In life our problems are much less straightforward, but nonetheless the first step to solving it is identifying it.

For instance, if the problem is "I can't food", what's really the problem?  Are you unable to identify your body's signs that you're hungry or thirsty?  Do sensory issues make it difficult to find healthy food you can eat?  Do you have choice paralysis when it's time to decide what to eat or buy?  Do you lack time or energy to shop for food, in between work or study or whatever other commitments you have?  Are you confused about what you're supposed to eat, and in what quantities?  Are there financial, family, cultural or practical obstacles that affect what you eat?

All those problems will have different solutions.  If you can't afford healthy food, that's a very different problem from not being able to tell when you're hungry, not having a stove, or having a nasty sensory response to fruit.

That's why lamenting "how do I food?" is a succinct way to express your frustration, but to solve the problem you'll probably need to tease it out further.

(For the record, I can't remember the rest of the problem solving steps.  Something about brainstorm a bunch of possible solutions, pick a likely one, try it out, regain control of the Lego robot and put out the fire, figure out why that didn't work, try again, and I think documentation came into it somewhere?  I told you we were a difficult class.)

Monday, 10 February 2014

How to rock a wardrobe

Rubbermaid Homefree Series Closet Kit 3H11
photo by Rubbermaid Products on Flickr
Life's too short to waste time deciding what to wear.

I have a dose of executive functioning issues, which can get in the way of planning and generally being organised.  So, the more I can remove pointless decision from my life, and build systems that organise themselves, the easier life becomes.

For a start, I only own jeans and plain neutral trousers. This is to cut down the bother of finding clothes that "go together". Since everything on the bottom half is neutral, whatever I put on the top half will match.

I hang up everything so that it's all visible when I open my wardrobe, to cut down "I can't see it so I forgot it existed" syndrome, which is one of executive dysfunction's many gifts.   (Hanging everything up also helps avoid creases, since I don't iron.)

Here's the key to the system: when I'm putting my clothes away, I hang all the tops on the far right-hand side of the wardrobe and all the trousers/bottoms on the far left. Then when I'm getting dressed, I grab whichever top/bottom combo is in the middle, and there's my outfit. No choosing required. Add black or beige cardigan if required, and I'm done.

This way every item gets equal wear, which not only prevents favourite items being flogged to death but gets around the problem of people assuming you're not changing your clothes because you always seem to be wearing the same ones.  I don't if anyone actually does think that or even notice, but I've been a bit paranoid about it ever since a snarky comment at school when I wore the same outfit to two consecutive school events. (Because apparently you're supposed to give a shit about that when you're ten.)

It does occasionally get more complicated.  At the moment I'm working two different jobs (don't ask), one of which has a higher office dress standard than the other.  So, on some mornings I might have to flick back a shirt or two to make sure I've got a suitable one, or flick past the jeans in favour of some tan slacks.  But overall, it's a system that works, is easy to maintain, and keeps me dressed.  I'd call that a success.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Can you learn social skills from books?

...not books about social skills - of which there are millions of varying degrees of usefulness and uselessness - but from reading fiction?

photo by Giulio Bernardi on Flickr
Despite what Lifehacker and The Guardian reckons, I'm not convinced.

I've personally not found fiction of any sort, be it books, movies or TV, to be massively useful in terms of real-world social skills.  What happens in books, even gritty realistic books written to be as true to life as possible, just isn't like reality.  Actual reality would really suck in book form.

Fiction tends to have too many layers of allegory and artistic licence for my literal mind to be able to learn anything useful from it on a how-to-interact-with-people level.  I might possibly have unconsciously picked up all sorts of interesting things about empathy and theory of mind through a lifetime of reading, I suppose - but consciously, I can't say I've noticed a difference.

Arguably my childhood and young-adult years, when I read the most fiction, were when my social skills were worst.  But that wasn't the books' fault - I just hadn't had enough practice yet.  Practice, as much as it's really difficult and awkward and full of the risk of rejection, is the only thing that's really worked for me.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

When to come out as Aspie?

So, you've just started a new job.  Or maybe you've joined a club, signed up for a sports team, or have a date.  Whichever scenario it is, you're about to meet some new people and would like to make a good impression.

At what point do you disclose that you have Aspergers?

Peek a boo
Dude, can I have a word?
photo by Amandarichard421
A lot of advice says to hold off until you've got to know them a bit, so you're judged on the strength of who you are rather than your diagnosis.  And if you pass for neurotypical, that might be a very wise thing to do.

But if you don't reliably pass for normal, I can't help but think it might be better to disclose up front, as soon as is practical.  Personally, I've brought it up when I started an exercise class (because motor skills), in job interviews, and to new colleagues.

Before I was diagnosed, I had a lifetime of people assuming I was stuck up because I'm fairly cautious around strangers and not big on free-range alcohol-based socialising.  Or assuming I was cold.  Or aloof.  Or a bitch.  Or I had something against them personally.  None of that was the case, but peoples' imaginations came up with all sorts of reasons why I wasn't like them.

That's why my personal policy is to disclose as soon as is practical, and explain why I am the way I am before they have time to make up their own reasons.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Monday Muster

Another new week us upon us, dear ones.  What are you going to do with it?  I have a lot of complicated stuff I've been putting off - to do with work, finances, family, the future, and all the terrifying stuff that comes with adulthood - so this week I have to nail all that down.  Sigh.

Here's a lovely sunrise to start the day, before all that begins:

by Delboysafa on Morguefile - my new photo source of choice because I still hate Flickr's changes

If you've never experienced sensory sensitivity, it can be hard to wrap your head around the concept.  Cynthia Kim from Musings of an Aspie explains the difference between a sensory reaction and just not liking something, for the benefit of those lucky enough to not have experienced the difference:

"Think about the difference between chicken nuggets and a nice juicy slab of raw chicken breast. One is something that you might dislike and the other is something that I don’t think any of us could eat under any circumstance without a strong physical reaction to the texture, taste, and smell of the raw meat. Having a sensory sensitivity is like eating raw chicken. It’s beyond a preference. Your body reacts to the sensory input in a way that signals danger."

"I'll call a kid a zebra..." is an older post but an interesting one looking at whether autism is a "fad" diagnosis, given out far more freely than it used to be... and if it is, is that actually a bad thing? Does it matter, if it means people get the help they need?

The post takes its name from a doctor quoted in Roy Richard Grinker's Unstrange Minds:

"I am incredibly disciplined in the diagnostic classifications in my research, but in my private practice, I’ll call a kid a zebra if it will get him the educational services I think he needs."