An Adult Aspie Looks at Friendship

Having trouble making friends? For people on the spectrum, this is a common situation. A recent study indicated that of the participants, more than half the children with ASD did not have a single close friend. How does a person learn to live with that?

I have been fortunate to have one or two friends who have remained constant. But mostly? Friends come and go.

My approach to friendship is different from that of people who seem to know all the rules of bonding and building peer relationships.

Occasionally, people come to have some meaningful connection with me, and then, for the most part, sooner or later drift away. And that’s okay because they always leave me emotionally richer, with lessons learned and experiences shared that I would not have otherwise had.

I have let go of my expectations of a life-long friendship when my life intersects with others. If we have no interests in common, or not enough to sustain a typical friendship, that’s ok.

Not forming a lifetime bond with others is not a failure.

I see my role as bringing light into their path just by virtue of being me.  I want to offer them a gift, introducing an upbeat, pleasant moment into their day. I may do this in many ways: with kindness, validation, humour or encouragement.

I see our meeting as a connection, not a life-long commitment.

I believe connecting with someone new occurs at a meaningful time for both of us, and that we are each somehow important in that moment for the other, assisting each other along whatever path we are individually, or jointly, travelling.

It is not for me to judge others, to work to improve the people who come into my life, or to see if we can converse comfortably for hours … although it is always a pleasant surprise when a lengthy, satisfying conversation occurs! 

Actually, shorter connections feel safer for me, I can avoid having to analyse whether what we have discussed or disclosed is really appropriate.

Just a connection that however fleeting, will be rewarding in the moment, and remembered with pleasure.

That’s not so hard to live with!

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Einstein, Aspies, Outsiders & Creative Enlightenment.

Consider Einstein… We need not be geniuses of Einstein’s calibre in order to appreciate how his divergent thinking led to scientific breakthroughs and facilitated significant social and artistic enlightenment.

Like us Aspies, Einstein loved solitude. Walter Isaacson reports in his biography Einstein, that as a child Einstein would often sit alone, working on puzzles, creating complex structures with his building set or playing with his steam engine.

Max Talmud, a young medical student who visited the Einstein home regularly, reported that he never saw Einstein playing with other boys his age. It seemed that Einstein preferred to think through mathematical problems and theorems, and to ponder the mysteries of nature, in isolation.

As a result of spending so much thoughtful time alone, working through problems that intrigued him, Einstein had an empowering revelation at age twelve. He grasped that through reasoning alone, without the help of any external experience, it was possible to ascertain fundamental truths.

Being an outsider is the very quality which enabled Einstein to posit so many ground-breaking theorems.

His ability to conceive of the operating laws of space, time and gravity were only possible because he had the intellectual range as well as the moral courage to question established scientific ‘truths’ such as Newtonian Law, which hitherto had been the cornerstone of physics.

But, the key to the recognition of his brilliant accomplishments was not only Einstein’s intellect and aloofness. Equally important was sharing his ideas and observations within the existing structure of the scientific community, proposing ways in which his theorems could be tested by others. In this way, his work was honed to perfection.

If he had been working on his theorems alone, with no support from the scientific community, his work would doubtless not be renowned today.

If you have a passion, pursue it! Connect with others who are as interested and creative as yourself.

Sharpen your mind by clearly conceptualizing the ideas which arise from your passion, then share them so they can be explored, tested, appreciated and validated by others.

Be sure you fully understand what you are embracing and promoting.

Einstein had the respect of his peers not because he was popular, (he wasn’t at first), but because he was intelligent, honest and loyal. He developed a close association with two or three intellectuals, and it was through the garnering of their respect and loyalty that his theorems were able to be proven and widely accepted.

While Einstein needed solitude to develop his theories and the proofs which would validate them, he understood that he also needed a broad social network–the entire scientific community. Scientists in England, Holland, Switzerland and Germany helped him prove aspects of his Theory of Relativity.

Likewise, we Aspies need solitude to ponder, define and organize our thought processes, to connect intuitively with compelling ideas and notions which resonate with us.

But we also need the appropriate social network to help us refine, test and ultimately validate our intellectual endeavours.

When his theory of relativity was proven beyond any doubt by a British astronomer in Holland, Einstein merely commented:

The intimate union between the beautiful, the true and the real have again been proved. It is a gift from gracious destiny that I have been allowed to experience this…”

Besides his intellect, Einstein’s two greatest assets were his unique childlike and intuitive curiosity about the universe, and his sense of humility, reflected in his charm and his humour.

Hmmm … perhaps Einstein was an Aspie too …

MJ Adam & RS Warrington

PROMOTING THE AUTISTIC VOICE

 
 

Today is Valentine’s Day, a perfect day for Aspies everywhere to give themselves the gift of loving acceptance. 

Today is the day to discover that autists are making waves, promoting our Autistic voices by demanding that research begin to focus on the positive instead of the negative features of autism.  It is a day to recognize those individuals and organizations who are working toward changing the way that research into autism is conducted.

They are people like Vivian Ly[i], whose slogan is Nothing About Us Without Us.

Ly says that Applied Behavioural Analysis can be compared to autistic masking behaviours.  Her position is that people with autism need to be accepted as they are, and not programmed to fit into more societally acceptable ‘normal’ slots.  She is also outraged by researchers and organizations that attempt to speak for autistics.  We have voices.  We can speak for ourselves, Ly states.

Another autist, Kieran Rose, has along with Amy Pearson published a paper on why autists camouflage their behavior, and how harmful to the psyche this can be.  Published in the academic journal, Autism in Adulthood, Kieran’s article on masking analysis is free to read at the URL given below[ii].  He also has a blog, The Autistic Advocate, if you’d like to check it out.

Michelle Dawson[iii] is an autistic person who has fought both legal and academic battles for the rights of autistic people.  In spite of never attending university as a student, she has presented to and influenced decisions in the Supreme Court of Canada, worked with autism research teams at the University of Montreal and is cited in a considerable number of academic papers.  She has also received the Ordre de Montreal as a result of her consistent voice in advocating for the rights of autistic people. 

Dawson describes autism as a neurological difference in development, one which determines how we process information.  This atypical brain-routing results in behaviours and thinking that is different from the ‘neurotypical’.  Dawson presents these differences as strengths rather than as a negative stereotype.[iv]

It may also be helpful to note that online communities for Autists by Autists have been springing up all over. In Ontario, Canada, A4A (Autists for Autists).  In Western Canada, Autists United, and the Autism CRC Co-operative Research Centre whose vision is to see autists empowered in their diverse strengths and interests.

So look on the bright side. The world’s perception of those of us on the spectrum is slowly changing.  Thanks to the persistent lobbying of our fellow autists in promoting the recognition of our unique neurological processes, we are beginning to embrace who we are and how we process the world. More and more people, including those who are positioned in such a way that they can influence societal changes in attitude, understand and accept our condition.

They are fighting for us to be accepted as we are.

 That, surely is cause for a tremendous Valentine’s Day celebration!


[i] https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/autistic-people-march-for-and-against-walk-for-autism-in-richmond

[ii] A critical analysis of Autistic Masking: Understanding the Narrative of Stigma and the Illusion of Choice.

[iii] https://ville.montreal.qc.ca/ordre/en/michelle-dawson

[iv] the autism crisis: science & ethics in the era of autism advocacy : What’s autism anyway?

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Our Friends at Autism BC and SFU.

To be on the spectrum or to be the parent of someone on the spectrum is to open a window on a world view that few others experience.

I think we see things differently, perhaps more intimately than others. I don’t know, because being autistic precludes me from seeing the world through any other lens. I know I delight in my surroundings, and in the simple pleasures of my home. However, it has been a long journey that has led me to this place of serenity and peace.

To my parents, I was an unpredictable, alien-type being who landed in the midst of a family of people who thought of themselves as ‘normal’, a label which could not under any circumstance be applied to me.

My parents would have benefited greatly from the resources that are available to parents today. My early life perhaps would have been far less damaging and debilitating.

Fortunately, today, parents of children on the spectrum have a variety of resources. Here is information on just two in my area of BC, Canada.

Autism BC is a charitable foundation formed to assist families and individuals in their journey through Autism.

Founded in 1975, AutismBC serves the entire province of British Columbia, assisting families with programs and webinars dispensing information about many facets of Autism and the how-to’s of getting assistance from both government and private agencies.

Membership includes access to:

  • Referrals for services 
  • Community support groups 
  • Vetted, credible information & resources 
  • Inclusive social clubs 
  • Free ticket giveaways 
  • Autism BC Goes Community Events 
  • Discounts on workshops and training 
  • Regionally-specific Autism BC Newsletters 
  • Connection to the largest autism network in BC 

Best of all, Membership is free!

In a recent posting, Brock, the program manager at Autism BC listed a number of summer programs and resources currently available to members. These include summer arts and math camps for children, and a discussion on hassle-free toilet training for your child. To access these, go to AutismBC.ca

Brock also mentions the SFU yourlearner.com program in which an Artificial Intelligence supported special needs intervention app is being developed.

The program coordinators at SFU are looking for parents to help test the program.

Parents who have had difficulty finding support for their children due to insufficient funding, long wait lists or unavailable service providers may apply. The final date for applications to this program is June 30, with the program starting in July.

The SFU website also has a video guide for parents on how to get the most from ABA or Applied Behavioural Analysis at: https://yourlearner.com/events.

This is only one of their helpful videos on managing life with someone on the spectrum.

The resources are out there. As more people ascribe to these programs, and as an increasing member and support base is developed, the opportunities for additional programs expand.

The more we become familiar with these programs and foundations, giving feedback and support, the more resources and services will become available to us.

Look up your local and international autism spectrum support systems. Then use them. It’s a win-win situation.

Margaret Jean Adam

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On Being a Writer with Autism

It’s a problem.  Not just having Asperger’s or, as the more politically and diagnostically correct phrasing goes, being on the spectrum.  But also not being diagnosed.

I know I am autistic.  My oldest daughter and two of my grandsons have been diagnosed as being on the Spectrum and we process information in a similar fashion — although often arriving at very different conclusions. The way we observe and process information is generally considered to be ‘unusual’.

Being different can bring a sense of isolation.  For me, as a child, it began at home. 

None of my family questioned the things I questioned, or perceived certain aspects of home and the society in which we lived, in the way I viewed and interpreted them.  It made both myself, and my family think of me as ‘other’.  I lived there, but I was different.  Wrong.  I didn’t fit in. And I found myself in a very similar situation in school. 

I honestly would not be able to tell you how I was different from the other kids.  That was a secret only they knew. 

Not knowing how I was different made it impossible to adjust my behaviour to conform.

I loved my mother, but in my opinion she lived a very dull, uninteresting life and I was determined to not grow up to live a similar one.  On reflection, my mother faced a great many challenges.  Raising a family and working outside of the home in the 1950’s and 1960’s when women were bombarded with media messages that their place was at home, could not have been easy for her. But I was too young and too involved with my own dilemmas to truly understand hers.

Then, when I was eleven, a neighbour began to notice me.  An adult, he was a close family friend.  My dad, my grandmother and my aunts all liked him.  As he was frequently in our house, he found me an easy target for his perversion.  Familiar with our household routines, he could easily determine when I would be home alone and thus vulnerable.

My autism contributed to my sense of helplessness in dealing with this neighbour’s twisted mind. 

The isolation I felt from my parents, the sense of being ‘wrong’ and not knowing how I was wrong.  The strict rule in our house that adults were always to be obeyed … I couldn’t sort out how I was supposed to alert others to this situation.

When I made tentative inroads into conversations about this problem, as with every other serious conversation I tried to have with adults, I was shut out. 

It was the 1950’s.  No one wanted to hear ‘that kind of thing’.

And, no-one knew about Autism, other than Hans Asperger in Germany and a few of his cohorts. We didn’t know about stimming, the social skills deficit or the neurology that would have unveiled my condition.  So I stood alone.

 I have been criticized for writing about this period in my life as I experienced it, rather than focusing more narrowly upon my autism. 

The social deficits were, and to some extent still are, real and pervasive. The sense of isolation, the astounding lack of connection to others.  Pleasure in solitude.  The foreign-ness of other people’s thought processes.

I cannot make up autistic traits.  I was different.  Socially awkward, and a loner.   That’s my truth.

And as an author who is autistic, the truth is the most powerful narrative I can offer you in a memoir. 

The sometimes horrifying, sometimes touching and sometimes humourous truths about what it was like to be socially challenged in the late fifties, early sixties, attempting to ward off a sexual predator while trying my best to figure out how to be normal in a world that seemed so completely foreign to me, is my story of growing up on the spectrum.

Unforgiving. The Memoir of an Asperger Teen is available on Kindle and in paperback through Amazon Books.  Read for yourself.  I told my truth.

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Writing on the Spectrum

Have you ever been bullied at school?  Teased in an unkind way?

Perhaps you tried to join in a conversation and the little knob of people you were addressing just kind of broke up and walked away. What does a person do with that?

For me, it became a memoir, a Kindle book called Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger’s Teen

I wrote about the incongruous juxtaposition of events in my teenaged life: the unpleasantness of being targeted by a child molester, dealing with an Asperger’s personality when no-one knew what that was, and getting the lead role in a National Film Board film.  Circumstances which in combination, isolated me from my family and my peers.  

My intention in writing this book was to illustrate how a series of events in a young teen’s life can create an overwhelming and pervasive sense of isolation from family and community.

Another Aspie, Tom Angleberger, has written an article on how Asperger’s powers his writing.  Angleberger is the author of a series of young adult books who uses unpleasant incidents from his school days as fodder for his plots.  Angleberger has published many books in which his knowledge of Star Wars along with embarrassing moments in his childhood create humorous adventures for his characters, always with positive conclusions.

Some of his titles include Darth Paper Strikes Back and Emperor Pickeltine Rides the Bus.  He combined his fascination with origami along with his love of writing to produce R2-D2’s Guide to Folding.  He currently has 52 books in print and nearly two hundred thousand reviews on Goodreads!

As for being autistic, Angleberger says the constant flow of words from his brain to his pen have helped him have a career he loves.

You can read more about this author at: https://origamiyoda.com/ or find his books on Amazon, or in bookstores.

That other autists like Kelly Brenner[i], a Seattle based naturalist who writes about urban nature, can become successful authors is not just a recent occurrence. A behavioral analysis site declares that historically, authors such as Emily Dickinson, Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carroll are thought to have been on the spectrum[ii].

 Interestingly, an American university research project published in July of 2020 indicated that autistic students out-performed their classmates in essay and project writing[iii]. The main issue for students with autism, the study findings suggest, is overcoming perfectionism.

Shauna Marie Henry[iv] writes to expose ‘the elephant in the room’.  She says having an Asperger’s viewpoint gives her stories a unique look at social conventions. 

For many of us, being an Aspie doesn’t smooth the pathway to a seamlessly successful social life.  At least not in our early lives.  But certain aspects of our condition, including our unique perceptions, our different ways of processing information, and our ability to find humour in the most socially disastrous circumstances, or even just to survive them, can be seen as positive attributes.  

For some, even fodder for a career we love. 


[i] https://www.theopennotebook.com/2018/10/09/writing-when-on-the-autism-spectrum/

[ii] https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com/

[iii] Comparing the writing skills of autistic and nonautistic university students: A collaboration with autistic university students  Kristen Gillespie-LynchEmily HotezMatthew Zajic

[iv] https://writingcooperative.com/learning-to-write-with-aspergers-b1e0fe61b619

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YET: The Word that Turns I can’t into Future Possibilities!

The work that I love, creative writing, seems to have closed its door on me.  When someone very dear to me died, the joy and passion I once had for writing died, too.

 Being stuck is anxiety-producing for anyone, but especially us Aspies.  How can I reduce my anxiety?  I need to give myself attainable goals.   

So I have decided to blog once a week. But then I look back at my blogging history, and I feel anxious again. I can see that I don’t blog regularly.  Maybe I can’t.

When we self-talk in a negative way, we say things like, I don’t. I can’t.  I don’t know how to… or I’m not good at…

But we can convert these defeatist thoughts from the negative to the positive by the addition of a simple, single three-letter word: YET.

I’m not blogging once a week—Yet

Saying ‘yet’ interjects a positive possibility into our future. 

Saying ‘yet’ implies that we are not finished. 

We are not done.  We are not stuck in the muck of failure.  We are working, perhaps slowly, but nonetheless surely toward our goal.  The battle is not over.  The cause is not lost.

Not giving up is important to our self-esteem. 

It is a significant factor in our sense of self-efficacy, a term created by a renowned psychologist and Stanford professor of psychology named Albert Bandura.  Self-efficacy is our faith in our own ability to organize information, to make informed plans, and then successfully execute the steps required to manage “prospective situations”.

In other words, self-efficacy is our belief in our ability to strategize, to manage our behaviours and motivations. It is an awareness of our strengths and limitations when working toward goal achievement.

When we take a negative statement like, I’m not capable of… and change our thinking to say, I’m not capable of this yet, we imply that we are working toward achieving this goal. 

We are changing our mindset, and thus, we are changing the direction of our lives.

Our seemingly unattainable goal is no longer that daunting closed door of I can’t.   Instead it has become, I’m still working on that.

Give it a try.  Open up some of those doors you’ve recently closed on yourself.  Instead of I can’t.. or I don’t know how to…tell yourself,

I can’t do this yet…but I’m working on it!

This helpful tip came to me through an Autism BC sponsored webinar presented by Chelsea Jelic from POPARD[1]


[1] Provincial Outreach Program for Autism & Related Disorders, a BC Ministry of Education Resource for Teachers and Students.sive

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Asperger’s & Autism: Research Participants Needed.

Research is vital in assisting us in making our way through the world. New information helps us understand those processes that hinder us, and those that are helpful to us.  

One of the most challenging of these is the work environment. Lights can be too bright, office areas too open and noisy, and posted information can be confusing.

This month we have a chance to offer our input on a research project investigating the effect of the office environment upon the efficacy of those on the Spectrum.

Marc Burnard is a Florida U. doctoral candidate gathering information about changes we would like to see considered in office environments. 

Mark’s interest in this field comes from his personal life:

I have autistic friends and have come across many articles discussing the challenges that autistic people face in workplaces that are unaccommodating.”

There’s a push for neurodiversity initiatives in some workplaces, but a lack of research to facilitate them.

The goal of Mark’s study is to provide insights which may inform changes to workplace environmental design. 

He is a third-year doctoral student in the industrial-organizational psychology program at Florida International University.

His research interests span the stressor-strain process at work and neurodiversity.

He is seeking participants in Australia, Canada, the US, UK, Ireland and New Zealand, because Autism does not respect political or geographical boundaries.

Participants will receive an Amazon gift card for 15USd. To participate in this study, and for more information on the scope of this project see  https://www.mburnard.com/research.

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Reflecting Upon Our Social Interactions

Omigosh, was I really that unaware?

Recently we had lunch with some new friends. The hanging baskets cascaded their vivid blooms, the food and wine were perfect and the conversation flowed.

But the next day, reviewing one aspect of the conversation, I realized I had been guilty of that intense self-immersion we Aspies often experience.

At one point the conversation centred on an author I had recently met and whom my guest had recently heard interviewed on CBC Radio.  I waxed eloquent on my favourable estimation of this writer.  I elaborated on how we had come to know him and how respectful and talented we found him to be.

But not once did I ask our guest what impression he may have formed from hearing the author interviewed!!

Not only did I fail to learn more about our guest from his impressions, but I also lost the opportunity to later pass on feedback regarding the interview to our gifted friend.

And again it struck me that we all need to be aware of how we come across in social interactions with others.

Clearly social encounters present a learning platform for us.

Reviewing our most recent social encounters, reflecting upon how they went, upon both the positive and the negative, is a powerful exercise.

But it must be done without judgement, of ourselves or of others.

For me, a positive reflection of my interaction with others is simply an objective review of a conversation.  Where might I have been more thoughtful or encouraging of the other person?  Where might I have asked for clarification?

The key is to be kind to myself as I reflect.  To counsel myself as I would someone younger who has come to me for help.

When you reflect, love that you are learning, baby step by baby step, even as you make mistakes, perhaps even real blunders.  And then look for a way to move forward.

For instance, we have made plans to see these folks again, and when we do, you can be sure I will make a point of asking our friend about his impression of the interview.  He may not recall as much now, but I think he will be pleased that I remember our previous conversation and am interested in his point of view.

Everyone likes to have their thoughts, and especially their opinions acknowledged, and it is both polite and compassionate to be courteous to others when they address us.

My partner once received a card from a colleague who wrote, “You are the only person I have ever known who, when you ask me how I am, wait patiently for an answer.”

Whether it’s someone’s passing greeting in the hallway, or opening remark in the office lunchroom, or conversation over a meal, it is respectful to listen and to consider their words, rather than just thinking of what we want to say next.

Maybe sometimes we really just don’t care!

Here’s the thing: the first step in having others care about us, is caring about the collective others out there.

We must never stop attempting to make real, honest conversational forays. Yes, we are entitled to be selective in our conversational partners, but not exclusive.

Honest and frequent self-evaluation can help us to breeze through social encounters.

Try it!  A whole new world of social ease will present itself.

Margaret Jean

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Autism Syndrome Disorder: Being Prepared for Your Child’s Assessment

You may have noticed some indicators in your child’s behaviour suggesting they could be on the Autism Syndrome Spectrum.

You ask about having your child assessed, which is free through the BC Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN). You discover that if you put your child’s name on the wait list immediately, you will have to wait approximately sixteen months before your child is assessed.

Michele Shilvock, a behaviour analyst (BA) with a master’s degree in education advises that the sooner you can get your child on a wait list the better.

It is not only the advantages that can be provided once funding is in place, but also the range of funding which makes an early application desirable.

Government funding varies according to age, with the funding for children under six established at $22 000 per year. But for children over six the annual funding is only $6000.

Therefore, in order to get the greatest benefit from available services in anticipation of your child attending school, your preschool child needs to be in the system, awaiting assessment as early as possible.

As Shilvock pointed out in a recent online seminar sponsored by the BC Autism Society, You can always take yourself off the list if you find that you signed up in error.

The free assessment is a one-hour, one-time visit!

This is very different from a private, client paid assessment[i] which consists of several interviews with different professionals, at a total cost of between $1500 and $2500.

The positive aspect of the waiting period for the free assessment is that it can be a fruitful time for gathering information that will help ensure that your child is accurately and thoroughly assessed.

Shilvock is clear that you will need to clearly and concisely express and confirm your child’s behaviour in a very short period of time.

The brief glimpse that you provide of your child during the free assessment can be enhanced by videos of their behaviour under a variety of physical and emotional conditions, journals logging interactive activities or possibly exhibiting a lack of emotional control, stimming or unusual repetition in play or conversation.

If possible, enlist the help of others, such as daycare workers, preschool workers, coaches, or close relatives to record your child’s behaviours as well.

Above all, Shilvock says, be honest and realistic. Sugar coating your child’s behaviours at this crucial juncture could have devastating long-term consequences.

 

[i] Please see the resource page for B.C. professionals available for private assessment processes.

 

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