Category Archives: writing on the Spectrum

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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Young Adult & Adult Aspies: Who Is In Charge of Your Life?

Margaret Jean

Who will navigate us successfully through life to success?  To achieve the goals we set for ourselves?

Dr. Phil as he is commonly known, says it has to be us.  Nobody else. And he has developed a set of what he calls “Life Laws” which he has used to help many of his clients find their way out of seemingly hopeless situations.

In his book, Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters, Dr. Phillip McGraw stresses that what is vital is “…understanding and controlling the cause-and-effect relationships of life; in other words, using your knowledge to make things happen the way you want them to.”

That we are responsible for learning the social strategies that will get us where we want to go, is probably, as Aspies, the last thing we want to hear.

But whether or not you are familiar with Dr. Phil’s non-nonsense TV Show style of therapy, I…

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Flat Affect: The Flip Side

What if our Flat Affect has a ‘flip side’?

What if Flat Affect could even be a selective, evolutionary advantage?

Are Aspies perhaps actually more appropriately aligned to deal with the great variety of societal conflicts currently confronting the world?

I have been researching prosody[i] or the inflections, physical[ii] and vocal, that make up our conversations.  Numerous studies[iii] indicate that not all peoples interpret conversational inflections in the same way.

For instance, as a young man working in South America, my friend, Richard, realized that in some Chilean, Peruvian and Bolivian subcultures, it was not wise to show his teeth when smiling.  He found the baring of teeth could sometimes be mistaken for an aggressive attitude.

Research by psychologist Carlos Crivelli and anthropologist Sergio Jarillo (see references below) indicates that primitive societies often do not read facial expressions in the same way as European/North American cultures.  In fact, they found some of our ‘obvious’ expressions baffling.

Is the increased ‘mingling’ of previously geographically separate cultures, each of which has established its own distinctive non-verbal communication, less of a problem for us Aspies with our Flat Affect?

Does inscrutability lead to less misunderstanding of the distinctive facial ‘cues’ which neural typicals are confidently projecting?

Here’s a radical thought! What if our Flat Affect has advantages which outweigh its well–known disadvantages?

What if our lack of facial expression is not necessarily a negative quality?  Could it instead be a genetic variation which facilitates our participation in a global society?

We live in an increasingly internationally diverse culture.  Different facial expressions can send conflicting and sometimes even threatening messages, depending on the culture in which we find ourselves. Under those circumstances, wouldn’t Flat Affect be a good thing?

And consider this: so much of our current communication takes place on the internet where little or no facial expression is involved—emails, chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Are Aspies then the children of a world society where conversation is solely based on the verbal rather than on time-honored inflected conversation?

In a shrinking world where uniquely defined cultures more often ‘bump up’ against each other perhaps we are the best prepared to diffuse possible misunderstandings, rather than further igniting them!

[i] https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/social-communication-autism-explained

[ii] Facial Action Coding studies by Jennifer Fugate as reported in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers pages 147 to 152.

[iii] Sergio Jarillo & Carlos Crivelli  as commented upon in Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers pg.154 to 159 and abstract from:

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-19236-001

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Challenges: Help For Aspie Anxiety

When your teacher or professor assigns homework, when your parents or your roommate ask you to clean up your room, or to look after some household chores—what’s up with that?

Perhaps your roomates want you to take responsibility for two meals a week.  Or maybe you’ve made a commitment to yourself to exercise three times a week or walk six blocks a day.

How can challenges that seem worrying actually help reduce anxiety?

Anxiety is a huge issue for many of us with Asperger’s.  There is no point in asking why we often see six thousand compounding facets in every single little incident in our lives, or why simple chores like washing the car or cleaning our rooms can morph into multi-day events.

 The question is, why would we challenge ourselves with any of these responsibilities at all?

The answer is simple.  By making demands of ourselves, and by disciplining ourselves to attempt to meet those demands, we give ourselves room and encouragement to grow.

By repeatedly doing simple manageable tasks we develop routines and a self-confidence which can serve us well when we encounter more complex issues.

When we attempt to accommodate another’s reasonable demands, we acquire and continually enhance the skill of determining exactly what is required of us.

And we practice discerning how best to initiate the task in the most efficient way so as to successfully complete it with the least stress … and perhaps even a certain degree of pleasure!

This translates into the essential life-skills of listening, comprehending, asking questions about the process when necessary, and successfully completing the task.

We are rewarded with the personal satisfaction which comes with the completion of any worthwhile accomplishment!

And the more that is asked of you, either by others or by yourself, the greater you will feel challenged.

But, the greater the challenge successfully met, the greater the personal satisfaction.

Challenges are not only necessary for our personal and professional growth, they are a fast-track to ensuring our lives remain interesting and fulfilling.

 

 

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Aspies: Flat Aspect–is this the Botox Experience?

When I read Carla Ciccone’s article in the September 7th edition of the Vancouver Sun, my first thought was welcome to an Aspie’s world, Carla!

When she had a Botox treatment to alleviate some of the wrinkles in her forehead, she lost the ability to express her feelings facially; something I immediately saw as the equivalent of an Aspie’s ‘flat aspect’.

Ciccone writes that she was proud of her ‘bitch’ face. The one with frown lines between dark brows and eyes that narrowed aggressively to a “hawk-like gaze”, a look which she used to express feelings ranging from confusion to rage.

She wanted people to know when she was angry.  And she conveyed that emotion through facial expression.  

But after her Botox treatment, “I was feeling a frown on the inside but my face reflected…serenity.” 

Could our Aspies’ ‘flat aspect’, or lack of facial mobility, be the equivalent of having frequent Botox treatments?

As an Aspie, I often have strong emotions that I do not express, either verbally or facially.  

I let the moment pass and try to sort out how I’m feeling and why.  Is it normal to have this feeling?  How can I express my emotional reaction without being offensive?  Sometimes it may take days for me to figure this out.  

In the meantime, those around me have no idea that I’m upset.  The only emotional barometer they have is linked to my speech patterns. 

I become more quiet than usual; contribute less to the conversation.  I have a less animated reaction to conversations–which is hard to detect as speaking in flat tones can often be my normal.

It occurs to me that if I follow Ciccone’s example and learn facial expressions to convey what I’m feeling, it will be easier for people to understand what’s going on with me in the moment, instead of hours or days later. 

This could be integral to successful socializing and a crucial component of being in a meaningful relationship.

Ciccone also writes:  Since nothing that I was going through in my inner world was visible externally, I began to feel a little bit dead inside.

How about it, Aspies?  Is this true for us, too?  Is ‘flat aspect’ or the lack of facial expression of emotion, a reason we sometimes find ourselves on the periphery of social life?  And do we need to change that?

However, having said that, there are obvious benefits to being an aspie with ‘flat aspect’.  As well as being inscrutable, look how much we can save on Botox treatments!!

 

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The One That Got Away: An Aspie’s Sales Nightmare

When a topic fascinates us, we Aspies can talk for hours.

Unfortunately, speaking in itself, does not constitute a conversation.

It is listening to someone else and then responding to their information that allows for an exchange of ideas.

This can be a hard lesson for us Aspies to learn.

I once had a book published on tax; on money that people receive when they are downsized and what happens to them tax-wise when they do.  I called it Jack and Stanley’s Buyout Adventure.

A human resource manager called.  He had read the book and wondered if I would come and talk to him about doing seminars for his employees.  He worked for a mining company and the mine was shutting down.

I drove all the way up to Logan Lake from the coast and met a very pleasant man.  One who told me he had read the book all the way through just to find out what happened to Jack and Stanley in the end.

That book, as well as being about income tax, was also my first published attempt at characterization and I was flattered to hear it so well received.

In response, I spoke for what seems in retrospect, an hour without once asking him what he and the employees needed.

I’ve been over it a thousand times in my mind.  What would a better approach have been?

Maybe something like this: Hello, my name is Margaret and I am thrilled you like my book, Now, what is it you have in mind?  How do you see me working with your employees during this closure?

That would have shown a real interest in his dilemma as a human resource person, and also illustrated the fact that I wasn’t just there to tout my book, but rather to be a real help to these men who were being laid off.

Instead, with his encouraging first remarks, I launched into a long history of the book and how it came to be and what it meant to me.  I doubt I let him get in a single word.

Needless to say, I did not get the opportunity to give any seminars. Instead, I got to drive all the way back home again, berating myself for a personality flaw that I knew only too well; one that I vowed to work hard to conquer.

In a way, that day was a gift.  One from which I have benefitted over and over.  It taught me a lesson:  It is never just about me.  A fruitful conversation always includes others, and that requires not so much talking, as truly listening.

I do hope this helps you.

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

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Advocating For Your Loved One: Eight Practical Suggestions.

Caregiver Me

How often have you noticed something that needs to be addressed in order for your loved one to have the best care? Probably almost as often you have felt mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.   

The key to dealing with these situations is to be prepared, to be as informed as possible. Armed with the relevant information you will feel empowered and confident. 

These eight practical suggestions will ensure quick access to the records you need to be effective in your dealings with medical professionals and bureaucrats when issues arise.

1.  At every appointment, take notes and always date them.   

  • Be sure to include a list of all participants. At meetings with medical practitioners ensure that you record key terminology and associated terms, and any recommendations that are made. This applies not only to specific medical concerns but also to diagnosis and treatment options.  I kept these notes in one…

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Aspies: Five Ways To Lower Anxiety

What is the difference between anxiety and fear?  I’ve heard it said that fear is a specific dread–for instance, you might be afraid of the man next door because you have heard he’s a pervert or because he always looks angry.

Anxiety on the other hand is the dread you experience but can’t explain.  You might be having fearful feelings but not be able to say why.  This is very challenging because not knowing where the fear comes from, means you have no way to face down the fear.

But relax.  There is help.  And I know we’ve talked about this before, but with more than fifty percent of 100,000 college students* rating anxiety as their biggest issue when visiting a campus clinic, and the Canadian Anxiety Disorder Association stating that anxiety is now the number one mental health problem in Canada, this information bears repeating.

So here is help:  Five ways to fight anxiety and come out a winner.

  1. At the end of each day, think of three things that went right.  Focus your thoughts on those incidents.  Did you hand a report in, and get a good mark?  Did someone compliment you?  Did you finally make that phone call you’ve been dreading to make? Did you balance your budget?  Smile at someone who smiled back at you?  How did you make these things happen?

    For more on the power of positive thinking from Michigan University see:  https://www.uofmhealth.org/node/651843

  2. Be grateful.  Think about something you have–your health, your living space, your cat,–and be thankful for it.  It can be something as simple as a beautiful day, or rain for your garden or the sun on your face.  Feeling and expressing gratitude leads to reduced anxiety.  For more information about this topic see:  https://www.bphope.com/bipolar-buzz/10-ways-to-use-the-power-of-gratitude-to-help-depression-anxiety/

  3. Be kind.  Doing a good deed doesn’t just lift the spirits of the recipient of your kindness; it somehow magically transforms something inside of us to a good emotion.  And here’s the great thing–it doesn’t matter if you save someone from getting hit by a train (very anxiety producing in itself!) or if you just say hello to the lonely senior living down the street–it’s all powerful anti-anxiety medicine.

    To learn more see: https://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer/media/research-news/all-english-research-news/doing-good-deeds-helps-socially-anxious-people-relax/679444

  4. Volunteer: think of some charity you’d like to lend a helping hand to, then go and sign up as a volunteer.  You’ll meet people with similar interests, see that you are better off than some people, and possibly make new friends.  At the very least you’ll have social contact and feel productive.

  5. Be compassionate to yourself.  Forgive yourself your blunders. Tell yourself you’ve learned something from that embarrassing situation and will do better next time.  try to see the humour in it, and understand that you are loveable, you are unique and you are worthy of happiness.

    *From a Penn State University study.  Read more at:  http://news.psu.edu/story/343727/2015/02/05/research/annual-report-offers-snapshot-us-college-students%E2%80%99-mental-health

 

Margaret Jean

What is the difference between anxiety and fear?  I’ve heard it said that fear is a specific dread–for instance, you might be afraid of the man next door because you have heard he’s a pervert or because he always looks angry.

Anxiety on the other hand is the dread you experience but can’t explain.  You might be having fearful feelings but not be able to say why.  This is very challenging because not knowing where the fear comes from, means you have no way to face down the fear.

But relax.  There is help.  And I know we’ve talked about this before, but with more than fifty percent of 100,000 college students* rating anxiety as their biggest issue when visiting a campus clinic, and the Canadian Anxiety Disorder Association stating that anxiety is now the number one mental health problem in Canada, this information bears repeating.

So here is help:  Five ways…

View original post 321 more words

As Aspies our Difference is our Strength

There is an Unrecognized Strength in the ways we are Different … one which may lead us toward Unique and Rewarding Opportunities!

“I wish I wasn’t different,” My grandson said recently at a family gathering, reflecting on a  mean comment in his school year book.

As Aspies, we often feel we are seen as different: not the norm, whatever ‘normal’ is.

This can make us feel isolated from many, if not most of our peers. 

But cheer up! Being different also means we have a unique perspective.  And seeing things from an uncommon viewpoint is not all bad.

For instance, say a number of people see a couple taking the legs off a table in order to fit it into their car. 

If you’re a car salesman, you might think “They need a bigger car.”

Or a practical person might think, “They could have bought a smaller table.”

Someone who hates a hassle, may well think, “Why didn’t they just have it delivered?”

Ingvar Kampar, a dyslexic seventeen-year-old Swedish teen  was certainly not ‘disadvantaged’ by being ‘different’ when he observed the above event. He recognized a unique marketing opportunity: one that would make him a billionaire.

His thought?  If the table was sold in pieces packaged in a flat box it would easily fit into most cars.  Customers could then assemble it at their leisure, saving them the hassle of first breaking it down, or alternately, the cost of delivery.

He further realized that supplying numerous large goods in this manner would reduce the costs of production by reducing expenses associated with assembly, at the same time greatly reducing the volume and therefore the cost of warehouse space.  In addition, the need for delivery and the extra cost to the consumer for this service would be eliminated.

In effect, Kampar’s vision was of a production/retail experience that would be cost efficient for both the producer and the customer.

Thus, IKEA was born.

So, as Aspies we must not be dismayed if our thinking is ‘outside the box’.  Our differences can lead us to a unique vision that may result in desirable innovative advances and a successful career.

To learn more about Ingvar Kampar and his unique marketing system, see Youngme Moon’s book, Different.

For us Aspies, that title says it all.

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean

P.S. Other books on having a unique perspective: 

The Power of Different, The Link Between Disorder and Genius by Gail Saltz

Be Different, Adventures of A Free-range Aspergian : With Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers by John Elder Robison.

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