Saturday, July 30, 2011

Senses Vs. Emotion

In my mind it can be very difficult to tell the difference between sensations and emotions.  When someone asks me how I feel, I am like Spock from "Star Trek:" I really don't know how to answer.  I can distinguish my emotions if I tell someone how I am feeling and receive their judgment, after which I will think oh yeah and then wonder how I could have missed the signs that are now obvious since they have been pointed out.

I can get really agitated at work sometimes due to the daily stress in a retail environment.  The thing is, I often don't recognize that I am agitated and since everyone is trying to get the job done, there is not really opportunity for me to relate my emotions and figure out what is going on.  It is kind of like feeling trapped within myself, when it is really just an illusion.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Slow Change is the Change that Matters

That point in seventh grade when I was an outpatient at the Fox Center was the most definite turning point in my life.  All the escalation that had been occurring for the last few years suddenly stopped.  Everything from my falling school grades to the association with teachers who didn't take the time to understand me, to the classmates who gave me a hard time, everything came to a complete standstill when I started going back to school late October in 2000.  It was almost as though my life can be divided in half from the events prior to October 2000 to the events following October 2000.

When I say that things came to a complete standstill, I don't mean that things started improving right away.  Two months after starting again at middle school I failed a computer class simply because I did not pay attention in class.  That was the last time I ever failed a class.  Boy scouts was still hard for me because they had not noticed the internal change.  Almost a year later at summer camp, I was told by a scout leader that I was not the same person I was a year ago.  I was much calmer, more reserved, kept and I made a point of keeping whatever ecentricities I had to myself.

At the end of the school year in 2001 when I finished up middle school and prepped to enter high school I made the honor role.  This is a luxury I would enjoy all throughout high school.   To this day, I have only received three "C" equivalent grades in college: Precalculus,Calculus I, and Second Year Spanish.  I my remaining three semesters of college, I plan to continue what started that time when I stood up in front of my fellow classmates and realized I was a different person.  A better person.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Experience with Medications

When I was twelve years old I was taken out of grade school to adjust my medications around. For four weeks I was an outpatient at the Fox Center in Pontiac Michigan.  It was a controlled environment where different medications could be used to determine exactly what I needed to function in day-to-day life. This was the time when I was officially diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified. 

Prior to this time, I had been taking Ridalin since I was three years old.  I had also taken medicines that, instead of helping me, created psychotic side effects.  My parents would refuse to give me those medications.

It was determined during the four weeks I was out of school that I needed a different combination of medications to work with my ADHD, my chemical imbalance, my autism, and my depression.  So they tried different combination's of medicines to find out which dosage suited my needs in that controlled environment.  I remember sitting in a circle with the other patients discussing what was on our minds (this was their way to determine which patients were feeling suicidal thoughts (there were approximately fifteen of us, ranging from age eleven to age sixteen).  In this particular instance, I was heavily sedated, the doctors having overestimated the the dosage my body required.  I remember feeling incredibly drowsy and was completely unconcerned with the fact that I was drooling on the floor while leaning forward in my lap.

Eventually I was prescribed with Remoron, a form of Mirtazipine, to deal with my depression symptoms; Risperdal, a form of Risperidone, which helped me think more clearly through my autistic mind (Risperidone has been associated with weight gain.  I was fairly skinny before this point and I have been struggling with my weight ever since seventh grade); and I was prescribed the controlled substance Concerta to help me think more clearly through my ADHD.  Concerta is a controlled due to the "high" it produces in those who do not have ADHD.

My medicine has been stable for the past ten years and their are noticeable differences in my clarity of thought if, for instance, I forgot to take my Concerta one morning. I accept the fact that I will probably have this combination of medications for the rest of my life.  I'm okay with this, if that's what it takes for me to be able to do the things I want to do with my life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Sensory Friendly" films?

I recently heard the term "sensory friendly films" and its association with autism.  What it means is there are some movies that are easier on the senses than others.  In terms of my own senses, when I was younger, I have found that horror films were overwhelming for me.  At age thirteen, I was left shaking with nightmares for years following after viewing a dark comedy. 

I can watch that same movie now, nearly ten years later, and not get worried at all.  One thing kept me intriguing me with horror and action films and that was curiosity.  I could not help viewing such movies because I wanted to know what happened.  If left a action or horror movie unfinished, my imagination would try to anticipate what the conclusion might be.  More often or not, my imagination would predict much darker outcomes than what actually occurred in the films.

Everyone on the autism spectrum do not find the same films sensory friendly as others do.  I know someone with Aspergers Syndrome who is not bothered by horror at all.  Quite the contrary actually, horror is her autistic interest that she dedicates much time and energy to exposure.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Separation from Reality

A major characteristic in autism that is evident in the people who deal with the condition on a day to day basis is the separation between reality and fantasy in the autistic mind.  You can connect this to a basic marketing principle: the separation between the desired state and actual state, which many marketers try to exploit.  In the mind of someone with autism, the idea state becomes reality, and cannot be easily distinguished from the actual state.

One thing my parents did as I was growing up is that they constantly intruded on my "own little world."  They made me participate in cub scouts, bowling leagues, swimming lessons, and t-ball.  Through these events, I socialized with others my age and participated in group activities.  At that time in my life, I was preoccupied about day dreams consisting of "Star Wars" characters emerging into my reality and taking me to their reality.  I was still able to distinguish these fantasies from my reality, especially after receiving a formal autism diagnosis, and changing my medicines around to work with my other problems I was having at that time.

These days, I am doing alright with my job and school, while keeping my idea reality separate from my actual reality.  When I was younger, I had a number of "Star Wars" toys.  I would use these as characters (I had about fifty of them at one point) in stories that were quite independent from the roles these characters had in the "Star Wars" films.  I started to direct my own little world into these stories acted out by my "Star Wars" characters, until I couldn't really get around the fact that they were made out of plastic and were no longer capable at satisfying my stories.  I was about sixteen then.  At this point, I started to write my stories down.

Six years and a number of rough drafts later, I am using my writing experience in another attempt at making my fantasies into realities by writing the first installment in my fantasy series.  My expectations for my written fiction are high, and I just do not have time or energy to do everything I want to do with my writing, but I hope to have this first fantasy novel finished within five years. Then, my fantasies that have grown with me over the years, can be experienced by others bridging the gap between my desired state and actual state, or my own little world and my life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Black and White Thinking

One trait I have noticed through my own autism that seems to be true for others on the spectrum as well is that we have a strong tendency to think in black and white.  I am going to clarify what it means to think in black and white through a definition I found on the web:

"Dichotomous thinking is also sometimes called “black or white thinking.” This is when someone is only able to see the extremes of a situation, and is unable to see the “gray areas” or complexities of the situation. For example, a student who engages in dichotomous thinking may believe that if they don't get an "A" in class then they have failed."

I also like to call this an all or nothing mentality.  When I am faced with a problem, I find that only the best case scenario, and the worst case scenario in a given situation.  Think about a parent trying to teach their child with autism that it is safe to approach some people and others should be considered as "strangers."  This is difficult for the child to comprehend if they think in black and white.  To that child, there are only two options: talk to a person or don't talk to a person.  Trying to teach a child with autism about stranger danger goes against their natural tendencies.  In my experience, I have found comfort in the prospect that one kind of action, such as not talking to anybody I don't know already, solved the stranger danger tendency without going against my natural tendencies. 

This is only my experience with a natural all-or-nothing   mentality. Believe me, when I am out in the world trying to live my life, awareness of this tendency does not change the fact that I approach most problems with my black and white thinking.  It's just something that everyone on the autism spectrum needs to work on.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Autism and Certain Food Textures

As I grew up, it became apparent that there were some types of food that I just could not handle eating.  Some of those foods include: any type of potato (excluding crispy and salty french fries), stuffing, certain kinds of bratwurst, mustard, onions, mushrooms, the list goes on.  There are also some types of food that I used to not like when I was younger, but now I eat on a regular basis.  This list includes pizza and lasagna.  I particularly cannot stand the texture and general feel of mashed potatoes.  Just having the vegetable in my mouth creates a retching sensation.  It goes beyond simply not liking the taste.

In some cases with autism, the texture of certain types of food cause a sensory overload, such as my case with the mashed potatoes.  I understand that parents want their kids to eat their vegetables, but understand that when my parents forced me to eat mashed potatoes when I was younger, far from making me appreciate the vegetable, it made me hate them even more and strive to avoid them as soon as it was my choice to do so.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Social Acceptance

The number one thing that someone with autism is looking for is acceptance for who they are, even if they are not completely understood.  I am no exception to this.

I have compiled a group of friends over the years that do just that.  Ever since high school, it has become an unspoken rule to give me the benefit of the doubt when it comes to my words or actions.  I am kind of the outsider of the group, but I can still participate in the games or social activities that I choose.  If I say something that is socially unacceptable, they might look at each other with confused expressions, but then they move on without saying anything.  I might be embarassed, when I realize (after the fact) what had occurred, but overall, I am grateful for being accepted.   I wish that every autistic person could have this opportunity to be accepted in this way.

I also offer a word of caution: it is important for people with autism to recognize their social limitation.  Just because a person with autism is accepted by a particular social group, it does not mean that they can do or say anything they want.  I have lost friends before by not recognizing social cues that indicate I am pushing too hard to be accepted by someone who is just not willing to give me what I ask.  I often day dreamed throughout high school about being the most popular or the guy with the best girlfriend.  When it came to pursuing this vision by asking for too much from friends, it only caused more discomfort and drama than I was willing to deal with.  My advice to people with autism who are looking for acceptance from friends, accept your place within a particular social group, and don't ask for too much from the people who are doing you a favor by allowing you to be a part of their group.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Living with Autism

It is really the unknown that intrigues so many people when it comes to autism.  Here is this condition of alternative behavior that is so multifaceted, so varied to the extent that it has an entire spectrum which tries to encompass this diversified range of behaviors.  When people hear that I have autism, even people who have known me for years, they revise their perception of me based on what they know about autism, and based on what they know about me.  There are some situations where people don't notice that I have autism and I choose not to tell them, due to my own judgment of the situation.

In many cases, some people are actually frightened of autism because it contradicts many things that they believe about people. I am going to use some very crude stereotypes to illustrate this point.  From what I have seen, there are some people who believe that there are two categories to conveniently group those they meet and associate with.  In their eyes, there are people who are smart and people who are dumb.  They revise their behavior around those categories, treating the people in each category accordingly.  It simplifies life a great deal, in their minds.  Keep in mind that this is my interpretation of this kind of rationale.

Now add autism into the mix.  These people with autism cannot be placed into either one of the categories.  People with autism, especially Aspergers, can be very smart in some areas of their lives, and not so smart in other areas.  In other words, they fall into both of these categories.

I don't mean to offend anyone with this post.  I am in the position where I can only imagine how people's minds work, having lived with autism my entire life.  I don't know what it is like to think and feel like most people do.  In a way, I think I have it better, living with my type of autism.  Life is much more vibrant, much more interesting.  As a member of the autism spectrum, I have to find my own path to follow in life, instead of following in someones footsteps.  There are always trials that come up through misunderstandings, it is just a cruel reality. 

The way I see it, this is my life.  I didn't choose it.  I can't change it.  I might as well make the best of it and try to find happiness, like everyone else.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Autistic Routine

One characteristic of different types of autism is the presence of a rigid routine in daily life.  This routine differs between autistic people and is followed reverently.  To an autistic person, a deviation in the routine that they are used to represents a total loss of order in their lives.  This is demonstrated in the film "Rain Man" where breaks in the routine of the autistic man displayed by Dustin Hoffman result in shocking public tantrums.  In the case of Hoffman's character, this routine depended on viewing certain TV shows at certain times, eating breakfast a certain way, things of that nature.

The presence of this routine is calming for a person with autism.  In their mind, the break in routine creates an irrational sense of fear.  This problem has never really affected me the way it affects others with autism.  I am trying to interpret this behavior using the few instances I have had where something unexpected occurred and I had to adapt.

There have been instances where an item that I was searching for, such as a charging cord, was not where I expected it to be.  I would enter my autistic mind and search mindlessly for the object of desire, always passing by the places where I expect it to be while feeling a sense of loss.  This actually did happen earlier this week as I was searching for the charging cord for my Nintendo DS.  The loss of this cord (which was eventually found) meant that I could not follow the routine that I have established in recent weeks and play my video games while watching TV.  I would have to find something else to do with my time, which my autistic mind resisted.  Eventually I calmed down and started occupying my time doing other things, but the autistic mind, when it is set in a routine, is determined to mindlessly follow through with that routine, whatever it is. 

My symptoms are much milder than others who have different forms of autism.  Even so, with the cooperation of friends and family, I don't see any reason why both the autistic individual and their loved ones can't both be satisfied with the lives they lead.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Autism and My Social Life

I went out with a good friend last night.  We went bowling, got some dinner, wandered around a store, had a good time.  The last time I went out with someone was three weeks previously with the same person.  Because of my autism, my social outings are few and far in between.  I know people who are not on the spectrum socialize whenever they're bored, or out of routine, or because they feel the need to be with people.  I am not the type of person who will call up a friend, "hey, do you want to do something today?"  This type of spontaneous action makes me feel uncomfortable, but that might be the fact that I am an introvert, and not due to my autism.

Sometimes, I meet with a group of friends to play sports.  As of the present date, I have not done this in nearly two months.  I have noticed that in smaller groups of friends I am much more outgoing, and with larger groups of friends I hardly speak at all.  I just find it harder to communicate when I feel that a lot of people are watching me. I prefer to text with a friend rather than call them up.  This adds some distance and freedom to respond to an inquiry when I feel ready, not holding someone one the line while I try to figure out what to say.  It's not like I don't have a social life at all, I just prefer to spend more time alone than with friends.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Inside My Autistic Mind

Since I am high functioning PDD-NOS, I view my mind as having two independent parts.  One part is the split between my rational/emotional mind that handles all my day to day activities from work, school, home life, and to a limited extent, my social life.  The second part is the autistic mind, which is more difficult to relate because I do not think with words through this part of my mind.  To put this another way, my autistic mind is "my own little world."  Repetitive movement, such as pacing, can tap into my autistic mind and at these moments I can enter vivid daydreams.

I have heard that some people think with mental images when they are in their autistic mind, others think in sequences or patterns.  Temple Grandin clarified this concept of autistic thinking in her book "The Way I See It" so I have generated the following ideas from reading that book.  When I am in my autistic mind, I think in sequences of related information. I can memorize sequences, such as music or movie quotes, with relative ease when I am in my autistic mind.  I don't like to claim that I can do this normally because the moment I become aware that it is happening while it is taking place, the process stops. 

Sometimes movie quotes stick in my mind and echo over and over again.  The quotes that stand out the most often relate to what I am feeling at a given moment.  It is much easier to recall facts, or movie lines in my head when I am in my autistic mind.  However, when prompted to communicate, the only thing that comes to mind are those movie lines, which does not help me in a given situation.  A strategy I have developed to push away my autistic mind and function in a work environment, for example, is to ask people to repeat themselves and verify what is often obvious information.  This allows me to network through my autistic mind come to a conclusion, or find a way to solve a customer's inquiry.  I side effect of this is people who don' know me very well assume that I am not as intelligent as I really am, which can't be helped, even if I don't like it.  The people who do know me, such as my parents or my brother, say that I often ask questions that I know the answer to and view that as a source of annoyance.  This also can't be helped.

One assumption that my autistic mind makes is that people and situations can be taken at face value.  In other words, my autistic mind assumes that people actually mean what they say.  This assumption is so deeply ingrained that no amount of self reasoning can convince my autistic mind otherwise.  Based upon this, I really do not understand sarcasm.  I can recognize sarcasm when it is used, but I really don't know what to say in response to a sarcastic statement because my rational/emotional mind is telling me one thing and my autistic mind is telling me something else entirely.  I can even use sarcasm simply because I understand my own intentions well enough.  However, my literal autistic mind is not naturally equipped to handle sarcasm, which doesn't do me any good in situations where sarcasm is used (quite often). 

Sometimes people recognize that I don't have a grasp on sarcasm, and decide to have a little "fun" causing my autistic mind to seize up and lean towards a sensory overload.  I understand that no one likes being messed with, but I take serious offense to such occasions because I will often remember the situation for a very long time afterward, whether I want to or not.  A simple occasions of "fun" when I dealing with my autistic mind can really mess up my entire day if I am at work.  My autistic mind would be confused, trying with all its might to understand a sarcastic statement that cannot be literally understood, leaving me with a sensory overload.  Sometimes I am able to stop this from happening, sometimes I can't.  I honestly don't see any "fun" involved whatsoever.

I hope that awareness of this concept of the autistic mind will make it easier for individuals with autism to function in the workplace by raising awareness of the thought processes involved.