Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Years!

I wanted to take a moment in this post to wish my readers a happy new year!  Whether or not we had a good year during 2011, the new year is all about beginning again.  Through this blog, I will continue to write insightful blog posts through the new year.  I thank everyone who has taken the time to read my blog and allowed my words to impact your lives.

Happy New Year!

New Years' Reflections

The clock counts down towards the start of 2012 where I live...  I know there are countless holiday celebrations going on at this time.  My brother is at a party, my parents are out of town spending New Year's up north.   I am spending New Years at home, alone with my four cats.  I'm okay with that.  I may be able to live unrecognized by many as a member of the autism spectrum, but I still deal with a few symptoms associated with the spectrum.  One of those is sensory overload.

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that I am by no means a party animal.  Quite the opposite actually.  It may be because I'm autistic, it may be because I am an introverted person, or it may be some combination of the two that is unique to a person of my nature and experiences.  The terms "introvert" and "autistic" are just convenient labels to group people together that share similar traits into categories so that those people who are "introverted" or autistic".  That way, people can thereby be compared and contrasted to those with different characteristics or traits.

This brings to mind a "Star Trek" film that I watched recently.  In this film, "Captain Picard" is faced with a most unique adversary: a clone of himself that shares his exact genetic structure down to his pattern of thinking.  I can vividly recall a conversation between ”Picard" and one of his crewmen "Data" about midway through the film.  The gist of the conversation is that just because "Picard" and his clone adversary shared identical genetic material; it is not to say that "Picard" would have made the same choices that his clone adversary would have made over the course of his life.  "Data" goes on to say that the two are unique simply due to the sum of their experiences they had made during the course of their individual lives.

This is the same with autism.  We all hear that no two people are the same.  No two cases of autism are identical.  The autism spectrum is appropriately named because it encompasses a set of related behavior into a category convenient to comparison with other individuals who have different characteristics.  The same is true with the differences between introverts and extroverts.  That being said, it is not simply the fact that I am autistic or because I am introverted that causes me to enjoy spending New Years by myself while my family attends social events.  It is more than my mild autism or my introverted nature that causes me to be the way that I am, those are convenient labels: it is the sum of my experiences that leads up to this decision and will continue to build upon itself as I move forward with my life.

Just something to think about.

It's Only Communication

In this post, I would like to talk about something that I believe affects the lives of those on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, myself included.  It is difficult for me to understand in a social environment that when people are unreasonable or give me a hard time, it is not a result of something I am doing wrong.   They might be having a bad day and the peak of their frustration caused that reaction.  This is mainly the case in my retail job.

Through my experience, there are two types of awareness for those on the autism spectrum which impact the way that they communicate, reason, and feel.  All this is based on the environmental sensations.  When I am alone, as I am right now typing this blog post, I have free access to all my insights, thoughts, and feelings in a way that is not interrupted by pressure from environmental factors. In a social environment, it is like to fit those same ideas through a filter that strains the best parts out.  This accounts for the difference between the way I speak and the way I write.  I'm sure I am not the only one on the autism spectrum that deals with this on a daily basis.  Most of us can't even describe the sensations.  It has taken me the better part of my 23 years to first identify this, and then find a way to put it into words in a way that someone off the spectrum could understand.

The issue I have is that if I have difficulty communicating with someone, I automatically assume that it was my fault.  More than 20 years of living on the autism spectrum contributes to this response.  Going back to the idea of a social filter, it is one thing for me to be aware of this while writing and having free reign to examine my thoughts and feelings, it is something else entirely to face the hurried pressure of social interaction (oh, I can't look for what feels right, I have to answer now...) which forces the otherwise brilliant ideas through the social filter and greatly deludes the quality that the response would be if a given question had been asked in a different environment.

The pressure of the situation can cause sensory overload which can force a detailed response addressing the nature of the problem to a strained on word response.  I just do not have access to the same insights that I do typing away at my laptop than I do while I am in a social environment.  At least, not in the same way.  It was the pressure of working and communicating in a retail environment which prompted this blog post.  I hope that raising awareness will draw attention to this social filter and begin the long road of addressing and solving what I see as a communication problem to those on the autism spectrum.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Note to My Readers

I want to thank my readers from all over the world from reading The Voice from the Spectrum.  In six months, my blog has received almost 2600 page views in 15 countries.  My insights and perspective alone are not enough, thank you for reading what I have to say and allowing my experiences to impact your lives.

I recently changed the settings so that anyone can leave a comment on one of my blog posts.  Previously, my readers needed to have a blogger account.  I welcome feedback of any kind; it allows me to see whether I am succeeding at making a difference or whether I need to improve in some areas.

A big thank you to all my readers!  I hope everyone was a pleasant and safe Holiday Season!

Sensory Overload on Chirstmas Morning

Christmas is the day anticipated by many children throughout the entire year.  Those on the autism spectrum can find the activity and excitement to be uncomfortable, sometimes even triggering sensory overload.   It is probably a good idea to let the child set the pace for opening presents.  Gently encourage your child to participate in the Christmas festivities, but don't worry if your child would rather toss around wrapping paper, for example.

Sensory Overload at Holiday Parties

I have never been a very social person.  Instead of loud parties, or family gatherings, I would prefer to spend holidays quietly with just a small gathering of people.  This could be attributed to my mild autism, my nature as an introvert, or some combination of the two.  In any case, I would rather sit on the sidelines of a party and watch rather than be the center of attention.

With the abundance of holiday parties this time of year, many families have little choice but to take their autistic children to the parties with them.  Loud party activity can cause painful sensory overload.  While not taking an autistic child to a party is not always an option, perhaps parents can find a quiet room where they can take the autistic child so that they can wind down away from the painful sensations.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Turmoil in the Supermarket

Holiday shopping can be a tense occasion for those off the spectrum and next to overwhelming to those who are on the spectrum.  The constant activity and the chatter in a grocery store can cause painful sensations to those on the autism spectrum.  I work as a sales clerk in a grocery store, and today I saw someone who I am pretty sure was autistic, venting the painful sensations by yelling in the store.  This was not a young child either; he appeared to be 14 or 15.

The thing that bothers me the most when I see something like that is not the yelling, but the stares of other shoppers who do not understand.   In this case, the parent/caretaker was doing the best he could to calm this child down.  Parents with autism may already understand this, but I am going to say it anyway: if your child is making a fuss in the supermarket, please understand that he or she does not mean to draw attention to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.  He or she probably doesn't even realize how loud they are yelling.  These are just physical responses to sensory overload. 

This is not always preventable and I cannot give individual advice in situations like that.  My own sensory issues are not this severe.  The only advice I can give is to stay as calm as possible and shop as quickly as possible, because, although your child cannot always articulate what they are feelings, all they want is to get out of the store, away from all the activity that is hurting their senses.

I wish everyone the best of luck in their holiday preparations!

A Chirstmas Past

I want to take a moment to share a past Christmas story.  I was two years old and nonverbal during Christmas 1990.  It is strange that I don't remember that Christmas but I have memories from earlier that year.  I have since seen video from that Christmas so I have a good idea what happened. 

I received many gifts that year: a train set, a bowling set, and some other cool gifts.  I was overloaded, but not in a bad way.  It was just a lot to take in during that time.  I was more interested in the wrapping paper than the gifts, although my parents tried to get me interested.  The train set was left behind us to run in a tight circle.  Our German Schnauzer was very interested in the train.  She chased the train in a circle, not once, but more than ten times around the circle, coming in and out of the camera.  We were all laughing while watching that video.  The really funny aspect was, neither of my parents noticed the dog running in a circle trying to catch the train.

I know there are a lot of concerns about how children with autism might handle the holiday season.  I am sharing this memory to show that at age two, I was nonverbal and overloaded from the idea of Christmas.  Now, at age 23, I am writing my blog to share this memory as a sign of hope to others struggling with autism.  I am about as far from nonverbal as can be at this point.  I have received two offers to speak about autism next year.  Parents, never give up hope because you never know what is waiting around the next corner in the future.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Meet Art Dubin

In this post, I would like to take a moment to talk about an extraordinary man who has Aspergers Syndrome.  Art Dubin was featured in Channel 4 local news in “The Heart of Detroit” story.  This story ran during the evening broadcast on December 15th 2011.  Dubin was interviewed by Mitch Albom about what it is like to have autism.  Dubin brought up the point that those with high functioning autism and Aspergers find complex tasks easy and interesting and tasks that most people would find easier, Dubin (and I, and many others like us) would find difficult.

This goes back to the point that I made in a post a few weeks ago, Autism as an Advantage: found at the following link:

 In this post, I talked about how I can "playback" movies, books, and songs in my head, which is very similar to what Dubin describes in his interview.  I discussed in my previous post that this ability can be used as an advantage while writing.

Art Dubin was named as man of the year by West Bloomfield Temple Israel, where he does a lot of volunteer work.  To listen to Art Dubin's interview, click the following link.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

FYI: Upcoming Blog Radio Show

I want to inform my readers to check out a blog radio show tomorrow at 2 p.m. eastern time (11 a.m. pacific).  Among the speakers is sixteen year old Dani Bowman, who is autistic and owns her own animation company, Powerlight Studios.  Among the topics discussed are Christmas, Poetry, and autism.  I participated in a blog radio show just like this a few weeks ago and I was able to respond to a few viewer questions directly.  I recommend to my readers that you check out what will surely be an informational and inspiring broadcast.

To tune into the show, remember to click the following link tomorrow: Life In The Fast Lane Christmas Poetry and Autism.