Friday, December 27, 2013

My Autistic Journey: Part II

Here is some info about me:

  • I was born April 28th 1988.
  • When I was two years old, my language skills degraded.
  • When I was three, I regained my ability to speak.
  • When I was nine, I was highly impulsive and destroyed another student's textbooks in Catechism class. Earlier that same day I was disciplined at school for throwing snow at another student.
  • When I was eleven, I received detention for not keeping up and had a teacher tell me "see, you know what you need to do, why don't you just do it?" I didn't have an answer I could give.
  • When I was twelve, I was taken out of school and hospitalized for four weeks while I was diagnosed with atypical autism and treated for depression.  During the following months, I received an "F" in an elective computer class.  It was the last time I ever failed a class.
  • When I was thirteen, I was enrolled in all special education classes and had begun to slowly regain my self esteem.
  • When I was fourteen, I made the honor role for the first time.
  • When I was fifteen, I attended my first school honor ceremony.
  • When I was sixteen I had begun to mainstream into regular education science and social studies classes and was still ranked in the top 10 % of my graduating class.
  • When I was seventeen, I was inducted into the National Honor Society.
  • When I was eighteen, I graduated from high school with a 3.85 GPA.
  • When I was nineteen, I received my first "B" in a college class after attending community college for a year.
  • When I was twenty two, I wrote for The Oakland Press as a reporting intern while taking four college classes and working another job.
  • When I was twenty three, I began to write this blog The Voice from the Spectrum, which has received more than 25,000 pageviews to date.
  • When I was twenty four, I graduated from college with a 3.35 GPA as a member of Alpha Mu Alpha marketing honor society which required a recommendation from a professor.

  • Today, I received this in the mail:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

You Think You Know Autism...

People tell me all the time that I don't seem like I'm autistic.  If you are a relatively successful adult who is on the spectrum, I am certain you hear it too.  Why do you think people say that in response to us "coming out?"

Here is what I think:

  • It's because they think they understand autism and I simply don't fall into that category.  
  • It's because small talk cannot relate what autism really is.  Only deep intensive discussions can do that.
  • It's because the face I and so many others present to the face to the world are individual faces of autism and no two of us are alike.
  • And it's because autism has been treated as a disease to be cured instead of what it really is.

The world as we know it has changed a lot in the past one hundred years.  There have been many revolutions driven by business that have changed the world completely.  We have walked on the moon.  You are reading these words right now and you have likely never met me and likely never will.  The industrial age works as a system.  Children are sent to school at a certain age, expected to assimilate certain knowledge at certain times at the same frequency as their peers.  After school is finished, these adults who were once children work for the next 50 years of their lives.  Then, they retire and stay retired the rest of their lives.  This way have life has reshaped the entire world in one hundred years.  Everything has become systematic according to this industrial world.  Education.  Medicine.  Art.  The industrial society has worked hard for the past one hundred years to convince everyone that this is the single best way to live.  A small handful of generations.  When you think about it, one hundred years is really not the long when you consider how long mankind has walked the earth.

Autism is different.  It makes the industrial world feel uncomfortable.  Autism cannot be compared to the standard of what people are expected to know at a certain age.  So the industrial world cannot rely on autism the same way as other people who are trained to become workers since first entering school. So industry assumes that those with autism are less capable.  Then those on the spectrum show that they are indeed capable, producing great works of art, proving extraordinary capability in many different areas of interest.  This makes the industrial world even more uncomfortable.  Autism is something strange, new.  The industrial society is afraid with no clear answer in sight according to their system.  And this takes us to the present day.

Let me reiterate what I am today.  Today, I am a college graduate, a musician, a writer, a podcast host, a friend, an uncle, a son, a brother, an idealist, a dreamer, a visionary, and autistic.  This is the current end result of my autistic journey which is still in progress.  Many successful stories told by those on the autism spectrum are very similar to mine.  Why then is autism still treated like a disease to be cured?  Should we not be patient with all members of the spectrum and try to nurture the strong gifts that can be found in all members of the spectrum?

Here is a fact about ASD.  All cases of autism are like icebergs.  Most of the activity is taking place below outside perception.  Even a kid who is screaming, a kicking, and biting themselves can tell a story, not in the conventional way, but in the autistic way, if minds are opened and this "self destructive" child is viewed in a new way.

That new way is not easy to see.  The industrial world has standardized everything to be based around profit generation, including the distribution of information.  This reminds me of a simple principal of the news industry:

Bad news sells better than good news.  

The public has proven that there is a greater response to negative news than positive news.  So the news industry has been based around the premise that if a worker in the news business has to choose between showing bad news and good news on the evening news than bad news takes priority.  Bad news is better for business.  Bad news makes more money.  So when information is presented to the public about autism it is more likely bad news than good news.  Unfortunately, bad news has also skewed how autism is viewed by the general public and by decision makers who have the power to make a difference.

Autism Speaks is the largest organization in the United States that is based around autism.  They have been under a lot of fire since John Elder Robison, who is on the autism spectrum, resigned from their science board.  His accounts can be found on his blog.   Now that Robison has left Autism Speaks, general outcry has stated that there is little to no representation by members who are on the spectrum.  There are Facebook movements striving to remove the support of sponsors from Autism Speaks.  There are also many who state that Autism Speaks has mishandled funds.

The fact of the matter is that Autism Speaks operates under the principles developed by the industrial world.  These principles have led to their use of sponsors, their hierarchical structure, and nearly every action, every decision they have made.

I think that the single mistake Autism Speaks has made is that they look at autism with the same eyes used by the industrial world when those on the spectrum do not fit into that system.  A possible solution?  Toss aside the system and start fresh.  The system has already proven to not work for those on the spectrum from education to employment.

Viewing autism through the eyes of industry also accounts for the information they report about autism on their website.  Robison stated that the trigger of his resignation was an article written by Suzanne Wright displaying the worst of what autism has to offer.  This is because Wright was using the news principle of the industrial world: bad news sells better than good news.  As a result, many on the spectrum have stated that they find the article offensive.  This is because, like I stated earlier, the system developed by the industrial does not work for those on the spectrum.  The system depends on traits common among the majority of people in order to function.  The simple fact is that autism is not the majority.  The sooner that autism speaks realizes this, the sooner that they will be able to really make a difference.

My point is that everything we think we know about autism, the actions of Autism Speaks, the computer you're using now and the fact that you can even read has been determined by the industrial society that has shaped life for the past one hundred years.  The same industrial society that fears autism because those on the spectrum do not fit into their system.  Like I said earlier, one hundred years is not the long.  Is there a better way?  Is it now time to change the way we live our lives not according to the industrial way but an entirely new way? Comment below with your thoughts.

Great Minds DO NOT Think Alike

It is my viewpoint as an individual on the spectrum that those with autism are beginning to change how Western Society views talent.  Too often, people mistake presentation of talent for the talent itself.  By that, I mean that those who are extroverted are seen as more valuable than those who are introverted or those who are autistic.  Companies require team building activities and colleges require group work under the premise that groups can produce better ideas than individuals working alone.  Those on the autism spectrum are proving this premise wrong by producing excellent creative work without the social skills used during group activities.

I'm not saying I'm against group work.  A few weeks ago, I joined the marketing committee for the community band I play in.  This has worked out very well, a lot better than I thought it would.  The reason for that is that I am able to work within the realm of my strengths rather than being forced to rely on my weaknesses.  The person I have worked with mostly on this project is outgoing and action orientated.  This person's approach complements well with my introverted, idea orientated mindset.  This person told me that the ideas I come up with really gets her thinking when I present ideas in an environment I am comfortable in.  Working together, we have accomplished a lot more than we would have if either one of us would have done if we had been forced to rely on our weaknesses rather than our strengths.

Forcing those into group work who would rather work quietly is counterproductive to success.  Today's job market in America favors the assertive when in fact there are talented, capable individuals being overlooked simply because they are quieter.  Both sets of people have their place.  Those who are quieter work better in support roles alongside their outgoing counterparts, reigning them in when necessary.  Those on the autism spectrum fall into both categories, many high functioning individuals are outgoing and many are quieter.  The main idea is that people on the autism spectrum and those who are neurotypical, those who are introverted and those who are extroverted all work best when they can utilize their strengths instead of being forced to rely on their weaknesses.

Just something to think about.

Friday, December 13, 2013

My Take on Susan Boyle's Announcement

An autism diagnosis is not the end of the world but the beginning of a whole new world filled with wonder and delight.  Many on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, such as Susan Boyle, lived their lives thinking that something was wrong with them.

I speak from experience when I say that those who grow up thinking differently than most others can discount their inner voices and pursue the expectations of others.  By recently finding out that she was on the autism spectrum, Susan Boyle may have finally found peace with being different.

Susan Boyle announced earlier this week that she was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism.  A few years ago, Boyle received world-wide attention for her singing talent.  In an article on the Daily News website, the 52 year old singer also revealed that she was misdiagnosed as a child.  Boyle is beginning to expand other talents as well with the announcement of her film debut in "The Christmas Candle."