Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sandy Hook and the Spectrum Connection

In mid-December, a small town in Connecticut was rocked by a school shooting.  A true tragedy for the nation, and it's hard to fathom what those families directly involved went through.  I really don't know what words I can use to reflect on the events of that December 14 day in Newtown.  I then heard the news that the shooter may have had Asperger's, so obviously there was an outrage that followed.  I was tempted to blog on this, but decided to hold my tongue.  Days later, I found that there were a ton of link that talked about this already, and most of these said what I was looking to say.  So here are some links, which are worth reading in full.

  • The New York Times has a great editorial that exposed some of the news coverage for what it was, using the key terms of autism and mentioning it as an illness rather than a simple neurological developmental disorder.  The media reporting won't help distinguish what autism spectrum disorders truly are.  People will just hear the characteristics and not understand the difference.  Thankfully the public editor came through to explain that clarifications were added a week later:

    If there were solid sourcing last week of the Asperger’s diagnosis, the issue of its relevance could have been handled in a clarifying follow-up sentence — for example: “Autism and Asperger’s are developmental disorders, not mental illnesses; and there is no connection between them and violent behavior.”

    Mr. Halbfinger protested when I suggested the idea of such an explanation, particularly in a first-day story. “To me, it seems kind of ridiculous; that’s the journalistic equivalent of a nanny state,” he said. He added, though, that as a parent himself, he does understand how parents feel about this subject. And he sees that there may be a “knowledge deficit” – people may not know very much about autism and Asperger’s.

  • Too often a lack of empathy was credited as a reason why there was a connection, but it really doesn't make much of a difference.  A piece in Slate distinguishes cognitive empathy from emotional empathy, and how many of us have the latter.  I would totally vouch for this one, because recognition of emotions (i.e. reading people) is my problem, but when emotion is manifested in a person, I can them internalize these feelings and can at least share it to a partial degree.  Most psychopaths are the reverse.  The writer relates with her own son:

    My 11-year-old son is diagnosed with Asperger's, soon to be simply "autism," thanks to impending changes in the DSM-5. He is a rowdy giant of an 11-year-old who loves tumbling play with his brothers, but his spirit couldn't be more gentle. When he finds a spider in the house, he carefully gathers it in a tissue and places it outside, alive. He can't bear to watch people crack tree nuts, like pecans, because being something of a tree nut himself, he feels pain on behalf of the nuts. He is so attuned to all of my nonverbal communication that he will recognize and respond to a fluctuation in my mood faster than anyone else in our house, including my husband.

    He knows about the Dec. 14 shootings in Connecticut. When he learned about them, his first response was to turn away in the chair where he was sitting, drooping his head over the back. He stayed that way for many long minutes, quiet and still. When he turned around again, my child who rarely, rarely cries had tears in his eyes. And then, his first urgent concern: that we break from homeschooling and go get his brother, our youngest son and in first grade, from school ... now. And as we drove to the school to pick up his brother, whom I badly wanted to see and hug and hear, my oldest, autistic son voiced what I'd already decided: "Let's not tell him what happened. That's not something he needs to know. It would make him too anxious and scared." Perspective-taking and empathy, you see.

  • Many parents have been pushing back at this suggestion as well, drawing from their own experiences. Even the EVP with Autism Speaks came forward with this summary statement: "By definition, people with autism are not inclined to commit acts of violence...[i]t’s really important to note that having an autism diagnosis doesn't make you the type of person to commit this type of crime."  Another point made here by an Aspie who is only 15: "If you meet somebody with Asperger's, you've met only one person with Asperger's."

  • I am, of course, a person with Asperger's, maybe high-functioning autism (at least the DSM-5 will define me that way).  I don't want to dignify the killer or let his name linger in any way, but there is something that allows the story to resonate with our community, whether it is for the purpose of defense or making a connection. Just as we know of people with antisocial personality disorder, most of them are not violent, or at least learn ways in which to control their impulses. They may be a politician, a lawyer, an artist, a Fortune 500 CEO, or a janitor. Same can be said for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. However, when you have an individual who has difficulty reading social cues, relating to others, and empathizing, all the while combining it with violent impulses (among other important risk factors such as traumatic history, early attachment issues, limit resources and social support) it can really become a horrific situation for that individual and those who care about him or her. We all want to make sense of tragedies, and have an almost existential need for a motive. Here, it's not autism. We don't even know if it was ever diagnosed at this point. As is the case with the dialogue about gun control, we need to honestly examine all of the underlying causes with sincerity and tact. Only then can we begin to understand and hopefully prevent the horror from happening again.  

    Saturday, November 17, 2012

    Random Links (or, Buzzfeed: The Truest Distraction)

    I break from posts related to spectrum life to bring you a series of links that amuse me, which I doubt are limited to people on the spectrum.

    First, dap denied...the 21 most notable unrequited high-fives in modern basketball history.

    21 Greatest Unrequited High-Fives In Basketball History

    Now, a moment of hathos from Bill O'Reilly:

    Just in case you don't have Flash installed on your computer...

    Then this just made me laugh, as someone who is a fan of The Wire and once liked professional wrestling.

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

    Taking It All Too Hard

    Over two months have passed.  I feel a little different than I did, as it appears I hit that stage of acceptance a month ago.  I haven't posted much about her as I've been keeping myself rather busy.  The other day, however, I did see a post from a mutual friend of ours on Facebook referencing her, which was the third in a week that I could count.

    I can sense that a number of people are still hit really hard with Lindsay gone.  I won't deny that I'm still feeling it.  However, when seeing the amount of messages, I asked myself if I was not taking it hard enough, or maybe others were taking it too hard.  Truth is, we won't all be hit equally because we deal with it differently.  I don't bother explaining how much I miss someone beyond events that are triggered in my mind.

    People on the autism spectrum were not my best guideline for the steps on how to cope.  While many of us went through extended denial phases, not everyone has done what I done.  In some cases there has been the obsession, which I haven't gone through.  Otherwise we either hole up or indeed distract ourselves with activity.  My activity keeps me from the obsession, or at least I feel that way.  I couldn't bring myself to write about Lindsay because I got caught up in helping myself get on a good life path, or at least to pave an altered direction for when I figure out where the new point B is located.  I still don't know what words can do justice, as I have been worried about my personal growth while sometimes talking aloud to her as if she can hear me, sometimes using it to either rationalize or question my decisions.

    Sure, the title of this entry is named after a Genesis song that came out during the mediocre pop dinosaur period, but it was easy enough to relate to, even if the song is about a breakup and not a death.  One line of the song is "but I still miss you; I keep it to myself." That's what I have been doing rather subconsciously.  I've figured out that my way of coping has been pouring myself into all my future goals that we talked about since before the summer.  Here's what I did in October:

    1. I finally joined a gym, and one of the nicest in the area.  I signed up for a trial of Boot Camp at my gym as well, which I'm not continuing because it costs way too much on a monthly basis.
    2. I made a decision with my MBA to focus solely on applying to North Carolina State, and not UNC.  I went to a Kenan-Flagler session, which was very informative, but I recongized that getting admitted would be a somewhat daunting task, and three years full time with the dual MBA/MSIS program is not practical.  Besides, State's Jenkins MBA is among the best 75 part-time programs in the nation; it's not too far of a drop-off.
    3. I took my exam, and I started to study for the next go-round of the GMAT as well, hoping to get scholarships if I was to falter.  Turns out I may not be able to get too many scholarships as a part-time student, so it may not matter at this point.  I already spent $400 on GMAT training too before I realized where I was (or wasn't) applying to for my MBA studies.
    4. I went back to attending professional association events for database users, including SQL Saturday in Charlotte, which furthered my decision to pursue MCSA certification.
    5. I am now in talks with the national GRASP chapter concerning the start of a local chapter for the Triangle, which could start in a few months.
    6. I began saying 'yes' to even more social events for a few weeks, going out on weekends and visiting friends much more than I ever did in Philly...or at least since college.  It's great knowing how many people are around to help.  I can't help but notice that tonight is only the second Friday or Saturday night since I returned from the Philadelphia service trip that I've stayed in, writing this blog entry.
    7. I started to test the waters with dating.
    Simply put, I furthered the groundwork for everything I have wanted to do, but I became stressed trying to do it all and began to retreat.  It hit me in conversation that I was pursuing everything as a subconscious reaction to Lindsay.  Not that these were bad things to do, but that I wasn't quite pacing myself properly since I was also concerned with filling in the gap.  That's how I cope...the vacuum is filled in by activity so that I can continue on with life and not lament.  I may not have another hard hit until I go to San Francisco to spread some of her ashes.  Then again, I may watch a video or play a song on repeat from my September mix and I will have a moment.

    So I can learn to accept that we're all mourning the loss of Lindsay in our own particular ways, and I can always defend myself knowing how hard I feel like taking the loss each day.  It goes with the territory that comes with caring for a person deeply.  There's no way I'm going to be totally over this for a long time, but asking myself how hard the death will shake me at a certain time is just a part of the acceptance.  I can live with that.

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    Losing a Loved One

    I have returned after two months of slacking not having a post to write.  It had been a worthwhile and eventful summer.  I began my graduate school applications, and took some nice weekend trips.  I moved to a new apartment in the Raleigh area in August.  I felt a sense of vindication at work over new projects and our business intelligence switch.  Labor Day weekend involved a trip to Wilmington.  It was a summer of both questions and answers.

    Then my whole world changed in the early morning hours on September 6.

    I received a phone call from a North Carolina state trooper at 1:40am. He was calling to inform me that Lindsay (my girlfriend) was in a car accident, and did not make it out of the hospital alive.  Deaths in car accidents are news you see, but it's rare that any of us believe we will go through that experience with someone close to us. I was in a very lost place after I got the news, and then phone calls from her mother and her roommate (who had become one of her closest friends very quickly) proved that we weren't alone in this confusion.  One of her friends at her complex offered to drive out to Cary to pick me up, but I really just wanted to be alone for the time being.

    After that first night, however, I discovered exactly why it was good to have people around, and more people than I ever could have expected.  I've always been more of the loner type, not really comfortable getting too close to anyone outside of his immediate family, and one who wasn't always sure who he should call his friends.  However, I found it one of the rare pleasant surprises, knowing that so many people had my back.  I've slowly been driving myself back to sanity with this thought in my mind.  I didn't figure out how to cry over it, but I'll be damned if I didn't put together my best mix CD ever thanks to this tragedy; my end combo of Moby's "My Weakness" and Bon Iver's "Beth/Rest" got to me the first time I played it in full.

    I didn't mention her much in my blog as I wanted to leave names out of it, nor did I know how to discuss my love life. We had difficulty during our relationship, particularly this summer, in part because of my general detachment and some difficulties with affection.  I had been in relationships for 6.6 years and still hadn't figured out how to properly show affection, up to the night of Lindsay's death.  We had been together for what had felt like at least five or six years, the way we had been hot and cold before.  There's one important detail to note about us...she was happy, after so long, to finally get the guy, since I had come to a point where I knew we could be comfortable.

    With this death, I have had some other thoughts consume me.  Thankfully, none of those thoughts have dealt with the inevitable "what if" that frequently comes from such loss.  However, there are three big ones nonetheless.

    • What have I done with my life and what more can I do? As most Aspies go, I'm not great at focusing, so I feel that I haven't allowed myself to properly focus on priorities at hand. If I had been checked in, I would have already taken the GMAT this summer.  I gained even more ambition while dating her, but still had troubles focusing my energy on one activity, and utilizing the obvious excuses for not yet applying for my Masters Degree.  I did allow myself to really consider what schools I should apply to in the wake of the tragedy, and even though she was pushing UNC, I'm realizing that NC State's MBA program is my best option, and I could pour myself even further into my professional associations.  Maybe having this extra time should motivate me, even though I was too numb and too distracted for a couple weeks, throwing off some of my graduate exam studies.  Then I can finally resume my musical pursuit and get that EP finished, with her cover art as the dedication even if she wasn't around to see the final product.

    • I have also began to question the afterlife more so, at least if someone leaves earth before their time. I "experimented" with religions for a couple years of my life, particularly my freshman year of college.  It made me appreciate faith more than I had in my years before college, even if it wasn't something I could keep up myself and challenged often.  Some days I start talking to Lindsay as if she can hear what I'm doing or can possibly see into my thoughts and any transgressions or memories I have of her.  There are other days where I start to bring this up with God. It will be along the lines of, "Hey God, how does this happen? I wonder if You had a different idea for Lindsay once she left early." Now I don't believe God is a person, but rather an energy...the biggest mystery known to man, even beyond Higgs Boson or other scientific and spiritual questions and answers.  There's also the semi-Buddhist likelihood that once she "saw the light" her own spirit transfers into a newborn somewhere else in the world, a reincarnation, although the newborn will have no memory of Lindsay for neurological reasons.  I ponder what may be possible, in true agnostic fashion.

    • Once I'm ready to hit the dating scene, I do think about what will happen if I have to break the news about why exactly I became a single man.  I believe I'm near the point where I can go on some dates, where it wouldn't be just company to cope with the loss. If I do get close enough to someone, how do I go about dropping the inevitable?  I've likely pondered this more than I should for the last week because of situations with the opposite sex lately.  More so, what lessons can I learn from this past relationship? I gained a lot and learned more about myself and commitment  and I probably don't want to get into anything long-term for a while, but knowing my history I'm bound to end up with someone soon enough and will be able to not always think about the past.
    They say time heals wounds, which it has been so far.  However, time isn't going to ever make loss go away.   What I compare it to is an injury, and losing my lady is comparable to a battle scar.  If you puncture it too much it will explode; if you leave it alone it will be a legacy. I know all of us will move forward and I'll love again. The best part is being able to stay positive lately, and how I've become closer to everyone she knew.  I'm not going to write a book on "how to deal with death" from the perspective of someone like me, but at least I can refer to such a time if it ever happens again.

    This one's for you, Lindsay.

    Saturday, June 23, 2012

    Abed Nadir

    I briefly noted Sheldon Cooper being the most notable contemporary example of a possible Aspie on television, but Abed Nadir of Community may fit the bill even more so, at least as this essay would say.  Interesting to me how Abed's walking style is what did it for the girl referenced here.

    Abed Nadir walked around like a bird or a giraffe, and he couldn’t do thumbs-up and he talked too fast and knew too many things and he was sharp and suspicious and easy and trusting. He did things that were simultaneously uncanny/creepy and sweet/thoughtful, and he couldn’t do bills or read clocks but he could tell psychiatrists to fuck off and he could fight with his best friend when his best friend tried to take charge, and he was jealous and sharp with his crushes. He had friends and private worlds, and all the scars that come from growing up a mistake, and things were imperfect and messy and painful and visceral but he always emerged okay.
    Abed Nadir said “please don’t do a special episode about me” and Jeff Winger promised he “wouldn’t dream of it.”
    And then he told Abed to pick one reference, and Abed picked 16 Candles, so they sat on the counter and ate chicken.
    It's worth reading in full, as the piece isn't necessarily pointing out why Abed would be a true Autistic character, but how someone who is on the spectrum finds a way to relate to a character like him.

    Saturday, May 26, 2012

    Tommy Westphall

    I've never watched St. Elsewhere.  However, I know that the careers of David Morse, Denzel Washington, and Ed Begley Jr. were launched by the show.  I also know about the finale and Tommy Westphall, the son of the main doctor.  It turns out the show was in his imagination (spoiler alert, right?) this entire time.  Interesting enough, St. Elsewhere had a direct connection to Homicide: Life on the Street, which has many other connections, in part thanks to Detective John Munch's presence (his move to SVU, and his cameos on The X-Files, The Wire, and even Arrested Development).

    Westphall was also autistic, which might not be a surprise considering the extension of his fictional universe.  Thankfully, someone came up with a chart and a theory about the "Tommyverse."  It's more than a cool finding, if you ask me, considering the 282 interconnected shows.

    Click for the extreme close-up.

    Saturday, April 28, 2012

    I Can't Decide

    One thing that some aspies have more problems with than others is decisiveness.  I even have that issue on deciding what to write for this blog some days, hence weeks without posts.  Well, that and time.

    I was confronted with a decision on what song I should continue to work on for the upcoming music project that I will release next month (self-promotion moment).  I've been told the beat tape should be longer, but I'm afraid of releasing lackluster tracks on it. Not sure what would be better when I weigh pros and cons, and I might still think about it once released.  There's another time I was considering a fantasy baseball trade and took advice from three others on if I should pull this off...and let the deal stall for weeks before nixing it.  This is fantasy baseball we're talking about and I couldn't make a decision on if my team would be better.

    My issue with decisions really comes from a simple desire above all: to do the right thing.

    Somehow the supermarket isn't as confusing.
    Mainly because I know what I want already.

    I hate being given too many choices; the more equal choices I have, the harder it is to pick one. I get scared when I'll choose what is the "wrong" one and suffer the consequence of regret or blame. For years, I was almost always about chicken meals at restaurants, particularly fast food. I didn't want to make the tough decision in that case, and thankfully I did not have to.  I know what works, if I stick with that, then I can't make a mistake.  I think that's also a small part of what made me so good with learning maps and following routes after repetition.  It's "kind of like a rat learning a maze," to quote something I saw on the Wrong Planet forum. If I follow familiar and tested routes, then I'm less likely to hit a dead end and collapse from anxiety.

    The reverse is when I act on impulse. I sometimes act because there's a need for me to do something right away, going back to a need to prove myself.  When driving, I'll make a rash decision on what direction to take just to show others that I know exactly where I'm going, even though my "human GPS" tag only applies to places I've studied on the map for a long time. I've also made some rash decisions at work to show my value, which hadn't consistently paid off.

    The decision to me, is more of a validation, to put it in blunt terms.  I want to be right for myself and everyone else and show the world what I can do.  All interconnected.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    1 in 88

    Here's a nice blog post that I saw on a mostly political website, but concerning the new findings on autism.  Is it really that high of a ratio/percentage now?

    Can I also note how intriguing it is that the study came out with World Autism Day around the corner?

    Saturday, March 17, 2012

    Beware The Ides of March and Handling Other Superstitions

    Yeah, I'm probably more superstitious, in a less conventional sense, than some people due to my OCD tendencies, which was worst as a child.  I'm not one of those who is bothered by Friday the 13th or walking under ladders on any day. However, I did have a huge problem with stepping on sidewalk cracks when I was younger...or stepping in driveways when cars rolled by.  I didn't get upset when these things happened, but I tried all I could to avoid taking such actions.

    I get as paranoid as the next guy when it comes to places I go, but surprisingly, I'm not as much for true superstition.  Ghosts never fazed me because of the reality conflict.  I also didn't have much of a thing for bed monsters.  My biggest superstition as a child was putting worry men under my pillow.  I had those things at night believing worries could haunt me.  Of course, they still do.  If anything, I was more curious about debunking superstitions than I was scared of them.

    Pretty much anything else, that could be added to a separate post, would count as obsessive, but I doubt it is a form of superstition.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    When I'm That Guy Who Just "Watches"

    Last night I took part in a Groundhog Day celebration, and drank my share in what was a very fun night.  I didn't quite feel sober enough to get home around the time that others were leaving to walk/drive/call a taxi back to their homes.  This put me in a position I never cared for, which is the last one left at the party.  On top of that, my getup was more formal, which is due to the Bill Murray theme (I chose Herman Blume of Rushmore).

    I had already called my tab, so I had walked out of the bar, and decided to sit down on what was practically a stoop on North Street.  I just sat there for at least ten minutes, watching some of the townspeople venture to the next stop on their after hours journeys, sitting there looking like a bit of a dunce in an empty suit.  I think I got a couple weird looks as well, as if I was some drunk down on his luck.  I start thinking of life like a movie and this is the part where I look bewildered as I walk away from the camera, and then take a seat.  Camera comes close to my face, bringing me to this point.

    A significant amount of aspies that I have met in person like to observe people on a daily basis, much like many an NT will want to sit and look at the world.  I often do it because some concepts are still so alien, especially when I'm not totally in my element.  When others are off on an adventure for their night, they don't expect a man to sit on a corner looking at stars and buildings semi-intently.  I question if I would be considered one of the following as a man sitting on the corner without any props:

    1. Some person stalking a woman to take home late in the night.
    2. The wino looking for his next drink and is totally confused.
    3. A person waiting for just the right taxi but forgetting how to chase one down.
    4. A vigilante on the stakeout at such a late hour, hiding in plain sight.
    5. An overall creep.

    It's not a great distinction.  On the flip side, I also know that not everyone thinks I'm one of the above, just one of the night souls.  It's not the movie that I see myself in, but the action of sitting.  The one common ground with aspies?  We're often acting like scientists, conducting our own little experiments on each person and place, and no one knows it.  Which is just how we like it.  At the same time, I pick these moments to sit and think about something happening in my life, and possibly relating to someone else when I look around, rather than staring at a crack in the sidewalk.

    I like to sit down at any time and unwind, like an NT probably does.  As established before, I'm a loner by nature, and it's nice to sometimes sit around and have those uninterrupted moments of introspection.  It's just that I won't always do it at the hours I expect to people-watch.  All because of the movie in my head, when the scene starts with me asking "how do these people do whatever they do?"  Cue the lab.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012


    A new year is here, and I finally have something to write, or at least a series of discombobulated thoughts, coming out like Pez candy.  It begins with a dispenser.
    • I don't always know what to talk about as the year of the outlandish is upon us.  According to the Mayan calendar, we're doomed.  Here's the thing..I'm not one to believe in stuff like the calendar, but I am one to take someone trusted seriously when they attempt to get me to believe anything.  So it's like an inconsistent gullible nature.  I'm one of those types who would prefer to believe the best in people.
    • Moving is something I have become used to; I was very happy to return to Philadelphia for break, but in another example of what someone once called 'autistic maturity,' I was actually quite happy as soon as I returned to Raleigh.  It's really become a home to me, as has the Southern Pines area...that whole US-1 corridor feels like home now.  I used to think I would never leave PA, but that mindset changed in summer 2010, and my job situation (combined with the job situation of a significant other) led me to actually change states.
    • Despite that, I am dreading filing my may get a couple phone calls.  However, I feel less of a need to call my mother than I used to, which makes me happy since many of us have that need to rely on our caretakers.  Never a bad thing, but also nice to truly feel like an independent.
    • I somehow drifted away from a list-making compulsion for the first time in...well, the first time ever.  No year-end albums list, no actual top five ranking (only that certain items would be 'top five' in a category).  I moved away from that since I was now at a longer distance.  When I came home I felt more of a need to speak up, but the familiarity allowed me to fall back into an old habit.
    • I finished a course in CSS/XHTML via Sandhills Community College, my first time in a school setting since, well, my college graduation (I don't count some of those Comcast University training seminars).  This wasn't a tough course and was more instruction on a new language (not very abstract), yet the work I did have to put in made me feel like I could still pursue graduate school.  Now I need to get ready for that wake-up call later this year.  GRE prep is about to begin later this month.
    • Going back to the moving, I have still not participated in any autism-spectrum-related organizations, especially since I left two local chapters behind (though one comes from a continental organization).  I would still love to set up a Triangle chapter for the GRASP partnership once I am comfortable and have some help, but I'm concerned about how long I will be spending in North Carolina (whether it is Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Apex, or even Greensboro), stretching myself thin in terms of time, or possibly trying to run it too much like the Philadelphia chapter (Bob gives me a high standard to live up to...if he's reading this, he deserves even more props than he likely already gets). Here's hoping I can balance this.
    • They call us creative, but not focused.  I'm creative enough to almost have an EP of musical beats and breaks finished, but not focused enough to have it done yet.  My goal is to finally have it out this spring, and hopefully to get a few people to listen to my 'side project' which my brother's rap career helped inspire.
    Otherwise, I'm out of things to say.  I'll likely post again by February!