Monday, November 18, 2013

The Social Network

So I'm back after four months of, well, not blogging. Got caught up with everything else in life. I completed a sprint triathlon, continued to get the ball rolling on a Raleigh-Durham GRASP partnership chapter, attended a database summit in Charlotte, prepped for my MCSA exams and the upcoming MBA coursework, and began playing in way too many fantasy football leagues for my own good. Last but not least, I had many fun weekends with friends in the Triangle.

Lately I have told myself how thankful I am to have the amount of friends that I do, and that most of them are legit. It's a great feeling, because somehow I'm merely an occasional eccentric who puts his foot in his mouth, or a live representation of a television caricature at worst. When I consider how difficult it has been historically for me to make friends, this sort of thing makes me that much more thankful.

Moving to a different state was hard enough, as I chronicled before. I did not know anyone in the Triangle; in fact, I only had Lindsay as my NC connection and she was nearly two hours away in Roanoke Rapids. I knew that this could potentially lead to me actually recognizing that I was alone, something that Aspies often worry about but I had become unfazed by through my own introversion. How was I going to meet people and potentially make friends, and even more so, find places to explore around Raleigh, Durham, and surrounding areas? I decided to take the route that was perfect for an Aspie like me who likes predictability and more homogeneous settings: the social website Meetup.

Living in Philadelphia, I still had my network in Levittown and the college friends I kept in touch with had remained around Pennsylvania and Maryland; I also had coworkers and other professional associates who were part of my generation. I didn't think I had reason to join Meetup back then. This time I decided it was worth joining for people with interests. The part of North Carolina I live in consists of many young professionals and graduate students who relocated from other states, just like me. Maybe there were groups specific to those types, and I made note of that as my top priority. I next added my interests on the site, like most people, which included autism. Found an Aspie group as well.

My concern about the autistic community is that we can easily lose ourselves in the online world without actually going to meet people. C.S. Wyatt, whose The Autistic Me is among the best blogs I have read, produced a great post on a person, a "lonely Aspie," who was spending nearly $200 weekly on camera chats with females and game forums. An expensive habit. What Wyatt says is advice that is tough for us to give our fellow spectrumites:

His friendships and his "relationships" aren't real. They just aren't, at least not in my view. He argued that his friends were as real as mine. "[you] don't have that many followers or friends," he pointed out to me. "I have 700 friends on Facebook and over 1000 Twitter followers. You don't." 
I was at a complete loss for words. Yet, because I can't keep quiet when I should, I reiterated my belief that to make real connections, you have to leave the virtual world. 
Lonely Aspie didn't like my advice. He didn't want to meet strangers at concerts, parks, or elsewhere. He didn't want to use or Facebook to find groups with interests similar to his. He actively resisted my suggestions, and seemed set on spending his money on games and cam girls.

It's possible this person would not join Meetup due to the requirement of meeting in person. I guess I can understand that, but with my own story (and my own issues with empathy), I am not certain why someone feeling lonely would not want to use that as a network to make friends. If I'm the only one at an event just stalking there, hoping to see someone for conversation, it doesn't feel right. Okay, sure, I'm like most guys who will occasionally attempt to pick up a female at the bar. However, it's not an easy game when you're going off looks alone (it's cocky, but I believe myself to be a fine looking yuppie); this is what makes online dating much more productive. Same goes for groups meant to make friends or professional connections. Wouldn't something as organized as a social group be easier?

I guess my relief is that I found an easy way to make friends, and got out of the inevitable shell the best way I knew how. It's why Meetup, Facebook, and OkCupid are great for autistics looking for professional, social, and dating connections, but sometimes we get so scared of embarrassing ourselves in person that we turn away. It's rather dangerous if we trap ourselves.

Besides, social media can help promote worthy causes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Culture Shock

So we've reached the point where two months ago, I left for Europe on a two-week vacation. It was quite an experience to say the least, especially going on the trip alone for the majority. Almost felt like a pilgrimage at points. As part of this trip, there were a few moments where I felt rather awkward, or made the worst of the situation. Three I can point out.

Street Vendors
While walking through London, I found out exactly how pushy some folks can be. There was a woman attempting to sell me some rosary while I walked around town. She says to me "would you care for a rosary in the name of the Lord" and walks directly up to in trying to shove the rosary into my hand. My friend who was giving me a tour of the city tried to get me out of the way, but in the ensuing confusion I ended up dropping the rosary that she had tried to place in my hand. She then says "that's not a polite thing to do!" Of course, we kept walking on, but I still could not escape a major sensory overload. It turns out that vendors around England's major cities will really push products on you, which I never would have assumed before. It's a different country in a different continent.

The Bus Fare
When I first arrived in Scotland, I needed a bus from the town center to my flat. When I went to pay the bus driver, I attempted to get a day pass but somehow had dropped a 50 pence coin and no longer had the exact change. Of course, I could have bought a return ticket and had enough change, but I really planned on a day pass so I was frustrated at the missing piece to get me to the 3.50 necessary. So of course, I decided to suck it up and ask the patrons on the bus if anyone had 50 pence, without any shame whatsoever. Ridiculous of me, maybe, but it reinforces my own principle about having a plan in mind. Not my best moment in holding up a bus over change.

Airport Security
This one is more like two moments: when I attempted to board flights to Edinburgh and Belfast, respectively. With Edinburgh, I had forgotten that my luggage was strictly carry-on, and thus my toiletries contained full-size items. One of them was my aftershave, which I nearly had a conniption about when security informed me that it would have to be disposed of. I will say that my deodorant was what I cared about more, and nearly freaking out and becoming a flight risk for a matter of seconds likely led to them allowing me to at least keep the deodorant. The aftershave was already two-thirds gone, so it wasn't a terrible loss. I could handle that in retrospect, but in my mind I did not expect to lose anything. I was kicking myself for not thinking.
The other one was something many people have gone through, almost missing a flight. I barely made my plane from Birmingham to Belfast after not giving myself enough time to get between places. So when I was in the security line, my way of getting attention was to jump up and down as if I had to go to the bathroom. I didn't really know how to get someone's attention. In this case, I did not have a conniption, but I did get someone's attention, and explained where I had to go. At most, I only sounded like a stressed out patron. There wasn't much to report. I thanked everyone at the airport for helping me get to my flight right on time before closing. It was only the attention moment that was likely decisively Aspie in nature.

The trip was indescribable, but spectrum people like myself will take notice of the ticks that can occur anywhere one goes, abroad or local. I have many an everyday moment, but sometimes these happen when traveling.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Autism and Church

I haven't given myself the opportunity to post, as I returned from my European vacation on May 19, and then got good news from North Carolina State about their MBA program (I applied, and I was accepted). In the meantime, I present a great article about the spectrum and church. Hopefully I can finish my post concerning trip anxieties this week!

I'm not religious, but there is a good point raised here for those that are. The church, which is supposed to be a welcoming body, can do small things not to change their whole program, but to help the spectrum child feel included and not uncomfortable. Of course, the child could be like me and ask questions, but this isn't a skeptic forum. Enjoy the piece.

I also really want to knock that guy who wrote the comment off his block.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dissecting a Creepy First Date Email That Sounds Like It's From an Aspie

"You're a good man, but you're bad for the women you choose to date."

That's what I was told the other day when I caught a friend up on the details about my dating life that I felt like catching him up on. He's a spectrum person like me, and was asking me about dating experiences (maybe I'm still the "resident player" among Aspies and high-functioning autistics, though I sure don't feel like it). His belief is that my looks and initial charm rope them in, until they find out exactly how logical I am. Okay, so I have been seeing one girl regularly, and I'm putting more energy into that relationship than first dates, but I'm also still figuring out what I want post-Lindsay and can't settle until I know I've achieved professional goals. So here's what you'll really be interested in...

I did a random Google search about terrible first dates after talking to him, and found this email that a man sent after a first date ignored him. It's a 1600-word message that may be cringe inducing to some, but I didn't think of it like that (rather, I was once cringing at the fact that he even hit 'send' after writing his thoughts). I looked at it and realized that his thoughts were indeed more similar to mine than I expected. I cannot help but think this guy would be similar to me. Lately, after my last two first dates, I asked them point blank if they actually wanted a second date or if they planned to let me down nicely; calling their bluff if you will (both times that was the case, and I don't think my question had anything to do with it).

So now I break down this email and where my thoughts on dating are similar, or different.

I’m disappointed in you. I’m disappointed that I haven’t gotten a response to my voicemail and text messages. FYI, I suggest that you keep in mind that emails sound more impersonal, harsher, and are easier to misinterpret than in-person or phone communication. After all, people can’t see someone’s body language or tone of voice in an email. I’m not trying to be harsh, patronizing, or insulting in this email. I’m honest and direct by nature, and I’m going to be that way in this email.
Well, that's a strong way to start...not a positive strong, but a harsh strong, yo. It's true that these are impersonal, but sometimes it is our best way of starting out communication. That's why I've become okay with text messages, as my words are ever so slightly clearer via messaging versus using my voice and thinking two sentences ahead about what I will say. However, every time I have told someone important to me "we need to talk" we actually talk, just because it's common courtesy. So that would be a starting point, but "can we talk" would have sufficed.
By the way, I did a Google search, so that’s how I came across your email.
Hey, I do Google searches too, because knowledge is power. However, I don't stalk to the point of finding her email and telling her how I found it. That was one thing I never had to learn the hard way.

His first two signs of "mixed signals" during the date:

  • You played with your hair a lot. A woman playing with her hair is a common sign of flirtation. You can even do a Google search on it. When a woman plays with her hair, she is preening. I've never had a date where a woman played with her hair as much as you did. In addition, it didn't look like you were playing with your hair out of nervousness.
  • We had lots of eye contact during our date. On a per-minute basis, I've never had as much eye contact during a date as I did with you.
  • To be fair, yes, they are signs which I pay attention to, and I felt bad for the guy here. I'm not used to women playing with their hair out of boredom, but rather playing with their drinks or looking at their cell phone after 40 minutes. Since I'm relatively terrible when it comes to body language, I have to go on the basis of the tips they provide us in Google searches. They also claim fiddling with jewelry as flirtation or nervousness, which has proven true every time for me. As for eye contact, I certainly focused on that often; if I lock eyes I'm more likely to keep her around, unless I'm the one disinterested (which has happened...I'm single, not desperate).

    Normally, I would not be asking for information if a woman and I don’t go out again after a first date. However, in our case, I’m curious because I think our date went well and that there is a lot of potential for a serious relationship. Of course, it’s difficult to predict what would happen, but I think there is a lot of potential for a serious relationship developing between us one day (or least there was before your non-response to my voicemail and text messages).
    Of course, I'm not in the market for anything monogamous. However, I wonder if something halfway between his above statement and "yeah let's do this again" should be brought up right at the end of the date. Obviously, I want a first date to turn into a series of dates until we decide it won't work. She's free to leave when she wants. However, I will not lie, as I have sent a text after first dates in the past, about a week later, just to check in about date two before finding out one of the possibilities. The only part that bites is when they stop texting back, so I keep myself from going off and hating:

    We have a number of things in common. I’ll name a few things: First, we're both very intelligent. Second, we both like classical music so much that we go to classical music performances by ourselves. In fact, the number one interest that I would want to have in common with a woman with whom I’m in a relationship is a liking of classical music. I wouldn't be seriously involved with a woman if she didn't like classical music. You said that you’re planning to go the NY Philharmonic more often in the future. As I said, I go to the NY Philharmonic often. You’re very busy. It would be very convenient for you to date me because we have the same interests.
    Another legitimate question that was probably covered during the date. It's one thing that has frustrated me throughout my relationships, and even with girls I have dated over the last five months. Trust me, I want a girl to like good music (and if she agrees that Nick Drake's "Northern Sky" should be our song, then I might start ring shopping early...haha). I also want to share in other interests when possible. I dated a girl I met through a mutual friend for three months, and she helped get me even more into biking. Her and I may have ended our romance, but I realized that I sure want someone who likes bike riding if I'm going to go next level. I digress; I think Mike's point is worth bringing up if Lauren wanted an extended conversation without being prompted by that email.

    We have numerous things in common. I assume that you find me physically attractive. If you didn't find me physically attractive, then it would have been irrational for you to go out with me in the first place. After all, our first date was not a blind date. You already knew what I looked like before our date.
    The best flattery I have received by most women is that I look a bit like Ryan Gosling, except that I'm a bit more like him in Lars and the Real Girl versus a film like Crazy Stupid Love. I'm confident that looks have gotten me halfway, and that every female thinks I have an incredible posterior.

    Perhaps, you don’t think I have a “real” job. Well, I've done very well as an investment manager. I've made my parents several millions of dollars. That’s real money. That’s not monopoly money. In my opinion, if I make real money, it’s a real job. Donald Trump’s children work for his company. Do they have “real” jobs? I think so. George Soros' sons help manage their family investments. Do they have “real” jobs? I think so. In addition, I’m both a right-brain and left-brain man, given that I’m both an investment manager and a philosopher/writer. That's a unique characteristic; most people aren't like that.
    Mike, man, an investment manager a real job. I think all the females are concerned about is that you have a good job and can keep a work-life balance. Not always easy for me, as I have noted in past entries. This is a part I don't even consider as to why she didn't want to go on another date.

    Am I sensitive person? Sure, I am. I think it’s better to be sensitive than to be insensitive. There are too many impolite, insensitive people in the world.
    True, though I am sometimes the insensitive type. We already know I struggle with empathy. So I could easily deploy my own system just to get through the dating life cycle:
    Okay, not really. I'd rather put the energy of an actual date into the time I spend with a girl I see on a consistent basis. At least Mike is not pathetic like Dennis.

    I suggest that we continue to go out and see what happens. Needless to say, I find you less appealing now (given that you haven’t returned my messages) than I did at our first date. However, I would be willing to go out with you again. I’m open minded and flexible and am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I wish you would give me the benefit of the doubt too.
    That is definitely way too straightforward. I may find a girl less appealing when she doesn't reply, like any man would. One time, a girl said she wanted to go out to dinner for a second date without me prompting her, and when I asked her after a day pause, no response. If you say you want to go to dinner, that means you want a second date! Give me a good reason why you are the first person to say this! I was still up for the dinner if she ever replied back, but I certainly wasn't covering the tab. Consider that my sadistic revenge.

    If you don’t want to go out again, in my opinion, you would be making a big mistake, perhaps one of the biggest mistakes in your life. If you don’t want to go out again, then you should have called to tell me so. Even sending a text message would have been better than nothing. In my opinion, not responding to my messages is impolite, immature, passive aggressive, and cowardly. I spent time, effort, and money meeting you for dinner. Getting back to me in response to my messages would have been a reasonable thing for you to do. In addition, you arrived about 30 minutes late for our date. I’m sure you wouldn't like it if a man showed up thirty minutes late for a first date with you.
    The last sentence adds to the creep factor because it's petty. However, the first part sounds like what an Aspie would say. I would probably put a smooth tone on it and try the first sentence that way (likely failing miserably), but I admittedly have used that above note when dealing with communication in relationships...not my best moment. The second sentence, though, is really just good advice, and I don't really see that as a problem if he ever sees the girl again; I would say it's her loss if it weren't for this email. Instead, you look like bitter guy.

    If you give information, at least I can understand the situation better. I might even learn something that is beneficial.
    That's exactly why I asked the question at the top at the end of the first date. Maybe it makes me look overly cynical, which I'm not, but I'd rather just know now so I can know better next time. Since I hardly know her, I like to learn right away. Any girl I'm currently seeing should know how to be kept anyway.

    The final paragraph is where he lays it down thick:
    Again, I’m not trying to be harsh, insulting, patronizing, etc. I’m disappointed, sad, etc. I would like to talk to you on the phone. I hope you will call me back at [number]; (if it’s inconvenient for you to talk on the phone when you read this email, you can let me know via email that you are willing to talk on the phone and I’ll call you). If you get my voicemail, you can a leave a message and I can call you back. Even if you don’t want to go out again, I would appreciate it if you give me the courtesy of calling me and talking to me. Yes, you might say things that hurt me, but my feelings are already hurt.
    At least he does what I do on bad first dates and advises that he's not trying to sound a certain way. My thing is to tell others "don't take this the wrong way" before speaking, especially if I fear my foot will enter my mouth. She might not have liked the date, or maybe she just felt a bit jaded. By this point, though, he should expect the worst. I never got yelled at after a bad date, but when I asked for honesty from someone who could not hurt me at all, I definitely got it.

    Read the rest of it if you want, as you may be cringing like I was for other reasons.

    I don't know the details of this date beyond the posting, so who knows if he really acted like me. I also cannot say if he was an Aspie, as much as we can tell each other when we are. However, his response sure sounds like what may go on through my head after a first date heads nowhere and I don't even sense it. At least two first dates, in addition to the three-month period I mentioned earlier, were the only times where we both had clear signs that things were over for various reasons. Otherwise it was simply getting over confusion. Hey, the first girl I dated consistently after my breakup in 2009 was one I saw for six weeks, and even her decision to break things off had me thinking about all these signs above. Thankfully all I did was say "okay" and I got the reasons from her without having to write 1600 words.

    Where I basically agree with Mike is that it would be nice to know why she didn't want a second date. To my credit, at the end of a couple dates that didn't go so well, I straight up said that it wasn't going to go anywhere, as nice as the chick was. He probably wanted more than I did, but I can also see myself, if I was ready to get real serious, kicking myself when something with potential didn't quite make it. I have been told that in some cases, our personalities didn't match, and I just went on.

    However, keep these thoughts in your head! Also, let it go if it's been a few days and you don't hear anything. Otherwise you will certainly be subject to ridicule, and that's something I unfortunately cannot disagree with. Mike, if you ever see this, you have my sympathy. Just don't ever write a long email again; that's bad for any woman you date.

    Better yet, don't start falling in love on date one.

    Sunday, April 21, 2013

    The Culture Shock of Traveling Abroad

    Next month, I will be spending two weeks in the British Isles - as much of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland as I can fit into that time, without going too crazy. So of course, I'm due for a major culture shock. The main reasons I am traveling to that part of Europe are pretty simple:

    1. English is still the official language. I have a limited working knowledge of Spanish from my high school and college years, but nothing close to fluency. That's what happens when you don't have reason to use the language or expand the knowledge base of said language. So even if the dialects are different, I'll take that as a starting point.
    2. Lindsay and I had talked about the trip since late 2011, but even since her passing I still wanted to take this trip myself. Now I have a second purpose abroad, and that is spreading some of her ashes in the Atlantic Ocean off of the Irish coast. She loved her time in that country.
    3. There's some good frequent flyer miles to rack up, especially with the pending American Airlines merger with US Airways, the only airline I can use to fly between RDU and Philadelphia International anymore since Southwest ended the direct service between the two.
    The big problem is going to be understanding the language of the locals. Knowing how I talk, I will likely have some issues with this translation. I'm so focused on things like the cars traveling on the opposite side of the highway versus the United States, and the use of the metric system (which I always preferred but never adopted myself). I know that when I went to Vancouver, Canada two summers ago, I had a moment where I was trying to approach a bus driver about a pass, and used the proper currency names. He looked real confused but was friendly and let me on for free. That's minor, but I think you know what I'm getting at.

    I'm overthinking, as usual, about names like fish and chips and what the street signs will say by the time I reach Ireland. I'll be staying with my cousin outside of Birmingham for a good chunk of the trip, but otherwise I'm going the private room route for the majority of the trip (meaning many reservations via airbnb). After my first two days in London, I think I will be used to the travel schedule and will feel better about the whole trip. Maybe it will take me that brief time to understand where I am. It's something that scares me, as aspies are prone to ridiculous moments of being out of the element.

    Get ready for the follow up when I make my return.

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    About a Desire (aka "Task Complete, Now What?")

    In the middle of February, I did something major and submitted my MBA application to North Carolina State University and the Jenkins Professional MBA program. Okay, I actually have to re-submit a part of it, as it turns out, but otherwise I'm going to interview with them this April. When I get a task done and check it off my task list, I get a brief feeling of accomplishment, but then I wonder to myself what the next step will be. I stall for a while and then finally move on to my next goal. That goes back to the Aspie attention span, and how I realized I needed to try a new gimmick to step around it.

    In Nick Hornby's About a Boy, main protagonist Will Freeman decides to divide his leisure time into 30-minute segments, whether it is watching television, shopping, buying records, or even casually dating. Granted, all his time is free time, allowing him to make these activities segmented. In my case, I have been absolutely swamped at work like most of the population, so my brain needs a rest for a little bit after. For my own free time after I finish work, I began experimenting with segments on certain nights. I've been traveling on business As I've mentioned in the past, I am no different than most other spectrum peeps when it comes to time management, which means it's severely lacking. So maybe using the segments will help me figure out the best ways to spend my time.

    • Professional Development: I am studying for MCSA certification in SQL Server 2012, which means three exams. I've been reading up for the first exam, which has been a breeze since it concerns querying. I've been covering 1-2 chapters weekly, using the allotted times that the books require as my segments on those nights. I sometimes go through moments where I ask myself what I have done with my life, despite my recent role expansion and advancement at my current gig. I do have a few nice things to my name, but I can't settle. I did well in school because they gave me knowledge and formulas to repeat, and I could learn once I was provided with a direction. However, practicing myself has been hard enough. The slack room is waiting for the first exam scheduling, because I base it on how I learn.
    • Music: Last week I used a 30-minute block to tune my guitar for the first time since November. I rarely get to play it because I'm not all that good at chord transitions. I may think about revisiting it one day, though, just for fun. I also want to get back into music reviews at RYM, where all I've done over the last year is catalog and occasionally comment on a message board. However, my most frequent blocks, that could last an hour or so, are those for the C3VO project, which has also been long delayed. I give that an hour because I go on creative streaks and don't want to force myself. That might have been my problem last year, as I had ideas for track lengths more so than what was behind them. My beats are complimented for their style.
    • Travel: I spend some 30-minute blocks prepping for my Europe excursion at the start of May. I have two weeks to travel the British Isles (England, Scotland, Ireland, etc), and I hardly know anything about traveling across the ocean. There's a big learning curve for six weeks. So even though I have booked most of my travel, I still have to plan where I want to see.
    • Fitness: This is usually 75 minutes for the whole gym trip, from changing to workout and back. Unless, of course, I use the kettlebell or do the home boot camp, where it's much less time.

    Of course, among the segments are periods where he looks for temporary female companionship, so that leads me to the final one. This should be a separate entry, but I've decided to tie it to this list.

    • Dating: I hate feelings. It's a confession of emotional attachment that can't be controlled easily. I like to think every aspie has claimed this at least once in their lives. I re-entered dating coming from a dark place, and it's been a secondary priority to me versus my career goals. Essentially, it's an area where I had no goals and I'm still not sure of them four months after I got back into it. If you date someone you meet, whether online, through friends, at a bar, or in line at Schoolkids Records, there's a chance that one or both of you will feel greater affection the longer you keep it up; not to the point of "I love you so much so hard let's get married now" but just that you do the little things better because you see a potential spark. So that's really now in there to throw off my schedule. However, it was worth a 15-30 minute block to browse OkCupid or respond to messages. Maybe I'll be able to embrace these feelings one day, without being so scared to have them and the concept of another relationship becoming akin to Kanye's verse in "Lost in the World."
    I can see how using a list goes, but how I break that out is my own business, of course! I will see how well this works when I try it certain days, and don't overthink the spontaneity part of life.

    Sunday, February 24, 2013

    Defining the "Competition of Suffering"

    A statement from GRASP executive director Michael John Carley concerning the trials of the last few months, from the ties of Sandy Hook to the DSM-5 engulfing Asperger's into autism (which I haven't spoken on for many reasons).  It's long, but there's a point made about considering autism a fad where people are supposed to feel sorry for our collective. I think a good question to be asked here is the same question we ask and never answer, which is why certain autism spectrum disorders are considered "suffering." Here's what sticks out:

    We’re still hearing about ongoing consequences of the inaccurate descriptions of AS. Students with AS walking into their schools and hearing their teachers warn the other kids that "Joey has what Adam Lanza had, so be careful," or adults with AS being treated very differently at their workplaces immediately after the shootings.

    And now we’re getting articles like [Amy S.F. ] Lutz’s, a mom who states strongly that “these children will never write one blog or produce one video” therein sacrificing possibility in the name of probability (always an ethical mistake, and she’s bound to be proven wrong by some of them). Lutz goes on to question whether or not autistic advocate, Amanda Baggs, actually has autism, or is faking it. Jim Sinclair, like Baggs, has been through this before; and while I certainly can’t guarantee their diagnosis or lack thereof either way, what I can guarantee is that if Lutz is wrong (and she goes nowhere near proving her case), I certainly have a sense of how awful she will have made Baggs feel.

    Lutz also quotes my old negotiating partner (when she was at Autism Speaks), Alison Tepper-Singer, now the head of the Autism Science Foundation, as saying: "There are more studies focused on higher-functioning adults and the services they need, such as finding employment. But because we’re re-allocating the money, not increasing the budget, that means shifting funds away from the needs of lower-functioning children." Whether right or wrong (and a close friend high up in the research chain assures me its wrong), why, as the head of an autism organization (capable of good) would someone say that?

    Especially because unlike the Competition of Suffering from the mid-2000s, this one is one-sided.

    Not to re-hash to the politics lecture at Columbia, but the leaders of autism/AS organizations have so little feelings of collective responsibility when compared to other non-profit fields. All sides have members that are overwhelmed, and when we are overwhelmed, we don’t say wise or constructive things, and that’s blameless human nature. But too often in our world, our hurting memberships are pandered to by supposed leaders; not led [my bold]. Gasoline, rather than perspective, is poured on the fires of either the angry, bullied, unemployed and lonely person on the spectrum; or the families with non-verbal children who don’t have the means, the money, or the energy to fight for the services they’re entitled to, nor the services the should be entitled to but legally aren't  Giving voice to the overwhelmed is like interviewing someone caught in a fire at a time in which they don’t know whether or not they’ll get out of the burning house, as opposed to interviewing them a week after they've safely escaped the fire.

    Yet that’s the way it’s always been in our world. At times, great forces of shame have successfully silenced the more dysfunctional voices; but most of the time they have sadly run free, without any shred of accountability. Other non-profit arenas such as homelessness or child welfare also started with little accountability, as people had to learn by trial and error what statements went too far, and what statements were constructive in the cause of social good. The autism/AS field is young by comparison, but our trial and error period is compounded by the opportunities provided by so much media attention—coverage that we all paradoxically benefit from.

    Monday, February 18, 2013

    Can Autism Be Prevented?

    Posting an article like this one makes me want to start a Twitter feed.

    The reliable Emily Willingham has a great take-down of a piece on Fox News asking if autism can be prevented. I really can't give a full editorial on this, as she words this much better than I ever could. Essentially the main source, Robert Melillo, is on a PR campaign to promote brain balance, so it's a rather convenient argument for him. I know more than a few of us take issue with Fox News on their politics, but even on news like this, it's ridiculous.

    Most of the “measures” remain hidden in the pages of this book–which you can purchase!–but the one the article cites? Prenatal vitamins. Raise your hand if you took prenatal horsepills before, during, and after pregnancy and still had a child with autism. Melillo seems to be referencing this paper but misinterpreting the odds ratio data. The authors note the limitations of their study here in the full text of the article, which included that it relied on maternal recall of vitamin intake around pregnancy, several years after the pregnancy. They also did not collect information on diet. So, sure, take your prenatal vitamin, but don’t do it because you think it’ll prevent autism.

    I'll have a bigger blog keeper on the way this week about a big step towards a big accomplishment, and juggling tasks in light of this.

    Saturday, January 26, 2013

    Autism in Pop Culture, and the Cross-Section with Nerds

    I have previously talked about Sheldon Cooper, Abed Nadir, and Tommy Westphall on this blog. They are all fictional television characters who may be on the spectrum and have a share of traits of those on the spectrum.  Well, there was an amazing piece in The AV Club this past week concerning the spectrum in pop culture, even if only so many characters are "out," to use that term.  Noel Murray is really talking about both "nerds" and autistics/Aspies, and how they aren't always interchangeable.

    After some clarification, Murray explains what bothers him about the way autistic people are often lampooned like nerds:

    [W]hat bothers me is the hoariness of jokes about bespectacled weirdoes who know the details of every Doctor Who episode but will never know the touch of a woman. First of all, they’re about as cutting-edge as jokes about airline food. Second of all: Did you know that many autists find it uncomfortable to look other people in the eye, or to be hugged? So what’s the joke here exactly? That two recognized traits of people with autistic spectrum disorders—obsessive interests and difficulties with social interactions—are a thing that exists?.
    I tend to feel the same way, as not all nerds are autistic.  There are some common grounds, not like an exact Venn diagram but certainly similar.  It's a complex discussion, as I often related to the nerds with the stereotypical opposite-sex issues and factoids wading around the cranium.  However, we're not the same as most nerds or geeks either.  Geeks, for instance, are not that socially awkward, just immensely engrossed in a certain subject or four.  Nerds are geeks with the level of awkwardness added in, which makes a dork.  Yes, I "studied" those definitions.

    He brings up five fictional characters, some from shows I had not seen until now.

    • Sheldon, of course, who Murray has the most to comment about. He is correct that The Big Bang Theory has "very carefully avoided labeling Sheldon as having an ASD, because they've said they don’t want to be limited by what an autistic person would or wouldn't do."  I am a fan, but the show is divisive because it follows a pretty simple sitcom formula, dropping in references for the sake of references as well.  I could have a whole discussion on what that show accomplishes for nerdism, but that's not the blog subject. As I have said before, I can identify with Sheldon in some aspects, but many times he is over-the-top, albeit intentionally.  While I worry about a character like him enforcing bad stereotypes of AS (lately he has played an antagonistic role in some episodes), Jim Parsons plays the role masterfully, which explains why the character is so popular.  There's an innocence behind Sheldon's more irritating characteristics, and I often find myself sympathetic to his cause/plight...some days I want to be a supervillain anyway ;-)
    • Abed, the authentic pop-culture geek.  I also am a fan of Community, making Thursday night viewing a conflict for years.  He is positioned as the emotional center of the show, even though it's an ensemble cast.  Abed has really helped the impression of the AS character through his own innocence, and his bromance with jock and not-so-secret geek Troy Barnes.  Abed is lovable due to his own innocence, and the fact that his interests run parallel to mine make me identify with him often.
    • Brick Heck from The Middle, the young kid.  I haven't really watched this sitcom, but when I checked out some clips, I also see that Brick has many of the autistic tendencies.  This is especially true of his inability to be touched.  He did remind me a lot of me when I was eleven, but I didn't intentionally isolate myself from everyone during this time. I would do that when I was in high school.  I'm also unable to whisper.
    • Max Braveman from Parenthood, also a kid in a family, but part of a drama.  He is an open autistic, with the story revolving more around the parents working with him, with amazement and frustration and other emotions in between.  We get some development from Max, apparently, but the focus is more on how the parents react and get used to the situation.  It's about adaptation.
    • Gary Bell from Alphas, the science fiction show starring David Strathairn (reason enough for me to check it out).  No, Strathairn doesn't play Gary; an English actor named Ryan Cartwright does.  He is diagnosed high-functioning ASD, like I was, and his idiosyncracies were similar to most (certain food aversions, OCD nature).  His power is that he's a transducer, practically a human antenna, picking up wavelengths using his mind.  It's a power that I could see myself having if I was blessed with a random superpower, even if it wasn't my power of choice.  Murray calls him "accurate in the autist's at-times-frustrating inability to control his own quirks while also allowing Gary to be amused and amusing on his own terms."

    What Noel Murray brings to the forefront with his piece is that the stereotypes may certainly be enforced with some shows, but that good shows have brought humanity to each of these characters...the idea that pop culture has changed the perception of the autistic somewhat, even if most NT people still don't understand it.  The piece is worth reading in full.  As he concludes, his son on the spectrum gets "awed respect and genuine affection," and maybe the representations of them on television has helped.