Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Believe in Asperger Facebook Groups

Often we feel a little lonely and unable to communicate with our peers. That much has always been apparent since before I even began to blog. Hell, I get that feeling when I hang with good friends at parties or other social events, where I drift without butting into a conversation, or I'm not sure what to talk about. So often we need a like-minded group to discuss what is going on and how people on the spectrum can connect. I have joined a few Asperger groups on Facebook over the past year to find out more. What I figured out by last week is that experience is nearly the same everywhere. It's almost always an open forum. Though it's not necessarily a bad thing.

I think each of the groups has a similar objective: to help out people on the spectrum with personal issues or to give them some friends. Also for parents of the children on the spectrum to get more advice on how to handle children based on the experiences of people like me. On paper, it's an excellent concept. Many times we answer questions relating to our own experiences, and share some of our interests and fears. It can be very revealing how we perceive ourselves

However, I notice something perturbing. There is a common distressing theme of sensitivity and negativity. I see many posts where people declare they are leaving a group for something more open than the current one, or that opinions are vocalized to a point of rudeness. It's as if our lack of filter and our problems with criticism lead people to perceive commentary as inflammatory in nature. Some could argue that we can be really sensitive due to a lack of acceptance in previous years, so every perceived slight is bad. On the other hand, we are so brutally honest as a people that we don't hold back, which can get us into trouble. I often ask people "am I the only one who ____" among a certain peer group because it's fascinating, but I have at times looked either naive or snobbish due to such thinking.

It would be too simple to ask everyone to be civilized so that we can't be creating so many groups to join and leave. However, what is the key internally is to understand that we will run into these conflicts at another level because we are almost all on the spectrum. There will be fights, but there will also be the constructive conversation from the earlier topic. I'll definitely say that it helped me to gain a greater understanding of how others like me would act in situations. Basically, this entry is asking the question of what pitfalls come about with an Asperger discussion group. That's the greatest construction we can get from all of these, without feeling threatened by the abundance, or lack, of open conversation.

Let's keep this social outlet active in 2015, even if we can never make these forums perfect.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Salutes and Handshakes Under Pressure

No, I'm not going full political with this entry. Just partial! A news article making the rounds is about President Barack Obama and his salute to the troops while holding a beverage. Certain people are, naturally, bothered by this development. I frankly don't understand why it's a big deal. President George Bush (II) held a dog during a salute (which wasn't addressed until it became a counteroffensive to this), and the commander in chief didn't even make saluting a custom until Reagan. There are other issues open to criticism of a country's leader, which is why I had nothing to say on the subject. What this piece of "news" does for me, as an Aspie, is realize how easy a slip of conduct can be taken as an insult. That, and how hard it may be to have an autistic president.

The President of the United States has to deal with multiple issues happening at one time. Not that I know what the job is like, but the sensory overload is pretty huge from all accounts. When you're trying to meet with someone over important matters, it is easy for one to be unable to watch his or her candor. I'd have to command the armed forces, task my staff and the Veep with federal departments, and then assist Congress in getting deals done, which can be complicated by the majorities of each party (what every president went through at some point). I relate this differently to being the Chief Executive Officer and being an Aspie, as the CEO tasks are usually insulated to the company itself and the agreements with other companies and markets. Still very complex, but to me it seems more manageable and has slightly less of a public spotlight versus other cases.

Going back to the salute issue, I can relate. There was a moment a few years back where I attended a gathering of spectrum teenagers, and I was one of the panelists/speakers. I had to run out to catch my train at the end of the session, and while rushing out I shook hands with the owners who let me present. My last handshake, with the event organizer, was rather quick as I had to run along; almost as if I slapped his hand away. Apparently one of the people who also joined me was annoyed that I made my handshake so quick. She asked me the next time we met why this was, and quasi-lectured me that they were thankful to put us on. I explained the situation to the organizer in a thank you note, noting that maybe I should have taken a bit more time on my handshake in my mission to catch a train. That being said, I did have my reasons for committing an unintentional faux pas. Thankfully, I was clear with the organizer on my gratitude for the event.

I have had other similar moments in my life where I didn't understand the ramifications of missing a social convention, even down to quickly under-tipping a pizza delivery man. However, this first one comes to mind because the two events seem rather similar in nature. Often we have the main objective in mind, and these social conventions become secondary. Once again, I don't think President Obama is on the spectrum, but it's similar to how we occasionally deal with other things loading our minds. I do not envy the responsibility of being the elected leader of this country. The nervous breakdowns would make for some serious public fodder.

That all leads me to ask, how would a president on the spectrum handle major conflicts?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Recapping a Speaking Engagement

Earlier this month, I was in Philadelphia for a weekend trip. Hadn't been back in nearly six months. The reason was an autism awareness benefit put on by members of the city's hip hop community. Two of the event organizers have children who were diagnosed with ASD, both younger than 10. My brother was one of the performers that night, so he had requested my presence. It was an opportunity to speak to others while providing some hope for the organizers, that many of us can make it in the world.

The event was set up to give to a local group called The Big A Foundation, a camp for autistic children focused on sports and arts. The founders were in attendance, though I unfortunately did not get much time with them. Though if you're a Philadelphia area reader, check them out for yourself. While having not worked with them personally, the focus of the camps and discussion with one of the parents definitely provides enough of an endorsement.As all proceeds went to the group, they eliminated the guest list as they have at most music events, meaning everyone was to donate...a good plan if you ask me. Allowed for nearly $1500 to come in for the night.

My piece kicked off the show. Below is a loose transcript for my speech (I went off the cuff slightly):

Here I am standing in front of a crowd of hip hop heads for an autism awareness night event. If you asked me if I’d ever do public speaking, I probably wouldn’t think of this. Then again, I probably wouldn’t think to be my current life situation, having slowly left my comfort zone over the years.
You see, I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of four. I didn’t really talk much,  I lined up my toys by colors and sizes as much as I played with them the way they were intended…I loved building blocks for that reason. I ran around in circles aimlessly. Once I was diagnosed, my parents ran into a paradox. Their concern was taking care of me into adulthood, but at the same time psychologists were noting that I was gifted and could attend some of the best colleges.
I first went to a special education class in kindergarten and first grade, where my social and mental abilities could properly develop. It was essentially where I got to interact with other kids and not experience the initial pressures from hanging with peers. It was then determined that I had progressed enough to leave special education for the regular classroom. Along the way I exceeded the expectations of many, graduating high school sixth in my class, gaining a full scholarship to Shippensburg University, and then graduating with honors distinction and landing a nice IT job, eventually leaving the Philly area for Raleigh, North Carolina in 2011. I’m now enrolled in the MBA program at North Carolina State, and by the end of the year should be a Microsoft Certified Database Professional.
My timeline has been solid, and I’d like to believe that I’m one of the stories of someone who made the best of ASD. However, let’s be real…there is always doubt on how well a child on the spectrum will turn out. Some need longer time in life skills classes, or to go to vocational schools. Some may graduate from college but struggle in the job market, and realize that it’s similar to most other folks. It’s hard to say, but the key is learning now. This way when you see me today, I’m merely up on stage as an eccentric bozo, and not an alien life form.
What helped me in a big way was the network. Family. Teachers. Psychologists. Even my peers as I got older and more comfortable with my diagnosis. They didn’t see my autism as something to be cured, but rather to be embraced. My ability to work logical equations has led to a fine IT career. Hell, I make a great bar trivia partner with my random sports and entertainment knowledge from reading so many Box Office Mojo and Billboard charts. What the kids who are different need is a network to express themselves and not ridicule them when they do something different, but to understand why they do it, and help them improve.
This isn’t to say I became someone really hip. Never a word that can describe me. For instance, I love hip hop, but I cannot recall 90% of the words to any songs, because there is so much overload. I know bits and pieces. However, it’s an instance of wanting to fit in every time I fake it, before someone like Mike can tell me that I’m doing it wrong. We’re also mostly Literal Larry, trying to think we’re in on the joke, but that’s about it. Once I figured out sarcasm…I didn’t get better. However, time and patience allowed me to get a better idea, and being honest about this shortcoming. Most importantly, we’re not social. We’re a bit withdrawn, but that’s because sometimes there’s so much going on that we gotta get out before we explode. I love live music because of the distraction. I hate clubs because you’re fighting everyone else. I didn’t get into live music until I was a teenager who was less sensitive to the “loudness” of concerts.
You can see so much potential. I recall 2010, going to meet with some kids brought together from Philadelphia schools. Seeing other children on the spectrum gave me a greater perspective on how I could help them. Along with playing with the children in groups, we asked them about their dreams and goals. One kid, a ten year old named Alan asked me how to get along with others. I admitted that it was a bumpy road, and others in his school probably wouldn’t know any better, not at least until he got to college. I said that what matters is the end; it’s not easy, but what others think is not what matters. There will be awkward moments, but if you embrace them and work on them, without forgetting to stay true to yourself, you will gain the respect of others. I knew that even with all his mannerisms, he has the potential to be someone amazing.
As the great philosopher, the Sage, the non prophet Paul Francis once declared, “I am different, in a different way. The only thing that stays the same is change.” That’s essentially who we are, where our differences are not really everything you expect, and that we’re still all humans. Basically, we’ll have to work harder in some areas, but we also have the ability to succeed at anything we try. Our brains are merely wired differently. People call each other weird all the time, but not everyone fits the weird you think. The autism spectrum is something to care about, because these are people who can still do great things like everyone in this building has done tonight. Autism doesn’t make a person incapable of life; the person just needs to be embraced in society like anyone else. All we are is a little different, but we're all human.
Thanks for coming out to support the spectrum!
Speaker in action.

This engagement was. Props to The Fire (the host venue), Rec Raw, Reef the Lost Cauze, and my brother Mike for making everything possible, and for the conversations. My expectation is that I could give hope to the parents with young children and much uncertainty.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Coming Out Autistic?

Somehow I only manage monthly entries lately. Yet this is a topic I needed to touch on.

With the story about Michael Sam publicly announcing to the world that he's gay before the NFL draft, he's taking a commendable risk that the league is ready. We'll see if he plays well enough to earn a spot on the St. Louis Rams' roster. More than anything, this story shows how much progress we are making as a society towards accepting homosexuals. They are human, just like we are, and should be treated as equals.

So that brings me to this thought about another type of 'coming out' that flies under the radar, to an extent. People who reveal themselves to be members of the autism spectrum, or Asperger's at the very least. In September, actress Daryl Hannah opened up about her diagnosis and how it made her terrified; in some ways it stunted her career because of all the anxiety. One thing I admire is how one of us can pull off an acting career, which requires a lot of patience and presence. It may help when it's rehearsed lines and imitations of favorite actors. We mimic well.

Nowadays there are more people who are admitting that they are on the spectrum as the stigma has eroded. That being said, my concern is one about people overdoing the diagnosis and admitting to something they may not have. I have previously addressed a fear that too many individuals are claiming to be on the spectrum, although there is no verification, just the signs mentioned on the internet that are often co-opted by people scared of all forms of autism. Regardless, we can still take pride that people are less afraid to admit to the spectrum diagnosis, realizing the endless positives that come with the spectrum. People became comfortable once they noticed that it wasn't so scary, but rather just a different wiring internally.

It's a good trend to see people "come out" on the spectrum, and I hope it continues to be positive.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Career Enhancement

Last month, my company went through major downsizing, losing well over half our workforce as a result. That included me as part of the purge. My employers didn't want to drop me, but they could only keep so many essential employees who had a role in the still-existing initiatives. So this is basically another journey in between jobs; I doubt anyone likes not being able to leave a position on one's own terms. I definitely don't like the pattern of this happening. However, I'm confident in my ability to land on my feet sooner than later. It just takes a lot of effort, to say the least.

One thing that many of us on the spectrum struggle with is, to put it bluntly, networking. We get nervous on having to talk to strangers and folks we don't normally interact alongside daily. It has taken me some effort to talk to a few contacts that I haven't been in touch with for some time, to explain my situation, and then see what they can do for me while asking about return favors. Similar situation to obtaining two of my three references for graduate school. After a conversation with my mom one afternoon about the hunt, she asked me about resources I potentially had not tapped. I then found a great article on how not to reach out to contacts, and attempted to do the exact opposite. There has been some success so far, as I have a few interviews which kept me from finishing this post. I've had big interviews this week, and another major one on the way.

During this time, however, I'm also taking advantage of opportunities for training. I will be attending a state scholarship session next week to find out if I can secure the necessary monies to take part in MCSA course training for at least one of the three exams. During the summer without MBA classes, I figure I should finally take advantage of this and possibly get discounts on the exams themselves. Then there is also the community. I did some increased volunteer work with the Autism Society of North Carolina and was able to share information about my search while I was at it.

So how do I relate this to Asperger's? Simply put, networking is difficult when you don't want to make a bad impression, and training is hard to approach without assistance. We often doubt we will find ourselves in a good employment situation, not even realizing the skills we possess beyond the logical. Soft skills get developed over time, but often it comes down to the what and what not to do tutorials and examples that I shouldn't rehash on here. There are two books worth checking out regardless of industry, if having doubts.

Thankfully, there has been a ton of encouragement, and blogs presented by friends who are totally neurotypical (check out Reinvent Your Wheel and you will be encouraged) on to all of the spectrum entries from the past have helped. I have also remembered a couple pointers from a previous GRASP Philly session on employment, where a career coach helped answer questions like the ones above: to keep eye contact and remain natural. It just takes some time and some patience, as I'm finding out now that the jobs are interviewing for me.

UPDATE (5/17): A great company presented me with a great offer. We come full circle.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

2014: Back from Another Abyss

So I'm back.

I haven't blogged in four months, so my apologies to the few of you who read this all the time. Right now I shall just provide a life update, as there are a few topics for me to touch on in the next few months.

Life has already changed in 2014. I went to Las Vegas in March to celebrate a good friend's bachelor party. This is certainly a place with bright lights and cliches, and I was surely concerned that I could embarrass my friends with an overload moment. Somehow, this did not happen. There are many bright lights around Vegas, but over the years I have managed to become used to big places and scenery. The hardest part for me was concern about some of our friends being left behind when we were rolling from place to place, which nearly made me frantic, especially the second night. I attribute this to enough life in the city and having been to clubs before. I still hate the club for the most part, but for the Vegas experience I had the adrenaline rush behind me. What may help someone on the spectrum get through this environment is basically a quest for fun. If you know your friends are having fun and there's just enough room to breathe, then you will likely be okay. This doesn't mean the club and the party bus are for everyone; I seldom do it. However, it's really a matter of blending in to larger environments, and if you can handle all the adult entertainment.

Speaking of bachelors, yesterday was his wedding. Being a part of a wedding party for the first time lead to plenty of online research and questions for the other guys on how to play the part. From what I have gathered, many people on the autism spectrum don't consider wedding parties or weddings; we struggle enough with relationships. What helps is that I was able to go along with what my friends did, picking up on small cues like how they would handle their toasts and asking questions about how to stand when the ceremony starts. I was the youngest in the wedding party, and I'm not as annoyed by others advising me anymore, so this was surprisingly easy. There are occasions where I need people to tell me to act, as I'm still figuring out various social environments even on the cusp of 30.

Basically, a lesson from these events is that going with the flow can actually be a good thing, allowing you to have your moment and look like one of the group in the process. Probably helped that I've matured over the years to merely look like an eccentric rather than a nut. Also, in the case of weddings, the key was remembering that the event was not about me, but about two great people joining together in matrimony. Now I feel more at ease about all the other weddings I am attending soon.

My job situation is changing, I'm attending more professional events to help my career path, and I have some more trips planned. First semester of graduate school is wrapping up, and I'll go for MCSA training over the summer. Another big help for this next step in life.

Better updates are coming.