Friday, December 30, 2016

Book Review: How to Be Yourself in a World That's Different

I hiatus'd on book reviews for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the end of 2016 is kicking my butt.  I really hope 2017 is better...

Anyway!  Meet "How to Be Yourself in a World That's Different: An Asperger Syndrome Study Guide for Adolescents," by Yuko Yoshida.  Note the Japanese name.  This book was translated from Japanese.  It strikes me as unusual, but highly welcome, to see a book like this come out of Japan, one of the most homogeneous societies in the world.  Autism is not very positively regarded in the US, and the US is relatively individualistic.  I can only imagine the pressure autistic people in Japan must live with...  But here's this book, telling everyone it's okay to be different. 

This is about the most positive take on autism I've ever seen in my life, and that includes every cloyingly sweet and over-positive Made-For-TV-Movie-ready parent support books.  This, thankfully, is not cloyingly sweet or over-positive.  It is cognizant of the challenges inherent in the lives of autistic people, but insists that the vast majority of what we're told are weaknesses are actually strengths, when used appropriately.  It follows up this viewpoint with actual examples along with its positivity.  Many books, particularly ones for parents, like to go on about how special autistic people are, but there's nothing behind the positivity.  They go right back to talking about weaknesses and flaws and lacks in that autistic person the instant they're done talking about how great we are.  It makes a person feel a mite jaded. 

The book is organized into two sections: Information (defining what autism is) and Advice (how to use what you have).  At the time of publication in 2007, much less was known about autism than we know now, so the book mainly focuses on behaviors, brain differences, and how these things manifest in thought processes and actions.  That said, for all that the book's understanding is outdated, it's not particularly inaccurate.  So if you find this book to read it yourself, don't skip this section.  I didn't personally see myself in every descriptor on these pages, but some of them absolutely applied.

The advice section is the larger part of the book, and contains neatly organized advice for getting through life.  These include strategies for people that tend to think literally, as well as explanations about a couple oddities of politeness (like why you have to apologize when you've bumped someone accidentally- it's not like you meant to).  It also includes advice on the perennial problem of how much and when to talk about your hobbies and interests.

In truth, I think this book, barely over 100 pages, could easily have been five times the length and still not been a complete guide to thriving autistically in a neurotypical world.  It makes an excellent stab at the generalities and a few specifics in a very short time, and doesn't pretend to have all the answers.  Instead, it encourages you to think of them yourself using the guidelines and advice it provides. 

Read This Book If: 

You're anybody.  Particularly if you're autistic, but it also has sections and thoughts for "support people" or parents, caregivers, and anyone else involved in supporting a person on the autism spectrum.  This is a much-needed dose of optimism and good advice in a world that's full of downers and pointing fingers and guilt. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Legwork and Life, week of 12/27/16

Merry Christmas/Happy holidays. 

I seem to have survived the bulk of the Christmas season without suffering too much Christmas music.  I'm actually going to assume the wedding is responsible for that, and the honeymoon after it, rather than any real work on my part or people somehow celebrating Christmas less.  On at least one occasion I helped things along by putting in my noise canceling headphones and playing music over the offending music.

I'm not even slightly sorry.  I respect that other people like Christmas music.  I really really don't.  I tend to encourage people to enjoy what they enjoy, but maybe if it's music, maybe use headphones in case other people are trying to concentrate or don't enjoy the same thing.  Kinda unavoidable in craft sales, shopping malls, and other places of business, though.

Michigan is doing its usual winter thing.  It's grey, cold, and either rainy or snowy depending on the specific temperature.  We've gone into single digits on the Fahrenheit scale already, and I expect that to repeat at least twice before the end of January.  Other than the evergreens, the trees are skeletal versions of themselves, leafless and almost black against the grey sky.

Suffice it to say I'm kind've wishing the honeymoon had a part 2.  The differences in climate between the Dominican Republic and Michigan are astonishing.  But it's not like I've lived in a lot of different climates.  Lots of places in the US, but I never got further south than West Virginia, and never further west than Minnesota.  So still a fairly small chunk of the US.

I guess my visits to Greece, Mexico, and southern Canada didn't sufficiently alert me to the differences in places.  Mexico was a long time ago, though.  It would have stood the best chance of helping me recognize that not all climates are like the ones I'm used to.

Life is slowly putting itself back to normal.  I have yet to reestablish exercise routines, which is probably not helping my anxiety levels.  I've not had much luck keeping an exercise schedule this year, to be honest, even tying it to others' schedules. I'm anticipating a change in that once my parents move here, because they're both pretty reliable and motivated to exercise.  I'll piggyback on their motivation and get to see them regularly to boot.  I'm looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I'm managing my anxiety chemically.  My mother reports success using GABA, which is a brain chemical that basically calms down brain processes.  So with my doctor's direction, I'm taking that.  It seems to be working.  I haven't had the sensation of grinding gears in my brain, or flashes of anger about small things, or foggy useless worry about things in the future.

The best time to start change in one's life is always "now," though, so I'm going to work on exercising solo.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Honeymoon: Adventures in Variety (Cont)

(Merry Christmas!  First installment is here)


So the resort we stayed at was all-inclusive, meaning, along with a lot of other things, that they expected to feed us for every meal.   To that end, they had 12 different restaurants incorporated into the the resort.  Some of them were only open for dinner, which made trying them all difficult.  We managed about 10 of the 12.  There were Italian, Seafood, Mediterranean, Mexican, French, Asian, Steakhouse, and Pizzeria options, along with a grill type place and an outdoor "local style" restaurant I wasn't overfond of, given the immense amounts of rain.  Each restaurant had a fancy name.  "Isabella's" for the French restaurant, "Spice" for the Asian style restaurant, etc.  

The decor and materials labeled these restaurants as sit down, semi-fancy restaurants, as did the mandatory dress code.  Despite the long, winding swimming pool through the outdoor sections of the complex, you were to wear semi-formalwear or formalwear to the restaurants.  No swimsuits, and at least for dinner, definitely no shorts or Tshirts.  I'd had some advance warning about the dress code requirements, so fortunately I wasn't entirely out of luck, but I was stuck wearing exactly two outfits for dinner.  I made heavy use of an outfit I'd gotten recently for the rehearsal dinner, a very fancily made blue-and-black wrap over a black top and matching black pants.  

The food itself unfortunately didn't entirely merit the clothes.  It was a cross between the sit down restaurant it was trying to be, and school cafeteria food.  You know the kind that's line-assembled according to directions, and served en mass?  Yeah...   

So the menus had a lot of American favorites, or in the case of the "ethnic restaurants," stereotypical dishes.  Pad Thai featured strongly in the Asian restaurant, for instance.  At least in the US, that's a staple found on literally every Thai restaurant's menu.  I have no idea if it's genuine Thai cuisine, as I haven't asked my friend or her Thai husband.  Should probably do that.  Genuineness of Pad Thai aside, I tend to expect a certain flavor and ingredients from staple meals like pizza, pasta, stroganoff, etc.  It wasn't there.  Literally everything, familiar name or not, did not taste as I expected.  By the end of the trip, my distress at the food not matching its name warred with my growing respect for the chef's ability to reuse and rebrand food.

I mentioned it previously, but it merits re-noting.  The portion sizes were small at these restaurants, by comparison to the US standard portions.  That's probably because these people are both sane and not expecting you to take food out of the restaurant.   It also might be a matter of conservation of waste.  I was taught to finish all the food on my plate, and generally speaking, I did so, but I'm not sure that teaching is universal.  If not, it'd be a lot of wasted food across all those restaurants every day if they served US-sized portions.  Having appetizers being just 1-2 of whatever you ordered, rather than 6, and main courses being about half the size of US main courses, would ensure a lot less waste and excess.  Which is laudable.  Just not what I was used to. 

Experience-wise, the restaurants were kind of entertaining.  When they could, they clearly hired locals who could play a role.  Our first trip to the French restaurant included a guy that was trying for a French accent in his English, and had the sort of moustache to fit. Our first visit to the Asian-style place, the guy that served us might've had a Chinese ancestor relatively recently.  If it was an ethnically themed restaurant, the music was themed appropriately.  Otherwise, it was American pop music.  Sometimes, really depressing, heartbreak-themed American pop music.  Sadly, the volume on almost everything was set to 11.  The music by the pools, the music in the non-themed restaurants, the microphones, the stage sounds, everything was way, way too loud.  Now, I always carry a big stash of earplugs with me wherever I go... but I hadn't expected to actually need them.  Just as well I had them, though... some of the music was even too loud for Chris, and he's not sound-sensitive.  Just not half-deaf, I guess.

I have no idea if this was intentional or accidental, but all the restaurant tables were of the same make; that is, they were all about a foot too long by comparison to US restaurant tables.  You couldn't really hold hands across the table as Chris and I tend to do sometimes.  There was just too much space between us.  I imagine this gives more space for food, decorations, and place settings, but I think I'd've rather been closer to, y'know, my new spouse.


    We didn't do a ton of outings on the trip, as we were trying to decompress from the wedding insanity, and also it poured rain for roughly half the trip.  But we did do a few things while there.  


    For instance, we got me a brand new fear of suffocation.  Chris really wanted to go scuba diving.  Neither of us are certified, but you can still scuba at short depths (20 feet or less) without it.  So we paid for an excursion out to a reef.  But first we had to learn (in my case) or relearn (in his case) how to use the equipment.  I'd never touched the stuff before, and so had no idea how it all worked.  They gave us the basics, because duh.  But I never quite figured out how to defog my mask, which was unfortunate because those masks really liked to fog up.  The correct technique involved getting seawater in your mask on purpose by doing something fancy with your breathing, swishing it around, then getting it back out again by doing something else fancy with your breathing.  Frankly, as a swimmer whose career was stunted by being unable to keep air bubbles in her nose, I probably shouldn't have expected anything to be different than it was.  

    The air in the tank was intensely dry, almost stale, in comparison to the outside air.  This area of the Dominican Republic is relatively humid, almost soggy at times, and generally likes to stick around 80 degrees F.  The tank air was maybe the right temperature, but definitely the wrong humidity.  One of the scuba guys insisted it was the same as the air outside, but I don't believe him.  The balance of gases may have been appropriate for human consumption, but it was absolutely not the same as the air outside, or I wouldn't have noticed a difference.  It was a challenge to not gasp in panic, and to separate the panicky gasps from the "I'm exerting myself in brand new ways" gasps. 

    So we practiced a bit in the swimming pool with the equipment, where I sort've figured out how to move and breathe, but not really how to deal with the mask.  None of this prepared me for the actual ocean, where I wasn't allowed to surface to deal with a mask problem, and where there are actual waves that shove you around pretty hard.  They dealt with that by having rope lines on the ocean floor, which you could hold onto as you moved.  Now, arm strength is really not my forte, but my legs, which are usually my strength, were of limited use against the power of the ocean.  So I clung to that rope for dear life, going hand-over-hand after the guide.  In the meantime, my mask slowly leaked water, which pooled around my nose, and I tried not to panic, breathe too hard, or kick anyone in the face with my flippers.  I also made efforts to clear the fog from my mask, but couldn't manage it due not wanting any more water in my mask, and the water in there not really being enough to manage the deed.  Also, the guide didn't really stop for much.  

    The fish were pretty, what little I could see of them, and the guide got some pictures and a video I'm still trying to figure out what to do with.  They charged us extra for those, because of course they did.  Chris really enjoyed the excursion, though, so we probably got our money's worth.  I, however, will probably never try scuba diving again.  I had nightmares of suffocating for several days after learning to use the gear, and that was quite enough for me.  I hope I'm the crabbiest person those poor guides have to deal with for the entire year.  I wasn't all that crabby to them, but I could not be cheered up on that excursion and it wasn't their fault.  

    Swimming in the Ocean

    On a happier note, the Atlantic Ocean was a thing.  We usually don't see the ocean where we live, the biggest bodies of water are the Great Lakes.  You can absolutely swim in the Great Lakes, but they're fresh water, not salt water, and you're not going to find tons of shells or anything there.  The resort had a system of flag colors to denote whether it was safe to go swimming or not.  The entire time we were there, the flags were red, or "no swimming for you."  Because of the tropical storm that had been nearby, there were strong winds, high waves, and poor swimming conditions all around.  But at one point, we saw a bunch of other people "wading" pretty far in anyway, so we joined the general festivities.  Chris acted like a little kid in tall waves, jumping through them and laughing.  We didn't spend long out there, but it was fun.

    On several other occasions, we did walk on the beach, just near enough to the waves to get our feet wet.  At high tide, this was particularly amusing because you could find spiral shells on the beach.  When picked up, they were invariably still occupied with a squirming sea critter.  So I'd keep looking for an empty shell, and upon finding an occupied one, toss it into the ocean.  I can't imagine it was much fun for the critters, but it was amusing to me.  I never did find an unoccupied spiral shell, though.  

    Walking with Pokemon GO

    I got to know the layout of the resort, not by some handy map they gave us, but by literally walking around the whole place with my tablet out, playing Pokemon GO.  Some enterprising Ingress player(s) had marked the resort up with 6 Pokestops, so I was able to walk around and restock on items when it wasn't pouring rain.  The Internet was sadly rather spotty, and of course I had no cell phone service, but the place was awash in several rarer Pokemon, or at least rarer in my home area.  There were two Pokemon gyms in the resort, which tended to switch factions about once a day depending on who was paying attention and who was currently staying.  After the first week, Chris and I started snagging the gyms about once a day so we could get the free ingame currency.  Nobody really seemed to mind.

    But I spent a lot of time walking around the resort alone, because as Chris tells it, walks in his family were more punishment and enforced misery than they were fun family bonding time.  So I went alone, and got to sneak up on lizards, greet the groundskeeping staff, and enjoy the intermittent sunshine.  None of which I would have done, by the way, if I hadn't been incentivized by Pokemon GO.  I found bunches of rare Pokemon, including a Dratini (which evolves into my very favorite Pokemon, Dragonair).  Also, they introduced a "walk with your favorite Pokemon!" system that let me power up the Dratini enough to get a Dragonair, so that was kind of awesome. 

    The "Museum"

     We wanted to get a little of the local culture if possible, so we asked at the front desk area regarding places to go that also had shopping.  They recommended a place and arranged for a driver.  They called it a museum.

    It resembled a museum in that it had exactly three hallways that contained exhibits (topics: cigars, native gemstones, and chocolate).  Those three hallways probably accounted for 10% of the floorspace in the area.  The other 90% was all tourist trap.  They... they get credit for trying, at least.  But seriously, the place was definitely a set of gift shops that happened to have some minor educational value nearby.  I was kind of disappointed.  At least until we met the salesperson at the chocolate shop area.

    So it wasn't an entire waste of a trip, given that I needed to shop for souvenirs anyway.  Some of those will be Christmas presents, because convenience is convenience.  So we spent a good chunk of change.  But our assigned salesperson was interesting.  He was not natively from the Dominican Republic, but instead he was a migrant from Venezuela, come to work in a more stable country than his homeland, which is presently governed by someone roughly as insane as Trump.  It doesn't make US news nearly so much, but Venezuela is really not a fun place to live right now.  We already knew this because Chris has a friend from there, someone he met playing World of Warcraft and has kept in touch with over the years.

    Anyway, this guy's name was Valerio, and he was surprisingly curious and thoughtful for someone assigned to sell us as much stuff as possible.  Turns out the "I went to college and got this degree, now I don't know what to do with it" syndrome is not just a US thing, he was sadly in the same boat and was making do with the job at the chocolate shop.  So after we'd bought a bunch of stuff, he got permission to wait for the bus with us and we chatted about video games and movies and US politics and the world.  I was surprised he'd played so many of the same video games as Chris, and knew many of the same movies.  I suppose I shouldn't be, the US has a broad reach and influence on the world, especially the Americas, but it's one thing to know that and quite another to see it.

    We got his email and I've been chatting with him a bit.  Also he got my blog address, which makes me hope he doesn't mind me mentioning him too much here.


    There was one more excursion we went on, which was a glass-bottomed boat trip that included snorkeling to see the fish and reefs.  They also promised that you could swim with sharks and stingrays.  With some cynicism about those last claims, I went on the trip without high hopes.  

    I wasn't wrong in my cynicism about the boat itself.  The glass part of the boat was quite small and the glass wasn't sturdy enough to stand on, so the view really wasn't impressive at all.  They did give people a nice show off the side of the boat by feeding a swarm of lemon-yellow fish.  The things were hand sized, and very emphatic about their desire for the pieces of bread being tossed to them.  I've only seen bread disappear that fast when large quantities of ducks were involved, and even then, it wasn't as neatly. 

    The music on the boat was intensely loud, to the point where I literally couldn't stand to be anywhere near the speakers.  The idea, I believe, was to be a party, or something.  Music, plentiful (and free) alcohol, the ocean, and snacks.  I felt rather disconnected from it all, between being autistic and not being the ideal physical stereotype for such a setting.  I'm about 50 pounds overweight for gracefully wearing a bikini, and much too hairy and grumpy-looking.  There were 4-6 young people of the category of person appropriate for that stereotype, though, and I happened to be in proximity enough to hear most of their conversations.  They were... not thought provoking, suffice it to say.  I guess not everyone approaches their Caribbean vacations with an eye to learning about the world around them.  

    My autism, or more precisely, my preparedness because of my autism, did turn out to be useful in the end, though.  I wasn't the only one bothered by the loudness of the music.  There was an Asian-looking couple with their three kids, all of whom looked very uncomfortable in their seats by the noise.  The mother was pressing her hands over the youngest's ears, a baby, and the two kids looked kinda miserable.  Now, I carry a large supply of earplugs with me wherever I go, just in case of noise-induced suffering.  So after minor thought and some time to beat off my fear of rejection, I got out the supply and offered pairs of earplugs to the family.  They seemed surprised, but did gratefully accept the offer.  Apparently the kids also found the earplugs to be excellent toys during the trip, because I saw them playing with them as often as not afterwards.  It was nice to have my autism be useful for once, rather than a hindrance to everyone.  

    But what sticks out most to me was actually the sharks and stingrays.  They were, of course, not great white sharks, but nurse sharks, lacking teeth.  But they were enormous.  Some of them were at least 15 feet long, which is about how large I expected great white sharks to be.  The stingrays, too, were enormous.  I estimated the biggest ones were about the size of a SmartCar.  While small for a car, they were enormous for rays.  The stingrays I was familiar with were maybe dinner plate sized.

    We were shepherded off the boat and given masks and snorkels, then directed around the water to see the reefs and fish.  After that, we were taken to special enclosures, which contained the sharks and rays.  That was why it was so easy to see them.  I was  a little distressed about the enclosures, which were large, but probably not large enough for such gargantuan creatures.  But I guess my awe kind've got in the way of being too upset?  

    The guide had also promised we could pet a (destingered) stingray.  In the US, that means they're in a neat little shallow tank, and you're cautioned to only pet the top of the ray, never the bottom or the tail.  Presumably so as to avoid sticking your fingers in its mouth or damaging the tail, but I never asked.  The stingray they had for us was about the size of a dinner platter, so already larger than I was expecting.  But instead of having us pet the top, the guide sort've handed it to me in the water and had us look up to smile at a picture.  I'm not sure how well I smiled, I was slightly entranced by the fact that I had a LIVE STINGRAY in my arms.  The ray really didn't seem to mind, which was hopefully at least in part because I wasn't jostling it or poking it.  It was very soft, not quite rubbery but almost. 

    Friday, December 23, 2016

    Go Away, I Hate Christmas, or A Depressed Autistic's Christmas

    Hi folks.  I'm going to talk about why, in years past, I've really hated Christmas.  Not the religious bit, Jesus being born, hymns of celebration, lighting candles and reading from the Bible etc.  It's the commercial aspects that got my ire: the commercialized and social aspects, the "Christmas cheer," the getting together with family, the decorations, the pop music.  If this sort of discussion offends you and your Christmas happiness, then please, by all means, stop reading and keep your happiness bubble intact.

    Okay?  All right, cool.

    Christmas, as a non-religious concept, made my life miserable for about ten years.

    I have never, in my entire memory, had anything resembling Christmas cheer, or the generally goodwill and happiness that accompanies the Christmas season.  Classic Christmas music (not including Christmas carols and hymns) serves only, as a rule, to make me crabby.

    Why?  Well...

    Be Cheerful!  (NO)

    I am not, innately, a cheerful person.  I was a very serious, possibly depressed child, and I grew up into a slightly less-serious adult with a lifelong depressive disorder.  This does not lend itself well to actual cheer when told to "cheer up."  It's been a pet peeve of mine for awhile.  You cannot, literally can not, make someone cheer up by telling them to.  You can't magically transmit a thought-virus of cheer.  Sorry.  Telling me to cheer up has, historically, made me extremely annoyed.  

    So, all this Christmas music, which sings about the merits of the season and how it's all so wonderful and put you in a good mood to shop... or whatever else...  sounds, to me, like it's insisting I be cheerful.  If I'm literally not capable of being cheerful, but constantly told to be cheerful anyway, of course I'm going to end up grumpier.  I can't even shout back at the music that I'm depressed, and leave me alone already thanks!

    This actually wasn't as huge a problem when I was little, but starting around age 15, I recognized that society was essentially telling me it wasn't okay to be depressed, and I spent the next ten years resenting that. 


    Secondly, Christmas in my family has historically always involved a lot of travel.  Pretty much all my family has always been at least 12 hours by car away, but rarely, if ever, has it been an option to simply stay in our own home and celebrate quietly.  

    So there's the bustle of packing, and the stressing about presents for relatives I didn't know that well, and the inevitable forgetting of at least one important thing...  We'd pile into the car, my mother would zoom about doing last minute things while my father groused, and then we'd drive for upwards of 12 hours in a single day.  

    When I was very little, it was more like 20 hours in the car, and my father would be very crabby by the end of it.  In his defense, I don't think anyone really likes driving 20 hours with two reluctant children in the back seat.  

    Strangers in a Strange Land


    The culmination of all this travel was getting to distant family's houses.  Unfamiliar, often colder than I would have liked, far from the comforts and familiarity of my own home.  Normally when growing up, I'd have my nose in a book.  But my book selection was pretty limited, away from the bookshelves of home, so I had what I brought with me, and... that was it. 

    Then, the place was full of people I was required to sit and be social with, but barely knew anything about, and if we're being honest, didn't overmuch know about me, either.  Autistic people often have a hard time with faces and I wasn't an exception.  Every year I made a wishlist, and generally speaking, anyone outside my family had no clue it was a thing, or ignored it entirely.  

    I was required to sit at the dinner table and make conversation, despite being bad at it, not wanting to do it, and wishing I was anywhere else.  While I recognize this is a staple of modern society, I somehow don't think my sullen expression did any conversation any favors, ever.  

    So in the end most Christmases involved me feeling alienated, incredibly uncomfortable, and set-upon.  

    Well Aren't You A Bundle of Sunshine?

    Yeah, I know.  But hey, good news.  Notice how a lot of this entry is phrased in the past tense?  That's because I stopped being quite so depressed around Christmas as of a couple years ago.  I presume some of my depression has abated and I've adjusted to having to entirely drop my comforts once a year for the sake of family I barely know.  I've also improved at table conversation, and presumably at being polite without being sullen.

    I still love my family, even the ones I don't see very often, as I did when I was little. I'm just better at expressing it in terms they understand now. 

    Tuesday, December 20, 2016

    Legwork and Life, week of 12/20/16

    Eek, Christmas is coming.  I feel rather unprepared, though at least for core family, that isn't the case.  I did some serious work on presents for my side of the family a few days after we got back.  Chris and I are handling presents such that I buy for my side of the family and he buys for his, and we consult only as needed.  It's very efficient, but probably hinders in getting to know our new families a bit. 

    I had it pretty easy this year.  My family has started using a site called CheckedTwice for their wishlists.  It's a little more exclusive than I'd prefer, which is to say you can't look at a wishlist on their site unless you've gotten an account on their website and then been invited to look at said wishlist.  But unlike a regular wishlist, you can claim a present on the wishlist and everyone (except the owner) will know that you've gotten that present for the person and they should get something else.  In short, it resolves the major issue with wishlists: over-giftage.  You almost never need two blenders or multiple copies of that new book your wanted.  So what do you say when you get a second one?  "Oh, uh, thanks for reading my wishlist, someone beat you to the punch.  I hope you saved the receipt?" 

    I have thankfully graceful parents, and they've been kind enough to field conversations just like that every year or so without too much complaint.  But ideally this sort of thing doesn't happen at all.  You can either give different parts of the family different wishlists and hope they get the things you didn't overlap and really want, to counter this.  But then I tend to forget who I asked for what, and don't always get the things I definitely wanted.  I much prefer the central wishlist. 

    It's convenient, too, because when asked what I'd like for my birthday/Christmas, I usually blank and make confused noises while I desperately try to think of anything at all to tell the patiently waiting person.  Often I can't think of anything at all, and if I can, it's not an optimal thing to ask for from that person.  Like, I might ask for chocolate but that person doesn't even like chocolate and would rather get me something useful for the house, or a book.  With the list, I don't have to remember anything, I can just get my tablet out, pull up the list, and go "here, check this." 

    I think gift giving is usually a lot harder for me, and will still be for the various friends and non-nuclear family I have yet to buy for.  Gifts are difficult.  You're trying to summarize your friendship/family-ness and affection into a physical thing, and so ideally it should be thoughtful, useful, and lasting.  I think I've managed that combination exactly once for a friend, and it was because they apparently didn't want to buy the thing themselves and happened to mention it in passing on a social media site. 

    All other presents I've managed tend to be more along the lines of "here's something I'm pretty sure you'll like but is consumable because I don't want to clutter your living space," or "hey, this was cool, hope you don't mind it's clutter-potential..."  I wish everyone would make wishlists and post them where I can find and use them.  Like Facebook, but for wishlists?  I dunno, I can dream, right? 

    Friday, December 16, 2016

    Musings: A Question

    I'm stuck on a question.  The kind teenagers ask themselves intently, over and over, then less and less as they grow up, until they stop asking at all.  It resurges in the 40s, gnawing at one's self-esteem and purpose in life.  I hear some people buy new cars over it.

    Who am I?

    I never really stopped asking that.

    People with autism, you know, tend to develop more slowly in some ways than neurotypical people.  It's not our fault.  The societies we're born into aren't effortless to us.  It seems to me that neurotypical people run, or even glide effortlessly through life.  And we on the spectrum, we crawl.  We claw for every inch.  Our own brains and bodies hinder us.  Other people turn away from us.  Our very families, hard as they try, misunderstand us.

    So it comes to pass that I am 28, and still asking myself who I am.

    I know who I think I am.  I'm stubborn, childish, and foul-mouthed, a trial.  I am angry, lazy, thoughtless, and disabled.  I should be reading a book right now and organizing my thoughts to review it, but instead my train of thought has battened itself onto the question of my identity, tormented by the shattered mirror of identities I see.  They have little in common with how I see myself. 

    To the parents at the support group I go to, I am patient, thoughtful, and kind.  I value them, their input, and their problems.  I've never met a single one of their children, and may never do so save at social events, but I've tried to provide insight, suggestions, and guidance to the staggering myriad of problems and frustrations that come with raising an autistic child.  I am living proof that an autism diagnosis does not mean your child is broken and hopeless. 

    To one group of friends, I'm an oddball.  Reliable but hard to understand.  Always an arm's length away, emotionally, but willing to help and trying to make sure I don't do anything that might upset them.  If there's a party, I'm not who comes to mind to invite.  I'm not "fun."  I don't automatically "get" them.  I don't know all the injokes.  I'm just a decent enough person on the periphery of the group.

    To another group of friends, I'm a success.  I have a successful relationship. I have a car, which I drive.  I may not have a paying job, but I keep myself busy with volunteer work and helping others.  I have insights, but I listen, too.  I smile and nod, being supportive.  Maybe my opinions even matter to them.  God knows there's enough battering us all down without my adding to it.

    There's a group of people who created and played an online text-based game.  I lied to them.  They knew me as a guy, the standard gender of the Internet, not a girl.  Beyond that I acted as I thought I was, if happier: a somewhat childishly optimistic contributor, odd and troubled but dedicated.  For them I created an entire website, dedicated to the game, and faithfully updated it for several years.  In their company, I got through college, leaning on the community and the predictability of the game.  I bought them all souvenirs when I went to a foreign country, and sent them as a sort of farewell.  Shortly after that, I disappeared.  It's been half a decade, and one of them emailed me asking after my welfare.  Reminding me they exist.  I can't decide how, or if, to face them.

    With only that exception above, I have never tried to be anything different than I am.  I've tried to stay true to myself and to what I believe, in all situations.  Why, then, do I feel like I have separate identities, all pressing down on me at once?  If I'm not living any lies, why does it feel like I'm never going to be as good as people think I am? 

    Tuesday, December 13, 2016

    Legwork and Life, week of 12/13/16

    Well, there's now a foot of snow on the ground and icicles on the roof that are at least as tall as me, so I suppose I can consider myself officially welcomed back by Michigan. I could do with a less effusive welcome.  Maybe some sun?  (checks the forecast)  No?  "Don't make me laugh," says the forecast?  Alas...

    I'm struggling along.  I feel no better than last week, though yesterday I did finally beat myself into working on my inbox a little.  I find myself frustrated by the sheer number of things that demand to be done before Christmas.  Shopping for friends and family is one thing, but attending various events, filing out and turning paperwork, and re-acclimating to Michigan living all at once is quite another.  I've already chucked one set of (non-mandatory) paperwork into the trash in sheer exasperation.  I don't think I'm going to sheepishly retrieve it, either.  I can't imagine why anyone thinks it's a good idea to send out "tell us about yourself for next year!" paperwork while everyone is scrambling to arrange and attend Christmas parties (or Hanukkah celebrations, or Mawlid an-Nabi, or whatever), acquire presents, shovel snow, and other wintery activities. 

    Today I'll be brushing the snow off my car for the fifth time this week (and it's only Tuesday!) and going off to LENS.  I have complaints between the high anxiety, high frustration, and the hideous night of sleep I just suffered.  I'm not sure how ambitious the doctor is going to want to be about those complaints, and starting up the enzymes like she said we would.  It's near the end of the year, and the same excuse that worked for getting married also works for Christmas.  (This is a time of high stress, and changes are difficult to enact, etc etc.)  Which at this point, I'm likely to retort, "I'm going to bite someone's kneecaps off if something doesn't change."  So we'll see.  My mother had suggested I look into a regular pill version of GABA.  She finds it helpful for managing her anxiety, but the peppermint candy versions I have are pitifully low strength by comparison.  I really don't want to eat 12 brain chemical-laden Altoids every day just to not chew off kneecaps.  I'd rather, if it would work, a nice single capsule like she uses. 

    Yesterday I had a look at the photos from the professional photographer for the wedding.  While the photographer was clearly competent and excellent, it was as I feared: I couldn't smile properly for about half the pictures.  In my defense, there was flash going all the time forever, and each flash of the camera is like being slapped across the face.  Also, I was kind of annoyed with the photographer for taking pictures with flash during the procession.  I'd been under the impression that there wouldn't be flash while in the sanctuary area, but apparently she'd had the impression that it was only verboten while we were at the altar.  So the processional pictures didn't turn out great.  I also feared, and was correct in that, if I wasn't smiling my expression was sort of frowny-intent.  That's a thing I do, and it's when I'm concentrating really hard on something.  But it is not photogenic at all.  Did I mention I kind of hate photos? 

    But I should ask my brother how to smile properly.  I swear, if he knew there was a picture being taken, he had a photogenic and real-looking smile on his face.  Mouth and eyes both, not just the first.  You need both for a convincing smile.  I sincerely doubt he was in perfect good humor for the entire wedding, but the pictures will certainly look like he was.  I'll see him in a couple weeks, so I think I'll ask what he did to manage that.  I'm afraid it's going to involve tons of practice and a mirror, but maybe it won't.  I hate mirrors even more than I hate pictures...

    Anyway, I poked through the raws and edited photos and came out with over 70 pictures that I liked well.  So that's not bad at all.  I have to get Chris to do the same, and send the final set of pictures back to the photographer for an album.  Preferably quickly, so the extras can be Christmas presents...

    Friday, December 9, 2016

    Hiring Autism Only, or, Meet Auticon

    Finding a job as an autistic adult is difficult.  If we manage to get hired at all, it's often at jobs under our skill levels, or ones that will simply ignore or tolerate our differences.  The first situation has a name: underemployment.  And sadly it's a general phenomenon for the younger generations.  The second is more of a societal issue.  Autism is diagnosed by the DSM-V, and thus to most peoples' minds is a mental illness.  A problem.  Something to be troubleshot, ignored, or treated.

    That isn't ideal.  Autism, while challenging, also comes with a number of benefits that can be used in business to make everyone's life better.  That's been the idea behind Specialisterne, and it's the idea behind Auticon, a small company in London, England.  I've mentioned Specialisterne before, but I had the impression that they hire people with various kinds of diagnoses, not just autism.  Auticon literally only hires people with autism.

    I was, on finding out about this hiring policy, curious as to how high the hiring policy went in the company.  Was the whole company made of autistic people?  How do they handle the predictable miscommunications between autistic people and neurotypical people?  It wouldn't be completely impossible to have an entire company of only autistic people.  But very difficult, I think.  The company offers tech services.  Autistic people have been shown to do very well with tech work, over the years, which is why it's the base work for various companies that employ autistic people.  So the solutions wouldn't be the problem, so much as how those solutions are presented, and how the contractor behaves while at the client company.  Some people are just very touchy about the way things should be, and I'm including neurotypical people in that statement too.  Too many deviations from the social norms, and patience frays, tempers rise, and the solutions and hard work done by the autistic person might as well be wasted.

    So I examined the website.  I can't say for sure, but from the bios, the Team page may be mainly or entirely comprised of non-autistic people.  So the founder, CEOs, hiring manager, head of operations, and job coach, likely do not fall on the spectrum.  Instead, they curate and support a staff of 80+ autistic tech consultants, who are dispatched out to client companies to solve specific problems.  Each consultant also comes with a job coach/support staff back at Auticon, who helps smooth the process and clears up any misunderstandings that may occur.  The website says their principle is: "As little support as possible but as much as needed."

    By the recognition and awards they brandish on their website, it seems they're succeeding at their business plan.  The site is also unapologetically positive about autism.  There's a small section of the site that talks about the diagnosis, but mainly in the "this is how these people can benefit your company" vein.  Which makes sense, given that they are, in the end, a business.

    So far, in the United States, I've only heard of broader hiring programs, rather than specific companies.  Microsoft, for instance, has a hiring program going for autistic people.  Specialisterne has a US division, but I'm not sure about a brick-and-mortar building.  And there are certain US-government contractors that exchange a priority for hiring autistic and other diagnosed workers for precedence in bids on government work.  I'd like to see a US version of Auticon, preferably in Michigan where it can employ my friends.

    More than that, though, I'd like to see an entire company truly run by autistic people.  The possibility is there.  Rather than pour my energy into understanding computers, I learned early on that I had to understand people.  I'm still working on it, obviously, but my brain is a credible piece of machinery for dealing with people, societal rules, and situations in general.  I've had to become immensely flexible.  I could probably serve as a job coach at Auticon, maybe higher in the business with some work.  I dunno if I have the business sense to be a CEO, but I'll bet there's someone with autism out there who loves business, studied it with the same intensity I studied people, and could do a fine job.

    In short, an all-autistic company would be possible.  Very very VERY difficult, but possible.  I'd love to see it. 

    Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Legwork and Life, week of 12/6/16

    Eek, it's December.  I didn't even get a couple days to breathe before people started sending me emails and requests to do things, either. 

    As you can tell, I didn't manage to finish the remaining section of my observations about my trip to the Dominican Republic.  That's going to end up as a bonus entry at some point soon, rather than one of my scheduled updates.  The reason...

    I'm not handling the transition back to the US well.  Chris wasn't even phased, as far as I can tell.   But I was.  The food was the first issue, I think.  The morning after we got back, we had brunch at a restaurant we like.  I had the offering that is both delicious and contains carrots and broccoli.  Like most restaurant offerings, it also sadly contained a high amount of processed sugar.  Despite it being a savory dish. 

    I left the restaurant in an ill mood, and proceeded to be crabby for the next half week.  I'm not sure I'm much better today, but, as is the story of my life, that's just too bad.  Things to be done. 

    I've heard of this sort of thing before, and seen myself have poor physiological and psychological reactions to lots of sugar.  This is, however, the first time I'd seen it on regular foods.  I hadn't really expected it, since the resort we were at tried to serve a lot of standard American foods.  Meat-heavy, almost no vegetables, but things like pizza, pasta, steak, chicken and turkey cuts, etc.  Pretty basic stuff, right?  Well, so what I recognized but didn't factor in, was that all their base ingredients are different.  They don't import, say, flour or sugar, from the US.  They use what they have there.  Which is perfectly edible, just not processed in the same way.  They're more likely to use brown sugar than processed white sugar.  And y'know, not put it into literally everything, like in the US.  If it's a savory dish, it probably doesn't have sugar in it. 

    The end result is food that is tasty, but doesn't taste exactly like you expect pizza or pasta or chicken to taste.  Which I stopped being disappointed about within the first week, because given the number of people they have to feed at any given time, I was impressed even some of the food was completely delicious.  Then I returned to the magical land where everything is chocked full of sugar forever, and now my system is having a hissy fit. 

    So the food is the first transition.  The weather is the obvious second.  The area of the Dominican Republic we visited?  It's a very rare, chilly day when it gets below 77F.  I live in Michigan.  We routinely get down to the 20s and 10s in winter.  It's grey and cold for 3-6 months out of the year.  Specifically, starting about November.  Sometimes October.  Climate change has thrown a wrench in that pattern, so we may see sunshine here and there.  But fact remains, it was literally 50 degrees (F) colder than where we'd left.  And, y'know, completely grey.  Punta Cana wasn't a flawlessly sunny paradise, but it did have blue in the skies most days at times, even whilst pouring rain from being in proximity to a tropical storm.  And sunshine. 

    By the way, it snowed several inches a couple days ago. 

    So between the gut-issues and the weather, I'm kinda dragging my feet and trying not to bite peoples' heads off.  I'm out of buffer on my blog, so I need to get in gear regardless of how bad I feel, though.  Wish me luck!

    Friday, December 2, 2016

    Book Review: Autism Tomorrow

    Autism Tomorrow: The Complete Guide to Help Your Child Thrive in the Real World

    I should preface this review by noting that by now, I am very suspicious of anything that insists it's comprehensive or complete in regards to autism.  I've gone over why the various factions in the autism world can't seem to stop arguing about autism, and have at least privately noted that if someone could manage to get them all to stop arguing and start listening, we could have a really decent conversation and maybe get a lot done.

    That said, this book does take a good shot at covering many aspects of an autistic person's life.  Though admittedly, it seems more focused on the more heavily-affected, less blended section of the autistic population.  Most specifically, it seems focused on their parents.  I try to read such books with an open mind and an eye to figuring out ideas that might help me, but in this case, the book was almost entirely academic reading (ie: it had little personal bearing on my life).

    The book is a compilation of essays, more or less, based on specific subjects in a person's life.  The authors seem to be, if not experts in their fields, at least notably thoughtful on their subjects.  Most of the contributors seemed to be parents or lettered people (ie: PHD, MA, MD, etc), rather than autistic people.  That's par for the course, particularly since this book is now six years old. They did include a piece from Temple Grandin, and another couple shorter pieces from an autistic man named Stephen Shore.

    The subjects covered include things I've never had to consider, such has how to deal with the police, firefighters, and hospitals.  There are sections for financial planning, for health issues, and for sex-related subjects (both sexuality and specifically boys' and girls' issues when dealing with autism). Because of the variety of authors, each section varied from indepth and helpful to "here's stuff you should do."  The latter didn't seem terribly helpful, given the kinds of parents I tend to run across- harried, overworked, exhausted, and just trying to survive another day.

    Still, at least as a spread of issues to know about and be aware of, it doesn't do too badly.  It skips the vaccine controversy almost entirely, along with most kinds of therapy I've heard of for autism.  But education, finances, health and welfare, community, puberty, and communication are all covered.  For a book of less than 300 pages, that's impressive.

    Read This Book If:

    You're a parent of a child on the spectrum, particularly a younger child, and you want a grasp of a lot of the issues you'll face as they grow.  Each of the chapters in the book could easily have been its own book, and you'll want to consult more sources and your local experts on those subjects, but this is, at least, a place to start. 

    Tuesday, November 29, 2016

    The Honeymoon: Adventures in Variety

    The honeymoon is almost over, but I've attempted to get a bit more organized in my observations and musings about being in the Dominican Republic.  I found my last couple posts on the subject kind of haphazard and scattered, and wanted to do better this time.  So I've grouped some of my thoughts by subject, which is at least some kind of organization.  I'm presently fighting motion sickness, and have been for about two hours, so we'll see how well I do.


    I've described some of the differences in cars and highways already, such as timers on the traffic lights, the trash everywhere along the highway, and animated walk/don't walk signs.  There's a lot more that differs, though.  For instance, there aren't all that many driving signs (like speed limit signs, curve warnings, or intersection notices).  In fact, I don't think I've seen a single stop sign.  The traffic is left to guide itself, and apparently the people are friendly enough to simply let others into traffic at intervals.  

    One would think this would involve more frustration and horn use... and the latter is accurate, but not the former.  The drivers who've taken us from place to place frequently use the horn, but rather than an angry HOOOONK that one finds so often in the United States, it's almost exclusively a short "beep."  Basically, a "hey I'm here" or "heads up."  This is particularly true around the mopeds, since those riding them have the tendency to weave in and out of traffic, and are much squishier and perhaps less able to see the impending doom of an oncoming bus.  

    Gas is expensive here, and in liters rather than gallons.  I've been squinting at the signs, and trying without success to take pictures of the prices.  I finally looked it up: gas is about $3.50/gallon in the Dominican Republic, which maybe explains why it's been mainly buses with lots of people ferrying us around, rather than smaller, personal vehicles.  

    Two less usual-to-the-US forms of transit thrive here.  Mopeds, which are a cross between motorcycles and motorized scooters, are a very common sight.  I haven't seen any sidecars, but there are plenty of people riding two-per-moped.  And in addition to mopeds, there are hitchhikers.  Actual hitchhikers, thumb gesture and all.  Hitchhiking used to be more of a thing in the United States, some 40 years ago and before, but it faded out... I think because of safety concerns, or something.  I wonder if that speaks to the US being a much more fearful place than other parts of the world.  

    I don't envy the mopeds, or any other open-air vehicle, though.  All the roads we've driven on, mainly highways and roads near the resorts, have been paved.  But on the airplane flight in, I looked down across the country and saw dirt roads in abundance.  Long, thin, and hopefully well cared for, but they were too far away to tell for sure.  My experiences with dirt roads were bumpy, pothole-y, and unpleasant experiences.  Combine that with the truly excessive amount of rain we've had, and they're likely more like mud roads...  

    Even the paved roads near the resorts have been flooded in places, sometimes so badly we couldn't leave the resort.  It's rained for more than half the day, each day for the last week.  It adds up to a lot of rain, and this close to sea level, it sticks around.  Impromptu lakes form, across walkways, roads, and the garden area in the resort.  It's more than a little inconvenient, but between the tropical storm (thankfully hundreds of miles away) and climate change, there isn't much to be done.


    A little different here than in the US.  For one, I don't think I've seen a single type of plant I'm familiar with.  That includes the carefully planted palm trees.  The oaks, maples, beeches, and willows I'm familiar with simply don't grow here.  Instead, there's everything from trees that look like they're made of ferns to great broad-leafed giants to shrubs choked with sprawling climbing vines.  The palms, I would guess, are mainly cultivated, since I tend to only see them around resort and public areas.  But the jungle plants are very densely packed, such that I sincerely doubt I'd be able to walk through them at all.  Mostly everything is green, but it's broken up by bits of brown.  No fall colors here, in an area that rarely, if ever, sees temperatures below 70F.  

    That's just this particular area of the Dominican Republic, though.  The terrain in the country varies, from this tropical jungle and beach area to tall forested hills (maybe mountains, but I bet my uncle and aunt in Colorado would laugh at that description).  I believe the map I saw also included hotter lowlands, almost desert-like in climate.  

    The first animals Chris and I had close encounters with were actually horses.  Two tall, scruffy-looking brown horses were right next to the road, ignoring the traffic to crop at the wild grasses and plants.  The driver of our ride to the resort slowed down to a crawl, so we got a good look at them, but they barely paid us any attention.  I have yet to see any roadkill here, but if I thought deer roadkill was bad, I can't imagine how smashed up a car would be after hitting a full grown horse.  Horses, thankfully, are also much smarter than deer.  So it's probably not an issue often.

    In addition to the horses, wild or tame, we also spotted cows.  But not American black-and-white Holsteins.  There were brown and tan, just as big as Holsteins, I think, but long-eared.  Their ears reminded me of goat ears, honestly, but even longer and floppier.  They look, needless to say, pretty ridiculous.  

    Other encounters with wildlife include the tiniest little tree frogs, none larger than my pinkie finger, but so loud that a dozen of them could keep any light sleeper awake indefinitely.  They peep all night, incessantly, unless startled by another of the inhabitants of the resort: stray cats.  

    There are at least two stray cats here.  They're loud things, shying away from being petted but definitely demanding food and attention.  You can hear them from an entire building away, making meows that are part yowl and part siren.  The frogs don't mind that so much, but any angry yowls or screeching silences them for 15 seconds or so.  

    Just like I don't recognize the trees here, I also don't recognize the birds.  There are some similarities, such as some type of ring-necked dove.  Very similar to the pigeons in the cities, but not the same species.  There are some odd-looking geese and ducks.  There's a seagull-like species that peeps rather than screeching like the seagulls I recognize.  And there's a crow-like species that, while much smaller, certainly fills the "dratted scavenger" niche here.  Impressively loud, black birds of a size more appropriate for a robin than the crows I'm familiar with.  They're thinner, though, and sound like someone crossed rusty hinges with the loudest peeping sound I've ever heard.  I've watched a few sneak food off deserted tables at the open air restaurants here, but somehow they don't get as fat and stupid as the pigeons and seagulls in the US.  

    Finally, and most clearly to me right now, I got to hold a stingray.  We were out on a "swim with the sharks and stingrays" excursion.  I'll describe the excursion more in a later section, but I was initially assuming I'd just get to pet the ray, as I have at some aquariums.  At those aquariums, the rays swim as they please across a shallow tank, and you can pet their backs, but are severely cautioned against touching their undersides.  

    Well, here they just sort of handed me the (destung) stingray, which was bigger than a serving plate, and showed me where to put my hands under it so as not to hurt it.  Stingrays are very soft, almost rubbery, but not slimy.  I have no idea how they trained it to not be bothered by the uncertainly grasping hands of tourists, but it was very quiet and still as I held it in the water.  I did what I always do in uncertain situations, which is to freeze unless something is going horribly wrong.  I was so shocked that I was allowed to hold the ray, I didn't even mind that they were hurrying me along and taking my picture to sell to us later.  I can't imagine I smiled very well, I was kind of busy being shocked about the live stingray in my arms.  

    The motion sickness is winning.  I've got more to say, about food, the various outings, and possibly the culture here, but it's going to have to wait for another entry.  Perhaps tomorrow, since it seems a shame to have it wait 'til Friday.  

    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Book Review: Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger Syndome

    Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger Syndrome: A Practical Guide to Day-To-Day Life by Nancy J. Patrick.  Or, perhaps better titled: "Easier Said Than Done: Social Skills For the NT World."

    My snark aside, this is more or less what it says in the title, though I would definitely replace "Social Skills" with "Life Skills."  It's not a social skill to exercise regularly, nor to eat properly, but both are included in this book.  Certainly these things are vastly important, and keeping healthy patterns of exercise and diet can be very helpful in doing your best in social situations.

    The book is divided into chapters, each of which addresses a specific subject autistic people may have trouble with, such as good listening, the differences between friends and acquaintances, housing, and dating.  There are sections for marriage and parenting, a very cautious section for dealing with strangers, and even sections in the beginning to identify what precisely social and communication skills are and why they're important. 

    The tone is factual, logical, and brief to a fault, sounding, frankly, like it was written by someone with autism, and peppered with short stories to help demonstrate the topic or make a point.  There is a lot of "this is what you should do," and very little "this is how you could do it."  I kind of felt like I was being lectured at while reading the book.  The tone and brevity is probably at least in part due to how much information needed to be covered, and also because autistic people vary pretty widely.  What works for one person won't for another.

    I did find the statistics given in the book a little bleak.  Even presuming the statistics in question were factually accurate (not a given, if you know how easily statistics can be skewed), I didn't really appreciate learning that 80% of all marriages that have an Aspie partner fail.  I'm about to be married, with the intention to do my best by Chris in the long haul, and I'm not entering into the marriage because I think it's romantic or something, so I could do with a bit less negativity over here, particularly when the world already considers me subhuman.  And really overall, that's like telling someone they're probably just going to fail, so why bother trying?  And I thought the 50% failure rate on regular marriages was bad.  Ugh.

    At least I have the confidence of knowing Chris and I have done our best to assure compatibility on several levels, rather than just shared interests, or emotional compatibility, or similar political views.  Any technologically savvy readers may appreciate this description of a deep relationship.  (By the way, that's an excellent comic, though it may require some patience and open-mindedness to get through.)

    I found the book to be almost entirely review until the last chapter, which deals with various tools autistic people can use to help themselves and others.  The physical ones are sorted by tech level: everything from sticky notes to computer programs.  To my great amusement, this book is 8 years old, so its suggestions are maybe a wee bit out of date.  A lot of the suggestions given in this last chapter, I could manage with a smartphone.  Err... most of them, actually.  But it's good to have lower tech ideas, because while most people have smartphones these days, not everyone does.  And not only that, smartphones break.  It's best to have redundancies built into your life.

    Other tools given in the final chapter include strategies for effective listening, a second option for eye contact if trying for the 85%/15% eye contact/non eye-contact rule is too anxiety-provoking, and strategies to smooth over miscommunications.  Some of these I'd heard of, like To-Do lists.  Others were entirely new to me, like the alternative eye contact option I mentioned.

    At the very end of the book, there are a series of self-evaluations, each of which is referenced in the chapter that corresponds to its subject.  I didn't do the assessments, but apparently someone prior to me did, as several of them were filled out.  Of all the parts of the book, I wonder the most about this one.  Self-assessments are only as useful as the honesty and observational skills of the person taking them.  I tend to think well of myself in those areas, but that doesn't necessarily mean every given person on the spectrum will, particularly if they also suffer from depression, anxiety, or other life-complicating disabilities.

    Read This Book If:

    You're on the autism spectrum, or have a teenager or young adult on the autism spectrum. This book contains a wide variety of skills and subjects, all of which you need to thrive in the neurotypical world.  Even if you already blend very well in society, consider picking up this book and seeing if there are any bits you might be missing, or new avenues of socialization or skill acquisition. 

    Tuesday, November 22, 2016

    The Honeymoon: Settling In

    I'm presently on my honeymoon, so the regular Legwork and Life is on hold because I am doing no Legwork towards my career and this is hardly a normal mode of Life.  Instead, I'm chronicling my adventures here in Punta Cana, since the Dominican Republic is hardly the same experience as my life in the United States.

    When we flew in, we noted we were flying right into an enormous storm front. So now today, we've woken up to a thunderstorm.  A very emphatic one.  The weather forecast says it'll be storming pretty much for the next week.  I'm hoping maybe it'll clear up a bit, not because of the beach, but because I was kind of hoping to go see some of the native culture.  It might be difficult to do that in the rain.  

    Another observation that strikes me.  When we flew in, before the rain set in, I noted that the forest area was really not very palm-tree-y.  Here at the resort, though, they mostly specialize in that.  The native forest (jungle?) doesn't look very easy to walk through, with great creeping vines, thick foliage, etc, but I'd still like to try.  I mean, palm trees are nice, but if I'm going to be here, I really want to see more than the tourist experience...  The rain might make that hard, though.  

    I've brought out Google Translate, an app for my tablet, so I can read signage while walking.  It's fancy: you can just point the camera at the sign and it'll translate the Spanish to English for you.  So I tried it out on the Emergency Exit sign, and it did a lovely job.  It uses character recognition to get the letters and spaces, then puts them through a regular Google Translate search.  Then it uses the returned words, in English, and transposes them over the picture on your device.  It's a neat bit of programming.  

    I'm likely to be in this resort room a lot, given the intensity of the rain.  So a cool thing about these rooms.  They have hybrid electrical outlets.  They're simultaneously able to power standard US plugs, and power the European standard plugs, which are wider apart and often don't have a ground prong.  I'll get a picture to demonstrate.

    Top: US 2 prong. Mid: European 2 prong.  Low: US 3 prong.  Right: The one outlet to rule them all. 
    I just did a bit of homework.  Apparently in this country and several around it, the standard electrical outlets are the same as the ones in the US, meaning I needn't have packed my converter in the picture there.  Oops.  At least it made for a cool reference picture.

    (A couple days later) The rain looks to be continuing, and there's a tropical depression brewing.  Its projected path is away from here, though, so other than being poured on, there shouldn't be any ill effects for this place.  Hope Panama will be okay, though, it's right in the projected path.  : /

    I'm finding the birds (actually frogs) at night to be hard to get used to.  They're noisy little things, tree frogs rather than the ground variety I'm used to, and nearly impossible to locate.  It's kind of astonishing how loud they are, given the size, but I ought to know better.  The little fluffball sparrows near my apartment at home are at least as loud, and only slightly bigger.

    The sound of the rain helps.  It's kind of odd.  The soundproofing in the room is excellent on the balcony side, and terrible on the entryway side.  I can always hear the rain from the entryway, and almost never from the balcony.  I would almost thank the tropical depression, except that I can't kill my monitor tan if it's super cloudy and raining all the time.

    Chris and I did go for a walk along the beach while it was raining, though.  We just chose minimal clothes we didn't mind getting soaked, and went off.  We were going to swim, too, but the beach guards insisted we not.  The stated reason was because of the rain, but I presume it wasn't just that.  The guide in the hotel room has a system of flags denoting reasons like "jellyfish" and "riptides."  I didn't see a flag out there, but I didn't know to look for one at the time, either.

    I came here with the intent to learn some Spanish and visit some of the local culture, but looking around this place and speaking to the hotel staff, I get the feeling that's not really an option.  I get better responses to saying "thank you" than I do to saying "gracias."  I've literally said "gracias" and been flatly ignored.  It's a little disheartening.

    I recognize that for a place like this, the local culture is not really the point, that you're expected to just spend lots of money and be pampered.  But the English of many of these folks isn't great either, so I feel a little frustrated.

    Speaking of the culture of this place... it's a cross between beach culture, American drinker culture, and party culture.  I have never seen so much free alcohol in my life.  There are literally four big bottles of alcohol sitting in our room.  If I emptied them, room service would bring me more, free of charge.  The minifridge is stocked with beer and things you mix with booze.  (And bottled water, thankfully, because you don't drink the tap water here.)

    The result of mixing all those cultures is... odd.  There's little to no traces of local culture involved, beyond the special events (not even sure about those) and the main language of the staff.  It makes me feel rather out of place.

    I think, to be fair, I would probably feel out of place in most any culture in this country, including any actual native cultures.  Asperger Syndrome (autism) has been compared to permanent culture shock.  I believe there was an entire website called Wrong Planet Syndrome, which was a gathering point for people on the spectrum.  The idea being that people with autism were kind of like space aliens, in our reactions and understanding of culture and society.

    I certainly feel like a space alien here.  I barely drink, except with lots of company or at special occasions.  Chris isn't drinking because he doesn't really like it that much.  And we haven't gone out of our way to meet the other guests here at the hotel, which I'm guessing is what you're supposed to do, given my observations.

    Mostly, Chris and I have visited the various facilities, including at least half the restaurants by now, and checked out some of the live entertainment.  The former I'll probably write about in more depth later, but the latter I can summarize briefly: loud, group-oriented, and way too enthusiastic for me.

    They vary up the entertainment each day, with major events at 9:30pm every night.  Tonight's was billed as "Dominican Folklore," but turned out to be dancing.  With somewhat scantily clad ladies, because of course.  Tomorrow's is a Michael Jackson tribute/impersonator.  Another is a magic show.

    During the day there are also various smaller events, like a cooking lesson, beanbag toss, and card games.  These are accompanied by loud music, which has thus far kept me far away from them.  They're optional, all of it is, so I don't really feel like I'm hurting anyone's feelings by skittering by with my Pokemon GO out.

    I have gone out for a few walks, both with Chris and without.  The temperature has varied from 75 (just right) to 82 (uncomfortable), but with the sea breeze/winds from the tropical depression, it's generally been pleasant.  I've done a circuit of the outside of the hotel, as well as gone a good ways down the beach.  While I imagine it'd be even prettier in full sunlight, I've enjoyed the night air and gentler rains as well.

    Plans for the next few days involve going to check out two nearby museums.  Apparently they have a Dominican Republic Culture museum, as well as a Chocolate museum.  I'm a little dubious of the authenticity of either place, but I'll take whatever introduction to this country I can get.  Plus, hey, chocolate.  I fully expect there to be tourist traps- I mean, gift shops- at the end of both museums, so I can also try to get souvenirs.

    Hopefully in a couple more days the stormy weather will clear up, too.  I already managed to crisp my shoulders a bit, but the rest of me could use more sun.  I'm very pale for the lack of sun in life normally, and it'd amuse me to go through this winter with a nice, deep tan.  

    Friday, November 18, 2016

    The Honeymoon: Arrival in Punta Cana

    I actually have a buffer/pre-written entry for today's Friday post, but since so many interesting things have happened today, and there was such a huge reaction to my Instagram photos, that I decided to chronicle the adventure a bit.

    We ditched Grand Rapids bright and early this morning, relying on a friend of ours to drive our sleepy selves to the airport.  We were both kind of crabby; we'd been up late packing and tidying the place.  When Chris' brother went on his honeymoon, Chris sort've let himself into their home and tidied the place up so that when they arrived back home, it wasn't too huge of a mess.  Neither of Chris' brothers is nearby to return the favor, but I wanted to have something similar anyway.

    So on three hours of sleep and with a relatively tidy home, we boarded the plane before 7am and proceeded off to Chicago.  I'd sort of written this step of the journey off as "going to be miserable, deal with it" but as it turns out, we had been sent to Midway airport, not O'Hare.  Midway is still full of people, but much less insane.  To my amusement, Midway also had a number of Pokestops for the game Pokemon GO, so once we'd gotten food and settled down for our two hour layover, I went for a walk on the moving sidewalks.

    I kind of love moving sidewalks.  You can be delightfully lazy, standing still on them and still make a walking pace, or you can walk on them and make a jogging or even running pace, with a breeze blowing in your face.  As a decidedly lacking speedster in normal life, I enjoy having a 6+ MPH pace using only brisk walking.  I snagged a couple rarer Pokemon and a number of Pokestops before heading back to the terminal.

    Boarding both the airplanes (one to Chicago, one to the Dominican Republic) was Southwest Airline standard.  You confirm your ticket the day before, and are given a letter and a number based on when you checked in.  When it comes time to board, you arrange yourselves by letter first (A, B, or C) and then by number (1-60).  You are then boarded, A1 at the very first, going to A60, then B1 to B60, then C1 to C60.  Once on the airplane, you choose where you want to sit.  It's open seating, so if you were quick about confirming your ticket, you'll definitely have your choice about aisle, window, or middle seats.  I snagged a window seat for both flights.  I love seeing the world from high up.  Things look so different.  You can kind of see some of human ingenuity on a grander scale.

    When we landed in the Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) airport, I was in for a surprise.  Part of their airport is thatched.  I imagine it's probably thatched really well, and it's definitely thatched on a very grand scale, but yeah.  Actual, like, grass roofs.  The whole place wasn't like that, but a good chunk of it was.  Very different than US airports.

    The airport was also kind of a bureaucratic annoyance, at least at the start.  There were lines, long lines, everywhere.  You needed queue (get in line) to pay for a tourist card ($10), which was basically just a little receipt that said you'd paid your $10.  Then you had to hand that to someone and get in another line for customs.  We were directly after an Eastern European couple with a young daughter, who seemed to take great pleasure in trying to run over our feet with her scooter...  All this while it was at least 82F, highly humid, and I was wearing sweat pants for comfortable traveling in the US.

    Once customs were cleared, we headed for the baggage claim.  My ears were promptly assaulted by a live mariachi band (for lack of a more culturally appropriate description).  I normally don't mind the style of music, but this was earsplittingly loud.  I was not polite and didn't drop in some money.  We made our way to the baggage claim, where a local of some kind (airport staff?) promptly noted our lost and confused looks.  We retrieved our luggage, which he snagged from us.  He then proceeded to lead us to the taxi service, which would take us to the resort.  I'm... afraid he wasn't very polite about the lines, and as he had our luggage in tow, I didn't feel very good about trying to be polite and use the lines properly.

    Once he'd found us our ride (politely holding a sign with our names on it), we tipped him and started on the 45 minute ride to the resort.  The driver spoke only a smidgen of English, and of course we spoke basically no Spanish, so he mostly just pointed out landmarks on the way, while we amused ourselves by noting some basic differences in the landscape and traffic management.

    The pedestrian crossing signs are animated.  As the "you may walk" period comes closer to ending, the little walking person icon speeds up their strolling to a brisk trot.  Also, the traffic lights come with timers.  Actual, numerical timers.  I noted a green light timer that started at 16 seconds or longer.  Not all intersections were so equipped, but the ones that were definitely caught my attention.

    There was a little fanfare on our arrival, but not much.  A lot of people had arrived at about the same time, so our luggage was lumped in with theirs and we weren't allowed to take it to our rooms ourselves.  We were each given a glass of champagne.  Then while we were getting our room keys, the concierge-type person attempted to upsell us to a fancier package for an additional $900 or so, while explaining the regular things to us.  Since I have yet to meet anyone working here that speaks fluent English, I found the whole thing rather confusing.  But fortunately they also have little paper guides, so we were able to navigate a bit and find our room.

    There are a few pictures of the place on my Instagram, but suffice it to say the place is pretty big, comes with a jacuzzi-style bathtub, and was neatly decorated by two folded bathtowel swans, necks gracefully arched around a single rose, and adorned with rose petals.  We took pictures.

    Chris and I both being tired, we promptly flopped on the sofa for an hour or two before our stomachs demanded we find dinner.  There are something like twelve restaurants of various types included in our stay (ie: order whatever you want, it's covered), so we poked around a bit and opted for the pan-Asian food.  We then discovered how the restaurants avoid wasting lots of food.  In the US, big portions are the order of the day.  Appetizers can serve as entrees, entrees are so big you could get three meals out of them, etc.  Here, if you order an appetizer, it's quite literally a single kebab, or a small wonton with a small spring roll and some dipping sauce.  You can order as many as you like, but the portion sizes are small.

    Granted, the room has no fridge, so this was actually more of a relief than a letdown.  The entrees themselves are also small, but at least at this restaurant, the waiter will bring you more portions and offer you extra food if you clean your plate.  And I was taught to clean my plate, which is how I ended up eating 2.5 entrees...  Going to try not to make that mistake again...

    On the bright side, the food was pretty good.  I'm not adhering to my vegetarianism here, either.  The Dominican Republic has its own meat industry, and it's a lot smaller time than the United States'.  I don't feel I need to fight US factory farming by abstaining from meat here in the Dominican Republic.  We strolled a bit after dinner, out to the ocean, and I snagged a couple more Pokemon in Pokemon GO.  The resort has free (and open) wifi, and a number of Pokestops.  Since Pokemon GO is a comfortable thing and a lot of this resort isn't, I don't feel too terrible about playing.  Gotta have fun how you have fun, in addition to trying new ways to have fun, right?

    When we got back to the room, I proceeded to have a bath in the tub.  It's been a really long time, so it was enjoyable to flop in a tub more than large enough to stretch out in.  I set the temperature a little too high, though, so I needed a shower to de-oil myself after the bath and traveling.  That done, I have flopped in bed, and while the birds around here seem quite content to be noisy after dark, I hope to sleep well regardless.  

    Tuesday, November 15, 2016

    Legwork and Life, week of 11/15/16

    Just got back to the apartment after a long drive from CT.  Wedding successful!  One more party to throw/attend, then Chris and I will head off to our honeymoon.  I'll have pictures for you all later, but the photographer's pictures won't be in for a week or two yet.

    This last couple weeks was an exercise in stamina.  The last week or so, I couldn't sleep more than six hours, sometimes as few as four.  Between constantly folding origami and being away from my quiet apartment, my stress level was pretty high.  I compensated by taking a couple hours every night to settle down... which meant I was up until 2am sometimes.  Combine that with the sun's magical ability to wake me up at sunrise, and the result was very little sleep.

    I was pretty faithful in taking my supplements, though, which I have no doubt contributed to my relative level-headedness.  Also notable mention: LENS.  I have exactly zero doubts that if I hadn't been having that therapy for this long, I would have gotten very depressed from the backlash of being so anxious.  I wouldn't describe myself as mellow during this whole process, particularly, but there would have been many more frantic flailings otherwise.

    Seems like the wedding decorations turned out pretty well.  I'm really glad, because I spent a lot of anxiety and time folding them.  Really appreciate the people that helped out with the folding.  I was a silly derp and didn't work on arranging the flowers until a couple days before we left, which meant very last minute frantic arrangements.  Chris' mother had very definite ideas of how to do things, which was sometimes helpful.  We ended up with a mixture of my ideas and hers.  I didn't really favor the big sprays of flowers on the candleabras, but once they were wired in, they looked fine.  The aisle-runners and centerpieces were more my style.  Simple, minimal, and elegant.  I did kind of go all out with the bridal and bridesmaid bouquets, though.  Those were puffy, rather than minimalist.

    I've finally found a dress I don't hate.  My wedding dress was custom made for me by a friend, and so of course I was able to choose the design, color, etc.  And naturally the dress also has positive emotional attachments, since, y'know, wedding dress.  But it's also a very pragmatic dress, as dresses go.  It's not super-decorated or fanciful.  It doesn't restrict shoulder movement or leg movement.  I could go for a run wearing it, if I hiked up the lower bit slightly.  It covers my legs, making it warmer than most dresses I've had the misfortune to wear.  It's got an accessory that didn't get used at the wedding, also: a sort of mini-shirt.  So the next time I wear it, it won't look exactly the same as my wedding.

    The rehearsal dinner and reception went very well, and were surprisingly low-stress.  I don't generally thrive in party environments, but we had a pretty small wedding group (less than 50, including the sound tech, pastor, etc).  So there were really only a few people I wasn't super-familiar with. The rest were family and a few friends that lived close by or were able to travel the 800+ miles to the wedding site.  I think it probably helped that part of the point of those parties is to introduce the two families to each other, and there are several members of both families that were quite interested in facilitating that.

    I'm really grateful to my friends and family, though.  They were pretty okay with the small wedding, and made serious efforts to make my and Chris' lives easier in amidst the chaos.  Everything from lending me an outfit for the rehearsal dinner (I was not interested in wearing a dress twice in a week!) to frantically running back home for a video camera when it became clear that our first plan to record the wedding wasn't going to work.  If I started naming names on this blog for every person that helped, I might be here awhile... but please know from spare pairs of hands, to creative minds, to open lodgings for guests, to financial support, I appreciate all of you.  : )

    Friday, November 11, 2016

    Origami Flowers

    My wedding is in just a few days.  Preparations are still underway, but I wanted to comment on one of the many eccentricities of this particular wedding.  I will have no live flowers as decorations for any part of the wedding.  This is partly for humanitarian reasons, but perhaps most clearly to me right now, it's because of who I am.

    I am autistic.  I do not, and never will, fit well into society.  This isn't my fault.  I was born this way, and I've done my best to make things easier for everyone around me.  But it is a thing, and one I'm keenly aware of most days.  I feel, sometimes, that because of that, I am less of a person.  An alien, or subhuman.

    The HBO movie Temple Grandin, based on the esteemed Dr. Grandin's childhood, posits that people like me are "different, not less."  That revelation, and my diagnosis itself, were painful realizations in my life, and ones I have struggled long and hard to make beliefs, rather than simply ideas.  Just because I am different does not mean I should automatically be less than human.  But it's really hard to believe that when you have to struggle so hard just to seem acceptable to those around you.

    So it's in the name of this blog, Realistic Autistic.  I feel not quite real, not quite human.  Lifelike, realistic, but not quite true to life, not quite real.  It's also in these flowers.

    I could have, I suppose, opted for fake flowers: plastic or silk recreations of the intricate blooms and plants that we so treasure.  But this wedding seems, at least to me, a way to show people who I am and what I've become.  Plastic and silk are too close to real flowers.  They can be mistaken for real flowers, if the observer isn't astute or isn't paying attention.

    Origami flowers cannot be so mistaken.  Particularly these, made of foil and paper, the stems of twisted wire and floral tape.  They have their own style, grace, and delicacy.  And they are shaped, at least somewhat, like the true flowers.  Each of these origami flowers are painstakingly folded, taking time, precision, and effort.  Each flower did not simply grow, given the right conditions.  It had to be shaped, attention paid at every step, for the final result to be like a flower.

    For at least one day, I'd like people to appreciate these origami flowers for what they are: very different than what they're patterned after, but possessing their own beauty.

    Am I not, after all, still a worthwhile person?  Will I not be beautiful, too?