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  That said, for all that the book's understanding is outdated, it's not particularly inaccurate.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.