Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Review: Life and Love

Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults, by Zosia Zaks, is a must-read book of thoughtful tips, tricks, and explanations for managing adult life on the autism spectrum.  Subjects include: dealing with sensory issues, managing a living space (including priorities), a discussion of living on your own (including living by yourself or with roommates), how to go shopping with minimum discomfort, various transportation options, managing your physical and mental health, and a short section on job tips.  There are also sections for dating, how to make friends (and two types of friends), being safe out in the world, and how/when/why to disclose your diagnosis.

Overall I found this book an excellent read.   The author puts a lot of murky concepts into clear words, with numbered priorities for important concepts.  She also provides helpful examples and visual charts, such as a weekly chore calendar and a monthly chore calendar.  Though I could ask for blank ones to be included at the end of the book, or perhaps a link to a Google Drive document for easy use and printability. 

I found it somewhat telling, I suppose, that the book's spine was broken at the dating section.  Almost all of the books I review for this blog are borrowed from my state's library system, and while mostly the wear on a book is incidental, I suspect it's not in this case.  Loneliness is a huge problem for autistic people, and the author talks about this, as well as society's preached cure: finding a significant other and following the society-prescribed dating-> marriage -> house -> kids pattern.  This pattern doesn't even fit all neurotypical people, why would it be the best solution for us?  The author has other solutions to the problem of loneliness, which include volunteer work (also handy for finding a job), clubs, classes, and good self-care.

I was actually surprised to find this book did have a few things to teach me.  Mostly, I feel like these books tend to cover the most basic of basics and rarely go further.  Ms. Zaks' forthright style of writing and explaining life clarified a few things for me.  I didn't, for instance, really consider self-care a loneliness-fighting solution, but she's right, it is.  It doesn't solve the problem, but it's harder to be miserable about being lonely when you're enjoying yourself.

I also hope to adapt the Frustration Color Scale (Red= Emergency, down to Green = Neutral), for use at home with my spouse and for my personal understanding, as well as her Emotion Rating Scale (1-10, with 1 being things like dropping a box of paper clips, and 10 being something like a tornado leveling your home).  I feel like these tools could be very useful for communicating with my spouse regarding my emotional state, and probably useful for my own understanding also.  I don't really have a good way of judging my internal state, so having these scales defined on the wall or something would likely be very helpful, and it would also mean my spouse could potentially just look somewhere in the house to find out how I'm doing.

All that said, this isn't a perfect book.  I was initially excited to find out this book was written by an autistic lesbian, and hoped she might offer some thoughts regarding being different on that spectrum also, but the section on that subject was less than a page long.  While she had good things to say, I do wish she'd expanded on that section a bit.  The statistics are showing that autistic people tend to display a wider variety of sexual orientations and gender identities than the general populace (probably because we aren't as swayed by cultural ideals, so we simply are who we are).  So this would seem to me to be a rather important subject, worth its own chapter.  Perhaps the publisher disagreed, or the author wasn't aware of how widespread this seems to be.

The dating section is also pretty much just written for an autistic man hoping to date a non-autistic woman.  While that is the most common scenario, and the author says "but you can adapt these tips to any situation," I felt kind of uncomfortable about the assumption, given the author's own sexual orientation.  The misunderstandings the author talks about could indeed come up in any kind of relationship involving an autistic person, but I guess I'd've been happier if female-female examples were used, or if NT male-autistic female examples were used.  I presume, given basic psychology, that I'm most annoyed about the lack of the latter, since it describes my situation.

I also noted a distinct lack of anything beyond safety tips when it comes to discussing sex.  Considering the author apparently suffers a good number of sensory issues, it surprised me that there wasn't a discussion of the problems that can cause in physical intimacy.  I suppose there's still this book for a catch-all resource regarding that, but I'd have been happier if a book that discusses love and autism also covered this rather central expression of love.

Those lacks aside, I was pleased to find a thorough discussion about the differences between autistic people raised female and those raised male.  The author has some excellent things to say on the subject, which I almost entirely agree with and haven't seen anywhere else in print.

I've been tough on this book because it's gotten so much right.  It has an excellent discussion of the senses and how sensory issues can crop up, along with what to do about them.  Its priorities for home management are spot on, and the example solutions should be customizeable and work well for most people.  The transportation, shopping, and health care sections are thoughtful and cover most issues I can think of, at least in the basics.  The job section is short for such an important subject, but has excellent advice.  And in truth, there are whole books dedicated to exactly that subject, so if this one doesn't entirely manage it, there's other stuff out there.

The philosophy on relationships, friendships, and safety all seemed excellent to me, and the disclosure section was sufficiently nuanced that I felt it covered most scenarios, if not all of them.  Overall, I think this book more or less lives up to its title, which is a rare and impressive feat in my experience.

Read This Book If

You're autistic, and want a guide to the things on the cover.  Or you'd like an autistic's eye view into adult life.  This is an excellent book; well-written, clear, and thoughtful.  If any Book Clubs or Book Study groups are looking for a good book to select next on self-help skills and living life on the autism spectrum, this is your book.  It is also excellent for personal reading, and a valuable asset to any library.  In my new house, I will likely have more bookshelves, and I will devote a shelf to stellar books I've found for this blog.  This book will be on that shelf. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 3/14/18

<movers came- super late, but at least polite and careful>

Yesterday marks the final day of moving.  The movers came on Monday as promised, albeit like... an hour and a half late.  I'd recognized on the phone that they had an accent, but figured I was talking to a Hispanic guy or something... turns out these folks were actually of African descent, and possibly immigrated within the generation, at that.

I can't decide if I'm being racist when I immediately calmed down and assumed they were using "African time."  See, at my church, there's a basic English service that caters to immigrants and refugees.  While the main service starts within minutes of the scheduled start time, this basic English service starts 15-30 minutes after the scheduled start time, because some people are late and everyone likes to be friendly and concerned about each other.

This is actually indicative of a larger cultural phenomenon.  US culture, and especially the Dutch heritage culture around here, is very persnickety about being on time and not wasting others' time.  But elsewhere in the world, people don't live and die by the clock.  Life happens, you get there when you get there, and nobody takes things too seriously.  It's a bit overspecific to call it "African time" but that's what they called it, so that's what I learned it as.

In truth, though, I didn't inquire into the movers' heritage (nor was it my business, really).  I think the textbook answer to the question of "am I being racist?" is "if you're worried about it, it's probably fine."  But I'd feel better if someone who had a better understanding of the issues would tell me one way or the other.  Anyway, the movers did a fine job once they actually made it to us, and appreciated our helpfulness as we opened doors and had already emptied out the furniture they moved.  Apparently not everyone takes their stuff out of furniture they're having moved?  That flabbergasted me.  Furniture is heavy enough without keeping your stuff in it...

When all was said and done, our furniture arrived with no apparent damage, the head guy gave us a hefty discount by way of apology for being so late (which took our moving costs for that under $200- nice!), and now all that's left to do is clean the apartment up and turn in our keys.

I'm not looking forward to the cleaning, but what can you do...  well, besides forfeit hundreds of dollars for spite, I guess.  I already did the lung-killing section of the work, which was to clean out the oven.  Last time we moved, I'd bought a can of cancer-causing death chemicals for use in removing all the grease from the oven, and we still had that, so I used it again on this oven.  (The can doesn't say it causes cancer, but really, something that lifts baked on grease that easily?  You just know it's going to turn up 20 years from now as a hazard.)  I don't think I cared enough to make this oven as clean as the last one, but it's quite clean, and suitable for use by new residents now. 

In other news, I'm going back to my college for a few hours this week to help some students with a study on autistic people and humor.  I have a bachelor's degree in psychology, which makes me wonder A) if I'm going to mess up their study by knowing too much about what they're doing, and B) what they're actually studying, because a hallmark of psychology studies is that they're not necessarily studying what they say they're studying.

There's reasons for that, they're not just lying through their teeth because it's fun.  The problem with testing sentient creatures that can second-guess themselves (which is to say, humans) is that they will do exactly that, rather than simply reacting like most creatures.  There's also the problem of people trying to guess what the researchers want to see, and then acting accordingly (or oppositely) rather than how they'd normally act... which again, if you're serious about doing science, is a problem. 

The ruling body of psychology, the APA, thusly allows researchers to lie to their research participants/subjects... but only as long as necessary for the study to be finished.  As soon as that's done, they're required to explain what was really being tested and why.  There're some really interesting (and sometimes flatly horrifying) studies that have been done over the years, prior to modern standards of ethics for psychology, but that's probably a post for another day...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Reading the Research: Smartphone Addiction or Social Addiction?

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article calls into question the current thinking about why people are so attached to their smartphones.  The stereotype is that it's "those darned kids," but in all honesty, I've seen plenty of older folks, including my dad, tote their own smartphones everywhere and get distracted by them on a regular basis.  This isn't a generational thing, it's a human thing.  Younger people are just more likely to have learned the ins and outs of their phones, and thus are able to maximize their usefulness. 

This attachment and frequent use of smartphones is considered antisocial, because people sometimes pick up their phones for seemingly trivial reasons, mid-conversation (in person), mid-dinner at a restaurant, or even mid-work.  Most research has underlined that assumption: using your phone is antisocial.  Therefore with the rise of cell phones, humankind is becoming less social. 

This article challenges that assumption with a simple observation: the most addictive smartphone apps and functions allow you to connect with other people.  Think about that.  Does it sound anti-social to you? 

These researchers didn't think so.  Rather, they suggest that smartphone addiction is, instead, a hyper-social response.  Humanity is wired to be social, even those of us with social difficulties.  While sufficient trauma or even sufficient disability can counter that wiring, most people do have what psychology calls the Connectedness Motive.  Or in non jargon-y terms: the drive to connect with and be connected to other people.  That's why small talk is a thing: the weather isn't really that interesting of a subject (to most people), but by talking to a stranger about a thing you both have in common, you feel connected to that person. 

Autistic people tend to favor a second motive, called the Mastery Motive, over the Connectedness Motive.  The Mastery Motive, roughly, is the desire to improve and become competent at a subject.  Special Interests/Hobbies are a way of expressing this motive, and it's something we do pretty well, overall.  But even if an autistic person doesn't have a Special Interest/Hobby tendency, like myself, the motive still applies.  I value the truth, accuracy, and precision highly.  I tend to get my facts straight before posting something on social media.  If I don't know the answer to something, I tend to look it up, or refer to someone I believe is more knowledgeable on the subject. 

But all that said, before Facebook kicked me out, I did still catch myself refreshing my Facebook feed over and over in hopes that something would happen.  It's been assumed in the past that autistic people weren't social, or didn't have the Connectedness Motive at all.  I can safely say that is not the case.  And I would also extend this article's range of effect beyond smartphones, to computers as well.

A common complaint of parents with autistic kids is that they spend all their time at the computer, being antisocial and just playing computer games.  While that absolutely can be a problem (sitting at the computer rarely gets you exercise), I'd urge those parents to take a closer look at the computer games their kids play, and the activities surrounding those games.  Is the computer game a multiplayer game, so the kid is playing with other people?  Is it an MMO, where all the players of that game play together in the same world and bump elbows regularly?  Are there guilds/clans/some other type of "social group" feature?  Then maybe your kid isn't being antisocial, maybe they've just developed friends in safer, kinder environment than school or work. 

Even if the game isn't multiplayer, or doesn't have social features, there are still fan sites and fan communities your child might be a part of, with everyone discussing the game, making art, or even inventing new content for that game.  Just because this kind of social interaction doesn't look like anything familiar to you, doesn't make it not social interaction. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

House-hunting While Autistic, Part 4: Moving and Making a Home

This is the fourth in a series about my experience of finding a house.  (Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here)  As I'm autistic, the process proved to be a bit more challenging than it would be for most people.  In part 1, I covered why we decided to buy a house and what things we opted to look for, given my disabilities and challenges.  Part 2 describes the actual search process, which proved to be both draining and frustrating.  Part 3 talks about the aftermath of putting an offer down on a home.  This week I'll talk about the actual moving process.


Moving is one of the most trying experiences I've had the misfortune of having.  It's hard on a person who thrives with habits and familiar things, when all that is taken away.  Yes, the final result is probably worth the effort, but that doesn't make the experience less upsetting while you're in it.  At the time of this writing, moving is still in process, and probably will be for a couple weeks yet, but the bulk of it is done.

Moving is not just the process of taking all your stuff from Point A to Point B.  If it was just that, it would be draining and frustrating.  However, Point A and Point B are usually not identical floor plans.  That means your comfy chair is going to go somewhere not quite as adjacent to your computer, or the extra-sunny window.  And your desk, which formerly had a view out the window at the old place, may now be sequestered in a back corner so that other furniture will fit.

Your essentials, like your toothbrush, shampoo, and basic kitchen supplies, will end up in boxes, and your new bathroom and kitchen won't have exactly the right drawers and cubbies to put things back the right way.  Your bedside table, power strip, and lamp may not be exactly where they were.

For someone who is comforted by the familiar, moving can be roughly described as "hellish."  All your familiar gets thrown into boxes and then dumped out into the new place, and you have to slowly pick up the pieces and establish new familiars.

Chris had suggested, in order to not make the whole ordeal both painful and overwhelming, that we each take a blue plastic tote full of things to the new place, once a day, for a minimum.  This was a pretty good idea, as it made things more bite-sized rather than "well, this entire kitchen needs to go... right now..."

Two of these have gone from the old apartment to the new condo every day since Saturday the 17th of February. 
In most cases, I took more things than just what would fit in that blue plastic tub, but having the minimum settled made it more okay for me to just throw up my hands and say "screw it, this is good enough."  And it also made me feel better about myself when I grabbed just a few extra things.  So that was a very positive strategy.

A normal carload for most days: a tote full of stuff, plus 1-2 extra things. 
I do have to stress that it's an unusual one, though.  Our apartment complex insisted on 60 days' notice before we could move out.  (The state minimum is 30, and mostly that's standard.)  So we ended up paying a lot more rent than would be normal, and having the apartment for a lot longer than would be normal.  In most moves I've been a part of, you needed to get your stuff out of there in a hurry.  So you got a ton of boxes and hired movers and packed what you could before they arrived, and then they took all your stuff and dumped it in the new place, and you spent the next year unpacking it all.

We were able to do the moving process over a longer period of time because of the apartment complex's greediness.  So I guess that's not all bad.  Moving the stuff ourselves makes it a bit more manageable in some ways.  Then, too, the place is large enough to literally just dump those blue plastic totes out in a corner or something, and then go back the next day without putting everything away.  Which we have done, and quite a bit.  It'll be a mess to sort it all, but I'll also get a chance to prune some of the stuff I've accumulated.

In addition to the piles of stuff, we also went looking for furniture with which to populate our new home with...  Starting with this thing, which I have dubbed The Monster. 

This is an 8 foot by 4 foot conference table.  It was extremely inexpensive, and you can probably see why. 
This is my spouse sitting at The Monster.  He wanted a conference table to serve us both as a computer desk.  
I was dubious... but it actually does work pretty well.  Our computers are diagonal from each other. 
The Monster isn't the only piece of furniture we welcomed into our home.  At my urging, we put together a list of furniture we wanted, and then Chris hunted down a list of secondhand stores for hopefully acquiring those things. 

Nameless corner entertainment center-thingie, found at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  The TV barely fits in there, but it does!
Not just a recliner.  A blue recliner!  Chris settled into this at a furniture store and promptly decided he needed a nap.  I laid claim to it after that, and it's now mine.  : 3
But that's okay, because this thing, Couchlet, is his.  Minus the change someone left there, anyway.  It's very comfortable, and we paid a good bit of money for it despite its mud-brown hue. 
Together, they form the Relaxation Station.  Both sides have windows to look out of, too. 
This isn't a new piece of furniture, it's an old one that's been somewhat repurposed to sit in the Relaxation Station.  Tea and hot cocoa for everyone!  And other essentials below, such as crafting materials, my supplements, and some scented candles. 
The exercise bike made it as well, and gets dragged around the basement as the whim takes me.  Mostly it sits by the window, but I tend to use it next to the computer. 
Chris bashed his head on this light one too many times... so in lieu of a carabiner, this was what we had to raise it higher. 
We've mostly adhered to the 1 tote a day per person rule, but sadly one day had to be an exception... we needed to take the bed, most of the bathroom stuff, the kitchen stuff, and our computers all on the same day so that we could start living in the new place.  It ended up taking most of the day to do it, and even then, we didn't actually manage all the parts of the kitchen we'd wanted to.  I was kind of a wreck by the end of the day, too, which did not help matters in the slightest.

In addition to the actual packing and the furniture shopping, we've made trips to various department stores and grocery stores in search of home-making supplies.  Roll-y mats for under our computer chairs (so the chairs don't wreck the carpet), floor mats for the various entrances, bathroom cleaning supplies, soaps for each bathroom, more trash cans for the various rooms in the house, etc.  It's not something I gave a lot of thought to when we finally closed on the house, but it became more obvious once we started using those areas.

This coming Monday, the last of the furniture is going to make its way here by way of a local moving company, which should settle basically everything.  There isn't much left, thankfully, so this won't be too expensive... but it is unfortunately mandatory because our chest freezer is far too heavy to move by ourselves.  When we bought it and had it shipped, it took two burly men strapped into harnesses to bring the ridiculous thing up the stairs.  Short of heaving it over the side of the deck, I don't think we're getting it back down again without help.  So the freezer, the dining room table, the guest bed, and my poor man's bookshelves will be taken by the movers.  We'll also toss a couple pieces of furniture (my old ratty computer desk and a viciously heavy and mostly broken entertainment center) rather than bringing them.  No sense bringing things we don't want to our new home.

All in all, the sheer amount of time and energy poured into this endeavor has cost me a lot of sanity and energy, and the moving in process will continue long after next week is over with.  The 16th of this month is when we have to be out, officially.  But we'll be re-arranging and organizing, and I'll be pruning my stuff for months, probably.  

It'll be worth it.  I just need to manage to keep putting one foot in front of the other 'til this is over...

In the meantime, the view out the back windows is nice.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 3/7/18

The moving continues!  We're about at the point where we need to arrange for actual movers, though.  There's piles of stuff everywhere in the house, with no homes just yet, and the amount of stuff in the apartment is well diminished... except for the heavy furniture.  There's no way we're getting the chest freezer by ourselves.  It's like 4-5 feet long, at least 4 feet deep, and 3 feet wide, minimum.  The rest of the furniture would mostly be doable, but if we're already hiring movers for the chest freezer, might as well make them move the rest of it, too. 

Yesterday Chris and I both opted to snag some of the more fragile things we own.  Various glass pieces, some of the wedding decorations, our framed pictures, and various bits of art.  I expect we'll probably be done moving everything but little bits and pieces by this time next week... which I'm looking forward to, because I'm really tired of the abuse that road heaps on my car.  Awesomely, though, yesterday was the first snowfall ever that I didn't have to worry about clearing off my car.  I had a car in college, but there was no parking structure.  And natch I've had a car since, but it's all been parking lots.  Since we now have a garage, I simply parked my car inside the garage.  The snow fell, but not onto my car.  I have like three ice scrapers and two snowbrushes and I'm enjoying the fact that I'll only need them occasionally now. 

Today marks the first week we've lived in the new place.  I'm finding the neighborhood much quieter, though a couple days ago my doorbell did ring, and an elderly lady presented me with chocolate chip cookies and a welcome to the area.  I was somewhat startled; I'd kind of thought that sort of hospitality was dead.  But apparently not.  I'm hoping to make a batch of chocolate chip breakfast bites (highly nutritious grain and nut balls) and go visit her at some point.  With so much else to worry about, though, it might have to wait 'til the weekend. 

The soundproofing in the new home seems nice as well.  I can't hear the garage door very well from the basement, nor from the bedroom.  We technically have a shared wall, but it isn't a very big shared wall, and if I didn't know better, I'd assume our neighbor was dead.  A great improvement from being able to hear the whine of someone else's shower, plus the noise of the heater, plus the booming bass of some thoughtless git's stereo outside.  Plus whatever assorted people happen to be out there "talking." 

The noisiest things in this neighborhood appear to be the geese.  And sometimes the ducks.  But even they're much further away, and as a result, much easier to ignore.  The most disruptive thing thus far to my sanity is the light in the bedroom.  In the apartment bedroom, we have almost all light blocked out with the use of blackout material.  It's crude at best: we more or less stapled a sheet of blackout fabric over each window.  We'd prefer to be a little classier in this new place, so whenever I work up the nerve (probably right after this, since I'm shaming myself about it publicly), I'm going to message a more sewing-inclined friend of mine and see if we can pay her to make some proper curtains with blackout fabric. 

The house is basically still piles of stuff everywhere.  But we've been making some improvements despite that.  There are now trash cans in most rooms, and soap, extra toilet paper, and cleaning supplies have made it to all three bathrooms.  We still haven't located a decent couch for downstairs, but by the look of it, that might take a good while.  In the meantime, we're still hoping to find shelves... but apparently shelves are about the one furniture type you can't find secondhand.  Everyone always needs shelves. 

We'll either have to buy new ones, or Chris has said he might be able to make some from boards and such.  It would be pretty cool to have handmade shelves, but my skill with woodworking was limited to like three projects in shop class.  It sounds like I should be grateful I was able to have shop class at all, between the past mentality (females weren't supposed to learn "manly" trades like woodworking!) and the current mentality (cut EVERYTHING out of school except academics/sports!). 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Reading the Research: Anxiety as a Memory Aid

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article covers something I noticed when my anxiety levels started tapering off: that anxiety can be beneficial to remembering things.  The study covers a relatively small group (less than 100 people), but the results were marked.  People with higher anxiety tended to remember details better, possibly because they had additional emotional contexts assigned to it. 

The article here does put in an important cautionary, which is that if anxiety levels get too high, this  benefit goes away.  Very high anxiety levels just destroy your concentration and keep you distracted by worries and fears.  In my personal experience, too high of anxiety made my mind foggy, and thinking was like slogging through molasses.  Even now, with my magnesium and my exercise and the other anti-anxiety things in my life, I still sometimes have days, or hours, like that.  There are also days where it feels like a swarm of rats is eating me alive, one nibble at a time. 

In the past, it was worse.  I lived with a lot more anxiety, to the point where it was commonplace and although it tormented me, I hardly gave it much thought.  I was anxious all the time, and I was used to being anxious all the time.  In school, that showed up as aversive behavior, and it still does sometimes.  Instead of studying for tests long in advance, I'd procrastinate by doing projects for the class.  To procrastinate on those projects, I'd do the coursework/homework.  In the end, my test results probably weren't as good as they could have been, but I got every piece of homework completed, and every project finished. 

I was almost never late for doctor's appointments or scheduled meetings because I worried so much about missing them, I'd keep checking my calendar and the clock.  I'd leave 10-15 minutes earlier than I really needed to, just so I could be sure I'd be there on time.  When I got there early, that was my cue that I could relax, because anything that went wrong after that was someone else's fault.  I still adhere to that thought pattern to this day, even if I don't leave quite as early these days. 

My anxiety made me more organized.  Because I hated not being able to find things, I paid more attention to where I'd put them in the first place, and designated homes for important objects (like car keys, text books, notebooks, and homework).  I have never been, and never will be a paragon of perfect organization, but the important things, I kept track of. 

Since getting treatment for that anxiety, I've noticed I forget things more often.  My memory for details is fuzzier.  I'm late more often to appointments.  What used to be a near-photographic memory is now much more ordinary.  In some ways, this saddens me.  But in other ways, it's an improvement.  The sharp detail of memory helped me avoid misplacing things, but it was more commonly used to create Boomerang Memories, which torment me to this day, albeit less often than they used to. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Worth Your Read: Parents: Let's Talk About Grief and Disability

As I get more tied into the disability and autism community, I occasionally run into articles that I don't have a lot to say on, but I do think are very worth your time. 

This particular article is from an autistic parent to all parents of children with disabilities, on the subject of finding out your kid is disabled.  As I'm not a parent, I don't have a whole lot to add to this discussion beyond what the author espouses here... but I'd like to underline what he says about finding out you're "broken." 

I learned, over time, that I was different than other children.  Unlike the author, my parents weren't given this song and dance of grief to do.  They simply... dealt with me.  Not ideally at times.  But they were forward-thinking enough to just let me be me. 

And still, I learned that I was broken, that something was wrong with me.  But it wasn't nearly to the magnitude that this author talks about.  Knowing your own parents wish you were someone else?  Knowing they wanted to fix you rather than love you?  The mere thought staggers and hurts me. 

So please, give this excellent article a read.  And let's try to do better by all of us. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

House-Hunting While Autistic, Part 3: Complications After the Offer

This is the third in a series about my experience of finding a house.  (Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here)  As I'm autistic, the process proved to be a bit more challenging than it would be for most people.  In part 1, I covered why we decided to buy a house and what things we opted to look for, given my disabilities and challenges.  Last week in part 2, I described the actual search process, which proved to be both draining and frustrating.  This week, I'll explain what happened after we put an offer down on a home.


So there was a bunch of annoying paperwork that went with putting the offer in, but thankfully that can all be done online these days, somehow, and all I really had to do was read a bunch of legalese in .pdf format, then sign at the appropriate places.  Reading it was optional, even, but it's never a good idea to sign something without reading it...

After we put in the offer, there was the painful waiting period while the other offers went in, were checked over, and a decision was made on which offer to take.  Fortunately, our offer was accepted.  Had it not been, we would have been back to square one, basically.

Thus far, the process had been exhausting, but relatively straightforward.  Now began the back and forth between waiting and flailing frantically.  Communication came in bursts, with much waiting between each burst, and much activity directly afterwards.

Complications With the Seller

There was the inspection first.  We hired an inspector to do a general inspection, which came back with a few oddities, but no major problems.  The sump pump was broken.  The garage door will happily crush small children or pets to death.  And there were some strange chewmarks on the deck.  But that was it.  No water damage, all the appliances in working order, etc.

The broken sump pump was of sufficient worry to me to request it be replaced before we moved in, so there was a disagreement with the seller about that...   After much back and forth (like, a week's worth of back and forth), and after he found out the sump pump was the owner's responsibility, he finally paid for a new one.  (All of $150, and him receiving literal thousands of dollars on the sale of this home.  Ugh.)

Unfortunately, that wasn't all.  I'm sensitive to mold, so I had to hire a second inspector to do a proper mold test.  No sense moving into a place and then finding out I couldn't live in half of it.  To my horror, the mold test did come back with toxic black mold spores, which was almost enough for us to call it quits on the entire place.  But there hadn't been water damage, so we suspected perhaps the sump pump was the problem.  But then we had to bargain with the seller for who was paying for any mold remediation costs... which was a mess.  I think it took another week or so before we were able to get the seller to agree on splitting the cost.  In the meantime, he threatened to back out of the sale, which was extremely frustrating and nerve-wracking to me, given how much time we'd spent on this place.

The mold cleanup ended up being little more than replacing the sump pump and cleaning the carpets, and the second test came back without any toxic black mold spores, so thankfully I think we dodged most of that bullet.  I'm breathing the basement air at present and don't feel hideous or particularly out of sorts, but I guess we'll see how the weeks progress. 

Prior to those messes, the seller had originally offered us all the furniture save a few pieces in the home.  Since it was nice stuff, well matched and coordinated, we were excited and wanted to take him up on it.  We offered a reasonable price, specifying particular pieces we really liked.  Then there was nothing for half a week.  We then heard back that he was going to keep most of what we'd liked, but did we want anything that wasn't already spoken for in the downstairs?  We did, and offered an appropriate price for those pieces... only to hear back a couple days later that, "just kidding, I'm taking everything but these pieces you didn't want, which you can have for a ridiculous price."  I was pretty annoyed with the seller after that.

The final headache with the seller came after the bank had appraised the home, and they decided the place was worth about $4k less than we'd offered for it.  For some reason, they wouldn't redo the appraisal, and so we were stuck figuring out what to do about that last $4k.  The options were: pay the $4k up front, negotiate with the seller to lower the purchase price by $4k, or negotiate some kind of compromise. We really didn't want to just pony up $4k unless we absolutely had to, as our bank account tends to be below $10k at all times... so we attempted to negotiate.  Thankfully, this was near the end of the process, and the seller was willing to split the cost.  He dropped the purchase price $2k, and we ponied up the remaining $2k. 

The Trainwreck Mortgage Loan Officer

And that was just the issues with the seller.  The mortgage loan officer was an entirely different mess, of the type I'd more call a trainwreck than an anxiety-provoking annoyance.

The wreck actually started after we put in our application for "preapproval."  We heard from him briefly, saying he was going to try to finish our application before the end of the week... and then utter silence for basically the whole of the next week, until we emailed... at which point we found out he was on vacation and hadn't bothered to tell anyone.  Including the realtor who had recommended him to us.

When he got back from his unannounced vacation, we tried to contact him again, and succeeded... only to find out that he'd somehow lost vital parts of our application... such as how much our income was.  Then he couldn't seem to keep straight the documents we needed for the various parts of the process.  So things like taxes, driver's licenses, etc.  He kept asking for a document that didn't exist, and he should have known didn't exist if he'd read the documents we'd already sent him.

To top all of that, he completely messed up our insurance paperwork by informing us that we didn't need any additional homeowners insurance on top of the insurance that comes with the condominium.  So we thought we were fine, since he made it sound like he'd looked into this carefully... only to find out that no, that didn't count, and we therefore might lose the bid on the house if the bank didn't let us submit proof of insurance late.

And to finish off this shortened version of the angry email I sent to the bank, he was all but impossible to get a hold of.  We had his email address, his office phone number, a secure email line via the bank's website, and even his cell phone... and the jerk wouldn't respond to any of those, unless you chain-called him every five minutes until he picked up.

So, for any people looking to buy a house, and who would like to avoid this trainwreck, please make sure you avoid one Stephen Kik, of Lake Michigan Credit Union.  I can't speak for the rest of LMCU's staff, beyond that this was by far the absolute worst service I've had from any employee there.  But yeah, avoid like the plague.

Normally, if you have so many problems with a mortgage loan officer, you can switch to another one with limited issues.  Unfortunately, when we tried to do that, the person who would authorize and oversee that transition was on vacation.  Because apparently everyone takes vacations in January.  So we had to stick with the uncommunicative, avoidant, absent-minded dunce for the entire thing, and it annoys me to this day that he probably made money from the whole debacle.

But In The End...

After dealing with those two sanity-shredding facets of the process, we did manage to get bank approval for our offer, a closing date set, and all our funds straightened out.  My grandmother kindly gifted us with some of the money needed for the 20% down payment, and my parents loaned us the rest.  These days, you don't strictly have to do a 20% down payment, but if you don't, they make you have an escrow account and you lose access to your money.  It's basically an extra tax on the poor.  We were thankfully able to opt out of that mess.

We scheduled a walkthrough to make sure the place was still as we expected it to be, and to check on the new sump pump.  Everything was in order, and in fact, the seller was there and even gave us a set of keys.  He wasn't even entirely moved out yet, so that was nice of him.  He also showed us how to use the gas fireplace and gave us the day for trash pickup and such.  

The closing itself was both annoying and anti-climactic.  We had to drive about an hour to the western shore of the state to sign something like 150 pages of paperwork.  The only bright point to it was that our realtor also came with, and she got us a nice blue teapot, some mugs, and some tea.  Since I don't actually have a decorative teapot, this was kind of nice.  We took her out to lunch afterwards.

All that remained was waiting for the seller to get done with moving out.  Then we could start moving in.  Next week's entry will cover furniture hunting and the actual process of moving in.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 2/28/18

Movingmovingmovingmovingmoving...  I'm really starting to hate that blue plastic tub.  Three trips with it full of books was hard enough, but it turns out a lot of things are heavy when you pile them into a tub that size.  Still, the one tub a day plan seems to be working okay.  The old apartment isn't even close to empty yet, but it's definitely looking sparser. 

Reorganizing everything is going to be interesting, but I'm figuring on using a method described in one of my books recently to help sort it all out.  Basically: put related things into piles, then subdivide the piles until you have manageable piles, and then do 1-2 piles a day or however many you can manage.  I can probably do a whole room at a time, once we figure out what goes in which room.

On Saturday, Chris and I went furniture shopping.  He lined up a bunch of secondhand stores, and off we went.  Our shopping list included side tables, bookshelves, a coffee table, comfy couches, recliners, a large screen TV, and a conference table.  Yeah, a conference table.  Why?  Well...  Chris wants to have our computers together on the same table, but still have lots of room to spread out into...  So his solution was a 7-8 foot conference table, at least 4 feet wide.  We'll sit on different sides, so we don't bash elbows. Slightly absurd, but.  We found one, and cheaply.

I should have pictures for you, but I don't right now.  In a couple weeks I'll be describing the moving-in process for Friday's entry, so I'll try to have pictures for that.  In addition to the table, we also swiped a corner cabinet-thing, which I assume must've been an entertainment center at one time.  One of our TVs does actually fit into the silly thing, so there's that.  We also found a nice coffee table and a nice blue reclining chair that is both comfy and nice-looking.  I laid claim to it, though we did technically buy it together so Chris gets to sit in it too.  Sometimes.

So we ended up hauling all those things back to our new house.  I dubbed the conference table "the monster" because it was so obnoxiously heavy and bulky, but we did get it into the house  The recliner went upstairs, everything else went downstairs.  The house is still going to be very sparse for furniture, not like it was when the previous owner lived there, but at least it won't be tons of empty space as far as the eye can see. 

On Monday we went back to the place we found the blue recliner, as there was a... couchlet, I guess, that Chris really liked.  Honestly, it's like a corner piece, but long so you can stretch out on it.  I dunno, it was weird.  We'd seen it at the same time we saw the blue recliner, but had opted to only buy the recliner, as the recliner was pretty and the couchlet wasn't.

It took a great deal of debate, but we did end up buying the couchlet, muddy brown color and all.  The couchlet was more expensive than we wanted, but it's exceedingly comfortable and can fit 1-3 people if they squish together.  It's one of those furniture pieces you can forget you're sitting on pretty quickly.  So probably worth the money.

Yesterday we moved the essentials in: the bed, most of the kitchen, and both our computers.  It was exhausting, honestly, and if I never have to do this again, it won't be a moment too soon.  I expect to be sore for several days, despite Mom's help.  The Internet will transfer over at about the time this goes live, hopefully, so I should be able to get to work on the blog again soon.

As a treat for all that heavy lifting, we also went and saw Black Panther with my parents.  It's actually the second time we've seen it, and it held up pretty well on the second viewing.  I'll avoid spoilers here, but suffice it to say, the philosophies of the various characters, the world in which the movie was set, and the main conflict of the movie, were much more interesting and unusual than most superhero movies, and I appreciated that.  It also made me spend more than an hour trawling the Internet for the reactions of people of color, both from the US and from other parts of the world.  Overall, the reviews from such people were positive, which made me feel better about enjoying the movie so much.

Unrelated: I implemented the Zombies, Run! strategy I was mentioning last week.  Seems to be going well.  I caught myself being annoyed on Monday because I wasn't going to be able to catch the next episode that day.  This week is going to be shaky for doing that strategy, though, because we're ramping up our moving efforts. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Reading the Research: Reducing Stress Via Conversation

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article settles an old debate I've heard classified as a male vs. female thing.  When someone tells you about a problem they're having, do you A) try to solve it for them, because if you fix it, they won't be troubled by it any more, or B) sympathize with them, giving your emotional support without offering any particular solutions?  The stereotype says most US men tend to do option A, and most US women tend to take option B. 

Which one is better?  Well, it depends on what you're trying to do.  If you're trying to make yourself feel better, apparently option A is the one to go with.  But if you're more interested in helping the person you're talking to, you're better off choosing option B, sympathizing with the person, and leaving your solutions to their problem at the door (unless the person asks for them). 

This study specifically addresses romantic partners in their tests, but all things considered, I suspect the pattern generalizes.  Romantic partners are just a really easy population to draft.  Mostly, though, I found this study interesting because it quite literally contains a laundry list of "how to destress your listener."  Since I suffer from a relatively high amount of stress, it's good to see something like this that's apparently backed by science (based on measuring actual stress hormones). 

I was somewhat surprised to recognize I adhere to almost every practice noted in this article already.  I expect my mother's responsible for that.  She's a good listener and taught me to do the same thing as best she could, and there seems to be a reasonable amount of crossover between best listening practices and best de-stressing listening practices.  I also appreciated the last bullet point (Adjust your approach as needed), which recognizes that people can be different.  If you tried to show support by giving a hug or touching the arm of an autistic person with serious touch sensitivities, they would not be calmed, they would be further upset.  So you do have to tailor your approach to the person you're trying to help. 

Another thing I wanted to note here was a line just a bit before the bullet points.  "'When a partner is stressed they are unable to focus on interpreting messages well.'"  This is a study that was just testing neurotypical people... and the researcher still felt the need to say that.  Imagine, now, that your partner is autistic and isn't good at interpreting messages to begin with. 

The article also comments on the perils of stress (increases wear and tear on the body, which decreases quality of life and lifespan, can cause headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, and concentration impairment).  Autistic people tend to suffer higher levels of stress than the average person, for a lot of reasons.  So having someone who follows these rules of being a supportive listener is really important... regardless of who that person is: friend, partner, teacher, support personnel, parent, or whatever. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

House-Hunting While Autistic, Part 2: The Search Process

This is the second in a series about my experience of finding a house.  (Part 1 is here, this is part 2, part 3 is here)  As I'm autistic, the process proved to be a bit more challenging than it would be for most people.  Last week I covered why we decided to buy a house, and what things we opted to look for, given my disabilities and challenges.  This week I'll be covering the actual search process.


We opted to house-hunt in the winter.  This was more due to the fact that winter was when we were ready to hunt, rather than any conscious choice.  I had, in fact, agitated to start hunting a lot earlier in the year, but nothing came of it.  Winter, however, is when houses go up for sale for financial reasons, so it wasn't the worst possible decision.  It can, however, make the inspection difficult, since foundations are hard to inspect when they're buried under 2 feet of snow.

Despite the inspection problems, winter was possibly the best season for us to be shopping in... not because it's ideal as a season, but because of our particular housing market.  In most housing markets, the homes go up for sale, and if they're well-priced and immediately livable, they might go off the market in a week or two.  In this housing market?  That same house would go up for sale and be gone by the end of the day.  Three days, tops.  Any home that didn't disappear within a week or two, in this market, had something wrong with it. 

Once we had our list of criteria, including the bare minimum, preferred criteria, and ideal criteria, we went about trying to find a realtor.  Apparently, these days you can opt to work with several realtors without a contract, but because of my social difficulties and lack of energy, we stopped as soon as we found one that we liked.  That was, thankfully, the very first one.  Chris found out about her through someone at his workplace, and got into contact with her.  She was a sweetheart, and relatively laid back and hard working.

A Poor Start

She had us send her the criteria we'd developed, and later, the spreadsheet we put together to rate homes.  Using that, she narrowed down the various homes listed in our search area, and had several options for us to look over.  We got started almost immediately, attending an open house on a nice little house, and then seeing another one afterwards.

All this happened relatively quickly, faster, in fact, than our pre-approval letter from the bank.  So we ended up seeing several houses, and absolutely loved the very first one we saw.  It had a lot of open space, and a public and private area of the home, along with a sunroom and everything we wanted on the "preferred" list.  It was also distinctive, and not too large.  But we couldn't put an offer on it (we thought) because we didn't have that pre-approval letter.

This ended up being a source of intense frustration for us, because as it turns out, even with us house-hunting in winter, the housing market in our area is completely insane.  In the dead of winter, which is the off-season for house hunting.  Can you imagine what it must be like in the spring and summer?  By the end of the day, that house we loved was off the market and gone.  I was extremely frustrated, and fairly sure we wouldn't be able to find anything else like it.

I took that negative attitude into the next weeks of showings. All things considered, it wasn't the worst thing I could have done.  Almost all of the homes we saw in that time were inappropriate for our needs, or had problems that would have required fixing.  One of them, less than 15 years old, was so badly battered that we couldn't imagine living there.  Another, built in the 1920s or '30s, had such narrow hallways that I felt as though I wouldn't fit.  Yet another had the garage entryway dumping you almost directly down a flight of stairs into the basement, which I could almost guarantee would end in my going to the hospital within 2 years.

The Grind

Perhaps what contributed most to keeping that negative attitude, though, was the fact that there was no rest from the house-hunting.  Any available time we had was spent looking at houses, or arranging showings, or looking at house-listings.  This was not merely because we were in a hurry to ditch our apartment complex.  If a promising home went up for sale, and we didn't see it that day or the next, it would be gone.  That was the reality, and we'd already seen it happen with the very first house we saw.

I was still worn out from Christmas, in addition, so the experience was extremely exhausting and bad for my sanity, to say the least.  Checking out each home reminded me somewhat of job-hunting, where you mentally "try on" each job to see if you think you'd be able to do it and enjoy it.  Each house we saw, I had to mentally imagine myself living there, taking the groceries in, doing laundry, going to bed for the night.  Doing this twice a day, sometimes, every day, for weeks, is not an experience I would consider fun.

In truth, all this travel, imagining, marking checklists, and inspecting wore me right down to the breaking point.  I started having to tell my spouse to only message me listings at certain times, and to not bother me with ones he wasn't sure about.  I became snappish and withdrawn.  I stopped working on this blog much, and stopped seeing friends.  I stopped doing anything productive outside of my blog, as well, and spent a lot of time in bed, doing close to nothing.  In retrospect, I was basically defaulting to self-care, reading webcomics I enjoyed and comforting books where the good guy wins in the end... but at the time, it felt like I was just being a useless lump.

After the initial barrage, what remained on the market were homes that had things majorly wrong with them, and the occasional fresh home that went up on the market.  Looking back over my notes and the various spreadsheets, I think we saw fewer than 25 homes in total.  Which I suppose says something about my tolerance, or lack thereof, for the entire enterprise.  Most of these homes that we saw didn't really interest us, but we went to see them in case they were more than the pictures seemed to show.  Mostly, they would be summarized by, "It's just a house, like every other house." Having seen that first house, which was really, truly special, I couldn't be satisfied with "just a house."

Or at least, not until the weariness of seeing one house after the next, after the next, after the next, struck me.  We had almost decided to put in an offer on a smallish, fenced in yard house.  It had some eccentricities and some slight water damage, but otherwise seemed acceptable, if not really amazing.  But my trip to Washington DC was coming up, so we weren't committing to anything... and then a condominium went up on the market.

Finding That One Place

It was awful timing, really.  I needed to pack for the trip, and mentally prepare for the rigors of travel and the reviewing process.  I had only just finished the written reviews for the trip.  Still, the place seemed promising... so once again, I dropped everything to go to see the place.  Condominiums in particular tend to go quickly, so it was dropping everything, or missing out on seeing the place.

It turned out to be fairly spacious.  The driveway was strange, and crooked.  But the place met the vast majority of our criteria.  The appliances were all in good condition, the condominium fee was reasonable, and the house itself was built the same year I was born.  It had good water pressure, and a view of a pond out the back window, along with various trees and just enough nature to be pretty.

What caught our attention most, though, was that it came with two things we'd really wanted but couldn't reasonably put on a required list: a fireplace, and a hot tub. These two features were on the luxury list, and we hadn't reasonably expected to have them in our home. But here they were, a gas fireplace (albeit of an older design), and a one person hot tub.

I don't think we were so hasty as to decide to put an offer on it during the showing, but since I was leaving the very next day, we did decide to do so that same day.  The resulting mess (because frankly that's all I can reasonably call it) will be described next week...

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 2/21/18

My moving stress got interrupted by a brief but very nasty bout of food poisoning.  I'm hoping I'm not suffering a round 2 at present, as my mind is very foggy and sluggish.  Frustratingly, I'm not really sure what got me, either, which makes me rather nervous about eating anything at home.  The day I got sick, I only ate food from our refrigerator and cupboards...

Only time will tell, I guess, but I hope whatever it is, I ate all of it, paid the price, and today's molasses-brain is unrelated.  I really don't want to have to hide in the bedroom with no lights on and the windows entirely covered because my eyes can't stand any brightness whatsoever.  That included my tablet, at the lowest possible backlight setting.  So not only was I miserable, I was unable to do work or even pleasure reading while I was miserable.  I had to keep a bucket by the bedside because my stomach was so upset.  I ended up snarkily dubbing the thing "my second best friend."  Chris (my best friend) was amused by this, as much as he could be while feeling bad for me, anyway.

The bout of food poisoning also ruined my exercise streak, because I could barely keep the contents of my stomach under control when I wasn't moving.  I think I have a better plan for managing my exercise now, though.  I've written, briefly, about a phone app called Zombies, Run!  It's basically a living novel, with you as the protagonist in a post zombie apocalyptic world.  You are a Runner, one of the people who picks up supplies and risks their life to accomplish tasks outside the safety of the enclave's walls.  You are utterly essential to the survival of the human race.

The story, which is written by a published author, is narrated to you while you run, in a series of missions.  At this point, there are 6 seasons of missions, so quite a bit of story.  In addition, there are specific training missions, race missions, and even some specialized missions like airdrops, interval training, and supply missions.  All of this, and it lets you listen to a music playlist in between the narration, too.

My one complaint about it is the price: they opted to do the subscription route, and their price is $4/month, or $25 for a year.  I prefer to just buy things once and be done.  It's like buying a book, and then having to rebuy it each year.  I'd be fine with buying each season once, but that's not an option.  So I've mostly opted to use the free version, and sparingly.  But I may change that, and shell out the $25 for the year.  I badly need to lose weight, and I already know "finding out what happens next" is a strong motivator for me.  So my plan is to use Zombies, Run! each of my home exercise sessions.  I should be able to get caught up to the latest stuff in a year or so, which would be nice.

Beyond that scheduled exercise, though, there's moving all our stuff from this third floor apartment to our new condo.  Thankfully we're not taking anything up flights of stairs, only down them.  While down feels a lot more dangerous to me than up, it's less effortful overall, I think.  I have sore muscles from the first few loads over... which in my case have been almost entirely books.  Chris and I agreed to each take over a plastic tub full of stuff each day, together.  Since I already had a tub full of books, it seemed smartest to just bring that first... but man, books are heavy.

We're planning on hiring movers this time, mostly due to our chest freezer, which is both large and exceptionally heavy.  But some of the other furniture would probably be best moved by professionals, also.  And naturally all the essentials have to go at once, lest we be stuck without them in one place or the other.  Thankfully, my parents have graciously provided a number of the boxes they used for moving, so we'll be able to manage this feat without needing to buy boxes or make multiple, annoying trips.

I am afraid this time of transition is very hard on me, all things considered, so I hope it's over soon.  It saddens me to put my things into boxes, upsets me when I can't find things I'm looking for, and frustrates me to be making all these trips and expending all this effort when I really just want to curl up in bed with a book.  Like any other move, though, the effort will be worth it... I just don't promise to be any kind of happy while it's happening.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Reading the Research: Self-Efficacy

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article talks about "self-efficacy" which is psychology's word for "the belief in one's capabilities to achieve of a goal or an outcome."  In plaintalk, it's your belief in your own ability to get stuff done.  This is separate from competence, or how good you are at something, because I'm sure you've run into that person that's actually awful at whatever they're talking about, but thinks they're good at it.  That's a fairly common thing, and that person has low competence at whatever they're talking about, but high self-efficacy. 

I found this article interesting because of things I keep hearing from my doctor, and one of the books I picked up from her recently by Dr. Temple Grandin.  It seems that a common problem for autistic people is not wanting to go out and try new things, push our boundaries a bit, etc.  So instead we stay home, doing only our favorite things (often in front of the computer).  This can lead to not getting a job, not meeting people, and becoming a recluse, which is often not ideal.  There are a lot of reasons for this behavior pattern, but one of them, I would bet my next week's worth of meals, is that many of us lack this self-efficacy for social situations and trying new things, regardless of our actual capabilities.

These scientists have apparently developed a way to test for self-efficacy, but in a lot of different situations.  So for instance, I might have high self-efficacy when it comes to my favorite computer game, because I feel competent with it and that assures me that I can do almost anything I want to in it.  But when I get to work and a fellow employee approaches me with a problem, my self-efficacy in that situation might be very low, because of how difficult social interactions have been for me in the past.  Regardless of my current skill level, this can be the case.  As such, I might withdraw from the situation rather than trying to resolve it.

In general, high self-efficacy is a good thing, though when not backed up with actual competence, it can result in learning experiences.  The researchers' results show that high task self-efficacy makes for better on-the-job performance in managing and completing tasks.  The higher emotional self-efficacy, the better the person will handle stressful situations and situations with conflict.  And, interestingly, the less such situations will bother them.  And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the better a person's belief in their own empathy, the more they're likely to help out their colleagues by doing extra work when needed.

The researchers conclude that their test will probably be useful for career development, training, vocational counseling, and even for use within the workplace... but they don't address how to develop it, which is most relevant for parents, teachers, and professionals.  For that, I had to trawl the Internet a bit.  Here's a decent overview with some additional links.  I'll probably have more to say on the subject after I've read Dr. Grandin's "The Loving Push." 

Friday, February 16, 2018

House-Hunting While Autistic, Part 1: The Criteria

This will be the first a series on my house-hunting experience.  My spouse and I have recently searched for, located, bought, and are in the process of moving into a new home, and I thought it might be useful to explain some of the challenges and why we made the decisions we did.

(This is Part 1, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here)


Why A House?

My spouse and I have rented an apartment together for years, now, and the rental rates just keep going up, for less and less space, services, and courtesy.  I'm sure in some places it's cheaper to rent rather than buy a home, but in our case, we figured out we could get about twice the space, for about the same price per month.  So by that metric, it only makes sense.

We don't have much illusions by way of expecting to get more money out of the home than we put in, although I'm told emphatically that used to be the case.  Houses were an investment, people said, and you could expect to gain money if you took care of the house.  That honestly does not seem to be the case any more, even in the market type around here.  

In addition to paying less for more, we also wanted to live in a less populated area, in a different neighborhood.  I've complained in the past about the apartment complex we currently live in, but in brief: it's loud (car horns, people shouting, children shrieking), at all hours of the day.  The apartment complex has changed hands four times in the last two years, minimum.  The complex's repair staff keeps changing, information keeps getting lost, and whatever remains seems to be mainly ignored.  The gutters sit clogged, month after month.  The roads and parking lots go unplowed, with never enough parking spaces to go around even in good weather.  The trees threaten to fall on the buildings near them.  And the public spaces are dirty, trashed, and get used for all manner of unsanitary and antisocial activities.  

What Kind of House?

I know most people put together some kind of vague criteria for what they want, and then dive into house-hunting until they find something they adore the look of.  That... was not how we did things.  I'm autistic and detail-oriented, so I wanted to nail down what we wanted, why, and what things we could and couldn't compromise on.

This required a lot of talking, and involved some arguing and a bit of sulking at times.  Communication is not a strong point for either of us, so this was a lot more work than you'd think, and a house has a lot of fiddly details.  Spreadsheets, word processing documents, and hours of verbal and typed communication went into the process.  

We first set some minimum requirements for what we wanted.  2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a larger kitchen, in-building washer and dryer, 3 prong outlets in every room, central AC/heat, basic appliances, and parking that's at least off-street.  Also, the house had to be livable already, we didn't want to spend weeks fixing up a home before we could live in it.  

After that, we decided on what we'd prefer to have... but were okay with compromising on, if it came down to it.  We also set some additional "wishlist" items for an ideal home, which we weren't really expecting to find, but knew we'd really enjoy having if we could get them.  In the l end, we opted to address several issues with these lists:

Sound Sensitivity: This is one of the reasons we wanted multiple bedrooms.  We technically really only need one to sleep in, but having a second to sound proof for a quiet space, or use as a home office, or have guests over in, was very important to us.  This is also why we opted to look for a place that didn't share walls, or only had one shared wall, preferably away from high-population areas, children, and other sources of loud noise.

Gastro-Intestinal Challenges:  Both Chris and I suffer from gastro-intestinal issues.  He's lactose intolerant, and I get constipated and moody if I'm fed dairy.  I also end up suffering extra inflammation around the time of my period, and have bouts with diarrhea.  We're still figuring out what exactly causes all this, but in the meantime, it behooves us very much to have at least two toilets in the home so one of us doesn't suffer while waiting for the other to be done.  We also opted to look for a place with a larger kitchen, which will allow more complicated food prep to cater to special diets, as well as elbow room and ease of use.

Executive Functioning: While Chris and I could probably fix a home up using the Internet, money, and stubbornness, we knew that would be exhausting and time-consuming.  We decided to opt for a "ready to live in" place, rather than a "fixer-upper."  We also wanted a place that had most, if not all, of the necessary appliances for living.  A washer, dryer, refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, etc, are all things you can buy post-moving in, but you have to price them out, and it's complicated and time-intensive to do so.  If it turns out that we hate one of those appliances post-moving in, it can be replaced.  But signing up to buy all those things was a deal-breaker for us.  It was already going to be hard enough to find a good home, let alone adding that stress on top of it.

Depression/Anxiety: This is another reason for the multiple bedrooms.  Separating oneself from the source of anxiety, or having a quiet place to go to think about things, can be a very important tool against depression and anxiety.  The second (or third) bedroom could be both a home office and a place filled with things I enjoy, like my lava lamps, decorative fountain, healthy snacks, and a comfy chair.

We also stipulated that we wanted a large enough space to entertain friends and family.  Having a comfortable place to invite people back to, whether that's just to chat, sip tea together, or host a bad movie night, we wanted to have the option available.  Finally, on "ideal wishlist,", there was a hot tub.  I used to love having baths, but fell out of the habit when I went to college.  I've since found I don't fit into most tubs anyway, so the issue has mostly fallen by the wayside... but soaking in hot water is well known as a relaxing thing to do, so we added it, just in case.

Time Management: I work from home, but Chris doesn't.  So we made sure to house-hunt in a relatively small area in order to be close to three important places.  First, Chris' workplace.  A long commute is a great way to ruin a perfectly good job.  Second, my parents' new home.  My parents moved to our area recently, and I wanted to be close to them so it would never be a problem to go visit.  Third, the local supermarket.  Shopping is already fairly time intensive, so being 15 minutes or less away from the supermarket makes for a much less frustrating experience.

We also decided to put preference on condominiums, rather than true houses.  The reasoning for this was that we'd prefer not worry about lawn care and landscaping.  Neither of us likes that stuff, and it would be one more thing to worry about.  Bonus points if there was a recycling program and community trash pickup so we wouldn't have to worry about that, too.

Light Sensitivity/Seasonal Affective Depressive Disorder: I am both photosensitive, which is to say that sunlight and bright lights can really hurt my eyes, and prone to seasonal affective depressive disorder, meaning I need to get a lot of sunlight whenever possible or I'll be depressed.  These two traits are naturally and annoyingly at odds with each other.  So the compromise was to look for a place with at least one large, south-facing window... and to have a larger bedroom with windows that could be easily covered with blackout curtains.  On cloudier days, and normal days I'm handling the sunlight better, I can sit in front of that window with my cacti, or even go outside.  On bad days, I can hide inside and draw the curtains, or stay in the bedroom. 

A copy of the house-scoring spreadsheet we ended up settling on is here.

Next week I'll describe the actual house-hunting, and why it was a lot more difficult than expected.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 2/14/17

I'm not sure if it's the fact that we're leaving soon, or just my imagination, but it feels like the apartment complex has been extra loud and obnoxious this last week or so.  Had someone leaning on their car horn at 6:30am a few days ago, which woke me out of an already restless sleep.  This is extra frustrating because generally once I'm awake in the morning, I'm awake.  There's no going back to sleep.  So one inconsiderate jerk can start my morning off poorly... and has, repeatedly.  Though thankfully only the once at 6:30am.  7:30am seems the more normal time for this jerk to show up, which is 20 minutes before Chris' alarm goes off in the morning... 

I'm also not going to miss hearing children shrieking outside every morning and afternoon.  I know some people love hearing children make noise, but I just can't equate high pitched squeaks and shrieks with pleasant feelings when each one of them hurts my ears and disrupts my concentration.  I presume the social obsession with babies and small children will continue to elude me for the rest of my life. 

In happier news, though.  Yesterday we closed on the condominium I've been talking about for the last few weeks.  (For the confused: "closed" means we've signed all the paperwork, and we now officially "own" the home.  We'll be paying a mortgage for a loooong time, but it's still way cheaper than renting.)  The drive to the place was long, but we caught lunch afterwards with our realtor, who we like quite a bit. 

Chris was a sweetheart and took the entire day off, so instead of having to rush back to get him to work, he stayed home, and made me beef stew, which is, at this point, probably my favorite non-dessert food.  He also made his rosemary bread recipe, which is both delicious and relatively simple.  So that was a nice way to spend the rest of that day. 

I'm looking forward to being moved over into the new home.  I expect the place will be much quieter, not only because there's only one shared wall, but because the dwelling places are spread out much wider.  Even if children live in the area, their noises will be much further away.  And really, I don't hate kids.  I just wish they'd be quiet. 

I suspect my biggest annoyance at the new place will be geese, rather than ill-mannered jerks with car horns.  There's a large-ish pond out in the back yard area of the condo, and while it doesn't look that deep, geese don't really care as long as there's grass and water.  Chris jokes that we can just get biodegradable airsoft pellets and shoot the geese if they get too close to the home.  I hate to admit it, but I am awfully tempted to allow it.  You can't hunt geese for food, but I'm not sure there's a specific law that prohibits shooing them away forcefully. 

In other news, I seem to have opted for a 5 day a week exercise program.  Twice a week, I go to my parents' place to use their gym, which comes with exercise classes.  My mother frequents those, and once or twice a week, I'll join her.  Those classes involve a lot of arm exercises, which are useful because I have little patience for doing arm exercises by myself.  They also involve core exercises, which are important for health and fitness.  Then, too, the gym has a range of exercise machines, which I make use of. 

At this point, I'm eschewing the recumbent bike and using a cross trainer, treadmill, or elliptical machine instead, and then indulging in whatever other machines I can fit into the time.  The reason for this is because of my recumbent bicycle at home, which I use the other three days of the week.  At this point, I've set a minimum of 15 minutes for each session, but I may increase that as I find better ways to incorporate it into my life.  To date, most of my sessions have been well in excess of that, but some days my brain just seems to panic and flail more than others, so being able to say, "It's just 15 minutes.  Look, I'm already 5 minutes in.  This is doable," is very helpful.

I know I'd be better off doing a minimum of 30 minutes, 6 days a week, but I feel like if I try to overdo it, the exercise bike will end up gathering dust, as all too many of them do.  $150 is too much money to spend on something that's just going to gather dust, in my opinion. 

Coming up: moving stresses!  Yayyy...

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reading the Research: Why Autistic People Might Be Less Social

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article discusses two theories regarding why autistic children tend to be less socially inclined than their neurotypical peers, and adds in a piece of current research that combines those two theories.

The first theory is one I've actually mentioned in this blog before, more than once.  It's called the Intense World theory, and it posits that autistic people withdraw from social situations because we're overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sensory input.  When the very light itself stabs you, the noises around you startle you constantly, smells worm their way into my nose and provoke blinding headaches, and even the touch of your loved ones hurts... well, suffice it to say you're not going to do very well outside of very safe areas.

The second theory is newer to me, but makes sense.  Called the social motivation hypothesis, it suggests that autistic people don't get the dopamine chemical boost from interacting with people that neurotypical people do.  Basically, most people feel good after talking to someone (assuming the conversation went well), and autistic people may not.  So while most people have that automatic reward for interacting with others, autistic people may not, and as such, don't opt to do so as often as "normal."

The article comments that these theories have been considering "competing."  I can't see why, frankly.  A lot of things in life are caused by multiple factors, not just one... so I don't know why there would have to be just one reason for autistic people to be less social than neurotypical people.  But anyway, the article suggests these theories might work in tandem, and the research attached shows evidence of just that.  The tested autistic children displayed less social reward response, and heightened responses to social feedback, which they're saying indicates sensory-responsiveness.

Speaking on a personal note, if I engage with small talk/"mindless" chatter with people in the grocery store or whatever, I think I do get the dopamine burst now, but didn't used to.  But, and this is important, that dopamine burst is almost immediately balanced out by a rush of intense anxiety.  Sounds become louder, my brain shifts into high gear, and I start panicking about anything I said that might've been taken the wrong way.  Needless to say, it's not fun at all.  Obviously I'm not going to stop talking to random people when it's warranted, but I'm disinclined to just... chatter away at people.

Interestingly, the study showed a phenomenon something like that rush of intense anxiety after positive social feedback in the more heavily affected ASD kids.   Which makes me wonder where precisely I fall on the spectrum, after all. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Review: The Aspie's Girl's Guide to Being Safe with Men

 The Aspie Girl's Guide to Being Safe with Men: The Unwritten Safety Rules No-one is Telling You, by Debi Brown, is a book of rules for the intended subject, and only the intended subject, as written by one autistic woman.

I found the scope of this book very narrow, all thing considered, and perhaps more suited for 20 years ago than now.  Today's understanding of sexuality and gender identity allow for a much broader range of relationships than "cis straight girl with cis straight guy," which is all this book really addresses.  There is no discussion whatsoever about same sex relationships, trans people, or genderfluidity.  The lattermost is relatively common in autistic people, apparently, with myself as the obvious example.  I am agender, meaning I would like you to take your gender stereotypes and toss them in a fire, far away from me, thanks.  Some people feel they have traits of both genders, or are more one gender than the other depending on the day. 

So, all of this is skipped.  This book is intently focused on abuse-prevention in the most statistically common relationship or sexual situation.  The language choice is simplistic and written for literal-minded people, which is excellent given the intended audience.  Not every autistic woman needs these accommodations, naturally, but it doesn't hurt.  Particularly since the subject matter makes most people uncomfortable to talk about, even if it's their job (looking at you, guidance counselors and sex ed teachers...).  The writer tends to start technical and then get into more detail, and list "rules" and priorities for those rules, which I think is good for the kind of black and white thinking autistic people are prone to.

One good point about this book is that it includes a discussion of boundaries.  This subject is, as far as I know, not one that was ever discussed with me until last year.  I was expected to simply learn this information on my own, somehow.  (By the way, the person who helpfully discussed this with me?  She's gay, knowledgeable, and awesome.)  So the author here defines boundaries, and then lists some basic ones, including ones I hadn't really thought about as specifically boundaries.  This transitions into how to say no, why to say no, and how to handle hearing "no" from someone else.

The author does take a lot of time in this book to talk about herself, which is why I'm able to safely say that she has the opposite problem that I do.  On the spectrum of independence, with "overdependent" on one end and "refuses help from anyone or anything" on the other, the author falls closer to "overdependent" and I fall more near "refuses help from anyone or anything."  The healthiest place for people is right in the middle of that spectrum.  No one is truly independent in truth, not the richest person in the world nor the poorest hermit.  The tools we use, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, even the work we do, all rely on other people.  But as a rule, this author seems to prefer other people swoop in and solve her problems all the time, whereas I tend to prefer to solve my problems myself regardless of how much quicker or better it would be for someone else to do it.

I suspect the author's end of the spectrum is more common in disability circles.  Part of the reason I'm relatively anti-getting help is because I learned very young that no one would help me anyway.  So it doesn't really occur to me to ask for help, or include other people.  But most people with disabilities know about their disabilities and are given help whether they want it or not, which seems, in my experience, to lead to relying on that help.  Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, since everyone is dependent on others.  It's just a problem if it becomes overdependence.  The author talks about her struggles with overdependence a bit, along with her emotional struggles regarding sexual abuse.

Which is the last thing I'd like to point out about this book, in fact.  While overall I found this book a little too simplistic and limited for everyday life, it does make a point of walking you through some common reactions to sexual abuse, how to work through them, the complicating factors, what things you should do if you've been raped and what to expect with the aftermath, etc. 

Read This Book If

You're autistic and biologically (or trans-) female, especially if you've had a more sheltered life and/or the people around you haven't really wanted to discuss sex, sexuality, and how to be safe when dating men.  This book is rather restricted in focus, which I think is a pity given the incredible amount of diversity in relationships there is now... but as far as its focus goes, it does a decent enough job.  I have yet to find a better resource for how autistic people deal with abuse, how to manage and set boundaries, and how to describe sex in relatively clear, understandable language.