Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Review: The Loving Push

The Loving Push: How parents and professionals can help spectrum kids become successful adults, by Temple Grandin and Debra Moore, is a guidebook to nudging autistic people into trying new things, on the premise that we mostly don't do it ourselves, but we need to if we're going to find jobs we like, meet people to make friends, and develop interests besides the most accessible ones.

I do think this is mostly sound advice.  I read somewhere that there are basically two personality types when it comes to the Unknown: those that view it as an adventure (and thus exciting), and those that view it with fear.  As I understand it, people mostly fit into one category or the other, but can shift between them.  Autistic people, as far as I've seen, mostly fit into the fearful category.

This is, I think, because the Unknown tends to bite us more often than it does others.  If we go into an unknown social situation, there's a good chance we won't know the right things to say or do.  This makes interaction a social minefield.  In addition, we don't necessarily recognize the difference between a known and unknown social situation... and even in known situations, people are so complex and unpredictable that we may still end up "exploding" a social mine... which causes sadness, hurt, and finally, anxiety when it comes to social situations.

In addition to the social component, many autistic people have sensory issues.  I have mild light and touch sensitivites, moderate smell sensitivity, and moderate-to-bad sound sensitivity.  In a new situation, there may be new and/or upsetting noises (like construction or emergency vehicles, or industrial blenders with a fork accidentally stuck in them), or flashing lights, or someone may have coated themselves in perfume...  You never really know, and when it's so easy for painful things to happen to you, it makes you really not want to bother with any of it. 

So the advice and suggestions herein is for parents and professionals to nudge autistic people past those misgivings, in a supportive, loving way.  You can't simply demand the autistic person put all their concerns aside and boot us out the door.  That's neither loving nor kind nor helpful.  You have to strike a balance between that insistence and understanding and supporting us and why we do what we do.  That's what this book is there to help with.

Along with its advice, the book uses examples drawn from real autistic people and their families, who are introduced early on in the book.  I wasn't personally blown away by any of the stories, but I think they're important because US society has a very specific definition of "success."  It goes: "dating, engaged, married, house, lots of money, children, grandchildren."  If you don't manage all those steps, you are, apparently, a failure.

Well that's stupid.  And it's really stupid that autistic people are subjected to that same absurd definition, when even a lot of neurotypical people have satisfying lives without several of those components.  Autistic people are even more specialized, and in a lot of cases, the traditional path to "success" would simply make us miserable.  Being miserable is not success, it's failure.

So these stories, which contain various kinds of successes, are much more appropriate kinds of success to shoot for with an autistic adult.  Things like getting a job in a field you love, or living independently, or contributing to society via volunteer work you enjoy, are much wiser goals than society's cookie-cutter song and dance. 

On a less happy note, this book also contains a "how to deal with video game addiction" section.  While I understand this is an important subject for some parents, I almost invariably feel attacked when I read things like this.  I don't feel my gaming is excessive most of the time: I balance my work (this blog), a volunteer job (at church), social obligations, 5 day a week exercise, and extra obligations (currently, putting my new house together) with my gaming on World of Warcraft.  Y'know, one of two games specifically called out in the chapter as bad.

Reading complaints and advice about how to deal with video game addiction, to me, is like a hiking enthusiast, every time they pick up a book about exercise, reading about how ticks carry Lyme disease, wild animal bites, rabies, and shin splints, and thusly that hiking should be avoided at all costs.  Every.  Single.  Book.

Needless to say by now, I did not enjoy that section of the book.  Addictions come in all shapes and sizes, after all, and video game addiction is not the only addiction autistic people are prone to.  Despite the occasional "but we only mean this if it's an addiction" phrase tossed in there, the entire section feels extremely anti-gaming and to a lesser extent, anti-technology.  But like I said, I might just be oversensitive, like the hypothetical hiker reading about the dangers of hiking at every turn.

On a more personal note, I do wonder if this "loving push" thing is what I'm currently lacking in life right now.  I don't think I've gone and tried a lot of new things recently.  I have also not wanted to go and try a lot of new things recently, and that's in part because my life has been very complicated with house-hunting, then buying the home, then moving into it, and now setting all the stuff up inside it.

I wouldn't say I'm bored, or wasting my time with the things I currently do...  But I guess I do wonder whether I sort of stopped trying new things outside the house.  I don't think I'm an entirely lost cause... I'm hoping to take my bike and go to the trail by my house when it gets warmer, and that would be something new-ish.  But mostly I don't go do new things.  They don't appeal to me, for reasons I've covered earlier.

It's something to think about, anyway... 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 3/28/18

Hooray, I finally got to have a quiet week after all the insanity of moving!  Well, mostly quiet week.  It wasn't event-free, which would be the ideal quiet week, but it was close.

There was a pretty awesome, low key birthday party that I got to go to with Chris (my spouse).  A friend of mine basically said, "hey, I'm having a party at Place, at Time," lemme know if you're coming.  It was a bit last minute, but fortunately my calendar was clear, so we went and ate sushi, and then hung out afterwards and watched anime.  The food was good, the anime was funny, and the company was excellent, so it was a good outing.

It does make me realize I'm getting to be officially middle aged, though.  That particular group of friends tends to still do the "stay up 'til 2am because Fun Things and Good Company" thing, which I apparently don't have the stamina for any more.  Between various morning events and my internal clock screaming "it's past midnight WTF are you doing go to bed!!" I have a hard time managing that type of thing these days.  I do still like to stay up late sometimes to finish something important, or if I have a train of thought I really don't think will survive a rest period.  But beyond that, yeah.

Meh.  I guess it's not awful.  I'll get more and better sleep that way.  I just feel bad being that guy, the one that goes, "well we're sure having a great time here, but I'm old and have a schedule I can't bend for the sake of Fun, so byyyyyye!"  Sometimes one person saying that is enough to break up the Fun, and that sucks for everyone else who was having fun.

I do have a nice view on waking up, though, which I think I've posted pictures of at least twice.  I'm finding that a pond is apparently a convenient way to keep track of the weather, in addition to being nice to look at.  Pond frozen?  It's really cold outside.  Pond water blowing in a direction?  That's the direction of the wind.  Pond surface seems agitated?  Must be raining.

And beyond that, I dunno.  Something about seeing a body of water is apparently soothing to me.  I'm not really sure why.  It's not like it has the sound of flowing or dripping water to give that effect, or a waterfall, or even a stream or something.  It's literally just a muddy-looking, oversized puddle with some ducks and some geese.  So yeah, I have no idea.  But yay, I guess. 

Speaking of yay, yesterday I got my hair recolor and cut. I'd let it go for about 8 weeks, and while the color is still more or less fine, the fact that my hair has grown at least an inch and half is not.  I felt quite shaggy, and hair was getting in my eyes again.  It was extremely annoying.  Then a coupon came in my text messages for 20% off coloring services... and that pretty much settled that.  So now my hair is all dark and extra-awesome looking again.

It did take about another 5 hours, unfortunately.  This happened last time, and it's probably in part because I like talking to the person that does my hair, and partially because she's still a relatively new student and hasn't had a lot of experience with doing this kind of color treatment.  I'm hoping, after she graduates, to simply drive down to where she lives and continue having the same treatment done.  Not because I suddenly hate the school or anything... it's just a noisy, busy, mildly autistic-unfriendly environment... and spending 5 hours at a time there is kind of not really my idea of fun.  Or relaxation.  A home setting would be much nicer for my sanity, even if I have to drive an hour each way.

In other news, I've been trying to be more deliberate and goal-oriented about what I do in a day.  So each evening, I sit down with my calendar and my to-do list and decide on three things I'd like to do the next day.  Mostly these are pieces of larger projects, such as putting away a particular pile of stuff in the house, or doing a piece of work for the blog.  Supposedly, putting together your to-do list the night before helps you sleep better.  I can't decide if I've personally found that to be true yet, but it's nice to wake up in the morning and not have to worry and wonder what I should do with the day.

I've mostly not had to struggle with completing these goals, as they've been quite reasonable and I've mostly been responsible about my time, but we'll see if that lasts as distractions pop up.  Anyway, it's been helpful thus far. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Reading the Research: Autism, Exercise, and Praise

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 deals with exercise.  Specifically, how to make exercise more a part of an autistic adult's lifestyle, successfully.  The benefits of exercise and movement are well known, but as a rule, autistic adults get even less of it than neurotypical adults.  And that's pretty bad, because neurotypical adults don't even get much, statistically.

The reasons for this lack of exercise in autistic adults' lives are manifold, but they include everything from poor motor skills (thus harming the autistic person's chances of joining and enjoying sports) to the increasing focus on academic achievement in schools (thus cutting out recess and breaks).  Our difficulties with social skills also sabotage our chances of enjoying team sports and group activities.

Last year I participated in a study which was looking into exactly those factors, and what might be done to counter them.  The researcher, a thoughtful soul, told me later that she spent some time being depressed about her findings... which admittedly, given the statistics I've seen, must have been really soul-crushing.  Without exercise and movement, the body breaks down and doesn't function as well.  Anxiety and depression gain stronger footholds. The aging process even speeds up.  So research like hers is extremely important (and I told her so).

So what's to be done?  Well, it seems direct, pointed praise has a strong effect on the exercise habits of autistic people.  This is somewhat in keeping with the rule for teaching and communicating with autistic people: be direct, kind, and explicit.  It seems that even pre-recorded praise, delivered through a headset, was motivating for the participants of this small study.  This means that there could be specialized apps to help autistic adults (and really, anyone) learn to build exercise habits and keep them.

Reading all this reminded me of the app I use myself: Zombies, Run!  I mainly was drawn to the game (and then drawn back to it) because of its storytelling aspects.  While you exercise in the real world, the game invites your mind into a fictional, post-apocalyptic world, where you're the hero and are very important to the survival of humanity.  You meet interesting characters, solve problems, handle crises, etc.  All of this, in a single app designed around having you go running outdoors.

Well, I love stories, so even though I don't love zombies and post-apocalyptic things, I gave it a try.  And I've come back again and again, despite hating exercise, because of it.  Reading this article reminded me of something else the app does, though.  Besides casting you as the hero, it also mixes in nonspecific praise from the other characters.  Phrases like, "You're going (running) well, keep it up!" and "Good work keeping ahead of those zoms (zombies)" feature at least once per mission, likely much more than that.  I don't consciously give that praise a lot of credibility, personally, because I'm often not running outside, but rather bicycling indoors.  But I really doubt it hurts the experience.

I've commented on exercise and how I see it developing in the future, and while this sort of praise-focused thing is not exactly what I had in mind, I don't think they're mutually exclusive ideas.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Review: The Resilient Parent

The Resilient Parent: Everyday Wisdom for Life with Your Exceptional Child, by Mantu Joshi, is a series of short essays on raising a child (or children) with special needs.  At 150 pages, it's very approachable and easy to read. 

Resilience is an important term in psychology when it comes to people with disabilities and those who care about them.  It's the word given to the capacity for people to get up after getting knocked down (metaphorically or otherwise).  People who experience a lot of difficulties, failures, and trauma, but still keep getting up to continue fighting the good fight, have a lot of resilience.  This is a particularly important trait for parents of autistic people, and in truth, autistic people ourselves. 

This book, therefore, aims to teach you how to develop this quality.  But not in a "self help, do these 10 steps and you'll be better!" fashion.  The author simply has a series of tips, observations, questions, and insights to offer his readers.  I found the content simple, honest, thoughtful, and useful.  It was also extremely brief and to the point, which I'm very sure was on purpose.

The type of parents for whom this book is written don't necessarily have a lot of time to peruse its pages and contemplate long, complicated sentences and complex ideas... so there aren't things like that.  Each essay is 2-4 pages long, containing a snippet of story from the author's life caring for his children and some thoughtful but concise remarks and ideas.  And every essay ends with a thought or question for your own life, which is meant to help you use the ideas in the essay in your own life.  Basically, the book is meant to be accessible and usable by any parent, but especially the ones without much time and energy to spare. 

The book reminded me strongly of the daily devotional guides that my parents would read after dinner every night.  There would be a Bible passage (spiritual inspiration), followed by some concise discussion of that idea, followed by a "how can you apply this to your life?" paragraph.  This is perhaps an apt comparison, as the author has pastoral training and is no doubt very familiar with such books.

As an autistic non-parental adult, I found much of the content of this book still useful to my life, albeit after twisting it around a bit to fit my current situation.  I don't have kids, but I do have trouble with myself and my mood sometimes, and my spouse will naturally never be able to read my mind... in addition to having challenges of his own.  Some of the advice here can be made to fit my life, even though it's tailored for a very different one. 

I feel like a lot of this advice would be valid advice for any parent, regardless of whether the child has special needs.  Actually, one section of the book talked about how parents of special needs children have it a lot worse than most parents, but you do still have to respect that most parents still find their neurotypical children challenging.  And admittedly, raising kids is a challenging task, regardless of whether they have difficulties and disabilities out of the ordinary. 

Read This Book If

You're the parent of a special needs/exceptional child or children.  I think pretty much any parent would benefit from reading this book.  It's quite short, the content is concise and of excellent quality, and it doesn't demand much effort to read.  In 150 pages, Mantu Joshi provides advice, kinship, and a gentle urging toward being a better parent and a better person.  If I were going to raise kids, I'd keep this book on hand. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 3/21/18

We are finally completely done with the apartment complex, and entirely moved into our new home!

This is now what I see most mornings instead of the cars and parking lots I used to see at the old place.

The cleaning was unpleasant, for both of us, and I'm fairly certain we didn't leave the place as spotlessly clean as we did the last place, but still, we did leave it quite clean.  We probably won't get the whole deposit back, due to the one of the blinds breaking at some point in the master bedroom... but other than that, I think everything else is going to be fine. 

Now I get to turn my attention to the great piles of stuff everywhere, which is... less than fun.  But at least more satisfying than putting things into boxes.  Last weekend Chris and I put together the kitchen, which is now almost suitable for cooking in.  Everything has a home, and there's still some extra spaces here and there for more things.  We really want to replace the microwave, though... it's older than I am, by some definitions, and didn't even come with a turntable.  They put one in afterward that does a shoddy job.  So that might be a project for this weekend.

In the meantime, I've made the guest bedroom my personal project.  Last week I set up the bed and the shelves.  After getting Chris' approval for the locations of everything, I put most of my books into the shelves today.  I also made a small pile of books that don't make me happy, so I'm going to donate them.  My mother, in this last decade, has been working on decluttering, and preached to me often that "if something doesn't make you happy, get rid of it."  So I'm doing just that with some of these books. 

As I was doing that, I was reminded of how much space actual physical books take, and bemused at current technology now...  The text of all the books on my bookshelves could fit easily onto my support tablet, with room for thousands of other books besides.  When I was growing up, eBooks were technically a thing, but they were rarely used.  It was only after high school that everyone started having their own smart phones, which could then have eBook readers, and thus carry a small library's worth of books in their pockets. 

So now I have to decide whether I should simply seek out electronic copies of these books that I do like, or keep the physical copies despite needing to dust them and organize them.  For now, I'm going to keep them, or at least the ones that make me happy... but I'll continue being very selective about which books I buy in physical form. 

In other news, I did attend and finish my part in the research study I mentioned last week.  No word on what was actually being tested yet, but I found the psychological examinations both exceedingly boring and also frustrating.  For example, there was a test of nonverbal intelligence.  It involved matching patterns with simple and composite shapes. 

This is a simple example, directly from the test I took, in fact.  Below this would be six options for your answer.  You point to the one you think is correct, and the researcher takes note of your answer.  The difficulty quickly ramped up, suffice it to say.
Doing 5 of these exercises is one thing, but the booklet contained in excess of 70 exercises, so you were literally sitting there for an hour or so, just staring at little shapes and looking for patterns.  That was one of the six tests I had to do.  And that's in addition to the actual (probably) testing in front of the computer wearing an EEG cap. 

Earlier this year when I was in Washington, I vocally and humorously expressed disbelief when some researchers said they had no problems getting autistic children to wear EEG caps.  I now can safely say my response was extremely valid for the type of cap I had to wear.  I'm afraid I quite forgot to take a picture of myself wearing the actual cap... but basically...  First they had to measure my head to choose the right size of EEG cap.  Apparently my head is average sized, which was handy. 

Then, they had to prepare the cap, which took something like 20 minutes (and the length of another psychological evaluation... bleugh...).  After that, they put the silly thing on my head (it was not very comfortable), and proceeded to scrape my scalp with toothpicks at the sites of the electrodes. This was so they could get a good signal from my brain, but it hurt and was quite annoying.  Once that was done, cold gel was applied at those points to act as a conductor between my scalp and the electrodes. 

Needless to say, all that gunk got in my hair.  I would say "it's fortunate my hair is quite short now," but I actually can't find it in me to be grateful, since this was the result...
All those bits sticking everywhere, and the white gunk you see?  That's the goo, drying out.  That's after I wiped most of it off with paper towels and picked at it for half an hour...
I know this would be worse if I still had long hair, but considering I basically had to soak my hair twice to get (almost) all of that garbage goop out, I am unrepentantly annoyed with the whole thing. 

I had to rush out after the test, because it ran very late (also extremely annoying), and I was already upset because I lost my Rubik's Cube the day before.  That's kind of a nice story, actually, because I didn't lose it so much as accidentally give it away.  I'm learning to speedcube (solve the Rubik's Cube quickly) due to an acquaintance of mine, whom I respect strongly.  He's having a hard time right now and has been out of contact, so I'm being supportive quietly by learning to do this thing, which he likes doing a lot.  So I'd been bringing my cube with me wherever I went, so I could practice...

Well, so I was in the waiting room, killing time before the study started, and a little African American girl happened to notice me working on the cube. After some initial interest and a short conversation about it, she seemed to forget about the matter...  But when I got up to go to the study, she stuck out her hand and confidently asked if she could try it.  I quickly did mental calculations: How attached was I to this particular Rubik's cube? Would I get it back?  Was she really that interested?  How much would a new one cost me? 

After a few seconds, I handed it over, having completed my calculations: not that attached, probably not, maybe? and $12 at Target.  After that day's testing was over, the researcher and I went back to see if she'd left the cube at the front desk or given it to someone to hold onto for me.  But my calculations were more or less correct, there was no sign of the cube and she'd probably gone home with it.  I haven't heard word of it since.  

So why was I upset?  Well, I gave away my fidget-toy and time-killer, and I was right in the middle of trying to learn something specific when I did so.  I've thus been tormented by the lack of having it, since I couldn't continue to try to learn the step I'd been working on. Every spare moment, I'd been spending working on this cube, and suddenly it was no longer there.  For lack of a better comparison, the missing Rubik's cube makes me mentally and emotionally itchy, like having poison ivy or mosquito bites you mustn't scratch.  Apparently I should have added, "how badly is this going to disrupt my equilibrium?" to my list of mental calculations. 

In the end, I have no idea whether that girl had any luck with the cube, or if she simply left it somewhere...  But perhaps it's for the best.  I've since ordered a Rubik's cube that's designed to be solved quickly (more expensive than the ones at Target, sadly), and will probably do better using that new cube... but I do wish it'd hurry up and make its way to me already. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reading the Research: Mental Health Services in Schools

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 underlines the usefulness and effectiveness of having mental health care directly in elementary schools.  (Autistic children and adults have a high incidence rate of depressive and anxiety disorders, both of which are included in "mental illness."  According to some people, autism is too, but I don't agree with that.)  Traditionally, children with these challenges early on are taken out of school, or after school, to go to therapies in professional settings.  And that's if they're even noticed at all.  This article describes the results of a meta-study, or a study studying studies, on having these services directly inside the school district.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the results of having the care offered directly in the schools were good.  Particularly in low-income areas and areas with a lot of minorities.  The people in such areas aren't necessarily able to afford the extra costs for transportation or the services themselves, and the stigma of having mental illness can be a huge barrier.  Having the services available directly in school, where transportation is provided, attendance is compulsory, and the staff is already familiar and accessible.

The problem with this, of course, is that it puts further strain on a profession that is already stretched much much too far: teachers.  While most teachers go into their careers with a mind toward helping their students learn, not everyone is cut out to be a therapist on top of teaching history, science, math, or whatever their specialty is.  Nor would everyone want to be a therapist in addition to their specialty.  Nor, really, should everyone have to be a therapist on top of being a teacher.  Simply being a teacher is challenging enough, as I understand it, between the immense amounts of stress and the lackluster amounts of pay.  

And that's just addressing the school professionals aspect... the schools themselves don't necessarily have the money to train all their professionals for these services, let alone the classrooms, materials, and time.  Furthermore, it's not enough to simply have once a week therapies for these challenges...  The research shows that multiple times a week was the most effective form of therapy, across the board.   The authors suggest that schools in low-income communities might partner with existing mental health professionals and services, bringing those organizations to work inside of school.  While that might be a viable solution, it does lose the familiarity aspect of having the teachers do the therapy. 

Basically, it's a thorny, difficult problem... but unfortunately a very important one.  The sooner the mental health challenges are addressed, the better the outcomes for those children.  I am not, and never have been, an elementary school teacher, but I suspect such people would have good things to say on the subject. 

On a personal note, my depression and anxiety were completely missed as a child, or at least dismissed as not serious enough to require intervention... so naturally they plague me to this day.  As an autistic person, though, I can probably safely say that I would have been more likely to attend and make use of school-based services than external services.  One of the reasons I make such a big deal about familiarity here is that I've always struggled with names and faces.  Having to go someplace new and meet all new people in order to "fix me" would not have been a positive experience for me. 

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

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, Part 4 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.