Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 10/31/2018

Happy birthday, me, it's the 30th one.

Chris took the day off for it, and I rescheduled most of the day's events away from it so I could enjoy the day.  Plans are to go out for dinner, sleep in, and spend time together.  Not sure what else we'll do.  Maybe a movie.  Probably a bath.

This year, like every year since I went off to college, my birthday presents have trickled in over the last week or so, rather than all being presented in a pile as they were in my childhood.  I kind of miss the simplicity those days, not having to watch for packages, and having a single pile of cards and gifts to focus on, but it's completely unreasonable to expect my far-flung family and friends to all coordinate their gifts and well-wishes.  At this age, it's wiser to be simply grateful when the occasion is remembered, even if it's late.  I'll have plenty of years to practice that gratitude, I expect.

In the meantime, I've gotten into the habit of buying myself small things to make the month of October seem a little more celebratory.  Most of the things are $5 or less, such as the bath bomb I bought to use in the bathtub, or a small but tasty edible treat.  These things make the grind of early to late October seem less stressful.  My birthday comes at the end of October, which is after my mom's birthday, my dad's birthday, my sister-in-law's birthday, and several friends' birthdays, all of which need cards or presents or at least recognition by way of a text message or verbal greeting.

This year I shelled out for a somewhat larger gift to myself, which came in the form of making my hair blue.  Not the usual blue, this blue's more sapphire in shade: lighter and brighter.  I'll have that color in my hair for when I go to DC for the government work, which is fun.  She offered to also dye my eyebrows, which I thought was hilarious, but it's a pleasure deferred until after the trip is done, I think.  Probably going to raise enough eyebrows with the hair, without matching my eyebrows to it.

The hairstylist, who is now a friend of mine, has also agreed to accompany me to a makeup store and help me choose out some good cosmetics.  I despise the deleterious effects of the beauty industry, but I recognize the importance of appearances, unfortunately.  And the place I'm going, I remember from last year, most female people dressed nicely and wore makeup.  I found it annoying at the time, but it's best to look professional and competent when you're dealing with people who matter, but you may never see again.

She'll also probably end up giving me a lesson in how to use makeup, because I never properly learned.  But it's a skill I should probably have, given the body I have.  I don't intend to start wearing makeup all the time, or even regularly.  To me it's an investment, just like fancy clothes.  Uncomfortable, unnatural, but unfortunately essential.

Anyway, before I head off to DC, there's today to enjoy, and a dinner a few days later with family at a nice restaurant.  So that'll be pleasant.  A little reprieve before the DC trip and Thanksgiving.  

Monday, October 29, 2018

Reading the Research: CBD for Anxiety and Pain Relief

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 a somewhat touchy subject for some people: marijuana.  More specifically, it dives into the two major chemicals in marijuana that influence why people use it.  The first, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), is what we popularly associate with marijuana, that is, the "getting high" and euphoria effects.  The second, which isn't nearly so well known, is called CBD (cannabidiol).  CBD produces anti-anxiety and pain relief effects.  

Marijuana has been taken medicinally for hundreds of years, long before the current debate over legalization sparked.  Conditions like cancer, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, and even glaucoma are treatable in Michigan with medical marijuana.  While I'm sure the euphoria part doesn't hurt, the bulk of the medical benefit is from the CBD.  It's perhaps not surprising, then, given the stigma around marijuana itself, that some companies have taken it upon themselves to separate out the CBD from the marijuana plants and sell the resulting product.  A common form of this is an oil, which you can ingest or mix into things. 

This is a sample-sized bottle of CBD oil.  This particular source, Plus CBD Oil, has the recommendation of my doctor.  
As marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug in federal law, it's important to note that this CBD oil has no THC and does not count as marijuana itself.  It is strictly a medical product, and can be bought online.  As such, I've tried it.  I didn't notice any particular positive effects, personally, but I know people who do regularly use it for coping with chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. 

Naturally, I expect the euphoria and "high" feeling that come with marijuana proper would also help with depression and anxiety... it's probably hard to be depressed or anxious if you're feeling really good and can't focus very well but feel no need to.  Not strictly helpful in a work environment, but I bet as ways to relax go, it's pretty good. 

In just a couple weeks, my home state of Michigan will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana (ie: so any adult can use it, regardless of medical need).  I'm hopeful the vote will pass, as I'm vaguely curious about the proper stuff.  As a child, I kept far away from drugs.  That included alcohol, until I turned 21 and felt sufficiently confident in myself to try it in carefully controlled environments. 

After that, I acquired a selection of alcohols, got some trusted friends to keep an eye on me, and got to work figuring out my tolerances.  I started small, with cheap rum, and over a few weeks, got a sense for how my body handled the low-grade poisoning that is tipsiness and drunkenness.  It'd be interesting to do the same with marijuana, and see if the high and medicinal effects could help with my anxiety and depression.  That'll only happen if it becomes legal, though.  

Friday, October 26, 2018

WYR: Don't Mourn The Living

This piece is unusual in that it's actually quite old.  It was originally published in 1993, which is remarkable to me because A) that's about the year Asperger's Syndrome ("high-functioning autism") started being recognized in the US, and B) I was in early elementary school at the time, and was yet to suffer more than two decades of people not understanding what this article is describing.

Like most of what's out there regarding autism, this is directed towards parents.  It's long, so I won't take up too much space here in hopes you'll read the whole thing.  I don't think there's a single sentence or sentiment in the entire article that I disagree with, though.  Which is quite a feat, considering the sentiments expressed here are 25 years old, and a lot can change in a quarter century.

Please, take these words to heart.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 10/24/18

Whewww.... October is almost over.  Alllllmost over. 

I was seriously considering calling off my birthday this month and celebrating at some later date when I wasn't completely overwhelmed and crabbity, but things seem to be shifting in a more positive direction. 

Notable good points this week include eating freshly made beef stew with my spouse and my parents, a combination birthday party for myself and a friend, and a trip to a local orchard with a different friend group. 

Seasoned readers will know that I tend to eat vegetarian in most contexts, which makes the beef stew all the more special.  In truth, I'll happily eat meat, but I'm touchy about where it comes from.  So in restaurant settings and pretty much anywhere except home, I'm strictly vegetarian.  At home, I can find humane chicken, turkey, bison, and beef, but usually it's quite expensive compared to the grocery store standards. 

So after our original birthday plans fell through, having a well-prepared, fresh beef stew made for me (well, partially by me, but mostly for me), is a real delight.  Getting to share it with my parents was an extra treat, and they seemed to enjoy it as well.

In recent Mondays, I normally see a pair of my friends to watch the latest episode of a favorite TV show together.  This week that happened, but another couple friends came as well, and we made a proper party of it, celebrating my birthday and one of the friends' birthdays (his was yesterday).  There was good food, good company, and we played a trivia game that had basically everyone in fits of laughter.  Other than the laughs hurting my abs after a while, it was excellent. 

Lastly, there was an outing planned to a local orchard that turned out pretty nicely.  It was a nice day, though quite chilly.  There was a hay ride and a corn maze activity offered, both of which I did.  The corn maze appears to be an excuse to wander around outdoors and enjoy the day, or at least this one was.  There were two separate spots where you could climb up and view the maze from above, and the corn itself wasn't super tall, so you could kind of peer over it and decide where you were going next. 

The crowning event for the orchard visit was the eating of the cider and doughnuts, though.  Fresh, hot doughnuts on a cold day was lovely, and the cider from this orchard was pretty good.  I'm still searching for a comparable cider to the orchard I lived near in CT, but this stuff was rich, sweet, and tangy, and of course fresh and unpasteurized.  I know pasteurization is a marvel of modern technology and makes storage and transport really easy for many liquids, but I'm happier drinking my cider without it.  I'm not actually sure if it's good for my gut or not, but I hope so.  I didn't have any obvious pointers to yes or no, anyway.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

Reading the Research: For The Love of Sugar

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 a subject particularly relevant to people with special dietary requirements, which often includes autistic people but is definitely not limited to us: artificial sweeteners.  It's also relevant to any person trying to lose weight, I suppose. 

In short, the six tested artificial sweeteners royally mess up the good bacteria in your guts.  The tested sweeteners were: aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k.  Take a careful look at your diet pop's ingredients.  If you're drinking any of these, you might want to just drink the regular stuff, and less of it.  Check your health foods and low-sugar treats, same deal. 

I've actually had a personal experience with this gut toxicity, sadly.  I went to a semi-sit down restaurant specializing in pasta a few years ago.  I usually don't get a fountain drink when I go, and I rarely drink pop, but I used to.  I was feeling nostalgic, and the drink machine had a lot of cool options, so I chose one that looked less sugary and drank a nice big glass of it.  It tasted decent enough, but within an hour, my guts were extremely angry with me, and I spent a lot of time on the toilet. 

Now, this would have been fine if it'd stopped there, but after a week, it was all the same story.  Lots of time in the bathroom, no apparent improvement in my guts.  I consulted my doctor, who put me on probiotics (the kind you have to refrigerate) to try to rebuild the good bacteria in my guts.  The recovery process was unpleasant, to say the least, and I had to take two separate probiotics on alternating days until things evened out.  The second probiotic actually had to be divided in two and mixed into applesauce to make my guts accept it. 

After everything was said and done, my guts are not back to the way they used to be.  I used to suffer from constipation on a regular basis.  I now have the opposite problem, and no amount of probiotics in the last couple years seems to change it back.  I have to watch what I eat carefully, as too much sugar or other sweeteners makes it much worse. 

It is, I would therefore say, much better to simply avoid these sweeteners, rather than having to do this gut reconstruction work. 

Instead of any of these sweeteners listed, and instead of sugar, consider trying the sweeteners my doctor recommended: monk fruit extract, stevia, xylitol, and erithrytol.  Use the latter two cautiously, or blend them with the first two, as too much of these sugar alcohols can give you gas.  I've had decent luck and no ill effects from these four sweeteners.  

Friday, October 19, 2018

WYR: Functioning Labels

People love their categories.  I attend a parents-of-autistic-children support group as a kind of "autism translator" for the various parents that attend, in addition to learning from them and learning about the world of autism in general.  And while the author mentions functioning labels first as a professionals' tendency, I hear them most from those parents.

It's funny, you know.  The autistic people I hear described at those meetings vary in IQ, skill at day-to-day living chores, and ability to hold a job... but pretty much without fail, each parent describes their kid as "high functioning."  Perhaps that label is reserved for the autistic people whose parents have entirely given up on them, or whose differences and skill deficits are so momentous that the matter is un-ignorable.  After all, parents love their kids, and nobody* wants to put down their kid in front of a bunch of strangers.

Regardless of how a person is categorized in the current mode, both labels are erroneous, hurtful, and insulting.

We'll start with erroneous.  There are no true "high functioning" and "low functioning" categories, because people are literally not that simple.  You can have an autistic person with an intellectual disability who would fail right out of a public middle school, but needs little to no help taking care of themself and can hold a job with the right supports.  And you can have someone more like me, who graduated college, and yet apparently can't survive any 9-to-5 job for more than a year or so.

My doctor tells me that she sometimes helps even more extreme versions of this: the PHD grads with zero life skills.  This is the kind of person that understands and could explain advanced physics, but can't do their own laundry or keep their living area clean.  By the way, if anyone was wondering...  IQ is a very limited subset of intelligence, and literally only predicts how well you'll do in school.  It is not, in fact, a good predictor of how well you'll do in life itself.

So, the needs and abilities of any given autistic person will vary widely, first and foremost.  A couple years ago, there was an excellent comic that explained some of this.  Now, what people tend to do with functioning categories is try to "sum up" the support needs of a person, and round that either up to "high functioning" or down to "low functioning."  They then relay that information to the next person, losing every ounce of detail in the process, and that next person is left either thinking the person is "almost normal" or "hopeless."

Both summaries are wrong.  Most people would immediately categorize me as "high functioning" because I graduated college, manage a marriage and a house, and can act neurotypical fairly well.  But it's an illusion.  I am far from "almost normal."  Every autistic person I've heard described as "high functioning" is the same.  We may learn to appear otherwise, but that's only because ableism demands it.  Inside, we are still ourselves.

And now the really awful one: "low-functioning" or "hopeless."  Let me be very clear about this.  People with lots of support needs can grow, learn, and improve their skills and abilities.  There is no point at which a person is hopeless.  There is also no point after which it becomes okay to treat a high-needs autistic person like they're not human, or have no soul, or whatever other garbage people have historically been fed.

Besides being erroenous, functioning labels are also hurtful and insulting.  High and low functioning labels are ableism, or the kind of discrimination that prizes perfect health over humanity.  "Functioning" is literally a comparison to a standard neurotypical person.  And thus, any autistic person receiving a categorization is being told they are "more broken" or "less broken."

Back in the 60s, prior to autism being a recognized condition, John Elder Robison was often told, "you talk pretty good for a retard."  Today, he compares that cringe-worthy statement to being told he's "high functioning."  And that's the "nicer" end of the comparison.  Now just imagine you're already struggling with life and people keep telling referring to you as "very broken and probably hopeless."  To your face, and behind your back, no matter how hard you try, that's all you'll be to them.  "Not quite a person" or "has no hope of being a person."

I feel like being insulted and hurt is a reasonable response to that.  Even if the sentiment is expressed in ignorance of all that context.


When I express a truncated version of this to parents of autistic people, their frustrated response tends to be, "So what am I supposed to say instead?"  I have yet to come up with a really good answer to that.  People love their categories, and love having simple words to express complicated concepts.  

The least harmful and insulting alternative is to give a sentence or two instead of a couple words.  For example, "My child is mostly nonverbal and needs some help around the house, but holds a 9-5 job and lives on her own."  Or, if my parents needed to do this, "My child is highly verbal and lives independently, but has moderate sensory difficulties and can't manage a 9-5 job."  You can then field some questions about the specifics if you need to.  Please note that each of these examples addresses both "functioning" strengths and weaknesses.  

The option I've given parents in the past is being a bit more truthful about what they're referring to.  So instead of "high functioning" and "low functioning," you'd say "better blended (into neurotypical society)", or "worse blended (into neurotypical society)."  You're literally critiquing the person's ability to pretend to be neurotypical rather than their immediate worth as a human being.  But honestly, in retrospect, this isn't all that much more than a bandaid on the issue.  

In the end, being compared to a nonexistent "normal" (neurotypical) standard person is detrimental to everyone involved.  Even neurotypical people.  Because there is no true normal.  Some non-autistic people have sensory difficulties.  Some autistic people write lengthy discussions of current vernacular.  Lots of people suffer from depression and anxiety.  And learning disabilities affect millions of people.  

Demanding to use functioning labels insists that being any kind of different isn't okay, and that everyone should strive to be like everyone else.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 10/17/18

I did manage to get my life a bit more on track this week.  Yay.  Also, the research reviewer job for the government ramped up.  Eek. 

I don't think I mentioned the latter thing in this blog yet, so for background, in January this year I participated in a government grant application review panel focused on autism research.  Basically, the Army gets lots of government money, and when the US isn't at war, they spend some of it doing research on various conditions and diseases in hopes of improving the lives of the soldiers.  So, things like cancer and major skin burns, but also autism. 

They recruit scientists to review the applications for that money, but in a remarkably forward-thinking twist, they also have people affected by the condition or disease weigh in on the applications.  This is unprecedented elsewhere in the US, as far as I'm aware.  Usually organizations simply ask other scientists what looks scientifically viable, and meh to what anyone else thinks.  It's also somewhat unprecedented for autistic people to not only have our opinions sought and listened to, but also to be compensated for our time and travel.

This year, they're doing it again, and I've again been invited to participate.  Basically, it's a really awesome opportunity, and one I can't reasonably pass up. 

It does take a certain amount of prep work and paperwork to successfully complete the requirements for the program.  For example, I needed to spend some time in the last couple days reading 11 scientific abstracts and deciding how competent I felt on the subject the proposed study was addressing.  If I had been a scientist, I would also have needed to pay careful attention to the people and institutions named on each application, because you're not allowed to review an application whose people you're familiar with.  Interferes with the impartiality of the system and all that.  Fortunately, I'm mostly a nobody in academia, so although I read over the names, I recognized literally nobody and therefore can review anything they put in front of me.

Anyway, that's keeping me busy... so while I've slacked a bit on the blog, I still feel like I've been productive.  And I do still have a buffer, almost up to my birthday.  That allows me a certain amount of breathing room I wouldn't otherwise have.  Which is very good for my mental health. 

Speaking of the blog... hello to those of you reading from Europe and Asia.  I have no idea how I acquired readers from Poland, Germany, Ireland, Ukraine, Spain, Russia, South Korea, and France, but I'm flattered to bits that you think my blog is worth your time.  My blog comes with an activity tracker-type thing that tells me where people who visit the blog come from, and while I write to a mainly USian audience on autism and special-needs issues and research, I'd like to think I'm slightly less US-centric than most USians.  Very slightly.  Hopefully. 

I usually ignore the statistics on how many visits my blog gets, because the low numbers depressed me when I was just starting out.  I preferred to focus on putting out quality, useful, interesting content (hopefully).  Looking at the numbers now, they've grown some, but I expect I should learn how to work SEO and various other self-promotion things at some point.  I also expect that once I do so, I'm going to start kicking Past Me for putting it off that long... but my life has very much been a "slow and steady hopefully finishes the race" kind of deal, at least so far.  The alternative is burning out before the finish line, like the impatient hare in the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  Hopefully Future Me will remember that and not hold too much ill-will about it. 

Regardless, please know that any of my readers are welcome to contact me via Blogger or on Twitter with any questions, comments, suggestions, or recipes.  I'm afraid I'm monolingual (to my shame), but I do like to hear from my readers and other interested parties.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reading the Research: Labeled Learning

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 demonstrates the power of labels, and the innate tendency of humans to gravitate to them and use them.  In a world where labels like "autistic," "special needs," and "high functioning/low functioning" exist, it's important to know that this tendency can't simply be overridden or schooled away from people.  Mostly, though, this teaching method has real potential for teaching the "hidden curriculum" that autistic people tend to miss.  

So, as I was reading this article, which is mainly about teaching babies how to recognize made up categories of objects, it occurred to me that the same kind of learning could potentially be done with older children and, say, facial expressions.  

So, you'd point the person's attention to a TV show, and mark the first few happy expressions for them.  Or angry expressions, or sad expressions, or embarrassed expressions.  And then see how well they pick up on subsequent examples of that expression.  You could start with animated shows, for simplicity, and work up to live action shows.  

With sufficiently advanced graphics processing, excellent software, and something like Google Glass, the same idea could be handled in real time.  Naturally, emotions recognition is just a small part of the hidden curriculum, but it's an important one.  Having a video series or a computer program to literally teach what each emotion tends to look like would be a good step towards making life easier for autistic people.

I can see the same thing working for verbal responses and context with older children and teenagers.  You could teach sarcasm this way, by noting the context around the sarcastic sentence and then noting that the sentence was sarcastic.  The person could learn to make those same calculations in their head, given time and practice.  

I expect this wouldn't be a surefire teaching technique for every autistic person, but the urge to categorize is strong in humans, so it wouldn't surprise me if it was at least somewhat useful to most learning styles.  

Friday, October 12, 2018

WYR: Applied Behavioral Analysis

I worked as a secretary ("administrative assistant") for a time at an autism clinic.  The fact that I was at the front desk, not in the teaching areas specifically, meant my experience was limited to brief flashes of the therapy, rather than seeing a whole session overall.  As such, I can only offer limited examples from my own life... because I was in my 20s before I'd even heard of using Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to "treat" autism. 

I will say that nothing the author says here is contradicted by what I saw.  Essentially, what ABA focuses on is developing skills to make autistic people seem more normal.  That is, it trains people to respond to questions, teaches eye contact, movement (like how you walk), and social cues. 

Some of this is good.  Being able to communicate with neurotypical people in a fashion they understand, and being able to recognize social cues when they're given, are both good things.  Training a child to walk a certain way, or to make a certain amount of eye contact, or punishing a child when they flap their hands?  Not so good. 

If the difference isn't obvious to you, I'll explain.  Autistic people flap their hands or do other behaviors ("stimming") that look unusual because they are expressions of something.  That might be joy, or feeling overwhelmed, or even a side-effect of their laser focus on something.  Stepping in and stomping down on those behaviors because "they're not normal" is ableism.  Training a child to act perfectly neurotypical, going against their personal quirks, is basically insisting that they are invalid and the only correct way to be human is to be neurotypical. 

Eye contact is painful and/or overwhelming to some autistic people (hi there!), which is why many of us don't make appropriate eye contact when interacting with people.  Demanding we make eye contact in the name of normalcy means we're at a massive disadvantage in a conversation.  Instead of being able to focus on the subject matter, we're forced to juggle sensory overload and try to manage the conversation. 

The author talks about a particular little boy that she enjoyed in this school, with his inventive uses of language.  These things that made him unique, they were all stepped on, quashed, in the name of normalcy.  That's ableism.  That's what ABA preaches. 

Personally?  I had an uneasy truce with the ABA program I worked in proximity with.  I watched a child who could've been me get frustrated with being stuck in a room with the lights off.  In frustration, he first asked repeatedly for the lights to be turned on, then pleaded and cried, and finally attacked his teacher, who was trained to simply curb his attacks and continue directing his focus to the lesson at hand.  The teacher was bigger and much stronger.  You can guess who got their way. 

Good behavior was rewarded with pieces of candy, other food treats, and verbal praise.  So, basically the same way you train a horse or a dog.  At this school, the teachers did seem to genuinely like their kids, and there was actual playtime involved, not simply teaching time.  The kids did seem to have fun when they were out and about.  And the teachers did try to teach social skills, which I do think is important. 

But yeah.  ABA is not what I'd suggest for helping autistic people.  Even if it doesn't involve cattle prods.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 10/10/18

Most of this last week was spent nursing my spouse, who is thankfully recovering from a rather nasty illness.  Antibiotics were involved, and he spent a lot of time in bed, with the room as dark as possible.  By the sound of it, he was experiencing light sensitivity kind of like I do, and did not enjoy the experience.  No surprises there.

I ran the house alone as best I could, but between caring for him and my regular work, things inevitably fell behind.  I feel very fortunate that I was able to work ahead so much on this blog, because I think otherwise I might have been a neurotic mess.  Well, more of a neurotic mess.

Anyway, my spouse was finally well enough to go to work yesterday, which let me have some badly-needed self-care time.  I spent at least half of yesterday either sleeping or doing nothing that resembled productivity.  Sometimes it's really hard to tell if I'm doing self-care or if I'm just entirely unable to work...  but by the end of yesterday, I'd taken care of a number of my chores, done some personal hygiene things, taken care of a lot of to-dos, and written this entry.  So it wasn't a full waste of a day.

I'd like to entirely blame my spouse's illness for all the falling behind I've experienced in my self-care and such, but in truth, it was just the capstone.  Other than breakfast, my diet has been poor lately, and as it's gotten colder outside, I've found it more difficult to be interested in biking.  The comfortable self-generated breeze of biking in summer becomes chilling and unpleasant in fall, and I actually don't have biking pants or shorts.  At all.  I already have so many things on my wishlist for my birthday (which is coming soon), so it seems greedy and/or foolish to add biking gear to it.  Especially now that the biking season is all but over.

Adding to that, I don't really know anything about activewear, and what's comfortable or what you should look for when buying it.  I haven't had a very active life, suffice it to say, and I'd rather not buy clothes online and then find out they're not comfortable or I don't like them for some other reason.  Meh.  Perhaps I'll tackle it next spring.

Hopefully I can start getting my life back on track this coming week.  

Monday, October 8, 2018

Reading the Research: Join, join, join!

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 a strategy for making friends, which is a subject many autistic people experience difficulties with.  That strategy: join a lot of related communities, rather than just one or two around your favorite subjects.  So, if you like webcomics, join the forums for a bunch of similar ones.  Or, if you like a particular sport, join various groups that watch that sport, or play it, or whatever your preference is.  Someone who loves jogging might get involved in a few local races, as well as join a runner's club or two, and regularly visit a local gym.  

The article goes into interesting complicating factors in understanding how friendships form, including the similarity of people inside the groups, and whether the people becoming friends have any acquaintances in common.  But surprisingly to me, they end up discarding those factors as irrelevant, given their data.  Meaning it might well be as simple as "how many fan groups have you joined?"

One of the researchers put it this way: "If two people are active in the same community at the same time, they have a constant, usually small, probability of forming a friendship."

I'd be really curious to know the results if anyone tried this, specifically.  There are whole websites devoted to helping people find interest groups.  Meetup is the first one that comes to my mind, but there's also Eventbrite, MeetIn, and CitySocializer.

The downside to this, is, of course, that people with special needs often have limitations to our opportunities.  We have limited energy we can spend on interacting with groups and strangers.  Our means of transport can be limited, for example.  Not everyone on the spectrum drives.  We may not have much disposable income to spend on meals out, or buying things like movie tickets or paid entry to venues.

These limitations aren't necessarily a complete roadblock- online communities can also lead to viable, worthwhile friendships.  This concept may surprise people of the older generations, what with the importance they place on face-to-face interactions...  but I have personal evidence that a good friendship can last years, even if you've never actually met the person.

My oldest friend is from the UK.  I have never seen his face, and he hates having pictures of himself online, so unless I visit England, I probably won't get to.  We've lost touch for a couple years here and there, but generally speaking, we chat at least once a month, sometimes multiple times a week.  Mainly via text, but I've also spoken to him via a service similar to a telephone.  He is quirky, but he is an excellent friend and genuinely cares whether I'm doing well or not.  He's learned to take disappointment in stride, thankfully, because I'm usually a grump about something or other, and also depression is a thing I deal with regularly.

Like any friendship, it's not been perfect.  We've had miscommunications in plenty, but the friendship has lasted over 15 years.  Which is more than half my life!  Relevantly, I met him through a fan community for a video game we both played.  I found out later that we also had a different community in common, centered on that same video game.

So maybe the theory works.  If I ever give it a try, I'll let you know.  

Friday, October 5, 2018

Worth Your Read: One Person's Light Sensitivity

Dr. Stephen Shore, noted autistic speaker, professor, and advocate, once spoke the often-paraphrased line: "If you've met one individual with autism, you've met one individual with autism." 

This is particularly true when it comes to sensory sensitivities.  The way we experience things can be markedly different from the "normal experience," of course.  But even the way two autistic people experience the lighting in a building can vary, wildly.  This is why it's so important to keep reading and learning about autism and related conditions.  You can never really "know it all" in any subject, but especially when it comes to this, there's a stunning amount of diversity. 

A few months ago, I wrote about what visual sensitivities can be like.  I, specifically, have a form of light sensitivity, but it has absolutely nothing on this article writer's experiences with light.  What I have, in terms of light sensitivity, is basically a ramped up version of normal vision.  Most people are uncomfortable, or even suffer minor pain, when they have to look directly into high beams on car headlights, or when stepping from a dark room into full sunlight.  I just suffer more, with less cause, than most people. 

This author?  If my light sensitivity is ramped up, theirs is on the strongest steroids ever invented.  Can you imagine having to plan your day around the lighting in the world and in all the buildings you have to visit?  This author has to do that.  Every day.  The pain of their bad experiences with lights can last hours.  That's brutal.  They mention deciding, as a rule, to work 3rd shift (graveyard shift, basically they work when most people sleep), so that they could cope with life easier. 

Imagine the author as a child, rather than the literate, communicative adult able to write the article we see here.  Can you imagine how difficult their life would have been?  Pain all the time, and nobody believes you?  Nobody understands, because neurotypical people rarely get headaches from changes in lights.  Did their parents believe them?  Was any help forthcoming, for a person that can't explain very clearly why they're suffering?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 10/3/18

I did see some mood climate improvements in the earlier part of this week, probably due to the CoQ10 and the broccoli sprouts.  I'm currently on kind of a downer mood due to lack of sleep, situational factors, and deteriorating diet.  But at least that's understandable and not, y'know, just feeling awful for no reason.

I'm trying to decide whether the effect was due to the interaction between the two new substances, or if it's literally just the broccoli sprouts.  I took the CoQ10 for about a week before adding the broccoli sprouts in properly, and didn't really see much difference.  But sometimes things can take that long to kick in.  The test, I suppose, would be to continue eating broccoli sprouts every day and then dropping the CoQ10.  Now's probably not the time to try that, though, since I'm feeling down and grouchy and ouchy.  (The lattermost is because I'm biologically female, and every month that fact makes me miserable for roughly a week.)   

I had a relatively successful week, as that goes, at least.  The student who's been doing my hair color graduated, and while I actually missed her on the day of, I did end up getting her the balloon and fancy cupcakes I'd bought in celebration of her graduation.  I had to drive about 2.5 hours round trip to do it, though, so it's fortunate it was just a one-time thing. 

Then this weekend my spouse and I saw my grandmother for a lunch and grocery shopping outing.  We tried a barbecue place, which was pretty decent.  I had fish and chips for the first time in years, and it was pretty darned good.  The fish was proper fish fillets, too, not processed ground fish.  I'd go there again, needless to say. 

Also this weekend, I hosted a very small party.  It's the first party I think we've had in this house.  (It's within the first year of us moving in, though, so that's fine.)  We had a couple friends over to watch a just-released episode of a TV show (The Good Place) that all of us enjoy.  It was pretty fun.  They brought dinner, which was thoughtful, and we spent a good amount of time just chatting about things besides the TV show. 

It's a little ambitious, but I'm hoping that maybe that event could be a regular thing.  We don't quite have a TV setup for the downstairs area yet, and may not for several months, due to prioritizing other things in the budget.  But so far Chris has been good about being okay with borrowing one of his computer screens for events. 

I don't really consider myself much a TV watcher, but this particular show was available on a streaming service that Chris has, and it came with high recommendations from multiple sources, so I finally gave up and watched it.  And it was, in fact, excellent.  Also, I have memories from college of getting together with friends, eating snacks, and watching a single episode of a TV show like this.  So I guess maybe it'd be a good thing to add to my life regularly.  

Monday, October 1, 2018

Reading the Research: Reputation Awareness

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 an aspect of self-awareness that isn't talked about all the much in school... at least not directly.  It's a piece of the hidden curriculum, as some autistic people call it, that we don't necessarily acquire when others do.  Specifically, it's the sense for, and concern with, how others see you.  This concept factors into pretty much every social interaction on some level.  

You can, for example, literally watch this sense kick into high gear when watching insecure people in media (or in real life) try to date.  Posturing, dressing in clothes they wouldn't normally wear, pickup artist tricks, and "playing it cool" are all done because the person is worried about their image.  Have a very self-aware example from a popular webcomic.  Dating is the obvious example, but job interviews, family gatherings, and pretty much any other situation where others' opinions matter also count.  

So it's interesting to me that toddlers have apparently already developed this sense.  My earliest memory, probably from about age 4, strongly suggests I either didn't develop this sense until later, or really, really didn't care what my peers thought about me.  I was in a pre-K classroom, playing with various games and activities.  Most of the girls tended towards the "house" type settings, with dolls, playacting domestic activities.  But I didn't think that was any fun, so I didn't do it.  I preferred to run little toy cars through the chocolate pudding that was spread on the child-sized tables.  

Now, that wasn't the only activity I ever did, there were also board games (including the one where you put shapes into the board until the timer runs out, and then the pieces pop out- this is maybe where I acquired my dislike of time trials...).  But it's what I remember doing most, and I also remember not paying my peers any mind at all, beyond basic sharing and such.  

I do recall having some care for my classmates' opinion of me in early elementary school, though.  Specifically, I was bullied, and that made me worry about looking weak and target-able.  So that's a fairly clear indication that at least by age 6 or so, I'd developed that sense.  And naturally, in my preteen and teenage years, I did worry somewhat overmuch about what others thought of me.  

Eventually that spiraled into a proper anxiety disorder, as I tried to compensate for my autistic-ness and mostly failed.  Though in high school, learning that most people didn't care about me and wouldn't remember I existed unless I did something dramatic, was kind of a relief.  

I guess maybe that's only a relief for people that don't like being the center of attention.  But the only time I've enjoyed being the center of attention was my wedding reception, because I got to share the spotlight with my spouse, pretty much everyone was happy to be there, and other than "be there, eat food, smile, say hi to people," there weren't many obligations.