Thursday, May 30, 2013

Square Peg in a Round-Hole-World

This heteronormative, neurotypical society was not made for someone like me. Me, gay and Autistic. I am a square peg trying to live in a round-hole-world, and yet the more I try to squeeze in, the more I feel that I am losing parts of my own soul. I live on the fringes, because in this society the majority gets most of the privilege and the minority is marginalized. I feel like the "Other". Where is there is a place for me?

There are definitely beautiful and special things that come with being on the Autism spectrum. I believe that Autistic people possess gifts that many neurotypicals lack. We are the guileless ones, the genuine ones, the ones who hope for the best and believe the best about everyone. We are the sensitive ones, who feel the pain of others (humans and animals) in ways that are ineffable. I am not denying the gifts that we have.

But there are definite challenges, and these challenges are made all the more difficult because support and accommodations are not easy to acquire. Because I am a minority. Because this is a neurotypical world. And therefore, there is a lack of understanding, and where there is a lack of understanding, there is a lack of assistance and support.

The older I get the more I feel that ASD really is a "pervasive developmental disorder". The older I get the more I feel developmentally delayed, in the social, emotional, and executive functioning realms. What makes this more frustrating is that intellectually, I am gifted/advanced. I'm smart. I know a lot of things. I've had a good education. Sometimes when I talk to people, I sound like a wise old sage.

Because of my intellect, and because I know the expectations of this society, I know what I should be capable of doing at my age. I know that I should be capable of holding down a full time job. I should be able to live independently, cook meals for myself, and do the required household chores. I should be able to go through the needed steps to apply for graduate school. On a social and emotional level, I should not be feeling/acting like a 14-16 year old.

As you will observe from my last post, I work very hard to present as "normal" (i.e., non-autistic) in most of my everyday interactions with people. But this does not translate to everyday life and functioning. I can't always fake it that well. Yet because I can act normal at times, and because I'm smart, people expect me to be able to keep up and do the things that {they think} I should be able to do.

I'm expected to be able to function like the majority. But it doesn't work. It's not working. I'm at a crossroads, a new stage of life, and I should be going out and getting a job and making my mark on the world. But I'm stuck and trapped and scared and lost. I just can't keep up. It's too hard, and people just don't understand that.

Tonight I'll sing my songs again
I'll play the game and pretend
But all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity 
Like emptiness in harmony
I need someone to comfort me

:: Simon and Garfunkel, "Homeward Bound"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Social Heuristics/Rules of Thumb

Being a person on the Autism spectrum, successfully navigating social interaction does not come easily for me. I have developed my own set of heuristics that I apply to social situations because the things that come naturally for neurotypicals are not natural for me.

Heuristics are rules of thumb. They are not fool-proof (unlike algorithms). I say that I have developed heuristics because applying these doesn't mean that every conversation will go off without a hitch...because people are unpredictable (which is frustrating, but that's another topic for another day).

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. If you think of other things, feel free to mention them in a comment.

Note: In this list I use the pronoun "you" because I say these things to myself. "Rae, remember that you need to do this."

My general heuristics for everyday conversation:

1. If you see someone you know and they smile at you, smile back.
2. If someone says hi to you, say hi back. (WITH A SMILE)
3. When you're talking to someone, look at in in the general vicinity of their eyes as often as possible (it's okay to look away when you're trying to gather your thoughts).
4. If someone says, "how are you doing?" answer with, "fine" or "I'm good" and then say, "how are you?" Usually this phrase is used as a greeting, NOT as a real question. Do NOT start a monologue about how you're feeling--unless you're pressed for more details (usually by a close friend), but even then, don't go on and on. Same goes for "how was your day/week?"
5. Remember personal space. Stand about an arm's width away unless they're an intimate friend/partner. Getting too close can make the other person feel uncomfortable.
6. Do your best to make sure your facial expression matches the topic of the conversation. E.g., knit your brows and frown a little if they're talking about something sad. IMPORTANT: Do whatever you must to make sure you NEVER laugh or smile at someone when they're angry or upset.
7. Try to keep things as back-and-forth as possible. E.g., if they ask you a question, give an answer and then ask a question back.

Heuristics for how to show that you're listening/paying attention:

1. Look at their face as much as possible
2. Nod every once in a while and say, "uh huh."
3. Tilting your head a little and leaning in towards them a bit shows that you're really concentrating on what they're saying.
4. Use some of these words/phrases when appropriate: "yes/yeah," "I see," "that's interesting," "okay," "right," "that makes sense," etc.
5. Try not to cross your arms when standing and talking to someone. It gives a "closed off" impression.
6. Do NOT interrupt. What they're saying is just as important as what you want to say. Wait your turn.

Bottom line:

If you don't use these heuristics, you'll probably end up doing something outside of the expected social  norm. People don't like when others do unexpected things. It can make them feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. This is BAD. People will always remember how you made them feel, and if they remember feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed around you, they won't want talk to you or be around you.

Handy tips:

1. It's okay to ask clarifying questions. If you're not sure if someone is joking or using sarcasm, it's okay to ask, "Were you joking just now?" Just make sure you keep your tone friendly. It's also okay to say, "That was really general and abstract. Could you give a concrete example?" It's ALWAYS better to ask for clarification than to risk misunderstandings. Misunderstandings often lead to discomfort and embarrassment, which we know is not good.

2. Offering a brief explanation is sometimes the best thing you can do. For example, you're with a person who overuses sarcasm and non-literal language. Saying to them, "I tend to interpret things literally and I'm not good at catching sarcasm, so sometimes I might ask you if you're being serious or not" offers them extra information for how to understand and relate to you.

Like I said, these are things I use for myself. Other Autistic people may or may not find them helpful. I wrote this up because I thought it would be interesting to discover what exactly I'm doing as I work to navigate social situations as "normally" as possible. I realized just how exhausting it is. No wonder I'm so wearied after hanging out with people. Thankfully I do have some people in my life around whom I don't have to work so hard and I don't have to use these heuristics all the time. It's mainly in professional situations and when I'm meeting new people.

In my next post, I'll talk about why sometimes these heuristics don't work and how things can go awry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Letter to an Autistic child

Dear child,

There are some things I want you to know. I want you to know that there's nothing wrong with you. You don't need to be fixed or changed or healed or recovered. You were created with a different neurological wiring, and neurodiversity is what makes our world a more interesting place.

There will be ignorant people who will want to find a cure for you. They will think that you need to be as "normal" as possible in order to fit in and flourish. This is not true. You are perfect just the way you are, and even though you might need support and accommodations at times, that doesn't mean you're flawed. You will flourish, and you will be successful.

I know it's hard to live in a world where everything seems too loud, too fast, too tight, and too bright. It's hard to live in a world where you're misunderstood. It's hard to live in a world where most people seem like an enigma. I know this, and I'm sorry that this world isn't more understanding of you.

But where would we be without you? You are sensitive, you are guileless, you are honest, you are genuine, you are Real. What you see is what you get, right? In a world full of so many false and fake people, you are Real.

I know it's scary and I know sometimes you can't talk and even when you do people don't always listen. But don't give up. Don't stop speaking. The world needs to hear things that only you can say. They need things to be done that only you can do. Because you are Valuable and you are full of infinite Worth. Don't allow others to silence you or change you.

The last thing I want you to know is that I'm proud of you. You are so strong. You are a fighter. Don't ever stand down. Push further up, push further in. Because even if some don't realize it yet, we need you.

With love,


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hello, Friends

Welcome. This is a Place where Love is. I was raised with such a polarizing worldview, where people were viewed as good or bad, gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian. But here, there is another Way. I see  beautiful hearts and souls, and the Kindness and Love that dwell therein. 

I see that we all have something to teach one another, and if one of you were missing, all of us would have a hole. 

This is an inclusive place. All are accepted here. This is an affirming place. All are treated with gentleness here.

Often on these pages I will exercise self-advocacy. But my purpose for that is to promote Acceptance and Love, and I hope that perhaps my words will help people develop more inclusive and affirming hearts.

There is no judgment here, and there is no shame here. I look forward to embarking on this journey with you.