Archive for May, 2015

Out of Sink…

Posted: May 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

Out of Sync                                                                                          Annette DeWit

Some one asked, “How does my Aspergers affect me? What does it mean to me?

When I was a kid we had a set of Encyclopedias in which the ‘human body’ section had several layers of transparencies detailing the different body systems. As the sheets were layered onto each other a complete diagram of a person was revealed. I found that fascinating, and spent hours lifting and lowering the different sheets to compare the resulting pictures.                                               What I noticed then was that until the layers were flat and smoothly together the diagrams didn’t work. They would not come into focus and make a complete picture.

Do you remember setting the station on the car radio by turning a dial? And how sometimes you just couldn’t get it to tune right, and there was always just a little bit of static, no matter how you twiddled with it? The signal was always just a little bit fuzzy.

In hind sight, those two sensations, of blurred incompletion, and fuzzy partial communication, were fairly central to my perception of reality. I often quote “normal is what you live in/with” or “…what you are used to.” While both of those statements are in a way true, I was also always conscious of a sense of abnormal. I have always been aware of being different.

I would comment at times that I ‘didn’t get’ my classmates. Or that I wasn’t the same kind of person. That I wasn’t part of the group they made, ‘not one of the girls’. As I grew, I phrased it as ‘being tuned to a different wavelength, not speaking the same language,’ or ‘looking at [life] from the wrong angle.’

There were times when I embraced these differences. I could read faster, retain more, memorize more. I didn’t get into silly immature scrapes, didn’t have crushes that left me in tears over being “dumped”, didn’t get bored, wasn’t interested/obsessed with silly things like makeup.

I could build entire worlds in my imagination, populate them with characters drawn from any story I knew, and play with them in any way I chose. I told and wrote stories. Easily, even obsessively. I wrote and like poetry, and recited it on stage. I wasn’t chicken about being in front of an audience. I took care of animals, and gardened. And I looked things up.

But I hated parties, girl talk, very confusing boy talk, people whose minds didn’t match mine, teachers who “were dumber than me” (arrogant little me), rules for no reason, homework when I already knew the material, homework that was work, scheduled demands on me… Also, I was weird, and bullied. More than I understood at the time, actually, for which I am grateful. I wasn’t the nicest of kids either. A fast mind, large vocabulary and over-strong contempt leads to some very mean things said.

Mostly though, I just didn’t fit. And I knew it. And it hurt. I believed I would never have real friends, never understand people, what they say, what they mean, how they think and feel. I believed I would never be a whole person, that I was somehow lacking, or defective, because I didn’t really care most of the time. Most of the time, I didn’t even really want all the things I was ‘lacking’ in. I usually preferred to be left alone.

But I still said “I would trade ¾ of my brain power just to be normal.” My understanding of myself was profoundly negative, despite a superiority complex. I am edging on genius range after all. (In a few areas) [that’s mostly sarcastic]

No one knew I truly wasn’t normal. I was just weird. Finally, people, except for an amazing few, did leave me alone; they mostly ignored me, and I mostly ignored everyone else. It worked, after a fashion. Eventually, I got through. I got through several years of work, and then tried a year boarding and attending university. I crashed. It was disastrous. I was completely unprepared and totally convinced I was no good. I questioned my faith; accused God of screwing up my design. I begged Him to just let me die already, since I wasn’t any use or value.

With time and anti-depressants I recovered, (mostly). I worked more, attended college, gained a diploma… Then I couldn’t hold down a job since I couldn’t recognize poor work situations, and suffered repeated communication failures. I crashed again and more or less gave up.

Then, a profession development series about students with disabilities undertaken by my mother, who is teacher, led to some serious conversations around the table, and the Question.

“Have you ever considered you may have Aspergers?”

I was diagnosed at age 26. No one knew. No one saw. I was just normal enough that no one even thought to look. Not anyone’s fault, just the way it was.

It was a huge relief. I got some counseling, religious and secular and learned some coping strategies and better ways to think. I learned to be conscious of my mind, self aware in a way I had never been; to monitor my emotions and thoughts. It helped.

I still struggle. It’s only been four years. I take my pills. I have a steady job. Not my dream job, but I have worked there for three years and counting. I am good at it. And I can hope again. I dream. I can rest safely in the knowledge that God has a plan for me, just as I am. Because I am not broken, or defective, or uncaring or lazy, or even (especially?) wrongly made. Just a little out of sync with the others.

Sadly, my story isn’t all that atypical. Until very recently, no one had ever heard of Aspergers and Autism meant idiot’s savant, or screaming non-communicating savages. The sort-of-normal fell through the cracks, functioned just well enough in school that they never received extra help, and struggled horribly in the unscheduled, unprotected real world.

Thank God, things are looking up. Those diagnosed today look for a better tomorrow.

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Be unfair to a woman that’s sexist, discriminate against someone of another colour and that’s racist, put people with Autism at a disadvantage… that is acceptable. Let’s be honest no one can discriminate against someone based on sexuality, gender, race, age or religion and still consider themselves a good person. Nevertheless, if two straight white males interview for a job the one who is more charismatic and likeable is going to get the job. Of course likeability in a job interview is based on picking up on non-verbal cues, as well as a bunch of other factors such as how you dress and present yourself, but you really wouldn’t be able to pick up on that if you aren’t reading what the people around you are telling you with their body language, and sending back the right ones yourself. An employer simply has to say that the, person without Autism has better “people skills” or “soft skills”.  People skills are something that a person can work on and improve dramatically. What people don’t tell you, however, is that no matter how much you improve or work your ass off at it, the people skills of a Neurotypical person are generally going to be a 100 times better even if they never make an effort. Just the way our brains are wired.  After all why wouldn’t you hire the person who is going to fit better in the work environment and you can see yourself being friends with. At least that is the way that the interviewer must see it.

Here is what is wrong with that. One could argue that, that life is unfair and there is no discrimination involved because they are unaware that one of the candidates is on the Autism spectrum, even if they were aware the other candidate is just better for the job. This is not always the case, however. If the job is sales or working in a tiny cramped room with someone else than of course take the person who is better able to make a first impression, however, the job being interviewed may have nothing to do with first impressions or even face-to-face interaction where body language comes into play.  Working in a library, archives or even as part of an auto mechanic team making great first impression shouldn’t be as important as other skills. People with Autism are loyal, hard-working, dedicated and honest to a point where you may have to ask them to keep their opinions to themselves. That honesty, however, can save a project that was doomed for failure if no one spoke up but had been more worried with currying favor with the superior.  I would much rather have a heart surgeon who was competent, hard-working and knowledgeable in their field which are characteristics people on the spectrum have in abundance,  but comes off awkward when I first meet him. Other jobs like telemarketing don’t require being able to read body language as all the work takes place over the phone and they may have little interaction with their co-workers.  Yet, in all of these jobs no one has taken out the bias towards people who are charismatic and make great first impressions but may turn out to be dishonest and lazy. Therefore, once again the person with Autism is going to go home without the job.

Though, there is really nothing you can do about this anymore than you can pass rules about who someone needs to be friends with or date. That is one of the really annoying parts is that there is no one to blame as the bias is deeply buried in the interview system. If a woman gets discriminated against when it comes to getting a job, she can tell everyone and they can agree that the guilty party is a misogynistic pig. People will actually join her in their hatred of that person and they will share her story with other people. There may even be an inquiry into the situation.  If someone with Autism gets passed up for a job, while what are we really going to do?

As a stand-up comedian it can be quite detrimental to my career. Let’s say I do as well as anyone else, which is very subjective and I am firmly on team Schwartz here, when it comes to open mics which is like the never-ending audition for who the more successful comedians take with them on the road when they get a paying gig. The thing is that I am still unlikely to get picked and given the opportunity, because the comedian who got the gig in the first place is likely to want to take someone that they feel like they really connect with, again with the nonverbal cues and reciprocity, as they are going to have to spend at least four hours in the car with them. It is not like there is any kind of appeal process it simply is what it is. It is not like I can even get upset with who gets the opportunities because they totally deserve them as they also work hard, spending the time writing and coming out to open mics and are very talented. I want the best for them as they are my friends. That is probably the most frustrating part because you really want an outside party to rally against and say all kinds of nasty things about, because it’s unfair, but what can you really say it’s nobody’s fault.

This discreet discrimination also impacts our social life. For example, if a group of co-workers are getting together after work for a pint if everyone is invited except for Tom, because he’s gay that’s homophobic. If everyone is getting together but they don’t invite the guy with Autism, while that’s fine he probably wouldn’t have had that nice of a time anyway because he wouldn’t have anyone to talk to so it’s for the best.  This is an experience that is common for many people on the Autism spectrum. Therefore, levelling the playing field for people Autism because we lack “soft skills” is going to be much harder struggle than it is for most other groups.

Cartoon_Vampire__Vector_by_paulh18                                                                                       1, 511 words

By David Perlmutter

Candace, the teenage vampire, was asleep in her coffin. This was not unusual for girls her age, especially this early in the night, since many her age could easily sleep until well after that. However, Candace was, as I said, a vampire, albeit one only recently bitten, and therefore her hair (flaming red) and face had not yet become pale, blanched and dark like that of other vampires. And, as a newbie vampy, she still hadn’t adjusted to some of the requirements of the job- such as being awake at night and sleeping during the day.

Thus, when her alarm clock rang, she considered, with profane thoughts, simply destroying it to begin her day- or night- later than usual. But she couldn’t do that. She had an internal schedule she had to abide by, so she turned off the clock and, with a blue heart, headed off to begin her vampire night shift.

The internal schedule was something that had become doubly reinforced after she had become a vampire. Because, even before then, she had been afflicted with a disorder just as demanding and debilitating as vampirism: Asperger’s Syndrome.

In case you don’t know about this disorder, let me explain it briefly. Discovered by the German scientist for which it was named in the 1940s, but not fully identified until the 1970s, Asperger’s is a syndrome that is entirely mental, with few physical symptoms. While those afflicted with it are often mentally gifted and able to function with some success in society, they have certain flaws in their makeup that get them characterized as “eccentrics” and “freaks”, especially in social and physical warfare settings- like high school. They cannot understand jokes unless it is obvious that they are jokes, so humor with a more cerebral component to it is often beyond them. They become easily obsessed with little things, things the average “normal” person can do without thinking about for long periods (like forever), and feel estranged from the rest of the community for what they see as their inability to understand why those things are so important to them. Most of all, many of them have a great deal of fear about talking and even approaching others for fear of being ridiculed for displaying their “eccentricities”. As a consequence, many “aspies” are incorrectly labeled as “shy” or “anti-social”, and are isolated from their peers even more than before for that reason.

As a consequence of her Asperger’s, diagnosed at the age of six, Candace was not exactly the most sociable of people, and was certainly classifiable as an “eccentric” for her obsessions. Chief of these, now that a supposedly “friendly” boy had turned her into a vampire with a bite on the neck only a few weeks ago, was the one and only thing vampires happened to be obsessed with:

Blood.

*

Jolted awake by the alarm, Candace got into her clothes in a mad rush of activity. She was asking herself a myriad number of questions at once, as is common among the more easily stressed out aspies. Naturally, they were things she and she alone was willing and able to obsess about in her condition:

Is my hair all right?

Are my clothes on straight?

Do I look UGLY?

Would anyone really care about me? EVER?

DOES anyone care about me? EVER?

Will I ever get a good job?

Will I ever own a good house?

Will anyone want to hire me for a good job? And pay me well for it?

Can I ever get my peers to like me? And what about the older people?

And last, but certainly not least:

Can I get somebody to let me suck their blood tonight? ANYONE?

This last question was a bit more of a concern for Candace, for she would be the first to admit that, through her lack of experience and other factors, she was totally incompetent at luring others to their doom the way vampires were supposed to do. She’d already brought shame and disgrace on herself by becoming a vamp in the first place! Was that not bad enough? Did she have to be the worst vampire in the history of vampires besides that?

“Focus, Candace!” she said as she saw her dressed self in the mirror, adopting the proper menacing vampire mask on her face, or, at least, what she imagined it was. “You can do this! What man, whatever his age, can resist a cutie like you? You just go out of here and down to the park and bag yourself a BOY! Then you’ll feel better!”

“I suppose so,” she said to herself out loud, reluctantly. “Nothing else to do here at night!” And so she walked, with the measured pace of a vampire and the impersonal mask of same on hers, down to the park to fetch herself some blood.

*

Happily, there were people hanging around the park, specifically boys, even at this late hour. Candace sighed with relief while maintaining her mask-like exterior. Now all she needed to do was find one.

Spotting a sizeable target, she zoomed in on him. For the kill.

“I want to suck your blood!” she purred in a Bela Lugosi accent to get his attention after forcing him to look at her by turning him around. He wasn’t buying it, though.

“TAKE OFF, bitch!” he shouted at her. “Ain’t got time for none of your mind games!”

“I’m not playing around here!” Candace warned him, or, at least, she tried to. “I really am a vampire! And I really need your blood! Give me some of your blood, please! PLEASE! I need it to LIVE!”

“You gonna die if you don’t back AWAY from me!” he said, hustling a switchblade out of his pocket to show her he meant business. She let him go, reluctantly and sadly.

Near a fountain, she found a whole parcel of boys lounging there. Surely, there would be enough blood in them to sustain her! Or would there be? Would any of them notice her enough to CARE about her and her predicament? She had to TRY, at least. And so she did.

“Hey, fellas,” she said flirtatiously. “Care to give up some BLOOD?”

They did-and said-nothing.

“You doofuses!” Candace retorted angrily to their indifference. “I’m a pretty girl– and a VAMPIRE, to boot! Don’t you even CARE about that? Can’t any of you give me blood?”

Silence. At least towards her.

“Look at me!” she finally commanded, in desperation. “LOOK AT ME, YOU ASSHOLES! Don’t you have any respect for a lady?” She began crying, tears running down her face and ruining her perfectly prepared makeup. “I need some blood here, and, if you don’t want to GIVE it to me, I’ll TAKE IT FROM YOU!”

Shut up!” said a Mexican guy in the darkness, who threw dirt at her. “You bitches is all alike! You got charnel breath anyway- putrid STINK! You a VAMPIRE, man- we don’t hang with no vampires! You get outta here!”

He and his friends threw more dirt at Candace, and she ran away. Sobbing hard, she collapsed under a tree.

“What the hell’s the use?” she bawled. “I’m not a damn VAMPIRE! I can’t even get a single guy to give me his blood! I might as well eat garlic or drive a stake through my heart or something, ‘cause I can’t….”

“Pardon me, miss,” a new voice said. “Did you say you’re a vampire?” This new voice was accompanied by a silhouette of a boy about her age. A handsome boy, yet. Candace took notice.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m a vampire. Just been for a couple of weeks or so, though. What of it?”

“I’m a vampire, too,” he said. He proved it by stepping out of the shadows and into the moonlight, revealing blond haired, blue eyed good looks- and vampire fangs. “I got lots of experience at it, though. About two years worth. You think maybe I could help you out?”

“YES!” she said desperately. Then, checking herself, she added in a more subdued voice: “I mean: certainly you can.”

“You need blood,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet. “Let’s get you to the blood bank.”

“Wait a minute!” she said. “You can get blood from a BANK now? I was trying to do it the hard way!”

“Boy! You don’t seem to know a lot about being a vampire, do you?”

“Well, like I said, I’ve only been one for a couple of weeks now!”

“I should definitely help you out, then.”

“Sure. Only let’s go somewhere isolated where we can talk.”

“Definitely the blood bank, then.”

As they walked off together, Candace decided that maybe she could handle being both an aspie and a vampire. As long as she kept her ducks in a row, anyway. But she had help for that now, and because of that, she felt more secure. It was the kind of security that only people with Asperger’s-unlike vampires-need.

I read text-books and research books for entertainment and general, insatiable, curiosity. I also read incredible amounts of fiction, both popular and obscure. I’m weird like that.

My latest choice in educational material has been the “What to Expect” books, both “The First Years” and “The Toddler Years.” Why? A question in normal childhood development regarding one of my nephews. I didn’t know, so I decided to look it up. (The answer was extremely inconclusive. Precocity is purely a matter of opinion.)

Someone asked me, why would I read that? After all, there is no lack of great ‘fun’ stuff to read. Why look up how kids grow? Or any text book-y stuff?

The answer is simple. Unpredictable is scary. It is hard to deal with, impossible to fully prepare for, and leads to endless opportunities to screw things up. Reading about real life: science, nature, researching a project, any of those: leads to an increased understanding of the world around in all its glorious and amazing, ever changing, variety. It is also fun, with cool information and pictures.

Of all the things in real life, people are the hardest, and scariest, of all. Their emotions, motives, intentions, expressions; everything about them is often unclear even to themselves. What they think, intend, feel, say; all that changes from day to day or over more time. Even the relatively ‘simple’ progression of biological and social development varies so widely as to render ‘norms’ virtually irrelevant. This makes understanding people a really, really big challenge. Also, exhausting.

Fiction on the other hand, is comparatively simple. Not always easy; that’s no fun, but simple. I love complex fiction. I love Dr. Who, Tolkien, BBC’s Sherlock, S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse, and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. I love Tom Clancy and his doorstopper thrillers with their interwoven plots and schemes, and the (admittedly less familiar to me) Marvel Universe with its endless tangles of characters.

The thing is, they are all simple. There are rules. All the characters in all the worlds the story tellers create exist for a reason. Their motives are told, or left a mystery on purpose for suspense, but they have them. Their emotions are stated and their thoughts explained. Effect follows cause, and actions lead to results/consequences. The plot developments occur in sequence (or out of them, for Timelords) and make sense, eventually. There IS a plot; a consideration real life, from inside anyway, appears to be lacking in. God’s plan, while ever-present, seldom comes with maps or sticky-notes on the table.

There are story telling conventions, “Tropes,” that all authors and creators use that can be predicted, or cheerfully averted to further the story and effectively share it with the audience. It means you know that when the good guy goes down a dark hole and his light goes out (X-files) the bad guy is there. “Saw that coming!” Or maybe not, but some other surprise is, “Well, that was unexpected.” And at the end, the story is over. The plot comes to some satisfactory conclusion. Unless the author is cruel and has an unhealthy fondness for cliffhangers, but you can’t have everything. Even so, your own knowledge of the rules of stories makes splicing on your own ending imminently possible.

I like when a story –events, a character’s life- have rules. People should come with an operating manual. And a help line.