Saturday, August 27, 2016

End of Summer, Start of School

It is again that season, the time of year many of us will always consider the "new year" instead of some date in Winter. Yes, back-to-school.

For me, this is the end of a busy five-class summer as an MFA student in Film and Digital Technology. I promise (sort of) that this will be the last of my graduate degrees unless I stumble into a FREE degree in economics. I'll have only three classes remaining in a 12-course MFA program. This degree has been a lot work and I am exhausted.

I start teaching again the week of August 22. Summer ends and school starts. Not much of a pause between the two. My studies resume, officially, the next week, but I'll be completing MFA paperwork and thesis outlines in the meantime.

My wife and I have had a lot going on this year, including health adventures. We've each had a night in the hospital; she had the far more complex and serious medical journey this year. I'm glad she's okay, because she's everything to me and our household.

The stress of medical emergencies, school overload, and family things has been a bit much for me. I'm surprised we've done as well as we have.

School works for me. It's a routine, and my wife and I both like routines. We like clear assignments, deadlines, and criteria for success. At the same time, like everyone else, we're glad when a course ends. The end of a semester is no fun, either, but we tend to be super organized through the year.

As the new year begins, I'm glad to continue teaching and studying for another year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

School Progress, Life

The Autistic Me goes in cycles, as do most blogs, based on my "free" time for this endeavor. Since it isn't a paying gig, it has to come after work, school, and family. I'm sure most readers understand that.

In January, I resumed work towards my MFA, something I started in 2006 in California. Now, ten years later, it appears likely I can finish the degree in December.

My MFA was going to be in Creative Writing, with an emphasis on [spoken] poetry and theater, but I switched to an MA and completed my Ph.D in 2010. Now, my MFA will be in Film and Digital Technology, an admission that "digital media" are the best way to reach some audiences.

One of my projects this semester was an interview with artist and activist Selene dePackh. You can see a short version of that interview here:

Selene dePackh: Working as Prodiga diNero

There are a lot of things happening in life right now. At least I have something to show for the time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Autism Awareness Month

It's apparently that time of year when we're expected to increase awareness of autism (which I forgot until Apple posted a video). Yeah, because the millions spent by Autism Speaks, the proliferation of puzzle pieces and ribbons, the endless public service announcements on Internet radio feeds, the countless feel-good "news" stories and on and on haven't done enough to increase awareness.

People are aware. Nobody needs me to blog about awareness, since readers of this blog are pretty obviously aware of autism and atypical neurology, neurodiversity, or whatever you wish to call it.

At this moment, I'm taking a short break from editing a video about autism, the arts, and education. If we want to increase awareness of some aspects of autism, how about debating these random thoughts?

1) Autistics and those with autism-like traits should be the ones speaking, writing, illustrating, signing, painting, composing, et cetera, about what autism means. Allies should be promoting our voices, not speaking for us.

2) Awareness does not demand, or require in any manner, seeking a cure for neurodiversity. Many autistics embrace their autistic strengths and differences. My own statements that I would be fine with "curing" my headaches, seizures, and other neurological differences are individual and should never be taken as a voice for all autistics.

3) Celebrating autism isn't something to do, anymore than celebrating blue eyes. Most of us want to be treated with respects, not as objects proving how much others empathize with difference. Don't celebrate us, include us.

4) Autistics range from asexual to hypersexual. Stop assuming we're all robots or future sex offenders. We're simply people, with a range of gender, sexuality, and relationship preferences. I assume many of these traits are as hard-wired as our other traits.

5) Autistics feel. I'm not sure if it is the injury I had at birth, or simply my nature as a writer and artist, but I certainly feel emotions when I see sad events, sad stories, and so on. I feel so much empathy watching movies and television shows it can be overwhelming. I still cry watching Iron Giant and that's a cartoon. Don't even ask me to watch Bambi without getting upset. The news can be overwhelming. We feel. And that intensity of emotion is why so many of us avoid conflicts.

There you go. Some thoughts. Feel free to look up my past posts on autism awareness. Basically, I just want to do my school work, teach, and create my various forms of art.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Life Updates: The MFA Sprint

Life is okay, if more than a little hectic at the end of this first month.

With one month down, I'm 11 months away from my MFA in Film and Digital Technology. Though things might happen and things do go wrong, so far I'm on schedule and things are going well —— though I'm exhausted and working harder than I did for any other degree. Because the MFA requires projects every week, this isn't as easy to schedule as writing. Even researching a paper can be done from the comfort of home, at any hour.

You cannot make movies by yourself, at any time of day. It doesn't work that way. Filming takes time, and often requires a team of people. It's not comparable to working alone on a degree in writing or rhetoric.

The team-based nature of film is exhausting for me, but I enjoy the results. I also like the practical nature of the skills being taught. You either learn how to adjust ISO, f/Stop, shutter speed, and other variables or you don't. You can have theories of film composition, but the technical skills are fairly precise. The image is in focus or it isn't.

There are artistic elements to this work. Every person involved in a film has an opinion on the ideal shot, sound, lighting, and the writing. There's not a "right" but there are definite wrongs (technically, more than theoretically).

The schedule is grueling. I'm hoping this investment in time and money is worth it. I hope to teach and make small-budget films in the future. Ideally, I return to teaching film and theater, with rhetoric as something of a sub-specialty.

No matter what, I'll have more job skills than any other degree has provided. In combination with past education and experiences, I should be employable. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Cure Messages of "Hope"

I understand that holiday fundraising is a tradition. Here's a cute child. You care about children. Send us money.

At the end of every year, I receive dozens of emails from autism advocacy groups. The higher-end email newsletters from Generation Rescue and Autism Speaks offer "hope" for a cure… someday. Other emails promise recovery through "treatments" ranging from fad diets to pressure chambers. Sure, autism is just like recovering from a deep sea dive.

It is almost impossible to judge these organizations and determine which are worth money or time. I don't send money to these groups and I'm not as involved locally as I was when we lived in Minnesota. I'm on a single board and volunteer to speak from time to time. I'm not convinced even the more serious organizations are accomplishing much, beyond "awareness" of autism.

We're aware. Thank you. Now what?

I'm not sure what should be next. I've written before that I'm not opposed to epidemiological surveys, genetic screening, and other basic research. But, that research takes years and won't benefit autistic children and adults today. The range of services needed is as broad as the "types" of autistics you might encounter. Organizations, however, like to focus on children and cures.

If you give money, research the organization. Does the money go to research and supports or to administrative overhead? Does the organization focus too narrowly on "curing" autism instead of supporting autistics today? What would you like to see for the autistic in your life or yourself? Find groups that support what you might need.

Don't send money without knowing something about any group. If you support what you discover, then give. Remember, volunteers are often harder to locate than funding, especially for any events.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year, New Plans

This fall was a respite of sorts from academia while I concentrated on writing and considered my path ahead. For the last few months, I've been working on a mix of screen and stage projects, while also collaborating on some creative writing projects.

As December ends, I'm returning to both academia and corporate life, which will reduce my creative output significantly for at least 2016. I'll be completing my MFA (master of fine arts), something I started before my doctoral studies. If I complete the program, I'll have an MFA in Film and Digital Technologies, which will complement my interest in screenwriting and "transmedia" theatrical productions. At the same time, I'll be doing some corporate consulting to pay for classes and some home renovation projects.

My consulting work will be as an ADA compliance expert for Web, application, and new media content. This work aligns wonderfully with my doctoral research and my dissertation. Working on projects that help people with special needs will be rewarding. I have done a great deal of speaking and consulting on ADA issues, and educational accommodations, but this new assignment will be particularly challenging because of the nature of my client.

These two parallel paths should let me pursue teaching again by 2017, along with creative writing in all its forms. Ideally, I [finally] will be able to pursue teaching within "Digital Humanities" or "Media Rhetoric" instead of composition. (I love teaching almost anything, but I am not at home within the "college composition" community.) Plus, working on ADA compliance will exercise my Web and development skills, something many colleges will appreciate.

And so, as 2015 comes to a close, I am reminded that plans keep changing for some of us. I have friends, and a wife, who have spent years working for a single employer. I envy that stability. Ideally, 2016 leads to that sort of long-term stability for me in the years ahead.

Even if I end up freelancing and teaching as an adjunct after 2016, at least I should be working in the fields and on the projects I enjoy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Another "life is normal" post

Yes, our lives continue to be "normal" middle-class suburban lives. We sometimes feel that there's too much happening, but then I listen to other couples and friends and realize how rather routine and uncomplicated our daily routines are.

Many of my friends and neighbors are returning to school in their 30s and 40s. The job market, improving slowly, requires more and more educational achievement to advance. For me, this means considering an MFA in Film and Digital Technology to add to my existing MA and PhD. My struggles in the academic job market are not about autism or disability (though there is an element of "you don't conform to our norms"); the academic job market is badly broken.

Our house still needs some work, and there are things I like to change. Again, many of our neighbors who have been in this new development for as long as we have don't have every box unpacked or every room painted. Apparently, it takes more than four years to move into a new house.

I'm writing and editing a lot for myself and clients. Again, that's what all freelance writers do. My work isn't special and my efforts to keep writing and bringing in money aren't unique. That's what writers do.

My wife is preparing for one of her trips back to the headquarters of her employer. Again, welcome to normalcy in the middle class. I don't like it when she is gone and I worry about our little orange tabby cat. He's old and slow and not eating as much as we'd like. Normal issues.

If you want me to write about something, especially a question you might have, you can contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Most private questions are about relationship, sexuality, employment, and education. In that order, roughly. I used to believe that order reflected odd priorities, but it turns out that the parents, educators, and disabled people emailing me want connections first, followed by good jobs. Education relates to having a stable career.

Let me know what might help visitors. Or what might be interesting to read.

Normal is okay.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

No NeuroTribes, Not Much Else...

I have been away from blogging to deal with some family matters, and I honestly don't have much to add to the "autism community" at this time.

One of the questions that I've received a few times during the month, "Will you review NeuroTribes?"

Although I consider Steve Silberman's work important, it just isn't something of interest to me right now. Maybe it would have been a few years ago, and maybe it will be in the future, but at this time my life is busy without giving too much thought to autism and its various feuding communities.

My days are spend writing, editing, and otherwise working like most freelance writers. My family life is the same as most other 40-something married adults. In other words, I can't really think of any way in which my autistic traits are having much affect on my daily life at this moment.

This blog was meant to explore how autistic traits, regardless or their origins, present challenges (or offer benefits).

Right now, all I can offer is that I've discovered what works best for me: freelancing, on my own schedule (but with deadlines), so I can work from home and at odd hours. I have a lot of deadlines lately and some changes that have consumed a great deal of my "free" time.

I'll try to offer something insightful soon. Or send me some ideas over on The Autistic Me Facebook page!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Listen… and Help Others Hear

We lack diversity in the autism community.

Think about what you see, online and in the media. I see upper-middle class parents, able to afford iPads and tutors and official diagnoses. I see parents who have the resources to fight for IEPs and physical accommodations.

I see self-advocacy leadership that has been fortunate (and hard working, certainly) to attend universities, travel the nation (or even internationally), and have forums that reach thousands.

What I don't see? Most of our actual community. The real community that represents autism's downsides. The marginalized communities, ignored and excluded from our boards, our commissions, our business networks.

How did my lower-income parents, without college educations, give me a chance to be more? How did they fight the odds? They did, and now I am in a position of privilege. But I don't seem to be making much of a difference.

Demand that your charities seek out the broadest possible array of advisers and board members. Remember, much like our schools, your community is nothing like some other communities. From my nice exurb, I can forget what inner-city and poor rural schools are like. I can forget what parents without means have to fight every day. Coming from a 72% Hispanic community, with Hispanic leadership at all levels, I can forget what it is to have minority voices silenced.

Remind yourself, there are voices with experiences unlike yours or mine. We need those voices in leadership positions. Don't make excuses. Reach out and add those people to committees and boards. Involved them. Make allowances for their special needs and socioeconomic situations, too. If you have to find ways to help someone be heard… then find those things you can do.

Don't make excuses. Make change.