Friday, April 27, 2007

Speaking Skills

When I get nervous, like most people I stutter and stumble over words. I simply stumble more often than a lot of people.

Speaking smoothly, clearly, and properly is an essential part of succeeding in life. It's shallow, certainly, but I certainly admit that I'm also not above making quick judgments based on how someone
speaks. I definitely judge people on grammar and vocabulary. Worse, I do form opinions based on strong accents. That's human nature, but it isn't right.

I speak very well if I rehearse ahead of time and stick to a visualized script. I can even do well with an outline, but I need a crutch.

When I speak to a group, I see the words visually, as opposed to "hearing thoughts." This can cause stumbling, but usually it works to my advantage. Speaking slowly to a group is never a bad thing.

Something I plan to write about at length in another journal entry is how I won my one and only election campaign. Let's be honest and admit it wasn't because I was popular. It was probably intended as a mean joke... but things went better than people expected. When I had
to make a speech to the entire elementary school, I managed to do so without collapsing on stage.

How does someone considered "autistic" speak to a group? How can I perform "on stage" at all?

Practice, like anyone else!!!

No matter who you are, speaking skills are developed. Some people are naturally gifted speakers -- I'm not. I practice "in my head" for hours, planning every word. I also rehearse rhythm and tone, aspects that are important to other people. I think about raising and lowering my voice, using more than words to convey meaning. I also practice moving my hands in ways that seem natural. When I move my hands, I am a lot less likely to "flap and slap."

Public speaking is probably an unlikely skill for most autistic individuals. I would never, never force a person to take a speech class, but I still think such courses help everyone. My confidence has increased a lot with each speaking invitation I receive. And best of all, speaking to groups has improved my interpersonal speaking skills.

Monday, April 23, 2007

More on Diagnoses

I was reading LiveJournal today, the Asperger's Syndrome community, and encountered the recurring topic: "I'm an Aspie, but my therapist denies it."

Okay, I'm not a therapist, but I'm about to play one online. (That's sarcasm.)

I believe most therapists, regardless of their educational backgrounds, are now quite familiar with the terms "Autism Spectrum Disorder" and "Asperger's Disorder / Syndrome." It takes a lot of hubris on the part of a patient to assume that he or she knows more about autism than a clinician. It takes even more hubris (or something else) to self-diagnose yourself with any mental health condition.

People wonder why I think autism is approaching the level of "trendy" once reserved for ADD/ADHD need only read any of the online communities for more than three weeks.

Yes, there are a lot of people with an ASD in these communities. There are also a lot of people looking for a mix of explanation and excuse for whatever social difficulties they experience. I fear there are a lot of people seeking an autism diagnosis when there is really a much more complicated problem present. If you want / seek a diagnosis of autism, I wonder if there aren't also more pressing issues to address?

Understand that I am resistant to the label, while recognizing I have "autistic" traits from a very real, physical trauma. I just think a lot of people are seeking the Asperger's label when they might be better served forgetting particular labels and dealing with their social challenges apart from being categorized.

Why not deal with the social issues and not keep asking for a label? What am I missing? Does the label suddenly solve problems? Or does it create yet more expectations of difficulty and oppression?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Friends

Over the last few months, I've been asked several times about friends. More precisely, the question has been if I have any.

When I read online comments from "ASD" individuals, many are upset that they have no friends and seem to do everything "wrong" in a relationship. I think this is more a situation of being human than being someone with a disorder... humanity struggles to maintain connections. Yes, I do everything wrong and seem disinterested even when I am not. That certainly does upset me when I do care about someone. But is this due to "autism" or simply poor social skills?

People I have truly cared about needed me to "appear more interested" in their lives. I was interested, judging by my notes and journal entries. But, I wasn't able to signal how interested I was. Instead, I came across as self-absorbed. One even described me as "calculating" — and indeed, I was "calculating" in the sense that I was trying to behave according to a decision tree model. If she said X, I should answer Y.

It is also hard for people to believe you tell the truth, which starts to sound to others like a calculated lie, based on what I have experienced. Just try to explain you get physically ill when you try to create stories about yourself. But most people understate and overstate for social reasons.

So, I've lost some people from my life I wish I hadn't.

I realize one of two people might list me as a friend, but the real qualifier is if I have talked to the person in the last six months or more. Is there anyone I talk to, chat with online, or write via e-mail? Is there anyone whose "company I enjoy" on a semi-regular basis?

The answer, as for many other Americans, is no.

Beyond my wife, I don't really recall anyone from the past that well, either. Since I don't even recall names of people I am in class with currently, this isn't much of a surprise. Still, I do wonder if there are people I should recall because they were my friends.

Going through yearbooks, the letters I have saved, photos, and other memorabilia, I can develop a list of names. But, I don't know much beyond what I have from the past. I suppose that should be frustrating, but it's more a curiosity.

If people didn't ask me about friends, I suppose I wouldn't ponder why I don't have any. It's not something I ponder when I'm sitting at home among the cats and the books. Most of the time, I'm rather content to sit and read or write. I'm not sure what I would do with a friend... other than bore the person or offend the person with my personality.

Do I wish I had friends? Yes. But no idea why. At least I have the one friend who counts most: a wife I would do anything for, including struggle through a doctoral program.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Computers and Self-Harm

Computers are the source of frustration for all of us at one time or another. Two nights ago, I lost a file with the outline of 50 pages I had read. I was using Windows, which was the problem — Windows can be a real nightmare when software misbehaves. (One program should never crash the entire system. I had a video driver fail for some reason.)

Most people would be upset, maybe say some choice words, and get back to work.

I sat on the floor, legs crossed, and rocked for nearly 20 minutes. I pounded my fists against my legs, unable to calm down and focus on the need to retype the file. I could have sat there, rocking, murmuring, and pounding on my legs for hours if it weren't for my wife's incredible calm and reassurance.
She ended up retyping the notes, with me dictating what I had lost. Without her, I would not have the ability to function as a student and teacher.

I know repetitive movements, including self-harm, is a part of autism. I don't have to like it, though. It's not logical, not reasonable, and certainly not productive in any way. What's the purpose of rocking and humming? What explains the compulsion to pound my fists against my legs for minutes or even hours at a time? I've even managed to bruise my legs with the repetitive pounding.

Maybe the rocking isn't so bad. It is a waste of energy, but I am not even aware I am rocking much of the time.

I was already on edge — that's when I am most likely to retreat into these behaviors. I have the normal stress of school, which is tolerable most of the time. What pushes me to that edge is public transit. I've written about the trains and busses in my journals. Once my senses and nerves are overloaded, it doesn't take much to push me that final inch or two.

I'm not blaming Microsoft Windows for my behavior. I just shouldn't do anything important on a computer when I'm already anxious.

Monday, April 9, 2007

My Evaluation

Though the "autistic" label is fairly new, I have been labeled many things in the past. As I think about the past and present experiences, I realize that including bits and pieces from my evaluation in the book I'm completing will help others with similar experiences.

I know I am not the only autistic person to have been considered slow or even mentally retarded. I also have read numerous online discussion groups in which people have posted about being diagnosed with OCD, ADD / ADHD, social anxiety, and even PTSD. I'm not sure how the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder fits with autism, but several HFA/ AS individuals report this as an initial diagnosis.

My wife is certain I was, am, and always will be HFA. My mannerism, my speech patterns (poor affect, or even inappropriate affect), and my stereotyped movements under stress are mere bits of the picture, as they say.

The new diagnosis was not based on any new evaluation results. My original (second grade) evaluations are little different from my undergraduate tests and those are both little different from the latest evaluation. Slow motor skills, good vocabulary, little comprehension of human motives. All that has changed over 30 years or so since my first evaluation is the label I'm given. (I am assuming I was seven or eight in the first grade.)

Maybe the labels do matter. The first time autism was suggest was many years ago, now. I just didn't want to pay for a full evaluation at the time. It's so much easier to run around and scream like I'm insane than to ponder what evaluations can reveal. Then again, my wife has known what I am like for much longer than I have.