Sunday, February 27, 2011

Neurodiversity and Autism Advocacy

I am unsure of my emotions regarding this research project:

SpringerLink - Health Care Analysis, Online First™
HEALTH CARE ANALYSIS
DOI: 10.1007/s10728-011-0169-9

Autism as a Natural Human Variation: Reflections on the Claims of the Neurodiversity Movement
Pier Jaarsma and Stellan Welin
Neurodiversity has remained a controversial concept over the last decade. In its broadest sense the concept of neurodiversity regards atypical neurological development as a normal human difference. The neurodiversity claim contains at least two different aspects. The first aspect is that autism, among other neurological conditions, is first and foremost a natural variation. The other aspect is about conferring rights and in particular value to the neurodiversity condition, demanding recognition and acceptance. Autism can be seen as a natural variation on par with for example homosexuality. The broad version of the neurodiversity claim, covering low-functioning as well as high-functioning autism, is problematic. Only a narrow conception of neurodiversity, referring exclusively to high-functioning autists, is reasonable. We will discuss the effects of DSM categorization and the medical model for high functioning autists. After a discussion of autism as a culture we will analyze various possible strategies for the neurodiversity movement to claim extra resources for autists as members of an underprivileged culture without being labelled disabled or as having a disorder. We will discuss their vulnerable status as a group and what obligation that confers on the majority of neurotypicals.
I'm not a "neurodiversity" advocate, but I believe this research risks characterizing autistic individuals advocating for themselves as somehow "wrong" to use Civil Rights movements as models for advocacy. Why is it wrong to compare diversity with any other movement for equality? The real resistance to this idea comes from families of the more severely affected autistic children and adults. Those with severe impairments have other needs and concerns, but that doesn't mean their families can reject the calls from diversity advocates for respect.

I demand respect and acceptance for me as I am, not as others might want me to be. What's so strange about that? And I do believe autism is a naturally occurring "abnormality" that helps humanity. It is, potentially, a trait that helps the community survive. I'm not claiming that autism is desirable, but that like other things we consider "wrong" or "unhealthy" that autism has evolutionary benefits.

You might be unfamiliar with such theories, but evolutionary biologists suggest some "illnesses" and "diseases" can be beneficial in specific contexts. See the book Survival of the Sickest for some insights on this. Differences, even ones that are potentially deadly, can be beneficial to the human species.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Autism and Success in the Workplace

The workplace can be a social minefield.

Building Collegial Relationships
Colleagues tend to come later in life, when we have professional careers or volunteer to work for organizations. However, colleagues are similar enough to peers that I am discussing the two together. Colleagues range from those with whom we work daily to those we might consider more similar to acquaintances. Because today’s workplaces often require us to shift from team to team, or from one location to another, it is always best to consider the possibility that any colleague can become a close coworker.
I’ve met successful people with ASDs who accomplish great things and do so without any impulse to impress colleagues or develop social connections. Colleagues respect these individuals, I hope, though it can be difficult for me or other autistics to determine how much we are respected by coworkers.
My colleagues at the universities and colleges where I have taught can be divided into close and distant colleagues. While everyone at the institution was a colleague in the general sense, the “close” colleagues have been the people with whom I worked weekly. We generally worked in the same buildings and shared supervisors. To identify close colleagues, I use the following criteria:
• You work with the person on a regular basis, the frequency varying by profession and workplace
• You serve similar clients, departments, divisions, or other “consumers” of your services or products
• You report to the same supervisor, or your supervisors report to the same superior
• You possess related professional skills or interests
As of yet, I have not developed lasting friendships with my colleagues from any workplace — and I have had several different career paths. I’m not sure how unusual that is, since many people do seem to form friendships at work. However, I recognize the value of my professional colleagues and attempt to nurture those connections as best I can. My suggestions for building and maintaining collegial connections include:
• Disclose any physical, emotional, or neurological impairments
• Try to recognize “personal space,” physical and virtual in the workplace and at school
• Listen to colleagues, learn from them, and build professional connections
• Answer questions when asked, learn how to politely offer information (and to whom) when not asked
• Actively help and contribute to projects
Disclosure Required
Without question, the most important choice individuals with ASDs face at work and school is the disclosure of any challenges he or she might face. Legally, if you want to protect legal rights within either setting, you must disclose any officially recognized disability. This disclosure is done to a specific office or person in most workplaces. In education, the office is commonly called “Disability Services.” In private industry, you might have an “Office of Equal Opportunity” within “Human Resources.” Supervisors and “Human Resources” should know the appropriate office to contact.
For autistic teens and adults the potential implications of disclosure for colleague and peer relationships are significant. For some individuals with ASDs there is no choice but to disclose disabilities, especially those posing potential physical risks such as seizures. Other individuals, with less obvious impairments, decide against disclosure.
I’ve studied and presented conference papers on the protections mandated by federal and state laws, especially within education. However, the reality is that teachers do talk and that human resource departments are not the Central Intelligence Agency. Colleagues and peers likely will learn about the nature of a disability, even if they do not learn the specific diagnosis. Relationships are affected by the label “autism” and other disabilities.
Interactions in workplaces are not like our interactions with strangers or most acquaintances. The social differences of autistics persist into adulthood and are obvious to the coworkers and employers of adults with ASDs. Also, our colleagues are not always our peers, so there are differences in our general backgrounds that can exacerbate tensions and misunderstandings.
Colleagues, being older and ideally more mature than the peers of our school years, probably can and should be told when an autistic individual faces specific impairments or challenges. I realize this is not easy or comfortable for many people with ASDs, but a lack of information can lead to serious problems. A person with autism does not have to use the terms “autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome” to explain his or her challenges. I recommend specific disclosures such as explaining, “I am sensitive to bright lights.” Specifics are clear and concrete.
Personal Space
Personal space and cultural communication norms are important in the workplace or school setting. In my experience, there are always colleagues who stand a bit too close to me, talk a bit too loudly, and in general make me feel uneasy. These instances remind me that I might also be too loud or make people uneasy. I try to be formal in the workplace to ensure I do not violate personal space. Because those of us with ASDs can be sensitive to stimuli, it might help other autistic teens and adults to think of their limits when dealing with coworkers.
Building relationships does require sharing space. I advise people with ASDs to explain any special light, sound, or other sensory tolerances to their coworkers. It also helps to explain if you have any special routines or organization within your workspace. Whether it is an office or cubicle, the space needs to meet the needs of the employee, within reason. A good HR department will also help an autistic individual adjust a workspace for ergonomics. HR experts understand that a workspace has to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities) accessibility and usability requirements.
If you are not comfortable, you are not going to be easy to get along with in the workplace. Yes, comfort affects relationships. The more comfortable you are, the more at ease you will be with colleagues.
Collegial Communication
The majority of successful autistic adults tell me that e-mail has been the greatest innovation in their lifetimes. They cannot imagine life without e-mail, which they prefer over phone calls and other forms of communication. Personally, I think e-mail is great for communicating with everyone from family to coworkers for several reasons:
• You can re-read e-mail as many times as necessary
• You can respond slowly and carefully, unlike a conversation
• You can save e-mail messages in case you forget the content of a note
• You do not need to respond to every message
Misunderstandings do happen via e-mail, especially since humorous, sarcastic, and sardonic comments might be interpreted literally by an autistic reader. However, since you have the ability to pause before respond to a message there is a chance to seek clarification. Everyone should pause and read a message carefully — including the messages we send.
Though I prefer e-mail, the reality is that in workplaces meetings happen. You can only use e-mail and telephone calls for so many contacts. The adults with autism with whom I have discussed career success tell me they plan meetings, including one-on-one encounters with coworkers. These autistic men and women plan where they will stand, what they will say, and some do use checklists or notecards.
Sometimes autistic individuals aren’t good at interactions because we are too focused. In adulthood, autistic perseveration tends to shift to information perseveration. I’ve met many autistic adults with a compulsion to memorize minutiae about a topic. Perseveration on a topic can be a strength in the workplace. The obsessive need to master a skill or specific topic can make the autistic person the “go-to expert” in the workplace.
I’ve never outgrown being “too passionate” about topics in which my peers and colleagues have only limited interest. Nothing turns away colleagues quicker than boring them. I do try not to get carried away with certain topics. For autistic people with passion for a topic, one suggestion is to remember the need to stop and judge the interest of others. It isn’t easy to determine if others are interested, so I wait to see if someone has questions or comments. If they do not, I’ve probably said too much about the topic already.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Autism and Peer Relationships

More of the draft text I am composing. As always, comments are appreciated.
Colleagues and Peers
For some people with autism spectrum disorders, colleagues and peers are the closest non-familial relationships in their lives. Autistic individuals with occupational or academic success often find their success because of an ability to hyper-focus on a topic or skill of special interest. This focus is one aspect of “autistic perseveration,” a near-obsessive interest in an object, concept, topic, or activity. 
I’ve read various definitions of “colleague” and “peer,” so it might be useful to clarify the terms as I am using them in this text. I use “colleague” as a broad synonym for coworker. When I use “peer” I am referring to someone of similar age and background as the subject. As a university instructor, all the employees of the university were my colleagues and deserving of respect. However, my “peers” at the university were the doctoral students and the junior members of the faculty within my academic department. Peers are a smaller group, generally, than our colleagues. 
Colleagues and peers are closer to us naturally: they share at least some traits and interests with us either as students or coworkers. From our earliest schooling in kindergarten, if not earlier, we are among people close to our ages with whom we share daily experiences. Common experiences continue well into adulthood, at which point we work on projects with coworkers instead of sharing homework assignments. 
Peer Connections
Our early peers occupy an odd space between compulsory and intentional relationships. We encounter these peers in preschool, Sunday school, kindergarten, or similar settings. In a classroom, you cannot really avoid peers, but there’s little question that smaller subgroups of elective bonds form — even if these are not close friendships outside school. Peers, especially those living in our neighborhoods, are likely to become our first friends outside family members.
We have peers throughout school and into adulthood. Peers are the people like us, people we resemble in numerous ways. Peers are identified by these criteria:
• You are within either the same calendar age or developmental generation
• You share physical proximity, such as a school or neighborhood
• You literally speak the “same language,” including  any regional accent, idioms, et cetera
• You come from similar socio-economic backgrounds
Teens and adults with ASDs might not recognize peers easily. I have witnessed two extremes among people with autism: assuming peers are strangers and assuming peers are friends. Both have risks as we get older. Perceiving everyone as a stranger limits the ability to form close relationships, which affects our self-image and our careers. Conversely, perceiving everyone as a trustworthy friend leaves us vulnerable to exploitation. Peers occupy a temporary space; most slowly fade to acquaintances or even strangers. Only a handful of peers become true friends.
Peer Interactions
Parents and teachers know that students with autism are noticeably different, and their peers do treat them differently. Often, parents, teachers, and support professionals tell me of their anxiety and emotional pain felt when observing an autistic child among peers. I know it doesn’t always help, but I do tell these men and women that autistic individuals do not perceive peer interactions in the same way as their caregivers. Among their peers, autistic people can seem:
• Detached and at times indifferent to their peers
• Rigid in their preferences, often demanding the preference be met
• Uncooperative, especially when asked to work with groups
• Aggressive due to vocal or physical mannerisms and nonverbal communication
How a child, teen, or adult is perceived by others is often beyond the autistic individual’s ability to analyze or to adjust his or her behaviors. Peers are unlikely to understand this, as well, leading to conflicts and further isolation. It often falls to parents and educators to attempt to bridge the differences between people with ASDs and their peers. 
I have been told repeatedly that I seem detached from my peers. A professor once accused me of not caring about my classmates. I responded, honestly, “I don’t know them that well and don’t care to.” I needed to focus on my studies to succeed in school. This meant that when I was working on a project that I could not be spending energy analyzing the people around me. It takes far more effort to analyze the people around me than to study — and it takes an exhausting amount of effort to read a page of text. 
It isn’t that I don’t care, but that I risk caring so much about any one thing or person that I cannot function at all. If I start thinking about the “suffering children” somewhere else, I end up frozen with depression. Imagine pondering all the emotions of my immediate peers? I’d never be able to do anything at all except feel emotions. Keeping peers distant isn’t a sign of lacking compassion. Ask my wife, a sad movie leaves me emotionally drained for hours or even days after I see it. Peers would be that same experience multiplied hundreds of times. 
Emotions might be the greatest challenge in dealing with peers, but as with strangers there are also sensory issues. These sensory issues eventually lead to a reasonable fear of being overstimulated. I know that by early grade school I avoided some people and situations I somehow knew would cause sensory pain. I was prone to headaches by elementary school and diagnosed with migraines by college. I might not have understood the pain as a child, but I knew it was real.
I believe the fear of being overwhelmed with intellectual, emotional, and sensory changes explains why autistics seem rigid and demanding to their peers. Rigid routines are a defense mechanism, a way to reduce the risk of unexpected stimuli or situations. Unfortunately for autistic people of all ages, most people are somewhat random and spontaneous. Not only do they not need routines and specific preferences to function, many people seek out novel experiences. The “new” is exciting to many people — but paralyzing for an autistic person.
Peers don’t understand when an autistic teen or adult would rather skip a party or some other fun event to maintain a routine. Childhood peers definitely don’t understand why a child might like eight crayon colors and no others, or why an autistic classmate wants to color nothing but horses day after day. For me, it was lighthouses and the Battlestar Galactica “Viper Mark II” fighter. I’d sketch the same lighthouses again and again, not because I couldn’t try other things but because I wanted to get the lighthouse “right” eventually. I wanted to perfect that one image and was frustrated when I could not achieve near-photographic reproduction as a fourth grader.  
This rigidity creates problems for peer relationships. Peers had no trouble moving on while I spent years on the same object or concept. Details matter to me in a way they don’t to most of my peers, even to this day. Why is it that Claude Monet can spend years painting the same subject, water lilies, but no one understands an autistic person wanting to perfect a specific skill or knowledge area?
Another concern I hear from parents and teachers is that a student with autism is uncooperative with classmates. My instance on technical precision can make me seem uncooperative, even as an adult. I know what I’m good at and don’t want to be stuck doing something at which I am mediocre. Also, I have to admit that most of my peers in school (and even work) are not perfectionists. Contrary to what some believe, I have never found that group work produces better results — the group is constrained just as a chain is limited by its single weakest link. 
Educational theorists have been advocating group work and collaboration since the late 1960s. However, we still find resistance to groups particularly emphatic among high-achievers and students with cognitive disabilities. Classroom and workplace teams are highly fluid social groups, which tax the emotional energies of some individuals. Autism’s inherent social impairments increases the stress of group projects, not because of the tasks required but because of the social demands. 
Peers might not understand why an individual with autism wants to work alone. This can be perceived by peers as “snobbery” or “conceit” and cause further isolation of the person with an ASD. Parents and teachers have told me this begins a cycle: isolation creating further isolation. Some autistics children seem to notice and question this isolation, while others don’t seem that concerned at all by the increasing distance between them and their peers. 
Is it Aggression?
If there’s one thing that consistently contributes to poor relationships with peers, it is a perception that autistic traits are indicative of aggression. Strangers and acquaintances might never witness these traits; peers are likely to observe autistics traits without understanding them. Too often, I’ve had parents and young people with autism tell me of instances when autism led to disciplinary hearings, academic suspensions, or even legal charges. Some of the traits causing confusion include:
• Physical movements and gestures, such as arm flapping or sudden jerking
• Self-injurious behaviors, from fist pounding to scratching
• Loud and emphatic speaking that sounds “angry” to others
• Poor impulse control, such as speaking out of turn
Peers see us just enough to become increasingly convinced something is “wrong” with an autistic individual. When peers don’t know the autistic person well, they start making assumptions — and a common assumption is that autistics are aggressive or violent. Such a perception causes peers to avoid someone with an ASD, leading to isolation. 
Support Strategies
Because we encounter more peers in our early years, often at school and within youth-related organizations, it falls to parents, educators, and other support providers to guide our peer relationships. As individuals with ASDs age, they often remain dependent on friends and family members to help negotiate peer relationships. Some suggestions for guiding peer relationships include:
• Explaining to peers, without full disclosure necessarily, that people are different
• Monitoring peers for any bullying or manipulative behaviors
• Establishing clear routines and rules, which apply to all members of a group
• Accepting that an autistic person might need space and time alone
Remember that the development of impulse control is incomplete well into early adulthood. This is one reason teens and young adults take illogical risks and do “dumb” things. Young peers simply lack the maturity to self-regulate, just as ASDs impair executive functions. Therefore, adults have to mediate peer connections in the best of circumstances.
Establishing a safe, nurturing environment for autistic individuals can help create a better space for all people, especially young people. Reminding peers that everyone is different is an ongoing project, one that doesn’t end in adulthood. It is easy to forget the breadth of human personalities. 
There are, unfortunately, aggressive and manipulative people. Studies suggest these traits emerge early, often before age six. The traits associated with autism leave many people with ASDs vulnerable to abuse. Any adult supervising a group of peers must carefully monitor and address bullying in all its forms. Too often we dismiss verbal abuse or manipulation as less damaging than physical abuse. Once one peer demonstrates how easily controlled a person with ASDs might be, experience has taught me that other peers start to follow the bully’s lead. 
Routines and rules help minimize bullying and reduce potential stress for people with ASDs. When the rules are clear and everyone must respect them, a sense of equality of fairness forms among the peer group. Fairness, along with honesty and kindness, are important to many autistic people. Parents and teachers report that some autistic children insist, vehemently, on all group members being treated equally. 
Finally, we should not force anyone into group activities. I realize group work is a core belief among educators, but sometimes it is not appropriate. Autistic people often do best alone, no matter what research or idealism might tell us about “most” people. Too many autistic teens and adults have told me they quit a course or group because they couldn’t work alone. I wish teachers could understand the absolute misery I have experienced in groups, which only creates new tensions among peers. Sometimes, being alone is the best thing for a person and the others in a peer group.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Puzzling Nature of Relationships

Sure, it is a play on the "puzzle" of autism — because I believe relationships are a puzzle for almost every person. More from the eBook I am preparing for release later this month.

Relationship Circles
We often hear about “circles of friends” and our “social circles.” These are references to the numbers of people we consider to be within particular relationship categories. The smallest “circle” is that of lovers: usually two people. Even that smallest of circles changes, as partners enter and leave our lives. The largest, and most fluid circle, contains the strangers we encounter on any given day.
Most of our relationships begin in the outer circle. We meet a stranger and that person becomes an acquaintance over time. If we work closely with that person, he or she might become a colleague or peer. Eventually, we somehow sort through our peers and choose friends — or they choose us. I consider my wife to be my best friend, but I knew her first as schoolmate (not even a classmate). Through our choices and the choices of others, our circles change throughout our entire lives. 
The Circles

Advice, Not Certainty
This text now moves ahead towards discussions that do not apply to every individual with an autism spectrum disorder. Despite years of autism research, I have never located reliable statistics on the percentage of individuals with ASDs classified as “moderately to minimally” impaired. The shifting diagnostic criteria complicate any estimate I might offer. However, the reality is that many children and adults with autism might not form close friendships or intimate relationships. 
Intelligence and general social skills do not predict how an autistic person perceives relationships. We should remember that some “high functioning” individuals are uninterested in social connections. I’ve met many autistic adults describing themselves as “asexual” or “non-gendered.” These adults often have careers and are independent, but they do not have a desire for emotional bonds. 
I wish we had better, more descriptive terms than “low-functioning” and “developmentally delayed.” If someone doesn’t desire romantic relationships, who has the right to describe that person as lacking developmental maturity? I believe a person demonstrates maturity and development by recognizing his or her personal nature. So, though I am using clinical and research terms, I don’t believe these terms are ideal. 
With those caveats and qualifications, I want to remind readers that the advice in following chapters:
• Does not apply to every individual with an ASD and might not apply to your teen or adult with autism
• Must be adapted to each teen’s or adult’s situation and abilities
• Assumes a teen or adult is “mainstreamed” in his or her daily routine
• Is offered generally, based on discussions with parents and students living with autism
The Outer Rings
Most people we encounter are either complete strangers or minor acquaintances. These are the largest “relationship circles” and also the least connected to us. Because strangers and acquaintances are unfamiliar to us, we cannot anticipate their behaviors. Most people find these groups difficult to navigate, but the challenges are much greater for people with ASDs. 
Strangers
From the first day of school to the first day at work, we have to deal with strangers. We deal with strangers at malls, strangers at restaurants, and strangers nearly everywhere else we might go. Most people develop the skills to deal with the emotional and sensory stimuli of strangers. Personally, I find strangers overwhelming and exhausting.
A stranger is someone with whom you directly interact rarely, if at all, forming no social bonds. Some strangers do move into the closer social circles, but the vast majority do not. It is difficult, if not impossible to predict which strangers will become important to us. 
A good guideline to live by is that every stranger might be someone you need later in life. Such a reasonable guideline isn’t always easy to remember or follow, especially when an autistic individual might be balancing other challenges when meeting someone for the first time. Every class I’ve taught began with many strangers in the seats. Some of these strangers might become my colleagues someday. 
I try to remind myself that people don’t know, and usually cannot tell, that I have sensory and physical challenges. People don’t know that their fragrances, voices, or gestures might make me uncomfortable. Unfortunately, considering the limited knowledge of others doesn’t make it any easier to deal with them. 
If you are a person with an ASD, some advice for dealing with strangers includes:
• Avoid approaching strangers when it would be unexpected, this makes people uncomfortable
• Answer questions if approached in social situations, but keep answers short
• Do not answer personal questions asked by a stranger unlikely to need the information
• Allow other people to initiate contact when possible
• Rely on friends to help navigate situations in which strangers are common
A therapist told me she encourages her clients with ASDs to approach strangers in public places and try to start conversations. Kamran Nazeer writes of trying this himself, in Send in the Idiots. Personally, I’m not comfortable with this outside parties or places where approaching someone might be accepted as “normal” by attendees. I’ve met too many autistic individuals who tried to approach someone in a public space only to be accused of harassment. That’s not a good experience. 
My preference is to allow people to approach me, if they want. There are plenty of shy and introverted people in the world; it’s okay to be cautious and shy among strangers. I’m not suggesting that individuals with ASDs need to hide in a corner or avoid people if they are comfortable mingling. I simply want to stress that being uncomfortable with strangers is not unusual for anyone.
Questions also pose a problem for some people with ASDs. We tend to answer questions we shouldn’t, sometimes disclosing private information. Remember the notecard tip: you can have a list of information it is safe to share and a list of information to keep confidential. If you are a parent, caregiver, or educator of autistic individuals, you can help create the list of information safe to share. While the first issue might be identity theft, sharing to much can also enable others to take advantage of an autistic individual in other ways. 
Life-long Challenges
I have never and will never deal well with strangers. I could practice and rehearse meeting people for hours each week, with the best business coach, and I would still have the same limitations I’ve had for more than four decades. It is important for parents and caregivers to understand that I realize I should be “different” in social situations and that I comprehend the logic involved. But, I have worked with behavioral experts, family counselors, and educational psychologists without any significant changes. What I learn to do in practice simply doesn’t transfer to “real world” situations. They are not the same, no matter how much I try to “pretend” or “imagine” they are the same. 
This inability to role play, imagine, pretend, or rehearse most significantly affects my ability to interact with strangers. I could do a thousand “mock interviews” and that might alter my behavior slightly, right up until the perfume of the stranger interviewing me causes a migraine. I cannot completely shut down my senses or my impulses to deal with strangers. 
Parents, caregivers, and educators might not like reading the preceding paragraphs, but they reflect the challenges of many autistic individuals. Not all of us with ASDs can alter ourselves to social norms, no matter how much we might want to do so or how reasonable the request to change is. I am not arguing that I have not improved my social skills over time, but they have not improved as much as those of my peers — I will always lag behind with social skills. However, some people with ASDs can and do master “acting” and the skills required to deal with strangers. 
Mastering the Stranger Things
I theorize, admittedly with limited research evidence, that exposure to people is necessary to learn how to deal with them. Research on “sensory integration therapy” has been limited and often with contradictory findings. However, I believe that trips to the mall or other public places helped me learn how to deal with strangers and crowds. I am not sure I am less sensitive, but I learned ways to cope with the stimuli caused by people.
Friends, family, caregivers, and educators can try to expose a child or teen with an ASD to small groups, followed by larger crowds. However, I also believe you should do this only with an “escape route” in mind. There are days when I can go to a mall and days when I have to leave in a hurry. Knowing a way out of the crowd of strangers is essential. I always try to memorize the layout of a store, mall, or other public space. If there are maps, I am sure to take one and carry it with me. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Autism Research and Money

From the American Association of Universities:
H.R. 1, the FY11 continuing resolution introduced last week in the House, […] would truly harm this nation’s capacity for innovation by slashing research spending for nearly every agency that sponsors scientific research. This is exactly the wrong approach to deficit reduction, and it is our hope that the Senate, the President, and ultimately the House will agree on deficit reduction measures that enhance, not stifle, innovation and long-term economic growth.
We are concerned that the President’s proposal to eliminate the in-school interest subsidy on loans to graduate students as a means of covering some of the costs of the Pell program may discourage American students from attending graduate school at a time when the nation needs to encourage its own best talent. We look forward to working with the Administration and with Congress to mitigate any negative impact on these students.
It is likely I am leaving autism research behind, as the university job market is in a continuing slump. One potential outcome is a career in major (Fortune 100) corporate management. I'm sure someone will take that as proof of my evil greed. The reality is, however, there simply aren't many research posts. In case you've missed the obvious: states are broke, and states fund most universities in the United States.

Doctors also have to make the career choices that are logical. I know several doctors leaving non-profit or university posts for private practice — away from research and education. That's not some evil plot to cover-up anything. They need jobs to pay student loans (something to which I relate too well). They aren't leaving for any diabolical reasons or to avoid some research agenda. These doctors love medicine, like their patients, and want to earn a living.

Research funding is drying up from states, federal agencies, and corporations. There's no devious plot involved. Money is tight. No researcher I know cares more about money than ethics — it is simply not possible to do any research.

Most university research, about 65%, is federally funded. Historically speaking:
About 10 percent of federal funding goes to social research, 20 percent to engineering and technology, 40 percent to medical schools and the remaining to various programs at universities.
The money is gone. We are broke. University researchers will be arguing over an ever-shrinking pie for the next decade or longer — and it was already shrinking since about 2007. This must affect autism research, just as it will affect everything except some energy and technology research favored by the current White House administration and some congressional leaders.

Privately funded and non-profit research cannot match the missing federal dollars. It's just not possible to offset billions of funding that will be slashed. And I don't have a good alternative. State and federal spending now exceeds $7 trillion annually (about half of government spending is federal at $3.6 trillion, and half is state / local). Total debt, state and federal, is $18 trillion for fiscal year 2012. All defense spending doesn't even total $1 trillion — and 60 percent of defense spending is on salaries and pensions (which we cannot and should not cut).

States spend the majority of their budgets on education and health care. That means school spending, including university research budgets will be slashed more and more each year until there is a financial recovery. I'm not sure there will a strong enough recovery to offset planned research cuts.

What the current mess means for autism researchers is clear: doing less with less. Yes, bad timing. No, I don't have a solution.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Childhood / Early Development and Future Relationships

Early childhood development can affect future relationships. Here are more book excerpts:
Childhood Lessons
Our relationships might eventually include friends, teachers, coworkers, and clients. However, our initial relationships tend to be familial and customary connections. Studies indicate that the relationships formed during the first two to three years of life affect our future social skills. Childhood is a time of learning essential skills, ideally in a safe family setting. For children with autism spectrum disorders, early intervention and social skills reinforcement are particularly important. 
• Early relationships affect future connections
• Families are small, safe social groups
• Parents and siblings can help teach social skills
• Teaching is more “active” and “conscious” when supporting someone with an ASD
• As connections expand beyond families, the challenges become more complex
Our families prepare us for both the largest communities and the smallest. Relationships are built progressively from our small family social group to larger groups, and then many of us return to the smallest group: a life partner and a family of our own. Different relationship circles are discussed in detail in upcoming sections of this text.
While researchers are still engaged in the “nature vs. nature” debate, most agree that both affect children and their social skills development. However, we do know that autism affects cognitive and emotional development, generally causing some delays regardless of how ideal a family situation is. 
Early Concerns
I’ve found that many parents are unaware that developmental milestones associated with social skills and tolerances appear within the first year of life. Parents often tell me, “We always thought our child would catch up,” or they turn to the maxim, “Everyone develops at a different rate.” While some developmental differences fall within norms, researchers have determined that milestones aren’t as varied as once thought. Being the slightest bit behind these milestones can indicate a developmental delay. Generally, parents begin to notice the delays at one year to eighteen months — which is overlaps a great many events in a child’s life. 
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are specific traits parents and caregivers should monitor during the first year of life. A 2004 Canadian study of 150 infants found that trained researchers, using video and special training, could identify autism much earlier than previously possible. Currently, most children with autism are not diagnosed until after the age of three. Earlier detection could help parents and health care experts plan early interventions. Some of the milestones identified are provided in the following sections.
First Month
During the first three to four weeks, a child should respond to external stimuli. The child should also begin moving in ways that reflect any motion around the child. The children later diagnosed with developmental disorders were less responsive and less active than their peers at one month. Some of the developmental milestone warning signs include:
• Doesn’t blink when shown a bright light
• Doesn’t respond to loud sounds
• Doesn’t focus and follow a nearby object moving side to side
• Rarely moves arms and legs; seems stiff
• Seems excessively loose in the limbs, or floppy
Limb control is important because of the role gestures play in human communication. The inability to control hands, in particular, negatively affects communication. Also, children with decreased motor activity at one month seem to develop less fine motor control later in life. This affects activities such as handwriting and drawing. 
I didn’t cry or vocalize at birth, a clear indicator that something was seriously wrong. I also had poor muscle control, which was attributed to muscular damage at birth. Researchers studying home videos have discovered that many autistic individuals exhibited minor delays within the first month of life, but parents didn’t realize how important these delays were. 
Third Month
Between 12 and 16 weeks, a child should be extremely engaged and aware of his or her surroundings. Any delay by three months must be taken seriously. Researchers have found this period reveals developmental delays parents often overlook. The milestone warning signs researchers have identified include:
• Doesn’t seem to respond to loud sounds consistently
• Doesn’t notice hands or feet by two months
• Doesn’t follow moving objects with her eyes by two to three months
• Doesn’t smile at the sound of a parental voice by two months
• Doesn’t smile at people by three months
• Doesn’t babble by three to four months
• Doesn’t imitate any “human” sounds by four months
• Frightened by new faces or surroundings
The first three months help a child understand interacting with their world. The impulse to “mirror” other humans appears within these months, an indication that mirroring is at least in part instinctive. Children with ASDs don’t exhibit this mirroring to the same degree as their peers, if they exhibit mirroring at all. Because mirroring can be subtle, parents do not always notice that a child isn’t mirroring. 
A child might vocalize while parents or siblings are speaking, yet these might not be attempts to mirror. Honestly, the distinctions between mirror behaviors and random acts aren’t always obvious to untrained observers. Even trained observers rely on video recordings to make definitive judgments about developmental milestones.
Remember that even adults “mirror” their family, friends, and coworkers. It is an unconscious skill for most people, but a conscious skill that must be taught to some autistic individuals. If the skill doesn’t develop at an early age, the sooner it can be taught to a child the more effective learned mirroring can be. It is still a form of conscious mimicry, but it can help a person with an ASD succeed at school and work.  
One Year
The first birthday of a child marks numerous developmental milestones. By the first year, a child has learned communication is both non-verbal and verbal. The non-verbal develops early, and the majority of human communication is non-verbal. We rely on gestures, signals, facial expression, and non-linguistic vocalizations for much of what we express to others. A one-year-old child should be mastering these non-verbal skills. The one-year milestone warning signs include:
• Does not learn to use gestures, such as waving or shaking head
• Does not point to objects or pictures to communicate
• Says no clear single words (variations of “momma” and “daddy” are common)
If we know the warning signs for developmental delays, it is also useful to know the expected behaviors from a child at one year. Failing to meet the majority of these milestones can indicate a potential developmental delay. It is important that families and caregivers look for these milestones by a year of age:
• Pays increasing attention to speech
• Responds to simple verbal requests
• Responds to “no” (even if protesting)
• Uses simple gestures, such as shaking head for “no”
• Babbles with inflection and diction 
• Uses “extra-linguistic” exclamations, such as “oh-oh!” or giggling
• Tries to imitate words
• Imitates gestures of friends and family
• Enjoys imitating people in play
• Prefers mother and/or regular caregiver over all others
Early Development and Future Relationships
Why should a book on relationships include a chapter on childhood development? Because, as the introduction states, relationships are based on and maintained by communication and general social skills. Our relationships are not based logic, however ideal that would be. Instead, relationships are strongest when the colleagues, friends, or lovers understand and relate to each other. 
A person’s social future and relationship “success” is not set during the first year of his or her life. However, it is best to notice any issues so physical or neurological challenges can be identified and treated. Deaf children, for example, might exhibit signs of developmental delays caused by their auditory impairment. 
For autistic children, recognizing the development delays within the first two years greatly improve the effectiveness of social skills and relationship therapies. Yes, there are therapies that can help autistic children learn to form relationships with their parents and caregivers during their toddler years. Specialized play therapies, for example, help autistic children focus on a toy and a parent. Research reveals that such therapies lose effectiveness as a child ages, as judged by how quickly the therapies alter behavior. Basically, it is easier to affect a mind the younger a person is.
I am not a therapist or psychologist, but I am a language arts expert. There is a tremendous amount of research finding that young children learn languages with an ease adults generally lack. A family counselor explained to me that non-verbal communication is a language, a symbolic language. That is why young children also have an easier time with sign language than adults. It is reasonable, then, to assume that children are better at obtaining all forms of communication.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Autism, Desires, and Needs

Another section of my book on relationships and autism. I'll be adding citations to the final edition. For now, you can read the bibliography on this blog for additional resources I have consulted.
Desires and Needs
Human relationships come down to our desires and our needs as they relate to social connections. Psychologists and social experts can and do argue over the distinction between a desire and need, and I realize plenty of scientists assert the only real “needs” are biological. I am not using the biological definitions in this text, I’m relying on terms from marriage and family counselors.
A psychology need is something necessary to develop a sense of self. If you want to learn more about needs, there are several books and websites with information on Abraham Maslow’s theories. By contrast, a desire is something we want, but that is unessential to the development of self-awareness. Philosophers also consider desires versus needs. 
Allow me another moment of blunt honesty: some individuals with ASDs will never be able to communicate desires. As a result, we can only make assumptions about the desires of some autistic people. I know that is not ideal, and mistakes are likely when we assume what any other person wants. Counselors suggest at least trying to interpret desires signals caring for someone, but we don’t know if all autistic people understand such efforts. 
Desires
Most of people tend to be more aware of desires. Desires are those impulses that cause people to pursue particular relationships. Because desires do not always align with our actual needs, desires can lead us make decisions that result in poor relationships. All people mistake some desires for needs. For autistic individuals the complexities of can be incomprehensible. That’s not a personal failing, it merely reflects the challenges of being less able to interpret situations. 
• What we desire isn’t always what is best for us, including in relationships
• Teens (and adults) want friends who can be bridges to other social groups and settings 
• Teens with ASDs often speak of wanting companions who will help them “feel normal”
• The desire to be wanted is most common
As I wrote, a desire isn’t necessary for self-awareness, but they are important. The impulse to seek a group and a sense of social standing is normal. “Belonging” is considered a human need, but we don’t always the desire the people and relationships that will actual embrace us. When we are lucky, though, our desires end up leading us to our needs. 
Parents, family members, and support providers have asked how they can determine the desires of a child or adult with an ASD. The solution is to discuss desires. If you are an individual with autism, the same suggestion applies: tell your friends and family what you want. Whether you are the friend or the person with autism, do what works best when you want to ask anything serious. 
If you talk over dinner, ask about desires then. If you talk while taking walks, ask then. The main thing is that eventually people need to discuss their desires. For people with autism, these discussions might come later than their peers, but the discussions should happen. If you are a parent or caregiver, you should ask about desires if your teen or young adult with autism doesn’t mention them first. 
Parents tell me that the reality is teens with autism end up surprising their families with questions about social desires at the least expected moment. As early as elementary school an autistic child might say, “I wish I had more friends.” That is a common desire, of course. The questions and complaints get more complex, so get ready — they will be asked. 
The remainder of this text addresses desires, with the hope that needs are also met. 
Needs
Recall that needs are those relationships that help us develop self-awareness. The theory is that as people develop self-awareness, they also improve their abilities to understand the thoughts of others. In autism research, this is known as the “Theory of Mind.” Studies have found that autistic individuals not only struggle to imagine how others feel or might act, but they also struggle to understand their own emotions and reactions. 
What we need to develop our self-awareness are relationships that guide us. What we need, in essence, are true friends. Friends might also be family, and our lovers are hopefully our friends. Friends meet needs because they do some or all of the following:
• Complement us, without exceeding our tolerances
• Expand our social network, providing supports and guidance to socializing
• Help interpret the world for us, and interpret us to the world
• Know how to “correct” our social errors without insulting our natures
Friends do these things for us because we do the same for them. Autistic individuals might not always appreciate how we meet the needs of people in our lives. Sometimes, we have to have things explained to us — including why someone might consider us a friend.
I’ve heard it said, “Autistics see the world differently.” If that’s true, they we help people see and interpret the world in new ways. I’m not always sure my friend get much benefit from me, but they seem content to remain friends. 
How A Friend Helps
The friends of autistic individuals help us in countless ways. The belonging a friend offers is only the start. Friends are bridges and buffers, helping us connect to others while also protecting us. Some important examples of how a friend helps include:
• Models social skills and norms in various settings
• Introduces the teen/adult to other potential friends and social situations
• Demonstrates that “me time” is okay, even necessary
• Guides the teen/adult away from stressful situations
• Recognizes potential triggers before it is “too late” for the teen/adult
• Offers comfort when “life” inevitably happens
People generally learn social norms by mimicking parents and peers unconsciously. Psychologists and neurologists theorize “mirror neurons” enable children to mimic the behaviors around them long before basic memories form. Mirroring, research suggests, is instinctive. Some people with ASDs do this well, others have to consciously mimic social skills and norms. Either way, friends are the best models. Observing and interacting with friends also provides an opportunity to learn about ourselves. 
Self-awareness requires a knowledge of our behaviors. For people with autism, learning about how we behave is challenging. Watching our friends, the people we attempt to mimic, helps us understand more about ourselves. 
Most people with ASDs are not extroverts, and those autistics who are sometimes overestimate their own social skills. Friends can help an autistic person connect to social groups. Often, friends share our interests and know of groups and organizations dedicated to those interests. An autistic person might not be to deal with all social gatherings his or her friends enjoy, but every social interaction is valuable. 
Because autism is characterized by isolation, it is easy to forget that everyone needs “me time” and time away from stressful situations. Even friends need time apart, a bit of alone time to recharge emotionally and physically. It is a valuable, though difficult, to realize friends are not always available. Autistic children, and some autistic adults, struggle with the realization friends needing time apart is not a sign of rejection. 
Our friends also guide us away from potentially risky or emotionally damaging situations. Not that some “friends” don’t guide us towards danger, but real friends try to protect us. Since autistic individuals cannot always read situations or people, a friend who can perceive dangers is great to have. Even autistic individuals with good math and logic skills often miscalculate personal risks. 
Truly great friends, including our close family members, learn to recognize those conditions that lead to sensory or emotional overload. Teens with ASDs seem particularly prone to assuming they can tolerate more stimuli than actually is possible. In school or at home, a meltdown or withdrawal might be okay, but in public settings becoming overwhelmed can be frustrating for a teen or adult with autism.  
Of course, “life happens” and our friend are there to help cope with frustration and disappoint. That might be the most important role for friends of autistic individuals. Life with a disability is frustrating; “invisible” disabilities like autism expose people to unique frustrations. Because autism, learning disabilities, and other impairments don’t always appear severe, uninformed people don’t always understand the challenges. Our friends do. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Autism and Insurance Coverage State Laws

Autism and Insurance Coverage State Laws
A total of 35 states and the District of Columbia have laws related to autism and insurance coverage. At least 23 states—Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin—specifically require insurers to provide coverage for the treatment of autism. Other states may require limited coverage for autism under mental health coverage or other laws.
The above link from the National Conference of State Legislatures includes a detailed table of insurance mandates by state. The table is maintained quarterly, so it is relatively up-to-date. You would have to read the complete state laws for specific coverage data.  

Book Excerpt: Autism and Tolerances

Yet more book passages on autism and relationships. Thanks to all the readers so far!
Tolerances
When someone declares, “I can’t tolerate that person!” the speaker probably means that literally in some way. Yes, we really do have “tolerances” and those affect our relationships. When people discusses their tolerances, most are referring to their emotional abilities to tolerate others. However, emotional tolerances are only a part of limits on a relationship.
• Tolerances describe our physical, emotional, and neurological limitations
• Ranges of tolerance vary by individual, though some with ASDs are extremely sensitive
• Composing a list of tolerances can improve self-awareness of social limitations
• Friends and family often know tolerances better than the individual with an ASD
All of us have physical, emotional, and neurological limitations. Some of us can tolerate extreme cold, others can tolerate extreme heat. Some of us are emotionally equipped to work in emergency rooms or disaster areas, while others of us work best away from chaos. The next section of the text explores specific tolerance types in detail.
Though we all have tolerance ranges, the ranges can be narrower for people with ASDs. These definitely affect our friends, family members, and even our coworkers. I suggest creating a list of tolerances to help consider them more accurately. Again, this is an exercise that works best with a trusted friend or family member who can check the list composed by an autistic individual. Some people prefer to create an initial list alone, but the list still should be reviewed for additional insights. If an autistic individual cannot compose this list alone, parents or caregivers can help draft the list. 
Our Sensitivities 
What tolerances belong on a list? I suggest starting with four broad categories, maybe even creating separate lists for each category initially before compiling a master list. These are the four categories I use:
• Sensory Sensitivity: people produce sensory stimuli, which can be overwhelming
• Emotional Sensitivity: people are emotional, some more than others
• Physical Space: people occupy space; in a relationship, you share space
• Need for Order, Routines: people don’t follow  your routine, and some are impulsive
For each of these categories, I suggest starting with how people fall into them. After you consider people and the category you can expand to places, things, situations, and other contexts. Though I am suggesting this for autistic people, there’s no reason this exercise cannot help anyone consider his or her limitations.
Sensory Sensitivity
You might believe sensory tolerances don’t lead to relationship problems. You’d be wrong. People don’t merely produce sensory stimuli on their own, which can be overwhelming, they also seek out various stimuli. Consider all five senses and try to think of any and every negative experience connected to sensory stimuli. The senses are: sight (visual), taste (oral), touch (tactile), smell (olfactory), and sound (auditory). Some of these are more important than others.
The most obvious sensory problems for me are olfactory: I hate certain smells. Some people, sorry but they need better hygiene. Then there are the men and women steeped in fragrances. Do they not understand a “spray” of cologne or perfume versus a shower? I can get a migraine from some odors.
I’ve been told by some autistics that the smell of foods can be overwhelming. I happen to love most food, but what happens when an autistic person cannot tolerate the smell of a partner’s favorite food? You might think that’s a silly question, but I had one person tell me she couldn’t tolerate the smells of Italian food. (I might have said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”) It turns out, she really, really hates anything that reminds her of tomatoes. He boyfriend, as you can guess, was part Italian. I don’t know how the problem gets resolved — I couldn’t give up tomatoes, much less tomato-based sauces. 
Smoking is a serious problem for many people. Candles, incense, and air-fresheners are also problematic for some autistics (and plenty of other people, too). Odors and scents might seem minor to someone else, but for an autistic individual a smell can trigger everything from headaches to serious meltdowns. 
People can produce tactile stimuli, too, from their direct touches to choices in clothing. I hate “scratchy” feelings, like some wools. Tactile matters, trust me. I have to have smooth, soft sheets. I like soft fabrics, gentle touches. I hate rough surfaces. Touch is far less complicated than odors, thankfully.
Auditory sensitivity is common among autistics. I hate loud, sudden noises. The local light rail where we live “squeals” around corners and leaves me shaking. I also react to sirens horribly. If you like loud musics, live concerts, and fireworks, I’m probably not going to be joining you out on the town. That’s a serious problem if one friend or partner loves to go to places that are loud and the other hates those places or cannot tolerate them. 
One of the more complex problems I’ve encounters is color sensitivity. I’m not sure what triggers it, but I met a non-verbal boy bothered by the colors yellow and brown. I happen to dislike anything that looks “dirty” but that doesn’t seem to be the case for this young child. His parents said he would scream at the television when he saw yellow. He’d cry in the mall. I’m not sure if this was resolved, but it is definitely a real condition for some autistic individuals. 
Emotional Sensitivity
My wife can attest to a problem I have that many autistics report: I mirror, and even magnify, the emotions of people around me. And people are emotional, some more so than others. Parents and care providers tell me that some non-verbal children are so overwhelmed by any strong emotion that it can cause meltdowns. 
Friends, family, and peers unintentionally can trigger withdrawal or meltdowns with excitement or anger. Even laughter causes panic for some autistics. Such responses to emotion inevitably cause friction within relationships. Imagine trying to never express joy or anger so an autistic person isn’t overwhelmed. Forcing yourself to be restrained is exhausting, just as it is for an autistic individual.
I respond quickly and deeply to anyone being hurt or abused; it can be overwhelming to be around someone suffering. It is as if emotions are contagious. You can imagine how badly awry this emotional sensitivity can go. I need to be around someone less emotional, more “constant” than most people. Angry people scare me, literally, and even loud people can seem angry to me. I am uncomfortable with “bubbly” people, too. It is the extremes of emotions that bother me, not specific emotions. 
Physical Space
Any couple or family can appreciate the problems of space. People occupy space — kitchens and bathrooms often being epicenters of disputed space. In school and work relationships, we also are forced to share spaces. Conflicts are inevitable, it seems, when people are in close proximity. 
Proximity tolerances begin with what we call “personal space,” which is the amount of distance we expect between two people. Different cultures have different proximity tolerances, which seem to be learned during childhood. These proximities signal cultural meanings, such as “getting in someone’s face” to indicate anger or being “standoffish” to indicate distrust. Because these are learned behaviors that are internalized over time, people tend to retain the proximity lessons learned as children. 
Autistic individuals and the parents of autistics tell me there is a surprising range of personal space preferences among autistics. Some people assume those with ASDs are always distant, but that is not the case. Parents have told me some children and teens with ASDs “cling” too closely to friends and family. A teacher told me of a student with autism she felt was trying, literally, to stay within the teacher’s shadow. Being physically too far away or too close to others affects direct and indirect communication. 
Beyond how people exist and interact in space, there are issues of spacial arrangement and control. Again, this is not a problem unique to autism: everyone has preferences when it comes to the design and arrangement of spaces. I like to be near windows and able to look out doors. It’s not quite a claustrophobic response, but I like to feel a space has openings. I hate to feel trapped. Other autistic individuals prefer small, closed spaces. There’s no one preference. 
Because people with ASDs can be more rigid in their preferences, it is often best to let an autistic child choose which chair is his or hers, which shelves, et cetera. I realize this can seem like allowing the autistic child or adult too much control, but at least starting with this approach minimizes trauma and meltdowns. Over time you can help an autistic person try alternative arrangements. Understand, this isn’t about being in charge from the autistic perspective — it is about keeping things familiar.  
Order and Routines
As the discussion of physical spaces reflects, individuals with ASDs like order and routines. This insistence on order is both physical and temporal. We like daily schedules as much as we like our furniture to be arranged in a particular manner. Change is unwelcome. 
There are spontaneous people and planners. Most of us are between the two extremes, but the majority of people with ASDs prefer plans, schedules, and calendars. We like to do the same things at the same times, even if that seems boring to other people. And then, right in the middle a routine, an autistic person can have an impulsive desire that is so unpredictable and overwhelming that it throws everything and everyone else into chaos. 
I would never be able to tolerate disorder and chaos in a living space, office, or classroom. My wife is organized — extremely organized. She is certain she could be more organized and that we could be more efficient, but the reality is that she’s an impulsive sorter and planner. My wife is probably more organized than I am, mainly because she’s less prone to distraction. 
I’ve heard coworkers complaining about messy family members, those people comfortable with dirty dishes in the sink and laundry on the floor. I could be cleaning constantly, upset by the disorder. I’m upset with stupid little things, so major messes would be unbearable. The “Odd Couple” might be a funny play, but the reality is that such differences can strain and even destroy relationships. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quick Note: Job Hunt

A very quick note, not a full blog entry. As readers know, I have been pondering three career paths:
  1. Continue freelance writing and consulting. 
  2. Pursue university research posts in communications and/or language arts.
  3. Return to private industry (good pay, benefits).
I have had two university interviews and two corporate interviews this month. I don't do well with phone interviews, but who does? It is great to sense the job market returning, though it is far from normal. I'm hoping the Ph.D. was worth the time and energy — and it might be.

Freelancing is low-paying, but flexible for my physical and neurological days of rest.

University teaching posts have good hours, decent pay, and I don't have to remain focused on autism research if I can make a case for other research projects. I love teaching and the schedule is ideal for writing projects.

Corporate posts pay well and have better benefits than freelancing. Also, there's little controversy involved versus conducting research. The right company might be a good fit. I don't know.

No matter what happens, I'll be sure to announce where I land. None of the options are bad, but they are each different. Until I have a solid offer, these are only interviews. I'm probably over-thinking the situation right now.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Collapsing from Exhaustion

I am hoping to take a few days away from my various blogs and other projects to finish the book on autism and relationships. I've had two job interviews this week and the stress of those is getting to me, I fear. Today I was also asked if I might speak to a high school audience in the spring, which would be a wonderful change of pace -- and it is in a region of Minnesota I love. Oh, and an AP Literature class in another state is reading one of my texts for an assignment and I agreed to answer any questions.

There is a point I reach every so often at which I have tried to do too much too quickly. I need to collapse for a day or two and recharge. I'll be okay, but I've pushed myself too hard. Doesn't everyone?

I want to help anyone asking questions. I want to write enough that people enjoy the blogs. I have several website projects I'd like to "finish" this year, finally. I have five screenplays to write, at least two novels I want to finish writing, and two conference presentations to finalize. I want to do more than I do, because I never feel like I've done enough.

My wife doesn't realize she's often talking about unfinished tasks and pending to-do lists, too. We are too eager to please people at work or in school. We want to be the dependable people, even if it means taking on too much. We even take our hobbies too seriously.

So, if I don't post for a few days, it isn't because I'm not writing something. I really do need to allocate my time a bit more carefully so I don't collapse from exhaustion for more than a few hours. I know my body is already having problems because I'm working too many hours.

It is affecting how I deal with my wife, the cats, and life in general.

Be back this weekend, if all goes according to plan, with more excerpts from the eBook: A Spectrum of Relationships.

ABA and NARTH

There must be something better out there. I'm not sure what, but the more I interview functional adults with autism who received ABA-based or similar therapies, the more I know there must be a better approach. The problem is, I have no idea what that "better approach" is.

I'm not a psychologist. I'm a language arts and autism specialist. My research is on how autistic students learn to master written communication (which doesn't really mean "written" in all cases). I am not a therapist. I am not a counselor. But there has to be a better way to help students and young children.

I am not suggesting all ABA-based therapies in use today are bad. I sincerely believe ABA must be revised, researched, and ideally all connections to anything Lovaas did forgotten to history. I'd even like to see whatever evolution occurs to have a name other than "ABA-based therapy." The history and associations are that troubling.

So, understand I'm calling for more and different research. I do not like most ABA-based therapies I have observed, but I am not going to claim there isn't a starting point for research.

Because I have gay friends and family, I care a lot about their rights. I'm not gay, but I am an "Honorary Gay Man" thanks to a great friend who tolerates my difficult personality. My gay friends are among the most spiritual, caring, tolerant people I know.

So, yes, I am deeply offended when I read websites showing Lovaas employees register domains like "protectmarriage.com" and donate money to ballot measure to "defend" marriage. Yes, it upsets me that some ABA practitioners, admittedly independent and violating every APA code of ethics I am sure, offer services to help "cure" gay teens.

I am certain 99% of ABA-theory practitioners are not bad people. I'm sure a third or more of ABA-based therapy is done professionally and with major revisions to the original ABA methods. But, there is still a set of ABA adherents carrying on the original ABA legacy.

NARTH still uses ABA-based theories and celebrates Lovaas' research:
In December, 2008, at its annual strategic planning meeting, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH)’s Board of Directors formally accepted the following Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions and Behaviors. Their purpose is to educate and guide mental health professionals to provide competent, ethical, and effective psychological care to those with unwanted homosexual attractions and behaviors. 
Look at the date of this article:
Therapy: From Gay to Straight
January 18, 2011 – 12:39 pm | Comments Off
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi talks about options for those who wish to diminish and replace homosexual attractions by understanding the root causes, and to develop their heterosexual potential by healing emotional hurts in their past. Dr. …
Gee, I wonder why "Comments Off" is the setting for that press release? Some of the ABA practitioners suggested by NARTH are also providing ABA treatment of autism. I started to cross-search the names and office addresses. I'm not going to "out" anybody, but it was enough to leave me disgusted.  You can locate NARTH without my help. These are serious, well-educated psychologists and psychiatrists. And many speak about ABA therapies and autism to local groups.

I'm sure these people believe they are doing what is right. It still bothers me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lovaas and Anti-Gay H8

Did you realize several Lovaas Institute employees fund every anti-gay rights group they can? Some employees still claim homosexuality is a mental health disorder? Lavender Liberal has been doing research on the origins of money to fight gay rights. It turns out, according to NoH8, Lovaas staff (at least four) are using the money they earn from ABA training programs to register websites like this:

PROTECTMARRIAGE.COM
Registered to:
{name removed}
Lovaas Institute
6540 Lusk Blvd #C157
San Diego, CA 92121

"Treatment for children diagnosed with autism or a related disorder."

If you know the history of ABA, you know it was created to "cure" feminine boys. Now, as more and more states consider mandating ABA therapy coverage within insurance policies, you know more Lovaas staff and executives will earn money. And that money will be spent on such nice things as promoting discrimination.

But, hey, everyone knows Lovaas' original project to cure homosexuality has nothing to do with ABA and autism. I'm sure there's no connection at all. Just some money donated to a pro-family group. Who doesn't support families?

Maybe it is just some rogue employees. I have no idea, but this raises a lot of questions considering the history of ABA. I'd sure love to know the official Lovaas Institute position on these donations and website registrations.