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Showing posts from January, 2011

But You Are a Geek, Right?

It seems anytime I try to point out that not every person diagnosed as autistic is a savant or a socially awkward geek, someone write to ask, "But you are a geek, right?"

There's not really a good answer to that. While I'm busy trying to dispel what I consider an unfair stereotype of people with autism spectrum disorders, someone else is busy taking notes of the various ways in which I match the stereotypes. I'm not sure if that's sardonic or ironic revelry at my expense.

The little bits of my personality that people notice are the bits they see in themselves or their children.
The reality is, beyond the computer skills I'm not much of an archetype, though I am old enough to predate the young people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Maybe if I had been born 20 years later, I'd be more "typical" or something.

And now I present, yet more questions from the virtual mailbag on the issue of technology stereotypes. Questions have been edi…

eBook on Autism and Relationships

I should have a draft of A Spectrum of Relationships (working title) available to readers of this blog within three weeks. I've set a deadline for myself of February 21 for the draft so it can be edited and revised before I present on the topic at a conference.

When I consider it, I'm probably the least likely person to write about relationships for any audience. I was not and am not a social person. But, I understand my strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of "autistic" traits. Hopefully, my words will help parents and other mentors help teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders navigate the complexities of relationships.

Relationships are difficult for most people. They can be incredibly difficult for people with ASDs.

Spread the word. When the eBook is posted, it will be freely available in both ePub and Kindle/Mobi formats. It won't be a perfect draft; I will update the text as often as necessary to refine it.

If I can get a version p…

Autism, Inclusion, and Tiger Mothers

There is a difference between offering opportunities for “social inclusion” for individuals with special needs and those parents demanding a child participate in “normal” activities. Inclusion is a divisive and complex topic for reasons that are social, political, philosophical, and personal.

I believe, passionately, that individuals with disabilities should have access to any publicly funded services, from education to community-based youth sports. I am not insisting, absurdly, that every activity can be inclusive because some activities exclude all but the most talented. What I do insist on is that opportunities to participate be equal, include the opportunity to fail.

But lately, I have started to encounter parents insisting that children and teens with disabilities participate in activities regardless of individual desire to participate. These parents claim that participation is essential to the development of social skills.

“My daughter would just sit in her room reading about…

The Big Bang Theory: TV and Autism Advocates

It seems every time I address a group, someone asks about "The Big Bang Theory." Even after I explain that I have never watched a complete episode — and until recently not even most of an episode — I am asked about the characters. The common questions include:

Q: Don't you just love Sheldon Cooper?
A: I didn't know who he was until recently. I Googled the name, honestly.

Q: Couldn't you tell how much like those characters you are?
A: No. I found them annoying. I don't like most science fiction or comic books, either. Though I do appreciate references to obscure scientists.

Q: Didn't you go to CalTech?
A: No, I went to USC. I'm a fiercely loyal Trojan. A friend from USC married a Ph.D from CalTech, but that's as close as I get.

Q: Don't you have several degrees? Wouldn't you like another degree?
A: Possible evidence that I make dumb choices.

Q: Aren't you a genius?
A: It doesn't make me funny, either. I guess I do share some tra…

Sexuality and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Yes, sex and ASDs. Part of my February 26 presentation at Arc Midstate's annual conference will deal with sexuality and autism. A short eBook is also being created, which will be free.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: students with ASDs grow up to be adults with ASDs. Many, if not most, will have the same urges, impulses, and desires as the rest of the adult population. And, though their parents and caregivers might not want to ponder this, the student with an ASD will experiment and eventually engage in romantic physical contact with another person. Some will get married as adults and have children of their own.

Teens are teens, regardless of any unique traits or challenges, and this topic can't be ignored, even if parents have wanted to avoid this topic for centuries. The best thing we can do is offer some advice to prepare young people to help them deal with emerging sexuality.

I'm only going to post a few thoughts for now, until the presentation is finished. I…

Visitor Q&A: Diet, Clothes, School, Books

I have received a few questions via e-mail and Twitter. As promised I will answer questions as best I can. You can contact me on this blog's "Ask the Author" page or via Twitter (@autisticme).

Q: Have you tried different diets? If so, do they have any effect?

A: I have a chlorophyl allergy (seriously), so I cannot eat a lot of green vegetables without incurring a lot of pain and misery. Unfortunately, I also love salads, so I must limit the amount to a small, small serving. We tend to eat fish and chicken. I react to grease and oil, so we bake and grill with fruit juices, coconut milk, and various marinades.

I absolutely adore breads and cookies. Not about to skip those, but we also try to control carbs because I want to lose weight. I've been avoiding pasta and other starchy foods.

Q: Are you sensitive to clothing?

A: Yes. I have always removed tags. I hate "itchy" clothes and really hate itchy bedsheets. I don't like wool, despise "sticky" cloth…

What is "Autism" Beyond a Word?

"Autism" is a word with clinical, research, and legal meanings. It also has social meanings and personal meanings to the individuals and families touched by autism.

Defining "autism" makes discussions of "white" appear simplistic. I can explain white to students in a single lecture and then we will agree on the term "white" for the remainder of the semester. I cannot define autism to the satisfaction of anyone, not even myself.

In video production, "pure white" has three precise meanings: 5000, 6500, or 9300 degrees Kelvin. The lower value is slightly "yellow" and the higher is slightly bluish, by wavelength produced. When I ask for "white" I have to be precise and give the Kelvin value to any editor for color matching. You would notice if different editors working on a film or television show used various "white" standards. (I could go on for pages on graphic design issues and color matching.)

The histor…

More on Autism Puzzle Piece Logos, Symbols, Ribbons

I joined Twitter on the first day of 2011 (@autisticme). I also joined a Twibe (seriously?) and registered with WeFollow.com to learn more about what autism-related Twitter feeds might exist.

Within a few days, I was already observing a familiar debate. In fact, it the debate I described in the single most-viewed blog entry of The Autistic Me, which dates back to 2008 (see "Logos, Symbols, and Ribbons").

Various "Aspie Advocates" are still protesting the puzzle piece. I'm sure they will be protesting the puzzle piece next year, in five years, and a decade from now. The "neurodiverstiy" (ND) movement doesn't like the puzzle piece. (Everyone's brain is different: neurological diversity is a fact of life.)

Honestly, I don't care for the puzzle piece either. I've written and said that I find it personally off-putting. If I am a puzzle, I'm not more or less of a puzzle than most human beings. I'm told, "Oh, no, it is autism that i…

Autism and Relationships from Friends to Lovers

I will be hosting a presentation and discussion on autism and relationships during the Arc Midstate Annual Conference. The description is:
Autism and Developing Interpersonal Relationships - This can be a challenge for students and adults with autism spectrum disorders. This frank discussion explores the positive and negative experiences shared by most people, but with an emphasis on how autism is an additional obstacle to relationships. How can family, friends, caregivers, and educators help nurture the skills necessary for rewarded social connections? What are the challenges faced by individuals with ASDs and how can specific challenges be addressed?Remember, I am talking to parents and educators with the potential for some teens in the audience. My comments are addressed to the parents, but they are meant for everyone.

Portrayals of people with ASDs range from the anti-social hermit to the oblivious stalker. The reality is more complex. Some people are social, some are not. We cann…

University Supports and Budget Cuts

As many of my readers know, I worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning at both the University of Minnesota and our sister system, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Today, I received a shocking letter from the Director of Faculty Development: the CTL is closing, systemwide.

This decision is significant because it was through CTL that I conducted seminars for faculty on how to meet the needs of students with autism spectrum disorders and other cognitive special needs. The closure means less faculty development, less awareness, and an increased likelihood that students with ASDs will struggle in the university settings.

I am already an underemployed Ph.D., with a unique specialization in autism and language instruction. My Ph.D. also includes "Rhetoric" in its title. Well, it is time for some persuasive rhetoric from educators, parents, and advocates. If we do not explain that not-training faculty members will eventually increase the costs to society of sup…

Autism Communities

Lisa Jo Rudy, editor and guide at the About.com autism site (http://autism.about.com/), recently asked readers if they feel part of the "autism community." Unsurprisingly, most answered in the affirmative. Yes, they are part of the community. But, I don't believe I am part of the "autism community" or part of one of the many "autism communities" that self-identify in various ways.

The Autie / Aspie / Aspergian / etc. Communities
I do not consider myself an "aspie" or "aspergian." I don't like the term "autie" and have no desire for any autism-related label. I have tried to read various forums and mailing lists dedicated to autistic members (or members with autism) and end up frustrated with the exchanges after only a few days. I've tried some groups two or three times, but their primary purpose -- discussing autism -- isn't that interesting to me. These are really online support groups. That might be wonderful …

What If 'They' Believe I Am Dangerous?

The following deals with an issue as delicately as possible: Has the recent Tucson shooting increased the likelihood that students with autism spectrum diagnoses might be mistaken for safety risks?

At first, I was taken aback by the issue. Then, I realized it isn't new. Students with ASDs already have to battle misunderstandings and cultural biases.

Several college and university students with ASDs write to me on a regular basis. I do my best to answer their questions, but I don't always have good answers. Sometimes, I can help or at least offer a little guidance towards where the right answer might be. Then there are the answers that leave me depressed.

I'm going to paraphrase a question from a student, as best I can while still conveying his concerns. I have promised to do my best not to reveal much about the student. However, he's actually one of many with these experiences.
I am a master's student. My adviser recently told me that other students are uncomfortabl…

Survived a Night Out

It is now 10:30 p.m., a bit more than 24 hours from the start of the Christian Kane (http://www.christiankane.com/) concert my wife and I attended Friday night. Kane's music is Southern rock, often with a harder edge. I like "The House Rules" (album and single), though country music is a fraction of my CD collection.

Side note: I still prefer to own CDs and then import at a high bit-rate for iTunes. Also, I still use my CD players for classical and jazz and there is a noticeable difference.

I did well, all things considered, and we did remain through the entire concert. When I was an undergraduate, many years ago, I went to several concerts and regularly went to Los Angeles clubs to listen to music. Because I like jazz and "American standards" (think Sinatra), the places I like most are nothing like country bars.

My ears are still ringing, slightly and my legs are sore. But, I did okay. In fact, I think I did better with the music volume than my wife. The worst th…

Heading out of the House

It's not much of secret that while I like to get out of the house (and the city), I don't head for large gatherings of people or loud places. I also don't like driving through downtown where we live. The freeways and their signage were designed to cause accidents, it seems. Maybe the auto-body repair industry donates to local politicians.

But, tonight we are heading through downtown and out to a concert at a local club. It's going to be sensory overload and lots of stress.

It has been years since we were anywhere with live music. Actually, about eight years. Live music is fairly common at some bars and restaurants in our hometown. Some of the music was pretty good, too. But these were not jam-packed clubs with national acts.

I need out of the house, so we'll see how this goes.

The club / restaurant is in a new shopping center, so nothing will be familiar. The menu will be new, since we have never eaten at the restaurant. There are many potential problems with thi…

Autism-vaccine link debunked — too little, too late - L.A. Times

There is substantial blog and Twitter traffic on this issue. Again, not much call for me to comment, as anything I write will be nuanced and not change any minds. Still, this is a good read:
Autism-vaccine link debunked — too little, too late - latimes.com

It's frustrating for any researcher. I've tried to explain quantitative and qualitative research statistics. I've tried to explain science seldom claims to be "certain" — but the public demands certainty, just like they see on television dramas.

Vaccines are valuable, important, and statistically safer than having unvaccinated children in our communities. Nothing, nothing, nothing in life is 100% safe. Sadly, humans are bad at measuring and understanding risks.

St. Cloud MN Arc Regional Conference

I will hosting a breakout session at this event near St. Cloud, Minnesota:


Potpourri for Providers XII  Regional Annual Conference  Saturday, February 26, 2011 Sauk Rapids-Rice High School

You can contact Arc Midstate at:
http://www.arcmidstate.org/

Registration Fee $49 Register Early! Conference enrollment is limited
Deadline to register: February 15, 2011

The presentation will be:

A-4 Autism and Developing interpersonal relationships - This can be a challenge for students and adults with autism spectrum disorders. This frank discussion explores the positive and negative experiences shared by most people, but with an emphasis on how autism is an additional obstacle to relationships. How can family, friends, caregivers, and educators help nurture the skills necessary for rewarded social connections? What are the challenges faced by individuals with ASDs and how can specific challenges be addressed?

If you live in Minnesota, this is one of the best special education and general special needs…

The Truth Won't Matter

I don't think I need to write much. Read the full story at USA Today and I'm sure dozens of other news organizations will have more in-depth coverage.

From USA Today:
Report linking vaccine to autism 'an elaborate fraud'
By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY
January 5, 2011

An infamous 1998 study that ignited a worldwide scare over vaccines and autism — and led millions of parents to delay or decline potentiatly lifesaving shots for their children — was "an elaborate fraud," according to a scathing three-part investigation in the British medical journal BMJ.Bad science would be enough, but fraud? The article continues:
Now, the BMJ reports that Wakefield, who was paid more than $675,000 by a lawyer hoping to sue vaccine makers, was not just unethical — he falsified data in the study, which suggested that children developed autism after getting a shot against measles, mumps and rubella.

In fact, the children's medical records show that some clearly had symptoms of develop…

Groups of People and Daily Life

In a recent post on the holidays, I mentioned that gatherings of people are often too intense and too stressful for me. I avoid any social gatherings as often as possible, which has implications far beyond my family and holidays.

Consider all the daily events that are really gatherings of people, social or not:

1) School classrooms

It doesn't get any more over stimulating that most classrooms. The K-6 classrooms are the worst for me, with their "neurological stimulation" of name tags, charts, maps, calendars, student art, and more. I felt overwhelmed as a student and I still feel overwhelmed when I enter these rooms as an educator or consultant.

Now, add the students. What was already an overwhelming space can become a nightmare. I've substituted in K-6 classrooms, which seemed to go well enough, but I was ready to collapse at the end of each day. Young children are... well... children. One or two is okay. Twenty? You can't possibly keep them organized, on-task…

Blame the Parent v2.0

For decades, thanks to experts like Bruno Bettelheim and various Freudian psychologists, mothers were blamed for autism. The mothers were too cold ("refrigerator mothers") or too affectionate ("smothering mums"). The child with autism was considered narcissistic, neurotic, or even sociopathic, all because of bad parenting. I've been reading about the history of psychology and it can be depressing. Even 50 years ago seems like the Dark Ages.

Now, we have moved on to Blame the Parent, version 2.0.

How do we blame the parent in 2011? By claiming the parent made bad choices that led to, exacerbated, or in some other way contributed to the situation of his or her child.

A partial list of the blame game.

You shouldn't have…
vaccinated your child.received any shots or vaccines. eaten any fish (or X, Y, and Z) while pregnant. exercised so much while pregnant.exercised so little. fed your child X, Y, or Z. used household cleanser X. lived so close to a freeway.live…

When to Go Corporate

I have read dozens of articles on what people with ASDs should or shouldn't do for a living.

The reality? There is no set group of "best" professions or paths for anyone, including those of us with unique dispositions. We might share some traits, but the notion that we can assume that all people with ASDs are similar professionally is incorrect.

Science and engineering workplaces can be as social, political, and emotionally draining as any other workplaces. Likewise, I have worked in creative settings that were exceptionally calm and ideal for someone like me. Knowing that a workplace is "technical" or "creative"doesn't tell you much about the working environment.

In November, I started shifting my job hunt to corporate possibilities. I had determined that a corporate job might be a better match for my personality. Maybe that won't be the case, but it was starting to seem that the educational positions were too political and ideological to be a g…