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Showing posts from 2013

Normalcy is Good

A handful, meaning four, visitors have emailed to ask why I haven't posted many blog entries recently. The answer: life has been fairly "normal" from my perspective.

I'm grading finals, dealing with student pleas for homework extensions, and feeling overwhelmed — like every other instructor I know. A friend shared that he was up before 3 a.m. to grade essays and record grades by his university's deadlines. The end-of-semester crunch is what it is… no matter who you are as a student or instructor.

The only "autistic" frustration was our cat, Lucy, triggering the burglar alarm while we were on the PA Turnpike. For those unfamiliar with the Turnpike and Tollway systems, these are true "Expressway" systems. The exits are far apart (28 miles or more), and sometimes those exits are to service areas, not junctions.

So, when Lucy's Christmas tree curiosity tripped the motion sensor (which was supposed to aim above pet-level), we were about f…

Herbal Teas, Please... Not that Bitter "Real" Tea

Tea Time (Photo credit: Maia C) I love teas. One of the best gifts ever was a "PerfecTea" maker (16 oz) from Teavana. I use it daily throughout the winter months, and several times a week in the summer.

My current loose-leaf tea collection includes seven berry, kiwi colada, spiced apple, pumpkin spice, red chai, hibiscus punch, honeybush vanilla, and several other herbal varieties. What I don't buy are most true teas: they are too difficult to get right without a lot of attention to details.

Maybe my tastebuds are too sensitive. Few people care if their teas are a little bitter or "off" in some way, but I can tell when a green, black, or white tea has gone wrong. Too much heat or steeped too long, teas are ruined. I can't drink ruined teas.

Teavana provides a basic guide to brewing teas, "How to Make Tea" [http://www.teavana.com/tea-info/how-to-make-tea]. When you boil a kettle of water, it is 212 degrees F. Herbal, rooibos, and maté teas shou…

More on Sex and Social Skills

When I'm asked to speak or answer email questions about sex, my first question is: "What about relationships? Friendship? Dating?" I don't understand the interest in "sex" without exploring the social skills that (typically) lead to sexual encounters.

My personal opinion, however old-fashioned, is that we should encourage relationships and the skills necessary to maintain those relationships. The challenge is that sexual activity has always and will always occur outside relationships, so we need to balance the need to educate students with the need to encourage more healthy interpersonal connections.

I've had autistic young people and adults tell me, "I want sex." What about relationships? "I don't know. Maybe. But I want sex."

It's hard to explain to a college student aware of "hook-ups" among peers that those casual sexual adventures are still complex social interactions. I hear my students talk about "…

Colds Stink

My wife and I have been battling colds. It's been a week since the first sign of a sore throat, and I am exhausted. It seems that every cold becomes something more.

Is my immune system in overdrive? Probably. Just as allergies are an overactive reaction by the body, my body fights colds and infections too aggressively.

Anyway, that's why I haven't blogged much even as life seemed to settle down a bit. As I gathered myself after the loss of my grandfather, I ended up sick.

Time for a nap.

Plans for Book Update: Spectrum of Relationship

Since I first uploaded the ePub for A Spectrum of Relationships in 2011, several thousand copies have been purchased. Yet, there are only two reviews, and one mentions grammar errors that my wife and I cannot locate, despite rereading the text multiple times. I realize that few people review books, and even fewer offer valuable suggestions, but I do wonder why so few readers respond to the book. Only a handful of people have written to me about the book, and most of those emails are short "Thank you" notes without suggestions or ideas.

Not that I don't like a thank you, but I want to improve the book. The text should inform, entertain, and lead to more ideas. Some writers might prefer a lack of engagement with readers, but I want to learn from readers and offer them something better with each revision to a text.

If you have purchased A Spectrum of Relationships, let me know your impressions:
What did you like about the book, and how could I do "more" of what…

Life, Death, and Getting Caught Up...

Last week my grandfather was abruptly hospitalized. He died Wednesday night, at the age of 93. I haven't processed this loss, in part because we now live so far away that I haven't seen family in a few years. Moving was a good thing for us, but it does weaken links to family and friends left behind.

I don't want to post much about my grandfather. He was good man and I couldn't write anything adequate. He was the quiet calm in my father's family. Loyal, honest, and caring. Nothing meant more to him than family — and you didn't need to be related by blood to be in his family.

It has been an exhausting few weeks and a tiring year. I'm sorry that I haven't been able to keep the blogs updated.

This year, we've experienced a few difficult moments. My wife had her first-ever minor surgeries (plural, because we never do anything half-way), our little Muttly died of cancer (third cat to die of cancer in the two years we've lived here), I switched…

Higher Education, Supports, and the DSM

I received a question via email about a statement in a 2011 blog post:
from Autism and Higher-Education Rights (May 2011)
Legal Implications of the DSM-V Revisions

Some disability services expect a sudden and rapid expansion of the number of students qualified for services when the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the APA is published. The DSM-V is not finalized and its affects are still being debated by mental health professionals.
Regulatory agencies, including the Dept. of Education, use the DSM-IV to define disabilities.DSM-V updates "Autism Spectrum Disorders" — potentially expanding the number of individuals diagnosed.Universities must accept DSM-V criteria or risk losing federal funding. While the DSM-V is not perfect, and many of scholars remain critical of its approach, courts and regulators tend to defer to the DSM as a minimum guide for diagnoses. A college or university can offer greater flexibility, but the DSM is likely to serve as a baseline in any chal…

How autistic are you?

After I speak to groups, one of the common questions, often in the form of an accusation or something, is, "Just how autistic are you? You seem so normal." Yes, seeming "normal" is how one survives and earns a living. Then again, be "abnormal" enough and you can also earn a living, but that's not the path I've decided to follow.

On most days, probably 95 or more out of 100, I convince myself that I not only appear normal but that I am "normal" — or as normal as anyone else I know. But, on the difficult days or even during the difficult hours, I know I'm different.

Recently, a colleague posted links to Facebook for two online "personality tests" that supposedly measure autistic traits. I've taken both before, and I recall the ASQ score was 42. But, I was curious and answered the questionnaires again.

If you believe such things (and I question their validity), the answer to how autistic I am… very.



As for the ASQ, my scor…

Paying for 'Friendship'

When an autistic adult mentioned to me that he was spending a lot of time and money in cam chats, "tipping" his virtual friends, this raised a few questions for me about how much this was connected to the isolation he felt as a "very lonely Aspie" and how much is a general shift in online access to such "adult entertainment" options.

If you aren't familiar with the cam world, you can read the following:

Morris, Chris. (2013 Jan. 17) CamGirls: The New Porn Superstars. CNBC.com. http://www.cnbc.com/id/100385730Richtel, Matt. (2013 Sept. 21) Intimacy on the Web, With a Crowd. NYTimes.com. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/technology/intimacy-on-the-web-with-a-crowd.html
The more questions I asked of Lonely Aspie, the more I recognized that his problem was less about the adult nature of the online setting and more about isolation in general.

Before finding the "cam girls" online, he was addicted to online games. He would spend hours and hours, …

Autism Book Revision Coming: Spectrum of Relationships 1.5

By mid-September there will be an update to A Spectrum of Relationships on Amazon. This will be a minor, and free, update to the text for Amazon Kindle readers. If you own the book, you will need to manually update the file, however.

I don't like knowing there are errors in the ePub editions of the book. Susan and I are making several passes through the text to make sure it complies with AP Style and does not contain grammar or mechanical errors. In at least one instance, the "error" was not an error, but a misunderstanding of my word choice. I wrote that friends "complement" us, meaning they complete our identities and offer us a chance to be more. That is not an error, since I didn't not mean that friends "compliment" us — though I suppose they do praise us, at times.

I'm uncertain if the Nook store on BN allows a similar update policy, but we hope to replace the book there, as well. I don't like the idea of charging owners of a book …

Autism on Campus: Sexual Exploration

Sex (Photo credit: danielito311) "Did you fool around in college?" the parent asked.

"I suppose. I missed classes once or twice. And I liked to go to the beach."

"No, I meant… fool around with girls."

Parents stumble into this question more ways than I could have anticipated when I started to write and speak about autism and education.

No answer I can offer based on personal experience can capture what another college student might experience. Every student is different. I entered college as an honors student, with all the "geekiness" that implies. I was also socially awkward in general, as readers of this blog can appreciate. During college, I lived in a special residence hall with faculty members living among students as mentors. It was not a "normal" experience, I recognize.

Some gifted students, some autistic students, are charming and will have active social lives. That is likely to include normal sexual experiences — and …

Your Autistic College Student: Letting Go

One of the questions I was asked this week was how colleges should deal with autistic students who are too tethered to their parents. A college advisor explained to me that she has met too many students on the autism spectrum living on campus who rush home every weekend, and sometimes during the week, instead of making the transition to independent living.

"The parents make matters even worse. They call us, they call residential life, they call professors, and they'll even call deans. They don't trust us and they don't trust their children."

Okay, parents. Stop it! Just STOP IT. LET GO.

As your children head back to school, at all grade levels, you need to accept that your child will stumble a few times throughout the year. He or she will have to deal with stressors that are academic and social. The classroom and the campus are social settings with plenty of difficult lessons for all students.

Your job as a parent is to be a safety net, not a safety harne…

Writing and Autism: A Privileged Voice?

Pencils (Photo credit: snowblink) Writing well does give one a louder, more effective public voice than other individuals. We know Temple Grandin, Dawn Prince Hughes, Stephen Shore, Lars Perner and others because they are autistics with books. Like most writers, these men and women work with editors, publicists, agents, and others to refine their works and reach out to the public. These are not normal autistic experiences, but they aren't normal experiences for anyone.

It isn't that autistics who write memoirs are rare, there are dozens of autistic memoirs and essays in print and in digital forms. But, these are not the voices of all autistics or even most autistics.

That's really no different from any other group with a few noted writers or public figures. Writers are unusual, period. Feminist writers don't represent all women. Black writers don't represent all African-Americans or other people of color. Gay writers don't represent the entire LGBT communit…

Support Group Suggestions

I have been invited to several support groups for autistic teens and adults over the last six years or so. The people leading these groups do a great job and have a difficult task. Still, many of the participants drift into the dark black hole of self-pity, dwelling on the negatives of life instead of the positives.

Yes, a support group exists to help members deal with negatives. But, dwelling on and reliving the negatives can be a vicious cycle as each participant adds another layer of negativity to what is shared by previous speakers.

Here are some suggestions to help overcome this challenge:

1) What did you accomplish this week that you believed you might not be able to do? How do you feel about that accomplishment?

2) What have you done recently to improve your life and the lives others?

3) What actions have you taken to be a good role model for others?

4) How are you challenging negative stereotypes about [autism or X]?

5) What do you plan to try in coming weeks?

By disc…

Tell Us What's Great about Your Autism! Yeah, right…

"Tell us what's great about your autism! What's your special gift or talent? What's your superpower?"

Really? Clearly the sender (probably using an automated mailing list) isn't familiar with my blog, public statements, or other writings. I don't have superpowers, no special gifts, and no unusual talents that I would attribute only or primarily to my autistic traits. Some talents might be associated with autistic traits, but they might also be tangentially related to genius, effort, parental upbringing, or who knows what else.

I've written repeatedly that I do not consider autism a gift. Not even close. I don't buy into the whole "Being disabled forced me to be better!" sloganeering. If you had to be injured to learn to be nice to other people, or an injury led you to some belief in a Supreme Purpose to life, that's fine. But my autistic traits are generally a pain to live with, literally and figuratively.

Tell you what's g…

Monochrome Autism Advocacy?

When I attend events like the recent Autism Society national conference, it reminds me that we do a lousy job reaching out to parents and providers with a broader set of experiences. Bluntly, the attendees tend to be white, middle-class, and female. That doesn't mean that there are not minority voices, or that there aren't some fathers present, but the gatherings are not reflective of our communities richness.

Conferences are expensive to attend, time-consuming, and not really something I do for social purposes. I admittedly skip the "town hall" gatherings, the fundraising gala, and other events. I walk the vendor exhibits when the hall is least crowded, often right after lunch. So, the events are not for everyone. Yet, they shouldn't seem so exclusive, either.

How can we attract more voices to the conference? I'm not sure, but when you are an insular group, even without meaning to be exclusive, you don't learn as much as you could.

The problem is, a…

Muttley Kitty

Mutt, aka Muttley Kitty, Muttles, Muttford, and Twitchy, passed away on Thursday, August 8, 2013, at 9:45 a.m., after a long battle with cancer, lifelong heart issues, and age. Born May 1, 1995, Mutt was 18 years, three months old.

July 1995, with Mutt (front), J.C. playing with Alex, and Mimi Kitty keeping on eye on her adopted boys:


Mutt was just amazing. He was our little engineer, able to find his way to high spots and to open cupboard doors.

Before leaving California: Mutt, with J.C. Kitty on Mom's bed:


May, 2013, on our new bed frame, in the new house, looking pretty handsome for a kitty just turned 18:


Mutt wasn't doing well for most of 2013, but he had these few hours each week when he was still alert and the same old Muttley we always loved. We had to help him onto the bed, because even the step we bought for him became difficult to navigate. He really needed rails.

June, 2013: Sleeping next to his buddy, Misty Kitty:


Misty Kitty adored Mutt and would "guide&…

Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination - The Daily Beast

English: Temple Grandin at a book signing at Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Autism support specialist Heather Conroy (http://www.hconroyconsulting.com) and I are working on several short "pocket guides" for young adults on the autism spectrum. Our first guide, which we hope to have to publishers later this year, deals with sexuality and relationship in a frank (blunt!) way.

While I strongly disagree with some claims in this article, I have dealt with autistics (male and female) with obsessive online habits (usually gaming, but often in other ways, too). Stories like the following are why our book and others are needed by autistics, families, and support providers:
Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination - The Daily Beast
Aug 5, 2013 4:45 AM EDT It’s a disturbing trend we cannot ignore. Eustacia Cutler, mother of autism advocate Temple Grandin, on why autistic men are viewing child pornography—and being lab…

Autism and Asperger's syndrome may be biologically different, study finds - Los Angeles LA | Examiner.com

My wife and I have long thought "autism" and "Asperger's Syndrome" were distinct, based on observing, meeting, and interviewing people with diagnoses within the various autism spectrum categories. There is research finding high-fucntioning autistics and Asperger's are distinct, as well, which I have cited in my own research of learning patterns and accommodation needs.
Autism and Asperger's syndrome may be biologically different, study finds - Los Angeles LA | Examiner.com: There were some similarities in the brain patterns of the Asperger's and ASD participants, namely low connectivity in the region of the brain associated with language. However, the scientists noted stronger connectivity in regions of the brain than both the ASD and control groups. My diagnosis was high-fucntioning autism (HFA) which is not an official DSM-IV category, but is used by many clinicians and researchers. Often, the distinctions made by clinicians deal with language skil…

Encouraging Someone to Get an Autism Eval

From the "Ask a Question" in box:
…I have been married for 12 years to a man I suspect has Aspergers. Whenever I suggest this to him he scoffs. I would really like for him to be assessed for [Asperger's Syndrome] as it may help me be more tolerant of some of his inappropriate reactions / statements. Do you have any suggestions to help him be more open to the idea? Your insight is much appreciated. [Note: I have taken the liberty of moving this question, allowing the visitor to remain anonymous.]

There isn't one best, right answer for this question. For some autistics and their families, a formal diagnostic evaluation opens doors: school supports, occupational therapies, and insurance coverage. But, as you get older there is less measurable benefit to the autism diagnosis. The benefits for adults receiving a diagnosis rest in how they use the information.

Though this visitor writes that a diagnosis of her husband would help her be tolerant, I've found that if a …

Back to School… Yeah!

Last week, I started preparing for the fall 2013 class I am teaching at a local university. Working on the syllabus this week has been a "good thing" because it justifies, at least a little bit, the time, money, and energy invested in the doctorate. The school routine has long been comfortable, a familiar grounding for my mind. The "year" to me remains the academic year, with August marking the start and June marking the end. I'm not sure what July is, other than filing the last year away and preparing for the upcoming year.

School was not fun or enjoyable for me as a student. I was just another student, neither one of the popular people nor a complete social reject. I wasn't part of any clique, not even among the honors students. I had friends and people with whom I shared interests.

As a teacher and professor, I enjoy the classroom. The workplace remains a challenge, but I anticipate it being much, much better at the new university. In part, that'…

Relationship Questions: Autism from Friendships to Romance

English: Romance icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia) The Autism Society conference, recently concluded in Pittsburgh, PA. During the conference, I appeared on a panel that dealt with general life issues. After the panel, parents and young adults approached me with questions. Every question, without exception, dealt with relationships. Nothing about education, careers, or life skills. No, every question was about relationships, from friendships to dating and beyond.

Though a great number of books have now appeared, including several on dating, love, and sexuality, there seems to be an endless demand for answers. If not answers, families and individuals at least want to discuss these issues.

As I've written before, I'm not sure what I can contribute to these discussions. I still believe some basic guides to dating and relationships are better than the "autistic" guides. Relationships are complex for everyone, or those bookshelves wouldn't be packed in every bookstor…

Friends I Don't Have

A colleague recently mentioned that I don't seem to have typical friendships. I asked for clarification, and the explanation offered makes some sense to me. I suppose my wife and I don't have the same types of social connections as many of our acquaintances.

This colleague asked me several questions to illustrate his point:

When is the last time someone asked me/us to join that person/group, personally for no real reason? Facebook and Meetup groups don't count.When is the last time you had dinner with someone, just to be with him or her?When is the last time a friend was in your house?
My wife and I have dinner out just to spend time together. We obviously live in the same house. But, I can't think of the last time I just had dinner with someone. I think it was about two months ago that we had dinner with a local business owner and it was almost four months ago that we met up with two friends for dinner out.

I don't have random lunches with any friends. I cannot r…

Panel at Autism Society Conference

I am scheduled to participate on a panel at the 2013 Autism Society Conference:

Friday, July 12, 2013
3:30 PM - 4:45 PM
David L. Lawrence Convention Center
Pittsburgh, PA.

The topic is broad: life. That's a lot to cover in the 15 minutes each of four speakers will be granted. I don't know what I can say in 15 minutes, but I'll give it a shot. The moderator has offered the following ideas:

What did family do for you?What were your school experiences?What was a help and what was not helpful?How has your adult life developed?What are you doing and what would you like to do?What are your sensory issues?Do you have friends or relationships?
The quick answers, if I choose to tackle these topics in the short amount of time allotted:

Family, especially my mother, did whatever they could to guarantee a "normal" childhood. School was a miserable experience, even through graduate school. That's how many people would answer, including those without any disabilities…