Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bad Advice: "Just Ignore the Jerks" and My Memory

Ignoring people isn't something I can do. There is no "polite mode" with my lack of executive function. If someone is a jerk, I tell the person, at that moment. That's something non-autistics never quite grasp, either. My wife has known me for 30 years and forgets that I have no mental editor. Unfortunately, I also relive moments, visually and aurally, for years after the incident. It is a mental film loop, playing repeatedly every day of my life. It is unpleasant, especially since one bad moment with a person or group is the moment that sticks with me for decades. If someone is rude, insulting, or cruel, that person has become a life-long miserable memory that can be triggered by the slightest thing.

So, the best option is to avoid potential jerks.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Research and Teaching

I am considering two possible full-time posts at the university where I teach part-time. I love where I teach and shifting to full-time would enable me to better support the local performing arts. The university supports my artistic endeavors, and that's refreshing. Accepting a post does not require scholarship if I wish to maintain "teaching track" status in the future, but an administrator told it would be "icing on the cake" and has led to teaching-track faculty being awarded research support and rank promotion (associate, full, etc.).

A few colleagues have suggested I compose a research agenda statement and pursue publishing on my dissertation topic.

My doctoral research topic was autistic students and online education, though I also conducted two grant-supported surveys on the general experiences of autistics in college writing courses. To revise and publish the research would be a serious undertaking, but I believe one that would serve the community and the literature in composition and rhetoric.

The surveys and observations found that autistics run counter to many of the pedagogical assumptions within comp/rhet. From the challenges of collaboration to the need to be non-verbal at times, autistic traits make many composition experiences dreadful for the students I interviewed. A predisposition towards concrete, literal thought and "black and white" values also poses a problem, which some in comp/rhet associated with "immature" thinking despite the neurological underpinnings of autistic approaches to problems. Some (many) autistic students find comp/rhet the impenetrable barrier to academic success.

I have met so many autistic (former) students who gave up after bad experiences, I feel I should push the observation research out there, even if I am unable to secure traditional publication. That wouldn't help with my career, but maybe that's not the point.

Some of my colleagues in comp/rhet have suggested there's not much space for research on why common classroom practices might be oppressive. I had one writing-literature instructor tell me that departments didn't need autistics. That pretty much explains why I prefer being outside English and writing programs.

Finding a publisher, either a journal or book publisher, means getting past editors, reviewers, et al, who might have the biases I have experienced. That's a rather unpleasant thought.

Of course, I could just leave "autism" behind and focus on something else for a research statement and agenda.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Autism Awareness Blahs

My wife and I like to take walks along the main street (actually, Third Street) of the nearby township. It is something out of a movie — even the park gazebo was donated to the community after a film wrapped. My wife said last night that the village across the way looks like something built for a model railroad layout. We live in Middle America, Hollywood-version.

And so, walking past the large, sky-blue puzzle pieces taped to store windows, the blue ribbons, the flyers, all these signs of "Autism Awareness" neither surprises nor pleases me. If anything, it annoys me to have "Autism" plastered all over cars, stores, and various products.

I want to shout, "Stop it!"

(Want to know more about the autism puzzle and the perspective of autistic adults? See: http://theautisticme.blogspot.com/2011/01/more-on-autism-puzzle-piece-logos.html)

Personally, I hate stickers and magnets on cars. Bumper stickers? How can you put a sticker on a huge investment, ruining the paint? I would even pay extra to have the dealer not to advertise on my car. I don't want to advertise my views, my causes, or even my shopping preferences. (The one exception: a little white Apple logo in a rear window, which helps me find the white car among a sea of other white cars. And the sticker is only on the glass.)

Q: Don't you want to promote autism awareness?

No. People are aware, and misinformed thanks to the groups promoting autism awareness month and day.

Q: Don't you like the symbols of support?

No. I'd rather have real acceptance and appreciation for my skills and abilities, not some symbolic gesture.

Q: Don't the blue ribbons and puzzle pieces give you hope?

For what? More marketing gimmicks? It's like pink for breast cancer or red for AIDS: companies donate a small fraction of their profits, usually five or ten percent, and we're supposed to feel great about walking around with pink, red, or blue merchandise. If it was something you needed to buy anyway, great, but don't buy something because it has some symbolic meaning.

Q: But would we know how much autism is increasing without the awareness campaigns?

Confusing diagnostic rates and incidence rates isn't a great outcome of "awareness" campaigns. If anything, the paranoia fostered during April does more harm than good. My inbox was filled with Generation Rescue notes this week: Am I using the best fish oil? Do I know the value of GFCF diets? Did I know some pressure chambers "cure" autistic traits? Do I realize that Big Pharma controls all autism research? And on and on. Thanks, April, for increasing the awareness of nutty theories.

Q: But… but… people want to show they care. Are you that cynical?

Show you care by caring. Find out what the autistic in your life enjoys, and do it together. Find out what a teacher might need in his or her classroom, and help obtain it. Make a difference by doing something. Take action, which means more than putting up a ribbon or puzzle piece.

Be change. Take action.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Autism Awareness, Acceptance... Whatever

April is autism something-or-other month, depending on whom you ask. It's all about "acceptance" or "awareness" or "diversity" or "celebration" or "pride" — and I'm sure a few other concepts.

To this, I respond with a busy, preoccupied, "Whatever."

I get that people want to find support, inspiration, connections, and resources. I'm all for helping people, especially autistic teens and adults, find ways to achieve all they can. If autism month helps people find those supports, great.

But, what I dislike is the absurdity of the news media during this annual panic-feeding month. Put the risks in context:


You want to know what "caused" my autistic traits? Birth trauma. Period. And sure enough, that's number two on the list of risk factors, right beneath an autistic twin. But, easy explanations aren't what drive autism month news coverage.

In past years, I've been interviewed by major media outlets and my answers about "causes" of autism and the statistical research are omitted. What reporters want to know is how horrible my life has been and if I blame vaccines, foods, toxins, or some other factor.

Nope. The doctor was careless. My brain was shaken (or stirred), and I have plenty of other physical reminders that my arrival was… eventful. I don't blame anyone, don't march, don't demand an investigation, don't get all worked up about things I cannot change from the past. The doctor is gone, but birth was, is, and likely long will be a dangerous event with risks.

Don't I want to take "pride" or "celebrate" my neurological differences? Nope.

Don't I want more awareness? Nope. There's plenty, as evidenced by all the ribbons, puzzle pieces, and other symbols I see on cars in parking lots. Trust me, people have heard of autism. I hear the Autism Speaks commercials twice an hour thanks to my favorite streaming radio station.

Don't I want to be accepted? Not really. That's like being tolerated.

I like where I work, now. Among mathematicians, computer programmers, engineers, and my other colleagues, I'm perfectly normal. I'm accepted by the people I respect, and that's all I need. Actually, it isn't acceptance that I value… it is their respect. I am respected, and that's good.

You want or need an autism month, that's okay with me. And if that's how you found my blog, Facebook page, or website, that's okay, too.

Autism is a daily reality, not limited to a month or year.

Plus, I'm really busy in April because it is the last full month of my school year. I need to focus on so many things this month that there's little room for anything autism-specific.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Age and Connections

When I was young, I wanted to be an adult. I related more to my teachers than to other students as early as first and second grade. I was interested in current events, the stock market, and science. I was an outsider among my peers.

Now, I relate more to young people than to my peers. It is not an intellectual connection, but I wonder if my emotionally development stalled out at the mental age of 20-something. I was emotionally 25 at ten, and 26 emotionally in my 40s. That would be an interesting phenomena.

Stuck in a narrow emotional range? Being aware that something is wrong, different about me, is a strange sensation.

Do others experience this odd out of synch sensation?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hanging Out with...?

Hanging out with friends seems to be something that most of my Facebook "friends" do on a weekly basis. Some seem to be hanging out nightly. They are the social butterflies I sometimes envy, because social skills matter personally and professionally.

I don't get random emails, messages, or phone calls from people asking, "What are you doing tonight?" I can't recall the last personal, non-work message, that was not initiated by me. People don't reach out to me without a reason.

Several people have said I make others uncomfortable one-on-one. Lecturing? Public speaking? Those are not a problem. But there is something "off" with my interpersonal skills.

Even if I had great social skills, I would I spend time alone so I could write and be creative. I know socially adept introverts. Wanting space doesn't mean you are socially awkward. Of course, I am so socially inept and an introvert. So, on the rare occasions when I do want to hang out, the options are my wife and the cats.

This is on my mind tonight because someone asked if my wife had any friends. "Since you don't have real friends, I wondered if she did."

The successful people I know are socially adept. We are not.

I like to get out of the house, and I crave intellectual stimulation, but I am not comfortable in social situations. My wife is my social connection. That might not be best for her.

Knowing I make others uneasy, with my intensity or whatever it is, I'd rather be alone most of the time. Being alone isn't the same as being lonely. But what if my wife is lonely? That is a reasonable concern.