Thursday, August 28, 2008

More Autism/Asperger Resources

We've got some more things out there to help NTs and autists/Aspies to connect.

When teaching autistic and Aspie children (sometimes adolescents and adults, too), we can explain good behaviors in a modeling technique known as Social Stories or Social Articles. Carol Gray, an expert on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), founded the concept of writing stories to help ASD children learn about the NT social world, and then added on social articles for ASD adolescents and adults.

For example, for a little boy who saw a projector stored in the bathroom, and then refused to use the bathroom unless it had a projector in it, there's a social story titled "AOK to Use the Bathroom Any Way" - explaining that a bathroom may sometimes have a projector stored in it, but it's OK to use the bathroom even if it doesn't have one.

Ms. Gray also has resources to help others write social stories and social articles. She emphasizes that social stories and social articles should often praise the ASD person when s/he does something right, like wait patiently for something or behave maturely when things don't go as expected.

With a little creativity, anyone can make social stories and articles to help autists and Aspies learn the ins and outs of this world.

Lorin Neikirk has given us a series of articles on "How to Love Someone With Aspergers/Autism" - Part 1: Acceptance and Part 3: Communication. (Part 2 has since been removed by eHow.) As Ms. Neikirk makes clear from the beginning:

Half the time you want to hold them forever, and the other half of the time you want to strangle them. You have a family member, friend or love with Aspergers, and it's making you crazy. But it doesn't have to be that way. Remembering a few important things will enable you both to have a very rewarding relationship. 

Getting down to specifics:

Think about your words. Many Aspies listen to each word which is spoken, and they interpret your meaning based on their understanding of the definition of the words you use. Most NTs are able to generalize a little better when another person says "could you put a lot of mashed potatoes on my plate?" Say this to a person with Aspergers and you might get a blank look! When the message is in the words, it pays to be as specific as possible. Doing so can save time in the long run, preventing repeat requests or lengthy explanations, when a more precise word is all that is really needed for the Aspie to get your meaning.

These are some great tools NTs, autists and Aspies can use to build mutual understanding and some wonderful relationships. Let's use them!

Hat-tip: Mama Mara for the stories, and Emily for Lorin Neikirk's work.

EDIT: Addressing the removal of Part 2 of Ms. Neikirk's series.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Doctor is In and the Lights are On - But is Anyone Home?


Ten years ago today, I successfully defended my Economics PhD dissertation. It was on why Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait. I had studied Iraqi history and Hussein's life story, and focused on Iraqi political and economic changes between February 1987 and August 1990.

I sometimes wonder if I have yet to know my wife, Emily, quite as well as I did Hussein.

Case in point: Last night, I told her that I've come to think a major reason young people tend to be especially physically attractive is that they need something to carry them over until they develop inner beauty - kindness, maturity, compassion, a reasonably open mind and so forth. She's totally on board with that.

I then figured that she might want some assurance that my love for her will not fade over time even though her looks might change.

So I pointed out to her that I had turned down more than one woman who was significantly more physically attractive than she - which is completely true. She is reasonably physically attractive (and not just in my opinion - for example, a guy where she used to work asked her if she modeled on the weekends). But, I wanted to make clear to her that I love her especially because she is warm and tender and kind. And someone I can really talk to. What she's got is much more important to me than what a few women have even if they're on the cover of Marie Claire, Vogue, Vanity Fair and other magazines she likes to bring home.

As I've told her many a time, she understands me better than probably anyone else on the planet.

Well, I guess the reverse has not been the case.

Her reaction - well, she swept me off my feet, all right. In shock. (I don't want to say she went ballistic, but maybe Bush should have sent her to Tbilisi!)

She asked me how I rated her on a scale of 1 to 10. I told her 7.5-8.25. Now, she knows what a tough grader I am - ask any of my students. And I figured she understood that there were a few women out there who really turn heads. I wouldn't trade her in for any of them in a second, and I had the chance too.

There was my major mistake. I assumed she, unlike some women, was being objective about her looks.

Major oopsie.

I'm sure some NT men make that kind of mistake once in a while, but it's something I think Aspies are especially prone to. The other person's logic is not necessarily the same as your logic.

Emily was upset because I did not see her as physically beautiful as any woman out there, regardless of her other attributes. She wasn't looking at the cover girls and saying "Oh well. I'm not going to turn quite as many heads as they do, so I hope my husband values me as a person above all others." She wanted to compete with them - at least in my eyes - on looks too.

I assumed that because I figure I'm never going to look like Robert Redford or Brad Pitt (ever again, anyway :-) and I accept that, that she did too.

Nope. Never just assume the other person sees his or her weaknesses as objectively as you seem to think you do. Most people know their Achilles heels. Relatively few of them like to be reminded of them, or of the fact that those close to them see them.

Thus endeth the lesson - an unpleasant surprise for this married Aspie.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Accommodation is a Two-Way Street

Dr. Suzanne Gosden Kitchen has given us an excellent resource: a set of accommodation strategies for Aspies in the workplace. (It's the Accommodation and Compliance Series document in the resource list on the right.) Dr. Kitchen's work is designed to address various issues including memory, social skills, concentration and time management.

Some of the accommodations are easy, such as providing advance notice of topics to be discussed at meetings. Aspies and autists do not like change, but can adjust to it much better the more advance notice they receive, and the more detailed the information in the notice. Also, providing written agendas in advance is often a good idea for everyone, because it helps meetings run more smoothly and more efficiently for everyone, NT and Aspie alike. Thus, these accommodations do not take much trouble, and can even benefit NTs too.

Other accommodations are different, such as redesigning an Aspie's workspace or moving him to his own private space, so that he can avoid distracting noises such as fax machines and office chatter. They take much more time and expense. They also do not benefit NTs, and may even be at their expense.

They may also be perceived as special privileges, since many NTs would also like their own private workspaces; among other things they may see them as marks of high status.

If a given accommodation is needed for a given employee, it may have to be implemented even if it is expensive, whether in terms of money, time or something else.

However, we can try to avoid the perception of special privileges for Aspies by keeping in mind the mutual nature of accommodation. Another way of putting it is this: if a set of accommodations is like a bill of rights for the Aspie, then we should embrace the model of rights and responsibilities.

For example, if an Aspie needs interpersonal skills training or coaching, he may be required to undertake it at a set pace - consistent with his abilities, of course. And if an Aspie's understanding of behavioral norms isn't yet enough that he can reasonably be held accountable to, say, not tick off clients at company events, then he must take the responsibility to comply with strict monitoring at, or even to stay away from, those events.

Especially if the Aspie's colleagues have to be involved (eg, if they need to be coached not to take a lack of eye contact personally or to accept that he will take longer to do his part of a job since he has difficulty multitasking), they should also know that the Aspie is being required to do his part to make the accommodation work.

The most successful and popular assistance programs of all kinds, such as education and job training, do not simply give benefits but also require the recipient to work. Job accommodations for Aspies will turn out much better if they do the same.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

You Like Me! You Really, Really Like Me!

As Gib Lewis, the only five-time Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, once said: "I cannot tell you how grateful I am...I am filled with humidity".

Mama Mara has given Building Common Ground the Arte y Pico award for its contributions to the blogging community. Specifically this is her "favorite clearinghouse of autism information with the best tagline out there". Not bad considering Building Common Ground has been around for all of one month.

Especially not bad coming from a dedicated, loving and strong mother - of two autistic/Aspie sons, no less. Check out her work and you'll understand why she calls herself "Mama on the Edge".

Here are the rules: (from the Arte y Pico site itself):

1. You have to pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award in terms of creativity, design, interesting material, and general contributions to the blogger community, no matter what language.

2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each winner has to show the award and give the name and link to the blog that has given him or her the award itself.

4. Each winner and each giver of the prize has to show the link of “Arte y pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5. To show these rules.

So, now to pass on the torch to five excellent bloggers:


To begin with, I'm sorry I can't give one to Mama Mara - the unwritten rules include no givebacks. Otherwise, we could have recursive strings that might bring the blogosphere to a halt. :-)

1. "Casdok's" Mother of Shrek. As the single mother of a 19-year-old Aspie man, she sees a side to many human beings that lots of us are too "privileged" to ever see. The blind or the crippled may at most evoke a little resentment. Autists and Aspies encounter outright prejudice and misunderstanding. Casdok's seeing her son through such an ennobling experience is an inspiration to us all.

2. Barb Mountjoy's Awalkabout's Weblog. Together with her husband, she's raising two kids with autism and a third with ADD. She writes about her children's progress with love, patience and strength.

3. "Sam's" On the Clock. Take a wonderful person in a variety of respects, add on the will to do good, the wisdom to understand Charlie Brown's aphorism "The more I learn, the more I learn how much I have to learn" and the gift of writing, make her a young EMT and watch her master life, death, work, school, love and herself. Also check out 101 in 1001, Sam's quest to do 101 tasks she set herself within 1,001 days. (Meanwhile, Sam has been going through some tough times as of late, so please throw some support her way!)

4. "Kip, Esquire's" A Stitch in Haste. He's an openly gay economist and lawyer based in New York City (my birthplace and all-time favorite city, incidentally). I enjoy his hard-hitting political and legal commentaries, even though I sometimes strongly disagree with them. (My comments dot his blog.) Kip and I have actually met: he was my Economics TA at Cornell.

5. Watch This Space. I am accepting nominations for one winner of the Arte y Pico prize, via comments or email. Please give the name of the blog, its address and - briefly - why you think it's so great. There is no prize for guessing that autism/AS blogs will get priority, but as you can see above that is not an absolute rule.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Avoiding Unpleasant Surprises for the Single Aspie

"Jesurgislac," apparently a young woman in the UK, had a recent incident with a guy whose actions scared her, but who didn't mean her any harm and who accepted "no" for an answer - when she finally gave it in so many words.

In a nutshell, that evening he apparently saw her walking past a pub he was in, whistled at her and when she didn't respond, came out and followed her. He accosted her from behind in a dark, lonely segment of a deserted area - to invite her to come back with him for a drink. She was not interested - in the same sense that the Atlantic Ocean contains water. She was scared of what he might have intended to do, in fact. But when she told him to buzz off and go back where he came from, he did.

We'll probably never know whether or not that guy is an Aspie. For that matter, more than a few NT men have difficulty understanding how their actions affect women in the opposite way from what they intended. One could think "Hey, it would be nice to have a drink with her, I know I won't lay a glove on her, so nothing to lose if I just go up to her and ask her to join me".

Some guys - but especially Aspies - can easily lose sight of certain subtle differences here: she was not already in the pub, in fact she did not even notice the guy, it was at night, and he not only followed her but also happened to choose a very dark and deserted place to approach her. Under those circumstances, of course she's unlikely to respond the same way as if, say, he had approached her in broad daylight face-to-face at, say, a laundromat. Or even as if she had already been drinking in the pub.

Kudos to Jesurgislac for making crystal-clear that this guy, despite some outward similarities, was not a stalker. Even though he did approach her in the same way that a criminal who wanted to scare her would have, when she said "no" he accepted it without a problem.

It certainly would be very good if more people, especially women, would - where possible and reasonable - first try saying "no" in so many words instead of immediately calling the authorities. I have no doubt that many guys, Aspie and even NT, whose actions may seem offensive or even scary, and who may not grasp subtle hints that their attentions are unwanted, would be happy to leave alone anyone who specifically said "no".

At the same time, it would also be very good if people, especially (but not only) men - and in particular Aspies - would take a good hard look at how we're acting, especially (but not only) towards women. We need to ask ourselves "Given that she doesn't know anything about me, would she have reason to fear that I might harm her or might even be trying to scare her if I approach her in this way?"

There are many little factors, as we've seen, which separate pleasurable social interaction from what many consider to be harassment or even stalking. For example: What time of day is it? Are there other people around? Is she just trying to get from Point A to Point B without necessarily trying to attract any attention? Would I be following her a significant distance (and thus might it look like I'm choosing a specific spot to approach her, maybe because it's dark and lonely or because I have a weapon or hiding place there)?

And of course, we - especially (but not only) female Aspies - need to take account of thse factors, too, so as to try to avoid actual robbers, rapists and murderers.

The good news is, we're Aspies - remember, we have an eye for detail. We can learn these things and then put our lessons to work.

Yes, we should encourage more women to take a moderate approach like Jesurgislac. We also need to encourage one another to learn the social cues, especially from women's perspectives, and then do everything we can to separate ourselves behaviorally from harassers, stalkers and worse characters.

Not only will other people be spared unnecessary fear, and not only will we be spared unnecessary attention and even arrests for alleged harassment and stalking...but also, the more we conduct ourselves with close attention to women's social cues and pay attention to their feelings, the more friends we may make and the sooner we just might wind up with the loves of our lives. Win-win all around.

PS: Hat-tip to Marcella Chester, a rape survivor advocate (and a rape survivor herself), for including a pointer to Jesurgislac's post in her recent Carnival Against Sexual Violence.