Wednesday, December 30, 2009
This is my 100th post!
Speaking of approachability, Emily had an interesting experience yesterday evening. After she left the office, a veteran approached her and asked for help, saying that his appointment for that day had been rescheduled at the last minute and he had missed the last bus back to a very distant suburb. He told Emily "You don't seem snobby." So now she's wondering: "Does that mean I don't dress as well as I could?"
Interesting points by Corrin, Mama Edge and Mama Coyote - mothers all! - about approachability and competence. Funnily enough, I'm most often approached when I'd prefer to be left alone. I might have given off an air of "People keep coming to me for help," and of course people like to follow the crowd. They figure if so many others turn to you for help, they must know something.
And when you seem exclusive, that often makes people want your attention more. Don't take my word for it - let two of the world's greatest entertainers show you how to, well, bedazzle people. (Short video clip; SFW)
On the other hand, when you feel and act desperate, you most often don't get anything (except maybe a little peace and quiet).
Mama Edge, maybe your dad could walk around offering free health screenings to everyone within range. Then people may just give him a wide berth.
Happy New Year!
PS: Be safe - don't drink and drive. If you're in the Washington, DC metropolitan area tonight or New Year's Eve (10pm-6am), your designated driver plans fell through, you're 21+ and not sure if you're safe to drive, call (800) 200-TAXI/8294 (or #TAXI/8294 from an AT&T cell phone). You'll get a cab ride home, and the first $50 of the fare will be covered. (Tip not included.) Find out more.
(In other parts of the U.S., Google "sober ride" and your city - you may be able to take advantage of a similar program.)
Monday, December 28, 2009
One thing that alternately gratifies and bugs me is how often strangers look at me and think I'm their go-to person.
For example, I used to work as a computer lab consultant in graduate school. Lab consultants are basically face-to-face help desk people, so if you go to a computer lab to use a PC there and run into trouble you can ask for help. (Also, they enforce lab rules such as no food or drinks in the labs.)
People used to actually approach me when I was off-duty, and not all of them seemed to even understand the concept of "off-duty". Some of them became visibly and audibly unhappy when I told them that I was off the clock and therefore not available to help them. The kicker: A couple of times they even approached me in totally different places, such as a cafeteria, or another office where I also worked.
Once in a while, when I'm walking in a store, someone will ask me where such-and-such is located or something like that. If I know, I say "I think it's over there, but just to be sure you should ask someone who works here - try the customer service desk over yonder." If I don't know - or don't feel like being bothered - I would say "I don't know - you need to ask someone who works here" (plus point the way if I know it).
A few nights ago, I waited for Emily at a Metrorail station. A gentleman came up to me and wondered if the area was the only place at the station where passengers got off the escalators from the train. I responded that as far as I knew it was, but to be sure he should talk to someone who worked for Metro, and pointed to the station manager's booth.
He opted to stand there and wait in the same general area I was in. A few minutes later, a uniformed Metro station manager saw us - and came up to him, asking if he needed help. He asked her his question, and she confirmed that yes, all the passengers getting off the train at this station came through this area. She did not give me a second glance.
Life is interesting sometimes.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Also, I contributed to Meryl Evans' recent piece on "little white lies" - in particular, I made the case for why honesty is generally the best policy, and we Aspies are especially good at it. Ms. Evans gives a good cross-section of perspectives - it's not simply "To lie or not to lie, that is the question."
Speaking of things we're particularly good at, more and more employers have come to understand that our attention to detail, strict focus and perseverance, among other traits, are advantages in many cases. Hat-tip: J. Willardston Smith.
What do you think?
EDIT: Extra hat-tip to Steve Foerster, who has since independently sent me a copy of the link about employers.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Just 17 years ago today, I decided - based on the honest encouragement of a friend of mine at the time - that showering regularly would be a good idea. And I've stuck to it.
Meanwhile, kudos to Judge John McKenna* of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where I used to live. Once or twice in a blue moon, I like to visit courtrooms and watch cases. I happened to be in his neck of the woods today and had a few spare minutes, so I decided to drop by.
He was trying a young man who had been accused of violating his probation. The gentleman denied it, and they were preparing to set the case for trial later on when he could get an attorney. Judge McKenna looked down at his file, and saw something interesting. He had the bailiff pass it to the prosecutor, and asked him to read into the record what he saw.
The file showed a conviction for a prior offense - but no sentence. Hence, whatever might have happened at the original trial, as far as the record was concerned there was no probation for the defendant to have violated. In the law, if it isn't written, it didn't happen.
The judge's pithy assessment: "A judicial goof." He dismissed the case and the defendant walked free - free of jail time, free of legal bills and free of pending charges that would have complicated his imminent military enlistment.
Congratulations, Judge McKenna. Admitting you made a goof and then giving the other person the final benefit of the doubt makes me think more, not less, of you. Maybe more people in authority will follow your example - it makes all the difference in how much I respect them.
What do you think?
[*] FWIW, he also acquitted me on a traffic ticket a couple of years ago, when I was completely innocent anyway. Also, he and Emily are fellow law professors - though she doesn't know him personally.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Meanwhile, for our British readers - Remember, remember, the fifth of November! (Not to mention fireworks safety, blokes and gals!)
Update on the situation with Tiffany Cheng and Hannah Wiberg: Ithaca College's vice president for student affairs and human subjects research review board chair have told me, through Ms. Cheng's and Ms. Wiberg's department chair, that "As the issue has been addressed, there is no need for further communication from you to anyone at Ithaca College about this issue."
Thursday, October 22, 2009
On that basis, I answered many questions in substantial detail, including some notes from my personal life. When the semester was over, I asked Ms. Cheng and Ms. Wiberg for a copy. Only then did they tell me that there was no written document and hence nothing they could copy for me. In fact, they had been specifically instructed not to even include any words in their PowerPoint slides. In short, they lied to me, implicitly and explicitly, to get my cooperation.
I have discussed Ms. Cheng's and Ms. Wiberg's conduct with their professor, associate department chair, department chair, IC's human subjects research review board chair and IC's vice president for student affairs. (I had to begin by tracking down their professor; apparently IC policy was also violated when Ms. Cheng and Ms. Wiberg did not provide that information from the beginning. They also did not honor my request for same.) I do not know what, if any, sanctions have been or may be levied against them.
I have also warned the good folks back at AAGW about this problem. To be sure, assisting with research can be a good thing. It can help others understand us better, and it can help us understand better how we're perceived. I for one will continue participating. We just need to keep in mind that not everyone is honest, in this or any other field.
What do you think?
UPDATE: The student affairs VP and human subjects research review board chair have told me, through the department chair, that "As the issue has been addressed, there is no need for further communication from you to anyone at Ithaca College about this issue."
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Today's my anniversary - I got my first Internet account 18 years ago today, having just started as a graduate student at George Mason University. (Thank you, Tracy Holt, wherever you are!)
- Spam was a food. Mass emailing didn't affect most people. So when you did get email, it was probably for you personally.
- File exchange was via anonymous FTP (File Transfer Program). You would "ftp" to the other site, enter your email address for the password and upload or download whatever was appropriate.
- There are few private discussion boards. Instead there was Usenet, a spontaneous arrangement between different sites to carry various topics of posts. See the first point above for why this changed.
- There was no World Wide Web, let alone search engines. If you wanted to find out about something or someone, you would still need to ask actual humans - though you could do the asking on Usenet.
- Also no Facebook, MySpace or similar social media. For getting to know people in general or someone in particular, see above.
- Last but certainly not least - no blogs!
Have a great Interwebbed day!
PS: If you're a net.oldtimer like me and you'd like to share reminiscences, the comments field is open (or feel free to drop me a line)!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Last night I stopped by my local supermarket to get a whole bunch of groceries. Since moving there a couple of months ago, I've shopped there many times, and gotten to know a few of the people there - particularly a supervisor who gives great service.
So while standing in the checkout line, I happened to see him with his back to me and said "Hi Bill, good to see you again" (not his real name). He turned around and shook my hand, and asked me for my name, which of course I gave.
He said "Great to see you here all the time...by the way, is all this stuff yours?" "Yes, it is." "OK, great to see you again." "You too, Bill!"
Next thing I know, some announcement comes out that my checkout line got some award. I figured the cashier just got a prize for handling so much stuff well (this was a major shopping trip for me). Imagine my surprise when another worker (whom I also recognized) handed me a durable cloth bag full of stuff. It seems it was their way of thanking me for doing so much business there.
And it was indeed for buying lots of things, not for being "buddies" with anyone there. Would the supervisor have noted how much I bought if I hadn't recognized him and called him by name? Maybe...maybe not.
There's a few lessons here:
- Merit is necessary but not sufficient. You also need to be noticed. And getting noticed means reaching out to be people and being pleasant to be around.
- This is business friendliness - not friendship. It's not like we know each other well or would go through a lot for each other. They appreciate the fact that I spend money there (and that I recognize them and conduct myself sociably). When interpreting how people appreciate you, note the context. In particular, if you're spending money there, they don't necessarily appreciate you the same way as if you and they were personal friends. A friendly manner makes life more pleasant; you can't buy actual friendship (though people will be happy to take your money to give you a pale imitation).
- It's how you're expected to behave on the job. You need to separate people's friendly behavior toward you from how close they actually feel - particularly when you're spending money. Conversely, when people are giving you money (or giving money to others who pass some of it on to you), you need to separate how you actually feel about them from how you act towards them professionally.
What do you think?
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
If you cannot access the embedded video, try this link.
UPDATE: Yep, it's a hoax all right - as confirmed by Principal Boyd Jorgensen of Maroochydore State High School, whose voicemail system it had supposedly come from. Thanks to Sai Emrys for taking the trouble to find out for sure.
(In case you were wondering, the person who originally brought this video to my attention requested anonymity.)
Monday, September 28, 2009
Ms. Rhee established her reputation early on:
She said what was on her mind, even if it stung. Finally, one day, her mother had just had it with her daughter's blunt, even brusque, manner. Inza Rhee said to Michelle, "What is wrong with you? You just don't care what people think of you!"
Ms. Rhee is known as a take-charge reformer. Her supporters call her direct, driven and zealous. Her enemies consider her rude, tactless and dictatorial. She may not be an Aspie, but she's certainly someone with whom many of us can identify.
Rhee attributes her directness to her roots. "Korean people are not the most tactful," she says. "I grew up with Korean ladies who'd say, 'Gee, you've put on some weight.' It has for as long as I can remember driven me crazy when people beat around the bush instead of saying, 'Look, I need you to do this.'"
[Ms. Rhee's housemates] were initially taken aback by Michelle's frank approach to everything from race relations to love affairs. They soon grew to appreciate that Rhee would stick by them no matter what.
Karla Oakley, who worked for Rhee at the New Teacher Project, which Rhee founded in 1997 in New York to train teachers for inner-city schools, got the full Michelle treatment when she confided in her boss about her doubts and hopes regarding a new boyfriend. Rhee's face instantly gave away her misgivings and Oakley didn't have to wait long before Rhee told her straight out: Get rid of the guy.
"She was right," Oakley says. "She generally is."
Food for thought. Assuming Ms. Rhee is an NT, it seems that also NTs who are blunt can also be very loyal - a linkage we've already associated with Aspies. (And if you want to get it straight from the horse's mouth, she's hosting a live online discussion tomorrow, at 1pm ET.)
Speaking of teaching, ten years ago today at this time I was on a plane crossing the Pacific to start my teaching tour in Beijing. I'll always remember my time there - the food is great, but don't drink the water and don't breathe the air! In fact, I still correspond with a few of my students. And I'll never look at "Chinese" food in America the same way again.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The alleged bullies are teachers.
It's bad enough people bully others, worse still that people bully others they have power over and are supposed to set a good example for. Worst of all...people seem to think this is a headline story.
It's like the Nickelodeon kids' comedy I grew up with in the 1980s: "You Can't Do That on Television." Part of the show was devoted to "Opposite Sketches," like the teacher asking a student if she's chewing gum, she saying "No" and he replying "Why not?". And to top it off, he then takes part of his gum out of his mouth for the student to chew. You get the idea.
In one opposite sketch, a girl comes home crying that she's being bullied in school. Her father reminds her to report these things to the vice principal. She tearfully replies that the bully is the vice principal. Laugh track.
I suspect that's how people viewed politicians' deliberate misdeeds a generation before that. Now, we've got occasional scandals. Yes, there are problems with a media that digs its teeth into politicians' private issues. Basically the same problems with police and courts that dig their teeth into ordinary people's private issues such as spouse abuse and child beating.
We're finally accepting the reality that bullying in school is a serious problem, and acting on it. I'm not saying every single policy to deal with it is a good idea. Knowing that we have to deal with it isn't just a good idea...it's the law now.
Teachers' bullying students seems to be one of our last frontiers of denial. And I speak from personal experience (and there's more where that came from).
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Many bullying incidents were provoked. The victim said or did something that started it, or made a bad situation much worse. That's why Aspies are particularly likely to be bullied by peers or teachers. We don't readily see that someone could be really upset, and we don't necessarily know about certain unspoken conventions (eg, about showing respect). So we often say and do things that tick people off, they respond nastily and we're left wondering what the heck happened...and why.
Does it excuse that kind of nasty response? Heck no. Let's go back to school: Teachers don't accept "He started it!" from their own students. They respond "Well, you didn't have to respond. You could have walked away." Why do teachers exert themselves like that? Presumably to set a moral example so the kids will grow up and behave better.
There is no excuse for bullying, and it needs to be condemned...especially when it comes from teachers. Bullies - students and teachers alike - who do it should be punished. That's one thing we owe victims.
Another thing we owe victims is helping them through a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves and their own words and actions, and where called for teaching them explicitly about how to talk and act differently so as not to tick people off. Or if people do get ticked off - which happens from time to time to anybody except maybe Casper Milquetoast - at least they'll still have friends to rally round them so their enemies will think twice before crossing the line. Predators of all species tend to pick on the loners.
Even in school, let alone out in the world, people who hate you can and will find many ways to hurt you that can never be punished. People who like you can and will find many ways to make your life better.
What do you think?
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Ms. Rosen makes a good case for better tolerance and even empathy for folks who behave eccentrically.
She also says:
As traditional social norms and old-fashioned rules of etiquette erode, we are all more likely to face the challenge that regularly confronts people with Asperger's: What rules apply in this social situation? In a world where people routinely post in excruciating detail their sexual preferences on their Facebook pages, is it really so shocking to have someone note his own sexual arousal in idle conversation?
IMHO, Ms. Rosen has overplayed her hand a tad.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of etiquette have been greatly exaggerated - if not exactly unprecedented.
If anything, over the last two decades etiquette has made a strong comeback in America - backed up by the force of law. Think of no-smoking rules in restaurants, sexual and ethnic harassment policies in schools and workplaces and increased discretion on the part of police and other authorities to stop, question and even arrest people whose behavior just gives people the willies.
More broadly, maybe things like ethnic jokes, attacks on homosexuality and insulting women aren't against the law (yet?), and people used to do them all without a second thought. Rest assured that if you utter them in 21st century America your name will be mud.
As for the old etiquette, let's not write the obituary just yet. Last time I checked, saying "please" and "thank you" - and writing thank-you notes as appropriate - are still important. A large majority of people still consider applauding speeches and the like to be just plain good manners. Some people continue to think it's rude to talk to strangers without being introduced.
Sex talk in public? Well, I have a fair number of Facebook friends, and none of us posts our sexual issues. Yes, more than a few folks post about sex, and yes we have talk shows about any imaginable topic. Those are still exceptions to our culture, not the rule. Titillation over sex talk makes better news and hotter water-cooler gossip than, say, trends in home remodeling.
And if you see or hear sex talk on the screen, you can just click on something else, or change the channel or just turn the darned thing off. What if your date casually mentions being sexually aroused? Especially if you're a woman?
No doubt Adam - as Aspies sometimes do - was just giving a running commentary on his feelings at the moment, and didn't intend to act on them. The fact is that rapists commonly "groom" their victims by crossing verbal and physical boundaries, to both desensitize their soon-to-be victims to sexual advances and see how much they can get away with. Many women know this, and everybody should. That kind of talk is considered gross for the same reason we've evolved to consider things like dead bodies, rotting food and feces to be gross - because they're signs of danger.
And suppose you do know that your date is just talking off the top of his head. What else does he do off the top of his head - quit his job, sleep with someone, buy expensive stuff, yell at his boss or landlord - or at you?
A bit more etiquette that (hopefully) hasn't died out - give the benefit of the doubt, live and let live, and when you have to address problems do so privately, courteously, constructively and give the other person a fair chance to respond. And consider possible lack of intent or knowledge on his/her part. Would be nice if more people did this, wouldn't you say?
Etiquette certainly has adapted. It's not about to die...and that's a good thing.
H/T: Ari Ne'eman, The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.
What do you think?
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Rather than continuing to focus on the emotional outburst of [U.S.] Representative Joe Wilson who called the President [of the U.S., Barack Obama,] a liar, why don't the cheerleaders in the mainstream media do their job and investigate whether the President was actually lying?
Now, I'm not going to get into the health care debate here, nor am I going to hold forth on whether President Obama was actually lying, engaging in acceptable political maneuvering, mistaken or telling the simple truth when he said that illegal aliens wouldn't be covered under his proposal.
The broader question is: if someone is lying, what's wrong with calling him out on it? The way I see it, an honest person would welcome the chance to defend her views, and a dishonest person should be called on it.
What's more, if we condemn people who call others liars, we get the same results as if we condemned, say, people who investigated child abuse. You wouldn't be surprised when we got more child abuse, would you?
Not to mention that sometimes lies are directly at someone else's expense. For example, if a group of friends arrange to meet somewhere, and one of them shows up without cash to pay (this being one of those rare places that doesn't take credit cards), the organizer might feel embarrassed at having forgotten to tell him that credit cards aren't accepted. Lying - "I told you to bring cash!" - wouldn't just save the organizer from embarrassment, but also put it on the shoulders of the friend...unfairly. If the friend responded "No you didn't," would he be doing a Bad Thing? I say heck no.
One may say "But what if it was a lie for a good cause? Should we unfairly condemn the person in that case?" Let's assume for the sake of argument that there is such an animal (outside the rare instance of, say, a homicidal maniac knocking on your door and demanding to know where your kid is). If there are extenuating circumstances for something you do, then you shouldn't get angry at the mere statement that you've done it; you can just say "Yes, I did it, and here's why...."
For example, we normally abhor violence. And if I say "John hit Mary," if it isn't true I'd better be prepared for some consequences. On the other hand, if John hit Mary because she in turn had just smashed a bottle and was raising the jagged-edged top half over Larry's head, John needn't get angry at all by my saying he hit her. He can just point out "Yes, I did that because she was about to seriously hurt Larry."
Now let's get back to lying for a good cause. The way I see it, unless the group you're in is fundamentally evil, you have an obligation to abide by its standards. (If it is fundamentally evil, you need to leave. If you're reading this, you probably can manage that.) Abiding by its standards doesn't just mean not saying "Hey, I'm going to break the rules right now," any more than avoiding stealing just means not saying "Your money or your life!" It means not breaking the rules covertly either.
Maybe your 15-year-old son is especially mature for his age and can handle R-rated movies, and you don't feel you should have to go with him. Quite understandable. Is it OK for him to say he's 17 so he'll be treated like the mature person he really is? No.
If you feel that a situation should be treated differently, you can try to persuade others to see things your way. If you can't, maybe you don't have such a compelling case.
And if there's an across-the-board policy, like the age minimum of 17 to see R-rated movies unsupervised, that means there's an interest in consistency, and you certainly have no right to breach that.
Bottom line: Most of the time, people should tell the truth even when it's inconvenient. That's not just my opinion - the very fact that people get so angry about accusations of lying means society recognizes how important it is. Precisely because it's so important that people tell the truth, I think it's a good idea to call out liars when possible. And it's certainly hypocritical to lie and then get mad when someone calls you on it.
Interestingly, we have so many other phrases for it: "Not being entirely straightforward," "fibbing," "B.S.ing" and so forth. If someone says that, you're expected to understand that somebody's being accused of knowingly saying something that's untrue - that is, of lying. But somehow if you use the word "fibbing" it's not supposed to cause the same kind of upset. Can someone explain that, please?
And why is saying that someone is lying, or that something is a lie, equated to calling him a liar? Last week, I drove Emily home from work...does that make me a cabdriver?
Bearing in mind that most people lie on a daily basis, maybe we could recognize some basic distinctions.
That said...I also know that certain bodies - including the U.S. House of Representatives and the British House of Commons - have explicit rules against calling someone a liar. Or for that matter a fibber, or otherwise even implying that someone is being dishonest. And truth is no defense.
I also know that back in the old days, calling someone a liar or a cheat was considered cause for mortal combat. (For that matter, it still is, just not among folks like congressmen and presidents.) The idea is that if you accuse someone of being dishonest, you're in effect saying that there isn't enough room in town for both you and him.
So just in case some people know something I don't - stranger things have happened - let me put this out there, especially to my NT readers. Does accusing someone of lying make her feel - in a way she can't overcome - that she can't work with you anymore? Does it give her cause to believe you feel that way?
And if so, is avoiding that social turmoil worth the downside of letting people lie even to break the rules or hurt others?
Monday, August 31, 2009
Yes, at 2:27pm (EDT) today, I sent my first text message ever. Naturally, to Emily.
Meanwhile, Samuel, a 14-year-old Aspie, is training service cats for autists and Aspies. He's preparing them to, among other things, notice when the owner is slipping back into compulsive or repetitive behavior and interrupt it, soothe an owner feeling anxious or even starting to have a meltdown, help an owner navigate social situations and carry tags letting others know the owner's name and neurological situation (and in the case of a young owner perhaps the name and phone number of a parent).
Cats, being smaller than dogs, may be perceived as less threatening by their owners and others. Also, cats may be both physically and emotionally (especially for autists and Aspies who needs lots of alone time) lower-maintenance creatures than dogs.
These cats were strays before he found them, meaning that he (and their future owners) may also be saving their lives.
Keep up the good work, Samuel!
(I'm only sorry I wasn't able to talk with Samuel himself. I received no response to an email I sent to the address on his site.)
Hat-tip: Anne Reed, trial lawyer and jury consultant.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
22 years ago today - also on a Thursday, in fact - I went off to college full-time for the first time. As with most people, college certainly is a life-changer. In my case, experiences in college started to bring home to me the problems with the ways I was behaving toward others.
Back home, I was to some extent shielded from the social consequences of my actions because the teachers knew I was a "good kid" (albeit mouthy) and I wasn't committing any crimes. People may not have liked me, but I still did pretty well in class, was inducted into the National Honor Society and (eventually) got into and graduated from an Ivy League school.
To some extent during high school, more so during college and mainly during graduate/law/B-school (if you go that route) and beyond, subjective factors matter. You may have a "right" to be invited into your school's chapter of the National Honor Society if your GPA is at least a certain level and you have no felony convictions. But no one has to make your life halfway pleasant as a roommate, date you, invite you to join a club, rent a room in their house to you or hire you - or keep you or persuade others to take you once you've left.
For that matter, college admissions itself - particularly for selective schools - is quite subjective. Any college or university which turns down at least, say, one out of four applicants is sending away some who are qualified to go there and who can do the work. The school just can't take even every qualified person who applies. Choices have to be made on subjective, gut level matters of preference.
Welcome to the rest of your life. We all need to persuade people, every week if not every day, to do what we want. Often we're competing with others who want them to do things their way and not yours. Precisely because logic is universal, your competitors can use it just as well as you. You do need to appeal to others' reason, but what will put you over the top?
Getting them to personally like you and your ideas. Your competitors can imitate your logic, but they can't actually be you.
Here are some good ideas for persuading people, from Mark Bennett...a defense attorney who has to persuade juries on a regular basis. He has a good reputation as an effective defense lawyer, and that means he understands that just as the jurors didn't pick what to eat for last night's dinner just by looking at the nutrition label, they won't pick which side to favor in court just by listening to the logic and evidence. Mr. Bennett knows that whomever the jurors like more has a sizable edge. And that's in a court of law governed by objective rules dedicated to treating everyone as fairly as possible.
What do you think?
PS: I'm starting up a free email newsletter on communication skills, adapting as an Aspie in an NT world and recognizing and working with Aspies. You'll get special content beyond what's on here. (You'll also get access to special deals from me. Your contact information will never be given to others.) Go ahead and drop me a line to join!
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Today's our 55-month wedding anniversary. We spent it recovering from a car crash last night.
In short, we hit a dirt bank, our car overturned, then got back on its wheels (yes, a 360 degree flip) and ended up right up against a concrete barrier. A passing driver pulled over, called 911 and helped us out of the car. (It's not a good long-term path to depend on the kindness of strangers, but once in a while it's unavoidable.)
The fire department, ambulance and a state trooper came at the same time. The worst injury either of us suffered was a dirty gash on my arm, which the nice medics disinfected and then bound up with gauze.
Meanwhile, the car is quite likely a total loss.
The moral of the story - yes, this includes everyone heading off to college right now - please, please, please fasten your seat belts every single time you're in a moving car. Don't ride in a car without working seat belts any more than you would ride with a drunk driver.
Police officers like to say there's no such thing as a routine traffic stop. By that same token, there's really no such thing as a routine ride, for the same reason - you never know which one is going to be The One.
Friday, July 31, 2009
- Starting up an online Asperger/Autism Spectrum Group for fellow alumni of American University (where I first went to college full-time);
- First blogiversary, a couple of weeks ago;
- The beginning of a new Toastmasters year, which has gone very well so far (their activities year starts in July). Among other things I've been asked to be an Assistant Governor for an area in my new division;
- Surgery, from which I have fully recovered and then some;
- Move for Emily and me several counties over, in order to cut her commute. I handled most of the paperwork and logistics, and we just finished the move today;
- Tenth anniversary with my current Hotmail account, today. (In fact, I'd previously used other Hotmail accounts - back when the service was just starting, in the 20th century, they liked to call themselves HoTMaiL.) Very shortly after I began my current account, I got the opportunity to teach in Beijing, so I used
HoTMaiLHotmail to keep in touch with Emily.
Meanwhile, a close acquaintance of mine, Caitlin - a newly minted MSW and licensed social worker - has moved from the Baltimore area to Boston today to take up a one-year fellowship for clinicians and policy advocates. She's already worked with children on the autism spectrum. Congratulations and good luck, Caitlin!
How was your July?
Friday, July 24, 2009
Yours truly: Could you please copy this key?
Counterperson - after examining key and looking at a key blank: See how this key doesn't have the same thickness as this blank?
Hmmm...I didn't specifically ask him to use that particular blank, just to duplicate the key. Is he going to need to alter that blank, or use some other blank, or even order a new blank?
Yours truly: How can you duplicate the key I just gave you?
Counterperson: That's what I'm trying to tell you...this key doesn't fit this blank.
Irritation factor growing...I'm not asking him specifically about that blank. All I give a blast about is his duplicating the key, something I've never had an issue with each time I've visited a hardware store.
Yours truly: Can you duplicate that key?
Counterperson: This blank won't fit!
Yours truly: Can you duplicate that key - yes or no?
Yours truly, taking the key from his outstretched and open hand: Thank you - have a good day.
Exit stage right.
For any service folks who may be reading this:
Pretty much by definition, you know much more than your customer about the situation. Your customer generally does not give a rat's whisker about the technical details of the job. The requested results either happen or they don't.
If you launch into a complex explanation without saying "Yes" or "No," I'm going to assume that the situation is negotiable provided that the issues you explain can be dealt with. And I'm likely to think of a couple of ways to handle those issues. We Aspies tend to think outside the box. (Some NTs have been known to do the same - stranger things have happened. :-})
Could your customer be mistaken about what's practicable? Quite possibly - see above. You know the situation better than s/he - even if s/he does understand the
If the situation is non-negotiable, please say that from the beginning and save us both a bit of time, energy and possibly stomach lining. Once you've made the situation clear, which shouldn't take more than a few words, feel free to launch into your explanation if it's called for.
(Similarly, if you want to suggest an alternative, feel free to do that - after telling the customer that his/her first choice is not possible for whatever reason. Then, s/he will know why you're suggesting the second choice and may be in a better mind to focus on it.)
What do you think?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
By Spring 1951, it had become clear that a northern Communist regime and a southern pro-Western regime would continue to "share" the Korean peninsula - the main issue was where their border would be drawn.
On April 22, 1951, around the 38th Parallel (the pre-war boundary) in Korea, the Chinese forces began their offensive to recapture Seoul, the South Korean capital, among other things. In fact, three divisions of the Chinese 63rd Army attacked across the Imjin River, just north of Seoul. On the other side: the British 29th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Tom Brodie.
Outnumbered, the British could not hold their positions, and Brigadier Brodie asked his superiors, the American commanders of I Corps, for help and/or permission to withdraw. He got very little of the former (no artillery support at all - and the 29th Brigade had inadequate artillery - no close air support on the first day and little thereafter) and none of the latter. The brigade was shattered - in four days of fighting taking 1,091 casualties, possibly 25% of its strength right before the battle.
Did the Americans understand the British 29th Brigade's desperate plight? The British had radios and could communicate the situation...or could they?
As historian Max Hastings points out in his book The Korean War, p. 218, quoting a British officer on the scene:
When Tom told Corps that his position was 'a bit sticky,' they simply did not grasp that in British Army parlance, that meant 'critical'.
In other words, the British Army suffered a stinging defeat, including hundreds of crack British troops trudging into Communist prison camps, because the British couldn't express themselves clearly and/or the Americans couldn't take a hint.
Epilogue: After the battle the British incorporated the 29th Brigade into a new Commonwealth Division - so that British commanders would be much less dependent on communicating with American superiors.
Monday, July 20, 2009
...to Neil Armstrong and the rest of our space program.
...to Emily, to whom I have now been happily married for four and a half years.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Human connection is something that's taught. Try not to blame a person for being socially inept. If you must find fault, find fault with the behavior, not the person.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
In a nutshell: Suppose a patient is rapidly deteriorating. The nurse knows the patient is about to hit the wall and maybe die, but s/he may not have the authority to do what's needed - the doctor does. (Technically, the nurse can't even make an official diagnosis, but with years of experience s/he may know what's actually happening.)
Nurse tells the doctor what's going on. Doctor doesn't see it quite the same way, and decides to keep the patient where s/he is.
The nurse figures "Hmmm...this patient may just die. Or fall asleep for 10 or 20 years. Or become a vegetable or a basket case. People might blame me and even think of suing me. I need to show everyone that I knew of the danger and did what I could to stop it, but the doctor wouldn't listen."
So Nurse writes in the patient's chart something like:
Patient's blood pressure taken on both rt and left arms, 82/49 on rt and 84/52 on left. HR=124 in a sinus tach. Patient alert with sats of 92% on 4L via NC. RR stable at 24. Temp 101.2 two hours after tylenol. Pt states he feels "more weak". MD reminded of markedly positive UA and alerted to change in blood pressure. No new orders. [Emphasis in original]
The nurse doesn't say "the patient has this problem" but rather gives all the specific facts which would persuade any competent medical professional that the patient has the problem. That's a clever maneuver: you can complain without actually looking like you're complaining or exceeding your authority - you're just giving the facts.
And at the end, the nurse says "No new orders." Technically, literally, all it means is that the doctor chose not to do anything new. In this context, it's a generally recognized hint that the doctor is asleep at the wheel and as a result disaster is about to strike.
Nurse K makes clear that "No new orders" has a specific implicit meaning:
"No new orders" is the passive-aggressive medical charting equivalent of "Patient's doctor is being a tool and needs to order [pressors, fluid bolus, central line, etc]."
Note that I am more than willing to paint a picture that accurately describes the condition that you're ignoring with redundant vital-sign charting and things of that nature. Nurses, it's very important to use "no new orders" sparingly so it doesn't lose its bite. Under no circumstances should "no new orders" be deployed in a situation where writing no new orders is the proper thing to do. [Emphasis added]
So, in summary, if [you're a doctor and] you see "no new orders", that's a cue that a nurse thinks you're missing something and/or hates you.
(You might find the comments for that post pretty interesting, too.)
So in a nutshell: Communication is relative to particular workplaces, professions, clubs, families, you get the idea.
That means that before you assume that the other person is getting your hint, one thing to ask yourself is whether that kind of hint means the same thing in the milieu you're in right now.
It also reminds us that we don't know everything. When stepping into a new job, club, town or whatever, we need to stop, look and listen. A heckuva lot more than we talk - especially at first. The words, expressions and behaviors that may have meant one thing previously may mean something totally different in our new setting. And of course there will be new signals where we have arrived, so we may now need to say the same things in a different way.
What do you think?
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thorkil Sonne is a Danish man with a mission. His son Lars, now 12 years old, is autistic. Five years ago, after his son's diagnosis, he founded the company Specialisterne specifically for Aspies and autists. Knowing that many of us work well with technical tasks, especially with quiet and predictable environments, Sonne has discovered a good pool of workers.
Now, Specialisterne is planning to set up shop in Scotland. Maybe one day it will reach across the Atlantic - let me assure Mr. Sonne that many Aspies and autists here in the U.S. can do good work for him.
Hat-tip: Ari Ne'eman of The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
July 11 - 7/11 - is my blogiversary, and 7 and 11 are lucky numbers. (Of course, even luckier numbers for me are 1 and 20 - my wedding anniversary - but that's another story.)
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
On page 114 (Fifth Edition, 1990), Professor Nicholson gives this scenario to start off one of his review questions:
David N. gets $3 per month as an allowance to spend any way he pleases. Since he only likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, he spends the entire amount on peanut butter (at $0.05 per ounce) and jelly (at $0.10 per ounce). Bread is provided free of charge by a concerned neighbor. David is a particular eater and makes his sandwiches with exactly 1 oz. of jelly and 2 oz. of peanut butter. He is set in his ways and will never change these proportions.
Am I the only one who suspects that Professor Nicholson may have known an Aspie or autist?
Monday, July 6, 2009
As he succinctly puts it:
[L]ife is all about finding alternatives, and seeking a balance between finding alternative ways to do things because the conventional way is impossible, and making [yourself] do things the conventional way, because even though it's harder, it's better for [you].
And that's a delicate balance, hard versus impossible.
[Emphases in original]
Assuming KatyBeth picks up where AD leaves off with his attitude, she's in good hands.
What do you think?
Monday, June 29, 2009
Music is a very special way of expressing emotions - that's why we have music therapists, among other specialists. Some people can much better learn to communicate with the world and handle their own feelings through music than through, say, explaining things or exercising. In fact, there's a specific part of the brain - the temporal lobes - which handles music. (It also works with memory, which may help explain why putting things to music can help people remember them better. It also explains why so many ads have those annoying jingles that re-appear in our minds at the most annoying times.)
By definition, Aspies' and autists' brains work very differently from NTs'. And that's especially true for communications - we don't get our points across, or understand other people, quite the same way that NTs do. For example, we tend to have great difficulty using hints and euphemisms or understanding them when others use them. In fact, sometimes people call us "tone-deaf" in that regard.
That's a good metaphor. Music is another way of communicating, which some but not all Aspies use well. (In fact, my experience is that some Aspies excel in the arts and others in math and science. I'm one of the latter. I haven't taken a single art course since junior high school, because starting in high school art was purely optional.)
I can "tease out" the meaning of, say, an official form or a set of numbers a heckuva lot better than of a song. Among other things, that's why I do Emily's and my income taxes and I keep an eye on our finances. On the other hand, if our pay stubs were set to music and burned on DVDs, and if I had to submit our tax returns via music video (on YouTube maybe?), things would be more difficult.
Trust me, we've got emotions just like everyone else. We tend to express and understand them in our own ways.
What do you think?
Friday, June 26, 2009
I see rhinestone imitation German Iron Crosses. And I'm old enough to know about the Holocaust.
I've yet to understand that Nazi Germany (1933-45) is but a small subset of Germany's very long history, represented in part by the Iron Crosses.
Potential customer comes up to the table and checks out the Iron Crosses.
Yours truly points at the Iron Cross he's looking at: "You know, that's an Antichrist symbol!"
Dad leads me away.
Dad is very unhappy with me following news that potential did not become actual customer.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
If Hitler had instead decided to stay at peace with the Soviet Union, he would probably have won. The hundreds of divisions which Germany had used - and lost - against the Soviets could probably have kept the U.S., U.K., Free French and other Allies at a standstill.
More to the point, even as it was the war was a very near thing. Within the first two weeks alone, German forces advanced over 200 miles in all directions, occupying Lithuania, Latvia, Belorussia and Western Ukraine and taking - among many others - the cities of Vitebsk and Orsha. Before the summer was out, Estonia and the Soviet north including Novgorod, as well as Smolensk (the gateway to Moscow) and most of the Ukraine were gone. German troops literally got to within sight of the Kremlin in Moscow, besieged Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and entered Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in the Volga River near the Caucasus.
We will never know even approximately how many Soviet civilians and troops died; the official figure is over 20 million and it is widely regarded as an underestimate. (Many deaths in war are due to disease, starvation and other secondary causes.)
As Victor Kravchenko, head of the Soviet Department of War Engineering Armament during the war (and subsequent defector to the U.S.) has made clear in his I Chose Freedom that besides the vast Russian spaces (as it were, a safe space to make mistakes), exactly one thing saved the Soviets, and hence the Allied cause: the absolute will on the part of the Russian people never to give up.
No nation would have had more excuse. The Nazis - who hated the Slavs as much as they hated the Jews - performed unspeakable acts of vengeance on anyone who dared resist. The Soviet people and even the troops often died of starvation, cold or inadequate support in terms of fuel, ammunition, working machinery and other problems.
And let us be clear: many if not most of the Soviet people hated their regime in Moscow with a passion, having suffered through purges, mass arrests and executions - often following unjust and totally unfounded accusations of treachery and other crimes.
For nearly four years, the Soviet people stood firm against one of the most powerful - and most evil - regimes ever to grace this planet. Many more saw the war's beginning than its end. If they had buckled - as had the people of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and France - Nazi Germany would have crushed continental Europe...and gotten away with the Holocaust.
Sometimes sheer stubbornness and a refusal to ever give up really count.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
In 1980, while following the economy closely in the Wall Street Journal, I told my neighbor that the prime rate would go to 20% before it went back down. Which it did.
So, after a detour in college studying Government, I went to graduate school and studied Economics. Among other things, I became very interested in consumer credit (in fact, later on, I would become a debt collector). Meanwhile, I put myself through part of graduate school by working in a bookstore.
One fine day in the bookstore:
Male customer at register, paying with credit card from First Penury Bank (not its real name).
Yours truly (not exactly sotto voce): Wow, I recognize that card. First Penury pioneered the concept of security deposits for credit cards. That makes it possible for people with bad credit to get credit cards. I'm glad you got that opportunity.
Customer: Uh yeah, right.
Because of course, the very fact that I'm especially interested in consumer credit and particularly in developments like secured credit cards means that everyone else is willing to discuss it too. Including their own bad credit which forced them to get a card like that. And in public.
I cringe when thinking about it to this day. If I were the store manager and I heard someone saying that, at a very minimum I would send him/her home for the day - after a good tongue-lashing.
Customer, wherever you might happen to be, if you're somehow reading this: I'm very sorry. I had no intention of hurting your feelings - I just wasn't thinking. I would never even consider saying something like that again.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Emily and I recently had a picnic at Sandy Point State Park, on Chesapeake Bay.
We were unpleasantly surprised to find a substantial increase in the entry fee over last summer's. Emily also noticed that this summer, we got no discount even though we arrived just a couple of hours before closing.
I responded that the sign showing the fees did not show a late-entry discount either last year or this one. She pointed out that we had in fact received a discount, to which I mentioned that the guard must have broken the rules.
(The following is a rough approximation of the rest of our conversation. And no, we didn't say anything NSFW anyway.)
Emily: "But isn't it unfair that we pay the same amount even though we're only going to be able to be there for maybe two hours?"
Jeff: "Sure it is. Tell that to the Maryland General Assembly."
Emily: "If you were the guard, would you give the discount if someone came within a few hours of closing?"
Jeff: "I would consider it unfair that the price would be the same. But as a guard, I'd have no authority to give personal discounts. So I couldn't do it."
Emily: "You wouldn't treat them fairly?"
Jeff: "I would abide by the ideas of fairness held by the people in charge, who answer to the taxpayers. If they don't think it's unfair to charge everyone the same rate no matter when they come in, I can't circumvent their judgment."
(Guess which one of us is a lawyer.)
What do you think?
Friday, May 29, 2009
StatMom posted recently...OK, not so recently - call this part of "The Best of StatMom" - about, among other things, correcting people in authority.
I have strong views on this myself. I believe that, 99+% (not 100%) of the time, the truth is a morally good thing to say. It doesn't always benefit you personally, but then again we don't send kids to school to teach them to be more selfish, or have public service announcements urging people to put themselves first.
First off, it's good for the other person. Let me illustrate that point by taking an occasional event from my own experience. Let's say I'm about to head out the door. Someone else there knows I intend to take my umbrella, because it may rain.
S/he helpfully asks "Do you have everything?"
I respond "Yes, I do," because as far as I can tell, I do.
S/he says "Are you sure?"
I respond "Yes, I'm sure!" If I weren't sure in the first place, I would have said something different in the first place.
I then walk out the door. A few hours later, soaking wet, I stagger back in, wipe my dropping shoes as best I can, and shut the door.
I said "I forgot my umbrella."
Someone: "Yes, I noticed that in the first place."
I: "Then why didn't you tell me?!?"
Someone: "Well, you said you had everything, and you seemed like you knew it all. I didn't want to upset you or start a fight...."
Well, you failed at the first goal, and your prospects for the second don't look too good either right now.
Now let's rewind and rewrite:
I: "I'm outta here?"
Someone: "Wait a second! Do you have your umbrella?"
I: "No, come to think of it I don't. Thanks for reminding me."
I walk over, grab the umbrella, then exit stage left.
A few hours later:
I walk back in, dry as a bone. I shake out the dripping umbrella and put it away.
Someone: "So how was your day?"
I: "Not too bad - and thanks for reminding me about the umbrella. Unlike half the class, I didn't turn my seat into a puddle today."
Now, why does Ending One tend to predominate? Because this happens all too often:
Adam: "I'm outta here!"
Steve: "Wait! Do you have your umbrella?"
Adam: (Embarrassed) "No, and I'm sure I don't need it anyway. Keep your worries to yourself!"
Adam slams the door on a flabbergasted Steve.
Steve learns to let people make mistakes in the future, even when he can easily help them avoid that.
I'm embarrassed to say that once in a while, I've played Adam in this scenario. I haven't got any drug addictions, impregnations or gambling to regret, but I certainly regret this.
Secondly, it's good for society. We need to emphasize truth as a virtue, especially if we're to trust one another. And in an interdependent society, we have to trust each other so much it can be a little scary to think about.
To illustrate, I've also played Steve, including from a very early age. True story from fourth grade:
Teacher, reading aloud while all the students read to themselves: "And so-and-so called..."
I, paying close attention to the book: "Said."
Teacher: "I was waiting for that."
Teacher makes Jeff put away his copy of the book. Jeff is bewildered.
"Is" is the operant term here. Decades later, I'm still bewildered as to why the teacher (1) seemed to have intentionally used the wrong word and (2) didn't use this as an opportunity to teach [a] the class the importance of careful listening and attention to detail and [b] me, later on in private, a more polite way of addressing a superior, such as "Excuse me, but did you mean 'said,' or does your copy say 'called'?"
The schools are indeed an important place to learn right and wrong, as well as respect for authority. We spend a good deal of time devising curricula to teach the students good ways to behave; I see - both in my own schools and the schools of today - much less time and effort devoted to making sure the teachers and school officials set the right example.
Some students may take the following lessons:
(1) It's considered more important for the Indians to be good and to be courteous. The chiefs go by different standards - especially when dealing with the Indians.
(2) Therefore, right and wrong are relative - it's just a matter of whose ox is being gored and how powerful the various sides are. It's OK for people in power to do what they want as long a sthey can get away with it; only the little people pay taxes/toe the line.
(3) Truth is also relative. Teachers are supposed to replace the students' mistakes with truth, but whatever the person in power says is (accepted as) true.
(4) People in power punish people below them for their own personal reasons, no matter who's right or wrong. All their statements about truth and fairness are so much B.S. Truth and fairness has nothing to do with how people in authority act, and nobody - certainly nobody else in authority - cares. Why should we respect authority?
I think we can all agree that these are bad moral lessons for any student.
And there are people in power who will stamp out any mention of any facts they don't like. That's why we have sayings like "Don't kill the messenger" in the first place.
Some people may say that students should be prepared for the real world, and that includes conforming to social norms like cooperating with bosses you disagree with and who may be disagreeable. I couldn't agree more.
There is a difference between personal quirks and moral wrongs. And suppressing truth is a great moral wrong. Students should not be taught that punishing subordinates who correct them - even if it's a little embarrassing - is any more permissible than, say, groping subordinates or lying to them about the status of their 401(k) investments in the company. And if schools are to teach virtue, they need to lead the way in this respect.
The great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote in his Leviathan in 1651: "For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any mans right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, That The Three Angles Of A Triangle Should Be Equall To Two Angles Of A Square; that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of Geometry, suppressed, as farre as he whom it concerned was able." In other words, there have always been some folks who won't tolerate even the most indisputable facts if said facts are any skin off their nose.
Hobbes could have predicted Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's regime three centuries later, in which ideology poisoned even the realms of science, including genetics and linguistics. George Orwell, who understood the Soviet (and Nazi) dictatorships well, had his protagonist in 1984, Winston Smith, say "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows." And when it's not granted - in a dictatorship where no one can correct the person in charge - evil and death follow.
Soviet Communism is gone. But the need for truth remains.
For example, closer to home, in the worst aviation accident in history, 583 people lost their lives on the Spanish island of Tenerife (one of the Canary Islands) on March 27, 1977 in part because Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten of KLM Flight 4805 thought that he had been cleared for takeoff - and crashed into Pan Am Flight 1736. The KLM flight engineer had expressed concern that the Pan Am flight may not yet have cleared from KLM's path, but Captain van Zanten peremptorily overruled him and proceeded with the takeoff.
KLM ultimately accepted responsibility for the disaster, and paid compensation to the victims and their families.
In the wake of the disaster, among other things the commercial airlines worldwide (and the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard) adopted Crew/Cockpit Resource Management (CRM). Under CRM, subordinates such as the co-pilot, flight engineer and others are trained to directly inform the captain of an impending problem. Subordinates are specifically encouraged to respectfully question authority where necessary, and superiors are trained to embrace what could be life-saving warnings.
In fact, the principles of CRM have been successfully applied to air traffic control and aircraft design and maintenance, too.
For example, Captain Al Haynes of United Airlines Flight 232 has credited CRM (he refers to it as Command Leadership Resource, or CLR) with saving lives - including his own - in the Sioux City, Iowa plane crash of July 19, 1989:
Up until 1980, we kind of worked on the concept that the captain was THE authority on the aircraft. What he said, goes. And we lost a few airplanes because of that. Sometimes the captain isn't as smart as we thought he was. And we would listen to him, and do what he said, and we wouldn't know what he's talking about. And we had 103 years of flying experience there in the cockpit, trying to get that airplane on the ground, not one minute of which we had actually practiced, any one of us. So why would I know more about getting that airplane on the ground under those conditions than the other three. So if I hadn't used CLR, if we had not let everybody put their input in, it's a cinch we wouldn't have made it.
(Emphasis in original.)
Encourage open and honest communication in all directions. The life you save just might be your own.
What do you think?
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I had a good semester this spring.
Specifically, in February I joined Students Organized for Disability Awareness (SODA) at my local community college. Technically, I'm not currently a student, but I took a course there a year and a half ago so they just said I couldn't be an officer.
I'm not the only Aspie in SODA. There are at least two other Aspies there - one of whom is an officer despite also dealing with several other issues - and also a brother of an Aspie.
For that matter, we have people with a wide variety of disabilities: among other things (legal) blindness, systemic lupus (which makes it very difficult to walk around, let alone upstairs, more than a short distance at a time and also causes short-term memory loss, among other issues), epilepsy, cerebral palsy and of course certain conditions requiring a wheelchair.
I learned quite a bit about accommodating people. For example, I took two of our wheelchair-bound members to an event on campus; I was humbled to see how well they had to know the campus in general and the locations of the flat areas, ramps, accessible entrances and elevators in particular. And I thought I knew the campus pretty well.
I navigate most areas physically with the same ease and confidence with which NTs navigate most social situations. Note to self: Don't be so quick to assume that NTs understand Aspies' distinctive needs.
Meanwhile, for our Community Health Fair earlier this spring I devised, and then co-wrote with several other members, a two-person skit on communication differences. The idea is to show how easily any two people (we do this skit with any two passersby who wish to participate) can misunderstand each other when one has extra "scripts" that the other doesn't (like an NT and Aspie respectively, of course).
For Disability Awareness Day, we had Jesse Billauer (a quadriplegic surfer) speak on campus. Along with a couple of other people, I helped to persuade - including by speaking before - the student government to allocate $1,100 for Billauer's appearance.
I also did a few other things, including helping put up flyers for Billauer's event and sitting at a table to do things like help promote a Multiple Sclerosis benefit and represent SODA as a whole.
I wish I'd been more consistently active in things like this when I was in college full-time.
A few things for students and activists to keep in mind:
1. Reliability really helps. To get things done, especially the way you think they should be done, you need people to trust you. That's a lot easier to achieve after people see you show up when you say you will.
And if you can't - as I found myself unable to help at a community service expo due to my new job - let the appropriate people know right away. The sooner they know, the sooner they can change their plans. An explanation wouldn't hurt, either, just so they know that you do care about what they're doing and are sorry you won't be able to help after all.
2. Grunt work is for everyone - including you. Anyone can come to meetings and parties, especially when food is served. Pretty much anyone can hold opinions and then spout off. You show you're a true believer in the cause by sacrificing a bit of your time and effort doing sometimes tedious and boring but necessary things like posting flyers, contacting others who may be able to help promote events, sitting at tables and talking to passersby, meeting with people to work on projects and the like.
3. That includes getting along well with others. You can't accomplish much by yourself. You need other people's ideas, labor and pointers to resources, among other things. Aspies may find it more difficult to get along with others, just as people with spina bifida may be confined to wheelchairs and find it more difficult to get around. That means that we need to do things like recognize our own limitations, disclose our situations where practicable and meet others halfway, just as people confined to wheelchairs need to go the extra distance and locate and use the disabled-friendly parts of campus.
What do you think?
Monday, May 18, 2009
Emily and I had a lovely "24 hour vacation" on Maryland's Eastern Shore, including Ocean City. Ocean City is kind of Maryland's answer to Atlantic City, minus the gambling.
We visited several different eating places, including a "no shirt no shoes no service" pancake house in Ocean City. (No, I didn't see any pantsless would-be patrons testing the policy.)
Anyway, you know I'm not always big on banter with waitstaff. And at Annie's, the more formal atmosphere dictated a kind of restraint on the staff. Not so at this pancake house....
Waitress, leaning over to talk with family behind our booth: You know men are good for only one thing, right? (Laughter from their booth.)
To accentuate her point, she has her hand on my shoulder and applying noticeable pressure while she's saying this.
She turns to us. I widen my eyes to show surprise and a little consternation at what she just said.
Good morning. So, do you want a drink, or you want a moment to recover?
(Complete with heavy rural accent)
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who banter well on the spur of the moment no matter what the topic, and those whose impromptu repartee works best within a given range of topics. We Aspies tend to lean very strongly toward the latter, and I'm no exception.
I don't like curveballs - especially when breaking that word in two summarizes what they're about. Nor do I appreciate explicit probes into my emotional state from people I don't know from Adam.
As an Aspie, I have difficulty with on the spot sensitive stuff, because I have a hard time knowing the general rules (which differ from milieu to milieu), recognizing appropriate cues and predicting where each conversational turn might lead. So I restrict it to a very small circle of people. A large proportion of which - namely Emily - was with me at the time.
I put a damper on it - not exactly my toughest decision that day. My watch shows just before 12:30pm, so:
Good afternoon to you, ma'am. I'd just like some water without ice, and a straw, if you please.
She nods to me:
Good afternoon to you, too.
and then turns her charm on Emily. More honey than a beehive, and if darlin's were twenties she wouldn't need to work. Meanwhile, my metaphorical eye rolls just need a dab of cream cheese to be complete.
Emily asks for a coffee. (Emily:Coffee::I:Chocolate)
Then she goes to the ladies' room.
Waitress comes back with our drinks.
Now, you tell your young lady that this coffee is bottomless - all the refills she wants for free. And she can also take one out the door, no extra charge.
Thank you, ma'am. I'll certainly let her know.
Which of course I do when Emily gets back. We Aspies believe in faithfully transmitting knowledge unedited.
Just before taking our order, the waitress turns to Emily and explains that anytime she wants more coffee, she can have it for free, plus she can have one to go, all for not a penny more. Inwardly, I furrow my eyebrows: doesn't this sound a little bit like what I just said to someone, at someone else's explicit request?
Anyway, she's certainly a helpful waitress. After I ask whether a certain container holds blueberry syrup, she not only confirms that it does but also offers to bring out the strawberry syrup - which I gladly accept.
Afterwards, she brings out the check and hands it straight to me - winning me over further.
To Emily: And this is for your gentleman.
I say: Thank you, ma'am.
So she turns to me:
I always thought checks are a he-thing, not a we-thing. Ladies first, men paying. My daddy always told me: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
On the one hand, I find her kind of conversation - not to mention direct and deliberate bodily contact - rather annoying.
On the other hand, I know how hard she's hustling to make a living.
If she's closer to Emily's age than to mine, I'm a monkey's uncle. If her tattoos are any indication, she hasn't led a soft life.
And waitressing (as distinct from waiter-ing), especially in "no shirt no shoes no service" places, is not kind to the no longer young.
What she lacks in charm between her bosom and her bottom, she has to make up between her larynx and her lips. And I'm sure much of her clientele are much more receptive than I to what she's dishing out - otherwise she'd change her tune. After all, it's her (and her children's?) food on the table at home that's at stake.
Not only do I inhabit an NT world 24/7, I happen to be among a very different set of people at the moment, who appreciate very different kinds of manners, from what Emily and I are accustomed to.
I go to the cashier and pay the check, plus a 20+% tip.
What do you think?
Thursday, May 14, 2009
My humble apologies for my silence. I've been more active in the last several months than in quite some time.
Among other things, I have a new full-time (if temporary) job. I grade essays on standardized tests. This requires much attention to detail and willingness to interpret rubrics and follow strict rules. Also, our office is kept as quiet as possible so we can focus on our work.
I've "come out" to the site manager, and she's been helpful and supportive so far. In fact, she finds many aspects of AS - like our willingness to actually answer a yes-or-no question with "yes" or "no" - to be strengths. As of now, it's likely that I'll be called back for subsequent assignments.
So, I like my work - and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Emily and I are going away for the weekend. When we get back, I'll post more on what I've been doing this semester.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
As you know, I'm a Toastmaster, and specifically a Competent Communicator. That means I've successfully completed ten speech projects, including vocal variety, research and use of visual aids.
As you may not know, I've been going to a new club for the past three and a half months, at the president's invitation. It's in the next county, but the twice-monthly drive is well worth it. This is a very nice, diverse - and well-organized - bunch of people. And to be sure, my first speech to them was about AS, how it affects others as well as me and how we can deal with it.
Coming out is not for everyone, to be sure. I've decided to do it because I've found that people - with a few unfortunate exceptions - tend to react better to me knowing I'm an Aspie than not knowing.
Today's the first anniversary of my Competent Communicator award. Meanwhile, I think I've found my niche - Table Topics and humorous speaking. Table Topics is impromptu speaking - going up on stage, being told (or shown) for the first time what to speak about and speaking for one to two minutes - right then and there.
I used to make all my speeches - impromptu and prepared - as serious as they could be, and preferred to talk about things like historical events and other interesting facts as opposed to my experiences. Then I found that the speakers who got the best responses injected some humor into their speeches, and focused on their personal experiences (like, say, getting a traffic ticket, learning to dive at the U.S. Naval Academy or becoming a grandmother) and how they reacted to them.
When I get on stage, I don't just talk about being an Aspie. I've also discussed how I react to colors and the lighter side of domestic life. I've also found that the likelihood of winning a contest is directly proportional to the laughs coming from the audience. Last night, I won our club's Best Table Topics contest (which we have every meeting) for the third time since I joined - and I won it at my very first meeting there.
One of the most important things I've gotten there, though, is a firm heads-up when I needed it. For example, last night I gave an evaluation of another speaker. Evaluations are arranged in advance just like speeches are, and they're delivered on stage too. I decided to be innovative, and present my evaluation like a TV reporter "interviewing" various imaginary characters. I got laughs, all right.
And afterwards, a dressing-down from the president, who pointed out that (1) the new members in the audience might not have gotten the actual points I was making about how to be a better speaker and (2) evaluations are supposed to be about the original speaker, not the evaluator, and thus the humorous and dramatic approach is much more appropriate for other genres than for evaluations.
When I got home that night, I sent her an e-card thanking her.
You see, my father used to install alarm systems for people's homes and businesses, for which they paid thousands of dollars; the club president, who even before I joined knew I was an Aspie and kindly agreed to be part of an alarm system for my behavior, gets not one thin dime.
What do you think?
Monday, April 20, 2009
To complete this series, let's talk with Dr. Bonni Alpert, Director of Western New England College (WNEC)'s Office of Student Disability Services. Dr. Alpert oversees, among other things, their Peer Mentoring Program for Students On the Autism Spectrum (please see the bottom half of that page). Dr. Alpert speaks from the point of view of an administrator and counselor.
Q: What inspired this particular program? Did you read something, or see or hear of something happen on campus or elsewhere, that gave you an "ah hah" moment and led you to start this peer mentoring program?
A: About 2 1/2 years ago I was working with a college junior, who happened to have Asperger’s Syndrome. This student was brilliant – especially in the area of History - and his professors were always astounded by his wealth of knowledge and his ability to articulate his thoughts on paper.
However, by mid semester of that particular year, things began to unravel. While this student had often had bouts of depression during previous semesters, this time his depression caused him to withdraw completely into the safety of his room (he did not have a roommate per accommodation request). He wouldn’t even come out to go to classes. In other words, he completely isolated himself from everything and everyone (including me).
In collaboration with his parents and professors, we were able to get him in to see one of our College counselors. After doing some research of her own, this counselor forwarded an article to me entitled “Supporting College Students with Asperger’s Syndrome,” by Lawrence A. Welkowitz and Linda J. Baker, in which the authors describe a peer mentoring program initiated by them at Keene State College.
In speaking about the experience for students on the spectrum, as they enter the world of college, they state “thrust into an 'adult-like' community with little or no parental-type supervision, the college student with AS is like a boat without sails that has been set off to sea.”
I remember thinking to myself “Of course!!!! Why didn’t I think of this before?!” It suddenly dawned on me that students on the spectrum may need more than just the typical academic accommodations - that feeling ‘connected’ and getting help with certain life skills communication, organization, interpersonal, etc) was equally pertinent to a successful college experience. That was when I approached Ava Kleinmann, Assistant Professor of Psychology, about the idea of starting a mentoring program for students on the spectrum.
Q: What are the most important challenges that Aspies face in college, especially as they start? What about after they graduate?
A: Individuals on the spectrum can often struggle in areas of social interactions and communication. Specifically, this disorder affects a person’s ability to understand social norms, such as meaning from tone, body language or context in discussions. Consequently, these skills have a significant impact on all aspects of college life from academic achievement to friendships and overall social and emotional functioning.
When students leave their homes after graduating from high school and enter the world of college, they are expected to navigate new and unfamiliar social environments (new peers, professors and staff) without the familiar supports of their youth. However, because interpreting non-verbal cues and knowing social appropriateness often present major challenges to students on the spectrum, navigating this unfamiliar terrain can be incredibly stressful.
Furthermore, any sense of failure in these areas often results in a tendency for a student on the spectrum to withdraw and isolate themselves. This, in turn, can lead to many isolating social interests, such as excessive Internet use or fascination with video games. While these activities can be mind expanding in some ways, they do little for promoting social interaction and a sense of belonging.
There are also academic situations that can contribute to the stress of a student on the spectrum. For example, many classes have group discussions or group projects and, having to interact with other students, when you prefer to work alone, can be a source of significant stress. In addition, having to ask a professor for help is something that may add stress to any student’s day, but especially if the student is not quite sure of the social rules that apply in that particular situation.
The skills involved in social interaction and communication not only affect a student’s college experience but, they also have a significant impact on life after college. For instance, the ability to present oneself appropriately and professionally in a job interview or, to work as part of a team, collaborate with others and/or to communicate one’s thoughts clearly and appropriately are essential to most jobs.
In addition, the ability to establish and maintain “significant” (this is subject to interpretation) relationships is essential to life satisfaction. While there may be variability in terms of the quantity and quality of these relationships, we all want to feel connected, that we matter, that we belong.
Q: You mentioned that Aspies can withdraw into isolating social interests such as excessive Internet use or video games. Given that Aspies *tend to* like working with computers (and at least as of now have disproportionately better career prospects in these fields), in what ways can Aspies actually channel such activities so as to achieve better social interaction and a sense of belonging?
A: One way that "Aspie's" might channel computer related activities in more socially constructive ways is by joining clubs with other like-minded individuals, in which a specific computer-related activity can facilitate a manageable degree of interaction among its members.
For example, here at WNEC, we have the Anime (Japanese animation) club. This is a popular club among students on the spectrum and, I imagine this is because it offers just enough social interaction as not to be threatening (sometimes this involves just getting together and watching animated DVDs) and centers around a more cerebral/intellectual activity.
Also, instead of playing video games in isolation, students can always invite other students to play. I am currently working with a student who was recently commenting that his peers didn't seem interested in spending time with him. He said that they often knocked on his door to ask if they could borrow his video games. However, when questioned as to whether he had ever invited them to play these games with him, he admitted that he hadn't.
Q: Could you give a brief particular example or two of difficulties that Aspies can face in college (perhaps a suitably anonymized anecdote or two)?
A: A student walks into a class before the professor arrives and notices a group of students sitting and laughing together. He'd like to get involved in the discussion, as it looks like these other students are enjoying each other's company. However, he's not quite sure how to make his way in.
As he sits quietly, listening to their discussion, he realizes that they're talking about the professor, making fun of his mannerisms, his clothes, his expressions. He figures that if he does the same thing, he'll be part of the group too.
Then, although he realizes that the professor has entered the room, he begins to do just what he saw his peers do. He also notices that the lewder his comments become, the more his classmates laugh. What he doesn't realize is that his peers are laughing in disbelief - more from embarrassment for him than anything else. In his mind, he has just connected with his peers.
[As another example:] A student is feeling overwhelmed with his academic workload. He hasn't been to see me all semester, even though I've suggested, on many occasions, that we meet on a weekly basis. One day he's feeling so stressed that he believes that if he doesn't see me right at that moment his whole world will fall apart (we've all been there so, no judgment).
However, when he shows up at my office he's told that I'm meeting with another student. Instead of sitting and waiting, as another student might do, this student paces back and forth in front of my door, huffing and puffing and making as much noise as he can muster.
When a student staff person tells him that I'll be awhile and offers him a place to sit, he lets her know that he needs to see me right now and that every time he wants to meet with me I'm either not in my office or busy with another student.
Both of these examples illustrate the difficulties that students on the spectrum may experience with understanding social norms, interpreting non-verbal cues and knowing social appropriateness.
Q: Have you worked with Student Affairs about relevant student conduct issues, such as misconduct accusations against Aspies that may be relevant to their AS (eg, harassment, stalking, disorderly behavior), and/or Aspies saying they have been the victims of possibly relevant misconduct (eg, harassment, verbal abuse, assault [sexual or otherwise])? If so, what kinds of accusations are most commonly involved, and how has the AS part of it been handled?
A: I have worked with Student Affairs and Public Safety on issues related to misconduct accusations against students on the spectrum. Specifically, we’ve had issues related to disorderly behavior (trying to enter a restricted area, manipulating the lighting during a campus event, playing with the HVAC controls in public access spaces (i.e., the Campus Center)) and presumed stalking. While all students are held to the same code of conduct, it has been helpful for my office to be involved in these situations on two counts.
First, we’ve been able to provide Student Affairs and Public Safety personnel with critical information about the student and their specific intent in the situation. For example, the student who was caught trying to enter a restricted area was doing so because he was feeling overwhelmed and anxious and wanted a quiet space in which to decompress. The fact that this space was restricted was irrelevant to his overwhelming need.
Furthermore, the student who was accused of manipulating the lighting during a campus event was also doing so in an attempt to reduce his own stress. It never occurred to him that his behavior was inappropriate.
And, the student who was accused of stalking a female student was walking behind someone he thought was his friend, trying to figure out how to strike up a conversation with her.
In each of these situations, it was helpful for the relevant authorities to understand the functional impact of the AS and the specific intent of the student when deciding how to handle the situation. In each of these cases, the student was informed of the severity of the situation, with respect to the impact of his actions on others, and given a warning about the potential consequence of future misconduct.
Another reason that it’s been helpful for my office to be involved in these situations is that we’ve been able to provide the student with AS critical information about rules of conduct and why they’re important and to help them learn how to respond appropriately in stressful situations.
For example, we were able to help one student find several quiet and unrestricted places on campus to which he could retreat when he was feeling overwhelmed. We were also able to help another student understand how frightening it might be to have someone following silently so close behind you, even if you knew them. In addition, we worked with this student on strategies for striking up conversations with girls and to know when it was appropriate (or not) to do so.
Q: Do you know of any adjustments Public Safety has made for dealing with Aspies? Do you think there are helpful adjustments that they could make in the future?
A: I'm not sure that Public Safety has made any specific official adjustments with respect to dealing with "Aspies". However, I do think that it has been very useful for Public Safety, Student Affairs and other student support personnel to be aware of the ways in which students on the spectrum may interpret certain situations, as this has a significant impact on the evaluation of one's intent.
Furthermore, I have found that when Public Safety has been made aware of the student's perspective of the situation and the reasons for this perspective, they have often been more willing to approach situations from the student's vantage point.
For instance, instead of looking at the situation from a black/white, right/wrong perspective and, instead of assuming that the student knows that what he/she did was wrong, I've seen officers approach the student with more of an educational stance, in which they inform the student of the accusation, explain how the behavior was interpreted by the accuser and why this might be considered offensive.
Q: You mentioned stalking as having been a concern. I don't know what other stalking or harassment cases you know of that may have involved Aspies. Do you think that the ways in which NTs (especially but not only women) typically communicate disinterest could lead to misunderstanding on an Aspie's part so they may not get the message and then the NTs, thinking they already let the Aspie know they don't want to be contacted, accuse him/her of harassment or stalking?
And if so, what should Aspies know that will likely prevent these problems? And what should NTs know so as to best communicate disinterest?
A: With respect to the stalking, I agree that the problem often stems from miscommunication (or, indirect communication) and misunderstanding. Often girls and women are afraid of hurting peoples' feelings. Furthermore, they're often taught to communicate in somewhat indirect ways - when we get too direct we're referred to as "aggressive" or "bitchy".
Therefore, if a girl is trying to be kind and let a guy down carefully, it's quite likely that she hasn't been totally clear about her feelings and intentions. Furthermore, if you put a guy, who struggles more than the "average Joe" with reading social cues, into the equation, the result can be catastrophic. She doesn't say exactly what she feels, but instead puts out subtle messages, and he doesn't know how to interpret the subtle messages and may believe that he still has a chance.
So, the girl says to the guy, "I like you and I'd just like to be friends" and what the guy hears is, "I like you" and something to do with "friends." In his mind, this is a good thing, since he doesn't hear the unspoken part of that message which is "I'm not attracted to you and I don't want to be intimate with you."
I'm not so sure that it's possible for NTs and/or Aspies to know enough about each other to prevent these types of problems from occurring altogether. However, I do feel that improving upon one's communication skills should be a lifelong process for everyone. And, not only should we all seek to communicate our thoughts, ideas and feelings as clearly as possible but, we should also continually be asking clarifying questions of others in order to ensure that we are hearing what was intended to be heard (just like you did above).
Furthermore, I believe that the more we can share ourselves (our strengths and challenges as people, Aspie or not) with others, the less room there is for misinterpretation and misunderstanding and, the more room there is for acceptance, appreciation and intimacy.
(All emphases added.)
I'd like to thank Dr. Alpert, Ms. Langone and Dr. Kleinmann very much for their time, effort and courtesy. Keep up the good work!
What do you think?