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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the category “asperger’s”

>Disclosing Asperger’s at Work

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A reader sent in the following questions:

 If you’ve ever been in a work situation where your Aspie qualities affected your performance, did you disclose? Do people treat you differently when they know? What are the pros/cons of disclosing?

To be honest, the question of disclosing is a little moot for me. Initially, I wasn’t planning to share it with anybody except, maybe, a very close friend at work. However, now it turns out that everybody knows about my supposedly anonymous blog and reads it. Which must mean that everybody knows about the Asperger’s. On the positive side, the very fact of being an Aspie makes it impossible for me to perceive whether people treat me differently because of it or not. An inability to gauge people’s non-verbal reactions is one of the characteristics of Asperger’s. Unless somebody comes up to me and says, “Since I read in your blog that you have Asperger’s, I treat you differently,” I’m not going to have a clue. 
Of course, Asperger’s affects my performance at work. It does so in both negative and positive ways. To give an example, service to the academic community that includes socializing with people I don’t know and don’t care about tires me a lot more than any other activity under the sun. Maybe I could use Asperger’s to have my service requirement pared down to something more manageable. However, Asperger’s also makes it much easier for me to do research, prepare classes, and grade. Obviously, I don’t want everybody’s grading to be dumped on me. This is why I don’t do anything specific to bring Asperger’s into the work context. 
I don’t think there can be one hard and fast rule on whether to disclose or not. Work environments, bosses and colleagues differ greatly. I don’t think that anybody has an obligation to mention it unless they really feel like it. If there are certain things we don’t do very well because of Asperger’s, there are many others that we do a lot better than anybody else. This, I believe, is an important thing to remember in the context of Asperger’s, whether we are talking about the work environment or personal relationships.
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>Penumbra

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I’m sitting in class right now, blogging, while my students are watching a movie I have seen many times before. I have dimmed the light to make the experience better for them, but, as for me, I just sit there suffering. Dimmed lighting makes me suffer on a physiological level. Thank God there are only 5 more minutes to go, or I will not be able to deal with the headache this is giving me. Of course, I love doing things for the students, but this is just too painful.

>Does Jared Loughner, the Arizona Shooter, Have Asperger’s?

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If you are asking this question, you are a very unintelligent individual. What on Earth does it possibly matter? It’s as relevant to the shooting as whether he had blue or brown eyes. I’ve received five e-mails already with people bugging me about this. Apparently, there is some Mommy of an autistic who is desperate for attention and who is screeching “Asperger’s caused it” on several websites. See an example here.
It is true that people with Asperger’s can become violent. It is also true that people who don’t have Asperger’s can become violent. I know that we are in the midst of “let’s-blame-autism-on-everything-that-is-wring-with-the-world” wave, but there should be a limit. Asperger’s doesn’t cause people to shoot into crowds. Contrary to what you have heard, it isn’t a disease, an epidmic, or the end of the world. It’s a way of being that does not cause unrelieved misery for those who live it. And, once again, it doesn’t make people shoot into crowds. I’ve lived with Asperger’s for 34 years and am still to commit a violent act against anything other than the copy machine. Trying to “predict” that one will become a mass murderer on the basis of Asperger’s makes about as much sense as basing your prediction on a person’s height, weight, or hair color.
I understand that thinking is a difficult chore for many people and nobody wants to make the effort. But dismissing the shooting by attaching to it a label of “Asperger’s”, “learning disorder,” “schizophrenia,” or “Mommy issues” is a very stupid thing to do.

>Asperger’s: Daily Experiences

>My recent post on autism has brought over 1,500 people to this blog and became one of the most popular posts I have ever written. This makes me very happy because, for the most part, people get their information about autism from TV shows and articles that depict it as laughable and pathetic on the one hand and tragic on the other hand. In fact, it is neither. Autism is a way of being that has its advantages and its drawbacks. Different people experience it in a multitude of ways and relate to it differently.

The kind of insensitivity to autism that I made fun of in my post is caused by the lack of reliable, anti-sensationalist information about the experiences of people with different forms of autism. This is why I want to share with my readers how I experience my autism on a daily basis and what it means to me. Also, I am hoping that other autistics will read this and decide whether some of my techniques might work for them.

 As I mentioned earlier, I have “good days” and “bad days.” On bad days, it becomes more difficult to manage my autism, while on good days I make use of a variety of strategies that make it difficult for most people who know me to guess that I am in any way different. In this post, I will describe the techniques I use on my good days, of which today was one. I remind you that my form of Asperger’s is pretty severe, which means that not everybody who has it needs to go through a similar routine.

Before I leave the house to go to work, I need to imagine my route several times and in a very detailed way. Even though I take the same bus to work several times a week, I can’t just leave the house without going over this entire trip in my mind. If I do, I might end up pretty much anywhere in town, which happened before. So I repeat in my head several times the things I have to do to get to work: “To the bus stop, get in the bus, get out on campus, then to Starbucks, then to the library, then to my office, then to my first class on the first floor.” I also have to check on my wallet, keys, cell phone and Kindle very often, otherwise I will definitely lose them. So every 15-20 minutes I go over my “wallet-keys-cell phone-Kindle” routine.

This morning, I had to call a doctor’s office to make an appointment. I’d been putting off this phone call for weeks because talking on the phone to strangers is still one of my biggest challenges. I need to know exactly what they will ask me and what I will respond because otherwise I might get flustered and forget answers even to the simplest questions. Once, a person I was talking to asked me my name and for a horrible 30 seconds or so I had no idea what to say. So I faked a fit of coughing that allowed me to figure out what the answer was. This is why I’d been suffering from an ear-ache for weeks instead of calling a doctor. I wish such things started being handled over the Internet.

When I arrive at work, I know it’s highly likely I will meet colleagues. It takes me a while to recognize even the people that I know very well and especially to remember their names. So every morning I prepare a couple of phrases that I can say as soon as I see a familiar face. This gives me time to get my bearings, realize who the person is and what they are called. Usually, the sentences I prepare have something to do with weather. Today, it was “Finally, this horrible heat is over.” I keep repeating this sentence in my mind all the time I walk to my office and say it every time I meet someone I know.

Today, I had two committee meetings with people I had never met before. When I was younger, nothing terrified me more than having to meet a group of strangers for the first time. Nowadays, however, I manage such situations perfectly well if I have had a chance to prepare for them. I do little practice routines in my head of what I will say when I come in and what I will do if there is an unpleasant pause in the conversation. Of course, there is a huge problem of remembering the names. The first thing I do when somebody tells me their name is forget it completely. I’ve tried different things that would help me retain people’s names but nothing has worked so far. I get so concentrated on saying what I need to say when meeting someone that everything else just escapes me completely. While I am in such meetings I have to make sure that I don’t get distracted too much from what is being discussed and avoid making weird faces at people and giggling at inappropriate moments. That’s doable but it requires effort. It’s also very hard knowing when it’s my turn to speak. People often think I’m rude because I interrupt them. It would be great if everybody finished their utterance by saying “That’s it” or “I’m done.” I often do that myself in case anybody else in the group has a similar difficulty.

All of my meetings today went very well. If you were to ask anybody who met me today whether they thought I had autism, I’m sure nobody would have the slightest idea. Of course, all these things made me so tired that when I went home I fell asleep immediately. Still, it’s a small price to pay for the great benefits that autism brings to my life.

Many people who know me closely are incredulous when I tell them I have Asperger’s. As you can see from the description of my day, I made a choice to make my autism as unnoticeable to others as I possibly can. If, however, you don’t feel like doing all these things to prevent others from noticing, then you definitely shouldn’t. There is no “correct” or “incorrect” way of being autistic. My way works for me but if you choose to relate to it differently, that’s great too.

Questions and non-hateful comments are welcome.

>Do People With Asperger’s Have Emotions?

>A great post from Izgad on whether people with Asperger’s are devoid of emotions:

As with most Aspergers, I struggle against a public perception that we are simply rational automatons, robots without emotions. Anyone who has ever spent time with Aspergers knows that this is false. Asperger syndrome is not the lack of emotions; it is the inability to effectively display emotion in a manner understandable to others. In other words it is the “disability” of neurotypicals, who cannot understand our emotions to the same extent that we seem to be hopeless at deciphering theirs.

Read the rest of this informative and well-argued post here.

Repairing a Child with Asperger’s

Recently, helicopter-type parents have found a new reason to feel sorry for themselves and victimize their children: autism. Television, newspapers and Internet journalists cater to their needs by offering endless advice on how to “deal” with their child’s autism. Here, for example, you can read a very typical example of such an advice-filled article. Parents are told that there are many ways they can “repair” their broken children. They are told to drag their poor, miserable kids to all kinds of therapies, activities, sports teams, etc. As a 34-year-old person with AS, I almost had a panic attack while reading this litany of activities that any person with Asperger’s sees as pure and undiluted torture.

The most shocking thing about such posts and articles is that they completely disregard the simple fact that autistic children are human beings in their own right. Nobody ever asks the question of whether these children actually suffer from their way of being. The parents are uncomfortable with an Asperger’s child. Ergo, the child must be miserable as well and in urgent need of repair. All the therapies aimed at socializing these children cater only to the needs of parents who want a “normal” child.

Why should we necessarily assume that if a child sits staring at the wall and rocking for hours, she isn’t enjoying herself? I know I was. Why should we necessarily believe that if a child stays in his room for several days classifying the items in his herbarium, he can’t be happy? I know I was. Why should we assume that if a person stays completely silent for two weeks they can’t be having a blast? I know I did. The only people who are bothered by these manifestations of autism are parents who see their child as some kind of a project in need of being constantly perfected.

The best thing parents could do for a child with Asperger’s is leave her or him in peace. Stop trying to improve their lives. Simply accept that they have a different vision of what constitutes an enjoyable existence. And who is to say that your vision of a good life is making you any happier than their vision makes them?

>Asperger’s on TV

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I was watching Boston Legal last night and once again was shocked by how completely wrong, offensive, and irresponsible the portrayal of autistics is in mass media.

Even the kindest portrayal of people with Asperger’s is concentrated on presenting us as some kind of eccentric geniuses who are smart but completely inept socially and as a result make everybody around them feel extremely uncomfortable.

On the one hand, ridiculizing autistics attracts viewers. Many people need the kind of entertainment that gets more and more extreme with every new episode, show, movie, etc. These people feel so benumbed by their sad daily existences that they need entertainment to tickle them into consciousness, albeit momentarily.

Another reason why we are portrayed as pathetic, unstable, and innately freaky is the pill-pushing agenda of pharmaceutical companies. In the episode of Boston Legal that I watched last night, it was suggested that there is medication for Asperger’s and the character will “get better” as soon as he starts taking it. This, of course, is an egregious lie. Not only is there no “cure” for Asperger’s, there can be none because it is not a disease.

Television shows are generally kinder towards female Aspies. Kinder, however, does not mean either truthful nor unwilling to generalize. Temperance Brennan, the main character of Bones, is portrayed as a lot more likebale and less “weird” that Boston Legal‘s “Hands” and Law & Order: CI‘s Wally Stevens. Still, every effort is made to highlight her almost unexistent personal life and innate “nerdiness.”

Because of shows like these, it is often useless to try telling people that you have autism. “No, of course you don’t!” they say in indignation. You are nothing like people with Asperger’s that they show on television!” Well, my friends, do you know what the difference is between me and these characters? I’m real and they are not. They are fictional characters created for a specific purpose. Such shows might entertain you but they will never teach you anything useful or truthful about autism.

>Answers to the Readers’ Questions

>As I promised, to celebrate my blog’s anniversary, I will answer the questions my readers sent in to me. To my surprise, I have received a lot more question that I expected to get. So I will start answering them little by little because if I leave them all until April 1st, that day will not be a day of celebration as much as a day of backbreaking labor.

There is still time to send in your questions. Of course, I will only answer those questions that are formulated in a respectful, reasonable manner. Feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post, or send them by e-mail to clarissasblog@hotmail.com.

I can subdivide the questions into several groups.

I. Asperger’s. Before I proceed to answer, I have to reiterate that Im no specialist on the issue. Asperger’s manifests differently in different people. All I can offer is my own opinion on what is more or less likely to work.

Question: How do you break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend who has Asperger’s? The main thing I would recommend is being direct. Many autistics have trouble deciphering non-verbal clues. If you wait for your partner to “get the message” from hints, your body language, and some non-verbal clues, this might not work. Try telling them directly and honestly what you want. Beating around the bush with the goal of not hurting your partner’s feelings will ultimately result in being a lot more hurtful.

Question: How did you feel when you discovered you had Asperger’s? The answer is: happy. Now that I know what it is and how it works, I don’t have to beat myself up for being “weird.” I feel completely entitled to be who I am and enjoy it. The need to apologize for it has disappeared. Also, it has been great to find people who have similar traits. And now I know where to look for them. 🙂

Question: Is Asperger’s a disability? I don’t like these labels and don’t find them useful. This way of being enables me to do many things other people can’t and prevents me from doing some things other people can. If that’s a disability, then pretty much any way of existence is.

Question: I think that for all your laudable attempts to put a positive spin on Asperger’s, you are just trying to put on a brave face. As an autistic myself, I will be honest enough to confess that it is a crippling condition and I would definitely want to be cured. Not a question, just an observation. With the reader’s permission, I will still respond to this statement. As I said, everybody manifests differently and everybody experiences autism differently. Since no “cure” exists (and in opinion never will), it makes sense to explore all sides of your way of being. Your negative perception of your autism might be due to the fact that you cannot do things that other people perceive as normal. Are you really “crippled” in your own eyes? Or are you looking at yourself and your existence through the eyes of some normative neurotypicality?

II. Blogging.

Question: Which are your favorite blogs? I have quite a few blogs in my blogroll but for the most part I just scan through their post titles without visiting them all that often. Here are the blogs that I do visit, comment on and read faithfully:

http://www.ktravula.com/ – This is a very well-written and fun blog by my colleague from Nigeria. It also has some really cool photos on a regular basis.

http://izgad.blogspot.com/ – This blog always has fascinating discussion on individual rights, reason, history, and Jewish identity.

http://www.michaelalanmiller.com/ – This blog always offers a very original (and sarcastic, which I love) take on all kinds of issues.

Question: I have been trying to discover some pattern to your blogging (just to know when the posts were more likely to appear) but no luck so far. Is there a pattern and what is it if yes. Have you tried taking the Aspie quiz, my friend? 🙂 Looking for patterns in everything makes you likely to be one of us. 🙂 I’m not sure there is a pattern. On weekdays, I tend to write in the mornings because I have a couple of hours between arriving at work and the time when I teach.

>Asperger’s Test

>A reader Triin whose blog on Asperger’s is located here has been kind enough to leave a link to the Aspie quiz which is a lot better than the short and unreliable Baron-Cohen test. It takes into account the neurology of Asperger’s without getting too hung up on the qualities that are often attributed to Asperger’s out of simple lack of knowledge about it.

I score 179 out 200, which is really not surprising to me.

>Asperger’s and Teaching

>Often, people say: “Asperger’s? But how can you possibly teach if you have it? It must be a torture!” They are wrong. Many people with Asperger’s thrive as teachers. It’s the unstructured, unscheduled and unplanned communications that are a struggle. If I can prepare for an encounter and especially if the roles are strictly defined (me – teacher, you – student), teaching offers a welcome release from some of the issues attendant on having Asperger’s.

Except on bad days, of course. They don’t happen often but they do happen. And when they do, many things become a lot more difficult. Speaking becomes kind of a challenge. Which is not a good thing for a huge lecture class. You start speaking and then you kind of blank out and stand there with your mouth wide open hoping that the words will come eventually. To make matters worse, today I scheduled an observer to come to my class. The colleague who came to observe is a very nice person, and even if he noticed my unexpected pauses I don’t think he will mention them in a report. Still, it didn’t make me happy to have observation coincide with one of the bad days.

As I wrote before, Asperger’s has many positive sides and I would not be without it if you paid me for it. It’s not all fun and games, however, and bad days prove that everything good comes at a price.

By the way, it took me almost an hour to write this short post because on bad days my vision also gets impaired and I keep hitting the wrong keys.

Not to worry, though. It usually goes away by the next day.

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