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A chance encounter October 22, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, social.
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I think I met another autistic person on the way home from work.

I had just pressed the button to cross the street when I saw him. He was about halfway across the smaller cross street when I noticed something funny: this man was walking like I do. He was paying attention to each step he took, as if he’d lose his legs and feet if he lost awareness of them. For a moment I thought he might be drunk — I’ve been accosted before by security types who think I’m drunk because of the way I walk — but discounted that fairly quickly. He was too centered, too aware. Most people, when drunk, try to act sober, and I never felt that from him.

I might leave it at that — “Oh, he could have been autistic, but he’d probably just had a bit much to drink” — if not for what happened next.

He made it to my corner. Neither of us tried to make eye contact, but we both acknowledged the other in our own ways. (I smiled. He nodded.)

He stopped. It wasn’t a very fluid motion — more along the lines of “oh crap, I almost forgot my keys” than a premeditated stop — and spoke.

What exactly did he say?

Not “H’lo there.”

Not “Cold out tonight, isn’t it?”.

Not any of the small talk one might expect from a stranger on the street at 10:30 PM.

What did he say to me?

“Nice red coat.”

And then he started walking again. Didn’t even give me a chance to say “thank you.” (That would have been — was, since I said it anyway — the correct response, right?)

That’s what made it for me. The first ping on my aut-dar I’ve had in a long time.

Of course, we didn’t do the secret handshake, so I’ll never know for sure if he’s truly on the spectrum or if I’m just making stuff up.

(There really ought to be a secret handshake. That would make life so much easier.)

Single-Sentence Saturday’s glasses got slobbered on today. October 4, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, language, single sentence saturday.
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It’s no wonder I like little kids: everybody else calls me “antisocial” when I don’t talk and wishes I would shut up when I do talk.

Frustration. September 15, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, language, social.
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So, a bunch of people on another site are discussing autism right now, and there’s one person who, while through the rest of the discussion is being very sensitive and understanding in her attitudes, keeps talking about “real autistic people” versus people on the less classical end of the spectrum.

For several reasons — not the least of which being that I really don’t feel like defending the fact that I exist right now — I pointed out how condescending the phrase sounds and then I left. I know it’s most likely either a linguistics issue (where she doesn’t know the right term and is compensating) or a matter of not realizing the impact words can have, but it’s still bugging the crap out of me. And being the person I am, I’m going to have it bug me for the next few days unless I get it out of my system now. So:

AAAAARGH.

(In other, unrelated news, I have a cat scratch on my left hand such that it hurts to move my little and ring fingers on that hand. It makes typing fun!)

Social Stories and airplane trips September 11, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, medical, social.
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One of the blogs I follow regularly is called Parent Hacks. It’s full of parenting tips and shortcuts, and while I’m not a parent, there are enough children in my life that I can use the tips. A tip that was posted today caught my eye, since it’s geared toward parents of autistic children: “‘Social Stories’ coach kids through transitions and new situations.” There’s evidently a specific way to write them, but I’d tailor it to the needs of the child or children I’m writing for.

The post also links to a collection of examples.

I remember when I was little, I was really nervous about new situations. It really helped when people explained to me exactly what to expect when, what counted as “normal” and when I should ask for help, and addressed any other questions I had. I also remember asking many of these questions several times. Considering that I started reading when I was two, it might have been easier to have things written down. (Come to think of it, I think that did happen a few times.)

I’m still nervous about new situations, of course, but it’s less paralyzing now, and the good thing is, I can do my own research now. If I go in for a medical procedure, for instance, I read up on what exactly to expect. And one of the requests I make of any doctor who treats me is “please let me know what you’re going to do and what it’s for before you do it.” Nothing turns me off from a doctor faster than being surprised by something simple.

A different example: When I was six or seven, I went to Disneyland with a close family friend. While I’d been on airplanes before, it had been when I was a baby, and if I remembered, the memories were spotty at best. When it came time for me to leave, I was terrified. I had a basic idea of what would happen, but nothing measurable or specific. It certainly didn’t help that when the friends I was with showed me a map of the United States, they joked around by pretending our route took us on a looping course around the country, but I couldn’t have done anything about that.

(No social story could have prepared me for losing one of my favorite shoes in the Pacific or having the plastic toy sword I’d bought at the Pirates of the Carribean gift shop confiscated at airport security, either, but that’s another story.)

Of course, now I understand what’s going on and what to do in what situations, I am the family’s second most fearless flier. I’ve been in one of the world’s largest airports, in a country where I don’t speak the language (aside from a few choice words I can’t repeat here), on a flight that landed twenty minutes late, with only the vaguest of instructions on where to go next, and I’ve made it to the rendezvous point on time.

But the beautiful thing about liking to know what’s going to happen before it does is that I was able to pay it forward. One time, I was flying solo. The plane I was supposed to be on had just landed and its passengers were disembarking, and the little boy who was across from me at the gate kept asking his mother what was going on. His mother kept saying she didn’t know.

So I braved the whole “talking-to-strangers” thing, and once I got permission from his mother, I told the boy that the plane had been full of people who wanted to come here, and now that it was empty, we needed to wait for people to clean it. I told him that they were going to put the checked luggage on the plane and call the passengers up in groups, and that once he was in his seat, he should put his seatbelt on and listen to the instructions the cabin crew gave. I even told him he could wave at the pilot on the way out of the plane.

The kid’s response?

“Oh. That’s cool.”

So yeah. This works with (presumably) neurotypical kids, too. As a rule, knowledge reduces fear.

Even if you don’t have time to write stories yourself, there are books already existing that are extremely helpful. I remember reading a series of books by Fred Rogers that dealt with first experiences, and the Berenstain Bears are classics by now. (I have no knowledge of what the newest ones are like, but I have fond memories of the ones that were in print when I was a child.)

In conclusion: Man, that’s a longwinded way to say “ooh, these things are a great idea.”

And now for something completely different. September 6, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, just for fun, media.
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This isn’t going to be a regular occurrence, but I’ve been on a massive Farscape kick lately and had to share. It’s only tangentially related to autism, but it has everything to do with experiencing the world differently, and I had to share.

Behold, the way I experience social interaction, as related by former soldier Aeryn Sun:

“What I had to do up there was like a field strategy exercise, only the enemy wasn’t trying to kill me, the enemy was a puzzle, and there were lots of different pieces, and independently — separately — they didn’t, they didn’t make any sense, and I had to think it through really hard, and I had to work out, try different combinations of putting them together, and then finally I worked out what had happened, and I worked out what I had to do.”

(Yes, that’s really all one sentence.)

On pretense August 13, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, social.
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“Everybody lies.”
— Gregory House

I don’t do pretense, and while I acknowledge that not all autistic people are the same, I’ve never met anyone on the neurodiverse end of the spectrum who does.

If somebody acts angry at me, I’m going to believe they’re angry at me, regardless of what they say. Apparently it’s a bad habit to do that.

I don’t do that “Oh, and call your aunt Mimi to ask about that cake pan she left, but while you’re on the phone, make sure to find out if she’s still dating that guy” stuff, and wouldn’t even if I liked talking on the phone. Apparently this makes me antisocial.

If your new dress looks really awful on you, I’ll tell you so. I’ll do it politely, of course — less “that dress makes you look like a diseased cow” and more “black and white really aren’t your colors” — but I’m not going to say you look great if you don’t, either. Apparently this makes me even more antisocial.

I rarely played dress-up or “Let’s Pretend” with the other children. Apparently this means that I have no imagination. Never mind that I spend that entire time imagining all sorts of stories and using the imagination I evidently don’t have to figure out all sorts of things about the world.

I understand seeing lying as a cognitive milestone, for both NT and ND children. Lying requires knowledge of the truth (Oh crap, I broke Mom’s favorite vase), the ability to construct a story to cover the current state of things (but what if I say my sister did it instead?), and the cognitive ability to weigh the risks of telling the lie with the risks of telling the truth (if she finds out it was me, I’ll be in trouble, but if she believes me I’ll be home free). It takes some pretty big stuff.

But that doesn’t mean we should encourage it when we see it.

And you know what?

It’s the very fact that we do encourage it that I don’t believe you when you shout at me and then tell me you’re not angry.

But what are your thoughts on felines? August 1, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in cats, interaction, introductions, social.
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I have a very simple system for gauging how a person will react to finding out I am autistic. Its strength lies in that if I’m in a situation where it might not be safe to be “out,” I can back out of the conversation and nobody will be the wiser.

So here’s what I do when I want to know how someone might react to me: I start talking about cats. Not in the “I have a cat and she’s the craziest creature on the planet” sense, but cats in general. Here’s what I’ve found:

If the person says she or he doesn’t like cats because “they’re so antisocial,” or because “I just don’t get them,” he or she isn’t going to get the concept of autism advocacy. Not at first, at least. The person expects all people to be dog people, and cats throw wrenches into that particular set of works. The trick with these people is to let them get to know you as an individual first, then start talking autism.

If the person is able to understand cats, you’re probably okay to talk autism right away. A neurotypical person who “gets” cats is much more likely to be able to truly sympathize with how autistic people experience the world.

There are, of course, people who don’t like cats because they’re allergic, or phobic, or for any number of reasons unrelated to feline psychology. There’s nothing to be done about that except changing the subject, really. Like I said, it’s not perfect, and these aren’t hard and fast rules. Nothing about social interaction is. It’s what makes it so difficult for autistic people.