Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

Holiday posts tend to be full of survival advice of one form (sticking to your diet) or another (how to not kill your visiting relatives) or they seem to just be trying to shove enough sunshine up your ass that you won't be capable of killing your relatives.

So let's try something different!

The World's Best Hot Chocolate:

4 oz Ghiradelli's 100% cacoa unsweetened chocolate
2 cups heavy whipping cream
6 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/2 cup peppermint schnappes
1/2 star anise (the whole star, not ground)

In a crock pot or double boiler or whatever you have that won't burn, mix the chocolate and cream and slowly melt. Once it is fully melted, add the milk and sugar and bring to a low simmer. You don't want it to boil! Add the star anise and schnappes.

This makes four servings. (1/4 cup = 4 T... so each serving gets 2 T of Schnappes - adjust accordingly).

This will ruin you for powdered cocoa forever.


In other news, I found out today that "It's a Wonderful Life" is *not* actually about a drunken angel that shows some idiot how good the world is without him and helps him kill himself. Those were the spoofs. It is actually about some idiot with very little character who destroys his friendships, marriage, relationship with his children, and tries to kill himself just because life got royally screwed for him. In the end, some angel shows him that everyone would be miserable without him, he buys this, becomes the happiest person ever, and everyone gives him money to save him from the trouble he was in.

Really damned lame.

I mean, seriously, one little mishap and the world is over? Even if it was a really big damned mishap. He takes it out on everyone, hurts all his loved ones, and then decides to kill himself to give his family the insurance money on him when everyone knows they don't pay out for suicides.

To top it off, everyone "worse off" without him proves that none of his family has any character either. His uncle goes in some insane asylum just because his business fails. Hello?!? MOST businesses fail. Most people try four or five times before finding one that works for them.

I know that holiday movies are supposed to be trite and silly but this one was pretty impressive. Even Miracle on 34th Street had more redeeming value!

Still, it was better than any of the creepy ass cartoons out there, like Rudolph and that freaky dentist elf and that perverted snowman they can't kill.

The best Christmas show ever was Tales From the Crypt: And All Through the House. Now this made a lot more sense. It's about what a bad idea it is to kill relatives at Christmas and the dangers of letting Santa into your house.

Here's wishing everyone an enjoyable and jail-free holiday season! Eat lots; if you fall off your diet there are another eleven months in the year! Enjoy the hot chocolate.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Investments in Yourself

Selfishness is both highly over- and underrated. There are good and bad kinds of selfishness. There is the bad kind that puts oneself first at the expense of others, or that doesn't consider anyone else at all. There is also the good kind, the kind that puts itself first out of love and the knowledge that one is important and that one cannot help others without being taken care of oneself.

I try to make investments in myself. An investment is a way to put in a little effort to get back a larger gain. Investments take financial, emotional, mental, or physical energy. How much you put into it determines what you get back, just like any other investment.

I believe in a good healthy selfishness. I believe that if I don't eat right or get stressed out, or any myriad of neglects, that I will be unable to live my life well. I will be unable to serve those I wish to serve. I will not do as well at my job. I will not be able to keep up my home or make myself happy. I believe in saying “no”. I believe in refusing company of those I don't like. I believe in taking time for myself. I believe in joy and appreciation. I believe in long hot baths with a good book, and a bar of 88% cacoa chocolate when my hormones rage. I believe in yoga and jogging and long walks and a healthful diet. I believe I am a very important person to me and my world.

Healthful Diet

Food is the building block upon which all cells in the body are made. Garbage in, garbage out. Therefore, eating healthful choices is an investment into your physical future. It also determines your mental and emotional state, so it is an investment into those futures, as well.

A good diet is just basic self-care. It nourishes, keeps down stress and illness. It is also a way to appreciate yourself. Every time you eat a healthful and delicious meal, you can know that you are important enough and cherished enough to be fed this well.

Avoiding foods that you are allergic or sensitive to helps remove a factor that exacerbates autism. This usually means a fairly strict diet. For all that we autistics are fortunate in many regards, whatever causes the brain set up tends to play havoc on the body. This is true of our sibling disorders bipolar and schizophrenia, as well. Therefore, I keep my diet low carb and as low in preservatives as possible. (Go to the store and find meats and cheeses without preservatives. It's a challenge!) My auntie Zilla has a blog about eating low carb and its many benefits

I spend more on food than the average person. Doing so keeps me from getting sick as often (fewer doctor bills and sick days – days I won't get paid), keeps me from needing insulin (a very expensive need that I have avoided through diet), keeps me from being as moody and keeps my meltdowns to a minimum. More than worth the bit of extra money, in my opinion.

And, best of all, my food tastes really really good. I invest about an hour a day on my food. It is one of the more relaxing parts of my life!

Clean Environment

Your mother was right. Keeping things clean will improve your health. Cleanliness might not be next to godliness (I've never understood that phrase), but it certainly influences your mood and mental state.

Obviously, not cleaning means lots of dust and molds and other allergens.

Not as obviously, environment and mind reflect one another. If your thoughts are scattered and disorganized, so will your home be. If you can force organization on your home, it can actually help you think more easily. Especially if your version of autism includes easy distractability.

Benefits to a clean house:

  • you don't have to rebuy things because you have lost them to the piles of messes
  • fewer allergens = fewer health problems
  • even if you stay home most of the time, getting up, getting dressed, and making your bed can help improve your emotional state even if all you do is flop on the bed and read a book
  • you become more efficient because you can find things quickly
  • you know where everything is so you know whether or not to panic when something is in a new place
While it is much easier if you are severely OCD, it's not a requirement. It just takes mindfulness and willingness. I spend about 15 minutes a day cleaning up after myself. Add another five on the days I unload the dishwasher. (Lots more time added because I'm living with people I do all the cleaning up after, but that's different.) Maybe once a week I put in a straight hour for scrubbing of bathrooms and kitchen floors. It really doesn't take a lot.

Cleanliness also includes cleaning yourself. Showers are your friends. Clean hair is good. Deodorant and toothbrushing are also good. Brush your hair. Wear clean clothes. If you are going somewhere important, be sure your clothes match.


The dreaded “s” word. Socialization! Most autistics get it drummed into them from a very early age that interaction is dangerous and terrifying. Autistics are, literally, hurt by interaction most times they attempt it. People talk to loud and hurt our ears. There are too many people talking at once so we flounder in confusion. There are lights and smells and input from everywhere.
People expect us to know rules they never were able to teach us and so we might be ostracized or picked on or we might simply give up on them as a bad job. People make sudden movements with their bodies and their topics of conversation hold no interest for us.

However, it is rather a requirement for survival of a human (or mutant human). Without socialization, a small child gets Failure to Thrive. This tendency never changes. It might not kill you outright, but you will shrivel up and die inside.

This creates the greatest difficulty most autistics face. You must have the thing that hurts you most. So autistics keep trying and keep getting hurt and getting more and more neurotic about the entire thing which makes them more likely to get more hurt because it makes them pretty damned annoying to be around, on top of their other social deficits.

The solution: become a masochist. Learn to revel a bit in the pain, appreciate it, and force yourself into small, controlled groups until you build up some resistance.

If you seem to have no talent towards masochism, it will be more difficult, but you can still manage it.

Hobbies are one of the easiest ways to start. There are clubs online for everything. You can probably find a yahoo interest group for whatever your obsession is. In fact, the group will likely have several other autistics all obsessing together and pleased they finally found people who understand.

Once you get comfortable talking online, find a local group that plays to your hobbies. They might even have information online so you can meet people before you attempt to actually face them in person.

The main reason that autistics get depression so often is because they don't get interaction. Most people with severe depression don't get enough interaction. Forcing them all out the door and into comfortable social situations is the goal of most of their therapists. So, save yourself the money and chuck yourself out of your nest and see what happens.

Yes, it's gonna hurt. Yes, there will be meltdowns. You will even have all the secondary symptoms of social contact: stupid fights with friends, gaining and losing love, getting over involved, getting hurt... and most importantly, finding one or two people who you connect to and feel close to and who become really good friends.

Another wonderful way to interact: volunteer. There are animal rescues, there are nursing homes, there are libraries... There are more ways to volunteer than I can think of. But if you are interested in something, there is very likely someone who would appreciate your services.

Preparing to go out into the world: wash first. Remember the toothbrushing and deodorant and all the other points about cleanliness. Think of topics that are safe for public consumption. These things include the weather and sports teams. Failing that, find something that will at least not offend. I have no damned clue what this might include, but I have friends willing to write me lists before we go places.

Exercise Those Brain Muscles

Never fear, I really do know it isn't a muscle. Nonetheless, expand your horizons.

  • Enjoy your obsessions. Study in depth and off to the side. Find neat new tangents you hadn't considered before. Find a new application for your interest. Take it to a new level. Autistics have the obsessiveness and drive to make new discoveries and form new concepts. Take advantage of those talents.
  • Expand your obsessions. If you love one type of car, can you get equally interested in other vehicles? Mechanics? Physics? Build a car?
  • Do something altogether new. Yes, all change is bad and anything new is, by definition, a change. See: becoming a masochist. And while you are at it, find a new hobby. Fear doesn't harm you, it is just uncomfortable. So challenge yourself. Learn a new skill.
  • Read a new genre of book. Try switching between fiction and non-fiction. Try a new author. Read how-to books.
  • Try a new food. Stay within your diet, but try something new. Never had... whatever that spiny fruit in produce is? Buy it and try it. Never had thai? Try a new restaurant. This is also a really good way to break away from severe food habits and to help get all the nutrients your body needs.

Raise your emotional IQ

We are very deficit in emotional understanding and empathy, as a group. It is part of what autism is. We develop very slowly in many of the emotional and mental areas. It isn't that we aren't ever going to get there, it is that we take a lot longer to make it. At age 32, I am morally and emotionally about 8. Luckily, I study enough to understand the basics of good communication and am able to get by as an adult, but my basic stance is not that of an adult. It will keep growing as I keep working on it, but it is delayed. Autism is a developmental delay. People don't seem to understand that developmental delay means autistics' development is delayed.

Because we are very young in this department, don't try to approach it like an adult. It will be over your head. Study at your developmental age. There are some great websites about ages and stages that can help you figure out where you are and guide your reading choices. Choose children's books designed for your developmental age. There are some wonderful ones out there and they will be much easier to understand.

Learn about cause and effect. Because this is logical, it is a bit easier to follow and understand, but there are children's books about it, too, if you need a lower level to start at.

Buy children's autistic guides to communication. Comic book communication is one series, I believe.

Find a therapist to pelt with questions about social rules and your feelings. Learn to express them appropriately and find healthy coping mechanisms. A good therapist can help you learn to manage your stress and teach you ways to deal with meltdowns. They can be a sounding board for your ideas. Mostly, they are someone to talk to who is more likely to accept the developmental stage you are at.

Read books about autism. Non-fiction, written by autistics, are the best ones. However, I highly recommend Unstrange Minds.

Study communication. Learn about how conversation works, connotation, cultural concepts, word value... There is a lot to communication! You can even find books that break down non-verbal clues, like stance and volume and pitch of voice.

All it really comes down to is appreciating yourself. If you are worth your own time and energy, other people will see your value as well. People believe what you tell them. If your words and stance and actions all say “I am not worthy”, no one will have any reason to believe otherwise. If your words and stance and actions all say “I am important and worth spending time with” they'll believe you. Even when you annoy the living crud out of them, they'll find they enjoy your company. Your quirks become one of those wacky things you put up with, instead of a detriment.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Myths and Misconceptions about NTs

Neurotypicals... that mythical creature that lives on the other side of autism, where life is easier and communications flow...

From what I've read, autistics seem to have put NTs on a pedestal. Whether this is because they feel so poorly about their autism, or because they've read too many glittering stories about NTs, I don't know. But I am here to shatter the mythos!

Myth 1: NTs are good at relationships.

Fact: Go into a bookstore. Go to the self help section. Do you notice that the vast majority of books are about how to have a good relationship? Know why these sell so well? Because NTs suck at relationships. They might have different problems than autistics do, but I'm not sure they do. It all comes down to crappy communication and unrealistic expectations.

Myth 2: NTs are natural communicators.

Fact: Everyone learns to communicate. Most people are taught very poor habits from parents with very poor habits. Almost all couples therapy comes down to learning better communication. Most disputes between friends and family: poor communication. The reason kids have trouble learning: poor communication (on the kids and teachers and parents parts). The reason people get hurt feelings and feel so alone: poor communication.

Communication is a skill. One that has to be learned and practiced. A lot. There are classes on it, but most people take away how everyone else messes up, not how they can do better, so even then, people don't automatically learn good habits just because they went to class for it!

Myth 3: NTs understand the Social Code.

Fact: They don't usually even know there IS a social code. Just for fun, go out and ask someone why they do *insert social rule here*... They won't know why. "You just do. That's how it works." They might blindly follow the rules, because they have mirror neurons and all those other wacky things that make them capable of catching on to these subtleties... But understand it?? Nope. Not likely.

This is why they aren't often able to smoothly transition to another culture or accept new frames of reference. They don't realize they are following a program spoon fed to them since birth. They assume that this is how they are, this is how the world is, and anything else is very confusing. That isn't understanding. That is rote memorization.

Myth 4: NTs do not miss body language.

Fact: Go back to the self help section. Look at how many communication books have chapters about, or are entirely about, non verbal communication. Some people have a knack for it. They are more likely to get into jobs that require that knowledge. Even more people can pick up on it once it is pointed out to them. Most people just don't pay that much attention to it. They have the skills needed to do it, but they aren't interested.

That's right: autistics spend all this time and energy learning to communicate, only to go out into the world and realize that most people don't give a damn. To some extent, I think autism's deficit is more that we care that we are lacking skills, not the lack of skills themselves.

Myth 5: NTs have an easy time making friends and getting jobs.

Fact: There are a lot of lonely people. Watch television and count the ads that zero in on people's loneliness: do this and you'll have friends. Buy this product and people will like you. Call this number and chat with someone who will like you. The ads wouldn't be successful if people didn't feel alone! Surf the internet and count the ads and sites that do the same. The vast majority of people feel cut off and alone. This goes back to the poor communication. They might have a lot of acquaintances, but very few people have real, close friends that take away the isolation.

There are a lot of jobless folk out there. Ignore the current depression we are in. At the best of times, there are still unemployed. Almost everyone I know dreads interviews. Most people aren't certain how to do resumes or fill out applications correctly. In fact, books on every part of the hiring process fill the self help section next to having good relationships.

Myth 6: NTs understand emotions.

Fact: People are taught from early youth to shove emotions inside. To not look at them or feel them or use them. People act like petulant toddlers their entire lives because of this.

Most people are swayed by their emotions because they've never bothered to really look at them. This is why those ads work! This is why communication doesn't occur. NTs are terrible at emotions. They translate all their emotions into something easier for them. Many people like anger, because it can fuel them to achieve things. So they turn every emotion into anger. Some people make everything into sadness so that they can be pitied and get attention. Some people just shove it all inside and have a heart attack.

Very few people have the balls to deal with emotions, understand them, and use them effectively.

Myth 7: NTs have empathy and social mores.

Fact: NTs want people to think they have empathy and social mores. To not show proper emotions or make the right words shows that you have not been properly programmed and do not fit correctly into society. I'm not sure people even expect anyone to actually feel anything. They just need the appropriate words and face changes to show that they are well programmed.

This is where autism comes into effect. We can't be correctly programmed because we are missing a lot of the files and architecture to do it. So while we are not feeling any more or less than the average person, our reactions show our lack of appropriate programming and that is a danger. Those programs are what keep people from unleashing anger inappropriately and, if Freud is to be believed, is the only thing that keeps us all from turning on one another in primal fury. So it makes a bit of sense that a lack in programming is going to make the other folk nervous.

The differences in autistics are not in the actual communication or comprehension. It is in the innate ability to learn it. We can learn a lot by rote - but it shows. A rehearsed line doesn't flow like a natural one would. It isn't our lack of mores, it is our inability to be programmed with them. It isn't that we miss body language, it is that we are lacking the skills to pick up on it.

An NT missing body language is only missing a few specific cues... or doesn't understand what a certain set is about. It is usually cultural - they just weren't raised with people using those, or paying attention to those. Not catching most of it is a different story.

There is a tendency to make a big Us Versus Them out of Autism Versus NTs... but that just isn't realistic. We're on a vast spectrum. They're on a vast spectrum. There are tons of overlaps. We simply have a different neurological set up than they do.

They aren't great at communication. They don't get most of what confuses us either. They just have enough context that it doesn't bother them. That is why they won't answer our questions about why and how it all works. They aren't being mean. They really don't know. They don't care. They are able to work within it without having its borders defined. We can't see any of it, so we can't find those borders and need it all explained.

The differences are small, but vital. There are certainly differences between ASD and NT. If not, there wouldn't be any autism. Or any NTs. But we're all just people, all confused, all trying desperately to find a way to be happy and survive. Turning it into us versus them is counter productive and hurts everyone.

It is simply a lack of understanding creating fear, and that fear creates a need to herd together against another herd. It's all very silly.

Hopefully we can continue finding and disspelling the myths about NTs until we are all comfortable enough to interact with them. It isn't their fault that they have filters and mirror neurons that limit their abilities. We have to be patient and accepting and help them to help us.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Meltdowns Happen

It is funny. Funny odd and funny ha ha, in case you wondered. I am a very highly functioning autistic. I am able to hold down a job under the right circumstances. I am able to socialize to a pretty good extent. I am able to do all the basic chores around the house. Nonetheless, I have meltdowns on a very regular basis.

So what are meltdowns?

The brain, whether through too much sensory input, information, cascading thoughts, chemical overload (usually serotonin or dopamine), or some unknown factor x, gets overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed triggers adrenaline. This is the important part.

Adrenaline feeds panic. It is there to do this. If you have to fight or flight, you want adrenaline fueling you so you can move quickly. Your heart rate and breathing increase. You might feel shaky or dizzy. You might have to empty your bladder. You might want to cry or scream, run away or hide, hit things or hurt yourself. It's a natural reaction to adrenaline.

So, you have a brain overloading anyway. You add extra overload in the form of adrenaline. My amazing powers of foresight predict autistic meltdown: stuttering, jitters, flapping, spinning, tears, banging your head into a wall, rocking...

You cannot think straight, you cannot make words to get help, everything around you is too intense and adds to the overload. Your brain is going to find the shortest route possible to feeling okay again. You need to reset the system, calm the onslaught, get grounded. Time to reboot.

As time goes on, one gains (we hope) maturity and experience, two things that will help you reboot faster and more easily. Autism is all about control, and meltdowns are all about losing that control. There are techniques that help.

1. Step back and take several slow, deep breaths. This tricks the body into calming itself. If you have time to breathe, your brain will recognize you aren't in immediate danger.

2. Go ahead and rock or tap or pet the walls if that calms you. Self soothing is good. Calm is good. A bit of detachment is good.

3. Self-stimming is not so good. There is a natural tendency to self stim when the brain gets overloaded. It's a short circuit method to reboot, or at least remove yourself from the situation. It is like lighting a controlled fire to fight a wild fire. It works. It feels soothing. However, it also trains the brain towards adrenaline and overstimulating itself, and it removes you from the rest of the world making it harder to function as an adult. Optimately, this choice is sub optimal.

4. Still breathing? Breath is the key to almost every form of self control.

5. Figure out what set you off. Was it too loud? Too bright? Did a siren go by or a dog bark? Were you simply getting frustrated and started a negative feedback loop? Tell yourself it is only overstimulation, you are not in danger. It is annoying, not life threatening. It is frustrating, not harmful. These things will always be an issue if you have autism. It will always be annoying and frustrating. However, if you can learn to accept it as a mild annoyance and not as a danger, your body will not react as violently.

The goal here is to not only reboot during the meltdown, as efficiently and unembarrassingly as possible, but to train the brain from having as severe a meltdown in the future. You likely won't ever get rid of meltdowns. They're part of autism. Without filters, we're just gonna have them. This is about being an adult and taking charge of yourself, your body, your reactions.

Tantrums are annoying enough in a five year old. In a 25-year old, it's a bit pathetic. In the same way, certain types of self soothing are acceptable and some are best done in private (I can't be the only one who masturbates to soothe the nerves!).

What calms you? For me, texture is nice. I need to make a little square that is raw silk on one side and velvet on the other. I can keep it in my pocket and pet it when I get overwhelmed. If rocking helps you, find a way to do it in public that won't disturb anyone. Find the root of the inappropriate action. Is it the movement that soothes? Is it physical stimulation? Is it blocking out other senses? Find an acceptable method with the same root.

Basically, we are adults now, as frightening a concept as that might be. We cannot help but overstim and have meltdowns, but we can control how we react to it. There are positive ways to adapt to the way our brains work.