Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Posts

I have recently moved, my mom also moved to South Carolina and I have been busy. I will post again soon. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Oil & Water

You ever see a bottle of salad dressing that hasn't been shaken up in a while and there are distinct layers between the layers? That is my relationship with people. Although it is nothing personal on either side, the way both are don't allow the two to be mixed for as long as most other dressings. Each time you want some you have to shake, and shake, and shake, there is no way around it. And the kicker is that it never lasts for long, the two start to separate almost at once. It is like a cruel joke to not allow them to be together, but that's the way it is.

People on the spectrum, myself included, have a difficulty dealing with people that most can't grasp. This goes beyond the inability to read body language, take social cues, and understand people who are sarcastic. If it were all that simple (I'm joking, these things alone make it hard to deal with people) you get the icing on the cake, which is the mental deterioration throughout the day that occurs when interacting with people. Like the separation of the salad dressing it starts off slowly. As time goes on it becomes more apparent and then, before you know it, the process is complete. If I do not take my little breaks from people during the day (shake things up) then I will become completely useless until I take a break. I don't often get too the point where I can't stand it anymore, because I have learned to control it more than I used to, but if I have too much for too long my brain goes into survival mode. Critical thinking/problem, my already poor math skills, the ability to hold a conversation other than texting. My ability to drive a car is not affected, I guess because it is a basic function I don't have to think about. Funny, I feel a story coming on.

It had been a long day for me driving around and dealing with people. I was then headed to Westminster, MA, which is about an hour away, for a friends mini engagement party. I was mentally tired from the day, as always, and thought that over the course of the drive I would be able to recover before dealing with the ten or so people that would be there. As I neared the town I was still 'tired'. As I pulled onto the street it was the same. I parked out front and decided to text my host, who knew of my AS, asking him if I could rush upstairs, without saying hello to his parents, so I could get a quick nap in. He informed me that they were not present at the moment and he understood what was going on with me. I honestly didn't even want to see him because the conversation would have gone nowhere. So I went up, got a half hour nap in and I was fine for the party, actually stayed up until about 1:30 am as we drank finely aged Scotch and local beer. So why was this story important?

What happened to me that day stresses how you yourself have to learn what your limits are. You need to do extensive trial and error and when you need a break you must take it, no exceptions, or face what happens head-on. The people who care about you will understand. I am getting better at mixing it up with people but I still have a long way to go. I realize that things can be improved upon, but never solved when it comes to people and the effects they have on my brain. I suggest building yourself up slowly and then tempering yourself over time. You can't hide forever, unless you have a cabin in the wilderness with enough food and safety to last a lifetime that no one knows about.    

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Style Sense ( or lack thereof)

Being fashion forward is not some that I do well. I am semi-aware of what looks good but I am more comfortable in the clothes I already have. I like my clothes worn in and soft, not new and stiff/starchy. I don't know if it is a texture thing but it might be. I buy clothes and shoes on eBay all the time, recently just bought four pairs of jeans, all nicely broken in and they feel/look great on me. Some of my shirts are a couple years old and my favorite color to wear is black, at least it has been for a long time. It is funny that I try to not stand out but, in actuality, dressing like a member of the Addams Family does just the opposite. I have recently supplemented my wardrobe with some colors, much to the delight of my family. I have even added shorts, most recently for that trip I went on in Punta Cana. I was not a big fan of shorts just because I need pants for work (for safety because I work with fire and molten metal) and I didn't like to change often during the day. Concerning fashion let me tell you a little story.

Back in high school I was the worst at fashion possible, but no one gave me a medal for it. I wore swimming trunks with summer baseball team t shirts and hats. It must have looked horrible. One day, outside the library, Chris Vining told me I needed to dress better. The same night I went out and bought dress pants, not jeans, Dockers. I had about four pairs of those that I rotated through. I have no idea what kind of shorts I wore, but many were brown or black. Brown combos were my thing and my sister told me I looked like a tree once. While at Worcester Academy for my prep year after high school, we had a dress code, so my Dockers were in like Flynn. We had something called "Grub Days" where we could wear jeans and leave our ties/dress shirts at home. I didn't even own jeans, so I stayed in my dress pants each time. It was funny to me to have people not notice and actually fit in for a change.

I wore my Dockers until the end of freshman year of college. I remember showing up the the end of year party in jeans and my teammates were happy for me, they noticed right away. I now own much more jeans than dress pants.

To me clothes are just a pain in the ass. I loathe shopping for them and I will often buy a lot at a time to avoid having to go again. If and when I find something I like I will then shop for it online. As for the feel of my clothes I have my preferences.

I said earlier that I like my clothes worn. I think this is because I things to be smooth. New items are often either stiff or too crisp for me. I like soft and smooth and the way it feels on my skin. I like things to be loose rather than tight and constricting. The Marmot jacket I wear in the winter is the perfect balance of everything I love. It is just loose enough, flat with no filler, very smooth and it allows me to even throw snow balls without restricting my movements at all. It is also highly water resistant and the droplets can be brushed off with ease. I have never met another jacket that is as warm for the weight and it blocks the wind like leather, so much so that I typically only wear a t-shirt under it. The color; blue, but you already knew that, didn't you?!

I see clothes as a necessary evil. You need them to survive. They are like people, but you can treat them anyway you wish, and how you do so can limit or extend you interaction with them, also like people. I tend to go through clothes and people at the same rate, but that all depends on the quality and how much I feel I can get out of them before donating them to someone else.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tips for Figuring Yourself Out

We all know that as people with Asperger's alone time is important, if not essential. But what you do with your alone time may be even more important. Do whatever you feel when you are alone, whatever helps you get through your day, but if you feel like some of the pieces are missing please take the following piece of advice. It may open up thoughts you never knew you had.

Back in my senior year of college I commuted to Lowell and back, about twenty minutes each way. My class schedule was such that I had about an hour an a half break on certain days. I eventually got into a pattern of heading to the upper portions of the library that were mainly quiet. There were wood and pleather couches that I would lay out on and just think. I started to examine my life as it had come to be and begin to notice what was working and what wasn't in all aspects of it. With my eyes closed the thoughts would seemingly appear out of nowhere. Ideas about how to do things differently, sometimes slightly, sometimes radically. Although it did not happen often I sometimes decided that I needed to do some things entirely different. Radical change isn't normally my M.O. but all the time thinking changed the way I did so. The lucky thing for me is that a lot of what I ended up doing worked. I began to see real change in the way things went from then on. I don't think my 3.65 final semester GPA had anything to do with it but I guess we'll never know. I surely didn't spend the time thinking by studying. One problem I encountered later on with this technique is that I would, and still do, occasionally fall asleep. That didn't happen at all in the library because there was some noise every fifteen minutes or so, but if you were in your room at home its more common.

I suggest everyone try this. It helps you begin to peel away the layers covering the real you. People have so much stuff up in the attic that they didn't even know was there. There is going to be some dust and a few spiders, but I find that a bright flash light helps in shining new light on things that are long neglected, if not entirely locked away. Be prepared to open a lot of boxes that hold memories you didn't know you had. I know there are some things you wish to remain hidden but you can't hide from them forever. The sooner you face them the quicker you can move on.

I find the following questions helpful during these sessions:
What is bothering me today and is this an ongoing problem?
How have the things I've been doing helped/hindered my progress (because you always want to make progress)?
Why didn't the things I've failed at work?
How can I continue to improve on what has been working?
Is what I'm doing in the present good for me now AND in the future?

Those are some basic questions and there a million more. I find it best to 'go blank' mentally and think of nothing so items can present themselves. Don't worry, they will. In time you will learn what you need to ask yourself. The more layers you peel off the harder the questions become. You will have to spend more time on each little thing, but don't worry, this is a lifetime practice so don't feel rushed. Some things cannot be solved easily, or even at all. You have to learn to live with certain things and that can be very hard. For example I know that I cannot talk to women that I don't know whom I am physically attracted to. My brain goes in the thousand different directions and things of all the catastrophes that could happen before I can even utter a singe word. The funny thing is that if she were to talk to me first I'm fine, or if I already know her then I am also good to go; just know I never said anything about advancing the conversation to where I'd really like it to go, but I'll take the training wheels of when I'm ready.

I'd be interested to see what people do with this, or if they have been doing it all along at at least some level. I'm a smart guy, but it took me a while to figure this one out. After I did things changed and isn't that what its all about? 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Alcohol and the Autistic Brain

So here we come to the wonder drug that you can get almost anywhere, given you're the appropriate age. At age twenty one your government sanctioned license to party arrives and you can drink to your hearts content, if that's what you truly wish to do. As for me, I chose to stay away from the stuff until college, and I did a Post Graduate year so I was 19 when I really started to use the stuff. Even now I am not a regular user but every now and again is fine. My work doesn't  really allow me to be even hungover when working so I keep alcohol use to a minimum. But very now and again I have the option of drinking. I've heard that students at prestigious universities study so much that when they finally get a break they party until about 8 am. I don't know if this is true but I have fit that particular demographic from time to time. I'm not proud of it, but let me stick to the facts here. My body, for some reason or another, can handle quite a bit of alcohol. I guess I have a high tolerance. On a recent trip to Punta Cana I was on a booze cruise and consumed sixteen drinks within a four hour period. Given my height of 5'5'' and weight of 170 lbs that should seem like a fair amount given that it all started at 10 am and was done by 2 pm. i could have kept going back at the resort but opted to show some restraint. The odd thing is that I remember everything, including seeing the girl at the airport three days later that I gave an extended back rub to on the bus ride back to our respective resorts. The aforementioned 'rub' lasted for ten or fifteen minutes and I felt it in my forearms the next day and oddly enough no one wanted me to stop while it was happening. Alcohol does affect me like it does most people, though.

I do lose my motor skills and wouldn't think of driving or doing torch work when under the influence. I still have a lot of higher brain function that records things as I go and that keeps me from doing the truly stupid things that wind up online. Every now and then I simply won't care, though, and I will get out of line. The thing to remember is that these are conscious actions on my part, especially so because I know they happened the next day. I don't know if it is impossible for me to 'black out' so to speak, but it sure feels like it. If I ever wanted to see if I could lose all control I would certainly want to have someone with a camera handy to document the whole thing. To make sure I was on point about my assumptions I would first recall what I thought had happened, in extreme detail, about the night in question before seeing the footage. I think this would be a fun science experiment. The thing with the autistic brain is, you need to be very careful.

I am careful. Like I stated earlier I don't even consume alcohol on a regular basis. I know that I have the kind of addictive of pattern mentality that would allow me to focus on one thing or get used to something so much that I would become dependent on it. I think it was when I was either 22 or 23 that I went an entire summer without drinking, not on purpose, and only realized it long after it had occurred, or didn't occur; I'm not sure which is more accurate. When people tell you that they have something under control you think they have a problem, and this is especially true with alcoholics, but I guess I'm different. I don't think I'm immune to the stuff, just more careful based on the type of brain that I have. In terms of morals I don't see alcohol in the way that the temperance type people of long ago would but as a choice that the individual has to make for themselves. And that is what it is all about, isn't it, being able to think for yourself and make your own choices in life? I wonder why I put a question mark just then because I already know the answer and I'm six beers deep tonight so that should tell you that I believe wholeheartedly in everything I have just typed (relax, tomorrow is Sunday and a holiday).

Questions or comments? Let me know. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Moving Against the Grain: Sometimes Unintentionally, Sometimes Not

I am not what you would call an early adopter. I am not the first one in line to get things as soon as they come out (unless its dinner time and its food). You could say I march to the beat of my own drum, but the truth is that I fired that guy a long time ago because he kept walking around in circles and losing the beat. I am not fashion forward or on top of new trends in many facets of life. I stick to what I know and that can mean a lot of problems for me. I don't always do what is popular and but sometimes I stumble into a crowd that happens to like the same thing as I do. This is the case with Bikram Yoga and I have a lot of fun with my practice and have met a lot of interesting people in my four plus years at the studio I go to. I will likely do Bikram for life, no matter what people think of its founder. You see, I stopped caring what people thought of me a long time ago.

Back when I was around thirteen I got into metal detecting. I'd go to parks, old homesteads and eventually beaches, where people would often mock and stare at me. People still mock me at beaches to this day. I enjoy metal detecting because not only do I find stuff, I get to spend a lot of alone time thinking while in an environment where I am sort of a spectacle of sorts. It has taught me to shut out many of the people around me and concentrate on the task at hand. I use this skill when I have to, I don't want to shut out the ones I love. It has also taught me how to deal with people and be personable. I find a lot of stuff for people on the beach and they regularly come to me for help. I mainly decline rewards but I typically find enough to make it worth my time. Let me just add that if they made it a law that people with metal detectors had to wear a clown suit I wouldn't care one bit; although my opinion may change if the price of gold goes down substantially once again.

Back when I played baseball, from age five all the way to twenty three, I was doing something that I loved and gave me a little more attention than need be. It sure helped that I was very good and was able to play in college, but it never got me laid. Actually it probably could have, if my eyes were open. I was the clear center of attention and as a pitcher that naturally happens because the game relies on you to put the ball into play. My playing days are over, so that attention disappeared with them. So what do I do now for attention?

I would say that making jewelry has garnered me some recognition, but not enough, as my bonehead friends still feel the need to go to Jared. I've only been able to get a small percentage of what I should be getting. That will soon change as I am opening up shop with some other people. It will give me a place to meet customers instead of 'at a location to be decided' or 'my house'.

So basically I do what I feel and if people are a part of it then that is fine with me. I am going to get mocked or  be left alone so I don't really mind which one that is, and I am conditioned to deal with either. In the end no one can force you to do anything and I always remember the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt quote "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". I guess I am just mentally tougher at letting things roll of my back than most people are, because I have had to deal with it for such a long time. I have other challenges that many people see as non-issues for them, so that more than makes up for it. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Question from a friend: How do I help my son deal with anxiety?

I recently, last weekend, answered a question from someone I know through Facebook. Amy has a son named Josh and he is 12 years old and has AS like me. I tried to be thorough and relate as best I could using my past experiences in order to answer her questions.


Hi Kyle.. I hope all is well! I don't know if you remember but I have a son, Josh who has Aspergers, he's 12. I know in the past you have been very helpful with my questions so I was hoping you wouldn't mind me asking you a few more. Josh has been invited to a few Bar mitzvahs in the past few months ( he goes to a private school so everyone in his class gets invited). He went to one and only lasted a few hours before calling me and telling me to pick him up. It was too overwhelming for him. I have not made him go to anymore Bar M since I know he is uncomfortable at them. Is this something that would be typical bc these parties are loud and a lot is going on? I don't want to baby him by letting him miss these but I also don't know if it really is horrible for him being in this situation. I know these parties get very loud, crazy and can be so awkward for any child. Also...he has a class trip coming up in May. Its 6 hrs away and it's a 3 nite overnite. He has been away before on these school trips and he HATED them. He is a mess thinking about the upcoming one in may. He is a really brave kid and can handle a lot of things but these trips are making him miserable. Do you think being away from home and not knowing the schedule or having any structure on these trips could be really overwhelming to him? I again don't want to baby him, but he gets really upset when thinking about these overnites. He is fine going away on trips with us or even just his grandparents. He's going to Italy this summer with just his grandparents for 2 weeks and he is totally fine with that. If you can help me with these questions, I would be so grateful. Thanks so much

Here is how I answered her.

I actually helped a woman I know, recently, with how to proceed in a situation like this. Although she is not on the spectrum like Josh and I, she does have fear of dealing with people and experiences a lot of anxiety as a direct result of continued social exposure. I think the way I have learned to deal with it is by making myself do more, slowly. Although Josh doesn't have as much time until the party/trip to try and implement the technique, with what I am going to advise the sooner he starts the better. If I had figured out what to do and how to manage it at a younger age I might be better off.
Back when I was younger, probably ten or so, my mother would constantly say to me, 'Be social, be social". It didn't really do much for me in terms of advice. She would ask me if I wanted to be in play groups and I always declined, preferring to play alone instead. I was never really bored and always found stuff to do. Besides school and sports I pretty much stayed around the house. Before this time I was part of a group of kids in the neighborhood but they moved away. I also had a close nit group at school and we would all be at each others parties and houses for sleepovers. Things changed when I went to fifth grade. Our new house wasn't done yet and I was forced to go to a different school. Mind you that I went K-4 at one school and was forced to finish grammar school in an entirely new place. That year wasn't easy for me although I did meet a lot of new people, but I didn't do anything outside of school. The next year I met back up with my old friends at middle school but nothing was the same. It was sort of like the first summer after college when everyone is back but things have clearly changed, and not for the better. I didn't hang out with them and in fact the option seemed to not even be available for some reason. I could have asked them to do something, but I didn't, and I just let it go. Even in high school everyone knew me. I was on varsity baseball as a sophomore and the ace of the staff on the team my last two years. This should have made me on of the most popular kids in school, and it may have, but I didn't reap the benefits in a traditional way. I didn't pursue any love interests or even go to prom, the latter of which was not even discussed as an option for me. I don't blame my parents on that front as it just wasn't something for me. The next year at Worcester Academy in fact, where I did a post graduate year before college, I didn't go to prom either and I think I may have just stayed in my dorm room while it was going on. Then college came along.
College for me was a good experience. I played college baseball at a competitive school that just went D1 this year. We were surely one of the better D2 schools in the area. The team dynamic allowed me to be a part of something where people cared about me. We basically did everything together from workouts to meals to classes. I felt like I was back in grade school with my pack of friends, ruling the roost. I was exposed to parties galore and bars (I turned 21 sophomore year because I PG'd) so I went with some of the older guys or hung out with them in their apartments. There were a fair amount of women at these gatherings but nothing ever happened. I'm pretty sure they were all aware of my lack of 'experience'. Being short and a little chubby probably hurt as well. My junior year I had shoulder surgery and had to step away from the team. I could have been in the dugout with them, if I'd asked, but I stayed watched every home game from the stands. I did continue to party with the team but other than that I felt disconnected. I was 23 years old and felt like I had to move on. There was an AS support group at school but it wasn't really what I was after. The guys and one eventual girl were extremely sheltered. It was around this time that I was finding out more and more about how AS impacted me. At the time I was living with two women I knew in an apartment in Lowell right near school ( I have plenty of stories about that year) and we would occasionally go out to the bars together. It was towards the end of the academic year, maybe April, where I began to separate myself from those I knew and experience things on my own. I would go to the bars alone or out to eat by myself. Attend parties at school with people I didn't know but then wander back to my apartment alone. I realized that college was ending and these people wouldn't be around to help me through any longer. I the end it comes down to what you want to do and what you think is important, but at the same time you need to go out and do things sooner or later because the people you have around aren't going to be available forever. I know this seems like a long drawn out and possibly unnecessary story but then again I'm telling you what happened afterward. So there I was, on my own. I had graduated college and was yet to work a couple odd jobs that I'd rather discuss at another time. I'd do whatever work and then just go home. The work was mainly a mental strain on me and most of it still is, so my activities after work are somewhat limited, but I have been doing more things than I was. At some point in college I realized that I only needed a short break, maximum an hour, before I was ready to be social once again. Alone time is very important to people who have anxiety that is brought about by social interaction, but rather than doing what they need to and retreating they should be exposing themselves to the stimuli, then taking a break and then going right back at it. Exposure to something is the best way to deal with it. In time you start to figure out when you have had enough and must take a break. I have heard people say time and again that their symptoms of AS have faded as they got older. Since I believe the brain doesn't really change as much as people think it does what in fact must be happening is that they learn how to deal with their particular set of stressors in a way they can better handle. Through time they have figured out how certain things make them feel and what they can do to combat what they are feeling. If nothing is done at all then things are never going to change. You can either get stuck in a rut or you can get yourself out of it and that is a choice that many people fail to even see. All they know is that fear and anxiety arise when they put themselves in a particular situation, they don't see how it could be improved upon. If you do expose yourself to the stressful situation, then feel anxiety, you should back off just enough to get your bearings and then get back at it. You don't have to be in the middle of the action all the time. I learned this at the many parties I went to in college.
Once I figured out what my possible limits could be I'd have a couple hours of fun and then just go AWOL for twenty minutes or so. I'd walk outside, maybe get a slice of pizza and then come back, refreshed to a certain degree. This is how you learn your limits and the sooner you do so the better. If my mom had forced me to do play group or other things I'm sure I would have hated it initially, but you have to explain that, in the long run, it is for the better. You can't just say to Josh “You'll thank me later”. You need to explain why. The more details he knows the better he will be able to understand. If you keep him in the dark as to why, you will regret it forever. As far as him not knowing what is going to happen on the trip that is another thing he is going to have to learn to deal with. It would be great if you could ask the teachers for a heads up of what is going to occur, but out in the real world, later on in life, this isn't going to happen. Life throws a lot of curve balls at your and you have to learn to adjust accordingly. I don't know when this happened to me, learning to cope with it, but it did. That being said I have learned to go with the flow out of necessity and not to be paralyzed when something unexpected comes out of the blue. Things are going to get screwed up, that is simply life and the sooner you can accept that the better it is going to be. The reason Josh is fine with going to Italy is that he knows who he's going to be with the whole time. Assuming he's never been there it will surely be an entire new place to him with many strange things he has never been exposed to. If I were him at that age I'd be more concerned about that trip then one six hours away. I did go on many road trips and flights to Florida with my family when I was younger and never batted and eye at it. But if you take the comfort of family away then things seem a lot more unsure, which I'm sure Josh knows on some level.
In terms of my own coping with stress as it relates to people I have realized this: You can either sit at home and watch the parade, or you can have your own float in it; or, if you're feeling really brave, you can tackle the guy holding the baton and lead the way for everyone else and have some fun while you're doing it.
I hope I answered your questions and if I did not I really need to know. I'd like to use this as a blog post because I know you're not the only parent who is going through this and I need to help others trying to get their kids through something similar.

So did I answer her questions? She said I did, but I will leave that up to you to decide on your own.