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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Personal & Physical Traits of Aspergers Part 7: Non-verbal communication problems: Difficulty reading body language, facial expression and tone

This is the thing that people most often don't get about me, at least the ones in the know, which isn't many. Everyone else who doesn't know probably think I'm a feeb for not getting all of their signals. This is a huge problem for me, and you will soon see why. Everything I do that involves people usually has at least some non-verbal communication taking place. Some things don't involve a lot of talking, like being in lines at the super market or walking on the street. Using their eyes or head motions is how people tend to get the message across. Say I am walking on the street and am currently on a collision course with someone else. One of us is going to have to veer to the side in this game of 'chicken'. I tend to hold my ground but sort of jive to each side, slightly and with a "wait, which way are you going" look directed at the other person. I do this because if the roles were reversed and I had to read their expressions I might get it wrong and then one person has to stop or you both sort of crash into one another. I pretty much, without putting myself in danger, go where the people are not. I'm not going to walk into a car crowded street to avoid someone. I do a lot of weaving in and out to get where I need to go which is easy since I am still quite athletic. After all the walking is done I end up at a destination and then things really get interesting.

So at this point I have to deal with people face to face, I have no choice. I can sill either hide behind my sunglasses, granted I am wearing them, but for business deals I am forced to do a lot of unshielded eye contact. Even at this point I dart in and out with eye contact. My expression can remain lifeless if I am dealing with groceries but for real business I have to show some life. I then have to decipher what the other person is telling me and if I happen to be negotiating I have to either decide whether the deal benefits me more than it does them. The words they use are important and this is where tone comes into play. By what they say I can gauge whether I can/have to push a little harder or give up a little so that the deal actually gets done. This has taken me a while to grasp and if I didn't go through a lot of it I would be hopeless. Of course, when money is on the line I tend to step it up a notch and then go back to how I was mentally beforehand.

I have been told that I can't read between the lines, as it pertains to social situations. This is because I am so busy trying to decipher all the cues multiple people are giving me that some of the language they use gets either misinterpreted or missed outright. I often have to see movies twice to get a sense of why a particular character did something. As you can imagine it gets frustrating. I get a little better each year but then again its a year. There aren't the leaps and bounds you'd expect in how quickly this stuff can be learned by people on the spectrum. There is also the continuing fact that social interaction tires my brain faster than other people. All of the deciphering really takes a toll and by the end of the day I have a severely reduced mental capacity, meaning my critical thinking skills go out the window. I can still do the essentials like driving a car, so there is no danger there, but if I am forced into a social situation its not going to end well, unless the people I'm with like talking to a wall. This is why, when I am feeling this way, I isolate myself until it passes. I did this at lunch in every job I've ever been at and it works OK for a little more clarity to get me through the day, but in the end I always downgrade to not being able to function socially until I can get a larger chunk of alone time. I'll probably add some more but for now this should suffice.

Questions or comments?

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Personal & Physical Traits of Aspergers Part 6: Idiosyncratic Attachment to Inanimate Objects

This is a story I like to tell that illustrates this trait very well.  Back when I was eleven years old, Andover Youth Services had a trip scheduled for Good Times in Somerville, MA, just outside of Boston and not too far from home. I had been there before with my family, sans mom, and we had a blast. They had every kind of game imaginable including bowling and laser tag. So with that in mind I signed up for it. As the bus pulled in to the parking lot anticipation was almost at its height. The mad dash off the bus and through the doors had it reach boiling point. I recall seeing a sign and truck outside as I ran in that Mortal Kombat 4 would be making its stop on a world premier, or something like that. The fact the game was there was quickly overshadowed by a veritable candy-land of games. After that things went hazy for a while as we all set about to play our favorite games, after getting quarters from the many available change machines, of course. After about an hour or so the excitement had died down a little and I was out of change. I went yet again to go get quarters but this time the machine gave me something I will never forget.

After inserting my money a whole bunch of quarters came flowing out. One of them made a peculiar sound for some reason so I thumbed through to see which one had done so. It didn't take me long to figure out which one it was; this coin looked different but I had no idea why, at least at the time. There was something about the color of it, a sort of whitish hue that I had never seen or ever possibly noticed before in all of the other quarters I had ever held before. I checked the date on the coin and it read 1964. I then made a decision that very few children would even consider, let alone do; I put the coin in my back pocket where it would remain until I got home. After that I resumed playing every game I could until the money ran out. I then went in the newly forming line and was one of the first ten kids to play MK4. The new features of that game quickly had the attention of my young mind.

Once I got home I took the coin out of my pocket and showed it to my mother to ask her about it. She told me that it was a silver quarter and that she had found a few of them at the bank when she was working there back in the day. So I had my answer; it was a silver coin from long ago that other people had looked over for over thirty years before it had reached an eleven year old boy who knew there was something 'curious' about it. From then on I was on the search for silver coins although they came few and far between. Every silver coin I see captures my attention and I can remember going to my favorite coin shop and wading through tons of the stuff, a smiling never leaving my face as I did so. To this day I carry three silver coins in my pants pocket at nearly all times, one of which is a 1964 quarter. When I think back even further I realize that I really admired the gold and silver crayons which were included in those monster packs quite a few of us had in school, although I never really used them because they weren't practical in everyday coloring. I think I revered them too much to even do so. That may have been where it started and then the coin put me over the edge. The next thing to capture my eye was my mom's jewelry, which she always had a good deal of.  The feel and sound of the gold and the noise it made when it jingled always captured my attention, not to mention the sparkle of the diamonds she wore all the time.

At around thirteen I began metal detecting so I could find my own silver coins as well as jewelry on my own. I have spent many hours 'hunting' old yards, parks, and of course the beach where the majority of my gold has been found. The hobby has given me a lot of great memories and eaten up a lot of my time over the years. More than anything, though, it was a way to continue to constantly fulfill my need of silver and gold, along with the various other objects I found. But going back to the subject of diamonds there is
actually one she still does wear  that I remember from my youth; a stunning 1.29 ct round center stone that was re-cut from 1.50 cts due to a chip in around the girdle. I've looked up prices, which is very easy for me to do (for those not yet in the loop as to my profession), and it is an $8,000-10,000 stone. Beside it sits two smaller 42.5 point stones (roughly 2/5 ct each) in a solid platinum setting, which I made entirely by hand from one "bar" of platinum (see the pictures below). When her and I were going over what setting the stones would go into the other options were very pricey, averaging $1,500-2,500. I took the initiative to make the setting myself and getting the main stone re-cut, buying the side stones and making the setting were a way that I paid some back rent to my mother, and she is very happy with the ring. So my obsession with precious metals paid off and became my career, who knew. Obviously we all want to do something we are passionate about but not many people are ever able to do what they truly love. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones.

Every time I hold a piece of silver, gold or platinum in my hand I always admire it as if it were even more valuable than it really is. I am not sure that if I was born back when silver and gold was actually money I would have felt this way but even with repeated exposure to them I still get excited each time I handle a piece. I love to flip the three coins I carry around with me just to hear the sound they make. I can and have looked at these items for hours sometimes and I never really knew that was a possible trait of AS before reading about it. Truthfully, I just thought I was a weirdo.

Questions or comments? Let me know.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

'Tis the Season to be Busy

So as some of you know I am a professional goldsmith. The last month or so I have been very busy with various projects in the workshop, making my mother a ring from scratch and the usual travelling around trying to find hidden treasures. I have also been going into Boston a lot for supplies at, where else, the Jewelers Building. I always try to enjoy myself there because I love that place but when its about business I have to keep it close to the vest. I have kept my stress at bay by doing a lot of Bikram yoga and eating heartier meals. November and December are crunch time in the life of people who make jewelry. I have been lucky to have a lot more business than I had last year. I still have some nice merchandise in stock and one more engagement ring I have to make and set the stone. This project is in platinum, once again, and I have to make a flower petal design on a head where the diamond will sit. It should be a little challenging, but after what I made for mom it should be a walk in the park. Since the stone setting is very open I'm going to use a graver, not a bur in the flexible shaft machine, to set the stone. This will take a little longer but it will be safer in custom fitting a seat for the profile of the stone. I feel like I'm in a good place right now but I don't settle when it comes to progress in my career. I'm still trying to open a storefront with a business acquaintance of mine, but I'll let you know when that is actually going to happen. So for now I will wish you all the best during the holidays and a happy new year!   

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Personal & Physical Traits of Aspergers Part 5: Can spend hours in the library researching, loves learning and information

   Like most people, I have a thirst for knowledge. For me it depends on the subject. I will either know all about it or nothing at all. While I don't go to the library, I do watch a lot of shows on the History, Travel and Discovery channels. I really enjoy learning about where things came from and how they got to the current level they are at now. Nature documentaries of all types and shows like Modern Marvels, Brain Games, Biography, Inside the Actors Studio, Man vs. Food, American Eats and especially Gem Hunt (which came out at a good time for me given my profession) crowd my DVR; even Buzzfeed can be a huge time-suck. I watch a lot of food/food history shows and if you're ever traveling be sure to ask me where to go, I'll always steer you in the right direction. I actually watch these shows more than once in most cases, but always while I'm eating to avoid having to get in my car and find the nearest substitute. It is a huge thrill for me to visit these places, believe it or not, and I go for the experience even if the food isn't all its cracked up to be.
  I really don't know what it is that makes learning exciting. I mean most people seem like they want to get out of school as fast as possible to avoid it (or maybe its the making money aspect that happens afterward) but for me I enjoyed at least some of it. The history electives I took fascinated me as well as padded my GPA. So how does  all this babble connect to my blog?
  Being someone who chooses to isolate himself in most cases leaves me with a lot of time to kill. I could either sit around and stare at the ceiling or watch/read something that I can perhaps use. I think that being alone most of the time gave me enough time to want to do something constructive, something that didn't strain me like being around people did. I am full of random facts but every time I watch Jeopardy and don't know some answers I feel like I want to know more. It should be noted that the answers in question are subjects I don't have any interest in, so hopefully I get a pass on those. Even if you knowing something isn't true you can make it sound like it is. Now I'm no good at lying to people, ask anyone that knows me they'll tell you the same, but if you throw some random facts around that may stretch the truth you can get people to believe you. I recently told one of the girls working at a local restaurant not to put the steaming hot pasta dish into the thin plastic container because it would release BPA into the food, thus contaminating it. She looked at me with startled eye for a couple of painfully hilarious seconds before I told her I was just joking and it was fine. She said "Really?" in a tone that even I knew meant "Are you sure" not "You're a complete tool". I know this because my mom uses the latter often. I guess I can lie, I just have to believe it to be true, even when its not.