Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The erudite family, AKA I miss you Grammy!

Because my blog readers are all intelligent, rather erudite people themselves, I am sure you all know what erudite means.  Simply put, it means well read, in the 'reads a lot of books about a lot of things so is very educated and knows at least a little bit about most anything' meaning of the work'.  Presumptuous and arrogant calling myself erudite may sound, well...I call myself the Erudite Aspie because I just am.  I was raised in a family that believed in reading and education, particularly on my maternal side.  My Grammy never saw a book that didn't interest her, and her favorite thing to do was go to museums.  She brought up my mother this way, and my mother brought me up this way, and so on and so on.  It's a family trait--erudite mom and erudite sister live up to their names, and I have an erudite aunt and an erudite brother.  Above and beyond reading and museums. our family has a tendency to take classes, or listen to classes on iTunes University, for no other reason than the sheer fun of it.  We enjoy reading, we are insatiable in our quest for knowledge, and we always seek answers to questions.  Our idea of fun is playing trivial pursuit (sometimes we just read the questions and don't bother with the board).  We are in love with fun and unused words like happify.  We rock at Jeopardy.  And any one of us could lead a decent discussion about Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

My earliest memories of this are from erudite mom and the supremely erudite Grammy--who passed away almost 7 years ago, and who I miss every day.  She gifted us all with a natural desire to see and explore and learn that stretched from the LaBrea Tarpits to Chaco Canyon, and the world is a lesser place without her.

My Grandaddy, who also left a gaping hole in the world when he left it, was erudite in the quiet, less obvious way.  You'd never see him go to a museum or take a class, but beware.  He had an encyclopedic knowledge of agriculture, pests, history, geography, and aviation.  Plus, he served as tech support for the entire family.  Grammy and Grandaddy together were an unstoppable team when it came to jeopardy or trivial pursuit.  Against them, the rest of us had to throw in the towel.

As a child, a very Aspie child who was unaware she was Aspie, I was often accused of having my nose in a book all the time, and not participating in family events or socializing, and all the other negative things that can be said about a dedicated bookworm.  The concern, of course, was that I wasn't learning social skills.  That was true--but it was also true that as an Aspie I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of learning them anyway.  So I was lucky in that my favorite past time, reading and the learning that accompanied reading, also served as the best way to avoid situations that were overwhelming to my poor Aspie self.

And you know, I turned out pretty OK after all.  And erudite besides!


PS--happify--an unused old English word that means 'to make happy'.  How great is that?  See why I love this stuff?  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homeschooling and the Autism Spectrum

Growing up, the hardest part of the Erudite Aspie's life was school. Not academically, she always did fine there, but as she's mentioned, the social aspect of it was torture for her--and, as her Mum, for me as well.

For the first three years of her education, I homeschooled her. I loved it, and she thrived, but she and her sister decided that they wanted to go to public school. I let them, but knowing what I know now, I wish I hadn't. It's not that the school was bad, it wasn't. They had terrific teachers who were dedicated and caring and all that you want a teacher to be, but Erudite Aspie's fellow students, not so much. No matter how much she wanted to fit in, she didn't, couldn't.

Homeschooling wasn't as easy then as it is now with the internet, but it was doable, and it sure would have saved her a lot of heartache. I realize that you can't totally erase heartache from your kids' lives, but still...you don't do it on purpose, right?

With all this in mind I was very interested in this recent post on Ree Drummond's outstanding site The Pioneer Woman. PW isn't solely about homeschooling or about Autism, but she is homeschooling her four children and has several guest posters who are also teaching their kids at home, always worth reading. Last month one of her guests asked a question for a correspondent, Mary: Should we take our high-functioning autistic son out of public school and homeschool him? The debate was spirited and hugely supportive, and today she posts Mary's decision: yes, we should.

I think so, too, Mary, and God bless you for doing so. I truly believe that your son, like my daughter, will thrive at home, and can learn the social skills he'll need for adulthood in a more supportive environment than a public school (or any school, for that matter). For kids on the Spectrum, being forced into social situations is not the way to learn those necessary skills, in fact, if anything it's more likely to turn them away from social situations entirely. Autistic kids need to learn those skills by rote because they don't get them instinctively, and forcing them to deal without that training is not only ineffective, but counterproductive--and hurtful.

As a public school teacher--high school science--I heartily support home schooling, whether your kid is on the Spectrum or not. I hope my future grandchildren are homeschooled, and if their parents can't do it, I'd be happy to take a few hours out of my retirement days for some quality time with my kids' kids. No better contribution to their futures, sez I.

Hindsight is always 20-20, and while I do wish I had known then what I know now, I'm grateful that my daughter turned out pretty well despite our ignorance. Do I wish I could have saved her all that frustration? Sure, but as we often say to each other, Now we know. Everyone has painful times growing up, most of us come through adolescence unscathed nevertheless. But for those of you who are still in the position to make that schooling choice, especially if your child is on the Spectrum, I recommend you give it due consideration. I doubt you'll regret it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mental health and the job--the good and bad of unemployment

Hello everyone--

Tonight, I am going to speak a bit about my personal experience at work.  For those that don't know, I have been out of work for 3 months now. I went out on stress leave-stres which had been building for two and half years--and have not yet been allowed to come back.  I won't discuss here what has been happening at my workplace that got me to this point, nor will I discuss the shenanigans that have happened in the last three months I haven't been working.  First, because it is just too depressing to think about more than I have to, and second, because this post would be the size of a novella if I were to explain it all.

What I want to focus on is the core of my stress--bad management.  Specifically, a bad manager that I have had many, many conflicts with and who has created a very hostile work environment not just for me but for pretty much everyone.  To rewind and give context for this, I have a friend on facebook who posted this link about mental health and being unemployed versus being in a bad work environment.  Contrary to popular belief and opinion, the result of the research is that being in a bad work environment is actually more damaging to mental health than being unemployed.

A few years ago, I would have said that was hogwash.  I would have emphasized that any job is better than no job at all, because at least you get a paycheck, it gives you more a sense of accomplishment, you gain or maintain job skills, just to name a few of the benefits.  And in fact these are all true in most cases.  Unemployment is draining both on the wallet and the psyche. In fact, for those that are unemployed or underemployed, I'd recommend this excellent video for further thoughts on being unemployed and how to make the best of it.

But I was struck by this paragraph of the report on mental health in poor working conditions vis a vis being unemployed:

Managers are especially important to employee well-being, says Robert Hogan, Ph.D., an expert on personality in the workplace and a former chair of the department of psychology at the University of Tulsa. "Bad bosses will make anybody unhappy," Hogan says. "Stress comes from bad managers."

I read this and thought yes, exactly.  I am living proof that this is true. There were many causes that led to me going out on stress leave, but most of them fell under the category of sometimes life is just hard and the job is just difficult, and I could have handled.  What I couldn't handle is the relentless effort of my direct supervisor and the head of my department to discriminate against me, retaliate against me, lie about me, and in all the little ways they could make my life at work as miserable as possible.  That is what took stress over the edge from something manageable to something I could not handle.  Sure, I am not getting a paycheck and I am worried how I am going to pay bills.  Sure, the uncertainty of my future is in doubt and that uncertainty causes stress.  Sure, I find myself striving to find enough productive things to do to fill my day so I don't get apathetic or lose my edge.

But it all would be so, SO much worse if I were at work.

Does this have anything to do with being an Aspie?  Maybe.  I don't think so, though, as I am sure many others who are perfectly neurotypical have many of the same experiences.

Leave any thoughts in the comments below.  As always, I'd love to hear from you!

Have a good day,


Thursday, March 3, 2011

I hate talking on the phone, and I have good reasons why!

Today I read an article on Brian King's excellent website about living in the Autism Spectrum called "I HATE talking on the phone".  This struck a chord, because as all of you know who have read my earlier posts, I do indeed hate talking on the phone.

Brian then enumerates the reasons why people on the Autism Spectrum tend to hate the phone.  When the phone rings, we are shocked, and we are immediately cast into a position where we are going to have to talk, and we don't know how long or for what reason, and we have no time to prepare.  Aspies can't just jump into conversation (except perhaps the casual hello, how are you, please and thank you forms of conversation you do every day as a matter of rote), we have to prepare.  The phone gives you no time to prepare.

I highly suggest reading his post yourself, but I'd like to talk about one other thing I find to be the most compelling reason for me personally--on the phone, you have to keep talking. You can't have silence on the phone, you are impelled to keep the conversation going and that is deathly difficult for Spectrumites.  I can't tell you the number of times I am on the phone and the silence has stretched and I just have no idea what to do about it.  Or the number of times I am on the phone and I have used up my ability to hold conversation (and this holds true for my friends and family and boyfriend, it isn't the person on the other side that is the problem but the mode of conversation itself) and I REALLY want to end the call but can't figure out how to do so politely.  

Electronic communication, in contrast, allows you to communicate on your own time.  It allows you to prepare what you want to say.  There are no awkward silences in email.  No figuring out how to end a conversation without being rude.   Plus, tools such as email and facebook allow communication with many people at once, which is FAR more productive and a time saver.  Try organizing a family reunion for 100 people solely by phone calls...talk about inefficient.  

And to some people I know (none of whom read this blog though!) don't judge those of us that hate the phone.  If you never own a computer or have an email, relying solely on phone (and no texting!), I might think you are crazy and not using time well but I believe you have the right to communicate how you want.  Give me the same courtesy.  And never, never think electronic communication isn't 'personal' enough.  Try it, THEN try and tell me that.

One last note...while this are good reasons that Aspies hate the phone, but I am related to several neurotypicals that feel the exact same way for the exact same reasons.  Are you like that?  Let me know in the comments.

Cheers, EA

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why we have regrets, and why we shouldn't

Today, an old friend of mine from my college days tagged a picture of a bunch of people we knew back then on Facebook.  It was taken at the house where we used to live, a year after I left, and about half of the people were familiar to me.  Seeing this picture, remembering my year of living with so many of those people in my crazy senior year at UC Berkeley filled me with a lot of sweet nostalgia...

But also a ton of regret.

Regret of the times I was careless of other people's feelings.  Times I let my emotions get totally out of control.  Times I thought that if I didn't want to go to a mandatory meeting, I didn't have to, and didn't bother to hide my feelings on the matter.  Times I complained bitterly about installing water saving shower heads because it made it much harder for me to wash my very long and thick hair (though for the record, those water saving shower heads do suck!).  Times I figured I could play whatever music I wanted however loudly I wanted and never mind my roommate and my neighbors.  Times I didn't do the dishes because I wasn't in the mood and used the excuse they needed to soak, then complained when others did the same.  Times I put pressure on people to like me and want to hang out with me when you know...for the most part, they didn't.

Times, in other words, when I was being my very worst Aspie self.

It pains me to know how badly I behaved, how callously I treated people, and all without really intending to.  I am sure I wasn't always bad--I like to think I have a basic streak of decency and compassion, and one of the people who I lived with did ask me to be her maid of honor so it couldn't have been all bad--but I remember the times I was my worst self and I regret.  I regret deeply.  And I am ashamed of my actions.

The thing is, I was an Aspie, I have always been an Aspie, and I didn't know it.  Just had no clue in 1997-1998 that I had a brain that was wired differently.  I can see now my horrible social rudeness and ineptitude, but at the time, I just didn't.  I didn't know, had no way of knowing, and without knowledge had no way of doing it differently.

If I had known then I was an Aspie, I could have shared it with people, and they would have helped me. I lived with a group of truly wonderful people and I know beyond doubt that if my Asperger's had been a known fact at that time, they would have understood me more, helped me handle it, and been more patient.  And I, if I had known, would have been able to work even harder to overcome the social shortcomings.

But that didn't happen.  And now, sitting at my desk in 2011 almost 13 years after graduating from Berkeley, I just have to forgive myself.  Let it go.  Accept it as part of the cost of being an Aspie without knowing it, focus on the wonderful friends and boyfriend I have now, and stop mourning over what could have been 13 years ago.

Because it is OK to have regrets, but it isn't OK to let them control your life.  And the God I believe in doesn't teach being ashamed, but teaches us we should ALL press on to that goal He has promised us...one day at a time.