Monthly Archives: December 2011

Who wants to be in the movies?

Not long ago, I watched a movie with my family about a young lady you’ve probably heard of – Bethany Hamilton. It’s an awesome story, and I would certainly recommend the movie to friends, but it left me with a couple of questions. Before I ask, let me assure you that I have no intention of making light of Bethany’s success. Having lived nearly half of my life with only one usable arm, I can assure you that I understand the magnitude of her achievements and that I believe she deserves the recognition she has received. That said, I had to ask…

We love watching these stories, so why don’t we see the great stories right around us? More importantly, why don’t we step in and be a part of the story? You might tell me that you don’t know anyone like Bethany Hamilton, but she wasn’t the Bethany Hamilton everyone cheers for before the events the movie was based on. I don’t think anyone involved realized what was really happening until they reached a point, looked back, and said, “wow, that was awesome!”

You might also ask what role you would play. Well, that depends on the story. I can tell you something that all people need, especially those with disabilities, that Bethany had in abundance: encouragement and support. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to “encourage one another and build each other up.”

I lost the use of my left arm when a car hit me on my motorcycle. I never thought I’d ride again. I’ve since ridden over 45,000 miles because a friend encouraged me to try. My wife and I have started an annual motorcycle ride for autism awareness, and I’ve had the privilege to be an encouragement to that friend’s daughter, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome shortly after I was. It all started because someone had a little faith and offered a little encouragement.

In John 9:1-3, Jesus and his disciples encountered a man who had been born blind. Jesus’s disciples asked him whether the man or his parents had sinned to cause him to be born blind. Jesus told them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Take a good look around you. You might be surprised at what you are missing.

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Aspie holidays!

Several of my fellow aspie bloggers are writing about how stressful the Christmas season can be for aspies and how to reduce that stress. My friend Penni gave excellent advice in her blog, which I would recommend reading if you are or love an aspie. I’ve finally managed to arrange what I believe will be the perfect Christmas for me, so I thought I’d share how I’m going to spend it…

This year, I will actually be able to be off for most of my daughter’s Christmas break, and I don’t have anything to worry about as far as work, which takes away a lot of my stress right off the bat. After I pick her up from school on Tuesday, she and I will have a few days to cuddle up with coffee (hot cocoa for her) and some good books. We may also go for walks, watch movies, take naps, and talk about important things, like the leaves and rocks she has collected.

When Christmas gets here, we’ll have a quiet morning, and visit my wife’s family for dinner. She has done a great job of helping them understand, so I don’t have to explain anything to them, and I can pull out my laptop and noise-canceling headphones if I need a break. After Christmas, I’ll still have a week off, so I’ve arranged time for me to spend with small groups of friends.

I think this is going to be the best Christmas season ever, because this time, I get to focus on building the relationships I care about and not really worry about anything else. I wonder what it would look like if we all did that…

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On the bright side… (part 4)

Continued from part 3

This is the fourth and final post in this series. This time, I will look at part D of Attwood and Gray’s aspie criteria, which I’ve listed below. I encourage you to read the full article,  The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria.

D. Additional possible features:

  1. acute sensitivity to specific sensory experiences and stimuli, for example: hearing, touch, vision, and/or smell
  2. strength in individual sports and games, particularly those involving endurance or visual accuracy, including rowing, swimming, bowling, chess
  3. “social unsung hero” with trusting optimism: frequent victim of social weaknesses of others, while steadfast in the belief of the possibility of genuine friendship
  4. increased probability over general population of attending university after high school
  5. often take care of others outside the range of typical development

I’d like to take a closer look at 2 and 3 here. Aside from the visual accuracy mentioned in #2, these two are connected by a deep determination to keep going, even while struggling. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that my left arm is paralyzed and listed some of my accomplishments in spite of my physical limitations. I ride a motorcycle and type more than 80 words per minute. I’ve also played volleyball, gone white-water rafting, and even changed diapers. I would hope that these accomplishments are sufficient proof of that “can do” attitude we all appreciate. I would also hope, in light of this evidence, that those who see me struggling socially could believe that I’m truly doing my best. I want you to know that I truly believe we can be friends, but it takes effort on both sides.

Near the end of their article, Attwood and Gray tell us that here is “the opportunity to make new friends; a chance to consider those who may seem comparatively awkward, but decidedly more honest and genuine.” I invite you to take this opportunity.

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On the bright side… (part 3)

Continued from part 2

I’m moving on to part C of Attwood and Gray’s aspie criteria, which I’ve listed below. I encourage you to read the full article,  The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria.

C. Cognitive skills characterized by at least four of the following:

  1. strong preference for detail over gestalt
  2. original, often unique perspective in problem solving
  3. exceptional memory and/or recall of details often forgotten or disregarded by others,  for example: names, dates, schedules, routines
  4. avid perseverance in gathering and cataloguing information on a topic of interest
  5. persistence of thought
  6. encyclopaedic or “CD ROM” knowledge of one or more topics
  7. knowledge of routines and a focused desire to maintain order and accuracy
  8. clarity of values/decision making unaltered by political or financial factor

I hope those of you in human resources or in a position to make hiring decisions are taking notes, because this is why you want an aspie in your organization. Aspiritech has demonstrated these strengths in aspies on the job, as you will see in its FAQs, and it is not the first company to do so. For me personally, this is what these skills look like in my work…

I manage a learning management system for a university. I support thousands of users from around the world. I’ve told my supervisor that I may not always see the forest for the trees, but I’m very good at seeing the trees. I have a tendency to bring up details that might otherwise be missed and that could be costly if overlooked.  When problem solving, I tend to see what is missing or what doesn’t belong. I tend to remember users by their identities in the system (usernames and ID numbers), and I recognize patterns involving groups of users or courses with similar characteristics even though the connection might not be readily apparent. I have a tendency to become very focused on a problem and will pursue it until I understand it completely and can develop a permanent fix. I read technical manuals for fun, and my daily routine includes a number of system checks so that I can proactively respond to upcoming problems.

Perhaps most important of all, technical work is genuinely fun for me. I don’t get stressed over technical issues. I enjoy them like others might enjoy a good puzzle or game. I feel driven to solve them and I am greatly satisfied when I can show my colleagues how I fixed them. Who wouldn’t want to employ someone like me?

To be continued

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On the bright side… (part 2)

Continued from part 1

In this post, I’m going to look at part B Attwood and Gray’s aspie criteria, listed below. The full criteria can be found in their article,  The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria.

B. Fluent in “Aspergerese”, a social language characterized by at least three of the following:

  1. a determination to seek the truth
  2. conversation free of hidden meaning or agenda
  3. advanced vocabulary and interest in words
  4. fascination with word-based humour, such as puns
  5. advanced use of pictorial metaphor

I’ve seen all of these in my aspie friends, and I value all of  them in my friends and in myself, but I’d like to focus on the first two, because I believe they are at the core of aspie communication. Let’s see what these look like…

Recently, I received a request at work to manually add a professor to a course. I could have done that in a few minutes, but I developed a system that does it automatically shortly after I took this job. I immediately wondered why it didn’t happen automatically. I wondered if my system was somehow broken. Did I find out? Yep. I followed the trail to its end and I found out that someone had not entered that information into the system. Part of the reason I’m good at what I do is that I will chase a problem until I find the truth behind it or it gives up from sheer exhaustion. I will then fix it until it’s fixed, or if I can’t, I will make the problem known. I can’t help myself. I HAVE to know what really happened, and it will bother me until I understand it and get it fixed. That said, there are things that don’t matter. If Justin Bieber’s hair is out of place, I’m not your guy. Read my previous post to see why.

In an earlier post, I said “you don’t have to read between the lines because I don’t write there.” This is true of all my communication. What I say can be taken at face value, and if there is ever any confusion, I’m happy to define my terms or restate something I have said. In my work example above, I responded to the request saying what needed to be done and that I would be happy to look at it again if the professor did not get added to the course automatically after the information was entered into the system. I had no intention of blaming anyone. I hope it wasn’t interpreted that way, but I’ve seen it happen. I don’t really care who did or didn’t do what as long as my system isn’t broken and we get the problem solved. I only bring up the past to show where the problem exists. I hope this makes sense. If not, please comment and ask questions.

To be continued

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On the bright side… (part 1)

In their article, The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria, Dr. Tony Attwood and Carol Gray offer criteria for “Aspie” for “a much needed but currently nonexistent Manual of Discoveries About People (MDP I).” I encourage you to read the entire article. This is is the first part of a series of blog posts in which I will discuss the criteria proposed by Attwood and Gray. In this post, I will look at part A of their critera, which I will list below…

A. A qualitative advantage in social interaction, as manifested by a majority of the following:

  1. peer relationships characterized by absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability
  2. free of sexist, “age-ist”, or culturalist biases; ability to regard others at “face value”
  3. speaking one’s mind irrespective of social context or adherence to personal beliefs
  4. ability to pursue personal theory or perspective despite conflicting evidence
  5. seeking an audience or friends capable of: enthusiasm for unique interests and topics; consideration of details; spending time discussing a topic that may not be of primary interest
  6. listening without continual judgement or assumption
  7. interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation; preferring to avoid “ritualistic small talk” or socially trivial statements and superficial conversation.
  8. seeking sincere, positive, genuine friends with an unassuming sense of humour

It might seem strange to view something described as a “syndrome” or “disorder” as a collection of strengths, and I’m certain it seems odd to see an “advantage in social interaction” when the syndrome’s diagnostic criteria include “failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level” and “lack of social or emotional reciprocity” (DSM IV), but when we look at it as a different way of thinking, understanding, and being, then it becomes easy to consider that it might come with a set of strengths. It becomes “different, not less”, as Temple Grandin says.

Look back through the list above and consider that we aspies tend to miss the little cues that would tell us the rules of a social encounter. Consider also, that the mechanism by which cultural norms are learned doesn’t seem to work in our minds. Lastly, consider that we tend to be very strict in our adherence to routines and to struggle with changes. I think it becomes clear that these apparent weaknesses are the direct causes of these social strengths.

In my own experience, I’ve seen all of these in my aspie friends and I value these traits in myself. I hope you will look for them in the aspies you know. I encourage you to praise these traits when you see them. As Attwood and Gray mention later in the article, the best praise is that which is given on a personally valued trait, and “traits like loyalty, honesty, perseverance, logic, intelligence, and sincerity are worthy of frequent praise.” These are traits I know my aspie friends value in themselves and that I know they have in abundance.

To be continued

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But you have friends! I’ve seen you with people…

Yesterday, I went to a LAN party with a coworker and some guys he introduced me to. For those that don’t know, this is where a group of gamer geeks bring their computers, plug them all together, order pizza, and play games all day. While we were plugging our computers together, I managed to lose my network cable. I looked all over our host’s living room, and then I realized it was wrapped around my left hand. Pretty funny, huh? Yes, even I laughed, but I do have a serious point to make with this. I was unaware that it was wrapped around my left hand because the nerves that would have told me that are disconnected from my spinal cord. This is the problem I have with relationships. It isn’t that there are no people in my life; it’s that I’m disconnected from them.

In my first post, I listed the main characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. One of those characteristics was “marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction.” Think for a moment about how your friends communicate love to you. When I discuss this with people, they invariably list a number of non-verbal behaviors. For me, this creates a situation much like yesterday when I was looking for my network cable. There is a disconnect that prevents me from receiving the information I need.

How can I get the information I need? Mostly verbally. For those that are familiar with Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, mine are Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. For those that aren’t familiar with the love languages, I feel loved when others choose to spend time with me engaging in my interests and when others tell me they love and appreciate me. Even with the former, though, it is important to me that they express to me verbally that they are interested and enjoying it. I know that other aspies may have different love languages. After all, if you’ve met one aspie, you’ve met one aspie. I encourage you to make an effort to get to know an aspie better and help them discover what makes them feel loved and appreciated. You will bless them greatly, and you just may find that it goes both ways.

P.S. For those of you who are my friends, please remember the disconnect the next time you see me looking for a friend. Just like my network cable, you could be right next to me and I wouldn’t know. Speak up so I know you are there, or better yet, just give me a hug.

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Filed under About Asperger's Syndrome, Communication, Relationships