Thursday, December 27, 2012

Latest Healing Revelations about Autism

In recent days I have experienced two very liberating revelations about autism.  First of all, I was speaking to a close friend who has major medical problems.  Her blood clots don't fall into any of the standard causes for blood clots.  Thus, even the world's top medical specialists cannot identify the sources of her blood clots.

I think that my situation is similar with regard to autism.  I think that the reason the system never diagnosed or identified my autism is that I don't fit the standard profile for a person with this neurological condition.  I believe that autism is a neurological difference and not a disorder, defect, or syndrome.    Not autistic people graduated from Ivy League colleges in the 1990's, and even fewer autistic people are highly verbal like me.

Once I realized why the system was unable to diagnose my autism, I began to heal from the traumatic effects of my past in the job world.  I realized that the system didn't mean to hurt or destroy me.  It simply lacks the tools needed to diagnose and help me.  Society has good intentions toward me and wants to help me but simply doesn't know how to do so. 

My mother figured out that I had autism, then known as Asperger's, in 2002.  I figured out that I am autistic in early 2011.  I was officially diagnosed with Asperger's in January, 2012.  And once I received the diagnosis, I was immediately pressured to return to an office job.  The professionals in the field tried to convince me to work in another office job with two changed conditions:

1.  Instead of interviewing for a job in the competitive marketplace without disclosing my condition to employers, I would interview for a job with an employer who is aware of my condition and willing to hire and promote an autistic person.  The interview process would be supervised by an organization that specializes in employing autistic people.

2.  Once I got a job, I would receive the support of a job coach who would explain to me how to handle social situations and help me resolve social conflicts and misunderstandings with my boss and colleagues.

This solution sounds nice on paper, but unfortunately it doesn't take into account several important factors which are specific to my case.  One, in the past fifteen years, I have tried to earn a living in three different socially driven fields without success: international relations, business, and tax accounting.  In all three cases, I found that the social demands of the job were impossible for me to meet, and I ran into the same basic obstacle: a lack of social skills. 

Two, I am severely traumatized by a pattern of repeated rejection in the office world.  As a result, I have come to realize that office jobs are simply not for me, and that even changing the conditions of my office employment would not do anything to ease my fears about working in an office. 

The basic problem is that the system is suggesting a standard solution to a complex problem for me.  Having placed me in the autism box, they are now trying to convince me to accept the standard treatments for autism.  These solutions include social skills training and office-based employment with a job coach.  These solutions may work for some autistic people, but I know instinctively that such approaches are totally unsuitable for me.

As a result of my experience, I have a two-fold goal.  The first is to help adults on the upper end of the spectrum to diagnose themselves.  I see from my personal experience that the mental health system is not capable of identifying and diagnosing adults on the upper end of the spectrum.  I attended six years of counseling with three different psychologists and two psychiatrists from 2002 and 2010.  Not one of these five professionals ever suggested that I might be autistic.  My experience shows that adults on the upper end of the spectrum first need to diagnose themselves before seeking a formal diagnosis from a qualified professional. 

My second goal is to work with other autistic people and with autism professionals to develop better and more effective tools for people on the higher end of the spectrum.  I believe my case shows that the standard solutions for autism are often harmful to people on the upper end of the spectrum.  Thus, we need to create more effective tools which are specifically targeted to help this sub-set of the autistic population.  I believe these tools must include helping members of this sub-population to identify career options which allow them to work from home and not be subjected to the unnecessary social pressures associated with working in an office.  We can flourish in careers that play to our intellectual strengths once we are liberated from the traumatic effects of attempting to function socially in office environments where we do not belong. 

My second major revelation is that although autism has been a disaster for me in the career arena, it has been a powerful strength in anothear important area of my life.  In particular, I am learning that as a result of my autism, I can cut through the most common rationalizations and justifications for domestic violence and child abuse.  As a child, I was subjected to psychological child abuse by both parents, particularly my father.  I am also a witness to my dad's ongoing campaign of psychological terror against my mother.  I knew from a very early age that child abuse and domestic violence were morally wrong and absolutely evil.  Unlike my neurotypical mother, I never searched my behavior to determine what I might have done wrong to provoke the abuse.  I never tried to fix my behavior in an attempt to appease my father and end the abuse.  I also never justified and rationalized child abuse and domestic violence.

My clear and strong sense of morality allowed me to grasp that my father's abuse was motivated by a deep desire to exercise absolute power and control over his female relatives.  This clear understanding of the difference between good and evil empowered me to stand up to my father from a very early age on my own behalf and my mother's behalf.  I knew that my dad's abuse against me and my mother was inherently wrong and had no justification. I also realized that it was completely unconnected with my actions and my mother's behavior.  I never wasted time looking for my dad's approval or hoping he would change or believing that he would stop abusing me if only I could develop better table manners or social skills or make any other changes in my life.

I believe that I can make a contribution to the fields of domestic violence and child abuse by presenting my perspectives on these issues from an Asperger perspective.  I think that my autistic point of view is a powerful strength when it comes to addressing these problems.  I believe that the autistic viewpoint can help victims and survivors of domestic violence and child abuse to understand that they should stop rationalizing the behavior of their abusers.  They should stop trying to fix their conduct in a vain attempt to gain their abuser's approval and put an end to the abuse.  They should realize that their abuser is only interested in establishing and maintaining power and control over their victims and is unrelated to the victim's behavior.  Thus, the only way to end such pathological and sadistic abuse in most cases is simply to end the relationship. One should not negotiate with or attempt to appease a hard-core abuser who is engaged in patriarchal terrorism. A total separation from the abuse is the only viable solution in such situations.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Autism and the Recent Tragedy

I am an autistic adult woman. Autism experts such as Dr. Tony Attwood know that autistic kids are more likely to be bullied and to suffer more severe types of bullying than other children. On page 98 of his book The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, Attwood states that according to a survey in 2002, 90% of children with Aspergers were bullied in the past year. The rate of bullying for autistic kids aged 4 to 17 was four times the rate for other children.  Autistic children are more likely to be subjected to systematic shunning by their peers as a result of their social disabilities. 

Like most autistic people, I was mercilessly bullied and shunned by my peers as a kid. But the thought of committing mass murder never crossed my mind. And also the killer was apparently home-schooled and thus less vulnerable to bullying than I was. Autism did NOT cause this tragedy.  The killer was an evil human being who made a cruel choice to bring suffering, death, and hatred into the world. Ultimately, we all have freedom of choice, and we all need to take responsibility for our decisions and the effects of our actions upon others.

Today during my physical therapy session, one of my neighbors expressed compassionate ignorance about autism and Asperger's to me.  She said,"he's not normal.  He is autistic."  Apparently she thinks that autistic people are not 'normal' and that autism is some sort of defect.

In addition, she also believes that autism is incompatible with morality.  She said about the killer,"He is autistic.  He doesn't know the difference between right and wrong."  I found this comment incredibly hurtful, and yet I know that she spoke out of ignorance rather than malice.  She doesn't realize that autistic people have a very high sense of personal ethics and a very clear understanding of the difference between right and wrong.  Weak social skills do not imply an inability to grasp ethical principles. 

Further, I told her that I am autistic and I have Asperger's Syndrome.  But she told me that I wasn't a typical autistic person because, "You're walking, you're talking, you're able to interact socially."  Apparently she has a stereotypical and limited understanding of autistic people, whom she imagines as being like Rainman and not being capable of normal interaction with their fellow human beings.

I am rededicating myself to educating and informing people about autism because I have found from personal experience that educating people about autism makes a huge difference.  I have told my story to my physical therapist, who is moved by my experience and my desire to change things for other people.  She had no knowledge of autism before meeting me, and now she is beginning to understand it better.  People fear autism because they don't understand it.  Thus, the more informed people are about the subtle aspects of autism, the less they will fear autistic people. 

Also, after seeing these innocent children so brutally murdered, all of a sudden I am much less angry at society for destroying my career.  I stopped writing about autism publicly because I found reflection upon my personal experiences to be too painful and traumatic.  But in light of this tragedy, my career trauma seems much more bearable.  I am emotionally more prepared to begin coming to terms with and sharing my story.  I feel an enormous burden being lifted off the weight of my shoulders, and a sense of inner peace is starting to replace a prior feeling of despair and powerlessness about my destiny. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lessons Learned from a 'Setback'

Lessons Learned from a  “Setback”

Last week I applied for a fellowship in international relations.  I received a partial funding offer.  I  chose to decline the funding offer because I couldn’t cope with the unanticipated stress of seeking additional funding under a tight time constraint.  Unfortunately, I also snapped under pressure in response to 12 years of relentless rejection in the field of international relations.  So what factors caused me to crack under pressure in this case?

1.      I had suffered 12 straight years of endless rejection in the field of international relations.  As a result, the prospect of being rejected in this profession became a severe traumatic trigger for me.  I cracked less in response to this perceived setback than to a long history of painful trauma in this field.

2.      As a person with Aspergers, I tend to look at issues from a black and white perspective.  For this reason, I lacked the flexibility and open-mindedness to understand that the funder was trying to give me an opportunity by offering me partial funding.  I interpreted his partial funding offer as a rejection rather than as his vote of confidence in me and my project.

3.      I did not realize that the standard grant funding process requires simultaneous application to multiple funding sources.  I put all my eggs into one basket and collapsed when I did not receive the anticipated and desired result from this funding source.   I also lacked a sufficiently wide range of contacts in the field to enable me to approach multiple funding sources at once.

4.      I don’t work well when faced with a serious time constraint.  In order to make this process work, I would have been forced to scramble for $3,000 in additional funding within 60 days in a case when I had no idea where to seek more funding sources. 

5.      I was in an emotionally desperate position when I submitted the grant proposal.  My dad had verbally abused my mother and me very recently.  In addition, my attempt to find alternative housing collapsed because I discovered I didn’t have enough funds to rent my own apartment.  I probably overreacted to the partial funding offer because I was already so traumatized and I felt trapped and unable to escape my abusive family of origin.

So what are the lessons learned from this ‘setback’?

1.      I am better off moving on from international relations and exploring opportunities in other fields which may prove more satisfying to me in the long run.  These options include writing, speaking, and advocacy about Asperger’s and about verbal abuse in intimate relationships. Cutting my losses in international relations will liberate me to make a fresh start in new fields with a more open-minded and less wounded perspective.

2.        Next time I apply for a grant, I need to approach multiple funding sources at once.  This way, if I receive a partial grant offer from one source, I will be in a better position to evaluate my options and determine whether or not to accept or reject this partial offer.   I should not put all my eggs into one basket but should cultivate a wide range of contacts and relationships in the fields of interest to me. More education about the grant application process would have better prepared me to adapt to an unanticipated situation.

3.      I don’t function well under time pressure, and thus I should where possible try to avoid situations involving tight deadlines.

4.      I should avoid making major career decisions or job applications when I am in an emotionally fragile position.  Desperation has always worked against me.

5.      I need to work on developing a new and more flexible and open-minded attitude toward life.  This approach will allow me to begin overcoming my fears and reaching my full potential.  I need to understand and try to overcome the rigid, black-and-white thinking which is a result of my Aspergers.   A more flexible mind-set will open up more and better opportunities for me in my chosen fields of future endeavor.   

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Positive Aspects of Receiving the Diagnosis

Initially I struggled emotionally when receiving the Aspergers diagnosis.  I was 36 years old when I received it and had already failed in numerous professions as a result of being an undiagnosed Aspie.  But I have found the following positive results of discovering I am an Aspie. 

Understanding why I can’t function in an office

After losing my last job in 2008, I realized I could not cope in the office world anymore.  I stopped trying to function in an office setting.  I did not know why I had this problem but I understood that office jobs were not for me.  Now that I have the Asperger diagnosis, I have a viable and reasonable explanation for the fact that I cannot work in an office.  I know that I have a severe social skills deficit which renders working in an office very difficult if not impossible for me.  I stopped blaming myself for the fact that I often failed in the interview process and had a great deal of difficulty both getting and keeping a job.  I felt an enormous amount of relief from the diagnosis.  I felt that I understood a great deal more about myself since receiving the diagnosis.   

Discovering new talents and skills I didn’t know that I have

Photography – I never would have taken up photography as a hobby and tried to turn it into a career choice – if I had not known I have Aspergers.

Re-orienting my career in a more positive direction
I am choosing a new career path in writing and photography which is far better for me than the office jobs that I tried to pursue in the past.  I gave up on trying to pursue office jobs which play to my weaknesses in social skills instead of my intellectual strengths.  Working on a freelance basis in writing and photography is a much better match for my skills and abilities than trying to function in an office.