Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I Need...

“I've countless times seen the eyes of a child with Asperger's well up because I simply got what they meant, because I simply understood.” - Richard Bromfield

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Tree

I am feeling the love these days. Next week, I will leave the job I’ve held for nearly a decade. Already, the hugs have started from co-workers. Already, the email messages of thanks, the stories of memories we shared and even those we didn’t, and the looming spectre of the goodbye pizza party. As if all the love came out of hiding. It leaves me to wonder, after next week, where will it go?

John Gorka said, “People love you when they know you’re leaving soon.” Certainly, endings amplify feelings already there. With some people, it’s okay to say, “Yes, I’ll stay in touch, I’ll come back to visit,” and not really mean it. But I also have friendships I would be sad to see end, that I hope will survive outside the familiar context. It has worked for me sometimes, but many times, it hasn’t. There are more ways than ever to keep in touch these days, but it still comes down to the free will of both people.

A song called “The Tree” by Blitzen Trapper found its way into my head this week. It suggests that all our relationships connect us to others in the way a tree is made up of interconnected branches. Our bonds to friends and loved ones are there for us throughout our lives, as a tree that grows from the ground to the sky, “never-ending.” As the tree is a living organism, our relationships too remain alive, a chain connecting us to each other, to the twists and turns of fate, and to the universe.

It’s not a new metaphor, but it’s an appealing one. What a comforting thought that as we go along in life, we can simply reach out to the people we need, when we need them, as if reaching to the next branch on a tree. But is that overly idealistic?

It is human nature to love and to connect. If these things are so important to us, why is it so difficult to stay connected? Why are there people who say they don’t feel a connection to anyone? Some are afraid to let others get too close, or that they drive others away. Some say no one else has been able to know them the way they’d like to be known. They have known love in their life, and they wonder where it went. I admit I feel unsure myself sometimes. Do any of us really feel sure?

My own tree has branches that are vibrant and branches that are dormant. It needs constant feeding to grow and remain strong. Different branches need different care. Relationships take time and they take work. But they can surprise us. When a relationship is meant to last, it doesn’t feel like work, and it will find a way.

When I change jobs, as with any life transition, branches will shift. It’s inevitable. The love I’m feeling from co-workers now will go somewhere. I want to believe it won't go away. I believe it will be there, wherever, whenever I need it. I won't worry about how. Maybe I’m not meant to understand, as the song says.

You must be blind if you’re to see,
Must walk behind if you’re to lead,
Must be the soil to the seed,

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dreams or Happiness

My job search is over. Earlier this week I accepted an offer, and I start July 1. My policy has always been to mention my employer as little as possible on this blog, so if you want to find out where I’m going, please head over to Twitter, where I made the announcement.

My search lasted all of 34 days. I realize how incredibly lucky I am to find something so quickly in these difficult times. At the same time, it has been the longest five weeks of my life. If you have a stable job that supports your needs in life, please take a moment to be thankful. You can really take it for granted until one day, it's gone.

I am going to a nonprofit organization that does truly amazing work. It makes a meaningful impact nationwide, with a staff of about ten. It has grown from grass roots beginnings in response to an urgent and recognizable need. It offers me a new challenge, and potential for professional growth. I met most of the staff, and they took time to get to know me, and we mutually decided it was a good fit.

I’m leaving a place that does an ever-growing number of things, for a place that does one thing, and does it well. I’m leaving a job where I did too many things to count, for a job where I’ll do two things: write grants, and work with a database. It will be nice to get back to basics, and keep it simple, and grow from there. That’s why, of all the options available to me, I think I took the best one.

In the past, I’ve written here about wanting to work in the autism field, and called it my dream job. I’m not going to be doing that. But I did have the chance. And I turned it down. Because it just wasn’t the right fit.

I got lots of advice during my search. As decision time neared, two pieces of advice stuck in my head. The first was: “Remember to weigh the benefits all around. Happiness level, health benefits, money benefits etc.” The second was: “You realize there's no such thing [as a dream job], right? Grass on the opposite side of fences, as green as it may appear, may well appear so green because of bad chemicals that will ultimately make you quite ill.”

Ultimately, I made the choice that fit with my lifestyle. I chose a casual work environment, where one of the two offices is in a cottage next to a barn, with people who took the time to understand who I am and what I can do. I chose to go where I can come home in the evening and have time to go for a walk in the park, or work on my cartoons, or catch up with friends. I’m making sacrifices in other areas for these things, but from this vantage point, that’s true job satisfaction.

I wonder too, whether I’ll make a better advocate if I’m not living and breathing autism for a living. Very few bloggers do that, if any. Would I still like to work for an autism organization someday? I don’t know. I will continue to be an advocate, and for now, that’s good enough.

So what is a dream job? Is there any such thing? Even when we're sure we know what we want, it may not be the truth. Maybe a dream job is one where you like the things you do on a daily basis, where you have space and time for the personal life you want, and where you enjoy the people you work with. And just maybe, you make a few friends for life. If that’s the case, I’ve already been living the dream, and I’ll go on living it where I’m going.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

15 Reasons Why Chat Rooms Are Great for Aspies

In the past few months, I’ve become a chat room aficionado. Chat rooms have been around since the early days of AOL, yet I avoided them for years. There was something intimidating, and risky about the idea, and its stereotype as a hangout for lowlifes and losers. But since I decided to overcome my fear, my experience has been unquestionably positive.

Many Aspies have found their comfort zone in chat rooms long before me. Others remain hesitant to try, whether out of fear of socialization or discomfort with the medium. I’d like to address the latter group here, and list some reasons why I think chat rooms can be especially beneficial to those on the autism spectrum.

1. A chat room can be confusing at first if you’ve never experienced it. But if you hang around long enough, you’ll get used to the flow.

2. It’s okay to sit back and observe until you feel comfortable. Just say hello, and if you like, greet others when they arrive. You will get an idea of who is a regular, and who will greet you time after time, and you can return their greeting.

3. People in chat can talk all at once, and even have multiple conversations. In person, this is extremely hard to process, but in chat, you have time – the transcript is right there on your screen.

4. Pauses in conversation are allowed! You can take your time in responding to a question – even several minutes!

5. No excessive use of um... like... you know… (Note, I didn’t say no use.)

6. Aspies often have trouble when a conversation suddenly ends, or changes topic. In chat, you can pinpoint where the topic changed, by scrolling up. Less whiplash!

7. In text-based chat, NT’s don’t have access to their usual conversational cues – sarcasm is very difficult to do, and nuances of expression aren’t easily detected. So the NT's are thrown off a bit, kind of like we Aspies are in in-person conversation. So it somewhat levels the playing field for us.

8. Aspies love rules, and chat comes with its own universe of rules and language. Learn new and exciting words, like wb, or -__- or o_O!

9. Also, learn the special secret tricks of chat, like how to do an action, or change your font color. You kind of have to ask someone how. Like the olden days of passing language down by word of mouth.

10. When chatting with people using a webcam, you can look at their faces without making eye contact! You can chat by text with them if you’re not on cam yourself.

11. If you turn on your webcam, you can see yourself on screen, like a rear view mirror. Handy to check if you are wearing an appropriate expression. Wouldn’t that be nice to have in person?

12. If you don’t like someone’s face, hide their cam! (Don’t tell them when you do this.)

13. Chat has an immediacy to it, and at its best, a personal connection, that I haven’t found in other social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. I haven’t given up my social media, but I prefer chat when I’m in the mood for human interaction.

14. Awkward goodbyes are allowed in chat! When you’re out of things to say, just say you’ve got to go now. Or, just leave!

15. A chat room can be a place to go and find other people to talk to, on those nights when there is no one around, and nowhere to go.

Always be safe online. Chat with a community you know, or with friends from real life. Know whether the chat room is accessible to the public, and don’t give out your name or personal information.

Chat has become an integral part of my social life. My cyber-acquaintances are important connections to me, who I enjoy interacting with, and sharing ups and downs with, unbounded by geography and with an unlimited variety of life backgrounds. A few weeks ago, one of our chat regulars passed away at a young age, from a chronic illness. We all felt the loss, even if we hadn’t talked to him much, we got to know his sense of humor, his personality, and his spirit. We were reminded how real these connections become.

There’s something wonderful about how you can walk into a room where everyone has an alias, where some are half-asleep, some are eating their dinner, and some are drunk, and you just might find their most honest self. You might find the truth.

Unfortunately, autism chat rooms are few and far between. Wrong Planet is probably the most active. If you know of an active chat community, please share it in the comments. You can also create your own public or private chat room on Tinychat – it’s probably my favorite platform.

So go ahead. Go find a chat, and click to enter.