Thursday, February 28, 2013

Guest writer!

Hi there. My name is Kathleen, and I'm Autistic. I'll be thirty five this year. I'm married to the love of my life, and we have a fourteen year old son and twelve year old daughter. My son is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. My daughter and I are both diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. I haven't lived with my parents since I was 15. The government has never given me any kind of special services or income assistance because of my ASD. Until very recently, I even earned more than my husband. None of these things are either good or bad, to be sought or avoided. They just describe how my life has happened to flow. Jae has invited me to contribute a monthly guest post from the view of an autistic adult, living independently. If there are particular questions you have, or ideas you'd like me to discuss, please comment or email Jae, or contact me over at my blog Communication issues have been on my mind lately, so today I thought I'd share a little about them.

I wasn't diagnosed until I was in my mid twenties. I spent my life until then being “odd” or “stubborn” or just avoided. My mother loves to tell funny stories about me as a child. Being so different, there are plenty to chose from. She tells how I didn't talk until I was three, and then I never stopped. The doctor had said I was just being stubborn. A modern doctor might recognize that as being non-verbal. When I did finally talk, I often annoyed people with temporary changes to my patterns. Stutters, slurs, odd tones or accents. What they didn't realize was that I was struggling to process language. These were my tools for pushing past a mental wall. Without them, speech was just too complicated a task to perform at the moment. The rest of the time, I simply translated every thought into verbal form. Once I figured out how to start that process, it took me years to figure out how to control it. Honestly, I still struggle with knowing which thoughts I'm expected to share and which I'm expected to withhold.

As an adult, I've found more socially acceptable tools. The most important is simply preparation. Before engaging in an activity, I run through detailed mental simulations. I try to imagine every possible variable, and every possible interaction. I prepare at least a rough response and behavioral guidelines for each. That may sound exhausting. Sometimes it can be. I try to avoid going out, if that's the case. Either way, it's far better than having to do all that mental work on the spot for each and every interaction or choice that presents itself! When I first started using this technique, the result was that I had a few canned responses that I repeated over and over. It was obvious and not always appreciated. With more practice, my repartee has grown. I have a wide range of standardized behavioral rules to follow. I don't have to design new ones often. I have more canned responses, but I also have a variety of common variables to apply to those response. So, while I may be saying essentially the same thing to everyone....they can feel like they are also each receiving a unique and personalized response!

An easier, though not always appropriate, trick is a reliance on the digital age. When I'm having trouble with verbal communication, my husband and I will sometimes sit in the same room and instant message our conversation. The kids and I do this sometimes or write each other notes about things that might be faster to speak. Easier and faster aren't always the same thing. If a friend is comfortable enough with technology, I can even get away with texting her when we're in the same building or even room. It's often taken as being silly, as a kind of harmless secret that is found complimenting, even. I see the kids use this technique with their friends often. The younger the recipient, the more receptive they generally are to this. At the least, most of my socializing is done with friends locally or across the country via instant message or text. I can spend an entire afternoon with a friend one thousand miles away. We run errands and discuss everything we're doing and chat about our lives, all via text. To someone who isn't on the spectrum it may seem like we're missing out on the bonding and important bits. For me, and many of my friends, it's like I'm cutting out the part that interferes with the bonding and important bits. I do like to see my friends. I just don't like to see them nearly as often as I'd like to interact with them. In the past I've had to choose, but modern technology allows me to integrate much more comfortably into society.

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