Monday, November 08, 2010

What I did on summer vacation

In the middle of a week during the summer, A. and I dropped E. and Z. at the grandparents' and headed one state over to an autism conference.  J. came along with us, mostly because he had no choice.

For two days, we had a chance to listen to some amazing experts in the field of autism.  This was for us, in many ways, our music festival stocked with revered celebrities.  We had watched and/or read presentations by all of the speakers who would be there, but we wanted to see them in person anyway.  Going into the event, we were both excited for the day with Tony Attwood and Temple Grandin.

Since J. was with us, I spent a large part of several sessions outside of the auditorium.  Whenever he started fussing, I headed to the door.  If he wasn't too worked up, I discovered that I could still hear the presenter while sitting in the chairs just outside the doors.  When that would fail, we would walk around the hotel lobby.  We got to know some of the vendors pretty well.  A. took him for one session each day, so I had some uninterrupted time.  And we also received a booklet with many of the slides from the presentations, so I was able to fill in the gaps.

We purchased a few books and a kit, although we haven't done nearly as much with them as I would like.  (Everything's getting pushed to another time.  Lots of "once the baby's sleeping better."  Which still hasn't happened.)  But we walked away with a lot of good material and high spirits. 

A. and I also got to eat out a couple times and stroll around a shopping center (with the all-important stop at the Lego Store).  Sure we had J. with us, but he was mostly content to hang out with us.

I had three interactions with presenters which made the whole trip worthwhile.  Each one deserves its own post; I hope to give them space in the next week or two.

Monday, November 01, 2010

This Aspie speaks

I'd sort of seen some talk about today's Communication Shutdown, which encourages people to stay off of Facebook, Twitter, and social networking in general in support of autism.  With J. not sleeping and a build up on my "to do" list--plus my mind had registered that this was all taking place "next month"--I hadn't really paid it any attention.  But now it's next month and my Twitter is awash in #ASDay and #AutismShoutOut hash tags.

As it turns out, much has already been said of what I'm thinking, but I'll add my thoughts anyway.

The idea behind not using social media for a day is to experience the frustration of a social disconnect.  Yet this is almost backwards, as many people with autism have found that social media provide them with ways to connect much more successfully than in real life.  I prefer email and internet research to phone calls.  Facebook is how I keep in touch with many family members and friends.  I was late to join Twitter, but mostly because I have always known that it would suck me in too much (I'm trying very hard to balance that, and working has helped limit my time).  Online conversations play to my strengths and smooth over some of the weaknesses.  I get more time to process what has been said and think through my response.  My correspondent's words are available to read and re-read; I don't have to rely on a memory that's being bombarded with lots of simultaneous pieces of information.

The flip side is that Asperger's has not led to anything resembling silence for me.  I am frequently a chatterbug in real life.  In fact, I had to learn to be quiet and really listen and comprehend what's being said to me.  My experience of real-time conversations is probably different from most of yours, but I didn't know that for the longest time and have never known a different experience.  I didn't think to feel this set me apart until I was told that it did.

Slight aside: It irks me to be told that Aspies can't multitask.  The truth is that we are champion multitaskers; we just fill up our queues with items that might be considered a single task, or no task at all, by others.  When I'm talking to a person, I'm consciously processing what I hear, actively filtering out other noises, judging facial expressions and their relevance, scanning my databases for appropriate responses or anecdotes, weighing the quantity and quality of eye contact, and monitoring my own expressions and body language.  When I'm tired, I know that there will be a decrease in my comprehension, a lag in putting on appropriate appearances, and markedly less eye contact.

But really, that starts to get at my main issue with things like this Communication Shutdown.  So much of the conversation about autism is a description from the outside.  And I can't tell you how many times I've read an article about autism or Asperger's where the outside perspective is presented as fact and I find myself frustrated since it falls so far from my experience or clearly misunderstands.  I spent a long time convinced I couldn't have Asperger's because of these descriptions, because I am extremely sensitive and empathetic, because eye contact is difficult for me due to the overwhelming flood of information it provides.  It was only through the process of E.'s diagnosis, the 3 1/2 years leading up to it with us knowing this is what we were dealing with, and the persistent research both A. and I undertook that I was able to realize that there is a disconnect between a large part of the literature and the actual experience.

And I guess that's why I've shifted my focus here.  I want to correct some of those descriptions that share so little with my reality and give you a peek of the view from this side.

I can't do that if I shutdown communications.  Likewise, you can't hear me if you turn off your social media.