May 29, 2015

Not Only Autistic People Do That!

In addition to this blog, I run a few autism-related Facebook pages and have my personal Instagram account. I don't often, but now and then I will tag a photo of a situation I'm experiencing with "#autism." For example, there was this post where the Little Man wanted to play with water balloons, but did not want to get wet (which was difficult to achieve, but we dealt with it).
A photo posted by K Bron John (@kbronjohn) on
I'm not the only one who receives these comments. Here's another experience:

Of course I got a comment (through Facebook) about how that's not unique to autism.
(It's not the first time I've received such a comment)


'Not only autistics have this problem.' We read this comment in our page threads and in groups where we allow allistic...
Posted by The Cranky Autistic on Friday, May 29, 2015

I no longer respond to these comments (I used to!). I no longer really see the point.

Of course, a whole lot of behaviours/experiences are not unique to autism. Of course it's possible NT people have done similar things. THAT'S NOT THE POINT.

When I point out that my son or I do something and I attribute it to my/our autism, it's not because I think we're the only ones who do it. I draw attention to it because it's something other autistic people can relate to or understand.

If I say "someone touched my hair again without consent" and tag it "#blackpeopleproblems," I don't care if white people get their hair touched as well. I wouldn't understand why a white person would feel the need to comment, "but that happens to us, too!" Sure, it can, and I acknowledge your struggle! But it happens WAY less to white people than black.

Sometimes, I get the impression people are trying to dismiss my/our experience. As if it somehow should make me feel better that it's "not just an autistic thing." Other times I feel like they believe I'm/we're somehow not really autistic then.

For me, it's about the total of "autistic experiences" in a day and I'm trying to let people in on what just some of those situations are like. Sure, the water balloon thing was not a big deal. I found it humorous and we came to a solution so he could still have fun. But there are hundreds of other episodes like that throughout the day that make up the whole autistic experience, and only people who are or live with autistic people can really understand. You may relate to something we do. You may even do it yourself, but there's no need to dismiss it as not autistic enough for you.

EDITED To Add: It can also stem from a belief that labelling something as autistic behaviour is somehow bad and shouldn't be done. As if being NT is the ideal.

Great, I did something that some other NT also does. Yay! Now I'm cured! Wait, what?

April 21, 2015

Autistic Accommodation

autistic accommodation word cloud on OneQuarterMama.ca copyright 2015
word cloud with terms concerning disability and workplace accommodation

This is an excerpt from my post on LinkedIn, geared towards allaying the fears employers may have when it concerns employing Autistic people.

If you're in a workplace with more than 10 people, odds are high there's an Autistic person amongst you. You might not know it. They might not even know it! However, with more awareness and better diagnostic criteria, we're coming out of the woodwork and being more open and productive members of society. 
We've always been here - the quirky ones who bring the same lunch to work every day. The ones who talk too much or not enough, too loudly or barely audibly. The ones who stand too close, or the ones who keep huge distances. The ones who wear sunglasses inside but do such good work, you don't fault them for that. The ones who wear sandals in the winter and turtlenecks in the summer. We are a strange bunch, but we do enjoy our work and feeling productive - just like everyone else.
Autism is not a medical issue or mental illness. It is a developmental disorder that affects social skills mainly. It means we don't pick up on a lot of non-verbal cues. I have a hard time predicting what a person will do next. I will move over to the wrong side of the sidewalk when people come towards me (I don't know which is the right side, I always get it wrong!) I'm the worst at solving crime mysteries. However, a lack of social graces does not equal a lack of intelligence or a lack of empathy or feelings. When we have hurt someone, often completely unintentionally, we are very upset and want to fix it. 
On the plus side, what we lack in social ability, we make up for in other ways. Some of us are amazing with the written word, some with numbers. We have the ability to focus for hours without being distracted. We have an eye for detail - making us great code debuggers, game testers or editors. We have huge memories - great for dealing with large amounts of data. We have a strong sense of justice - we often follow the rules to the letter, which can mean being inflexible at times, but we make great legal secretaries or lawyers. Many of us are fine with routine repetitive tasks and derive a great deal of satisfaction from doing the same thing perfectly each time. 
So let's say an employee or potential employee tells you they are Autistic. What can you expect? Should you accommodate them? (In some places, it's illegal not to)
Read the rest of the article here.

March 25, 2015

How To Raise A Reader

the Little Man reading as a baby on OneQuarterMama.ca
The Little Man "reading" at three months
Our child is officially more gifted than Hubby or I was at his age. He's reading random things - product labels, signs, DVD titles, magazine covers...it's pretty cool.

Do you know our secret? We read to him pretty much every single day since he was born. That is five years of constant reading to him. When he was a newborn, Hubby read him whatever he was reading. Then we read him Edward Lear, which kept his attention more. I read to him in German, and he laughed and laughed.

We traveled with books on vacation, so he always had his reading time. I read him captions, I read him street signs. Closed captioning is on at all times at home on the TV.

When I read, I sit in the living room so he can see me, reading for pleasure. I read real paper books, which will probably go out of style by the time he is in his teens, but he knows people read and it's normal and good.

I tell him my friends write books. He sees mommy and daddy write lots.

I don't think he's particularly gifted, I just think it has been so encouraged - not by expressing its importance - but by example.

March 23, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

It has been over a month since I've posted here and while I put some updates on my Facebook page, I could not find the time or words to really flesh things out here. Also, I needed discretion.

I made the decision to quit my full time job and during that time it was ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT. But I had to keep quiet because my ex-boss/workplace can and sometimes did read this blog for some strange reason. I mean, considering how uninterested they were in accommodating me, I have no clue why they would spend time reading about me here when they could have, I don't know, actually accommodated me. But hey, that's all in the past.

So my last day was Feb. 26 and I took off for Japan on the 27th. I needed that time away to reset myself, as well as visit my best friend. Bonus! I came back with a few days to try to get over my jet lag and jumped right into a new work contract.

I have absolutely no regrets! It feels wonderful and right. I'm doing half my work from home and the other half in an office where they not only know my diagnosis, but actively embrace it. I am passionate about my work, knowing I am using my strengths, and I have time to be with the Little Man. I already got to go on my first school outing with him.

I thought I would have a bit more free time, but it seems I fill it all up very quickly. However, it's things that need to be done - like seeing the dentist, paperwork, phone calls, and the hustle for more contracts.

I hope to keep this and my other blog more up to date, but also launch my other side business ideas and see where things go.

So spring has sprung (even if Montreal weather doesn't reflect that!) and my life is just getting better.

born of frustration by my life through the lens on OneQuarterMama.ca

January 30, 2015

My Adult Stims

Autistic children often have very noticeable stims - kids aren't known for being discrete or hiding aspects of themselves. I think all kids pick their noses or scratch their butts in public without a care in the world. It's not until we bring it to their attention that this is not how we behave in public that they start to police their own behaviour, and each society has different norms about what is acceptable.

So with Autistic kids, the only difference is that some of their actions or behaviours are different from NT children, but over time they too can often find "acceptable" outlets. Of course, what is acceptable to one is not to another. I also believe that stims have a purpose, so my philosophy is very simple: if it doesn't harm another person or themselves, it is acceptable. 
(Of course, we can also get into a debate about what constitutes as "harm" but let's keep it simple for today)

All this to say, I had a lot of stims as a child that I grew out of or found socially acceptable methods to carry them out without attracting attention. Because until society changes, Autistic people have to go into stealth mode in order to either not attract attention or become victims of violence. That is just a fact about the way the world is today. If you don't like it, help me change it!

Also, people seem to have this perception that if one does not "look or act" Autistic (whatever that means!) then the person is "cured." I don't think people can be cured of autism, we just find better ways of masking ourselves to fit in.  So I wanted to bring awareness to some of my adult behaviour, or ways I can go "hidden" or at least, not so visible on the radar in order to be productive in the outside world and keep myself safe.

-I do still flap on occasion. I have to be either really happy or angry. I don't even notice I'm doing it until someone else points it out (usually by laughing at me).

-I hum/sing the same part of a song over and over again or make bizarre noises with my throat. This annoys my husband, so I try to reserve this for when I'm alone, but it does still come out now and then.

-Listening to loud music - to lose myself or just really enjoy. Often while alone in my car.

-I curl myself up into a ball and rock. (Again, this is usually a "in the comfort of home" thing, but I have found myself doing it at parties, which gets me stared at)

-I bite my nails. Not a great habit, but one that a person can do anywhere and not be looked down upon too much.

-I chew gum. Again, not everyone likes gum chewers, but still socially acceptable enough in most places. I'm not loud about it, but I need to do it for stimulation. I usually chew gum while driving or during my afternoon slump at work.

-I have some tics or twitches, where I crack my neck or wrists.

-I wear fidget rings. Days I've forgotten to wear them to work result in anxiety attacks, so this is another *must* stim for me.

If you'll notice, adult stims are pretty innocuous and even NTs do them, but I think the difference for me is that they are very important to my well-being and capability to deal with life. I know that not being able to stim results in high anxiety for me. So reducing or controlling a stim would come at a high cost.

So even if an adult Autistic does not "look" like they are struggling or stimming, it's often just that we've found alternative ways to hide it and keep going. There are severe consequences for those who don't - loss of job, threats of violence from strangers, just to name a few.

January 28, 2015

What Is Child Abuse? Part 2

Trigger Warning: discussion of child abuse, ableist language and curse words.

In part 1, I spoke a bit about what it feels like to be abused and the long term effects it can have on a person. I hope I made it clear it's important not to minimize the effects of abusive behaviour on a child - whether it happens daily or infrequently is of no consequence, it still hurts. In some ways, having it happen infrequently or unpredictably can be even worse for a child, as they never know what will set the parent off. If you want your child to grow up with PTSD, that's an excellent method.

In this post, I want to give more detailed examples of emotional abuse and neglect. I'm not focusing on physical or sexual, as those are more noticeable or obvious types of abuse most people are more familiar with. I'm providing examples I've actually lived through.

-Threatening, with words or gestures, to hit or kill your child
-Giving your child the silent treatment
-Comments on their physical appearance: ugly, dirty, fat, smelly
-Comments on their character: stupid, lazy, idiot, useless, piece of shit, can't do anything right
-Comparisons to other people: "why can't you be like ______?"
-Withholding food or forcing child to eat
-Leaving child to cry alone when upset or hurt
-Leaving child alone at home before a reasonable age
-Manipulating children to resent their siblings: "I can't do this for you because then I would have to let your sister have this..."
-Accusing child of things they never did
-Buying child gifts after losing your temper
-Never apologizing for bad behaviour
-Not allowing child to discuss home life with anyone; actively teaching them social workers or others who can help are actually the enemy
-Threatening to leave child forever
-Threatening that the child will be taken away

The last two might sound like something the child would want, but please always remember a child is dependent on their caregivers. They love their parents regardless of how badly they are treated. It is all they know and they cling to whatever little piece of love or security they get. I still ran to my parents when hurt because there was no one else. Sometimes a child has no choice but to go straight to the arms of their abuser, even if that means they will be abused for it.

It is only as an adult when I realized I was truly free and did not deserve to be abused that I was able to set boundaries. In fact, it wasn't until I had my son that I realized the extent of how bad things were, because I finally realized that every parent has a choice in how they behave and parent. My parents made very bad choices. I choose not to make those choices, and everyone can make the choice not to abuse.

I speak openly about it and without shame because it needs to be talked about and the shame is not mine. But this is all I can write about it right now as it was triggering enough for me. If you have questions or comments, I will get to them in time.

Again, if you see yourself or someone else in these examples, you can get help. It doesn't have to be this way and you can start to repair the damage. 

January 26, 2015

What Is Child Abuse? Part 1

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of child abuse

I've never kept it a secret here that I was emotionally and verbally abused by both my parents growing up, so I am very much a proponent of gentle/peaceful parenting methods. While there are lots of descriptions out there of different parenting methods, all with the same goal of raising non-violent and emotionally healthy children, we don't often take the time to define what actual abuse is.

I think when people hear the word "child abuse" they think first of the worst cases you hear in the news; children who are so badly beaten or neglected, they get taken away by child services, or even die at their hands of their parents. Or they think of sexual abuse. However, that leaves a whole lot of grey area between the worst cases and good parenting. There's a lot that happens in between that is still abuse and we are so reluctant to talk about it, that children who don't see themselves in the extreme cases don't even know they're being abused. Also, friends of yours who are abusing their children never get called out because, "it's not *that* bad."

So let's talk a bit about what abuse is and what is can look like. Keep an open mind, as uncomfortable as it makes you, because it can mean that you have been abused, you may have abused your children, or you may even be friends with a child abuser. What is important is what you choose to do with that information.

In my case, I was never sexually touched or physically abused by either of my parents. However, I still acted enough like an abused child that doctors and teachers asked me if anyone had "touched me" or hit me. So of course, I said, "no." No one ever thought to ask me, "does mommy call you an idiot?" because then I could have said "yes." I never thought to offer that information because I didn't know it wasn't normal to be called an "idiot" on a regular basis.

So there's your first example: an abused child can act out at school, or they can be very quiet or "repressed" (as I was described). In my case, I kept quiet to myself because that was the safest method of behaviour at home, but I also appeared "happy" at school because it was my refuge from home. I could be somewhat freer at school. I did well at school because the praise I got from teachers concerning my marks was the only positive attention I got to feed my self-esteem, and I knew school was my ticket out of the house one day.

An abused child does not know they're being abused because the way they are treated by their parents is all they've ever known. It's not until much later, when I saw how other families live, that I developed an awareness that something was wrong. I knew I was not happy, but I did not know why. I thought there was just something wrong with me that I must deserve it. 
(It helped as well that my parents did not like me having friends over or going over to friend's houses, so that isolation kept me from knowing I was abused)

I have heard parents defending their poor/abusive treatment of their children as "infrequent" or "maybe once or twice." However, abusive behaviour doesn't have to be a daily thing for it to be abusive. Abuse can happen daily, monthly or at random spontaneous outbursts. Unfortunately, the frequency of it is not a measure of the damage. Abusive acts are still abusive even if it only happens once. If it happens once, there's the potential for it to happen again. The long term effects or damage on a person do not change based on frequency. It's still damaging.

For example, your house can burn down once and it's pretty devastating. You probably live with the fear that another fire could happen again. That's how a child feels after the first time they've been abused - living in fear it will happen again. 

I will use Part 2 to go into more detail about abusive acts that people don't often think of as abuse.