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.

January 19, 2015

Diagnosis Day



Diagnosis Day


You sat down, the doctor gave the news
In some ways it's such a relief
But inside there's still a part of you
That wants to curl up in grief



"I'm still your baby," she says.
"I'm still the same one you love.
I'm still the same child you hold 
Close to your heart so snug."



Don't worry about anything yesterday
I know this wasn't by choice
Just take each moment day by day
And in small victories rejoice


~Kelly Bron, January 2015

January 16, 2015

Mentoring in the Workplace

This is a guest post by Dawn Marcotte*. I'd be interested to hear any feedback or experiences you'd like to share in the comments. Remember your comments can help others. 


"I got the job!"


What a great phrase to be able to say, but now what?

Getting the job is a huge accomplishment, keeping the job is now the goal.

The working world is filled with unwritten rules, company specific culture, and a whole new range of skills to be mastered. It also doesn't come with therapists or any of the support autistic kids generally get in school. However, a new job does come with a boss, peers and coworkers. This is where those hard won social skills will really come in handy.

Anyone who is new to a company should cultivate a relationship with the people they will be working with as well as with management. Some companies may provide a designated 'buddy' or mentor for new employees. If not, ask for one or ask one of the people around you if they would be willing to help you as you settle in to your new job. 

However, you may not be able to find a mentor right away.  Don't give up, you can actually develop relationships with several people, so that one person doesn't feel overwhelmed with questions.  Even if the company provides you with a designated mentor it is a good idea to build relationships with others in your department and throughout the company. No matter how good your skills are in you chosen industry, part of being successful at work is the social interactions required to do your job.

Written vs. Unwritten Rules

If a manual of office policies has been provided, read it. But don't be surprised if not all of the rules are followed. This is where it is time to ask others when you see a variance.  A simple phrase such as,
"I read in the manual we are supposed to dress business casual but I see others wearing jeans on Friday's. I wanted to be sure before I wore jeans that this it is okay."

When it is phrased like that others are not going to feel they are being accused of doing something they shouldn't and you will get clarification on one of those unwritten rules. There are times when rules change, but the manual hasn't been updated. Also, don't feel pressured to do what others are doing, if you are more comfortable following the rules, then follow them.

Communication

Another aspect of company culture is how the company likes to share information. Does your boss or mentor want you to email them your questions? Leave a voicemail? Have a face to face meeting? IM? 

The only way to find out is to ask. A favorite method of communication should be used for all communications, whether they are related to a job specific task or a general question.

When you are new to a position it is a good idea to ask your boss or HR manager how they want you to address any questions you may have.  Some bosses may want you to schedule a weekly meeting or some other rhythm for submitting questions and getting answers. Other bosses may expect you to just figure it out for yourself. If they expect you to figure it out you can do this by developing relationships with your coworkers and peers.

If you have been assigned a mentor it is a good idea to ask about anything you may have a question about. However, you don't want to pester people with a lot of questions so write them down first. Schedule a meeting with them to review the questions, writing down the answers so you can refer back to them later. If you have not been assigned a mentor you have a couple of other options.


two people looking at a laptop computer from iStock on OneQuarterMama.ca
Two people looking at a laptop computer

Choosing Your Mentor

Often when a new person starts the department may have some sort of welcome. They may introduce the other people in the department, have food or just introduce you in a meeting. However, you are introduced smile and make brief eye contact with as many of the people in the room as possible. 

Later you can approach them individually to introduce yourself and make a connection. Then as you begin working you can write down your questions. Once you have 2 or 3 questions you can approach one of the people and ask them, "I have a couple of quick questions. Do you have a moment you could spare to help me?"

You don't want to ask more than 3 questions at a time and you probably don't want to ask the same person more than once a day. This will help you avoid being seen as vulnerable or lacking confidence. If you are young and this is an entrance level position you may have a bit more leeway, because those around you know you lack life experience. 

Asking more than one person will also keep you from depending on one individual who may or may not be honest. Unfortunately there are bullies and hurtful people in the workforce. They may see you as a threat to them or just enjoy hurting others, but as the new person you won't know who those individuals are right away. By asking more than one person you begin to build relationships with others around you. 

Another option is actually using online groups. Forums such as WrongPlanet.net have an entire section devoted to adult life and working. Utilize the group to ask your questions and see what kind of feedback you get. You may be surprised at how much help other autistics can be even when they don't work at the same place you do.

Feedback

When you are asking questions and getting answers it can be a good time to ask for feedback on your own behavior. Ask about any habits you may have that others find offensive or that could lead to problems down the road. This could be something like speaking in too loud of a voice when you are on the phone, asking questions at the wrong times, wearing perfume that is too smelly or some meeting etiquette you are getting wrong. 

It has been my experience that most NT people are not prepared to answer this kind of question honestly when it addresses personal habits.They won't want to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad about yourself. They may feel more comfortable addressing job specific items. If you don't want to share your diagnosis you can simply say,
 "I know I have had some habits that drive my family crazy and I don't want to do the same thing at work so please tell me if there is something I need to do differently."
You may not want to ask this more than once to any one individual, but as you build working relationships with others you can remind them occasionally that you welcome any feedback they have for you to help you in the company. Traditionally this kind of feedback will come from either a manager or HR person if someone makes a complaint about you.

It is important to accept their feedback graciously with a simple, "Thank you for being honest, I will work on that." Then be sure to actually work on it and make changes as needed.

Being honest with managers and coworkers is the best policy. Being open about any issues or difficulties you may be having will help others feel more comfortable helping you. For example if the environment is louder than expected and you have trouble with that, talk to your manager and offer a solution you would like to try. Managers don't like to have employees complain when they don't have a solution, it is just one more problem for them to try to solve. However, if you say something like, 
"I have been having trouble concentrating at my desk because of the noise, would it be alright for me to wear noise cancelling earbuds so I can focus better?"  

This is a way to open the conversation and allow the manager or HR representative help you fix the problem, before it begins to affect your job performance. 

Keeping a job is about more than just doing the specific job tasks, it is also about building relationships with others. This takes time and effort, but is well worth it in terms of staying employed.

*Dawn Marcotte is the CEO of www.ASD-DR.com, a website designed to help teens and young adults on the spectrum live to their highest potential.


You may be interested in my other posts about being Autistic at work.

January 15, 2015

Introducing the One Quarter Mama Family

Here's a cute video I made to introduce us. It's less than two minutes and fun! Watch it!


 

January 09, 2015

The Challenges of Employment

Today* I am at work and having a really rough time of it. I work full time (35 hours/week) plus I also do two freelance contracts on the side. I've had that arrangement since September and am frankly getting a little tired of it.

Today's issues aren't caused by that, however. I have a cold still, so I'm already tired and low on energy. I find myself very distracted. I'm cold (it's minus 28C with the windchill) and the combination of all this is giving me random panic attacks.

Back in my 20s, I would have said, "f-it!" and gone home (or just stayed home), but I'm toughing it out so I don't lose my job. I've lost/left many good jobs because of sensory or other issues.  I've learned that I'm no more useful if I stay home - by that I mean I wouldn't rest if I went there. So I might as well be here not resting than be there not resting.

I think a lot of us Autistics put a lot of pressure on ourselves to always do things right or correctly. Go big or go home! If I can't give 110% to the job, I would rather not do it. But I've learned to be more gentle on myself. I've come to realize many people don't put very much pride or effort into their everyday, so if I am "off my game" for one day, no one will actually care or notice.

I keep to myself on fragile days like these, knowing if I interact too much, I will come across as cranky (I am) and if really bad, may even regret an outburst. I exploded once here at work when in pain.

I have not eaten lunch, even though I am hungry. I am hypervigilant over the sensations in my stomach, since I am sick and scared something worse might happen. This is what happens when I am overwhelmed this way. I have managed to work through two panic attacks already and I will have to go home and go straight to bed, I think.

Not every day is like this at work, but I had more frequent panic attacks when younger and was frequently in and out of employment. The stats on Autistic adults working are around 12-16%, depending on the country. That makes me really lucky to have a job at all, and it doesn't surprise me.

If I didn't have my husband, I'm not sure how I would have survived my 20s. I needed someone to fall back on and support me when I couldn't cope.

I've been at my current workplace exactly two and a half years now - which is the longest I've been employed at any one place ever. (I had better success being self-employed, in terms of length of employment)

 It can be hard to slog through work everyday when there's already so much going on within your own head and how you experience the world. Not everyone can "tough it out" and that's not even desirable in the long run. My health is more important than money, but I have managed to get to a point in my life where I can be more gentle on myself and not try so hard to control all situations. I've become somewhat less rigid in my thinking.
There are days where I still feel I am stuck swimming upstream, but I don't have to make myself feel bad for those days. It's not my fault. All I can do is try to hang on and hope tomorrow is better. And it will be.

*Today is used loosely since I often schedule posts, so no need to comment and tell me to feel better when it's already most likely passed :) Not that I don't appreciate concern.