We seem to recognize our own.

Once we receive the formal diagnosis and have done some research on the nature of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), once we meet and interact with other diagnosed and self-diagnosed Aspies and “classical” Autistics, we learn how we are similar and how we are different.  We learn what to look for, what is typical, what’s to be expected in dealing with other people on the autism spectrum. We also learn that some people have other issues and problems quite apart from their autism.

The same way that the perception among gay people develops to detect their own, colloquially known as “gaydar”, I feel like we begin to develop a similar perceptive insight…an “autisticator”, if you well.  Like “Gaydar”, it’s not perfect, not 100%, but it does seem like something we develop, the more aware we are of our own condition and the more we interact with other known autistics.  The more we do this, the more we are able to detect or sense heretofore unknown ASD individuals or probable ones.  It’s not sophisticated enough to provide someone with an actual diagnosis, or even self-diagnosis, but it might be enough to encourage such a person to seek a formal screening for ASDs from a licensed professional.  I discuss my perceptions of potential ASD individuals with my fellow known Aspies; when they encounter the same individuals, their perceptions are often in agreement with my own, though of course this does not control for confirmation bias or group-think peer pressure.

But if animals seem able to differentiate between autistic and NT humans, it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility for ASD individuals to recognize their own.  I am grateful to the NT researchers that first studied the most severe cases of autism, they did a lot of important work.  But as time goes on, we should continue to question old assumptions made from only the NT perspective, sitting in judgement of ASD behavior, according to NT-only norms and expectations.  There needs to be more of a back-and-forth dialogue between ASD individuals able to express and share their innermost thoughts and feelings and autism researchers.  This dialogue is starting but it is difficult and at times bordering on hostile, though I believe progress is ultimately possible and that a more genuine, more humane, more balanced understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders is possible, which gives equal weight to our perspectives.  Remember, “cure” is still a four letter word. 😉

Autism and relating to Animals

I have not yet read Temple Grandin’s major work Animals in Translation but I have read her follow-up book Animals Make Us Human, which is a fascinating work in its own right.  I think I owe it to myself to go back and read Animals in Translation, however.

I have noticed on several occasions in my lifetime that animals, especially shy pets of other people, and especially cats, seem to be able to figure out that I am different from the neurotypical humans around me.  I seem to register to them as somehow “safer”.  They seem willing to approach me, willing to let me pet them, etc, often to the amazement of their (NT) owners, who will frequently explain “she’s never done that with anyone before…”
Or, “Our animals love you, John.”, said by my former mother-in-law.

I remember something in Temple Grandin’s writings about how the autistic human brain is closer to the way other animals are wired, while NTs are more different.  Temple Grandin definitely has a deep understanding of cattle, but other Aspies seem to have a special affinity for other breeds of animals, like dogs or cats. It’s not perfect, nor 100%, but there does seem to be some sort of connection there, some way that animals are able to sense which humans are autistic and which are neurotypical and to regard the autistic ones as “safer”, somehow.  This is worthy of further scientific research.  My own anecdotal accounts don’t amount to much, but they seem to be common among other Aspies I’ve spoken to about it who’ve had positive experiences handling animals.

My Animal affinity seems to be with cats; Dogs mostly scare me and I don’t particularly like them.  Ditto cows.  But I like cats, and cats seem to think  I’m an alright human, or at least more trustworthy than most.  It doesn’t mean I can tame feral cats, but that I get along well with ordinary house cats, for the most part, and I’m  glad to report that we have a family cat that we in our home.

I also wonder if Aspie children can sense that Aspie adults are more like them than NT adults around them, even if they lack the vocabulary to express it adequately…do they also have some inner sense of “this person is more like me than the others here”?  I wonder.

Frank’s kinda Story:

I would once again say my name is Frank and I am 28 years old.  From grades K-2 I went to St. Thomas Moore grade school.  It was a K-8 school.  Then in 3rd grade I went to a school called Ms. Wagners.  Then in 4th grade I went to a school called Cliffwood.  By the way I forgot to mention that I repeated Kindergarten.  Then from 5th to 7th grade I was Home Schooled.  Then in 8th grade I went to a school called West Houston Jr. Sr. High School.  I did math and english at the school then did home schooling for the other subjects. Me and parents decided that was no good so we I did 8th grade over again the next year and went to West Houston Jr. Sr. High School for all the subjects.  Then from 9th to 12th grade I went to Westburry High School.  I can’t remember if i got modifications at West Houston or not,but I know for sure I got modifications at Westburry High School.  I went to Houston Community College (HCC) from 2004 to 2006 and I got modifications there also.  No I did not get a Degree at HCC since I mostly did remedial classes.  Then in 2007 I got a job at Target for 1 month.  Also in 2007 is when I found out that I had Asperger’s.  Then in April 22 2008 that is when I got hired by Primeflight Aviation Services from 2008 till june 30th of 2012.  Then from july 1st 2012 to present I work for AirservPrimeflight lost its contract with United and Airserv won the contract instead so they just rolled over all the employiess from Primflight to Airserv.  My goal is to work for United Airlines as a Ticket Agent or (aka) Airport Sales Agent.

Frank’s Introduction:

Hello my name is Frank Vito Martone.  I am 28 years old and was born and raised in Houston TX.  I am the last child still living with parents.  My brother Steve lives in New York City and is 34 years old and is married with 1 child that is about a month old.  My brother Johny lives in Los Angeles and is 38 years old.  My sister is a Algebra 2 teacher at Cy Woods High School and is 41 years old married with 4 kids.  They range from 11 to 15 years old.  My parents are recently retired and are 65 years old.  I first found out about me having Asperper’s in 2007 by a Dr. the person was a Clinical Psychologist.  Then in 2011 i was once again found out about my asperger’s by a Dr. at the UT Health Science Center at Houston TX.

Thankful for…

I’m thankful for my diagnosis, for it is better to know than to not know and stumble around the dark in ignorance.  I’m thankful my previous boss, who was an almost sadistic workplace bully, was finally at long last fired.  I’m thankful for my co-worker in my department with whom I very much enjoy working.  I’m thankful for my Aspie friends, who “get” me, and my NT friends who have put in the extra effort to “get” me.  I’m thankful for internet access, for Japanese Anime.  I’m thankful for a full time local government job with benefits and a modest pension plan.  I’m thankful for a good car that works despite its age, and look forward to replacing it soon with the same model updated.  I’m thankful when I can still manage to make time to read a good book, either on paper or in audiobook form.  I’m thankful for podcasts that are witty and informative and help me stay cheerful and free of boredom at work.  I’m thankful for lunch break with my gamer and comic book nerd friends.  I’m thankful for my atheist peeps at Houston Oasis and other local Freethought gatherings.  I’m thankful to be alive in this time and place.  I’m thankful I was married, got to experience love so intensely.  I’m thankful I’m divorced and free with no children to be responsible for.  I’m thankful I’m not too old to have a reasonable chance of a better relationship in the future.  I’m thankful for cooler weather, when we can get it.  I’m thankful for my parents and their support, even when they get on my nerves and we don’t always see eye to eye.  I’m thankful to have learned all I can legally know about my birth parents back in South Carolina, for it reveals my biological father was most likely an undiagnosed Aspie himself.  I’m thankful for the spare time to be able to put down these words contemplatively in the peace & quiet of my own room.

About Me: Resoman

I’m not very good with introductions when I don’t have some kind of prompt, so I suppose I’ll just start with some basics.

I’m a 23 year old male living in Texas. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in early 2004 by Dr. Timothy Bohan, MD, PhD. I live with my family, who are very supportive of me. I work part time at a nearby church as a childcare worker.

I have a variety of interests and hobbies. Playing the Magic: the Gathering card game with my friends is one of them. Watching anime is something else I like to do in my spare time. Learning the etymology of words is also something I’m fond of. This particular interest has even developed into a desire to create my own language, something I’m currently working on. I like to use the internet; Facebook being the site I frequent most. I also enjoy playing video/computer games.

Spending time with people I care about is something I truly relish. I’m a very easy going guy who gets along quite well with others. I don’t get offended easily, and have very good control over my emotions.

I’m an agnostic atheist. That means I don’t believe in the existence of any gods, while not claiming that they definitely don’t exist. I was raised as a Roman Catholic Christian. I became an agnostic atheist when I was 22 years old, after several months of researching my religious beliefs. One thing that contributed to this is that I don’t recall ever being a deeply religious person. Another significant factor was meeting Ankh Infinitus. He was highly influential in helping me learn what I now know that led to my position as an agnostic atheist.

My sensory issues come in handy

Aspies tend to have a few heightened senses and a few dulled ones.  It can be a major pain when your hearing is super acute and there are loud noises all over the place, but it can be very helpful if you have sensitive eyes and you have to see in the dark.  There are ways to compensate for things like oversensitive eyes or ears, like earplugs for the ears or sunglasses for the eyes.

As for myself, I’ve been very lucky with my “sensitivity cocktail”.  I’m insensitive to a certain degree of pain, and I have heightened senses of taste and smell.  My sensitivities have never been liabilities, and they help me to enjoy life more, as I see it.  I enjoy meals more than people with mortal taste buds, though I dislike what I dislike much more strongly than others do.  It’s fun.

Leave me a comment telling me about your own sensitivities.

Asperger’s, job advancement, etc.

It’s only in hindsight, with my Asperger’s diagnosis, that I finally understand a feeling I’ve had since childhood, about how I’d always believed I’d always make a better 2nd-in-command, an XO, etc, than the out-front leader.  It was always just an abstract idea at first, something I gleaned from (don’t laugh) watching the American adaptation of the Japanese anime Gatchaman known to American kids of the 1970s as Battle of the Planets.  I remember thinking 2nd-in-command Jason to be more like me, more worthy of emulation than the ostensible team leader, Mark.  Jason was drawn in darker colors, while Mark’s uniform was mostly white.

It never really occurred to me until today to realize this inner sense of myself from childhood is probably tied to my having an Autism spectrum disorder.  I remember confessing this to my therapist once, pre-DX but post divorce,and she thought I was just lacking self-esteem and needed to step up and show more ambition.  She was a good therapist but alas did not make the connection to Asperger’s syndrome.  When I informed her years later, she thanked me for contacting her and said that she had considered it but ruled it out at the time.  I guess my Asperger’s is mild enough that I can sometimes *pass* for NT, at least for limited durations.

It’s not as though I’ve never held leadership roles….I was promoted to Cadet Master Chief Petty Officer my junior year of High School, then elevated to Drill Team Commander my senior year.  I wasn’t the best Drill Team commander, but I was adequate, and commanded the respect of my subordinates.  I helped shape the lives of the future Cadet CO and future Drill Team commander of that Freshman class my senior year.  I mostly “led by example”.

My senior year of college, I won the lead role in the German language drama “Herr Peter Squentz” by Andreas Gryphius.  I played the title character, a comically absent minded professor. (gee, typecasting much, eh?); I not only memorized my own lines, I memorized the whole play and was an ace at being able to talk the other actors back to the script if they forgot their lines or jumped ahead, or was able to go off script and ask ad lib but completely contextual questions to quietly prompt other actors who got stuck or otherwise blew their lines.  It was fun, and I managed it all auf deutsch.  Strangely enough, all my stage acting experience has been performing in languages other than my native English.  While studying abroad in Germany, I had small speaking parts in a few Russian plays.

I was never any good at classroom management my one failed year as a High School German teacher.  I think teaching is one of the most difficult career options for an Aspie and not one I would recommend at all unless one were going into it as a Special Education teacher with a special emphasis on helping ASD kids.  My abortive foray into Secondary Education was prompted by my being declared a “terminal masters” in my German Studies graduate program and barred from moving on to the PhD in that field of study at Rice U.  Although I successfully completed and defended my MA thesis, it was an uphill struggle.  I finished in 3 rather than the expected 2 years and lost my fully funded Rice Fellowship in the process.  I also had strong personality clashes with nearly all of the German faculty at the time; It seemed we fairly well exasperated each other for quite some time, which again, only in hindsight do I understand was a by-product of my as yet undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.

I later worked for a division of the international insurance company AIG, Inc., specifically based out of their Houston offices, servicing travel insurance policyholders worldwide.  My German skills were highly valuable to them for voice interpretation and document translation.  Sure, I earned a good deal less than I was making as a teacher, but I absolutely loved that job.  I never got a promotion into management, but I was looked to informally as a floor leader based on my solid track record and experience.  Once again, I mainly led by example.  I was good at fixing other people’s mistakes.  I dotted every “i”, crossed every “t”.  I was meticulous with all my paperwork, my casework was solid and trustworthy.  I was very good at putting together evacuation time tables, estimating travel time, estimating necessary escort “down time”, etc; I even got pretty good at estimating costs in my head.  I probably could’ve done consulting work to advise people if their travel policy had adequate coverage or not based on their age and travel destination.

Sadly, I listened to my mother, who kept making disapproving noises about that job, saying it was “beneath me”, that I was “too smart” to be working there for such low pay, etc.  I partly went to library school to make her shut the hell up about my choice of career.  She was a retired school librarian, and I figured if I could become a successful librarian in my own right she would finally have to shut up about the size of my paycheck, doing work befitting my educational attainment, etc.  It took awhile, too, for me to take ownership of the idea of pursuing librarianship as a career for myself.

I took the leap and did it, earning my MLS from the University of North Texas in 2004.  Along the way I got married, got divorced, moved back home with my parents and finished my degree online, but I am grateful for the few limited semesters I got to spend on the UNT campus.  Next to working at AIG, I’ve always felt most at home in an Academic setting.

Alas, the library profession has continued to change and evolve, and increasingly the MLS is treated like a defacto MBA.  Any more, it seems as if the new librarian must be a Manager first, a librarian second.  Traditional librarian tasks have been de-professionalized and passed on to less credentialed staff; Thus, the library skills take a back seat to managerial skills for the MLS-holding professional…which spells trouble for the potential Aspie librarian; Especially an awkward male librarian like myself, moving into a traditionally mostly NT female workplace.  In hindsight, that this choice would lead to career disaster and failure seems obvious, but without a solid diagnosis in hand, I was naively oblivious to the situation at the time.

I essentially walked away from a job (AIG, Inc.) where I was extremely competent, very happy and very emotionally satisfied by my work (it felt good knowing I was making a positive difference in the lives of real people hundreds and thousand of miles away)…I walked away from that an into a virtual minefield of social pitfalls and catty office politics that is all too typical of contemporary librarianship.

Mine is thus a negative example of what NOT to do.  If you have Asperger’s syndrome or other ASD condition and find a job that you both enjoy and feel competent in, cling to it for dear life and don’t let go.  Don’t let anyone belittle you and tell you the job is “beneath” you or that you’re “too smart” for such a position.

At the end of the day, I found myself grossly under-employed in a Public rather than Academic Library setting, working as an underpaid Clerk, actually earning less than I made during my best years at AIG, Inc.; I only THIS year managed to pay off all my student debt, and that only after having to declare bankruptcy and by living with my parents, thus cutting my living expenses to the bare minimum and devoting a large chunk of my monthly income to paying down those student loan debts.

I don’t hate my job with the local Public library system, but I can’t seem to find any way to advance in it either, back into the Librarian I ranks.  I find myself time and again passed over for promotion by younger, less-well educated people, fresher out of library school than me, without a 2nd Master’s.  As jobs go, I could certainly do worse, and in this economy I’m grateful for being employed full time, with benefits, and with a modest state pension ahead of me.  But it’s no where near as fun, stimulating, or gratifying as when I worked for AIG, Inc.

And before you ask why I don’t just return to AIG, Inc., you may remember from newspaper headlines that AIG, Inc. was one of the too-big-to-fail Wall Street companies bailed out by Uncle Sam.  Part of the deal of that bailout was a hiring freeze that has been in place more or less ever since.  Believe me, if I could go back I would, but I can’t.

Please learn from my mistakes, if nothing else.