Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Staying Patient

I know many people, especially parents and peers, sometimes have trouble remaining patient with those of us on the spectrum as we learn to navigate the world around us. When we become adults, however, we often have trouble doing the exact same thing with our neurotypical peers - it's just part of the human condition!

As I've chronicled here in brief over the past few months, my grandmother has moved in with us temporarily and she'll be with us until April or so. My dad and my aunt are each taking her for half the year, and we've had her since October. At first, things weren't so bad, but since she's never been the brightest and she doesn't pay attention to us when we explain things to her, it's gotten really frustrating. I've been finding my stress levels increasing more and more and my patience growing shorter and shorter over the past two months, especially since we (my parents and I) haven't had time to take care of our own business since we've all had to look after and help her with hers. We've all been extremely far behind on things, so it's gotten tough and everyone's tempers seem to have gotten shorter along with it.

My own frustration is one thing, but since everyone - including my grandmother, who feels like a burden even though she isn't - has been frustrated too, the extra tension in the house really has been eating at me (because as anyone with Asperger's or anyone who knows someone with Asperger's knows, we're too empathetic and we can't handle other people's emotions very well). It's made my hypothyroidism flare up, too, so I'm constantly tired to boot. It's just been very, very difficult for me both physically and mentally.

I've been doing my very best to learn how to remain patient with my grandmother - living with us full-time is certainly a big adjustment for her, too, and I know it's been very tough on her. It's been very difficult for me to get used to having someone who traditionally has caused many sensory overloads for me around all the time, but it's just as hard for her to be here. I just keep trying to remind myself that she's struggling, too, and that I need to see this from her perspective, but it's definitely hard when having her here has been causing all sorts of sensory problems for me. I suppose I just need to keep on trucking here.

Anyone else have a similar problem? Is there any advice you'd like to share with both me and anyone else reading this? (Thank you in advance!)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Last week of the semester...

Things are really, really crazy here at the moment, as this is the last week of my second of four semesters of graduate school. It's a bit weird to think that I'm now halfway done with my Master's degree, especially since just a few years ago I never thought I'd be able to get this far when I first was diagnosed. Basically, a diagnosis isn't an end to your life or a limiter on what you can do. It just means you're socially different and you can still achieve what you want to by doing it in your own way. I didn't realize this at first, but now that I know I'm awfully glad I do and have faith in myself.

Faith, though, doesn't eliminate stress. Back to work for me.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Post-Thanksgiving Dispatch From The Front

I survived yet another Thanksgiving. I really have no idea how I make it every year, but I do.

The graduate school semester is winding down, so it's crunch time for me, but I'm a lot more worried about how far behind I've fallen on my holiday shopping because normally I've got my presents for everybody by Thanksgiving. Having to take care of my grandmother (and do grad school work) has slowed me down to the point where I have almost no presents ready to go at a time when I'm normally done. It's stressful, really.

I do have some potentially exciting news coming up if it works out, at least, but I can't spoil things just yet because we don't know how official it is. What I can say is that it involves my art and I might just be getting a break here, so fingers crossed!

I just want a social life back, really. Graduate school takes that away from me for about four months at a time, and now that my grandmother's in the house and needs us to help her out with so many things, I really don't get out when I've got free time, either, because my free time is almost entirely devoted to helping her. I don't mind helping her, of course, but I definitely get really, really frustrated about not being able to see anybody. I've already got Asperger's to make finding friends and potential boyfriends difficult, so not even having the time to try and practice my social skills is really starting to eat at me. I guess you could say graduate school actually makes me pretty lonely.

I also guess I should go and do some work, though. I've got two weeks to go before I can see anyone, so the least I can do is get things done.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Graduate School Keeps You Busy

It's been a very busy few weeks for me, but I think things are finally settling down now.

I had an issue with the bursar's office at my school regarding my student loans - they thought I owed them money when I didn't because the government sent me less money than they initially said they were going to, so my bursar bill got all messed up and there was a temporary hold on my ability to register for classes.

Luckily, that hold is gone and the problem's being repaired, and I'm now registered for my third of four semesters of graduate school. It's weird to think that I only have four weeks of classes left (and that one of these weeks is only for one day because of the Thanksgiving break) and then I'll already be halfway done with my Master's degree - it's giving me a sense of accomplishment for a change.

I'm also feeling accomplished because I managed to catch up on the commissions I owe people last night, so I now currently don't owe anybody any art. It's wonderful to be done with those, too, because for the past several months (since August) I've been behind on pretty much everything and catching up is a wonderful relief.

That being said, I still haven't been sleeping very well lately. I think it has to do with my grandmother moving in with us - I've been under a lot of stress involving that, and it's definitely been getting to me because I'm constantly exhausted. It's been over a month now since she's joined the household, and we're all really, really worn out by the whole thing but she's been very grateful and is doing her best to help out with things despite being 80 years old. It's always nice when the person who moves in with you isn't mean, after all.

Asperger's-wise, I think I've been handling the changes fairly well, although I did have a bad dream about missing my subway the night before I had to take the train out to Brooklyn for some archival field work at Green-Wood Cemetery for school. (I've got three more nights out there, and I'm loving it so far, but it's quite a long commute and it's pretty chilly these days!) Bad dreams generally indicate stress to me because I know I have a habit of laying down to go to bed and only thinking about what work I need to get done the next day, so hopefully I'll be able to get some time off to myself to do nothing soon. I'd really, really like to do nothing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Living With A Walking Sensory Overload

So my grandmother's moved in with us now.

It's not exactly the greatest arrangement in the world for me, but I've managed so far. It's definitely difficult for me, though, because she's been the impetus of many, many sensory overloads over the years for me, and I'm not certain how long I'll be able to tolerate the added noise and disturbances in my home environment. I'm also concerned because I don't make enough money to move out and get away, and those times when I do manage to escape are work and school, which are exhausting on their own.

Basically, I'm probably not going to be able to handle this very well and I know it, and the fact that I know it is eating away at me because I'm 24 and have been through a ton of therapy and feel like I should be able to. In the end, I'm still a slave to my own biology, and loud people who never stop talking are crippling to me. It actually makes me feel bad about myself because I feel like I've grown so much and yet this one thing can still bring me to my knees.

To be fair, she's already been driving my parents up the wall, too, so I'm not alone. I'm just really dismayed and disheartened that I can't handle this as well as I'd like to be able to.

I have a distinct feeling that it's going to be easier to have an infant child in the house than having my grandmother in the house. Help me.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Quick update to prove I'm alive...

It's that time of the semester where everything starts to get really overwhelming and I just want to cry all the time.

I think once I get through the next week or so, things are going to slow down considerably for me, which is wonderful and which I sorely need. I'm doing my best to go ahead on readings in order to stay ahead of the curve with work, but things are getting crazy and I've noticed that I'm getting irritable, a sure sign that I'm under too much pressure at the moment.

My grandmother (who has caused many sensory overloads for me over the years) is now moving in with us, as well, which is going to make matters even more difficult - after the death of my grandfather, we determined that she wouldn't be able to take care of herself in the apartment they lived in and so she's going to be splitting time between our home in New Jersey and my aunt's home up in Rochester, NY. I'm not so sure how well I'll handle having her around all the time because she tends to overload my brain pretty quickly, but I'm going to do my best to be as helpful and kind as I can be. It's really awful when you lose your spouse of 59 years.

Basically, this is just a quick post to let everyone know I'm still here and that I'm just completely buried under work, both for grad school and for comics, at the moment. And my grandmother's moving in. And I have a part-time job. And...yeah.

Breathe, Steph, breathe.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Yes, You May Have Asperger's - Just Check With Your Doctor First

A friend of mine linked me to an article on self-diagnosis and why it's not necessarily a good thing, but there are quite a few things wrong with it and I'm really quite put out by the fact that these assumptions are still going around.

So we're going to have a little talk.

Trigger warnings, by the way - this article has an argument in it that justifies cases of child abuse.

Let's get started here and shatter a few of the fallacies in here.
Everyone, to some extent, has symptoms of autism: it’s a natural outcome of how the brain works. Our species has evolved to have certain mental traits that support our social nature: we excel at facial recognition (to the extent that we might see faces in a grilled cheese sandwich, or in sand dunes on Mars); we are more empathetic towards fellow humans than towards other animals; we unconsciously negotiate sexual interest. Autistic people have poor social skills because these parts of brains are innately limited—a genetic throwback to a pre-evolved brain.
Nope. Autism is not a genetic throwback to a pre-evolved brain, especially given that people on the autism spectrum are for the most part of average or above average intelligence. In fact, with the prevalence of social media these days, the social playing field is actually becoming more level - since more young people are using social media and texting to communicate, their face-to-face social skills are actually declining. [Studies have been out on this for years - here's one and here's another.] If anything, because of humankind's technological advances more and more people's brains are functioning like ours and not like neurotypical brains traditionally have.
Compared to society at large, furries are collectively further along the autistic spectrum. Symptoms of this might include our flair for technical work, such as IT and the sciences, and perhaps in our enjoyment of fursuits, which create a ‘deindividualized’ social environment.
I am not a furry, but never, ever generalize an entire subculture. EVER. This would be like me saying all of my fellow library science students are on the spectrum, and we're clearly not. But this isn't the biggest flaw in the argument. That's coming up now:

It’s common for people with Asperger’s disorder to characterize themselves as feeling like a non-human, like an alien tourist in a strange society. It’s easy to see why a young furry, who feels disconnected from the world and identifies as an animal-person, would find this compelling. Asperger’s disorder is also fairly high-profile because it’s relatable—mild autism is comparable to the less permanent condition of being a teenager—and also because of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a novel with an apparently autistic narrator. The narrator, Christopher, is an easy character for any young adult to relate to in the Holden Caulfield sense: he’s an outsider, confounded by his constant failure to act according to society’s fluid and unsaid rules. It’s an engaging read (although it flags badly in the second half as Haddon gamely tries to narrate action through Christopher’s limited perception of the world).

Anyone identifying with Christopher from The Curious Incident is almost definitely not autistic. To identify is to demonstrate empathy, the very trait that Christopher—and anyone with Asperger’s/ASD—lacks. The same logic can be applied more broadly: if you think you have autism, you almost certainly don’t.

ABSOLUTELY AND COMPLETELY INCORRECT. The biggest misconception about autism in general is that autistics lack empathy. This is absolutely untrue and has been proven time and time again in both studies and by many people encountering people on the spectrum, as well as people on the spectrum themselves. I wasn't diagnosed until age 20, and I actually feel empathy MORE STRONGLY than the average neurotypical, getting far too emotional over my friends' problems and not emotional enough over my own. I'm also female, so another argument in this article is thrown out. Mature women can and do have autism, you know.

By the way, I've identified with many fictional characters (and quite a few comedians and at least one baseball player) over the years. Does that make me any less Aspergian? No, of course not. People on the spectrum have heroes too because - shocker - WE'RE PEOPLE. I think that gets lost in the shuffle way too often here.
Autistic people are often unable to see themselves as part of society. Ironically, anyone who thinks that they don’t fit in is demonstrating that they fit in well enough to be aware of society’s norms. A feeling of alienation doesn’t imply alienation. It’s usually the opposite: a feeling of alienation implies that you are maturing and learning to assimilate.
This is the difference between being autistic and being a teenager: autistic people do not mature to the point that they can fully function within society. It’s also worth considering that maturation continues until we are about 30 years old, and that the skills that help us feel part of society—empathetic skills—are the slowest to develop (ref).
No again, sir. I do in fact feel like I don't fit properly into society, but it's because I don't fit the societal norm that popular culture and stereotyping have reinforced into my brain from a very early age. And guess what? I felt alienated growing up because, and you're not going to believe this, I was. My peers both bullied me and socially ostracized me, so I was actually more or less kept from socializing with people my own age as a kid. I was socially alienated. I wanted friends horribly - and many people on the autism spectrum do - but nobody wanted me as a friend.

P.S. I'm an autistic graduate student who writes two webcomics, works as a tour guide, commutes into the busiest city in the world for school, and actually has quite a few friends. I fully function in society despite my autism because autism is a spectrum.

Now we'll actually talk a bit about self-diagnosis, which I covered on this blog once before for a bit when I talked about the negative perceptions of Asperger's on the internet. Self-diagnosis is a tricky road to walk, but here's the advice I give people who think they might fit into the Asperger's mold:
  • Talk to a doctor. Once you've brought this up with your general practitioner, he/she/they can help you find a psychiatrist who can properly diagnose you.
  • Antisocial =/= Asperger's. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and it seems like these were the people that the article was actually aimed at to begin with - people who assume that Asperger's is identified by antisocial behavior. It's not, and we actually like being social, but struggle with how to do it in a way that won't get us ostracized or bullied. If you're antisocial, you're highly likely to not be autistic. These are two separate mental conditions entirely.
  • Don't declare your self-diagnosis until you've had it medically confirmed. If you do so and you're misdiagnosing yourself, you're going to look like an idiot and won't be taken seriously. Do tell trusted people that you think you may have something - even Asperger's - but that you have to check with medical professionals to get an official diagnosis.
And one more thing from the end of this article:
If you have self-diagnosed as having Asperger’s, or if you were diagnosed when young, it may be time to reconsider.
Self-diagnosis is something that you need to check out with a medical professional before you confirm it, yes, but if you were diagnosed as a young child...well, I hate to break it to you, fellow, but you don't grow out of an ASD. You learn to cope with it and develop your social skills through therapy (my therapist has personally done a smashing job with me), but it's not something you grow out of because it's a neurological variation. It's an actual difference in the brain. It's going to be permanently there in some capacity for your entire life because it's literally a physical difference - a quick Google search turns up tons of images of brain scans to show these differences, as well as the accompanying articles (which are fascinating reading, although I'd like to see more ASD women in the studies since we tend to be overlooked).

Anyhow, I apologize for getting worked up, but as long as these misconceptions still float around people on the spectrum, myself included, are going to be sorely misrepresented and misunderstood.

tl;dr: If you suspect you may have Asperger's or are on the autism spectrum, talk to your doctor and get a proper diagnosis from a trusted psychiatrist. Also make sure, though, that you actually know what Asperger's actually entails and that you're not mistaking it for something else, because misconceptions like the ones seen above are often the cause of a lot of strife.

Friday, September 13, 2013

In Which I Attend A Panel Discussion In My Career Field

Last night, I went into the city (Manhattan for you non-locals - we all just refer to it as 'the city' and call the other boroughs by their real names) for an archival panel discussion on digitization of archival holdings and how it changes the research practices of historians and others. It was honestly great and I loved sitting in and listening to some leading figures in my field - well, both of my fields, since I'm trained as a historian and am now training as an archivist.

I'll be honest, though - I was terrified to go.

I don't really like going to events where I don't know anybody because my social anxiety flares up big-time and I have trouble keeping myself calm. This particular event even had a reception afterwards with food, so I was excited for the food but utterly horrified at the prospect of not knowing a soul in the room. I felt the anxiety coming on at least 24 hours in advance and I was sick to my stomach on the train ride into the city. I was just waiting for myself to screw something up when talking to somebody.

I tried psyching myself up in the only way a historian knows how - I attempted to get into the head of a socially adept person from history, someone who could command a room and make friends with ease. Being from New Jersey and therefore having a propensity to swear often, I told myself to pretend to be like Carole Lombard for the evening (as she swore extremely often too). To be fair, I actually tell myself to aspire to be more like Carole a lot since she was just so darn cool, but on this particular occasion I really needed her gregariousness just so that I would survive the evening. We also have similar senses of humor, so she's a natural person for me to try to emulate. (I just want to avoid the plane crash part, of course. I do not want to avoid marrying someone as hot as Clark Gable.)

As it was, I walked into the venue for the program and noticed that most of my fellow archivists were arriving in groups or at least knew each other already. I sank down into a seat in the lobby, even more uncomfortable than I had been on the way there, and told myself to breathe. I knew I didn't have to stay for the reception after the panel discussion, but I hadn't eaten dinner and there was going to be food there, so I was planning on at least grabbing something to eat.

The auditorium opened up soon after I arrived and I got settled in and actually made some small talk with people I didn't know regarding the wi-fi, which I was pretty proud of. The ultimate accomplishment for me, however, was seeing a fairly attractive guy around my age with the same Moleskine notebook as me and catching his eye and smiling at him, holding my notebook up. He actually smiled back at me. This was huge for me because I tend to have a lot of problems in that area. The moment he smiled back at me, I calmed down completely. I didn't feel inept anymore. I felt like I could survive the night after all because I actually accomplished something that I always thought I was too shy to even try. I just did it without even thinking.

Maybe that's my problem, actually - I think too much and feel too little.

I took a ton of notes during the panel discussion, which I'm going to shape into a blog post on Tumblr at a later time (i.e. when I have a chance to). Things then ended, and we all went back into the lobby to find that the food was just appetizers. That wasn't going to cut it for me - I hadn't had dinner - and so I joined a lot of other attendees in simply leaving. Seeing other people heading out reminded me that I wasn't actually socially obligated to remain after all, so I very happily headed to the door, opened my umbrella, and departed in the pouring rain. (Said pouring rain caused my train home from Hoboken to be delayed by over an hour, but that's why I still live at home - my dad came and grabbed me at the station instead.)

Overall, it was actually a successful evening for me. I was certainly relieved to be home, for sure, but I had actually gone to an adult function in my field and not made anybody around me feel uncomfortable. Nobody made fun of me or said anything mean, and I even initiated eye contact with a guy in my age group.

Last night was pretty darn good. Except for the rain.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Most Difficult Week I've Had In Years

This has been a very trying week for me.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to find out that my grandfather had a stroke whilst visiting my aunt up in Rochester. We're five hours away from him right now, and the stroke was very severe and we're not sure how much he'll be able to recover, if at all. This could be the beginning of the end, so I've been bracing for losing him for the past several days.

As if that wasn't enough, another emotional blow slammed me two days later. The morning of the stroke, my cat Murphy, who saved me from my mental breakdown that resulted in my Asperger's diagnosis, had trouble going to the bathroom, but was able to relieve himself. He seemed fine for two more days, and then Thursday afternoon suddenly looked awful and would yowl when I picked him up. It got worse throughout the night, and he wasn't eating and drinking, so I correctly diagnosed the problem as a urethral blockage and Mom and I brought him to the emergency room at 1 in the morning. I lost a cat to repeated urethral blockages that led to kidney failure when I was in 8th grade (I mentioned that briefly here once), so I knew the warning signs and wasn't taking any chances.

Murphy got through surgery just fine and he'll be home late tonight or early tomorrow morning - he's doing fantastically. Unfortunately, emergency vet bills are very steep, and so I'm taking art commissions to help raise money to pay for his emergency treatment. The money, though, is the least of my worries right now - knowing he's healthy and is going to be home again has calmed me down considerably because the last thing I needed right now was to lose the cat that saved my life. Having him back means everything to me - he was my emotional rock at the most difficult time of my life, and I wouldn't be writing this blog if he hadn't shown up during my sophomore year of college and let me adopt him.

With Murphy's health back in order, I can return my focus to my grandfather, which is a relief because handling all of this emotional stress at once was pushing me to the edge. I'm still getting sick to my stomach and not sleeping well, but my grandfather is in his 80s and I can come to terms with losing him because I've known that he's been unwell for a while - this stroke was just the culmination of all the stress on his body. There is absolutely no way I would have handled Murphy's death well at all because he's been the best little supporter I could have ever asked for and I love him more than anything. He's honestly been one of my best friends for the past four years and I can genuinely say that when he came into my life it was the beginning of a long healing process for me. It wouldn't have started without him, and I'm eternally thankful to him.

April 2009. Murphy and I met when he was six weeks old.

Best friends forever! Here we are four years later in April 2013.
I'm genuinely concerned about losing my grandfather, though - I love him dearly and I don't want to see him go out in pain. He's been taking care of my grandmother, his wife of 59 years, and the strain was just too much on him and now he's in a horrible state. He goes through good moments and bad moments and all the information we've been getting from Rochester - even from my data-oriented dad, who got up there as soon as he could - has been mixed and I don't know what to expect anymore. I just know that no matter what happens he's not going to be the same or fully recover from this and it breaks my heart to see him reduced to a shadow of the man he was.

Grandpa with Louise (and Barnaby in the background following my dad, as usual).
Basically, this has been a really, really emotionally difficult week, and I hope for everything to come to a satisfactory conclusion but I'm afraid that's not going to be the case for my grandfather. I'm just heartbroken for him - he doesn't deserve to go out like this.

Nobody deserves to go out like this.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Becoming The Therapist

I've been seeing my therapist for years now - I first met him in the summer of 2009, and then we resumed sessions in the summer of 2011 and I've been going ever since. He's been a wonderfully positive influence on my life, and I've definitely taken what I've learned and worked on in his office to heart.

It's had a new impact on my life, though, one I didn't think was going to come about - I've started doing my best to bring those teachings to others.

I do my very best to be there for my friends, and I've been giving them the advice that my therapist has given me over the years. It's not the easiest thing to do for me because of my Asperger's - I do get emotionally exhausted pretty easily when I'm trying to be there for people - but no matter how tired I get, I feel better knowing that they're going to be able to hang in there.

Friends mean a lot to me - growing up, I didn't have very many, and so I'm now very protective of the ones I do have. I want them to be happy and healthy, and I do my very best to be a supportive friend and be there for them whenever possible. I also urge them to see a therapist if it would help them - because my therapist saved me, and I believe another good one can save them. I know I can't go it alone and that a therapist will help more than I ever can, but being supportive and letting my friends know that I'm there is important to me.

I'm not really certain where I'm going with this post - it's more stream-of-consciousness writing than anything else. But I did feel it was important to share that being a supportive friend really does go a long way.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Asperger's Illustrated Celebrates 1000 Ausome Things

I've had a fairly normal life, when I think about the things that have happened to me and I've made happen so far. I graduated high school in 2007, then went to Gettysburg and majored in history and minored in Civil War Era Studies. I graduated college in 2011. After taking a year and a half off, I entered graduate school at Pratt Institute in the hopes of getting a Master's of Library Science to become an archivist. It's a fairly normal place for a 24-year-old girl to be these days - in graduate school, holding down a part-time job, and generally working a lot on a lot of things at once.

But there's something different.

My name is Steph Diorio. I'm a 24-year-old graduate student, and I have Asperger's syndrome.

I wasn't quite sure what to write today in particular at first since I typically spend a lot of time on this blog reminding everyone that an autism diagnosis is not a death knell and that you or your child can be incredibly successful in the right environment. I often write to try to remove the stigma placed on autism - and mental illness, as I also have OCD and social anxiety - and to promote acceptance of all differences across the board.

Today, though, is a day to celebrate success in particular, so I decided to talk briefly about how things can be for autistic adults. I turned 24 five days ago, so I'm technically in my mid-twenties now. I'm finishing up my first semester of graduate school tomorrow. I didn't think when I initially got my diagnosis that I'd be as successful in life as I am right now. I genuinely believed back in July of 2009, when I was diagnosed, that although I could be academically successful I would suffer socially for my entire existence. I became very quiet in class for a while and it took over a year for my confidence to come back socially.

I graduated in May of 2011 and took some time off to get my mental health back. Over that period of time, my therapist and I worked together and we eventually bolstered my confidence even higher to the place it's at now. I enrolled in graduate school, something I'd always planned to do, and actually went on a trip to D.C. with people I didn't know very well to visit the National Archives and Library of Congress. I felt awkward at first, but by the end of the second day I was getting along with people and making friends, something I never would've been able to do years ago.

The things that make the difference are confidence and practice. The more you practice your social skills, the more natural things will feel, and the more natural things feel the more confident you'll become. In 2012, more people hit on me than any time before that in my life. I realized that confidence is attractive - and for me, this had particular significance since boys told me I was ugly and undateable growing up. Knowing that the bullies were lying about me and having verifiable truth was a major turning point for me. Suddenly, I'd overcome that last big hurdle and stopped being afraid of boys my age automatically rejecting my presence.

This is more or less a hodgepodge of things at this point, but my point is this - don't ever, ever let yourself (or, if you're not autistic, the autistic people in your life) give up. There's something you're good at and you will succeed at it. (In my case, it's being a historian and archivist.) And people will accept you for you once they see that you're a beautiful, kind person.

There are many beautiful things about autism. Each one of us is one - or more - of those beautiful things. Keep fighting the good fight - if I can make it in this world, you can, too!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Being A Tour Guide With Asperger's

Sometimes my job as a tour guide is really, really tiring.

I work here, giving tours to people interested in history and modern art. I like my job, don't get me wrong - I know I'm lucky to have it since a large number of people with Asperger's struggle to hold down jobs. I just get very, very tired.

I'm in graduate school right now studying to become an archivist. By December of 2014 I should have a Master's of library science - and hopefully, a job as an archivist somewhere. Until then, though, I need to make money any way that I can to support myself, and for the time being, those ways are selling my artwork (which you can now buy online here!) and giving tours to people.

Tours aren't easy. Well, in some ways, tours are very easy - all you have to do is memorize a lot of information and then recite it to people and answer their questions afterwards. The hard part is that they're so intrinsically social that even a few hours on the job leaves me mentally exhausted. I have to keep an eye on everyone I'm talking to, looking for signs that they might be bored or have to leave to go somewhere else. I have to make eye contact with them a lot more than I'm comfortable with. And I can't act like a robot even though I'm giving the same information for what feels like the 100th time. I have to be fun and smile a lot.

Now if you've got me talking about baseball or comedy history or something else I adore, like Top Gear, I'm extremely personable and smile a ton. I also do that when I'm talking with people I know and trust. It gets hard when you have to act all open with people you don't know and you have both Asperger's and social anxiety. 

I know I've overcome a lot of challenges to even have this job, and I'm very proud of myself for making it. I honestly had my doubts that I could do this and somehow I've been doing this for almost a year. Every so often, it just gets a little hard to keep up.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1 In 50: Why Using Numbers Hurts Autism Awareness

I've been meaning to write something like this for a long time. It's just been rankling me for years, so I'm just going to come right out and say it:

Stating autism rates doesn't help awareness or acceptance. It just scares people.

That's all there is to it. Shouting out numbers isn't going to help people understand your child with autism or Asperger's. All it's going to do is intimidate and frighten people. I can throw out numbers all day about the prevalence of autism, but it's not going to do anything except make people afraid to have children in case those children end up having an autism spectrum disorder.

We don't want that to happen. It'd be rather nice to have a next generation.

There's better ways to get people to notice and care about people with ASDs. I personally explain my Asperger's to people when it comes up in life, helping them to understand how autism spectrum disorders work a little better through their contact with an actual person with one. I also make sure they know that I'm one person with Asperger's and not representative of the autism spectrum as a whole, but now a lot of people who know me come to me when they have questions about autism spectrum disorders. This is because I put a human face on those numbers.

We can't just shout out numbers at people if we want them to accept us as a group of human beings. We need to make sure people realize that autism has a human face, and that it's us, our children, our friends, our siblings - people. Groups like Autism Speaks use the numbers to raise money, playing on fear to get people to donate money to their research. This is a problem because if we all use fear, nobody's going to understand because we fear above all else what we do not know or understand.

Do you want people to understand the autistic people in your life? Don't scare them with numbers. Just explain to them what autism really is. Show them that it's something that affects the lives of people, not just a statistic. In my life, I use statistics for baseball, not my self-advocacy. I use myself for my self-advocacy, and I find it works a lot better. The people I interact with understand autism and Asperger's better after they've met me because I am nothing to fear. I'm just a person, like they are.

Stop using the numbers to try to raise awareness. Use actual autistic people and show the world that they should be accepted just like other humans.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I managed to lose my wallet...

...and it led to a minor breakdown wherein I sobbed on my couch for a good several minutes.

I haven't made a misplay in my adult life in some time, so this discouraged me pretty severely. I felt like I was doing really well there for a while.

We've already canceled the credit and debit cards to get new ones, but I'm not looking forward to that trip to the DMV to get a new driver's license. I'm really not thrilled about losing work time. I guess I can do grad school readings whilst I wait. I also need to get a new school ID, which is going to cost me a hefty sum of some variety, so that's really discouraging, too.

I think I felt like I let my parents down since my credit card is currently attached to their credit card account. They took it a lot better than I did and helped me out, and that calmed me down considerably. I just need to pick my head up and not feel like such an idiot over an accident that was beyond my control. Then I remembered that they're old pros at things like this. I'm still relatively new to adulthood. They've dealt with problems like this before, but I don't have experience in this area yet. I suppose that experience will come (starting now).

I just wish adulthood wasn't so discouraging sometimes. Can I go back to being ten again?

UPDATE: A Good Samaritan found my wallet and brought it home! What a relief! I'm going to buy him a nice gift card as thanks.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I Actually Tried Flirting!

On Wednesday, I was riding the PATH train from school to Hoboken so I could go home. When I got on the train, a cute guy around my age sat down next to me. He had other seating options - there were plenty of seats on the train - but he chose to sit next to me.

I smiled at him.

This genuinely surprised me because I generally panic when attractive men around my age are near me. I don't know what to do and I'm afraid they'll reject me just like the boys in my middle school who told me how hideously ugly and horrible I was. For whatever reason, though, on Wednesday I had the courage to look at him and give him a smile.

I shot him a few sideways glances as the train shot underneath lower Manhattan and the Hudson River, too shy still to look at him outright except for our reflections in the window on the other side of the car. I could see that he seemed to have a headache, as he kept massaging his forehead, looking rather tired. I felt a sudden pang of regret that I didn't have any Advil in my saddle bag to offer to him. At the same time, I noticed my heart was pounding in my chest in a way that I hadn't felt it do since I was a freshman in college. I was feeling physical attraction towards somebody in real life.

As we neared Hoboken, I decided that I might as well try to give him one last smile before we went our separate ways. I decided to use the pratfalling abilities I'd picked up back in my theatre days (which were in middle school and didn't last all too long). I stood up as the train closed in on the station, holding onto the pole near me. When the train stopped and he too stood up, I let go of the pole and shifted my weight slightly to allow myself to stagger in front of him. I said, "Sorry!" and gave him one last big smile before we separated and went off to our own lives.

I giddily hopped into my dad's car and spent a good portion of the ride home feeling proud of myself. I had made an attempt to flirt that didn't scare a guy away - I wasn't told I was gross or ugly or creepy. The guy even sat next to me - so close that we were bumping elbows the entire train ride - when he could've sat next to someone else or even not next to anybody. That night, I cried myself to sleep with relief knowing that maybe, I might not be undateable after all.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Grad School and Asperger's: A Match Made In Heaven

Spring Break starts for me at the end of this week. It's also starting for my kid brother, so I get to go with Dad to pick him up on Friday and bring him home. It's nice to have the same week off from school.

Graduate school is the first place I've ever felt like things aren't scary. I've loved every minute of it, and it's just getting better by the week. I think what's nice is that it feels safe - there's no judgment there. We're all adults here - people aren't cliquey, a lot of us commute in and out, and we're all there for the same thing, so we might as well help each other out.

I was scared when I started back in January that I wasn't going to fit in yet again. It had been the story of my life, after all. But it turns out that things are a lot different in graduate school - it's a great place for people with Asperger's to be. Everyone who goes to grad school is interested in a more specific field, for one, which slots in very well with special interests. My interest in becoming an archivist is shared by other people, which is really exciting for me. Quite a few of us are nerds, too - people think it's cool that I draw two webcomics and script a third instead of making fun of me, and we can have generally geeky conversations (last night a few of us chatted about Transformers). It's a place I actually feel at home for once.

I can't imagine I'll ever want to graduate at this point. I'm quite happy to just stay in school with these people for the rest of my life. It's such a joy to be somewhere you feel like you actually belong. Before this, the only time I got that feeling was whenever I was at a baseball game - I knew I intrinsically belonged at the stadium because I felt so good there. I get that same feeling whenever I arrive at Pratt for my classes each Tuesday and Wednesday. It's wonderful to feel accepted and like you were meant to be somewhere.

That being said, anyone know of any scholarships for graduate students with Asperger's? I'd kind of like to be able to avoid student loans because archivists don't exactly make the same money that Wall Street executives do...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why My Asperger's Helps Me Understand Laurel & Hardy

I've been working on a new project lately called Comedian Heaven, which is really more or less a webcomic about dead comedians working out the problems they had during life in their afterlives. As anyone who knows me knows, comedy - especially its history - is one of my special interests, and themes related to it can be found in both Londinium and The Historians, my two main creative projects. It also can be found all over my Tumblr - it has a tag there, and it encompasses both a lot of my stupid fanart (and Comedian Heaven sketches) and just comedy stuff in general.

You'll mostly find Peter Cook and Dudley Moore there, as they're my all-time favorites and the main inspiration for the current incarnations of Basil and Dustin in Londinium. Lately, though, there's another double act in my life that's swiftly running a close second to those two, one that really couldn't be more different in style.

I'm talking about these two.

Watching Stan and Ollie's characters trying to navigate the world is something I realized I understand a lot more than I thought I would. Their characters are children in the world of adults, and it's essentially how I feel about myself - the rules of the adult world are strange and foreign, and they don't always make sense to me. I'm turning 24 in April and I'm quite content to enjoy the same things that made me happy as a little kid - going to the toy store, building model kits, setting up toy train layouts, and, of course, reading. I never grew out of cartoons - I even started drawing them (and occasionally am even paid to do so). And I just find it really hard to understand why people can be so mean and not enjoy life.

Watching me move any somewhat large object also resembles The Music Box, but that's beside the point here.

It's a world view I understand - it's so easy to get lost in a world of adults when you see things so simply and without malice or ulterior motives, and you have to wonder a lot of the time if people are going to try to take advantage of you because you're gentle and child-like. On the flip side, you become a friend to all children, someone who bridges the gap between their world and that adult world that they'll someday enter, and your own existence and survival there - no matter how accident-prone you may be - gives them hope and reassures them that they'll be able to make it someday too.

Lately I've been watching these two quite a bit. There's something about them that just makes me feel really happy inside. I think it might have something to do with the fact that I can identify with them in a way. The world's confusing for people like us, but we survive due to our kindness towards other people.

Thanks for giving me that hope again, you two.