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Executive Function Strategies

I’m putting the blog on hiatus for the month of August. Some more details at the end of the post if you’re interested.

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Back in March, someone left a comment on the self-employment series asking me to share some of the ways I manage my executive function challenges in the context of work. With an amusing mix of irony and executive function fail, I’m just now getting around to writing the promised post.

One of the reasons I’ve been avoiding writing this is that I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. Should it be a list or a narrative? Does it need examples? How detailed should it be? There was also the nagging fear that maybe all of my executive function hacks are plain old common sense.

Back when I was fourteen and an aspiring doctor, someone recommended that I read “The Making of a Surgeon” by William Nolen. It was a memoir of Nolen’s progression from med school student to surgeon and I excitedly dug into it, hoping for insight into what med school would be like. Only to be disappointed when one of the first grand bits of wisdom that the author offered was how he learned to do multiple chores at one time–literally to pick up records, drop off samples and get his lunch all in the same trip rather than making three separate trips from his unit to do each errand individually.

I remember lying on my bed thinking, “How on earth did this man get into such a prestigious medical school?” It seemed like a no-brainer to me that if you had three things to do, the best option would be to do them in a geographically efficient sequence.

At the risk of some of you having these same kind of thoughts about my executive function hacks, here are some of the strategies I use at work and day-to-day life.  Continue reading

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I Don’t Need Your Awareness

Awareness is trendy. Everywhere you look people are raising awareness about things. Sometimes even things they know very little about.

For example, here’s a 2-minute awareness video titled “Listen” that is intended to “inspire positive change through a deeper tolerance and understanding” about autism (Trigger/Seizure Warning for flashing graphics, loud abrupt sounds).

Do you feel more aware? Do you understand what it’s like to be “a child who is non-verbal” and an “extreme case” (in the words of the producers)?

No, you don’t. How do I know this? Because the people who made that video don’t know what it’s like to be a nonverbal autistic child.

Neither do I, of course. I am not and nor was I ever a nonverbal child. Only a nonverbal autistic child or someone who was once a nonverbal autistic child understands what it’s like to live that experience.

I am autistic, however, and I know that my vision is just fine. The world is not blurry to me. People and objects don’t fade in and out of focus. I don’t see blank objects or perceive the world in flat 3-color animations.

But thinking in pictures! All autistic people do that, right? Well, no.

Ah, but this is meant to be an interpretation. Silly literal autistic me. Of course. Autistic brains are a metaphorical funhouse, an interpretative fever dream, leaving us with nothing but a “constant struggle to cope with the world” around us.

Again, no.

Do I sound angry? Because I am.

The video has over a thousand likes and I assume many more views. There are people who will watch it and assume they know what autism is. The creators did research, after all. They spent time “within the autism community.” Certainly they must be experts, or at least be presenting an accurate representation of what it’s like to be a nonverbal autistic person.

Unfortunately, they’re contributing to the very problem that they set out to solve:

Imagine living a life where the world you perceive and experience around you is entirely different than that of your peers, and your family — where you feel… misunderstood.

We feel misunderstood because nonautistic people keep telling our stories, without asking us for our input. We feel misunderstood because nonautistic people make assumptions about what it’s like to be autistic and then present them as fact. We feel misunderstood because, like the adult in the video, people are talking to us and at us and about us but they’re not listening.

I don’t need this kind of awareness.

And I certainly don’t need to be tolerated.

I need acceptance and I need for the voices of autistic people to be the ones speaking about autism.

Listen?

Yes, I wish you would.

blog theme update

As some of you noticed yesterday, I’ve updated the blog theme to add a little color. Maybe down the road I’ll experiment with some of the new features (like this one that allows short “aside” posts). It’ll take some getting used to, I know. 

And yes the remodeling is an indication of just how bored I am with all the not writing I’m doing.

Triathlon training is chugging along nicely – 3 weeks to go and I feel great, if a bit worn out. The garden is producing lots of cucumbers and tomatoes, a few eggplants and peppers. And for some reason I’m the only person on earth who can’t grown squash? With the exception of one green squash a couple of weeks ago, all I’m getting are tiny little squash that turn yellow and wither.

Besides a renewed obsession with The Sims, that’s about all that’s new around these parts. 

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Social Interaction Survey

This week’s questions are all about general social interaction (next week is social communication). Some of these questions might hit a little close to home for some of us  because they touch on trust and vulnerability. Please don’t feel pressured to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable.

If you prefer to answer anonymously, you can do so at Survey Monkey.

1. Have you dated knowing you had Aspergers/Autism? If so, when and how did you disclose? How did that turn out?  How did you go about getting someone to date you?

2. How often do you like to go out? Do you prefer to do stuff alone? Do you find it difficult to motivate yourself to go out sometimes?

3. Do you talk a lot to people? A lot of books go on about how Aspies can talk the hind leg off a donkey about their pet topics  but I don’t have the desire to really talk to people.

4. For people diagnosed as an adult, do you have a changed perception of how others see you? for example how friendly/outgoing/confident you seem to them.

5. Do you see yourself as vulnerable because of ASD? Are you more likely to be persuaded to do something or taken advantage of than most other people might? Has your perception of this changed with age?

6. Trusting other people – over the years I have learnt that I am very poor at reading peoples intentions and have been taken advantage of. I have adjusted to this by needing to understand what is happening and needing to be able to logically join up what someone does and says into a consistent picture – or I don’t trust them. How do other people manage this?

7. Do you ever feel like you’re living on a different scale of time from other people? For example, do you hear about a new TV show and only watch it years later because it just didn’t seem urgent?

8. My therapist explained that extroverts gain energy from others and introverts gain energy from being alone, and that autistic people can be either or anywhere in between. She also said there are challenges for extrovert autistics because of the social difficulties making it hard to achieve needed social interaction. (more details) Thinking about it in these terms, where would you place yourself on a continuum from introvert to extrovert? Is this different from how you would think of yourself using the terms in a broader sense, and is this different from how others see you?

 

Prosody: Loud Voice, Fast Voice, Soft Voice, Flat Voice

Things people have said to me:

Dog training instructor: “Get excited! Look happier! Make your voice happy! You have to sound HAPPEEEEE! If you don’t sound HAAPPPPEEEEE!!! your dog won’t know that she’s doing it right.”

Random stranger, after a 5-minute phone conversation: “You don’t seem like a very nice person.”

The Scientist, after sharing something meaningful: “Do you have any feelings about what I just said?”

Phone interviewer, mid-conversation: “I’m glad I’m recording this. You talk so fast, I could never take reliable notes.”

Many people, in many situations: “Shhh. Keep your voice down. The whole floor/house/airport/neighborhood doesn’t need to hear your story.”

More people than I can count (sarcastically): “Don’t sound too excited about it.”

Who Needs Prosody? Not Me

The first time I ever heard the word prosody was when Jess was in high school. She went to a performing arts magnet school, where she majored in creative writing. Occasionally her report cards would mention that she was working on prosody as part of a poetry class.

Naturally, I assumed that prosody was some sort of poetry reading technique and didn’t give it another thought.  Continue reading

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Coping Strategies Survey

This week’s questions are all about coping strategies. Traveling, panic attacks, aging, job hunting, emotions, obsessions – it’s a great mix and I think we’re going to come up with a great big pool of potential strategies that we can all draw on when needed.

You know the drill–if you’re on the spectrum, either formally diagnosed or self-identified, you’re welcome to join in. Answer as many or as few as you like. Do it here or anonymously at Survey Monkey.

 

1. I am wondering if travelling is hard for all Aspies as they age or if it is just me?  I like my home at night and my own environment. I prefer to be as close to it as possible…and I get sick or upset if I stay away…my tolerance is two days from home max and two weeks to recover…Does anyone else feel this way? Does it get worse with age or in certain decades? more details here

2. Is liking or disliking foreign travel related to ability to pass for NT at home?

3. Do you experience problems with long flights? If yes, which aspects are most problematic? (which travel stages: e.g. planning, navigating airports, flying, unfamiliar surroundings at the destination etc – and which problematic factors: e.g. sensory overload, executive function issues, anxiety / panic attacks etc) How do you cope with long flights? (what are your coping strategies)

4. How do you cope with panic attacks in unavoidable situations that you can’t leave, such as during flights?

5. Do you find yourself getting more autistic as you get older? Did your coping strategies improve with age due to experience or psychological assistance (I shy away from the word ‘treatment’) or did they deteriorate over time because of a decrease in overall energy?

6. How do you cope with strong emotions, especially strong negative emotions, especially if you’re also alexithymic? How do you support someone going through a very difficult time emotionally (nothing practical to be done)? How do recognise what the feelings are, and how do you respond in a way that comforts the person?

7. How do you motivate yourself to job hunt? more details here

8. A question that is specifically for people who menstruate: do you notice changes during your menstrual cycle. With changes I mean changes in sensory perception, abilities to cope and/or compensate, EF, etc.

9. If you’ve been heavily obsessing about an interest for a while do you find you have to have a short break from it because it has got too intense?

10. Has anyone taken concerta/ritalin/other stimulant drug prescribed to help ADHD type symptoms and reacted very badly to them physically? What effect did it have on you in the short and long term?

 

Backstopping: Supporting the Autistic Person in Your Life

The Scientist and I moved cross-country a few years ago. We made the drive In four days and by the middle of the fourth day I was on the verge of shutdown. It was way past lunch time, we were out of snacks and we were driving through Middle of Nowhere, West Virginia.

When we finally came upon a place to eat it was a McDonald’s. Just the thought of eating fast food made me feel nauseous. I said I would walk the dog around while The Scientist went inside to order. When he asked what I wanted, I said “Nothing.” By the time he came out with a big bag of food, I was sitting on the curb by the car with my head on my knees, wishing I could teleport myself the final four hundred miles to our new home.

The Scientist sat down to me and said,”I got you something.”

Even though I was so hungry that I was light-headed, I couldn’t imagine being able to eat a burger or fries.

“I don’t want anything,” I said.

Undeterred, he reached in the bag and took out a container of oatmeal. When he opened it, I saw it was topped with fresh blueberries. He’d found the one thing on McDonald’s menu that wouldn’t totally repel me. I was so happy, I nearly cried.

What’s the point of this rather boring and uneventful story? It was the first memorable instance of something I’ve come to think of as backstopping.  Continue reading

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How We Experience the World Survey

I was stumped for a title on this one. The questions all center around various ways we experience the world around us, but they’re about as loosely related as you can get and still say there’s a theme.

If you want to answer anonymously, you can do so at Survey Monkey.

 

1. Is the fascination with certain topics usually a life-long one, persistent over many years, or subject to change ?

2. What are your special interests and on what scale do you engage in them?

3. What effect does alcohol have on you, particularly on your executive function or stimming?

4.  I’m wondering if sitting all crossed-up in chairs is an ASD ‘thing.’ (i.e. do you do this?)

5. Do you have some very specific memories? Such as “ah-ha!” moments that you can draw up much more clearly than most memories, involving not only a picture but feelings, perhaps sounds and smells etc. as well and the image is VERY clear whereas most memories are a thought.

6. Do you sometimes attribute feelings to inanimate objects? Do you feel like certain objects ‘want to’ be interacted with or will feel bad if you don’t use them? Do you explain some of your quirks in this way, for example thinking that street furniture or certain textures want to be touched/felt, rather than you want to touch them? Or does it feel this way but you translate it when talking to others?

7. Does arousal influence you in an autism-specific way? As in: Do you overload easily when aroused? Does arousal influence, for example, your verbal reasoning skills than you feel would be “normal”? Do you stim when aroused? (for clarification: the questioner described this question as being “personal” so I think they are referring to sexual arousal, but answer in whatever way is comfortable for you)

8. Do you have difficulty with sequencing – working out the order in which you need to do things – for example if you were preparing an unfamiliar meal with several elements, would you have difficulty balancing them all without explicit planning and measurement in advance? Do you often realise you’ve done things in the wrong order or in a very inefficient way?

9. Is your primary fantasy ‘stopping’? In school, I used to fantasize about spontaneously dropping unconscious. As an adult, I fantasize about leaving the social system entirely. more details here

10. We often hear about autistic children wandering off. Did you wander? Did you “disappear” frequently to the point that was upsetting to your family (or teachers?) Why did you wander off? What do you remember about it? Now that you are an adult do you still wander? Do you disappear (perhaps during sensory overload) without telling anyone that you need to remove yourself at this time? more details here

Asking for Accommodations

Accommodations make life easier, but as Otterknot pointed out in a recent comment, asking for accommodations often sounds simpler than it is.

Why is that? Why are we so reluctant to ask for something that will improve our quality of life, our relationships or our ability to succeed at work or school?

The biggest obstacle is often disclosure. Asking for an accommodation or support means disclosing that we’re disabled. Accommodations are for disabled people, after all. For those of us who have spent a lifetime instinctively trying to pass as nondisabled, it can be hard to make the mental shift to being openly or even semi-openly disabled.

There is also the question of whether the other party will understand the nature of hidden disabilities. Unlike a visible disability, a hidden disability carries a certain burden of proof. So we hesitate, wondering whether the other person will believe that we really need this particular accommodation or perhaps dreading the amount of explaining and/or convincing that will be involved.

Finally, there is the specter of self-doubt. Do I really need to ask for this? Can’t I just continue to suck it up and power through like I always have? Maybe if I work harder, I don’t really need any supports.   Continue reading

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Learning Differences/Disabilities Survey

We’re going to kick off a round of 4 (or maybe 5) Tuesday surveys (yay!) with a set of questions about specific learning differences (UK term) or learning disabilities (US term). All of these questions are by Quarries and Corridors and I have rather selfishly scheduled them first because I’ve been experiencing so many things mentioned here lately and want to hear about your experiences with them. But not worries – I’ll make sure everyone’s questions are included over the next few weeks.

The questions are detailed, so feel free to answer as few or as many as you want with as much or little detail as you like.

You can answer here in a comment or you can answer anonymously at Survey Monkey. (If at all possible, it would be great if you can answer here. There ended up being hundreds of anonymous answers to bring over from Survey Monkey last time which is awesome but also a lot  of work, y’all.)

Learning Differences/Disabilities Questions

1. As well as an autistic spectrum condition do you also have a specific learning difference (aka US English ‘learning disability’) such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, nonverbal learning disability, ADHD etc? Even if you don’t have a diagnosed/labelled SpLD, do you have cognitive traits commonly associated with SpLDs like slow processing speed, below average spelling, fragile working memory, poor concentration etc?

2. Are you actually unusually good at any of the above? For example unusually fast reading speed, learned to read early, extremely good at spelling, usually good short term memory, extremely good spacial reasoning, adept at doing things efficiently without conscious planning, excellent concentration regardless of interest level etc?  Continue reading

one woman's thoughts about life on the spectrum

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