Category Archives: Strategies

Mindfulness in Miniature

This is my first attempt at writing a post using voice recognition software. For the past week I’ve been “training” Dragon Naturally Speaking. Or maybe Dragon has been training me.

You would think that voice-recognition software would be as simple as speaking (although that statement in itself may be an oxymoron for many of us). But the software is sophisticated enough that there’s a fairly steep learning curve–both in learning the commands and in learning to “write” by speaking. So far, I’ve primarily been using it for work tasks, which are straightforward and often scripted in nature.

Curiously, I’m finding that voice-recognition software makes the writing process both faster and slower. Faster, because my typing and in particular my ability to spell is hampering my writing considerably. Slower, because before dictating each sentence I have to pause and compose the words in my mind in a way that is very different from typing.

There’s always been something about typing that has felt like a direct connection between my brain and the words. Now, something is short-circuiting that connection. I’ve reached a tipping point where the effort to put the words into speech in order to create text is less than the effort required to type those same words. And this new process–both the relative ease and the slowness of it–has me thinking a lot about things like mindfulness and intentionality.  Continue reading Mindfulness in Miniature

Changing Seasons and Sensory Sensitivities

These past few weeks I’ve had a sensory comfort zone the size of a postage stamp. There are a few things playing into my increase in sensory sensitivities* and one of them is definitely the change of seasons. Transitioning from summer to winter or vice versa is surprisingly demanding.

I think the biggest factor is the constant sensory adaptation. During the winter and summer, the days are pretty consistent from one to the next. It might be uncomfortably hot or cold, but at least my body knows what to expect each day and dressing appropriately doesn’t require a lot of forethought.

Spring and fall, on the other hand, are filled with unpredictable days. Yesterday was t-shirt weather. Today I have on sweats and a thermal shirt. Three days ago I left all of the windows open overnight because it was uncomfortably warm in the house. This morning I dashed out of bed to close the kitchen window, which was open two inches and letting a cold draft in.

With each temperature fluctuation, I find my body struggling to adapt. Too hot. Too cold. Over dressed. Underdressed. It’s hard to find that sweet spot–a consistent, comfortable environmental and body temperature. For the average person, this probably isn’t a big deal. I imagine things like dressing in layers and putting on or taking off clothing as needed is a good solution.

The problem with that strategy is that thanks to wonky interoception I often don’t notice when I’m too hot or too cold until it reaches a level of mild to moderate physical distress. At that point, doing something about it requires not just taking off or putting on a layer, but lowering or raising my body temperature to a comfortable level again. Simply putting on a sweater isn’t a complete solution to whole-body shivering. Continue reading Changing Seasons and Sensory Sensitivities

Conserving Spoons

If you aren’t familiar with “spoons” in the context of disability, take a few moments to read Christine Miserandino’s landmark piece on Spoon Theory before reading this post.


Spoons, by nature, are a limited resource. They’re replenishable, but not on demand. Sometimes we get a new supply each day and sometimes we have to ration out spoons over many days before our supply is restocked. And there’s no spoon store, so forget going out to buy some if you unexpectedly run out.

Conserving spoons is an essential skill. The most obvious way to conserve is simply to ration. More things to do today than you have spoons for? Eliminate some stuff!

That works fine when your day has lots of padding. It’s relatively easy to cut out things like “go out for lunch with officemates” or “participate in 500-comment Facebook conversation.” You probably won’t miss them much. But what happens when you’ve got your daily schedule down to only the most essential items–literally just the things you need to do to make it through your day without getting fired, flunking out of school, or starting to grow exciting new cultures in the kitchen sink?

Not only do you have to start choosing among cutting out essential activities, but life can start to look pretty grim. Extreme rationing is not a viable long-term strategy.  Continue reading Conserving Spoons

What I learned While Running, Swimming and Biking 293 Miles in 8 Weeks

When I decided to sign up for a triathlon back in June, my baseline goal was simply to finish. The distances all looked doable and I figured that as long as I didn’t get hurt, finishing the race was just a matter of pacing myself well.

What I hadn’t counted on was 2-3 foot waves during the swim. On triathlon day, there was a storm blowing in, which created swim conditions that were worse than my imagined worst case scenario. Worse than anything I had practiced in. Worse even than I thought the race organizers would allow us to swim in.

As a “first timer” I was in the last group of swimmers to start. That meant I got to stand on the beach and watch as dozens of swimmers–all experienced triathloners–signaled the lifeguards to be pulled out of the water and paddled into the shallows on one of the rescue surfboards.

Suddenly just finishing didn’t look like such a sure thing. As they say, “man plans and God laughs.”

I'm the scared looking one in the blue shirt.
I’m the scared looking one in the blue shirt.

Continue reading What I learned While Running, Swimming and Biking 293 Miles in 8 Weeks

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 Backstopping: Supporting the Autistic Person in Your Life

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 Asking for Accommodations

Asking for Help

I’ve never been good at asking for help. A few memorable examples to help you understand how nonexistent my “asking for help” skills were as a kid:

When I was five, I fell out of a tree that I was climbing and landed on my back. As you can imagine, I completely knocked the wind out of myself. Not being able to breathe was scary. Falling out of the tree hurt. Did I run to my parents in tears, wanting to be comforted? Nope. I can still remember squatting on the garage floor, crying, trying to catch my breath.

In third grade, during small group reading time, I only brought one tissue with me to the group reading table. I had a nasty cold and quickly used up that tissue plus both shirt cuffs. So I sat there, right next to the teacher, pretending that I didn’t have snot running down my face and that I wasn’t licking it as it reached my mouth. Eventually I guess she couldn’t take it anymore. She went and got some tissues, setting the box in front of me with the admonition that I should ask next time.

In sixth grade, a boy trapped me in the coat closet and kissed me. Not a cute puppy love kind of kiss. More like a gross, smelly, pinned in the corner so hard I couldn’t breathe kind of thing. I spent the rest of the spring avoiding him. He was bigger and stronger and I was afraid of him. I never told an adult. I never asked for help in keeping myself safe from him.

All three of those memories are traumatic in their own way. I remember feeling scared and alone. I don’t remember even thinking about asking for help. For some reason, among all of the options I came up with, none of them involved going to another person to see if they could assist me in solving my problem.

help Continue reading Asking for Help

What I Want

At the end of July I embarked on a 30-day experiment, the aptly-named “What Do I Want” experiment. My intention was to report back at the end of August with a neat little of summary of what I’d learned.


Initially, I thought “what do I want?” meant learning to identify my needs and desires. That sounded intimidating. I had little idea where to begin so I began obsessing over decisionmaking. It was concrete and easy to construct rules around. It was also just scratching the surface of what I needed to be doing.

Wading deeper into the experiment, it became more difficult to separate what I want from other big questions of identity. What I am. How I act. How I think. Who I want to be.

I gradually began to realize that being autistic and alexithymic is only part of what makes “what do I want?” so hard to answer. There is a secondary element at work, an old defense mechanism. Wanting something, getting my hopes up, expressing a preference, letting desire creep in–that makes me vulnerable. To deprivation, to loss, to mockery, to pain. Not wanting feels safe. Ultimately, though, all it gets me is preemptive deprivation. There’s a lot of emptiness in not wanting.  Continue reading What I Want

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

I like my comfort zone. A lot.

I don’t want to break out of it or stretch it or push myself out of it. Mostly I’d like to build a blanket fort in my comfort zone and never leave. But I know that isn’t reasonable. As an adult with responsibilities, there are times when I have to step outside my comfort zone.

My approach to these times used to involve a lot of metaphorical pushing and breaking and stretching. I would power through, often with an angry determination to just get it over with. This made hard things harder, but I didn’t realize that I had a choice.

Recently–and entirely accidentally–The Scientist showed me that there’s a better way to go about getting out my comfort zone. After doing some post-game analysis of why what we did worked, here’s what I’ve come up as a framework for helping someone step out of their comfort zone in a gentle, supportive way:  Continue reading Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone