A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Archive for July, 2012

Fully Adjusted

My third term at UW is coming to an end. Classes are all over and I have to say this is the best term at waterloo yet. Okay, so I got hit by a car while following a friend jay walking across a road (though I only got banged up and am okay now and the driver was sympathetic and had doctors check me out at the scene!) and then had my bicycle stolen (two events that I’ll elaborate on in my next post), but so far I have to say this is the best term yet. My classes all went really well and the studying for my exams is great. I’ve stopped counting on people to be close friends with and in particular to stop pursuing the goal of getting a girlfriend directly. Indeed, I think having achieved this makes me appreciate the time I spend with people all the more and I’m making connections that are at least as good as the ones I had at Acadia. I’m getting to know more people and more generally I’m finding my comfort zone and place in waterloo.

The probationary period that I’m on so that I could take undergraduate courses has really helped with this and not just because it has helped prepare me academically wise. While there was no question that the undergraduate courses I took were very challenging, I saw a lot of the material before. It has made the transition from my undergrad university Acadia to Waterloo all the more easier since I was glad to have those similarities between the two universities despite how one is obviously a lot bigger than the other.

In fact, I’m beginning to get even more comfortable at Waterloo than I was at Acadia. Of course one of the reasons why this is has to do with not trying so hard to get friends and how my personal outlook has changed a lot. But there is also the difference between the two school as well. At waterloo I’m associated with a lot more math students who most include students interested in pure math like me, while I was pretty much the only one at Acadia. Last fall, I didn’t really have the chance to appreciate this difference because of the difficult time I had with the workload, but now that I’ve taken it as my own pace and have known the students for a year I really like being surrounded by others interested in pure math.

I’m starting to socialise more with them bit by bit. We’ve been out for coffee, been to a bar at least a couple of times, thrown a Frisbee around, and even pulled an all-nighter, partying with a few of them. I’ve also pulled another all-nighter with three undergraduate math students working on an assignment in a graduate course I’m taking. It was actually fun (as opposed to being a complete nightmare when I did the same last fall). This doesn’t mean that I regret going to Acadia as opposed to Waterloo for my undergrad. Acadia gave me a lot of individual attention because of its small size that waterloo would in no way have given me (not to mention Acadia was in a really nice setting).

It’s not just the math students that I’m socialising more with either. I’m also starting a writing group this coming fall and have found four other students interested. I’m thinking of emailing the English department in September to see if any of their students are also interested. It may have taken a year, but I truly feel I’m fully adjusted now.

 

A Third Level of Freedom

Today marks the anniversary of this blog! That’s right. Exactly one year ago, I made my first post on here. And given that this is my 34th post, I think I’ve done pretty well! It hasn’t always been easy to come up with new interesting things to say and updating a blog on a regular basis does take time and discipline (although my interesting in writing novels certainly developed discipline in this regard). The topic for this post, however, was easy enough and elaborates on a new way I’ve learned to look at friendships.

Well, a third level of freedom! What have I discovered now? My first post on freedom was about the aftermath of my first term at grad school and how given the intensity of the work, I learned to get rid of academic perfectionism. My second level of freedom occurred just over a month ago when I decided to stop looking for a girlfriend and decided to just keep doing what I love and let the girl follow. Romance happens when you least expect it. (For convenience I’ve created a new category Freedom where I’ve placed these three freedom posts and where I’ll place more if more come). What I’m going to elaborate on now relates to this (indeed it can probably incorporated into it, but given that it didn’t automatically follow and it took a month to do so, I’m going to treat it distinctly). And what does it involve? Well, it involves not just “letting the girl follow”, but also just “letting friends follow”. In other words, I’ve decided to not put so much energy into getting closer friends, but to simply do what I love and let any friendships develop naturally.

There are various levels of friendship. In my third post on my blog On the Difference Between Friend and Acquaintance I described (at least how I see it) what being a friend entails and it requires more time than being a mere acquaintance with someone. The time factor is key, especially when it’s outside of anything formal like courses, a job, clubs, societies, etc and you spend a lot of time with someone in order to be close friends with them. But in order for you to develop such a connection with someone, requires more than just the two of you being nice people. Two relatively nice people who see each other on a regular basis because of, say, school or a job can become acquaintances fairly easily. But in order for them to become close friends, they need to spend a lot of time with each other outside of this. But in order for them to get to such a level of close friendship, they need to have a “special connection” between them.

It’s because of this “special connection” that the vast majority of people that we interact with in our lifetime don’t become close friends. It isn’t because we aren’t nice people. We are. But you also have to share a bond. The number of people that a person has a “special connections” can be very small as a result. I’m really beginning to see and understand that this is how friendships basically work and it has caused me to re-evaluate my methods for obtaining friends. For example, in my undergrad university Acadia, I knew two philosophy majors who are a great example of this. At least one of them was certainly an introvert. The other I chat up on facebook every now and then and when I was talking to her about the difficulty of obtaining friendships just over a year ago, she actually said that while she did have friends, she hadn’t really developed any close friends except for that other philosophy major and they ended up dating.

This has caused me to revise my own methods in a lot of was. I no longer to into a social situation whether it be with one person or a whole bunch of people with the mindset that I’ll develop a really good friendship with someone, but let the “special connection” happen naturally like it should. Such a method automatically has a lot of advantages (similar to how I explained in a previous post that I’ll “let the girl follow”). It means that I don’t have any expectations on anyone or that anyone will end up treating me as someone more than an acquaintance or a friend I see only every now and then at best. Thus I no longer feel disappointed in anyone.

Now obviously the optimal situation is where I do develop a “special connection”. This is why I do what I love. People who have more in common with each other have more of a chance of developing a friendship, which is partly why I’m going to start a writing club this fall (I have gotten four other students interested in this!), as well as an autism support group. The realm of writers and autistics are certainly two potential groups for making friends (though like I said above I hold no expectations). I’ve also met a girl who lives in Waterloo on a dating site and she’s an introvert as well and we text/chat on a regular basis (and we aren’t dating, we’re just remaining friends).

There you have it! The solution to friendship and loneliness. Now I just have to run with it…

Combining My Autistic Advocacy and Writing

As a writer, deciding what to write can be difficult at times. Whether I’m wondering what to put in a blog post such as this, writing a poem, or writing a novel, it can indeed be quite challenging. When writing a novel, for example, the writer has to begin with some idea, whether it be from personal experience, a newspaper story, another story he/she’s read, etc. I certainly can find it somewhat challenging. Yet an idea has been steadily growing in my head that could indeed become useful in my fiction writing (after I finish my series of young adult mystery novels that will probably be finished in a couple of years, regardless if they get published or not).

The title of this post pretty much says it. I plan to write novels about autism (as well as math and philosophy that I elaborated on in a previous post). Writing a novel about autism is certainly something that I’ve been playing with in my head for several years. Several plot ideas came and went as to how I would go about this and as life continued, there were new experiences which were deeply impacted by my having autism. In the beginning, I was probably influenced by the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, which has an autistic protagonist who was in some ways similar to me, in other ways different.

So I wanted to write a novel with an autistic protagonist. Someone who has gone through similar experiences to me. I played around in my head with what the plot should be and how it should or shouldn’t reflect upon my own experiences. I first contemplated writing a somewhat autobiographical novel, but soon my imagination toyed with how different the plot could be from my life yet still hold the themes that I wanted the work to tell.

Of course, while all this was going on, I was still working on my young adult mystery series that I want to finish up before starting something like this. While finishing the mystery series seems to be taking a bit more time than I anticipated, in truth given all that I’ve experienced I don’t think I want to write a novel about autism right away. There are several reasons for this, but the main reason is that I’d like to interact with other autistic individuals first. I’m certainly not going to write a novel based solely on my own experiences. I’d feel vain doing so and I’d like the novel to address some of the concerns of autistics at large. I’ve also gained new insights from my experiences with autism and I’d like to see if life can tell me anymore (which it probably will) about living with autism, which is party why I created this blog.

But now I have an idea that’s been brewing in my head. What if the roles were reversed? All my previous ideas involved taking place on Earth where the autistics are in the minority. What if it took place in some kind of parallel world where the autistics were in the majority and those who weren’t were in the minority?

Basically what I’m talking about here is what if there was a world, say Planet X, that was inherited by people who would be diagnosed as autistic on Earth? On Planet X being autistic wouldn’t be considered a disability. It would be considered normal (which might be a bad word here since you really can’t define normal, but you get the point). Those who wouldn’t be diagnosed as autistic on Earth would be diagnosed as disabled on Planet X.

It’s a crazy idea, but I think it’s a good one as well. It can also spin off in several directions. Questions abound immediately. What would such a world be like? Would it be better, worse, or about the same than Earth? Another question that we need to ask has to do with how the diagnosis of disabled works on Planet X. Given that autism takes in a whole range of behaviours and it’s really hard to define which behaviours constitute being autistic or not, this could be harder than it looks. While high-functioning autistic behaviours such as needing routine, structure, and literal translation can be considered normal on Planet X, what about low-functioning autistic behaviours? For example, how would Planet X distinguish between the autistic savants and those who have mental retardation? This will certainly be a problem that will have to be worked out.

While I really don’t have an answer as of yet to the second problem, I think I have a bit of an idea of the first. I’ve actually speculated about such a world in one of my earliest posts It’s All a Matter of Strengths and Weaknesses where I elaborate on the philosophy that autism is just a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses, which is no reason for thinking that autistics are any more deficient than the rest of the population.

I can already start to picture what a world would look like. Conversations would have more logic and have no figurative or double meanings. They would also go about three times as slow. People would be more honest and would almost always (if not always) have their actions and words match up. There would be no social games that you’d need to “play” in order to be friends with someone or had a crush on someone and wanted to date them. Unusual (unusual that is on Earth) body movements such as hand-flapping, rocking, finger-snapping would be in the norm. There would also be a lot less noise and crowds. People might find ways to make heavy machinery a lot less quiet and to have order (although by how much, I’m not quite sure) in large gatherings so they don’t overwhelm themselves (large gatherings would only occur if absolutely necessary to boot).

While such a world might be utopia for the autistic, it would be less suited to those who weren’t. They’d probably get in trouble a lot. They would have a weird sixth sense for body language and be noticeable for lying (when in fact they were using a double meaning). They might even be considered a “danger” to a “carefully constructed society”, especially by those who were ignorant of their condition. In fact, I think it’s quite possible that people who weren’t autistic on Planet X would have just as much a hard time as autistics on Earth and that not every autistic on Planet X would be willing to help them or understand them. Many would want to “cure” them. Such ideas may come into play for the various conflicts that’ll occur in a piece of fiction that portrays Planet X.

I’ve also tried looking up to see if any novel or story does indeed portray such a world, but I’ve yet to find one that does. If you know of any, I’d love to hear about them. Any story that portrays such a world is bound to be an interesting read.