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

Posts tagged ‘Interpersonal relationship’

Attention and Rewards

One of the key things I believe that humans generally seek in this life is attention. Attention from yourself and attention from others. Why? Because in order to be happy in this life, something must give you reason to be happy. Now this is not to say that you have to rely solely on others for you own happiness. The reason for it can come from yourself. For example, you might go for a nice walk to get exercise to make you feel good. And why do you want to feel good? Because you want to be happy. This was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s thinking on the matter on why we do the things we do. We do things for the sole purpose to be happy.

Because most of us have so little control over how things get handled in this world, we often rely on others to get to our goals, which we believe will make us happy. And when people do so because they see us doing our part in obtaining a goal, we call it being rewarded (whether you deserve it or not). Most goals we have in life we often have to rely on the trust and help of other people to get to them. This is essentially why we want and need the attention of others. In order for someone to reward you with something, regardless of how small or how big the reward is, they have to give you attention. That’s just in the definition of reward.

All right, enough with the general philosophy on attention and rewards and let me explain how it applies to my own life, especially as an autistic individual. A lot of my goals and possible rewards that only other people can give me have gone unmet because of my difficulty of establishing relationships with other people. I’ve already given several examples of this in my blog, for example, the desire to have romance in my life (in posts Figuring Out the Dating Game Parts 1 and 2) and the goal to be part of a thought-provoking conversation (in post Speedy Gonzo).

I crave for attention. Because my autism makes me feel so different from other people, the world’s design is even less suited to me. As a result I fell less in control and have to rely on others more. I’m not saying this is rational thinking. After all, what our rational minds tell us and what we feel can be two different things. I’m also not saying I go around as some kind of annoying attention-seeker. Quite often I’m just the opposite. Even though I do try to get attention every now and then, for instance by bragging about accomplishments, I think I’m overall a modest person. I do like attention, but most of the time I fear reaching out.

Because of the difficulty of establishing relationships, attention and social interaction I treat as luxuries in my life. Let me give an analogy to how I feel. To someone who is very wealthy, finding a loony in the street doesn’t mean that much. It’ll add very little to their wealth. Yet a homeless person who’s actually living on the street who stumbles upon a loony may practically jump for joy. I
have the same attitude when it comes to social interaction. Even if someone briefly greets me while we’re walking past each other, I feel like I’ve won a treasure most of the time and don’t take it for granted. It’s also what attracts me to Facebook. You can put up a status and see how many ‘likes’ you get or if you get any comments for it. Because of my modest character, however, I usually feel like I’m overindulging myself if I make more than three status updates per week (not counting the updates I put in for this blog). I usually check my stats for this very blog several times a day.

And I don’t expect the internet in general to help with my social life. Yes, MSN messenger and Facebook, as well as other sites, make it fun to interact with someone, especially if you can’t meet face-to-face and I’ll continue to use such services, but overall it’s the face-to-face interactions that help. All the technology that’s being developed now in the twenty-first century can give the impression of having a lot of potential ‘short-cuts’ to interacting with others. From internet chat-rooms to pornographic sites, it seems the internet has a lot to offer. But this is just an illusion and quite unfortunately it can make a lot of vulnerable lonely people think it’s a good solution to their problems (luckily I’m not one of them and I’m good at limiting the time I spend on such activities). That’s not to say that what the internet offers in terms of these things is bad, but they certainly shouldn’t be seen as solutions to loneliness. The internet has both its good and bad points (without it, this blog wouldn’t exist) and I’ll elaborate on what I think of technology’s impact on how we socialise in a future post.

Despite my desire for attention from others, however, it’s certainly not how I run my life and a lot of the choices I made could’ve been made better if I was really aiming for more attention and to get better rewards from others. For example, I took a lot of tough courses in university, while I see others taking easier courses so that they can have a higher grade average. And then there’s my goal of becoming a professor, which certainly isn’t the highest paying job I could get with the skills and talents I have. As I experience more and more of this fabulous journey called life, however, I’m caring less and less of what kinds of ‘rewards’ people do give me. I’m being myself and I have rarely done anything simply for the sake of fitting in or getting any ‘rewards’ from others. I know when I’ve done a good job at something, regardless of how much ‘reward’ I get from others. The personal self-satisfaction is enough. It’s a rare, but valuable attitude to have. Do you have this attitude?

Figuring Out the Dating Game Part 2

I will now continue the discussion from my last post, that is, how my autism has impacted my ability to date and find romance. I ended by admitting my ignorance of such matters when I was in junior high and how I didn’t really know what to do when I started developing crushes on girls. Moreover, I wasn’t sure how to react with my classmates finding out I had a crush on a particular girl and how some of the little advice I got from them was next to useless. I wasn’t about to ask for clarification from anyone either. This idea may have been somewhere in the back of my mind, but I never really seriously considered it. If you’ve read my first post Settling For What I Had you know that I found it (and maybe still do to a certain extent) extremely difficult to confide in anyone, especially my peers, about what I actually thought and to try to become closer friends with them.

I was also a little bit frustrated with what I was learning in school at the time in health class about relationships and sexuality. While I do think that when kids reach their teen years, they should be taught how one should know of all the risks and STIs that are out there when two people are trying to decide if they should have sex, you should know how one gets into a relationship to begin with. I remember touching on the various levels of seriousness that relationship can be, but I don’t think there were any specific instructions on how to achieve any one of those levels. I have a very structured and logical mind and love things to be precise. Yet what I learned about relationships in class was far from this. As well, while math class was enjoyable, it also frustrated me that I had to listen to stuff that I had already learned on my own. Why did things I already know have to be reiterated to me, while certain things I didn’t know, simply weren’t taught in the classroom?

Now, to be fair, I liked all my teachers and I’m sure they were following the curriculum. Also, I think I was the about the only one in class who was autistic and had these kinds of difficulties with relationships and friendships in general. So who knows? Maybe my kind of specific instructions on how to get into relationships would’ve bored the rest of the class much like math class was for me! Again, it all comes down to us all having unique strengths and weakness and how a utopian world where everyone could be accommodated 100%  isn’t exactly applicable.

Everything came to a hit in my life when that crush I had on that girl that everyone found out about grew even deeper to the point when I actually started calling her from my house. This was after classmates had encouraged me to ask her to a couple of dances, which I did, though she couldn’t because she had other plans. It broke my heart after all this when I discovered she already had a boyfriend for almost as long as I had known her. Though I had considered this possibility before, I was so sure that my classmates’ encouragement made this seem rather unlikely and it came as a sort of blow. From this experience, I derived two new rules for dating:

Rule #2: In junior high at least, even if classmates encourage you to approach someone you have a crush on, even if they are your crush’s friends, does not make it any more likely that your crush is single.

Rule #3: It is perfectly permissible, in junior at least, for a boy and girl to go to a school dance together as prom dates, but for the girl to have a boyfriend who’s not the boy she’s going with to the dance.

Even though the girl never went to the dances with me, she wasn’t sure at first so I know there was still the possibility of her going with me so it’s for that reason that Rule #3 was still obvious to me.

Along the way, another rule that became evident to me was the following. It wasn’t evident to me until the end of junior high. The reasons for this aren’t exactly clear in my head, but involved some reflecting on my experience in junior high, reading a YA novel that portrayed dating, and my crush on that girl developing so rapidly, I was willing to try anything.

Rule #4: In order to get a girl to be your girlfriend, you had to ask her out.

I wished I had known this rule for when I first met the girl. If I had, there might’ve been a chance I could’ve had a relationship with her before her boyfriend did. But while this new piece of information could be put to use, it led to an error in thinking about relationships, particularly where I have a precise black/white logical mind. It led me to the erroneous notion that relationships were basically like an on/off switch. You want a particular girl to be your girlfriend? Okay, go ask her out. That’s all there was to it.

Which I perfectly well know today is pretty far from the truth when it comes to relationships and only started becoming evident to me when I looked up dating in my high school library and actually read a little more about it. Right before then, however, I actually asked out a lot of girls whom I had become acquaintances with and got all negative replies for reasons ranging from ‘already have a boyfriend’ to ‘simply not interested’. I’m also not exactly proud of the fact that my ‘on/off switch’ thinking actually got me to ask out one or two girls whom I had hardly talked to at all beforehand. While they simply rejected me, I’m glad there were no further consequences to this mistake. Hence when I looked up dating in high school library I learned another rule:

Rule #5: In order to ask you a girl you have a crush on, get to know them more than a little bit first.

A sixth rule that I learned about dating is the following:

Rule #6: Two people who are dating usually do not tell each other “I love you” unless their relationship has reached a certain level of seriousness.

You’ll laugh the way I figured out this rule. It partially came from a book publisher. Let me explain. When I had written my first novel, I was actually lucky enough to meet a publisher face-to-face three summers ago when I was doing some labor work in a town. He agreed to look at my manuscript and several weeks later, he returned it saying I was very talented writer, but couldn’t publish the book because of a few things he thought were wrong with it. The book featured two teenagers who while trying to find out a connection between their families fall in love and end up dating. The publisher thought the relationship developed too fast and that he doubted even tweens would say ‘I love you’ before holding hands. Then the message finally clicked in when I was watching The Big Bang Theory over a year ago and I was watching an episode where Penny was making a big deal about Leonard telling her “I love you”. I then revised my novel so that the relationship in it developed at a slower pace.

So what have all these years of trial and error taught me about dating relationships? Here’s a list:

  1. If you develop a crush on a girl, get to know her more first.
  2. Ask her to go on a date. If she says yes, great. If she says no, move on.
  3. Go out on more dates and let the relationship develop at its own pace.
  4. Never tell your partner an “I love you” until you are very emotionally intimate.

It has been a kind of adventure in a way and it’s certainly not at its end. While I do wish I could’ve learned some of this in a classroom-like setting instead of bumping my way around in the dark, I’ve actually come to like the adventure and in the meantime be happy with myself as a single person. I’ve made a few mistakes and I expect I’ll make more in the future. After all, it’s like what Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

At the Intersection of my Autism and Writing

In my last post I told about my hobby of writing novels. I would now like to elaborate more on it, especially how my being high-functioning autistic has influenced it. First I’ll tell a little bit about my books. They are currently part of a series of four books where the protagonists are a teenage couple Ray Malay and Lucy Nelson. The setting is in Nova Scotia, Canada, which is where I live. The first novel called Love and Photographs is a short novel spanning about 50,000 words. It starts with Ray who lives in Sydney, Nova Scotia having three stolen photographs from his family album. At about the same time Lucy and her family move from Toronto, Ontario to Sydney only to discover their new house is vandalised. Ray and Lucy meet and ultimately investigate into these strange happenings, which ultimately leads to a connection between their families. They also have to watch out for a few antagonists who are a nasty old woman Mrs. Palo and an evil couple called the Tomkens. The second book is about a murder of a family friend of the Nelsons down in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia where the Nelsons take Ray to their summerhouse.

One thing I would like to point out is that neither Ray nor Lucy nor anyone else in the novels is autistic. Yes, I have thought about the possibility of using an autistic protagonist in a novel like in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and I will certainly write at least a few novels of my own with this feature, but no one in the Ray and Lucy novels is autistic. This doesn’t mean, however, that my autism hasn’t influenced the novels to be what they are.

The first instance I’ll use of this is through my writing style and voice. Every author out there has a unique voice for telling their stories and mine is no exception. I think of my writing voice as very simple and very logical. For example, if I have Ray and Lucy go visit someone, I’ll have the house somewhat described, then I’ll have them be greeted at the door and shown into the living
room. Then I describe the living room, and then I have the characters sitting down and begin talking. Also, the descriptions that I use are quite simple in structure. As an example, here is how I once described a house:

Lucy ignored her, and they walked the rest of the way to Hannah’s house in silence. Her house had two floors with yellow siding and white shudders on windows arranged in a symmetrical way on the front of the house. There was a garage off of the house that was the same shade of yellow as the house. A cement pathway led up to the front door from the driveway. They went in and found themselves in the kitchen.

It’s kind of like the way description is put in Mark Hadden’s novel A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Simple, plain, and logical. It’s one of the reasons why I like this novel so much. It means that I shouldn’t have to “fix” the way I tell my story because of my autism if I am to be successful as a writer.

The second way that autism has influenced my writing is through the characters even though none of them are autistic. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that my social life in high school, which is when I started writing the series, wasn’t that good. This motivated me to give Ray and Lucy something that I never had in high school (and not even to this point in my life): A loving relationship. I decided that since it was very difficult for me to have any close friends, I’d at least give Ray and Lucy close friends, as well as a dating relationship that develops between the two of them to boot. Since Lucy was a new girl in town and would be going to a new school, I wanted to characterize her as an extravert, be very pretty, and be easily likeable. As a result, she would have a great social life as the novel unfolded. Ray, however, is probably closer to me when it comes to taking risks and social interaction. I still gave him, however, a few classmates he’s friends with and likes to hang out with. And as the story unfolded, I got him to know Lucy and eventually to have the courage to ask her out, which she accepts. This way I could still experience the joy of having more of a social life. Don’t get me wrong. It’s in no way a substitute. Just a way to keep me happy, while still trying to improve my own social life outside of my writing time.

Of course, it can be tough to write about a dating relationship between two other teenagers when you’ve never been in one yourself. When I started writing about Ray and Lucy my knowledge of how such relationships work was more than somewhat limited. And when I picked up the novel to revise it again a year ago and scanned through it, I had to wonder what on earth my 16-year-old autistic brain had been thinking. The revision I did last year included a more realistic approach to how I could get Ray and Lucy together instead of a simple “Hey, Lucy, I love you. Let’s go out” (and believe me I actually thought dating was that simple when I was 16). When I revised the novel this past year, though, I made their relationship develop at a slower and more realistic pace and the only time one of them told the other an “I love you” was when a cunning evil man had gotten Lucy drunk.

But I love the challenge. Even if I find myself stuck in some social gathering and I’m lost for words (which happens quite often), I stop trying to contribute anything to any conversation and just watch like a fly on the wall. It gives me ideas as to how I can get my characters to interact. In fact, I can pretty much find inspiration in any part of my life. I like to think of my own life as a story itself, filled with twists and turns and suspense. Which is partly why my passion for writing increased about a year ago. The more drama that occurs in my own life, the more inspiration I have. There is something to be said about the drama of my own life wearing me out, but leaving just the right amount of energy left for me to create dramas of my own.