Monday, January 7, 2019

What people with autism can learn from Memes - Part 1: Female Behaviours


The internet is full of amusing sites like Ebaum's World and Cheezeburger where memes rule and people surface almost any content on the internet in the most disturbing ways.  Just as the culture of the internet flows through the comments on more serious sites like Reddit, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, it flows through the meme sites too -- only with far less censorship.

Don't get me wrong, many of these posts are terribly funny but most are not politically correct and some seem to showcase the darker side of human nature. 

One thing that I have noticed is that there are a lot of "cringeworthy" posts which show some very disturbing trends towards dating -- on both the male and female sides.


Why is this an autism problem?

While the behaviours I want to discuss are not in any way restricted to autism, some of the memes and comments seem to echo sentiments I've heard all too frequently in the autism and Asperger's communities.

People with autism often spend a disproportionate amount of time online compared to their neurotypical peers who spend at least equal time "in the real world".

As a result, people with autism often adopt the ideas and behaviours of online communities without the corrections that real life can apply. 

There's also a few traits of autism that can increase the likelihood of problematic behaviour.


Problem Behaviours common in Females 

This is the first of two posts and given the large preamble, I felt that it was appropriate to cover "female" issues here (as there seem to be fewer of them).  Note that while these issues are undoubtedly more common in females, they aren't actually gender-based and the "female role" can easily be attributed to anyone, especially in relationships which are not heterosexual. I'll be using terms like "guys and girls" but of course, it really depends on the individuals in the relationship.

Not Defining the Relationship (DTR)

Sometimes females leave a relationship in an ambiguous state. This is evident in "FriendZone" memes where guys are in a relationship where they clearly have ambitions above friendship but the girls in the relationship do not. This creates awkward scenarios where guys go above and beyond the call of duty for these girls in the hope of "ingratiating themselves into a relationship".


There's quite a few male problems here, including "treating relationships like transactions", making unwarranted assumptions and a false sense of entitlement, all of  which I'll go into in my next post. Right now, I just want to cover the "female" issues.

Not DTR-ing, is especially a problem with people on the spectrum because they're often unaware of the non-verbal signals that they are sending out and the signals that others may be giving them. Often younger people on the spectrum don't get double entendres or puns because they're not thinking outside the lines of a direct one-to-one conversation.

If you say that you don't want a relationship but give off the wrong signals or smile at suggestive speech, prospective partners may think that you've changed your mind.

It's very important that the female emphasises that the relationship is "Just Friends". It's also important to drop gentle reminders that nothing has changed (and sometimes, that nothing ever will change). It's also important to not intentionally string people along with the possibility of the relationship developing into something more.

In real life, this means that when a guy invites you out, you might need to remind him, "just as friends, right?".  Hopefully this will prevent any awkwardness during the outing. 


Taking people for a ride

There are a lot of girls out there who brag about what they "got" from various male "friends". Gifts range from concert tickets, to special meals, jewellery, holidays and expensive gifts. This is essentially cat-fishing and it's by no means a purely female trait.

We all have to be wary of cat-fishing-style behaviour in prospective partners and possibly in ourselves as it's a slippery slope from accepting gifts to soliciting them.

Intentionally taking men for a ride is not an autism trait. It's something that requires the ability to manipulate people which many people with autism lack. Unintentionally, it's certainly common as it can happen when you fail to read your partner's unspoken intentions.


If a guy is giving you expensive gifts and you're not reciprocating, or if he's constantly paying for your meals, it's probable that he thinks that the relationship is stronger than you do.  You might need  to ask them to "dial it back a little".  

If nothing else, then at least make sure that you DTR (define the relationship) because many people will eventually get tired of waiting and may push for more intimate contact. 


Attention-Seeking Behaviour

Attention seeking behaviour is very common on the internet and particularly on social media platforms such as Facebook. 

It's not always a female behaviour but it's certainly more common in females. You can easily identify a person with ASB by looking through their posts over the past year or so. If the vast majority of them are about various issues (not the same issue over and over again), in which everything possible seems to have a negative connotation they're most likely attention seeking. This is especially true if the person appears to be arguing with well-wishers and optimists in order to make their case seem more bleak. 

Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell the difference between ASB and deep depression, so you can't simply ignore friends with ASB as it could mean life or death. That said, if someone is clearly displaying attention seeking behaviour and has been acknowledged in a positive way by others, you can usually let things be. 

Attention seeking behaviour is an autism trait because quite often people on the spectrum don't fit into social groups and are "starved for attention". Often the only way that they can engage people is online and sometimes people feel that the best way to get that engagement is to constantly cry out for help. 

There's another form of attention seeking behaviour which usually isn't related to depression at all. IT's when people post about how ugly/fat they are (and they clearly aren't) or when they constantly post items with the aim of "fishing for complements". 


The problem with both forms of attention seeking behaviour is that the people posting them often eventually end up believing their own lies. A person who constantly posts about the glass being half full will eventually find it difficult to recognise positive events when they occur.  Additionally, these sort of posts tire out support groups and set people up for the "cry wolf" effect where the supporters grow so tired of reacting to these posts that they fail to respond when they're needed most. 

If you find yourself constantly posting negative things, then seek help offline. Online friends are great but there are limits to what they can do and you most likely need a more direct force for positive change in your life. 


Neediness

General neediness is both a male and a female trait. Needy individuals constantly lament the lack of a partner and usually post overly descriptive information with emphasis on the physical aspects of relationships. Often the standards of needy people are quite high and they'll settle for nothing less than a supermodel or a person who they have selected who is already in a relationship or out of their reach. 


Posts about neediness obsess on getting hold of an individual, getting them to like you or keeping them away from others.  Neediness itself often leads to unsafe practices, it drives others away and it's frequently the main reason for any breakups that occur.

Neediness often goes hand in hand with Bi-polar disorder meaning that needy people can follow patterns where they destroy their own relationships with fear, paranoia and insecurity. 

Neediness is a higher risk issue in individuals with autism because it's possible for other people to become the special interest. 

It's not okay to be super-needy, to stalk others or to obsess on individuals, particularly if they're out of your reach or not interested in you. If you find yourself doing this, you need to talk to someone offline and get some help before it becomes a real-life problem. 

Next Time

In my next post, I want to cover the problems that are more common with males including; anti-female behaviour, entitlement and ownership, treating relationships like transactions and the problems of "nice guys", persistence and anger. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Book Review: Joel Suzuki Volume 4: Fable of the Fatewave by Brian Tashima

Book Review; Joel Suzuki Volume 4: Fable of the Fatewave by Brian Tashima


Over the past six years I've reviewed the first three volumes in the Joel Suzuki series; Secret of the Songshell, Mystery of the Moonfire and Legend of the Loudstone.

Fable of the Fatewave is the fourth book and it feels a little different. 

It's not just that the main characters of Joel and Felicity seem to have grown up over the course of the books, it's also that their story and the world of Spectraland seems to have become larger.

Fable of the Fatewave expands Joel's abilities to include time travel and when things start to go wrong in the present, it's only natural that the main characters might look to the past as a solution but things just aren't as easy as they might seem.

It's another great story and as usual, Brian's tales aren't predictable. Things just don't unfold the way that you think they might.

Fable of the Fatewave doesn't retread old ground but it does reference key elements of the past three books, it's definitely a book that you need to read in sequence, so if you haven't read the first three, be sure to read them first.

The characters of Joel and Felicity are on the autism spectrum but while there's a few similar traits, they're refreshingly different from each other -- and not just because of their gender. It's certainly a good book for people on the spectrum but it's also a good book for everyone, particularly if you enjoy a good fantasy yarn.

Fable of the Fatewave is available, with Brian's other books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble & Goodreads.

Honesty clause: I was provided with a free copy of this book for review purposes. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Time Management on the Autism Spectrum


One of the things that people on the spectrum do really poorly is manage their own time. This is because people with autism often suffer from poor executive functioning.  They have difficulty planning out their day or estimating how long a task will take. They're also very easily distracted. 

Time management is a critical skill, particularly after your child had left school and is expected to take charge of their own day.

In this post, I want to look at some of the reasons why time management fails and some of the changes we can make to train ourselves to be better at it.


Who Manages Your Time?

In your formative years, you do very little time management and it's usually your parents who set alarms and cajole you out of bed, harass you into getting dressed, slog through the breakfast routine, push you into the car and drop you off at school.

Once at school, you're at the mercy of the timetable but apart from getting the right books to the right classes on time, there's very little planning required.

Kids with special needs are often given longer to get from one class to another. Their books may be kept in lockers at the special needs unit and they often don't have to switch so significantly from one class to another. In short, many of their time management tasks are performed by the special needs unit, rather than the students themselves.

Ideally time management in the school years should start out being wholly the responsibility of parents and teachers but should gradually transition to the student as the years go by.  This often doesn't happen for kids on the spectrum and as a result, many of them don't develop the skills they need.

Barriers to Good Time Management

There are lots of barriers to good time management which apply to everyone, particularly teenagers. These include a desire to sleep in, an undeveloped sense of how long things take and general laziness when it comes to work. Everyone has the common barriers but other barriers apply particularly to people on the autism spectrum.


Special Interests and Distractions

People on the spectrum are far more inclined to become distracted by things, particularly special interests and lose all sense of time. This isn't something that you grow out of; it's something that people on the spectrum need to continually fight throughout their lives.

One morning, many years ago, when I was a teen, my father decided to melt some oil in the kitchen.  It was something that people did back in the day.  He realised that he needed a funnel and went down to his garage to get one. While he was down there, he noticed an imperfection in one of  his models and decided to do some work on it. When I woke up, our kitchen was on fire.

My father had pretty good time management skills but he always struggled when a special interest distracted him from the task at hand. 

Assuming Conditions will be Perfect

This is the bane of my life. You know how long it takes to get to work. You go there every day. It's 45 minutes. Today you have an important meeting, so you make sure that you're ready to go 45 minutes prior to the deadline.

Unfortunately, you forgot to factor in change. For example, the idea that traffic is different at different times of the day, or that today there's a bus strike. Perhaps you didn't factor in having to fill the car up before you go or an extra change of clothes because you spilled some coffee on your shirt.

I still do have problems in this area and small changes like the difference between leaving the house before my wife wakes up and having to kiss her goodbye are enough to make me miss my bus.

These days I have a solution of sorts (getting to places extra-early) but no day is perfect and if you measure your time in minutes or seconds, you're bound to come unstuck sometimes. 


Trying to Achieve Perfection

Striving for perfection sadly doesn't mean that your teen will have a perfectly tidy room or that their writing will be neat and tidy. There seems to be a set of arbitrary rules which govern the idea of perfection and what is and isn't included. 

As a child, when tidying my room, I'd always start with my bookcase (even though that was usually in pretty good shape).  I'd sort the books into a specific order, alphabetical, series, genre or size before moving onto the rest of the room.  This used to drive my mother crazy especially if we had to do a "quick tidy up" because someone was coming over. 

Similarly, while my writing was neat, I'd go through phases of using a different font (handwriting, not computing) and a single failed character could sometimes make me want to rewrite the page ... even under exam conditions.  ... and of course, then I'd run out of time. 

It's sometimes quite difficult to know when to stop and accept what you've done as "the best you can do in the time you have" but it's a skill that needs to be learnt. 

Improving on Time Management

Time management is an area where it's easy to judge whether or not you're improving. If you go from being always late to sometimes late, it's an improvement. It's simple to measure and believe it or not, it's not too hard to improve. 

Lists, Lists and More Lists

Many people on the autism spectrum do particularly well with lists. A list gives you a handle on what needs to be done and sometimes the order in which it needs to be done.  You can also put times on the list or have separate sections for morning, evening and night. 

Lists can be on paper or electronic and there's a lot of satisfaction to be had when ticking things off a list as "done".  For kids, lists can also be linked to rewards.


Have an Agenda

I didn't learn about agendas until I was finished school and into my working life. It's a shame because it would have made a huge difference. 

Change is particularly difficult for people on the autism spectrum and one of the best ways to mitigate the shock of change is to have advanced warning that it is coming. Having an agenda is the best way to do this. 

The aim of an agenda is to itemise the main points of your day, including when things are expected to happen and what is needed at that particular time. 

A typical agenda for a child might be one where you list breakfast, travel to school, the morning lessons, recess, late morning lessons, lunch and afternoon lessons. Then you list any after school activities, changes of clothes and travel.  Mention dinner, TV or computer time and bed. 

Ideally the agenda should be prepared a day earlier and you should walk through each of the items with your child determining what they need; for example, have you packed your lunch. 

One of the many great ways in which my personal agendas work for me is that I always know what I'll be doing at the gym on the following morning, so my bag is always packed and ready to go, the night before.


Be Early. Be very very early.

As a teen, I liked to sleep in.  I think it's a "growing thing", that the body is so tired with all the growing that teens do, that they need a lot of  sleep.  Once they're an adult though, there's a tendency to become a "night owl", to stay up really late and rise really late. 

Being late is a bad habit to get into.  It causes you to add stress to your life when none is needed and it dramatically increases your risk, especially if you're driving. 

These days, I'm always early. I try to allow myself to be where I have to be 30 minutes to an hour early. This means that I can drive slowly and accept poor drivers and transport snares around me with generally good grace.  It means that when I'm looking for a car spot, I can take my time and that I can choose spots which are better placed even if they're further to walk.

If you take this to the extreme, you'll find that being an early riser has incredible benefits. These days I get up at 4.30am and it's amazing how much I can accomplish in those early hours. I'm not suggesting that those hours are for everyone but if you give yourself an extra hour in the morning, you'll find that you start your day in a much calmer and more satisfied manner.

Don't get distracted - set deadline times

Special interests are the worst distractions for people with autism. If I see an article about Doctor Who, time literally stops for me until I've read it. 

I've missed deadlines because although I've woken up well and truly early enough, I've looked at Facebook before getting changed and found an article that I want to read and respond to. 

The same occurs when I'm writing and sometimes I simply can't write on the computer because there are so many potential distractions waiting for me. When that happens, I use my phone which can offer a simpler, cleaner and less distracting writing experience. 

As a person on the spectrum, you need to be very aware of what things take your focus away and you need to take steps to avoid them at times when your schedule is tight. 


One of the best ways to minimise distraction is to set a deadline time. For example, if I decide to switch over and look at YouTube, I'll look at the computer clock first and decide when I have to close YouTube -- It's not easy and sometimes I completely forget to look at the clock but I'm getting better at it. 

Time management is a problem for everyone but with special interests, problems with change and issues of perfection, it can be a particular problem for people on the spectrum. It can be tamed though, with lots of practice, lots of preparation and a careful avoidance of distractions. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Anxiety and Approachability in the Workplace

Believe it or not, I'm not actually a shy person.  Put me in front of a group of people for a planned session such as training and I have no problem talking (I spent a few years as a TAFE teacher after all).  Drop me in an ad-hoc, unstructured conversation however and sometimes I get so nervous that I lose my words.

I often blame this on my poor hearing and it's certainly a large part of the problem. It's not that I can't hear though, it's anxiety.

I get anxious for a variety of reasons but recently I've managed to overcome at least some of it. While I'd love to be able to say it was my hard work, it really wasn't.  It was a clever choice on the part of one of my work colleagues.

Anxiety

I've read very widely on the subjects of Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autism - and of course,  I've interacted with a great many people on the spectrum over the years.

Everyone is different and no amount of rules and exceptions can take into account the extraordinary beauty that is simply "individuality".  Nevertheless,  there's a constant thread that runs through nearly all of the cases I've heard; anxiety.

Anxiety is the driving force behind many of the common factors of autism including; the fear of change, of eye contact, of loud noises and problematic textures. The issues of perfection and patterns tie into anxiety as well as many well known social issues, even stimming.


Anxiety and People in General 

I think that everyone takes a little while to "warm up to others" and this is particularly true when it comes to the workplace. Some people have really friendly faces and voices and are very approachable while others are not so easy to get to know.

I think that people on the spectrum often  come across as less approachable when in fact they are happy to interact.  It's all to do with not having body language and tone that sends the right signals. Not to mention poor social skills and high levels of anxiety.

I've found that after repeated engagements,  people at work sometimes begin to understand this and can end up being good friends.

Not everyone is like this however.  Some people never understand and many do not have the time or inclination to try.

Anxiety and Special People 

There's another class of person that causes me great anxiety.  It's people who I look up to and people who I respect.

I first realized that this was a problem when I was meeting actors from Doctor Who (a TV show that I have a 46 year obsession with). I  was at a book signing in Sydney and the actor Colin Baker was there. It was in relaxed and familiar surroundings and I was eager to meet him.

Strangely enough though,  the closer I got to the front of the line,  the more I wanted to run. In the end I got my book signed, mumbled a barely audible thanks and got the hell out of there.

The same thing happened when I met Magda Szubanski, an actress for whom I have a great deal of respect.  In her case I managed to tell her that I'd watched her since the original "D'Generation" series back in 1986. We got a photo and she tried to talk to me but I was so nervous that finished up quickly and made a beeline for the door. I remember her acting a little surprised at the behaviour.


I struggle with stars, personalities and high-level bosses, which makes work very difficult at times because bosses need me to fix their computers and when I'm in their offices, my words are failing,  I'm not thinking straight and all I want to do is get out of there.

Artificial Means of Relaxation

We have regular functions at work and these increase dramatically as we head towards the end of the year. These are always quite difficult for me but I've learned one trick over the years. I relax considerably if I have a few glasses of wine. As a result, I often start these functions with an awkward silence in which I "down couple of drinks" as early as possible. It makes as massive difference and of course, successive drinks make socialisation even easier.  I don't really want to be a drinker but if it makes it more bearable to interact with people, it's worth it.

I've heard from a lot of people in the autism community that things like cannabis work wonders for relaxation. Personally I'd never consider that option but I can understand why some people do. 

Over the years, I've learned that it takes quite a few drinks for me to feel like I can interact successfully with upper management and that by the time I'm in a state where I can function, others are not -- or they're ready to leave. For me, this means that it's only the longer functions, such as the office Christmas party where I can truly interact with these groups as if I were a "normal" member of staff.

Others can make a difference 

Getting back to the point of this post, I wanted to talk about how a change in conditions has led to a longer term breakthrough for me. I've always been a much stronger writer than a talker and I feel that it's important to respond to management's requests for information and opinions, so when we were asked to provide feedback on an issue, I did so. This resulted in my being asked to discuss it further over coffee. 

I stressed over the upcoming meeting for weeks but oddly enough, once the meeting was in progress, I felt myself relaxing. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I only had to deal with one person at a time or that we were in unfamiliar surroundings or that there wasn't giant desk marking the clear lines of authority between us. All I know is that I was able to relax and be myself in that situation without needing alcohol to do it.

More importantly, I've discovered that further interactions with that particular manager are working. I'm still not entirely relaxed but I'm not constantly fighting the urge to run out of the office and that's a big plus. 

Lessons

I guess the main thing to learn from this is that while it's possible to use "social lubricants" in order to function during "social events", they don't fix problems but only mask them -- and of course, if you go to a lot of social events, it could become an easy path to addiction.

The only way to truly function in social events is to be with people who you can relax around. 

If there are people who you want or need to be around and you can't relax, then you need to find a way to break the ice. 

For managers; if you're in a position where you're responsible for staff, it's important to get out of familiar surroundings and talk to them one-on-one. If you have one or more staff members who don't interact well in meetings, don't assume that they have nothing to say -- it could simply mean that meetings are not the best means of communication for them.

You need to work on alternative styles of communication. 

For general staff; If you're a staff member reporting to a manager, you have to push yourself to not only attend meetings but also to interact during them. If talking is too hard, try writing.  You need to ensure that your voice is heard -- even if it's only via office emails and social posts. 

If you fall silent, you become simply "wallpaper" for the office. You lose both job satisfaction and relevance. 


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Some people just want a Reaction


It's a funny old world that we live in and it's full of people that I just don't understand. For the most part, I get along really well with just about everybody but every now and then I encounter "rogue people" who just want to attack me for reason unknown. 

It's something I've noticed since I was a kid and I've never felt that I had a very good handle on why this happens. I don't read people terribly well. I'm improving but I've got a long way to go.

Recently, it's been suggested that it's something to do with the way I present as emotionally unreactive. I thought I'd use this post to explore this.

The Unreactive Child

When I was growing up, it was very much the norm for parents to say "boys don't cry" or "boys have to be tough". Of course, I did cry, especially when I injured myself but after an early life of tantrums and meltdowns and I learned to suppress my emotional responses.

There's also the idea that bullies attack people to get a response and that the best responses for bullies were "no response at all".

At some point in my primary school years, I stopped reacting badly to things that weren't pain -- and I stopped responding to a lot of pain in itself. It wasn't total stoppage of course, if people kept at me, eventually they'd break me but it meant that for the most part, words stopped having any visible effect on me.

Controlling your emotions to such an extent when you're barely into double-digit ages creates a lot of internal stress and torment. I quickly learned that being around people made things so much more difficult and at every possible moment, I retreated to the world of books instead. 

Bullying Doesn't Stop if you Ignore it

At age 12, I was moved in class to sit next to one of the worst of the bullies of our year group. I sat next to him all day, every day and I used to come home with lots of bruises on my arms because he enjoyed punching my shoulder. Eventually, after months of copping abuse, my parents announced that they had to go to a parent-teacher night and they asked me if there was anything I wanted to say.  I asked if I could be moved to sit with someone else.

When my parents got home, they told me that they'd mentioned it to the teacher and that the teacher had said that he'd moved me there because I was the only one who could stand up to the bully. Unlike other people he'd been seated next to, I didn't cry and I didn't seem to be emotionally affected by him. The teacher couldn't move me because nobody else would sit next to the bully.

It seems ridiculous to think about this now because essentially it meant that I, the victim, was suffering on account of the bully's bad behaviour. Regardless, I finished out the year in that position. 


Restoring Emotions

I was sixteen before I gave myself permission to cry again over non-physical issues and when I finally did, It felt like a dam had burst and I cried, out of sight of others, for weeks. It was a big turning point in my life and I emerged a very different person.

Unfortunately by then most of the damage was done. My reactions were numbed and while I'm now able to convey my feelings to a small group of very trusted friends and family, my general reactions in day to day life are those of nonchalance - unless it's an issue of huge proportions.

People often used to say to me, aren't you happy about this (insert whatever happy event), why aren't you smiling?  I don't know exactly what it is but I guess my face has a "resting blank look". Yes I was happy but it just wasn't showing on my face.

The same goes for sad events. Just because my face or my voice don't show issues, it doesn't mean that I'm not drowning in a sea of unhappiness or self-criticism. 

This is me in 1994, It's my ecstatic face. I'd found a Doctor Who museum during a trip to Wales.

Pushing for a Response

Recently I was talking to my wife about an issue in which a colleague was taking every opportunity to pick on me. I was putting on my usual "brave face" but was having some very dark thoughts. I was stunned when my wife turned to me and said, "perhaps she keeps attacking you because you're not reacting".

When it became clear to her that I had no idea what she was talking about, she elaborated; telling me that sometimes in the past, if we had disagreed on something and I was dismissive or didn't put up a fight, she would be so angry with me that she'd push me as hard as she could trying to get a response.

This was news to me but it certainly explained some of her "rogue" behaviour.  Perhaps it was the explanation for others too?

Selecting Responses - Or Not

In exasperation, I asked my wife what I was supposed to do for a response, cry, shout, somehow look dejected?

I've kept my emotions in check for so long that I really wouldn't feel comfortable letting them out, particularly not in the workplace. As for displaying emotional responses on my face, I doubt that I'd be able to figure out how exactly to place my face and in those situations, I'm too stressed and upset to try acting.

We talked about alternative coping strategies or other ways in which I could let people know when their responses hurt me. There are certainly some options available, such as telling someone that their behaviour is hurting you but I don't think I'll be using them. I know enough about bullying to know that showing any sign of weakness can make things so much worse.

I also feel that no matter what I did, I'd still end up being the victim. 

The best I can do is add this person to my mental list of rogue people and limit my interactions whenever possible. After all, it's worked in all other areas of my life.

Sometimes nonchalance is actually the brave face. 

Just a quick final note: Burying your feelings or suppressing your emotions is actually very poor advice but controlling outbursts and being choosy about who to show your feelings to is not. Make sure that you have an outlet. Make sure that you have people that you can talk to. It's okay to hide from bullies but it's not okay to hide from family and friends. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Autism and Crime


There's a lot of news about autism and crime these days and I think it's worth some open discussion because the reasons are varied but the blame seems to be quite singular. 

I don't believe that the amount of crime among individuals on the autism spectrum is any higher than the crime rate for the general population. In fact, many of the attributes of autism such as a preference for isolation, should contribute to it being lower. Nevertheless, there are criminals on the spectrum and there are some attributes which are common to autism which could make an individual more likely to commit a crime.

"Us and THEM"

There's no doubt about it, people on the autism spectrum often seem different to the general population. This difference in itself creates some issues;

The "Us and them" divide often leads to ostracisation within school, workplaces and social groups with people on the spectrum being clearly in the minority. In schools, it can lead to physical bullying, name calling and exclusion. In the workplace, it can lead to harrassment, manipulation, rejection or simply to a lack of advancement. Whatever the details, the effect on the individual is often the same; envy and resentment.

Envy and resentment are strong emotions which together could tempt an individual into to criminal activity. 

The other way in which the "us and them" divide is responsible for autism being linked to crime is that when a particularly horrific crime is committed, people want to distance themselves from it. One of the ways they do this is to find a way to make the perpetrator seem "different from the rest of us". 

Obviously having a perpetrator with a clear defect, like blindness or deafness simply doesn't work. These things are quantifiable. You can simulate these conditions by putting your hands over your eyes or your fingers in your ears.

To make a person truly different, you have to choose something that is considerably less well understood. Asperger's syndrome and Autism fits that bill rather well and the media is very much complicit.

I've lost count of the number of times I've read about people with massive gun collections and ties to Nazi groups who go on a shooting spree. Rather than bring up the two most significant elements, the media fixates on a "possible" diagnosis of autism.

This gives society a way to say, it's not guns, it's not Nazi's, it's just this kid or worse, it's just THESE people. 

The result of this is that the true causes of these crimes are covered up and people with autism are even further ostracised.


Emotions

For years, people with autism have been described as having "no emotions" or "no empathy" when, as I've mentioned many times before, the truth is that people with autism fail to communicate their feelings well. It's very common for people with autism to have facial expressions which don't match circumstances or to find themselves accused of being amused when things are sad. 

A person with autism may choose to ignore some sad news and go about their daily routine or may throw themselves into their special interest rather than deal with an issue. This doesn't mean that they don't care. In fact, often it means that they're trying to distance themselves from feelings which are simply too strong for them to handle.

This seeming "lack of emotion" often means that people with autism are judged as "stone cold killers" in what are really crimes of passion. They may seem to show no remorse for their victims but just because you can't see an emotion on someone's face, it doesn't mean that the emotion is not present.

If you look at the vast majority of high profile autism crime, it seems that there's a bit of a revenge "vibe" to it. Often it's about giving bullies payback or it's about unrequited love. I'm not for a minute saying that it's right, simply that these aren't cold blooded crimes, they're crimes of passion.

Black and White Thinking

Issues of Justice go hand in hand with those of emotion and in particular, of revenge.

People with autism tend to be bound by rules which are very black and white. The problem of course, is that our world is governed by situations of grey.



This means that when it comes to situations like "payback" or "revenge" a person with autism may feel justified in carrying out an act of violence against an aggressor -- even if the transgressions in question happened many years ago.

The fact that people with autism find it difficult to let go of painful situations, have long memories and find communication quite difficult exacerbates the situations. While other people in similar situations will try to talk through an issue, a person with autism may decide that actions speak louder than words.

Generalisation

Does this mean that all people with autism are bad or that all are criminals? Of course not. Everyone has within them the ability to commit criminal activities and people with autism in particular, with their black and white thinking and their generally honest natures are probably less likely to commit petty crimes.

When it comes to crimes of the heart however, it's important to note that the emotional nature of people with autism and the possibility of meltdowns can make them a more volatile person. Additionally, their status as a person who is different can make them more of a target and their naivety may make them vulnerable to undesirable social groups. 


Most people with autism are unlikely to commit crimes but their upbringing most certainly will have an impact on this. Interactions with negative people and proximity to dangerous weapons while dangerous for most people, are particularly dangerous to people on the autism spectrum. 

Expose anyone to a violent upbringing and you'll significantly increase the chances of them becoming violent themselves. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mansplaining and other Conversation Breakers


Of all of the bad things that men do to women, Mansplaining is the one that terrifies me the most on a personal level. This is because I believe that I'm essentially a good person and I'm in control of myself. I know that I can easily avoid most mistakes but mansplaining is different. 

It's not so simple to avoid and it is something that sneaks up on me. Sometimes I don't realise that I'm doing it until I'm right in the middle of a conversation -- and then I suddenly feel like I want to run away.

Mansplaining is certainly not "an autism spectrum thing" -- it's not even a "man-only" thing. I think however, that being on the spectrum may increase the likelihood of our conversations being interpreted as "mansplaining". I certainly don't mansplain for a "power trip". If and when I do it, it's  usually because I'm so poor at conversation and because I'm partially deaf.

Regardless of the reasons, I'm determined to make this a thing of the past... 


What is Mansplaining?

Although the term is at least three years old, I only became acquainted with it earlier this year when I saw a comedy show doing a skit on it. (You can ask that: Mansplaining) If you do a YouTube search on the term, you'll find plenty of skits. Sometimes having a laugh about something is also the best way to learn something new. I feel that when you're laughing, you're open to new experiences and new understanding.

The videos on YouTube tend to show extreme examples of mansplaining in which there's no doubt that it's happening. It's important to realise however that standard and generally respectful conversations could still be perceived by others as mansplaining because it's not always our behaviour so much as the perception of our behaviour that is important.

There seems to be two major parts to mansplaining;

• Being Condescending
• Interrupting

The worst part of mansplaining is that the person doing the explaining feels that their opinion deserves to be heard more than those being "explained to".  This may be because they feel that theirs is the only correct (or fully correct) answer or because they simply don't have enough respect for the other people in the conversation.

When it comes to interrupting, mansplaining often happens because one person in the conversation "shuts down" or talks over the other. Since male voices tend to be deeper and louder than female voices, it's obviously much easier for a man to do this to a woman than it is the other way around. 

Is this a Sexist Term?

I'd love to be able to say that this is absolutely a sexist term and that being condescending and interrupting others in conversation with the aim of power-tripping or silencing unwanted voices is something that happens with both genders. Unfortunately, the term is what it is and it was coined because it's more commonly a male behaviour directed towards women.

That doesn't mean that women don't "mansplain" -- they do. It's just that usually when a women "mansplains" she's more likely to be doing it for reasons of power over an individual rather than "power over a gender".  The other thing of course is that from childhood, men are conditioned to have their voice heard more than women. Hopefully that's changing now...

In any case, regardless of who is doing it to who, it's not a good behaviour in any conversation.

From: https://thenib.com/mansplaining-explained
(a very informative page, highly recommended).

Being Condescending

These days, I don't feel like I'm condescending but I know for sure that in my youth I was. In my teenage years especially, when, like all teenagers, I felt that I knew everything, I would often explain things to my parents and girlfriend in a condescending way.

It's something I regret and also something that I'm now very careful to avoid. I don't talk down to people. I try to respect them for giving up their time to listen to me.  

Sometimes it's not easy. Sometimes my head starts racing and I'm thinking further ahead or more deeply in a conversation than the person I'm talking to. People with autism do this a lot, especially when a conversation touches on one of their special interests. When that happens, you have only a couple of choices, try to re-explain your thoughts in a slower, simpler manner, or drop the conversation.

These days, I'll mentally ask myself whether or not someone needs to know what I'm telling them (to the level of detail I'm telling it in) and if I think they don't, I'll trail off and end the conversation. If they're truly interested, they'll ask for more detail -- they almost always don't.

Interrupting 

This is by far my biggest problem. I find that I interrupt people for various reasons;


  • Not realising that they're still talking: This is 100% my hearing loss problem -- and it does happen much more frequently when I'm talking to women than men due to their softer voices. Sometimes I can stand next to someone and have no idea that they're talking.  I have to watch their mouths to see if they're moving.

    Of course, if I can't hear them, I'm not getting much out of the conversation and it's rude to "be there" and not "be listening", so whenever possible, I'll take that as my cue to leave a conversation.

  • Not reading body language:
    People with autism often have problems participating in group discussions because they can't always tell when it's their turn to speak. It's such a common problem that it's included in the diagnostic questions of many autism/Asperger's tests. 

    When this happens, it's a genuine mistake. To avoid mansplaining, simply stop your conversation, apologise to the person you were talking with "oh I'm sorry, you were talking" and allow them to continue.

    A person mansplaining for a "power trip" won't be apologetic and won't stop their conversation to allow others to continue. If you're apologetic, others in your conversation will usually be understanding of your mistake.

  • Getting too excited about a topic:
    This is a huge deal for people on the spectrum. You've spent ten minutes hanging on the fringe of an impenetrable conversation when suddenly out of the blue, someone mentions something related to your special interest. Suddenly you have a way in -- and you dive in babbling furiously.

    If you're sitting down with a group of people who are mostly excluding you from the conversation, then it's okay to give this one a shot. After all, they're being rude to you too. If you've walked up to a group who is already deep in conversation and you're on the outside, it's less okay, particularly if you have to talk over someone to be noticed.

    In these circumstances, it's important to sense the mood of the conversation as best you can. If people start changing the topic, they're obviously not interested in your contribution. It's painful but it's better to walk away.

    I've often made a quick getaway in these circumstances by faking a phone call (my phone is always only on vibrate). All you have to do is stiffen, reach for your pocket and put the phone against your ear as quickly as possible so that nobody sees the display … and then walk away from the group saying "hello" or "sorry, it's a bit noisy in here". People will excuse you and you'll be able to make an escape on the pretext of moving to a quieter area.

    It's little wonder that people on the spectrum are often referred to as the people who befriend the pets at parties. 
    If you're struggling in groups, you're better off to talk to others who are alone at parties -- or simply not attend. It's better than constantly being rejected by groups or getting a reputation as a person who talks about themselves but never listens.

  • Preventing others from talking: This is the key to mansplaining, the idea that your conversation is more important than someone else's. Occasionally there's a good reason for talking over someone, for example to prevent them from saying something that will get themselves or someone else into trouble. Most of the time though the reasons are trivial.

    Perhaps they're telling a story wrong or they've left out an important detail. Perhaps they've said that "you" did something that you didn't or they've cited a fact wrong. Whatever it is, they're entitled to finish their conversation. You're not "the boss of them". If you still feel strongly about an issue after they've spoken and you think that it will add to the conversation while not making them feel inferior, then by all means, add your "two cents" at the end.

If there's any chance that your words will hurt. It's best not to say anything. We can all be better conversationalists but only if we think about others when we speak.