Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book Review: 600 Hours of Edward

I've just finished reading the novel "600 hours of Edward" by Craig Lancaster. I loved it. It was unexpectedly good (because normally I read in a different genre). It was really engaging and very difficult to put down. My only complaint is that there weren't 700 or 800 hours. I was
enjoying it so much that I was sad when it ended.

Craig... I think we need a sequel.

600 Hours of Edward features an Aspie protagonist (Edward). It's the first novel I've read which does so. At first, I wasn't sure exactly how well I'd be able to identify with Edward. After all, he's a fiercely OCD aspie with a fixation on weather and Dragnet. His social issues are also so severe that he's generally unemployable. Since I've never been unemployed, I didn't think that I'd relate all that well.

I was surprised. It's true that in the beginning, I didn't identify with him much at all but as I got further and further into his character, I found myself identifying more and more with him.

To be frank, although the book is about a series of events, it's the character study that is most fascinating. I've seen it compared to "Flowers for Algernon" and in some way, this makes sense since Edward does manage to "grow" as a person. In many ways though, the message it presents is better than "flowers". Edward might grow but he doesn't really change. Acceptance is a better word than change - and more appropriate to aspies of today. The acceptance isn't once-sided either. Everyone needs to grow and adapt.

This book gives you a chance to climb inside the mind of an aspie. Edward's innermost thoughts and motivations are revealed to us. It's funny because I could find myself identifying with many of his motivations. The date scene is particularly funny and I can remember thinking similar things myself on dates. The pull of routine and the need to provide "too much information" is overwhelming at times.

The book is somewhat repetitive, starting almost every chapter with the same phrases. This may be a little annoying for some people but it pulls us firmly into Edward's world. His world is repetitive because OCD and Aspergers are repetitive conditions which require strict routines.

He likes routine and he knows when his routine is disrupted. It causes him great anguish.

I was reading about Edward's OCD issues, particularly his noting down the weather and his waking times. I thought about how time-consuming that particular ritual is and I thought to myself, "Gee, I'm glad that, I don't have those sorts of rituals"...

Then, at some point while reading the book, I went out a bought a DVD and found myself compelled to update it in my catalogue. The need to do so itched at me until I scratched it.

I am exactly like Edward.

His comments on watching Dragnet at exactly 10pm didn't gell with me either. I'm particular about watching Doctor Who but I'm not fixated on times. Not since I got video cassettes. Of course, before the advent of video, I can remember pitching hissy fits or not talking to my parents for a week if they caused me to miss an episode.

Edwards "letter therapy" is also quite interesting. I've always been a bit of a letter writer myself and I must agree, it really does help you to cope with the frustrations of everyday life. It's part of the reason why I, and many other people blog about things that are happening in our day-to-day lives.

600 hours of Edward is an absolutely fascinating book. If you're an aspie, you'll see yourself in it. If you're married to an aspie or if you're caring for one, you'll get a fascinating glimpse of their thought processes.

It's truly recommended reading.

600 Hours of Edward is available on Amazon.
There's a post from Author: Craig Lancaster about writing the character here.
There's another good review here.

This copy was sent to me by Riverbend Publishing for review.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Movie Review: The Black Balloon

I'm branching out a little. I've covered a couple of books about Autism/Aspergers (with more to come) and now I'll be adding the occasional "spectrum" movie review. The movie reviews won't be "remembering" films I've seen, I'll be re-watching things and re-evaluating in the light of my present moods/feelings and also current political/social trends.

Today's review is The Black Balloon, which I watched for the first time last night.

The Black Balloon (2008)
Director: Elissa Down
Writer: Elissa Down, Jimmy Jack
Starring: Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Toni Collette, Erik Thomson, Gemma Ward, Sarah Woods
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%

The Black Balloon is an Australian film about a family with a late-teen severely autistic child. The story is told mostly from the point of view of his "normal" brother and covers the problems with fitting into a new area and acceptance both within the family and within the community.

The Good
It's very obvious that the cast and crew are familiar with autism. In fact, writer/director Elissa Down has two brothers on the spectrum (and one NT brother). She mentions in the featurette that some of the more outlandish things in the film actually did happen in her family. Actor Luke Ford spent quite a bit of time with one of Elissa's brothers and I think he's got the performance nailed.

It's good to see that the story doesn't present the hollywood stereotype of the autistic savant. Instead, Charlie is an individual who embodies the majority of the qualities you'd see in anyone in a similar position on the spectrum. He's just as frustrating as most severely autistic people in that he has good and bad periods and that sometimes, for no apparent reason, the good period slides into the bad.

It's also good to see that in between the stimming and generally hyperactive behaviour, Charlie is shown as a person with the full range of emotions - it's a subtle performance but it's there if you look for it. He's shown as loving, particularly to his mother, played by Toni Collette and to his brother. His sense of humour comes out, as does his frustration.

The Bad
If I have any issues with the film, it's mostly that at times it becomes a little saccharine. The family is just too tolerant and too loving. The school friend, played by Gemma Ward is also too understanding to be real. There was also a social worker scene which went nowhere, it looked like it was going to provide an interesting spin on the story but instead, it was just dropped - I wanted more.

The Message
One of the main reasons I want to review films on the subject of Autism and Aspergers is to look at the messages which are being sent out to the general public. In the case of this film, the ultimate message is about acceptance and love.

At times, the film delves into "Autism Speaks" territory giving us an insider's view of the impact of autism on the family. Of course, the film doesn't want us to dwell on the burden and I suspect that this is the reason why the family is portrayed as a little too perfect/understanding. It's painful to watch the impact that Charlie is having on his family but at the same time, his parents and ultimately his brother show us that it's not about tolerance or even simple acceptance, it's about love.

There's so much in this film from it's throw-away lines, such as the father's message to "quitters"....

Thomas Mollison: Dad do you ever wish Charlie was normal.
Simon Mollison: All I know is he's my own, and you're weak if you don't look after your own

To the message for those who see only despair....

Jackie Masters: Close your eyes, what do you see?
Thomas Mollison: Black.
Jackie Masters: Look harder.

It's highly recommended viewing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Article: Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism?

Here's an interesting article which could spark some debate.

Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism?
by Lisa Jo Rudy

I don't think that there's any doubt that "social lubricants" such as drugs and alcohol can make it easier for aspies to temporarily overcome their social problems. It's also true that sometimes these can help them to relax or function better outside of social situations.

Ritalin itself is a stimulant, as is caffeine and nicotine, marijuana (cannabis) isn't clearly defined as either a stimulant or depressant - it has both qualities.

In fact, it's quite common for children to be given ritalin and/or coffee and coke. Less common I think for parents to actually encourage smoking. Marijuana has been shown to have positive effects on depression.

Both Alcohol and Smoking have greater addicition and provide greater physical harm than marijuana but does that actually suggest that it's worthwhile using? In particular, the article refers to a mother who gives marijuana to her 9 year old son for medicinal purposes. It's hard to make a judgement call on something like that.

One thing that it clear however is that these drugs don't act on the autism itself but rather on the symptoms and co-conditions. Ritalin, for example, has no effect on autism or aspergers but does affect adhd. Similarly anti-depressants don't affect the autistic condition, only the symptom of depression.

Sleeplessness and Achieving Mental "Quiet"

Sleeplessness used to be the bane of my existence. People apparently need more than four hours of quality sleep per night but somehow my aspie brain didn't seem to care.

These days, the problem is mostly "licked". I usually feel tired enough to go to bed somewhere between 11 and 12pm and I wake for work at around 5.15am. I get around 5 and a half hours sleep per night. I'm still tired but it's a good deal better than my previous average of 3-4 hours sleep.

It's the pressures of work and family that get me exhausted enough to get my 5 hours per night. I thought I was "cured" but after being on holidays this week, I know that I'm not.

I've just had three days holiday without the kids. Its the first time since they were born (9 years ago) that my wife and I have had more than one night without them. Furthermore, there was no computer, just the blackberry and no calls from work - although admittedly, I did work through a few emails.

On the first day, we arrived in the afternoon and I fell asleep almost as soon as we arrived. I don't know why I was tired - I wasn't driving. We stayed up to about midnight but slept in until almost 10am. Night 2 was considerably shorter but still appreciable.

Night 3 (last night) was abysmal. I didn't get to sleep until after 1 - and it was fitful with my mind chattering ceaselessly. I awoke several times during the night finally giving up completely at around 4.30 am.

What's strange is that when the artificial tiredness generated by work, family, scouts and general computing etc is gone, my mind can't sleep. My coffee intake is significantly reduced while on holidays but sleep still eludes me.

My brain needs to constantly churn over and arrange facts. It pulls these from my everyday life, from things I see and read and from various ideas that I come into contact with.

Strangely, last night my mind spent ages mulling over the imagery in the film "dumplings" by Fruit Chan. It's a film I've only seen once - and probably more than a year ago. It's not even an English-language film. I'd been reading a book which made a passing mention of it - and the mere mention caused me to lose most of the night's sleep.

Films are a special interest of mine. They're great to think about but sometimes I wish I could just shut my mind off and go to sleep.

Friday, November 13, 2009

eBook A Perfect Gift for a Man - Now FREE!!

I just thought that I'd provide you with an update on "The Perfect Gift for a Man: 30 Stories about reinventing Manhood".

It has now been released in paperback, which means that the book is considerably cheaper. In addition, the Ebook is now free!!!

Since the book is mainly short stories and recollections, it's a very easy read and I encourage everyone to download it and have a look. The only aspergers link is my own set of stories but the book still provides a fascinating and hopeful glimpse into the mind of today's man.

If you decide to purchase a hard copy, all profits are going to the inspire foundation, an organisation which aims to help young people help themselves. We're aiming to reduce the suicide rate amongst men.

You might find some of the facts about suicide in Australia to be rather shocking - here is a factsheet which admittedly is a little out of date. Amongst it's claims are;
  • 2,683 people took their own lives in Australia during 1998
  • This means an average of seven suicides per day.
  • For every completed suicide there are over 30 attempts.
  • 2,150 of these suicides were males.
  • Male suicides outnumber female suicides by a ratio of 4:1
  • Suicide is the leading external cause of death among men.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 and 25 - 44 year old males
It's a good book and for a worthwhile cause. Buying a copy helps but then, so does passing on the positive stories available in the free PDF.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why do Aspies Suddenly Back Off in Relationships (Part 3)

Continuing the series, part three deals with people who just don't know how to "behave" in relationships. I'm not talking about misbehaviour. I'm talking about communications problems, misreading the signs, missing the cues and not knowing those things which should come naturally.

This time, instead of trying to cover the topic in a clinical way, I'm going to speak straight from experience.

Communications Problems
I remember in 1984 when the movie "The Woman in Red" came out. I was pretty excited to see it, not only because it had one of my (then) favourite actors in it (Gene Wilder) and a great song "I just called, to say I love you" but also because the critics described it as; "Teddy Pierce has just wooed the woman of his dreams - and now that he's got her, he doesn't know what to do with her". At the time, that seemed to describe my life. I'd just managed to win the love of the girl who would oneday become my wife but apart from giving her a great big kiss, I really didn't know what else to do.

We communicated quite well and quite often via writing. In fact we usually wrote each other about three or more flirtatious love letters per week. Sometimes several in one day - usually during lessons. It's a wonder our school grades didn't suffer - or perhaps they did.

In any case, once the wooing phase was over, much of what was written in the letters was irrelevant and we used to quote lines of songs to each other. I was content to sit and bask in her radiance. Somehow I assumed that she could read my mind - and I never asked her anything.

What I didn't realise was that my starstruck stunned stares communicated nothing. I probably just looked like a frightened rabbit.

Financial Matters
Contrary to what our popular soapies suggest, we don't have cafe's filled with teenagers everywhere. Usually, McDonalds is the best you can manage. I used to take my sweetheart to McDonalds every Thursday after sport. I'd buy us a chocolate thickshake each. They were quite expensive and ate up two thirds of my allowance leaving only a couple of dollars for my developing book collecting habit.

Back then (and even now), I visit many of my potential purchases several times before buying while I save up the money. Often I would hide my intended purchase within the bookshop to prevent other people from buying it. Sometimes, it would disappear before I'd saved the required money. I lost a lot of good books in those years.

Although I was older than my girlfriend, I didn't have a job. I'd tried but in those days, checkout chicks were really "chicks". Generally, no men allowed. It was much easier for females to get jobs. My girlfriend had a good job at KFC. I never told her how much it killed me to buy those drinks. She would ask me to take her out to other places but I couldn't. I wanted to take her to the movies but there's no way I could afford it.

I'd been brought up to believe that the male in the relationship should pay for the romantic nights out. Since I couldn't pay, we didn't go. I didn't discuss my reasons - I'd been brought up "well" on that score too. I didn't realise how my refusals and my silence on the matter would affect things.

Ultimately, after a lot of heartache, we broke up. We tried again to rekindle our relationship after school, when we were both working. This time things went a little better. I had money and so we went places, though mainly to the movies (because that's a special interest of mine). My girlfriend suggested some places but I wasn't terribly receptive. I hated the idea of dances and I disliked clubs - relating them to negative childhood experiences.

I never understood that my "knock-backs" were having a negative effect. It might seem like I wasn't sharing, that I was being greedy but I didn't understand at the time how important these little things were. I'd presumed that if she really wanted something, she'd fight for it - the way my mother always had to fight my father for the things she wanted in life (holiday destinations etc).

Stupid Assumptions
I also had a group of male friends. None of them had girlfriends and we used to go out and watch movies together. I presumed that there was an unspoken rule that females were not welcome at our gatherings and I never challenged it. Often, one of them would call to arrange a get-together. I'd accept and make plans without consulting or even informing my girlfriend. She would call later that night but it was a case of first come, first served.

At the time, I didn't understand why this made her so angry.

I also had a tendency not to ring her. Her mother was a bit too scary for my liking (she still is at times) and I preferred not to have to deal with her.

Again, I didn't understand at the time that this was offensive. It made the communication seem "one-way" from her point of view. Now, of course, I can understand. I guess I could have understood then too if only I'd known that I had to stop and look at it from my girlfriend's point of view.

To make matters worse, I would greet her at the door (if she came to my house) and be eager to leave before my parents said something stupid - particularly my mother who had teasing little songs about our relationship. If I went to her house, I'd grudgingly enter and allow her parents to throw snide negative comments in my direction but secretly wished I could leave as soon as possible. I never took any notice of my girlfriends clothes, makeup, perfume or hair. I just wanted HER - and I wanted us to be away from parents as quickly as possible.

Sure, she was gorgeous but the clothes hardly mattered. To me, she was (and is) always beautiful. Such trimmings as makeup and jewellery were akin to sprinkling gold dust on a rose. Maybe they made it glitter but they were unnecessary - they couldn't possibly add beauty in my eyes.

I never mentioned it to her. I'd always been brought up that it was bad to make any sort of comment about anyone's appearance and in true aspie fashion, I took that rule and made it golden. What an idiot I was! Even today, I have huge problems making comments. I try but they always fall flat because I'm fighting my true nature.

Social Blindness
Then there was the matter of flowers, chocolates and gifts. I'd known my girlfriend since she was in year seven at school and she'd never ever expressed any interest in flowers. I didn't figure that she'd suddenly change because I didn't realise that there was a hidden meaning in giving flowers. I just thought that they were dead plants.

Similarly, I didn't present her with chocolate because we were going out. It didn't make sense to rock up at her door with chocolates, let her put them inside for her parents to eat (and they would), then take her out somewhere. I used to buy chocolates at the movies, choc-tops, malteasers etc. I thought it was the same thing... but it wasn't.

Jewellery too was weird. I knew enough to know that you only gave a girl a ring when it was time to get engaged (or so I then thought). The time for Jewellery was Birthdays and Christmases. Unfortunately, my family has a nasty habit of being thrifty at Christmas and getting things based on price rather than suitability. In those days, I did the same. I'd not been brought up to understand anything else.

In the end, my Christmas presents ranged from copperart pieces to craft kits and when they strayed into jewellery territory, it was usually only for earrings or pendants - often silver. I really had no idea what to spend. I'd only just learned the difference between gold and silver but I still had no idea of carats, plating and appropriate pricing. I was so naive in the purchasing of such things that it took me years of training to get it right.

Happy Endings
Somehow my girlfriend saw through to the real me. We still broke up once again and in fact it was only her discussions about her new boyfriend and what made him "special compared to me" that made me understand where I'd been going wrong all those years.

She talked about flowers, about compromise, about love, respect and listening. I listened, I learned, I "became" and she gave me another chance.

I guess that this post makes me sound like a lousy boyfriend - and I was. I was lucky to meet someone who was willing to persevere. It's not something that many aspies manage to find.

The problem is that we all take our limited experiences into new relationships. You can't change people but you can teach them and help them to accept new ideas. Many aspies completely destroy their relationships by simply applying the wrong sets or rules or forgetting to stop and try to see things from a different point of view. It's not easy - I'm still learning myself - but it is important.

If you're in love with an aspie, please don't assume that your aspie is less fond of you than you are of them. Perhaps they don't know how to express it, perhaps they're following the wrong rules or script and perhaps they just don't know what to do. Give them the benefit of doubt. Teach them what they should be doing - you may find that it brings amazing rewards.

If you're an aspie in love, the key to it all is to try and see things from your partner's point of view. They can't read minds, so make sure that you tell them whatever is on yours.

Also, watch some of these romantic movies. I always assumed that they were B.S. but they're not. Often, it's exactly what your partner wants you to say and do. A little romance takes very little effort but can bring great rewards to your relationship.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why do Aspies Suddenly Back Off in Relationships (Part 2)

In part one, we looked at the role that Change Resistance plays in causing aspies to suddenly go "cold" in otherwise good relationships. This time, I want to look at self esteem and depression;

Self Esteem
The aspie relationship with themselves is tedious at best. People with Asperger's commonly suffer from low self esteem. As discussed in earlier posts, this low self esteem often results from years of emotional turmoil resulting from their poor social skills.

Aspies are often their own worst enemy. They can over analyze situations and responses in an effort to capture lost nonverbal communication. This often causes them to invent problems and to imagine replies. Everything made up by aspies will tend to be tainted with their own self image.

This is one of reasons that people with Asperger's will sometimes decide that they are not good enough for their partner and that they must let them go. Sometimes, the aspie will develop a notion of chivalry or self-sacrifice and will feel like they need to push their partner away for their own good despite the fact that they personally don't wish to give up the relationship.

Sometimes the aspie feels that they do not deserve the good luck that the relationship is bringing them. Sometimes they feel as if they need to punish themselves.

Several times during the courtship of my (now) wife, I experienced this problem. I had a plan to go to university and I knew that I couldn't spare the time to be with her. I mistakenly assumed that she would not tolerate this separation and kept putting the brakes on our relationship without providing any explanations. Eventually, she did leave me and although I was extremely upset, I figured that I deserved it.

I guess that I was ready to accept that she would find someone else provided that they lived up to my (impossibly high) standards. Discovering that the new man was not treating her as well as I would have was enough to galvanize me into action and I won her back. Self esteem issues can sometimes be conquered simply by realising that you are just as capable as others.

Going hand in hand with the self esteem issues is depression. Most aspies seem to suffer from depression in one form or another. In fact often they suffer from almost bi-polar emotions, swinging from extreme happiness extreme depression with very little in between. If a new relationship is formed during a period of extreme happiness, the partner will often mistake the depression phase for waning interest.

Depression can also be self-destructive. The aspie may terminate their relationship as a way of punishing themselves or they may begin to self-harm in other ways. Sometimes, it's not the depression but the depression medication itself which is responsible for the strain on the relationship. Sometimes too, it's other medications as many drugs which treat psychological conditions which commonly occur alongside aspergers, have depression as a side-effect.

Fixing the Problems
There's not really a great deal that can be done by the partner in relationships which are affected by self esteem and depression issues. Self-esteem issues can only be resolved with long term therapy. It doesn't have to be with a professional, it can be done as part of the relationship provided that the other partner is patient and considerate enough to do the hard work.

Therapy may also work in cases of depression but sometimes the depression is integral to the aspie condition and no matter how often you ease the aspie through the depression phase and into a happier place, the depression will always return.

Sometimes it's better to simply accept rather than to try and change or to "fix" your aspie. Sometimes, it's the aspie who needs to learn to accept themselves.

Next Time
Next time I'll look at people who just don't know what to do or how to behave in relationships.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Article: A New Novel "600 hours of Edward" by Craig Lancaster

It seems only a few years ago that the word "Aspergers" was virtually unknown outside of universities, schools and special education classrooms.

These days though, we seem to have aspie characters on primetime TV and in movies. In fact, recently we've started to see a movies like "Adam" and "Mary and Max" which are completely centred around their aspie characters.

I'm pleased to announce that Craig Lancaster's new novel "600 hours of Edward", released today is another such work and one that I'm particularly looking forward to because after all, there's only so much you can do in a film or TV series. Novels can get right inside the character's head.

Craig has released an article on the development of his aspie character, Edward along with an excerpt from his book.

The web site states that everyone who leaves a comment before November 6, 2009 will go into the draw to win a copy of the book, so please visit the site, read and comment.

600 Hours of Edward
by Craig Lancaster

oh and btw, you can also obtain and preview the book at Amazon.