Sunday, December 27, 2015

Why Do I Allow Offensive Comments on this Blog?

I'm often asked, since I moderate comments on this blog (require approval before posting), why I allow comments which are harmful but block some comments which fight back. Surely here, of all places, I should be standing up for people, like myself who are on the autism spectrum?

It's a good question and it’s one that I still struggle with constantly but I thought it would be worth posting about because it says a lot about me, about my intentions and how far I will go to ensure that the messages are understood.

What does Get Blocked….
First of all, one of my aims in comments is “protection”, so any comments which mention email addresses, surface mail addresses or phone numbers (of individuals) will automatically get blocked. It's simply too dangerous to post these things.

I've had people on the spectrum leave comments about loneliness and their hope that someone nearby will connect with them - and then they leave personal contact details. This is downright dangerous. The proper place for those sort of interactions are via PMs (personal messages) on message boards such as

I also block comments which explicitly attack individuals, particularly other commenters. Sometimes these comments can be really nasty and hurtful but more importantly, they can lead to legal trouble.  It’s one thing for a commenter to generalise about a group of people (which is bad enough in itself). It’s another thing entirely when they attack a specific person.  This is one area where things don’t look so good on the blog; A typical scene goes like this….

Person X says something bad about everybody on the spectrum - and that comment is allowed because it’s a general one.  Person Y says something in defence of people with autism but specifically targeting person X.  

It’s a good comment and it's something I believe in but suddenly I have to block it because the poster has broken a major rule of engagement. It's really frustrating. 

The other group of comments I regularly block is advertising; particularly spell caster advertising campaigns which prey on weak and/or emotional people.

What do I Allow?
Basically everything else is allowed provided that it is on-topic. In particular, I allow comments that I disagree with (and often restrain myself from commenting on them too). This is an intentional attempt to keep the material here balanced; to make sure that my own point of view doesn't dominate the comments.

I'll even allow a small amount of "trolling" through  -- at least until it becomes obvious that a poster is trolling.

Why is this Important?
Sometimes commenters manage to change my mind about things, sometimes they widen discussions, draw parallels or contribute to new theories or new posts. I love those kinds of comments.

Sometimes when someone attacks a post, they play the "devil's advocate" and expose weaknesses and holes in theories or perception.  Knowing about these can often allow you to strengthen future arguments.

Finally, and probably most importantly; people with Asperger's syndrome, myself included tend to be a little naive. I certainly like to believe that the world is full of good people -- and for the most part, my particular little world is.   Every now and then, I get a comment (or a real-life experience) that reminds me that the world has teeth ... and that's a good thing.

I want the world to see what we (the people on the autism spectrum) are up against. If we're constantly suppressing the bad comments then nothing gets discussed and it becomes hard to explain to others that, as a group, we're frequently bullied.

I like to think that I am a compassionate person and I would love to remove the "hate speech" from my comments section but it's too important in highlighting our struggles to remove. I'm not sorry that it offends people because it deeply offends me too. It needs to offend us.

If some of the negative comments get you riled up, then that's great because it means that you see them for what they are and you're seeking social justice.  It's good because you're going to need to defend yourself for the whole of your life from these kinds of attacks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: "Temple did it, and I can Too: Seven Simple Life Rules" by Jennifer Gilpin Yacio

"Temple did it, and I can Too: Seven Simple Life Rules" by Jennifer Gilpin Yacio is a children’s picture book based on Temple Grandin’s seven life rules for growing up with autism.

If you don't know who Dr Temple Grandin's is, she's arguably the leading authority on “autism on the inside”. An amazing and very knowledgeable woman whose story is told very well in the HBO biographical film “Temple Grandin” (2010).

(I reviewed the Temple Grandin movie here back in June 2011)

Temple’s seven life rules are very good ones which still hold up well today though I have often thought that sometimes her words betray her age, in particular her obvious dislike of computer games and her preference for outdoor activities.

The book more or less tells a “lite” version of Temple’s story and at 25 pages, it's clearly aimed at young readers. There are two fonts used throughout the book, on for the story and the other for Temple’s words.

When it comes to the rules, the book addresses the reader directly giving both the rule and advice for following them.

Lynda Farrington Wilson’s illustrations take a little getting used to but suit the book perfectly. They are filled with interesting details and illustrate not only Temple’s life but also her dreams. If you have children on the spectrum, you may recognise the level of detail in these drawings.

At the end of the book, there are some questions aimed at getting the reader to think about how they can fit Temple’s rules into their life goals.

All in all, this book serves as an excellent introduction to this extraordinary woman and is a great starting point for helping kids with autism to get their life goals and actions aligned.

For those of us who are already very familiar with Temple’s work, it offers less (but we're clearly not the intended audience).

I noticed in the end notes that the Author, Jennifer Gilpin Yacio has a brother on the spectrum and was a little disappointed to not read anything about his life in there.

"Temple did it, and I can Too: Seven Simple Life Rules" by Jennifer Gilpin Yacio is available from Sensory World, Amazon (in Kindle and Hardcover formats) and the Book Depository.

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Conversations with People with Asperger's Syndrome can leave you with a Wrong Impression

People with Asperger's Syndrome often come across in conversations as very self-obsessed and this is reflected in “Aspie-type” personalities in the media, such as “Doc Martin” in the British TV show of the same name and “Sheldon Cooper” from the “Big Bang Theory”**.

The question is whether this is a reputation that we deserve. It's certainly true that conversations with people with Asperger's can be an “experience” but is this a self-centred superiority complex or simply the way that a bunch of traits appear to others… and if so, what can be done about it?

One Sided Conversations
People with Asperger's often seem to dominate conversations, turning the topic to things that interest us (special interests) and then talking until the listeners make their escape.

To an outsider, this appears to be “conversation dominance”. It suggests that the “aspie” is not interested in the opinions and subjects of other people.

People with Asperger's are constantly thinking about their interests and apparently this isn't the case with “normal” people. When you're talking, you tend to say what you're thinking- and for us, it's pretty obvious what that is. In fact, it's hard for us to concentrate on other topics especially if, like “today's weather” or “last night’s sports game”, they seem to lack conversational depth.

This is an area where we can improve simply by trying to rein in our exposure of the special interest and trying to listen to others. It takes practice but it's an important skill to learn.

Being Direct
People with Asperger's often ask very direct questions, for example asking an elderly person exactly how old they are or aggressively asking multiple questions about a given purchase which interests them.

Other people can interpret this as being “nosey”, pushy or simply rude.

People with Asperger's see this quite differently. It shows interest, engagement and sometimes honesty, all traits that we admire in conversation.

Personally I've always been proud of my honesty but over the years I've learned that there are some things that you just can't say. I now refrain from personal comments of any kind to such an extent that I've been accused many times of “not giving compliments”. In fact it's arguably the most difficult part of my marriage.

Too often my most well-meant comments are taken completely the wrong way. It's easier to completely avoid all personal comments than it is to say things that are intended as compliments but could all too easily have unintended consequences.

This is an area where others need to change their unrealistic expectations of us. Of course over the years, I've learned through trial and observation to avoid specific types of comments and questions - and my reading of body language has improved significantly. It’s probably safe to say that these problems should decrease over time with familiarity.

Blurting and Interrupting
People with Asperger's syndrome are often seen to interrupt the conversations of others, simply blurting out what seems to be random facts. This leads others to presume that they consider their conversations to be more important or at best, that they are simply rude.

Blurting can be a symptom of “over-excitement” in a topic or the urgent need to convey some information before it is forgotten. People with Asperger's usually have great long term memory but short term tends to be poor.

More often, blurting is the result of difficulty locating simple entry points into a conversation. It's not uncommon for a person with Asperger's to walk up to a conversation and watch it like a tennis match for a few minutes before silently walking away. This isn't rudeness, simply the person being unable to find the right “gaps” in which to enter a conversation. After a few such attempts, blurting is only to be expected.

In General
There are many other nuances in “Asperger's conversation” but the answers usually boil down to the same things. Some things, the person with Asperger's needs to work on, some things develop naturally over time and sometimes others need to be more understanding and more accommodating.

The more time you spend listening to a person with Asperger's syndrome, the more you'll find yourself "acclimatizing" to their "peculiar" speech and world-view. If you're a regular watcher of either of the shows I mentioned earlier, think about how you feel about Doc Martin or Sheldon Cooper now versus how you felt about them in their earliest episodes.

The rudeness and the superiority complex that people with Asperger's syndrome often project is rarely intended as such.

** Neither Doc Martin, nor Sheldon Cooper are specifically identified as "having Asperger's syndrome". though it has certainly come up on one, maybe both, shows. They're both characters based on real like people who are known by the actors and/or writers. Nevertheless, the characters they portray are very "aspie-like".