Saturday, March 16, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
Unabridged AudioBook Read by Jeff Woodman 

I used to be able to read quite a lot of books but these days, I find myself to be quite "time-poor" and I've switched to audio books instead. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has been on my "list of books I want to read for years".  I finally got around to "reading" it last week.

Autism in the Book

While autism is never actually mentioned in the book, the protagonist, fifteen year old Christopher Boone is very clearly on the spectrum. A lot of people have said that he has Asperger's syndrome but it's hard to tell. Little is revealed about Christopher's very early life and while he's clearly "Asperger's" by the time we meet him, there's more than a few lower functioning traits in his behaviour too.

The author, Mark Haddon, has said on a number of occasions that he did little to no research on autism because it's not really intended to be a book on autism.  This is very clear from his character, Christopher and in the behaviour of other characters around him.

Christopher is a fifteen year old from the UK who among other things, loves trains (timetables) and yet he doesn't know that the words tube and underground refer to the trains of London.  He's brilliant at complex mathematics puzzles and able to talk to strangers when interviewing them but is unable to tell his fellow passenger that he needs to use a toilet on a train.

These things simply don't add up. 

The story is interesting and well told but it's not a book about autism. Christopher is just a two-dimensional autism-like character (actually a caricature) and from a certain point of view, this could be considered quite offensive.

Suitability 

While the phraseology in the book is quite simple, it's not a book for the very young as it has some very adult themes and strong language.

As I mentioned earlier, it's also a book which treats the subject of autism, albeit undisclosed, in an offensive manner.

Readability and Story

In terms of the actual story, "the curious incident of the dog in the night time" is quite a good read.  It takes a while for the story to start to unfold but when it does, it holds your interest. Christopher's monologues are sometimes interesting but also border on rants at times.

The mystery itself isn't all that difficult to figure out and most people will guess it well before the revelation. The point of interest lies in watching the main character, Christopher, trying to solve the mystery while satisfying all of his own needs and phobias.

Mark Haddon's attempts to explain "autistic behaviours" from the inside are well-intentioned and sometimes touch upon truths but most of the time they feel out of place. The interactions between other characters feel fairly genuine however and while the book never quite manages to be funny, it raises a smile every now and then.

The Audio Book

The AudioBook that I listened to was read by Jeff Woodman, an accomplished narrator with several other books under his belt. He was very clear and easy to listen to and for the most part his vocal inflections from one character to another made the book much more enjoyable than it might have been in print.

There are no special effects or music but in this book they're not really a requirement. The audio recording lasts for about 6 hours.

Recommendations

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon is an interesting read which will provide you with a short, fun low-key detective story with some interesting and colourful characters. It may tell you a lot about autism but you'll find it hard to separate the truth from fiction, so it can't be relied upon as a source of truth.

Remember; if you've met one person on the spectrum.... you've met ONE person on the spectrum.  

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon is available in most bookshops and online as a book; including Goodreads, Amazon and Google Play.  Amazon also has it as a Kindle book or an Audio Book.

You can also get the Audio Book on AudioBooks.com or Kobo.  The print book is available on the Apple store but the Apple audio book appears to be read by someone else. There's also a play version of the book around, so make sure that the author actually is Mark Haddon.

Honesty Clause

Nobody provided me with this book for review. I had to get it myself -- so no influences there at all.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Helping your kids on the Spectrum to find Employment - Part 3

In part 1 of this series, I covered how to make the most of your final school years in order to gear yourself up towards work.  In part 2, I looked at developing your CV, and marketing yourself towards jobs. In part 3, I want to look at the interview process, whether or not you should disclose your autism diagnosis and what other options exist to help kids on the spectrum find employment.

The Interview Process

If you keep applying for jobs, eventually you'll get an interview. If you're applying and not getting any nibbles at all, you need to talk to some new people (people outside of your immediate family). If possible, talk to people in similar jobs to those for which you're applying. They'll help you tweak your resume to get noticed.

A little preparation can take a lot of the discomfort out of an interview.

Preparation

If you're applying for an office job, you'll need to do a lot more preparation than you would for a trade position. Here's a few things that you need to do well ahead of time in preparation for an office job interview;


  • Re-read the job advertisement several times, highlighting key phrases (like "works without supervision" or "attention to detail". These phrases give you key insights into what the prospective employer sees as important. You'll want to mention them during the interview. Specifically, you'll want to be able to mention examples from your life where you've needed to demonstrate these particular skills.
  • Work out transport. If you're taking public transport, make sure that you can arrive in the area (not at the interview) at least 30 minutes earlier. You'll want to be 5-10 minutes early for the interview but you'll want to appear casual, unflustered and certainly not as if you've been running to meet a deadline.  If the interview is in a busy area, like a city, you can safely plan to arrive there an hour early as there will be plenty for you to do beforehand.
  • Work through possible interview questions with your family -- or even better, with people you don't know as well. After all, you'll need to answer to strangers. You'll find lots of sites on the internet which go over the most common interview questions.
  • Research the company you're applying to work with. In particular, make sure that you've looked at their website and that you can say what they do. If you can name one of their products or mention an award that they've won, that's even better. You might not need that information but it helps to know. If they have an annual review on their site, it's a great resource as it will often give you an idea of their achievements, direction and corporate structure. In smaller companies, knowing who the CEO is can help -- if you find them on the Annual review, check twitter to see if they are tweeting as this will give you an insight into their interests.
  • Practice shaking hands with your family. You'll need to feel comfortable with the right hand. If you have have trouble remembering which hand, wear a watch and then simply remember if you're shaking with your "watch hand" or not. There's a lot of rules for hand shaking and many people get it wrong. Watch some YouTube videos on the process and practice for both genders.
  • Pick out your clothes carefully. They should match the general requirements of the job, meaning that for a trade job, you should turn up in sensible shoes, jeans and a reasonably nice shirt. For an office job, you'll want a shirt and jacket with neat pants and shiny shoes. You may also need a tie. When you're selecting your outfit, get someone else's opinion to make sure that it looks good on you. You'll also need to make sure that you feel comfortable because interviews are sensory hell enough without the addition of scratchy, uncomfortable clothes. If you're buying new clothes, you'll need to try them on first because you might want to remove the tags.
  • Check your hair and if you need to, get a haircut. It needs to be neat and not oily. 

The more preparation you put into an interview, the better your chances of doing well.

On the Day

If you can, eat in your pyjamas, not your interview attire and be sure to brush your teeth afterwards -- maybe even use some mouthwash for extra fresh breath. Avoid smelly foods like garlic, sardines etc.

Get dressed and make sure that you put deodorant on and brush your hair. Check your shoes to make sure that they're shiny and get someone else in your family to look over you carefully.

Before leaving the house, do a very careful check of everything. Make sure that you have your Resume/CV and portfolio folder. Make sure that you have the address of the place you're going to and the name of the person you're supposed to see. If you can pack your bag the night before this is much better.

Make sure that you have money for public transport, plus a little for emergencies. You'd be surprised how often an emergency, like a sudden downpour or a broken shoelace, can occur on interview day. 

The key is to relax as much as you can, leave yourself as much time as possible and have enough money to problem-solve on the run. 

Sudden downpours can be "opportunities" as other candidates might not turn up, giving you extra interview time,
-- or for a laugh you can use it as an example of how you handled a difficult situation. 

Once you arrive at the approximate destination, make sure that you check yourself carefully in the mirror just before your interview. Don't use the toilet at your prospective workplace. If you can't find a public toilet, consider catching an elevator to a different floor or walking into a hotel -- they often have toilets on the ground floor.

Spend time washing your hands carefully with soap. Remember it's about the smell of soap as much as it is about being clean. Look carefully at your skin, particularly at your mouth and make sure that there's no food there.  Many people on the spectrum don't feel food on their faces, so it's important to spare yourself the embarrassment. Check to make sure that your clothes are neat and tucked in.

Try to be as calm as you can. If you need to listen to a little music or close your eyes, do this ... but not while you're waiting at your prospective workplace.

Dealing with People

When you go into an interview, you need to be prepared for a lot of contact, which for people on the spectrum can be really difficult. To give yourself the very best chance, make sure that you have as much quiet/disconnected time as possible in the lead up to the interview -- even if it means that you need to sit in a park or in the toilet to get away from people.

You'll be expected to give a lot of eye contact, so if you find this is too difficult, look at people's mouths or hair. Try not to look behind them because people notice that and definitely try not to look below the mouth as people, particularly females, will find this offensive. Interviews today often consist of several people so be prepared to have to deal with two or three people at once.

If you're lucky, the interviewers will give you their business cards. If that happens, put them on the table in front of you in positions which vaguely correspond to the positions in which they're sitting (try not to make this too obvious). Having the cards in this position means that you can easily glance down if you forget someone's name.

Sometimes interview panels seem to be set up to make you fail.
Oppression can indicate toxic company culture. Some jobs aren't worth the work. 
Use your portfolio well. It's a great distraction tool. If someone asks you about "a time when you handled a difficult situation", talk about it for a while and then (hopefully) you'll have something in your portfolio that backs this up, even if it's just a page with a little more detail on it. Open the portfolio and put it in front of the interviewer. They may take it, or they might not. That's okay. If they do take it however, that's one less set of eyes on you and it means that you can devote more time to another interviewer for a short while.

When the interview is over, be sure to thank the people for considering you and after perhaps a day or so, send them a follow-up email just to say thanks and to say how excited you are for the opportunity. Sometimes that follow up is enough to remind them of how good you were. 

Disclosing Autism

Unless you're going for a job where the employer is fully aware of your autism, or you feel that you're likely to experience frequent sensory issues in the job, it's best not to disclose at the time of the interview.

It's usually better not to talk about your diagnosis for the entire first year of the job. Give them a chance to accept you for who you are first. 

Alternative Sources of Work

If you still can't find work, you can benefit from talking to careers advisors who can look at your goals and achievements and advise you whether or not the jobs you're seeking are within reach -- and where you should start. 

There are also a lot of autism-related organisations who can help; 

You might also want to look at the options available from companies who hire people with autism

I agree that it feels a little offensive to have to seek work in places who hire for these reasons but if it gets you a FIRST job, you can always move onto another place once you have a bit more experience. 

You don't necessarily have to tell your next employer that the first job was via an autism agency -- and if you get on well with your references, you can ask them not to mention it. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Helping your kids on the Spectrum to find Employment - Part 2


In my last post, I talked about how important it is to get your kids on the spectrum into longer-term work experience, how to make the most of their last year of schooling and how foster independence. I also mentioned how important it is to ensure that you choose to work in an area that aligns with your special interest. 

In this post, I want to look at finding, landing and keeping a job. Most of the advice here applies to anyone, however I've tried to take into account some of the difficulties that people on the spectrum face. 

Finding Jobs

These days, finding a job can be quite difficult especially considering the unemployment rate and the fact that so many people have multiple degrees. People on the spectrum are quite often "under-employed", meaning that they're in jobs where their skills are under-utilised. They're also less likely to have a degree than their non-autistic peers even though they certainly have the ability to get one. One of many issues here is that kids with autism find university life too big a change to adjust to.

Getting around the Problem of Over-Qualification

Over-qualification has turned job hunting into an "employer's market" where too many prospective employees are fighting for too few jobs. This puts employers into a position where they can "raise the bar" and decide to employ someone with a masters degree for a job which really needs no formal qualifications.

The best way to get around this issue is to "beat it on experience", which means, to go straight from school into a low-paying job in the correct field and work your way up using experience and short bursts of education. 


The way this works is that people who leave school to pursue college degrees will usually lose 4-6 years just trying to get their degree completed. If they pursue a masters or doctorate, the time is even longer. If they do any part time work, it's most likely to be in a fast-food outlet or somewhere else unrelated to their intended final study. Additionally, unless they live in a country where university is free, they're likely to emerge with crippling amounts of education debt.

If you leave school and go directly into a job which is in some way related to your field of interest, you'll already have four years of work experience over these graduates. Additionally, you won't have education debt.  If you find the right employers, they may send you to do part-time study or they may send you on courses and pay for your further education.

Obviously a degree really is required for some jobs such as nursing, but it's acceptable to get an entry level position in a hospital or surgery with the aim of studying part time.

Sometimes doing a few relevant short courses is much better than doing a general degree and you'll find that after about a decade in the workforce, many employers are more interested in your experience and capabilities than your degree. 

Being Attractive to Jobs

In order to get a job, you need to ensure that you're attractive to prospective employers. This means that from the get-go, you need to be marketing yourself.

The Resume or CV

Your resume or CV is usually the first thing that a prospective employer will see.  It needs to be eye-catching and leap out from the rest. In the old days, when you needed to send in printed resumes, this was easy. All you needed to do was use better quality paper, print in colour and of course, have a decent resume. Employers would be reluctant to throw out an application that looked very professional, even if it didn't tick all of their requirement boxes.

These days however, resumes are generally electronic and while they may be printed out, they're often just read on screen. If your resume doesn't contain decent headings and bullet points and if it doesn't convey the right message in the first quarter of page 1, it's certain to be ignored.

You'll find some good tips on resume writing here.

If you're applying for a hands-on job like metalworking or carpentry, you'll want a resume that is quite different from someone who wants to work in the computer industry. You'll need to tailor your resume carefully towards the type of jobs you're applying for.

There are plenty of websites out there which can give you great tips on resumes.



The most important but non-obvious things in my opinion are;

  • Make sure that other people have looked over your resume (they'll want to check for spelling, date inaccuracies and things that just don't add value to the jobs you're applying for).
  • If you're struggling to write a resume, seek help. Don't do it by yourself. You can pay someone to help but if you ask around friends - even if you ask friends on Facebook, you'll find that many people will be only too happy to help. If you get through to a job agency, don't be afraid to ask them to scribble over your resume and highlight things that they think you could do better.
  • Include as much relevant experience as possible. If you don't have work experience, then use things from your real life. For example, if you're applying for construction, mention helping a neighbour with a retaining wall or building a barbecue.  If you're looking at IT, talk about installing operating systems and helping friends and relatives.  Build your hobbies up as experience.
  • When talking about past work, don't simply write the job title. Make a short list of some of your achievements in the role or some of your regular duties -- and make sure it sounds impressive.
  • Make sure that your name & contact number is on the header or footer of EVERY page of your resume in case it gets lost and the employer only has one page to go on. 


The Portfolio

Everyone should have a job portfolio regardless of the job you're going for. You won't always need to get it out but you need to take it to every interview just in case.  Your portfolio should be a "display book" and it should include extra copies of the main documents behind the "originals" just in case your interviewer asks for them.
The portfolio should start with a title page, then lead into your resume. You might want to have more detailed breakdowns of your past experience on subsequent pages.

You should have a title page for qualifications and follow this up with a selection of pages that include various certificates, not all of which need to be entirely relevant -- but keep the most relevant to the front.

The third section, again with a title page, should be experience. It should contain examples of your work. Until you have a job, these will probably be examples from your school years.

If you're going for hands-on jobs like metalworking or carpentry, then your experience section should include photos of your work, ideally with you in the photos to help prove that it is your work. If you're following a career in computing, you might want to include screens of applications or web sites that you've developed in your spare time. You might include reports or documentation, even if these are just things you created for school projects or work experience.

You'll want to update your resume regularly, especially in the early years of employment as experience and qualifications change quickly. 

LinkedIn

While many people consider LinkedIn to be the "boring cousin of Facebook", it's an essential business tool, particularly if you're seeking office-bound employment. You'll need to create a profile for yourself on LinkedIn and unless you're pursuing a career in comedy, it needs to be professional.

To do this, you'll need to fill out your profile carefully and think about the questions that are asked.


When it comes to photos, there are two important ones on LinkedIn;

  • Your profile picture should be a square (it displays round but it's a square graphic).  It should start from about half a handspan from the top of your head to about a handspan below the bottom of your neck.  The image size can be anywhere between 400 x 400 pixels and (up to 20,000).  I'd recommend about 800 x 800. It's probably good to smile but it's not okay to grin like a chimpanzee.

    Your visible attire should reflect the level of professionalism to which you aspire. If you're looking to get into business, you'd probably be best off wearing a business shirt. If you're going into a trade, then a trade shirt or even a high-vis vest can sometimes send the right message.

    You don't want your background to appear too cluttered but I personally like to send a message with mine (so it has the Sydney harbour bridge in it).  It reinforces the message about my location. 


  • The background of linkedIn should also be filled in.  It's best, for copyright reasons, if you can use a photo that you've taken yourself. Panoramas are excellent for this and it's easy to take panoramas on most modern phones. The current recommended size of a LinkedIn background image is 1584 wide by 396 pixels high.

    It's best not to make your background image too detailed, so landscapes and patterns work particularly well. If you can't manage a panorama of your own, you can search google for ones which aren't copyrighted.  You'll also find that tools like Sproutsocial can help you resize images to work with the various social media platforms if you're not good with graphics. 

One more thing about linked in. You need to be a little active. This is particularly applicable to office jobs. You need to join a few groups which align with your interests and you need to start reading an "liking" other people's posts.

If you feel that you can make a positive contribution, then you should feel free to comment but avoid insulting people or telling them that they're wrong. Facebook is for picking fights. Your behaviour on LinkedIn needs to remain professional. 

Applying for Jobs

Once your resume and linkedIn profiles are working, you'll need to join some job sites and fill out a profile (and often a resume) there. Luckily, it's much easier the second time around and you can often copy and paste (or simply upload). Make sure that you include your linkedIn URL.

When applying for a job, try to send a note with your resume to indicate why you think you are particularly suitable for the role. Remember that the person handling job applications is probably reading a hundred of these per day, so your job is to make them want to meet you. 

Don't worry if you don't get any nibbles at first, sometimes you have to apply for about ten jobs before you get a response.  If you still aren't getting responses after a couple of weeks, you'll need to get someone to look over your resume, profile and application letters.

You should also be aware that many jobs these days are not actual jobs but are employment agencies. These aren't all bad and many will happily work hard for you  so it's still worthwhile going through the application process with them.

Often agencies will give you temporary work to start with, to see what kind of a worker you are. This can be a good thing and it all goes towards experience that you can include in your resume. 

Next Time

I had expected this to be a two part series but unfortunately the topic is just a little too big.  Next time I want to talk about the interview process, whether or not you should disclose your diagnosis and other options for employment via dedicated autism agencies. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Helping your kids on the Spectrum to find Employment - Part 1

My eldest son now has a job and of course, I'm over the moon. No only does he have a job but it's also in his area of interest and there's a traineeship component. He's going to thrive there. 

His employment is the culmination of years of planning and it all went so smoothly that I wanted to talk about it because I feel it's a model that others can follow.

In part one of this two part post, I want to look at how you can use the last few years of school to get your teen prepared for a job.

The Statistics

Before I get into the "how to", I just wanted to take a look at the statistics for people with autism being unemployed, under-employed (in lower paying jobs than they should be) and not completing higher education.

The Australian Bureau of statistics published some statistics from 2015 here and here 
The results are grim and the story is similar worldwide. In fact, I'd venture to say that statistics and support in Australia are a little better than most places overseas.

The chart shows how few people on the spectrum are in paid employment and it's scary enough but it's important to realise that only takes into account people on the NDA (National Disability Agreement). It doesn't account for people who are undiagnosed, were diagnosed as adults or haven't attempted to use their diagnosis to get support. The real statistics for employment are much lower. 

Additionally, the reports say that "people with autism are less likely than others to complete an educational qualification beyond school". For example, people without autism were 4.5 times more likely to have a bachelors degree.

Getting through the Last of School

The last years of school can be quite tough and depending upon how your teen is doing academically, you might be facing a few choices. If they're doing well at school, there's no need for a change.

If they're doing well academically but struggling socially, then you really need to keep them in their mainstream school until they finish. Much of your focus at school should be directed towards making their general day-to-day social contact easier.

If they are "drowning" academically, it's time to make a choice. In general order of "worst to best" (my opinion only), these are;

  • Allow them to finish school early.
  • Switch to a special needs school
  • Switch to an easier school program
  • Get extra outside help

Finishing School Early

Finishing school early should only be a choice when your teen has a job to go to and is mature enough to do it. If your teen is going to finish school only to sit at home unemployed and play video games, then it's best to keep going with school.


Some kids thrive out of school but if you're thinking that this is the direction that your teen needs to go in, you should get them to do part time work for at least three months before you make your decision.

Finishing school early will often close the doors on higher education (at least for about five years), so it's a choice that you shouldn't make lightly. 

Switching to a Special Needs School

If your teen isn't coping academically AND is also struggling socially, then a special needs school might be a better choice. Just remember that special needs schools don't always result in better grades. You're sending your child there for "comfort" but eventually they'll have to interact with mainstream adults. So essentially, you're simply delaying the inevitable.

If this is the kind of break they need, then go for it.

Switch to an Easier School Program

If your teen is struggling academically but is coping reasonably well with the social aspects of school, particularly if they have a group of friends, then it's best to leave them at school. This is especially true if you feel that they're too immature to hold down a job yet -- advice that applies to boys more than girls.

You'll find that many schools can offer a "life skills" program which essentially lowers the standard of work expected. Your teen will still get assignments and participate in classes however instead of being served reports with disheartening Ds and Es on them, they don't get a mark. They do however get a certificate that says that they have completed their schooling.

Many "life skills" programs at schools also include different types of learning which are more applicable to jobs, for example the kids in these classes may do food bank projects, white card "health and safety" certifications or develop other skills that will lead straight into a job. You shouldn't underestimate the potential of life skills.

Switching to something like life skills can temporarily (for about 3 years) close the doors to higher education such as university - you can often apply later as a "mature aged student". It's not a decision to take lightly however university education isn't everything and the reduction of academic pressure can make your teen's life at school so much more bearable. 

Get Extra Help

Getting extra help, such as tutors, is probably the very best solution if you can afford it and if your teen is able to benefit. Just be aware that sometimes the extra help comes too late (if they don't have the basics) and that sometimes the added pressure to perform can be too much for your teen.

If it works for your teen, go for it. 

The Special Interest

By now you should have a fairly good idea of your teen's special interests. These are absolutely key to their getting a job, so whenever possible make sure that you try to find ways that they can connect to the workforce.


Many special interests have associated magazines which may have articles where people talk about their work. If you can find these, it's worth giving your teen a look at some of the jobs that may be available. It could give them something to aim for.

If your teen is interested in computer gaming, try to broaden this to general computers by introducing different operating systems and applications. If they're obsessed with anime, try to get them drawing their own figures and styles rather than simply copying others.

If they're into writing or geology or fitness, they're already on their way but if their interests are limited to Star Wars or Spongebob, you'll have to work a whole lot harder to broaden them to other things.

Anyone on the spectrum working in an area that fits their special interest will automatically have a huge advantage over others. 

Work Experience

I can't stress enough how important work experience is to kids on the spectrum. It's such a pity that many schools today don't do it -- often for insurance reasons.

It's not uncommon for kids in senior school to have a part time job, such as working at a fast food outlet but unless this relates directly to your planned long-term employment, this isn't going to give you a big enough boost to put you above the competition when it comes to an interview.


If your school won't offer your teen on the spectrum any work experience then you'll need to organise it yourself. 

The other thing to note about work experience is that two weeks is certainly not enough. When it comes to teens on the spectrum, work experience needs to happen across a much longer period in order for them to settle and to take away a true learning experience.

If it's at all possible to find someone you know in a connected field, then this is the best option. If you can't find anyone in the area, you can cold-call companies but it's often better to post in local autism and Asperger's forums to see whether anyone can help.

A parent who already has a child on the spectrum will be far more understanding as a "boss" when it comes to work experience and they'll probably be keen to offer their help. 

Keep on Top of Work Experience

Work experience is unpaid work and since it's meant as a "taster", it should be fun and fairly diverse. A work experience position where you simply shovel dirt all day is not going to be of much use to anyone. The same goes for an IT position where your teen is expected to sit around all day without having been given any work.

You need to keep on top of what is going on and you need to ensure that the work is at least interesting and a little challenging for your teen. Work experience should never be "boring". 

To do this, you need to talk to your teen at night and ask what they were doing at "work", how they felt and what other people were doing. You also want to encourage your teen to talk to other people at work in order to develop a fuller understanding of what the company does and how it goes about it.

It's important to ensure that your teen provides benefit to the company they're working with.  Work experience is essentially a "free worker" for them but they'll be more likely to provide a positive experience for your teen if they feel that they're getting benefit too. 

Getting the Hours Up

In order to get the hours up, your teen will need to be prepared to put the time in. In our case, my son did work experience on and off for two years, spending most of his school holidays in the office as well as any "pupil free" days, exam days (when he didn't have exams) etc.

As a result, he developed a lot of good workplace skills and met people who were willing to act as references for him. 


Developing Independence

Up to now, it's likely that you've been waking your teen with autism every morning, perhaps you've been finding clothes for them to wear (or perhaps they wear the same uniform every day). It's also probable that they're not showering as often as they should and that they aren't using deodorant, packing their own bag or making their own way to school.

Work experience is your opportunity to change all of that.

You'll still need to help but you'll want to start encouraging your teen to make decisions for themselves. This means that they need to be able to tell you what sorts of clothes others are wearing to work, what kinds of foods people take to the office for snacks and how people at work greet each other and answer the phone.

You'll need to write these things down, so that your teen can start to work through the list and pay attention to things around them without actually going up and asking people. Make sure that they don't write things down where people can see them and that they don't ask people directly. It might make their co-workers nervous. 

You'll need to see what they intend to wear to work ahead of time. For example, people at work might be wearing T-shirts but you'll need to make sure that your teen chooses shirts which are clean and free of potentially offensive slogans and drawings.

Similarly, you'll need to keep an eye on hygiene and make sure that your teen doesn't smell. Smelly teens are acceptable in school but not in the workplace. They'll need regular showers and deodorant -- and they'll need to brush their teeth and hair.

Food is also important, particularly if your teen has issues with feeling food on their face. You'll need to encourage them to look in the mirror regularly, remind them to chew with their mouth closed and watch their choices, not for health but for spillage. A teen who wears white shirts and eats ice cream for lunch is a recipe for disaster.


Finally, time management and transport are great skills to develop during the work experience period. You'll need to encourage your teen to start taking public transport and to plan their day to get to work on time. You can do this by gradually backing off on "being their alarm clock", by taking them to the train station or bus stop rather than driving them to work and by getting them to make the best use of the transport apps they have on their phone.

Fortunately, with work experience being unpaid, mistakes such as catching the wrong train and arriving late aren't going to get them fired.  It's best that they make these mistakes now, rather than when they get a real job. 

Next Time

Next time, I want to talk about applying for jobs, resumes and interviews.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Which Schools are a good fit for your Child on the Autism Spectrum?

School is a very difficult proposition for kids on the spectrum and your first choice of school isn't always going to be the right one. Sometimes you'll need to change schools as personnel change, as bullies come and go or as the general "fit" between the school and your child ceases to work.

In this post, I want to look at different school scenarios and try to give guidance on three issues;
  • Private versus State-Funded
  • Special versus Mainstream
  • Homeschooling versus Institutionalised 

Private versus State-Funded Schools

Understanding Public and Private Schools

While these two major types of schools appear all around the world,  they're called different things in different countries. In the UK, the word "public school" actually means "independent" (essentially what a "private school" in Australia and the United States means). They use the words "state-funded" to describe what we call public.

As an aid to understanding, I'll be using "state-funded" instead of public here but I'll define my terms just in case;

  • State-Funded School - FREE for all students
  • Private School - Expensive and often elitist, these can be specialised academic institutions, church-related (Catholic or Jewish schools) and culture related (Japanese schools). Sometimes they are boarding schools as well. 

Which is most Suitable?

Both of my kids went to a Catholic school. We're not a terribly religious family but my wife and I met at a Catholic school and we felt that one of the main reasons that we've stayed together all of these years was because we shared similar values. We felt that our kids had a better chance of finding friends with similar values simply by learning among a restricted segment of the population.  I still think that it holds true.

A lot of people told my wife and I that state-funded schools were better resourced when it comes to special needs children. This was particularly tempting when we reached parts of their education in which they struggled -- and the school struggled to provided for their needs.

We spent some time investigating state-funded schools only to discover that support varied from one school to the next and that resourcing and budgeting was always a problem for them. 

The schools with fewer special needs students often had better resources but appeared to be less welcoming, probably because they viewed us as a drain on their resources. The ones that had lots of special needs students seemed to be driven by loving staff members but were "drowning" in a lack of time and resources.



We talked to them about how many hours per week our kids could reasonably expect one-on-one help and what other accommodations could be made. It didn't take us long to discover that what we already had in the private school was better than anything that the government could provide.

The verdict: If you can afford a private school, you'll often get marginally better support and services. As private schools depend on funding from parents, they're much more responsive to parental input. Even then, your child won't get enough one on one time with the teacher and may thrive with an after-hours personal tutor. If it comes down to a choice driven by your family budget, go with a state funded school and use any extra funds to hire a tutor. 

Unfortunately all schools function only as well as their principals, their special needs staff and their boards of directors. If these are not aligned in your favour, your child simply will not benefit.

Special Versus Mainstream Schools

Full disclosure; I have a real problem with special schools. The issue is simple;

By being special, these schools agree to focus on the "difference".  Unfortunately, there is no single difference that makes all children "alike".  Even deaf or blind schools can't assume that all of their pupils will have the same level of function -- so you can imagine how difficult it would be for a special needs school to address the needs of children on the spectrum with a wide variety of co-conditions.

Ultimately, special needs schools are faced with choices. They have to set divisions and segment their kids into groups according to their perceived abilities. 

Place someone with lower abilities, for example a barely verbal child, in a classroom full of higher ability, non-stop Asperger's talkers with intense special needs and an inability to keep quiet and that child's voice will be lost among the chaos.

Do things in reverse and you place restrictions on the development of more enabled children.

You can't win.



The solutions that many special needs schools opt for is to have "intellectual" divisions between classes and to sort kids according to their abilities and needs. This works but it doesn't allow for kids to change and grow -- and some kids on the spectrum greatly increase their capabilities as they mature.

The verdict: If you can get away with a mainstream school over a special school, then do it. After all, your kids won't have the dubious "benefit" of segregation in other areas of their life so it's better that they learn to cope while they have the support structure of school in place. On the other hand, if your child is struggling academically in the lowest levels of their mainstream school, then it's a fair bet that they'll be happier in a special school where the pressures of grading is less evident. 

It's always been my belief that it's better to be somewhere towards the bottom end of a good class than to be at the top of a bad one.

If you have a child who is doing well academically but can't cope socially, I'd still recommend avoiding special schools and persevering in mainstream school. If it all gets too much, homeschooling could be a better choice for the gifted child.

Homeschooling versus Institutionalised Schools

Before proceeding, I want to define "institutionalised"; it simply means "normal" schools conforming to the "normal" system. I just try to avoid the word "normal" when I can. 

To be fair, under "perfect" circumstances, homeschooling provides the best option for any kind of schooling from both an academic and a social standpoint. 

The main problem with homeschooling is that "perfect" circumstances usually aren't possible and you need to decide if the compromises you have to make are in the best interests of you, your child and the rest of your family. When it's done right, homeschooling isn't "a walk in the park"- it's very hard work.


So, having said that homeschooling is the best option, lets look at the reasons why you might choose to NOT home school;

  • If you're doing this for yourself, rather than your child. -- It's not uncommon for single parents to combat loneliness by homeschooling.
  • If you're doing it because you're a helicopter parent -- One of the main aims of education is to allow your kids to flourish on their own. In order to do this, you'll need to be able to trust them to do their homework, sports and shopping by themselves. If you're homeschooling because you can't let them out of your sight, then you're homeschooling for the wrong reasons. 
  • If you don't feel like you can put in the required time -- Homeschooling shouldn't be a 24x7 operation and in a less structured day, you can take breaks at odd times but if you're planning to home-school by watching TV while your child works in the other room, then either get a tutor or consider a different approach.
  • If you're time-poor -- Following on from the previous point, if you're working a full-time job during the home-schooling hours, then don't home-school. 
  • If you don't feel up to the task -- Nobody expects you to be a college professor but you do at least need to feel confident that you can help your child with their work. If you can't keep up with the work, home-schooling is not for you. 
  • If you're a social pariah -- Society forms an essential part of good home-schooling and this means that your child should accompany you on "excursions", take part in sport (with their peers) and generally interact with other people, for example at the shops. If you're home-schooling with the intention of "protecting your child" from social interaction, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons. 
The verdict: If you have what it takes to home-school, then do it. It's easily the best way to learn. Unfortunately, most people don't have what it takes. 

At the end of the day, there's no education system that will be "perfect" for every child. You should feel free to experiment in the early years but once your child is half-way through their schooling, what they'll be craving is stability and making changes that cost them friendships could be worse than not making changes. 

Unless there are serious issues, such as bullying, try not to change schools after they hit about 15 years of age. If they're struggling academically there are two options, 

  1. Throw more resources at them (ie: get a home tutor for after-hours)
  2. Reduce their workload and allow them to get more enjoyment out of school rather than stressing out about work that may be "out of their league" -- not everyone needs to be a university graduate. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What people with autism can learn from Memes - Part 2: Male Behaviours



In my last post, I looked at some of the more "female" behaviours in memes and how they describe people on the autism spectrum in relationships.  This time I want to look at primarily male behaviours. Of course, these aren't really gender restricted behaviours and depending upon the type of relationship you're in, they could be either male or female.

This is a long post, so I'm jumping in without further preamble. If you want more background, refer to the previous post.

White Male Privilege

I could be mistaken but it feels like feminism is stronger online today than it ever was in the past. This is not a bad thing as women's rights still have a long way to go. Unfortunately not all men are the enemy but feminism can make men feel as if comments are directed specifically at them. This is especially true if you're a white male.


It triggers a lot of bad feelings but the worst thing you can possibly do is to try to put your two cents in and deny your "privilege" or say "not all men...."  There are three reasons for this,


  • There are privileges which are completely invisible to you but are not invisible to others. Everyone on the internet has privilege whether they realise it or not. Privilege over those who don't have access to the internet. To most people on the internet, that's an invisible privilege, that's the same with men. Just because our privilege is less visible to us, it doesn't mean that it's not there.
  • Making the point that "not all men ...." takes the issue off the problem and puts yourself at the centre of the spotlight. It's not obvious at first and it took me quite a while to understand but to put it in context, the world is now ready for people to say that not all Germans supported the Nazis (hence films like Schindler's List) but in the 1950s, the focus needed to be on the plight of the Jewish people. It will be a great day when the world is ready to understand that not all men oppress women but today is not that day.
  • This is simply not an argument that you can win -- or that you need to win. Unless you really are a bigot, nobody is blaming you personally. There are certainly people who are worked up about the issue and not all of their ideas are entirely feasible. If you can't contribute in a positive manner, then simply disengage. Not all fights are worth fighting.

Issues with white male privilege affect people with autism in particular because white males with autism are more often mistreated than their counterparts.

Often white male privilege either doesn't apply for people on the spectrum or if it does, it's greatly subdued. Additionally, people with autism are inclined to argue when inaccurate generalisations or untruthful statements are made.

If you find yourself in an argument about whether or not your white male privileges exist, then take steps to remove yourself from the argument immediately. There are no prizes for winning and even if you were to win the argument, chances are, you'd lose friends.

Being Scared of Women (for Legal Reasons)

It's one thing to be scared to talk to people, or to women in particular.  It's actually fairly common in individuals with autism who can easily get overloaded with the stress of conversation -- think "Raj" out of the Big Bang Theory. It's another thing entirely to be scared to of women in general for legal reasons.

If you're scared of women in general -- and if it's for legal reasons, it's assumed that either your ideas about women are antiquated or your behaviour towards them is problematic. 

There's no legitimate reason to be scared of women and legality if you treat them in the same way as you'd treat a man.  If you're ever in doubt about whether or not something that you're doing is the right thing, simply imagine that the person you're talking to is a tough male and talk/behave accordingly.

Individuals with autism can be at a higher risk for legal issues with women mainly because they often have "no filter"and say inappropriate things without realising what they've said. If you do make a mistake and say something inappropriate, apologise sincerely and try to learn from the experience. 

Humour in Poor Taste

Females like a good joke just as much as males but like anyone, they will quickly grow tired if they're always the butt of the joke. This is true of many jokes with specific gender, religious, racial or sexual stereotyping. They may seem funny but it only takes a couple to really annoy someone in the target group.

There are quite a lot of jokes and memes about which are truly offensive to women and which should not be used in mixed gender settings.  In fact -- these can be offensive even in male company so if you can find a way to eliminate these from your repertoire entirely, you'll become a better person.


"That's what she said" is probably one of the very worst examples of modern sexism. Those four words can sexualise any trivial day to day discussion and can be used anywhere. While it was used extensively in "The Office", people forget that it was used to show how "inappropriate" the boss was, not to make him into a comedy hero.

It's a particularly problematic phrase for people on the spectrum because it's quite common for people on the spectrum to quote others, particularly TV shows. It also makes it easy to "create jokes" on the fly, something that many people on the spectrum struggle with.

Don't give into temptation. If you can't say something nice and not offend people, then it's best not to say anything at all. 

Entitlement and Ownership

It's often said that "there's someone for everyone" or that "everyone has a soulmate somewhere".  That might be true but it's equally important to remember that "nobody owns anyone".

Slavery is (mostly) gone from western society and people stay together because it's mutually beneficial, not because they're owned. 

This means that you have to be the best that you can be -- and hope that your partner will be their best too. It won't always work out. Some relationships are just not meant to be.

There are a couple of particularly problematic behaviours I wanted to talk about in this area;

  • Making unwarranted assumptions and status changes. (Just Friends)
  • Treating relationships like transactions.

Just Friends

If you ask a girl out and she agrees but says "just as friends", then it means "as friends".  That doesn't change after a good night out. It only changes when both partners agree that it has changed.


It's okay to ask if "we're still just friends and whether there's any possibility of anything more".  It's okay to ask every now and then (if things are going well, perhaps every couple of months). It's not okay to keep harping on about it.

It's not okay to ask this question every time you go out together and it's certainly not okay to assume that things have suddenly changed - especially not if your friend has had too much to drink.

Men on the autism spectrum tend to get sucked in to the whole "just friends" thing more than the average guy. This is because they're often poor communicators and are willing to "wait out" a relationship in the hope of being noticed.

It's great to have friends, regardless of their gender but as a general rule, if you wouldn't treat a "guy friend" the same as the "girl friend" then you need to be asking yourself if you have an ulterior motive.

It's also important to remember that as a person in the friendship, it's okay for you to say "no".  If you think that you're being asked to do something that exceeds the limits of what a friendship should be, you should feel like you can say no.

A good friend will respect your decision.

Treating Relationships like Transactions 

The idea that behaviour X should entitled you to result Y is problematic. This is like buying someone. It's like slavery - or at the very least, an exchange, not a relationship.


Taking someone out for dinner does not entitle you to molest them, touch them or talk "trashy" to them. Successful relationships are built on mutual respect. 

If you're taking someone out to dinner, you're doing it "as a gift", to show how much you respect them. like them or appreciate them. It's an act of faith that during the dinner they will spend the time with you and get to know you better. That's all you can expect.

The same goes for presents, jewellery, chocolates etc. It doesn't mean that the other person has to give anything back. If you're going out "just as friends" and you decide to give the other person a gift, then that's your choice, not theirs.

People on the spectrum are often sticklers for rules but the rules of gifts and relationships are often not well explained. If you're the parent of a teenager on the spectrum, it's worth taking the time to make sure that the concept of "gifting" is fully understood. 

If you feel like your charity is being abused, then don't make an issue of it during the outing. Just make it very clear before you go out next time, that your friend will be expected to pay her own way. If she cancels, you'll have reasonable grounds to suspect that you were being "used".

The Problems of "nice guys" and "neckbeards"

Growing up, we're often told that "nice guys finish last" or that girls like "bad boys". These are two horrible stereotypes which are just as bad as the stereotypes that women have to cope with.

I've already talked about a lot of the things that define the so-called "nice guy" in discussions about "the FriendZone" and the idea that "gifts" are transactions which should be paid for with actions. 


There's a bit more to this idea;

There's a disturbing idea that the definition of "nice guys" are "neckbeards". Nothing could be further from the truth. While many of the characteristics of neckbeards (Fedoras, My Little Pony obsessions, optional beard etc) are fairly harmless, some are downright toxic;

  • Using honorifics (madam / m'lady) is often considered offensive to women. They have names - use them instead. Women are people and if they're a stranger, they're certainly not "your lady". 
  • They often have stalker-like behaviour and are focused on "getting" rather than "dating" women.
  • They are usually quite self-obsessed/egotistical about the way they dress, their hat and attitudes.
  • They can be quite negative about women, how women dress and act - and what a woman's role in society is. "Neckbeards" often support the 1950's ideas of what women should be. 
  • They become angered easily, particularly when it comes to dating and rejection. 


"Neckbeards" pose a particular danger to people on the autism spectrum because they usurp the idea of what a "nice guy" should be. Young men on the spectrum tend to lean more towards "nerdy" than "jock" and thus find it easier to identify with the "neckbeard" way of life. 

As a result, boys on the autism spectrum who want to become good men often follow the wrong example. 

To be a truly good guy, you need to change your outlook on life. You need to realise that while you're a central character in your own life, it's not always about you. Being patient, tolerant and kind without seeking any reward is what makes you a nice guy. 

If you like a girl, ask her out. If she says no, it's okay to be upset but it's not okay to stalk her, to call her out for her choices, to bully or to otherwise antagonise her. No means no. Move on.

It's also important to remember that you will never be perfect. You will never be finished. You need to constantly self-improve. Work on improving your own happiness and others will be attracted to you.

Finally, don't set your sights too high. You don't need a supermodel. It's what's inside that counts. 

Persistence and Anger

Leading on from the whole "nice guys" and "neckbeards" thing is persistence and anger. The persistence comes from stalking their choice of woman, regardless of her lack of interest, marital status or repeated requests for the behaviour to stop.

Sometimes the stalking carries on for a decade or more -- It's clearly not acceptable. 

The other issue is anger. Rejection hurts but there's no sense in lashing out. This just makes you a target for bullying and reduces your ability to connect socially with others. If you lose your temper over rejection online (or even offline), there's a pretty good chance that it will be recorded and that potential dates will see it and steer clear.

You can't be angry at someone for exercising their free choice and being openly abusive to people in a community or workplace is essentially "burning bridges".  Word will quickly get around that you're not a nice person to associate with. 

So, there you have it, a chunk of wisdom on male behaviour inspired by memes. Hopefully we can all try to be better people. 

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.