Sunday, May 5, 2019

Relationship Traits that couples with Autism can learn from


I was reading an article a few weeks back on the psychological reasons why some marriages last the distance when so many others fail. 

It was a brilliant article and it suggested that there were two key traits that successful married couples display;

1. Both partners stay cool calm and collected during conversations
2. Both partners respond to their partner's bids for emotional connection

I was thinking about how good this advice was for couples in Asperger's relationships when I suddenly realised that those traits need to operate on a wider scale than simply relationships. These are key traits that affect our interactions with everyone on a day-to-day basis. 

Marriage Failures

The statistics tell an alarming story on the increasing number of failing marriages. These days, we don't seem to have enough time to even listen to each other properly, let alone work on relationship building.

In terms of global statistics, couples in Rome are most likely to stay together the longest (with an average marriage life of 18 years despite a national divorce rate of 31%).  In the US and Australia, average married life is around 12 years and the national divorce rate is just over 40%.  In Doha, the average is 5.5 years with many apparently not even consummating the marriage. It's a shocker.

It's not just about divorce though. Even couples which do manage to "stay together" often find that their marriages have devolved into "untrusting angry messes".



Many people stay together for religious reasons, or out of fear or loneliness. Sometimes they stay for their passports or for their children.  Staying together doesn't necessarily mean that the marriage is a successful one. 

In the research I was reading, the researchers did two tests on the same groups, six years apart. They divivded the later groups into "Masters" and "Disasters". The disasters group included divorced couples and those who were in chronically unhappy marriages.

Staying Cool, Calm and Collected

It's not always easy to remain cool, calm and collected through conversations. There are so many triggers that can rile people up.  I'm not suggesting that people with autism are more likely to be annoyed during conversations, only that sometimes we're under more pressure than others. Sometimes our triggers are closer to the surface.

It's been well documented that autistic people struggle with social contact and that conversations place a great many hardships upon us. These include issues of eye contact, difficulty translating body language, difficulty dealing with multiple incoming stimulus, difficulties keeping up with conversations and difficulties being "heard" or getting their responses together on time.

I've had neurotypical (normal) people tell me that conversations with autistic individuals feel too awkward and that they simply want to disengage and go talk to someone else. 

It's little wonder then that people with autism are easily provoked during conversations.There's not a lot that we can do about this when it happens but if nothing else, we can try to learn from our failures.

In the research, it was observed that;

"The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal — of being in fight-or-flight mode — in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger."


The conversations weren't mutual sharing of thoughts and ideas but were instead attacks and counter-attacks. I've also seen this online in autism communities particularly when people get pedantic about things like "person-first" language or about aspects of their special interest.

I've seen it in the workplace where some people, not necessarily bosses, will start a conversation in a deliberately condescending tone.

There's also the matter of politics and religion. If those sorts of topics are discussed, conversations quickly devolve into attack and defence mode.

The studies also observed that the "masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable."

It's so important to remember that whenever you're in a conversation with someone, you need to listen to them, engage with them and give them trust, space and freedom in order to help them to relax.


People aren't always going to say the right things -- and you're not always going to agree. Occasionally it's worth fighting about but most of the time, a cool and reasoned conversation can help you to find a middle ground that's comfortable to everyone. If nothing else, then it's okay to agree to disagree. The world would be a very boring place if we all had the same thoughts about everything. 

Bids for Emotional Connection must be met with Intimacy

Another aspect of the relationship study involved inviting couples to a bed and breakfast for an "observed holiday". The findings here were equally interesting with the relationship "masters" responding to each other's conversations with interest and intimacy. The "disasters" simply brushed off their partner's feelings or ignored them altogether.

This is a pretty common occurrence in couples where at least one is on the spectrum. It's an issue that  appears at some point in every single AS/NT (Asperger's/autism and neurotypical/normal) relationship. It's something that you need to recognise, stop and change.

On the one hand, you have partners who have Asperger's or autism and who become obsessed by special interests and routines to the point where they talk about little else. 

I can remember my mother telling my sister and I; "your father won't engage in a conversation with anyone unless it's about planes or boats". It used to be a bit of a game for us to watch his conversations and see how quickly he'd manage to steer the conversation back to his special interests. If he failed to do that, he'd quickly lose interest and leave the conversation.

The problem with this is that if you're in a long-term relationship with someone, you need to be able to talk to them about practically anything. You need to be able to respect their need for other topics of discussion -- and you need to give them time and attention. To not do so, is to be disrespectful. 


The other side of the coin is the neurotypical partner, in most cases the wife, who simply can't handle another conversation about the special interest.

There are two important points here;

1. The person on the spectrum has to work on talking about other things.
2. You married them. You knew that the special interest was part of it. You have to live with it.

You'll never stop your partner from talking about their special interest and if you close yourself off to those conversations, you're closing yourself off to your partner. If that happens, you have to acknowledge your part in the relationship breakdown. 

Of course, it's not fair for your partner to only talk to you about their special interest, so you need to make sure that you do talk about other things. Sometimes you'll need to let your partner know that they're hogging a conversation or that you're not quite up to talking about it but when you do, be gentle. Eventually they'll get the message.

Remember, if your partner thinks that something is important enough to bring up in conversation, you need to engage them by giving them attention and emotional, considered responses. This is how you show that you acknowledge and respects them.

The research showed that couples who had "turn-toward bids" 33 percent of the time were divorced after six years while those who were still together acknowledged each other in conversation 87% of the time.

Intimacy isn't just about touching and sex, it's about being there for your partner in conversations.

The "disasters" responded to only three in ten bids of intimacy from their partners, while the masters responded nine times out of ten.

Is your Impact Positive?

The study went further than simply responses to one's partner. I feel that it made some bold observations on the nature of positive and negative people;

"There's a habit of mind that the masters have, which is this: they are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners' mistakes."
- John Gottman

If you're seeking relationship success, you need to focus on being a positive person. 


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Why Autistic People need to be Encouraged to "Give things a Go"

If you're the parent of a child with autism or if you work with an autistic individual, you'll often find that they're very resistant to trying new things, even if they seem to be very safe or "easy" to you. 

In this post, I want to look at why people with autism are so resistant to trying new things and why it's important to keep trying to push the barriers. The strategies that you use to push the barriers are important too and it's critical that you know when to back off and when to add a little push. 

Fear of Failure

We all have a fear of failure. Sometimes it's a very real fear of injury or embarrassment but sometimes it's just the fear of failure itself. Many people on the autism spectrum try very hard to achieve "perfection" in their lives and what might seem a simple failure to most people can become a very big deal to them.

Some people with autism torture will themselves for decades with thoughts and regrets of "failures" which others have long since forgotten. 

There's also the issues of bullying that arise from failure. People with autism are frequently victims of bullying and any public failures on their part are often remembered, or worse, filmed, by bullies for later "torture". These threats are very real.

Increased Chances of Failure (Sensory)

In some ways, people with autism may have an increased likelihood of failure when attempting something new because of their sensory issues and their low muscle tone. If a new activity relies upon strength or some other aspect of physicality, then the hyper-flexibility that some autistic individuals have can lead to easy injury as limbs bend further than they should.

If the new activity involves a lot of sensory data, including heights, problem noises or vibrations and touch, their sensory issues can make it more challenging and thus increase the likelihood of failure.

With pressure like this, it's little wonder that so many people on the spectrum simply choose not to participate.

Take a logical approach

While it's tempting to simply "not participate", this isn't really possible in our society and even when it is possible, it's not a very healthy approach. We need to work hard to get ourselves, our children and our friends on the spectrum to expand their horizons and to try new things.

The best way to do this is to take a logical approach because people on the spectrum tend to be a little more logical than most and often respond well to reasoned arguments.

These are some of the questions that need to be asked;

  1. Will doing this activity benefit me? 
  2. What are the risks? Are they excessive? Are they likely?
  3. What are the consequences of failure?
  4. What parts of the activity do I fear (all? some?)
  5. What steps can I take to remove or reduce the fear issues?
  6. What happens if I don't do this?



Reject Overly Risky Activities

You'll find that if you follow this checklist, it will be easy to reject an overly risky activity.
For example; Bungee Jumping
  1. Will doing this activity benefit me?
    Unlikely
  2. What are the risks? Are they excessive? Are they likely? 
    Very high risk but low likelihood of accident (unless it's at an unsafe site).
  3. What are the consequences of failure?
    Death.
  4. What parts of the activity do I fear (all? some?)
    Heights
  5. What steps can I take to remove or reduce the fear issues?
    Nothing - Bungee Jumping is all about heights.
  6. What happens if I don't do this?
    Nothing
It's very clear that bungee jumping is a risky activity that provides no benefits and no consequences. If you want to do it, it's fine but if you don't want to do it, you really shouldn't feel obligated to.

Accept Necessary or Beneficial Activities

Similarly, the checklist will help you to identify activities that are beneficial to you, for example, learning to drive a forklift if you work in a warehouse.
  1. Will doing this activity benefit me?
    Yes, because I will be able to apply for a promotion and/or different duties.
  2. What are the risks? Are they excessive? Are they likely?
    Crashing, possible injury. They're not excessive but there's a reasonable likelihood (at least until you become proficient). 
  3. What are the consequences of failure?
    Most likely some broken pallets or damaged goods. Work will generally accept this.
  4. What parts of the activity do I fear (all? some?)
    Going fast and moving very large loads.
  5. What steps can I take to remove or reduce the fear issues?
    Keep to a slow speed and only lift small items until you feel confident.
  6. What happens if I don't do this?
    Depending on the job, you may not be able to work or you may not be able to advance. 
In this case, the risks are somewhat lower, though they're also more likely.  There's a clear benefit to the activity and consequences if you don't do it.  You've got ways to reduce your stress when learning the activity, so it's a worthwhile pursuit. 


Remove the consequences

In order to make an activity appear less threatening, you need to look at removing or reducing the consequences. For example, instead of a "test" being about whether or not you get a promotion at work, you need to be doing the test merely for your own satisfaction.

If the test is something that is normally done in front of peers or colleagues, then talk to your supervisor or teacher about whether or not you can "have a go" without being watched by all of those people.  It probably won't count as the "final result" but it will allow you to fail or succeed on your own terms without having to worry about onlookers or mockery from others. 

If you succeed, then you'll gain a lot of confidence. Hopefully enough to repeat the "test" in front of others if required. 

Push yourself, gently

In order to do anything new, you need to push yourself just a little into your "anxiety zone". You'll usually know how hard you can push yourself, but the aim is to take on a little bit of discomfort, not to trigger a full-scale meltdown.

You always need to have a meltdown plan in place, in case your anxiety levels get the better of you. For most things, this will simply be "stop" if it gets too much. If you can find someone who is familiar with autism and will support you if you need to stop or take a break, this is better. If not, make sure that your supervisor or teacher knows that you're stepping outside of your comfort zone and that you might not be able to complete the activity.

It's always easier to back down if you have someone on your side who understands your situation. 

Learn from mistakes

Your forays into new territory won't always be successful. In fact, there's every chance that you'll end up with a few spectacular failures along the way. You need to anticipate these and accept them for what they are.

Every failure is an opportunity for learning. 


Failures aren't necessarily a reason to give up. Sometimes, they're a reason for you to reassess a situation and think about what you could do better or differently. Sometimes, they're a sign that more preparation is needed or that additional supports are required.

Most of all, failures need to be recognised as a mark of pride, an indication that you attempted to do something that was incredibly difficult and outside of your comfort zone. Give yourself some credit for trying. 

Failures shouldn't become barriers and you shouldn't torture yourself by overthinking them. Just decide if and when you're ready to give it another shot and what you need in order to be more effective next time.

Celebrate your successes

Surprisingly, success isn't quite as important as failure. When you succeed at something, it simply works and you can give yourself a pat on the back. You don't learn nearly as much as you do from a failure. 

Nevertheless, celebrate your successes. Every little success means that you've clawed back a little of the ground on which people say "you can't do that". 

Remember; there's no such thing as can't.  There's only "not yet". You can do things on your own terms when you're ready. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Are we "all a little bit Autistic"?

It's a phrase which seems to really infuriate a lot of members of the autism community, "we're all a little bit autistic" and yet, there's perhaps some truth to it.  In this post, we look at what it really means, where the dividing lines are and why it can be considered offensive. 

The Autism Diagnosis

Autism is diagnosed based on a specific set of criteria from the DSM, currently version 5. You can read this criteria in its correct form all over the web and you really should follow this. In fact, you should be diagnosed by an expert.


In a "nutshell" though, autism is defined by the following;

A Communications issues;
Reductions in; back & forth conversation, eye contact, emotional communication, non-verbal communication, understanding of relationships, capability to make friends.

B Behavioural issues;
Stimming movements, echolia, resistance to change, fixed all-consuming special interests, sensory issues.

C Removing Misdiagnosis
To make sure that the right things are being diagnosed, the symptoms must;

  • Be present from an early age
  • Cause significant social impairment 
  • Not be explained by other disabilities. 

Essentially, if you have all of A and all of B and these pass the test of C, then you have autism. If you don't have all of these or if you fail the test of C, then you don't. 

Clearly we're NOT "all a little bit autistic" because you either ARE or you AREN'T. 

What People Really Mean

When people say that we're all a little bit autistic, what they really mean is that they have some of the communication issues of A or the behavioural issues of B. They generally won't have ALL of the symptoms and they won't pass the misdiagnosis tests of C.

What they're really trying to say is that everyone shares some of the traits of autism -- and that at least is true. 

The most common symptoms that non-autistic people have are;

  • Restricted and Special Interests
  • Restricted communications abilities
  • Echolia
  • Resistance to change
  • Sensory issues
Even when people have similar traits, it doesn't follow that these traits affect them to the same extent as those same traits affect people with autism. 

Lets have a closer look at some of those "shared traits".



Restricted and special interests

This trait is particularly common among of science geeks and history buffs who become so engrossed in their areas of expertise that they can talk about nothing else. It's also common to sportsmen, gamers, movie and television fandom and computer geeks. 

Many people have the odd obsession or two but people who aren't on the spectrum don't wake up and start thinking about their special interests all day. They're often not driven to obsessively collect and constantly reorganise objects relating to their interests and they don't find it almost impossible to shut those interests off when they need to do something else.

In my case, one of my driving interests is Doctor Who -- and it has been an obsession for 45 years. It's 8am on a Sunday morning as I write this, sitting in my Doctor Who pyjamas (one of several sets).  Yesterday I watched two episodes of Doctor Who and listened to another couple of audio episodes while I was hanging out the washing and doing the shopping. The topic will also have come up more than once with my wife and kids even though I consciously try to avoid it. There's probably another dozen or so other interactions with that special interest that I could mention from yesterday. 


The special interest is so all-consuming that I consciously have to work hard to not drive others insane with it.  

Restricted communications abilities

As a general rule, people with autism actually want to communicate with others but simply can't. They give off a strange "vibe" at functions which often makes others avoid them. They're too direct, too honest and too nervous. People with autism often avoid eye contact because it's actually "painful" and they have to concentrate so hard on what people are saying in order to stay in a conversation that they miss all the non-verbal cues. They miss tone, jokes, gestures and facial expressions and they quickly become tired from the exertions of "peopleing".

People with autism will often avoid conversations or gatherings but not because they don't want to be there. They avoid them because they know that it will only end in tears. No matter what they do, many types of social gatherings are simply too much for them. 


People who say that we're all a little autistic when referring to social communication usually mean that they have difficulties fitting into groups but more often, they're saying that they simply don't want to be around other people. This is quite a different thing altogether. 

Echolia

A person with Echolia will find themselves stimming with noise. This could be a humming sound, it could be repeated movie or TV quotes or it could be animal noises, whistling or chanting. Echolia in autism is not simply the repetition of noise, it's the use of that motion to provide a calming influence over oneself. 

Movie and TV buffs will often repeat lines from films during conversations. People often hum or whistle while they work. These are forms of echolia but they're not quite the same as echolia in autism. They're not done so much out of the need to calm oneself but out of choice. 

Resistance to Change

Just about everyone has difficulty letting go of some things, whether it's moving office or dealing with a software upgrade where all of the menu items have changed. These are normal issues. 

Resistance to change in autism isn't about these simple problems though they can certainly contribute to the issues faced. Resistance to change in the "autism sense of the word" is about when changes that would simply annoy most people cause overwhelming waves of anger or depression which can trigger suicidal thoughts or meltdowns. 


An autistic person who experiences resistance to change may find themselves in a meltdown situation simply because their schedule has changed. This isn't a "tantrum", it's simply an uncontrolled change in their circumstances.

Sensory issues 

Everyone experiences sensory issues at one point or another. People who aren't on the autism spectrum can have sensory experiences with the strongest of inputs such as very pungent odours or a loud noise. 

Sensory issues, such as a fart in an elevator or construction noises while you're trying to sleep can be difficult to bear but they're significantly different from the full range of sensory issues experienced by a person with autism. 

Sensory issues on the autism spectrum can be strong enough to trigger a fight or flight reaction, which essentially translates to either a meltdown or a shutdown. Sometimes the "flight reaction" can cause a young child on the spectrum to flee the scene and rush headlong into danger, for example a line of traffic. 

When my eldest was about five, he was still having serious sensory issues with fans of all kinds. It was extremely dangerous to take him into a public rest room as they often had hand driers and no amount of warning could prevent others from using them. If someone turned a hand drier on in the room, he would immediately flee the scene, sometimes getting lost, sometimes running headfirst into walls or tapware. 

Neurotypical (normal) people experience sensory issues as "uncomfortable" but for a person on the spectrum, those sensory issues can very dangerous - even life threatening.

Why it can be Offensive

Personally, I rarely take offence to anyone saying the wrong things about autism. I see these moments as opportunities to educate the wider public and help my peers on the spectrum. There are exceptions of course, vaccination people and curebies being good examples.  Others however will find the phrase "we're all a little bit autistic" to be very offensive.

So, why is this offensive? 

Well as you can see, the traits that neurotypical (normal) people generally associate in themselves as being similar to those of autistic people really aren't all that similar at all.

It's akin to sitting on your leg for a while until it goes numb, then trying to stand on it, failing and saying to a person in a wheelchair, "we're all a bit disabled really". 

Yeah. Put like that it is a bit offensive. 


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Asperger's and Bullying - Running Away isn't the Answer


Like many bloggers I have a stash of topics that I keep for later because they're too raw, too "popular" or too difficult to think about at the time. I often look back at these to see if they gel with my experiences of the week. In this case, I looked back over an article about the bullying and savage attack of a boy with Asperger's Syndrome in Melbourne, Australia.

This struck a chord with me because this week, I responded to a post from a mother who was talking about moving to a different city because her son was being bullied. 

I've talked about bullying quite a bit on this blog before but this time I want to talk about why running from the problem is counter-productive and go over some options for dealing with bullies in their own environment.

Why Running is Futile

Short term running is fine. If your life actually is in danger, or if you're about to be physically assaulted, then by all means, run away from that current situation.

The best places to run to are crowded places with plenty of responsible adults around. Never run and hide in an isolated place.

While running away from an immediate problem is generally an appropriate reaction (unless you're running towards other dangers), it's never a good long term fix.

Metaphoric "running away" is worse. Changing schools or states does little to help the victims of bullying and does nothing to address the problems. 

Bullying is Everywhere

Unfortunately despite all the best intentions in our society, bullying is a pervasive, insidious activity that is present nearly everywhere. No amount of running will ever put enough space between you and the nearest bully.

Bullying occurs in schools, scout halls, sporting fields, places of worship, workplaces and even family gatherings. You'll always be faced with bullies and it's important to know how to recognise and protect yourself from them.

Running from one bullying situation to another is not going to teach you anything. 


Bullying is Targeted

Bullies don't attack everyone. They may start out with some generalised bullying but what they're really looking for are potential targets. Once you become a bullies "target" they'll focus all of their attention on you.

The easiest way to become a target is simply to be "different", particularly if you're "visually different". You might have different racial characteristics or a visible disability. You might have clothing or behaviour that is required by your religion or you may have gender or sexual differences that come out your behaviour or clothing.

People often say to the parents of kids with autism; "but your son/daughter doesn't look autistic". It's actually a bit of a sore point with people on the spectrum because we don't "look" any different from everybody.

To be fair however, when it comes to kids on the autism spectrum, the visible differences are usually quite obvious in clothing and behaviour. These differences can include;

  • Clothing supporting the special interests but which is out of step with the rest of the class (for example older kids wearing Spongebob T-Shirts). 
  • Frequent "Nerdish" or "Fanboy" behaviour, for example; doing "Yoda" voices in senior years.
  • Sensory issues with texture, foods, noises, smells, lights 
  • Misinterpretations of social cues which are "amusing" to other students.
  • A "nerdish" level of knowledge on a subject such as comic books.
  • Socially awkward behaviour around others and an inability to "fit in" to the normal groups. 
  • Meltdowns or Shutdowns, "Rage Fits" etc. in front of the class
Bullies always work with targets. If you're on the autism spectrum; no matter where you go or what you do, the differences in your behaviour will alert bullies to your potential as a target. Running is simply not the answer. 



Options for the Prevention of Bullying

There's a lot of discussion on bullying out there in the social world and it seems that everyone has an opinion or a childhood story. Many of these revolve around violent solutions, such as learning karate or attacking the bully in some way. 

Violent options might have worked in the past but they won't work in today's world. At best, you'll land yourself in disciplinary or legal trouble and at worst, you could suffer injuries or get yourself incarcerated. You'll have to try other methods.

Talk to People in Authority

Usually the first thing that you should do is go talk to someone in authority. The exceptions to this rule are;

  • When the person in authority has a strong relationship to the bully
  • When your position is unsafe (for example, if your workplace is more likely to support the bully)

If either of these things are the case, then you can continue to fight but you need to realise that you have an unreasonably high chance of losing. In these situations, bureaucracy almost always wins out unless you have a strong group of supporters who can verify your experience.

If you can't find a strong group of supporters you my be better off cutting your losses and leaving because it means that you're really not in a safe environment. 

If you do speak with someone in authority, remember that you have a lot of control over the situation.  If you're not ready for a confrontation, you can ask that they do not confront the bully but instead;

  • be more vigilant when you're required to interact with the bully.
  • provide you with alternative interactions (ie: group work with different people).
  • provide you with a safe space to retreat to if you feel threatened.
Don't be afraid to tell people exactly what you need from them. 


One of the most important things is to get bullying documented early because one of the main parts of the bullying definition is that the activity has to be sustained and repeated.  

It will also help if you start keeping a diary of the dates, times and locations of behaviours that are affecting you -- but do not show the diary to the bully, don't mention the diary to them and don't make notes in the diary in front of them. 

If you find yourself getting on well with the person in authority, you might want to take them on as your bullying counsellor. Ask them for help and advice in resolving the situation. 


Join or Form an Anti-Bullying Group

If you don't feel that your support person is providing adequate support, the alternatives are to either escalate the problem to someone who can or join a group of people in a similar situation.

Forming or joining a group is usually the easiest option.

Pay special attention to the behaviour of your bully(s). In order to form a group, you need to find others who are being bullied, ideally by the same bully but not necessarily. Make friends with these people but don't talk about bullying to start with. Find as many people in a similar situation to you as  possible -- even if they're in different year groups. Try to spend lunch times with them.

When bullies turn up, be sure to support each other. If the bullies manage to catch any of you by yourselves, you need to report it as a group.

Once the bullies realise that they're dealing with a group instead of an individual, you'll find that their attacks drop off and they'll look for smaller, easier targets. 

Escalate Problems to the Community

The autism community is a loyal one and we take bullying very seriously. If you're being bullied and you're unable to find a workable solution, then check online. Look for autism communities in your area who will lend support.

Older members will often happily act as mentors and will guide you through traumatic events.

Younger members can provide "real-life" friendship and support.  You probably won't find anyone to actually "fight off" the bullies but you will find people who are willing to intervene on your behalf, people who can advise you on what to do and qualified people who, if necessary will talk to those in authority. 


The best places to start looking for help are autism groups on Facebook and forums such as WrongPlanet.net.  Make sure that you join private or hidden groups rather than public ones as you need to know that your posts are not being shared on your home page.

Links to my other posts on bullying;

I hope this post has helped you to get a perspective on why running away isn't the answer and has provided you with some viable options.  Here are some of my other posts on bullying; 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Pressuring people with Autism outside their Comfort Space can lead to Issues

A few months ago, my youngest (15) went on a school camp. There was an incident at the camp which occurred because of his differences. It wasn't handled very well and it spiralled out of control. We finally got a resolution this week and I feel that now is the time to look at the bigger picture and talk about how things could have been handled better. 

I would expect this post to be useful for all teachers who have kids on the spectrum in their classes, camp "controllers" and parents in general. 


What Happened

As a boy with autism, my son is always nervous about trying new things. New places and disruptions to his normal routine, such as camps can really mess with his head. He works hard to push himself to try things, even if he's a little afraid of them.

This particular camp had a high ropes experience and he was quite nervous about it but once he saw the ropes he decided that he would be able to do it. He did very well on the course until he reached a part where the course changed from rope walking to a flying fox. At that point, he decided that he couldn't do it and asked to come down.

The camp employee told him that he was not permitted to come down and when this was not accepted he was threatened. The camp employee said "If I have to come up there, I'm going to push you off".  My son began screaming for the teachers who were nearby but they paid him no attention.

The camp employee climbed a nearby ladder to the point where my son was and started trying to drag him off the pole to which he clung. Another boy was instructed to assist by prising his fingers off. Fortunately my son is quite strong and he managed to hang on but he was still reduced to tears in front of his peers.

Eventually the camp instructor gave up and went to get the backpack of tools he needed to get my son off the ropes and all was resolved. Later in the camp, the other boy who was asked to help came up to my son and apologised. 


After the Incident

We knew there had been an issue because my son sent a message to his brother via social media. The camp finished the next morning but we were never informed by the school. My son was quite agitated throughout the weekend after he came home and was reluctant to go back to school on the Monday.

My wife and I went to see the principal on the Monday. We learned that the incident hadn't been reported and the principal promised that there would be an investigation and that the teachers concerned would apologise to my son for having ignored his cries for help.

After almost three months we received a letter that simply told us that, "The investigation has concluded." There was no apology. My wife made a call to the "Manager of Child Protection" but was told that no more information was forthcoming.



We followed this up with a strongly worded letter and finally, our son received an apology. He could at last put it behind him and move on. 

Take Aways

There's a few things I wanted to discuss about this incident;
  • People will change their Minds
  • Duty of Care
  • Reporting is Important
  • Apologies are meaningful

People will change their Minds

Everyone is entitled to change their mind when doing something uncomfortable or unknown. This is especially true for people on the autism spectrum as the unknown can trigger phobias or strong feelings without warning.

In this particular case, the issue was that the agreed upon activity morphed into something less comfortable. It's entirely possible that with careful coaxing and some accommodations, such as a rope to slow the descent of the flying fox, my son may have attempted the final stage of the activity.


If that doesn't work, there needs to be a way out. Trapping a fearful individual in an activity is dangerous for the individual and for people around them. This is the same reason that rides at the funfair stop the minute that someone raises an objection. 

Duty of Care

All individuals who are looking after adults and children accept a "duty of care" for their charges in their areas of expertise. In the case of the camp instructors, that duty of care includes safety on their activities, hence they need to be on hand for things such as harnessing.

In the case of teachers, they have a duty of care to look after the physical and emotional well being of the children on their camp. If a child is showing signs of distress, the signals for which include fear, shouting and screaming, then it is their duty to intervene.

When parents sign forms for camps and excursions, they're signing the "duty of care" over to the "known" individuals on the forms. These could be teachers, scout leaders or friends. You can't expect a camp worker to be skilled in handling a child with "differences" but you can expect teachers to know your child well and to have a least a smattering of special needs care experience.


It's rare that parents engage directly in a care-contract with the camp instructors. It's nearly always with a person who is already well known to your child. 

Reporting is Important

When an incident occurs with a child on the autism spectrum, the repercussions can continue for a long time. Sometimes they develop into full-fledged phobias which result in a child who refuses to attend a camp again, doesn't want to go to school or refuses to participate in any similar activities, for example swimming or activities involving heights. 

It's critical that when an incident occurs, a report is written and parents and school officials are informed immediately. Phobias can become much stronger if they're not addressed early on as children on the spectrum obsess over the problem and replay incidents over and over in their minds. 

In our case, there was a loss of trust in the teachers responsible and there was humiliation because the our son had broken down in front of his peers. 

Sometimes there are no outward signs that these issues exist and the child may simply present as a little more angry, weepy or withdrawn. We were lucky that my other son knew that something had happened and we could dig carefully for the truth of the matter. 

Apologies are Meaningful

Our son attends a Catholic school. There are a few reasons for this but one of them is that we hope that he will learn some of the good "Christian" behaviours.  In particular, I'm talking about the acknowledgement of failures and the seeking of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, too many people and institutions these days are hamstrung by legal red-tape to practice what they preach.  The legal system tells us to "never admit to anything" even if you know that you're in the wrong.

I find this idea very offensive. 


People with Asperger's can most certainly tell lies but they don't generally feel comfortable doing it -- and they usually don't lie very well. Covering up your misdeeds is lying and it's deeply offensive to a person on the spectrum. It can lead to a complete loss of trust.

It's much better to simply acknowledge that you've made a mistake, attempt to correct it as best that you can and promise to try not to repeat the mistake in future.

Acknowledging your own failings doesn't make you a weaker person. It makes you a stronger one.


Concluding

I think we all feel better now that this particular incident is resolved. My letter asked the school to acknowledge that the inaction of the teachers was wrong and to get them to apologise to my son.

Thanks to my wife's careful forethought, my son had been instructed to accept any apologies with grace and to allow everything to calm down. This meant that when his teachers apologised to him, he didn't respond with some kind of "slap in the face comment" but accepted with grace and humility.

It makes him a better person and it means that the teachers won't feel bad about the whole thing. If anything, it's built a bridge and it means that they'll be there to support him in the future.



He feels satisfied that he has been understood and that the pattern is unlikely to repeat with other students. He is also able to accept that his breakdown in front of his peers was due to pressure that shouldn't have been placed upon his shoulders.

Receiving an apology has enabled him to move on. 


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Over-Parenting kids on the Autism Spectrum


I've been watching a TV series on Netflix recently called Atypical. It's about Sam, a young man with autism and the way in which his family, school, work and relationships interact and grow.  It's a very good series and I'd highly recommend it.  I expect that I'll review it at some point. 

Like all media about autism, it gets a few things wrong and exaggerates others. That's okay. It's fiction and it's taking a little poetic licence. At the same time though, it raises a lot of interesting points.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is the behaviour of Sam's mother, played brilliantly by Jennifer Jason Leigh. It shows an over-parenting (and in this case, over-mothering) instinct that is all too familiar with kids on the spectrum.

In this post, I want to look at a how over-parenting happens and why it's harmful.


What is Over-Parenting?

Over-parenting tends to happen much more frequently on the mother's side of parenting but that's probably because mothers are usually the primary caregivers of children.  Over-mothering is most common but it's certainly possible to over-father as well.

Over-parenting may feel a bit like helicopter parenting but it's far more invasive. Helicopter parenting is about wanting to keep an eye on your children at all times. Over-parenting on the autism spectrum is about pushing your children away from the already established "boundaries".

It's more pervasive, more needy and more damaging. 

For example; At a high school dance, a helicopter parent will want to escort their child to and from the dance hall. They may even want to stay and keep an eye on things while the dance is in progress. This in itself is stifling.

An over-parenting autism parent on the other hand will want to intervene to make sure that no foods are touching on their child's play when the meal is served. They may try to completely change the way the dance works to accommodate the specific needs of their child or they may simply say that their child won't go (without giving them an opportunity to say yes).

While these are signs of great care and protection, they're also very harmful to your child's development.  

Why Boundaries Need to be Pushed

Autism comes with so many boundaries. There are sensory boundaries of sound, texture, taste, smell and sight. There are boundaries set by arbitrary fears, by rules and by routines. All of these boundaries make life on the spectrum very difficult indeed.

We all start our parenting journeys as novices but end up as experts skilled in our children's abilities and boundaries. We become predictors of their reactions, their meltdowns and their sensory difficulties.


We know for instance, to remove their plate the instant that someone, for example a visitor, touches some of their food. We  know instinctively that they won't want to go to a crowded or loud place and we're experts at manipulating guests to reduce the likelihood that our children will get an unexpected hug, kiss or pat on the back.

The problem is that without constantly pushing these boundaries, they'll become set in stone and they'll reduce the ability of our children to cope without modifications. 

It's important to teach your kids to continually try to push their own boundaries. If a place is noisy, they should give it a go with noise cancelling headphones. If there's a high probability of skin contact, they should try wearing clothes with long sleeves. If you're serving a meal, particularly if it's a favourite, you should encourage them to try foods which have been in contact.

Tastes change as you get older but if you limit your young adult to only the tastes that they liked as a child, you'll deprive them of the opportunity to grow and change.

If your child only eats chicken nuggets, you need to every now and then contrive a situation in which they have to choose something else. Pushing boundaries is the only way you'll expand their world. 


Why Failure is just as important as Success

We place a whole lot of emphasis on success and it's very important to celebrate our successes; the times that our kids on the spectrum manage to avoid a meltdown, the times where they spend time with a visitor without a diatribe about their special interests, the times when they manage to eat foods of unusual flavour or texture.

Sometimes it feels that success is so elusive for our kids on the spectrum that we need to celebrate every little achievement as if it's a major victory. It's easy to forget how much of a part failure plays in success. 

Every success is usually preceded by multiple failures, even if they're years apart. Every failure is a learning opportunity, a chance for you and your child to discuss what went wrong, why things fell apart, what the alternatives were and how things might still be salvaged.

Success is where we celebrate but failure is where we learn. 

Over-Parenting is essentially "planning for failure". People who over-parent their children on the spectrum remove the potential for failure before it happens without realising that they're also removing the opportunity for your child to learn.

It's something that starts when they're young. We know that our kids are going to knock our favourite vases or statuettes over so we lock them up, out of sight. We know that their cup of juice will be spilled on the table, so we invest in an underlay or change their cup to a sippy cup or juicebox with a straw.

We know that their friends will overwhelm them so we take great pains to only invite them over for play dates one at a time. As our kids get older, we know that they can't play happily in groups so we simply decline birthday invitations to avoid meltdowns.  Eventually, one day, the invitations stop coming and we wonder why our kids can't seem to make friends.

By planning to remove failure from our kids lives, we stop the learning process and reduce their chances of success. 


Why Parents Need to let go for their own Sake

There are a lot of articles out there which talk about the 80% divorce rate when there are children on the autism spectrum. I'd recommend that you don't pay too much attention to these articles or these statistics. Your marriage isn't under the control of your children. It's entirely up to the adults to find their way through and too often these articles place blame where they shouldn't.

Marriages fail for a wide variety of reasons but they rarely fail when couples are devoted to keeping each other as priority number one.

This is where the link to over-parenting comes in. Sometimes parents can become so focused on their children on the spectrum that they build their whole world around them. They devote all of their time to their children and very little to their own needs or to those of their partners.


When one or both partners in a relationship feel under appreciated or under-needed, it makes sense that they'll respond to anyone else who offers those qualities. Marriages often break up not because couples dislike each other but because they don't make time for each other.

Children on the spectrum crave order and structure. If your focus on satisfying their immediate needs costs you your marriage, then you're not considering their long-term needs. Unless the relationship is violent, angry or devoid of love, it's usually in your child's best interests to stay together. 

As a parent, you always have to remember that at some point, you won't be as necessary for your child as you were in the past. At some point, in most relationships, you and your partner will be alone when your kids have departed. As your kids get older, you need to be planning for this. You need to make sure that you and your partner are more focused on each-other than on the kids.

Where to from here?

There's no doubt about it. All of us over-parent in one form or another. Even entirely neurotypical families suffer from over-parenting. From the fathers who are too terrified to let their daughters date, to the mothers who would rather keep their kids at home, for their own company, than let them go to school.

Our fears and overprotective instincts towards our children on the spectrum lead autism parents particularly towards over-parenting and put our relationships and our children's futures at risk.

Why not take some time to think about how you could make your child a little more independent and how you and your partner can find a little more quality time together. Your lives will be all the richer for it. 

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.