Looking People In the Eye

Looking People In the Eye

On a recent Saturday afternoon I was on Facebook and poking around in an Asperger’s group I’m in when the topic turned once again to lack of eye contact and the social repercussions from this egregious sin against humanity.

This one particular person ended up being arrested after a traffic stop because he wouldn’t look the officer in the eye and even after identifying that looking people in the eye made him extremely uncomfortable, this person was arrested and told he must have a reason to be nervous if he wouldn’t look the officer in the eye.

This person was cuffed, booked and immediately released.

This is just one story of a person on the spectrum who has trouble making eye contact. Luckily it’s not as big a deal for me as it is for others, but I’ve known people who are so terrified to make eye contact with someone that it makes them physically shake.

The biggest hurdle we face with this situation is the reaction we get from the neurotypicals (those without autism) that we’re dealing with.

We get anything from people rolling their eyes at us to them making disparaging comments about our character, our upbringing, our guilty feelings and so much more.

FYI, we don’t see the eye-rolling happening since we’re not looking them in the eye. People tell us.

Why do people have to deal with this disrespect because of something in many cases that they physically can’t control? Why are others so judgmental when someone is paying attention to the conversation, participating, coherently in the conversation but just not looking the other person in the eye?

Some people call them traits, and I sometimes do as well from time to time, but I prefer to think of myself as quirky and not weird, so the way I look at it, not looking people in the eye is a natural quirk that some of us have and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

With all that being said, should those of us who have the eye contact problem work to overcome it? Absolutely.

Just as we want the neurotypicals to accept us for who we are and to learn about our ways, and us we need to do the same. It’s a give and take. We learn about you and you learn about us.

I know there are some that have strong opinions regarding this, so I want to hear from you. Positive or negative, let’s hear your opinion on the subject.

A version of this post appeared on Good Men Project under the Not Weird Just Autistic Column on October 28, 2018.

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The Autistic Week That Was

The Autistic Week That Was

How can we get through life when there’s little understanding?

First things first. I can see how many of you off the spectrum, those referred to as neurotypicals, could read the headline as saying that people off the spectrum don’t understand people on the spectrum.


That’s NOT what I’m saying at all. I’m saying it’s true that many on the spectrum aren’t understood by those off, there are also moments that we don’t understand what we’re going through at a particular moment.

This week I had a couple of those moments. Moments where a friend saw one thing and I saw another. I hate when that happens because I ‘m not stupid. I know that depression and anxiety are constant companions of mine as they are for many on the spectrum.


I try to do a good job of assessing a situation and how I will react or am going to react to it, but I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t always see everything in the correct light when it comes to me. I think, “I played ice hockey for years. I’m tough. I can get through this.”

But I can’t and know I can’t

As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I tend to shy away from social situations, so my circle of friends is very small and tends to be mostly colleagues. I’m telling this so you understand I don’t have a clan or posse to go and hang out with to talk things over. I internalize, try to deal with things myself and then a bad situation just gets worse.

When I get frustrated, as happened several times this week, I get down on myself in a big way. You see, with my Asperger’s comes a high IQ, that makes me feel like I should be able to figure out whatever the problem is. It also comes with not being able to figure out why i can’t “get” whatever it is that I’m supposed to be getting. If you think that feeling is amazing, you would be wrong.

There’s a song by 90’s alternative one-hit wonder Lit that should be my ring tone. One line from the song in particular defines my life, though I wish it wouldn’t.

It’s no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy
Cuz’ every now and then I kick the living s*** out of me

I don’t beat myself up physically but I will take on pretty much anyone that wants to get into a battle of beating themselves up mentally. I’m not proud if it, but over my many years of life, I’ve learned how to do it.

But now I need to learn something else. How to stop it.

You see, the week that was, was a week from hell. It was a week that left me sitting in a dark room for several hours on my birthday because I really had nothing better to do and because I was reflecting back on my life and seeing all the things I haven’t accomplished in my life.

I also tried to figure out how to make my life better, but I wasn’t getting clear answers. I never seem to get clear answers to those questions and when I do, the answers fill me with fear and I don’t want to pursue the thing that I know in my heart is the best thing for me. Stupid, huh?

So how do we get through life when we have little understanding from our support circle, if we have one, or from ourselves? The answer is one step at a time. We need to take things slowly and take in all the information that we can about the situation so we can understand it.

We also need to remember that even though we feel like we can figure things out and that we can get through certain situations, we don’t always have that luxury and that’s ok. It’s called being human. I forget that on a regular basis because I KNOW that I should be able to figure things out, but the reality is that I should know I can’t.

Helping others on the spectrum means that I have to get myself tuned up from time to time and I do work on that on a regular basis. I’ve found someone who understands disabilities, setbacks and frustration. It’s a slow process, but I’m grateful for my friend and colleague Brian King who helps me to be the best me that I can be.

Does he get in my face? Yeah, when I need it? Does he hold back any punches or withhold any BS? Absolutely not.

So, to sum it up, the key to getting through our weeks, both the rough ones and the easy ones, is to work with our families and inner circle of friends but also to take an introspective look at ourselves. Do what we do best and put those brains to work!

Break down the situation and go through it step by step so that you can figure out what went right and what needs to be worked on.

Being on the spectrum is nothing to be ashamed of and there’s no reason to look down on ourselves for who we are. The sooner we realize this, the sooner our problems will lessen and our life will seem easier.

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Enjoy the video that the above lyrics came from.  My Own Worst Enemy by Lit.

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How Sully the Service Dog Made Me Cry

How Sully the Service Dog Made Me Cry

Last Tuesday I watched a video of Sully, former President George H.W. Bush’s service dog, pay his last respects at the Capitol building and I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I would have.

I watched as Sully was led in and as he properly sat in front of his former master’s casket. I noted the looks on the faces of those sitting and standing in the Capitol Rotunda as this was taking place and the tears started to well up.

There seemed to be a sadness in Sully’s eyes as he sat down again after his handler took him to the other side of the casket. That’s the moment I had to pause the video and cry.

I’m not a war hero, a former president, a successful businessman, or in the grand scheme of life, anyone of any importance, but I have an autism service dog, Tye, and in that moment I wondered what Tye would do if something were to happen to me.

Then I wondered what I would do if something were to happen to Tye before me, which is most likely.

The tears were once again flowing at that thought and I went to my bedroom (a benefit of working from home), crawled into bed and waited the ten seconds for Tye to come leaping onto my bed.

For the next half hour, maybe longer, I lay on my bed holding onto Tye and feeling blessed to have him in my life. When I started crying again, he put his paw on my face, as if to wipe away the tears. Good thing he didn’t know they were for him.

Tye can sense my mood, tell a difference in my heart rate and blood pressure from across the house and knows when things are going well and when they’re not. Tuesday was definitely one of the “not” days.

Just under two minutes into the 2:36 video, Sully laid on the ground just a few feet from the former President, as I would guess he did many times in the few months Bush 41 had Sully.

As he lays there, eyes on the casket, you’ll notice one other thing that he does. Every few moments he looks around and scans the crowd. You see, George Herbert Walker Bush is no longer with us, but Sully is still watching over his master and protecting him, constantly scanning for any danger to his master.

According to Shawn Abell of Dogs Nation, where Tye was trained, Sully can smell the former President, even in his casket, and that is why he is still watching over his owner.

As I sit at my desk typing away I hear a familiar snore from about ten feet away and I know Tye is where he usually spends his day, laying on a blanket where he can be near me, yet still see both the front and back door. He’s watching over me, just like a good service dog should.

As soon as I stop typing and start sobbing, he immediately gets up and comes to sit by my side with his head on my leg, showing me that he’s here for me to comfort me and help me through my day.

No matter where you stand in the realm of politics, it’s great to see that the White House, who is responsible for handling presidential viewings and funerals, made sure that Sully was a special part of the celebration.

Though our forty-first president only had Sully a short time, he had become a special member of the Bush family and he deserved to have his final moments with his former master.

Thanks to Dogs Nation and other groups that train service dogs for military veterans. You do our country a great service and for that, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Sully is headed back to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. where he will soon help other veterans in need, just as he did for 41.

A version of this post appeared on Good Men Project under the Not Weird Just Autistic column on December 5, 2018.

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Beware the Trap of Being On the Spectrum and Turning 18 Can you avoid being one of the forgotten ones in this weird, lonely world or will you seize the day?

Beware the Trap of Being On the Spectrum and Turning 18 Can you avoid being one of the forgotten ones in this weird, lonely world or will you seize the day?

I’ve got some news for you and you’re probably not going to like it.  If you thought it was tough to be autistic and in school or if it was tough being the parent of a school-age child on the spectrum, the party is just beginning.

Forget about IEPs or whatever your school district calls their plans for your autistic child.  As most of us know, these pieces of paper are worthless.  I say most of us because there are some school districts that truly care and go out of their way to help our kids and who want to help shape them into productive adults.  

Those districts are few and far between.


You may be asking yourself, J.R., what the heck do you know about any of this since you were diagnosed as an adult and since there was no autism when you were in school?  That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked that.

I coached ice hockey for too many years to count and worked with kids in clinics from age four-adult and coached teams from age nine-high school varsity.  Besides teaching them hockey I also strove to teach them life lessons. My point is that for years I’ve been helping kids be the very best they can be.

After my diagnosis with Asperger’s at age forty-six, I hid away for two years telling a small handful of people about my diagnosis.  After “coming out” a couple years later I began finding out that if you were a child on the spectrum, the government, charities and other fundraising groups were all too happy to throw their money at charities catering to you.,

Trying to find any funding, programs or help for those around the age of sixteen and up was like trying to find Bigfoot.  You heard stories that in other places people had seen such a thing for adults, but no one could actually confirm it.


Earlier in the year when the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) had the number of people on the spectrum as 1-68, there were 50,000 autistics turning eighteen every year.  Yes, you read that correctly.  50,000.  Since then the CDC has lowered the number to 1-59.  I’m not a math genius, but for argument’s sake let’s just say that the 50,000 has now grown to closer to 60,000.  Can we all agree on that?

How is the future of America being prepared for life after high school?  How are they being prepared for the opportunities to not only contribute to society but to be leaders in their chosen field or in the community?  The answer will shock you.

As hard as we try, sometimes we don’t understand the way things are being taught

Let’s take a quick look at what middle and high school is like for someone on the spectrum.  Since our brains are wired differently, we don’t always speak the same language as the teachers.  That’s to say that we don’t always follow what they’re saying and need it explained in a different way.

Many of these kids have IQs that are either average slightly above average or flat out off the charts and the teachers, frustrated with the number of questions and not enjoying he disruptions are sending these perfectly abled autistic kids into special ed. 

That’s not a typo. They go to special ed where their peers label them as Sped Kids (Sped for special ed).


A lot of kids on the spectrum have trouble in maybe one or two subjects but either hold their own or excel at the rest.  Why should they be lumped in with students who are behind them academically just because some teachers don’t want to deal with the questions?

To answer the question above, schools (in general) are preparing our kids for life after high school by sending them the message that they are less than the “regular” students in the school and that they probably won’t have much of a chance to succeed since they only had a remedial education.  I know if I was the parent of a child in this situation I would be frustrated, angry and fight for the rights of my child.

As your child prepares to turn 18 what are you going to do about it?


Will you simply decide that college isn’t in the cards and have your student find a job of some kind or have you decided that they’re going to college?  There are more opportunities out there and I’m here to help. Finding the best fit for your particular child is of utmost importance.  They’re unique individuals with special skill sets, likes and dislikes, so why not find something for them that’s right in their wheelhouse?

In the coming days there will be more information on this, so keep checking back and sign up to get new posts by email in your inbox!

Photo courtesy Unsplash

On the Spectrum and Completely Depressed Is there a way to get this monkey off your back once and for all?

On the Spectrum and Completely Depressed Is there a way to get this monkey off your back once and for all?

The last two weeks have been less than stellar. And by “less than stellar,” I mean they sucked. Whatever I worked on seemed to be wrong, my self-esteem was in the toilet and life, in general, wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

But on the bright side, I didn’t have any suspicious packages mailed to me this week. Of course, there were also no regular looking packages either. Not getting packages is the upside to not being famous.

My point with the whole suspicious package thing is even though I know there’s a brighter side out there, sometimes I just can’t see it, or sense it in any way. I know it’s there, but there are times it simply takes a while to find the brighter side.

But we can and will eventually find the brighter side!

To answer the question at the top of the page, is there a way to get this monkey off our back once and for all? Sadly no. Depression and anxiety are things that we will always have to live with to some degree, but we can find ways to make it easier. We can come up with ways to get the depression gone in a few days rather than a few weeks or months.

“J.R.,” you say. “It sounds like you’re going from the bright side to sating anxiety and depression are always nearby.”

Yes, I did say that, but what I hadn’t yet gotten to, is the fact that we can learn to control the depression and anxiety with some coping mechanisms.

Just as each person on the spectrum is unique, each of us has our unique ways of settling down and letting go. What follows are several ideas for getting rid of stress, depression and anxiety quickly, before you fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Go outside and do something. This is one I struggle with in a big way. I tend to plant myself at my desk day after day. Then depression sets in and I say I’m going to leave the house, but I don’t.

When I do make myself get outside to either walk, sit out on the patio and read or just relax, I feel better. If I know I feel better when I go do things, why do I sit at my desk, hyperfocusing and not going outside?

FYI, going out to the front yard in pajama pants isn’t going outside.

 

Find your thing that clears (or helps clear) your mind. For some it’s meditation, others yoga or exercise. Whatever it is for you, start doing it or if you are doing it, do it more!

I try to meditate, but its still a work in progress. One thing I like to do is sit in my beach themed reading area in my office, light a couple sticks of incense and either sit with my eyes closed and just relax or I nerd out and read comic books. Looking over, I see I have a decent sized reading stack piling up.

The idea is to get your mind off the depression or the anxiety that’s weighing on you and get it onto something fun or onto nothing at all. If you’re not thinking/obsessing over it, it can’t bother you too bad.

 

Believe in yourself. This is the absolute hardest one for me. My self-esteem is naturally down. It has been my whole life and though I hate it, I deal with it. I’ve actually gone as far as working with a man who has overcome way more than I ever had to and has soared.

If this is something you struggle with, follow the link to check out more on Brian.

 

The final tip I have is simple. Find a person or two that you completely trust and let them know what they need to look out for. You may think that you’re baring all your weaknesses, but if this person has your best interest in mind, they’ll see it as strength and not weakness.

How do you deal with depression, anxiety or any of your other traits? What’s worked and what hasn’t? Let us know.

***

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An Asperger’s Guide To Dating Neurotypicals is out and hit #23 on the Amazon Hot New Dating Releases Chart. You can find it on Amazon and Kindle or get an autographed copy for the same price at the J.R. Reed Author website.

Before I go, I belong to a closed Facebook group, Aspergers Life Support, run by some terrific people. There’s a link on the right or you can click on the words in purple. If you have Aspergers or are a loving NT of an Aspie, I definitely suggest asking to join the group. They’re great people and have helped me on many occasions.

 

Photos courtesy Unsplash

All About Finding Courage and Leaving Your Comfort Zone What do you expect will happen when you finally destroy the walls of fear once and for all?

All About Finding Courage and Leaving Your Comfort Zone What do you expect will happen when you finally destroy the walls of fear once and for all?

Ah, the comfort zone.  It’s where we like to be, but there are times when it’s not where we should be.  In order to grow as individuals, we have to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and get out there and be afraid sometimes.

While fear is technically a four letter word, it’s not a four letter word in the sense that other words that begin with the letter F are defined as four letter words.  Do you see the point I’m trying to make?  If not, what I’m saying that fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to doing things we want to do that will help us grow as people and don’t hold the possibility of death, such as skydiving.  Skydiving is definitely out of my comfort zone.

For those of us on the spectrum, being in a crowd gives us the heebie-jeebies and scares us to the point of a panic attack or even a meltdown, but it doesn’t have to.  Last night I had one such experience and since I’m here to write this post, I can say with 100% certainty that I survived the experience and stayed in my comfort zone.

I’ve mentioned quite a few times on the blog that I moved from the hustle and bustle of Southern California to the Ozarks in August of 2017, in large part to cut down on the sensory overload I was experiencing with my Asperger’s.  Now instead of bright lights, people moving everywhere, traffic and my senses being bombarded from all sides 24/7, I live between two lakes, amongst trees in a log cabin near Branson, MO.

For those who don’t know what Branson is all about, think of a mostly country and western version of Broadway with some other types of shows thrown in for good measure.  At last count, including touring acts that will stop by for just one or two nights, there are approximately 150-165 shows in Branson this year, with the majority of them running March-October.

Then in November these same shows change it up and run Christmas shows through the end of the year before taking a couple months out of the spotlight as they prepare to do it all over again.
 

Last night I was invited to the Terry Awards, Branson’s version of the Tony Awards. 

 
It sounded like a lot of fun and something I was looking forward to, then I got the real info.  The theatre seated 750 people and was expected to be full.  Since I was going as a member of the media, taking my autism service dog, Tye, with me wasn’t really an option, so I was on my own and knew I would be way out of my comfort zone,

I’ve had situations like these come up in the past and the first few didn’t go well.  As time went on, however, I learned to (kind of) overcome my fear and learn how to best handle this type of situation.  While events like last night are still uncomfortable for me and often make me want to run, I’ve found a few things that help me get through them and stay (mostly) in my comfort zone.
 

The first is to remember that as bad as you may think it’s going to be, the world will NOT stop spinning and you will not die from your fear.  This one is hard to believe at first, but trust me, you will survive and remain intact.

 
Find out as much as you can about the event or place you’re going so you know what to expect.  In the case of last night, it was a pre-party at a Mexican restaurant and then the awards show.  I knew that if the restaurant got too crowded, I could always step outside to catch my breath and remove myself from the crowd until I felt like I could go back in and be back in my comfort zone.

We were lucky enough to have tickets near the back of the theatre on the aisle so I could step out into the lobby or again outside if I felt a panic attack coming on.  When I’m able to pick my seats for events, I do like to sit near the back and on the aisle.  This is partially because I generally have Tye with me, but also because I can slip out mostly undetected if the need arises.

It’s OK to hang off to the side and not mingle and schmooze.  Just because you’re somewhere you don’t feel comfortable doesn’t mean you have to jump into the middle of things.  Staying off to the side is OK.  Hiding in the corner and looking like a creeper, not so much.  But finding a spot where you feel comfortable and where you think you can be without a lot of people coming up to you is the ideal location and a terrific place for your comfort zone to be.

Build appropriate downtime into your schedule both before and after the event that will pull you out of your comfort zone.  Doing so will give your body and your mind what it needs to both prepare and to decompress and process the stressful event.  For example, I made sure that I had nothing planned for the two hours before the event yesterday so that I could relax.  I spent a half hour laying down, knowing I wouldn’t actually sleep, but just resting.

This morning I let myself sleep another ninety minutes later than I normally would have so that I would be well rested and ready to face the day.  So far it’s worked.  I’ve been productive, gotten most of my work finished and had a great time last night.  I even got to meet someone I never thought I would meet.

J.R. Reed www,notweirdjustautistic.com comfort zone

Hanging with Miss Lulu of the TV show Hee Haw

Growing up, my family used to gather around the TV and watch Hee Haw.  Who should I run into last night at the awards?  It was Miss Lulu from the show and one who performed in Branson for many years,  She even got up on stage to sing during the show, which was very cool.
 
Now I want to hear from you.
 
Do you have trouble getting out of your comfort zone?  If so, what have you tried that hasn’t worked and if you have been successful, what have you done to successfully stay comfortable in what normally wouldn’t be your comfort zone?  We want to know!

Photo Courtesy Pixabay

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