Sunday, September 9, 2012

Buddhism and Aspergers: An 'Enlightening' Coping Mechanism!

Holy jumpin'! I can't believe that its been two months since my last post on this blog! For the record, I am sorry about this, but with the transition to a new job and life in general getting in the way, its been a hectic time. Now that that's out of the way, the idea for this post has been with me for some time but now I'd like to finally put it out there. Like many out there, I've been on a spiritual journey for some time, and while I am generally a rational-minded agnostic, I've always had a soft spot for eastern spirituality, in particular Buddhism. In fact, I have found that there are some teachings inherent in it that have been helpful to me in living with some of the more, shall we say, neurotic tendencies of Aspergers. But first, a disclaimer:

Disclaimer: The following blog post is in no way meant to force religion or spirituality down anyone's throat. Spirituality is an intensely personal journey and no one can or should tell anyone how to go about it or what to think. Its a path each of us has to walk ourselves, I'm merely sharing here what has worked and continues to work for me.

Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to explain exactly why I think Aspergers and Buddhism make not-so-strange bedfellows. As any Aspie can tell you, there is a certain amount of anxiety and neurosis that can come from the lack of ability to understand the nuances of social situations, and in cases such as these I find that meditation is infinitely useful. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, but I have attended yoga classes and practiced meditation enough to be able to tell you that it has made a difference in my life. I find the perspective offered by meditation and buddhism in general has allowed me to live a more relaxed, peaceful life and provides me a way to calm myself during neurotic social situations.

For those of you who think meditation is complicated and time-consuming, nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, it does require finding time in our increasingly busy schedules to do, but the benefits far exceed the inconvenience. Meditation itself is as simple as practicing relaxed breathing and taking a passive position in your own head; observing the thoughts as they pass through, but not engaging with them. For anyone interested in learning more about how to meditate, I highly recommend visiting your local bookstore for a great selection of how-to books.

In conclusion, this is what has worked for me, and I really hope it works for you too. As the Buddha himself once said; "try it and see!" There are so many benefits to Aspergers but for those times where the neurosis and social difficulties become too much, this has provided me a sense of inner peace and with practice it may for you too!

Until next time!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bullying: My Perspective as both a Future Teacher and a Survivor

Greetings all. I was browsing several Aspergers and education-related blogs this morning when I came across one advocating against bullying. What struck me as particularly amazing about this blog is that the author had posted the Taylor Swift song "Mean" as essentially the anthem of the anti-bullying movement. I had never heard the song before, but now that I have I have to say it inspired me to write this entry. Bullying is, sadly, one of the worst of the things we Aspies have faced in our lives, and I'm sure many of you out there have your own stories of childhood cruelty to share. I'm no different, and though I was fortunate to find an end to much of it in high school, the fact remains that these experiences touched me deeply to the core and have shaped me, for good or ill, into the person I am today. Since this is such an important topic, not only to Aspies but to many kids, parents and educators out there, I'd like to share my own experiences and what they taught me.

To begin, I have to make something very clear; if I don't show many outward signs of being an Aspie now, then I can't say the same thing for myself at age 13. Simply put, middle school was single-handedly the worst period in my life and remains so to this day. I had gone to a small local school for most of my education to that point, so going to middle school and being essentially thrown into the same ocean as kids from several other small schools was bound to cause hardships. I certainly wasn't the only one to experience such difficulties; I remember one of my dear childhood friends being referred to in a derogatory was as "fishlips," and teased profusely for this. I can't, however, speak for the torment endured by some of my friends, but I can speak of my own. As you can probably guess, I wasn't the jock or the popular kid; I was the nerd, the smart, socially awkward kid who got picked on because he didn't quite fit the mold. My interests at this time were, as they are now, science fiction and video games, though childhood immaturity combined with my Aspie tendency to get very into these things apparently painted a big ol' bull's eye on my back. Needless to say, several of the other kids jumped on this and began to torment me.

The bullying took many forms, but here are some of the moments that stand out in my mind. The first was a simple one, but you can imagine how emotionally painful it must have been at that age. I would be walking down the hall minding my own business and in many ways absorbed into my own little intellectual world, minding my own business when one of my bullies would come along and purposely knock the books i was carrying out of my hands. The books would land everywhere and somewhere between that and the ensuing laughter, a little bit of my sense of self-worth would join them there on the floor, ready to be trampled on. Another time, we had an assignment in English class; we were to write our own epic ballad poetry. Now, you can imagine as a budding writer and lover of storytelling, I would have loved this assignment, but there was only one problem. We had to present our ballads to the class. Well, being the stubborn kid I was, I decided to ignore my social anxiety and write a ballad of a sci fi story I'd been considering writing at the time. When the time came to present, I got up, heart pounding with anxiety as I read my work, but the reaction from the class wasn't as inspiring as I'd hoped. Instead of applauding my creativity as a young writer, one of my classmates looked up at me with a look of mischief in his eyes, and thinking himself clever, proclaimed "Go back to Deep Space Nine!"

The whole class laughed, and yet more of my self worth fell to the floor in pieces as I sunk back into my chair, embarassed and ashamed.

One other time, our school was having a movie afternoon in the gym for the grade 7 and 8 students. I knew that the usual bullies were waiting in the gym to make my life a living hell all afternoon and I felt quite alone at this point. At one point in class, our teacher explained that those who misbehaved or had not finished work would not be allowed to go to the movie and would instead have to sit in detention. Well, we Aspies are alot of things, but stupid is definitely not one of them. My 13 year old brain immediately latched on to this and quietly went up to speak with the teacher, where I begged her to give me a detention. Granted, I would miss the movie, but at that point I didn't care. Spending a few hours being "punished" in a place of peace and solitude sounded infinitely preferable to me than spending that same time being tormented by those who bullied me. My teacher, if I recall correctly, granted me some respite but eventually sent me along to the gym to watch the movie.

The effect of all this oppression and misery at the hands of my classmates is that my young 13/14 year old self was taken mentally and emotionally to the darkest place I can safely say I've been in my entire life. Even in the darkest of the darkness, however, there was always a speck of light in my life. The kindness of my friends, the love of my family, and the constant hope that things would get better; these are the things that sustained me and pulled me back from this place and helped me through those years. Things did eventually get better.

I feel it important to mention all of this because it is important to know the effect bullying has on a child's psyche, whether they're Aspie, Autie, or NT. I consider myself lucky that I had support from friends and family, but I can safely say that others have not been so fortunate. My experiences with both Aspergers and bullying have forced me to overcome a great deal of hardship and trial in my life, and my decision to pursue teaching in general and special education in particular is a way for me to try to make life even a little bit better for the children who are being bullied by others in school. Ask any of my friends; I'm a happy, compassionate person who insists on being optimistic and seeing the best in others and fighting to make the world a better place.

I know it sounds cliche, but if I could go back in time and tell my 13/14 year old self only one thing about the future it would be that it gets better. I know I can't go back in time (until some enterprising scientist invents a time machine that is!), but my first-hand experience being bullied has made me a more sensitive future educator since I know the damage bullying does to a psyche. It is now my life goal to help other children endure and survive. Just because bullying and adversity made me the strong, happy activist I am today, doesn't mean I wish it on anyone. Aspie, Autie, NT, it doesn't matter; bullying affects us all and we need to come together to stand against it!

Yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Aspie Book Club

Hello all you Aspergians, Neurodiverse, Neurodiversity activists, friends, family and supporters out there. I'm not doing a full on entry today, though I do have some ideas for my next one. Today I wanted to take some time and introduce a new column I'll be running on occasion. Introducing the Aspie Book Club! The premise is simple; Every time I come across a book, or article that addresses neurodiversity in a positive and constructive manner, I'll be writing a quick profile of it here on Differently Wired. The purpose of this is, I hope, to increase awareness of some really talented writers and activists who have made positive contributions to the movement. This should be interactive too; I want to get comments from anyone who reads this blog! Anyway, on to the main event!

Today, I want to give a special shout out to the author of a book I recently finished reading. John Elder Robison is the author of "Be Different", his memoir of his own experiences growing up Aspie. I've said it before on this blog; I may have Aspergers more mildly than some, but even so reading through his book, I was amazed how many times I saw myself in it. The best part about this book, though, is that unlike a lot of literature about Aspergers or Autism that focuses on treatment methods, coping strategies, and such, "Be Different" takes a different path. Robison is truly optimistic and honest about his experiences, basically coming to the conclusion that despite it having caused him hardship growing up, he wouldn't give up being an Aspie for anything. This is a refreshing approach to the subject, and it was a joy to read. Here's a picture of the cover:

(image pulled from can't actually 'click to look inside' :P)

Well that's that for this instalment of Aspie Book Club! Check back soon for my reminisces on some particularly Aspergian elements of my own childhood. 

Yours in Diversity,

Adam Michael

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"WHAT?! But YOU can't be an Aspie!"

I know it hasn't been long since my last post, but I've had a thought occur to me which simply must be shared. Basically, any time in recent memory that I've told someone I have Asperger's, I always meet one of four possible responses. They are:

              1) What? No I don't believe you!
              2) Wow! You're really well socialized!
              3) Are you sure they didn't misdiagnose you?
              4) I bet you outgrew it.

I'm willing to bet several Aspies out there know exactly what I'm talking about. There is this stereotypical idea of what someone with Aspergers should be like and if someone doesn't fit it, they can't be an Aspie. What many people fail to realize, however, is that Asperger's, like anything human, encompasses a range and is not simply a black and white thing. While everyone with the diagnosis, myself included, have a minimum of a few of the required characteristics, no one has all of them. In my case, for example, I definitely have some of the listed Aspie traits but not all of them. I've met other Aspies who have ones that I don't too. Its a range, with an incredible world of variation among human beings, and this is something the stereotypical image of the Aspie used in the mainstream media often fails to mention.

People often act shocked when I tell them I have Asperger's precisely because I don't always show it. I'm aware of the fact that I'm capable of coming off downright Neurotypical a lot of the time, but the truth is that, like many Aspies, it didn't always come naturally for me. As a child, I was always good at language, reading, writing, and such, but I was (and still am) not always terribly great at reading social situations. Granted, I used to be far worse in middle school, when I often came across as the weird nerdy kid that got made fun of, but I still have this tendency. In addition, though you wouldn't know it considering I was the top salesman at my old job as a cashier at Blockbuster, I don't like making eye contact for extended periods of time. My interests in certain things are also fairly intense, and I could talk for hours about things that pique my interest. If these don't make me sound like an Aspie to you, I don't know what will.

I have a recent example of my under-control Aspie tendencies for you. Recently, while out at dinner with my friends, two of my female friends got up to go to the bathroom. I looked around the table, and made a serious observation that there was a clear double standard in effect here; that girls can go to the bathroom together with no questions asked whereas the same behaviour from two men would label them as gay. It was a serious comment not meant as a joke at all, but needless to say everyone at the table burst out laughing. The difference between this situation and my middle school years is simply that my friends have come to expect and even enjoy my Aspie comments and moments, even if they aren't often aware that that's why I have them.

The point I am trying to make here is that, in many cases, Aspergers is most noticeable in childhood. Though it never fully disappears since it is an (albeit awesome) part of who someone is, many people (myself included) have learned to some degree how to speak Neurotypical. I find that I've become quite fluent in it personally, though like anyone learning a second language, I have my humorous mixup moments where my Aspie-ness shines on through. In addition, every Aspie and NT is different, and assuming that someone is one or the other based on superficial behaviour is often not a good basis for a true understanding of a person. Anyone who knows me and is familiar with Aspergers can tell that, while I do a very good impression of a Neurotypical, there is an Aspie hiding beneath, pulling all the strings.

And you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way! :)

Yours in Diversity,

Adam Michael

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Different and Proud: Some Thoughts on My Existence With Aspergers and Why I'm An Aspie Pride Advocate

Hello everyone! Welcome to the first instalment of this new blog! My name is Adam and I'll be your guide on your journey into the wild and wacky Aspergian world. First, a little about me; I'm 24, finishing up my Master's degree in History and working on seeking employment as a Teacher, for which I'm trained. I live in a mid-sized community in northern Ontario, Canada and want to some day work in Special Education, helping children who have been identified to reach their full potential. This is something I have been passionate about for a long time, but make no mistake I have a normal social life with friends, family, a part-time job and an interest in politics, history, science fiction and video games. Pretty normal right? So why should I feel so passionate about writing this blog? Simple.

I have Aspergers.

The thing is, for most of my life after receiving the diagnosis, I thought nothing of it. My parents certainly never made a big deal of it, at least not in front of me. I was an ordinary kid, I went to school, had a (albeit small) circle of friends, and dealt with all the social issues of an average kid. I certainly had social problems relating to other kids, and even experienced some rather horrible years in middle school being bullied, but all throughout it, I never thought of myself as having any disability. For the longest time, in fact, I didn't like the word Aspergers. To me, to embrace it would have been to imply that I was defective somehow, deserving of being spoken down to condescendingly, and that simply would not do. After all, assigning that label to me would have been to say that the way I am-how I think, feel, react and interpret the world-is somehow fundamentally flawed and diseased and in need of a cure. Though I've since embraced the label of Aspergers in a defiant bid to express my own pride in who I am, this is still how I feel about anyone who treats it and Autism like disabilities. The search for a cure for Autism and Aspergers is itself problematic because it attempts to separate Autism/Aspergers from the person as if its a veil whose lifting reveals a person underneath. It doesn't work like that. Aspergers makes me who I am and I LIKE who I am! Accept it!

My hope with this blog is therefore to educate, inform and spread the word regarding Aspie pride. After all, we have linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, and biological diversity among others, why not neurodiversity as well? If this blog can convince at least one person out there that Aspergers is not a tragedy to be cured but rather a difference to be embraced, then I will have succeeded in my mission. If there is one thing my graduate studies in history have thus far taught me it is precisely that; sometimes one person can make all the difference in the world. One is, as has been said in the popular song, the loneliest number though; please help me in strengthening those numbers a bit!

Yours in Diversity,

Adam Michael