Monday, September 29, 2014

Autism and Street Smarts: Avoiding Trouble

No advice is perfect for everyone and this is no exception. This is aimed at the high functioning who may be able to take care of themselves. Still, this may be of use to anyone in variable ways.

My experience comes from being on my own in the streets from age 14. I survived a long list of things that people have told me I shouldn't have been able to. But I did. As a child in the streets of Barstow, California; I was offered a place in the darkest criminal elements, yet I avoided them. Knowing what I know today, it's hard for me to figure out how I avoided them, but saying no actually worked for me. I'm not giving a list of the things I was asked to do by creeps looking for street urchin kids because I would have to give a trigger warning. What's important is how I survived and how you can avoid getting into trouble by some basic rules.

I developed these rules as a means to survival where it mattered most. While I hope none of you are in such dark situations, perhaps this will keep you out of them.

Rule #1: "It's none of my business". This is what I would say to people who started talking to me about illegal things they wanted to do. When someone approached me about an idea that I knew would cause me problems or get me arrested or even killed; I would just say "that's none of my business" and excuse myself for some fake errand I had to do . Let other people go get themselves in trouble. Don't preach at them, don't try to interfere directly (anonymous calls to police are fine), just use the phrase and get out of there. The whole idea is to get to a safe place and away from the threat.

You might wonder why that worked on people who tried to recruit me for their dirty deeds. I may have been lucky, but it seemed to impress (weirdly enough). In several cases, I had someone say to me, "keep saying that and you'll live a long time". That was good enough for me.

Rule #2: Pay attention to whats going on around you. For those of us with sensory disorders that never shut up, this is actually easy. So long as you stay in well lit areas and practice looking like you know exactly what you are doing, you'll make yourself less of a target. Practice noticing what is going on around you so you can avoid spots that look like trouble. While you are paying attention and being alert there is a very important pointer here:  DO NOT STARE AT ANYONE. A passing glance or using your peripheral vision is good enough. Practice noticing things out of the corner of your eye at home. Noticing small details can save your life. Remember, the idea is noticing what to avoid. It's okay to change your entire route for this purpose. More on that in a minute.

Rule #3: Don't go where you don't belong.  Most of us autistics already dislike crowds so we have a great excuse. If you are about to walk down a street you don't know and it's got shifty looking people hanging out on cars, smoking and drinking and it even looks dangerous... don't go that way. Keep to well lit and public accessed streets. Don't be wandering around at odd hours of the night. Stay out of back alleys. You can usually research and find out where high crime areas of your city or town are so you can stay away. You can research online or ask a trusted source such as a police officer (believe it or not).

Rule #4: If you must walk through the dark, do it like you just don't care. This is an exception to rule 3. There may come a time where you just have no choice but to walk down that block past those dangerous looking guys. You have to act like it just doesn't matter to you where you have to go. Think of the coolest and calmest day you ever knew in your life and walk like that. If someone nods at you, nod back, but keep moving. Don't stop, don't get into a conversation if you can help it (remember rule 1). Don't stare at anyone and just keep moving until you are far away or safe at home.

Notation: Unfortunately some of us LIVE in these places. Hopefully home is safe for you.

Rule #5: Have alternative habits. As a general rule, autistic people (including me) are serious creatures of habit. Breaking habits and changing routines is not easy for us. I suggest we practice not thinking of it as breaking our routine, rather adding an alternative routine to protect ourselves. Sometimes, something bad will happen even on the safest street and you will have to alter your route. There could be a terrible accident, a fire, or even a police standoff. These are all  things that may make you change route. Having back up routines can keep you out of trouble. Your favorite grocery store is on fire? You will have to be ready to go to a different one. So have that plan already in place. When I was on the streets, I had to have several alternate routes I could walk to avoid people who were trouble. I got used to shifting quickly. You shouldn't have to do that with more than one or two back up plans. Just don't think of them as broken routines. They are shifted routines that are in case of emergency.

By following these rules to the best of your ability, you can avoid dangerous situations or even being involved with police while keeping yourself safe.

But what if you are trying to teach your child with autism how to be safe? I'll cover that in my next installment.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autism and Police Encounters

You are out driving or walking around and a police officer stops you. What do you do? Thanks to a torrent of horror stories on the internet, this is a scary situation. Sadly, most officers don't want to take the time to understand you unless they already know you pretty well. Then there's the matter of their personal opinions of you or autism (or any medical condition). When you find yourself faced with an authority figure, there are several things to keep in mind so you can avoid being another youtube statistic.

So let us begin with a police incident. You are pulled over or stopped for questioning by police. Don't be like the man in the video. When an officer gives you an order, you may as well comply with it. In fact, DO JUST THAT. You will save yourself a great deal of pain and anguish. For that matter, if you follow a few basic steps, you can avoid even getting to the point where they want to arrest you. Give the police a hard time and you will be arrested. If they decide they are going to arrest you anyway, there is little you can do about it. So:

1: Be pleasant and answer their questions. If asked for ID, provide it or explain why you don't have it. Be honest and polite.

2: If they want to do a pat down, let them. You may see this as a violation of your rights, but we'll get to what to do about that in a moment. Be open about what you have in your pockets. You really shouldn't be carrying anything illegal anyway. Same goes for if they decide to cuff you. Don't resist them, they'll only get nastier and you'll wind up like the guy in the video. Not worth it.

3: Follow all instructions. You can file a complaint later.

4: Do not lose your cool. If you get a ticket, just take it. If you lose your cool, you will go to jail. Don't argue past stating your case for what's involved.

If you believe you have been mistreated or your rights have been violated, going Youtube on the cop is not the answer. You can have an investigation done by filing a report with the department's division of Internal Affairs. Anyone who witnesses something they feel is a violation can make such a report. But, for some reason, people would rather post Youtube videos. 

It's true that you don't have to answer their questions. You have that right, but depending on what they are investigating, you will only trigger them into an escalation. They have a job to do and the harder you make it for them to do it, the more likely you will go to jail.  In some cases you may be let go, but you waste your time being difficult like this next person:

It was obvious he wasn't drunk, but he was more interested in filming the officers and being difficult. If he simply said "no", he would have been on his way quickly. If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. Why make it more difficult for everyone involved?

Finally, the best thing you can ever do, is avoid being in situations where the police are going to get interested. This requires developing a level of street smarts and I will address those in my next article.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Autism and Social Media: Survival Tips

There's no doubt that the internet is today's urban jungle, filled with beauty and danger. It's especially dangerous if you have trouble with social cues and understanding context. Words on a screen are often devoid of emotion and cause us to draw our own conclusions on the intentions of the writer. Misunderstandings come fast and hard, boiling into flame wars with a single word. These lessons are learned the hard way, but with some tips, hopefully you can recognize the lesson before it has to be repeated.

We may as well admit it, we who have autism have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously. We internalize and take offense way to easily. (Disclaimer: Yes, I know it's not this way for absolutely everyone and maybe not YOU). See what I just had to do there? I guarantee you I will be attacked for this paragraph, but I will not answer those attacks. Nor will I post hostile comments. That's part of surviving the internet. So, the tips:

Reader beware: Few posts carry trigger warnings, so when you read something, you need to form a thick skin or practice knowing when to stay away. It's hard to be personally aware of what really upsets you, but it can be done. If you find yourself getting upset with something someone else posts, practice walking away. You don't have to respond. You don't have to read what everyone else says. You don't have to agree with what everyone else says. And it's okay not to.

Don't feed the trolls: It gets said over and over again doesn't it? That's because it's true. Trolls are very good at triggering people on the internet and very little is beneath them to do so. They know full well what they are saying is wrong. So why correct them? Pass up their comments as "not worth your time" and find something more meaningful to comment on. If they are on a forum that allows them to be reported, do so, but don't say a word to them. NOT ONE WORD. Let moderators deal with it, you don't need to. If you just can't stand seeing their name and there stuff triggers you, use the block option. Block them and you'll find yourself a lot more stress free. Trying to fight trolls too much will result in dealing with a stalker or cyber bully instead. Not worth it!

Don't believe everything you read: Propaganda is always either half true or an outright lie. There is always more to the information than what you see. Ads are for taking your money, there is no guarantee you will get what you are promised. Especially don't trust propaganda "meme" posters. Some posts are meant to get you upset to incite you into doing what they want you to do. Always stop and think before exploding into action. That's a tough practice, but necessary.

Practice research: Never take action on anything on the internet without doing your research. Ask questions, do google searches, find out what the real information is.

Don't click on that: Get a weird message with a link in it on Facebook? Don't click on it. It's a virus that will spam everyone on your friends list. Same goes for your email messages. Unless a link has an explanation on it of what it is, you shouldn't click on it.

Would you do this in person? Ask yourself that before you post on the internet. There's always the old saying: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. If only more people would follow that.

Don't post your personal information: Even if it 's only viewed by people on your friends list. That includes your address and telephone number. Such things should only be sent in private message if at all. This is because;

Not everyone on your friend list IS a friend: You've never met them in real life and becoming true friends take time. It requires trust that you should not give out easily. No one should be requesting your information without a good reason, and marketing or sales are not good reasons. Most are good people and great to have contact with, but you don't want to just give yourself out to everyone who asks. Internet friends are awesome, but guard yourself.

Have tips of your own? Submit them to comments (moderated). Good luck out there!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reader Request: Dealing with autism for the non-autistic

So you don't have autism but you are going to be working with someone who does. Or maybe you have friends with and autistic child. Perhaps you are witnessing a meltdown in a grocery store. How do you handle such situations?

Getting to know a person with autism can be understandably confusing. Hopefully these tips will help you along in the process.

First and foremost, anyone with autism does not see or feel the world around them like you do. There will be reactions that make no sense. Simple or minuscule things may cause stress reactions. This is because of sensitivities way higher than yours. The most important thing you can do in any situation with autism is to stay calm and collected. If you stress out, the person you are dealing with will go even further over the edge. If you get stern and try to force an issue, it will make it worse. Calm and collected is the way.

Eccentricities are common. It's best to just accept them. No harm is meant by them (99% of the time) and they should simply be seen as personality quirks and nothing more. Even high functioning autistics have a hard time seeing how their quirks affect people around them. It gets harder when those quirks get rejected and we are trying to work out why. The advice here is to take the eccentric with a grain of salt and just shrug it off. Don't give it any extra attention unless some violation of space is occurring. Which brings me to;

Clear communication is key. Autism is a very literal issue. Metaphors and slang can be the enemy. If you are just joking, you should say so or come up with a known way for the person to understand that you are joking. Some of us don't comprehend facial expressions. So your laughing smile means the same as an angry grimace: basically nothing. It's not completely like that for everyone, but worthwhile to keep in  mind.

Things get internalized a lot. Misconceptions and misunderstandings happen all the time. They require patience and talking it out. A lot of people with autism will be harder on themselves than you or anyone else could ever be. So if you are thinking of ripping your autistic employee a "new one" because of some mistake, be careful. Explain the problem clearly and how to avoid it in the future. Aside form popular belief, autistic people do care what others think of them and want to get things "right". Autism is a self punishing beast.

Going to extremes. People with autism are either anti-social (by appearance at least) or overly social. There isn't usually any gray area. Seeing the gray area of things is very difficult. It's either black or white. Rules are rules. Things can get very technical fast.

Delayed maturity. This is especially important to understand with children. Maturity is generally behind, often by several years. Tolerance is helpful.

Now, to wrap this up, I offer a list of things NOT to do with anyone who is autistic. This is general information and may vary by individual.

Don't touch: Especially if there's a possible meltdown situation. Your touch will only add to the sensory stress that's going on. However, you may not have a choice if self harm comes into play. If a person starts hitting him or herself in the head, firmly take hold of their wrists and speak in a low quiet voice. Be calm. Children may have to be held with the "hug" method. If you are not suitably trained in restraint, seek assistance.

Don't shout: Again it's a sensory issue and only adds to stress. Speak in a calm tone and don't try to over-shout the person you are dealing with. Once a person is calmed down, they will be easier to talk to.

Don't startle: It may seem like fun and games to some people, but startling sets off sensory issues like wildfire. It triggers over-sensitive fight or flight response that can get out of hand in a hurry. Think of  it this way; would you startle your buddy who's a war veteran? Of course not. Don't startle autistics either.

Don't ask parents what their child's special skill is: Most of them don't consider their children a sideshow act. You may mean it innocently, but it gets tiring. It happens all the time.

Don't use the word  normal: Nothing feels "normal" to an autistic person. It invalidates and diminishes that person's struggles by telling them "Oh that's normal". The term is so hated, that it's one step away from a racial slur.

Don't interfere with parents: Unless they ask for your help (and they usually won't) they just want to deal with their child's current issue and be left alone. In public, it's stressful and embarrassing enough without someone coming to lend their advice or tell them off about their child. Some DO appreciate words of encouragement like "I think you're doing a good job". You can even ask if someone is okay, but mostly they want to be left alone. Sometimes, other autism parents are welcome so long as they identify that.

So, tolerance, clear communication, and understanding are key to dealing with autism. Stay calm and cool. Don't get physical unless a life is in danger. And take your time getting to know the person or child. Situations vary. Use common sense for the rest.

Suggested reading: Understanding Autism for Dummies

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reader Request: Coping with Autism as an Adult

Being an adult with autism is a challenging issue in today's society. This is because support systems have an annoying tendency to drop off once you are 21 or 22 years of age (varies by location). At least while developing as a teen, there were counselors and hopefully support systems. Making adult decisions isn't easy.

I was diagnosed at age 35-36 when my son was diagnosed around age 3. His diagnosis brought about memories from my childhood. So what I tell you today comes from my baptism by fire. Since no one knew I needed help, I floundered and lived at random. Now that I have a few years under my belt I believe I can offer some advice on how to live with autism as a grown up. Keep in mind, this is for high functioning persons who are striking out on their own.

1: Never forget you have autism. Not like it will ever let you forget it, but you'd be amazed at how you can forget this when misunderstandings happen. You live with a form of social blindness and will miss various adult social cues. This can cause you to butt heads with people. It's not your fault and not theirs, but remembering that your condition may have tricked you can lead you to a resolution faster than not.

2: Don't be so hard on yourself. You can't help the situation. You have to learn how to live with the fact that these things happen. They aren't the end of the world. The more you accept yourself, the more other people will accept you. So give yourself a break when a misunderstanding happens. They are really a part of life and everyone else has them too.

3: Take things slow. Don't let anyone rush you when you are trying to figure out what is going on. If a misunderstanding happens, that's the best time to take a deep breath and rethink the situation. If someone gets irate with you, tell them calmly that you are trying to understand the situation. Don't rush in earning friends either. Take everything slow. Yes, the autistic mind wants to live at 1000 miles an hour. You will have to practice at slowing down.

4: Know your limits. You've always had them. If you are still at risk of meltdowns, you need to have your living space set up with a safe place to retreat to. You must do everything you can not to have meltdowns in public. I know how hard that sounds. Sometimes, you just need to play an escape route if things get too intense for you. Meltdowns in public wind up involving police who are often less than understanding. So you must have plans of action for your own conditions. That being said;

5: Don't seal yourself away. Becoming a hermit is tempting, but you starve yourself socially. That's a good way to drop into depression and make yourself worse. You must practice dealing with the world to get better at it. Get out there and see the world. Find social places that you can deal with.

6: Don't expect acceptance from everyone. There are a lot of jerks out there and you must dismiss them from your life. This goes for jobs and dating too. If someone can't be decent to you, you don't need them. That's no matter how lonely you feel. If an employer doesn't want to hire you, let it go and go somewhere else. If some group of people can't accept you, go somewhere else.

7: Believe in yourself! You are a worthwhile person. Find those good qualities in yourself and decide that you don't absolutely need anyone but you. The rest will fall into place.

8: You are not autism. Finally, it comes to this. You have autism. It is an aspect of who you are, but not the sum of who you are. With practice, yes practice, you will triumph over life's challenges and you can live a decent life. Not because of autism, but because of all of who you are.

Take it one day at at time. Find a support group or even form one to share life's challenges. In truth, a list like this could go on forever. There is so much to learn and experience in life and so many things that can happen. You just have to take them one at a time. Remind yourself of that. One at a time.

I have many reader requests at this time, but feel free to post your own in comments. Also, do you have a tip for this list? Post it in comments and thanks!