Making Assumptions about Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

I had intended to write a different post this week, however, after watching the most recent episode of ABC’s acclaimed ‘The Good Doctor‘ (a TV show that follows a surgical resident with autism), I’d like to talk a little bit about making assumptions about an autist and their abilities.

Just in case any of you are fans and are not up to date look away now *spoiler alert.*

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*Spoiler* In recent episodes, the new chief of surgery has made the decision to remove Shaun (aka the ‘Good Doctor’) from the surgical program following a minor social miscommunication with a patient, and place him in pathology, refusing point blank to get to know him or give him his job back. Naturally, this did not help Shaun’s mental state and need for routine, which ultimately led to the mother of all meltdowns and his subsequent firing from the hospital.

It was a nice bit of acting by Freddie Highmore if you’d like to see a clip following his firing:

Spoiler over!

Now it’s not often that I really feel a connection with Shaun (as we are very different in a lot of ways- no two autists are the same after all!), but this episode got me right in the feels.

Shaun’s predicament was one that I knew all too well. Shortly after my diagnosis I encountered a similar scenario in my career where assumptions were made about my abilities. Once the ‘A’ word was on the table, my employers opinion of me changed overnight, but alas, not to my benefit. Suddenly I found myself adrift in career limbo because someone jumped straight to the conclusion without stopping to discuss.

This is something that we’re all guilty of, not just employers. We hear the word ‘autism’ and suddenly our brain paints a picture. We see traits that may not be there, we imagine difficulties that may not even exist, we make assumptions on a persons character, interests, idiosyncrasies etc. based on what we know of autism without first taking time to see the person in front of us.

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I’m worn out trying to tell people that no two autists are the same! Yes, there are similarities and common traits, but just because John hates to be touched, doesn’t mean that Mary automatically hates hugs. She may love them- but if the assumption is made you’ll never get to find out.

We cannot make assumptions on an autists ability. We need to educate ourselves, get to know a person, take time to see the person beyond the diagnosis. What I need is different to what Shaun the ‘Good Doctor’ needs; who I am and what I can do are worlds apart from him. Shaun is a skilled surgeon that sometimes struggles with communication, I’m an outgoing sciencey-artsy type who never shuts up, yet most people on hearing the word ‘autism’ would tar us with the same brush.

When it comes to autism, you can never judge a book by it’s cover-but especially don’t make an assumption as stupid as this one 😛 :

https://www.betootaadvocate.com/uncategorized/i-took-my-autistic-mate-to-the-casino-and-lost-17000-in-ten-minutes/

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Until next time!

Aoife

Autism and Going Away to College

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week I’m going to to talk about perhaps one of the biggest challenges for a teenage autist- going away to college.

Ah college, some of the best years of your life- but years that can be difficult to adjust to for people on the spectrum. Granted, going away to college is a huge step for anyone, but considering an autists’ difficulty with change the stress can be tenfold. Living away from home, living with new people, finding your way around campus, the lack of routine, social expectations etc.- it can be completely overwhelming!

When I think about preparing for college, it always put’s me in mind of this Blink-182 song:

I haven’t been this scared in a long time, and I’m so unprepared…

This is exactly how it felt for me when I went away to college- sure, I was sick of school and excited to learn new things, but it is still one hell of a transition! I definitely cried a LOT those first few days/weeks settling in.

But never fear- here are some tips that I found helpful for starting out in college:

  • Register with the university disability service– If you think you need a little extra support when starting out, don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you don’t currently need any of the disability support services the college offers, it’s always good to have the safety net there when academic problems related to autism arise
  • Join a club/society– I know it can be really scary and overwhelming at first, but you won’t regret it! There’s loads of societies to choose from, and surely one that will suit your interests- they even have Harry Potter societies and Quidditch teams in colleges now (which sadly didn’t come to my university until after I had graduated 😥 )  It’s a great way to meet like minded people, make new friends and give you a break from the books 🙂 And if there isn’t a society that you like, why not set one up?
  • Get to lectures early– This is one that could really have helped me out during my first few weeks in college (but sadly I tend to me a tumble out of bed, last-minuter in the mornings). Give yourself plenty of time to get to the right room/building; universities aren’t always designed well and can be an absolute maze to navigate (which won’t help your stress levels). But more importantly, this can help you to keep an eye out for people you know. In my first month in college, sitting in a lecture hall with 300+ science students, I found it very difficult to get to know people, and when I did get chatting, I found it even harder to physically find the same person to chat to a second time among the masses. In getting to class early, you can pick a prime seat to watch out for familiar faces so you can flag them down to sit with you
  • Get a head start on your assignments– An obvious one I know, but a critical one if you tend to be a last minuter. College life is stressful enough coursework aside; don’t risk needlessly stressing yourself out and melting down

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  • Invest in scented candles/air fresheners– If you’re anything like me, the smell of some unfamiliar dishes cooked by your roommates can turn your stomach! Find a scent that you’re comfortable with or something that reminds you of home when offending odors threaten your senses. But make sure you test it out before you buy it- some odors can be even worse than the offending stimulus (I had a bout of nausea from a Christmas Yankee Candle last year- although that could have been a side effect of the antibiotics I was taking! 😛 )
  • Buy a decent pair of earplugs/noise cancelling headphones– the night time activities of the average student can often impact sensitive ears (I went through a few weeks of insomnia in my first year due to late night partying, fire alarms and drunken doorbell ringing), so plan ahead to ensure you get your full nights sleep
  • Google, Google Google– When navigating a new city, Google is your best friend, Google Maps, Google Street View, Google everything! When you’re not feeling confident about your directions, where to find shops, college facilities, timetables for public transport etc., pull out your smart phone and within a few clicks you’ll have everything you need. I would not have gotten through college without Google Street View. It really helped to put my mind at ease when travelling to unfamiliar parts of the city/university and kept me from getting overwhelmed
  • Make use of video chats– Video chatting has become far more accessible than it was when I started out in college, but nevertheless having the comfort of Skyping my family every evening really helped me to settle in during my first year (after that I rarely needed this crutch). Seeing my sisters in the familiar office at the Desktop after they came home from school every day really helped the transition from my old routines to my new college life

Going away to college can be a very scary experience, but try not to stress it- everyone finds it tough at first, but before long you’ll wonder why you ever resisted this change 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed this post dearest Earthlings! 😀

Have a great weekend!

Aoife

Finding and Maintaining Employment

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

In continuation from my blog post about autism in the workplace, this week I’m going to give some of my tips and tricks for finding and maintaining employment for autists.

Finding employment:

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Job seeking can be a daunting prospect for anyone, but for autists in particular, this can be quite the overwhelming experience. Navigating career search engines, filling out applications, preparing for interviews, coping with rejection- it’s a lot to handle.

When it comes to applying for jobs, there are a few important questions that an autist should consider:

  • Is this job a good fit for me?
  • What areas may be challenging for me in this role?
  • Is this an equal opportunities employer?

It’s important that you apply to jobs that cater to your strengths with an employer that will support both you and your needs 🙂

Top Tip: Glassdoor is an excellent online tool for job hunters. It allows you to look up different companies, read employee reviews and interview experiences, giving you invaluable insight into what life could be like for you within that company.

Next comes the dreaded interview- a real struggle for autists, but it doesn’t have to be 🙂

Fun Fact: According to career experts, 95% of interview questions can in fact be predicted and prepared for in advance! And there’s nothing we love more than predictability 😉

There are a number of organisations out there that are dedicated to advising, training and preparing people with autism for the workplace. For example, Specialisterne is an international organisation dedicated to creating jobs for people with autism through partnership with several companies in the science and technology sector. Specialisterne coaches people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome to prepare them for the workplace and additionally provides employers with training so to best support their employees.

There are also numerous career coaches and communications agencies out there which can sit you down and help you to prepare for an interview, run through mock questions, give you tips on body language etc.

Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful to get you through an interview:

  • Preparation is Key– research the company, prepare answers to common questions, look up your interviewers on LinkedIn (don’t worry, you can use a private setting so they won’t know you’ve looked them up! 😉 ) etc. A mock interview can also be very useful. The more you prepare, the more comfortable you will feel in the interview.
  • Keep your answers relevant to the question– I know it sounds obvious, but if you’re anything like me, beware of tangents!
  • Ask for a moment to think– if a question throws you, drink some water and ask for a minute to think. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for this. It gives you time to gather your thoughts whilst remaining in control.
  • Aoife says ‘Relax’! – Easier said than done, I know, but it was only when I began to relax in interviews that I was finally offered a job 🙂

Maintaining Employment:

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Congratulations-you’ve gotten through the interview stage and the job is yours! 😀 However, a number of people with autism will struggle to maintain this job. The workplace can be quite overwhelming as I’ve discussed, and we often do not receive the support we need from our employers.

So what can you do?

If you feel comfortable disclosing your diagnosis to your employer, steps can be taken to help accommodate your needs. For example, autism training can be arranged so that other members of staff can better understand and support you.

Having a work mentor or job coach to talk to and advise you about your workplace can also be helpful. This person can advise you on workplace ettiquette, social skills, interacting with co-workers and the unwritten rules of your place of work.

There are also some steps that you can take to better cope with the pressures of working life:

  • If you struggle with organization as I often do, making use of lists, diaries and Google Calendar can help you to stay on top of things
  • As I’ve said before, talk to someone about your problems with work- let it all out!
  • Take a breath- if you feel overwhelmed or a meltdown coming on, take a moment away from your workstation. Go to the bathroom, step outside the door (if possible), grab a coffee or a glass of water- do anything to distract yourself until you feel well enough to return to work 🙂
  • Try to maintain a good work- life separation. At the end of the day, we all need to leave work at work. It can be hard to switch off at the end of the day, especially for autists, so try to relax! Why not take up a hobby that will engage a different part of your brain such as art, exercise, music or gaming? Do what you have to do to unwind!
  • Take care of yourself- Keep snacks nearby, stay hydrated and get to bed early! Sleep tip– Blue light from screens interferes with the hormone that induces sleep, Melatonin. So ditch the laptop before bed; read a book instead!

Finding and maintaining employment as an autistic adult can be challenging, but remember, you have just as much to offer as any other candidate out there 🙂

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Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! 🙂

Aoife

 

Supporting a Child with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

For a change today, I’d just like to write a quick post for all of the autism parents out there.

I recently received an email about special needs parenting and it got me thinking about ‘autism parents’. How they must be feeling, the difficulties they face, the struggle to understand, teach and support their child. They really should be called ‘awesome parents’- I certainly didn’t make life easy for mine! 😛

Autism is not the easiest of diagnoses for a parent to hear, but there are many simple ways that you can support your child. Granted, I’m not an autism parent, but as someone who has been on the other side of the fence, I’ll do my best to give you my top tips to support and encourage your child 🙂

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Educate yourself– Read, read read! Understanding is key to helping your child. A mechanic can’t help your engine if he doesn’t know how it works first.

Don’t believe everything you read–  You’ll quickly learn that one size does not fit all when it comes to autism. Each case of autism is different, every autist will have different needs and experiences to the next. The advice and experience of others can be useful, but remember to take everything with a pinch of salt.

Try to put yourself in their shoes– The world is often alien to us, we don’t always fit in or understand it’s ways. We don’t mean to act weird or meltdown and cause trouble, but oftentimes our brain has other ideas. Try to understand how we see the world before you judge us too harshly 🙂

Know their limits, but don’t limit them– This can be a challenging balance to strike. As I have discussed previously, we should endeavour to understand the capabilities of autistic children, but we must not use autism as an excuse– explanation yes, but never excuse. When we repeatedly excuse an autists behaviour, or tell them they “can’t” do something, we keep them from reaching their potential. For example, as a child, I could not seem to master the humble skip. Had my parents told me to give up due to my coordination difficulties, I would never have overcome this struggle- and would have looked pretty stupid in school shows where such simple choreography was the cornerstone of many a dance number! 😛 😉

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Never underestimate the power of small victories– whether it’s getting your child to wear a bra, tie their shoelaces or a mastered skip, sometimes it’s the little steps that can have the greatest impact. Had I not overcome my seemingly left feet, I would not have discovered a love of dance, never danced on stage or gone out to clubs. Without this small victory I would never have gone on to help choreograph my school play or even teach dancing to kids as a teenager! The victories seem small, but they just may be the tip of the majestic iceberg lurking underneath 🙂

Accept the A-word– Acceptance is at the heart of supporting a child with autism. Without this, they can never truly fulfill their potential. There’s no use in burying your head in the sand. We won’t grow out of autism, we need to accept and grow around it.

Always remember:

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So there you have it Earthlings- my top tips for supporting a child with autism. However, like I said, I can only speak from my experiences of autism, so here are some other helpful advice links on more specifc ways to support autistic children:

At the end of the day Earthlings, armed with a little bit of knowledge, understanding and most importantly love- there’s no better way to support your child 🙂

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Aoife

Autism in the Workplace

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Did you know that between 75 and 85% of people with autism cannot find/maintain employment, despite many being highly educated?

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Shocking statistic isn’t it?

But why is it so?

Most of us have a strong desire to work and the qualifications to boot, but what we lack are the skills to navigate the workplace and or the interview process.

For many people with autism, the interview is perhaps the most difficult part of the employment process. Unexpected questions can throw us, social niceties can go over our heads, eye contact is a struggle and repetitive movements are often hard to control. We like structure and routine, things we can control and predict; interviews take us out of our structured comfort zones. All these difficulties coupled with the mere mention of the ‘a’ word sadly may see your CV dropped to the bottom of the pile.

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Of those lucky enough to get over the hurdle of the interview, further problems may lie in navigating the workplace itself.

The workplace can be overwhelming for the best of us, but for an autist, this can be even more so. Noise levels and repetitive sounds, the pressure to reach deadlines, the unappetizing smell of your co-workers lunches (whenever someone has fish at work it’s a real struggle for me to hold back my gag! 😛 )- it can be a sensory smorgasbord, not to mention the potential social issues! Some days it just takes all your strength to hold back a meltdown.

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Most employers do not understand the needs of an autistic employee, and as such we may easily fall off the career ladder- and not just for reasons of poor coordination! 😛 😉

However, the tables are beginning to turn for the better in terms of making the workplace autism friendly- in fact many companies are now specifically seeking to employ autists to mine our oftentimes untapped skill sets.

But while we wait for the rest of the working world to catch up, here are a few things that you can do to better help you to thrive in the workplace:

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  • Talk about your struggles– shoving it deep down isn’t going to do any good! Talk to someone when you’re feeling under pressure at work- trust me you’ll feel all the better for it
  • Know your limits– if you feel a task is getting on top of you, or you want to jump out of your seat with antsy frustration, take a break- have a snack, go to the bathroom, have an early lunch, or if the company allows it, a quick scroll on your phone. When you feel that overwhelming tidal wave approaching, get out of it’s way; don’t let it take you down
  • Take care of yourself– get enough sleep, stay fed and hydrated. In my experience the combination of exhaustion, hunger and or thirst with the added stress of a tough work task can run the risk of meltdown. Get to bed early, keep snacks and a drink nearby and work will be much easier to cope with
  • Get involved in the work social scene– now I know this one can be troublesome when social anxiety rears it’s ugly head, but making the effort to engage with your co-workers will really help. Many times I’ve forced myself to go to social work gatherings entirely out of my comfort zone and barely knowing the people that would be there, and you know what? It helped me make some brand new friends and put a fresh spring in my step 🙂

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I’ll delve into more of my tips and tricks for finding and maintaining employment in a later post 🙂

Enjoy the weekend everyone, be sure to get that Christmas shopping done on time (I may or may not have finished mine a couple of weeks back…#organized! 😛 )

Aoife

Autism and Pensivity

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’m going to talk a little bit about pensivity and autism, or as my sister describes it in my interview with her, “staring into the abyss.” 😛

We all have those moments where we retreat into ourselves. Our eyes glaze over, we tune out from our surroundings and make weird, subconscious facial expressions as we dreamily ride the thought train round and round.

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For an autist, these spells of introspection tend to happen a little more frequently. Our minds move so fast that we often find it hard to concentrate, and somehow we slip into this abyss of swirling thoughts:

‘What do I want for dinner tomorrow?’

‘Is evolution real?’

‘What would I look like as a blonde?’

‘What would it be like to have an Alpaca farm!?’ (genuinely spent a weekend considering the practicalities once!)

These are just a few of the millions of questions that I spend my time pondering in the abyss, proceeding to explore these thoughts in minute detail! 😛

I’ve been known to spend almost an hour lying on my bed, staring into space without saying a single word to anyone!

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Once I’ve fallen in, my mind could literally go anywhere-I’ve even conjured up a musical based on the music of My Chemical Romance during one of these particular spells!

It’s not a bad thing in my experience, I get some of best ideas wandering the abyss, but people just don’t know what to make of me in this state in social situations. As my sister says, it really creeps her out watching me! 😛

I suppose I can’t blame her when I often sit around staring like this for 40 minutes:

 

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Half the time, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it, which can be awkward on a night out.  If it get’s very loud or the conversation goes stale, I just slip down into the depths, awoken from my reverie several minutes later by bemused friends and colleagues! 😬

What people fail to understand however, is that I am perfectly content in my little bubble. Yes I look strange, and my face may not show it, but I’m perfectly fine 🙂 In fact I sort of enjoy thinking, just floating around exploring the darkness of the abyss. It’s actually a little bit soothing in an odd way.

Autists are not good with the unknown. We like structure, things we can predict and prepare for. By questioning, or pondering the unknown in our minds, this can help to make the world seem a little less scary. Knowledge is power after all!

So don’t panic if you see me stumbling into the abyss- I’m probably just wondering where I can buy an alpaca! 😛 😉

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Should I Tell My Child They Have Autism?

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

So today we’re going to discuss a very important question when it comes to growing up with autism- should autists be made aware of their diagnosis?bitmoji185739333

Now this question is a little bit tricky.

On one hand, we have the parents who do not want their child to know at all; they want their child to grow up as “normally” as possible so that they may never be held back by the autistic label.

In a sense, part of me would agree with this approach. In a lot of ways, growing up undiagnosed was a blessing in disguise. I was never treated differently (well, by teachers at least- children are another kettle of fish!) and I grew up to be a “normally” functioning adult with a job and friends, never held back by the autistic label.

Buuuuuuutttttttt…

Whilst I can appreciate a parents desire for their child to thrive, the decision not to tell a child about their diagnosis ultimately amounts to sticking your head in the sand.

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We cannot ignore autism and pretend that it’s not happening. There needs to be interventions, strategies and most importantly, understanding.

We don’t just grow out of autism, we need to cultivate an environment so that we can grow around autism. Without self awareness, this will ultimately make life difficult for your child.

What if they found out some other way that they were autistic? If they overheard a teacher, accidentally caught sight of their notes or were taunted by another child? How would you feel if your parents kept something like this from you?

At the end of the day, your child needs to know about their diagnosis; maybe not today or tomorrow, but when the time is right, they will need to know.

Yes, there were some advantages to getting a later diagnosis, but ultimately, life would have been so much simpler for both my parents and I had we known that I was on the spectrum. We would have known how to manage meltdowns, my peers would have understood me better, I wouldn’t have tortured myself for being different- I would have understood and learned to better accept and love me all the sooner.

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So don’t worry about holding your child back, or upsetting them; take a deep breath and find a way to tell them- they will thank you for it in the end 🙂

Aoife

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