Thursday, October 29, 2009

"No, Mom, I'm Not Deaf"

My hearing is just fine, so before I was diagnosed with Asperger's nobody understood why I constantly asked people to repeat what they said several times for me to understand it. In addition I would drive my parents nuts when I would turn up the TV volume when they started talking in the kitchen.

Turns out this is par for the course for Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), a condition common among autistic people in which the in-brain processing of speech is out of whack, resulting in unusual difficulty in understanding speech in many situations. I had the misfortune of often accidentally offending people who are not native English speakers and have a strong accent because my problems understanding them were taken the wrong way (and my typical aspie issues with non-verbal communication just exacerbated the incidents).

Incidentally this has become a big problem with my attempt to learn Spanish. I have the basics of the grammar down, but understanding speech is almost impossible.

Related to this is that I have great trouble understanding complex directions given to me orally, I much prefer them to be written down.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Change, Routine, and Order

My mom always like to joke about how I hate change, but it's true, It's extremely distressing for me to change my established routines, my routines ground me an gives me a sense of order in a world that to me seems terribly chaotic, and chaos causes my anxiety to go through the roof. In the same way if something is not ordered and/or placed the way I am used to having it I go nuts to the point of freaking out and having a meltdown.

I used to work in the kitchen of a local preschool run by the YWCA and when preparing for lunch I put the cups, pitchers, plates, bowls, silverware, and serving bowls with food on serving carts for each room and I had a certain way of setting things up on each cart. if someone else set up a cart and things were not in the "correct" spot I compulsively "corrected" it, to the annoyance and humor of my co-workers and job coaches, (and I humorously retorted to one of the job coaches by jokingly pointing out his own OCD-like tendencies). Same thing when putting dishes away; cups had to be ordered in just a certain way and the red and clear cups could not be mixed up together. When putting washed dishes on a rack to be sent though the sanitizer things had to be placed on the rack just right, to the annoyance of a fellow Aspie co-worker. If I was prevented from doing any of this ordering I would get extremely upset, and even have a meltdown.

People, my mother especially, think I'm crazy because I refuse to move my furniture every once in a while, but I find re-arranging furniture to be horribly distressing. When I was a kid I would come home from school and freak out because the living room or my bedroom had been re-arranged, my mom would never get why I was so appalled and horrified. Sorry, I'm used to things being in a certain place and when it changes it throws me off completely.

Oh, and if you say you will be at my place at 2PM, please be actually at my place at 2PM, not, say 2:30 or 1:30, unless you want me to go into a state of extreme anxiety, or even panic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Autism and Empathy

An oft-repeated dogma is that us autistics have deficits in Empathy. This is something an increasing number of us reject. I certainly have problems with intuitively understanding the nonverbal communication of others, so I can appear to be superficially uncaring, but when I know somebody is hurting I respond the same way anyone else with a heart does, perhaps even more so. And even though I have trouble with individual bits of non-verbal communication I can still "sense" the emotions in an area, indeed, I am hypersensitive it seems like. I just don't know from who they are coming from unless it's blatantly obvious.

A prime example of this was earlier this year when a good friend who is physically disabled was raped. I was so upset that I had trouble functioning for a week. I still flinch, get agitated and even burst out sobbing when rape and sexual assault is mentioned on the news or in coversation and haven't been able to watch Law and Order: SVU since. If that is not Empathy I don't know what is.

I find it ridiculous that neurotypical (non-autistic) people accuse us of having problems with empathy while at the same time refusing to see things from our perspective.

About Myself

My name is Taylor Selseth. I'm a 23 year old guy with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of Autism. I grew up in the little rural town of Ulen, Minnesota and am currently living in Moorhead, Minnesota, across the Red River from Fargo, North Dakota. I was diagnosed with Asperger's when I was 15, I wish it had been much earlier.

I was always a shy and eccentric kid. Looking back on my childhood it is almost shocking how much of my odd behavior is explained by my diagnosis. My mom remarked that I always liked to walk on the tips of my toes, which I now know to be common autistic behavior. I also liked to arrange things, dixie cups were a favorite when I was at my dad's (my parents divorced when I was 4 years old), another common autistic behavior. I never made friends easily, I tended to bore my peers to death with my special interests (I could never figure out for the longest time why everyone didn't find astronomy to be as interesting and wonderful as I did).

When I was 6 I was diagnosed with ADHD. Asperger's Syndrome did not exist as a diagnosis until 2 years later in 1994, and the term "Autism" was associated with non-verbal individuals one one girl I went to school with named Bobbie. I was put on the stimulant medication Ritalin, which, it turned out, helped a lot. Looking back I can definitely say it reduced my autistic sensory sensitivities as well making me better able to multitask and focus on things I am not interested in, since I like many autistics have what is called Executive System Dysfunction, the Executive System being the areas of the brain used in planning and attention. Executive Dysfunction is why many Aspies (people with Asperger's Syndrome) that are in their 20s and 30s were originally diagnosed with ADHD.

School was hell. I was regarded as one of the smartest kids in class and my teachers were consistently frustrated by my difficulties doing my school work and my behavioral outbursts caused my other kids doing things like tapping pencils on desks that drove me bonkers but didn't bother anyone else. A particularly nasty 3rd grade teacher that gave us endless amounts of multiplication homework (200 problems!!!) drove me to meltdown constantly and left me with a horrible habit of lying about my school work, especially math, just to avoid meltdown because I had become so overwhelmed sensory-wise and socialization-wise at school.I had pretty much 2 friends at this time, Steve and RJ, mainly because both were, like me, into video games, because Steve was a bit of a science geek himself, and because RJ had ADHD himself.

My Asperger's diagnosis when I was 15 was like a revelation. It was the result of pure luck, my mother's insurance happened to switch my pediatrician to Dr. Ron Miller, a wonderful guy who is probably the pediatrician most knowledgeable about developmental disorders in the Fargo area. He suspected Asperger's Syndrome almost immediately and had various diagnostic things done which confirmed the diagnosis.

I graduated from high school in 2004 and have been living in Moorhead ever since. I started classes and Minnesota State University Moorhead that fall, but quit after 2 years because I lost eligabillity for Pell Grants and because I has simply burnt myself out. I plan on starting to take classes again next fall. I have staff for a few hours a day 4 days a week to help run errands, clean my place without having a meltdown, help being out in public without a meltdown, etc. I also have job coaches so I can work without having a meltdown or ending up getting fired because of being oblivious to how to behave around supervisors.

There is a lot of popular nonsense about Autism now days. Vaccines do not cause it, it's genetic. There is no "Autism Epidemic", just more people getting diagnosed and getting diagnosed correctly. There is no "cure" for Autism nor should there be. Autism is not a "tragedy", we are worthy human beings, not damaged goods. There are many famous individuals that are thought to be/have been Autistic. Albert Eistein, Thomas Jefferson, Bill Gates, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lewis Caroll, and Paul Dirac among others. We wish to be treated with dignity and respect as human beings, not at "problems" that need "fixing". A world without autistic traits would be a world full of people that socialize and play petty political games to rise in the social hierarchy, but really don't get much truly objectively constructive done.