Sunday, December 4, 2016

Perfectionism and Living on the autism spectrum

I want to discuss a very personal topic as it relates to how I view myself and how living with an autism spectrum disorder manifests in my own life.  Although I appear to be self confident when talking in front of people and doing speeches, the truth is that I struggle with being a perfectionist and feel that I am not good enough. This gets manifested in low self confidence, being concerned of how others perceive me , asking for reassurance all the time from family and others who work with me, internally questioning my beliefs and anxiety.   Unfortunately, as I grew older and accomplish more milestones such as graduating high school,  graduating college, and getting a job my perfectionistic ego has only gotten bigger.  I constantly feel that I should be doing more  than I am now and should not make any mistakes or short comings.  This attitude crosses all domains including work, friendships, how I view my autism as well as school performance.  On the plus side, being a perfectionist has made me achieve a lot and has helped me survive through college and pulling mostly A's and B's in my classes as well as helping me developing a good work ethic as an employee.  However, it has the detrimental effect of creating unnecessary anxiety and lowering my self confidence and self esteem and also creating unrealistic expectations on myself.

You might be asking what being a perfectionist has to do with living on the autism spectrum since typical people also  struggle with holding perfectionistic attitudes.  How this ties with autism is that from an early age,  we are put into  behavioral therapies and social skills training classes which  strive to assimilate us into acting normal.  Traditional behavioral therapies such as Applied Behavioral Analysis reward children for displaying desirable behaviors and ignores them for displaying autistic behaviors such as hand flapping, scripting, jumping etc.  This gets reinforced in schools through special education programs and goals written in the Individualized Education Plan which have a strict baseline dates in which such goals should be met.  This is a true depiction of my life as I look back of  when I was going through school and the trajectory of how I developed a perfectionistic attitude.  I went to a lot of therapies as a child and went through various social skills classes as well as starting behavioral therapy when I was in eighth grade.   Sometimes, I felt I was always placed under a microscope in which I felt that all of my behaviors were constantly under surveillance by my parents, therapists and support staff.   My behavior was always measured with data sheets, emails, monthly team meetings, annual IEP meetings etc.  A specific moment in my life in which I really felt that I was under constant surveillance is when I was sent to a two week camp (that I did not want to go) at my behavior therapist's suggestion during the summer of my senior year in which all the activities were closely monitored and all centered on learning cognitive behavioral techniques and to see how well I could perform independent living skills like cooking and cleaning. Let's just say that I was happy to go home when those two weeks were up.  Although the people in my life had good intentions and I wouldn't be in the place where I am now without all the skills that I learned as a result of these intervention and experiences, it contributed to my need in pleasing people and anxiety in needing to be perfect and normal.  My experience and others on the spectrum that I talked to who have anxiety related to the desire to be perfect shows that behavioral interventions and school programs should be less focused on making autistic people act and look at the world in a neurotypical way and be more holistic, relational, and to take into account the needs, thoughts and feelings of the student and client. Another aspect I would like to see in the development of new treatments and interventions for those on the spectrum is the focus more on mental health and developing autism acceptance and positive self esteem for those on the spectrum.

Now as a young adult on the spectrum, I am slowly learning to not be so perfectionistic and to get anxious over the little stuff.  I am learning that I am good enough and that I should not be so focused on what others think of me and to feel more confident in the choices I make instead of doubting and questioning them.  It will be a slow journey since I have held these attitudes for years but I feel that the journey of letting go of my perfectionistic scripts would allow me to develop a greater self acceptance and to enjoy each step of my life journey.   After all, it is about the journey and not the destination that counts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Ableism and why I named my blog "Redefining Normal"

This post has been on my mind for awhile but have been getting sidetracked with life and adjusting to my new job.  However, I feel this is a topic worth talking about especially in the 21st century in which there are numerous social justice movements that fight for the lives of oppressed and marginalized groups in the United States.  It is about ableism.  Unlike other movements such as racism, sexism,homophobia etc. this concept is less known and discussed when it comes to social justice within American society.  However, it is a concept that pervades all aspects of U.S. society and has either directly or indirectly oppress and marginalized people with disabilities.  Unfortunately, there is no way to talk about this concept in a way that does not sound angry. So try to bear with me if I sometimes sound angry when writing this post.  Since this blog is about autism and to avoid this post from getting too disorganized, I am going to focus solely as to how ableism affects the autistic community as a whole.

I am not the only autistic self advocate that writes about ableism.  Autistic advocates such as Lydia Brown and nonverbal autistic, Amy Sequenzia talks about how ableism affects the autism community and  their experiences of being autistic.  Ableism is a powerful concept because it has the consequence of some autistics not having access to education and employment, having access to supports and accommodations as well as being a barrier of living a happy life.  Growing up, I have been exposed to ableist concepts that in turn negatively affected my self esteem.  This was either overtly or subtly and sometimes within the autism community.  Ableist concepts that I was subject to was the notion of age appropriate interests, pushing for complete independence/ self sufficiency and the notion that there is only one way of social connections with people and friendships which is the notion of peer groups.    I have internalized these messages by reading so many autism books written by neurotypical parents and professionals as well as observing the direct and indirect messages from family, some friends and support people.  For instance, I was encouraged to join clubs which included a lot of group interaction, to dress like the other girls in school and to socialize with more same age peers than adults. Although the people in my life at the time had good intentions,  it had the unfortunate consequence of creating and sustaining an ableist script in my head which in turn lead to my low self confidence in young adulthood in which I am learning to let go.
 Ableism also leads to false assumptions about the intentions and desires of people with disabilities.   For instance, in this media story a football player sits with a boy with autism who often wants to sit alone.  While on the surface it comes across as a heartwarming story to viewers it comes across as ableist by making the assumption that all autistics or people with disabilities should and want to sit with people and socialize during lunch.  Some people prefer to sit alone at lunch since it is their only time they can relax and take a break from being around other people.  I, myself am a  introverted person.  During breaks such as lunch, I prefer to have alone time since it  allows me to decompress especially if I am around people for most of the day.  Media stories such as the football player sitting with the autistic boy at lunch is an example of  "feel good" stories in which a neurotypical person is portrayed as "helping" a disabled person achieve "normal" or typical experiences is known as inspiration porn.    Inspiration porn-like stories have no direct benefit for people who have autism or other disabilities but instead portrays us as needy and that we should be treated with pity.

Challenging ableist views of society and that there is only "one" correct way to live and experience life is the reason why I named my blog "Redefining Normal."  I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to educate others on how I see the world and to educate others that there is more than one way to live a successful and happy life.  .  However, the writings of self advocates like myself are under utilized as the works of well-known neurotypical experts and parent's accounts of autism are more valued by the greater society which promotes more ableist views on autism.  The good news is that we are at a time in which more autistics are speaking out and sharing their stories and that more people are willing to listen.  I think it is time that we have a dialogue about how ableism is pervasive in our society and how it is a social justice issue just like race, gender and sexual orientation.  If people are more aware and mindful of ableist attitudes, we have the opportunity to combat it and make society a more accepting and loving place for those who live with disabilities.


Monday, September 5, 2016

My embarkation into the employment world

 I recently been offered a job as a 1:1 aide for a special autism school.  I've never thought it would happen so soon as I just began actively looking for a job.    To assist me in the daunting process of finding a job, I utilized a supported employment agency that has an employment specialist actively search for jobs on my behalf as well as providing me with a job coach once I get hired.  To began the story, the school asked me to come in for a interview.  Originally the job advertised on the job search engine Indeed was for a special education teacher, but since I don't have a teaching credential, the employment specialist sent an email asking if there were any other job openings that fit my qualifications.  It turned out that there was an opening for a 1:1 aide position in a autism classroom.    I interviewed for the job and they basically asked questions about my volunteer experience as advertised on my resume as well as giving me scenarios of how I would resolve situations since the job entails thinking on your feet which involves problem solving, emotional regulation and having good judgment.  When the guy interviewing me asked these questions, I began to feel nervous since I felt I was totally unprepared for this part.  However, I guess I managed to do very well because an hour after the interview was over, the director of the school called me and offered me a job and asked me to get my fingerprints and a TB test so they can hire me.  When I received the phone call, I felt incredibly overwhelmed with excitement and nervousness.  I was excited because I was thrilled that someone wanted to hire me despite having a disability.  Until then, I was starting to feel down about my employability because of my disability especially in this competitive job market.

On the other hand, I  feel nervous because like any other transition, I am venturing into unknown territory in being a 1:1 aide especially since there is a huge emotional investment in this line of work.  I have been trying to process my own emotions in taking on a caregiving role as an aide.  I have been on the other side as I had aide help throughout school as well as currently employing a support person for social recreational purposes.   However, the thing that has been eating me is that since I am capable of supporting another student, I feel that people would put me on a pedestal and feel that I can't have support in my own life.   I know this is my perfectionistic self speaking, but since I am already an exemplary in the autism community for all I have accomplished, I am holding myself up to high expectations.  There is a lot of emotions surrounding me taking on this position as I have to process taking on such a huge role and the duality in simultaneously being a support person as well as being the receiver of support.

It is going to be an adjustment period as I embark on this journey and there will be days that will be tough on me emotionally.  Overall, I look at this job as a stepping stone in what I ultimately want to do in life.  This is a way of cessing if this is the right field for me.  I am glad that someone is willing to give me a chance at employment especially since the hiring rate for people with disabilities is so low in this job climate.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My review of the movie Life Animated

Last week, I finally got to see the film Life Animated  which is about a young man with autism who found a way to connect with the world through Disney movies.  I've always wanted to see this film after hearing from a friend who told me how good the movie was.    To give you a brief synopsis the film centers around Owen Suskind who was diagnosed with autism at age three.  His parents noticed that around age three he started to lose speech and was withdrawing in his own world.  Once his parents received Owen's diagnosis, they tried all they can to connect with him and to get him  to speak.  Unfortunately progress was slow at first until they realized one day when they were watching a Disney movie with him that he was using these films to connect with the world.  They realized this gradually through scripts and insights he provides such as explaining that his brother doesn't want to grow up like Mowgli and Peter Pan.  The film chronicles Owens life as he comes of age and transitions out of school age services into adulthood and independent living as well as how he utilizes the power of Disney to navigate and deal with this transition.  The  film interweaves animation into the film that chronicles pivotal moments of the film.

I personally loved Life Animated and found it relatable as someone on the autism spectrum.  I loved how the synopsis of the film mainly centers around Owen and how he views the world. Too often most movies and television shows are filmed from the perspective of parents and professionals giving an "outside looking in" perspective on autism.  Often these type of third person films portray autism in a negative light and how often the child is a burden on the family.  Although Owen's parents and brother were interviewed and talked about how they "lost Owen" in the beginning, the film mainly puts Owen's perspective and insights in how he sees the world over those of his parents and brother as well as others who work with him.   

The second thing I liked about the film is the positive message of embracing Owen's interest in Disney and how he uses it in a empowering way instead of  faulting him for not having interests that are  considered age appropriate according to the norms of typical society.  For Owen,  his interest in Disney allowed him to not only connect with his parents but allowed him to start a Disney club at school in which he has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills and ultimately leads him to have a girlfriend.   As someone who is a big fan of Disney and other animated cartoon characters,  I can relate to Owen in some degree even though his interest in Disney films is more all- encompassing and intense.     An example in which the film resonates with my experience is when Owen was getting ready to move into his own place. He was  starting to feel anxious and asked his dad if he can watch scenes from Dumbo to help calm himself  down.  Like Owen, I have  utilize my love of childlike cartoon characters like Hello Kitty and Frozen  to help me deal with my transition to a four year college as well as my current transition into the world of employment and the demands of the adult world.   This is the part I wish more autism experts understood in how unusual and childlike interests like Disney serve a purpose of comfort and predictability in people like me and Owen.  Too often, most autism interventions aim at eliminating these interests rather than embracing them.  Life Animated  does a good job showing how the power of special interests can be channeled in a way that allows individuals with autism to connect to the world and how it can be utilized in therapeutic interventions.  

Another way I can relate to Owen in Life Animated is his anxiety about  growing up.   I liked how the film portrays Owen when he comes of age and demonstrates from a first person perspective of what it's like to transition to adulthood.   My transitions from high school to community college, from community college to a four year University and now onto employment brings a lot of  fear and uncertainty about the future.  To see Owen going through a similar thing makes me feel like I am not the only one in my feelings.  There are not a lot of realistic first person portrayals about transitioning from the comfort and structured nature of school services to the unstructured nature of adulthood.   As someone living with autism,  I felt that Life Animated  accurately portrayed this rite of passage and gave me the validation that I longed for.  

Overall on a scale on 1 to 10, I would rate this documentary a high 10.  It is a neurodiverse friendly film which has the rare occurence of telling a story utilizing an "inside looking out" perspective that embraces the autistic way of thinking.  Whether if you have experience dealing with autism or not,  I would recommend everyone to see this film as some of the film's central message would resonate with everyone about growing up.

Here is the link to the trailer of Life Animated


Monday, August 15, 2016

Why making friends is hard when you have autism

For most neurotypical people, the nature of friendships is a rewarding experience.  Friends are usually the main people that fulfill the social need of humans.  Most people take the skill of making and keeping friends for granted.  However, imagine living a life in which making and keeping friends doesn’t come easy.  This is what my life is like every day. Since I was really little I always had a hard time making and keeping friends.  Although I went to various social skills groups and classes as well as being taught social skills in behavioral therapy to address these concerns, this will be a continuous challenge for me.    The social complexities and cues of friendship are hard to decode.  For example,  I sometimes don’t know if someone genuinely wants to hang with me or not is the hardest part of meeting new people and establishing potential friendships.  Another hurdle of why establishing friendships are hard is the fact that I have no control over the behaviors of other people.  I can only control my behaviors and what I put into the friendship, but I have no control over the actions and thoughts of others.    In the past, friends would flake out on me or change plans at the last minute which would cause me stress.   As an autistic person, any sudden changes puts me on edge and when my friends cancel out on me it throws me off.  A third challenge that making and keeping friends has for me is the concept of group outings or get-togethers.  Most young adults in their 20’s enjoy group outings such as parties and going to the bar etc.  For me, I don’t enjoy such things because of the sensory overload that accompanies me whenever I am in a room full of people.    The last challenge of making friends when you are on the spectrum is difficulty finding quality friends that meet my emotional and companionate needs as well as being sensitive to my needs as an autistic person.   I am not looking for a play companion who only does fun stuff and sticks by me for only the good times, but want friends who I can talk about my problems and challenges and is also reliable and sympathetic to my challenges.  For this reason I prefer to hang out with older and more mature people since they are more likely to meet the above criteria.   Unfortunately more often than not, it is very hard to find my ideal friend especially when living in a big and spread out metropolis like Los Angeles.   All these factors combined and the amount of effort it takes for me to maintain friendships makes this fundamental social interaction increasingly tough for me.  This is why I don’t have too many friends in my life because of the amount of maintenance and energy it takes out of me.

It can be a frustrating thing for both the autistic person and their parents and other support people for the lack of friends because of missed social opportunities.   Over the years I have developed two beliefs that have helped me feel better about my difficulties.  I will now give you these two pieces of advice.  The first piece of advice I would offer is to not stress so much about not having a lot of friends.  Instead, you should focus on having quality friends who will meet your needs and respect you for who you are.  I am grateful to find at least two good friends who accept me for who I am and are okay with my autism and its unique characteristics and limitations.  One of them is also on the spectrum herself and shares the same desire to spread autism acceptance as well as advocate for better services and accommodations for people on the spectrum in the greater society.  It is long term friendships in which one can share vulnerabilities and intimate thoughts that will matter in the long run .  Another piece of advice that I learned to adopt is focusing on having a support network or finding other people in your life besides your friends to provide emotional support if you are having trouble finding the right type of friends or your friends are not emotionally available.  For instance, I am very fortunate to have a loving family, a behavior therapist and a mentor to provide emotional support when I am going through a hard time.   The point of this blog post is to share my experience of making friendships as someone living on the spectrum and hopefully this might help others on the spectrum that are in the same boat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Addressing the employment problem with autism

According to a U.S. News article, many young adults with autism are more likely to be unemployed compared to adults with other disabilities.  This is a very glooming statistic considering that many young adults on the spectrum are considered to be very good workers and have a lot to offer as employees.  The unemployment issue with adults with autism is compounded by the lack of adequate job supports (e.g. a job coach) that can help individuals with autism spectrum disorders navigate the world of employment and the interpersonal interactions that are often required of most occupations.  This issue hits home for me as I am a newly college graduate who is embarking on the world of employment.  To make things more complicated is that most supported employment or vocational training programs are only equipped to dealing with those individuals who are more impacted by their disabilities and are only capable of securing menial jobs (e.g. working at Target or Ralphs as a box boy) .  For me,  finding a meaningful job which has a supportive and nurturing work environment is my top priority.  With that said, I will now offer some tips and solutions of how we can create more meaningful employment opportunities as well as how to create more supportive work environments so our adults on the spectrum can succeed in the work force.

1. Accommodations

The first thing I would suggest is that prospective employers need to create more accommodations for those on the spectrum that will allow them to complete work tasks successfully.    Too often, I feel that a lot of  time is spent on teaching the spectrum population to conform and integrate but it is a two way street.  Employers need to be understanding and aware of the challenges autism brings  and should take the effort in working with them and be sensitive to the limitations of those on the spectrum.  Some suggestions of useful accommodations that employers should use is visual aids and schedules such as creating task lists and also breaking down a task into step-by-step instructions that are manageable and easy to understand.  With an accommodating work environment, adults with neurodiverse conditions like myself can feel confident and become productive employees.

2.  Creating a Supportive and nurturing work culture

For me, the ideal work environment is one of collaboration in which each employee has a set of skills and experience that they can bring to the table.  Instead of having a one-way hierarchal system in which the boss has all the power and gives commands to the employees and suboardinates, I want an environment in which I can have an honest and open discussion with my supervisor and co-workers in which we can give each other feedback of how we can improve the productivity and operation of the entire business or company.  Like I said before, people on the spectrum have a lot of skills and experiences to employers and having a warm and nurturing work environment enables them to use their talents and skills.

3.  Having a nurturing supervisor
I talked a little bit about this in my previous point but a supportive boss or supervisor can make all the difference between really loving your job or hating it.  After all the boss is the one that writes your paycheck and the supervisor is the one you will be dealing with on a daily basis.  Overall, people on the spectrum generally do well with bosses and supervisors who have a generally calm demeanor and can help mentor them in gaining valuable work skills and experiences.  They allow room for mistakes or errors and treat them as learning experiences.  I personally like a supervisor who will take the time to get to know me as a person and learn about my strengths and weaknesses.

With these three main points, people on the spectrum can be productive workers who can make a living and feel good for what they do.  As Steve Silberman said at an event I attended at UCLA, "workplaces need to change to address the needs of those on the autism spectrum."

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Why autism is a feminist issue

According to some statistics by the CDC, autism is five times more common in boys than girls.   I don't know if this is a true statistic  but after reading many articles it probably has to do with a biased diagnostic criteria that caters to males.   Many of the women interviewed in these articles report that they received many psychiatric diagnoses before finally getting a diagnosis of autism.  This usually happens around young adulthood.  Perhaps the late consideration is due to the difficulty of diagnosing girls since they are better at masking their autistic symptoms than boys.  I am very lucky to have received my autism diagnosis in early childhood and did not have to go through elementary, middle and high school years unsupported and misunderstood.  Unlike the women mentioned in the articles I read, I was not good at masking my symptoms and did not mimic the social behaviors of my typical female peers very well.  I had a lot of stereotyped and repetitive behaviors and had to be taught  social skills to be able to navigate the complex social world.  Despite being diagnosed early, I still faced various challenges due to the fact that I was a female.  The social skills groups I was a part of as a child were composed mostly of boys.  In fact there was one group in which I was the only girl which made me feel incredibly isolated because I could not identify with the boys in the group.  This gender disparity in autism services and diagnosis should be given more attention. Since there are a lot more males on the autism spectrum, researchers tend to only include boys in their samples which results in less knowledge on how autism affects girls and women as well as interventions that address the unique needs of this population.     In my personal experience,  I wish more autism interventions were more relational or companionate in nature than the typical emphasis on skill building. that accompanies  traditional behavioral and social skills therapies.   What I mean by "relational" is interventions that target social and emotional development such as mentoring  with an older female peer or a older woman (either someone who is neurotypical or on the spectrum) who can act as a "big sister."   The big brother/big sister concept is already available to at-risk youth and I feel that this type of mentoring would also benefit young women and girls on the spectrum as well.   Another form of support I would like to see is for autistic women and girls to form a "sisterhood" or alliance with each other.  As a young woman on the autism spectrum, I feel it is important for us to support each other since we have a lot of shared experiences and we can lament of how hard it is to find other females on the spectrum since we are a minority in the autism community.  From writing this post, I am not saying that behavioral therapeutic interventions are not important since behavioral therapy has taught me the tools I need to navigate the school and college environment.  But, behavioral interventions are just  only one-part of the picture and cannot address all the complex emotional needs and challenges that come from being a female on the autism spectrum.    

Saturday, June 25, 2016

What Inside Out has Taught me about emotions and mixed feelings

I know this post is a year late as the hit Pixar film Inside Out was released last year.   Back then, my blog was not in existence and was not dedicated to writing at the time.  But recently this topic has been seeping through my head especially after seeing the newly released film Finding Dory and dealing with my own emotions that I decided I want to write about my insights from the film and how it relates to my life with autism (better late than never).

To give you a brief synopsis, the film centers on a girl named Riley and her emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger.  Everything seems fine in Riley's life until she and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco.  This is when everything in her world starts to turn upside down.  She has a hard time adjusting to her new life in San Francisco as she seems moody and depressed thanks to Sadness messing around with Riley's core memories. Sadness starts to feel bad for messing everything up but eventually she starts to realize that she plays a valuable role in Riley's life. What makes the movie relatable is the  central message of having mixed emotions and that it's okay to feel sad sometimes.  Oftentimes, society expects us to hold a positive attitude all the time even when we don't feel like smiling.   However, it is unrealistic to be happy and hold a positive attitude all the time.  Let's face it, life is not all good and can really suck at times ( hence the term "life is a bitch").  I would be so hard on myself for not feeling happy and positive all the time and felt there was something wrong with me anytime my head went into the negative.   However, I learned that both happiness and sadness are very important emotions.  In fact being overly happy is not good either. For instance, I personally found Joy being insensitive at times during the film especially in the scene in which Bing-Bong (Riley's imaginary friend) was distressed about Riley not remembering him in which she proceeds to tell both Sadness and him to put on a happy face.  Sadness, on the other hand  seems more in tune with Bing Bong's emotions and distress and tries to connect with him.  If we were constantly happy and peppy all the time, we would take things for granted.  Sadness and other negative emotions helps us appreciate the good times and treasure them.  It can also help us connect with others on a deeper level.  In Inside Out, it was Sadness that helped Riley appreciate and treasure her moments in Minnesota and helped her express her feelings to her parents. What Inside Out has taught me and society is that it is okay to feel vulnerable and to allow permission to feel sad.  Both sadness and happiness are both important feelings that make up the human experience.  


Monday, May 16, 2016

It takes a village to help individuals on the spectrum reach their potential

"It takes a village!" is a phrase I hear so much in the autism and special needs community.  I could not agree more with this phrase or African proverb since getting to this point in my life would not have been possible if it were not for the numerous people such as therapists, aides and family who helped me along the way.  No one can deal with a disability alone (especially autism) since you often face barriers, challenges and also feelings of isolation when living with special needs.  My support network has helped me develop the confidence and acceptance to become a self advocate.  The one person who was vital in helping me with my find my voice was my behavioral therapist who I have been seeing for 10 years.  Although at the beginning of our relationship, I was resistant to working with her  over time I realize that she helped me grow as a person and the coping strategies she has taught me such as journaling helped me develop an idea of wanting to write a book about my life.  Hence, "Working the Doubleshift: A Young Woman's Journey with Autism" was born.

Another group that is part of my "village" is the numerous aides and mentors who helped me throughout the years.  They spent a lot of time with me and helped me deal with my feelings of isolation especially during my middle and high school years.  I felt I could turn to them for advice and emotional support when my therapists were unavailable and I do not feel like turning to my parents for advice and support.

My village is constantly changing and expanding.  I will meet new people who I can add to my "support village."  Today I am happy with my current support network of family, support people and friends who will continue to support me on my journey as I continue to grow and explore what I want to do.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Autism and anxiety

Studies have shown that a vast majority of individuals on the autism spectrum suffer from anxiety disorders.  This probably has to do with many different things like awareness of differences, increased sensory sensitivities etc.   Anxiety can manifest itself differently depending on the individual and can also vary in severity.  With this blog post, I am going to talk about my own experience with anxiety and how it manifests in my life.  My journey with anxiety started during my teenage years as I started to develop awareness about my autism and that I was different from my peers.  I would constantly worry how people would perceive me and if people would like me.    When I was younger I expressed my anxious feelings through meltdowns and had perseverative behaviors (I repeated myself a lot).  As a result of not having proper control over my anxious thoughts, I had to be on medication in order for me to cope with my anxiety a lot better.  However through behavioral therapy I was able to learn coping mechanisms and techniques such as journaling, deep breathing etc. to manage my anxiety so by junior year I was able to wean off my medication completely.  This might sound like a victory story that I was able to come off my medication completely since not everyone with anxiety and autism are not able to fade their medication.  However despite all the progress I have made over the years, I still struggle with anxiety. There are still days where I can't reign my spinning thoughts and the anxiety gets the best of me. While I am not the type to experience physical symptoms related to anxiety, there were times I experienced vomiting as a result of a nervous stomach.  My anxiety tends to heighten when I am faced with a lot on my plate or face with a challenge or transition (like finding a job) in which the outcome is unknown.

How my anxiety is related to autism is that I experience social anxiety.  Unlike most people with typical social anxiety, public speaking does not bother me as I have spoken in front of audiences before.    I struggle in group social situations, because the increased pressure and demands causes me to feel anxious.  I deal with this by withdrawing which is why I might seem antisocial or come off as "aloof" and "cold" to some people.  In my case, when I am feeling anxious my autistic self comes out more because I am so focused on taming my thoughts that sometimes I may not be aware of my surroundings and behavior.   This is why I prefer to hang out with my friends in a one-on-one situation because it is less complex and I get to know people better.
Another issue in which my anxiety and autism intersect is transitions or the notion of change.  While I got better at not having a meltdown when there is change happening in my life, I still get very anxious when I am in a transition period (e.g. from high school to college) because of the unknown.  For instance, I didn't feel like it was a good idea to go to a 4-year college and live in a dorm right out of high school since the combined demands of adjusting to college and independent living would be too much for me to deal with at 18 since I was emotionally immature for my age.  I went to a community college for a few years to mature and then transfer to a 4-year college.  This is the part I feel most experts neglect when talking about the transition from high school to college.  It seems that anxiety is brushed aside in favor of skill building.  To deal with anxiety, it is best to take "baby steps" in building skills because trying to cram everything all at once can overwhelm the individual to the point that they won't be opening to learning and can lessen the chance for a successful outcome after a new experience.  Having autism and anxiety is not easy, but I have learn to accept my anxious thoughts which makes living with the two conditions more manageble.  The more I try to fight my anxiety the harder life becomes harder to deal with.   I hope I have provided an accurate depiction of what autism and anxiety looks like for people on the spectrum.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Problem with Functioning Labels

"I've never knew you were autistic if you haven't told me" or "you seem very high functioning" is a response I get all the time when I share that I have autism.  This is the effect of the functioning labels that are placed upon people with autism. Originally, functioning labels have been used in the medical  community to differentiate someone on the spectrum based on IQ, speech and level of independence,  The problem with functioning labels is that it paints a simplistic picture of someone's experience with autism and doesn't take into account of people on the spectrum who have "splintered skills" meaning depending on what areas or domains of a person's life you are looking at someone maybe considered "high functioning" but that same person will be considered "low functioning" in other domains in his/her life. To illustrate my previous point,  I am going to use a example that I have seen in other blogs such as Musing of an Aspie's post on functioning labels:  Sally is a articulate and accomplished young woman who graduated college with honors from a reputable private Christian college. She has self published a novel about her life with autism and has spoken in front of various audiences including parents at her old school district, college students as well as at conferences and senior centers.  Sally serves as a board member for a local autism organization as a self advocate.  She is also paid part time as a research assistant for a professor.   Jill is another young woman in her 20's.  She is very anxious, struggles with sensory and motor planning issues and self confidence.  Jill needs help with independent living skills, doesn't drive  and can't cook meals for herself.  To deal with her constant social anxiety and self confidence, Jill needs a one-to-one social mentor who takes her out on outings to practice social skills and get her out of the house to provide structure in her life.  Her hobbies and interests include Hello Kitty, Disney Princess and other cartoon characters that are equivalent to a little child.  When looking at these two young woman, one would consider Sally to be "high functioning" and Jill to be "low functioning."   What if I told you that Sally and Jill are the same person.  They are both depictions of my strengths and weaknesses.  This is why you can't judge and label someone as "high functioning" and "low functioning" based on what you see on the outside.  Depending on the day, context or situation or mood, sometimes you will see Sally but other times you will see Jill.

Another issue that I have with functioning labels is that those who are considered "high functioning" or less impacted with autism are considered "too capable for supports and accommodations." An example of this mindset is when people who are diagnosed with Aspergers get rejected from regional center services or the school district refuses to give a 1:1 aide to a student because she is too "high functioning" and is taking regular education classes.  This is why it is harder to find supports for those on the milder end of the spectrum especially when one ages out of the school system and into adulthood.  This is the issue that I currently face as an adult especially when it comes to employment.  There seems to be more supports and resources allocated to those who are considered more impacted because of the low functioning/high functioning dichotomy.  This is the unfair distribution of resources and supports that is rarely ever talked about publicly within autism conferences or the media yet many self advocates write about it.  I think it is time to move pass the medical classification of functioning labels and to look at people with autism as individuals and to allocate supports based on their wants and needs.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The arduous transition to adulthood

This post has been on my mind for awhile, but other topics seem to take the lead when blogging.  I want to share my experience of transitioning from high school to adulthood/college.  As we all know, services for adults are very slim compared to the amount of services and supports available to children as well as adolescents still in the school system.   In the K-12 system, numerous services and accommodations such as one-to-one aides as well as having behavioral therapies are provided through the use of a IEP (individualized Education Plan).  As a result of these services, children with autism have a huge support network dedicated to their success not only academically but socially and emotionally as well.  I was very fortunate that I had a support network of school psychologists, aides as well as a in-house autism behaviorist for high school.  Having a team of people who cared about my well-being helped me to persevere through all of the issues and anxieties that plagued me through middle and high school.  However, this all changed once I got my high school diploma six years ago.  Overnight, I went from having a lot of support to no or very little support.  The only people who were still on my support team was my privately paid behavioral therapist and my parents.  While they provided help, it was not enough to address the large amount of transition anxiety that I was facing.  As a result, I had to navigate my transition to community college on my own with very little help.  Of course there is the disability center at college but they only provided academic accommodations that was geared toward those with learning disabilities as well as physical disabilities.   During my first year in college, my mom and I checked out various day programs recommended by the regional center but most catered to those who have intellectual disabilities and were low in quality.  As a result of losing my high school support networks and the limited number of  available supports that appropriately address my needs as a college student, I went through phases of anxiety, frustration as well as depression.  The periodic depression that I went through was characteristic of most of  my college years. These phases would happen when I felt there was a lot of expectations placed upon me, when I transferrred to a four year university and lived away from home for the first time, when my aide/social mentor left last year and my therapist was not as available to see me during a hard and challenging spring semester.  Despite these obstacles I faced I was able to graduate with a college degree this past December.

My story and experience shows that transitioning to adulthood whether if you got your high school diploma and college bound or someone who aged out of the school system (you can stay in the school system until age 22) is no easy journey.  It is also important to remember that just because you had preparation in high school to deal with this transition, does not alleviate the anxiety and does not mean that you will need less support than you received in high school.  I had a lot of preparation and skills training such as fading my aide by the end of my sophomore year, having a transition IEP, learning problem solving, self advocacy skills and emotional regulation as well as having a part time job internship at a department store my senior year.   Regardless, I still needed support and if anything I needed more support once I transitioned to college.  It makes me frustrated that  experts stress that if intervention happens in childhood and adolescence that supports normalization, they will easily navigate the transition to adulthood  but neglect to mention the anxiety that comes along with life transition for those on the spectrum.  This is why it is important for more autistic adults to share their experiences and challenges of transition to college, adulthood or work and employment.  It is also important that there needs to be a wide range of supports (in terms of employment, social and recreational and housing) that meet the individual needs and wants of autistic adults.  It is also important that future interventions for adults with autism should focus on making their lives easier instead of normalizing them or dehumanize them.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My birthday trip to The Happiest Place on Earth

In celebration of my 24th birthday,  I wanted to go to Disneyland since one of my special interests is Disney characters ( in particular Frozen and Disney Princesses). I felt it was time to pay  the happiest place on earth a visit since it has been nearly a year and a half since I last went plus I wanted to take home some Frozen and Disney Princess themed souvenirs home that are made by Disney and not licensed :-).   I decided to plan on going to Disneyland last Friday because going on the weekends would result in super long lines since everyone would be out of school or work.   Since my best friend was in Korea, I asked my mentor if she would accompany me on my early birthday trip.  Luckily she agreed to come with me.  As always, I felt very anxious in anticipation of going to Disneyland, since the theme park is notorious for its crowds and that since we were limited on time, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to do everything on my list that I wanted to do.  In particular, I wanted to take my pictures with the Disney Princesses and also Elsa and Anna which is something different than what I usually do when I go to the happiest place on earth.  On past trips, I would usually go only on the rides.

Luckily, we decided to go when the park first opened at my mentor's suggestion in order to maximize our time.  It turns out that this was good planning because the lines weren't too long since the maximum amount of wait time was about 30 minutes.  We were able to hit all the rides that were on our list plus have some time to attend some meet and greets with the Disney Princesses and Star wars characters.   Not only was I am able to take pictures with some of the princesses (Cinderella and Snow White) but I was able to go to California Adventure and take a picture with Elsa and Anna which made the highlight of my day.  

Even though I don't go to Disneyland a lot, it is always a pleasure to go and am amazed at the amount of adults who express their Disney fandom outwardly.  I suddenly feel like that I am in a safe space to outwardly display my love of Frozen and Disney Princesses (by carrying and wearing merchandise) without having to worry about people judging me or looking at me funny like how I feel when I go out to other places.  Seeing the vast majority of people both young and old wearing Disney ears, carrying backpacks engrave with Disney characters on it truly shows how powerful the influence of Walt Disney's vision is across age groups. All of the sudden having autism or being an adult and all its norms, roles and responsibilities is not a relevant factor when I go to Disneyland.  That is the true meaning of the happiest place on earth is that no matter your age or circumstance, Walt Disney has a place for you in his magical kingdom.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Balance: When to comform or go out of your comfort zone versus embracing your unique autistic self

I wanted to write a post about this for awhile but I was thinking about it the last couple of days.  It is the notion of trying to find a healthy balance of going out of your autistic comfort zone and stretching yourself and also embracing your own unique quirks as an autistic person.  I am sure everyone both neurotypicals and people with autism and other disabilities faces this same dilemma of trying to balance one's life.  I am constantly looking for that "balance" between learning new skills and expanding my horizons and embracing my own unique autistic identity.  This has been very challenging.  On the one hand, it is good to go out of your comfort zone and learn new skills because it makes your life a lot richer.  If I wasn't encouraged to go out of my comfort zone, I wouldn't have achieved what I had so far such as going to college, living in a dorm, making a new friend etc.  Left to my own devices, I would have isolated myself and would have stayed home all day.  Let's face it, in order to grow as human beings we need to work on skills to develop our full potential or else we wouldn't get stuff done.  Unfortunately, this involves  having to do things we don't necessarily want to do or is out of our comfort zone. As it pertains to autism, sometimes we need to encourage our spectrum population to get out of their shells and experience the world and make them socialize with others.  At the same time,  it is overwhelming to go out our comfort zones and learn new skills all the time.  If my time was spent on activities that involve skill building and going out of my comfort zone 24/7, life would be pretty miserable for me.  There were times in my life where I felt the majority of  my time was spent out of my comfort zone to the point it became a miserable thing for me.  This was the case when I lived in a dorm in college. While living in a dorm, I felt I had to work and go out of my comfort zone for everything from social activities to making sure my room was clean and making sure my homework is done.  This issue is a separate blog post in of itself, but the point is because I had a lot of added responsibilities that demanded me to go out of my comfort zone became overwhelming for me.  Now, people would compliment me and say I was brave for doing this and it made me grow as a person.  But at the same time, they didn't know all the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and depression that I had to endure.  Too often, a lot of time is spent packing as many activities that demands going out of the comfort zone and work on our spectrum population to the point that it overwhelms them.  Parents and professionals gets so worried of missed opportunities or that their child is going to be a hermit all day that they want to occupy their day as much as possible.  It is important for individuals on the spectrum to be given down time or activities that don't demand much from them.  For instance, if an individual needs time to stim or flap his hands, he should be given that opportunity because those behaviors are important part of maintaining regulation.     Just like typical people, people on the spectrum need time during the week that is not spent on going out of the comfort zone or doing undesirable activities.  

Going back to the main topic of this post, how do you find that healthy balance.  My advice is that only go out of your comfort zone if it's going to get you one step toward the goals you set for yourself.  Don't do activities that are out of your comfort zone if it's not related to what you ultimately want to do in life.  For instance,  I am not a particularly fond of group outings as a person who is introverted. However, if there is a group event that is related to my goal of ultimately becoming a self advocate, I would go out of my comfort zone and attend that event because I know that I would meet people that would ultimately help me further my goals as a self advocate.  I know it can be challenging to find that healthy balance between going out of your comfort zone and embracing your current self, but once you do find that balance your life would become a whole lot richer.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Independence anxiety and the role of Interdependence

In this post,  I am going to talk about one topic that is very personal and brings me angst.  It is about being independent.  Now from reading this post, you might think what is wrong with being independent.  After all being independent brings a lot of freedoms and you don't have to worry about relying on others as much.  If you ask any of my friends, they enjoy the independent lifestyle and it is a goal that everyone in society strives for.  In fact, in a number of autism books, experts stress the importance in striving for self sufficiency.  But does anyone understand the amount of ambivalence and anxiety that some people on the spectrum  have about independence? For years, the thought of independence and having increased demands placed on me has caused me a lot of anxiety.  In middle school, no one could bring up the word "independence" to me.  Back then, it would cause me to get so anxious that I would throw a meltdown.  Yet, it was highly stressed by my support people and it was a goal engraved in all my school IEPs. For example, in order to be prepared for college, I had to fade my aide which brought a whole lot of "independence anxiety" (a separate blog post on this shortly).  Let me share why being independent causes my stomach to tighten up.  The world is so unpredictable to a person like me.  To ask me to navigate this world by myself  without the security and the comfort of others is very scary since the outside world is not familiar with autism and would less likely be sympathetic to my thought processes of how I see the world.   I know that it is important to go out of the comfort zone and if people want to take you seriously, having independence skills is important but understand that there is a lot of unpredictability that is associated with being self sufficient.
So what is the solution of how I resolved my angst of being independent: The concept of interdependence.  I first heard about this concept when I attended a conference by a therapist who specializes in RDI.  He stressed that too many experts stress the concept of "independence" but in reality we should stress the concept of interdependence.  If you don't know what interdependence is, it is based in the principle of helping each other and that all humans (both disabled and nondisabled alike) are reliant on others to help them.  Sometimes in the autism world, we forget this principle of interconnectedness of human beings when we try to push independence on children and adults on the spectrum.  The concept of interdependence helped resolved some of my anxiety about independence (although not all) since it makes me realize that I am not alone on my journey.  I know not everyone on the spectrum shares my angst of being independent but I want to share my perspective on the matter in case there are others on the spectrum who face the same issue.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Autism, neurodiversity and why we can't make blanket statements

There has been a lot of controversy regarding if we should embrace the concept of neurodiversity when it comes to autism.  On the one hand, neurodiversity is a great idea.  I believe people with autism have unique gifts and talents that  should be embraced and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in human society.  Throughout my adolescence,  I always thought society viewed autism as a disease because of the false assumption that vaccines are the cause of autism.  It also didn't help that there were some pro-cure organizations that helped perpetrated the attitude that autism is something to fear. This is why there has been a lot of money that is being spent on research looking at the cause of autism with the possibility of finding a cure.  The problem of  looking at autism as a disease rather than a difference is that it perpetuates the view that ALL autistic individuals are" broken" and incapable which has resulted in negative stereotypes about the condition (e.g. "people with autism lack empathy).  Growing up, I became aware of these negative stereotypes about autism in the books I read that were written by parents and professionals and also on the media.  The way that these clients or children were depicted in these books was negative and the format was framed as a instruction manual in a way that can be applied to all people with autism.   Negative stereotypes about autism are perpetuated by the media by interviewing families who's children are more severely impacted by highlighting how autism"has taken their child" away from them".  All of these factors combined created a view in which autism is something that needs to be combated.  Unfortunately, this attitude angers a lot of autistic self advocates since they believe that autism is a part of who they are and not something that should be normalized or cured.   We want society  to see us as people with feelings with different strengths and weaknesses.  This is where neurodiversity comes in.  Self-advocates like myself like the term neurodiversity because it humanizes people on the autism spectrum and recognizes diversity and embracing different ways of thinking.  The embacing view of neurodiversity was not stressed enough when I was younger and I am glad that people are starting to embrace autism today.

However, then there are those on the autism spectrum who are severely impacted who are self injurous, engage in fecal smearing , have seizures and other activities that makes life more difficult for themselves and their families.   In this case, one is in a difficult position of embracing autism since it causes so much pain for the individual and their family members who have to take care of them.  This is why parents in this situation are resentful of self advocates since they can't understand where they are coming from when they want to" cure autism."  This is why there is such a divide in the autism community because there are those who don't want to cure autism and who believe it should be embraced and then there are those who want to cure autism because it is the reason why their child/ren are suffering. The problem is that advocates on both sides make blanket statements thnking that their opinion is reflective to the lives of all people with autism.  They miss the fact that people with autism are all different.  There is the saying in the autism community "if you meet one person with autism you've met one person with autism."  We all need to be sympathetic to other people's situation or viewpoints.  This means parents of more severely impacted children on the spectrum need to be mindful that when they say "autism should be cured"can hurt the feelings of competent self advocates who can speak out for themselves and self-advocates need to understand the challenges and hardships families face when dealing with a relative that is self-injurous and is aggressive towards others.   This is my take on this issue and like I said earlier on this post I embrace neurodiversity but am sympathetic to parents who have hard lives because of the challenges associated with their child's autism.  This is why we can't make blanket statements regarding autism since it is a spectrum after all.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The problem with the term "Age Appropriate" regarding autism

This is a topic that tends to be a soap box of mine meaning that this a topic  I am very passionate about.  In the past there has been concerns by parents and professionals of getting their students or child into developing more interests that are "age appropriate" in order for them to fit in with their peers.  This gets emphasized during adolescence as teens abandon interests from their childhood and develop more mature interests.  Parents tend to get concerned at this point because they see that their own son or daughter are still clinging onto interests from childhood and worry that they will miss important social opportunities because of their child's immature interests.   I've read numerous articles and books about this topic and how it is recommended on gradually "fading"  childhood interests and replacing it with more age appropriate activities.   Others recommend having a neurotypical "peer buddy"  mentor the autistic teen into developing more typical interests that are more appropriate for middle or high schoolers.   These tactics that are used to address the issue of age appropriate interest are part of a broader viewpoint that since people with autism struggle so much with social situations it is the reasons why their child cannot develop the same interests as their peers.  In other words, this viewpoint stresses that people with autism are incompetent and don't know any better and the "disability" is the reason why the teen or young adult still clings to childhood comforts like Hello Kitty or Sesame Street.

The problem with the term age appropriate is that it is an arbitrary term that is rigidly use in order to keep people in their place in society to support someone else's view of normality.  However the application of this term has the effect of oppressing other forms of individual expression and self identity.  This is exactly how I felt during my own adolescence.  When I was in middle school, I had a huge preoccupation with Hello Kitty, Disney Princesses and Barbie.  I  use to wear a Barbie hat to school and out in the community (the only time I would wear a hat) along with Disney Princess T-shirts.  I was happy with my interests and choices and didn't give a damn of what my people thought or what my peers were into.  I knew exactly what my peers were into (at my school they were into Abercrombie and Fitch and Juicy) but I just didn't care.  However my mother was one of those parents who became concern that I was still into wearing Princess shirts and my juvenile interests as I was going into high school while the other girls were moving on to more mature interests like fashion and makeup.  She was concerned that I didn't have a fashion sense and I would be limited socially because of it.  This was one of the reasons why my behaviorist (who is lovely by the way) was brought in to work with me.   I know my mom had good intentions since she wanted the best for me and wanted to make sure that I was able to be functional socially.  However, I did not perceive it that way and I felt that having "juvenile" interests like Hello Kitty and Disney was wrong.  Perhaps what really lowered my self esteem was when my mom and I were futured in an article on Newsweek  magazine in 2006 which was the fall of my freshman year of high school.  In that article,  my mom discussed how I was a high school student and how that developing more teen interests was a difficult task for me because of my autism.  That article also painted me in a light of "incompetence" and that autism was the cause for me of liking Disney Princess and Hello Kitty rather than considering it as a part of my individuality.   This article really affected my self esteem and being comfortable of my own identity.  As a result I developed a negative and self destructive script in my head that I still carry with me (that  I am slowly learning to let go) into my young adulthood that it is wrong to like cartoon characters or activities  designed for children because it is not considered "age appropriate" and that people will judge me for it.

The good news is that society is slowly changing.  Years later in college, I rediscovered my interests of Hello Kitty and Disney Princess which gave way into me liking My Little Pony, Frozen and Monster high.  The difference between today and back in my middle school days is that there are more adults and teens  both disabled and nondisabled alike who are open about liking Hello Kitty, Frozen etc.  This is evident in the pages I follow on instagram which is the beauty of social media.  I even get compliments when I carry my Hello Kitty purse instead of eyerolls and judgmental comments.    There is also evidence of this paradigm shift as I see more character shirts for adults in stores.  Occasionally the negative script I developed in my head criticizing my choices in liking cartoon characters resurfaces but I am learning to "let it go" thanks to coaching.   The take away from this personal story and this blog post is that when we focus so much on developing age appropriate we sometimes oppress the person's right to express their self identity and individuality and that we forget that there are adults and teens out there without autism who like cartoon characters which shows that childlike interests are not exclusive to autism.  A person's interests and hobbies does not determine their maturity level since there are a lot of successful and accomplished people (including your blogwriter who has a college degree in psychology) who are big kids of heart.  I think that it's time we move past the term "age appropriate" in the autism community and to embrace each person with autism and their interests and hobbies regardless if its developmentally on target or not.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Being an Asian American and a female with autism

I never written about my experiences about what's it like being both a woman and a person of color on the autism spectrum.  But I think it's a topic that's important as both females and ethnic minorities are vastly underrepresented in the autism community.  There is also less talk of how these identities intersect and how the experiences and perceptions of autism are different due to intersectionality.  Let me start by saying that I am one of the few Asian American women (or part of an ethnic minority groups for that matter) who is very active in the autism community.  Most of the self-advocates I know are white.  While I am happy that there are autism self advocates who can tell their story, I feel sad at the same time that there aren't so many others with intersecting identites (e.g. being part of an ethnic minority group and a woman) out there telling there stories.  In addition to my personal experiences with being autistic,  I had to deal with marginalization both as being part of an Asian American but also being a female and the negative stereotypes associated with it.  I never really thought that hard about these identities until I started taking college classes that dicuss marginalization due to both gender and race.  This is when I began thinking deeply about how these statuses began affecting my life.   The vast majority of people on the autism spectrum that I personally know are mostly male.  I can honestly say that the boys with autism are different from me in terms of interests and the way autism is express.   I sometimes wished I knew more girls on the autism spectrum and that interventions for people on the autism spectrum had a component of emotional support instead of being ( there will be a future blog post of what I mean by this in the future) based on just learning skills.    I also have to deal with stereotypes associated with traditional gender roles that  conflicts with my autism like being into fashion and trends and the expectation that I have to be social.  Having autism, social interactions are hard because of my social anxiety and I am also an introvert (another post on this will be discussed later).  Since girls and women are expected to be social, it is hard to conform to this stereotype and the negative perceptions that I would viewed as cold and uncaring for not conforming.  

Now I will discuss my view of autism in terms of my race.  I cannot speak about the African American or Latino perspectives since I don't have much knowledge  about those two ethnic minority groups but I will talk about the Asian American perspective on autism spectrum disorder.  What I am aware is that the Asian American community tends to be silent when it comes to special needs which include autism.  They tend to not want to get involved in the autism community because it's a sign of personal shame and all about the honor system.    The reason why I am so open about my diagnosis is because my parents were not the typical Asian family.  My mother was involved in numerous autism groups and was dedicated to making sure I got the best interventions and services that will help me thrive.   However where my Asian American identity intersects with my identity of having autism is that I want to be very open about my condition but at the same time the Asian American community (especially the Japanese American community) is not very open and accommodating about my disability.  This is why I maintain sort of distance from the Asian American community.  These stories of double marginalization in addition to the autism diagnosis are seldomly shared and how the expectations due to one's race and gender can conflict with autism and how it is hard to identify with people of either groups because they don't share the same experiences.  I am happy that I can share both my experiences of being a woman and a person of color on the autism spectrum.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A very interesting article

I was looking through facebook today and found that one of my friends shared an article.  Link attached here:

When reading this article, I had a lot of mixed feelings about it.  On one hand, I sympathize with   this individual and his frustrations of being stuck at El Camino College (a community college).  Going through college, I too have been frustrated with the lack of services and supports and the demands of college academic work.  On the other hand, I don't want people to come to the conclusion that autism is linked to violent behavior.  What was particularly disturbing about this piece was that he attributed his autism to him making violent statements. I am concerned  that when people read this article, they might think just that.  In the past, people have made faulty conclusions when reading articles involving a shooter that the autism caused these guys to shoot.    I just want to let people know that most people on the autism spectrum are not violent.  This guy clearly has some other mental illness along with autism.  For me, I am afraid of guns, violence, shooting and blood etc.  I am afraid of weapons especially knives and don't have the coordination to use a gun or knife.  Most of the people on the autism spectrum I personally know are not violent individuals.  Thus, it is important to look at each individual on the autism spectrum as a unique individual and that this is an isolated incident.  Another thing that needs to be taken away from this article is that there needs to be more support services for adults on the autism spectrum especially for those who are in college or on the milder end of the spectrum.  I cannot tell you enough how many times I have felt frustrated, depressed, lonely and anxious throughout my five and a half years in adulthood because of lack of support services that meet my needs.  How I got through is that I got creative (will talk more about these methods in future posts).   If this guy got the help he needed that would help him realize his potential, this incident might not have happened in the first place.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My first blog post and introduction

Hi All!

This is my first blog post documenting my life and challenges with autism.  I always wanted to write a blog and actually started a couple times but wasn't sure how if I can keep up with followers and how I can have people comment on my blog posts.  Now that I have some time since I am out of school,  I want to restart a blog to document on my experiences and my opinions as a young woman with autism in her early 20's.
 To talk a little bit about myself, I am a 23 year old (almost 24) young adult who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four.  I graduated high school in 2010, and attended community college for three years before transferring to a four year university in 2013.  I recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology in December 2015 and now am embarking on the road to future employment and figuring out how to structure my free time.  Going through college and adulthood has not been easy as I had to deal with the loss and lack of adequate support services.  There were times that I have faced periods of isolation, anxiety and depression during the last five and a half years of college.  However I was able to persevere and manage to get through all these hardships to obtain my degree.

 This blog will cover a variety of topics pertaining to my current life such as college, adulthood, friendships, getting a job, and employment. I also will discuss my life in the past such as my high school years and middle school years.   The purpose of writing this blog and being a self-advocate is to redefine what's normal in society's terms and to challenge the prevailing norms.