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.