Thoughts on The Good Doctor (so far) From Someone With Asperger’s

good doctor title

The reactions from the autism community in regards to ABC’s latest hit series The Good Doctor are divisive at best. As someone who was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I want to give my own two cents on this show.

I don’t usually watch medical dramas. The only medical-themed show I ever watched was Scrubs and one episode of House. So no, I’m not gonna compare this show to House. Sorry, Hugh Laurie fans.

What I will say is that I think the character of Shaun is a great positive portrayal of someone on the autism spectrum. And while I understand that the character of Shaun Murphy might be better portrayed by someone who is actually on the autism spectrum, I have to give props to Freddie Highmore for all the work he does into making Shaun Murphy into a believable person and less like Rain Man. In the first episode, I immediately related to the last scene, when Shaun asked his colleague, Claire, about when exactly she was lying to him since her behavior towards him changed from not trusting him to trying to be his friend.

I think this show has a great supporting cast as well. Dr. Glassman is great as the well-meaning mentor and “father figure” to Shaun, but his approach is a bit too “helicopter parent.” Dr. Andrews is so far my least favorite character. His ambitions are clear, but he’s inconsiderate and unrealistic in the way he looks at Shaun, especially in the most recent episode. I’m not saying that Shaun should get any special treatment, but given that Shaun doesn’t drive and that recently, he had a very public mental breakdown, some leeway should be given for his frequent tardies and his recent absence.

Dr. Claire Brown reminds me a lot of Carla from Scrubs. Half the internet ships her with Shaun, but I see her as more of a sister-type, trying to understand Shaun without talking down to him. The reason I don’t ship Shaun with Claire is because Claire is already sleeping with Dr. Kalu and is attracted to Dr. Melendez. Speaking of, these two doctors are honestly the more realistic types of ally/antagonists compared to Dr. Andrews. Dr. Melendez is a jerk, but it’s mostly because he’s task-oriented and focused on getting the job done as best as he can. Dr. Kalu is the opportunist “renegade” who isn’t afraid to think outside the box, but he can be a bit too headstrong and he’s not always a good friend to Shaun.

One character who does turn out to be a good friend for Shaun is Lea, the girl next door. (Side note: Dear writers, do any of you own a gaming system? The meet cute could’ve worked if she was playing XBox and needed double As. Please keep that in mind, thank you very much.) Aside from Claire, Lea is the only major character who doesn’t talk down to Shaun or acts like a helicopter parent. Whether she’s the best influence is up for debate, given the most recent episode, but daredevil driving antics aside, I like her. She treats Shaun like any other normal human being, challenging him and actually listening to him, but in a way that he feels comfortable with.

Back to Shaun, though. I love that he is open to learning about social interaction. I love that he can handle himself when it comes to surgery and handling chaotic situations like an emergency room triage (see episode “Not Fake”). His best moments with patient interaction can be seen in “Point Three Percent,” “22 Steps,” and “Sacrifice.” The emotional meltdown he had in “Sacrifice” was also very realistic.

If you’re wondering, by the way, why Shaun can handle an emergency room triage, with all the sirens and voices talking over each other, but not handle trying to stand up to Glassman about going to therapy, it’s my personal theory that Shaun is INTP. He can compartmentalize stuff that happens to him, but it also includes not talking about what he wants outside of simple, material things. Granted, the meltdown is partially Glassman’s fault because instead of just trusting that Shaun handled the attempted robbbery, he keeps trying to find people who can take care of Shaun. It’s well-meant, but inconsiderate.

There are some things about Shaun that surprise me, however. I’m surprised that Shaun has never met someone with autism aside from himself. Granted, I had the privilege of going to a support group with other people on the autism spectrum.

What I can’t imagine, however, is that Shaun never really listened to music. It would be believable if he doesn’t like mainstream music, but I can’t imagine that Dr. Glassman didn’t look into the connection between music therapy and autism if he was really set on helping Shaun out. I do buy, however, that Shaun remembers things by smell. Sensory awareness is very much tied to having autism, especially tying memories to certain things. For me, I remember visual stuff: books I read, various movies/tv shows/web videos I watched. I’m glad that Lea introduced music into Shaun’s life.

The most recent episode, by the way, was awesome as it was crazy. The impulsive road trip, along with the bit of reckless driving and subsequent drinking, would probably scare any parent, but resonates with anyone who just wanted to get away from it all during a bad time. I know I’ve had that desire in the past to just go somewhere after something bad happened. I’ll admit that the driving part was definitely dangerous, but I’m just glad nobody got hurt. Mostly, I’m glad that Shaun finally found someone he could love. Lea might be a bit of the “manic pixie dream girl,” but she’s encouraging Shaun to live for himself.

I will give my overall thoughts of The Good Doctor once the first season ends. For now, I really, really like this show and can’t wait to see what happens next!

Girl Meets I Am Farkle: An Episode Review

Let me state for the record that Girl Meets World is the only show I watch on Disney Channel. I grew up watching Boy Meets World with my family. These days, Disney Channel shows covering heavy topics would normally make my skin crawl, but I trusted Girl Meets World with the issues given that they’ve done really well so far. They’ve shown the importance of kids getting more politically involved, why it’s important to trust your friends, and that you don’t have to grow up so fast.

In “Girl Meets I Am Farkle,” Farkle Minkus, son of Stewart Minkus and Jennifer Bassett, is tested to see if he has Asperger’s Syndrome. At first, I didn’t like how Riley and Maya reacted. Lucas, of course, was cool-headed, doing the research of what the symptoms of Asperger’s are. But Riley and Maya didn’t want Farkle to be diagnosed with it. Honestly, though, I understand why. They were scared that Farkle would be taken away from them. After all, having autism/Asperger’s could mean that Farkle could change schools. The important part, though, was that Farkle wanted his friends and family with him as he waits for the results.

As Lucas listed the symptoms for Asperger’s Syndrome, I realized that another character in the show actually had Asperger’s, but Farkle didn’t. As someone who was diagnosed around the age of 12, I already knew which actually had Asperger’s. Farkle, after all, is openly affectionate and always knows how he feels. Even though I’ve always been in touch with my feelings, I have major personal space issues. And I was awkward with flirting growing up. There’s a character who shows issues with hugging and flirts awkwardly. Spoilers: It’s not Farkle.

I love how the adults approached the issue as well. Jennifer was originally a minor antagonist who grew up into a major knockout. She and Stewart are so used to being in control, but parenthood is a whole new world for them. But they were also ready to help Farkle deal with whatever happens.

The best part of this episode, though, was Cory’s speech about labels. “Don’t live under a label. It just gets in the way of who you are.” Amen to that, my brother! At the end of the episode, Farkle talks about Asperger’s as a label and it turns out (non-surprisingly) that he doesn’t have Asperger’s. The moral of the story is that people are really defined by their actions. And even though Riley, Maya, and Lucas were scared of losing Farkle, they studied Asperger’s and wanted to be there for their friend.

The character who actually has Asperger’s is a recurring character named Isadora Smackle. And yes, her behaviors in this episode are exaggerated for the sake of comedy, but honestly, she is a genuine love interest for Farkle. Riley, Maya, and Lucas see her as a friend and wanted her to be part of their clique. The important thing, though, is that Isadora is shown to be open to love and affection from Farkle.

The episode ends with Riley asking “Who is actually normal? And who actually wants to be?” Isadora was the only one who wanted to be normal, much like others on the spectrum. But to be honest, there is no such thing as normal.

Could the episode have treated Asperger’s better? Probably. But I’m considering the reality that it’s a 30 minute sitcom targeted to middle schoolers and younger kids. It wasn’t the “family” show on a regular network the way “Boy Meets World” was. It was miles better than Glee, though which had a character who diagnosed herself and used it as an excuse to act like a jerk. Isadora Smackle is an actual person, not a walking stereotype. And this episode is at least enough to get the kids asking questions and do further research.

So kudos to you, Girl Meets World writers. You made this adult Aspie proud of her childhood.

The Courage to Change

leap of faith

One thing commonly associated with people who have autism and Asperger’s Syndrome is that they have a harder time adjusting to change than normal people. In the past few months, however, I’ve gone out of my way to try new things which led to changes in my social life. There have also been some changes that happened outside of my control, some good and some bad. As much as I grit my teeth over the bad changes, I still try to make the best out of it.

I don’t think the fear of change or the difficulty of adapting to change applies to just people who have autism/Asperger’s syndrome. I think all people to some extent have a hard time dealing with change. Human beings have control issues, especially Americans. We like making plans and making idols out of them. As often as people complain about the daily grind, once something, anything happens to shake it up, they suddenly miss the boring commute.

And yet, if we never change, if we never have any sort of trials or obstacles to deal with, we lose the opportunity to grow. The side effects of staying in “safe spaces” can easily be seen in college campuses today. Comedians are reluctant to do gigs there because many people feel like their humor is offensive. People with mindsets that are different from the majority opinion are treated with hostility. There is a major problem with that kind of mentality: they’re not allowing the students to grow up. Instead, everyone gets babied and told they’re special snowflakes, which isn’t gonna help them in the real world. Yes there are people who can get away with living in a victim mentality, but it’s not exactly a great way to live. And in the long run, will that entitled, bratty, woe-is-me behavior really pay off? I don’t think so.

I’m not saying that it’s easy to listen to different viewpoints. There’s a reason I avoid politics when I can, after all. I’m just saying that people need to be open to change and open to being able to laugh at themselves and admit that sometimes they’re wrong. Having the courage to change takes humility and that particular virtue is hard to find these days.

I think the fear of humility comes from the fact that most people don’t understand what humility is. Humility may involve some shame and embarrassment, but it doesn’t always. More often than not, humility is just knowing that you’re not always going to be right. That somebody knows more than you and that you have to learn from them. That you’re not a special snowflake, but at the same time, it’s okay that you’re not. Humility is the first step to embracing change and developing courage. And eventually, you’ll find that you’ve become fearless.

The Best Words in the Best Order: Why Poetry?

April is National Poetry Month. According to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poetry is the best words in their best order.

But in the days of Top 40 music and young adult novels about post-apocalyptic worlds, what place does poetry have in the world?

It’s kind of like asking what purpose beauty has in the world, to be honest. Poetry, to me, is one of the most beautiful forms of storytelling. It doesn’t always come in the form of a romantic sonnet or a funny limerick, but poetry always tells a beautiful story. Sometimes, it tells the author’s story or it tells a story of someone completely fictional or a situation or some kind of idea.

In spite of what some people believe, people with autism are capable of being creative. It’s just a matter of figuring out the right creative outlet. For me, it came in the form of writing. And although the neatness of my handwriting is somewhat subjective, I always had a love of words.

Like any angsty teen, I wrote my fair share of poems. I even won a high school poetry contest. But until I graduated college, I always thought that I had to be at a high emotional state in order to write what I thought was good poetry.

It turns out that poetry, no matter how lame it can be, is still a wonderful form of expression. Yes, even bad poetry can be beautiful, as evidence by this one from a certain bloody awful poet:

My soul is wrapped in harsh repose,
Midnight descends in raven-colored clothes,
But soft… behold!
A sunlight beam
Butting a swath of glimmering gleam.
My heart expands,
’tis grown a bulge in it,
Inspired by your beauty… 
Effulgent

Oh it’s bad. But I’ve seen worse, trust me on that. In spite of the bad rhyme at the end, the poem started off well. And I’m not just saying that because I have a crush on the character who wrote it.

Take a look at one of my first poems, written back when I was 12 years old. This was written the year that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, but at the time I had no idea.

 

Blind and Naive

 

Sometimes I leave the world

When I duel with my cards

Or when I’m reading comics and magazines

When I omit the world, I quickly return

To hear the sounds of unfriendly critiques

Why are they so naive of the beautiful world beyond their own?

Blind are the kids for they aren’t full-grown

I yearn for the world that I love.

They’ll never learn, they’ll never know.

The “perfect” ones are trapped within their world

Not knowing of an outside place

They talk of war and say

“Those frightened are wimps.”

I am undecided.

I remember what

A famous fallen angel sings

“I am beautiful, no matter what they say.”

Those words are etched in my heart,

And then I know who I am.

I wish that they’d see through my eyes

And see the beauty of a cloudy day,

But they are what they are…

Blind and naïve.

 

There is a lot of irony in this poem, given that I was actually blind to the fact that I had a neurological disorder and had the naivete of your average sheltered 12-year-old Catholic school girl. And yet my 8th grade teacher shared it with parents of autistic children and teens and she told me it resonated with them.

Compare that to a poem I wrote this year that’s also about having autism. This time, I have the perspective of a young adult and have been aware of my autism/Apserger’s for about ten years.

 

The Autistic Machine

 

Many people have this misconception

That autism is a mental illness

The media diagnoses,

playing doctor and psychiatrist

Even while carrying on the belief

That people only use 10% of their brains

In reality, our brains are always active

Even when we sleep

Such is the case with autism

 

For autism is not a disease

Created from a brain’s faulty software

Instead autistic brains are merely different hardware

Wired differently, with different programming

It’s like the average human brain is a PC

and those with autism are Macs and Linuxes

 

Some people with autism

are more user friendly than others

Some of us are great with many languages

While others lose translation in similes and metaphors

Some function well in schools and offices

While others struggle to even speak

Some can handle rooms of thousands

While others hide at the sounds of strangers

What we have in common is how we are seen

For none of us could be perceived as normal

 

I am one of these “machines,”

Programmed with Asperger’s

I am somewhat user friendly

But I only work for certain types of people

I open up more with common interests

Instead of wasting time with small talk

I’m more comfortable with friends

And strangers who share a love for things

Than with my family, who speaks in their own language

Or with acquaintances who talk of people instead of ideas

I’d rather hide in the anonymity of the internet

Than look a person I don’t know in the eyes.

 

There are those who are surprised

And others who’d rather judge

But the ones I love the most

Are the ones who listen when I ramble

Those who I can be with

Without saying a word

Those who share my love

For ordinary things like books and tea

And extraordinary stories, people, and words

 

When I can be myself

I am no longer a machine

I come into life

I dance and sing

Not like a robot

But as a human being

Because autistics aren’t machines

We are as human as everyone else

 

I’ll leave your interpretation of my current poetry up to you, but I hope to share more poetry on this blog throughout this month.

The Monster In Me: A Poem

As a child I wanted to explore everything

Wanting to understand all I saw

Following stories of scientists and detectives

My role models were the kinds that wore uniforms and lab coats

But one day I got lost

I followed a rabbit where I shouldn’t have gone

 

All of a sudden, I started falling downward

Down, down, down

In love

In drama

In worlds far beyond my reach

I got lost in the stories

And in the stories I found a monster

The monster lashed out at my own friends

for not acting in a certain way

The monster despised the world I lived in,

preferring the chaos of her wonderland

Illusions became more valuable than gold

And all I could do was write

Write the monster’s laments as if they were my own

How little did I know, how quickly did I grow

 

In a large barren dust bowl,

my monster told me her name

Autism was her species

Aspergers, her claim to fame

She wasn’t the result of faulty software

but built by the creator with a different hardware

She processed my thoughts, filtering them like coffee

Strong and harsh and bitter at times

until I added some milk or some artificial sweet

to make some version of me complete.

I denied this monster’s existence for a long time

Still lost in the harsh blinding sun

Far from what I used to know.

I put her in a drawer,

hoping she’d be forgotten,

falling for the lies of different monsters instead.

These monsters came

in the form of handsome men

And it wasn’t until they were gone

that I realized they never saved me.

 

My monster came back with a vengeance

as I transitioned from high school to college.

We walked on a tightrope

between the dark wonderland we knew

and a land of a thousand stars that shined in the distance

My monster and I fell down again

but landed in a safety net

in the land of a thousand stars

Stars that shone brightly in the dark, black sky

But I loved each new day as much as the night.

I started introducing my monster to my friends

who were surprised she even existed.

Little did either of us know

that this starry paradise had hunters in the foxholes.

 

One night, I was caught in a tidal wave

and found myself naked for all to see

My monster took over and started shrieking

singing out her agony

We drowned in a torrent of negative thoughts

with no one to save us

Nobody helped.

As the tide washed out,

the Queen of Foxhunters took us to court

and commanded my monster to chop off her own head.

Instead, we ran as far as we could

away from the heartless queen and her hunters.

 

We made a plan to work together.

The monster learned to be more like the others

And I hid safely inside a white tent

until a knight in shining armor

came and asked me to dance with him.

My monster was puzzled by this new man

And sometimes she would cover my mouth.

While I worried about why my white knight

seemed to be walking a tightrope of his own.

 

Then all of a sudden

Everything started falling away

Changing too fast for either me or my monster to handle.

The white knight got on his horse and rode off without us

Then we lost a beloved friend

Then we had to leave the starry land

No more games in the clean, white tent.

No solid ground, no safety net.

 

Wandering around, we got stuck in a rut

Lost in a maze with no way out

A little maiden in the maze started stringing us along

But when we came to a dead end,

the maiden became a minotaur

My monster couldn’t handle the minotaur’s strength

With a pierce of a horn, my monster lost

She fell down again

Shattered

Crying

And I limped along with my monster to safety

Not looking back, fearing the minotaur’s chasing.

 

Out of the labyrinth, we got caught in a storm

Constant rain pouring down on us.

But we stayed in the storm and let it wash us clean

It became the source of our growth, the source of our healing

The water healed my monster and stopped the bleeding.

Then the rain was gone and the sun came out.

I saw a reflection of the monster in the water

Except the reflection was that of my face

The monster was inside me all along.

Like a softer Hyde to my little Jekyll

or a female version of that big green thing

The monster’s still in me, being sought by the hunters

Too bad they don’t know I have the strength to protect her

After all, she’s a part of me

 

She’s the armor I wear and the tears that I shed

She’s the sword in my hand and the thoughts in my head

She’s my curiosity, insatiable in her hunger

Devouring knowledge and building new dreams

She’s a part of me without being all of me

And I wouldn’t want it any other way

 

Where I Stand On The Spectrum

My brother linked me to a theory video that speculated that the Super Smash Bros games are told from the POV of an autistic child. I highly praise the maker of this video for doing a lot of research and addressing a lot of the misconceptions about autism, especially the stuff he said about Autism Speaks. (Long story short: Autism Speaks sucks! Don’t support them!) That being said, I wanted to elaborate about where I stand on the autistic spectrum because some of the things in the video, as stated by the video creator himself, don’t apply to everyone diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s.

As of this entry, Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer considered as separate from autism. However, I still consider myself as having Asperger’s because some people who have autism don’t have as many symptoms as others. In other words, I consider myself more high-functioning. Warning in advance: Long post is long.

First of all, I don’t consider myself a savant of any sort. I can memorize some things, but they’re usually associated with things I obsess over. For example, I have memorized lines from the episodes of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries word for word. As far as empathy is concerned, I definitely have the ability to empathize with people as well as fictional characters. When I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I understood Spike’s actions in Season 5 and 6 in spite of a good number of fans hating Spike because he came off as a stalker. (With good reason. He was.)

One symptom that’s commonly associated with Asperger’s and autism is connected to language. The video said that someone with autism could either be great with languages or be completely unable to understand sarcasm and metaphor or fall somewhere in between. I have a very offbeat sense of humor and sometimes, when I’m hanging out with my friends, I have problems telling the difference between them being serious or them teasing me. It’s gotten better, though, because as I get to know my friends, it gets easier for me to discern the difference in their tones. Watching people on TV and on the internet also helped me understand social cues better because the nonverbal actions and tones are easier to distinguish.

Another symptom associated with most people on the autistic spectrum is a need to have a routine and hate having changes in said routine. While I had a structured environment in schools, it’s not as easy for me to develop routines on my own nowadays since I’m still looking for work. I used to have a routine by associating days with whatever TV show I wanted to watch that day, but with the internet being what it is, that method has since changed.

Having a lack of routine has forced me to be flexible and focus more on the process of doing things as opposed to being tunnel-visioned towards a certain goal. This helped me recently in my efforts on losing weight. I exercised when I had the opportunity to do so and changed some of the things I ate. As of this entry, I have lost 10 pounds.

The video stated that those who have autism are capable of imagining things, but not to the same extent as what is called “neuro-typicals” or people who don’t have autism. I pretty much agree with this because when I was a kid, the most original thing I ever created was an imaginary friend named Fred who came from Australia and had red hair. Most of the time, I imagined myself being a sidekick to the Justice League heroes because I watched Superfriends. My character was a cowgirl who fought with Wonder Woman and liked horses. Back then, most of my female friends were in their “I love horses” phase and while I didn’t obsess with horses as much as they did, associating myself with horses was still part of my imagination.

Another symptom associated with many people with autism is a fixation on things or developing obsessions. I’ve gone more into detail about my obsessions in previous entries, but to make a long story short, my obsession is stories. The one thing that everything I loved as a child had in common (fairy tales, Japanese anime, childrens’ books and cartoons) was that they all told stories with dynamic characters.

Nowadays, I write fictional stories. It’s not easy for me to come up with completely original characters because I often feel like I’m starting from nothing. I always start by thinking of characters I like from shows I watch and books I read. I even write “fanfiction” which takes the characters from a show and puts them in an alternative storyline.  Most of my fanfiction is usually “fixing” things I didn’t like about something I watched or read.

Some people who were diagnosed with Asperger’s have problems with motor skills, which sometimes manifests in the form of a nervous twitch. This was something I had a major problem with as a child. I would often shake my right leg under my desk whenever I was bored and I never sat properly. However, taking dance classes helped me gain some coordination (though not to the extent that I can play video games as good as my brother nor can I play sports). Nowadays, I still have a twitch, but it usually comes in the form of a trigger finger in my right pinky. (It might be because of all the knitting.)

One thing I don’t agree with in the video is the idea that my Asperger’s has any effect on the kind of people or things I find attractive. If anything, I feel like I have to try twice as hard to figure out romantic relationships as I do with my regular friendships. I consider myself to be heterosexual with the occasional girl crush on a certain actress or character. I don’t have any “fetishes” and I developed into puberty at a typically normal age (12 years old).

The video takes on a dark turn when it goes into people who either bully someone with autism or claim to help with good intentions, but see autism as something bad. It says that in the Subspace Emissary story mode, the characters are mute, which represents the symptom of social ineptitude. Some people with autism speak in monotone. I have a tendency of speaking too loud. And those less high-functioning do have problems speaking at all.

The last symptom that the video gets into is amplified emotions and it talks about loneliness and depression specifically. The worst instance of that happening in my life was when I got so nervous during a class, I had an anxiety attack. Nobody was there to help me and I started freaking out in front of everyone. The professor told me that I had to drop the class or she would kick me out. And there were times in my life that I saw myself as my own worst enemy.

But things got better. I was able to find other writing classes. I changed my major and did an internship at a news station. I started teaching. I found new stories to obsess over. And best of all, I made friends who helped me understand myself. Because the thing is I don’t define myself by just my Aspergers, nor do I define myself by sexuality, gender, or race. Instead, I define myself by something bigger than me. But that’s another blog post.

How to Handle Crushes and Relationships in 8 Easy Steps

You know what’s worse than being a hopeless romantic? Being a hopeless romantic who can’t figure out social cues and has relationship drama worthy of a Taylor Swift song.

Back when I was in college, I had a crush on a different guy every year. Before that, I had a couple of boyfriends in high school. Sadly, my relationships ended badly and my feelings for the crushes were unrequited. The good news is that I learned a lot of things from having these crushes and relationships. So in no particular order, here are 8 steps for handling having a crush and building a better relationship.

1) Acknowledge what you are feeling, but don’t dwell on it

Whenever I had a crush, I would go between two extremes: 1) I would be in total denial about what was going on or 2) I would let the feelings I have overwhelm me to the point that I couldn’t think about anything else. Childhood television taught me that it’s good to acknowledge whatever you’re feeling and find a way to deal with it. My way of dealing with a crush nowadays is to write poetry about it.

2) Figure out the best way to communicate.

Some Aspies have problems expressing how they feel, either verbally or nonverbally. Others, like me, struggle with understanding what other people express and what that means.  Honesty is the best policy in this case. Whenever I meet somebody, I always ask them what their preferred method of communication is. If I forget to ask that question, I usually try very neutral methods such as e-mail or social networking. However, face-to-face interaction is still the most preferred method for non-Aspies.

When it comes to face-to-face interaction, work on maintaining eye contact and read up on body language. During college, I took classes that put me in situations that involved a lot of face-to-face interaction such as presenting a speech or learning how to act for a play. These classes helped me to express myself better in the day-to-day conversations.

3) Don’t talk about your feelings/relationship with everyone.

This is something I learned the hard way. I wasn’t the kind of girl who whined on social media about how perpetually single I was…but I whined about it to pretty much everyone I interacted with in real life. I’m pretty sure I annoyed a lot of people, but they were way too nice to tell me otherwise.

When it comes to asking for advice, I suggest talking things over with someone you can really trust. It might be a relative or a friend or even a counselor. It’s better to confide in a handful of people rather than your entire of circle of friends because if/when said crush/relationship doesn’t work out, you don’t have to tell everyone about said fallout.

4) Remember to love yourself

One major problem I had was that I entered into my relationships with the idea that I would find my sense of self-worth with them. I realize now that the men I liked weren’t going to give me love if I didn’t love myself first. I still struggle with self-esteem issues, but I’ve found things about myself that I love and try to be the best version of myself on a daily basis.

If you’re having problems with having a good sense of self-worth, I have a Bible verse for you:

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you. When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.” Psalm 139: 13-16.

No, you are not a Special Snowflake entitled to everything you want, but you were created with love and are loved just for who you are.

5) Take it slow

Most dating advice articles say that it’s good to start off as friends. While I also advise to start out as friends, don’t obsess over how you’re “stuck in the friendzone” with said crush. Again, you are created with love, but you are not entitled to everything you want. It’s a slow process, but good things take time. Get to know your significant other and enjoy the time you spend with them. If you play your cards right, you’ll either end up with a good friend or a significant other. Worst case scenario, you’ll learn something from said relationship.

6) Treat the person as a person, not as an object

Something I learned from my crushing was that I was more often caught up in the idea of having a relationship rather than falling in love with the person I crushed on in question. Don’t get obsessed over a person’s physical features and DO NOT push things too far with too much physical contact. No matter what your views on casual sex may be, relationships tend to be better with delayed gratification.

Ask them about how their day went, things they like to do in their spare time, hobbies they enjoy, etc. It helps you find out more about them and it makes them feel more comfortable. It also leads to them asking questions about you. Just remember that both parties have to hold up the conversation.

7) If a crush ends up being unrequited or a relationship fizzles out, it’s not the end of the world

A common problem Aspies face is anxiety especially when it comes to frequent change or facing disappointments. Don’t stay in a bad relationship just because you hate the idea of changing your life. It’s better to let go of bad influences than to stay with them and watch your life slowly get worse and worse.

Whenever I found out that a crush didn’t return my feelings, I would often blame myself and then blame the other person. In reality, relationships end for a lot of reasons and both parties are responsible. Take responsibility for whatever mistakes you may have made, learn from them, and move on.

8) Don’t compare your relationship to anyone else’s!

No two relationships are the same. Teenage girls will usually crush on a boy their parents don’t approve of and compare their relationship to Romeo and Juliet, completely missing the point that Romeo and Juliet died at the end of the play. However, the best love stories are ones that are unique. While one might compare relationships to stories such as Beauty and the Beast and other fairy tales, the people in the relationships will always be different from the characters in said stories.

It’s not easy for an Aspie to not compare things because most Aspies like to gather facts and analyze them. Relationships, however, are a bit messier than that. Each relationship and each crush will be a new and unique experience. You can use what you learned in past relationships to better yourself going into a new one, but don’t compare the new loves to old flames. Instead, find what you love about them that is unique only to them.

There are definitely some more tips out there, but this is just a starter for handling the always-new situation of falling in love. I hope these tips help you out!

The Patterns of Affinity in the Autistic Mind

So my dad was channel surfing through the news stories and my ear catches a sound bite about a man who has an autistic son who learned to communicate through watching Disney movies. As I watched the story, I saw a lot of myself in the autistic child, who I learned is now 23 years old.

The news piece about Ron Suskind’s son mentioned something called “affinity therapy” in which role-playing is used to develop social skills. As I thought about all of the things that I obsessed over as a child and the things I obsess over now, I realized that I did something along those lines as a kid. And like Owen, I was drawn to a certain type of character as I grew up.

My first obsession was Sailor Moon. I had some episodes on VHS (that’s the thing they used before DVDs to watch things, millenial readers) that I would watch over and over. The episode that I remember most of all is the episode in which Usagi/Serena is revealed to be Princess Serenity. Up until that point, I had no idea of any sort of princess, but what really got my attention was Usagi/Serena didn’t want to be a princess after Mamoru/Darien was taken away from her. In the past, I watched heroes who went into danger unafraid of anything. This was the first time that I ever saw a hero who was afraid and expressed her fear. As a child, I would watch that particular tape over and over again and sometimes pretend that I was a Sailor Scout. I also pretended to be things from other anime shows, but Sailor Moon was basically the start of it.

Anime continued to be an obsession up until my high school days, when I discovered a novel that changed my life forever. Pride and Prejudice featured Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman who was a lot like myself at the time: outspoken, witty, and a bit presumptuous. She wasn’t afraid to admit that she was wrong and to change, which was very different from the chick lit and young adult novels I read that had a lot of self-centered characters. But what really drew me to her was that she had her vulnerable moments and admitted her fears out loud. This was later shown in the YouTube adaptation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which became my obsession during my last year of college.

Although I never pretended to be Elizabeth Bennet, I did some theatre in high school and college and the roles I liked most were the outspoken, talkative, young female characters. Theatre became a concentrated form of “affinity therapy” because I was always playing a part in some shape or form. The best role I ever had was when I got cast in my friend’s production of The Boys Next Door. I played the role of Shiela, the love interest of Norman. Like the most of the others, my character was someone with special needs who lived in a group home. In spite of her disability, she was able to find love. And although I am no longer acting, a good percentage of my brain space has memorized entire episodes from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which includes costume theatre segments that had me in stitches.

One particular experience of affinity therapy happened shortly after I started obsessing over Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The character I loved most was a super strong blonde character who had a vulnerable side that I could relate to, who hid that same vulnerability because it didn’t fit with the expectations others had of this particular character and yet he/she had such a dynamic personality that I rooted for him/her and wanted him/her to have a happy ending after all the heartbreak and pain he/she went through.

But wait, you ask, are you talking about Spike or Buffy? Yes.

My Buffy obsession eventually led to me cosplaying Buffy, meeting the guy who played Spike at a convention, and writing fanfiction, all of which I think fall under the affinity therapy umbrella.

All the characters I ended up loving had courage and showed their vulnerable side to the world, even when they didn’t know they were doing so. I haven’t really had the courage to do the same until now.

I want to post about my Asperger’s Syndrome more often and share my experiences of being on the autism spectrum. Lately it seems that poetry has been the best way for me to express that.

I wrote a poem back in middle school and my teacher, years later, shared that poem with some parents of autistic kids. These parents apparently saw their children’s mind in my poem, which was about feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere because my interests and ideals were different from everyone else’s. If a poem I wrote all those years ago could touch someone now, I have to keep going at it so that I can reach out and let other kids, teens, and young adults with autism and Asperger’s know that they’re not alone.

Tonight, when I was taking a walk, I watched a thunderstorm in the distance. It inspired me to write the following poem. I hope you enjoy it because there is probably going to be more to come.

 

Primal Instinct

 

Lightning dances across the sky

In a show of beauty and danger

It dances to the symphony of crickets and frogs

Mixed with the cacophony of dog barks and car horns

And in the middle of this song is the rhythm of a runner’s feet

Pounding the pavement as they run nearby

Close enough to the storm to watch,

But far enough to be safe from shock.

The primal instinct of running is fear,

And yet these feet do not run away from the storm

They dance a fine line between risk and safety

Knowing that home isn’t far away

Lent Day 23: Life On The Autistic Spectrum

Fr Robert Barron’s Lenten Reflection talks about how humanity is spiritually broken and that everyone is in need of help.

Today, I had a short conversation with my mother about autism and after thinking things over, I decided to make that the topic of this post. WARNING: LONG POST IS LONG!

Backstory time!

Around 6th grade, I was taken out of class to take a series of tests. I didn’t understand what was going on, but given that I liked taking quizzes in teen magazines at the time, I thought I was taking some kind of elaborate personality test.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school. One of my classmates did a report on Asperger’s Syndrome. As she presented her report to the class, all of the symptoms she listed started to ring bells for me. Although my teacher cautioned me against self-diagnosis, I asked my parents as soon as I got home. And it turns out that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s back in 6th grade.

For those who don’t know, Asperger’s Syndrome is part of the Autistic Spectrum. What makes Asperger’s Syndrome different from other variations of autism is that Asperger’s Syndrome (or AS for short) is a lot more high-functioning. Social interaction tends to be physically exhausting; non-verbal signals are hard to pick up. The thought process of an Aspie (one who has AS) tends to be logical and literal, even when things aren’t logical or literal. However, that does not mean that Aspies don’t understand sarcasm, metaphor, analogy, or satire. Heck, my own thought process relishes on making analogies. Taking things literally is just the default mode for Aspies. 

Here’s an example from my personal experience: One time, I went to dinner and found that there was no place set for me. I saw my lack of place seating as a sign that I was left out from the dinner. That wasn’t the case, but that was my thought process at the time.

Another aspect of Aspies is that aspies are said to lack empathy. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT PEOPLE WITH ASPERGER’S ARE SOCIOPATHS. THE MEDIA’S SPECULATION ABOUT THE SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SHOOTER IS JUST THAT: SPECULATION! Aspies just assume that everyone feels the same way they feel and when something contradicts the Aspie’s perspective, it’s hard for the Aspie to adjust.

Think of it like this: An Aspie’s brain is like a script that he wants to follow to the letter. Non-Aspies tend to improvise with the script, which throws the Aspie off balance because he prefers to go with what the script is saying.

Aspies also have problems showing their emotions. It’s sort of extreme. They either have the best poker face in the world or they make over-the-top expressions and say what they feel outright like a drama queen.

For me, this applies to romantic relationships. I totally fail at them because a) I find myself attracted to personality and intelligence first before looks, b) it’s hard for me to tell when a guy is attracted to me, and c) my past experience with “dating” consisted of me always assuming something about either the guy I dated or the relationship based on unrealistic expectations and teenage hormones. I was super-awkward on my first date and part of the reason things didn’t work out was because I had no idea how to interact with the guy, who was a shy person. (Mixed messages don’t help either, but that’s another story.)

Another trait that Aspies are said to have is an “obsession” with something, which is another way of saying that they know a lot about something obscure or some kind of hobby. That fixation does not become the only obsession and for some Aspies, the object of their fixation tends to change over time.

I have a lot of things that I am interested in, but one thing consistent from 6th grade to now is that I always wrote about whatever I loved and sometimes tried to analyze what I observed. Words, writing, making connections, and analyzing are my obsessions. Even though I don’t read books as often as I did as a kid, I still find myself analyzing things I watch or read and watching other people analyze a work. And like some Aspies, the things I obsess over have changed. As a 6th grader, I obsessed over Japanese anime. In high school, I obsessed over Jane Austen. As of right now, my latest obsession is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But underneath all of these obsessions was still the desire to write about them, make connections, and analyze them.

 There are physical “tells” as well as social “tells” to Aspies. Speech issues are one of those “tells.” How an Aspie talks depends on the person. I tend to speak too loudly and tend to talk fast. Other Aspies are overly formal or have a monotone voice. Again, a desire to be over-the-top to compensate for lack of social fluidity can happen here. One other thing that falls into this category is the tendency to explain what they’re trying to express. For me, this comes in the form of me constantly apologizing for my behavior if I find it to be out of the norm or awkward.

Some Aspies have problems with motion and motor control. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t play video games. My hand-eye coordination isn’t geared towards that. However, I took dance classes and I don’t recall being overly clumsy as a teenager, nothing beyond the norm anyhow. However, it could be a lot worse for other Aspies. 

Finally, one major thing that identifies an Aspie is the tendency to avoid eye contact. Even though I feel that I have overcome a lot of the things applied to Aspies, I still struggle with this. Although I have studied TV, film, and took acting classes, I still hate ending up in a room of strangers and having to make small talk. When I was a kid, I felt afraid to look at people in the eye because I was afraid that lasers would come out of their eyes and kill me. (Why yes, I did grow up watching the X-Men animated series.) 

But the point is that as far as I’m concerned, I am still struggling with my autism. It’s a lot better than it was back when I was a kid, but my conversation with my mom made me realize that I am still trying to figure out which parts of me belong to the autism and which ones don’t. I refuse to define myself with a label, but that doesn’t mean rejecting my diagnosis. 

For those who are reading this who don’t have autism, I will say this: Don’t diagnose or label people who you see behaving awkwardly or strangely. Wait for that person to be open about it if they so choose to. And if they don’t say anything, just treat them like you would any other normal person, If you think you autism but aren’t properly diagnosed, find a psychiatrist and undergo testing. Don’t diagnose yourself. It’s a very dangerous thing.