Autistic doesn’t mean “good at math”

It is great to see all these autism employment and spectrum programs helping neurodiverse individuals get into work, but I have noticed a distinct LEAN towards information technology and engineering roles.  Yes, we are talented individuals. Yes, we want jobs. Though… Ummm, autistic doesn’t automatically mean ‘good at math’.

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Photo by Skitterphoto

I think it’s important to remember that for every savant kid with autism, there are literally thousands and thousands of others with learning difficulties.  One such learning difficulty involves challenges understanding and “seeing” numbers.  This is “dyscalculia”.  It can best be described as the “maths version of dyslexia”; numbers get muddled up and doing mathematics is like trying to interpret an alien language.

For some autistics, math just isn’t an option.

So, what about getting an IT or engineering job? Can you do it with dyscalculia?  Well, I guess you can; it just depends on how bad your learning difficulty is and how much you want to work in the field (In fact, I know an autistic lady who has dyscalculia and now works for Google. At university, she spent significant time studying maths with professors, focusing her mind, to be able to succeed at this).  My point, however, is that for some autistics, math just isn’t an option.  For some, math is near impossible, because, I hear autistics say “my brain doesn’t work that way”.  These individuals have other talents.

 

So what’s up with all these IT jobs then, huh?

I think what the companies Apple, SAP, Microsoft, Google, HP, ANZ Bank, Westpac Bank and New Relic have in mind is that autism = detail-oriented methodical problem solving.  And in many ways, they are spot on.  Most autistics DO have these key traits, so it seems natural then that an autistic would be good at software testing (to find errors) or coding or cyber security roles.

Yet, it is also a bit shortsighted and a little on the “stereotyping” angle.  Not all autistics are good at mathematics or IT. I mean, just because a lot of African and African Americans are fast runners and brilliant basketball players, does not mean all of them are… or that all of them even want to be a sportsperson!  We need to remember that all people and thus all autistics come in different packages.  We all have different skills to offer.

 

What we need is…

I think it is great that we are seeing recruitment platforms for neurodiverse workers and also that there is interest in our talent and abilities.  Yet I’d love to see more job boards and programs that seek out other kinds of autistic skill levels…

What about the artists, writers, sculptors, musicians? What about the counsellors, teachers, coaches? What about the mechanics? What about the chess players? What about the financial market buffs? Or those who excel in old Latin, have a passion for papercraft, or hold immense knowledge of Tesla cars? I think a program that harnesses THESE talents might do better.

Imagine all the good autistics can do with all their amazing knowledge and talents put into action! WOW!

We need more universal recruitment platforms, and you know, I have created just that.  Mmm, over the past few months, at my work, we have been developing a job seeker platform for autistics and others with neurodiversity to find meaningful work.  I am so proud of this, and I know that me talkign about it here, on my blog might seem very marketing-esque of me, but I wanted to share something good.

If you’re neurodiverse, seeking employment, and want to showcase your skills, head on over to https://www.aspiesatwork.org/ and register.

I am so excited about the site. We are looking forward to getting everyone a chance to shine at work, and be seen TRULY and wholeheartedly as the amazing neurodivergent individuals they are! ❤

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New Year wishes and all that jazz

 

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Photo by Sumit Rai

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Welcome to 2019!

I read on my Facebook this morning, a beautiful post by one of my friends– it started with:

“Hey folks. Something that doesn’t get said very often – I hope you get through this year”.

 

He goes on to say:

“I’m not going to wish you all the happiness you desire in 2019 because shit is going to go wrong, and that’s ok”

 

He says something that I think we really need to hear at new years’.

While everyone is floating around wishing happiness and lovely perfect moments, as if it is possible for us to wash away all the sadness or crap things that happened in 2018 by a clink of champagne glasses and splattering of confetti, he highlights a simple truth…

 

It’s okay to realize that SHIT happens.

“Eternal happiness is not a realistic goal. You might change jobs, or lose a job. Someone close to you might pass away this year, an artist or public figure, or inspiration to you might not make it. You might get sick, or just sore. One or more of your friendships or relationships might end this year. You might break a limb. You will probably start something new this year, a hobby or a goal, and that goal will get derailed somehow. Your favourite possession might get scratched, or dented, or stolen, or broken.

“Some days you might feel depressed as all shit. Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. But sometimes it can be a rainbow here, and a unicorn there. And that’s ok”.

 

As many of you know: mental health can drag you down and life can create moments that makes “happy” seem impossible.  If you’re depressed, a “HAPPY new year” is unpleasant and can feel alienating.

Yes, though 2019 is indeed a new year, it does not immediately assume that it will be this amazing something. A day passing does not magically change a lifelong depression.  I know, it can seem pessimistic to note these things, but I think it’s actually realistic.  Of course we all want to be happy, to feel beauty always… but it’s not always possible.  There will always be things that happen which we cannot control, and things that may upset us or hurt us, leading us to overreact or just feel pain.

Plus, we’re human, and that means suffering and pain. This is part of being alive. Let’s try to ride out 2019 in the best ways we can: in kindness, with self-love (if we can muster it), and with an open heart… to try to cope and thrive as best we can.

I think it’s realistic and beautiful to read such honesty in the new year.

 

My friend wrote a great deal in his post, and I am not sharing it all here… but I liked that he closes his message by saying this:

“Life is ups and downs. Sometimes you just can’t avoid the bad shit. There will be plenty of downs this year. I hope you find your way through them in your own way, on your own or with support when you need it, so that you can enjoy the ups when they happen.

Ask for help, and help others when you can. We’re all in this together. 

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So, on that note,

I wish you a very authentic “do it your own way” new year with helping hands available if you need them, and kindness always.

Bless.

A Word on Trauma

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Photo by Skitterphoto

Many, oh so many autistics experience childhood trauma. We rarely talk about it… and i think that’s a combination of it being a private affair, and that it -well- it HURTS to remember the past.

Yet sometimes it’s important to “go there”, such as when you’re with your counsellor(s), or for an illustrative point…


 

As it gets closer to Christmas, I am reminded ever more of things my parents said to me. Yes, the happier times…. but also the darker times too. This festive period brings up emotions… and memories.  I think that is the same for most people. Holidays make us remember and reflect.

When I, probably like many of us neurodiverse folk, reflect on those things from MY childhood, on closer inspection, I see a lot of it was rather hurtful, inappropriate and ‘traumatic’. So, why go there now? Well, because I think today holds an opportunity for an illustrative point.

 

To hurt another is rarely an act of joy. It comes from a place of hurt. 

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Trauma holds teachings

Traumatic stuff in our lives sucks.  But trauma is universally human.  It streaks across and throughout different cultures, lifestyles, language, backgrounds. Everybody hurts, sometimes (Thanx REM). We really do – everyone has emotional pain… and everyone (even those among you who outwardly claim to have “a perfect childhood”). Trauma is painful and sad and horrible, but it also holds a space for learning.

How?

It was not the act itself that can help you.  That was a yucky thing, and I am sorry it happened to you.  It is the remembering and ‘reauthoring’ of the narrative that can help you now. As an adult, we have the ability to apply critical thinking to our past pains. This is where the learning can happen.

See, hurtful things are just that: HURTFUL.  They are hurtful to the person they are directed at, but also hurtful at the person doing the hurting. To hurt another is rarely an act of joy. It comes from a place of hurt.

 

“No-one will ever love you if…”

  • An example: As a child I used to suck my thumb, have plushie toys and sleep with a blanket. I was still doing this a into my early teenage years.  So, my father used to always tell me: NO-ONE WILL LOVE YOU IF YOU SUCK YOUR THUMB and NO-ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU IF YOU CARRY AROUND CHILDISH THINGS.

No-one will love me? Ouch. Hurtful!

Now, how is it that such information passed between father and daughter could be a kind act? a loving action? a thoughtful parenting duty? Isn’t it *more likely* that my father was hurting inside himself? Isn’t it more likely that he had deep emotional pain?

Remember, to hurt others is to be hurting yourself.

If you think about the example with a critical mind, isn’t it far more possible that my father was hurting emotionally… and the essence of the attack at me (no-one will love you) (being childish) was the very thing that caused his hurt, perhaps in his childhood?

Certainly, I am not saying that childhood trauma ought be forgotten and forgiven instantly over a notion of “it wasn’t their fault because they were hurting too”, but it is something to consider. Re-assessing trauma in this way helps provide a cognitive release.

Being autistic means we tend to get stuck in these unfulfilling thought-loops, or see things completely black and white.  In autistic reactionary thinking, if father (authority) thinks daughter (subordinate) is unloveable, father must be true/ good/ right, and daughter must be false/ bad/ wrong. With a critical thinking hat on, as an adult, we can see that NO, that was not what really happened here. Father may be an authority at the time, but that does not make everything he says true.  Re-asses, review and release!

Looking at things this way helps shifts the problem too.  It wasn’t your fault. Father may have named you, “THE UNLOVEABLE CHILD”, but that is not true. That is not real. You were never unloveable, or unable to be loved.  It was them, the hurting parent.

 


She made it my problem, but it was not my hurt to carry.

“Don’t do that… you’re embarrassing me”

  • Another example: I was the sort of child who got stuck in her own head, and because I had few friends, I used to make things up.  One of my most favourite self-created games was to find a group of pavers/ tiles and imagine I was making music by standing on different paver stones. Yes, I am aware we now have arcade and computer games that do this very thing, but as a child such entertainment did not exist, and for me, at the time, it was about listening to the sounds of the pavers as I stood on them, and they would “ding” in my head, like a piano dings as you tap a key.  So, I would walk between pavers in an unusual pattern, humming to myself until I found a tune of the pavers that I liked, and could make them make music. I continued to make music through imaginary games and objects until– well, I still do it now! Throughout my childhood, my mum would see me doing this with the pavers, sometimes in public and sometimes in private and say: STOP THAT IMMEDIATELY. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME and DON’T DO THAT. WHY CAN’T YOU JUST ACT NORMAL.

 

I am embarrassing? Ouch. Hurtful!

I am NOT normal? Cutting…. Deeply cutting….

These were things my mother continued to say to me, right up until I was an adult – and the year I decided to cut her out of my life.  I was embarrassing her.  My actions, to her, were embarrassing. I was not normal, and God forbid anyone found out!

Applying the cognitive gaze again (and this one is harder for me to do, so bare with me as I try this…): How is it that such information passed between mother and daughter could be a kind act? To say your child is an embarrassment; is that a loving action? A thoughtful parenting duty? Isn’t it *more likely* that my mother was hurting inside herself? Isn’t it more likely that she had deep emotional pain?

To be embarrassed is, according to the dictionary, “to feel awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed”.  How can a child make you feel that, unless you’re just not comfortable in your own skin?

Yep, I am aware, kids do the strangest things.. but they are children! Children who are growing, children who are learning, children who are experimenting with their world… As parents/ adults, we can forget we were all a child once. All children are innocent! If a child is “being embarrassing”, instead of judging that child, why not consider what the child may need? Could the child be wanting something? Could they be trying to communicate with you? Could it be that… its not about you, Mum!? Also, an autistic child is not being a bad child: they are being an autistic child.

My mother was embarrassed by me, ashamed of me — and she told me that regularly as a child and as an adult.  This made me feel like I was not good enough and bad.  I felt I was defective because how could it be that I was a good and right and proper child if my mother is always embarrassed by me? My mother felt I was not normal, and she was ashamed that the secret would get out! So, led by her fear and her hurt, she struck out at me. She made it my problem, but it was not my hurt to carry.

It wasn’t my fault. Mother may have named me, “THE EMBARRASSING CHILD”, but that is not true. That is not real. I was never embarrassing. It was them, the hurting parent.

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Letting Go, or at least, trying to

It’s hard, that’s for sure — whether working with a therapist, or on your own, to let go of the pain, the hurt, the anger.

I learned a while back that letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.  Nor does it mean that you accept what happened. Letting go is more about YOU, not about them.  They were the ones who through there unresolved (held, and not let go) hurt, HURT you.  They hurt you.  But as you keep hold on to all the shitty memories, you’re also holding on to them hurting you over and over.  They hurt you in the past, so let that go.  They are not hurting you now, but as you hold so tightly to the memory of them hurting you, you’re allowing them to keep hurting you in the present.

I know, it sounds self-helpy, but hear me out– just try letting go.  Just now, right now, for this tiny moment, try letting go.  Take that feeling of the hurt, the feeling of the anger and pain, and breathe it out.  Breathe it so far out that the hurt is across the horizon.  Let it go.  Sure, that trauma happened, and yeh it sucked, and yeh it wasn’t your fault… but all this hurt? Just try to let it go.  Breathe it out, breathe it away from you, far away. You don’t need to carry it any more ❤

 

Bless.

 

Go on a Self-Care Date, alone.

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship … anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.” ― Parker Palmer

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These are some divine pancakes I had for breakfast recently at my local cafe… Photo by me!

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One of the key ways that I manage my well-being with autism, by keeping anxiety and depression levels low, is taking myself out on dates.  I do not bring anyone with me on these dates; I am simply focusing on ME.

I know for many, the idea of going on a date alone seems ludicrous, but it can actually be extremely liberating and exceptionally calming. Being alone does not need to be unbearable or a sign that you are a “weirdo” or a “loser”. Hey, most of us autistics choose to be alone on a regular basis! I know you have a favourite outfit, a favourite cafe, a favourite meal, a favourite book to read… So pick yourself up, get outta those PJs and go on a self-date!

I take myself out, once a week, on a “self-care breakfast”, and it really relaxes me.  In fact, I’ve just come home from my weekly breakfast (see pic below!), and considering I had to locate a new place, walked 33 minutes to get there… and 33 minutes back home… I’m actually feeling pretty good I was able to do that!! And get something nice to eat.

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Today I had the Big Breakfast, and it was pretty good 🙂

These self-care dates give me a chance to be in a special place outside of my house where I can enjoy the food I like, the environment I like, get to talk to a few people, and I can also “people-watch” or write in my journal.

 


 

Self-care dates are SELF LOVE!

Self-love – yuck?!  I guess you might hear ‘self-love matters’ way too much, and think this is all happy-clappy stuff.  But it’s true.  See, self-care is that act of nurturing and caring for yourself; that act of loving yourself.  It’s not a selfish action, but a selfless action…. for being able to give yourself kindness means that you can actually be an amazing light and power to all others around you.

Self-care is defined as any activity you do which promotes positive outcomes for your personal health and well-being. 

If you’re wondering if you need to start a self-care regime, I’d go out on a limb and say, YES YOU DO. So many of us just don’t do it.  Perhaps you give to others all the time, and at the end of the day feel drained and unable to be kind to others? Maybe you just keep promising yourself to book in a massage because you have such a bad backache, but it never happens? Or you spend lots of time working or playing computer games, and then neglect yourself, by forgetting to eat, shower, sleep? Taking some time out to just be with yourself can be so positive for your life.

Ideas for self-care dates:

  • Self-care breakfasts at your favourite cafe (breakfast time because there are less people in the cafe!)
  • Sit on a park bench and write in your journal
  • A trip to the art gallery (on weekdays, to avoid the crowds!)
  • Watching a movie
  • Having a massage or pamper day
  • Learning to dance, rock climb, paint, or ???
  • Go for a walk in nature

Self-care activities are not over-indulgent (it’s not about eating an entire chocolate cake every day, or spending half your wage on pretty clothes or gourmet foods!); self-care dates are measured, planned, and allow for an external (outside of your home) calming space where you can just be YOU.


 

Self-care dates improve your life…. How?

  • Something to look forward to – Even when everything sucks, you always have your self-care breakfast! I love going out to my local cafe, where they understand my behaviours and patterns, accept my teddy bear who sometimes accompanies me, and allow me to just be myself. I go there and I know everything will be okay.
  • Builds confidence and self-sufficiency – The first time I went out, it was scary because I had to find a new cafe, talk to waiters, and interact with other people. But over time, I found myself more confident in my abilities and more comfortable to just be myself.  Going out alone also made me realize I am a lot more capable than I thought.
  • Expands your horizons – Over the past few years, I took myself on activity dates, where I learned how to dance.  This was totally out of my comfort zone, but it was something I had always wanted to do.  By doing it more and more, I began to cope better managing my anxiety in groups, and I even met some fun and lovely people.
  • Try new things – Whether you’re trying a new breakfast menu item, or giving rock climbing a go, when you take yourself out on self-care dates, you will become more adventurous.   The key with your self-care days is not to force yourself to be that which you are not… but as you take days just for you, you may find that the “salmon croquettes with poached eggs” might inspire you more than your usual fried eggs on toast…. or that going out to the art gallery may be a new adventure, rather than just walking by the river… Trying new things because it was your own idea? Fabulous!
  • Promotes quiet-time and self-reflection – Sitting alone with an empty chair across from you can be confronting, but it is also calming.  There are no expectations when you are alone.  You can simply sit, drink a coffee and reflect on life.  Being alone on self-dates allows a space of quiet reflection.  You can go for a walk in nature, and think. Sit and think. See an art show, and think.
  • Makes you a better “dater” – You may not be taking yourself out on dates in order to be a better spouse, but going out alone certainly teaches you some preliminary skills for dating.  You know what it is like to be with yourself, you understand the rules and happenings of a cafe, you know how to order, and you also should have a good idea of what kind of place you like! You’ll also be more confident in yourself, and you’ll hopefully also now be relaxed about your clothes/ hair/ makeup.
  • Teaches financial management – When you take yourself out on dates, you’ll quickly learn that you need to make sure you have a budget, and that you need to stick to it.  I’ve set my self-care breakfast dates to a strict budget of $40 per weekly outing.  That gives me enough money for one elaborate breakfast meal and two coffees. If I want more, too bad; that’s the budget.  This is the amount I can afford. I also learned to manage my weekly money better, because if I splurge elsewhere, I am unable to go out for my breakfast!
  • Allows you to find yourself, like… really, deeply, completely – I’ve mentioned it above a few times, that going out on these self-care dates gives you a chance to get to know yourself better, build confidence and try new things… and all of this gives you space to figure out who you are, what you like and dislike, what you can tolerate, your triggers and your coping mechanisms.  By being out in public with yourself, you learn both the glittering edges of human kindness (they remembered my favourite coffee! they saved my a favourite table! they told me of changes in the menu! they waved to me in the street! they knew I needed lots of space today!) AND your own experience (when is it time to leave? what upsets me? how do i calm myself down when change happens?)

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Give yourself a chance to experience a regular self-care date! You deserve it! 🙂