Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Grump About Daylight Saving Time

Today is the first day of Daylight Saving for us here in New Zealand. It seems (she says grumpily) to start earlier every year, and end later. I always struggle with it for two reasons.

1) I struggle with understanding the concept of time moving ‘forward’. I see time as a linear thing, like a railway line, and to me the clock hands are moved ‘forward’ or ‘backward’ depending on where you are standing. If you’re at a railway station and the train is about to arrive there, it will seem to be coming towards you and hence going ‘forward’. But if it’s leaving the station, it will seem to be going ‘backwards’ away from you, even though it’s moving ‘forward’ according to the people in the next station. So if the time on a clock is like that, then whether or not a clock can be said to be ‘put forward’ depends on whether the relevant time you want to adjust it to has passed or not. So when they say ‘put your clocks forward’, I always get confused as to whether that means we adjust a clock from ten to eleven pm, or vice versa.

This time, someone in my aspie group gathering yesterday actually explained it to me quite simply – “Forward is clockwise, backwards is anti-clockwise.” And then someone else in a Facebook group put up a clock graphic that similarly explained it. However, I suspect these are only really useful for those of my generation who grew up with ‘proper’ clocks, not the younger generations more used to digital ones. So I’m wondering if there are others out there just as confused by this notion of time going ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’.

2) My second problem with Daylight Savings is more profound, and harder to fix. Put bluntly, I am not a Morning Person. Since childhood, I’ve struggled with getting myself out of bed and on time for school, then work, then the demands of motherhood, study, or just appearing to face the world at a ‘normal’ time. People like me (and we’re not all on the spectrum by any means), when faced with someone all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at five or six am, crack open one bleary eye and scowl, thinking “what the (expletive-deleted) are you being so (expletive-deleted) cheerful about, in the middle of the (expletive-deleted) night?!!” Never mind it may be dawn or near it, it still feels like the middle of the night to us. And getting us up and going at any decent hour of the morning (and let’s make this plain, anything before seven is indecent to us) is a major effort.

And then you want us to actually get up even earlier?!!? Are the Powers That Be totally  crazy?!!? Other people rave about having an ‘extra’ hour to do things in the evening. So what, we ask? We ‘Night Owls’ have never had any trouble staying up late, so all that means to us is that it’s still hot and fairly light when we’re trying to get to sleep, and we have enough trouble with that already. Alarm clocks jar us awake when it seems we’ve only just fallen asleep, the sun never seems to move from the sky, TV programs start when we’re not ready to watch them yet, and mealtimes roll around before we’re actually hungry.

So I loathe Daylight Saving – it doesn’t ‘save’ me anything – and I never really do manage to get my bio-rhythms to fit, or they’re finally just starting to, and then we have to change back again. It’s a perennial problem for me, and one I’ve never been able to really solve.

Does anyone else have this problem, or know what I mean? Or am I the only one totally grumpy and out of sorts with it?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Role of Non-Autistic Allies

Recently I’ve been reading a very interesting book, called ‘Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum’[1]. Edited by Stephen Shore, it’s a collection of essays on advocacy by autistic writers like Stephen himself, Roger Meyer and Lianne Holliday Willey. It’s well worth a read, if you can get hold of it. However it was one essay in particular, entitled ‘Building Alliances: Community Identity and the Role of Allies in Autistic Self-Advocacy’, by Phil Schwarz, which really got me thinking. Most especially, one sentence towards the end, where he says –
“There is one thing that is really important about being an effective [non-autistic] ally… That is the essential and critical quality of a true ally that an ally does not serve as an effective ally by implementing his or her own agenda or ideas about what people on the spectrum need. Rather, a true ally implements the agenda of the people to whom they are an ally.” (his emphasis)

Let me repeat that – a true ally implements the agenda of the people to whom they are an ally. This means that any non-autistic individual, or autism group or organisation who tries to impose their agenda on us, is not a true ally. Any group or individual or organisation which purports to ‘represent’ or ‘care’ for us, but which does not listen to us or consult us, which (literally or metaphorically) pats us on the head and says (directly or indirectly) “we don’t need your input, we know what is best for you”, is not a true ally. Any autism organisation which will not allow us a voice or membership on their boards or committees or panels, or which lets us in but then tokenises or sidelines us, or in any other way renders us impotent or silent, is not our true ally. Any individual who smiles patronisingly while we speak and then goes on talking as if we hadn’t spoken at all, is not our true ally.

I’m sure we can all think of prime examples of all of these. The question then becomes, what do we do about it? The above essay gives some really good ideas about how to build relationships with those who are our true allies, and it’s well worth a read. My concern right now though is, what do we do about the organisations who have already proved they are not our true allies?

It seems to me there are several options. We can ignore them, and/or work with other organisations who are more amenable to the autistic point of view. We can try to ‘take them over’, and convert them into true allies. We can pressure them into changing, from both inside and outside. We can build our own organisations, which will work to ultimately change public opinion so that the worst of these organisations (the ones we are unlikely ever to win over) will become impotent and sidelined themselves.

Which path we choose, will depend on each autistic individual or group, their abilities and inclinations, the situation from country to country (because this is a world-wide phenomenon), and even region to region, or year to year. (Changes in leadership may render an organisation more approachable, for instance.) We all have the right to choose which path we think is most likely to work for us as individuals and as a group. I would ideally like to see all of these tactics taken by different autistics and/or autistic groups, as a multiple approach/attack is likely to succeed better than a single one. We can and must all work in our different ways, to achieve what is really a single aim – that of the implementation of OUR agenda, and the full realisation of our human rights. We still have a very, very long way to go before that is achieved, and whatever path we take, it has to lead to the same place in the end.

[1] Stephen Shore (ed). (2004) Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum. Kansas, USA: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Conflict Resolution Skills for Autistics

It’s sometimes said of us on the spectrum that we are anti-social, that we cannot form communities or groups or associations. I think the formation of autism rights and/or social groups run by and for those on the spectrum, both online and face to face, proves this wrong.

However, we do have one particular problem that I believe needs addressing, and that is our lack of conflict resolution skills. Put simply, when things do go wrong between us, all too often we don’t know how to mend them. Instead things tend to spiral out of control very fast, with furious exchanges of insults, huge dramas, ‘trolling’ behaviour, and acrimonious splits. We end up reeling away hurt and confused and angry, or ‘bad-mouthing’ our opponents to others. Of course this sometimes happens between NTs too, but we seem particularly prone to having small misunderstandings or disagreements spiral quickly and devastatingly into huge ones.

The reasons for this are complex. One big cause is that we have often been the recipient of decades of hostility, put-downs, sneers and criticism from NTs – often ‘out of nowhere’, for reasons that we simply don’t understand. We have become over-sensitised and hyper-vigilant, and can sometimes assume insult where none is intended – or angst endlessly over whether it was or not. Add in our difficulty (even in our more ‘mature’ years) with reading others’ intent, problems with emotional regulation, the crippling effects of the ‘autistic shame’ I have written of before, a myriad of other stresses in our lives, and then put a group of us in a situation where one of us says something that inadvertently ‘strikes a match’ on our tender souls… and you have a recipe for a huge blow-up.

So how to solve this, or prevent already bad situations deteriorating further? What works for NTs often will not work for us, but I want to list a few points to remember that might help.

1) Autistics don’t do ‘subtexts’. If we say someone is fat, unemployed or has a big nose, we usually mean they are fat, unemployed or have a big nose. End of. NTs, however, tend to load apparently simple statements with multiple layers of ‘subtext’ or ‘hidden’ meanings. The problem is, having spent most of our life around NTs, we’ve frequently become hyper-sensitised to these subtexts, even if we’re not sure what they are. But coming from another autistic, chances are that there aren’t any. Remembering this might prevent at least some misunderstandings. Ask for clarification, before you assume ‘hidden’ insult.

2) The other person may just be having a bad day. Sometimes people just want to let off steam, and have a general grumble, and their comments aren’t directed at you at all. Or even if they are, it could just be you’ve hit on what’s a sore point for them. Everyone has their own issues and ongoing problems, which probably have nothing to do with you. Remembering this can stop your own issues and sore points being triggered.

3) Make ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements. This is something I learnt in an NT communications skills group years ago. It basically means we stick to describing our own feelings, thoughts, etc, and not resort to insults or generalisations. So, for instance, we might say “when you said ------, I felt -------, -------- and --------” (the ‘I felt’ bit is very important), rather than lashing out with “how dare you, you --------, you are so -------” etc, etc. It isn’t about bottling things up - we communicate, we share our feelings and get them out, but without personal attacks on the other person. Hopefully, they will respond in kind. If not, at least you know you acted with dignity and integrity.

4) If necessary, agree to disagree. We don’t all have to have the same opinions or viewpoints on anything, not even autism. Despite our common experiences as autistics, we often have hugely differing personal stories. The world would be a very boring place if we were all the same! I have friends who have different political or spiritual beliefs to mine, are of a different generation, live in different countries, or come from different cultural backgrounds. It’s possible to believe different things, and still respect each other, like each other, and get along. Or to simply avoid those who you can’t get along with. It’s not the end of the world, either, if you find you simply don’t much like any given individual, but still have to put up with them in your group or political cause or social circle. (Irritating maybe, but not the end of the world!!)

4) Learn to let it go. Sometimes you’ll reach a point where it’s obvious that continuing discussion about a disagreement or upset is only making things worse, not better. Or you’ve talked it through with the person or people concerned (sometimes best done ‘behind the scenes’ through private messages or conversations), and either resolved it as best you can, or just agreed to disagree. At that point, it’s time to drop the subject and move on. Bitch about it to yourself or your closest friends in private if need be, but not in the open group, forum or Facebook page. We do like to perseverate, but sometimes enough is enough.

If we’re going to build a fully effective community and social movement, we need to learn to resolve our differences far better. Back in the day, I was involved in the feminist and anti-racism movements in New Zealand, and watched many groups implode or fall apart because they couldn’t handle disagreements. Sometimes this considerably harmed the movement’s ability to achieve its aims. I would hate to see us go the same way. So I’m hoping this little bit helps.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Loud Hands Project

I've just today found out that my submission for the Loud Hands Project, entitled 'Loud Hands, Loud Voices', has been accepted. I am going to be published alongside some of my 'heroes', people like Jim Sinclair, Amanda Forrest Vivian, etc. Wow! I'm really ecstatic!