Tools of the Trade

Autism has become a lot more marketable since I was a kid. When I was in the 4th grade, I didn’t have access to many autism specific tools. I didn’t see anything autistic themed on TV, new paper, or stores. Now? I can find catalogs the size of phonebooks with autism specific tools and toys. Aromatherapy diffusors, special seats, noise cancelling headphones, chewable necklaces, indoor hammocks are to name a few that are available now. There are research fund raisers for autism, therapy groups, and support centers like the Kelly Autism Program. Even Sesame Street has a new neighbor who is on the spectrum. The mark of the puzzle piece has made its way to the surface of society. Of course with great popularity, also comes the need of great caution to separate fact from fiction.

When the results were in that I had autism, my parents did a lot of research on autism. Some was helpful, some…not so much. They had to dig deep to separate the “miracle cures” for autism from the real tools that could help me. Some of the garbage treatments I have heard of included diets, pills, injections, sprays. Most of which are scams to lighten the victim of some money, while others are straight up lethal like the Miracle Mineral Solution (A potion a child would drink with a bleach-based formula)

The sad fact of the matter is that there is no cure for autism. Autism is not like a cold that comes and goes. You cannot cure what isn’t a disease. I cannot separate from the spectrum any easier than I can separate from my shadow. Autism is a part of my identity.

The Irlin lens glasses. I have briefly covered this subject before. Autism, in my case, brought social deficiencies and heighten senses. Meaning my sense of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing is more sensitive than most people. This in turn leads to frequent sensory overloads. This was a real problem trying to concentrate on my school work. For my sensitive eyes, I could not stand the glare from the light reflecting off the white paper of my assignments and books, direct sunlight, fluorescent light, and brightness of computer screens caused me frequent headaches and strained eyes. All I could do is read while squinting and close my eyes for a minute to recover.

Although my glasses may look like another pair of sunglasses, the Irlin lens glasses were designed to filter off specific spectrums of light that cause discomfort to my eyes. This is a tool I still use today and plan to use for years to come.

In Middle School, it was painfully apparent that I was a slow writer. I was a poor speller and have an awkward way of holding a pencil and I still do. So it would take me longer to write down the key points for every lesson. That is when I was introduced to the Alpha Smart.

The Alpha Smart is a battery operated keyboard with a small display screen. Unlike a laptop, the device was specially designed to be a note keeping tool and nothing else (no internet, no games, no texting, etc). I came to rely on this beautiful machine constantly to the point I was a faster typer than writer and was able to finally keep up with the other students.

When I graduated to High School. It was time to upgrade my notebook again. I was enrolled in the school’s engineering courses and sometimes I would require extra time to complete assignments. Obviously an Alpha Smart would not be ideal for the task.

With some convincing on my mom’s part, I was given a rental laptop issued by the School District. Not only would I use this device to write notes for English and History classes, but also classes that had 3D models, circuit building, and other assignments that required a class specific program to operate. I was very grateful to the few organizers on staff that was more interested in my potential to succeed rather if my need with in the budget.

My favorite toys as a kid were the Lego Duplo blocks. At the time, I only had one bucket’s worth. But even with just that, I’d spend hours building, destroying, and rebuilding models. When I got older and learned of smaller block Legos with more detailed designs, they became the top most wanted toy on my Birthday and Christmas lists. Why? I wasn’t sure. There was just something so appealing about Lego that I just couldn’t get enough of. Looking back at it now, I suppose this was the closest thing I had to Play Therapy without realizing it.

Play therapy is the psychological practice of allowing children to express their

inner thoughts, communicate with others, and develop problem-solving skills.

You can image my delight when I heard about the existence of Lego therapy. Lego therapy is an autism specific program that allows children on the spectrum to communicate, develop problem-solving skills, and build social relations with each other. In group sessions, the autistic children are divided into groups of three and each of the three has a specific assignment. An “engineer” who drafts the project design. An “supplier” who finds the parts. And a “builder” who constructs the model. This system of task specific play allows the children to practice their communication and cooperation skills. If something like this existed back when I was a kid, I would have enrolled right way and probably made a lot more friends.

Another service that is has surprised me are new use of service dogs. Apparently, service dogs are not only for the blind, but also for the autistic. Knowing the proper order of things is often a mystery to most autistic children. For some, they come to the point they feel so incompatible with the real-world that they will stop going outside altogether. That is where these new kinds of services dogs come in. The dogs are trained to be living companions for the isolated children.

Dogs don’t need words to express affection and it has been proven that they can produce a clamming influence to autistic children. In addition, having a pet can provide real-world responsibilities to the child and overtime the child may be comfortable enough to leave his comfort zone long enough to explore the real-world. Having once had a dog myself, I can certainly attest to these findings.

The field of autism has improved a great deal since it’s humble beginnings. The world of autism is still shrouded in mystery, but many of its superstitions have been revoked. Now that there are better tools to navigate this world, people are less afraid to explore these paths and discover what they are capable of.

“Even the simplest tools can empower people to do great things.” (Biz Stone)

 

Sources:

Packham, A. (2016, May 26). How LEGO Is Helping Kids With Autism Improve Their Social Skills. Retrieved March 06, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/lego-based-therapy-children-with-autism-social-skills_uk_5721efb9e4b06bf544e15ddf

 

How Lego Therapy Can Help Children With Special Needs – Friendship Circle – Special Needs Blog. (2013, December 19). Retrieved March 06, 2017, from http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2013/10/14/how-lego-therapy-can-help-children-with-special-needs/

 

Everything You Need to Know About LEGO Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2017, from http://thewackywarehouse.com/lego-therapy/#

 

Rescuing Dogs to Rescue People

http://www.pawsitivityservicedogs.com/autism?gclid=COnOkcWHsdMCFRe5wAodDIkHJg

Culture Shock

Super-Size Me. I’m sure many of you are familiar with Morgan Spurlock’s world famous documentary about little acts causing big changes. This film didn’t intrigue nearly as much as his other brainchild, 30 Days. 30 Days is a documentary-like reality show that takes an individual from one upbringing and inserts them into another culture, religion, or profession for the course of one month. One of my sociology classes required that I watch these shows to gain a new interest in different cultures.

I found these episodes extraordinarily fascinating because they explored new cultures and explained, in simple terms, how they were different from my familiar habitat. While watching these, I have to admit that I was a little smug. The participants who took the challenge all looked like a cat being dragged through a bathtub. They were scared that they would, somehow, be corrupted by experiencing a new culture. I didn’t understand what the problem was. No matter where I would go, I would still be me. A temporary change in address shouldn’t be enough to overhaul my persona. I felt confident that if I was placed in the same circumstance, I could handle it with no problem. Soon enough that ego would come to bite me in the butt.

Sociology was a class designed to dissect human culture in the U.S. What impressed me the most about this class is that it forced me to take a close intellectual look at human society. It allowed me to analyze the world and see it through a lens that was clearer for me. I could finally understand all of the unwritten rules of the world that have eluded me in Elementary School. I was looking for logic and order in the game called Society, but I was consulting the wrong profession. Now that I had a system to abide by, human nature became a subject of intrigue.

This was the first of many cultural events that would come with my new classes and profession.

Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, I was taking American Sign Language (ASL) to fulfill my foreign language requirement. Why take ASL instead of Spanish or French? I stutter, I clutter words, and it takes me awhile to think of the right words for spoken languages. In ASL, the class converses by using our hands and facial gestures. I thought that this form of communication might provide a better fit for me than a verbal foreign language.

While taking the class, not only did we study non-verbal communication, we also learned about the culture of the deaf community and others who practice ASL. These lessons of the deaf culture became my first real active interest in cultures and human nature. While reading and interacting in the world of silence, I became more and more interested in how the world of someone else was different from my own world. I hated taking tests over it, but was still intrigued by the content and the natural world of ASL and the deaf.

In the second half of the year, the arrogance from my sociology class finally came back to bite me. In my first Social Work class, one of our main assignments was to venture into a culture with that we were not familiar with and write down our experience. The idea behind this exercise is that all types of social workers will be expected to interact with individuals from different ethnic backgrounds and this assignment is to help the students venture outside their familiar territory.

Choosing a culture to explore was the easy part. It so happens that my family is good friends with another family that was of both Muslim and Jewish descent. So I asked them for their advice, and they advised me to visit a mosque for my project. It was a culture that I knew only from hearsay and stereotypes. I thought that it would be an ideal place for my project and one-up the guys how on take to part in the 30 Days challenge.

As the day of my first mosque experience came closer, I went from ‘next in line for the rollercoaster’ excited to ‘cavity filling at the dentist’ anxious. Finally, the day of proving came, and I was scared out of my wits. My dad came along to help me with my project, but he wasn’t any more prepared for this endeavor than I was and he was just as nervous. I finally understood why the people on 30 Days were so scared.

As we slowly approached the front doors of the mosque, countless questions shot through my head. Should we wait five more minutes? Should we have brought some kind of peace offering? Who do we talk to? What do we do? What are the people like? What was the polite thing to do? What was the impolite thing to avoid?

This series of senseless inner questioning came to a halt when we shook hands with the door’s greeter. In a flash, my worries lifted, my preconceptions blurred, and my media induced stereotyped image of the people laid dead behind me as I walked through the door. The people I had feared to meet were a kindly and helpful bunch.

The moment my dad and I stepped into the mosque, many of the local parishioners practically rolled out the red carpet for us. When they learned that we visiting and we were interested in their culture, the practitioners were overjoyed and were eager to show us around. They showed us what to do, when to do what action, and explained the mechanics of the faith. Afterwards both my dad and I felt very relieved that our worries were groundless and we were grateful for the experience.

In a way, I’d spent my “30 days” by exploring a different career path.

A Fork in My Road

For a good deal of my life I’d been announcing, practically bragging, to my family and peers that I was going to be an engineer. So, you can probably imagine how difficult it was for me to ask my parents if they could see me working in another career.

As much as I wanted a job in engineering, the higher level math requirements became too much to bear. For reasons that still elude me to this day, math just seemed pointless to me now. I used to love math for its patterns and predictability. Now the algorithms didn’t seem to touch on anything in the real-world anymore. Eventually I had to drop out of the class and forfeit the path of engineering altogether.

My academic journey was stuck at a fork in the road. I had to uncover new talents and new inspiration for a new calling for myself. When I didn’t have papers to write or tests to panic over, I pondered and reflected upon who I am, what I have done up to this point, and what do I want to do for the rest of my life. I knew that discovering my true vocation was a matter that deserved careful deliberation. However, I also knew that my time for pondering was running out.

I dreaded the worst when I informed my parents newfound struggles. When I came across difficulty with a class, I would always stay the course by working through the problem or find a way around it. This was the first time I had to abandon such an important waypoint. Oddly enough, they were very open-minded and were supportive about this change in potential professions. This was not to say that they were happy about me leaving engineering; this just meant that they would support me wherever my path would lead.

I tried to put my dilemma into the perspective of “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” (Confucius) Then came the query of what do I like to do and can I make a stable career out of it? I thought about my dilemma long and hard, but I needed inspiration to move me in the right direction.

One night while I was contemplating my career decision, my Mom suggested helpfully, “Maybe you can be like the people at KAP?” I thought about it. It was true that KAP’s career was focused around helping people, but how was that career classified? I did some digging on the matter and discovered that the organizers of KAP are classified as a social-work program, a vocation that I had been doing for fun for years with the Boy Scouts, National Honors Society, and the Beta Club.

Very soon after my discovery, I declared myself as a Social Work major at WKU and signed up for the necessary courses for the third year. Fortunately for me, I had already dispensed with most of the major’s prerequisites and Gen Ed requirements so I was able to jump right in to the major’s introductory courses unchallenged.

Though I was taking a new academic and career path, I did not regret my time in the engineering courses that I had taken in High School. I may not be putting my education from them to everyday use for my new profession, but I still value my time in the engineering magnet. The program gave me motivation to get out of bed and seize the day. It gave me hope that every school day I was going to wake up and learn something that would make a difference in somebody’s life. This was also a time that I could get an idea on what parts of engineering I was good at. I had new skills that could aid me in a domestic setting-such as the time when I repaired my dying TV with the skills I learned from my electronics course. I could also say that my high school years were anything but ordinary. After all, how many can say they made a human-sized canoe out of cardboard and duct tape?

The Monsters Still Chase Me

Ever since my time in Middle School, I saw that all teachers as heroes and advocates for students that were experiencing trouble. They answered my many questions, tolerated my ignorance and protected me from bullies. However, I soon found out that not all professors were as friendly and helpful toward their pupils.

As I said before, I had bullies in my younger years of life, but I wasn’t targeted for my autism specifically. My youthful tormentors usually preyed on me because I was seen as a loner with lousy social skills. As such, I was a good source for a cheap laugh. I wasn’t afraid of them; they were only immature jerks.

My only true villain didn’t appear until in my second year of college. The fully-grown bully was not a fellow classmate on campus or an old peer from my early years. The situation would probably have been far more favorable if he had been. My bully at this point in my life, the person who harassed me for my autism, was a College professor.

This whole affair began in my sophomore year of college when I was taking a Standard English class for my General Education requirements. On my first day in the class, I went up to the teacher, introduced myself, handed him my disability papers, and took an advantageous seat in the front row. In all fairness, upon my first meeting with my teacher, he seemed like a nice guy. My tasks in the class were simple: Read the many short stories in the assigned book, take a short quizzes based on the readings, write three papers for the semester, and study for three tests plus the final exam.

For the next few months I did my best to earn a decent grade on my appointed assignments. However, nothing I did seemed to please the teacher. During my Study Table hours at KAP, I would read the scheduled stories, memorize the key notations, and have KAP help me prepare for the quiz the following day. However, on the quizzes, he wouldn’t ask for the main ideas, Meta messages, foreshadowing, or the moral of the story. No. Instead he would ask for the details of the story that were often missed due to their unimportance to the tale; tidbits that would pass off as decoration to fluff up the story. If the short story had a street brawl, he would ask for the eye color of the mute onlookers. If the story were about a teen girl confronting a dangerous youth, he would ask about what kind of wallpaper she had in the kitchen. If the tale was about a lottery that nobody wanted to win, he would ask what kind of weather the villagers were having. And so I would get nothing but F’s on my quizzes. My grades for the writing assignments for the class weren’t much better.

In spite of my best effort, despite all my work and dedication, the English teacher would pass back my papers with an F stamped on it and not have a single comment to explain why. Three months into the class, and I was at my wits’ end. If it will help me improve, I will accept any form of constructive criticism, but all I was getting back were failed assignments, failed tests, and a improving migraine. I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time.

Difficulty understanding English assignments was not a new concept for me. Weather it was writing my own story or interpreting someone else’s, I would always need help. So I thought there were more unwritten rules I wasn’t picking up on. I approached the teacher many times to figure out what was going on. But he would only provide limited feedback, a smile, and say, “Hang in there.” His response gave me a glimmer of hope, but no answers.

It wasn’t until my second test I figured out what was REALLY going on. Before the second test took place, I had spent many hours each day reviewing the class’s test material and, after the test, I felt really confident in the results. But alas, there was nothing but an F waiting for me upon grading day. In dismay, I approached the teacher one last time to ask one last question, WHY? “What was I doing wrong?” I asked him.

I was expecting some form of constructive criticism, but all he said was “You didn’t answer the questions the right way.” …. WHAT!?

I snapped. “What do you mean ‘the right way’?!” I asked in outrage.

He quickly silenced me and said, “You should be grateful for the grades I have given you! I will report your poor behavior to KAP. Do you understand?!”

At this point, I had plenty to say in response with some very choice words and colorful vocabulary to this man, but before then, I had to keep myself from crying.

Bigots, racists, prejudice. I have known of their existence since I did a report on the Ku Klux Klan back in Middle School. Ever since I have grown to despise such idealism and the creatures that worship it. I despise what they have done in the past. And I despise them still what they do now. I have seen such bigots in action in the form of the annoying protestors that insists that Gods hates homosexuals.

I have come to despise the idea of judging someone for not WHO they are but WHAT they are. I can always change WHO I am through the choices I make each and every day. I cannot, however, change WHAT I am because I did not choose to be born as a human, where I was raised, my parents, or to have Autism.

Although I was aware of bigotry in all of its elements, this was the first time I felt the cold jagged blade of prejudice stabbing my heart. How naive of me to believe the threat of bullying would just end with high school. Bullying can carry into adulthood too. Never before had I felt so helpless. I knew that I was different from everyone else. But I had assumed that being different were the only extent of the damage. Things that are deviant was not supposed to be a sin. For the first time in my life, I felt absolutely pathetic.

I spent the rest of the day in doldrums, wandering from class to class, half aware of my surroundings. I tried to focus on my studies but I just too depressed to care. Helpfully, the kind organizers at KAP were as devastated and outraged at this development as I was and tried their hardest to rectify the situation in my favor. However, whenever KAP tried to contact the teacher, he would have a “convenient” excuse at the last minute to miss the meeting. When they finally cornered the rat, it was already too late for me and many others in my class. It was the first time in my life I had an F on my report card.

The semester finally ended with lackluster results. I may have walked out a little wiser, but I was mostly mad. I was infuriated at the professor for being a fat egotistic demon disguised as a teacher and mad at myself for not seeing the signs earlier that this instructor had no intention of giving me a chance to succeed.

A semester later after that horrible experience, I learned that another student at KAP was taking the same English professor I had and was having an equally difficult time with him.

It is a learned habit of mine to retain all of my notes and assignment papers of past classes just in case I might need them for future reference.

Feeling sympathy for the student, I tried to help him out by rendering all of my class notes, assignments, and quizzes that I kept from that class. I hoped that the notes would give him a fighting chance and to succeed where I have failed. He was grateful of course and used my notes. Nonetheless, my hopes were in vain. The professor still wouldn’t pass him despite his best efforts, and I felt nothing but rage.

I was betrayed! Teachers are meant to guide and protect their students and every professor before this bully did just that. How dare he deny me the one thing I ask, one chance to prove myself.

My heart was filled anger and anguish. After this episode, I thirsted for revenge. While I paced, I had countless dark fantasies of payback, each one blacker than the last. But I could not bring myself to act on any of them. Not because “revenge is wrong,” “hatred leads to more hatred,” “violence solves nothing,” “two wrongs don’t make a right,” or other similar clichés. As needlessly cruel as my pretend proctor was, I refused to become his successor and become a monster like him.

I don’t how or when, but I do know that such villainy rarely goes unchallenged. Be it of God’s wrath or karma’s cycle, he will be punished for his transgressions. Such is the way of all with closed minds, bigoted attitudes, and inflated egotists –they will get their just rewards in the end.

So, life moves on. Although I was still bitter about what happened to me in that class and how I was treated; I had to realize that life had hills and potholes and I had to learn to get over them or endure them. I learned to both choose my classes and my professors more carefully. I have also learned that it does no good to worry about the “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.” All it is extra baggage and I wouldn’t become any stronger nor wiser by lugging it around. The only thing I could do was pick myself up, dust myself down, and move on.

College Assistance

When I entered WKU, I still had aspirations to become an engineer, but I had to get most of my tedious basic level courses out of the way before I could fully enjoy my major’s important aspects. As such, I declared myself as Undecided to preemptively knock out my college General Education (Gen Ed) requirements-the basic level required courses that every WKU student needs to take before graduating (English, Math, History, Foreign Language). Lucky for me, I was able to get a tremendous amount of help from a local organization that is stationed on campus.

The organization is called the Kelly Autism Program (KAP). KAP specializes in assisting individuals with autism and works with autistic clients that range anywhere from elementary to college level students. When I joined KAP in my freshman year, I was enrolled in KAP’s Study Tables program. Simply put, the Study Tables program is a service that provides active help throughout the client’s college experience. This help includes homework assistance, in-class accommodation authorization (Office for Student Disability Services), guidance on how to conduct oneself in the real world, and building a healthy social repertoire. It was thanks to these people that I was able to survive and thrive in College from start to finish.

One does not normally find such help as you find at KAP. They provide the resources and Help Piece that is normally missing at other autism-help facilities. Not only do the students get the tools they need, they are also taught how to use them step by step. For example, after the KAP students were released to go home, a KAP worker found a student going the wrong way and heading further and further from campus. The worker flagged down the student and took him back to KAP where she walked back and forth with the student to make sure that he could find his way to and from his dorm the next time on his own. This is the Help Piece that KAP provides, and this is exactly what the autistic community needs to succeed.

When my mom and I visited KAP for the first time, the manager of the facility asked my mom some questions about me and my abilities. One question that stood out to me was when the manager asked my mom very sternly, “Can he do this work?”

After a moment of thought, my mom replied to the manager, “I don’t know, but we can’t not try. Because every goal he set out for he found a way to make it happen, and we cannot deprive him the right to try.”

Oddly enough, I was not offended by the manger’s question. I have achieved much during my time in High School, however I also had to agree with her skepticism in my ability to survive in College. The manager knew very well that some students with disabilities have been babied by their parents/teachers and have taken an easy road through their life without learning the necessary skills to live on their own.

Such as the case with my neighbor in the freshman dorm. He was a fellow autistic student who enrolled into WKU at the same time as I. However, after we both moved into our new dorms, I didn’t see him much outside the dorm or at KAP. I later learned that he dropped out after the first few weeks because he hadn’t learned what he needed to from home. College has a lot more social variables than high school. These included academic expectations, attitudes of the professors, living independently, communicating and cooperating with peers, and compensating for unexpected turn of events.

While KAP did help me perform in my daily assignments outside of class, I still needed some additional help for my daily tasks during class. This is where the Office for Student Disability Services comes in. This office offers students with disabilities in-class accommodations, such as extended time, books of tape, or even a note-taker (a fellow student would get paid by the office to share their notes with the recipient).

If it weren’t for KAP I would have not known these accommodations existed. KAP took the time to get to know me, assess what services would benefit me, and how to use them to their fullest extent.

Although I had these services available to me, this did not mean that I was lazy. From the office, I did ask to take extra time on tests and hire a note-taker. However, I did not allow my accommodations to do all of the work for me. I had to work and, at times, fight to get all of my assignments competed and ready for the assigned due date. My ultimate goal here was that I tried to live my college life with as few complications as possible.

As time went by, I began to see myself as a burden to my parents. Particularly my Mom. Every time I’ve had an issue, I needed to come back to her for a solution. If I needed to study for a spelling test, my mom quizzed me. If I needed to know what happened in 1887, mom would make a study guide to make it easier to recall. If I had peers who were harassing me, mom would call a school meeting and take care of them.

For each event that I couldn’t support myself, I felt more pathetic because I couldn’t handle it myself. I appreciate my mother’s unwavering support and I appreciate the help I get from KAP. But I continually felt that I was at the mercy of someone else and I hated it. I hated myself that was over 18 and still needed had to burden another for my shortcomings.

“Even Jesus had apostles” my mom would say. “Even Jesus had apostles,” another way of saying that everyone helps in his or her life in one point or another. These were words that I didn’t take to heart until much later. In the meantime, I tried my hardest to be self-reliant. Which meant to have all of my tasks of the day under my thumb. I knew that I was only human and that I had weakness here and there, but no one else in the room seemed to have difficulties like mine.

Looking back on it now, it was probably during High School graduation that I finally understood something important. When the graduate stood up to receive their diploma and when the graduates’ families would cheer for them upon recognition, I understood that although that each student may have attended class as an individual, they were not alone. Each one of them had a team that supported them and helped and guided them through their journey. I was still a little hesitant to ask for help at first. However, when I saw that college professors encouraged students to come seek help, I had a quick change of heart and a new paradigm on the subject.

Only in video games can one person plow through overwhelming odds and change the world. The only reason why a fictional character can charge through armies armed with only a sword and live is because they are supposed too. For the sake of plot the heroes of fiction are scripted to deliver a happy ending. People of the real world aren’t so invincible. Our lives are not scripted and fate does not favor dunderheads that think can button mash through their problems. People need other people to survive our independent trails.

Continent College

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

I wake up one sunny day in August 2007. I turn off my alarm and look around to find myself alone in my room. I took a deep breath in search of the familiar smell of fresh coffee and toasted bagels only to find the scent of still air. I listen for the familiar sounds of my parents and sisters as they stir out of bed only to find silence. It was then it dawned on me that I was alone and on my own. It was my first day in College.

When I learned that I was going to a university, I admit, I had some reservations. When I initially thought what my new college life was going to consist of, I thought that the atmosphere of the college campus was going to be similar to my previous high school life along with frat parties, inhuman hazing initiations, and dead-boring professors over 60. My biggest concern I had was that I was going to be living on my own in the dorms. The longest I have ever been apart from my parents were about a week for Boy Scout summer camp.

I admit, I was lonely, overwhelmed, and confused at first. But after I settled in, I quickly found out that college life was a whole new culture with new people and new rules. Not only that, I found out more about myself and how to be self-reliant when I was living alone.

When I stepped onto Western Kentucky University’s (WKU) campus for the first time, one of my first thoughts was that this place was big. Really big. While High School could be described as island. College could be its own continent. This world was not contained into one boring looking building and a bus ride like at High School. The entire school was a whole community with lots of places to traverse and explore.

I found it very refreshing to see the atmosphere around me change from a noisy habitat of wasted effort to a den of potential scholars. When I looked around on campus and see the people moving back forth on the sidewalk, I could see it in their eyes that there was something occupying their minds. A project? A test? A new job? Laundry? Overseas internship? Lunch? Whatever the case, they knew that they had a task to complete and they would get to work to get it done without delay. There were still some dunderheads here and there, but they quickly learned the hard way that life is not their playground anymore.

One such example took place during my freshman year when I took an Art Appreciation class. The class was just getting results back from a test we had taken the week before. That was when one of the students leisurely approached the professor and confessed that he had missed the test and requested to take a makeup. To say that the professor was not keen on the idea was an understatement. The student could have informed the professor weeks beforehand and they could have arranged something, but he didn’t. Now that everyone in the class has gotten their test back, the student could pull another student aside and ask to look at the graded test and thus have an unfair advantage. The professor was quick to realize this and quicker to eject the laid-back student from the class. The student tried to play it cool and nonchalant, but the infuriated teacher made short work of his insolence and ejected him from class with a very loud and angry “GET OUT!!” Nobody could blame her.

I couldn’t help but nurse a secret delight in seeing the obnoxious, immature twits being filtered from the hard workers. I took pride in knowing that I had surpassed the breeding grounds of immature tormentors and had moved to a higher level in life. Although the college atmosphere had been mostly cleared of juvenile beings, there would always be some that would prey on the weaknesses of others.

Upon my freshman year, I also noticed a change in tone from my teachers in high school and my professors in college. Whenever I would interact with the professors, I’d notice a transition from “How can I help you today?” to an unsaid ‘Do you really care about my class?’ Unlike the high school teachers, I had to earn any help from my professors by showing that I cared about passing their class and meeting their challenges. In short, if I showed that gave a damn about my class, the professors gave a damn about me.

WKU also became the ultimate proving ground for overcoming my autism. Not only did I have to overcome my deficiencies when doing my class assignments and performing my duties as a college student, I had to be able to provide for myself independently.

From this day forward, I had to be responsible for my classes! Laundry! Dishes! Hygiene! Responsible for my meals! PAYING for groceries! And then be at least two steps ahead of the game for the next day. It felt like someone had loosened a pair of training wheels on my life. This was a brand new experience to be so responsible for my life when my parents weren’t around to clean up after me.

Finding balance to do it all was always a tricky job. This was because, before college, my sisters and I would divide up our household chores among us. When I became a college resident, it was now my responsibility to do all of the chores whether I liked them or not. However, this did not mean that I had to complete five years of college on my own. When you live on your own, you can’t be a one-man show. You are going to need help in one aspect of college or another. Like it is said in another one of my favorite mom-isms, “Even Jesus had apostles.” Everyone needs help from time to time.

Land of Magic, Swords, and Mecha

I love anime! There, I’ve said it!

If I were given a choice between a stack of random fantasy manga (Japanese comics) and a stack of the Harry Potter series, I would choose the manga. Why? I don’t hate Harry. I am a visional learner; I understand things better with visual aid.

Liking anime is not a subject I’d widely admit to most people. Mainly because I feel that most people will associate cartoons as entertainment for children and with me being an adult will seem childish for reveling in worlds with super-human warriors and giant robots. I know that the realism is not likely. In fact, the hairstyles on most of the anime characters alone can defy laws of physics. However, there is just something about the unrealism and imagination that is put into these animated worlds that is so appealing to me and the advancing story of struggle and growth hits home for some reason.

The plots can be more than just ‘good guy’ vs ‘bad guy’, they delve into the grey area in between. Most anime plots are silly and made to make you laugh, but they can also contain real-world elements like bullies, same-sex relationships, single parents, racial discrimination, pollution, poverty and other real-life elements viewers can identify with.

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, for example, is a drama manga about an ordinary Japanese family raising their son who has autism. No swords, no robots, just a simple family dealing with familiar problems and miracles that come with autism.

Along with Japanese branded comics, I also read freelanced branded webcomics as well. Just like in manga, webcomics also deliver story with unique characters and a compelling offbeat story. The difference in the two mediums is that the story is delivered in smaller increments and the story can have fewer content restrictions. The artist has the freedom to be as originally imaginative, wacky, mature, and/or symbolic as they please without adhering to corporate supply and demand. The content of these novels can also touch on real-world subjects viewers can relate to.

Recently I have come across several independent studies that suggest there might be a connection between autism and anime. After some reading, I can see some merit to this study. Besides being an anime fan myself, I have met a family that has three autistic children and they all love anime as well, to the point that going to anime conventions are commonplace.

The observations made by Robert Rozema in his article, Manga and the Autistic Mind was the most illuminating. Now I am well aware that not members of autism are inherently anime fans. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” (Dr. Stephen Shore). In fact, have met some individuals on the spectrum and they prefer real-world dramas over animation. All the same, I do believe that this is a revenue worth exploring.

Some of the keynotes of the anime/autism studies by Mr. Rozema’s and various online forums include:

1) Anime focuses less on verbal narratives and more on picture-specific storytelling, which appeals to visual thinkers.

2) Broken down to their base elements anime characters are physically drawn the same. Besides the outrageous hairdos, the authors add small and distinct facial details to separate one character from another. Being able to pick up on these subtle differences can teach autistic individuals how to discriminate between faces.

3) Anime character emotions are easy to read unlike a real person. When an anime person is being expressive, they will display their emotions through exaggerated facial ques and/or emotional symbols (sweat drop for worry, popping vein for anger, etc).

4) Anime does not have a lot of background clutter (unneeded distractions, background noise, unimportant extra characters)

5) Manga use geometric panels to organize the books content. Block panels for backgrounds, circle panels for dialogs, and other shaped panels for emotional effect. This setup appeals to pattern thinkers.

6) Anime can provide social ammunition for fans to get together and socialize.

7) Escaping reality. Much like pacing (autistic fantasy), anime can be used as a way to escape reality and decompress from the real-world.

8) Using manga to teach readers about Japanese culture. In turn, this can have the autistic reader curious enough to voluntary venture outside their comfort zone to explore the real world.

Whether or not these findings are completely reliable may be up for debate for years to come. Regardless, I do believe people with or without autism need various ways to escape reality to cope with the harshness of the real-world from time to time. Coloring books shouldn’t be just for kids, video game aren’t just for teens, and building models shouldn’t be just for the retired. Even adults should be allowed some time to have some fun. Maybe some adults would be less grumpy if they allowed their inner child to run around every once in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

Article source

Rozema, R. (2015). Manga and the Autistic Mind. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/EJ/1051-sep2015/EJ1051Manga.pdf