Conquer Our Fears

Conquer Our Fears

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mentoring and Reaching Out to Younger Aspergians

Having experienced firsthand the difficult and tumultuous years of high school and even middle school as an Aspergian, I believe in the importance of an older generation of Aspergians developing an empathetic side for young adults who are experiencing the deep hurt resulting from social ostracization. Especially in youth, a stage of development, growth, and learned maturity, we are much more sensitive and vulnerable to the labels, jeers, and hurtful words of others.

Growing up, I didn't have a support system to deal with my anger, frustration, and depression, and it took a toll on me years later, as I put up a wall between myself and others, avoiding friendships and relationships for fear of getting hurt again. I felt that the less people knew me, the fewer opportunities they would have to expose and make fun of my oddities and quirks. With a support system, an older friend and mentor, I believe I could have learned earlier on to be open to the idea that there are also people who would have accepted me for who I was, awkwardness and all! It took several years down the road for me to start making friends again, but when I finally did, it sowed the seeds of trust and openness, which snowballed into confidence and taking risks. I just wish I had had someone who had been in my shoes, and overcome. There is a distinct bonding element of the shared human experience, and I challenge adults with Aspergers to be this catalyst to success for young adults with our "condition" who face adversity in an overwhelmingly neurotypical society. As the old saying goes, it takes one to know one!

Do you have a child, cousin, or younger brother or sister with Aspergers? Try sitting down with them and sharing some of your greatest challenges and successes at their age as an Aspergian. Find and focus on any commonalities!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Tough Balance of Social Expectations and Personal Needs

A recent discovery in navigating relationships is the rawness and hurt feelings of other's who have social expectations of you, which may not be adequately met, despite our best efforts. An example of this could be a several hour dancing session, which often involves stressful variables such as strangers, fear of making mistakes, and the drain of being surrounded by people for a prolonged period of time. Each of these variables can act as a trigger, and stressor, to someone with Aspergers. Personal experience with this exact situation outlined the differences between a neurotypical and myself. On my end, I was proud of myself for putting myself out there in a social situation I would typically avoid, knowing it was important to someone I was close to. I was shocked, and hurt, to discover that being ready to leave after 2 hours instead of the complete 4 hour duration of the dance lesson, was interpreted as ungratefulness and self-centered behavior, despite stepping outside my comfort zone for someone else. I left feeling discouraged, and misunderstood.

While I make it a point to cultivate connections with coworkers, friends and family, sometimes it can be hard to find a balance between other's expectations, and my own needs. In the above scenario, I met someone's expectations to the best of my ability, truly, to my maximum capacity, before needing to shut down and remove myself from a situation that taxed my social battery, and when empty, triggered my anxiety. I needed to recharge, I needed the soft touch of the night air, after an assault of sound, stares, and sweat. 

My advice to those who reach their threshold of social stimuli is simply to put in your best effort for people you are close to, but make it clear when you need your peace and quiet, if anxiety begins to settle in. When someone cares about you, they will often reframe their expectations, a theme I mentioned in my last post. Ideally, they will be understanding to your needs, and appreciate that you stepped outside of your comfort zone for them!

With coworkers, socializing often occurs on a less personal level, so find a polite, tactful excuse to make your exit. For example, after grabbing drinks or bowling with coworkers, you might say, "Great seeing you all, but I've got to get back and run the dog!" This will be interpreted much better than then bluntness around you being drained by their social activity.

What stresses you out in social situations? How do you manage this stress?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sensitivity to Individual Routine

I believe those of us with Aspergers approach life with an individualized, unique system to navigate it, compared to your average neurotypical. We are often creatures of routine, habit, and structure, and when someone interrupts these, throwing in elements of spontaneity and expectations, it triggers us. You might write us off as rude, insensitive, self-absorbed. But I implore you to look at our own routines through a different lens.

Growing up, I would always burst into rage when my night home from school would be ruined by what my parents called "Forced Family Fun." Essentially, my night of planning to relax with some reading and Nintendo after 8 hours of being surrounded by people would be thrown out the window for time spent discussing our days (groan), going for a walk, or eating dinner together. I needed some time to be left to my own devices, to recharge in my own world, away from everyone else. My parents called this antisocial. I called this retaining sanity. See what I mean? Two different perspectives. For the life of them, my family couldn't understand why I couldn't be more like my brother and sister, who happily engaged in our "Triple F" routine without hesitation. For so many years, I felt like the black sheep of the family, never wanting to do things their way, and lashing out when their expectations were shoved upon me...until I finally made it clear what I needed from them.

As a parent, family member, friend, or significant other of someone with Aspergers, you may never truly understand why we do things the way we do them, and why we react so harshly when our routine is infringed upon, but if you want to retain a good relationship, it's imperative that you give us the space we need. Try to be sensitive to these routines, and give us advanced notice, presenting plans as an option, rather than an expectation. I guarantee you there will be a two way improvement in accommodating one another. After years of a strained relationship with my family, vocalizing this need was the most important step I had taken, and I respected them for re-framing their expectations for me. I am closer with them because of it!

What are some daily routines that you follow? Do you feel like people are sensitive to them?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Navigating Dating with Aspergers

I'd like to talk about a more personal area today, sharing with you some insight into my successes and failures in the dating world, as a current 24 year old with Aspergers. To begin, let me start with some encouragement. It goes without saying that the more practice you put into any venture in life, the more experienced and knowledgeable you will be in that area. Looking back at my high school dating, college, and even current dating experiences, there is such a distinct difference in my demeanor, outlook, and perception of dating. In high school, before I was even diagnosed with Aspergers, I knew my kinks in social navigation went beyond your typical teen awkwardness. It began with my eventually realization that I lacked social-awareness.

When it came to dating, I would actually surprise myself by getting a girl to want to go on a date with me. It was the failure to hear back after that let me know I was doing something wrong. I finally had a girl who was blunt enough to tell me I was probably single because I spent the whole date talking, and none of it listening. After bombing what seemed like countless first dates in high school, it finally clicked...start listening. Ask questions. In fact, make it a habit to alternate between asking a question and answering a question. Get to know the other person. This applies to cultivating friendships just as much as relationships. For so long, it had just never occurred to me to step outside of myself. It sounds so simple, but to me, it's so easy to get locked into my own interests. Developing a give and take mentality was a crucial first step to my success in relationships. During college, I maintained a two year relationship that ultimately taught me the value of putting in a regular conscious effort to be aware of the needs, and wants of others.

As for the best way for an Aspergian to meet someone? I found success in online dating once I graduated college. I've come to find how much I enjoy predictability and structure, and the process of getting to know someone else online before in person, was a much more comfortable, gradual process. Wouldn't you rather go into a date knowing you have things in common, and having gotten to know them a bit beforehand? I eventually stopped worrying about saying something wrong or coming across as awkward, but rather coming away from each date knowing I was a little more confident, a little more experienced, and that there is someone out there that will accept each one of us for who we are, Aspergian quirks and all.

What has your experience been like, dating someone with Aspergers, or as an Aspergian?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Aspergers: Defining Success

Funny thing about's not something that is grown out of. It is neurological framework hardwired into each of our brains, and there is simply no way to magically become a Neurotypical (someone without AS) one day. Many see Aspergers as unwanted baggage, and concede defeat to it's social and cognitive challenges, instead of adapting, putting in effort, and using the challenges to achieve goals and set up a timeline for success. Believe me, I've been there. But when I took the first actual step towards what I wanted; to develop and nurture relationships, a career, to be a writer, to own my own apartment and car, I knew I had to take action or else continue down the path of mediocrity, when I wanted so much more for myself than that.

So what is success for someone with Aspergers? Well, the answer is different for each of us. I have known people who are completely content living at home with parents, working part time jobs. I have known a young man who struggled with public speaking, but put genuine effort in to remedy this, and who's goal for himself was to become a renowned Senator. I have even known an extremely gifted artistic Aspergian with sleeves of tattoos and dreams of opening up a Tattoo parlor one day. There are so many variables to consider when looking at what defines success for someone with Aspergers. The worst thing a Neurotypical can do, is vocalize a preconceived notion that someone with Aspergers is doomed to fail because of the condition they were born with. As a family member, significant other, and friend of someone with Aspergers, support them in whatever aspirations they have for themselves, however lofty it may seem to you. Many of us are extremely capable when we have clear goals for ourselves. Which leads me this next statement...Aspergians, make it a NECESSITY to develop and ACT upon goals for yourself, or you will only ever doubt yourself. I know firsthand how easy it is to entertain ideas in our head, without taking action. Our minds and thoughts are where we go to. Our own head can feel like the safest place for us to be. But stepping outside our minds, putting goals into action, and every single risk you take demonstrates growth and the desire to achieve that which you have set for yourself.

I challenge each of you to take one new risk each day. My risk for today? Truly believing that what I'm writing has the potential to make an impact on others, and taking the time and the effort right here, right now, to make my voice heard though this post.

What are some risks you have taken recently? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Developing a New Perspective of Aspergers and Self-Worth

Hello! After several years of harboring myself from blogging about my experiences as young adult diagnosed with Aspergers, I'm returning for good, to utilize a new tool-set of self-realizations during my four year journey of facing self-doubt and fear.

Since graduating from college, I have experienced the ups and downs of job hunting, of internships, of love and loss, and my next steps in my career path, But to successfully navigate these cornerstones of many young adults' lives, I've had to develop maturity, a deeper understanding of myself, and a willingness to be honest with myself about some of the challenges I face. With Aspergers, this process for me has been has been difficult, but necessary. I fear change. I fear inadequacy. I fear vulnerability. But somehow, I've developed the realization that to succeed in life, I needed to face these fears instead of running from them. There is always room for growth, and this is something I now strive for each day. The Austin of today, writing this post, four years later on the breezy porch of an apartment I can call my own, is a more mature, confident and perceptive man than he ever was before.

How did this development of character come about, you might ask? Well, it began with a change in my perspective of self worth.

A large reason for my abrupt detachment from blogging was deeply seeded in self doubt and feeling like my impact writing these posts was minimal at best. I have always based my measure of success on tangible results, on statistics and comparing my self worth on the number of people that interact with my work. When I closed my laptop on that September day in 2011, I left feeling like 10 followers and a few hundred hits on my blog was symbolic of failure as a writer. I looked at John Elder Robinson, author of "Look Me In The Eye" to compare my success to. Having thousands of readers, and inspiring countless more as a role model for navigating the tumultuous world of an Aspergian in the world of "normal people," he had the impact I so deeply desired. I wanted nothing more than to have my own experiences help, connect, and identify with others who live with Aspergers. I wanted my work to mean something, to inspire, to build up others dealing with the challenges Aspergers can present.

Somewhere down the road, I had given up on my passion by quantifying my readers into mere numbers. I dehumanized them, by basing their value to me as a writer as a statistic, instead of measuring the impact my writing could have on each, individual person. I've returned to this blog, stepping outside of my own head, and perception of success, to place value on each individual person. I believe developing a selfless perspective has helped me find value in my writing. If even one reader sees my blog, that is now success to me. Knowing that I have the potential to inspire growth, to relate to, to offer advice, and to empathize with another person who is dealing with Aspergers...that is the only kindling I need to fuel my fire for writing. To those of you reading this right now. YOU are unique. YOU are important...and I value each and every one of you.

My question for each of you has your concept of self worth changed throughout your life? Let's discuss in the comment section below!