I Can Do This

I keep repeating this to myself over and over. It makes me laugh sometimes because my little nephew will go around saying, “I can do this.” So it reminds me of him.

The past week or so has been pretty hard. I’m not really sure why, other than the fact that a few of my friends left for college this week; so it’s been harder to find people to talk to at activities. Anyway, I’ve almost broken down at work, at church, and today I basically broke down during therapy.

The hardest thing sometimes is the feeling that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, I still feel depressed. I’m still trying though, partly because I want to be happier and partly because it’s the only choice I have.

I asked how I could serve people more at church, not so much because I want to serve as because I need to serve. I need something to forget myself. I feel like I’m drowning and the only way I can think to get out is through others. It feels kind of selfish, but I don’t really have much of a choice.

My therapist said today that we’re all a work in progress. We can’t compare our works in progress to other people’s finished product. I’m still thinking about that, but for now it helps me remember that even though I might feel selfish now, I’m not the finished product yet.

This post is not as organized as my usual posts, but that’s kind of how I’ve been feeling lately- less organized and more chaotic. I’m just hoping it gets better with all the stuff I’m trying to do.

Life is Good

I am happy to say that life is good. I’ve been in therapy for about a month now. And for the first time in my life I feel like it’s actually helping. I have hope. I’m making changes.  I actually feel like I can handle life.

Every other time I’ve gone to therapy has been about discussing my problems, which wasn’t bad but didn’t change anything. I was still just as hopeless as before, although slightly less lonely. The ineffectiveness of my therapy might best be summed up by stating that I had my most serious suicide attempt just hours after a “great” therapy session.

I was talking, but I was getting nowhere. When I leave these therapy sessions though, I have purpose. I can see a need to change and I am willing to try even though it seems hard.

And I am changing. I am becoming better and happier. And I am so grateful. I spent about a year in the happiest time of my life. I believe I was so happy because I could be myself. I had no reason to hold back or be afraid.

Then I remembered why I feared, and the depression filtered in again. This time though, I have help. And maybe, just maybe, this time it will stick. I finally have hope, not just that things will be for my good but that things may actually get better and maybe I won’t always deal with depression or anxiety or even the things I hate about autism.

Learning to Swim Socially

My posts over the last few months have been largely focused on my lack of social skills and the struggles that come with that. Anyway, after talking to some people about this and thinking a lot about it I realized something. I’ve been going about this the wrong way. I’ve been trying to be sociable without taking the time to learn social skills. I have wanted so badly to be part of the social world I see around me that I haven’t taken the time to learn how to first.

Trying to socialize without developing the skills first is like jumping feet first into a pool and trying to stay afloat. You can doggy paddle around the pool and keep from sinking, but you won’t be able to swim like everyone else until you take the time to learn how to swim. And I’d been doggy paddling for so long that I think I felt like I was drowning these last couple months.

So, long story short, I’ve decided to take a step back and learn how to swim socially. Right now I might have to just hang on to the side of the pool for a while and watch other people swim while I observe and get some coaching, but hopefully in time I can learn to socialize more like other people so that I can navigate this social world in which I long to belong.

Video Modeling

I was reminded recently of video modeling by a comment on one of my posts.
If you haven’t heard of video modeling, it is when a video shows a behavior modeled for others to imitate. Generally people watch these videos and then do some or all of the behaviors shown in the video. “How to” videos would be considered video modeling.

Research has shown that video modeling may be especially effective with people that have autism. Using videos, therapists have been able to teach autistic children different behaviors and those behaviors are generally retained even after the video modeling/ therapy ends.

I have personally never experienced video modeling as a form of therapy. However, I have noticed that I am especially susceptible to behaviors I see on a screen. When I watch a movie, it changes the way I act and the way I think. I mirror the behaviors in the movie more than I would mirror those behaviors if I were to see the same things happen in person.

For example, if I watch an action movie, I tend to walk faster and with more confidence, take more risks, and be more physically active. If I watch a children’s movie, I tend to be happier and friendlier and more playful. If I watch an intellectual movie, I tend to speak more formally, recite facts more often, and be more willing to sit and read.
That’s one of the reasons I don’t watch horror films… I don’t know how I would act if I watched a horror film, and I don’t really care to find out.

 

One day I would like to experiment with video modeling as a form of therapy on myself.

That’s actually part of my reasons for promoting this blog. If this blog ever gets enough support, I want to do a kickstarter so that I can get someone to do a video for me that will video model how to say hi in different situations. I have never been able to say hi to my friends without them either looking directly at me or them saying hi first. I hope that one day I will be able to say hi to people when I see them. Until then I look forward to the day when I can try out video modeling to see if it will help me with this skill.

A Different Outcome

As I learn more and more about autism and therapy- past and present, I’ve looked at how I grew up and how different it might have been had I been in different therapies. I was only in therapy specifically for autism once. It was play therapy and I didn’t see the point of it, so I stopped going. Other than that, my therapy consisted of the school speech therapist and the occasional psychologist.

Now when I say this I’m not saying that this is the ideal path for everyone with autism, but it worked for me. Although I think some additional therapy might have helped with certain things, I am at the age now where I can form my own therapy and work on things that I specifically need help with.

On the other hand, I look at some therapies used in the past and I am very glad that I was not involved in those therapies. I look at stories and videos of children having meltdowns and exhibiting self injurious behavior and I think that could have been me if I had been in a different situation. If people had tried to restrain me from being autistic, if people had tried to pressure me into situations I was uncomfortable with, if people had forced me into the mold they wanted to see, I think I would have had a lot more problems. I could see myself responding to those types of things with anger, aggression, meltdowns, self injury, and even hate and dissociation.

I have a very strong personality and I respond very negatively when people try to change my thought process or emotions. I need to change my own thoughts and emotions. Sometimes with help, and sometimes on my own. If someone tries to force me to change though, it usually makes my behavior worse.

I was very lucky to have grown up in a house where I was allowed to process things at my own speed and find my own way of responding to things. I was lucky to not have been put in a therapy setting where I was forced to comply to demands that I would have negatively reacted to. I was lucky to be challenged to grow within my own realm instead of being forced into a different world that I did not yet understand and pressured to grow there. I was very lucky.

I didn’t start researching autism until I became an adult and learned about autism in my college classes. I had no need to research autism before that. I had no need to understand autism. The only thing I was worried about understanding before that was myself and the world around me. And I am grateful that I didn’t worry about autism back then because it’s a lot to handle. All the information and stories and articles and studies and blogs and comments and videos are a lot to handle. Knowing you have autism is one thing, but knowing autism is something completely different.

Now that I know autism better I am so grateful that my family didn’t treat me as autistic. I am grateful that my diagnosis didn’t change my life. I am grateful that I was able to develop in the way I needed to in order to become the person I am today. And I only hope that others will be as lucky as I was.

What do you want to know about autism?

I don’t have much time to post this week since I’m visiting with my family. So I decided to ask what you would like to know about autism. Is there anything you have questions about or are curious to know? If you could interview someone with autism, what would you ask them?

Just leave your question in the comment section and I will do my best to either make a post about it or answer your question directly.

In the meantime, you can check out this video I found recently and let me know what you think. I might make a post about the video in the coming weeks.

Therapy

I know that there are a lot of different therapies available for children with autism. Some of them are more effective than others and pretty much everyone agrees that early intervention is the key to treating autism most effectively.

In my case, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 7th grade. I was 13 years old at the time. After being diagnosed my mom took me to therapy for a few weeks. After maybe the third visit I asked my mom what the therapy was supposed to do. She said that it was supposed to help me. I told her that I didn’t think the therapy really did anything so she probably shouldn’t waste her money on it.

I guess I was lucky though because in reality I had been in therapy for a long time before getting diagnosed with Asperger’s. Growing up I had trouble hearing and developed a speech impediment. I couldn’t say the letter R. Starting in 2nd grade I went to speech therapy to help me with this. During therapy we would play games with other kids that used the letters we had trouble with. Therapy was both interactive and challenged us to use words we would avoid in normal conversation because we had a hard time saying them.

By 7th grade my speech impediment was probably as good as it would ever get. So my therapist decided to focus on my social skills rather than keep trying to get the letter R perfect. I was challenged to do something new each week. Sometimes it was something like apologizing when I did something I regretted or sometimes it was ordering from a store or asking for help. Every challenge was extremely difficult for me. I had to force myself to confront situations head on and figure out how to get through them. Most of the time my parents were there to help me, but they also had to restrain from “saving me” in order for me to learn how to do things on my own.

Eventually I got to the point where I knew how to confront most situations on my own and I was no longer afraid of being stuck in a situation and not knowing how to handle it. I can’t say that getting to this point was easy, but looking back I can say that it was totally worth it. I have lived on my own, applied for and interviewed for and worked at jobs on my own, and been entirely self sufficient. If it hadn’t been for those challenges and that therapy that I received, I probably would not be able to say that now. Although trying to get through those situations on my own was difficult, I am now grateful that I did those things then so that as an adult I didn’t feel foolish when I didn’t know what to do in the same situations.

I can’t give specific advice on the effectiveness of therapies and I think it probably varies with different people, but if you can’t afford the therapies recommended, don’t lose hope.  Even something that may not seem like therapy can make a huge difference. My therapy consisted mostly of interactions, some basic training and rehearsal, and a lot of challenges. I think the biggest key is just knowing how far to push and allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Even taking what may seem like the smallest steps can make a huge difference in the long run.

Music

I’ve seen a lot of posts recently about people with autism having exceptional musical abilities. I looked into this a little bit and found a lot of information about music and autism and the connection between them. Music has been shown to transcend barriers for people with autism. Some people that cannot talk still have the ability to sing and music may be processed more quickly than other things for those with autism. There is also some evidence that music might help in therapy.

As for me personally, I love music. I can’t say that I am exceptionally talented in music and as a child I had a hard time reading sheet music when it became associated with letters. When the keys were numbered in the book, I didn’t have a problem learning and playing them. However, once I learned enough to start reading the notes I just got frustrated and could not process the association. I eventually gave up on playing the piano because of that. I still love music though. I sing in the shower and in my room, usually by myself since music is very personal to me and I am uncomfortable with sharing it with others most of the time. I have also written a few songs both verbally and on paper. I don’t know if music has helped me with my development, but my family is very musical. We all either sing, play an instrument, or just love great music. Music has a very calming effect on me and I notice that when I sing often I am happier and less irritable. Music may or may not help with my autism, but it is something that I wouldn’t want to go a day without.