Andy Gainey

Autism

I am a self-diagnosed autistic. I was first made aware of the possibility back in 2006 when I stumbled across the condition known as Asperger's syndrome, though it took until 2014 for me to research and reflect enough to recognize and accept autism as a core element of my identity. But now that I have finally incorporated it into my self-image, this insight has been very valuable to my ongoing journey of self-discovery, explaining much about my experiences and behaviors that I had previously understood poorly or hardly recognized at all. It has also provided me with actionable directions to follow in my pursuit of self-improvement.

Instead of attempting to formulate my own summary of autism, with either an intentional or accidental emphasis on the aspects of autism that I most recognize in myself, for now I'll defer to Lydia Brown's Autistic FAQ and Tony Attwood's overview of the question, What Is Asperger's?

Many others before me have shared their own thoughts and experiences on being autistic, as well as resources that have benefited them. I am very grateful for their time and effort, since these resources have been incredibly beneficial to me also. I similarly wish to humbly contribute my own perspective to the community, if it may be of any service. Below I have put together a collection of the resources that I have found particularly useful. I plan to also add my own voice through my blog. It is very light on content currently, but I intend to remedy that over time.

To anyone that knows me personally or otherwise interacts with me outside of this website, feel free to bring the subject up or ask any questions you have. I might not be inclined to raise the subject myself in most cases, out of a fear of being socially inappropriate, but would certainly welcome it if others wished to do so. I’ll trust your judgment of appropriateness over mine! :-)

General Resources

Books

Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life, by Cynthia Kim
A beautifully written, fun, and inspiring account of Cynthia's experiences and perceptions throughout life as a woman who only discovered her own autism well after establishing her personality, pursuing a successful careering, and building a family.
Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships, by Ashley Stanford
A realistic, practical, and persistently positive exploration of long-term relationships by a neurotypical woman married to an Aspie man, offering plenty of valuable insight, warnings, advice, and hope.
Very Late Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome: How Seeking a Diagnosis in Adulthood Can Change Your Life, by Philip Wylie
Given that much of the focus of the autism community is on children, ages as young as 18 might be considered "very late" in terms of a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. This book is an excellent exploration of the stages before, during, and after a diagnosis, official or otherwise.
The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, by Tony Attwood
I found this to be an excellent overview of Asperger's syndrome, with many valuable details and insights from both professional clinicians and those on the autism spectrum.
The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism, by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron, edited by Veronica Zysk
Lots of good insight from two people who have been able to successfully adapt to their autism and become successful adults with satisfying lives.
The Asperkid's (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-so-obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens With Asperger Syndrome, by Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Although targeted at adolescents, even for adults, this book contains plenty of useful advice and perspectives to keep in mind.
Pretending to Be Normal: Living With Asperger's Syndrome, by Liane Holliday Willey
Originally given to my by my mom eight years ago after I had mentioned my first awareness of Asperger's syndrome, I unfortunately didn’t read the whole thing until this summer. As with many auto-biographical accounts, it contributes another valuable perspective on the challenges faced and strategies used by those with Asperger's syndrome who are living a unique but successful life.

Websites & Blogs

Musings of an Aspie
A beautifully organized blog full of advice and personal experiences covering just about every aspect of practical living for autistic people that you could think of.
Letters from Aspergia
Another great blog with hundreds of insightful posts on life as an Aspie.
Tony Attwood
Author of The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, professional clinician who has been focused on autism and Asperger's syndrome since 1971. The website includes a high level overview on Asperger's syndrome, briefly summarizing the details in his book cited above: What is Asperger's Syndrome?
Wikipedia: Asperger syndrome
And of course the enormous web of links that radiate out from any single article.
Growing up with Autistic Parents
A blog sharing stories of children with parents on the spectrum. As noted in the introductory post, the stories are naturally biased towards children who’ve had a less than perfectly satisfying upbringing. Nonetheless, I found it valuable to be aware of the perspective provided by the stories told.
reddit: autism, aspergers, autistic, aspergirls, neurodiversity, uniqueminds
A collection of subreddits for questions, discussions, and links to articles and other resources, targeting the Asperger's, autism, and neurodiversity communities.

Twitter Feeds

Captain Asperger
"Sailing my #autism ship across this twitter sea. Tweets are mainly facts/observations about autism, but occasionally about my own interests."
Musings of an Aspie
"One aspie; lots of thoughts. Blogging about my experiences as a woman, wife and mother with late-diagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. #apsergers #ASD #autism"
ShitMyAspieSays
"He’s 14. I’m trying to keep up."
Shana Nichols, PhD
"Clinical psychologist, specializing in autism spectrum disorder in particular females with ASD, mental health. Author, Speaker. Director, ASPIRE Center"
JKP Autism
"News and updates on all things autism from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Tweets from the JKP marketing department."
Life Asper Margo
"Author, Model, Asperger's Advocate. Dyspraxia, because being clumsy is in my nature. #ASD"
Jen Saunders
"Writer. Geek. Daydream believer. Autistic. CEO, Founder, + Editor-in-Chief of @wildsistermag + creator of the Wild Sisterhood. Co-founder of @autisticwc."

Local

Oasis Counseling & Enrichment, Darlene Kirtley, M.S. LPC (Kansas City)
For anyone local to Kansas City, Darlene definitely gets my recommendation. As a great listener and a gentle guide, her assistance and encouragement have been a recent cornerstone of my self-discovery process.

Specific Reading

Below are a collection of articles that I found particularly useful or insightful. These tend to be specific to my interests, concerns, or challenges, so no worries if you do not find them to be as relevant to your own circumstances.

Developing a Sensemaking Narrative by Cynthia Kim
This is part 3 of Cynthia's series "I Think I Might Be Autistic" on her Musings of an Aspie website. (The series is a book too.) This process precisely what I've been engaging in as I explore autism, reflect on past experiences, and refine my personal identity.
Asking for Help by Cynthia Kim
Also on Musings of an Aspie, this nails one of my more troublesome weaknesses. I ought to consider taking the time and effort to put her suggestions into practice.
Emotional Dysfunction: Alexithymia and ASD by Cynthia Kim
Continuing with Cynthia's wonderful writing, her post on difficulties with emotions (one's own and others') is pretty much exactly what I might write in order to help others, especially those close to me, understand some of the more confusing or frustrating experiences that they might regrettably encounter while interacting with me.
When Autistics Grade Other Autistics by Amy Sequenzia
This piece has contributed to my shift away from thinking of myself as having "high-functioning" autism, or even exclusively using term "Asperger's syndrome" to describe my condition. I don't want to presume that anyone with autism is a lost cause, and I know that there are autistic people with experiences proving that "low-functioning" behavior at an earlier stage in life does not guarantee a lack of success in later life. While it is true that I have been fortunate enough to be relatively successful in life, I do not know how much this is due to my atypical physical neurology still being adequate for life's challenges, the randomness of life working out well enough, or the attitudes, habits, and principles that I've adopted allowing me to work effectively with who I am and the unique challenges I face. To the extent that the last item has helped me, I want to share the hope that similar tools can be helpful to other also, regardless of current labels such as "low-functioning".
Autism helped me become an internationally published author – here's how by Corinne Duyvis
"Others wax rhapsodic about how I prove autism is no excuse for laziness or failure. I'm an inspiration, they say; that I overcame my disability. Me? I just gape. After all my years of difficulty, the last thing I want is for people to use my experiences to put down others who struggle. What is so inspirational about accepting your limitations? When did I overcome anything? I never overcame. I incorporated." (emphasis mine)
Autistic Inertia: An Overview by Sparrow Rose Jones
As a person trying to make a go at working for myself, it is important that I learn about some of the challenges common with the autistic community which could impede my ability to have independent professional success. Along with certain other areas of executive functioning difficulties, I've recognized in myself some definite trends regarding mental "inertia", and hope to learn effective ways to work around (and even with) such behaviors in order to maximize my chances for success.

My Recent Blog Posts

(Search all blog posts on autism.)
Neurodiversity in Watchmen (2015/03/11)
Group photo of the Watchmen:  The Comedian, The Silk Spectre II, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, Nite Owl II, Rorschach

Watchmen, the 2nd Generation of Masked Crime Fighters

Watchmen, a 2009 movie directed by Zack Snyder and based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore, is without a doubt my favorite super hero movie, and easily ranks among my top movies of any genre. The action is good, the cinematography is well done, the script is compelling, and the acting is effective. But what really draws me in are the characters, as is true for most great stories. In particular, how strongly I could relate to so many of them in a variety of ways. Each character reflected a different facet of my own experiences in a profound way.

Dr. Manhattan, with his highly rational thinking style, suppressed emotions, and somewhat alien perspective; I only wish I had his powers. Rorschach’s dedication to principles and to authenticity, and his willingness to take action even if he does so alone. The Comedian, with his absurdist outlook on life, though not the extreme cynicism and impulsivity which accompanies it. Both the second Nite Owl and Silk Spectre for their struggles figuring out who their true selves really are, and how they can fit with society, or not. As for my relation to Ozymandias, I wouldn’t want to be that much of a narcissist and I won’t claim to be the world’s smartest person, but I take great pride in what intelligence I do have, and value it deeply.

Since last years’ undertaking of research and reflection around the subject of autism, and my consequently more nuanced self-understanding, I decided to re-watch the movie again, this time paying close attention to some of the themes that really impact me. The following is likely to make more sense to those who have watched the movie (or read the novel), but it should still be moderately coherent even if you have not.

Note: Vague spoilers included, along with the occasional bit of strong language and mature subjects.

(more…)

Autism, Privacy, and Fictional Characters (2015/02/13)

I recently watched the movie The Imitation Game, about the computer scientist Alan Turing and the defeat of the German Enigma encryption machine during World War II. (This post isn’t really about the movie, but I’ll take a quick detour to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was emotionally moved throughout; I highly recommend it.) It has been posthumously speculated that Turing had Asperger’s syndrome, and this speculation seems to me to have had an obvious influence on the direction, writing, and acting of the movie. While I don’t want to get bogged down in controversies over historical accuracy, cliche methods used to win movie awards, or any attitudes or comments of the director, writer, or actor concerning autism, there is one facet of how Turing was presented in the movie that I do wish to discuss. I came out of the movie having strong but mixed and confused feelings about the portrayal of Turing in relation to his possible autism. It has been a little tricky to sort out those thoughts and feelings, but here’s my best shot at it. (more…)

Fictional Characters and the Indulgence of Fan-Diagnosis (2014/10/16)

Since July, when I started to truly become aware of the autistic elements of my nature, I have been rewatching a lot of movies that include characters exhibiting some of the outward traits of autism, or who are otherwise socially awkward or social outsiders. These have often been the characters to which I could relate the most, and I wanted to re-explore these characters and plots from the perspective of my new self-understanding. I was initially motivated merely by a desire to extract a little extra comfort from watching something relatable, but it turned out to be a great method for assisting with personal reflection. Not only were there nuances to the characters that I had never noticed before, but by thinking about the characters and plots, I began to discover nuances in my own thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that I had never noticed before, or of which I had only dimly been aware. This process has also helped me think about and refine my understanding of how I relate to society around me, the expectations that are subtly placed on me by society and myself, and my reactions to those expectations. (more…)

Constructive Routines, Part 2 (2014/09/29)

Series Contents

The Daily Routine

As I noted at the end of my previous post, my next phase of designing routines focused on the structure of a full day. After two weeks, the effect seems to be impressively positive. My days have been more consistent, more focused, and less frustrating. Productivity has roughly doubled. It is possible that this new schedule is unsustainable, a form of crunch that will eventually burn me out, but right now I’m optimistic that it can be maintained indefinitely (with the aid of occasional days off, of course). Allow me to describe the daily structure, and why I have adopted various features. (more…)

Constructive Routines, Part 1 (2014/09/23)

Series Contents

New Attitude Toward Routines

I have noticed routines frequently mentioned as a trait common among autistic people.  Reflecting on my personal experiences, I initially had a difficult time figuring out my mental association with routines.  I did not perceive that I had a stronger attachment to routines than an average person, nor a larger number of them, nor more intricately detailed routines.  And that perception may have been entirely accurate and the end of my investigation; variation among autistic people is significant, and few are going to exhibit every single classic trait of autism.

But I had a nagging suspicion that there was more to this than was immediately apparent.  I had a subtle feeling that although I presently had few well defined routines, and did not have aggressive attachments to them, that might be due to suppression of a tendency toward routine, rather than simply not having such a tendency.  Of course, avoiding excessive reliance on routine can be healthy.  Especially in a highly social home life, school life, and work life, situations that benefit greatly from flexibility.

But this year is the first time in my life that I’ve lived on my own, without family or roommates, am not going to school, and work by myself from home.  What if my avoidance of routine, which was previously necessary for healthy living, is now limiting my quality of life or my productivity?  I had already noticed that my focus on flexibility had often made it difficult for me to commit to activities that required concentration, out of a desire to remain mentally prepared for the unpredictable.  And in general, I found it hard to develop healthy habits like good dental hygiene, because I simply lacked the appropriate scheduled framework and attitude to do so.  I decided it was time to switch it up:  Instead of practicing my skill of remaining flexible in any situation, a skill which had already become reasonably honed through years of exercise, I would shift my focus over to practicing the development of constructive routines.

I’m only three weeks in with my experimentation, but I’m impressed with the results I’ve already achieved in such a short time.  This definitely supports my suspicion that I was suppressing my desire for routine.  Allow me to describe some of the aspects of the routines I’ve developed so far, my reasons for designing them as I have, and some of the benefits I’ve noticed. (more…)