Saturday, 19 May 2018

Employment and Neurodiversity

So, for those who have been following me on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, you'll be aware that I have a new job. I've been there a week, and while it's a bit overwhelming, it's also been extremely positive, especially the reception to the news that I have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

A lot of people on the spectrum that I speak to often lament that telling employers that you have a mental illness/personality disorder/are neurodiverse often means that they are excluded from jobs. This means that they don't reveal their condition, often trying their best to disguise it. This is a BAD idea for a lot of reasons, the biggest one being the damage it does to the individual. Trying to mask neurodiversity is HARD, and it takes a lot of energy that could be instead focused on getting the job done. Following on from that, I then hear stories of people starting to burn out, get sick and ultimately get fired for poor performance. No need to explain why this is bad - getting fired repeatedly from jobs makes it harder to gain subsequent employment.

So, my plan has always been from the start to be open and honest about my condition. A lot of people will scoff at me for this, but I look at it this way - if someone doesn't want to employ me because of my condition, then I really don't want to work for them. You don't want to work for an employer that doesn't want to work with you in getting the best out of you.

That being said, there are ways that you can make this a positive:

- No one knows you better than you. So before you start applying for jobs, work on a plan. Think about the things that you need to be a good worker and about the things that can potentially go wrong. Click here to see a copy of my "Quick Aspergers Syndrome Guide" that I have printed out on my desk.

- Make sure you tell potential employers at the interview. Frame it as a positive - mention that you have a plan and you're happy to answer questions. Not only will this make it easier for employers to help you, it also shows initiative and planning, which any employer will value!

- Keep the lines of communication open. Things change, including in your personal life, that affect how you work. Also, new strategies and treatments are becoming available all the time.

- You don't have to tell your employer everything, and there are some things that you will be telling your manager that you won't need to tell your coworkers.

For employers: Please, PLEASE don't dismiss applicants just because they're neurodiverse. You wouldn't dismiss someone for being in a wheelchair (unless of course, it was a physically demanding job). Consider them as a whole person, and if you can work with them and they will fit into your business then definitely hire them. You might have to make a change or two, but if you dismiss neurodiverse people out-of-hand, you could potentially be missing out on a great employee.

I always try to be open and honest about my Aspergers. It helps build trust and respect, and it means if something does go wrong, my coworkers, managers and myself are well-placed to minimise the damage and get me back to working my best.

Good luck to everyone, whether you're looking for a job or whether you're looking for the next member of your team.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Bullying is like Chocolate

One thing I've noticed is that no one wants to acknowledge the fact that being a successful bully is a very rewarding behaviour. Whether it's asserting your power over someone else, or muscling someone else out of a job that you want, bullying can be very, very satisfying.

The only thing is, this satisfaction is only short-term. You feel the rush of power, of successfully bringing someone down, but soon that wears off and you need a new victim. Just like a chocolate bar. A sweet, sugary chocolate treat that tastes so good going down but soon the chocolate bar is gone and you need a new treat.

The similarities don't stop there. As I've been told many times while binging on chocolate: A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Bullying and chocolate don't fix anything, and while they feel good in the short-term, long-term they have negative consequences.

Bullying and chocolate are only really good for covering up the cracks, for those of us who don't want to take the time to work on ourselves, to see the parts of ourselves that aren't very nice and work on them to make ourselves better people. Whether it's counselling or exercise, both are much harder to do than bullying or eating chocolate.

I'm not talking about a once-in-a-while chocolate, or a bit of friendly teasing. These things are fine in moderation.

Of course, the people who actually need to read this blog, the bullies, won't read it, or if they do they'll think it applies to someone else. It's hard to look at the bits of your life that are hard, and work through the problems of your life, but it's worth it, not just for the victims of bullying, but for the bullies themselves.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

An Autistic Guide to attending the Big Bash League!

Yes, I know, it's been a long time between posts again. Sue me (actually, don't, I'm broke).

So, as everyone probably knows, I am a huge Brisbane Heat fan, and a fan of cricket in general. However, the way that Big Bash games are paced and the way they encourage the crowd usually leaves me with severe sensory overload (from the sound and from the way we're all packed into the Gabba like sardines). So, I've been experimenting with ways to make this easier for myself after a bad start to the season (even though the Heat have been excellent). Here are my suggestions to make going to the Big Bash (or really, any sporting event) easier if you have Autism/Sensory Processing issues.

First off, unfortunately live sport isn't for everyone. It's loud, long and taxing. If you have severe issues with noise, lights, crowds etc I'd suggest going to the Womens Big Bash, or the Sheffield Shield. There are usually less people at these events, and a lot less noise/flashing lights. So if you still want a live sport experience, perhaps chose a lower grade of your chosen sport to attend.

However, for those of us who are going to the big leagues, here are some ways I've found that can make your experience more enjoyable:

1. For those of us who are sensitive to sound, I can not recommend a good set of earplugs enough. I wore a pair tonight and it drastically cut down the noise exposure, while still allowing me to enjoy the atmosphere.

2. Take advantage of innings breaks. Most stadiums allow to you head outside for a bit, which is what I did tonight, so make sure when there's a break in the play you give yourself a bit of time out to bring yourself down. Most people stay in the stadium to get food/enjoy the entertainment in the breaks, so it's much quieter and calmer outside.

3. Make sure you're properly rested and fed/watered before going to the game. A good rest and having your blood sugar levels stable is important for withstanding a Big Bash game - sometimes the games are long and being exposed to so many triggers will sap your energy.

4. If you can, take your own food and drink. One thing I LOVE about the Gabba is that they allow you to bring in your own food and drinks, provided they're still sealed and non-alcoholic, so I don't have to deal with the social interaction of buying food if I don't need to. Check with your chosen stadium, and see what you can/can't bring with you to the game.

5. Accept you might not be able to sit through the entire game. This is especially relevant to me when it comes to Test matches. I've only ever sat through a whole day of a Test once, and I paid dearly for it. Now I know that I can only stay for a few hours maximum, but it's enough for me to enjoy the game and have a bit of fun.

Obviously, this is a very basic start, and you might need to work out your own strategy for attending live sports events, but whatever your plan, make sure you have a plan and stick to it, and remember to HAVE FUN!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Slytherin Pride

Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.
-The Sorting Hat, "Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone" J. K. Rowling

And power-hungry Slytherin
Loved those of great ambition
-The Sorting Hat, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" J. K. Rowling

I was devastated when I was first sorted into the noble house of Slytherin. After all, I was young and everyone was of the opinion that you had to be pure evil to be a Slytherin, and that the very best went into Gryffindor. I tried so many times, but every time it was the same - I'm a Slytherin through and through.

And then I realised. I AM a Slytherin, 100% to the core.

I'm ambitious all right, and I will do just about anything to get what I want. My number one dream, ever since I can remember, is wanting to write a story that changed the world. I want to write something so powerful that it influences people, that it changes the way people think and feel.

And damn, am I trying my best. Yes, I might be writing to better the lives of people with mental illness and to change the perception of neurodiversity in the world, but hell, it's still wanting to change the world. It's still a bloody ambitious task, and I'll be damned if I fail. 

I'll admit I'm not being entirely altruistic, I love the idea of being that powerful that I forever immortalize myself in the form of a book. I want to see my name in lights, I want people to look up to me, to wish they were me. THAT is what being a Slytherin is all about - wanting something so badly you'll do anything to get it, wanting to achieve something so bad that you'll give up anything to make it happen.

It's not only my passion for writing either. A few months ago out of sheer determination I walked 50km in one day. Just so I could say that I had done it. Not a charity run/walk or anything like that, just 100% pure "I wanna be better than everyone else"-ness.  That's only one example of how moronic I can be when I want to achieve something.  Let's not get into my smug superiority when my Facebook posts are all grammatically correct with either correct spelling or phonetic spelling for emphasis. What can I say, I'm terrible.

Slytherin has gotten a bad rap over the years, especially due to the Dark Lord, but I know that one day people will stop associating Slytherin with the Dark Lord and start associating Slytherin with ME, someone who will do her best to make the world a better place. 

SLYTHERIN FOREVER!


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

An Open Letter to Chester Bennington

Hi Chester,

I never got to meet you, but you and your music were there for me when I needed someone, something to hang on to. Your music saw me through my tough teenage years before I even knew what Autism was, and that I was on the spectrum. I knew I was different, I  knew I was meant for something more, but the people in the town around me seemed determined to bring me down. Thanks to you and your band Linkin Park, I got through and I'm now in a pretty special place.

One particular song of yours got a LOT of play by me. That song was "Runaway". I LOVE that song. It was often the last song I heard before I fell asleep. I could never really articulate until now what drew me to the song, but now I know. It was the affirmative message embedded in the lyrics, a call to action that I can happily say I took to heart and acted upon.

I'm gonna runaway, and never say good-bye.

I didn't look back when I finally left Oakey for my true home, Brisbane. I ran far away from the negativity of that place. The addiction, the bigotry, the lack of self-satisfaction that permeated the air.

I'm gonna runaway, and never wonder why.

I didn't need to think twice about leaving a place that was determined to destroy me. I place that regularly branded me a freak, that often told me to keep my head out of the clouds, that being a writer (the biggest part of me) was an unattainable dream.

I'm gonna runaway and open up my mind.

My mind is still opening to this very moment, learning more about myself, others and my place in the world. More importantly, my mind is opening up to my responsibility as a writer, a responsibility to help open the minds of others to new ideas and attitudes.

So Chester, thank you. From myself and everyone whose lives you touched. We're going to miss you, but I think I can speak for everyone when I say thank God you're well at last.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Getting Diagnosed

This year will mark 10 years since I was first diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder/Aspergers Syndrome. I was 18 years, 8 months, 1 week, 1 day, 6 hours and 20 minutes old when I was told I was on the spectrum after months of speculation.

A little background: at my first proper job (which I only lasted 3 months in) when I was 17, one of the ladies I worked with (Flora, one of the most gorgeous souls I have ever met) asked if I had Aspergers Syndrome.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Mild Autism. My grandson has it and you remind me a lot of him." Was the reply.

Eh, I brushed it off. In the culture of the Toowoomba Region, things like Autism and other neurodiverse conditions were considered disabilities no matter how they impacted your life, and a label like that wasn't something you wanted stuck to you.

Later on, when I was working at "the Warehouse", the boss's son came to work with us during the school holidays. He also had Aspergers Syndrome. I can still recall people laughing at us one lunch hour, and not knowing why until someone pointed out that during our whole conversation, we hadn't looked at each other once.

So off to the GP to get a referral I went, and soon I was diagnosed.

"You definitely have Aspergers Syndrome." Said the psych.

"You are broken." I heard. It didn't help that at the time I was dating a guy whose family had that exact notion - that I was broken and I needed to be fixed. In fact, a lot of people that I had known for a long time were like "Oh, that explains a lot. So you're getting fixed then?"

Now I know better, of course, but back in 2007 the attitude still was that ASD was a disability and an affliction and I needed to be cured. Probably explains how I got stuck on that terrible sodium valproate, which definitely wiped out my anxiety and sensory sensitivities along with just about all of my other emotions and every single one of my imaginary friends (who I am happy to say are all back alive and well now).

Yes, there are some aspects of ASD that for me are akin to a disability. It's taken me a long time to get up to speed on my social skills (which are still on the lower end of the spectrum, but at least my embarrassing incident quotient is going down), and my anxiety will always be a bugbear, along with my knack for sensory overload. Still, I think even with my ASD label, I'm a pretty nifty young lady. My sensory issues also come with positives, including a love of music/dancing and I'm always down for a hug (definitely a hugger, not a handshaker). My brain might run at a million miles an hour making it hard for me to focus and contributing to my anxiety, but without it I wouldn't have my imaginary friends nor would I have the likes of my books "Ink on the Wind", "Chuckles and Giggles", "Experiment 24-42" or "The Children of Wellsworth School".

Aspergers is not something that needs to be fixed. Neurodiversity is not a curse. It is something to be embraced, for with it comes new ideas and ways of thinking. Celebrate our differences, cherish our similarities and let's all work together for the betterment of humanity!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Edward

It's no great secret that one of my favourite shows to this day is "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends", especially the first two seasons. Episodes like "Coal" from the first season where the Fat Controller gives Henry a fair go make my heart sing, and while Henry is special to me in his own way, he's just not Edward.



Seriously, how can you NOT love this wise old engine? Not only is this bright blue "Larger Seagull" a gorgeous example of a Furness Railway K2 engine, but he's also the kindest, most helpful soul on the Island of Sodor.

Before I go on though, let's make one thing clear: Edward and James are two completely different models of train - in fact, James is a L&YR Class 28 variant (a failed experiment) with a 2-6-0 config. Edward is a 4-4-0 config, and is much better-looking in my very honest opinion!

While I can relate to Henry the most sometimes (especially in the aforementioned "Coal" episode) he still has his moments where he's easily led by the other engines who might not be the best examples, like Gordon or James. Edward on the other hand, while being timid like Henry, has enough sense of self to not buy into their nonsense and do his own thing. Instead of being worried about being seen with the shiniest of new coaches, he's happy to go and play with trucks. Instead of being vain and silly, he's wise and helpful, always willing to lend a hand (or wheel...whatever) to whomever might be in trouble (for example, pushing Gordon up the hill when he gets stuck or saving Trevor from scrap).

These things, along with Edwards sunny nature and strong work ethic, make me love the little engine so much. I would LOVE to see episodes on Edwards backstory, as he's so old he was actually one of the engines who helped build the Fat Controllers railway. It would be so interesting to see the way he became the wise old man that he is today. I imagine that when he first started, he was a lot like Thomas, although perhaps not so impulsive or arrogant.

He's not perfect of course, and sometimes the words of the bigger, younger, stronger engines get to him and make him sad (and we won't talk about the complete character retcon they did to him in later seasons - it makes my blood boil), but that's what makes me love him so much - even though he's upset, he still keeps on going and doing his own thing, which is whatever the Fat Controller needs him to do. This is a quality that not many people seem to have. Many people either get sad or angry and either look to pay their tormentor out or just give up and go with the flow. We could all learn a lot from Edward, who is easily one of my favourite characters of all time.