Archive for the ‘advocacy’ Category

New Approaches to Job-Searching

April 14, 2010

I’ve tried many strategies to search for work.  As I’ve said before, there’s a ton of roulette in the NLD spectrum job search process.  I’ve been to about 50 interviews, mostly for paid positions, but also some volunteer.  Though I continue to look for actual positions, I now market myself as a research and writing project specialist.  I do this primarily by sending out emails with my resume (that took me several hours to rewrite).

I have plenty of work now, but it’s all unpaid, in the academic sector, where I help professors with their research.  I love locating sources and use bibliographic software to ease the hair-splitting mechanical hell of creating a reference list.  The software helps, but I’m still training myself to be a better computer user.  So I have the unpaid stuff happening, but it really ebbs and flows.  It totally lacks structure, and usually it’s only one project that I do, then I have to find other ones.

Freelancing is tough to manage time-wise.  While I’ll work with it, what I want is a regular pay check and a permanent position.  I deserve these opportunities, but so far all I find are unpaid things.

Ever since I was a kid, I’d just plain worry about my homework and put it off.  It didn’t matter if I understood (many times I did except for math), because I just felt so consumed by general worries.  Today I got asked to do an interview for another unpaid opportunity.

This time I didn’t agree to do the interview right away.  Instead I asked the supervisor to please describe the position.  What I said (through email) is below.  Feel free to adapt it to your employment-searching needs (this gives me an excuse to check email, as it were). First, do your own introduction, then proceed:

I am hoping to find out the following:

Is this internship more on the “frontlines” or more “behind-the-scenes”?

I ask because I have a specific learning disability called [use the best words for how you see your diagnosis].  Someone meeting me will likely see signs of it [add your own words].  Despite this different external appearance, I have found that I do excellent applied work [briefly list your skill areas–research; editing; writing; et cetera].  I understand that the duties of many internships are more along the lines of being a hostess, receptionist or go-to person.  If these skills are what the internship would be centered on, than I probably would not be the best fit, but if it is more applied work, then I would welcome the honor of seeing about possible next steps.  Thank you in advance for your time and attention.

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The Challenge of Identifying Emotions

July 28, 2009

Lately I’ve realized that many times I struggle to identify my own feelings, and even break them down.  If I could figure out a) what my feelings are, b) why I have them, and c) how to deal with a problem, I’d feel more in control of the things that happen in social situations.

Unfortunately, feelings happen very quickly, often before I understand why I’m having them.  Sometimes I catch on to other people’s feelings before I identify my own (a finding in contrast to much of the ASD literature).  I have an easier time picking up on other people’s feelings (though I’m not always right–far from it) because I see it as a more pressing requirement of social interaction (v. my feelings are always there whether I’m alone or in a group, and I tend to put identifying them on hold in favor of all else that’s going on; it’s totally a damage control thing).

In both instances (self or group), however, NLD skews and rearranges my perceptions (i.e., I tend to get less than 40% on the facial recognition tests).  It’s very frustrating, and explains why I like alone time best.  Here are some things that might help:

-“I feel” statements–every day in the home

-Ask child how he/she feels about a situation, and teach him/her names of major feelings

-Teach that there are degrees of feelings, and that they often occur with other feelings

-Teach that it’s OK to have feelings, but that we must deal with them in acceptable ways

A quick list of emotions, compiled by two emotional theorists, appears in this Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emotions.

I’m going to look at it and write more later.  I hope to find some interventions that help adults as well.

Writing works better for me . . .

July 24, 2009

I’m in the process of accepting that writing is the best way for me to communicate, even though calls and visits are the normal social standards.  In my emails and notes, I feel in control of what I’m saying, v. in social situations or on the phone, I often don’t.  I find that my nervous feelings, and people’s impressions of my nervousness, make things too awkward for me to feel comfortable or understood.  This has always been true for me, but I’ve never recognized it as fully until now.  More later.

Trouble Making Eye Contact Is Not Avoidant

July 18, 2009

I’ve been reading about the chronic trouble many people (me included) with NLD have making eye contact.  I attempt to clear up some myths here, with quotes and paraphrases in purple and my comments in blue:

1) According to O.A.S.I.S. (Online Asperger Information and Support: http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/teachers_guide.html) educator and AS parent Elly Tucker, “don’t assume that because a child is not looking at you, he is not hearing you . . . she may hear and understand you better if not forced to look directly at your eyes.” That’s totally true.  I’m still listening even though my gaze is inconsistent.

2) Tucker also points out that sometimes “forcing eye contact breaks [a person’s] concentration.” A reminder like this can also feel disciplinary or hostile, even if the person is just trying to clarify something.  Many times, people with NLD and related conditions have grown up being harshly criticized.  With less control over our readings of and responses to social stimuli, it makes sense that sometimes we have what seem like over-sensitive reactions.  Sometimes semi-criticism is snuck into a conversation, though, so many times we’re not totally misreading, and more processing things in a different order (i.e., using our left-hemisphere strengths).

3) In 2006, a Cambridge study (http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_archive.html) focused on the cognitive activities of people when they make eye contact v. when they don’t.  They believe that when people look away, their brains are processing complex stimuli that requires full concentration (i.e., situations that cause social anxiety and/or require memory recall). Often children need some time adjust to a new environment (even the chair for AS subjects interfered with Stroop attention) and we need to remember to give them that time.” (A Stroop test measures how long a subject takes to react to stimuli.)

4) In an excellent short essay (http://specialchildren.about.com/od/aspergersyndrome/a/eyecontact.htm), Luke Jackson, a boy with AS, describes why eye contact is so challenging: “Sometimes it is too hard to concentrate on listening and looking at the same time.This happens to me every time I talk to someone.  Inevitably.  I try looking at their noses or mouths, but am distracted by all else–arching eyebrows, eye blinks, shifting pupils, questions being asked of me, whose turn it is to speak, et cetera.  Social dynamics are really, really hard.

Things that may help:

-Sharing that we have NLD and how we experience it in written, customized notes.

-Just telling someone beforehand that eye contact is really difficult, but we’re still listening even if our gazes shift.

-Going to places ahead of time.

-Using written communication whenever we can.

-Making a polite yet very pointed case for being able to use our talents, not be lumped into activities that capitalize on our weaknesses.


Blurry Social Confusion

July 17, 2009

I agonize over many of my social decisions–like whether to contact someone or wait to be contacted.  Or how to convey my reactions.  Sometimes I get very depressed because I just don’t know what to do, and I don’t have anyone in my life I can ask, except for my therapist.  She is wonderful and very good at explaining and translating the social messages I have trouble putting together, but I obviously can’t ask about every little thing, and sometimes I have to make a social decision before I can talk about it with her.

Sometimes I’m not sure I know what I don’t understand.  All I know is I’m unsure of the exact social dynamics, much less how to respond.  I’m not sure what to say or do, or of my exact role.  Even though I’ve spent years learning–in countless situations–about boundaries.  My therapist makes sure we always talk about the boundaries of every important relationship.  This helps and is very practical, but my emotional reactions are on lag-time, so I experience delayed emotional feelings about things that already happened.

Lag-time is worse, as one likely anticipates, in the case of negative experiences or trauma.  To people who don’t know, it probably looks like over-reacting, but it’s all I know.  It’s my left hemisphere trying to help out the right hemisphere, and it exhausts me.  Not being able to control the execution of my social messages is also depressing.  When I write, I feel very in control of what I say, but in-person, I’m at a loss.  Gaze aversion causes me to appear avoidant, as I unsucessfully fight nervousness.  When I do make eye contact, it tends to be extreme: fleeting or overly intense.

It is very hard to have an LD that impacts verbal communication.  Thus it is imperative to have compassion.  When conversing with someone you know has NLD, don’t act like we’re clueless, but rather ask for our thoughts.  Remember that we will likely want to expand in written form later, and that our speech may be hesitant.  We may not show a wide range of emotions, but we do experience them, and we are very perceptive, observant, and creative.  We have diverse interests and hobbies.  One person’s hobby is not everyone’s.  The same goes for NLD.

Please make sure to give those with NLD the space to communicate in the ways that are best for us individually.  Let us express ourselves in peaceful, comfortable ways, and much of our anxiety will begin to dissipate, creating a way for us to say what we think and feel.

The “What’s wrong with you?” Look

July 16, 2009

Every time I go somewhere, I get “the look” from people, and it’s not flattering.  “The look” is that expression of faux concern, that unwanted curiosity without compassion, that pretending-to-be-clinical-as-an-excuse-to-not-mind-one’s-own-business, that question of why this person with the unsteady appearance is out in the world.

I get “the look” many times–when I’m at the grocery store maneuvering a heavy basket and grocery bags.  It’s a “what are you doing here” type of a look.  It’s a look that reminds me of what would happen if you somehow combined Nell with Bridget Jones.

Like Nell, I have struggled both with social isolation and a feeling of being both very intelligent and radically different, in a way that causes people some unease.  People get nervous because NLD causes me to not fit in precisely with social grooves.  I’m more on the periphery, more of a wallflower observer.  I’ve been asked several times if I’m blind.  I have excellent vision, but my eye contact is fleeting and inconsistent.  In an interview, Jodie Foster observes that “it’s not safe to be in the world when you’re like Nell.”  This is true, and I’d add that when you have attributes of these qualities, albeit in milder forms, people are extremely judgmental and lacking in understanding.

Like Bridget Jones, I don’t stand out as much as Nell would, but I feel out of place anytime I’m not home alone.  Anxiety builds up when I go places or deal with people.  If I ever have a relationship, if finances allow, I would like to own my own property so I have a place to write, be alone, think, and relax.  Alone time is not pathological; it’s like oxygen, especially given how much resistance society has towards socially-impacting differences and appearances.

Bridget Jones struggles to say the right things at the right times and blend into social scenes.  She is also susceptible–in a more extreme way than people without major, ongoing social stress–to people trying to impose their opinions on her about what she should do.  And she experiences both internal and external self-consciousness.  I totally identify with that.  Sometimes my external self-consciousness looks worse than what I feel, which is very disconcerting and no fun for other people, either.

I get why people sometimes stare, but it’s rather gauche and doesn’t help me feel more acclimatized to social settings.  In fact, I feel unwelcome and alienated when I sense that people think there’s something wrong with me.  When I was in first grade, kids liked playing Helen Keller.  I didn’t experience being Helen as just a game, however, I really felt kind of like that–isolatd, treated differently, seen by others as not having fully-working senses–all the time, like my eyes were squeezed half-shut as people rushed past, grabbed my hands, and walked me to the water pump.

Or when we played “light as a feather, stiff as a board.”  In that game, I felt also felt different, not just for the moment, but long after the game ended.  When children become adults who can no longer chant folklore, the inquiry persists in stares, in the silently-taunting “what’s wrong with you” look.  I wish people would get to know me, and other people with NLD and similar conditions, and our talents, rather than making these unqualified judgments.

Job Interviews: the “any-questions” part

July 13, 2009

I just got back from an interview, and was trying to think what to blog about.  When they ask (and they will–at least twice) if you have any questions, here are three ideas:

-Ask a question that relates to what the interviewer was just talking about.

-Ask a standard question you’d thought of before the interview (take from a job advice site if you’re unsure, or use the office’s website, or a related resource).

-If the above strategies fail, or you’re at a loss for comments, take the first topic you can think of and make it into a question.  Don’t worry if you hesitate, just put some words together using hows and whys.  Remember that no question is a dumb question.  In an interview, it’s better to fill in conversational spaces with positive phrases, even if you struggle.  If they already know you have NLD, things will fall into place.  It will take several interviews, but you’ll get better each time.  Even the ones that don’t go well are just practice, and there’s nothing to lose.  More later.

NLD: A Math-Impacting Learning Disability

July 9, 2009

As many people already know, NLD causes difficulties learning math.  Sometimes it’s impossible.  I was diagnosed late and raised by math-loving parents who assumed that because I am musically talented, I must automatically be good at all my academic subjects.  What a myth. They said I had an attitude problem when I didn’t get algebra the first time around.

Before that, I struggled with arithmetic, pre-algebra, and geometry.  I ended up repeating algebra three times (both due to not getting it the first time and needing to review the skills because I don’t practice math much, just as someone with reading disabilities tends not to read as much/often as someone without them).  Then I took a very watered-down basic geometry class so I would be accepted to the university I worked so hard to transfer to (I wanted to attend an excellent school because I’ve spent so many years needing to prove my intelligence and having the degree on paper sometimes helps, but not as often as one could wish; plus I’m not a school-name-dropper; if I’d felt like my intelligence was credited throughout my life, I wouldn’t be so obsessed with being admitted to the best schools, but that’s another topic).

Then I took Algebra II, which went fine because it’s so tied into Algebra I, and my professor was very good at explaining things in easy-to-understand ways.  Unfortunately, now my future department wants all students to take a statistics course.  I’ve dropped the class twice because I don’t understand things fast enough, or at all.  Many times people think not getting math is a decision, as if we choose to dislike it.  This isn’t true.

When someone doesn’t understand a basic academic subject, it’s painful.  We would like nothing more than to confidently write problems on the chalk board, but NLD makes this experience unlikely.  My former professor was walking around looking at our notes.  When he looked at mine, he stepped back, as if to say “what the heck is this.”  Sigh.  I tried to get good at math many times, but it’s never worked out.  I hope my department will approve a course substitution.

Too often, math-disability literature doesn’t focus on the college years.  This is a big problem, since nearly all colleges require students to take some math or math-related courses.  I hope that talking about this helps someone else.  I’ll let you know what happens with my department.  There have been worse problems in life, and this one ought to be fixable.  Let’s hope so.  Thanks for reading about this, and if you have ideas, please comment.  More later.

NLD and the “not-sure-you-really-understand this” tone

July 9, 2009

When I talk with people I don’t know well, I struggle to read the dynamics of our conversation.  I’ve found that people tend to over-explain things to me, as if I’m slow to catch on.  I call this the “I’m not sure you really understand what I’m saying” tone.  It’s hard enough that I misread social signs.

For instance, sometimes when people are explaining things, I read in hostility or criticism that isn’t really there, and it stills me.  When people’s faces make sudden movements, I sometimes feel scared because it takes me more time to figure out what they may mean.  Sometimes I say things to fill in awkward conversational spaces.  Many times what I say is on-topic but not fully “spot-on.”  This causes people to start explaining like I was born yesterday.

Unfortunately a remark that’s meant to be clarifying sometimes feels insulting.  That’s because I can’t verbalize all that I pick up on.  I can in writing or music, but not in regular speech.  As we know, speech and body language are how people make judgments.  If I could, I would primarily communicate through writing and music, but that’s not how the world works.

In an office, the employee with NLD should be put in charge of the projects that take advantage of his/her strengths, such as written communication, research, and listening.  Employers need help with these very important skills, but interviews don’t usually give people chances to show how well they work and what they’re good at.  So when people use the “not sure you really understand me” tone, it’s hard for me not to feel slighted.

Even though my reaction is irrational and not really helpful, it has an element of accuracy.  I am hurt that people don’t see my intelligence or talents, especially when I see and praise their wonderful qualities.  People with NLD have a beautiful capacity to be very kind to others, and to contribute excellently to communities, to be peaceful.  These skills are the basics of a healthy society, but too often social mis-perception interrupts the execution of these compassionate values.  This shouldn’t be.  Ignorance needs to be a thing of the past.  I will try and briefly reconstruct one of the conversations I’m talking about.

SOMEONE ELSE: “So we’re trying to do this program to help feed children . . ..”

ME: “It sounds like a good idea.”

SOMEONE ELSE: “Yes.”

ME: “Maybe the focus of this program relates to homelessness.”

SOMEONE ELSE: “Yes, but what we’re trying to do is help children through school breakfast programs . . ..”

ME: “Right.”

The tough-to-digest phrase is in bold and italics.  It could be just explaining something, but there’s also that zing of “this person doesn’t really get it.”  I may not be describing this that well, but I hope this begins to put into words what I’ve seen happen. I couldn’t remember a real conversation, but if I do, I’ll blog it.

Everyone’s Talking about Michael Jackson . . .

July 2, 2009

I don’t normally blog about news events, but I feel compelled to state the grief I feel over Michael Jackson’s death.  Namely because he was “different” from the cultural norms, and treated negatively as a result.  This issue is a complicated one, and I don’t deny that he made serious mistakes at times.  Still, the pain of being markedly different lasts throughout one’s life, particularly if one has the social awareness level to know about, but not be able to change these qualities.  They make us ourselves, but not always in ways that are culturally approved.  I think that’s one reason so many people identify with his music–the agony it exposes, in part because of how challenging it is to be “different.”  To be treated differently.  And the relationship this has to self-destruction, or at the very least, self-destructive feelings.

Before I was diagnosed, I was seriously depressed.  Even now, with the support of an excellent therapist I’ve known for years and knowledge of NLD and my medical condition, depressed feelings crop up and sting me in stressful times.  Lately when I get upset, I have the wish to say out loud: “I understand why some people with NLD cut themselves.”  I’m not saying it’s productive to self-destruct, but it makes me wonder where those negative thoughts go, and how we can make them into positive experiences (i.e., by learning from mistakes) before self-destructive behavior happens.  And to what extent rebuilding oneself following a trauma or crisis extracts energy from us.

Our society’s general intolerance for difference is mega-disturbing.  Even as I take joy in listening to my favorite Michael Jackson songs, I can’t help realizing the pain he experienced, probably because some of it comes from a similar source as pain I’ve had.  Not from the same situations–I have the luxury of an anonymous life–but I too struggle against persistent social intolerance.  In my case it’s because my social mannerisms do not conform.  I seem “different” wherever I go, and people notice.  For this reason, I get put on the spot, and it’s not always in my best interest to explain.  In some instances, I’ve only trusted animals, despite longing for human relationships.  I hope, but do not expect that, society will learn from this horrible death.  Difference has so much dignity, if we just think in objective, open-minded ways.  Everyone deserves respectful treatment.  It’s a human-rights value, but much too rarely enforced.  I hope that advocating for NLD, and bridging it to other forms of social differences, helps change this, but I believe it will take time.