Friday, April 24, 2009

The Intersection of Death, and the Birth of The Autism Friendly Alliance

Today I took my kids to school. Their schools are next door to each other, within a neighborhood, and getting into the neighborhood is like dodging the death train with morning traffic.

No, really.

So, after I dropped the kids off, I was thankful to see that the traffic cops were still at the busy 4 way intersection. (Which, by the way, has no traffic light. No so bad, except that I have to turn left across traffic, when I can't see over the Escalades and Tahoes to my right. This doesn't even bring to the table the cars coming out of the intersection on the opposite end, or the traffic on the busy street turning either my way or the other way, both of which block my view, my path or my concentration.

Yes, thank gosh for the traffic cops.

Although, this morning, as I was making what I secretly refer to as the "death turn", the traffic cop was miffed that I wasn't turning fast enough. He was just standing, so I hesitated before going through the intersection. This, of course, prompted him to emphatically wave his arm in a "come on, come on..." motion, and he face and body language seemed to say, "what are you waiting for?"

(Uh, some reassurance that I am not going to be hit either broad-side or head on, for starters.)

This was when I nervously went on the inside of the (too widely placed, in my opinion) orange traffic pylons.

Every time I drop the kids off, I think to myself that those damned pylons (or "cones"), are placed in such a way, that it forces a VERY wide turn and it's a real challenge to get around them when turning left. (Especially when you are going above 1.672 mph.) But get around them I (eventually) do. Except for when I have just been wordlessly scolded by a traffic cop, apparently.

Ok, so I accidentally found myself turning on the inside of the conical area, instead of outside of it the way the Escalades have to turn. I didn't have an automotive close call or anything. I was rattled so I missed taking the extra effort to make that super-duper, extra wide turn which is required. (I'm not in a big SUV, so I don 't need a wide turning angle like the other moms.)

So, what is worse for an Aspie than being wordlessly scolded by a traffic cop for not driving quickly enough? Hearing the same cop shouting, "Awwww! Come ON!" for accidentally making a clean turn while trying to go faster, so I don't get shouted at. (Ironically.)

Let me tell you, it's been a tough morning.

I ended up pulling into the gas station down the road. I was going to turn around and talk to the cop, explain that this is the second time (at least) that he has (literally) shouted at me, when all I am doing is trying to drive cautiously through the Intersection of Death.

And this was when I decided how to implement my "Autism Friendly Campaign"... Quite simply through something I think will be really amazing, called the Autism Friendly Alliance.

Sounds cool, doesn't it?

So, what exactly is the Autism Friendly Alliance (AFA)?

It's a group of companies, organizations and establishments who want to say:

"We are Autism Friendly."

Companies, organizations and establishments who wish to promote themselves as Autism Friendly can download the below AF logo and use it on their company marketing materials or displays.

So, what's the big deal about being Autism Friendly? Well, more information is to follow, but for now, you can look at it this way: There are enough people with autism or with kids with autism, who feel socially ostracized, that when companies promote themselves as Autism Friendly we all win.

In addition to establishments like retail stores, restaurants, and religious organizations,

companies who welcome applicants with autism can indicate the AF logo in their hiring materials, and those qualified applicants with autism spectrum disorders can know that this is a "safe" company. Many people do not realize two things:

#1 Many people with autism are frightened of the way they will be viewed socially, whether in the workplace, social circles or as a consumer.

#2 Many people do not realize just how many of "us" there are out here. Opening the doors, in a welcoming way to those with autism, means more good stuff goes in.

As for the A Panoptic Life blog...? No, this blog isn't going anywhere, but there is a new blog in development, called (you guessed it...) The Autism Friendly Alliance. Read The Autism Friendly Alliance blog to learn more about the alliance, how it works, and how to become a part of the alliance.

(But remember, I'm a one woman show over here! There will be more details on the blog in the days and weeks to come!)

But wait! There's more!!! The blog will be designed to collect information that people and families submit, saying that they had an Autism Friendly experience, or that an establishment is Autism Friendly.

If we spread the word about The Autism Friendly Alliance, we, as parents of kids, and/or individuals with autism spectrum disorders, will have a way to see at a glance if the establishment is familiar with autism. If so, it means a higher level of acceptance. More acceptance means there is less room for fear.

But as for the traffic cop... Did I ever go back to help him understand the situation? Well...

I did pull into the gas station (it is on the right, so I didn't have to cross the Highway of Hell), and I even got all my makeup on so he wouldn't think I was a homeless panhandler as I approached him. But before I actually turned back around, I realized that my registration is expired. See, I have a hard time with paper-work, forms, stuff like that. It has to do with the Aspergers. (Really, it does.) But I figured that while he might understand that his shouting "makes my Aspergers flare up", I might get a ticket in the process.

I guess I have a lot of work to do.

Until next time!

-Lorin Neikirk

Update 5/4/09: So, this past Friday I noticed that they are in the process of putting a light up at the Intersection of Death. I guess I'm not the only one who gets a little edgy about the chance of losing a life or three at that locale! I took this picture while (safely!) stopped and waiting for the traffic cop (yes, the one who scolded me not once, but twice), to wave me forward, to turn left. You can see the damned pylons if you get a magnifying glass. Like I said... They are way out there!

Read my book about understanding autism,
found on Amazon and Kindle

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Toilet, Re-Gifting, and Chaos Theory: Spot's Close Call

“Well, this has got to be the pickiest fish I’ve ever known.”

No, really. It is.

I actually said these words aloud as I shamelessly catered to my fish, Spot.
Spot is picky about his fishbowls, apparantly.

“The next damned fish is going to be named Edward again. I loved that fish…”

It was only after I had gone through the process of changing Spot’s bowl into the smaller bowl (that was never used as a fishbowl, if you want the truth), that I realized that I told my oldest son, Addison, that I think the next fish would be named Ralph. (Or was it Ralf? Hell, I don’t remember.)

The point is, as I awoke this morning to my dripping with icky-stuff, coughing up small animals thast rhyme with smog, not to mention sniffling and snorting noises that would make even a teenaged boy cringe, I was sure that it was a dead fish’s lifeless death energy which was making me sick. My dead fish's energy. Spot.

Poor thing.

(Cut me some slack, would you? No, I didn’t really believe that. When I don’t feel good I get flippant and a little cynical. Can we move on now?)

As it happens, Spot wasn't dead. Oh joy.

As long as I’ve had this particular fish, I’ve gotten to know a little about him. I’ve only had this one for a few months, but that is long enough to know that this one is a pain in my ass.

(As far as fish go, at least.)

You see, I have a large fish bowl that is in the shape of a fish. I don’t normally go for “cute” in my home d├ęcor, but this bowl is special.

I was working at a place at Christmastime in 2005 when I got to participate in a secret Santa gift exchange. When I unwrapped a large crystal fish fishbowl, I thought my personal Santa Claus had actually taken the time to figure out what I’d like. Turns out that it wasn’t exactly like that. A couple of comments were made (such as, “wow, THAT looks familiar!!”), leading me to the decision that this had likely been re-gifted to me.

That’s ok. A gift is a gift, after all, and I loved it. I like fish. (I also like sushi, but that’s another story… )

So this Big Fish fishbowl is what I have used for each of my fish since. Including Spot. That picky thing…

Spot was interested in the bowl when he was first plopped into it. He was cool with it for a while. But I guess old habits die hard, because before long, he wanted to hang out at the far “corner” of the fish fishbowl. (It was near the tail of the bowl, of course. By the fish fishbowl's ass. Makes sense now, doesn't it?)

I haven’t mentioned that this fish is lazy, too, have I? Well, in truth all bettas (and I don’t know about other fish), sleep a large portion of the day. But this guy? Oh goodness. He must be old or something. Set in his ways. Like most bettas, he wedges his little fishy head in between the stones, and likes it that way. Sleeps like that. But this one sleeps so much that he seems dead, and way too often for my liking.

Every time I feed him, I shake the bowl just a little, to see if he wiggles with life.

Today I was sure (again) that the fish had passed on. So I braced myself for the flush and made a decision about what to name the next one. Edward.

Now my old fish, Edward, I loved. I named that fish after Edward Lorenz, who was the scientist (meteorologist, actually) who came up with Chaos Theory. You know, non-linear dynamics? (I love this shit...)

Chaos theory states, essentially, that even in ''perfection'' there are imperfections which create instabilities. Likewise, in what appears to be great regularity, there is also imperfection. Most people have heard of the Butterfly Effect. That is where this comes into play. Basically, a very tiny instability in data can eventually throw something off its course by a wide margin. If I were to sum it up I'd say...

Nothing is as perfect as it may seem, but nothing is as random, either. It's labeling something as "perfect" or "random" which is the problem, not the inherent attributes of the "thing" in the first place.

Anyway, this is not about non-linear dynamics. It’s about fish.

(And if you want the truth, it’s not really about fish either.

So, much to my, uh, delight…? (Yes, delight…) Spot came alive on our way to his toilet grave. So we took a detour. To the kitchen. To switch him into a new bowl. This is when I decided that this has got to be the pickiest fish I have ever known.

This fish became so accustomed to his Walmart world, that he was unable to open himself up to the possibility which was before him. He was used to a small cup. But given room to swim, he feels more comfortable in the small corner, in the ass of a crystal fish.

My previous fish grew to appreciate the space. Contrary to what many people think, bettas can, and do like to, swim around. But not Spot.

Well, sometimes. Like now, for instance. I think his gills must be burning, since I’m typing about him…

So, am I doing Spot a favor, by putting him in a small bowl? This plain, round bowl isn’t a lot to write home about, after all…

Know what happened when I made the switch? That fish swam around the side of the bowl, and then promptly wedged that little fishy head of his again.

You don’t know this, but I have a fish that actually got his head wedged too tightly and could not surface. That led to his demise. So, as instinctual as it might be to do the wedging thingie, I’m a little uncomfortable with it, I must admit. (...But that’s another story.)

So putting the damned thing back into the environment that he was more used to (i.e. a smaller bowl) didn’t keep him up and running, so to speak.

Although he does seem happier.

You see, if the fish is going to do what he wants, he’ll do what he wants, regardless of where you put him. Try to change his environment to get him to do what you want, and he will not change… He will simply adapt to do what he wants within the new environment. Might Spot have changed? Sure. I’ve seen plenty of fish change. They decided that the fish fishbowl was the place to be! Yes, fish do change.

(And so do people.)

But this fish is the way he is. He likes his bowl, he likes his head wedged between rocks, and he likes to sleep all damned day long. Seems like he’s going to do that no matter which bowl he’s in. I guess you could say Spot has a healthy share of fishy-self-confidence.

The fish does what he likes, and doesn’t pay any mind to being himself, regardless to hat happens around him. He is true to who he is. (You know, who he is as a fish.) When you think about it, that’s pretty cool.

Maybe I like this fish after all.

Check out my stuff!