Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thinking about autism

Temple Grandin (film)I watched the movie Temple Grandin with my parents tonight. As an autistic person, it is a very interesting movie to watch since Grandin is herself autistic. My mother and I saw a preview for it a while back - it was an HBO movie - but as we don't get HBO we weren't able to see it. But it's out on DVD now so my parents rented it. Anyway, my mother thought it would be worth checking out because she, like me, is very interested in finding out more about autism. In fact, it was she who first diagnosed me really; she learned about it when she was getting her degree in psychology and felt that the symptoms matched me. She had "studied" me before, doing a report on my exceptionally high grades in Reading on the Stanford Achievement Test (an annual test, kinda like the STAR); I was scoring Post-High School in reading in elementary school. I think there might've been some other subjects where I was PHS too, but that's the one I remember. I guess something about the doctors' diagnosis of me with "borderline cerebral palsy" didn't fit with her, and to be honest, it doesn't fit with me either.

It does seem odd. Obviously, they didn't know about Asperger's Syndrome (the autism spectrum disorder I specifically have) in 1984 when I was born - that didn't happen till the '90's - but they knew about autism. I mean, Grandin was diagnosed with it in NINETEEN-FIFTY for crying out loud. Granted, they had some wrong ideas about it back then, according to this movie, but they knew about it. (We started watching the movie with the audio commentary after watching it the first time, and we watched the scene where she was diagnosed, and Grandin herself - who is part of the group commenting on the film - makes a very big point of saying how wrong those theories are). Maybe it wasn't obvious? I mean, to diagnose me with borderline cerebral palsy means they must've thought something was wrong. But on the other hand, that "borderline" diagnosis seems like they didn't know what to make of me and just slapped on me whatever label made sense. If they'd known I had autism sooner, I wouldn't have had to go to physical therapy at a place where I was the only young person there. (I did physical therapy because of the wrong CP diagnosis).

I do wonder if they would've caught it sooner if I'd gone to a public school where they have school nurses who check your health every year - or is that just in movies? I forget. Adam, my coworker who also has Asperger's (I met him through the Asperger's activity group), wasn't diagnosed till high school. And autism's supposed to be more prevalent in boys, kinda like ADD is. In my Human Heredity class, when we did our presentations on genetic conditions at the end, one group did theirs on autism, and they said that it's harder to detect in girls because girls are better able to mask it by imitating the "normal" behavior of their peers, whereas boys are not. This makes a lot of sense to me (though, as my mom was saying just now when I told her this, it may just be an interpretation); I mean, it explains why they catch ADD in a young boy who can't sit still.

I could relate to some of the difficulties Grandin has in the film - the sensual hypersensitivity (to sounds, touch, etc), the social difficulties, the panic attacks in large groups or when overstimulated, associating words with things, taking phrases literally, etc. Also, Grandin tended to think in pictures -- in fact, the film is partially based on a book of hers called Thinking in Pictures (it's also based on her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic). I'm not sure that's how I think, but I do tend to think in terms of associations. Like when Grandin's science teacher shows her French teacher her pictures of eels - Grandin had burst out in class previously, saying "why are there so many fish in France?" - I got the idea of the "eels ate" as relating to "il ait" (as her teacher says, French is full of "ils"). I don't draw out concepts though. I don't know whether it would help or not. The only doodling I do is what I have labeled "typographic doodling" - basically writing titles of sections of my notes in big block letters or something. (There probably is a name for that, or maybe there isn't - I just made up the name so that I could better explain it to people). Occasionally, I doodle geometric shapes, and one time when working on my novel, I wrote about a carrot being the size of a daikon (a very large Asian radish) and then doodled a daikon on the margin. But that's about it.

I can't claim to be an expert on autism. I am just trying to learn what I can to understand myself and my condition. I do wonder why I am this way; as many Christians say, God must've had a reason. (Now that I think about it, that argument's in Pastor Larry's book 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe so maybe it's not so valid). Temple Grandin went on to design humane holding pens and such for animals - and still contributes a lot to our knowledge of animal behavior - but I don't know what career my skills would best be used in. I don't have a special affinity to something like Grandin does toward animals. Well, to trees I guess, but I'm no botanist.

I don't usually talk about my writing here, but a thought just came to me. With my extreme attention to detail - even Grandin agrees that autistic people are extremely attentive to detail - I should be able to be really good at showing. I should be able to describe things well. And yet I keep getting told I tell more than I show. Now why do I do that? I think it is because of being told to write more concisely when I do reports, particularly by Dr. Cucinella. I struggle between conciseness and showing. They tell you in writing books to show more than you tell, but they also tell you not to take ten pages to describe a room, like they used to do in novels. It seems stupid that something someone told me to do in reports would seep into my creative writing, but it did. The problem is, I don't know who to talk to about this. My parents, who I talk to about so many other things, don't know much about my writing, and there wouldn't be time in the CWCW meetings to ask for advice about it; we're always pressed for time as it is. I guess I could talk to the people at The Anomaly, but they might not be much help as they haven't seen a lot of my writing (I haven't posted much up there). I want to talk to SOMEBODY about it, but I don't know who and I don't know how to break out of such a habit. I imagine a number of editors or agents will tell me the same thing when I send this thing out.

But it's not right to blame someone else. Something must be wrong with me. My writing ability's not developed enough. It must be that. To blame this issue on Dr. Cucinella telling me to be concise is stupid. Reports are reports. Novels are novels. They're different. You write them differently.

I seem to write short stories and some poetry pretty well. Maybe I'm not cut out for novels? That's what I want to write though. Oi, as Hamlet said, "How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses of this world!"

Amy-chan messaged me today saying "Lara we need your vocals for the songs we have to upload." This means I have to record my vocals for all the songs whose lyrics she's been sending me for ages. I'll probably do that tomorrow. I confess I'm not looking forward to it. I don't know any of the songs, and most of the time Amy-chan either gives herself most of the lyrics or her voice comes out the loudest, and let's just say she's not a very good singer. I kinda cringe when I hear her sing. In our first group song (our last so far), you could barely hear my voice because I didn't sing loud enough when I recorded myself, but you could definitely hear Amy-chan. She said once that she wanted me to be the leader of this band (LAR Productions) but when it comes down to it she created it and she picks all the songs and stuff. Heck, she maintains our Facebook page more than I do. I haven't updated our website since July, and I haven't done anything to our pages on iLike, Fanpop, and MySpace Music since I opened them, and very little with our Twitter. I just am not good with social networking marketing.

I'm going to stop now and take a shower, then decide if I'm going to continue reading along to the LibriVox recording of The Importance of Being Earnest, or save that for tomorrow. If I do, I may go make some toast to have. I concentrate better sometimes when I'm eating.

Anyway, good night!

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