Not Taking Appointments

I would first of all like to apologize for not posting since the beginning of December – it’s becoming pretty apparent between this blog and my Youtube channel that I am pretty much incapable of sticking to anything even vaguely resembling a proper posting schedule. Either way, I’m here now so I may as well make the most of it.

The impetus behind today’s post comes from an incident between myself and my dad earlier this week. Since the end of finals in early December I was able to put together all the parts I had bought for a brand new gaming PC – my previous one, while venerable, was unable to even run games that had come out recently, so I upgraded. As a direct result I spent quite a bit more time down in my basement home. After all – I had more games to play on an even better computer, my friends were gradually running out of school to keep them away from playing these games with me, and I no longer had classes that necessitated me to spend time going in and out of the house.

Generally a nice state of affairs after the frenetic activity of college, but my dad was rather disappointed. As a direct result of all of this, I spent a lot less time talking with him. I’ll admit I was rather ambivalent about this – I have a cognitive understanding of the problem but I felt the whole thing was much less urgent.

At any rate, the issue rapidly became one of communication. My dad would regularly come downstairs and knock on my door (generally when I was in the middle of something) and ask to talk. I rarely actually wanted to talk, but I did so anyway because the times when I didn’t my dad would walk away citing the fact that he just wanted to have a conversation, usually leaving me feeling like I was supposed to be the unreasonable person in this scenario.

Now, before I go any further, I must hasten to make as evident as possible without the use of neon signs that I am not trying to shame or antagonize my dad. This post is not meant to cast blame in any direction, just to help my dad (and you as the readers) understand what’s going on in my head. I have a more than functional grasp of the steps I can take in order to remedy the situation, the first and largest of which is the blog post you are currently reading.

Now – of course my dad has no real way of knowing that I’m in the middle of something, whatever it may be. I could be recording gaming footage, talking to a friend on Skype as I do homework, editing a video, or simply watching the news. I don’t like to be interrupted and I have this tendency of waking up and going “Ah! I think I shall watch this video on the state of Minecraft modding as I eat my breakfast, then set about this useful task I need to complete today!” Since my thoughts don’t go to a live ticker mounted on my door (and we should all be thankful for that), Dad can’t possibly know that. Therefore, when he interrupts me with quite good intentions, I snap at him and come off like an intolerant and slightly rabid honey badger.

This state of affairs satisfies neither of us. First of all, my dad wants to maintain a relationship with me. That goes both ways – he is my dad, so obviously I want a relationship with him as well. The problem seems to be in communicating when would be a good time, given that I have a few things on my to-do list at any one time. Second of all, blowing someone off spur-of-the-moment is generally assumed to carry the meaning of: “you aren’t as important as this conversation I’m having with my friends or this video I’m watching,” which is not the case. I simply lay out a list of things I’m about to do in my head, then work down it and when something tries to jump the list I rap it smartly about the head with a rolled-up map of the world and tell it to get in the back of the line. That’s all.

Spending time just sitting and talking with my dad does happen, but when it does it’s usually at my own behest. Attempts by him to initiate them tend to “jump the line” so to speak and as such meet resistance which I am usually incapable of articulating in any way other than short, clipped responses and a general air of “go away or I’ll rip your lips off.” That’s not my intent. I would just like to have a little bit of room – I do come upstairs and initiate conversation from time to time, but it’s when I both feel capable of it and have nothing else that needs to get done right then and there, thereby making sure it won’t short-circuit whatever I’m trying to do and cause a critical communications failure.

Anyway, hopefully I can finally give myself a firm enough kick in the backside to actually post in this blog somewhat more often than previously. While I’m here, I’ll take the opportunity to thank my readers for their feedback. None of you send it directly to me (usually dad is the one posting it on Facebook) but it really does mean quite a bit to me when he points it out to me. Thank you.

On Autism and Law Enforcement

Apologies for the lack of posts recently – I’ve had a lot of stuff on my plate. Thankfully finals are nearly done and I should be able to resume posting somewhat often within a week. To tide you over until then, I have here part of a big semester-end project for my criminal justice class. The assignment was to turn in a paper and give a presentation on a current issue pertaining to law enforcement that was of personal interest to me…yeah, it does seem rather obvious that I wrote about autism, doesn’t it?

Police officers, state troopers, and other law enforcement officials have long since worked out a system for dealing with individuals in potentially dangerous situations. There are guidelines to be followed that will generally direct everyone involved toward a peaceful resolution. But there’s a serious flaw with these guidelines; they assume everyone to be reading out of the same playbook. In particular, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders tend to fall well outside the guidelines of what many would believe to be reasonable behavior, through no fault of their own, and run into conflict with officers who have no clue of how to interact with them the way everyone else does.

 

Autism Spectrum Disorders (hereafter ASD) are something of a new issue facing law enforcement communities. Previously they were split into two relatively broad categories: autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The differences between the two could be summarized as Asperger’s being a milder form of autism; individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s had a higher chance of being able to be self-sufficient and generally capable of functioning as individuals in society than autistic people. The most recent edition of the DSM, a catalogue of all currently-recognized mental disorders, has discontinued the use of the name Asperger’s Syndrome in favor of merging the two diagnoses.

 

However, the symptoms have not changed. ASD is, ultimately, a sensory disorder. In most people, a part of the brain autonomously throttles the sensory input we are bombarded with on a daily basis – random sights, sounds, sensations and scents that it deems unimportant are filtered out and simply not registered. When afflicted with ASD, however, this part of the brain simply does not work. Sensory input has two settings; floodgates wide open, inundating the brain with such a barrage of information that it is simply overwhelmed – or near-complete shutdown with very, very little getting through to the conscious mind. In the former state, the individual quickly becomes exhausted because of the sheer volume of stimuli causing a constant feeling of being threatened – which has even led to many individuals on the spectrum exhibiting symptoms consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thus many patients of ASD default to the latter state, seeming disinterested and failing to develop communication and observation skills the rest of us would deem elementary.

 

ASD patients typically exhibit obsessive behaviors, rigid adherence to rituals and regimes of the individual’s own devising, and poor to nonexistent social skills. The rate at which ASD has been diagnosed has skyrocketed in recent years, though this is not as alarming as it may seem. Rather than the incidence of the disorder going up, it is far more likely that psychiatric professionals are simply more aware of the disorder and therefore diagnosing it more frequently. But the fact remains that ASD patients are a growing issue facing law enforcement officials, currently occurring in 0.6% of the population and likely to increase further.

 

The ways in which limited communication skills can bring an ASD patient into conflict with police are myriad; in a situation where officers require complete control of the situation and compliance from people involved. If one of those people happens to have ASD, officers might not get the cooperation or even respect they need. An autistic individual may simply do their best to tune the officers out and go about their business despite the intrusion, not wanting to face the idea of deviating from their set routine. Failing that, they may misinterpret the officer’s actions as a direct threat against them, particularly if the officer is asking for something out of what they consider to be their comfort zone. In the mind of an ASD sufferer, the things they do all the time are what they know and they’re an island in a sea of turmoil and noise that is the rest of the world. Any attempt to remove them from it will be viewed as an existential threat, as though something were trying to drag them down into the ocean off of their safe island. They will react accordingly, fighting tooth and nail (sometimes literally) to remain within their safe zone. This form of interaction can be particularly frustrating for an officer who is just trying to do his job and doesn’t understand why this one person is so stubborn in refusing to help. Anger and resentment mount on both sides, and nothing good comes of it.

 

It gets even worse if an autistic individual is involved in a criminal situation, regardless of whether they’re victims or the perpetrator. Suddenly, participation in an out-of-the-ordinary situation becomes mandatory and can have serious and far-reaching effects should they fail to cooperate fully with the authorities. But it’s simply impossible to handle – it’s not even a conscious choice on the part of the patient. Thus, police officers need to be trained in what to expect when interacting with ASD individuals. Learning to recognize the signs (or simply allowing the individual in some cases to present a card certifying their diagnosis) and reacting appropriately short-circuits the whole process by which frustrations build up with potential disaster just around the corner. ASD patients are not impossible to work with, nor are they more difficult. They simply require a different approach, and making sure that that approach is something officers know how to use will help avoid tons of headache and potential tragedy.

On Asperger’s and Violence

Well, this is going to be a bit of an unusual post for me. I don’t normally deal with anything this serious; if you’ve read my blog you know it’s usually me complaining about something for a few paragraphs or so. Much as I enjoy complaining, there’s something a bit more…weighty, shall we say, that I feel needs to be addressed.

On October 1st I was in class when one of the students, browsing CNN during a five-minute break, reported to the teacher that there had been a college shooting in Oregon. Naturally, I and everyone else who had brought a laptop to class immediately hopped over to the news websites to follow the situation. I don’t recall very much else of note happening during the day – I don’t make a habit of following the news and this wasn’t much of an exception, as horrible of a person as that makes me sound like. To be honest, there didn’t seem to be a lot of information available that day anyhow.

After the fact, I talked with my dad about the issue with school shootings. Among other things we talked about the relation between these shootings and autism. At the time, I wondered if the UCC shooter would be revealed to have Asperger’s or autism. Turns out I may have been right – some Googling shows that the guy’s mother at least claims she had Asperger’s and so did her son. Jury’s out on the accuracy of this information so please cut me some slack if that’s not right. I feel what I need to say this anyway.

With this information and also with the Newtown shooting a few years ago, the shooter was linked with Asperger’s. I would like to stress that most people on the spectrum absolutely will not be involved in anything like this. To quote statistics from my criminal justice class, most people with any form of mental illness are in fact many times more likely to be the victims in a criminal act than the perpetrators.

As an example I submit myself and one of my friends – the only two people that I both know relatively well and know to have an official diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Neither of us are particularly likely to do anything like this – my friend is perhaps the overall nicest person I’ve ever met in my life and while I do lose my temper from time to time and it tends to involve a lot of yelling and swearing, I have an extremely long fuse and I absolutely refuse to vent my anger through violence – I’ve done that, and after a broken door, two holes in the drywall and a busted monitor, I’ve decided I don’t care for breaking things, much less people.

That said, I can…well, sort of…make a guess at how someone with Asperger’s could get so far gone as to consider unloading a gun into a school. The disorder’s biggest problem has always been the immense negative impact it has on communication and interacting with one’s peers. Without a group of friends around them to provide support, and with family unwilling or unable to help fill the gap, it’s relatively easy to see the consequences. They may not be murderous, or even criminal, but they’re always destructive.

Finally I’d like to say something, though first I’ll qualify it by saying I do not in any way condone these actions. At all. Seriously, this is some of the most abhorrent behavior I can possibly conceive of and I do not make that statement lightly. But these shooters are people too. They’re lashing out for whatever reason and we as a society can stop it. They may feel like outcasts, like they’ve never had anyone they could call a friend, never had anyone to listen to them, to share a laugh or a smile with. And they don’t just snap all of a sudden – typically, according to a lecture on active shooter situations I attended at my college, they will post something to social media or mention their plans to someone.

Basically what I’m saying is that I believe the best option by far is to reach out and never let anyone fall so far that the only thing they can think to do is to resort to hideous acts like this. I don’t know how – I’ve never been good at reaching out and connecting with people and I won’t pretend to for the sake of appearing competent in a blog post. But there’s a way to stop this. The first casualty of every shooting is the shooter. If we save them, we spare dozens if not hundreds of families unimaginable pain and heartbreak. That can’t be anything but good, right?

Stuff That I Have Itemized

If I wait any longer to write this post it won’t get done, so let’s do this.

Item One: I’m still in college.

Honestly it’s not that bad. I heard loads of conflicting reports on the subject before I actually applied. On the one hand my parents assured me it was nowhere near as bad as high school…not that that says all that much, really. On the other hand, I had a couple of friends who had gone to college and promptly vanished off the face of the earth. I only saw them online rarely and they were never available to actually do anything – it was just homework all the time.

Naturally I wasn’t pleased at the idea. However, I really don’t have an awful lot of homework. Sure, there’s a bit of reading but I read at 200 pages per hour and I finally have an effective note-taking system (in the form of a laptop and Google Drive) and other than that most work is spaced out. Granted I’m not in a math class yet, but still. The only annoying thing I’ve had to deal with thus far has been one of my teachers stating at the beginning of the semester that he hated busywork – and then promptly giving us two busywork assignments later on. Well, I guess he didn’t make any promises, but still, that’s annoying as all get out.

Item Two: I may have solved my procrastination issues.

What I have found to be extremely helpful is to keep a Google document with a list of everything. When I was younger I was hardly seen without a notebook and a writing utensil and I made exhaustive lists of everything. Frequently in church, as it kept me from disrupting my parents’ experience and was quiet. Plus since it wasn’t electronic it magically was less distracting. The gist of it is that one time during youth service I randomly decided to write down all the playable races for Dungeons & Dragons that I could think of off the top of my head. I don’t remember why, honestly, I just remember that it is very nice to have these things catalogued.

Now, the problem with that is that paper and pen only goes so far. If you have a list that you want to keep in alphabetical order, but you need to add something, you’ve got to either start over or wedge it in the minimal space you have available. Sure, you could argue that pencil would work, but if you need to add a new line you have to erase everything that comes after and at any rate I hate the scratching sound and feel of pencil lead or an eraser being used.

Google Drive solves that problem handily, with a Chromebook at all my classes and the same document available on my gaming PC, I can edit it whenever I need to. I could use my phone as well but the keys are REALLY small and annoying so I rarely do. Anyway, I have a document in my Drive called The Masterlist, which has lists of everything I can think of. The one exception is my list of Minecraft mods because that is about three pages long and I need to share it with friends anyway. At the top of this document where I can easily access it I have notes to myself, a list of college assignments, and a daily to-do list. The to-do list pulls items from my lists of things to do in general and assignments, so that I have a general idea of what I want to get done on a specific day.

For example, I may list a class, then laundry, then groceries, then a blog post, then homework. I will then get those done, usually in the order that they’re listed, but I don’t put down deadlines other than the end of the day. This way I don’t feel constantly pressured – if I have any sort of deadline for a job I will freak out under pressure and if I set a deadline for, say, playing a video game, I then feel pressured to enjoy that time because it’s running out really fast – which in turn leads to frustration and rage if things don’t go as I planned. So far this plan has worked out relatively well, though I’ll be sure to (belatedly) inform you all of any further developments on the subject.

Item Three: The Elections

Assuming you live in America you’ve no doubt been deluged in political drama surrounding the candidates for Presidential candidacy. Honestly I don’t have much of an opinion on the subject – politics has never been something I found particularly interesting and this latest storm of debates is little different. The one thing I’ve done relating to politics recently is a quick Google search for “donald trump autism.” According to a Facebook group for Aspies, Trump said something about autism being a disease. Rather than give a knee-jerk “Trump is Satan” reaction I Googled it, and while he is possibly wrong about autism’s cause, he’s not saying anything particularly vile about autistic individuals. Which is good, I suppose – I’ve already gone into detail in a previous post on how much I despise that attitude.

Regardless of Trump’s knowledge of the spectrum, my stance on the Presidential debates is that the election is a full year away and frankly I don’t trust the news anyway. I’ve got that year in which I can find relatively impartial articles to make a decision on who I want sitting in the Oval Office and for the moment there are far more pressing matters to attend to, like organizing my newly-bought collection of Nintendo games and making sure my blog and Youtube channel don’t die.

Where No Flagmouth Has Gone Before

So, yeah. I’m in college.

…the heck happened to all my free time?

In all seriousness it’s not so bad as that. College is pretty much nothing like high school, aside from, y’know, classes and such. The interesting thing about it to me is that rather than math-science-English-history-foreign language classes that not everyone is interested in, at the moment I’m just taking classes related to criminology and computers. Okay, fine, there’s a composition class too but honestly it’s a lot better by virtue of being more specific.

It’s also nice to not have the silly short time periods between classes. In high school, as I believe I’ve ranted at length over, you have five minutes to plow through all the stupids who want to sit in the middle of the hallway and chat before you can get to your next class. Here, the shortest interval between classes is…let me math this out real quick…three hours. Granted, one of those three hours is spent driving home from one campus and then driving off to the other but on the whole that’s not bad.

The instructors seem far more approachable as well. I believe I’ve stayed a short while after class to speak with each of them, with the exception of my composition instructor because I’m taking that class online. All of them have been incredibly helpful and are a great resource for these sorts of things. Which is a great improvement over high school where I had at least three teachers whom I had an adversarial relationship at best.

Honestly, the biggest problem I’ve had is not my own experience at college but rather my friends’. The past week was effectively the first week of classes – my own college started up the preceding Thursday but nothing really happened until a week ago anyway. The point is the colleges my friends are in started a week ago and as such this is effectively the first week of classes for us. Until Saturday I did not have the chance to speak with any of them other than the sole remaining high schooler among us, between homework and assorted other college-y things. Of course, I found this immensely frustrating. I’m of the opinion that once I complete my own work I should be allowed to have some free time to spend with my friends, but instead I get them either doing their own work or busy with other things. My dad says I should get more friends…yeah. I’ll get to that. Maybe not in this post but I will.

So along comes Saturday. I’ve been trying out a new update in Terraria, one of the games I can play, and I invite them all onto my game so we can do some stuff. All’s well and good for a while, until somebody walks into a dorm room and just…I don’t even know. What sort of mental process is it that leads a person to see someone playing a video game, headphones in, mic turned on, Skyping with friends, and decide “Oho! I shall conversate with them and stop them from playing the video game because they’re talking to myself! This is a fabulous idea that makes all the sense in the world!”

…uh, no. Get out.

Anyway this guy keeps yakking on for a good fifteen minutes or so, stopping the friend he’s talking to from actually, y’know, playing the game. Because why not. I’m sure interrupting is polite or something like that. Jeez.

And then later it happens again, just this time with the other friend who’s in college. I mean, he lives in a fraternity house (I think, don’t quote me on that) so I don’t expect him to have perfect silence on the other end of the mic or anything, but again, people decide to interrupt others who are playing video games.

Please imagine for a moment the sound of my head hitting my desk or a wall in measured and appropriate exasperation, as there’s no way to type that out in text.

So I’ve decided I definitely never want roommates. I tend to be very loud while playing video games with my friends, which are of course the best kind of video games. That’s not as much of a problem in my house. I rent a room in the basement, which is ludicrously effective at muting me for the most part – I once got startled at three in the morning playing a video game and screamed an obscenity at the top of my lungs. And my lungs are pretty tall, I used to play tuba.

Nobody noticed.

But in a tiny apartment or a dorm room, my roommate is sure to get annoyed. To say nothing of the people next door, or above or below. Rather than temper my reactions I’d just spring for a little extra privacy. Plus the fact that, while if you get a decent roommate things can be all well and good, I’m well aware of what constitutes “decent” in my book and the sheer volume of people who don’t qualify. Seriously, it’s better for all of us if I don’t room with someone else.

But yeah, other than issues with my friends’ housing college is alright, at least right now. There was a brief altercation where I was outraged at my friend’s calculus professor for assigning something at nine o’clock Sunday morning, but once my friend found out (and told me) that it was due on Wednesday and not Monday that was fine.

More updates as events warrant – probably that post on getting friends and such. Unless I’ve already done that, I dunno. I tend to forget what I’ve already posted.

America’s Roller Coast

The second part of my vacation took place after the last post – fortunately by that point we were out of New England so the drivers were approaching sanity again. Although….there’s something to be said for listening to your dad’s reactions to the incredible reckless driving.

Now, that aside, our final stop on vacation was Cedar Point, the best roller coaster park in America and possible the world. You’d have to ask my brother, he knows a ridiculous amount about coasters. Anyway, I enjoyed the time I spent actually on the coasters, but not the time spent literally anywhere else. It was a VERY hot day and bright and sunny for the most part (more on that later). Which means I hated it. I spent the entire time the sun was out feeling like a slug or something, coated in a constant film of mingled sweat and sunscreen.

That and there were people EVERYWHERE, constantly talking and making noise. Thank God we went on a Wednesday, because that meant there was a significantly smaller amount of attendees than there would be on, say, the weekend. Yeah, no thanks, there were plenty just that Wednesday. At least there was actually space in which to do things, not like my high school’s hallways.

Oh, and the coasters were really good. When I strap myself down my brain decides that now is the best time to review all the things that could possibly go wrong and what would happen to me if they did. Unhelpful in the extreme. I suspect it was lodging a protest of some sort. Anyway this continues until I get to the top of the hill, at which point we go down and I’m too busy enjoying the ride to think about things like death and dismemberment.

So yeah, the coasters were amazing, but I didn’t really think they were worth the sheer agony of the waiting for them. Didn’t help that I was developing a headache at the time, but that’s situational. Eventually we had to go back to the hotel because it started storming – the parking lot could have done with some storm drains, because it was literally half a foot underwater in places. Since I’d purchased one of those woven conical hats and was wearing it to keep the rain out of my face I felt like some sort of Vietnamese rice farmer. There’s a certain point where you give up keeping your feet dry because your socks have turned into sponges and you make this squelching noise with every footstep. Not fun.

But that was not the most important thing on the trip. There’s a place near Dayton, Ohio that sells red velvet cake malts. Which are exactly as good as they sound, if not better. Worth the vacation just for that.

New York City

For the record, big cities aren’t exactly my thing.

Of course, when I say “not exactly my thing” I really mean “the closest I can get to hell on Earth.”

There are WAY too many cars. By a full order of magnitude at least, plus what cars there are are driven by maniacs who probably obtained their license by holding the instructor at gunpoint. Walking is always a pain, but it’s the least hellish of the options for traveling around the city – and if you know me you know how much I hate walking. Seriously, it’s that bad.

The subway and the buses are also pretty terrible. Unless you have amazing timing or just shove everyone out of your way there’s no way in hell you’ll get an actual seat, so you’ll have to stand there hoping nobody picks your pocket and nearly falling over every time the vehicle stops or starts. Which if you’re in a bus, will be exceedingly often.

I’m not kidding. My dad is a better driver than I am, and honestly I’m better than most by this point (‘course I’m an excellent driver…) and he refused to try to navigate this city in his car. We enlisted the help of a friend who lived in the area, and even he had trouble.

That and the NOISE. For God’s sake, every two seconds someone in earshot will decide it’s time for a surprise car horn inspection and hammer the thing like there’s no tomorrow. If you’re really lucky they’ll do it two inches from you and blow your eardrums clean out of your head.

And the people everywhere, none of whom are going to get out of your way so unless you want to ram straight into them you need to basically dodge everyone on the sidewalk. And there’s a hell of a lot of people to dodge as well, so good luck. Plus half of them are smoking about as much as a coal-burning steam engine so say goodbye to your nice clean lungs. And even once you find somewhere to sit down, people walking by will try and sell you stuff or whatnot. I don’t know about you but if I’m sitting there reading a book I don’t want to be petitioned by door-to-door salesmen wannabes, seriously.

That said, we’re at least situated in a hotel fairly close to a view of the new World Trade Center. Take a good long look, Al-Quaeda. You suck forever, and we win.

*ahem* We’re not going there.

That said, I can’t be too hard on New York City drivers because honestly they’re better than the ones in Massachussetts. Although maybe only by virtue of not having as much room because of all the bloody buildings, but eh, I’ll take what I can get I suppose. Unless people want me to rant at them, which I’m only too good at.

And I haven’t taken a taxi anywhere. According to my dad that’s an adventure, so we’ll probably have to do that before we leave the city for good tomorrow.

Just a quick update while I’m on vacation to tell you what I think of the city, I suppose. Hope you found it useful.