Lessons from Speech Class

This month I finished my last class for my associate degree in Information Sciences and Technology. It was a speech class.

More accurately, it was a class focused on the “Principles of communication, implemented through analysis and evaluation of messages, with some attention to formal speaking and group discussion.” Unlike the on-campus offering where you take turns giving short speeches in front of the class, this course focused more on analyzing messages. I chose CAS 100C instead of 100B, to avoid having to do group work.  (I’m so over group work. See image below)

group project

This class was a LOT of writing, which translated into a LOT of time spent on it each week.  I’ve been called a “good writer,” but it takes time for me to write.  Especially when it involves the need to read (and sometimes find) scholarly articles that are to be cited in that week’s essay.  In addition to the weekly essays, we had to write and record two 6-8 minute speeches as our midterm and final.

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I was really fighting my perfectionism this semester.  No matter how many times I reminded myself that my grade didn’t matter, no matter how many managers at work (2) told me to chill out and “just pass,” no matter how many times my boss guaranteed the grade would have no impact on my job. . . . I just couldn’t not care.  I tried SO HARD to turn in work that wasn’t up to my personal standards, yet I still ended the class with an A.  The professor even asked if she could share some of my work with the rest of the class as good examples.

Before this class, I had started learning more about the Enneagram, and I was suspecting that I’m a type 1, the “Perfectionist.”  My excruciating struggle with my performance in this class made this pretty obvious.  I’m thinking about doing more investigation regarding Aspergers and the Enneagram.

One day early in the semester, my boss and I got out of the office for lunch.  He could tell I was struggling (perhaps the fact that I was on the brink of tears clued him in).  Bemused, he reminded me that I just have to pass.  I told him the story of the inspirational “Do your best at not doing your best” image on my phone.

do your best

He said, “I have one better than that.  Do your best at the things that matter.”

He then elaborated, talking about the need to evaluate my priorities, and to make sure I’m spending time and effort on the important things, like relationships.  Basically, if I’m getting a lower grade because I’m playing video games, that’s bad.  If I’m getting a lower grade because I’m focusing on doing well at work, and volunteering at church, and investing in relationships, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Even though I had a tough time following my manager’s advice, I’m extremely grateful that he gave it.

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A big revelation came after I received my final feedback for the class.

I had been super anxious about recording the two big speeches.  Like most people, I don’t enjoy public speaking.  But since I was recording this instead of presenting it to live people, that wasn’t the big reason for anxiety.  We were supposed to use an “extemporaneous” delivery for these speeches, having only words and short phrases on our note cards.  That really stressed me out.  Like most people on the spectrum, I can struggle with verbal communication.  I do much better when I have the time to carefully think out how I want to word something.  And when I have that time, I think I do it well.  I like making sure I get the words right to communicate effectively.  That is really hard to do “on the fly,” when I have a time limit in which to speak all of my main points, research, arguments, transitions, etc.

Our professor gave us a good strategy for how to deliver an extemporaneous speech.  We were to write out the full-sentence outline of the speech, then turn that into an outline of key words and phrases.  We could memorize the introduction, since it’s beneficial to have those introductory words “just right,” and it would give us more confidence for the rest of the speech.  But the rest was supposed to be based off of the short outline on our note cards.  She recommended we rehearse from the short outline, starting over again from the beginning any time we faltered and forgot details.  I tried this for the first speech, but as I rehearsed I found that I was really struggling with getting the words right, so I ended up writing way more on my note cards than I was “supposed” to.

For the second speech, I was reminding myself again that I just had to pass the class, which essentially meant I just had to turn in a speech.  Any speech.  Even a terrible speech.  I would still pass.  I had found enough sources to meet the assignment requirements, done a lot of thinking and synthesizing, sorted the ideas into main points, and had written up my full-sentence outline.  I simply didn’t have time to do the full-blown rehearsal to learn the speech, and I didn’t care if I got points docked for the delivery.  So I printed the entire outline on sheets of paper and cut them in half to be more note-card-sized.  That way, I could glance down and see EXACTLY how I wanted to say it.  (As I made edits to the content, I left the original outline file intact, so I could turn in something that was slightly different than what I said in the video, in case the professor compared them.  I’m sneaky like that.)

I recorded my speech two or three times and called it a night.  A few days later, I got the grade, along with this feedback:

“Really good extemporaneous and conversational delivery.”

Wait, what?  I had the whole thing written out!  I thought you said it would be obvious if we were reading from the page? I rehearsed, but in the end I was essentially reading it word-for-word from my printed outline.  How did I manage to fool you?

Then I realized: Oh.  Right.  I’m autistic.

Writing out words before I say them is a coping skill I developed long ago.  I need to call the mechanic to get a few issues looked at?  I’d better write it out.  I’m going to have a difficult conversation with a boyfriend?  I’d better write out some key points, because once the emotions hit I’m going to struggle to remember what I wanted to say and how to say it.

  • For my non-autistic classmates, reading their speech would be obvious.  They wouldn’t sound conversational.
  • For me, trying to speak off-the-cuff from an outline would leave me stumbling over words, pausing awkwardly mid-sentence, and anxious.  I wouldn’t sound conversational.

I was highly amused when I realized that for me to “pass” as an NT giving an extemporaneous speech, I had to use my coping skill of writing everything out.  I then had to fake being spontaneous and conversational in my delivery as I read, which of course is something I have unconsciously been practicing for years!

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To me, this was a good lesson in respecting who I am.  I have to remember that my brain, my struggles, and my skills are not typical.  The path I take to get to a goal will not always look like the path my peers take.  I also learned how fortunate I am to have people in my life, like the managers at work, who care enough about me to give me good advice and moral support when I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown.  Finally, I learned that I’m absolutely done with school for the foreseeable future!

 

Now that the homework is over, I have time for activities I truly enjoy, such as photography.

Now that the homework is over, I have time for activities I truly enjoy, such as photography.

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Acceptance, Not Awareness

This past Friday I had my mid-year review at work, the first such meeting since I was hired full-time a few months ago. It was a much more in-depth evaluation than the little “here’s a paper with all 10’s circled on it, let me know if you have questions, sign here” I had at my last job.  My manager was very positive and complimentary, gently providing “growth areas”  rather than “weaknesses” or criticism.  My peers also provided a few positive comments for him to share with me.  In a summary section, he wrote something like, “She is different, and that’s a good thing.”  He does not yet know that I am autistic, but since I work in IT now, I’ve been able to be a little more authentically me than at past positions.

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This weekend I was continuing my way through the book Neurotribes, which is excellent.  The problem is, it jumps between stories so cool that I excitedly read them aloud to unwilling victims, to parts so heartbreaking that I have to put it down for a while.  I was reading the section on Lovaas and the early days of ABA, and researchers’ use of punishment.  It was so upsetting that I was stimming (a lateral hand-flapping movement) and engaging in self-injurious behavior (biting my hand) – two of the very behaviors that were physically punished in these early studies.

I talked to a person about this right after setting the book aside (I will use “they” as a gender-neutral singular here). I was so worked up after talking to them that I was still doing a lot of the rapid hand-shaking while I was preparing some coffee.  They then said, “You’d better get that out of your system by Monday if you want them to still think you’re ‘different in a good way.'”

That bothered me.  But I didn’t have the words to express to them why it hurt so much.  First, it was just the latest in a long line of comments like that throughout my life – those, “I hope you don’t do that in public,” or, “Are you going to shower before you go out?” or, “You don’t say that at school/work, do you?” kind of comments.  The ones that insinuate I haven’t yet learned how to behave “properly” around normal people, out in public.

Second, and this is very much related to that category of comment, I only engaged in that behavior because I felt safe to do so.  In my own home, with people I trust, I’m going to feel freer to behave in ways that are not seen as “acceptable” in other settings.  I’m going to complain about tasks I’ve been assigned at work, but I’m NOT going to have a bad attitude about them around my manager and coworkers.  I’m going to skip a shower when I’m staying in, but I’m NOT going to go to class with greasy hair.  I’m going to release extreme emotion nonverbally through self-stimulatory behaviors, but I’m NOT going to be as obviously autistic in the behaviors I select when I’m around people I don’t trust with that.

Third, they used something that was an extremely positive, affirming, and accepting comment about me to shame me for my autistic behavior.

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I was recently talking to another Aspie-girl about how hard it can be, living with neurotypicals.   We talked about how sometimes we trust someone with an explanation for our behaviors, or explain how we feel about something, and they end up using it against us later – even if it’s just what they see as a friendly teasing comment, it still hurts, and makes us less likely to trust again.

So, if you love someone on the spectrum, please recognize that often those “socially-unacceptable behaviors” you see are indications that the person feels safe with you.  Especially if you only see the behaviors in a “safe” setting, like the person’s home.  And please, if we trust you with an explanation of how we think and feel, don’t use it against us.

And for you autistic people reading. . . what advice should I give?  Be more careful whom you trust?  Don’t let your guard down and be so “autistic” around people?  No.  On my drive home today, Jars of Clay’s song “Inland” came on my shuffle.  The song I named this blog after. I was thinking about how even though another song on the album is my favorite, I was glad I got an “Inland” lyric inscribed on the ring I wear every day.  The words “you keep walking inland” are a constant reminder to me that I must press on, I must engage in community and relationships, I must keep trying.  I must keep walking inland – “where no man is an island.”  And so must you.  Don’t give up explaining, expressing yourself, and teaching.  Learn to live among people who are not like you, learn to communicate with them, and treat everyone with the respect and kindness you want yourself.   Don’t hide.  Don’t retreat.

 

It’s the only way we will gain more acceptance. 

Inland Ring

 

A Good Change

Hi blogging friends, I’m still here!  I’ve been quite busy, and though I’ve had many ideas for posts, I simply haven’t had the time/energy to sit and write.

To get things rolling again, I’d like to talk a little about some of the reasons I’ve been so busy.  I’ve mentioned before that I have been taking online classes.  This summer, I got a full-time internship while taking 2 classes.  Combine the stress of getting up early and working full days at a brand-new environment (with new norms and new responsibilities and new people) with taking two writing-intensive classes as a perfectionist (I take forever on writing assignments) and I was STRESSED.  I was really on the verge of a breakdown multiple times.  Mom told me she was ready to kill me once, and Dad had to talk her down.  I had no down-time for relaxing with a favorite show or working on a sewing project or visiting my best friend.  That isn’t healthy for me.

Lots of computers

IT intern life.

But. . . this internship is the one that a guy at church told me about a year before, and I had really hoped to get.  Not only was it an excellent learning experience, but it is leading to full-time employment.  I’m amazed at how much better this workplace and work are for me.  My confidence and self-esteem are slowly being built back up.  I’ve joked before that in making this career change, “I’ll still be working with autistic people – they’ll just be my coworkers instead of clients.”  It turns out, my years of hard work at practicing social skills and having to teach them to kids have paid off.  In this field, I actually stand out as having good social skills, instead of other fields where I’ve been surrounded by NTs and been the “weird” one in a bad way.  It’s all relative.

office box fort

A grown man (with grey hair) built a fort. A box fort. At his cubicle.

Not only am I surrounded by people who get my geeky references, quote the same kinds of shows/movies, and appreciate a good special interest. . . but I can bring sensory objects to work for myself, and instead of getting weird looks I get jealous ones!

office toys

Personalizing my cubicle – complete with a visual stim toy!

I brought in a little tin of Thinking Putty.  My best friend gave it to me years ago, but I didn’t use it much.  Then, I discovered that I needed a quiet fidget at work, and I fell in love with the putty.  So did my coworker, who kept asking me about it.  Finally, I just ordered a multi-pack of mini-tins from Amazon.  Three of the other interns and that one coworker signed up to buy it from me before it even came, and I sold/gave tins to three more coworkers shortly after that.

Thinking putty

Assorted putty

 

They joked about me being a “putty dealer”  . . . so when demand increased for more and firmer putty, I decided to order a pound to save everyone money.  I even bought little tins from Amazon for them to keep it in!  I’ve already sold a few ounces.  There are 9 or 10 of us playing with putty in the office now.

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“Breaking Putty”

 

But enough about the putty (which really is awesome.  Check out Crazy Aaron’s website).  I have a number of ideas for posts, which I will hopefully get to soon.  During last school year, I had the chance to talk to my client’s 4th grade class about autism, being different, and kindness.  I’d love to try to type up a recap of the conversation, because it was a really good one.  It gave me hope for the future.  I also have a rough draft of a post about favorite fictional Aspies.

Rallying

A few weeks ago, I had a really long weekend.  Work that week had been stressful.  I traveled to see friends after work on Friday, but it was an emotionally draining visit.  The next day, I spent at least 8 hours at a small gathering. . . again, it was lovely to spend time with these friends, but socializing with more than one or two people is going to wear me out.  I drove home that evening, and since I had coffee to stay alert on the road, I wasn’t able to get to sleep for a while.  I was emotionally exhausted and ended up crying in bed, and the next morning I woke up with a headache (from the too-short sleep and the crying).  I couldn’t sleep in, because my family was going to a gathering, where I would again be socializing and listening to people talk about things I don’t have (wedding plans, babies).  As I stumbled around like a grumpy zombie trying to get ready to go, I was told I needed “to rally” because it was important.

 

I’m not still curled up in bed under my weighted blanket.

This is me rallying.

I put on clothes that aren’t a t-shirt and pajama pants.

This is me rallying.

I’m responding with nods, grunts, and short exasperated sentences instead of snapping at the upbeat attempts to get me to join in the chatting.

This is me rallying.

I’m allowing my picture to be taken and trying to smile.

This is me rallying.

I’m getting in the car again, even though I just traveled from the other side of the state a few hours ago.

This is me rallying.

I’m strategically isolating in the car to simultaneously recover and prepare for more socializing – hooded sweatshirt to block the sun, squishy pillow to try to sleep, noise-blocking headphones; then, when sleep fails me, escaping into an episode of a TV show streamed onto my phone.

This is me rallying.

I’m getting out of the car instead of staying in here and sobbing or sleeping.

This is me rallying.

When told, “I need you to rally,” one more time, I respond,

“This IS me rallying.”

and I walk into the house, projecting the friendly persona expected of me.

 

 

On Birthdays and Measuring Years

30. 1. 20.

We attach so much significance to our measurements of time.

I recently turned 30.
It’s been 1 year since I realized I have Asperger’s.
Jars of Clay is celebrating 20 years as a band. (Their new album is excellent, btw).

Jars 20

30. I don’t feel 30, of course. I’m not sure what 30 is supposed to feel like. Of course, life doesn’t look the way I expected it to look at 30.

One thing I wanted to write about was my birthday, and how it was an example of what I’ve learned over the past year. Here comes the Aspie problem of not knowing exactly how much back-story to give. . . to be brief, my 28th birthday was very sad and emotional because of a relationship situation. The next year, I planned to have a better birthday. I even had a party for the first time in years, complete with goodie bags!  Some of my favorite people came to visit, and the house got noisy when some family friends were in town and came by also.  But another relationship situation went down shortly after, which ended up tainting the weekend.

So this year I was back to not looking forward to my birthday.  Since the previous two were tainted by guys, I decided to not even mention that my birthday was coming up to the guy I was chatting with online.  Every time I thought about my birthday coming up, and tried to decide what I wanted to do (such as invite people over) I would just want to cry.  My very wise best friend encouraged me to “do something fun . . . like eat ice cream for breakfast, don’t do any school work, and watch HSM3 or Darren Criss.”

I took her advice.  (Well, I saved the HSM3 for the next weekend when she was coming to visit, and I had a different dessert for breakfast.)  I went to my morning work session, then relaxed at home with my parents and watched some movies with them.  Mom made delicious food.  I got a few thoughtful gifts from my family.

My bestie sent me this shirt. Link and Harry are my homeboys.

While some might see my change in behavior as “giving up” or withdrawing, I recognized it as growth in understanding and accepting myself.  Ever since I was small I have loved the *idea* of a party, but the party itself was often problematic.  I have a hard time splitting my time and attention properly when I’m with multiple people.  I have to be constantly “on” socially and concerned about how people from my different circles are getting along.  It can easily get noisy and overstimulating.  There’s the inevitable disappointments (too often I ended up crying in my room at parties) and the stress of opening gifts.  Tangent time!

I hate opening gifts.

I have theorized that this goes back to getting things like Barbie dolls as a child from people who don’t actually know me (like if I invited a classmate to a party and their mom never met me).  Talk about disappointing!  Like most people on the spectrum, I was never good at hiding my emotions and lying.  I know I’m supposed to act happy and grateful when I receive a gift, but that is SO HARD when it’s a disgusting magenta box with an ugly doll inside.  (I used to avoid the magenta toy aisle at all costs; I thought about taking a picture of one for the blog and decided it’s too awful, so I’ll skip it.)  So imagine it – being a little kid, excited to see what new toy is under the wrapping paper, but then seeing the hot pink and feeling seriously disappointed while having an audience – including someone who will feel sad if you show your disappointment, and you don’t want to make them feel sad.  It’s not fun.  And while I slowly got better at acting thankful, that trepidation still accompanies every wrapped gift and every surprise.   (Second tangent – I don’t like surprises. . . unsurprisingly, my relationship with a magician did not end well).

</tangent>

So, instead of stressing about organizing a get-together that would inevitably stress me out, and thinking about all the ways my birthday could be different, I decided to honor who I am and what I actually enjoy, and give myself the gift of a relaxing day of good things.  And I got to have other good things to look forward to, like my best friend and her family coming to visit and the arrival of the not-yet-available LEGO Mini Cooper my parents wanted to give me for my birthday:

LEGOS!

This was one birthday toy that did not disappoint! My inner-child was SO HAPPY.

“You make me feel disabled. Yes, you.” by Pensive Aspie

“You make me feel disabled. Yes, you.” by Pensive Aspie

I’m typing this and I haven’t even finished reading the post – I like it that much.

 

My words can express an agreement and hide my dislike for certain things, but my body language is almost incapable.

Yep.

Even large family gatherings with people who love us can make us anxious. When you dismiss our anxiety with a wave of your hand and a roll of your eyes, you say our feelings don’t matter.  Your dismissal of my feelings increases my anxiety because I feel I have disappointed you. I feel like I cannot do anything right.

YES.

Because sensory issues play a big part in our lives, we often prefer specific foods.  Forcing us to try new foods and chastising us if we don’t proves to me that you don’t respect my boundaries.  I am an adult.  I know what I like and what I don’t.

THIS.

I finished reading it and wanted to shout, “Amen!” and show it to everyone I know.  Here’s my first step:

http://pensiveaspie.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/you-make-me-feel-disabled-yes-you/

For the Love of Earplugs

The school cafeteria is loud.  The gym at recess is loud (especially when it’s divided in half and they’re all crammed together).  In these settings the young autistic boy I work with often covers his ears.  Last year we had him sit beside the cafeteria wall to reduce the noise, and right after lunch we’d go to the sensory room for 15 minutes.  I always appreciated getting that break, myself!  If we were having a particularly rough day I’d  sit on the beanbag with the weighted blanket, not even caring that it amused my coworkers.  (As an aside, I love the one I have at home – I got it from DreamCatcher Weighted Blankets).

For a number of possible reasons the cafeteria seems louder this year, and we usually go to recess right after. . . which means I’m feeling overstimulated and irritable right along with my client.  Another woman who sits with us at lunch started wearing earplugs, and I kept saying I needed to remember to bring some, and we talked about options that my client might tolerate.  Of course due to memory issues (like those described here) I haven’t remembered to bring any in.  Today this kind soul had an extra pair and let me have them.  Which was good, because I was already feeling overly sensitive today – I couldn’t even wear my ponytail properly-tight because I could feel individual hairs being painfully pulled.

These are staying in my lunch bag.

These are staying in my lunch bag.

As soon as we sat down I stuck those little foam plugs in my ears and felt so relieved.  I could still hear what was going on around me, but it felt like I was in a protective bubble.  I noticed I was able to breathe easier, and when we entered the gym 15 minutes after lunch I instantly stuck those suckers back in.  She tried giving my client a pair and he wasn’t able to tolerate them, but we’ve got to find something for him.  I’m thinking he’d be ok with something like earmuffs – they may not be quite as sound-blocking, but it would still help! I know I’ll be using earplugs daily.

This is what I feel like doing after being in those ridiculously noisy rooms.

This is what I feel like doing after being in those ridiculously noisy rooms.

One of these days I want to take a decibel meter to work with me.  I wonder if anyone I know has one I could borrow. . .