What I learned from Carly…

This is the post excerpt.

If this blog is going to be about confidence with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I want to start it off right. So let’s talk about a video that is currently circling the Internet right now of Channing Tatum’s interview with one fearless talk show host.

Carly Fleischmann is the sharp-witted young girl behind the website known as carlysvoice.com She also happens to have non-verbal autism. But Carly proves that her diagnosis does not hinder her talent with writing. She has started her own YouTube talk show series called Speechless with Carly Fleischmann.

Through a speech program on her iPad, Carly is able to have her words read aloud. She has had conversations with many people and gotten to know their amazing stories. One of those people recently happened to be Magic Mike himself. Take a look at the video!

Photo by Linda Barnard of the Toronto Star:

carly with channing
When I watched this for the first time I cannot tell you how excited I was. So many people were talking about this video on social media and letting people know that even with having non-verbal autism, Carly lets herself be heard loud and clear.

Having Asperger’s syndrome myself, I have always wondered just how far the weighed canopy of Autism Spectrum Disorder can have on an individual’s confidence. It certainly affected mine growing up. But after watching a video like this, it’s clear that through Carly’s example, anyone with ASD has great potential.

Proven through her own words, Carly has a talent for writing, a creative mind and a fantastic sense of humour. If I were ever in a room with my celebrity crush (Mila Kunis, if any Hollywood studio executives would like to make my own dream come true, *nudge, wink*) I don’t know if I would be able to demonstrate that much charm.

Yet what I love most about this interview is the absolute confidence Carly has throughout the meeting. She speaks boldly to Tatum, wanting to know more about who the man behind the fame is. They talk about his adolescent years, his marriage to his wife Jenna Duwain-Tatum, fatherhood, acting and more. Many times Tatum finds himself caught off guard by how direct she is and laughing at her jokes. I especially loved when Carly kept on going in for a kiss from Tatum on the head. Hey, any girl in her 20 somethings would go for at least one!

Carly goes on in the video to say sitting and talking next to Tatum is a privilege for her but also a scary one. But does she let that stop her? Not for a second. In fact she even encourages him to face one of his own fears during the interviews. Namely one creepy doll that will no doubt be buying an express ticket to your next nightmare.

Carly’s interview with Tatum is the first episode of her Speechless series. Meaning this is the beginning of a beautiful career for her. I can’t wait to see who’s next on her show. And I hope that anyone in the ASD community watching this video will be as inspired as I was.

To find out more about Carly visit her website at www.carlysvoice.com Continue reading “What I learned from Carly…”

Why is it important to get an Autism Assessment?

Mental health has quickly become a growing concern of my generation. I can still remember when the idea of counselling was thought as something negative, like you were labelled as a psycho in need of help. Even the words like introvert sounded more like a fancy shade of green than a means of understanding someone’s personality.

We can now talk to our doctors about things beyond physical symptoms and handicaps. Subjects like autism can be discussed without feeling like a swear word you have to whisper behind closed doors.
Of course not every family doctor will know how to make the right recommendations how something like Autism Spectrum Disorder should be treated. That is where they will refer you or your child to a specialist for an autism assessment.

What Is An Assessment?

An autism assessment is an official testing that determines if you have ASD. It often involves a series of tests and questions by doctors and psychiatrists who can recognize the symptoms of autism. I myself was assessed at the age of 12. It’s recommended that the earlier you get diagnosed the better. There are several reasons for this which I will get into.

The specialists will talk being assessed (usually a child but adults can also be assessed) and get to know them better as a learner through questions and testing.
Some of the questions that will be answered through an autism assessment will include,

“How do you learn best?”
“What are your strengths?”
“What are your weaknesses?”
“How do you interact with your friends?”
“How do you greet people you are introduced to?”
“How do you react to change?”
“What kind of routines do you have in your life?”

This will also follow with the mentioned tests. You don’t have to be nervous about these tests, it’s not some science experiment trying to pick your brain. These will often be very problem-solving games and tasks that show someone how you respond to those challenges. It’s all about observation.
What is also included in an assessment is standardized testing. This helps the specialists see if your responses point in the direction of autism. Like good detectives, they take a look at the evidence and see where it leads.

To Know If You Actually Have Autism

There are so many learning disabilities out there it’s very easy to get them mixed up. And it doesn’t help that so many of them have similar symptoms. ADD, ADHD, OCDC, Bi-polar Disorder; by just going on your own opinion through online medical research you may be connecting the dots in the wrong order.
Having a professional opinion on whether you have autism or not is huge progress. Once you know for certain that autism is present, you can find out how to tackle it and work around recurring problems.
If autism is not the condition you have, that’s okay! It is one more thing you can cross off on your list of possible learning disabilities.

To Lay Your Doubts and Insecurities Aside

When you can put a definition on something you can find acceptance in it. Probably not at first, but with time and a positive effort you can. Coming out of your autism diagnosis with a positive attitude will help you let go of the insecurities that will undoubtedly weigh you down from reaching your best potential in life.
After all, there is no known cure for autism. It’s something you will have to work with the rest of our lives on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean we should lock ourselves in a room and pretend an unpredictable world can’t touch us. It takes bravery to take a challenge on. You are going to make mistakes along the way. Their will be failures. But there will be incredible successes for you to look back on at the end of your life. As long as you are willing to face the reality of autism and take the help available to you.

To Know What Help You Have Available

Just as anyone with a physical disability has a right to assistance (i.e. seeing-eye dogs, wheelchair ramps, handicapped parking) it is the right of any person with an intellectual disability to have assistance provided.
For people on the autism spectrum there are a variety of things that can potentially be provided by the ministry of education or the government to help them in their day to day routine. This however would only be provided once an official assessment has been made.
Some of the potential resources available could involve a personal support worker (PSW) who is trained to assist those with low-functioning autism. For anyone who learns better through audio, there is computer software which allows you to have your learning material read to you.
The list goes on. There are many options available that can make the difference between a challenging or a comfortable lifestyle for someone with ASD.
One great resource available for students with autism is having their very own IEP. An IEP (Individual Education Plan) is a strategy guide that is personalized to your specific ways of learning. It shows to any school or education system how you learn best and what tools and techniques are needed to bring out your potential.

To Learn Your Strengths and Weaknesses

It’s one thing for you to think you know what your strengths are, but it’s a whole different story when someone is able to see you display them. A person could say that they are an incredible singer but be oblivious to the people cringing at the sound of their voice. (Take American Idol or X Factor as prime examples)
Having an assessment allows for someone to see your work for themselves. On the autism spectrum you will see many individuals who struggle in common subjects (math, English, history etc) but are incredibly talented in other areas of learning.
When a person gets a thorough autism assessment then they can be told what their strengths and weaknesses are.  This is a great way to encourage people with ASD to pursue what they are good at. To have someone with an academic background come up and say to you, “This work of yours is incredible! Do you realize how gifted you are at this?” It’s enough to put a spring in your step.
Of course what we don’t want to hear is the opposite side of our strengths: our weaknesses.Autism or not, everybody has a skill they are not so great at. You could be an excellent mathematician but have no idea how to cook. Maybe you’re talented as a photographer but you can’t play a game of baseball to save your life.
Far too many times when we hear what our weaknesses are we throw in the towel right then and there. “That’s it! I can’t do it!” Did you ever realize that weaknesses are a chance to improve yourself?
Nobody rolls into life an expert, they learn and fail just like everybody else. There are always people and resources available to help you. Is math a difficult subject for you? Find yourself a tutor. You want to learn how to cook? Strap on an apron and get yourself in a cooking class, burning as many steaks as you have to until you get the result you’re looking for. You want to ride a bike? Get somebody to help give you tips and encouragement every time you fall on your butt.
Weaknesses will rear their ugly head around the corner sooner or later if you don’t even bother to try working on them. And if you aren’t making much progress, that’s fine too. At least give it your best effort and go to bed that night knowing you did all you could. You can’t be perfect at everything.

Final Thoughts

An autism assessment may take time and patience, but it is a commitment worth making in the long run. You could be sitting on so many resources and opportunities and not even realize it, even when the clues could be pointing towards an autism diagnosis.
Getting assessed will not only be the first step in embracing an identity in autism; it will also help you realize your potential.

You have no idea what resources you have available to you until you are ready to sit down and figure out  your potential.

To find out more about an autism assessment, talk to your family physician and learn more about autism at www.autismontario.com

A Successful Job Interview with ASD

You’re sitting there in a stuffy foyer, tapping your foot anxiously against the shiny white floor. Your job interview is in five minutes but it feels like you are waiting a half hour. Why? Because your nerves are getting to you. So many questions are running through your head.

What if they figure out I have autism?
Are they going to try and figure out what’s wrong with me?
What if I say something stupid in the interview?
What am I supposed to say?
What if I..?

“We’re ready for you now. Please come in.”
Your heart jumps at the sound of the employees voice. Your hands are trembling and you walk into the managers office feeling like everybody can see how afraid you are.

For someone with ASD who has been looking for work, you are probably wondering the best way to make a good impression to a possible employer. As much as we may not like it we have to work to live. But it’s more than just a way to earn money. It’s a way to find pride in your life. An opportunity to learn new skills and gain experience in the work force.

Those of us on the autism spectrum can often have very intelligent and problem-solving minds. These are exactly the sort of people many employers are looking for! So the moment you acknowledge your skills and present them for a boss to consider, the higher your chances are of getting the job.

There are of course a few simple things that improve the odds. So I will break down the best steps to help you make a positive job opportunity.

Do Your Research

Find out as much as you can about the company and the position they are offering you. What are they providing to their customers? What is the company’s motto? Who do they cater to?
One of the best places to start is on the company’s website. Any good company website has information like a company’s history, the key people involved, what the company is about, contact information and much more.
These days many successful companies also use social media like Facebook and Twitter to keep the public aware of what they are doing in the world.
If you have any questions you want answered about the company, look for a human resources or media department that could give you the information you’re looking for.

Dress Like a Professional

I can speak for my own ASD perspective when I first went job hunting. If I was applying to a grocery store (which I did) why would I need to dress like a car salesman to get the job?
Dressing up for a job interview is a clear indication to the employer that you are taking this opportunity to seriously. It also shows that you can look professional since you obviously don’t have the uniform to wear yet. You may be young when you are going in for your first job interview but they want to feel like you are mature.
For guys I recommend clean looking dress shoes, nicely trimmed or shaven face, your hair washed and topping it off with an ironed shirt and dress pants.
For women I suggest something along the lines of a pants suit. If not formal black slacks, a button down shirt (nothing lowcut) and maybe even a blazer for that extra sense of professionalism.
There is also the aspect of make-up for women. You can wear enough make-up to look put together but don’t go overboard with it.
Whether your a man or women, always make sure your shirt is tucked in!
Remember, when you are being interviewed for a job position the chances are high you have competition. Possibly a lot of competition. It does well to make a positive impact.
If it is a fairly important job you’re going for like say a law clerk or a bank job then you would be best to up your game. Chances are the people you will be working with are already dressed in suit jackets and ties so you will want to add these to your appearance.
Before you leave for your interview, don’t hesitate to ask someone if they can recommend any last minute improvements. A second opinion might just be beneficial.

Focus With A Positive Smile

Those of us with ASD have a very strong advantage over people who aren’t on the spectrum: we are very focused individuals. When we find something interesting we keep our eyes glued to it and push away everything else that matters. Like a horse having blinders to keep it looking forward.
The downside is when we are focused we can often forget the importance of other things. Take facial expressions as an example.
Most of the time when we are focused on something, we don’t look like happy people. We have so much thought going through our heads that we don’t bother trying to look positive. This is okay when we are doing something in our spare time (hobbies, chores, etc) but it’s important when you are in a focused environment like a job interview.
You want to keep your mind on the task at hand, responding confidently and clearly to any questions that the interviewer may have. But you want to make sure you look happy to do so. An honest person is a happy person.
Please don’t misunderstand. You don’t have to be smiling all the time when you are at the job. Your not going to get fired for not showing off your pearly white teeth every second of the day. But it’s a winning asset when you are in a job interview and even during the first stages of the job.
Customer service is a big part of most jobs these days. People want to see a welcoming face when they are talking to a worker. And even if you don’t interact that much with potential customers, your employer will still be looking at how interested you at this job.
Naturally, nervous feelings make smiling a lot harder to do. So practice putting on your best smile in the mirror before you go to your interview. The more it becomes a habit the easier it will be down the road.

Show Up Early

Always be punctual when going in for a job interview. Arrive anywhere between 30 to 15 minutes before an interview but no later. This is another indicator to your boss that you can be trusted to come to the job on time on a regular work day. It’s also a chance to get to know some of the staff like administration or any of the others around the office. Be friendly and confident when speaking to them. This is also a great opportunity to sharpen your social skills. Ask them their name, or how their day is going or even what some of their responsibilities are for the company. If you get the job you might be working with this person a lot so if you come across as friendly or as positive as you can.
Lots of jobs opportunities have been lost based on how the people applying treated the staff before the interview even started.

Be Honest But Confident

In a job interview you are essentially a marketing salesman. What are you marketing? Yourself.
You need to recognize your best strengths as a potential employee and advertise those to the interviewer you are speaking with.

They will probably ask you questions that might make you nervous. Questions like…

What is your biggest weakness?
What do you need to improve on?
Are you a fast learner?

It’s better to have one of these answers ready in advance. Know ahead of time what to say when the difficult questions get asked. And if they ask a question you weren’t prepared for, that’s okay. It’s all part of the learning experience.
Just go with your gut. Answer as confidently as you can.

Bonus tip: If you are having difficulty understanding the question, simply ask them to rephrase it. They may have a very simple question they are asking but are simply using a poor selection of words.

Employers are looking for someone who is going to take a job with responsibility. If you give off a sense of determination and reliability. You want to find the middle ground between a skilled worker and a person eager to learn.

Posture and Body Language

Body language speaks, don’t be mistaken about it. If you are not making a conscious effort to look interested and confident to your interviewer they will take notice of it.
You want to look focused and positive in your body posture. Don’t slouch back in your chair like a rag doll that has just been dropped in the seat. Keep your back up straight.
Your hands should be around the vicinity of your lap, not fidgeting. Try to get all your fidgeting out before and after the interview when the employers can’t see you.
Don’t cross your legs but keep your feet flat on the floor. Like someone who is ready to stand up and shake someone’s hand at a moments notice.
Your head should be facing your interviewer and not leaning to the side. Even keep your head leaned in a bit as an indicator that you are interested in listening to what the interviewer has to say.

Eye Contact, Eye Contact, Eye Contact

I know most of, if not all of you, reading that are already feeling nervous. I get it, eye contact is no easy task when you are on the spectrum. But unfortunately it’s one of the key aspects that can tell an employer that you want the job. It’s hard to trust someone if they keep looking away from you when they are talking. And an employer won’t hire someone they have difficulty trusting.

You can explain to your boss later down the road that eye contact is something you have trouble with. So if they see you made a good effort at it and are willing to make that same effort with customers, they will see how dedicated you are.

Know Your Weaknesses and Be Prepared to Work On Them

One of the most common questions in a job interview is what are your weaknesses as a worker.

It’s important to have an objective view on this, which is why I highly recommend talking to a friend or family member about what they think your weaknesses are. Not only will they give constructive criticism they can tell you how you can work on those weaknesses.

When explaining a weakness, I like to throw the words “But I…” into the answer. What do I mean by that? Let’s say that my weakness is organization. Actually, organization is one of my weaknesses. I could answer the question like this,

“What is your biggest weakness?”
“I am a disorganized person.”

Now if I just leave that as my answer but don’t expand on it, my employer will just see that as me giving up on myself. Nobody is perfect as a worker. But if I am willing to work on my weaknesses I can become an even better worker. So instead I could answer like this.

“What is your biggest weakness?”
“Sometimes I can be a little disorganized. But I make sure to listen very carefully to instructions about how to stay organized at the job and keep track of what I need and where to find things.”

Here you are addressing your weakness but showing a way to improve on it. You have an effective solution about how to solve the problem and stick to it to show progress in your performance. Consider your weaknesses and how they can be learning opportunities for you.

Ask Them Questions

Almost all interviewers will end the meeting with, “Do you have any questions?”
I suggest you run by any questions you have by a friend or relative. What you ask may be considered inappropriate during a job interview and would be better to have asked later if you get the position. For example if I abruptly ask, “When do I get paid?” That question can come off like you are just at the job to make money. Now that may be true for a lot of us but you want to make a good impression from start to finish.

Thank Them For Considering You

Before and after the interview is complete, make sure you give a firm handshake to your employer. Consider it like your own way of signing a contract. It has always been a practice at interviews and shows a sense of professionalism to yourself. It’s a good habit to get into.
What you should also be making a habit of doing is thanking the interviewer for taking the time to see you. This gives the impression that the job they are offering you is more than a way to earn money. It’s an opportunity for you.
Be sure to follow up a few days after the interview with either a phone call or email, depending on which you are provided with. If possible speak to your interviewer and thank them for the opportunity of the interview. With all the candidates they will be seeing for the position, you want to stand out from the rest. Even if you don’t get the position, you should still thank them again for considering you. Not only will they remember how professional you were but if things don’t work out with the person they hired, guess who they are likely to call and offer the job to again? Take a look in the mirror and see if you can find them.
Your resume will stay on file with almost all companies for a good while. When they are looking for a new hire, they will look back on former candidates who made the best impressions. And that’s going to be you if you have a winning attitude.

Always Remember!

You can do this! A fantastic attitude is one of the biggest strengths to get you further in the working world and anywhere else in life.


Love Yourself Before You Date Someone

Over and over again the concepts of Autism Spectrum Disorder and dating seem to come together. And yet when they mix it can be a messy area. Like baking soda and vinegar they are two innocent components that when they collide, lead to a mess. I’m here to tell you that this does not have to be a challenge.

We cannot deny that dating is a very social world. And of course anyone with ASD knows the difficulty we have with a lot of social interactions, dating being just one of many walls that we can’t seem to find a way around.

We are all human beings with very human attractions and the desire for companionship. We see couples kissing or holding hands out in the world and it’s something to be desired by many of us. But we don’t understand the right way of achieving that same success.

We ask ourselves the same questions in our heads and replay them over and over again like a bad love song.

“Why can’t I find someone?”
“What does he/she see in them?”
“Why doesn’t anybody notice me?”
“Doesn’t anybody find me attractive?”

If you identify with those questions carefully you are probably sensing a recurring theme. That’s right. They are all questions that mean you have negative mindset about yourself.

Where the Negativity Comes From

Any serious plans to date someone are likely not to come until at least the time of puberty. So for those with ASD, we hardly have a clue how to interact with those we are attracted to. We don’t know how to introduce ourselves, we don’t how to flirt and we certainly don’t have the first idea how to ask them out on a date.

A lot of people with ASD struggle with the insecurity of being accepted. We know that we are different from the majority of people on a social level, and of course that means in the world of dating we feel extra different. And because we see our differences as negative we see that as a barrier from connecting with those we are attracted to.

Back in grade school I was at a dance with some friends and we met a couple really cute girls. One of them in particular caught my eye and I could barely talk to her without slurring my words together and feeling like a doofus. But I knew I wanted to dance with her.

So instead of manning up and asking her myself I actually pulled one of my buddies aside and asked him to see if she would dance with me. I even paid him to do it and he looked at me like I was crazy. I had absolutely no understanding of how the dating world worked and was desperate to make some sort of impression. Much like a lot of us.

Where A Negative Self Image Will Lead Us

So we spend many years hiding in our shells like frightened turtles afraid to stick our necks out there. And guess what? As long as you don’t feel confident about yourself you are never going to find the person you are looking for.

Oh sure you might get a boyfriend or a girlfriend eventually with that mentality. Maybe they will even be gorgeous. But you know what else they will be? Emotionally manipulative.

That’s right, they will be able to tell you have no respect for yourself and they will totally take advantage of you. This is especially dangerous for those of us with ASD because we will often not be able to pick up on these warning signs until it’s too late.

They will ridicule you, cause you to pay for whatever they desire and they will probably even cheat on you!

To them you will be nothing more than a puppet on a string. Now even if the person you were dating was absolutely beautiful. does that sound like a relationship you want to be a part of?

No! Because that’s not a relationship, my friend. It’s called abuse. You deserve far better than that. The only thing that will keep you from a relationship with that is finding confidence and self respect.

Take Pride In Who You Are

There is a great quote by Oscar Wilde that says “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.”

Inside your soul is an amazing person who wants to be let out. And you should be comfortable with your own identity before you are comfortable with a potential match.

I get it. You feel different than anybody else. Anyone with ASD is bound to be different. And that’s something to be proud of!

As is common in any ASD diagnosis you have specific set of interests that have gained your attention. It could be reading, wildlife or a number of different hobbies.

Whatever it is, these are interests you are obviously passionate about or else you wouldn’t spend so much time on them. So what you need to do is show passion in your life surrounding your interests.
These are things that make you happy. So let the world see it!

Not only is passion attractive, it is something that can help build a confident self image in you. By recognizing your strengths you are realizing that you are actually a stronger person than you might get realize. Because of our condition, we often can be so caught up in our interests that we don’t see the positive impacts they can make in the lives of people around us.

How to Build This Confident Mindset

I guarantee you that there is at least one person in your life who has great things to say about you and your interests. Maybe it’s a handful of people. Maybe a dozen. Maybe even a hundred! Those are people who are recognizing your true identity and saying in their own words, “You are an awesome person!”

I’ll even take it a step further for you. You are an awesome person for somebody to go out with. Think about it. There are things you can offer that nobody else can to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

I am not talking about physical things like kissing or sex, I’m talking about on a relationship level. You can give compliments different than anybody else can. You can make your match feel appreciated in a way that nobody else can.
Yes! You can make your potential boyfriend or girlfriend feel awesome!

Let’s take confidence out of the picture for a minute. Here’s a list of great qualities that most people consider attractive. You likely have at least one of them.

You might be…
-A great listener
-A good storyteller

And that’s just to name a few. When you ask a couple what made them fall for each other, listen for what they were caught on by. Odds are that you might have some similarities. Everyone has different ways of expressing those characteristics because we all think differently. But an attractive quality is still an attractive quality.

Guys and Girls Are Looking for Confidence

You will hear it almost everywhere. Whenever companies do those polls where they ask hundreds of people what they are looking for in a match the most consistent answer is “confidence.”

From personal experience, the best dating relationships I ever had involved confident people. In dating and friendships, I like people who can inspire me. Someone who has bravery in their character like its something contagious. That makes me want to be around that person more. And your partner will be drawn toward you like a magnet.

Confidence in your own identity means letting go of your insecurities. You need to be happy with who you are. That means whether you are single or not.

Your happiness in life should not revolve around a boyfriend or girlfriend. Imagine being on the receiving end of a relationship like that. Let’s say you were in a relationship where your partner was always discontent with themselves. They feel crappy about how many things are wrong in their life but say nothing but good things about you. It would put way too much pressure on you to live up to their expectations of a perfect person.

Now if you walked into a relationship with a confident self-image, that is something to be admired. They will see you as someone they can get their energy from. A positive person they will want to keep coming back to. A motivator in their life for when they feel down about themselves.

Happiness in Your Identity

We all have little areas of our character we want to improve on. We call them weaknesses because that’s what they are. But there is no reason to let those weaknesses weigh you down. Don’t prevent yourself from letting the world see your most attractive qualities.

Everybody is imperfect no matter how flawless they may appear to the rest of the world. And if they come across the attitude that they are perfect, that’s arrogance. So that’s flaw right there.

Take a good look in the mirror and find your best qualities as a potential match for someone. It’s the first brick in a solid foundation.

No More Picky Eating

Sensory issues have always been a strong symptom of the autism spectrum. We have our five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Now imagine those senses were turned up like the settings on a guitar amp.

In ASD our senses are very particular about what they come into contact with. It’s like if your car could speak and every time it ran through a mud puddle it said, “This is gross! Let’s get out of here!”

Taste is one particular subject that can drive a lot of us with ASD up the wall. The strange texture of certain foods can our tongues a bad vibe that we literally have to stomach through.

I’ll take ketchup as a prime example for myself, just to point out how much of a hypocrite I can be when it comes to food. I would put ketchup on everything when I was a kid; burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, rice, sandwiches and more. If ketchup could go on it I probably would have eaten it.

Now here’s where it gets hilarious. Guess what vegetable I hate? Tomatoes!

Somehow the texture of a tomato is too uicy and squishy.  I prefer vegetables that are solid and flavourful (carrots, onions and lettuce.) Ketchup however is so processed and refined with sugar that it just suits me fine. It baffles my parents to this day why I would put ketchup on my spaghetti but refuse to even have a spoonful of tomato sauce.

Side note: It’s just my personal belief but nothing chunky should ever be classified as ‘sauce.’ Sauce is runny. I do put tomato sauce on my spaghetti now.

This idea of picky eating is obviously frustrating for parents. (I know my mom and dad are nodding their heads in agreement). I only wanted to eat junk food growing up because that stuff tasted good to me. As a result I put on weight that was not easy to take off. Sadly we can’t survive on pizza and Skittles the rest of or lives.

The Impression Food Makes

Food makes three general impressions before we can taste it and say, “Wow! This is good!” And with ASD we may go through this checklist and decide before we have even taken a bite whether it’s in our best interest to go through with it.

Firstly, what does it look like? Is the meal mushy like mashed potatoes? Is it an unappealing colour like broccoli? One look can decide whether we are interested in moving forward.

Our second impression is smell. And the closer we get food to our mouths the more we can smell it. I personally don’t mind the taste of curry but the smell is another story. It has this burnt, potent aroma that is hard to get rid of. My mom once did curry in our kitchen and I could smell it for three days afterward.

The third sense is touch. What is the texture of this food like inside our mouths? Our tongue can distinguish hundreds of different textures and tastes and know which ones are edible and which aren’t. My friend once had a birthday party at an Ethiopian restaurant where we grabbed large platefuls of food and one of those dishes was a very warm and folded piece of bread called roati. Now because it was bread I tried some but inside my head I couldn’t help but think I was trying to eat a kitchen washcloth.

Now we can’t just turn off our senses like they are a light switch. When you put food in your mouth you are bound to taste it. But that is no excuse for not exploring a wider palette of food possibilities.

Why We Should Fight Picky Eating

There are two missions here with this exercise. The first is to promote good table manners.

A lot of the time when we are a guest at someone’s home, they don’t ask us what we would like to eat. They already have enough to do preparing the house for visitors and likely have an idea in mind of what they want to make for the meal. So by at least showing the courtesy of eating what we have been given, we show respect to them for laying out a meal for us.

The second is to show boldness with our food palette. There are so many opportunities when it comes to food that we are missing out on if we don’t give them a taste. I remember a time I didn’t want to eat chicken wings just because there was a bone in them and I didn’t want to choke. Now it’s one of the things I want to order most off of a menu!

You’ll also find that the more food you try, the more experienced you will get in the art of cooking. Now not all of us are going to become top culinary chefs, but you never know who you will impress in your kitchen some day. It’s also worth noting that you cannot survive on the same meals without some bad health consequences later in life.

Now when it comes to taste we will always have some sensitivity to the textures of food in our mouths. But we can move away from how he think about the food we hate.

Why are We Afraid of Food?

We need to get away from close-minded thinking when it comes to food. When you really sit down and identify what picky eating is, it’s plain old fear. That’s right you are saying to yourself “I am afraid of food.” I want to look at that sentence again and say it out loud. “I am afraid of food.”

That’s pretty sad when you let the message sink in. I’ve been there too and you realize how preposterous the idea is. When you resist something that you don’t like and give it control over your actions, that is fear!

Food isn’t meant to be feared. Food is meant to be celebrated! Hundreds of cultures, restaurants and recipes are known across the world all with the mission of making people enjoy different ways of filling their appetites. And that is awesome!

So are you going to let the fear of strange food get the better of you? I certainly hope not. Otherwise we might as well be terrified of going down the grocery store aisle. There are so many colourful meals out there we are missing out on simply because we are letting first impressions get the better of us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Fighting your Feared Foods

You can start by looking at your own collection of Feared Foods and showing them how unafraid you are. ke a list of the top 10 things you hate eating. List them from what you dislike most to dislike the least. I’ll give you an example from my own rejected menu.

1. Cabbage Rolls
2. Sauerkraut
3. Oysters
4.  Tomatoes
5.  Relish
6.  Pumpkin Pie
7.  Liqorice
8.  Orange Juice with pulp
9.  Curry
10. Shepards Pie

This is something you will only be able to do if you are committed to doing it. Make a meal with your favourite foods surrounding one of the items on your list. I prefer to start with what I hate the least and work my way up.
Now to make this effective you have to make two promises with yourself. Whatever strange food goes on your plate, you eat that first and you finish it all. Then you have your own private bragging rights to say you did it!

Additional Tips

Food is only in our bodies as long as it takes to digest and absorb it’s nutrients. And plus you only really taste the food as long as it’s in your mouth. The same thing goes with food you might hate the texture or taste of.

Think of it like ripping off a band-aid. We all have to do it eventually and the best way is to be brave and just get it over with. So for food, the quicker you chew and swallow, the quicker you can finish the dish and move forward.


How to Get Better at Eye Contact with Autism and Aspergers

There’s the old saying, the eyes are the windows to our souls. And maybe that’s why people with ASD have such a hard time looking others in the eye.

Growing up with Aspergers, I didn’t like looking at strangers when they were talking to me. In fact it’s still something I have to make a focused effort at doing. It’s like trying to look at the sun. You can get a quick glance at it but after staring at it too long, you get this sensation of “I can’t take this anymore. Look at something else.”

The same experience has been shared by many others with ASD. They have a certain discomfort when it comes to talking to others, especially people they are unfamiliar with. In fact some people with ASD have even said in order to properly pay attention to someone they’re talking to they need to be not looking at them.

I know that sounds strange, but you have to understand that focus for us is different than someone who doesn’t have ASD. We can actually overstimulate ourselves when we are trying to look at something specific and process information at the same time.

Let’s say your having a conversation with one of your friends. You are interested in what they are saying. Your focused and your attentive and enjoying the discussion. Now let’s say another one your friends starts talking to you at the same time. “Hey, what’s going on? Did you hear about…” They proceed to talk all the while your other friend is talking. Neither one of them is stopping. Now you are trying to divide your attention between two conversations. How long before you wind up with one frustrating headache?

Do you see what the problem is? You want to communicate, your capable of communicating but you have two different things you are trying to focus on.

Don’t let this discourage any of you Aspies or Auties wanting to get better at eye contact. In fact I encourage you to test your limits and see what you can do in order to better your social skills. I simply want to give you an understanding of how our focus works and why it is such challenge for us.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed if you feel like eye contact is a challenge for you in social interactions. Many people without ASD have difficulty with it as well. In fact in cultures like the Caribbean a child is raised that it is disrespectful to look an adult in the eyes.

The encouraging truth is that the more you get into the rhythm of a new social skill, the more comfortable it becomes.

Eye contact is something I needed a lot of practice to get a handle on, especially when talking to new people. Now I feel like I can listen and look people in the eye, something I couldn’t do easily before. It just takes effort and experience.

There are lots of Aspies and Auties out there who want to better their social skills. Eye contact is one of the key ways of making a good first impression and strong communication. So if you want to get better at eye contact, here are a couple of tips that helped me in my social life.

The Sunglasses Trick:

Have you ever seen the movie Big Daddy? It’s an Adam Sandler comedy where a regular New York bachelor winds up with a kid on his doorstep and is quickly learning how to be a father. At a certain point Sandler’s character realizes the kid is shy about being around strangers, so he lends him a pair of his “magic sunglasses.”

He tells a little white lie that if the kid wears the glasses, he turns invisible and can be around people without them noticing him.

The sunglasses routine works around the same principle. Next time you are nervous about talking to new people, slap on your favourite pair of sunglasses. Behind those tinted lenses, you can look straight into a person’s eyes and not have to worry about the other person looking back at you. I call it “sunglasses security.”

It’s a great way to make the first steps toward getting better at making eye contact with people. But I recommend it as a way of getting used to eye contact and not as a substitute for the real thing. Think of it like training wheels before your ride a bike. It can put people off when they can’t see your eyes. And let’s be honest, deep down, we all want to look awesome wearing a pair of sunglasses.

The 7 Seconds Challenge:

When you think of it, we can all count to seven pretty quickly. So the next time your talking to someone new, hold your gaze with them for seven seconds. Count it down in your head, like a rocket about to take off.

Knowing you have a time limit eases your anxiety because you know as soon as you count to seven in your head, you can relax and look somewhere else. My person recommendation is if you’re going to look somewhere else keep it in the vicinity of the eye. That could be the bridge of the person’s nose, their upper cheek, the crease of their brow or even the bottom of their forehead. In actuality a person’s face really isn’t that big. So little inches near where you should be focusing,

Now for some of you this may come as a challenge because you might need to focus more intensely on the person’s eyes than listening to the actual conversation. And that’s okay.

The reason I start with 7 is because it gives your brain a better opportunity to adjust to something new.

The more regularly you practice this means the higher you can take countdown. Step it up to 8 seconds, then 9, then 10. Over time you won’t even need to count.

Staring Contest Technique:

This isn’t just a fun game but a great way to help sharpen your focus. With a friend or family member, challenge them to a staring contest. The goal here is not to win (although bragging rights are definitely an encouragement) but an opportunity to stare at someone’s eyes for as long as possible. If you are playing against a friend or family member, you already have a trusting relationship with that person. You don’t need to feel insecure about them staring at you, because you know they are your friend.

Additional Eye Contact Tips:

When you are starting out with this new habit, you are more than likely going to be a little nervous. Especially if isn’t someone new you’re talking to. So there are a few other things you can do to get in the habit of it.

-breathe slowly and through your nostrils
-keep smiling.
-have a comfortable position when talking.
-if you find yourself losing focus on the conversation just laugh it off and say to the person, “I’m sorry I had a total brain fart. Can you repeat what you just said?” Most people will understand this because everyone has one of those moments now and again.

A Friendly Reminder:

Eyes are eyes no matter who they belong to. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable looking into them. Take things at a steady pace and you will likely see an improvement in your eye contact.

Aspergers Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

When I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I felt embarrassed. Why?

It was pretty straight forward at the time; I wanted to be told there was nothing wrong with me. We all do. Whenever we go to a doctor for anything we want to hear nothing but good news. It was the same when I was having trouble in school, being bullied for acting ‘weird’ in the playground and unable to act ‘socially appropriate’. To have a label for something was admitting that I had something to be ashamed about in my brain.

Something I couldn’t change. And the name of that something was Aspergers.

I used to love watching South Park for it’s cleverly crafted humour on current events. One episode was titled “Ass Burgers” and talked namely about the learning disability that has received that joke on more than one occasion. I remember when the character of Stan had many people wondering if he has Asperger’s Syndrome and he went to a treatment center. There he meets a group of people who have also received the diagnosis. Only when the doors are closed and he is alone with the group, he receives some startling ‘news.’

The group is made up of characters who strongly resemble the cast of the sci-fi film, The Matrix. They inform Stan that the diagnosis of Aspergers is all a conspiracy.

Stan: Wait, so (Aspergers) is not a real illness?

Morpheus: Of course not! If there was a social development disease, you wouldn’t call it Aspergers! That’s just, that’s just mean!

I am sure there are many other Aspies and Auties out there who have had that thought pass through their mind. We wish it would all go away. We feel embarrassed talk about it because we find the very idea of it as something to be embarrassed about.

There’s only one thing I have to say about that. That’s a complete load of crap.

Aspergers, ASD or any learning disability is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s simply a way of categorizing the symptoms of how your brain works. We all process information differently in our minds.

Some people learn best visually through pictures and documentaries while other people can learn better through audio works like podcasts and CDs. These ways of learning differently aren’t discouraged, a lot of the times they are celebrated. Can you imagine if everyone learned and thought the same way? The human race would be little more than a flock of sheep. You wouldn’t be able to tell one person from the other.

I like to compare a mind with Aspergers like a playground see-saw. A see-saw is hardly ever balanced. One side is always higher than the other. Where we can be weaker in one areas, we can excel in others.

I’ll take an example from my personal life. I am terrible at math. I always have been. But I worked at it as best I could in school even to the point where my head was spinning in numbers. I consider that the lower side of my mental see-saw.

Now my higher side is clear as crystal: movies. Ever since I was little I was fascinated with movies and still am to this day. It’s one of the things I know my intelligence soars at. Sometimes it’s even hilarious.

I remember one time I came home and saw my roommate watching a movie. We said hi to each other and I looked at the screen for a few seconds before saying, “So you’re watching Red Dawn, huh?” My roommate did a double take and laughed. “How did you know?”
I should point out for bragging rights that I had only seen Red Dawn once prior to that conversation.

My point with that comparison is this; you have mental strengths if you have any form of ASD. And a mental strength is an indicator of strong intelligence.

With ASD it is amazing how sharp our focus can be on certain subjects. It could be anything from movies, puzzles, cooking, music, the possibilities are huge. And when you love it your attention is practically unbreakable. It’s all you can think about.

Having ASD doesn’t necessarily make you an expert in a certain subject. But it can give you the opportunity to focus on something you love and study it as much as you can. And that can make you an expert. And as we all know, experts are the people go to when they need to talk to someone smart.

Ask yourself: What are your mental strengths?