Sunday, December 23, 2007

Setting a goal: Asperger's syndrome awareness

Maybe I should talk about why I chose promoting AS awareness as a goal. Earlier this year, we lost a marvelous columnist, Molly Ivins. She has long been a heroine of mine.

For several years, she fought a valiant battle with breast cancer and, beginning from diagnosis onward, was a tireless advocate for publicizing awareness, particularly for early intervention. "Get the damn mammogram!" she would growl in print.

So when I learned that I have AS, given that I also worked in the media, how could I not also make use of the opportunity I'd been given -- to raise awareness of a condition that was only so recently understood.

Why, 30 years ago, when I was in elementary school, no one had heard of AS. Diagnostic criteria were not officially established until I'd already graduated from school. So I had absolutely no roadmap for navigating those years of bullying by classmates and dreadful dinner-table conflicts because I couldn't eat certain foods without gagging.

My first column came out in the summer and it basically said I'd learned that I have AS. It briefly explained what a difference this made for me, because it gave me an explanation for why I'm the way that I am.

My second column about AS was published in the paper this week. Specifically, the column is about "stimming," those repetitive behaviors that some of us exhibit.

The local school district circulated an e-mail that included methamphetamine abuse warning signs and one of the descriptions sounded identical to stimming: "Fiddling, twitching and other involuntary motions."

Apparently the list came from a book by Jerry Langton, "Iced, Crystal Meth: The Biography of North America's Deadliest New Plague."

I thought it was important to interject a note of caution by pointing out that this type of behavior, repetitive and involuntary, is also part of our condition as people who have AS, and to please look for more that just one sign before concluding that someone abuses meth.

My tendencies with stimming damaged a former teacher's books and I've had to constantly police myself. I consider myself somewhat improved, however, because instead of gouging holes in a page, I merely crease the edges. I can usually make myself become aware that I'm doing it, too, and then I can stop it. Giving myself a mug of tea to hold is a great way to tie up the hands so I can't inflict any damage.

But imagine how devastating it could be to someone's reputation if a person mistook their stimming tendencies for something like meth abuse? It could ruin their reputation, so I thought I should present an alternative point of view about what that behavior could signify. Hopefully it will help.

Originally posted to

Toastmasters may have something to offer

I think I'm going to join Toastmasters International. It was something I wanted to do before I learned I have AS and now that I know this about myself, I still think that Toastmasters may have something to offer.

I was on the organization's Web site today looking at articles from its monthly magazine. One of the articles concerned body language pitfalls in the gestures that speakers make or ways in which they misread the body language of their listeners. The main point of the article as far as using body language went, was that "less is more" and that people should just be themselves.

I had considered my inability to effectively read body language was part of my AS but apparently this is a problem that is shared by the public at large. There are several books out there that address how to read people's body language and how to use your own to communicate effectively.

Originally posted to

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Konocti school district deserves support for policies against bullying

The Konocti Unified School District deserves to be commended for including among policies for approval on Wednesday, Dec. 5, an outline of student conduct that specifically prohibits bullying.

School bullies are vicious predators who, rather than shy from conflict, are too often willing to inflict relentless cruelty upon their victims. Those of us who have been the victims of a bully’s persecution do not lightly dismiss its effect.

Bullying can leave lasting scars and, as one case tragically illustrated as reported by the Associated Press, can even lead to the victim’s suicide. This situation was especially egregious because a supposedly mature adult took part in persecution of the victim by masquerading as a fictional teenager who sent the victim online messages.

In a sign of being current with the times, the KUSD policy includes cyber-bullying among the prohibited behaviors but bullying still frequently involves face-to-face intimidation or put-downs.

KUSD still has progress ahead of it in ensuring that local schools are entirely free from cruelty. An article by the Record-Bee’s Tiffany Revelle that was published in early September mentioned that two children whose mother tried to transfer them into a new district school had been driven by bullying away from their previous site. But we think schools are on the right track with ongoing presentations and assemblies.

Let’s hope that district policies of conduct are enforced with immediate action and that any form of bullying, no matter the means of transmission, is met with zero tolerance.

Published Dec. 15, 2007 in the Lake County Record-Bee