October 3, 2018

Developing a Healthy Confidence

                The process of developing a healthy confidence can be a difficult task. The tricky thing with confidence is that it can be either over inflated or shot down depending on the circumstances. There is a lot of conflicting advice on developing confidence that may or may not always work. This uncertainty comes from the great variety of uncertainties that exist within different people. Before addressing strategies on developing a healthy confidence, it is important to explain the differences between being confident and being cocky.
                There is a misconception of what a healthy confidence can look like, especially when confidence and cockiness are mistaken for each other. According to the Oxford Dictionary, confidence is defined as "feeling or showing certainty in something".1 This certainty can be set in your own skills or qualities that will able you to handle any challenges that may occur. However, it is still possible to admit mistakes while maintaining that confidence. The Oxford Dictionary defines cocky as being "conceited or confident in a bold or cheeky way".2 When a person is cocky, they are being overly-confident in their own abilities without acknowledging their weaknesses. When a person struggles with their confidence, it can be a difficult task. Fortunately, there are small tricks that can help you develop a healthy confidence.
                Many people have a hobby or interest that they pursue in their free time. Spending time on hobbies is a fun way to increase a person's confidence in themselves. Participating in something that you already enjoy will help you to focus on a more positive mood. If your hobby involves some skills (such as drawing, knitting, etc.), taking time to practice these skills can help boost your confidence.
                It is also important to forgive past mistakes. While it may seem simple when pointed out on paper, it is something that is extremely difficult to practice. This allows you to not only learn from those mistakes, but also helps redirect your energy into improving for the future. I am guilty of occasionally not following this particular advice. It is easy to blame myself for screwing up rather than using it as an opportunity to grow. However, my confidence did improve when I remembered to practice this.    
                This can be extremely difficult to do alone. Fortunately, you do not have to be alone in trying to improve your confidence. Building a supportive community with trusted friends and family can be a great help in bolstering confidence during your lowest moments. When it seems impossible to see any  positive attributes, they can point them out at the darkest moments. It takes courage to believe them rather than the negative voices. They can encourage you to improve or be a comforting shoulder when things are difficult.
                Sometimes a lack of confidence can stem from feeling frustrated from a perceived lack of accomplishments. It can be countered by setting personal goals that are a manageable size. These goals can be completely customizable to your personal situation. For example if you are struggling with learning how to cook it may be easier to focus on learning a simple recipe before moving on to a more complicated one. Personal goals allow a gradual sense of accomplishments which will help improve your confidence while learning a new skill. It is important to remember not to judge progress by the time it takes to complete a task.
                Your level of confidence can be negatively affected during times of great stress. Mistakes made in moments of high stress can seem greater. It is important to remember to take mental health days after moments of great stress. This can include meditation, doing some physical activity (hiking, walking, biking, ECT) , exploring a new place or anything that you enjoy that helps you relax best. It is important to take these breaks because they allow you to avoid burning out. The risk of burn-out can make some simple tasks seem like impossible challenges to overcome. These days can allow you to take a step back from everything and re-assess from a different angle.
                Another trick to help boost your confidence is to avoid using negative language when talking about yourself. The terms you use to describe yourself to others or in private can also affect your confidence. This can be a difficult task because it can be tempting to use them more readily. One tactic that may help counter that is to write a list of positive statements about yourself. When it is tempting to use negative language, take a moment to look at the list if you have it ready. Slowly replacing the negative language will help gradually improve your confidence.
                These tactics are not meant  to improve your confidence right away. They take practice and a great deal of time which can make it frustrating. It is important to remember that a healthy confidence does not always mean getting rid of all of your insecurities or doubt. It is okay to have moments of doubt or insecurity because they allow you to be self aware of areas that need a little more growth. The important thing is to develop the confidence to acknowledge these doubts but not to allow them to overwhelm you.




Endnotes

1. Definition of confident in English:

confident
adjective
1.Feeling or showing confidence in oneself or one's abilities or qualities.
‘we require outgoing, confident people able to approach large groups’
‘people who are confident in their identity’
More example sentences
Synonyms
2.Feeling or showing certainty about something.
‘this time they're confident of a happy ending’
‘I am not very confident about tonight's game’
               
From English Oxford Dictionary entry: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/confident

2. cocky

adjective
Conceited or confident in a bold or cheeky way.
‘we were young, brash, cocky—we knew everything’
‘a cocky playboy with a desperado mustache’


From  English Oxford Dictionary entry: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cocky

September 15, 2018

You Don't Look Autistic


During my first year in college, I was a bundle of energy and nerves. I was most excited about having a chance to make new friends. I did not know anyone when I first arrived like most freshman. However, I was still insecure about reaching out to people. I still was figuring out what my diagnosis meant to me. When I introduced myself, I sometimes mentioned my Asperger’s to them. At the time, I thought that this tactic would help me make new friends. It turns out it did not seem to improve my chances. Some people would look at me surprised and responded with “You don’t look autistic”. When I first heard that phrase, I honestly believed that it was a good thing. I was overjoyed at the time that I was successful in acting 'normal'. I took this as a sign that I did not have to worry about being judged for my quirks. I did not understand how dangerous that mindset was. Instead of helping, it only hurt me because I developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms in order to camouflage better.
                As I became more involved with the specialized service groups on campus, the phrase started to rub me the wrong way. I noticed a steady fear of uncertainty among the other students when talking about topics like job hunting and forming relationships. It was a struggle because I felt like an imposter, with that sentence "You don't look autistic" echoing in the back of my mind. I am not criticizing the few people who responded with that statement. It was a moment of mutual ignorance from both parties. I do not take pride in hiding my symptoms anymore. Instead, the phrase reminds me of some painful memories of my childhood. It reminds me of times when I cried at night in bed wondering why I couldn’t connect to my peers. It reminds me of when my friends said that they 'like me anyways' despite being weird and their attempts to make me ‘less weird’. I was told that I was picked on because I was not trying hard enough to be normal.
                While that phrase was meant as a positive statement, there is a heavy negative undertone to it. The first issue is that it implies that I do not fit the misconceptions associated with a person with autism. Despite the gradual improvement of representation in major media, there is still a struggle to challenge old beliefs when it comes to the image of  individuals diagnosed on the spectrum. The statement “You don’t look autistic” focuses on the idea that there is a certain look or set of actions that should make my Asperger’s obvious to the other person. I have seen this counter argument stressed in other places and I will stress it here to the readers as well. When you meet one person with autism, you have met ONE person with autism. The reason the autism spectrum is referred to as such is because it affects each individual differently.
                The second issue with the phrase “You don’t look autistic” is that it also encourages camouflaging. Camouflaging is when a person on the spectrum acts similar to a person who is neurotypical. This could result in repressing 'stimming behavior' (repetitive actions that help a person with autism as a protective response to over stimulation1 ) to avoid attention or mimicking certain behaviors observed in particular environments. This causes a lot of additional stress to everyday challenges. For example, I am very sensitive to loud, high pitch noises. Fire drills were hell for me when I was growing up with the loud noises and the crowded hallways. Though I was usually warned ahead of time, they were very stressful on me. To avoid meltdowns, I would cover my ears and close my eyes to avoid being overwhelmed from the drill. Of course this attracted the attention of my classmates. When asked why I covered my ears, I told them that the noise hurt me.
                They could not understand because it was not hurting them; it was just a mere nuisance. In their eyes, I was overreacting to the noise and the crowds. Some of them started to mock me for it. Others told me that I should suck it up or just ignored me. By the time I reached high school, I was sick of the judgmental stares  so I stopped covering my ears even though I was in pain. The other kids still picked up on my sensitivity to loud noises. They thought it was funny to sneak up behind me and yell in my ear to make me jump.
Though I did become less sensitive to certain noises, it caused a lot of stress. Despite not having to deal with fire drills anymore in college. I still struggle with different loud noises in public spaces. To hear the statement "You don't look autistic" was validation for me to continue using the unhealthy coping mechanisms. In the long run, they led me down to a mental breakdown that affected my school work. It took several years to break these dangerous habits with the help of my fiancé and family. To develop a healthy society and improve neurodiversity, this phrase should not be encouraged.
Fortunately, improved medical understanding can aid in improving social discourse. A major step is to improve communications between all the groups involved- from the scientists and people with autism, to the general population. Improved communications will make it easier to wipe away misconceptions around both the diagnosis and people with autism. It will be easier to embrace neurodiversity for everyone in the public sphere. This series will attempt to further this dialogue. Look out next month for the second article in this series- addressing the issues of media presentations and people with autism.
                              



Endnotes


1. Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming... is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or words, or the repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities and most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders.

September 8, 2018

Body Language 101: Eye Contact


In the animal kingdom, many animals will avoid making eye contact unless it is to challenge a rival for food, a mate, or territory. However, eye contact serves a different purpose for humans. For people, eye contact is frequently used as part of conversing with other people. It lets a person know that you are focusing on them. This may seem like a simple task for someone who is neurotypical. It is a stressful one for someone on the spectrum because it takes a greater amount of concentration to make eye contact.
                In the recesses of my memory, I can hear my mother's voice saying "Eyes on me, eyes on me." whenever I looked away from her. She would back this up with using her finger tips to attract my attention back to her face. This tactic was useful for me growing up because it allowed me to maintain my focus while keeping eye contact the whole time. One of the reasons for the success of this tactic was my age. I was still young enough to not be overwhelmed from other factors. It also helped that I trusted my mom and she was very patient with me. As a result of this practice, I am no longer bothered by making eye contact.
                 This exercise can be best utilized in a quiet environment with minimal distractions. You could ask a trusted friend or family member. For a discussion, talk about a topic that both yourself and your partner are interested in. Discussing a topic that is mutually interesting could help make it easier to maintain eye contact. If it is too stressful to use a general conversation, you can use a written script to read. This script could be from a work that you are interested in such as a play or a novel. As long as it is a topic that both yourself and your partner can enjoy together.
                Before the exercise starts, work out a gentle reminder you wish your partner to use to help redirect your eye contact. These reminders could be a visual cue, verbal reminder, or a combination. Figure out which one will work the best for you. If eye contact is something that is a big struggle, set short time periods to practice before moving on for longer conversations.  Also discuss either how long or how frequently you want them to remind you. This is a gentle exercise, if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, let your partner know that you want to stop.
                However, if you are not comfortable with asking a person, you could practice with yourself either in the mirror or with a photo. This may be a little more stressful since it becomes your responsibility to remind yourself. The purpose is to gradually improve maintaining eye contact without taking away your focus.
                If you are a parent of a child who is autistic, it may help to encourage positive reinforcement when they do manage to make eye contact. Positive reinforcement could help make eye contact less stressful for the child. Patience and understanding will be crucial for this to be successful. Eye contact will be difficult because it will take a lot of focus for your child to maintain. When they start getting agitated, it would be best to stop the exercise until they are calmer again. It is important to remember that the goal of this exercise is not to force them into improving their eye contact, but a gradual growth.
                This is not an exercise that encourages masking either. If improving eye contact is a personal goal, this may be a possible exercise to try out. It can be frustrating trying to balance focus between making eye contact and listening to the speaker. Autism effects everyone differently. If this exercise is causing anxiety for you, then I do not recommend continuing. The goal is to improve eye contact in a gradual, non-stressful exercise.
                The Empathetic Aspie is a supportive community for people on the autistic spectrum and allies. I encourage readers to share their experiences in the comments. Discuss in the comments below about aspects of the exercise that worked or did not work. By sharing our experiences together, we can create a solid foundation for support and friendships.  

September 1, 2018

Time Management Tricks


Time Management Tricks
By Jessica Costa

                Time management is a challenging skill to develop, yet it is something that can improve your daily life. It can be overwhelming to keep up with chores, manage school/work and still have a social life. Practicing these time management skills will help make these tasks less overwhelming. For example, some chores, like washing dishes, are usually done daily. While other chores, such as laundry, can be done every 2 to 3 days. Trying to remember everything can cause the brain to feel like it is imploding from all that weight. Fortunately, there are several ways to help balance time between everything without being too overwhelming.           

Post-it Notes are good to use as a small reminder backed up with some other tricks. The most important part is to make sure that they are well- placed. They are most effective when they are in a spot that you look at every day. In high school, I placed post- it- notes on my bedroom mirror because that was right by my door. You should play around with different spots to figure out the best place.

Whiteboard should also be placed in an area where it can be easily seen for most days. These are slightly more effective because there are different styles of whiteboards that can be used. You can buy a simple blank one for customization for multiple tasks.  If it is challenging to plan out the weeks or months then a calendar whiteboard would be the better choice. You could purchase different colored markers to represent a different day or a different task. The choice of their meaning is up to you.

Picture Chart  is friendlier for visual thinkers and younger children. While writing reminders down is a popular trick, it is not the perfect tool for everyone. Pictures can be completely personalized to represent different tasks. Some of them can be easy. Dishes could be a picture of a plate and silverware or laundry could be a shirt. You can choose which image works best for your memory.  

Phone Reminders are  helpful if you frequently use technology. The limitation with the previous tips is that they remain at home. A phone alarm can be personalized to the specific time and day it has to be done. You can set up how frequently the reminders go off. However, you should make sure that the alarms are set to vibrate during work/ class.  

A Daily Planner  could be a better alternative if you prefer not to use the smart phone. You can use them to write or draw- in your goals for the day. Similar to white boards, you can utilize custom color codes of your own choice. The notebooks can come in different sizes to your personal taste.

                It is important to remember that it will take some practice and time to figure out which one or combination of these tips would work best for you. Start with one strategy for a certain length of time. If that does not work, then try a different strategy until it becomes part of a natural routine. Not all of these strategies will be a perfect fit for every person. It can be frustrating when a strategy works for a short time and then does not seem to work at all. With enough practice, these tricks will ease into becoming part of your routine.

August 25, 2018

Body Language 101: The Overview


 As a person with Asperger's syndrome, one of the biggest challenges I faced at a young age was understanding body language. I could not tell when someone was telling a joke or if they were being serious. The constant misunderstanding often led to a lot of frustration for myself and the other person. I would occasionally get some advice from my friends about certain social cues. My lack of understanding seemed to have caused them to grow annoyed with me. It often caused fractures in my friendships at a young age. When I was in eighth grade, I realized that I needed to start researching body language. It was difficult to find accurate information on this topic. It took several years, until I reached college, for me to develop a simple understanding. Still, I have second thoughts on my ability to translate correctly.
                My major challenge of understanding body language is the breaking down of physical cues to communicate non-verbally, consciously or unconsciously.  It can be difficult to explain the struggle of having to learn these cues so late when they are assumed to be understood by all. When I started my research, I received a surprising mixed response. While my parents were very supportive about my research, I was surprised when there was some backlash from some of my peers. A frequent complaint I heard was that I should not have to do this kind of research. In their minds, I should have already understood their body language because we were friends.
                Unfortunately, there is a consistent assumption that most people can understand body language. The issue with this mindset is that people with Asperger's/ Autism struggle to learn body language cannot be understood by neurotypical people. This has created some difficulties in communication.  I have created this series to help bridge that gap. 'Body Language 101' is a series that breaks down the most common struggles in body language. Each article and video will address a different aspect of body language. They will provide advice, explanations, and insights. These topics will include:   

          Eye contact is one of the more well- known challenges for people with Asperger's/Autism. The most common use of eye contact is to show interest in what a person is saying in a conversation. However, this can be a stressful task for a person with Asperger's/Autism. This article will provide advice on how to improve maintaining eye contact in a non- stressful manner.
          Facial Expressions are used to express the emotions of a person. However, they can be tricky to read for several reasons. The main reason is that people can hide their emotions to a degree with their facial expressions, with some being better than others. This will be a series of videos showing the different facial expressions used for different emotions.
          Body Posture is another way most people express their emotions- similar to facial expressions. However, body posture can be more nuanced in expressing these thoughts, revealing rather how the person desires to present themselves. These can be harder to pick up and even harder to hide. This will also be a series of videos breaking down different body postures.

                 It is important to note that this series is meant to be a general guide for body language. Every person has some differences in how they portray their emotional state. Body language is a tricky thing to translate. I will try my best to cover as much ground as possible in each article and video. I will be posting a new article of this series twice a month. If there is a topic that you wish to see covered, but has not been yet, please make your pledge at my Pateron account- https://www.patreon.com/user?u=12254894.
Thank you for reading! See you next week!


August 17, 2018


Accepting Asperger's
By Jessica Costa

                The terms diagnosis and disability have followed me before I became aware of their presence. It was obvious that I did not think like my classmates. I asked my parents why I could not connect to them. They consistently answered that my brain was wired differently each time . I did not realize how accurate their description was. I was unaware that they knew about my diagnosis long before I found out. This information left me with a mixed bag of emotions to sort through over the years. Acceptance came gradually as I gradually confronted some painful memories.
                As a young girl, I was aware that I did not fit in with the kids in my grades. For a long time, I thought that there was something wrong with me. I could not build the same connections with my classmates like they did with each other. The sense of wrongness haunted me for several years. I was unaware that there was an explanation for my struggles. The lack of awareness created a sense of isolation between myself and my classmates. This feeling got heavier as I was also frequently bullied by those same classmates.
                Each year my frustration about that grew. It wasn't until freshman year of high school that I spoke to my doctor about some of my difficulties interacting with kids my age. She suggested I look into researching the autistic spectrum, which began my research. In the beginning, I believed that I had ADHD. When I talked to my mom about it, she recommended researching Asperger's Syndrome. As I started to read more about it, several of my fears were settled. However, I was weighed down by the numerous new questions that developed.
                      When my parents confirmed my suspicions of the diagnosis, I remember the sense of relief that flooded my body. I was not a 'broken' person. I just had a condition that made certain things harder. Most importantly, I was not alone -there were others out there who had similar struggles to mine. It gave me hope.
                After the relief passed, I was swamped with a new sense of uncertainty. The information had left me with questions about my future and my identity. Am I defined by my diagnosis or by my actions? What kind of actions does it influence? How much control over myself do I really have? What did this mean for my future? Would I be able to survive outside of the school environment? How much does my diagnosis define myself and my actions? At 24 years old, after all these years, these questions still pop up despite my acceptance. However, they don't intimidate me as much. I have accepted the fact that I may never find the answer to these questions. Uncertainty will always be a part of life with or without my Asperger's.
                Acceptance was difficult to come to for a long time. At first, the acceptance of my diagnosis as a term was relatively easy. The idea of my brain being differently wired than my classmates helped me understand that I could learn to be better. My time in college further challenged my view point on my diagnosis. It was harder to learn how to accept what the diagnosis meant personally. I had a harder time accepting my own flaws which may or may not be influenced from my diagnosis. It was a challenge to figure out the right way to feel about it.
                After years of fretting, I realized that there is no right way to feel about the diagnosis. I have read what other Aspies' have thought of their diagnoses. Some believe that it is something that they need to be cured of. It was a source of their suffering. Others, like myself, believe that Asperger's helped form us to be our own person. My diagnosis is a mixed bag. It has been a source of pain and strength. It has helped shape a big part of my identity but it does not define me.
                My acceptance of my diagnosis does not stop the doubts from reappearing or that my struggles have magically gone away. I have learned better tactics to overcome some of my challenges. There will always be struggles, I did not grow out of my Asperger's. It is an aspect of me that will not change but I am not limited to my diagnosis. It may not change but I can still grow.