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Studying with Auditory Hypersensitivity

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Like many Aspies and Autists, Birdie and I have auditory hypersensitivity.  This can be really interesting, and challenging, in a large class environment, especially when we are stressed and/or tired (which is, like, all the time – that vet student life!).

Some days the 5-10 minute breaks between lectures (we’ll often have 3-4 hours of lectures back to back) is excruciating.  The cacophony of speaking, laughter, shouts, footsteps and doors is just too much.  (It doesn’t help that we have one individual who’s laughter physically hurts, and it’s loud – if he’s in, you can hear it throughout the whole lecture theatre.)

Some days one or the other of us is just too keyed up to make it to lectures and cope with the noise.  It’s fortunate, then, that a class mate of ours always records lectures and uploads them onto the class drive, typically immediately after the lecture has finished, so that we can listen to the lecture at home, in peace and quiet, in our PJs.

I have also discovered that, by dictating my short notes for my exam to audio files and putting on repeat and on random, I actually remember the content.  I’ve gone over the entire content for this module three times.  I’ve written out my short notes and read through them twice.  I’ve read Birdie’s short notes.  I’ve dictated them.  Now, only after hearing them, after lying back on my couch, closing my eyes, and concentrating on my voice, do I remember the content properly.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if I dictated the whole module and played it back a few times, I’d remember everything.

This next episode on Spectrum we will be discussing the superpower that is our auditory processing, so find us on iTunes, subscribe and rate, and keep your eyes peeled as Birdie and I discuss our brains on sound!

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The Podcast Goes Live!

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Birdie and I are delighted to announce that the first episode of Spectrum has been released!  This is a podcast that will discuss all sorts of things related to being an adult and being on the spectrum – by “actual adults” that are on the spectrum.  We hope to cover a wide variety of topics, and discuss things we do to help ourselves live a comfortable life, to cope with and manage living as an aspie in a neurotypical world.

It will shortly be available on a variety of podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and a host of others, but for now it is available on Anchor.  Please give us a listen and, once we’re up on Apple Podcast, subscribe and give us a (five star?) rating!  You’ll be helping us continue the podcast as we go through anxiety, disassociation, body language, and discussions on medication.  These are only a few of the topics we’ve outlined to go over, so stay tuned for all sorts of goodies!

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Aspie Crafting

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Despite common opinion that aspergers people cannot create, we are actually a highly creative bunch, and very crafty.

I know one woman who creates near-perfect colour pencil drawings of her object of study – typically from a photo she herself has taken.

I know another who uses a dremel to carve into wood.

I know people who sew, embroider, cross stitch.  Some who draw and paint, others who mould and engineer.

I know quite a number who knit and crochet and weave.

I, myself, am a knitter, a crocheter, and an occasional weaver and spinner.  It gives my hands something to do while I sit and watch TV, and the rhythmic patterns are stress relievers.  Spinning in particular is very soothing, as you treadle along, everything is circular and rhythmic.  There are the soothing noises of the wheel turning, the brake line hissing against the bobbin, and the general creaks and groans of a wooden object in motion.

I can go into an almost trance when I’m crafting, especially when I am spinning.  The world disappears but for that object.  The repetitive motions draw you in until your whole world is encompassed by the movement of your arm with the needles, the pull of the yarn, or the feel of the wool.

One thing I have noticed is that it is very important to use materials that you are comfortable using.  Being aspergers, tactile sensation is heightened, and a lot of yarns I touch and immediately go ‘ew’ and cringe away from.  They’re typically the acrylics, the pure wools, and sometimes even the (cheaper) cotton blends.  For a very long time I favoured acrylic yarns, because they were consistently easier on my hands, but these days I have found some exceptionally soft pure wool or wool/silk blend yarns that I can craft very comfortably with (and some that I can’t stop crafting with!).

I find that, not only is the act of crafting soothing, it is also constructive (which fills my need to be doing something useful), it creates a thing, and it is a creative outlet for me.  I can look at patterns, see what I like, and then make this amazing thing.  It’s deeply satisfying to get to the end of a project and see this item you yourself have created with your own two hands.

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An Assignment for Aspies

Today one of my favorite lecturers gave an assignment.

Frankly, I failed a pass/fail course. Every Monday a case would be released. And, every Friday a case report and quiz is due
I missed 2 of 12. The first, the week I got sick with a lengthy, but ultimately, treatable diagnosis. The second, the final quiz before exams.

So to pass the class she’s made a supplementary assignment for those like me.

“So this assignment is about drilling down to the root cause of a problem.  Defining and redefining the problem is something that Spine cases aim to work on regularly, and you will be studying a case specifically about root cause analysis in veterinary practice in 4th year.  But in the meantime, let’s take your skills at defining a clinical veterinary problem and apply them to your own work life. 

One method for getting to the root cause of a problem is the “Five Whys” method, popularized by the Toyota corporation.  Google it if you would like more information, but the main idea is that when faced with a problem, you ask yourself “why” a series of times to uncover the underlying cause of the problem.  Usually 5 times is enough, but you may have to go further.  The idea is to dig down deep enough to uncover the root cause of a problem.”

Why?

Because I didnt complete the tasks as required.

Why did you not complete the tasks?

Because I got overwhelmed and missed them.

Why did you get overwhelmed?

I got sick and fell behind, then I felt rushed and unprepared in other areas, distracting me from this one.

Why did you get sick/why did you fall behind?

Apparently it’s common in women. I fell behind in all my classes because I was exhausted and spent too much time sleeping. In trying to catch up, I panicked and things slid through the cracks.

Why did you panic?

Because I didn’t follow my coping strategies and routines well enough. I panicked and tried to recreate them on the fly to get more done in some areas, leading me to fall further behind in other areas (like spine). Thus my checks weren’t thorough when I went back to see that my work was completed as I wasn’t focused on the task at hand but busy worrying about others.

Why didnt you follow your coping strategies?

Because of lots of reasons. They’re newly acquired and I reverted to old, poorer habits under pressure. In trying to catch up, I did not work methodically, but grasped at straws trying to prioritize.

“Predictably, the next part of this assignment is to make a plan to prevent the problem from reoccurring. 

What I’m looking for is evidence that you have thought this through.  In 4th year Spine you are often asked to justify treatment plans in terms of why the treatment should work, how it will work, and how success can be measured.   You should take a similar approach when designing a “treatment” plan for your problem.”

  1. Therapy: Thankfully finished
  2. Medication: changed and going well now
  3. Anxiety: learned coping methods at therapy and on medication
    • Exercise – health stuff got in the way but working it back in
    • stim tools – still working on this, as I’m an adult and the majority of stim tools seem to be designed for children. But grounding is just as important for adults as it is for kids. My noise cancelling headphones work great for separating from busy atmospheres.
  4. Help: ask for it. Ask to review exams. Ask to discuss questions. Work with friends. Get help when something is not right. Get medication, get tested, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, trust your body and ask for help.
  5. Organization: Bullet journaling – it’s infinitely customizable and well suited to the business of vet school. When used correctly, it does help me immensely with staying organized. I use excel to track my lectures and labs.
  6. Executive function: Falls to organization to help with. I used to rely on the anxiety, but therapy was to teach me to favor routine. If I mess up the morning portion, there is still the afternoon, the evening. But to get up and take that first step every day.
    • Make lists – especially checklists
    • Set alarms
    • Sticky notes – on my laptop, on the wall where I look when I first wake up, on the door to my room, in my study space.
    • Calendar events
    • Excel sheets semester calendars with important lectures/labs/assignments made important
    • Timer – work I love I stop doing, and work I don’t love, I keep doing.
    • Routines – are easier to enforce than individual actions. I lose my keys every day, but I tend to lose in them in 1 of about 10 spots. My routine means I put things in odd places, but I’ve made those places work for me.
      • Make a morning routine – ie up at 6am, coffee and take care of dog. at home lectures or attend lectures during lecture hours…. ect ect. Have marked times for things to happen so when something falls apart, the next can fall into place. This works pretty well. Not so well in the case of the anemia had me asleep more than it didn’t and I missed too many points to catch up and it snowballed. Thankfully I had notes and stuff already done or it would have been worse than only two missed assignments.
      • Next time, I have talked with a few friends in my class to organize a better support system between ourselves. If I miss listening/attending a lecture, one of us wont have. If there is something due, we will check on each other. Basically, if all my organization comes to naught, and I still screw up, hopefully a human check will catch whatever I miss.
    • I am always going to have issues in this area. It is always going to require editing and work, steps forward and steps backwards.

How is success measured? This last year I measured it in check boxes checked, exam marks returned, lectures attended, assignments completed on my schedule and others. It worked. I saw a steady increase in my grades until the anemia, when it started to slip away again. My lectures attended increased dramatically from the start of therapy to its conclusion, as the mental health stuff became better controlled. Assignments were completed well within my personal schedule and overall I felt much better.

But the uptick and positives ran flat. I think, if this was last year, when I dropped the ball, I dropped it far more spectacularly than I did this year. So while in the end I didnt achieve every grade I wanted on every exam. Even during my worst this year, I performed better than last year or the year prior to that. Getting my memory and focus back with the b12 deficiency diagnosis, and my energy back with the anemia diagnosis. Stabilizing on the new anxiety meds and following the therapist’s recommendations for “moving forward” everyday. Despite having screwed up and not completing my work for spine, I am relieved to know my head works well enough under pressure to still allow me to pass my exams. Moving forward, I can rely on the support systems I have built to prevent me from missing important tasks as well.

So next year, my success will be measured much the same, with greater expectations. There isn’t an excuse for missing clearly outlined work, as there is not an excuse for not learning clearly defined material. I really look forward to what my future holds now that I have spent a year fully coming to terms with all the aspects of myself. Executive function issues, prior traumas, anxiety, obsessive interests… and everything in between make me what will be a strong veterinarian, someday soon, hopefully.

 

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Overtired, overstimulated

Bones here.

I recently started work (again).  And by recently, I mean this week.  It’s been good – I’m back in a place I’ve worked before, in a role I’m more-or-less familiar with, surrounded by people I know and like.  The first two days were great!  I was getting up refreshed, powering through the day with a smile, and getting to the end of the day feeling good.

Last night I slept badly.  It took me a while to get out of bed this morning.  I slurped down my coffee, but it wasn’t enough to perk me up.  I got to work still yawning, and as soon as I got started, my shoulders went up around my ears and I just wanted to crawl into a quiet hole.  Everything was getting to me.  There was too much noise and I couldn’t concentrate.  The lady who was showing me the ropes was going too quickly and skipping around.  It was too warm.  The computer was too slow (in my defense, it actually is way too slow) and kept on crashing on me.  The desk was too messy.  I felt cluttered.

By mid-morning I was wrung out and in dire need of some quiet time, with none in sight.

I woke up this morning and I knew it was going to be a tough day, so I picked my most comfortable clothing and bundled myself up.  I wore my comfortable shoes.  I did all the little things I could to reduce the overstimulation.

I get like this when I’m tired.  I get like this when I’m stressed.  I get like this when I am in any sub-optimal state, which, to be honest, has been a lot of the last couple of years.

Getting used to normal, noisy life takes time, and I have to allow myself that.  So I’d best go to sleep early and spend time in my noise cancelling headphones doing calming things that I enjoy.  You’ve got to set yourself up as best as you can to deal with the day ahead and all the stimulation it brings!

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On avoiding burnout

Birdie here 🙂

A short list of helpful tips I could think of, off the top of my head:
1. Minimize the stimulation

  • We both own Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones (not a plug, we just love them). I can honestly wear these suckers for hours on end without them feeling horrible on my head. I dont even always have music playing, just the noise cancelling function does wonders.
  • wearing our favorite pants. you have to wear clothes, it sucks, so at least make it something your body doesn’t hate.

2. Focus the stimulation

  •  Stimming is part and parcel of being autistic right. So focus that. Get yourself a fidget cube. rub your fingers over the edges of your nails. Count the stitches on the inside of sleeve. Where a something of a smooth fabric and rub it between your fingers

3. think, then respond, exit if possible

  • It’s perfectly okay to say “I need a moment” before replying to a colleague or friend. You do need to respond to them, but take that long pause first and organize your spinning thoughts. Tell them you’ll email/text your answer, if you politely can.
  • It’s also completely fine to smile politely, give bland platitudes and grit your teeth through a too long day. You don’t have to join the lunch group, or the two people chatting. Smash out your job, quietly, from behind your desk.
  • Ask for written directions. Most of have horrible short term memories anyway, add that to trying to follow the jumbled flow of directions from a colleague and you’re hurdling for that emotional wall.

4. know yourself

  • I start feeling cranky far before I feel exhausted and after I feel exhausted, my brain melts and I’m useless. If can find the cranky sweet spot and start pulling back on stimulation then, I can last a lot longer before complete burn out hits.
  • It’s never okay to meltdown in a professional capacity. So it’s important to know when that point is approaching for you, so you can take steps. Grab the headphones, take lunch in a quiet, dark space. Hell sit under your desk. I don’t care what people think, I care about how you feel and how you’re getting through the day happy and healthy!
  • as bones said. patience. Life is that bit we do before we die, and most of it is messy and over stimulating. We will get there. We acclimate as much as possible, cope with a bit more, and sometimes go home, wrap ourselves in blankets, cuddly pets, and hide from it all. it all takes time, so be kind to yourself first and foremost!

What sort of burnout do you suffer from and how do you cope?

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Emotions, primarily

 

By the redditor: ivecat 🙂 shared with permission

When I was a kid (I’m 22 now), my mom spend a stupid amount of time on emotions and being able to identify them and their causes. As soon as I could speak, if I cried or anything were were talking about what I was feeling, what caused that feeling, and what I can do to fix that if it’s negative. We spent hours identifying feelings and what they looked like and felt like in me.

I can often identify my feelings right before they get super intense. I dont ever destroy things. My mom let me know that if something broke, I will not be getting a new one. If I cried in a store, I did not get a toy. Crying and being upset about something was not an effective means for literally anything. So I really don’t break things because I know I won’t get a new one (even though I’m an adult and can buy my own things).

My only breakdowns tend to be when I dont understand something or can’t figure something out. Be that something with school, a situation at work, people’s emotions and motivations. A couple of weeks ago I cried because I couldn’t figure our if there was meat in my soup and noone could tell me (I haven’t eaten meat in 4 years). That was that, I broke down crying in the middle of the student center, away from people.

A lot of aspies talk about how they never know if they’re having a breakdown. Or, if they do, they dont realize it until after. I know when its happening. I know my logical reasoning for it. I once had someone tell me that my breakdowns are highly logical, what I’m feeling is logical, my reactions are just way out of proportion. I’m logical in the moment, I wont break things, I try very hard not to say hurtful things, I even continue working as if Im not breaking down (which is difficult in costumer service).

I’ve learned many of these lessons in life. But I often feel like this might make diagnosis difficult or impossible. Or that I might not be far enough on the spectrum for diagnosis because of what I’ve been able to learn.

Beyond this, if things are really stressful, I will still breakdown in useless situations. Being sent home early from work, I really need something and can’t buy it, ect. And, as I get older, I’m realizing my reactions to things are considered immature in many situations. I can’t control my voice and tell to yell and scream when it might not be appropriate, even when I try to keep my voice down.

I’m considering a lot of things in my life that I’ve done or currently do and I dont know 100% how to articulate everything which is frustrating.

Birdie again 🙂

I think people try to place these labels and characteristics on the spectrum. If you’re on the spectrum, then you should fit into a box. But that’s silly. The thing is, those innate, naked behaviors we might have all shown signs of as kid, those are quickly and intensely buried under a lifetime of experiences. Every friend we lose unexpectedly. Every person we trust that was untrustworthy. Every expectation to conform, and the emotional fallout from failure. They all hit every Aspie differently and produce a different adult.  So maybe for some of us it’s not worth the effort of going through a formal diagnosis, because you’re unique and that’s okay. The only outcome in the end is a label for lifestyle we all have to live regardless.

Better to just find away to help each other, and welcome differences in all types people. The world should be a nice place for everyone to play in, no matter how our brains work.