The Uncertainty Principle

A new code review system is being introduced at work which will see new/changed code formally peer reviewed before being accepted to the code base.

Sounds great!

It is, from the point of view of streamlining our development process without compromising on quality.

I sense a but?

But… the whole thing has me burning through spoons fast.

How so?

I’m worried because the process will force the two kinds of interaction that I find most troublesome when working with NTs:

1. Following a set of rules.
2. Providing fact based feedback.

Rules and facts; no offense, but isn’t that what you guys live for?

Ha, no offense taken and without speaking for all autistic people, it does seem to be generally true that we like rules and facts.

So what’s the problem then?

Well, following rules around NTs is hard because they don’t follow them. Or at least they often treat them as optional. I can’t do that. I’ve asked the Rule Makers and been given clear guidance that I should always follow the rules. If I break the rules, I am disobeying an instruction – clearly wrong. If I follow the rules, people get frustrated with me – clearly undesirable. So I just have to wait for the conflict.

And providing feedback, what’s the problem with that?

Essentially, it is the uncertainty of the interaction – I have no scripts that I can use to guide me.

Practice makes perfect, I’m sure you will pick it up.

I doubt it. I develop scripts using a trial and error approach, but this requires predictable results and in terms of providing critical feedback, I can find no pattern in the responses and reactions I have observed. I have spent the past few weeks trying to prepare in readiness for the change, informally reviewing the checkins and working on providing feedback without upsetting or antagonising people. This can’t hurt, but I know it’s not going to help.

What are you going to do?

I’m going to make sure that I use the review process tool to the best of my ability to try and ensure the quality of our code is as high as possible. I’m never going to compromise there. I’m going to try my best to spot patterns in behaviour and change course before DEFCON-1 is reached. And if an NT locks on to me and malfunctions ED-209 style, well, I just hope someone is able to pull it’s plug before my skin turns green.

Post tune: Ludacris, Beast Mode.

Twittzkrieg

To quote myself from yesterday, “140 characters is not always enough to convey a point properly, especially not across languages and cultures.”. Hence, I am finally publishing this post, which has been sitting in my drafts folder for quite some time, even though I realise the subject matter has the potential to ignite exactly the behaviour that is describes (I really, really do not want that).

People have a right to express an opinion, people have a right to disagree and it’s okay to debate them, even passionately. What is not okay to me and what I want no part of, is a pile in on someone with a different opinion. Agree to disagree and move on, don’t perform a mental DDoS on an individual in an attempt to overwhelm them into submission. To me this is just another form of bullying. I hate bullies.

This point is especially relevant with respect to the way in which people use social media. I am a pretty prolific tweeter (twitterer?). I now unapologetically distance myself from the hashtags and accounts that I see as condoning, promoting or engaging in what Asam Ahmad refers to as “Call-Out Culture“. It makes me uncomfortable to see good people who have been misunderstood, or may have taken a misstep, being besieged by an army of people who seem more preoccupied with being part of the mob rather than educating the person, or letting them apologise. I hate bullies.

Writing posts like this is hard, because there is so much more I could say. I realise this is a somewhat meandering post that lacks a definitive conclusion, but I would just be opening myself up to the sort of response that I am referencing if I was to offer one. So let that be the conclusion: I think it is wrong that people are afraid in this way.

After thought – I think this problem is exacerbated by at least a couple of factors online:

  1. The assumption that everyone is a fanboy, that we all exist on the extremes of opinion. You have an iPhone? You must hate Samsung and Google and Android and kittens and you must now personally accept responsibility for every decision that Apple have ever made.
  2. Prescribing people opinions and traits based on their gender, race, etc and then writing off their experiences and opinions as worthless as a result. You’re white, male and identify as a gamer? You must hate everyone and everything!

Skills to Pay the Bills

It took some nine or ten months, but this week I finally completed the Life Skills training course that I started in the summer. It was hard work, but satisfying and I shall miss it.

The hardest session was on eye contact, which I can only assume is analogous to being probed by aliens. In the final session we recapped some of the things we had learned and when the subject of eye contact came up everyone got really interested in the carpet. I think for the most part my technique of looking up for four or five seconds and then looking away again is passable enough in the NT world.

The biggest realisation was how much I struggle in an environment with rules that are not enforced and people who exploit this. I am unable to function in such situations and end up feeling incredibly isolated. It is inevitable that at some point a line will be drawn between the two sides, but I will never be the one to cross it and so conflict is a certainty. I suggest that the people who choose not to follow the rules are normally choosing the path that requires least effort, as if they were motivated by the idea that there was a better way of doing things then they would surely work to change the rules.

The most valuable thing I learned was about identifying friendships and true friends. Unfortunately I have not managed to learn these things through trial and error in life, which has led to repeated error. I am working hard on applying this one. Temporary people are not my friends.

I will miss being submerged into an autistic environment.

Hey Jo, what do ya know?

So, I made it to thirty.

In some ways I have changed lots, in others not at all, and I am totally okay with that: life is a lesson that you learn when you’re through. I last used that quote on my blog just under seven years ago. It is amazing to think of all the things that have happened since then.

I still have lots to learn
I started a training course last week that will run through to the end of the winter. If possible, I will share some of the things I am learning. No promises though – I’m not sure how much of this stuff I want to share. I do sometimes wonder about taking this blog somewhere else and making it anonymous, I would be able to share more that way.

Aside
At work on Friday, someone observed of me “You know, I’ve never heard you bullshit anyone.”. I think it was an observation rather than a compliment or insult, but I was left feeling happy that this was the way I was seen. Honesty above all other traits.

Political Apathy
I’m thinking I will bring back my political apathy series soon. I have already started receiving flyers and letters from candidates hoping to gain my vote in the next general election. Each with more spin than an electron. I’d quite like to elect Russell Brand; I love the Trews.

Friends
Made a new one, seemingly lost some old ones. People always seem to be temporary fixtures; the amount of effort that gets put into a friendship and the experiences shared seems to have no correlation with how easily some people just slip away.

Gaming
Minecraft looks like something that would pull me in Tron style. Currently I am content to watch YTs play, but I can see myself giving it a go in the not too distant future. Very much considering cancelling my pre-order of Destiny. Having been one of the first to place an order and having waited so long for it to be released, it really sucks to be playing the beta solo. I have knocked out a few games this year; I really enjoyed both Knack and Watch_Dogs. BF4 single player was good – I didn’t go anywhere near the bag of hurt that was MP. I am looking forward to COD:AW, although mainly for SP, as again, solo MP sucks balls.

Beard
It took some getting used to, but I think that at this point I can safely say that the beard is here to say. It survived a trip to the tropical paradise of Florida earlier this year, where in fact it flourished as my trimmer would not charge up. I switched to shaving with a double edge blade a while back and shaving has gone from being something I hated, to something I love. I bought my first bottle of conditioner at age thirty. No decision has been made on how long the beard will get, but hockey beard status has been achieved (this was the original goal).

Shiny New Car Day 2014
Sometime at the end of autumn I will hopefully be recieving my new car. What can I tell you, I have grown up. Instead of the pick up that I had my heart set on when I came back from Florida, I have instead listend to my Mum and opted for a sensible four door, with better fuel economy than what I currently have. Okay, by this point my Mum will have stopped reading, all that other stuff is true, apart from the sensible bit. As sad as I will be to see Rebo go, I am really looking forward to gettng my hands on Venni. That’s right, he has been named after a rocket ship. Yeeeeeah buddy! I still have a few months to wait for his arrival, got no concrete road trips planned, but hoping to go back to Liverpool.

WWE at the Brighton Centre
For the first time since the European Rampage tour of ’92 the WWE is coming back to the Brighton Centre. I got tickets at ringside for me and cosmicbadger. If the timing is right, he will be the first passenger in Venni.

Legacy

Sometimes I have to tune out the world because it all gets to be a little too much to process.

As the story was breaking about the latest mass shooting in the US and details started coming through, I got a horrible sinking feeling.

The news media seems to only have a few ways they report stories like this. Terror attack, ghetto thug, mental health issues. A white guy with an English sounding name from a privileged background? That’s going to be neatly wrapped up in box number three. They could try following the evidence CSI style instead of developing a story and trying to fit the evidence to it, but since the advent of 24 hour news channels the emphasis is on entertainment and audience numbers rather than education.

A new data point surfaced, the shooter had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Thanks by the way BBC for empahsising this point, good work. I especially liked your little paragraph explaining what Asperger’s was. I struggled to find the same level of emphasis when it turned out he had not in fact received this diagnosis.

Shit. Here we go again. We did this with the Sandy Hook shooting already. I know how it plays out. Suddenly, “Ass Burgers” was to blame.

Come on people, at least do enough research to be able to spell/pronounce it correctly.

My twitter TL slowly began to fill with the testimony of millions of experts in autism/Asperger’s/mental health. I never realised there were so many knowledgeable people out there. I mean, I was totally fooled by your complete ignorance on the subject and failure to understand even the most basic of facts about Asperger’s.

And so we are further stigmatised. By a bunch of lazy reporting, ignorance and hatred. A whole host of negative qualities ascribed to us. A whole host of our qualities mocked and derided. And nothing has been done to actually try and work out what did cause this tragic event in the hope that it can be prevented from ever happening again.

Good work.

*puts on headphones and walks away*

It’s not black and white

One thing I have learned about being openly autistic is that people will often give me the “It’s not black and white” speech. Truth be told, being openly autistic has only made this speech come about more often; I have heard it many times in my life, even before diagnosis. I think this is a classic example of the kind of misunderstanding that many neurotypical people have when it comes to autism: I think in “black and white” means I am decisive, not that my decisions are extreme. I think in “black and white” does not means that I distill all decision making situations into a set of binary options; it means that I examine all of the options and then commit to one.

Many fragments. Some large, some small.
The logical, analytical thought processes common to many people on the spectrum mean that they can take in a huge amount of information, parse it, and arrive at a decision in pretty quick time. For me, this involves running simulations. I conciously run a best guess simulation of events that would be likely given a certain decision, to see if it has merit. I am making comparisons to other information stored in my brain. I am linking things using a picture based index system (I think in pictures not in words).

Isn’t that SPECIAL?
This process is rapid. I have often observed that I am able to run all the scenarios and make a determination much faster than the people around me, even when there are several scenarios that are considered viable right up towards the end of the process.

You see those two guys over there? They want to take your books away!
Sometimes I realise I do not have the information I need to be able to make a determination and I set about filling in the gaps. My brain snaps into Johnny 5 mode; I crave input. Once something catches my interest, I will not rest until I have satisfied my desire to know about it. Related to this, I am often able to determine that the stated reason for a decision is not plausible. I get frustrated by such situations. I wonder how people expect me to understand their position/decision if they deny me some of the information?

Malfunction. Need input.
I hate it when people do not tell me the truth. If the information I have is inaccurate, my decisions are likely to be way off: garbage in, garbage out. Please do not give me bad data, it will make me cranky. My need to make good, balanced decisions outweighs my need to be nice to you. It is often very obvious if I do not trust the information I am being given simply by the number of questions I am asking.

Don’t fuck with my program!

Living with Autism

There was a Horizon documentary on Autism on this week on BBC 2. Available to some via iPlayer here. If you haven’t watched it then take a look.

There were lots of positives to take away from it:

  • It showed footage of an awesome curved wall that kids were propelling Matchbox cars up (did this in my garden with plywood and sand when I was a kid).
  • It highlighted how the different way that we see things and think about things can allow us to do things that neurotypical people can’t.
  • It described the difference between functional communication and conversation. And introduced people to concepts of masking and mimicry.
  • It dispelled the myth that autistic people lack empathy (authors note: yes dude, even though the Wikipedia page on Asperger’s still suggests this).

There was one thing that left me quite cross though. The suggestion that a diagnosis is/should be withheld unless it is “clinically significant”.

I have two big problems with this:

  • If the diagnosis/label is only applied to people who are struggling, people who need help (hence making it clinically significant) then you deprive the world of some positive stories of people with autism. This would seem a great way to underline the stigma attached to the diagnosis.
  • I just don’t think it is fair for someone else to make the decision over whether the diagnosis is significant. I know first hand the impact this can have.

In the experiment with the boat in the box, why did the neurotypical people copy the knocking on the box? That’s a genuine question. I didn’t understand, which I guess makes sense considering I am autistic.

I leave you with the words of Kenny, “I see things in a different way… I think about things in a different way.”

I reserve my right to feel uncomfortable

Louis Theroux tweeted a link to this story over the past weekend. It’s an adaption of a book written by the Father of an autistic person that covers the diagnosis and life afterwards. It is a happy story. Owen, the autistic person, is clearly content and is obviously very loved. I like the way the story captures some of the journey that the family experienced, but bits of the language used troubled me.

“Thank God, he’s in there.”

“Owen reached out, if only for a moment, from his shut-in world.”

I could not shift a single thought from my mind, “Why is your way, the right way?”, which is probably more accurately expressed as “Why are the things we do considered bad just because they are different?”

Having to hide my stims makes my day harder. Having to mimic your behaviour makes me tired. #StopCombatingMe. Just let me be.

I reserve my right to feel uncomfortable, reserve my right to be afraid.
I make mistakes and I am humbled every step of the way.
I want to be a better person. I wanna know the master plan.
Cast your stones, cast your judgement, you don’t make me who I am.

Sometimes You’re The Hammer, Sometimes You’re The Nail; Common Courtesy; A Day To Remember

Think outside the boxes

I have a bunch of posts that I will probably never publish. Not because I think they aren’t good enough or because they are too private to share, but because they touch on subjects that are like grenades. I have tried to discuss them before and it just turns into a huge mess. I am totally aware that I am not the best at explaining non-scientific type things to people, I guess this comes into it. Anyway, it’s been eating away at me that the number of posts in this category is growing.

I consume a tonne of information, lots in the way of blogs and from a real cross section of society. Some of those posts make me feel uncomfortable, they force me to think about things, to expand my horizons. I think this is a good thing. I like challenging myself in this way.

For the most part I have found that, through twitter, I have had some really amazing, eye opening discussions with people from totally different walks of life. Whether we agreed or disagreed, both sides were heard, debated in a passionate manner. I have also had the misfortune to stray into conversations I have almost immediately regretted. I say conversation, I mean monologues, where only one side is heard in a way that prevents any learning, growing or sharing of opinions.

My point is this, before you decide where in the Venn diagram of life I belong, before you sweep me up in your mass generalisations, before you dismiss me entirely, just take a second and consider whether building bridges is a better choice than building walls.

Labels

One of the best things about the extreme research phase of determining that I was autistic was discovering that there were words for things. Things I thought, felt and experienced, but which previously nobody ever seemed to talk about, or understand.

For a long while though, I have had something on my mind. Labels. People get super upset by them, especially in the autism community. I’m kind of sick of being told what words I should use to describe myself.

I hate functioning labels, i.e. high functioning or low functioning. I think they represent a polarising oversimplification that is at the heart of this issue. Stick with me though as I have to use them to explain this next bit.

I feel trapped between two groups:

  1. Those who think that people with Aspergers are too high functioning to be described as autistic.
  2. Those who strongly reject the term aspie and instead favour autistic.

In my experience, those two groups are mainly made up from:

  1. The parents of low functioning autistic people.
  2. People with an autism diagnosis who would be described as high functioning by the people in group one.

I’ll be honest and say that I have little sympathy for the people in group one. High functioning and mild autism are easy things to say from the outside.

My point though, is that if you tell me which labels you prefer for you, then I will try and remember to use them and I would hope you would do the same for me.

Asperger’s Syndrome. Whilst this is my official diagnosis, it somehow always feels scary. I think it’s the “Syndrome” part which does it. I tend to say “I have Aspergers”, but “I am autistic”. I also describe myself as an “aspie”.

“Person with autism”, that shit is just a mouthful. To me, it is so clumsy and obviously tiptoeing around in a way that totally defeats the purpose, I don’t ever say it.

I am autistic, I am an aspie, I have Aspergers Syndrome. To me, these things are all true. So suck it up, buttercup!