Posts Tagged ‘autism’

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know that I am on the autism spectrum, and that I’ve had opportunities to speak about it a couple of times, including a widely-circulated video which I posted back in March. I was able to get my job partially because of my autism, and a lot of the work I do involves working with, accommodating, and advocating for people with disabilities in the workplace, including but certainly not limited to autism. I don’t go around everywhere broadcasting my diagnosis, but it does come up on occasion.

One of those recent occasions was for my organization’s newsletter. I was asked to write a short essay, about a page long, about having a disability, about the program that helped me get a job in my organization, and what that’s been like. That article was published recently, along with a couple of other testimonials, and it’s been getting around. A lot of people have been coming up to me and thanking me for being so open with my story.

Today, I got an email from someone in my organization who had read the article, and had contacted me asking for advice. His adult nephew had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, well past the point where intervention can be at its most effective. And in the  years since his diagnosis, his life has not gotten easier. I won’t go into details, but it was heartbreaking to read the man’s email and to hear about his nephew’s suffering.

At the end of the email, he asked what could be done for his nephew, and if maybe the program that helped me get my job could help his nephew.

What do you say to something like that? What sort of comfort can you give when there’s already so much pain?

I don’t know if I ever meant to be an advocate for people with disabilities. But over time, that role has kind of been molded around me. A good part of this has been because of my job. As I said, I have to advocate for people with disabilities in the workplace. To that end, I’ve learned how to market to people who are able-bodied why they should hire more people with disabilities. I can tell them that people with disabilities have a much lower turnover rate than the general population, 8% compared to 45%, that getting them accommodations rarely gets anywhere near the $500 mark, and then back all that up by talking about my own satisfaction with my position, and how the only accommodation I’ve needed for my ASD was permission to listen to my iPod or audiobooks while doing certain tasks. I’ve also been asked to do essays, like I did for the newsletter, and the video I recorded back in March. And sometimes it just comes up, like when explaining how I got my internship in Germany (yeah, my ASD played a part in that), or using it to illustrate a point in conversation, or a hundred different scenarios.

One way or another, it seems like I was meant to be an advocate, especially at this point in my life, when I’m doing so well at work, living on my own, and even as a writer.

But as a giver of advice? I’m not sure I expected that. And I get why it’s happening. Autism is a scary diagnosis for anyone to get, as well as for the loved ones of those diagnosed. It’s a disorder that varies widely from person to person, it can never be cured, the cause is still unknown,* the number of people being diagnosed with it has grown exponentially with improved diagnostic tools. Depending on what traits are present or what other disorders are present with autism can also affect everything from therapy to school choices to possibilities in adulthood. And when the diagnosis is made in adulthood, as happened with the young man whose uncle emailed me, it can be a sort of terrifying that no horror story can tap into. With all that in mind, hearing from someone who not only has the same diagnosis, but is successful in the real world, can be a soothing balm for the mind and soul.

I just wish I had all the answers. Or that I was more confident in the answers I have to give.

But if I’m going to give any sort of advice, it’s that we shouldn’t deny or try to hide our diagnoses. We shouldn’t try to be “normal,” because normal doesn’t exist, especially not for us. We process the world so differently than everyone else, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ashamed or afraid. I’m able to succeed and do the things I do every day because I process differently. So embrace your different. It may be called a disability, but it can be an asset too. Some of the greatest innovators and creators the world has ever known have been on the spectrum. And once we learn to work with the issues we have, we can learn to become those great innovators and creators.

And don’t be afraid to look for or ask for help. Even if you’re diagnosed later in life, there’s still plenty of resources for you. Many states, including my beloved Ohio, have programs that offer help and direction for people with disabilities and families, whether they be children or well into adulthood. Many schools have or are adding programs to ensure the disabled can take full advantage of their educations. More and more employers are recognizing the importance of hiring people with disabilities, and what they can contribute. We’re not being left alone like a ship in a storm. There is help.

Living my life strong, no matter what my diagnosis is.

And it’s important to be open about your diagnosis, especially with your friends, family, coworkers and teachers. Keeping it a secret has never helped anyone get by. It’s better to be open, so that those around us are better equipped to work with us, and join us on our journey as we work our way through life. I know it’s scary, and you don’t want to be any different than anyone else. But remember, there’s no normal. We’re all different, and many of us wear it on our sleeves. Might as well display this different too, if only to make life a little easier.

I hope you find this helpful. I hope the man who emailed me today found my advice helpful. And if you or someone you know has autism, I hope that no matter what, you or your loved one is able to hold their head up high and know this: you are great the way you are.

*And if you’re about to comment saying some bull about vaccines, let me tell you a story, since anti-vaxxers seem to value testimony more rather than scientific consensus: my mother has told me a few times that I was different from the day I was born, well before I received my first vaccine. I was nothing like the baby books predicted I’d be, and it wasn’t until my younger sister was born that she saw any of that stuff. I trust her word, so that means vaccines had nothing to do with the way I am. And if you still insist that vaccines had something to do with the way I am, you may be calling my mother a liar, and them’s fighting words.

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Remember when I blogged about being on the autism spectrum back in late January? Well, that post got a lot of positive feedback, both on the blogospphere and on other social media, particularly Facebook. One of the people who responded well to the post was my college disabilities counselor, Enjie Hall, who I became Facebook friends with…I think after graduation? I can’t remember. It’s been a while. Anyway, she reached out to me after that post came out, and asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a short audio and/or video presentation for a much longer presentation she was doing at the university she works at now. The subject was “Living in and Past College with a Disability,” and since I’m doing so well in that subject, she’d thought I’d be a natural at it.

I agreed to the project, and produced a short YouTube video about my experiences. Okay, maybe “short” isn’t the best term: I was asked to do a five-minute video, and somehow I ended up making it thirteen minutes! But hey, can you really put down all that experience and advice into a five-minute video? I’m not so sure.

It only occurred to me after I made, edited, and uploaded the video that I realized I’d just done my first vlog! Yeah, a vlog. Blogs I’m used to. Vlogs are entirely something new to me. I don’t regularly watch them, unless they’re full of unconventional humor (holler at my boy Thomas Sanders!). But me vlog? I never thought that would be something I’d do. I mean, I’ve considered doing a video of me reading from selected sections of my books, but I’ve never actually done it. Not sure why, maybe just because I’ve only used YouTube a couple of times to make and post videos, and they haven’t exactly gotten a lot of views.

But I made a vlog, and it was actually very nice. And it made me feel good that I made it. I put a positive message into the video, and from what Enjie tells me (her presentation was this morning), the portion of the video she used was received very positively by the people at her presentation. Because of all that, I thought I’d share the video with you guys, and see if maybe you find it as uplifting as others found it at the presentation. Enjoy:

How was that? Do you have any thoughts on what I had to say? Let me know in the comments below.

And as for whether I’ll actually try to make more videos in the future…I don”t know. Anything’s possible. At least I know I can and they can turn out half-decent. We’ll see what the future holds.

Well, I got another post scheduled for Saturday, so keep an eye out for it, folks. Until next time, my Followers of Fear.

Back in late 2012, I published a post about a guy who asked me point blank if I was autistic. It was a pretty irking episode for me, and I stewed over it for about a week before I posted about it.

Now, I do have autism spectrum disorder (though at that time, my condition was called PDD-NOS, and was considered an autism-related disorder. A couple years back they put out a new diagnostic manual for this sort of thing, and now PDD-NOS and Asperger’s are just plain autism. At least now it’s easier to say and remember). I contended then and I contend now that while I am on the spectrum, it does not define me or is the most definitive trait about me. I don’t say, “I’m on the spectrum, so I can’t do this or that.” Nor do I use it as an excuse to do things I know I shouldn’t. It’s just one facet in the many that make up my life.

But, as I grow older, I see more and more how my autism has affected my life, especially since graduating high school.

I honestly didn’t know I was even on the spectrum until I was in my late teens. Though honestly, spectrum is not the best term for autism. A spectrum makes you think of a long bar where whatever the bar signifies becomes more intense as you move further along it. Really, autism is a group of characteristics that present themselves in affected individuals, and differs from person to person. Perhaps a better name would be autism characteristics disorder, but I’m not on the board of whatever organization names these things. At any rate, I apparently displayed a lot of characteristics that typify autism from day one, according to my mother (and she’s pretty reliable on this kind of stuff). Of course, she and my dad didn’t realize what the problem was until I was in preschool or so. Up until that time, they just thought the stuff in the baby manuals didn’t apply for every baby. It wasn’t until a teacher told the I was having a hard time understanding what was being said to me that they realized I might be a bit more different than they imagined.

Thus started years of therapy, which I didn’t realize the purpose of until much later in life. I knew I was receiving one-on-one attention, and that I was the only person I knew doing so. I knew I had doctor’s appointments that other kids didn’t go to. I just didn’t question it or think about it too hard. It was part of life, like watching TV or sitting on the toilet. You can think about them pretty hard, but it’s not necessary.

I also didn’t think much about the repetitive behaviors I sometimes displayed, or how when certain things changed in my environment, it could upset me and totally ruin my day. And while I got along well with people, there were times where I would do something, someone would react badly, and I wouldn’t understand the big deal.

Understand, I’m high-functioning. I can get by in society pretty decently. I just see and interact with the world a bit differently. It’s like rearranging a puzzle piece to form a new picture, with the pieces being able to fit where they’re not supposed to go, and I don’t see the difference between the intended arrangement and my arrangement. And that’s probably why I didn’t realize until my late teens, when my mother clued me in that I was on the spectrum.

Autism is often like a weird arrangement of this.

Autism is often like a weird arrangement of this.

Of course, once I got to college, it became much more prevalent in my mental awareness. I met every week with a counselor at Ohio State’s Office of Disability Services, and partly through their intervention, I had my own dorm room with attached bathroom in one of the calmer dorms on the north end of campus for two whole years (among other benefits)! When I graduated, I got my internship in Germany through a program that helped people with disabilities get internships and jobs with the federal government, and a year later that same program helped me get my current position. In my job, I often help people with disabilities receive accommodations for their disabilities so they can continue in their jobs, and use my own disability to help me empathize with the people I’m working with.

So yeah, my ASD has had a huge effect on my life, whether I realized it or not.

But it does not define me. This blog isn’t Rami Ungar the Austistic, it’s Rami Ungar the Writer. I place a lot more emphasis on the writing aspect of my life to define who I am. Judaism as well: I think my religion has done quite a bit to shape me. Not to mention anime and manga, the many books I’ve read throughout the years, my relationships with people, the things I’ve learned in school, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. Those have had just as much effect on me as autism has. And that makes sense, because human beings (I admit, I am a human being, despite my best efforts to say otherwise) are multifaceted creatures. It’s rare when a single one is the defining quality.

And by the way, I don’t see my autism as a disability. I mean, it is a disability, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. Remember that puzzle metaphor? I see my ASD as an opportunity, an opportunity to see the world differently and use that viewpoint to make a difference. Whether that is through my writing, through work, or just by trying to be a decent person. And I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

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Yesterday I went to meet with some folks who I know through MAX, a program that helps and supports young professionals in my area. MAX has regular meet ups and events throughout the week, and on Fridays we meet at the local Starbucks to have coffee (or in my case, hot chocolate) and talk. This week’s meeting was especially interesting though, because someone brought a copy of The Quiet Game.

Now if you’re unfamiliar, The Quiet Game was the first book I ever published, a collection of five original short stories I wrote in late 2012 and early 2013. The woman who runs the MAX program, Angela, has been reading some of my work and brought the copy of The Quiet Game she borrowed from my sister (she’s part of MAX too). She also brought her laptop, because Angela wanted to leave a review on Amazon but had never done one before and she wanted me to show her how.

After solving some Wi-Fi problems (honestly, for a major coffee shop chain, Starbucks has some really terrible wireless service), I showed Angela how to leave a review, which she did right there and then in the coffee shop, giving The Quiet Game a five star review. Here’s what she had to say:

Addict is insanely AWESOME! The use of 2nd person language convicts the reader. One second you are relaxing with a short story, the next moment you are engaging in explicit sexual addiction… whoa!
Rami has a way of writing perspectives that is wise beyond his years…

“Addict” is a short story about a man with sex addiction trying to go clean. It’s told in the second person, so that’s why you’re the one who’s engaging in explicit sexual addiction.

I also noticed during this time that I had a review from September that I’d totally missed (how did that happen?) from someone named SavoirNoir, who gave The Quiet Game four stars and titled her review Decent collection of tales. Here’s what this reviewer had to say:

This is a serviceable set of stories. The best one is not the titular title story. I only really have two issues with the collection. One of them is the notes after the story. I never really liked the self-indulgence of the writer explaining afterwards. To be fair, that could be just me.

The best story in my opinion is the Lady Orgres Den. That one had great tension.

This reviewer is talking about “In The Lady Ogre’s Den”, about an autistic boy’s terrifying stay in a hospital after an accident. And speaking of that story, Angela, the very same woman who’d brought my sister’s copy to Starbucks with her, asked me to do a reading right there and then for the entire group.

Well, you know me. I love an audience and I love opportunities to get more people to read my work, so I agreed and ending up reading “In The Lady Ogre’s Den” to them. So for about the next twenty minutes or so, I read them the story. And you know what? Most of them listened. They were actually rapt with attention, making comments or praising my writing style or how I get into the mind of an autistic child. I don’t know if any of them will end up getting the book or any of the other books I’ve written, but by the end of it they were very impressed.

Which is my goal, of course. As you know, the subtitle of this blog is “Scared yet? My job here is done.” I also put that on my business cards, because it’s the truth. I want people to be scared and entertained, to enjoy my work and be enchanted and thrilled while reading it. Getting feedback like that is very gratifying for me, and while my throat was dry from non-stop talking by the end of the reading, I was very glad I’d agreed to Angela’s request and been able to pull these folks into a story for a little while.

And if reading this post made you want to check out The Quiet Game, by all means please do so. It’s a fun, creepy collection of stories, and it’s short too, so if you don’t want a long book this might be up your alley. You can get it both in paperback and in e-book by check it out on Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. And if you enjoyed reading the book, please let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love feedback, and I would love to hear yours.

That’s all for now. I might take a few days off to just do stuff other than blogging. However, if anything worth reporting comes up, you can expect me to let you guys know as soon as possible. Have a good day, my Followers of Fear!

Norman Bates, a prime example of a man with a mental illness in horror fiction.

I’ve been wanting to do a post for a while now that examines horror or literature but wasn’t my usual Reflections or Writing post. And then I read this article not too long ago on how mental illness is portrayed in anime (surprisingly anime takes a very honest and powerful take on the subject) and it got me thinking. It’s no secret that mental illness—or its more common designation, “insanity”—has been a huge part in horror fiction since the earliest days. The problem is, most of it tends to be pretty negative portrayals.

This is actually pretty sad, to say the least. Approximately one in three people worldwide will show enough symptoms to qualify as having a mental disorder at some point in their lives. In the United States alone, that number is nearly is nearly one in two. And a majority of these people are nonviolent. I should know. I’ve known various people throughout my life with some form of mental illness, both family and friends, and I have been open in the past about being on the autism spectrum myself. None of these people I know would hurt a fly, and I could never hurt anyone outside of one of my own stories.

This is quite different from horror fiction, where we have a variety of characters with all sorts of mental illness–Annie Wilkes, Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees, etc.–who are as violent and dangerous as they come. What gives?

So I’m going to do a series of posts, over the many months, about how mental illness is portrayed within horror fiction. Now, I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I’m a horror novelist. And God knows I haven’t seen or read every horror story out there. Not even some of the classics. But like I said, I will try my best to go over this subject with the respect and care it deserves. I will do case studies, maybe make some recommendations, and maybe even ask the question: is the portrayal of mental illness in horror fiction good or bad.

And if one can write characters, particularly villains, with mental illnesses. And by one, I might mean me.

In the meantime, if you, my Followers of Fear, can give me any recommendations to help me write this series of posts–whether it’s films or books to check out, articles that have already gone over the subject, etc.–let me know. I could use all the help I can get for this massive undertaking.

Heck, if you’d like to write a guest post, I’d be more than willing to consider it.

That’s all for now. In addition to this series, I’ve got a bunch of posts I plan to put out over the coming days and weeks, so keep an eye out for them! Have a good week, my Followers of Fear.