Autism, The Friendship Void, and The Communication Chasm

Posted by TechyDad on November 17, 2015 under Aspergers, Autism

autism-chasmAt a local Autism support group we belong to, we recently covered the subject of friendships. Kids with Autism can find friendships more difficult to form and keep than their neurotypical peers. We went over ways to help out kids, strategies we could employ, and pitfalls to avoid.

Overall, the night was very productive, but it did make me realize that this is one area of life that I’m not going to be able to help NHL much with. As it stands, I have no friends of my own. I have people I feel I can be open with to some degree at work. I have people I can talk to on social media. However, when it comes to actual, real life friends to hang out with our talk to, I don’t have any.

For me, it goes beyond not having any friends, though. I honestly don’t know HOW to make friends. The idea of walking up to some stranger and introducing myself fills me with anxiety. My mind will go completely blank and I won’t be able to introduce myself much less carry on a conversation. If I do manage to get a conversation going, I’m likely to forget about how conversations need to give and take. I’ll dominate the conversation – talking only about myself and not asking about them. It’s not that I’m trying to be rude. It’s just that chit chat doesn’t always come naturally to me.

Work friendships tend to be easier since I can initially limit conversations to work topics, slowly expanding the range as I feel more comfortable.  These friendships are self-limited by the fact that they take place at work, though.  No matter how comfortable I might feel around a work-friend, there are just some topics are off limits that would not be unusual to discuss with a friend from outside of work.  The same holds true for social media friends.  I feel more comfortable typing responses rather than talking (more on that later) so social media is a perfect outlet.  However, again, this tends to be self-limiting.  When I feel like complaining about something or someone, a public forum is not always the proper venue.  After all, a conversation with a friend can be private.  Tweets are not.

Of course, this situation isn’t new. I wrote about this way back in 2009 and again in 2011. Most days, I manage to hold myself together just fine, but recent changes have been happening in my life that have weakened me. I can’t stand change normally, but change plus a realization of how I don’t have friends? I’m barely keeping it together now.  This is where a neurotypical person would know exactly how to express these feelings. For me, though, it tends to be more complicated.

First of all, my emotional cage tends to keep all of these feelings bottled up. I feel like there’s a chasm between me and everyone else. I want to tell the people on the other side how I’m feeling, but I can’t shout it loud enough for them to hear.  To make matters worse, the stronger my emotions, the harder it is for me to express them. The worse I feel and the more I need other people’s support, the less I am able to let others know what it is I need.

The one reliable communication method I have is writing. When I write, I can type out my feelings, edit them, reword them multiple times, and hone the message until it’s perfect. Writing also lets me express myself without fear of immediate negative reaction. In contrast, talking to people requires me to come up with the perfect phrasing on the fly (with no undo capability) while risking rejection or mockery if I don’t get it just right.

Then, just when it seemed like interpersonal communication was as hard as it could possibly get, my brain tosses in one more curveball. In Battling My Own Brain, I wrote that my mind will play this refrain for me over and over:

Nobody loves me.  Nobody understands me.  The world is against me.  People are doing things to hurt me on purpose.

This morphs slightly when I plan conversations in my mind. My mind will fill in the replies with the worst possible responses that can be uttered. If it’s a mental conversation with my manager, my brain will have him firing me for no good reason. If I’m picturing a discussion with my wife, my mind will steer it so that she demands a divorce.  To be clear, neither of these things have happened and I have no evidence that either one is anywhere in the realm of possibility at the moment or for the foreseeable future.  Still, lack of proof doesn’t stop my brain from devising nightmare scenarios.

As you might imagine, this does NOT help with my communication issues. I often begin conversations upset from imagined slights and on the defensive over even the slightest wrong turn the discussion takes. It takes a lot of mental willpower to see through my mind’s deception. It feels all too easy to fall into despair over imagined slights.  I also need to use a lot of mental resources to not only push past the emotional instinct to stay quiet but to figure out the proper on-the-fly responses during a conversation.  All too often, this requires more than I have and I wind up feeling like a prisoner in my own mind. I’m trying to scream to be let out, but no words come to me. I want to hang out with a group of friends to discuss hobbies, current events, and personal issues, but friendship requires communication which can be very difficult.  Many days all I’m left with is a brain that seems determined to sabotage any effort I make to communicate with others.

NOTE: The chasm image above is by Pearson Scott Foresman and was donated to Wikimedia Foundation as public domain.  (I added the tiny "Help!")

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Holiday Decoration Nightmares

Posted by TechyDad on November 5, 2015 under Holidays, Photos, Videos

Halloween is the season for some truly terrifying decorations.


Happy Halloween, everyone!

A video posted by Techy Dad (@techydad) on

Now that Halloween over, though, it’s time to set our sights on the next major holiday in the United States. No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving. Technically, that is the next one up, but retailers are quick to skip right over it to get their Christmas on.

You normally wouldn’t think about Christmas as having terrifying decorations. At least, not unless Jack Skellington was responsible for them. While this doesn’t look like Jack’s handiwork, it is still plenty terrifying:

This is the stuff of holiday nightmares!

A video posted by Techy Dad (@techydad) on


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A Cable Cutting Guide

Posted by TechyDad on October 30, 2015 under Television

Back in March, I wrote about how we finally cancelled our cable. We marched into our cable company’s office, cable boxes in hand, and told them to cancel our cable TV service. What I didn’t detail was the years long process we went through before we got to this point. If you are wondering whether cutting cable is right for you, following my steps will help you figure it out.

Step 1: What Shows Are Must Watch?

First, make a list of the shows that you watch.  (I used a spreadsheet because, later on, you need to total costs.) This list can tend to be looking as we often fill our time with TV shows that we don’t really care about. So filter this list by asking yourself the question: If I missed an episode of this show, would it matter to me? If it would, then add it to the list. If you wouldn’t often care if you missed it, leave the show off of the list.

Where Are The Shows Available?

Now that you have your list of shows, you can figure out how you’re going to watch them sans cable.  If you don’t care whether you keep up to date on the shows’ latest season, Netflix or Amazon Prime will often have previous seasons’ episodes available. Your local library might also have DVDs of shows that you can borrow.  If you must stay up to date, Hulu can often have episodes posted the day after they air. Sling TV will also give you access to many channels. You might also be able to purchase an antenna to receive channels Over The Air (OTA).  If neither of these suit your needs, you can always purchase your shows on an episode by episode or season by season basis from Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, or Apple’s iTunes.

How Will You Watch The Shows?

Without a cable box hooked to your TV, you’ll need another way to view programs. Depending on the methods your decide upon to get your shows (Netflix, Amazon, antenna), you might use a Smart TV or Blu-Ray player that you already own.  Otherwise, you might purchase a Roku box, a Chromecast, or an Amazon FireTV.

How Much Will This All Cost?

Once you’ve figured out what shows you will be watching and how you’ll be watching them, it’s time to add up the recurring costs.  Factor in subscription fees for services such as Netflix or Hulu and episode/season purchases (either from online sources like Amazon VOD or disc-based sources like DVD purchases).  Next, total up one-time costs like buying a Roku.  Once you have your "Cord Cutting Costs" totaled up, it’s time to call your cable company.  Ask them how much it would cost to switch to their Internet-only plan.  This should tell you how much you would save by cancelling cable and getting your video entertainment from other sources.

Not For Everyone

Of course, you might find that you wouldn’t save by cancelling cable.  Perhaps you watch too many shows and purchasing them all would raise your "cord cutting" rate above cable TV.  Or maybe you like watching live sports and can’t find an acceptable online source.

Then there’s the possibility that your cable company is actively working against you cutting the cord.  Unfortunately, some cable companies use their monopoly (or duopoly) wired, broadband Internet access to prop up their non-monopoly TV business.  They’re doing this by, among other things, making Internet-only plans more expensive than Internet+Cable TV plans.  This keeps people on cable TV (since it’s cheaper) and reduces the official numbers of cord cutters.  Even if you put the cable box in the closet and never hook it up, you’ll be counted as a cable TV subscriber.

Even if your "cable cutting" cost is more than the cost of staying with cable TV, this exercise might still be worthwhile.  It might reveal shows that you really don’t care enough about to keep watching.  In addition, cable rates seem to rise every year.  Combine that with the fact that the online options increase every year and what isn’t cost effective you this year might wind up being worthwhile in a year or two.

Have you considered cancelling cable?  If you did and didn’t go through with it, why not?  If you did and cut cable, have you missed cable at all?

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Apple Cooking Craze

Posted by TechyDad on October 20, 2015 under Cooking

applesOne of the advantages to living in upstate NY is that, every fall, the apple trees become laden with their wonderfully tasty fruit. It’s an annual tradition of ours to go to an apple orchard and pick our own apples. They but only wind up being less expensive than store bought apples, but the kids have a blast going from tree to tree plucking the fruit themselves.  A couple of weeks ago, I took the boys to Indian Ladder Farms. There we picked apples, saw some animals (some of which the boys got to pet), and has a blast. When we got home, I weighed our apple haul: 44.5 pounds.

I had a taste test of the types of apples we picked and the consensus was that one of them wasn’t very good. It was way too tart to just eat. It would be, however, perfect for baking.

I began with some apple muffins. I figured these would be good for a breakfast or school snacks. I also thought that the 2 cups chopped apples that the recipe called for would put a nice dent in our apple supply. Imagine my shock when it only used up two apples.


The end result, though, was great. My boys loved eating the muffins and they were soon running low. I could have made another batch of muffins, but decided to try making an apple bread instead.  (I’ve since made that second batch of muffins, but I wanted to go for variety at the time.)

My apple bread recipe called for three cups of apples. Sure enough, this used up three more apples. The apple bread was just as good as the muffins with the added bonus of being simpler to make. I didn’t need to measure out individual muffin cups of batter, I just dumped the batter into two loaf pans.  The only downside was that individual muffin cups makes for easy portioning.


With the apple bread behind me, I began to get ambitious. I was going to make an apple pie. Sure, it was using a store bought, frozen pie crust, but that’s ambitious for me. B found a recipe that has a crumble topping instead of a pie crust top.

The pie began pretty well. It used up five whole apples! The apple mixture was done and placed in the pie crust. Then, I worked on the crumble topping. At first, it seemed that something went horribly wrong. It just didn’t look right to me. Still, I poured the topping over the apples and placed it in the oven.

pie-1 pie-2 pie-3

Boy was I wrong about that topping. The pie came out looking and smelling amazing. After it cooled down a bit, I sliced into it and let out and audible "oooh." This pie kept looking better and better.

Then we tasted it.

It was amazing. B has declared that I’m to make pies more often. (We had a second pie crust and I’ve since made a second pie.)

Next up was a fish dinner I had planned without any side dishes. I suddenly realized I should make something using apples. A quick recipe search and I had something to try. Sauteed apples with brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. This recipe used six apples and cooked quickly in one pot.

I didn’t get a good photo because we were to busy eating this dish. It was really good and would work as a side dish, snack, or even as a dessert. (I want to make more and serve it warm over vanilla ice cream.)  This is as good as I got of the skillet apples:


Finally, B wanted me to make an apple french toast casserole.  Six apples later, the dish was chilling in the fridge overnight.


This was incredible.  The only downside here is that I’m attempting to watch my calories and this clocked in at a diet busting 1,000 calories per serving!

As much as these recipes used up, our fridge is still packed with apples. It looks like I’ll still be on the hunt for more dishes that include apples.

What are your favorite apple recipes? The more apples they use up, the better.

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Perks From Being Bullied? I Don’t Think So!

Posted by TechyDad on October 16, 2015 under Aspergers, Autism, Bullies

Recently, a tweet crossed my stream lambasting someone for writing an article about all of the benefits kids with Autism get when they were bullied. I couldn’t believe it. Surely, nobody could seriously argue that being bullied actually helped kids. I was sure that the article would be dripping in sarcasm with "benefits" like "stops trying to socialize with anyone so they don’t get hurt" or "learns not to trust anyone ever." Instead, the article actually claimed all sorts of benefits that kids on the spectrum could get by being bullied.

I’m both the parent of a child with Autism and has been bullied and someone with Autism who was bullied growing up. My bullying experience left me scarred for many years. Any insinuation that being bullied is a good thing that strengthens kids hits close to home. Needless to say this article upset me.  I know I should treat this article’s author using the classical "Don’t feed the troll" method, but I get the feeling that the author seriously believes her words. Furthermore, I fear that someone without experience with bullying or Autism might believe what she writes to be the truth. Therefore, I’ve decided to post a point by point refutation of her article. I’ll give each way she claims bullying makes kids with Autism stronger, a synopsis of her reasoning, and then an explanation of why she’s wrong.  (I’ll note that I’m not going to link to the original article as I don’t want to give it any more traffic than it has already gotten.)

Promoting Autism-Friendly Programs

The author claims that bullying can be the result of misunderstandings about why children with autism soak and act the way that they do. This, she concludes, the bullying is a good thing because it can be used as an opportunity to educate.

There is a grain of truth in here. Bullying can be done out of a lack of understanding. Also, educating students about why a child is acting the way he acts is a good thing. That being said, an act of bullying – even if it is used to begin an education campaign – is NOT a good event. At best, you are trying to take a bad situation and prevent more bad situations from occurring. We wouldn’t say that it’s a good thing that someone came down with an illness because then they can educate others about the affliction.

Team Work

The author claims that a bullying event will cause you to work closely with teachers, aides, counselors, principals, etc. Since this is a good thing, the author says, it means the bullying was good for the child.

Again, the author mistakes a good follow-up from bullying with the bullying itself being good. Working with your child’s school is good whether or not your child has been bullied. Bullying doesn’t make this partnership good. Again, you’re trying to help prevent further bad events in the future. This doesn’t mean that bullying is good.

Autism Awareness Every Month

The author makes the claim that bullying kids with Autism raises awareness of Autism.

Raising awareness of autism (and of bullying) is a good thing, but there are better ways of doing this than via being bullied. The ends don’t justify the means.

Kids Learn Skills

The author claims that dealing with bullies teaches communication (both verbal and nonverbal) as well as "survival skills, civil liberties, and independence."

I couldn’t disagree more. Being bullied will taught me NOT to communicate with others. The more verbal or nonverbal communication, the more ammunition I handed my bullies to use against me. Bullying will just frustrate kids with Autism, not make them feel more comfortable socializing.

Builds Strength

The author’s theory is that bullying builds strength in a child with autism because they grow closer to parents, friends, and teachers.

This is total bull. Bullying doesn’t give a child stronger ties, it weakens ties. It makes children feel inferior, threatened, and like they have no safe place. Bullied kids often feel like they can’t talk to their parents, teachers, or friends about being bullied because they might be seen as weak. Bullying isolates kids, plain and simple.

Furthermore, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that bullied kids receive support from those around them. Perhaps the bully is a popular star quarterback and dealing with the bullying might mean the team does poorly.  Maybe the school administrators are in denial about their school having a bullying problem and so don’t want to hear about any incidents.  In either situation, the person who is bullied can be shamed and pressured into either staying silent or even into "admitting" that they were the cause of the incidents.  When this happens, the bullied child won’t feel closer to people, but even further isolated and alone.

More Friendships

The author claims that discussing the bullying can lead to more people being friends with the bullied child. In addition, the author contests that bullied kids will seek out new friends and new social activities.

Again, the author is wrong. A bullied child will feel isolated from his or her peers, not drawn to new peers. When social interactions – already a situation that makes those with autism nervous – becomes associated with all of the negatives of bullying, a child with autism is more likely to withdraw within himself or herself and not try to make new friends.

Overall Well-Being

The author contests that teachers looking out for bullying can supervise and intervene better.

Like some previous arguments, the author is both right and wrong. Alert teachers can supervise, intervene, and prevent future bullying. However, this being said, this doesn’t mean that bullying can take the credit for the higher rate of intervention. If a rash of muggings caused people to take self defense courses, the muggers wouldn’t get thanks for any benefits that the self defense courses provided.

Healthy Relationships

The author thinks that bullied kids will learn valuable skills that they can apply to sibling rivalry, "stranger danger," or other threats.

My bullying experience led to anything BUT healthy relationships. When I was bullied, I became so paranoid that I thought that anyone laughing was laughing AT me. This didn’t help me deal with confrontation, it taught me to withdraw further into myself to better protect myself. A child with autism who is bullied might also think that – as horrible as they felt when they were bullied – this is how people treat each other. Without intending to be mean, the child might become a bully himself simply because he’s modeling his social behavior off the wrong people.

Increased Life Skills

The author claims that the bullied child will become a better citizen and act nicely towards others.

When I was growing up, my mother has a poem on the refrigerator called Children Learn What They Live. In short, if a child is raised encountering a behavior, they will think of that behavior as normal and emulate it. A child raised being tormented will learn that fear is the norm. Even if the child winds up being kind so that others aren’t bullied, this didn’t excuse the bullying. It’s more a testament to the child’s reaction to the bullying and not something to thank the bullies over.


The author contends that bullied children get self-confidence and improve their self esteem.

I don’t know what bullied child (if any) she looked at, but I certainly didn’t learn self esteem from being bullied. On the contrary, I learned that I was nothing but the target for everyone’s abuse, I was powerless to change this, and I should withdraw from the world as much as possible. It was only when I went to college – escaping the bullying I suffered in high school – that I started to learn that I was a good person who could have good friends and could contribute to social situations without people mistreating me.

While it is true that people’s reactions to bullying can lead to positive events, this didn’t mean that bullying is a great thing that should be celebrated. Any positive outcome from reactions to bullying are thanks to the people who help out the child being bullied. The bully and his or her actions are not to be credited with any of this. For as much positive that people can make out of the bad situations that is bullying, much more good would come to pass is there was no bullying in the first place.

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