Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Street Photography

I have always liked taking pictures, but most of the pictures I take are of people I know, or my pets, or things like that. My uncle is really into photography, and he's been offering to teach me some things. He even lent me one of his cameras to use! 

One thing my uncle has mentioned a few times is that the photographers he admires the most do not take pictures of nature and landscapes, or inanimate objects, or even of animals. They take pictures of people. And not even people they know personally. More like, artistic photos of random people. Photographers who take interesting pictures of people seem to be the most popular. 

I thought that one reason people like to look at photos of other people... even people that they don't know... is that it gives them a feeling of connection. Here is an example.
Here is a photo of a tree. (I didn't take it. I found it on Google Images.)
When I look at this photo of a tree, I think, "Wow, that is a cool tree! Very beautiful! And the sky looks magical! So lovely."

Now here is a picture of a 6-year-old Afghan child refugee who was living in the slums of Pakistan when the picture was taken. (I found it on the website.)
When I look at this photo, I think, "Where is this little girl's family? Is she safe? What is she thinking about? Is she sad? Scared? Hungry? I want to learn more about the circumstances that led to her being a refugee."

My point is that nature pictures, landscapes, buildings, abstract photos, etc, may be beautiful and may bring out different feelings in the person looking at them. But photos of people make you think, and ask questions, and make a connection with the person you are looking at.

Both my uncle and I were interested in taking pictures of people. But we weren't sure how to go about it. If you ask people if you can take their picture, if they agree to it they are likely to pose or smile or fix their hair or whatever, and that can take away from the genuineness of the photo. But if you take their picture without asking them, they might punch you!

My plan was to try to take pictures without even looking through the camera viewer. I was trying to take pictures without being noticed. This resulted in my getting a lot of pictures of people's feet and elbows and stuff. But I did get a few good ones!
Here are the two best photos I managed to get. What do you think of them?

I also did take some non-human photography of interesting things I saw. Such as...
this silly iconic street sign. Probably everyone who has ever been to Portland has taken a picture of this sign. 

This building, which has been painted to look awesome, but seems to be empty inside. (Also why are the Apple and Shell Oil symbols included on the painting?) 

These buildings, just because I sometimes like taking pictures at weird angles. 

I took this picture because I was, for some reason, amused by the promise of "ALL NU E REVUE.". 

This hotel is not in Butte, so why is it called the Butte Hotel? I liked the sign because it looked old. 

This statue is called a Shi, or Fu, and is supposed to bring good luck and ward off evil. It is found by the gates to Chinatown in Portland. 

Another building I found interesting. 

This picture of a little kid dancing in a fountain turned out blurry, but I still liked it, so I Just made it even more blurry with the photo editor. 

I love these spinny things. I want to buy one, someday when I have enough money to randomly buy things. 

This one is actually me waiting for the MAX train. I was standing under the glass shelter and looking up at my reflection. Kind of cool, huh?

I think photography will be a fun hobby. What kinds of photos do you like to take? What kinds do you like to look at? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Traveling WIth A Psychiatric Service or Emotional Support Animal

Lily being a good sport during our long delay.
 Hi everyone! I promised a while back that I'd write this post reviewing my experiences traveling with my little service dog, Lily, when I went to Chicago and back a few weeks ago.

Because I am guessing this post might be found by a few non-regular readers who are looking for information about the topic, I will start out by giving you a little bit of info!

First of all I should explain the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Animal. The main difference is that a SERVICE animal is trained to do specific things in order to help the person with the psychiatric condition. A SUPPORT animal just helps you by existing and offering the comfort that a pet would offer. A SUPPORT animal is supposed to be prescribed to you by a doctor or mental health professional. So for instance, a random person can't just say, "I will feel better if my dog comes with me on the plane." You have to have a condition that would make it difficult for you to travel without a support animal.

Here are some fictional examples I am just going to make up to illustrate the point.

Tom has schizophrenia. Sometimes he experiences hallucinations and becomes very upset. Other times, he becomes extremely withrawn and disconnected from himself. Tom's dog Spike is trained to notice or sense when Tom is about to have an episode. Spike knows how to jump up on Tom and interrupt him when he's getting upset. Spike can also paw at and lick Tom to help him "come back" from being withdrawn and disconnected. Spike is also trained to carry Tom's medication, bring it to him at a certain time each day, and paw at, bark at, or otherwise bother Tom until he takes his meds. This is why Spike is a Psychiatric Service Dog.

Julie has an anxiety disorder. She gets very anxious about being out of her house and being around a lot of people. Being on an airplane is extremely stressful to her because she has to be around people, up in the air, with no way of escape. Julie has noticed that her pet dog, Tricky, has a very calming effect on her. When Julie feels herself becoming anxious, she can focus on Tricky, pet him and hug him, and start to calm herself down. Julie has talked about this with her therapist, and her therapist feels that Tricky is an important part of Julie's treatment plan. Tricky is an Emotional Support Animal.

Alyssa does not enjoy flying. She always gets a little tense at takeoff and landing. Alyssa has a dog named Pooky, and she wonders if bringing Pooky on the plane with her would distract her and make flying on an airplane more tolerable. But since Alyssa does not have any diagnosable psychiatric or emotional condition, Pooky is really a pet

The part where it gets a little hazy is the fact that there are now companies that will diagnose you with an anxiety disorder, and prescribe you an Emotional Support Animal, for a certain amount of money. They will try to get extra money from you by having you purchase extra things, such as a special vest or identification card.

The fact is, a Service Animal is not required to wear a vest or have an identification card. Service animals are not required to be certified or registered or anything else. If a person walks into a public place with a service dog, employees are not allowed to ask what your disability is, or ask you to have your dog demonstrate what he is trained to do. They can really only ask, "Is that a service animal?" and "What is he trained to do?" That is it. The real "proof" of whether it is a real service dog or not would be the dog's behavior. A service dog needs to be under the control of his handler at all times. If the dog is jumping at the end of his leash, running around a restaurant trying to jump on tables, having accidents on the floor, etc, he is not a trained service dog.

However, airlines seem to not differentiate between a Psychiatric Service Animal and  an Emotional Support Animal. A person who needs a service dog for any other disability or condition needs only to show up with their service animal, and possibly answer the questions, "Is that a service dog?" and "What is he trained to do?" But people with Psychiatric Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals need to arrange it with the airline ahead of time, and be able to show a letter from their doctor or mental health professional stating that they need the animal.

Okay. Now that we alll understand that...

The airline I flew to and from Chicago was Spirit Airlines. I knew months ahead of time that I was going to be flying a lot with Lily, so I sent out emails to several different airlines, asking about their service dog policies. I chose Spirit because they sent me the most personal and detailed response, explaining exactly what I'd need to show them and what they could offer me. They even let Lily and I sit in a special row of seats with more legroom, for no extra charge. This was a really good thing, because Spirit is a no-frills airline with really tight seats, and if we had sat in the regular seats we would not have fit. As it was, it was a tight squeeze.

Anyways. I had to bring a letter from my therapist, saying that my service dog was necessary for me to manage my symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Generalized Anxiety. All I had to do was bring this letter to the "check in" area when I got to the airport. The people at the front desk looked over it, and made a little note on my boarding pass. (Some airlines are more stringent about this and ask you to actually fax the letter several days ahead of time so that they can call your doctor and verify it. If you are going to fly with a Psychiatric Service dog or Emotional Support Animal, you should call or email the airline as early as possible to find out exactly what they need you to do.)

That part was easy. The next part we had to conquer was going through security. I really hate going through security because I sometimes have trouble understanding the instructions they tell me, and I get all mixed up. I feel like there is a timer set and I have 30 seconds to get my shoes off, put everything into the baskets, put my backpack and baskets on the conveyer belt, go through the x-ray vision thing, and then quickly collect all my things on the other side. I've had to learn to take my time and not worry about what the people behind me might be thinking!

The only thing that was different about going through security with a service dog was that they had to swipe my hands with some sort of cloth and then put it into a machine to test, in case I had traces of explosives on my hands. I am not exactly sure why that is. It has something to do with the fact that they cannot let me let go of Lily's leash as I go through the X-ray machine. But couldn't I just as easily have traces of explosives on my hand if I wasn't carrying a leash? I was a little confused about that. But the security people were basically friendly and it wasn't hard or anything. (I did hear one of them making a remark to another one about how annoyed he gets when people pay those special companies to give them an Emotional Support Animal letter. I don't know if he was implying that I had done that?)

We were also allowed to get onto the plane with the first boarding group, when they announced that they are boarding people with disabilities or people with young children who need extra time. It is supposed to give us a few extra minutes to get situated in our seat.

I was really worried about how Lily would act on the plane. She has ridden on all sorts of forms of transportation and she is always perfect, but since planes go up in the air and none of those other modes of transportation do, I was worried about whether the air pressure would bother her or anything. It is impossible to train a dog to ride on an airplane, without actually riding on the airplane! I was imagining her howling with pain because her ears were hurting or something. But I shouldn't have worried! Lily laid in my lap the whole time and barely moved. It was very uncomfortable for both of us, because the seats are ridiculously narrow. I couldn't really read or anything because there was a lug of a dog on my lap. (In hindsight I could have had her sit on the floor I guess.)

The flight attendants were very nice to both of us, and told me to ask them if Lily needed a drink of water during the flight.

And really, that is it. It was very simple. The only bad thing (which was not Spirit's fault) was that O'Hare doesn't have any animal relief areas (potty break areas for dogs) once you get past security. I had let Lily go potty right before my flight both times. But going back, we got delayed several hours. I wasn't sure how much longer we'd be delayed for because they kept changing it, and I was worried that Lily might have to go to the bathroom eventually. She is really good at holding it, but I didn't want her to be miserable! But in order to take her out, I would have had to leave through the front door of the airport, and then go all the way back through security and do the whole thing over again. This would be easier if there were multiple people together, because then one person could watch all of the carry-on stuff while the other took the dog out, and this way going back through security would be a lot more simple. But this time, it was just me and Lily! Luckily, she was fine.

I am going to be flying back to Chicago again for Thanksgiving, and I will be on a different airline, mostly just because Spirit didn't have a flight that would be convenient for me during the time I need to go there. So I will be able to review another airline as well! In the mean time, I'd love to hear about your experiences traveling with a Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Not Knowing What I Need

I am not sure if others with Aspergers can relate to this, but one of the hardest things about having "High Functioning Autism" (as well as ADHD and some mental health diagnoses) is that you are sometimes assumed and expected to be more "high functioning" than you are. Or sometimes, in the opposite situation, you are assumed to be much more helpless than you are.

I am not sure how best to explain this, but let me try.

Think about an adult who is considered to be "disabled." (I know many people do not like to think of themselves as disabled and may have different words for it. I am using the word disabled in this blog entry because I'm trying to describe how a person might be seen by society in general.) People with mostly physical challenges might only need special equipment and adaptations in order to be very independent and self-sufficient. A person who uses a wheelchair to get around can probably do almost everything a "nondisabled" peer can do, although they will have to work harder in order to do it! But if they had the right equipment and adaptations (for instance, wheelchair ramps and elevators to get around a building) they are not really DISabled.

However, a person with a cognitive disability might need a lot more help. While their body may be fully functional, they may need help with a wide range things. The most "low functioning" adult might be similar to a small child and need to be helped with bathing, getting dressed, eating, toileting, etc. A more "high functioning": person with a cognitive disability might become very independent and just need a little bit of backup... for instance, a job coach to help them get and keep a job, and life skills training to help them learn how to take care of their own apartment and manage their own money.

Even a person with mental health challenges might need help living independently and may need a lot of the same help that a high functioning cognitively disabled person might need.

A person with no disability, or with only mild disabilities, might be able to live completely independently. For instance, a person with ADHD or a learning disability can usually hold a full time job and run their household with no help. If they do have trouble keeping a job, the help they get would usually be in the form of short-term, solution-based counseling, or more expensive "life coaching."

And then there is me. And I often feel that I need more help than others think I am entitled to.

Have I lost you? Let me try to explain better.

I have Aspergers, ADHD, and depression and anxiety. I am also considered to be smart, mostly based on my ability to write and my ability to work with kids. This is really hard for me to explain, so please stick with me here!

I am good at working with kids. I love kids, I am very sensitive to their needs, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to find ways to meet their needs and help them do their best.

I went to college. I obtained a bachelor's degree, and later a teaching license. By taking a bunch of tests, I was able to get "Highly qualified teacher" status. But an administrator who looks at my college transcripts will see that my grades ranged from A's all the way down to D's. Why? Because, although I didn't start college until I was about 23, and it took me almost 10 years to get through, it was a huge struggle for me. The times I did best was when I was somehow able to work out a way to take only a few classes, while working very part time. I did this by staying with my parents and getting financial aid from the college. The times that I tried to push myself by taking a full load of classes and working part time, or working full time and taking evening classes, were the times that my grades started to slide. My old ADHD problems got in my way... at one point, a professor took me aside and told me that I should probably reconsider being a teacher, because teachers needed to be very organized and focused, whereas I, even on meds, had a mind like a tornado. My mental health problems also took their toll... when I started to get overwhelmed, I would end up skipping classes or skipping work, or both, in order to vegetate at home.

(This, by the way, doesn't help with getting a teaching job. People look at those transcripts and judge you. They really do. Maybe they didn't used to, but when they're trying to weed out candidates from a pool of 1000, they can afford to push aside the people who once got a D in Educational Curriculum and only got a C in Pre-Student-Teaching and switched colleges 4 times and took 10 years to graduate!)

The times that I was at my best were when I was student teaching, and more recently when I was working as a site leader for the day camp for kids with special needs. Because, you see, I am capable of doing these things. BUT it is important to note that, during both of these times, I did nothing else. I had to come home each day and go right to sleep. Keeping my mind focused and organized, and dealing with the anxiety and the social requirements and trying to hold myself together all day absorbed all of my energy, I did nothing else.

My disabilities are like whack-a-mole. I am dealing with the attention and organizational problems, I am dealing with emotional problems, I am dealing with autism problems... and when I've got a handle on most of these things, one gets loose and pops up.

Yet, because I was able, for a few periods of time, to do these jobs, if I am not functioning at my best people think I am being lazy!

I feel like I only have two choices in life. I could completely give in to my disabilities, give up trying, seek help, and get on disability benefits. This would mean I might eventually get to live in my own apartment and have someone helping me to hold things together, but I would probably never get to pursue my dreams of being a teacher and evening opening my own school, being a foster parent, and having lots of animals such as goats and burros and ducks.

And what is my other choice? It is somewhat of a non-choice... to keep on trying to do things that I am not completely capable of doing on my own.

You probably are looking at me funny

Okay, think about this. If I were an adult with Down syndrome, for example... and lets say everything else about me stays the same, I still have ADHD problems, still have autism, still have depression and anxiety, still have social problems, everything else is just as it is... then some sorts of organizations would probably be helping me find a job, and the people at my job would be taught about my disability and what I could do and what I'd need help with, and they'd help me get a place to live and they'd help me manage things and people would think I was awesome for being so independent despite having Down syndrome. But probably nobody would hire a person with Down syndrome to be a teacher. Maybe they'd be a great teacher if given the chance, but they would not get that chance, and that would suck for them if that was their dream. They'd probably be encouraged to get a job in a day care center as an assistant, or something. And a person with Down syndrome has no way of hiding their Down syndrome. But a person with autism is expected to hide it and fake it until they make it. Even if you do disclose that you have autism, you have to show that you can do everything a typical person can do. Because if you don't, you are just like the person with Down syndrome, not being given a chance. But if you do get the chance, you can't get much help.

I mean, even looking into things like recreational opportunities for people with mental health issues... I have to think, "I would love something like that. It would be good for me. But if I had a job, and someone from my work saw me being a client of this organization that serves people with mental health issues... or people with disabilities or people with whatever..."

Does anyone understand what I'm saying? Do I make any sense at all? 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

September Is Here

Hi everyone! I'm trying to keep blogging every few days, although today I have to admit my heart is not really in it. I spent today at the hospital with my family member while she underwent some testing... they know for sure that she has bone cancer, but they are just not sure how bad yet. I guess we will find out next week, but by then I will be back in Washington! 

I spent most of the time just sitting in the waiting room because I couldn't go in while they were actually testing. After the tests were over, we did get to have some fun... we went to the French Market. This place is really cool. You have to go down into a tunnel that is underneath the train station! Once you go down there, you see several stores, and one of them is the French Market. It looks from the outside like it is just a small little store, but inside it is huge, and they are selling all different kinds of foods from all different countries and cultures! We got some gelato (my flavor was blueberry french toast!) and then we went upstairs and caught the train. I felt like I had just discovered a secret world! 

So that part was fun. But weighing heavily on my mind was the fact that she has cancer in the first place. And that anything can happen. I keep starting to say a prayer, but then I remember how hard I prayed for Ken to be okay, while he was in a coma, and how he died anyways, and then I realized that whether she gets better or worse has nothing to do with how hard I or anyone else prays. What is going to happen is going to happen. That is terrifying to me!

The good news is that Ken's dog Nevis has found a home. One of Ken's good friends was the lady who owns all the goats that I went to see one day. She also owns 4 dogs already, including a border collie. She and Ken both sent their border collies to doggie day care once a week, and they took turns shuttling the dogs back and forth. The dogs spent a lot of time at each other's houses, and this was where Nevis has been staying since Ken went into the hospital. Her husband thought they shouldn't keep Nevis, because they already have 4 dogs and 11 goats. But finally, last night, they decided that they could keep him. So now at least I don't have to worry about that!

It is still hard to think about Ken being gone. I am starting to have a theory that the world is ending.

It is hard to think about going back to Washington in a few days. I do want to go back and I miss everyone and everything there. But it has felt so normal to be back. And although I will be back for Thanksgiving, in light of recent circumstances I am always afraid that when I leave someone it might be the last time I see them! 

Here is a picture (alienized) of Ken and Nevis, on one of our group hikes a few months ago. 

Okay, thats it for now! Over and out!