Tag Archives: autistic experience

Autism and Thinking in Layers

As a little girl, there was a single movie screen in my mind where I created one still life picture at a time. There was only room for one picture at a time. Pictures were created by the words people said. It was never a problem to add something more to the current picture.

For example, if plans were made to go to the park I would see myself swinging on a swing. Then, if it started to rain, I would add raindrops to the picture. Raindrops would not change anything at all about swinging on a swing at the park. I couldn’t understand why anyone would say that we could not go to the park because it was raining. It certainly didn’t look that way to me!

I had no idea that others were experiencing the world in a different way.

When I was a teenager I was institutionalized. One day, some girls in the dayroom were busy writing a story. As they talked, their words went up on my screen producing a picture. Then, all of a sudden, the girls changed part of their story. One girl tipped her pencil upside down, erased a few lines, and wrote in a new version.

Normally, this would mean I’d have to destroy the picture on the screen in my head if I wanted to continue to listen to the conversation. I had not yet developed a way to erase my pictures. But that day all of a sudden I realized if my pictures were created in layers, rather than on one page, I would be able to keep up when the story changed. I could trade in an old layer for a new one! It would be my way of erasing and changing something. And, the changing picture would still fit on that one screen I could see in my mind.

I am many years older now and continue to work with these ideas. Over the years I’ve trained myself to create pictures in layers. Learning this skill became my foundation for beginning to live successfully in the world of words. Once I was a teenager who lived in a mental institution. Today, I function quite well in the world both in my personal life and in my professional life having accomplished many things.

Over the past decades, many students I’ve worked with in public schools and clients I’ve worked with in therapy settings have experienced benefit when their autistic way of thinking is understood.

-from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement and Living a Self Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology

This book also has an appendix that contains templates to trace to make your own thinking in layers visual system. I hope you find it helpful. Click HERE to order book.

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Introduction to Newest Book: Autistically Thriving

This blog is actually the introduction that appears in my newest book (Endow, 2019, pp. xiii-xiv) available as of last week.

MOST ANYTHING ABOUT AUTISM and learning typically start out with the deficits of autism responsible for the problem experienced by the autistic. Then, it is followed up with ideas on how to address the deficits so as to impact the problem. If I were to start this book that way I would next talk about the diagnostic criteria. Here is what the DSM-5 says:

ASD Diagnostic Criteria

Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple con-texts (current or history)

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity…
2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors…
3. Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships…

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities… motor movement, sensory, sameness, routine, xated interests in objects or topics
– Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., 2013

In case you don’t know how the DSM diagnosing works I can fill you in. We have our everyday people on the face of the earth. They make up most of the population. Because this group makes up the majority we have decided their behaviors are typical and we label them normal. Then, everyone else is measured according to how far away from normal they land. And if they land far enough away from normal in enough areas they get a diagnostic label.

By design, DSM labels are framed in deficit terms. And in terms of diagnostics this deficit language is helpful. However, it isn’t very often helpful when we take this deficit-based language out of the diagnostic arena and use it to describe who and what autistic people are in this world.

We are ever so much more than the sum total of our diagnostic deficits. So, let’s begin with

autistic people – who are they? how do they think? what are their strengths? their skills? their way of understanding the world? How do they understand other people?

All of my life, until very recently, I have only known what I am not. It is because autism is largely measured by absence of neurotypicality. My hope for the future is that autistics coming up behind me will grow up with a more positive sense of self – learning who they are in this world rather than who they are not.

In that spirit I write from a perspective shift. A self-determined life is empowered through comprehension of the context in which we live. Let’s start with autistic people and comprehension – reading comprehension and life comprehension. How does it work? How do we empower autistics, based on their neurology, to comprehend what they read and to better understand the foreign land in which they find themselves living?

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Toxic Autism Awareness: Fact from Fiction?

During the past week I have run into two different people in my personal life who have expressed erroneous beliefs about autism. Both people knew that besides being autistic myself, I am a therapist in the field of autism, have written many books and numerous blogs on various autism topics, and consult and speak internationally. Without a doubt, these people knew that I know about autism. And even so, they presumed their comments to be accepted fact so much so that they felt perfectly comfortable putting them forth as facts – never considering the information may not even be true about autism. In fact, if either of these folks would have at all been wondering or trying to sort out autism fact from fiction, I would have been the first person they would have asked. They were not trying to sort out good information from bad, but instead based their point of view on the “known” public perception of autism, presuming it to be factual.

Example One of Erroneous Public Perception of Autism

I encountered this public belief at the end of a story an older person was telling me. He was telling about an event where he ran into an old card-playing buddy. He really wanted to know what happened to his son, but was afraid to ask. I then heard all about this child who grew up during the time I grew up – in the 50’s/60’s – and all the naughty things this boy did. He tortured and killed the family pet, locked his parents out of the house so he could start it on fire, and put rat poison in the coffee canister to try to poison his parents. At the end of relaying these horrible deeds he said that kid was evil and if he were growing up today people would know he had autism, but autism just wasn’t known back then.

The autism proclamation at the end of this tale took me by surprise. This was from a person who I have known all my life. This person knows I am autistic and work in the field of autism. So, for someone who actually has known me for decades – I really don’t know how that person can believe evil is linked with autism. But then, that is part of the public perception. For myself, each time there is a school shooting, immediately after the initial wave of horror I feel, I wonder how long before the autism question gets raised. It almost always does.

Reporters typically lump autism and mental illness together. Today we know autism is not a mental illness. This doesn’t mean autism is better or worse than mental illness. It is just different. To complicate it further, some autistic people also have one or more mental health diagnoses. But this is beside the point for this discussion about evil people.

Those people who commit truly evil acts are not necessarily mentally ill or autistic. The Hitlter and Jeffrey Dahmer sort of evilness is out there. Thankfully, only a very small proportion of the population falls into this category. When something horrible happens it is human nature to try to come up with an explanation. The sense making that typically happens is that we tell ourselves the person committing the crimes is mentally unstable. We just have a hard time imagining anyone with a “right mind” such as the rest of us could do such horrible deeds.

One of the problems with this is that society has effectively used their sense making to draw a line between supposedly good and bad people. On the good side we have “normal” people. On the bad side we have people with mental illnesses and autistics. This sort of erroneous reasoning then makes it seem reasonable to be afraid of anyone with a mental illness or autism. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Example Two of Erroneous Public Perception of Autism

Several times a week I spend 2-3 hours at a public pool for the sake of maintaining sensory regulation so I can be my best at work and in my life. One day last week a woman in the locker room who knows I am autistic, with a voice of assurance and a rooting-for-me-on-my-side tone, told me I should not worry about having autism. She explained her belief that I am not autistic by telling me that I am nothing like Donald Trump.

WHAT????

She says something like; “It is all over TV this morning that Donald Trump is mentally ill. You are mentally ill with autism, but you are nothing like Trump. I wouldn’t worry about having autism if I were you. You seem as sane as me.”

All I could think to say was, “It takes all kinds to make the world go round. Even the ignoramuses amongst us.” she agreed, clueless I was indeed including her in a way as not to be offensive. It was the best I could do in that moment.

While I am not proud of my response, I am proud that I stuck up for myself. I only wish I had done so differently. Just the fact that both the people in these two examples had no qualms, no embarrassment, no sense that their words might be perceived as offensive or unwelcome shows how rampant these sorts of things are taken as real information about autism and about mental illness.

Our autism awareness campaigns of recent years have indeed made everyone aware of autism, but that public awareness does not match the facts. In fact, in many regards, John Q. Public is only aware enough of autism so as to be toxic to actually autistic people. This is serious. The definition of toxic by Merriam-Webster is “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing serious injury or death.”

Today it seems socially acceptable to blame the evil behaviors of criminals on autism and reprehensible behaviors of politicians on mental illness. Don’t buy into this societally acceptable behavior. To buy into it is to perpetuate it. Each time you do so you are drawing that line between us darker, deeper and wider inviting fear to take up residence, distancing yourself from autistics and/or people mental illness, making us “those people,” the ones othered. In turn we are feared. Remember, people in power can do strange things when they are afraid. Is this the kind of world you want your children to grow up in?

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on March 16, 2017.
Click here to comment.

Autistic Burnout and Aging

Last September I returned from a vacation that I had been dreaming of taking for several years. I had booked my vacation quite a long time ago. After booking it, my personal resources declined. Many autistics know this phenomenon as autistic burnout. I am beginning to understand that there is likely some interplay between autistic burnout and the aging process.

In autistic burnout we come to the end of our resources that enable us to act as if we are not autistic in order to meet the demands of the world around us. For me these demands have included things like being able to raise my children and maintain employment. I have gone through a few distinct periods of burnout and have successfully managed them by withdrawing from the world as best I could while carrying on daily commitments to children and to employment. Twice during my adult life I had to severely limit my gainful employment because the burnout was too great to enable me to continue. I always have been good at planning and saving so each of these times I had a saving account to draw from for several months.

Finally, I had accumulated enough savings to feel confident to book one of my dream vacation! For many years I have found good deals on Alaskan cruises to see Glacier Bay and at long last I felt in a place to be able to actually book the cruise. I have a particular love of water in natural settings. It was very exciting to plan and dream of this upcoming vacation.

Then, autistic burnout began to rear up again. I thought I knew just how to navigate the burnout. At least I knew to slow down, pull back from social engagements and increase sensory regulation time and modalities. In the past these things had been helpful and allowed me to get back in sync after a few months, thus being able to venture back out into the life I wanted. Not this time.

I am thinking the combination of autistic burnout along with aging has made this episode quite different than the other times burnout has been problematic. For almost a year now, I have been experiencing somewhat of a burnout, but the difference is that I am not able to get past it like I have previously.

Over the months I’ve ramped up my sensory regulation. I am now spending about four hours per day devoted to keeping myself regulated. Some of the things I do include swimming, walking, bike riding, massage, and absolute quiet. In the past all of these things worked well. Now all of these things just sort of work. It means that no matter how much I do I never feel completely regulated.

Then, my vacation time arrived and regulated or not it was time! And, I was excited – very excited. So, off I went – first to San Francisco for some days and then on the cruise. I was by myself most of the days in San Francisco. I did some sight seeing, but all in a way that worked well for me. I was not rushed and did not have anyone else with me. Most of my friends could not understand why I was looking forward to being completely alone on vacation in San Francisco, but it worked very well for me. I could come and go as I was able and stop whenever I felt the need.

I did have friends who met up to have a day in San Francisco before boarding the cruise. While on the cruise we went our separate ways during the day, sharing a dinner table for our evening meal. It was fun to compare notes on who did what during the day and it was just enough social demands for me to enjoy the company, but not be overwhelmed. I could go the entire day without speaking to anyone and walking around the deck viewing the waterways or watching different activities on the cruise ship.

Now that I am back home I have realized that this burnout is different. Even after a lovely undemanding time away my body regulation has pretty much stayed the same – it has not improved as I had anticipated. Now I am thinking this present autistic burnout is combined with effects of getting older. It is like my body has hit a new normal of sorts, meaning that it has slowed down. It seems that no matter how much sensory regulation I do in a day that my body will never get back to what I consider ground zero. Perhaps this part is some of the aging of my body – it just doesn’t spring back to where I can be all chipper and ready to roll full steam ahead.

While at sea I thought a lot about this. In fact, I left my ideas and expectations of my younger self somewhere between Juneau and Skagway. By the time I arrived in Victoria I was trying on my newly found freedom of being okay with the slowed down self of me. The walking tour along the seaside was going too fast for me to be able to take the photos I wished to take. When the tour veered away from the seaside trail I excused myself so that I could be alone. I took my jolly good time walking back to the ship and taking over 300 photos during a leisurely stroll, I enjoyed it immensely!

Now that I am home I am continuing to practice being kind to myself by adjusting my own expectations of how much I do in one day. As an autistic I have for several years been doing the same quantity of employment, housework, art production, regulation, reading, writing, etc. both daily and weekly. Following a schedule is important to me as is getting things accomplished. I didn’t realize my self imposed expectations needed to be adjusted.

Spending ten days on a ship surrounded by natural waterways helped me to understand that autistic burnout may be impacted by the natural aging process, meaning that I will not come out of an episode of burnout at my younger starting point. Because so little is known about autistic people and aging, those of us who are getting older can at least start a discussion about it. I personally am wondering just now if the years of acting – passing as a neuro-majority person – impacts the natural aging process. Do autistics age faster because so much personal physical resources are impinged upon in order to year after year appear to be as typical as possible so that we might fit in enough to pass as somewhat human to the rest of society? And if so, is this a fair price to pay? And fair for whom?

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean in October 2016. Click here to comment.