My thoughts on "Atypical"

I recently came across an interesting article about a new show called "Atypical" set to premier on Netflix August 11. Here is the link. The show tells the story of Sam Gardner, an 18 year old high school senior with ASD and the struggles he faces in life especially with dating and other coming of age rituals. I am looking forward to watching "Atypical" when it comes out. I have yet to master many coming of age rituals, especially dating.

The show's creator Robia Rashid says that the series focuses on a single person, Sam, and that the show cannot universally reflect the situations and difficulties of every person with ASD. In fact, the main theme of the series is that "No one is normal.” ....But most people are never referred to as “Atypical”. The title makes me a little uneasy.

Every person on the spectrum has their own unique struggles. Have you ever heard the saying “If you’ve met one person on the Autism Spectrum... well you’ve met one person.” We are all so different from each other. I am sure that as I watch the series, I will see aspects of Sam's situation that do not particularly relate to mine. While all individuals with ASD have difficulty with certain social situations, our emotions and reactions to these situations are uniquely our own and in many ways define who we are as individuals apart from a diagnosis. The ability to appreciate the person apart from the “Atypical “ aspects is key. To focus on the differences, without great attention to what we have in common, would be exploitive. And not entertaining.

My hope is that this series will raise a greater awareness of ASD and how it affects those who are afflicted. I still encounter many people on a daily basis who fail to understand some of my different behaviors. Shows like this, if they present all sides if ASD, can help to open minds. Its a great opportunity and I hope their portrayal has the sensitive balance I’m looking for. I’ll be watching.

Coming to Terms with Change

For someone on the autism spectrum, like me, even the smallest life changes present great challenges. This spring I learned that two of the greatest people I know, my mentors Dr. Bob and Dr. Lynn Koegel, have accepted positions at Stanford University and will be leaving UCSB at the end of June. This will be a big change for the Koegel Autism Center and everyone involved. While I am happy for Bob and Lynn and this next big chapter in their careers, I am also very sad to see them go.

Its been almost 20 years since my first visit to UCSB. I was there to meet with Dr. Lynn Koegel and she diagnosed me with Asperger’s Syndrome. There were many, many more clinic visits through the years. I always associated UCSB with the Koegels. When I was accepted for admission and attended college there, Bob and Lynn became like a second set of parents to me. Whenever any issues came up they were always there. Since graduating and moving back to Los Angeles, I look forward to my visits back to my alma mater …seeing Bob and Lynn is always a highlight. I find it very difficult to imagine UCSB without the Koegels.

When I first heard the news that they were leaving UCSB, I was really worried about what this would mean for me. I wondered ifthe entire center would be shut down and I would have to receive services elsewhere. I talked to Dr. Brittany Koegel, Bob and Lynn’s daughter and a friend of mine since childhood. She told me that the center would never stop seeing me. I then began wondering in the absence of the Koegels, whether I would want to continue going to Santa Barbara every week. I fretted that the quality of my program would not be as high without their supervision. But then I got some comforting news about this whole ordeal.

Another good friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Ty Vernon, texted me saying that he would be taking over as Clinic Director. When he was a grad student working for Bob and Lynn, Ty was my clinician. He assured me that I would always have a program and that the staffwould for the most part stay the same. I can continue to see my current clinician, Erin. I know that Ty will be an excellent Director and I am excited to work with him.

So while the prospect of not having Bob and Lynn there is a scary and sad thought, I know that I will continue to receive excellent services. But there will still be a big hole that for me no one else will ever quite fill. Best of luck Bob and Lynn…. I will miss you!



Remembering my Grandparents

Shortly after my good friend lost his mother, my Granddad (my mom's father) in Louisiana passed away. It was not unexpected as his health had been deteriorating for a while. Back in 2012, my Grandmom passed away as well. I miss them both greatly. During my childhood, my family and I would frequently go to Louisiana to visit my mom's relatives and my grandparents were always there.
Back in 2015, when I went down to give my talk at Louisiana College, the reality that my grandmother was gone hit me when she not there ready to spoil me rotten with love and her great southern cooking. Her fried chicken was like nothing else and is something I really miss. Now that they are both gone, I fear that visiting Louisiana and not seeing them there will be a hard reality to face. However, I will always have my other relatives who I care deeply about. I also have many memories with them that I will not soon forget.
The day after my Granddad's funeral, we cleaned his possessions out of his assisted living apartment and I found the old domino set that he used to play with. When I was a child, I remember him and the other men playing with that domino set and wanting to learn how to play as well. Then when I was 11, he taught me to play. I kept that set and carried it back to California the next day in my carry on bag. It set now sits on my desk in my bedroom and reminds me of that great memory.
So while I may not see my grandparents anymore when I go visit family down south, I do have plenty of fond memories of them. The memories of my Grandmom cooking fried chicken and Granddad teaching me the game of dominos are ones that I shall always cherish.


Being a Good Friend in The Face of Tragedy

Hello all! Sorry I have been away for so long. Allow me to catch you all up with what has happened in the past few months. December was a great month for me. For my 30th Birthday, my family and I traveled to Hawaii to celebrate in paradise. It was truly an unforgettable trip. Upon returning home, I enjoyed celebrating a happy holiday season. So it was a great ending to 2016.

The New Year started off well. But on January 26, my best friend went home for lunch and found his mother had died while on her exercise bike. They say that people with ASD do not feel empathy and that could not be further from the truth. In the days that followed I ate very little and slept even less. All I can think about is my friend and the pain he is going through. I worry very much about his well being and how I can be there for him in his time of need.

A death doesn't just affect one's immediate family, it affects the entire community of people involved in that person's life. My friend's mother was one of the nicest women in the world. Last summer, when my friend was recovering from back surgery, I frequently went over to his house and his mom always treated me like a welcome member of their family. I will miss her greatly. I am sad and shocked and I can not begin to imagine the agony and grief that my friend is experiencing right now.

During this difficult time, I am trying to be a good supportive friend and yet at the same time give my friend a little space. Figuring out what to say to my friend in his time of need is challenging. I worry about saying the right thing to him. While I would never intentionally say anything to him that would cause him more pain, I worry that my words could accidentally do so. In the end, I sent him a text telling him that he is in my thoughts and that I am there for him if he needs anything. I am going to let him respond to me when he is ready.

Some time has passed. My friend is beginning to get on with his life. This what his Mom would have wanted. I’m taking this experience to heart…learning that to be a good friend you sometimes need to take a step back. But also remembering to really appreciate the closest people in my life.

Managing My Thoughts

Fall has officially arrived in California and and so have the Santa Anas. Just in case you don't know what those are,  Santa Ana's are strong dry winds that blow from the desert of Nevada all the way to the ocean. And since So Cal gets very little rain during the summer months, these winds can really fan wildfires. Whenever, I see Santa Ana winds in the weather forecast, I get very nervous. The automatic thought that pops into my mind is that there could be wildfires and that my home will burn down.

My clinician at the autism center and I have been working on what she call's deflecting thoughts. We have been going about this by creating a thought record where I document the situation, my automatic negative thought, evidence which supports that thought and evidence which does not. So when Santa Ana winds are in forecast and I begin catastrophizing the situation with very negative thoughts like a wildfire destroying my home, I go through the process of rationalization. Evidence which supporting my deflecting thought is the fact that Santa Ana winds are known to cause major wildfires that destroy homes. Evidence that does not support this negative thought is that there is a very slim chance of a wildfire breaking out around my home. And even if there was a fire, there is a fire station close by and we have done brush clearance around the house.

By filling out a thought record, I am able to see situations that cause me anxiety more clearly and rationally. In the last section of the thought record, I fill out the new more rational alternative thought that I have once I have gone through the process. So for the situation with the Santa Ana winds, I have come to the realization that my home has a near zero chance of being destroyed by wind driven fires. I also remind myself that other areas around the United States have their own set of hazards. For example, the Midwest and Texas get tornadoes and the South is prone to hurricanes. While I going through this process makes me feel better about Santa Ana winds and wildfires, it would sure be nice if California got some very badly needed rain

This thought redirection therapy can be applied to situations other than weather anxieties. I am learning to use this process whenever I have conflicts with friends, family or co workers or anything else that makes me upset or anxious. Like all other therapies, though, processing and retraining my thoughts takes time and practice.