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Hyperfocus — 04/10/2013

Hyperfocus

Happy Autism Acceptance month everyone! So nice to read all of the positive posts about autism. I sometimes still have a hard time seeing the positive aspects of autism in myself, but there are at least a few that I am thankful for. I think my favorite one is hyperfocus. Hyperfocus (according to Urban Dictionary) is “a theoretical state of being or ability in which one is able to concentrate and focus on a particular subject so intensely, ultimately becoming oblivious to everything else around”. I do realize that this is not always a positive thing and has been a source of frustration for most people that have spent much time with me, but it has its upsides too.

Hyperfocus | Freelance Freedom

I have been obsessed with things since I was very young. Everything from a soft blanket that I could not give up until I was way too old for that sort of thing, to dinosaurs, to the guitar, to martial arts, and to computer programming. By obsessed, I mean that I can focus on these things for very long periods of time, to the exclusion of everything else around me. It is not a choice and it is not something that I always want. It is like being a prisoner of my own brain and almost nothing can set me free. If someone is calling my name or if there is an external sound that I know is important, like a cat meowing or an alarm going off to tell me I have to do something, I can come back, but it is somewhat painful and leaves me in a very confused and uncomfortable state.

Look what a positive post this is! Okay, enough of that. It is not all bad and it is often magical and amazing. When I was first learning to play guitar, martial arts, coding, I could not grasp even basic concepts, though there was something about all of those things that kept me coming back.

With guitar, I was fascinated by the instrument and the way that the vibrations of the strings and the echo of the sound hole made such a wide variety of sounds and that those sounds could be controlled by holding down the strings in different ways. I learned some chords and could play basic songs, but they were stiff, for lack of a better word. I did not connect the sounds I was playing with music. It was all very mechanical. Still, that very mechanicalness was soothing to my brain. It was something to hold focus on that was strong enough to take me away from the chaos and colliding thoughts that were usually happening in my brain.

After a couple of years, I could do the mechanical things without thinking. It wasn’t until that point that I started to hear the music. I started listening to songs and playing along with them. At some point, I could hear a song in my head and envision playing it on the guitar. I actually started learning songs while I was sleeping or spacing out. When playing with other musicians and singers, I could listen to them and my part would almost play itself. I heard the guitar part in my head and my fingers just did it. Thinking was completely removed from the equation. That is where the magic happens.

Unfortunately, martial arts did not work in quite the same way, but it doesn’t matter. Like guitar, I love the mechanics of martial arts. I have been fortunate to have some really great teachers who have been able to explain the reasons for each technique. So much going on in even the simplest techniques. I have been doing martial arts of some kind or other for over 16 years. I do not have a black belt, although I do have a pretty large collection of brown belts. Still, it is not quite the same. My lack of short term memory makes it very hard for me to learn certain things. That, combined with the fact that I am not very athletic, somewhat clumsy, and have an annoying delay between thinking and acting, make it especially challenging. While all of those things make getting a black belt seem like a pipe dream, it doesn’t really matter. Doing martial arts, learning about the mechanics and history, and knowing that someday, some of what I have learned might help myself or someone else escape a bad situation is enough. I look forward to it and it makes me happy. You can’t ask for much more than that! Still, I wouldn’t turn away a black belt.

Coding. Programming. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Code is beautiful to me. It makes sense in a way that nothing else does. Whether the code is good or bad, no matter what language it is written in, it will make sense, even when it doesn’t work. You can troubleshoot code in a way that you can not troubleshoot other things. Line by line, file by file; somewhere is the answer. You can not parse people that way. For some reason, this does not seem to bother most people, but it is a thing that has exhausted and confused me for as long as I can remember. Hyperfocus is an escape from that.

Illogical things make my brain explode. Hyperfocus puts the fragments back together. I know there are many people who hyperfocus on things that are not logical, but I think it is often in search of logic. I used to be somewhat obsessed with World War II and read everything I could find that might explain what could make people do the horrible things that were done. I actually found many answers. I wish I didn’t. Frames of logic differ from person to person. That particular obsession did not make me less confused, but it gave me a frame of reference as to how such horrible things could actually happen. It also taught me that things are not as black and white as “logical = good, illogical = bad”. People can do horrible things that seem completely logical to them, and people can do amazingly kind and heroic things with actions that defy logic.

While hyperfocus has had its ups and downs for me, I think it is something that is needed in this world. It is the thing that allows people to tear things apart and break them down to their core components, until something finally makes some sense. Autistic people are not the only ones who experience it, but it seems to be one of the most common threads all along the spectrum. It is a valuable ability, no matter whether or not people can communicate verbally or hold down a traditional job or assimilate into cultural “norms”. It is a way to go beyond the “box” in order to think outside of it. It is a way to question the reason that the box exists at all.

Autism Acceptance means… — 04/02/2013

Autism Acceptance means…

By Karen Hillman

Fully accepting that my partner’s autism shapes her world, but does not define all of who she is – she is autistic and also a web developer, a gamer, a cat lover, a music lover, a brown-belt in karate, a geek, a great listener, a vegetarian, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Her autism does not mean that she has no empathy; in fact, she is one of the kindest, most sensitive people I know. It means that I have to rethink the way I relate to and express myself to her – I have to be clear, open and honest more than I ever had to – or wanted to – before we were together. This has been one of the most difficult and rewarding things I’ve ever done and I continue to learn, screw up, relearn, over and over…and she lets me.

Accepting my partner’s autism means that I need to socialize on my own, without her by my side sometimes. I need to watch out for her, to pay attention to make sure she feels included, is not too negatively impacted by sensory input or her environment. It means I need to be patient and understanding and that I need to try to explain things about the neurotypical (NT) world, much of which has no good explanation. Accepting my partner’s autism means that she also fully accepts me with all of my many flaws and idiosyncrasies. It means that I can revel and delight in the things that she shows to only me, because unfortunately, letting them out in an NT world can be embarrassing or detrimental to her.

Autism acceptance means that I have to understand why people who are autistic are angry, feel disempowered, and are sometimes distrustful and suspicious of NT’s. It means I have met many wonderful people with autism who graciously welcome me and teach me things about myself. Autism acceptance means I need to recognize that there are many different ways to communicate and to express oneself. I need to put myself in my partner’s world and not just expect her to live in mine. Autism acceptance has changed my life, exponentially, for the better.

Laravel Learning Resources — 03/04/2013

Laravel Learning Resources

Over the past year or so, I have become enamored with the Laravel PHP framework and have a huge code crush on the soon to be released version 4.

After attending Laracon in Washington D.C. a couple of weekends ago, I was inspired to start the Baltimore Laravel meetup group. I am compiling this resource list for our first meeting. If you have any favorite Laravel learning resources that are not on this list, please leave a comment!

Laravel on the web

Official Docs

Tutorials and screencasts

Other Resources

Books

Laracon 2013 Presentations

2012: The Highlights — 01/08/2013

2012: The Highlights

If I had to pick one word to describe 2012, it would be ‘busy’. If I had to pick 2 words, they would be ‘too busy’. Living in Baltimore is very busy. I don’t think I will ever get used to it. Work was way too busy for a while. It is great to have so much work, but also nice not to have to work every single second. Things have slowed down for the holidays and I have been enjoying the break.

So much has gone on this year, I don’t even think I can remember it all, so here are the highlights…

Karen got a very well-deserved promotion at work 🙂 It makes me very happy when she is appreciated for her awesomeness. I think she will like her new job a lot better and be able to put her many clinical and organizational skills to good use. Go K!

I finally got my Maryland driver’s license! On my 4th visit to the MVA, I finally got the license that had been held up by red tape, paperwork, and ridiculousness for about a year. Luckily my California license was valid until my birthday this year.

I got called for jury duty. I have always dreaded jury duty, but even my worst imagined scenario was better than how it actually turned out. My fears were about being locked in a room all day with no escape, being surrounded by people and noise, and not being able to speak when I needed to, but those ended up being the least of my problems except for the not talking part.

When I got to the courthouse, I found out that there was a “Quiet Room” to wait in. It was great and for the most part was actually quiet. At some point, there was an announcement telling us to report to a judge at the courthouse across the street. Unfortunately, they didn’t actually mention that the courthouse was across the street, but just gave the address and the room number. Somehow I thought the room number was the street address and walked 8 or 9 blocks to find it. When I couldn’t find it, I returned to the original building and asked a guard to help me. He sent me to the right building, but the wrong room. I returned again and was sent to the right room by another guard.

The judge stopped everything when I walked in and gave me a lecture about being selfish and disrespectful because I was so late. Sometime in the middle of the session, she started calling juror numbers, and I stood up when mine was called, prompting her to scold me even louder and longer than the first time. After more than an hour, the jurors were chosen and I was called up to the bench. My brain was too uncooperative to talk at that point, but somehow I managed to get a pen and paper to write on. I wrote that I couldn’t talk and that I thought that the room number was the building number and got lost. At some point, she stopped talking to me like I was a criminal and started talking to me like I could not understand English. Eventually, she sent me back to the first building to sign out. I never want to do jury duty again.

Snow. It has snowed a few times and even stuck to the ground and cars for short periods. I missed snow. It is so nice to see it and to be outside in the cool crisp late autumn/early winter air!

Karate. I still love my karate school. It is a great space and the instructors are all excellent. Since last summer, I have been especially lucky to have Mr. Joe Palanzo for a teacher. He is a great martial artist and a really amazing teacher. I have not liked a school or a teacher this much since my first dojo. It is 16 years later and I still feel lucky to have been a part of that school. I will always miss it.

WordCamp. I volunteered at WordCamp Baltimore in September and WordCamp Philly in October, and had an awesome time at both. I got to meet some really great people, and even pick up a few new jobs. Looking forward to next year when I also hope to make it to WordCamp NYC.

Laravel. I have been learning to use the Laravel PHP framework for the past few months and am really enjoying working with it. I am especially excited for the release of Laravel 4 and will be attending Laracon in February to learn more and to meet some folks in the Laravel Community, including my favorite web dev tutorial guy, Jeffrey Way.

Those are the highlights; at least the ones that I can remember at the moment. Thanks to all the great people here who continue to be very welcoming and warm. Thanks also to K’s parents who have treated me like part of the family and been so good to me.

Happy 2013 everyone!

Second Annual ASAN Gala — 11/15/2012

Second Annual ASAN Gala

Last night Karen and I went to the 2nd annual ASAN Gala at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. It was even nicer than last year’s event, which was also very nice. There was a reception with excellent food and drink, followed by the opening speakers.

First to speak was the evening’s host and MC, James Weisman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the United Spinal Association. I like him. He is a great speaker and tells funny jokes. Mr. Weisman has been doing amazing things for disability rights for many years.

Next, Ari Ne’eman spoke. Simply put, Ari is awesome. He is easily one of the best speakers I have ever seen. His passion for disability advocacy is infectious (in a good way) and I could see it spreading across the room as he spoke about how all autistics must be included in conversations about the autistic community, and not just those who are verbal and/or seen as “high functioning”. He is an inspiration to many people, including myself, and an example of how much can be done by self advocates. Ari was appointed by President Obama in 2009 to sit on the National Council on Disability and is the President and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Kathy Greenlee, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of the Administration on Community Living spoke next, followed by Kathleen Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Both women spoke about how important it is for disability rights activists to work together and not just for their own particular disability. They made the point that when organizations work together, they have more power to create change.

We had a very good dinner of stuffed acorn squash for the vegetarians and chicken and green beans for the non-vegetarians, followed by dessert, which resembled a triangular brownie.

Madeleine Will was presented with the Ally of the Year Award, which is an award given to individuals who go above and beyond in serving as allies of the Disability community. Next, Steve Kapp was presented with the Award for Services to the Self Advocacy Movement, an award given to those who have helped to build the Autistic community through exceptional advocacy, ingenuity, or service.

The Loud Hands Project video was shown. It was so great that I embedded it into this post. The Loud Hands project is organized by Julia Bascom.

The night was a great success all around and we left feeling excited after hearing about all the accomplishments by ASAN and other advocacy groups and individual advocates this year. So many people working so hard and so continuously to make the world a better place, not only for people with their own particular disability of interest, but for all disabled people.

It was also wonderful to get to meet so many of the people that I have worked with or known only online and to get to see friends who I do not get to see very often.

Thanks so much to ASAN for another great gala!

Autism Is Gray — 11/01/2012

Autism Is Gray

Once again, it is Autistics Speaking Day. I want to write a post about the positive aspects of autism, but at the moment, it is hard. It has been almost 8 years since I found out that I was autistic. At first, it freaked me out because there is no cure. Eventually, I started to see the positive aspects and realized that I would be a different person if I had a neurotypical brain. I do not want to be a different person, at least, not for the most part. I used to wish there was a magic pill that I could take to make me “normal”. I still wonder if I would take it if one existed.

Even though things have improved quite a bit over the years due to medicine, learning coping skills, and most of all, help from people that love me, there are still times that I want that pill. I want it so bad. Sometimes I hate being autistic. I am not sure that it is okay to say that in the part of the autism community that I participate in most.

Over the past few years, the autism community has become divided. A VERY simplified explanation is that there are organizations like Autism Speaks, that do not have any input from autistic people and are very invested in searching for a cure. There is much more than that. Please do not support them.

On the other end are self-advocates who do not believe that autistic people need to be cured and who advocate for legal and societal change that will help them receive the services and accommodations that they need. As a perspective for people reading this post, I would definitely consider myself a self-advocate.

If there were a cure, I think individuals should have the option to choose for themselves if they want to be cured or not. That is a slippery slope when it comes to children, so honestly, I have no idea how something like that could actually work.

I am sometimes discouraged by the rift in the community, and sometimes confused by it. Sometimes, I wish that the conversation was more civil. I don’t think it is “us against them”. I don’t think that parents desperately looking for a cure for their child are evil, even if they hate autism. I do think that they need to be educated by autistic people and hope that there will be time when that will not be necessary anymore.

Autism can cause pain for both the autistic person and for their loved ones. It can be horrible and seem impossible to deal with at times for both the autistic person and their loved ones. There are also many positive things about autism and autistic people. We are a necessary part of the world. We think differently. Someone has to. It is hard to navigate a community where things sometimes seem so black and white. I think autism is gray.

My life is usually pretty good. Even when I was younger and things were so much harder, I was still lucky to have parents who loved me. In the 70’s, autism was not a common diagnosis. My problems were blamed on bad behavior, antisocial attitude, being lazy, not trying, whatever. In the 80’s, these diagnoses changed to things like schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorder, etc. It wasn’t until the 90’s that someone suggested to me that I might be autistic and until 2005 for me to accept the idea as a possible reality. I think autism education, especially by the self-advocacy community is changing the way people think about autism in a good way, and that it will make it much easier for people to be diagnosed early and to get what they need. Maybe someday when parents get the news that their child is autistic, they will not automatically panic, fear the worst, and do everything they can to “cure” their child. Maybe they will accept it as a part of who their child is.

When I was younger, I would have done anything to be cured. I think my parents would have too. Even now when my life is so much easier, there are times when I just can’t stand it. I can’t stand being a prisoner of my own brain. I can’t stand not being able to socialize normally, read regularly, think clearly, and sometimes even speak at all. I do not know how to explain what that is like. A while back, I read a post by Savannah in which she used the phrase “A thousand hard things”. That is a good description of what it is like.

I really wanted to write a post for today. I think these posts and this day are very important. I hate that part of me had to think about the possible negative reaction from the people I consider part of my community, but I realize that the fact that I did makes it even more important for me to post it.

Unsolicited advice to NTs out there with partners on the spectrum considering a giant life change — 09/13/2012

Unsolicited advice to NTs out there with partners on the spectrum considering a giant life change

By Karen Hillman

Uprooted by PurpleLorikeet @ flickr

Note from LB: This article was originally published on the Autism Women’s Network website and is reprinted with permission from the author. It is about Karen’s and my move here last year from Oakland, CA. We are both still learning to adapt to our busy lives here, and for the most part, we have both managed to find ways to recharge and have fun along the way.

As some of you may know, last year my partner Lori, who is on the autism spectrum, moved with me from Oakland, CA to Baltimore, MD so we could be closer to my aging parents. There have been a lot of ups and downs. The biggest “down” that has had lasting repercussions was that Lori lost her SSI (Supplemental Security Income). With everything going on, we didn’t think about the fact that co-owning our house would be considered an asset. What this has meant is that she’s had to work more than full time hours to expand her freelance web business. That has put immense pressure on her to take on way too many things at once. For those of you on the spectrum, you can imagine how difficult this has been. It’s way too much for her to handle and yet she is handling it probably way better than she (or I) thought she could. I think the “up” is that she sees how capable she is of running her business despite the challenges. That said, it’s still way too much. With SSI she was able to work more or less as she needed for the most part. I don’t think things are sustainable the way they are – she’s working too many hours without getting time to relax and turn off. Her brain needs a break. The other “up” is that now people in this area are starting to value her services and get to know her and I think that is a good thing. Sometimes I have to (almost literally) drag her kicking and screaming to things I know she will enjoy, even when she is overwhelmed. Fear not, this rarely happens and I try hard to pay attention to whether I can push or not – sometimes I’m wrong and I blow it.  I just know it’s important for her to sometimes be around people she can relate to whether it’s others on the spectrum or other web developers.

Some unsolicited advice to you NTs out there with partners on the spectrum considering a giant life change: do your research – financial stuff especially but also what supports are available where you are moving? What can you do to make things as comfortable as possible? If your partner is on medication and diagnosed “officially” or not and gets some kind of services, what can you do to help ensure your partner can continue to get his/her needs met for meds, counseling, etc? What resources are available in the new area? Be extra gentle, compassionate and understanding that uprooting may have an especially big impact. Get support for yourself – of course, this is a big life change for you too and you have needs as well. Try to find breaks in the action – do some things together that aren’t about pre or post-moving tasks, regroup. Help your partner find his/her way around the new place in the way your partner learns best. Spend some time exploring together. Try to build new routines as soon as possible if your partner finds that helpful. Help your partner understand and become accustomed to the norms of the population in the new area. Remember that your partner also has a lot to offer. Be honest and communicate clearly about your own stress and what you need. Most of all, give yourself and your partner time to settle in.

Please feel free to post about your experiences with life changes and what has been helpful/not helpful for you.

Favorite Mac Tip of the Day > Rename Files from the Title Bar — 08/22/2012

Favorite Mac Tip of the Day > Rename Files from the Title Bar

Rename files from the title bar

Thanks to Devir Kahan for the tip!

Rename a file from the title bar
Rename a file from the title bar

Instead of having to locate the file in the Finder to rename it, you can now just click on a filename in the window’s title bar to rename it. This same sort of thing works for bookmarklets too. You can also move a file to another location from the title bar by clicking its name and choosing Move.

Disable Save Password Prompts in Safari 6 — 08/07/2012

Disable Save Password Prompts in Safari 6

Safari 6 has a feature that prompts the user to save passwords. A window pops up with the options to save the password or to never save the password for that site. I am pretty sure this feature has been around for a while, but in Safari 6 it seems to enable itself.

1PasswordI am a huge fan of AgileBits 1Password, an awesome password manager for mac, windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android that syncs saved passwords and other sensitive data across devices and seamlessly integrates with Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. I prefer to use 1Password in place of the Safari password manager.

I found it annoying that the ability to disable the Safari 6 password manager is not very obvious. I had been through the preferences several times without successfully disabling it when I finally googled and found the solution here: Safari 6.0 Tweak – Turn Off Save Password Prompts

The setting is not in the Passwords preferences, but rather in the AutoFill preferences. To disable it, you need to uncheck the ‘Usernames and passwords’ checkbox next to ‘AutoFill web forms:’. It seems logical now that I know where it is, but I had passed over that preference several times because I was looking for a way to disable the prompts without necessarily disabling the entire password manager.

Favorite Mac App of the Week: Boom — 06/06/2012

Favorite Mac App of the Week: Boom

Last October, I got a shiny new 15″ Macbook Pro and have been using it as my main work computer ever since. It is much faster than my iMac, and other than watching movies and working in Photoshop, I find that I prefer using it over the iMac.

The only thing that has really bugged me about this computer is that the sound sucks. In many cases, the volume is too low to hear anything above the outside street noise. At least it was until yesterday when I discovered an awesome little app called Boom.

Boom is a volume booster and equalizer for macs. From the moment I installed it, the volume on my system has been quite a bit louder. After turning on the built-in equalizer and setting it to ‘Vocals’, the sound was even better while watching a video podcast that I had not been able to hear earlier. The app is $6.99 and can be purchased from the seller’s website or from the Mac App Store.