Possibilities Page....

This page is dedicated to articles and blog posts that encourage readers to embrace the possibilities. It is inspired by my job at Intel, my children, and a series of recent events that have made me reflect on the past and why/how things are as they are today in my personal life. It is inspired by all the people I have in my life and the amazing parents and professionals I am meeting in the ASD community. I welcome all of you to join me in this unique perspective of considering the possibilities in a world that is typically so constrained in its thinking.

Ability, Disability or Society’s Problem?

One of the ongoing conversations in the autism community is whether autism is an actual disability versus a gift versus simply an inability to fit into a culture that misunderstands and refuses to accommodate us. My personal opinion is that it is a little bit of all of these, especially if you parse the symptoms….
This morning I took my dog for a walk in a suburban neighborhood. At the end of the 2 mile pathway along the power lines is a driving range. You cannot see inside the range due to the bushes around the fence, but you can see the very high fencing and you can also hear the balls being hit from the street. As I was walking past the driving range I heard a ball being hit. Without thinking a second, I heard myself saying he chipped it left. I stopped to listen. Another ball was hit and then several more. For each one, I could hear the different notes of the action and I could hear how the ball sailed. I don’t know how long I stood there, but Sherman did not seem to mind the wait and I did eventually begin my walk again.

As I continued the walk, my mind played back the sounds of the ball. I can hear the initial contact with the soft outer shell of the ball and then again could hear the notes of the club hitting the more solid core. The sound here begins at a lower note and resonates through a “strong” tone (I think it was a B flat at 440) before going through other notes. The “strong” tone is the note that rings for the longest amount of time for any sound. I can assume that the ball is chipped left or right by the speed at which the note dissipates. The facts are that I could not see anything through the bushes, so I could be making all this up….

Normal hearing tests do not show me as gifted in hearing, but let’s review some history:

In the USMC, my claim to fame was in being a radio analyst and also in pattern detection and code deciphering. In radio work, I could actually hear above and beyond many transmissions and could provide intelligence that many others could not hear. In high tech, my first patent was created in Acoustic Echo Cancellation. I was amazing at audio testing and also in discovering breaks in patterns for video screens. These talents served me amazingly well as a young engineer and propelled me on my current path. And in guitar, I was almost instantly hailed as a hearing savant when I could listen to a guitar and just know the tonewoods it was made from. My skills were so amazing to the guitar community that people flew to Portland from all over the world to have me help them pick out a guitar. I was also gifted a $12,000 instrument by a luthier who was so touched by my abilities and passion.

As these thoughts passed through my mind while I walked this morning, I was reminded of how Temple Grandin stresses that in order to be a successful person in life, you need to use your strengths. She uses that recommendation for autistic people, but really it applies to all people. While I had no clue about this particular phrase or concept as a youngster, it turns out that this is exactly how I navigated my life.

I looked up from my thoughts and became aware now of all the millions of sounds going on. Birds singing everywhere, insects, wings flapping, grass blowing… I became aware of the earplugs I was wearing around my neck. I reached up to touch them. My hearing awareness/skill prevents me from being able to participate in many activities that others can participate in. Partying, sports events and even just going downtown. I can participate in these things but they cause me extreme stress and tiredness, and I must weigh the cost of the event to my overall needs. I find myself having to advocate more and more for this hearing sensitivity that I seem to have. I cannot purchase “normal” housing because I cannot just filter out the noises that happen in the very hip but more crowded places and communities.

I long for a society that hears what I hear. I long for communities that have noise restrictions. I long for sensory friendly societies (not just events) and for every single building to have a sensory friendly room. I wish that places like grocery stores would not play music through crappy speakers at me as I enter. I wish that people in crowds would not all speak at once. I wish people could be comfortable in silence. I see standards and laws being created for machines, cars and noises being limited 35db or less ambient noise, even in crowded cities. I know I am dreaming and it will not happen in my lifetime. For now, I will have to wear the earplugs and avoid the places that cost me so much of my energy.

Ability, disability, society's problem.... Yes, it is a little bit of all three.

But it is important to note that I did not get to the places I did by focusing on my disabilities. Nobody does. There was no IEP, therapist, doctor, or parent to continually remind me that I am not able or disabled. I did not have my head filled with limitations. My head was filled with possibilities. Rather than be defeated, I naturally used the abilities that I do have towards goals that could make me grow in an area of related work. Everyone needs to find these abilities within them and tie them to some sort of creative goals or meaningful work. This is especially true for autistic people, because we can actually thrive in the working world by the quality of our work and we have very little ability/patience for work we do not have passion to do. The trick, of course, is to balance awareness and advocacy in lieu of pushing into exhaustion, given the fact that there is a disability under all of the abilities. That balance part is something I am still learning and is probably a lifelong journey….