Category: career


To the Moon screenshotThanks for reading my introductory post about the computer game To the Moon!  This post will start to get into the details of the plot in earnest, so only continue reading if you don’t mind finding out what happens in the game.

My girlfriend Megan has already written over a dozen posts reflecting on her reactions to the game and how it relates to Asperger’s syndrome, and they are really neat!  Her posts are a lot less spoilerish than mine, so you can check them out if you want to learn more about the themes of the game without being spoiled about the details of the plot.

Megan seems to have less trouble expressing her thoughts in words than I do; I usually have to have all of the details laid out in front of me before I feel like I can say anything.  With that in mind, the spoilers begin below…

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Hi!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  There are some new things going on, though.

Probably the biggest is that I have a new part-time job!  I’m editing articles for an online physics journal.  Like my previous job reviewing English papers, it’s work I can do from home, but unlike it, I find it really interesting rather than stressful, so I have been able to get more work done.

I’m mostly doing copyediting for consistency in things like spelling, punctuation, and style of the reference list.  It definitely helps to have some familiarity with physics so that I can recognize the terminology, but thankfully I don’t need to understand everything the writers are talking about, because it’s really advanced stuff!

My coworkers/bosses have been really patient and helpful with all of the questions I have asked about specific grammar and style rules.  (I always have a lot of questions.)  So it’s not full-time employment yet, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m thankful for that!

I have also been continuing to try to develop my social skills; there is a local young adults Bible study that I’ve started going to.  It’s frustrating to me how little information I retain from talking to people, but I think I am beginning to remember a few names.

Other things that have kept me busy are watching our energetic dogs and following the crazy football season that’s been going on.

I have often thought about things I’d like to post about on this blog, but sadly most of those things fade from my memory when I don’t have time to write (or more often, the words to put them into).  I’d like to get to writing again, and I have at least one idea of something new to try for the video game posts, but we’ll see about that.  It seems that in order to write more, I need to think less, and the results are not always good if I do that.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, readers!

I drive from Danville to Bloomsburg, along the same path the school bus took me for twelve years. The trees crowd in beside the road, and it feels so quiet– I’m amazed at how little traffic there seems to be. I guess I’ve gotten used to Cincinnati. But this definitely still feels like home.

I’m going to the park for my 13-year class reunion. Why 13 years? Because we’d never had a reunion before, and we wanted to have one. I worry a little that I won’t recognize some of my classmates. That could be embarrassing.

But as they arrive one by one, I know them instantly without a doubt! This so rarely happens to me anymore even with people I know well. It really feels nice.

Eight of us were able to make it out of a class of 26. I’d say that’s pretty good, considering how many of us have spread out all over the country and how many are busy with family and job obligations.

I get to meet their spouses and children, and I do my best to remember their names, but it will take me a while. I’m thankful that I’ve had the chance to learn some of them from Facebook.

We talk while the children play on the playground– there are so many stories to tell. I stand in between two conversations, listening to both and smiling. My friends are so very much the same people I knew from school. They’ve been to some amazing places and lived through some tough times, but God has preserved what is good in each of them.

I don’t think I have a lot to add myself. My experience is still mostly as a student. I’m still trying to find a career, still hoping to start a relationship with someone.

I probably seem a lot like I did when we were all in high school. I lagged behind socially then– at a middle school or elementary level– and as a result, I didn’t interact much with my peers. Now, I’m probably up to a college or high school level socially, but I don’t always feel fully a part of the adult world.

When someone asks me what I’m doing currently, I stammer and pause for a bit as I try to answer. A nasty part of me is telling me “You don’t belong here. You don’t have anything to talk about,” but I know that’s not true. We go out for drinks, but I haven’t developed a taste for beer or wine, so I order soda. I hope they don’t think I’m looking down on them by not sharing a drink– it’s such a symbol of friendship.

Before I came to the reunion, I was worried a little about negative thoughts like these, but they are no match for the joy I feel. I sit and listen to all the stories as my friends share– about meeting their husbands and wives, about funny or sad things at work, about pregnancy and childbirth and picking names for children and the unpredictability of two-year-olds. I imagine that my parents had conversations like this about me when I was little. I hear how God has blessed each family and prepared them for the things He brings into their lives. Everyone’s story is different, but also the same.

I realize that I have grown in thirteen years. When I was a senior in high school, I was afraid to drive a car. Today I made two trips by myself, and I enjoyed them. Even though social interaction is tiring, I am seeking it rather than avoiding it– planning my weekend around it and learning how to get enough rest in between so that I can be fully present and part of the conversation.

I wonder if my classmates know what a blessing they have been to my life– both those who are there and those who could not come.

At times, others find it hard to believe that I have Asperger’s just from observing me. I think some of this may be due to personality– my strong desire to avoid confrontation has likely kept me from clashing with others.

But there was another big difference in my life, the people around me. In so many of the stories I read online about people with Asperger’s, their years in school are not remembered fondly. Stories of bullying seem almost universal, and in a lot of cases, the best advice people can offer is “Wait until you graduate; it will get better.” I read about people who still deal with the effects of bullying decades later.

I wonder if my classmates know that they are proof that it doesn’t have to be that way– that kindness can have just as much of a positive impact on a life. None of us knew about Asperger’s, but anyone could see that I was different in some ways, lagging behind in others. But I wasn’t given grief for it. I was just given friendliness, time, and a safe place to grow.

I hope they know.

Every once in a while, I have an experience that drives home the fact that my mind works a bit differently from what’s considered “normal.”

I’m taking a class in marketing this quarter.  (When I was registering for classes, I thought it was a required course, but it turned out that it wasn’t!)  I wasn’t sure how well this course would go, not because I thought the work would be hard (thankfully there are no essays in this class), but because I have an antagonistic relationship with marketing in general.  Every marketing method seems to be all about manipulating people’s thoughts and actions in a way that’s often intrusive and sometimes outright deceptive.

Here’s an example.  A while ago, I was sorting through the mail.  About 50% of it is what’s considered “junk” mail, things trying to get you to buy something.  Because there was an election coming up, there was also a lot of political junk mail looking for money or votes.  There is mail that’s very important to keep track of, like bills or bank statements, and every once in a while, there’s a letter from a person.  I can usually pick those out because the address is hand written rather than printed.

Sometimes, I can tell pretty quickly which pile a piece of mail goes into.  But a lot of the creators of junk mail, political and otherwise, try to fool you.  For instance, one of them was using a printed font that was trying to look as if it was hand written; I could only tell the difference by looking very carefully at individual letters and realizing that all of the E’s looked exactly alike.

That’s marketing.  And it achieved its goal.  I looked at that envelope longer than I did any of the other junk mail, because it was harder to tell what it was.  It may be an effective strategy, and it’s far from the most intrusive thing that marketing does, but it still bothers me because it’s deceptive.  The company that printed that envelope knew that handwritten text seems more genuine and trustworthy because it implies that someone took the time to write it with a pen.  In reality, they printed thousands of envelopes just like this one, but they wanted to give a false impression.  Maybe someday soon, a computer will be able to cheaply simulate the variations of human handwriting so that all E’s will not look the same, and it will be even harder to tell the difference.

Okay, so sorry for complaining about something so minor there, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t like marketing.  I like for the labels on things to be correct.  Marketing does not seem very friendly to people with Asperger’s who like to categorize.

Anyway, I was in marketing class last week, and my teacher was talking about all of the psychological factors that go into the presentation of a product– shapes, colors, space, sound, and even smells can be used to try to grab people’s attention in ways they won’t notice.

The teacher explained that all of us have filters in our brains that are always working to allow us to concentrate on one thing while filtering out the things we’re not focusing on. He said that we usually aren’t aware of all of the things around us until they are pointed out.

I thought about the sounds I could hear in the room.  Besides my teacher speaking, I could hear the rustle of clothing from students fidgeting.  Some were picking up and setting down the plastic bottles they had brought to drink from, and some were tapping the floor or the legs of their desks with their shoes.  I could hear the more muffled sounds from out in the hall as groups of students came and went, sometimes stopping to have conversations.  Under it all was the steady hum of the projector hanging from the center of the ceiling.

“For instance,” said the teacher, “you don’t notice the noise that the thing on the ceiling is making, but now you suddenly notice it, because I pointed it out.  Isn’t that weird?  Especially those of you sitting right under it.”

Students seemed to react as if they hadn’t heard the noise until now, looking up at the projector.  A chair in one of the neighboring classrooms made a loud noise as it was scooted across the tile floor.

“Or like how a chair just made a noise there, but you didn’t notice it because you weren’t listening for it,” my teacher said.

I really wanted to tell the teacher that my filter was broken.  Then I remembered the first thing he had said about these mental filters:  “If we didn’t didn’t have them, we’d go insane.”

I wonder if this explains why I don’t like marketing very much.  Everything that’s for sale is screaming for the attention of people who filter most things out, but my filter is broken, so I hear it all (or at least more than the marketers expect me to).  I notice it the most in places like bookstores.  Every book’s cover is trying to stand out against all other books’ covers.  Some use bright colors, some use intricate designs, some are stark and minimalist, some are oddly shaped, some use disturbing images, and some use shocking titles.  The result is a garish cacophony that can be a bit dizzying from my point of view.

In my last post, I talked about some of the things about being an “Aspie” that can be depressing.  In this one, I want to talk about one of the things that’s awesome about it– and that is the enjoyment I get out of doing something related to my “special interest.”

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on writing some code in Javascript for my football Web site that will generate a graphical record of every drive in a football game from a set of numbers and names.

For example, the code will create this image…

… if you enter this data:

[[“kick”, 30, “S.Hauschka”], “pit”, 14, “G.Russell”, 34, 84, 7, “3:38”, [“FG”, 34, “good”, “J.Reed”]]

The image represents a kickoff from the Baltimore 30 to the Pittsburgh 14, returned to the Pittsburgh 34.  Pittsburgh drives 50 yards in 7 plays to the Baltimore 16 using 3:38 on the game clock.  Finally, Pittsburgh tries a 34-yard field goal, which is good.

All of the data comes from the list of numbers and names.  (In case you’re wondering, the player names would show up in info boxes when you move your mouse pointer over one of the lines in the image; I didn’t demonstrate that in this example.)

There are typically 25-35 drives in a football game.  If I tried to make images like the one above manually, I could do it, but it would take me days to create the image for a single game, and I’d never be able to keep up with all the games I’d like to cover for my site.  But if I can use Javascript to generate the image automatically, all I will need are the numbers and names.
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Catching up

Hi!  It’s been a while since I posted something new here.  I’d love to be able to write a post every other day or so, but I’m only in a writing mood every once in a while.  It’s not that there’s been nothing worth writing about; I just didn’t feel like it at the time.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying having some free time in the summer to visit with family.  World Cup games, Beatles Rock Band, and a new puppy have been among the things we’ve been enjoying.  Main sources of stress have been the job search process and difficulty concentrating on one task when I have a lot of options for what to do.  Maybe I’ll be able to write a little more about these things later.

I wonder how many people from history we think we know about based on their writing that we really don’t know well at all, because they only wrote when they were in a particular mood.  Probably a great deal of them.

Another thing I found interesting in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was the character Christopher’s description of why he dislikes reading fiction.  When I posted about the theory of mind explanation of autism, I said that the description of children on the autistic spectrum as not engaging in imaginary play didn’t seem to apply to me.  I played make-believe a lot as a child, both alone and with my brothers– we would go outside and imagine that we were exploring another planet (with our pets being the aliens) or build Lego castles and mount attacks on the enemy, for instance.

But back when I was first learning about Asperger’s syndrome, I came across the idea that one of its traits is a lack of connection with fictional or imaginary things like stories.  For example, one (admittedly not rigorously scientific) online quiz for evaluating the likelihood of having Asperger’s includes the following items:

— When I’m reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like. (with the answer DISAGREE indicating that one is more likely to have Asperger’s)

— I find making up stories easy.  (expecting the answer DISAGREE from an Aspie)

— When I’m reading a story, I find it difficult to work out the characters’ intentions (expecting AGREE)

— When I was young, I used to enjoy playing games involving pretending with other children (expecting DISAGREE)

As I said, I don’t think I have much difficulty in these areas (except for “making up stories easily,” since that involves writing, and my few examples of fiction when I was assigned to write it in high school are hideous!  I hope any copies are buried somewhere deep!  🙂  )

But the character of Christopher, the narrator in the novel I read (who is, of course, himself fictional) had an interesting explanation for why he dislikes fiction in general, and it actually made me realize that I do have some hangups of my own about reading.  (I’ll get to them later.) Continue reading

Someone in a local autism group shared this fascinating article by Michael Booth from Britain’s The Independent about an unusual Danish company:

Better, faster… and no office politics:  the company with the autistic specialists

Specialisterne (The Specialists) is a company in Denmark that employs adults on the autistic spectrum to test software and other systems.  It was founded 2004 by Thorkil Sonne, who became familiar with Asperger’s after his son was diagnosed on the spectrum.

A couple of excerpts:

“Five years on, Specialisterne employs 60 people, has a turnover of almost £2m, and works with Microsoft (it tested Windows XP Media Center) and CSC, among other major international companies, helping them to check information systems, databases and other highly demanding, often repetitive, number-crunching tasks. Specialisterne has won numerous business and industry awards, and now has two offices in Denmark. If current plans pan out, a new branch will open in Glasgow later this year. It is a shining model of how to turn a highly skilled yet misunderstood and underexploited element of the population – around one per cent have a diagnosis of autism, but other related ‘invisible disabilities’, such as ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) for instance, may account for as much as 3.5 per cent of the population – into productive and integrated members of the workforce.”

The company is not just giving people with autism and Asperger’s a place to work, though– it is apparently doing quite well!

“Leading UK software-testing consultant Stephen Allott of ElectroMind has been acting as an unpaid adviser to Specialisterne as the company prepares to enter the UK market where, currently, only about six per cent of people with autism are in full-time employment. He is very clear on the advantages of using them: ‘Simply, they are better, faster and do higher-quality work than the people we can currently get from the labour market in the UK or India,’ he says. ‘One of their guys can read a technical document the size of a book and spot inconsistencies between something on page three and page 37, which is incredibly useful. I already have clients in the UK who are interested in what they have to offer. The only thing we need to be careful about is their working environment. I know lots of companies with noisy, chaotic, open-plan offices, where the work is like fire-fighting most of the time, and people from Specialisterne wouldn’t be able to work there. That said, the environment they need is the kind of environment we should all be working in anyway.'”

What a great idea!  I hope it catches on.  : )

I have always tended to be moody.  (Maybe my name should be “Dwight L.”)  Even though depression is something I have struggled with and sought help for, it’s never been with the expectation that my mood would remain constantly at one level– it seems to be human to have times of feeling happy and feeling sad, and strangely they often don’t coincide with the circumstances of life.

C.S. Lewis was very insightful about this human tendency.  There’s a section in The Screwtape Letters that puts it very well.  (In case you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, each chapter is presented as a letter from a senior demon named Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood.  Wormwood has been assigned as the tempter of a human that Screwtape calls only “the patient.”)

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

So you “have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away”, have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dulness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

There’s a lot of cleverness in the way that C.S. Lewis quite literally takes on the role of the devil’s advocate to help the reader listen to what he has to say in a new way.  It can be a natural response for a Christian to assume that a time of depression or of feeling far from God must be because of sin.  But the Bible doesn’t teach that.  The Psalms seem to have as many examples of people crying out to God from the midst of trouble as they do of people giving God praise for their blessings.  God has a purpose in allowing us to go through both, and he is with us through both, regardless of how we feel.

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The list

I’ve been concerned that a lot of my recent posts have had an attitude of complaining, and I know no one wants to hear someone complain constantly. But some friends have encouraged me that it is helpful, both for me, and hopefully for others, for me to talk about things that are on my mind. Because one of the things about having Asperger’s is that you spend a greater percentage of time living in your mind than most other people. More thinking isn’t always a good thing– sometimes it can be exhausting!

Anyway, I figured I’d try to explain something about the way my mind ordinarily works that I think contributes to my difficulty with executive function. I’ll tell you about “the list.”

No one can see the list, but I always carry it with me. It’s my mental “to-do” list. I use it to keep track of the things I need to do after I’m done with what I’m doing now, and I use it to prioritize tasks in the order of importance. I’ll try to give an example based on today, which has actually not been a very busy day so far.

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