Tag Archives: Autism spectrum

Getting the Details on Neurodiversity


by Lillian Csernica on October 8, 2015

Juliette Wade devoted one of her recent Dive Into Worldbuilding Hangouts to the subjects of neurotypical symptoms and those which are characteristic of the autistic spectrum.  She was kind enough to invite me to participate as a guest speaker because of my experience with raising John.

You can find the write-up at Juliette’s blog, TalkToYouniverse.

The blog post includes a video of me, so for those of you who don’t know what I look like “live and in person,” brace yourselves.  Just kidding.  I did dress up for the Hangout, as opposed to wearing my usual working clothes of my bathrobe over my sweats.  If anyone has any questions about the subjects discussed in the Hangout, I’m more than happy to answer questions and suggest resources.

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Filed under autism, fantasy, neurodiversity, parenting, research, science fiction, special education, specialneeds, Writing

U is for Unpredictable


by Lillian Csernica on April 24, 2013

A long time ago when Tangent still published a print edition, I wrote a column reviewing short horror fiction. My number one complaint? Predictable plotlines. That’s a major weakness in any story regardless of genre. Editors and publishers (and reviewers!) want to see fresh, new, unpredictable storytelling.

How do you learn the art of writing unpredictable plot twists? Reading widely in your field certainly helps. Knowing what the competition has already done will help you stretch beyond that. Look at Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files. In book after book, Butcher just keeps raising the stakes. You have no idea how Harry Dresden is going to cope with the latest set or impossible odds and grueling emotional stakes. Jim Butcher delivers every time.

 PLOT: Brainstorm all the possible ways your protagonist could try to solve the problem situation. No matter how obvious, how logical, how predictable. Dump all of that out of your head onto paper. With that list in front of you, you’ll begin to get ideas for more creative and unpredictable solutions.

 CHARACTER: Many writers start with a character in mind. Here are two ways to proceed.

  1. Give that character some kind of physical or mental trait that is unpredictable. Be careful with this one. Check your chosen “symptoms” against known medical conditions. You might create a character that seems unique when in fact you’ve reproduced the traits associated with autism, especially Asperger’s Syndrome. (Every Aspie is unique, but that might not be what’s best for your story!)
  2. Take something away. During bad weather an airplane pilot goes deaf and can’t hear the instructions from the air traffic control tower. A master chef suffers some trauma that takes away his senses of taste and smell. A professional photographer gets hit in the back of the head in just the right spot to make him or her “face blind.” What do these people do now?

SETTING: Put that character into a situation so foreign to his or her native environment, educational background, moral paradigm, etc. that solving the problem situation is going to take a whole lot of luck and adaptation on the run.  S.M. Sterling does a brilliant job of this in Island in the Sea of Time, the first book of the Nantucket Series.  When a strange storm blows up off Nantucket, things go so wrong that when the weather clears, both the island and a Coast Guard windjammer are stranded in the Bronze Age.

You also have the option of combining two or even all three of these story elements. Just don’t go overboard.  There’s a fine line between the Unpredictable and the Unbelievable.

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Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Writing

Autism + Adolescence


by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2013

I love my son John so much.  He’s come so far from the days when we had to have a behavioral specialist and a one to one aide come to our home and “play” kindergarten with him until he got the hang of his first icon-based schedule.  He’s become popular at his middle school for his participation in dress-up days.  On one Superhero Day, he was the only person in the entire school who dressed up!  He went as “John-zuka,” with a costume he and my sister had put together.  (She sews, I don’t.)  Thanks to him, his grade won five spirit points.  John was the Man of the Hour, much like Harry Potter winning points for Gryffindor.

Now John is fourteen.  Oh Lord, is he fourteen.  

Because of John’s anxiety issues, he bites his fingernails.  We got him to stop doing that by convincing him if he kept biting his nails he couldn’t paint his nails black this Halloween as part of his planned Frankenstein costume.  So now he’s chewing on his cuticles to the point of drawing blood.  It took three of us to get the Band-Aids on his fingers last night.  Two to hold his arms and one to actually apply the Band-Aids.  The boy is six feet tall, built like a wrestler, strong as an ox, and very very stubborn.  He almost lifted me off my feet, and I’m no petite little china doll.

Remember when you were a teenager?  Not a child, but not an adult?  Caught between all the things you had to leave behind, confused about everything that was coming at you?  And then there’s the whole issue of hormones and a new awareness of the opposite sex and learning all the social rules that go along with being just classmates or friends or boy/girl-friends or what we used to call “going steady.”  So  much to learn, so many opportunities for confusion, for mixed signals, for embarrassment and humiliation.

Now add to all that the symptoms and processing disorders of autism.

This fall John will enter high school.  It’s a whole new stage of life.  He already has a lot going for him, and he will have a good team of teachers, therapists, and caseworkers to back him up.  There will be the hard days, the days when frustration and anxiety get the best of him.  There will be days when I’m so exasperated I think my head will explode.

I love John.  On the hard days, I’ll try to make sure I give him extra hugs or praise or whatever it takes.

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Filed under Family, Special needs

Five Ways to Make Life Easier for Special Needs People


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2013

While I’ve been occupied with the A to Z Challenge I haven’t said much about Michael and John. Michael is sensitive to loud noises, certain types of music, and some pitches of voice. We believe minor key music causes him physical pain. John has sensory processing disorder, auditory processing disorder, speech delay, and some of the other symptoms that are part of being autistic.

I want to share with you this important article written by Aiyana Bailin, a lady who understands what life is like for Michael and John. She understands what they have to endure minute to minute just getting through the day. What’s more, she can explain why some adults make life really hard for special needs people like Michael and John because of the “challenging behaviors” those adults inflict on them.

Managing Challenging Behaviors in Neurotypicals

By Aiyana Bailin

Many neurotypical adults have behaviors that the rest of us find difficult to handle.  These people are generally unaware of the stress their challenging behaviors cause for autistic friends and family members.  Even the most patient autistic people whose loved ones have challenging behaviors may become frustrated and find their time and energy greatly taxed by the demands of dealing with these behaviors regularly.

Challenging behaviors in adults include insistence that others make eye contact or physical contact with them frequently, difficulty understanding non-speech communication beyond certain stereotyped facial expressions, difficulty tolerating stimming and echolalia, narrow perceptions of what constitutes “learning,” “empathy,” and “age-appropriate behavior,” inability to recognize the sensory needs of others, and obsession with social rituals.

How to positively address challenging behaviors in your friends and family members:

1) Gently remind them that their ways of communicating, learning, succeeding, and socializing are not the only ones.

2) Regularly let them know (preferably in carefully chosen verbal or written words—remember, they respond best to “polite” requests) when their behaviors are impeding your sensory processing, communication, de-stressing, executive functioning, and other important aspects of your life.

3) Be willing to repeat this information for them as needed. Remember, very few neurotypicals have the precise memories many of us take for granted.

4) Be patient and understanding. It can be hard for neurotypicals to grasp the importance of special interests, the joys of sensory play, or the irrelevance of their social games and hierarchies.

5) Remember to love your neurotypicals, and focus on their good points. At the same time, practice self-care. While your loved ones never mean to be a burden, dealing with them alone for long periods of time can be exhausting and stressful. Remember to take time for yourself, be firm about your own needs, and recruit a good support network to help you manage the challenges that neurotypicals bring into your life.

It’s up to the parents, teachers, and caregivers of autistic and other special needs people to see to it their own challenging behaviors are corrected, and to protect the special needs people in their care from suffering at the hands of people who don’t realize they have challenging behaviors and how much distress they cause.

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Filed under Family, Special needs