A Tip for Typers

This is a really simple tip if you want to communicate better (and who doesn’t?), but I suspect not everyone knows this.


Yep, that’s my hand typing on a decent but not great keyboard.

The type of keyboard you use is important. It’s even more important if you use a keyboard to communicate with others.

Sometimes I type to communicate, although, mostly, I use my spoken voice today. But I remember some speech devices, despite being nice speech devices, just didn’t seem to work for me.

I use typing to communicate to break through a “block” that helps me communicate. I’m starting to think more and more that this is a form of initiation/continuation movement difference that I have, although I also realize that’s controversial. But, regardless of the reason, I find speech difficult sometimes, and I typically find typing easier.

So, why were some devices difficult to use? It’s simple: the keyboard. The more “mechanical” (and “clicky”) the keyboard, the easier I can type. I do worst with silent on-screen keyboards – they are almost as bad as speech! I do best with the old-style mechanical keyboards (think IBM, loud, heavy, and clicky). What I’m using now on my primary computer is a somewhat clicky (not nearly an IBM, but I don’t want to wake the neighbors), but much more firm action than the standard keyboards I was using – and I’m finding it’s much easier for me to think and continue my thinking process as I type.

The reason for me is simple – it’s about the rhythm. I’m not sure why rhythm matters, but it does. When I hear my rhythm, I can continue onto the next letter, word, sentence, paragraph. It may also be related to a discovery I made when I was a child – that if I blocked out outside noise, so I could only hear my own voice (such as hearing it amplified and played to me over headphones), I found it much easier to talk. I need that feedback.

And I suspect a lot of autistic people do. So if you use electronic devices to communicate, and you can try a different keyboard, do so. I recommend something like this keyboard although it may be beyond some people’s budgets for a keyboard (but, if you can afford something like this, but just think that it is too much money for a keyboard, consider that it may improve your communication – and make sure it’s still too much). Most keyboards have rubber domes – the current Apple keyboards, anything from Dell, etc, will use these. They don’t provide significant feedback.

If you use a tablet, I suggest turning on key clicks – just try it for a bit and see if it helps, or if it doesn’t. And consider trying to use a real keyboard as well and validate that the tablet input system really is the best input system for your unique needs. For me, tablets aren’t nearly as good as a real keyboard – and it’s not just that I’m a very fast touch typist, but rather that I get “blocked” when typing on them. I simply have a harder time getting words out (although key clicks being enabled help significantly).

If you are a parent or speech therapist, helping someone who uses electronic devices, I encourage you to try mechanical keyboards (the louder the better) and turning key clicking on, no matter how much some teacher might not like the clicking sound. If it doesn’t make a difference, switch back to something quieter. But if it does, you may be opening more communications for someone. That’s a really awesome thing and worth any amount of click noise.

Too Big to Fail

Apparently, in the autism world, there’s a concept of “too big to fail.”

Autism Speaks, apparently, is too big to fail.

Autistic self-advocates and our allies have been speaking very loudly, nearly unanimously (like anything, we won’t all agree, but we almost all agree on this) that Autism Speaks is doing more harm than good in the autism world. Autism Speaks promotes an agenda that speaks to fear and prejudice, affirming that fear and prejudice among supporters and volunteers. It speaks to the first thing that goes through a parent’s mind when they hear their child is autistic: “The world’s ended. Your child has been stolen. You won’t have a life. You’re marriage will fall. You really should have built that bomb shelter.” Okay, maybe not the last one, but they absolutely echo that message – despite plenty of parents disagreeing with it (and a large reason for these feelings is the fear and prejudice that Autism Speaks promotes).  But don’t take my word for it – search for “What is wrong with Autism Speaks” and you’ll get plenty of others who feel like I do. I’ll give one link here, from Emma’s Hope Book: What is Wrong with Autism Speaks. But I’m going to assume that most readers of this blog either just did a bit of Googling or read Emma’s link (or any number of other links out there that say the same thing).

So, we’ve been boycotting Autism Speaks and seeking to let their sponsors know we don’t like money going to an organization that makes our life difficult.

In the midst of this, we hear people dismayed that we would not seek to engage and work with Autism Speaks. Well, let me start by saying: we tried. Seriously. Many, many of us tried to engage with Autism Speaks. They do not want autistic people to have a seat at their table, except for a PR role. We’re good for publicity and fundraising, but not actually for coming up with thoughts about what would make our lives better.

But, ignoring that (and this effort continues – should Autism Speaks seek to engage in a meaningful way with autistic people, I’m sure they will have no shortage of ways to engage), there are two main reasons people say we should “engage” and not protest. First, they say “Autism Speaks does good things too.” Typically, they’ll mention local chapters that somehow do something good. Second, they’ll say, “Autism Speaks is the largest, best funded Autism organization and could do a lot of good if they could be pointed in the right direction.”

I’m not going to discuss the first right now, other than saying that while Autism Speaks does occasionally do something good, they do a heck of a lot more bad.

As for the second reason, it’s essentially, “Autism Speaks is big.” Yes, we know that. Of course they are – they are well funded, and spend almost all their resources to grow. Not through helping people, or even research (yes they spend money on research, and, no, autistic people do not oppose research; however, they spend more on salaries and marketing). I’ll add that I’m not comfortable supporting a research organization that can’t understand their own research – but my point is not about research. It’s this idea that if we don’t support this big organization, we won’t have any voice at all.

Let me start by saying that having Autism Speaks not speak would not hurt me or others at all. Nor would it hurt the vast majority of autistic people. In fact, it would allow other organizations that do understand research, that do understand autism, that do care about prejudice and groundless fear, to speak out.

Might doesn’t make right.

Nor is Autism Speaks likely to change course anytime soon. I hope that our efforts to get their attention by letting their sponsors know that donating to Autism Speaks is anything but non-controversial has an impact. I hope Autism does change course. But right now they aren’t doing anything that helps autistic people. Seriously.

A big oil terminal. Exxon-Mobil De-Kastri Terminal (public domain, by russian.dissident via Wikimedia Commons)

A big oil terminal. Exxon-Mobil De-Kastri Terminal (public domain, by russian.dissident via Wikimedia Commons)

We might as well volunteer and donate money to Exxon. After all, Exxon is big. Way bigger than Autism Speaks. And if Exxon wanted to help autistic people, they could do a wonderful job of it with the resources they have. Sure, if you sent a $100 check to Exxon, they probably wouldn’t actually use that to help autistic people. But neither does Autism Speaks. And that’s the point.

If you want to support an organization that encourages discrimination and fear of a minority population, go ahead and mail your check to Autism Speaks for Christmas. But I can suggest a lot of better uses for your money. The first one that comes to mind is ASAN, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Go read about them. They could do a lot of good with your money.

But don’t just give to Autism Speaks. And don’t you dare tell me that I should support them because they are big.

Asking the Wrong Question: How do I flirt?

Okay, I’m giving everyone another installment today of Joel’s Dating Advice. I’m autistic, and I’ve seriously dated exactly one woman, so take my advice with a grain of salt. That said, I have a great relationship and have observed a lot of failure, both in my own and other people’s lives.

I hear this all the time: autistic people need to learn to flirt so they can find someone. I saw a fellow autistic person post something about this today, probably because he’s heard it elsewhere.

Uh, no, you don’t need to learn to flirt.

Seriously, you don’t have to learn to be someone you aren’t, and which you can only be long enough to attract someone romantically.

And even if you do attract someone this way, it’s not romance. That’s doing a massive disservice to the concept of romance.

Now, some autistics just want to have sex, just like some neurotypicals or others might. I’m assuming that the reader of this isn’t trying for one-night stands (I’ll give a hint to straight autistic guys: most women aren’t looking for one-night stands, so you’ll probably fail – a lot – if you are seeking one-night stands).

This is the whole problem with flirting (and the related “pick up artist” hogwash): it has the premise of “If I give the system input X, then I get result Y.” People don’t work that way. They aren’t a computer system that you can give a certain line of code to and get a certain result, nor is failure in dating the same as a failure of syntax or logic in a computer program.

It’s not “If I do X, then the woman will do Y.” (I’m assuming that you are a man wanting a woman, but obviously substitute whatever the appropriate gender identifiers are) No, it is more like, “If you are X, then this particular woman may find you romantically interesting and attractive.” (And, yes, it works the opposite way – if a woman wants to be romantically interesting to a guy, it’s not enough to give the guy certain inputs)

There’s a distinction here – it’s about being someone that is interesting, not doing certain things.

So, for instance, flirting (or any other “how to pick up girls” advice) will tell you things like, “Act interested, but a bit distant, so she has to work to get your attention.” Hogwash. Maybe for a half-drunk neurotypical, this makes sense (I doubt it), but it certainly doesn’t make sense for someone that is acting in this way. You’re not going to be able to keep up the act, even if it is (unlikely) interesting to the woman.

You want to be romantically interesting to people?  Here’s my advice:

  • If you’re desperate for a date, you’re almost certainly not going to get one. I’m serious. No, it’s not because of some horrible injustice in the world – I’ll get to why in a second – but rather because of the vibes you’re giving off (even to autistic people – even autistic people can detect this).
  • So, you need to become fulfilled and not desperate for a date. Seriously, this is the problem you need to work on – that you have this drive that requires a relationship to fulfill your life or make your life meaningful. It is a problem, and it does need some attention. You need to find other ways to become fulfilled. Ironically, this will help you get that date.
  • I said I would return to why being desperate doesn’t help – most people don’t want someone who takes from them, but rather wants someone who gives. I’m not talking money. I’m talking emotionally. People want someone who makes them happy, who makes their life enjoyable. If you’re miserable (because, for instance, you’re desperate for a date, and it’s making you miserable), you don’t have a lot of positive emotional energy to give. If you’re fulfilled in life, and have what you need to be fulfilled, now you have energy and ability to help someone else become fulfilled and happy. Again, this works best when both people feel this way and both can give fulfillment to the other already-fulfilled person! At that point, it is a beautiful and joyous feeling, receiving fulfillment in ways you didn’t even realize were possible – but not out of need.
  • It’s not about your looks or income. And it shouldn’t be about hers if you don’t want it to be about yours. The standard you judge her with will likely be the standard she judges you. That’s why that supermodel is probably not going to date you – you are using this impossible standard of beauty and celebrity, while you likely don’t meet the same standard. But even when you don’t judge this way, she might not be interested for any number of reasons – income and looks probably aren’t the top reasons, unless she’s particularly shallow.
  • Are you a decent person? This isn’t about being neurotypical, but rather about being honest, trustworthy, and kind. Yes, kind. That means you find kind ways to be honest, not mean ways to be honest. And, yes, autistic people can do this. Further, are you being honest about your intentions? If she made it clear she wants a friend, but you want sex, so you act as a friend while trying to manipulate the relationship into something different, you’re not being honest.
  • You might be a fulfilled, nice, decent guy. And she might not be interested. That happens. Most of the time for most people. She’s not evil, she’s just not interested, and she’s being honest by not faking interest. Respect that and move on.
  • You might be fulfilled, nice, and decent, and it still will likely take some time. Part of the reason is that you aren’t in a hurry and other people like you (the fulfilled, nice, decent potential partners) will also not be in a particular hurry. You won’t meet most of these people at a bar or Craigslist or even on a dating site. Sure, people meet all these different ways and sometimes the relationship works. But it’s not likely how it’s going to happen for most of us. Keep being fulfilled, nice, and decent, and deal with the bitterness if it comes up (the bitterness isn’t going to help!). If you’re fulfilled, you’ll be willing to wait. And, like most people – even most autistics who don’t have a lot of social contact – you may be surprised when you find someone.
  • Finally, autistics aren’t the only people that have trouble finding someone. Don’t subject yourself to this strange standard that you shouldn’t be a virgin at age whatever, that you shouldn’t be single at age whatever, etc. Find fulfillment. Seriously.

You see, none of this is the standard, “how to flirt” advice. It’s not about pickup lines.

And, speaking as someone who is married, the first lines you spoke are every bit as important as how you respect your mate years later. You can’t put on an act that long. It’s not worth trying. It is worth becoming fulfilled and becoming a decent human being, however, for not just your future mate’s sake, but for you in the here-and-now. Despite what the pickup artists say about how assholes can pick up women, these aren’t typically mutually fulfilling relationships that will bring the asshole (or his partner) happiness.

So, in summary: get fulfilled so you have something to give (not money, but emotion), become a decent human being if you aren’t already, and don’t insist on judging yourself by whether or not you have or have had a relationship. And if you have trouble with one of those steps, you won’t solve that problem by getting a relationship. Sure, you might transform the problem from the old one into a new one, but it’s not going to make you happy. So, it’s worth the investment to find ways to figure out, “Why can’t I be fulfilled without a woman?” (again, substitute appropriate gender). Then spend some time saying, “How can I become a better human being?” Again, that doesn’t involve dating, but rather introspection, honesty, and courage.