Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The happy misinterpretation of successful coping strategies - or "How I Met My Partner"

The thing about developing useful coping strategies is not only can they get you through difficult situations, they can even - in some cases - be wildly successful.

In fact, part of the reason I ended up with the woman I've spent my life with for about 12 years now is that she completely misinterpreted my motives for doing something when she first met me. That made a huge favorable first impression that I haven't managed to erode entirely - yet.

I'll have to back up a bit. Back in 1996, I received an email alert about this new organization named Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group devoted to fighting legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. I won't bore anyone here with the story of my own growing fascination at the time with what I perceived as a "better dead than disabled" theme in pro-"right to die" rhetoric, but I was excited about this group since its reasons for opposing these policies were the same as mine - secular and based in a disability rights perspective.

The group had planned its first protest action in Michigan. The "targets" were a bioethics conference and Jack Kevorkian's house. As a grad student, I didn't have much money, but I did have a friend in the area who found another friend who allowed me to stay at her apartment for the three days I would be there.

Underneath my excitement was a fair amount of anxiety. I am a blob - a reclusive, unsuccessful schmoozer in a large group of strangers. The desire to make connections and the fear of having it all fall flat because I'm so bad at these situations always contend with each other.

Fortunately, I've learned to look for opportunities that can structure my interactions in a group like that. Find a role or job that gives me something to do rather than stay in the corner or try to find something that resembles ice-breakers in the way of conversation.

As someone who has trouble with keeping to a schedule, I compensated in the usual way and was the first person to arrive at the protest action on the first day. The person I later learned was Diane was the second person.

I asked her if there was anything I could do. She asked if I would sell tshirts. I jumped at the opportunity and spent the morning meeting people, taking their money and picking out tshirts for them, with little bits of conversation flowing the whole time.

I did a couple other things during the protest days that helped establish myself as someone who was generally bright and helpful.

But I learned later, that as far as Diane was concerned, it was that first day with the tshirts that made such a great impression on her. (We did a delicate dance on the phone in the month following the protest - political turning to personal gradually)

After we ended up together, she told me that the first thing that drew her attention was my generosity. I helped with the tshirts. I laughed when she told me and explained the entirely self-serving nature of volunteering to do that. At the time, she wasn't sure what to make of that.

Gradually, she's come to accept that really is the truth. She's seen me kind of wander around aimlessly in enough social gatherings to see that I really appreciate some kind of facilitation.

But it worked out well enough, as far as I'm concerned. And Diane says she's pretty OK with how it worked out as well. --Stephen

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My take on "Autism Awareness Month"

I have a feeling that apologies for neglect may become a regular feature here. I won't bore folks with the details this time, but I've been buried when I haven't been sick (sick taking up a couple of my days).

I do have something to share today. Nonverbal learning disabilities are widely regarded as falling somewhere in the general category of "autism spectrum disorder." (I prefer the terms "cousin" or "AC" myself and have a story about that I'll share in the future.)

In deference to that relationship, and to a general concern about the general promotion of useful disability advocacy, I wrote my first blog post for the Center for Disability Rights, which is where Not Dead Yet (NDY) headquarters in now located. Below is the link and the intro paragraphs to my primer on "Autism Awareness Week."

Autism Awareness Month
Most people in the disability community are aware that April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day. If you’ve noticed that there’s still a heavy amount of autism coverage in the media, it’s because April has now been delegated Autism Awareness Month.

Autism Awareness Month is a good opportunity to talk about some of the problems, particularly the problems that are actually promoted in the name of “autism awareness.” These problems make many people, including myself, dread the month more than I dread the Jerry Lewis/MDA Telethon, which lasts a mere 24 hours.

The disability community has long criticized the Telethon for its emphasis on a “cure” as the most pressing need for people with disabilities. To promote that agenda, people with disabilities are portrayed as objects of pity. Those portrayals act as additional barriers to the respect, inclusion and accommodations for which people with disabilities advocate.
Please read the rest. I'll be back as soon as time, schedule and energy allow. --Stephen