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Saturday, 23 April 2016

World Autism Awareness Day talk

Hey folks! Again, been a while. Not long ago I did a talk at an event my family does each year, a high tea to raise funds for down syndrome, and also to raise awareness. But this year, they also did it to raise awareness for autism, and that's what I spoke on. I had a lot of people telling me that the talk was really good, so I thought I'd put it up here with the various links and videos that I used. Hope you find it helpful!

Hello everyone. My name is Brendan - chances are you already know me - and I’m part of the Raymond family. As you’re probably aware, this year we’ve decided to expand today to include not just Down Syndrome, but also Autism. This was a very intentional decision, made because - well, it runs in the family. But also, more and more in today’s world, we’re seeing it pop up and become increasingly common. So it’s good to actually understand it a little.

Initially, though, a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, my experience and knowledge mainly centres around high-functioning autism, or what was known as Asperger’s Syndrome. My knowledge and experience of low-functioning or classic autism is fairly limited - I’m hoping that I’ll be able to cover both in what I say, but chances are there will be more of the former.
Secondly, we found out about autism in about 2012. By that time, I was nearly twenty. When we went to the psychologist, he essentially said that I probably had Asperger’s in the past, and I still thought in much the same way, but I didn’t really have it any more. So that’s me.

For those who are completely in the dark about what autism, Asperger’s, or any of this means, I’ll give you a quick run down.
The big umbrella term they’ve come up with is Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. That covers classic Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as a couple of others that I really don’t know much about.
“In simple terms, autism occurs when a child has trouble communicating and understanding what people think and feel. This makes it very difficult for autistic children to respond to gestures, facial expressions, touch and even language.”

People with ASD can:
  • Be oversensitive or undersensitive to particularly sensory material (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste)
  • Have repetitive body movements
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Display strong attachment to particular objects
  • Be resistant to even small changes in routine; things need to be the same
  • Be oversensitive or undersensitive to physical touch

There is a lot more than that to it, but that’s some of the main thrust of it. One of the main differences between classic autism and Asperger’s is that autistic people often have developmental delays and difficulties with language; whereas Aspies don’t, and may well excel mentally, but still have difficulties emotionally and socially.

As a note - the last estimate for how common autism was in Australia was about 1 in 100. In America, they think it’s closer to 1 in 70. And if you’re wondering, those numbers are a lot higher than they used to be. And we see that reflected a lot in popular culture - how many TV shows or movies are now centred around this idea of an incredibly smart person who solves the puzzle through their massive brain power, but seems very crazy and just doesn’t get along with people too well? Sherlock Holmes is the classic example, but there are many others. The Mentalist, Bones, The Finder, The Imitation Game, Lie To Me, The Big Bang Theory - even characters like The Doctor, or Spock, can be seen as having traits common to autism or Asperger’s. The nerd is the word, people!

But I want to get rid of some common ideas that people have about autism, or Asperger’s.

Vaccines cause Asperger’s.
This is possibly the most damaging myth that has ever been circulated about autism, or Asperger’s. It started about 18 years ago, with a guy called Andrew Wakefield, who published an article in an English medical journal talking about a link between autism and the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine. But there was an investigation into it, and they figured out that he made up a lot of the data, and was also getting a bit of money on the side for some of the things he was doing. His paper was retracted and his medical license was taken away, but the damage was already done. These days, because of the people that are against vaccinations, we’re starting to see a resurgence in some diseases that had been basically eradicated before.
At the moment, scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes autism. They know it has a lot to do with how the brain grows and matures, and it also has a strong link to genetics. But more than that, they’re still trying to figure it out. But it’s not about vaccines! If you’d like to know more about this, after today, I’ll be putting a link up on the event page and on my profile that links to a comic that talks about this really well.
(Or you can just find the link below.)

Autism only effects males.
This one is pretty common as well. The thing is, it effects more men and boys than it does women and girls, but there are still plenty of girls on the spectrum. The struggle is, a lot of the time they’re better at hiding it! So they can be very much under-represented by the statistics and the numbers. It can also effect boys and girls very differently, and people are more used to how it effects guys, and so recognise it more. But it does also effect females, and we’re getting better at seeing it.

People with autism are emotionless.
Now, I’ve talked about a lot of fairly recent references to autism or Asperger’s in film and TV. But I want to use here an example that isn’t typically connected to either of these, that’s a little bit older. But I think it’s actually a classic example. And I also think it’s something that you’ll know well. 
(The link is below. If you want you can watch all of it, but I just showed it from the 2:47 mark.)
Andy Dufresne. Convicted by the court of murdering his wife and another man she was in bed with. And his face….was expressionless. You didn’t see any emotion there. “You strike me as a particularly icy and remorseless man, Mister Dufresne. It chills my blood just to look at you.”
Aspies and autistic people are not without emotion. Where they can struggle is with understanding emotion, communicating emotion, showing emotion - but that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel anything. It can mean that they don’t understand what they feel, or they don’t show what they feel, or they don’t say what they feel - but that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel.
(Since doing this talk, I've actually watched through The Shawshank Redemption again, and found another great scene that speaks to this as well - it's right near the end, where Andy has just finished his massive time in solitary, and he and Red are talking, sitting down against a wall. Andy talks about how his wife said that he was a hard man to know, and he feels that he drove her away. Another interesting point.)

All autistics are savants.
Often, in these TV shows and movies, these people have ridiculous mental abilities that almost seem supernatural. Whether it’s incredible memory, or powers of deduction and analysis - and that’s what we hear about in the news as well. People creating these incredible works of art from memory, or sitting down at a piano and being able to play anything, or knowing a hundred languages. But savant autism is actually extremely rare, and the exception rather than the norm. This does not mean that many autistic people are not very talented - but being a savant is a very extreme version of this, that is the exception rather than the rule. Here again, I love looking at Andy Dufresne, because he’s not particularly exceptional in how he’s depicted. And I actually really encourage you to go back and watch The Shawshank Redemption sometime, and see if you can spot the little indicators here and there.

I’d like to end by looking at another video. I think a lot of the time, parents of Asperger kids, or autistic kids - or even adults on the spectrum, can worry about something. And with ASD, the main worry isn’t work. I mean, that is an issue, particularly with classic autism, but I don’t think it’s the main issue. The main issue that people can worry about, I think, is relationships. How they’re going to relate to friends, people at work, even their own family - whether a romantic relationship will ever work out for them. Social interaction, and emotional communication are one of the biggest obstacles for people on the spectrum. And you really don’t have to look very far on the internet to find a lot of examples of people who have been or are in a relationship with someone on the spectrum who are finding it really, really, hard. And it is, I’m not going to cotton-wool it. It is hard, and it is difficult. But it can work.

Living with autism can be hard. So can living with someone with autism - feel free to ask any of the girls in my family, I’m sure they’ll have lots of stories for you! But just like anyone else - these people have something to offer. They have gifts, strengths, weaknesses, challenges. They’re people. Different people - both different from each other and from everyone else - but still people.

And that’s what I want you to remember.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016


I wish that people wouldn't see someone standing by themself and think they just want to be by themselves. 
I wish that everyone loved hugs, so I wouldn't worry so much about whether someone will be uncomfortable with it or not and just hugged more people, damn it.
I wish that I wouldn't just keep on making the same mistakes. When I know how to get it right. 
I wish that talking wasn't so hard. Talking! Seriously?
I wish that internal dialogue wasn't internal about 99.9% of the time. At a conservative estimate. 
I wish that food stayed good for just a little bit longer, so you could actually buy in bulk and save money rather than either chucking heaps out or getting only bits and pieces. 
I wish that I could see the stars clearly without having to look through glass. 
And faces too. 
Though I do also wish that for just one acting role I don't have to take my glasses off. For once!
I wish that more people asked me questions - because I feel like I have so many answers and thoughts and stories that I feel like I'm going to burst, and I'm afraid they're going to be lost because one day I'll forget them before I tell anyone. 
I wish that cards and dominoes weren't quite so hard to stand. 
I wish that I knew more long huggers.
I wish that my dreams didn't seem so unreachable. 
I wish that I didn't go through pens and earphones so fast. 
I wish that my body wouldn't get so tired. 
I wish that I was more true to myself and my word. 
I wish that I would remember my own advice. 
I wish that I would stop wishing, and start doing. 
Or, in this instance, start sleeping. 
Good night!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Dreaming About Now.

Hey folks! I haven't been posting a lot lately, and I believe I'm still short on an India post or two. Hopefully that happens at some point. This was just an idea that came up that I thought I'd take a moment to write about.

Every now and then, you get people asking you, "Where do you see yourself in five years time?" Or one year, or ten years. Or even more! I always found this question so hard, personally. Firstly, because I find even looking a few days ahead hard enough! Looking months ahead, years ahead - just seems crazy to me. I don't get it.

But it's also because, to me, a few years is rather far away. Why can't it be now? (Admittedly, this is probably a bit of a product of our microwave culture. I'm a bit of a victim of that one. Really struggle with short-term goals versus long-term goals.) Instead of dreaming about where I could be in five years time - I tend to dream about what I could be doing right now. Because I think there's rather a lot that I could be doing right now, that I don't need to be waiting however long for.

For me, right now, there's a couple of specific things that I could see myself doing.
The first is my albums. At one point, I think I mentioned that I'm working on recording an album. That's actually part of a four-album series, looking at (what I consider to be) four core ideas about who God is - life, love, light, and truth. I wrote the first album during 2014, my Impart year. Since then, I've been working on trying to record it, bit by bit. I now have a team together, but finding time with different people is super-difficult. The second album I started writing pretty much as soon as I'd finished the first. The original idea was that I'd write one album a year; and release one album a year. So I wrote the first album in 2014, release it 2015. Write the second one 2015, release it 2016. Write the third one 2016, release it 2017. Write the fourth one 2017, release it 2018. Well, I'm on schedule as far as the writing goes - I've recently realised that I've finished writing the second album (love), and I'm on to the third (light). And I have barely started recording the first (life)!
So what I'd want to be doing there is spending a lot more of my time on getting that happening, because I'm ridiculously behind on that side of things. And then - get the songs out there! Doing an album launch, and then (ideally) doing a mini-tour with each one around a few different churches and such. Because each song on each album also has a story, and a way that it links to the others; and each album has a story as a whole as well. And as part of playing them, I'd be telling that story, and sharing my story of going on this journey of writing these songs. Which is also why I want to get on to that - because my journey is now in the Light phase, but I haven't even shown people the Life phase! It's kinda crazy!

As well as that, there's my book. I believe I've mentioned this before as well. I'm writing a book called Son, Brother, Bride, mainly aimed at Christian guys, around who we are and who God is - and how the two are very intertwined and such. I've recently been writing a lot more on this (and will be getting back to doing that after I've done this post!), and have nearly finished my first draft. There's still a heck of a lot of work to do - there are whole sections that need redoing, and bits that need reworking - but then at least it would be complete as a whole! Then I need to go into editing and inviting people to read it and give me feedback as that's happening (if that's something you'd be interested in, drop me a line!), and finally publishing and getting it out there. At this stage, I don't know what that's going to look like - whether it will just be online, or if it will be in print as well. Chances are, I'll start with the former, and if I'm able to get some sales happening, the latter will come along. But this is a book that I really want to get out to a lot of people, because I believe that it has a message that will effect and help a lot of people. Perhaps I could do a book launch as well as an album launch! That would be cool. Doing a bit of a message based around the ideas from the book.

Now, in saying these two things - there are still other things I'd want to do, being me. I'm the sort of person that always wants to be doing a hundred different things at once! But really, this is what I want to be doing with my time. Why aren't I? Well, because rent and food and petrol and such. I'm trying to put in time as I have it - but it's fairly sparse, really.

So yeah :) That's what I dream about doing right now. Rather than in two or three years time, or five years time, or ten years time. If anyone has ideas about how to make that happen, I'm all ears. (Though not actually, because 1 Corinthians 12:17.)