Setting Goals for 2014

It’s hard to believe that 2013 is nearly over. With the new year just days away, it’s a good time to start thinking about setting goals for 2014. Change can be hard for those of us living with ASD. Setting goals can give us something to look forward to and work on. Teens with autism are making the transition to adulthood, when setting goals and making a plan to accomplish them becomes more important.
A first step to setting goals for the new year is looking back at what you accomplished this year. Were you able to master a new skill? Did you take up a hobby? Maybe you made strides in reading others’ emotions with the help of Face Value Comics.
Once you’ve determined what you’ve already accomplished, you can think of what you’d like to tackle next. Break your goals down into steps. If you’d like to take up a sport, think of all the different skills that go into it. Making a list of all the component parts of your goal can make it easier to accomplish it. If you’re hoping to get more comfortable in social situations, think of what makes you feel awkward and what you can do to feel more comfortable. It may help to talk to your parents for help. Face Value Comics are another great resource to help you master social skills. Setting goals will help you have a sense of accomplishment. Here’s to a fun and productive 2014!

First Autism at Face Value Comic is Released!

We’re so grateful for our patient fans. Autism at Face Value is excited to announce that our first issue is available now at Indy Planet. Click here to get it.
Download a free four page insert (a special treat for our awesome fans), too! We’re very proud of our first Autism at Face Value comic and wanted to offer you that special bonus. Inside this special four-page color insert, you’ll find safety tips from Project Lifesaver International and definitions for 10 Victorian vocabulary words. For instance, did you know that an “addle plot” is a spoil sport?
Get your free Autism at Face Value Download here!
An Autism at Face Value comic makes a great gift and you can get them in time by visiting one of our local stores. At our signing, the first 100 comics purchased in store will be signed by the artist and writing team. Fans in York, PA can buy the comic at three local comic book stores: Comix Connection, Comic Store West, and Planet X Comics. We appreciate everyone who takes the time to buy their comics from these great shops and hope you enjoy issue 1, the first of many comics that will deliver a fun and inventive storyline AND build understanding about autism.

Helping Teens with Autism with Social Learning

Social learning refers to the process of observational learning, often internalizing social norms. For neurotypical children, social learning usually happens intuitively, without the need for explicit instruction. For children and teens with autism, social learning is something they really struggle with. In part this is because social learning takes place in a context of attention. People with ASD are often deep in their own minds and thoughts and have a hard time paying attention to what others are doing. Reading emotions is also a big struggle for people with ASD. These struggles contribute to feelings of social awkwardness.
With an attentive teacher, children and teens with autism can learn social norms through explicit instruction. Face Value Comics hopes to be part of the process of social learning, too. By using the Ekman theory of expression, we are aiming to give autistic teens tools to read other people and understand the subtle cues of social contexts.
By giving our autistic hero Michael a group of friends, we are also modeling social learning in a way that is easier for an autistic teen to internalize. While we can’t go back to social situations in real life and “replay” them, we can always re-read a comic book. Each re-reading reinforces the concepts of empathy, reading emotions, and learning social norms. We hope to be part of many teens’ process of social learning and overcoming social awkwardness.

Use Self Care to Combat Holiday Stress

Teens with ASD are especially vulnerable to holiday stress. All the disruptions to the normal routine and the changes in celebrations from one year to the next can be enough to push a person with autism toward feelings of overwhelm and sensory overload. While some level of holiday stress may be unavoidable, there are several strategies of self care that can help keep the holidays manageable and fun.
One key to combatting holiday stress for autistic teens it to identify triggers. What makes you feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed? Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can take steps to minimize negative feelings. This may mean that you say no to certain parties or outings. Or you decide to avoid some people.
Another important factor in decreasing holiday stress is to practice positive self care. In addition to avoiding situations that are stressful, make sure you schedule time for things that you enjoy and that help your relax. Get plenty of rest. Make time to bake a special treat. Visit a close friend. Practice meditation techniques that calm you and get you in touch with your inner emotional state. Make a plan of activities you want to do. Allow enough time between events to rest and recover. Be sure to enlist the help of family and friends so they can help you decrease holiday stress and make time for self care.


Helping People with Autism Read the Signals of Depression Over the Holidays

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and togetherness. Unfortunately for many people with autism, the holidays can create extra stress. Holiday stress can then trigger or exacerbate depression. It’s important for family members and friends to be on the watch for signals of depression. Since people with autism can have a hard time expressing emotions, they’re especially dependent on others to help them recognize signals of depression and develop coping strategies.
Signals of depression for all people include dramatic increase or decrease in appetite or sleep needs, consistently negative thought patterns, despair, irritability, or a lack of interest in physical appearance. For people with autism, depression might manifest as an increase in self-harm behavior (like hand-biting), an increase in tantrums or violent behavior, or find everyday tasks harder to perform, especially in different environments.
Sometimes people can cope with depression through more regular sleep and exercise, healthy eating, prayer or meditation, or finding a hobby or social outlet. It’s important for family and friends of people with autism to respect the need for those things, even in the midst of holiday obligations. Sometimes knowing that others struggle with depression can help a person cope with it.
Face Value Comics include characters and stories about depression. When anyone notices signals of depression, whether the person with autism or a friend or relative, that’s a sign to slow down. During the holidays, that may mean turning down some invitations or having more subdued decorations. It’s better to have a quieter holiday season than a frantic series of events leading to depression.


Autism Labels As a Tool for Understanding

Many people receive autism labels these days.  Sometimes people are diagnosed with autism when they are young children.  Other people struggle into adulthood until their challenges are given the autism label.  This labeling can be helpful for some to get professional support and education.  Different labels can help us understand aspects of ourselves and our loved ones, and help us empower ourselves to address our unique challenges.
At Face Value Comics, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping society understand those given Autism Labels: children, teens and adults everywhere who are challenged with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD. At the same time, we want to give people with ASD tools to help them navigate the neurotypical world.
One thing that people with ASD struggle with is recognizing what others’ facial expressions mean.  In our stories we use the theories of Dr. Paul Ekman and his Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to illustrate different emotions.  Because a comic is a static image, people can study the face as long as necessary to decode the emotional signals.  The words appear in speech bubbles and captions help place the scene in context.
More than anything, we hope that Face Value Comics will give useful autism expressions, both to help people with ASD understand the emotions of others, and to give a positive and affirming view of people with ASD to a neurotypical world.  An autism diagnosis isn’t the last word on a person.  Autism labels should just be a tool for understanding.  We hope that we can further this understanding with our stories of Michael, his friends, and The Zephyr!


What’s the Difference Between Labeling Autism and Raising Autism Awareness?

When trying to understand something, we human beings often turn to labels to help us organize our thinking. This can be useful or it can reinforce prejudices. Anyone with ASD knows the dangers of labeling autism. Most of the time, people want to understand, but they accidentally choose labels that are hurtful or misleading. I’ve written before about how Marvel and DC Comics have had characters with ASD. While I applaud the willingness of these companies to include people with ASD, I dislike labeling autism with the category tags “Mental Illness Weakness,” as Marvel does.
At Face Value Comics, we’re trying something new. We’re raising autism awareness by giving the main character, a Superhero, autism. This allows us to show an autistic person dealing with everyday situations.

Rather than simply labeling autism as a weakness or a mental disorder, we’re showing a person coping with it in realistic situations. Of course, our futuristic steampunk universe isn’t exactly reality, but who could pass up the chance to write about crazy aliens or robots that are a mix of plants and metal?! By removing the stories a bit from our daily lives, we’re allowing space for our readers to get involved in the characters and the story lines and absorb the messages, raising autism awareness and teaching readers to decode facial expressions.
Autism awareness is the first step we take with readers. We make relatable characters for kids in middle school. Demystifying the broad spectrum of autism is a huge task. We start by showing kids can have heroes like themselves, and one hero just happens to have autism.
© Face Value Comics 2013

Wanted- New Toaster & Acceptance

I have a toaster, and use my toaster almost daily. Having a toaster doesn’t automatically grant me authority or privilege to speak on behalf of other toaster-owners. Honestly, I don’t even know how toasters work. Yes, I understand basic electrical concepts, like how conductors generate substantial heat needed to toast bread. *chomp* Yum. There ends my knowledge about toasters.

Mmmm…May I please have some toast?
Label me. I am now a toaster-owner AND user. What does this label mean for me? If a friend were hungry, I suppose I’d offer him toast. He may not like toast, though. Wait- who doesn’t like garlic bread, or blueberry bagels? If I keep writing while hungry, I’ll never finish this post…
Some clinicians diagnosed me with Autism. For the first time in my life, I publicly address my diagnosis. I don’t hide in shame, nor do I brazenly self-promote my comic book featuring an autistic hero. My artist and publisher don’t know I have autism. To be fair, I never told them I have a toaster, either. I light one lantern for others to hopefully ease their journey with compassion and entertainment. Life takes courage, whether one has autism or a toaster.
Again, what do labels mean for me? Sometimes, this knowledge helps me understand social situations, but often AFTER the fact. My anxiety (another label) causes me to stutter. My depression (another label) makes me retreat from judgments. I have a toaster, and as a “toaster owner,” I can better utilize this label than any clinical diagnosis. For some, getting a professional evaluation opens doors for services and treatments by trained providers. For others, having an answer or resources may foster empowerment. A diagnosis could alleviate some guilt over presumed parental mistakes. Many people have different experiences along their life-long journeys with an ASD, therefore needing different support systems.
Potential partners who seek an alignment with our comic book routinely ask: who advises about what works for autism. Ummm…me? Would it matter if I had the world’s premier authority on autism as my muse? Please tell me about this/these expert(s). Do I need two, maybe twenty, professional advisers? What role might a person with Asperger’s Syndrome play in Face Value Comics? More importantly, does Face Value Comics need an official endorsement- is self-advocacy and sociological theory sufficient? Certainly, Face Value Comics welcomes any help from anyone in any way. Know that I’m more likely to ask people if they’ve a toaster than if they’ve an ASD.

Do you like Frank as much as you like his hats?
Poor Frank! He owns many hats. Frank wants to look his best. Which hat looks cool? Did you LABEL each hat, yet? Do people notice any fear in his face? His eyes widen, his mouth opens with surprise, and his eyebrows raise. Frank has a social anxiety disorder. Does Frank care more about his hat, or how people accept him?
Facial feature recognition remains a key strategy for improved social communication. Dr. Paul Ekman identified seven, core, universal emotions. Seeing and appropriately responding to these emotions builds empathy and positive social behavior (Kemeny et al, 2012). Some people with ASD lack long-term eye contact. Recognizing these micro-expressions may not be easy, and takes practice. Dr. Richard Cook and his team (2013) believe a lack of facial feature recognition results from (wait…for…it) another co-morbid communication deficit/label: alexithymia. No statistically-significant data links alexithymia with autism, though.
Using Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS), our comics freeze facial features on a page. Readers may take as much time as they want to study a character’s face. See the consistent muscular patterns associated with different emotions (Frith, 2009). Read words from speech or thought bubbles to give language and meaning to expressions. Caption boxes place the situation in neutral context. Face Value Comics’ existing patterns of well-defined faces teaches emotional empathy (Besel & Yuille, 2010).
We also include funky aliens! Plants and metal form our hybrid robots! Michael (who has autism) fights middle-school bullies as well as strange eel-men. In our steam-powered, futuristic comic book, we don’t have toasters- the scariest thing I can imagine.
When readers look at Frank, I hope they see a young man with the same dreams and doubts as most kids. His diagnoses don’t make him a special character; his ability to overcome these challenges, for and with his friends, molds true heroism. With Face Value Comics, I hope kids find heroes like themselves, because we need ‘em.
Besel, L.D.S. & Yuille, J.C. (2010). Individual differences in empathy: The role of facial expression recognition. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(2), 107-112.
Cook, R., Brewer, R., Shah, P., & Bird, G. (2013). Alexithymia, not autism, predicts poor recognition of emotional facial expressions. Psychological Science, 24(5), 723-732.
Frith, C. (2009). Role of facial expressions in social interactions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London;. Series B, Biological Sciences, 364(1535), 3453-3458.
Kemeny, M.E., Wallace, B.A., Ekman, P., Foltz, C., Cavanagh, J.F., Cullen, M., Giese-Davis, J., Jennings, P., Rosenberg, E.L., Gillath, O., & Shaver, P.R. (2012). Contemplative/emotion training reduces negative emotional behavior and promotes prosocial responses. Emotion, 12(2), 338-350.
© Face Value Comics 2013