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!

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.
References
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