Tag Archives | writing

RIP Autism Blogs

I think 2016 is most notable for how many celebrities passed away. Not just celebrities but like, legendary celebrities that revolutionized what ever it was they did. There’s also the whole election thing, but what ever… moving on.

In the autism community, something else died. It faded away. Only, most people never really noticed. Autism blogs.

I was looking through the list of autism blogs that I have along the side bar of this very blog and noticed that not one of them has a post in 2016. Some stopped updating as far back as 2014. Most in 2015. In 2016… no signs of life. All vital signs… flat lined.

I’m not really one to talk, I’ll admit it. My last post was in April, this is very near the end of December now. So what’s the deal? Well, for me, I got busy. I started Autcraft and it literally exploded in popularity, not just within the autism community but also in the media and even with researchers.

What happened to autism blogs in general? Why did they fade away? Why have parents stopped writing?

Social Media

In the beginning social media drove traffic to our blogs. It was great. You start a fan page or a twitter account, post links there to your blog posts and people start flooding in. It was the easiest thing in the world. But social media evolved and the people did too. People didn’t want to go to social media just to go somewhere else. People wanted to read what you had to say right there, where they are, without having to go anywhere else. That’s basically what social media sites are designed to do… keep you there, not send you elsewhere. And it worked.

Autism bloggers found that they had unlimited space to write what they wanted right on Facebook, or Google+ or Medium… not so much Twitter. People commented there. They shared there. They liked there. And the more they did, the more other people saw it. None of that happened when the person went to a blog to interact with you.

So the writing moved. With it, so did the writing style because you couldn’t just post links within the posts anymore. You couldn’t just embed images or style things the way you wanted anymore. So “articles” became “posts” and “posts” became “status updates.”

People don’t have time to read a whole article anymore anyway so the shorter it was, the better. Which brings me to…

Time

As much as autism parents don’t have time to read long articles anymore, they also don’t have time to write them. It gets even worse when you write them and then go to other people’s blogs to read them too. Your whole day ends up being consumed with blogs when, as we autism parents know, there’s very little “free time” as it is.

So those autism bloggers who loaded up social media sites to see what friends and others are doing, they would just update their life there. Where those people are. There was no point in going to some other website, signing in, writing a post, proof reading, spell checking, styling, finding images and styling it all just to go back to their social media sites to share the link with people who don’t want to have to go there just to read it. You’re better off just skipping the fancy stuff and putting it right on your social media page. Less time for you and the reader that way.

Money

Social media is free. Well, sudo free. You get ads and stuff which pays for it but you personally do not have to pay anything for it. A blog on the other hand, you do. If you want a custom domain name, if you want a custom look and feel, if you want to do give-aways… chances are you have to pay for all that. There are ways around some of those things but it takes work… which also equates to value. Money.

On Facebook though, you don’t have any of that. You just type what you want to say, hit the button and you’re done. Hassle free. No domain, no files, no plugins, no themes… if time is money, then just putting your thoughts into a Facebook post instead of a blog is priceless.

The Future

I am a little sad that autism blogs don’t seem to be a thing any more. For some reason, it was just easier to find other autism parents that I could relate to when I would go from blog to blog with their shared links and read about their experiences and feel like I knew them a little bit. That’s tougher to do in social media when your only real interaction with someone is a shared comment on someone else’s thoughts on the latest television show. Also there’s the whole friend request or “follow” thing. I think most people feel a lot less awkward about just having readers than they do in having people be on a friend list.

Many autism parents do still try to help each other out though by sharing each other’s Facebook fan page updates or giving shout outs and things but it’s just not the same. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic.

The autism blog era may be mostly behind us but it’s not completely. There are still some autism blogs out there and some new ones starting up all the time. Plus, there are still people doing actual writing on the subject and about their families, they’re just harder to find now but they are out there.

Also, those people who do friend some other people they find on social media turn out to be very good friends, even meeting each other in real life after a while. That doesn’t normally happen with readers on a blog. So there’s that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… RIP Autism Blogs. You will be missed.

But there’s still lots of good stuff for us in 2017. We just have to adapt and make the best of what we have.

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Find another way

Cameron has started this year in a new, more academic class than last year. Up until now, he’s been learning a lot but the primary focus as been on building upon the things that he’s been struggling with. Things like his fine motor skills and socializing.

This year, he’s doing math and spelling tests. He’s also learning about mammals, reptiles and amphibians. It’s exciting stuff! And he’s loving every minute of it!

Well, almost every minute.

While working with him at home, I have him write out his spelling words for two reasons… one is so that he can learn them and do well on his spelling test but also, so that he can practice his penmanship.

My wife, Natalie, brought up an interesting point though, one that we’ve now mentioned to the school.

Cameron has a terrible time with his writing. He doesn’t like writing and he knows he’s not good at it. And it weighs on his mind.

spelling test

Missed the “r” in morning

Looking back at some of his spelling tests, the words that he got wrong or the mistakes he made were words and mistakes that he shouldn’t have gotten wrong.

For example, in almost all of his spelling mistakes, it’s due to him missing a letter. Not getting a letter wrong or mixing them up, he is leaving out entire letters.

Natalie is the one that realized that, he’s not getting the words wrong because he doesn’t know how to spell them (or sound them out), it’s because his mind isn’t on the word… it’s on his writing.

He knows that his writing doesn’t look good and he knows that he has to fit the answers in a little space on the page. So he puts in extra effort to be sure that the teacher can read it and that it looks ok… because, you know… you don’t want anyone to laugh at your writing. Yes, he worries about that.

So I brought it up with the principle yesterday and if all goes well, hopefully testing can be done, or at least made available, electronically. So that if a student prefers, they can type their answers, either at a computer or some device with a touch screen.

And we’re lucky. We’re so very lucky that this school is so understanding. As I brought it up, I could see the principle understanding exactly what I meant. When I said “when a child with autism starts to get flustered… ” he finished my sentence with “their whole day could be shot after that.”

Yes!!

Do I want them to stop working on his writing and fine motor skills? No, of course not!!

But I don’t want those challenges to get in the way of other things either. He knows those words. He knows the answers to the tests. And his anxiety over his writing skills should not be getting in the way of that.

The reason that I’m writing about this, is not just to illustrate what’s happening in Cameron’s life at the moment (although there is that too), it’s to provide an example where sometimes you have to be involved, be aware and when possible, find another way.

Parents, you need to recognize these things in your children. Perhaps they are being held back by something that no one else would ever be able to recognize. Perhaps there is some other way that may work well for your child. And most importantly, you have to try to provide some solutions.

Granted, as I said, we’re lucky. My son’s school is awesome. And not everyone has a school like his. Not all schools can or are able to accommodate a change like that.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try.

If something isn’t working, or could be working better, you have to try to find another way.

Nothing can stop you, so long as you never stop trying to find another way.

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Why I write about autism

If you read my blog already, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a little while now. The blog is 2.5 years old now and I think I’ve hit a stage in this blog’s life where I start to question what it is that I’m doing with it, where I want it to go and most importantly, what exactly it is that I’m trying to say with it.

It’s caused me to ask myself one simple question: why do I write about autism?

In the beginning

When I started my blog, it was mostly just to write about my son and the experiences we had together. I made observations about certain things he’d do and I’d give examples of how my wife and I became aware that he had autism.

I didn’t write to make a statement or to impact other’s decisions or opinions. I didn’t write to inform anyone of anything either. I didn’t write because I felt I had to or because I felt anyone wanted me to.

It was a quiet but very satisfying time for my blog where I felt good about what I was doing. I still do, of course. But it was a different kind of good feeling. It was peaceful and gratifying.

As my blog grew, that all changed.

Over time

As the blog grew, like most bloggers, I found myself weighing in on community topics, giving my opinion on researchers that seem to only be trying to blame mothers for their child’s autism, on the crazy things that Jenny McCarthy was up to, the vaccine debate and so on.

I tried to balance a lot of that with emotional posts, praising people for being people. Whether they’re parents doing their best or autistics for doing their best, I tried my best to keep myself and my readers looking towards the positives.

But somewhere along the way, again, like most bloggers, I found myself being yelled at or dragged down by bickering and arguing, general negativity or any number of other methods.

Some people feel they’re forever the victim and no matter what I say to them, it’s an attempt at hurting them more. Some people feel that the universe is a very dark place and that I offend them by simply having a smile. Some people feel that their experiences outweigh my experiences and thus, I should not have my experiences at all.

These things sound absurd, but they really happen.

The law of averages says that, in the case of blogging, no matter how much you try to avoid negativity, the more readers you reach, the more likely you are to encounter it.

Eventually it becomes inevitable and should you be able to cope and continue to grow, you’ll encounter that negativity more and more, over and over. Should you reach a sizable enough audience, it becomes a daily occurrence.

And that can weigh heavily on your shoulders. No matter how strong you were in the beginning, it gets hard.

why write about autismWhy carry on?

So the question becomes, if you’ve gotten yourself to the point of the daily negativity, why carry on? Well, the law of averages may state that you’re going to be stuck with it but it also says that you’ll have thousands of positives for every negative. And having thousands of positives daily really is worth one negative, right?

For example, I often hear from people how my posts have helped them when they needed it most, or that my posts are what they look forward to reading every day, or that appreciate the time and energy I put into doing what they wish they could do themselves… I love to hear from people who say these things, not because they praise me, but because it means that I am making a difference. I am outweighing the negative with the positive. What I write matters.

Still though, why? Why do I write? It’s not for the praise. It’s not to know that what I say matters. It’s not really even to make a difference. It is nice to hear these things. And believe me when I say that I honestly and completely appreciate every single one of my readers. I always make every effort to reply to every email and tweet and message.

But I’ve come to realize that I don’t write for my readers. I don’t write for the media. I don’t write for the masses. I don’t even write for my son.

I write for me.

That sounds self centered. I realize that. But it’s true.

Well no. It used to be true.

And that’s the problem.

Figuring it out

I’ve been frustrated for quite some time but only in the last month or so have I really just put the whole thing on hold and really given it serious thought.

Had I run out of things to say? Was I no longer able to cope with the negativity?

In my frustration, others reached out to me and told me to write for the good of all autistics. Others told me to write for my son and even more so, for his future. Others told me that, again, my writings helped them and that it helps others and thus, I should continue doing so.

These are all beautiful reasons to get back to my keyboard and push forward, but I didn’t. These reasons should have been good enough. They should have been all the motivation I needed. But they weren’t.

So I went back to page 1 and started reading. And it occured to me that all those reasons, while great reasons, were not the reason.

I needed to know why the frustration started. I needed to know where I went off course. I needed to know what it was that I was missing.

And I found it, back in my old blog entries.

I need to write for me.

No one else.

Going forward

I can’t say it enough, that I value and appreciate my readers and hope I never stop hearing the positives. I could do with less negatives but that’s another story.

But as much as I love every single reader I have, I have to admit to myself and acknowledge to you right now that I didn’t write for my readers in the beginning and I won’t do it anymore.

Somewhere along the way I did though. As responses came in and I started hearing from my readers, my reasons for writing slowly changed and I didn’t even realize it.  I started writing just to help people, to get more of those responses and to make a bigger difference.

I don’t know why or how, but I believe, that’s when I lost my spark.

That’s when I started to get frustrated.

I hadn’t run out of things to say and it wasn’t that the negativity became too much for me… it just didn’t feel right anymore.

And that is what’s most important, I think.

You can write for your autistic child or to help others dealing with autism or to educate others about autism or to make a statement about autism or to make a change in the world for autism; these are great reasons to write. And if these are your reasons for writing, that’s wonderful. But it’s not my reason.

I’ve realized that those are things that I hope my writings will do. But it’s not why I write.

If I write for me, as me, and stay true to me, those things will happen on their own. At least, I hope they will. They did before.

To stay true and honest, I need to write because I want to write. Writing for any other reason compromises that.

I hope you understand. Thank you for reading.

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Autism blogging – pro tips from an amateur

I thought I’d change things up a bit with this post, rather than writing about Autism itself, I’d answer a rhetorical question I get a lot. Yes, I know rhetorical questions aren’t really meant to be answered. But in this case, I think it makes for a good blog post.

What is so different about your blog?

blogThe honest truth is that I’m really not that great at writing, as some people continue to try to convince me. It’s just that I always try to keep some key things in mind as I write, which has come to serve me rather well.

Here are some basic rules that I try to follow:

Never assume the reader knows me or my children

I treat every single post as if it’s the first post that the reader has ever read of mine. I do have a lot of subscribers and other returning readers but I also have to keep in mind that every single day (hopefully), there will be new readers too. That means that this blog post right here is being read by someone that hasn’t read a single word from me before today. Maybe it’s you! Welcome.

I sometimes allude to a bit of my back story and will often put in links to previous blog posts that covers that back story more in depth. That way, if someone already knows it, they can skip it and if they don’t know, they can either go and read it for more info or they can just skip it, being satisfied with the small bit I shared.

It also means that not every single reader knows my boys… so I always make sure to add in a little about them each time I mention them. For example, Cameron (6yrs old, has Autism) and Tyler (3yrs old, without Autism).

This way, a very short and little burst of info and presto, people now have what they need to know as they continue reading from there… whether it just be the rest of this post or any new posts they may read of mine from here on out.

“Never” and “Always” are two words you should always remember to never say

It’s a funny sentence but in this case, an accurate one. In the world, especially the world of Autism, there is no “never” or “always.”

No thought, feeling, experience, belief or anything else is 100% consistent for all people that will read what you write. This is especially true when you hit hot button topics such as person first language or vaccines.

But it’s also true on even the most trivial and mundane of topics as well. You could write about something cute your child said or did and the moment you try to suggest that everyone would feel something, or no one would think a certain way…. you’ll find yourself being corrected.

It’s much easier to simply assume that absolutely nothing… and I mean nothing… is going to be a mold that everyone fits into. No treatments, no symptoms, no experiences, no thoughts… nothing.

Be careful to use “some” or even “most”… and when you do, add in “in my opinion” or “in my experience”… because, if you were to be honest, that is the truth. When you make assumptions for others, you do it based on what you know, in your life. So maybe, in your experience, most people would do or say something, but that doesn’t make it true of all people… right?

Also, keep in mind that people with Autism, especially children, are not all Aspergers or HFA (high functioning autism)… and likewise, don’t assume that all parents have children that are non verbal, unable to toilet train or other “more severe” effects. It’s easy to get caught up in our “own little world” but as we right, we have to ensure that other parents can either still relate to what we right or to understand what position it is that we’re writing from.

You’re not writing a book

This encompasses a bunch of tips… first of all, keep in mind that if you’re primary target audience consists of Autism parents, as mine does, chances are they don’t have a ton of time to devote to a blog post. In fact, yours is probably just one of several that they’ll be visiting today. So keep it to a reasonable length unless you’re writing something really really important.

You might not think you need chapters, since it’s not the size of a book, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t section it out. Take this post as an example… I could have put all of these tips into bullet points and then plowed out a big wall of text to go over them, but sections just makes far more sense. A reader likely doesn’t have all the time in the world and will have to skim your posts quite a bit, so you might as well make the job easier for them.

Even if you don’t feel the need for sections, you should still keep in mind that as a blogger, you do have other tools at your disposal. Such as making important points bold and using italics sometimes as well never hurts. Most of all, if you do find yourself staring down a big wall of text, maybe you should try splitting up your paragraphs a bit more.

I like to split up thoughts into different paragraphs, even if they’re just sentences. If I read it out loud later and find that I take a breath and start a new train of thought, I break up the line so that visually, the reader will be able to do it naturally.

Other general blogging tips

Aside from the things I’ve mentioned, I also follow other general blogging tips that you will likely find on just about any blog about blogging… regular updates, lots of proof reading, writing about what I know… all that juicy goodness.

There’s 2 other things that I do that have been invaluable…

1. I tend to get ideas from other people, whether it be conversations, other blog posts, comments or just about anything… one idea I had was from an off topic remark on a home and garden show! When that happens, I quickly go to my blog and start a new post with the general idea of the post and save it to a draft. Having the WordPress mobile app on your phone or iPad is especially handy for this.

Chances are I don’t have time to write it just then and there… so a draft comes in really handy. This is especially handy when I find myself without ideas later… when my blog is needing a post, due to lack of updates, and my mind isn’t coming up with ideas, I can hit my drafts and find some good topics that I never got a chance to return too.

2. Sometimes as I write, I find that my blog post just isn’t turning out how I’d like or I’m simply not happy with how I’m wording things and know that it won’t be as well received as it should be.

When this happens, I hit the “Save Draft” button and call it a night. Not only have I found no harm in sleeping on it.. but most of the time, almost every time in fact, I find it hugely beneficial. When I return to it later and read it back to myself, it comes to me so much easier.

It may mean putting off a blog post a day, or maybe even a while if you just don’t get back to it for a bit… but that’s ok. It’s always there and it’s always usable.

For what it’s worth

Now, all of this I share knowing full well that it’s a take it or leave it post… I am not an expert, I have not been doing this for decades or anything. I don’t even have all that many readers, in comparison to many other blogs.

These are simply the methods that I use. They’ve served me well in the past.

If you have any more thoughts or tips that you use, please feel free to share in the comments. I’m always eager to learn and improve!

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