About heathwilder

Proudly Autistic Director of Customer Experience at Sydney Theatre Co. Sydney based actor - TV Film and Theatre. Long time Scifi & rpg geek My views are (of course) my own

Technology providing access (where society won’t)

This week I went to a wonderful accessible arts panel discussion on accessible tech in the arts. There are a lot of everyday uses of technology to use technology to increase the accessibility of arts and culture and our exceptional panel of Sophie Penkethman-Young (Australia Council), Marcus Wright (MCA), and Simon Buchanan (Sydney Opera House) unpacked a wide field of these. Technologies such as digital performance, alt t

ext and captioning, digitally delivered workshops, Virtual narrators, Augmented Reality deepened experiences, and AI created audio description … yes Artificial Intelligence made it’s face known.

Lately, in so much of the conversation, Chat GTP, and the AI successors, has dominated the subject of technology and art. Whether it’s artists having their work used as a platform for training AI without their consent, to using AI to develop writing art and critique of writing and art.

But it’s in the most banal ways that AI could be an accommodative tool for those of us with disability. We may argue the merits and value of a novel or poem written by AI. But what about AI writing your grant proposal. On that artists seem to agree. Maybe not the whole thing, but for those of us struggling regularly with executive functioning dilemmas. Contrary to the narrative of procrastination and avoidance that saviours like to peddle, or the adjectives that beaten down neurodivergents find the selves reciting, some executive functioning issues come from the difficulty in engaging with an unmotivated task or from a difficulty in cracking the introductory social format that is often where we find our lives. Having and AI write a rough and inaccurate opening that you could take on for a spring board into self expression is a wonderful idea.

There are many technologies that we use and will arise to help us meet the goals of an inclusive society. But they really need to start with the opening up of society to be more inclusive. Having no meeting agenda or notetaking could be taken away by speech to text capture or AI inferred agenda in retrospect. But the thing that will get us to a harmonious society is not technology filling the gaps – it for there to be no gaps from the designing of the way we want our future society developing.

How do we make work sustainable?

I came across Katherine May’s new blog post at 2 am on a Sunday trying to finish up work. As my life is more irony than substance these days I think it’s worth putting up.

It’s an important call to action. How do we make our work more sustainable? There are a couple of points in there for me

  • How do I automate manual tasks
  • How do I delegate with the goal of improving the work outcomes and career growth of others
  • How do I set up cross collaborations to distribute the load and remove bottle necks
  • How do we upskill for self-service and empowerment

Sustainability of work is easier to handle (and harder to refute) if it becomes about raising others up. Whilst I might be “essential” if I’m the sole knowledge holder I am also limiting my ability to take leave, adding risk to the risk matrix, and stopping others from understanding my needs. And sharing information can lead to great collaborations.

So perhaps there is something in that. Collaboration and advocacy can be used to create a healthy work structure.

One last thing though is the Black Dog Institutes self-care template. It’s a guide more than a prescribed set of marketing fluff, so common with these themes. You set the tasks that work for you at a rate you can take on. Well worth a look.

Small but kind

Aside

We’ve had a few nests of paper wasps at our house over the past 5+ years.  Over the years they’ve started a few nests, small ones off a few cells that they’d sometimes abandon for unknown reasons and sometimes they come back to them. They are small clustered tubes of grey, looking like loose bunches of Sunday newspapers bought from some tiny delivery kid on their weekend paper route around the garden, and turned into a paper mache bouquet.

They meant even more to my partner, spending days in the garden they’d often watch her work as much as she watched them. Once a spider built an elaborate web overnight surrounding their nest, and they watched with patient faces as she deconstructed the web and moved the spider on. 

Over seasons their family grew with the size of the nest. Some summers, tubes were capped with wax as little wasplings grew inside to emerge weeks later. Of a night they sometimes shelter on the flat top of the nest, or crawl in a tube for shelter from wind. 

Recently we had huge storms across the coast. Rain and flooding were intense and the winds were worse. Coming home one morning we noticed that their nest had blown down onto the path in front of our door. A few wasps were at the roof where the best used to be, and a couple more were at the grounded nest. It was easy to read the tragedy with human experience, in their frantic but futile action. We hit a small still from the house and some super glue and easy enough put it back in the position that it fell from. The wasps watched us from the roof or hovered about, but never tried to sing us even as we handled their home for over a minute, with them clinging onto it. It stayed attached and they immediately got back to work replacing wax and trending to anything in the sealed tubes; making repairs to their long-lived home and staring at us,  as they sometimes do, while we work near them.

Then on Friday, in a brief moment, we were out, that all changed

Human neighbours must have had some internal pest control done, and one of them crept over our fence and sprayed the nest with some poison. Then they took off. Years and generations of our considerate neighbours were destroyed by human xenophobia and an inbuilt need for destruction. 

It’s difficult not to think that humanity is the earth’s story case scenario. Too short-sighted and greedy to do anything more than squeeze the last drop of personal gain off their environment in their short lives and too arrogant to stop graffitiing the landscape with boasting of their own greatness.

Sometimes I get weary of hoping that humanity will change. They perform horrors on one another without learning from the past, led by greedy men, or unable to challenge their own ego and empathise with another, praising the genius of the wealthy as if there was a linear relationship between abundant wealth and the ethics of accumulating and hoarding it. 

There will never be a day when we are free from the tyranny of ourselves; but I do hope that a collective consciousness, an ethical understanding, is reached whereby we can continue as something greater than ourselves. Less destructive and more considerate of our place in time. 

There are people that I’d want that for. There are still people that connect me to the species of my birth.

Neurodiversity and Burnout recovery

exercise & mental wellness

In the past I have been an irregular participant of running and hiking, but presently swimming is my go-to exercise. For me exercise is less about physical fitness and  more for quietude; for self reflection and regaining control. When I’m swimming I can’t get overly ambitious. If I swim more vigorously I’ll start gasping for air and my performance drops as my anxiety rises. Swimming laps is both rhythmically monotonous and also holistically stimulating. For a neurodivergent brain such as mine that is a sweet combo. Being regular and repeated there is nothing to distract me. The only thing my brain can do is go along for the ride, which is a great meditation. We’ve covered our breathing Mental Health Monday. 

So what’s with all the swimming? Well at the moment I’m recovering from burnout.  A new job coupled with some personal troubles has led to overload on top of overload until I was scraping the bottom of the barrel.  The first step is realising you have a problem.  The next is dealing with it, and swimming has been one of the ways of combating the anxiety and depression that can come with burnout*.

So what is the broader word on exercise being good for mental health? 

In addition to making me hungry, the Mayo Clinic[1] has some comprehensive advice about exercise balancing out depression and anxiety. I know that when I’m depressed, drumming up motivation for exercise can feel impossible.  Joining a dance class with instructors shouting “Woo!” is not my thing. I learnt early in life that I’m not much of a “woo” person – even at my emotional peak. But exercise doesn’t mean olympic level training, or filming a TikTok of you over exerting in lycra. It can be as simple as walking.  Research from Stanford found walking can increase your creative output by 60%[2].

Any physical activity can be beneficial, including gardening, washing your car, and the covid staple – walking around the block. 

Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may make a difference[1]

[1] Mayo Clinic (2017) Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms 

Probably one of the most promising findings is that regular exercise of any intensity has a protective effect against future depression and is recommended to prevent recurrence of depression[3].  The Black Dog Institutes info sheet on Exercise & Depression has a lot more information[4].

For a lot of us putting our personal needs first is difficult. Advocating for others is a great way for me to trick myself into doing work for my own good. For example, finding time to swim everyday is hard. But when I saw the Laps for Life charity to raise money for youth mental health it was a great way to align a cause that I support with my own needs. So far this month I’ve swum over 10km in 12 days.

Heath in a towel talking to a little toy duck and wearing yellow childres floaties

So in case you find yourself struggling, changing your scene with some light exercise might help you get back on track. As always though, reach out if you are doing it hard. A health professional like your local Dr is a good first port of call, as are friends, family and your support network. 

Let me know what your experience is with exercise and mental wellness.

* never fear we are not going to gloss over the thorny topic of burnout, and the 41 flavours that it takes throughout the neuro-diversi-sphere.  It is a solid topic that deserves its own conversation(s). Just preferably when I’ve had a bit of a repair.

References

[1] Mayo Clinic (2017) Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms 

[2] May Wong (2014). Stanford study finds walking improves creativity 

[3] Harvey, S. B., Øverland, S., Hatch, S. L., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A., & Hotopf, M. (2018). Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. American

Journal of Psychiatry, 175(1), 28–36.

[4] Black Dog Institute, Exercise & Depression | Black Dog Institute

[5] Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., & Stubbs, B. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.02.023

[6] Laps for Life charity fundraiser https://www.lapsforlife.com.au/fundraisers/heathwilder

Holidays are stressful, so let’s chill. Inclusively!

The holidays are rough for a lot of us. A lot of expectations and traditions that are counterproductive in a neurodivergent context.

If I may, I think there are three things going on for me during holidays. Being transparent of these differences can be helpful in coming to a mutual understanding.

1) I understand the premise of reconnecting and bonding time and the rituals that feature in the neurotypical way of doing things. And whilst connecting is important to neurodivergent folk as well, without accommodation, it can cause the disconnection and friction instead. For example; planning a group outing without including the needs of the other ends up feeling … like you are not being included. Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance; (Belonging is having a place on the planning committee).

2) Forced interaction, without built-in recharge time, is damaging for us hugely.  Often it leads to meltdowns, arguments and an erosion of trust.  You wouldn’t continue to go on a kite flying activity if thunderstorms rolled in – so why would you insist on Disney World during the holidays season for autistic folks without sensory breaks built in.  For friday night drinks in a noisy bar just because “that’s the way everyone else does it”?

3) Parallel play is intimate play.  I’m understanding more and more that this is not only an autistic child development thing. Perhaps it’s due to heightened awareness of the other person and thanks for the deceased social load; perhaps it’s just that we don’t have to be made of social hierarchies and continual reinforcement; nevertheless doing things together but separate is legitimate. 


Speaking of inclusion in holidays  Ludmila Praslova PhD wrote a great piece on LinkedIn  about sharing the holiday period inclusively. It’s a very broad in it’s thoughts of being inclusive, something I’m working on being in myself (you can read the full article here).

Is “My Neurodiversity is a Superpower” helpful or not?

This idea is going around all the socials again. All ND folk get the “ADHD/ASD/Dyslexia etc makes my special person super special” or more commonly “is great for business”. But the absolute refutation of neurodivergence being positive has crept back.

The former I have sympathy with, as much as if I had ever heard it from a neurodivergent pal. The world is constructed in such a way that we are set up to fail. If by chance something helps you get an edge in a particular situation and finally feel good about yourself then great. Celebrate the heck out of that superpower. There will be time enough that you will struggle with Lex Luthor and their kryptonite.

The later is where the Superpower slogan really comes from. Organisations, government departments and people out to celebrate the monetary value of neurodiversity. The fact that the majority of the programs are below standard pay level and are run by no ND folk without input into accommodations are a huge problem. Excellent ND lead orgs like Genius Within exist that are the exception but by and large the answer to ND folks low employment rate is met my “How can I profit from this”. Using Elon Musk, or some other (usually white, male, privileged) icon as an example of “success” is more of the problem and more with marketing the inequity.

Heath doing that Clark Kent revealing the Superman costume under the shirt pose.  I can admit I have a problem

What I do take exception to is punching down on anyone that has a moment of success and want to feel good about themselves wrt their neurotype. For the sake of everything that’s good, please knock it off. The fact is we have spikey profiles. We find some things easier and some things harder than the baseline. If you want to call the first bunch superpowers and the last kryptonite go for it. But the fact is, the things that neurotypicals are worse at than us, have been built into the rules or society to accommodate THEMSELVES for. Things like sitting still, social unstructured offices, working to a timetable rather than to interest … social structures that set us back. Every time we can’t equally compete in a world built for others or struggle due to difference socially, we are then called disordered and diseased.

Something I’m coming to rediscover is that projects not in conscious attention are still being worked on. My idea, and self experiment, is: if I start an idea with motivation, wire frame it out in my mind, then step away from it by dropping it out of conscious attention, when I pick it back up later I’ll have additional detail, and it’ll surface again when a new connection is made in parallel to the thing I’m doing in conscious work. This is really apparent when I’m getting across a whole business plan and linking detail to strategy. Procrastination and distraction don’t describe that process, and neither does multitasking. But it’s often used to describe what I’m doing.

To be honest I think there are a couple of things in the ND community that worry me. It’s hard not to fall in line with being told “it” – ie. our neurotype – is a disorder and a horrible problem, and by association so are we. I understand us thinking that, as it’s written in the descriptive title “disorder” given to us. It’s compounded by work practices and training that are designed for people unlike us. So we struggle to be something we’re not, using methods that hinder us, and can cause us pain. This leads to poor performance, and feedback that we don’t live up to our “potential”, further driving down our sense of self and acceptance of the deficit narrative.

But given space to thrive and practices that support us we can do exceptional things. But often these relaxation of the rules are a privilege afforded to the usual demographics, commonly white, male, financially secure, etc. I’d love to see that acceptance/practices/support extended to all demographics. So team meetings, but start with an agenda, have notes and end with action items (for executive functioning). Meeting spaces where distractions are minimised but doodling is OK (for stimming/fidgeting). Where text, voice and visuals are equally supported (for accessibility).

If neurodivergence is a disease, and treatment of it’s symptoms include, working with an ADHD coach to use motivation mapping to keep an interest in focus, or inventing BuJo to keep your life in a forward flow without (or even despite) executive function collapse, then by that logic every organisation psychologist should be called a medical specialist treating the disease of neurotypicality. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I’d like some equality there. There are stacks of stuff in every Adam Grant book that don’t apply to me – but they are great skills and tips that I have to motivate and accommodate my NT colleagues.

None of the discarded crochet sets I did with my grandmother are about crochet; the squash racket in the back closet from my brief university days getting thrashed by my 70yo Professor, is about squash; the guitar that I spent 72hours learning Bohemian Rhapsody on when I found out that my dearest friend loved that song (on the eve of her birthday), was about guitar; the card game, since unplayed, that I played with my mum after her stoke, in her last days, was not about cards. They are about the attention and motivation and interest that was all consuming – in that relationship.

I get it. Sometimes I hate being different. I’m Autistic with my ADHD. I’m a reasonably good looking, intelligent and nice guy. Not being able to connect in a relationship till I was 27, losing jobs and burning out of university … that almost killed me. I’m a 28 year sober alcoholic. I blamed myself for being lazy and weird because everyone else seemed to say it first. What was odd though was that I also did exceptional things when everyone was in a crisis and saw the world in ways that were clear when others were baffled. Because of that I had friends when I was (ie: my “superpowers” were) exceptionally useful and no support when I needed it. That changed though. I’m making supports. I’m making support structures for others and fighting for inclusion. I’m old enough and accomplished enough (in the good times) that NTs have to put me in their hierarchy. So now I can make space and change and help others up. I’m strong enough now to meltdown and break in ways that we’d normally do in private and shame, but follow that up with education and transparency to try to get accommodation and acceptance for others. Some days I’m really kicking off the bottom and it’s a struggle to go on. I still hear the R word, and get questioned on my worth and ability.

But I show up every day.

So no. I will never subscribe to a disease model of ADHD (or Autism or dyslexia etc). I won’t talk about neurodivergence as a thing I can be separated from, like it’s a parasite hiding the real perfect me underneath. Because that’s not true and that helps nobody. What does help people, the neurominority, is lobbying and pushing for equitable rights. Equitable workplaces and social settings. Acceptance and awareness and appreciation.

We drew a line in history today.

We drew a line in history today.

On one side my friend,
The other, I alone. 

I do the same today as yesterday,
But something is missing.
Meaning.

Hollow, 
Like the largest nesting doll,
Missing a little one inside.

Ah, this life. 

We drew a line. 

(3 Nov 2007 – 3 Oct 2022)

Reflections Post TLCC 2022

I wrote some loosely SQL structured poetry over two nights, on a mini laptop at the bar (eating my vegan sliders)

REFLECTIONS POST TLCC 2022

Settling into a new job, I was trying to explain the irreverent majesty that is Nerd Summer Camp1 to those of who have only seen it through rumour and the social media posts. Every time I try to explain TLCC to anyone I end up feeling like Judy Garland returning from Oz, and trying to convince her family that a magical place really exists.

From the emotional wave of ‘feels’ on social media, the dulcet tones of the Tessiturians (that majesty I was talking about), to the Campbellan journey of Jen Skelly’s lanyard2, it could seem pretty baffling. Even for those of us there it can be a lot to unpack.

On the way home I took some R&R  in San Francisco while trying to wrangle my head and heart, like a parent collecting sugar fueled kids from a birthday party. With no small irony, I  found some focus at a late night Jazz bar that serves (non-alcoholic) Kombucha cocktails.  Yeah, I was that guy, minus the man-bun and ill advised facial hair.

Anyway I wrote some loosely SQL structured poetry over two nights, on a mini laptop at the bar (eating my vegan sliders).  As I was in San Francisco (and had rewatched Mike Myers in “So I Married and Axe Murderer” again on the flight in), I went the full mile to gave it a spoken word recording.  Given Andrew’s keynote unveiled his new love of great poetry I thought it’d be fun to share. 

TLCC (In some ways)

In some ways, 
            I’d forgotten 
what TLCC was like. 
Just how intense and overwhelming, 
                        joyful and exciting, 
                                    frightening and sad. 

The experience is something perhaps less like life, 
and better explained in Norse saga; 
            breathed into existence by Walt Whitman; 
                        found in an attic 
                                    as lost sketches for Picasso’s Guernica 
                                    or Brett Whitley’s alchemy. 

Feelings at TLCC seem taller, 
            and broader.
Like things that belong on the stage, 
            poured from the musing of artists; 
not from the office that supports it3

And perhaps TLCC has answers to that as well. 
(the) Andrew Recinos quoted Lao Tsu in his closing address 
            The wise have no minds of their own,
            
finding it in the minds
            
of ordinary people.4
And anyway, 
            are there wise people
                        
at all? 

Something that my friend,5 
            Mary French 
            and I 
            talked about, 

when people say
            (sceptically or) in flattery, 
            “Are you the smartest Tessitura person here?” 

the answer is no 
            … but also yes. 

We are not the smartest, 

except that we are, 
            because we have the mind of the community behind us.  

We are a gestalt;

An incredible hive mind of ordinary people, 
            that do well on our own, 
but attain genius when we join together 
            in odd harmonies. 

And this becomes magnified, 
            geometrically, 
                        in that liminal space of conference 
as our minds do not sum as single blocks, 
but create new 3rd and 4th opportunities 
            between us 
                        that would never be possible apart. 

We are more chemistry than physics. 

With networking interactions happening at speed, 
and relationships 
            (previously existing in green lines of commented SQL 6
            or the brevity of forum assistance, 
                        between people at organisations, 
                        continents and hemispheres apart) 
are filled with both the details of real life, 
            emotion of people who understand 
                        your most frustrating predicaments and 
                        greatest achievements.  

In some ways, 
            TLCC is like 
                        meeting your parallel earth doppelganger. 
That person with a similar experience; 
the same frustrations with “that” department; 
that has won “that” personal battle 
            you’ve been fighting so long that 
            you’ve lost the image of success; 

and they can give you the key to success. 

They are that person that also struggles to be seen 
45+ hours a week, 
that validates all your experience.  

They are your reflection, 
            your potential energy, 
                        your soul. 

So,

In some ways, 
            It’s unsurprising 
that TLCC is such 
an emotional experience.


Spoken Word “In Some Ways”

[1] aka TLCC

[2] I’ve talked to my therapist extensively about the existential dread of wondering at the fate of Jen Skelly’s lanyard outside of the bubble that is pre-during-post conference that borders on the nature of quantum mechanics. Nietzsche said that we should live life as if the material world was all we could know, but if Jen Skelly’s lanyard only exists in the boundaries of a relative conference bubble, what is the fate of its existence post conference? Is there a post conference at all?  Could all the lingering feels that we have post conference be the first evidence of quantum superposition in social media. Scary stuff.

[3] I really don’t agree. I see art everywhere. Art is in the person not the job. Like Jack (Rubin) said everyone is a little bit manager and a little bit leader in differing ratios. Punching out into the great blue yonder and mapping the path behind.

[4] not that I think Andrew is “ordinaryifying” Lao Tzu, at least that’s not his primary point. Regardless, I think that Lao Tzu who was aware of the conundrum first, and in essence, was setting himself up. I imagine he’s giggling at his clever joke still.

[5] and saviour and idol

[6] I had the pleasure of thanking Brian Wilbur Grundstrom for the number of times he appears in code comments in my database from stored procedures I’ve gleefully poached

Wrapping up

So this is my last week at Sydney Dance Company and in rather than doing a big card and big gift we had individual cards and gave some money to a couple of animal sanctuaries that I really wanted to support.

The past 5+ years changed me immensly. When I started I definitely did not have qualifications of a unicorn. But the support from the incredible women who I’ve been lucky to call my bosses and mentors, and the unconditional love and support from my community at SDC and the #tessituranetwork has changed my life.

I will always be grateful for the opportunities to strive and push, grow and change. Opportunities to make small changes the in work life of colleagues with automations, or strategic inputs to the growth of the business be, it data driven decisions, silo removing technology, or EDI.

You learn a lot about your best self through goodbyes. Things that you overlook in your day to day struggles. I’m thankful for the inclusion and acceptance, never being patronised, compitence assumed. The lack of barrier between artists and admin at SDC proves that we are striving for the same goal

“We believe that dance changes you. To experience contemporary dance is to go on an inspiring and fulfilling journey. More than simply witnessing something beautiful or engaging with an art form, it is to be positively altered.”

Whether that’s through teaching dance to youth remotley during lockdown, choerographing exceptional works of beauty and relevance, or mentoring new DBAs that need support; we are working off the same playbook. To leave the world in a better place than when we found it.

Thank you for never treating me like I didn’t belong, thank you for giving me space to have a voice, thank you for allowing me to change and make change.

#SydneyDanceCompany #TessturaNetwork #ActuallyAutistic (at Sydney, Australia)
https://www.instagram.com/p/Chys8ZbPt5o/?igshid=NGJjMDIxMWI=

Sat 2nd April is Autistic Appreciation Day: Highlighting Black Autistic Voices

Hi folks,

Saturday 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day (or what a lot of us autistic folk like to rebrand Autistic Appreciation Day). You’ve probably heard me talk a lot about what it’s like to be autistic and neurodivergent in the arts and culture space.

But it’s not time for me to talk. It’s time to clear a space for some black autistic voices. Autistic BIPOC folks in the neurodivergent community and media don’t get heard anywhere near enough.  So here are some to get you started

https://neuroclastic.com/category/culture-identity/people-of-color/black-autistic-lives-matter/

Read some, share some, learn some.