Category Archives: Mental Health

New Autism Advocacy Strategies…and yeah, comic books.

As Autism Awareness Month slides away, let’s reflect on new developments towards advocacy. Lately, I’ve read many blogs and memes which suggests autism as a singular experience. Instead of anti/pro-vaccination links, we find more stories about autism in the workplace. Side-stepping the person-first versus identity debate, we share our talents as authors, musicians, and painters.

As a community, I’ve seen a rising wave of SELF-Acceptance; autistic persons may want others’ approval and validation but won’t hold our breaths. Instead, we go about the business of embracing our uniqueness. More importantly, we share our successes despite our challenges.

As age and experience mount, I realize I want to be a part of this group. I believe we have more power being genuinely positive about autism than blaming others, boycotting groups we never patronize, or faulting professional helpers who forgot why they became doctors and teachers. I also realize how draining fighting social institutions becomes. For a long time – perhaps too long – I found satisfaction in polarizing “gotcha” victories. My professional network includes respected members of the Pennsylvania Congress, United States Congress, U.S. Department of Justice, and the United Nations. Sadly, I used this collective’s best practices about autism to shame or steamroll others less-informed than myself.

…but I’m learning, from you, better ways to deal with people. For example, I started #WeAut2Vote last year to encourage more voting participation within our community. Studying other social activist groups, I copied successful engaging strategies. However, this year was different. Instead of shaming a politician, I reminded our PA Congress of three distinct autism outreach programs that do good work. I reminded politicians about a growing segment of autistic individuals who now vote. I thanked each member of Congress for their work, regardless of political affiliation, in promoting equal opportunities for persons with autism.

The adage is true: you get more flies with honey than vinegar. (Question: why do we WANT to attract flies, anyway? #NoFliesInMyHouse)

To this end, I re-engage our fans with new perspectives and directions.

What will this look like? Here’re two examples:

  • Show you, not tell you. At my core, I’m a comic book junkie. I’ve met and learned from some giants in the comic book industry. This single piece of advice was repeated again and again and again and again and some more. Rather than TELL you how cool something about autism might be, I’m going to SHOW you. Gone are length or preachy caption boxes, or fumbled commentary spewed by pre-teens in our comics. Instead, our heroes overcome challenges with fewer words and more action. Violence isn’t always the best answer, either, even in a comic book. What does this mean? To tell you more would violate Principle #1; we’ll show you in upcoming issues.
  • Give back and nurture new ideas and talent. I envision starting a crowd-funding campaign to pay new artists and writers with autism, anxiety, depression, etc. Our team volunteers our experiences to overcome writers’ block or page layouts. This comic anthology is independent of Face Value Comics, so I hope your ideas are even cooler than ours. These comics will include new voices in the conversation about acceptance and tolerance. Instead of expecting DC or Marvel Comics to tell honest stories about us, WE WILL. I simply ask new talent and prospective submissions to be of a PG rating; no blood, no bombs, and no breasts as the focus of your stories. Do good work; you represent an oft-silenced minority in comic books, so have self-respect and restraint. We expect no financial compensation for this shared work because we’re paying forward some of the advice and help we got. Money raised by crowdfunding goes directly to contributors and incidental costs (i.e. printing and shipping), not us. Crowdfunding also means YOU have more responsibility to share this news with family, friends, teachers, and more.

Kids need heroes like themselves. I said that on Day One. Days Two until recently, I mistakenly believed *I* was that hero with a swelled head. Hopefully, I’ve corrected those oversights as I lay out new direction. Follow me. I want to hear your stories, and publish them. On our end, I want you to have a genuine comic book hero with autism, devoid of attention-seeking commentary or accolades. We deserve better than I’ve been, and I’m taking action on being a better man.

Kids need heroes like themselves, and new “voices” need a chance to be heard.

If you’ve read this far, you ought to see an image of some new characters in our comics. They help the Zephyr, our featured hero. Introducing, the Vultures…

Vultures 01

Do you like the Vultures? They don’t care! They will exist just fine without your approval. What other choice does this group of motorcyclist outcasts have after Dr. Moebius won the war? Also notice our hero unmasked, with a new scar. His childhood robotic aid, TESS, appears more human as time passes. What else lies in store for Face Value Comics? We’ll show ya…

BTW- did you know I like to play games? Check my other most recent blog posts!

For a chance to win a t-shirt featuring an image of the Vultures, comment with “I like the Vultures because…” and insert your reason. We will random determine a winner, and ship your t-shirt free of charge to anywhere in the United States in May 2017. G’luck!

Wanna Make a Comic Book? My Invite, Please RSVP

Are you                Yup, I’ve whitewashed this blog post with a secret message! We’re going

Ready?                 to play a game, too. What kind of game? Well, I already gave you a clue…

Grab your pencils, and let’s do this thing!

Have you ever seen a white raven? If you saw a dozen ravens, how many would be white? 100 ravens? 1000 ravens? Hempel’s Paradox highlights problems of understanding based on faulty observations. In turn, these observations skew our perception of reality. Despite our best efforts, you and I are unlikely to see an albino white raven living in the wild, but they DO exist.

Like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects a white raven.

I want to change this social perception. Pffft- I know next to nothing about birds, though. I do, however, have personal and professional understandings about autism, mental health, and comic books. In hindsight, that’s an odd set of tools, huh?

If you have autism or mental health challenges, YOU are my audience. I contend few of us are published artists or writers. When I wrote a simple comic book, I received a disproportionate amount of media and scientific attention. In my mind, writing a comic book as an autistic adult shouldn’t have been international news. I was a white raven in the minds of too many people.

Since it’s Autism Awareness Month, I want to acknowledge how many of us need and still seek positive affirmations from family, friends, loved ones, and society in general. One way we may accomplish this is to do something spectacular and unexpected.

Let’s make a comic book(s) together.

(As much as my health permits me,) This week, I’ll be posting some submission guidelines. First, I want to make something crystal clear: I don’t care about an “official” diagnosis. I won’t be asking you for health or insurance information to “prove” yourself. I like you just as you as are, and encourage you to be your best self. Be kind. Be mindful. Be well-read. Be considerate of others’ points-of-view.

My goal is to help build up the confidence and self-worth (not ephemeral ‘self-esteem’) of the next generation of comic book artists and writers. To this end, I’m proposing a comic book anthology of short stories made by our audience at Face Value Comics. Our team will provide editing advice, tips to overcome writers’ block, and content suggestions for no financial charge. I envision a comic book of ?? pages, with art and stories by other “white ravens.” I want the unseen to be seen. I want those of us with autism and mental health to grow as budding professionals deserving of recognition for our talents and attempts. We acknowledge how comic books are a multi-million dollar industry so our collective efforts may become more than idle busy work.

So, is this something of which you’d like to be a part? Please openly share this message with other social media channels. We welcome input and content from like-minded friends. The world already knows me. Let’s use this recognition to open doors for other new talents.

Oh- here’re my initial thoughts of the project:

  1. Pick a real-life historical “culture.” Examples may include, but are not limited to- British Knights, Celts and Vikings, Aztecs, Maori, Maasai, and more. How “historic” is historic? How about this idea: a high school student should be able to write an informative research paper about this group with citational references. In other words, don’t give knights laser guns (yet).
  2. Pick a fictional challenger(s) found in classic literature. Again, some examples include dinosaurs, robots, ninjas, aliens, pirates, vampires, etc. NOTE: “Zombies” are not found in the classic literature; they’re out of scope for this project. Sorry, not sorry- ask Kirkman if he’s doing anything like we propose, if zombies are your groove.
  3. All content must fall under suggestions found for PG-rated movies.
  4. Our team will assemble a good sampling of the content, based on artists’ attention to the initial directions (above). Submissions will fall under ONE PAGE, TWO PAGES, and FOUR PAGES of sequential comic book art.
  5. Next, we invite writers. They will interpret the visual art and craft a story based around it so our heroes win and tell a good story. Again, we will provide editing, suggestions, etc. free of charge.
  6. We’ll collect these stories into an anthology comic book graphic novel and release it as professionally-published content.
  7. “Compensation” and financial discussions must wait- that topic deserves its own post. Actually, so do most of these initial guidelines. Well, at least you know what’s coming later this week, eh?

I’ve been told to mention that Face Value Comics is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization; we can accept donations. I’m leery of this point, though; I won’t be bullied into publishing someone’s content based on a financial donation.

Today, my doctor gave me some not-good news. Rather than whine or beg for sympathy, I ask for your help to distract me from it. Let’s fight social stigmas. Together, let’s make something magical and build stronger skills…to show ourselves to the world how we are MORE than our diagnostic labels.

I hope the world stops defining me/us by what I am NOT, but rather who I AM.

TL;DR: I’m inviting persons with autism and mental health challenges to help make an anthology of short comic book stories.

Playing by Your ‘Elf

Dear Santa Wil Wheaton,

During the holidays, many eager games want new toys. As a gamer myself, I enjoy watching episodes of “Table Top.” We play many similar games, and I wonder what other experiences we share.

At first, I researched what single-player games you might have reviewed. While played with a bunch of friends on Table TopZombie Dice can be a brief yet fun distracting game. Recently, I got Dungeon Roll, which also can be played as a single player or with a small group. Do you review any other single-player games? Next, I began (re)reading your blog. Again, we seem to have similar ideas about civility, government, and, well, hobbies like gaming. I also appreciate your candor in addressing mental health, including anxiety and depression. Do you understand autism, too?

Here’s what I want for the holidays, Santa Wil: May we chat about our shared interest of games? Specifically, I’d like to steer the conversation into solo game play, for individual fans of our shared audience who may not easily find fellow competitive gamers, or who otherwise prefer singular play. How many more people with anxiety, autism, and depression could find a healthy outlet by playing more games- even single-player games? Later, we can debate the merits of decision making, organization skills, etc. that some games may offer a single player. Please message us through this blog post if you’d like to continue this idea.

I’ve been a good boy, this year, Wil. I’ve played new games, and am writing more comic books, too. An opportunity to collaborate on behalf of more gamers with mental health social challenges would be a wonderful way to wrap-up 2016.

If any elves might have been reading over Wil’s shoulder (or Wil himself), what other single-player games might you or readers suggestion for their loved ones with autism, anxiety, or depression? This season, let’s presume greater competence for more people to play more games!

Be well,

Dave Kot, Author at Face Value Comics – The World’s 1st Featured Comic Book Hero with Autism

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with any of the games, pictures, or websites linked or referenced; those references, aside from Face Value Comics, are not connected to me and are their rightful owners’ intellectual property, copyright, trademark, etc.

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

Watch for signals of depression over the holidaysThe 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.

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...do you have any toast?
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 my hats? Do you like me?
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

Unmasked, Part One

Comic books invoke daydreams. Regardless of how bad villains become, fans expect their hero to win. Most major protagonists, or heroes, have a weakness. Smart opponents exploit character flaws for their own gain. In Face Value #1, we have many stories to tell about overcoming human frailties. Hopefully, our heroes win. The story begins with advocacy.

Face Value Comics, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. We chose this designation to represent our commitment to community. Maybe we’ll make a sizeable profit from comics and related merchandise (Pssst- we already have designs for a line of fully articulated action figures, and storyboards for more than eighteen months of comic book plot). Most likely, every cent we derive from sales goes into funding the next issues.  Money isn’t our biggest problem. Instead, we face the same challenge that many children have, with or with an ASD diagnosis: acceptance.

Look at other comic books. How many feature a hero with autism? Batman aligned with Lucas, a young boy with autism, but for only one issue in 2011. Also from DC Comics, Black Manta fights Aquaman, but has been inexplicably “cured” of his ASD. Marvel Comics’ database lists five “Characters who exhibit or have been diagnosed with autism,” here: http://marvel.wikia.com/Category:Autism_spectrum.  Readers take note: two of the five characters are the same person. Furthermore, Marvel’s official article appears with category tags: “Mental Illness Weakness (emphasis added).”

Sincerely, I applaud any attempt to include autistic characters by Marvel and DC Comics. Few brave writers discuss autism outside of blog posts or scientific study. Fewer writers seem to believe children with autism can be capable of doing grand things, like being an aquatic-dwelling, infant-murdering, criminal mastermind. My bucket list pales by comparison.

Relaxin' Chillaxin
Being different doesn’t automatically make someone or something a monster.

Our comics FEATURE a hero with autism. Make no mistake- the entire series is Michael’s story. He doesn’t have superpowers. Michael doesn’t have a spiffy catchphrase forced upon readers. His best friend isn’t a do-good vigilante sidekick. Honestly, Michael will be lucky to pass his most-recent science test! His greatest ability, aside from art and a mathematical mind, is compassion. Michael tries to understand his world during an on-coming alien invasion. Face Value Comics never had intentions of being like a heart-warming, tea-sipping, kitten-cuddling, after-school television show. We tell a great science-fiction story to keep readers’ interests.

Social injustice and prejudices against children with ASD requires more grit than fluffy promises. Reader’s aren’t sheep. Kids recognize comic books that have action and long-term plot. Face Value Comics isn’t just another therapeutic tool disguised as entertainment. Our team just has decades of combined experience with professional comic books AND mental health advocacy. Like Michael, Face Value Comics makes no apologies for who we are. Like Michael, we only ask for some time for people to understand something different and new.

Will you like Michael?

Will you like Face Value Comics?

© Face Value Comics 2013

REAL Comic Book Heroes

How do superheroes spend their free time? Most comic book heroes lead dual lives. Their secret identity protects their public persona. Heroes’ typical lives range from billionaire playboys to pauper journalists. Regardless, heroes routinely find themselves a front row seat to disaster or mayhem. Meanwhile, average citizens gawk at their valiant crusaders while never knowing who really fights.

Edge relaxes with his  guitar.
Edge relaxes with his guitar.

I hate Superman. *phew* Yes, I said it. His fantastic stories in cartoons, comics, and movies interest me. However, I can’t relate to the Man of Steel, no matter how hard I want to like him. I don’t fly, but this ability would help avoid rush-hour traffic.  Heat vision would be a fun way to warm apple cider and hot chocolate. I’d be too self-conscious about using freezing breath, so I’d have to carry a toothbrush. Green-glowing rocks give Superman pause; I stutter in front of crowds. The Son of Krypton crushes boulders in his bare hands while bullets bounce off his chest. I use a cane to collect my mail. Nope, I can’t pretend to understand a hero like Superman.

In Face Value Comics, our middle-school heroes have a vast array of opposition. They struggle with homework assignments, making new friends, and romantic interest. Add some bizarre aliens with sharp teeth, and now they fight a dehumanized bully. Extrapolate the long hours spent with professional educators and therapists into time with Dr. Moebius. He personifies a darker, extremist interest into understanding how children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) behave. Our characters don’t need really weird super villains, because life presents enough confusing and scary challenges. Michael’s friends aren’t imbued with magical gifts or phenomenal wealth- just a strong desire to be understood. This quality makes them heroes against a great, old prejudice against anyone who seems different.

At the end of the day, our heroes wipe off the sweat of adventuring and have homework due tomorrow. Their families may be as alien to them as the evolved talking sea-horses they met. It’s a fantasy world, but challenges and opposition are as real in 2072 AD as today. Will mankind better communicate our individual and shared suffering?  In my mind, perseverance to real threats makes someone a hero and role-model. Our main protagonist, Michael, has an ASD. He wants friends to help him solve problems, not laser-beam eyeballs or telekinesis. Michael and many other kids need and want acceptance. Children seem to know more about Superman’s personal struggles against a monthly comic villain better than their best friend’s grief or loss. Let’s teach children compassion, emotional regulation, and empathy for people and pets. Next, we can prioritize a wish list of comic book talents after the real battle against misunderstanding has been won.

© Face Value Comics 2013

PhD, COMICS

Face Value Comics places great emphasis on education. Comic books traditionally lack educational merit, but appeal to a wide audience. President of the Canadian Council on Learning, Dr. Paul Cappon, said, “educators and parents embraced comics as a positive teaching and learning tool (Paton, 2010).”

Before Issue #1 has printed, several educators asked about our educational content. Face Value Comics replied:  We introduce one alien race, the Chillaxin. They are anthropomorphic bioluminescent fungi, whose color hues change when they become glad, mad, or sad. We use onomatopoeia as naming conventions for some characters. Names have significant meaning, too. For example, take Claudia Faust. Her last name pays homage to the Germanic epic poem, while her first name means “lame” in Latin. Now, astute readers may predict Claudia’s future behaviors. Our specially powered bio-droids mimic cog-and-spring clockwork devices with hy·phen·at·ed speech. The Jartavi, an evolved sea-horse group, speak using fənɛtɪks (phonetics).

Most importantly, Face Value Comics utilizes the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). We believe readers will 1) learn how expressed emotions look, 2) see appropriate language that matches feeling, and 3) take ownership of facial feature recognition, as a tool to understand emotional regulation. This strategy drives Face Value Comics, Inc. Our name reflects this goal.

Cass hopes readers will like her.
Cass hopes readers will like her.

We tell a grand adventure, too! Unlike any comic book in the world, our main protagonist has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many of Michael’s middle-school friends also have real-world mental health symptoms, like anxiety and depression. Using professional mental health experiences, explicit consultations, and criteria drawn from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), we present behavioral symptoms on a page with utmost respect. ALL people deserve dignity and a voice. Face Value Comics gives ONE voice to many under-represented groups within comic books. Our characters strive to feel safe, wanted, and successful. Their “super heroism” is a relentless passion to be accepted and understood. Face Value Comics begins with a galactic invasion involving aliens and robots. Prejudice looms as a bigger threat, just for being like any kid with some problems.

Join the fight…against misunderstanding! Maybe readers will learn some grammar. Some may like the Victorian-era steam-powered technologies. Hopefully, our fans see Michael and his friends as real people. Kids need heroes like themselves.

Reference

Paton, G. (2010, August 13). Comic books ‘help boys to read.’ Retrieved 11/03/13, from http://telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7943041/Comic-books-help-boys-to-read.html.

© Face Value Comics 2013