Use Self Care to Combat Holiday Stress

Combat Holiday Stress with self careTeens 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

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.

Autism Labels As a Tool for Understanding

Autism labels do not define usMany 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.

Michael Draws Zephyr - do autism labels workAt 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.  Our goal is to start by showing kids can have heroes like themselves, and one hero just happens to have autism.

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

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.

Raising Autism Awareness with a Superhero Labeling Autism

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...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

Sadder Day Mornings

On Saturday mornings, remember when…

…Superhero theme songs made our heads pop up and pay attention to radio or tv?

…Commercials were as fun as the show, and we wished Santa Claus took notes beside us?

…Playing during the show, we made our action figures watch themselves on screen?

What happened to good Saturday Morning Cartoons? The amount of cartoon available on Saturday Morning dwindled. Yes, cable or satellite dish networks offers zillions of programs. Yes, Blu-ray , CD, and DVD sales let me relive old classics. However, I miss a ritual of Saturday Morning routines. Where’re “To be continued…” cliffhangers? Where’re fun toys that advance or match the storyline? Where’re great guests or voice actors, or consistent writers? Where is non-computer generated animation?

Face Value Comics will change some of these things. Forward thinking, we promote positive awareness about autism in ANY medium. Comic books are our best launching point, allowing our use of a specialized science and developing characters. Readers will feel immersed in a good story. Kids (with autism) may learn and retain more things by invoking different senses.  People learn in different ways. Therefore, we announce that The Shimmer are coming (with special thanks to Frank Kozak)…

© 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

SATURDAY MORNINGS

Dear Chris Latta,

Thank you for making cartoons fun during the 80s. I woke-up early on Saturday Mornings to have breakfast with Cobra Commander, Starscream, and Cravex. Imagine my surprise to learn how each of these iconic characters shared the same voice actor: Chris Latta (you). Spider-man and His Amazing Friends fought the Sandman you. The Simpsons continues long after your passing, but I remember your voice as an early C. Montgomery Burns. Excellent, Mr. Latta…excellent.

What happened to children’s entertainment? When you left us in 1994, another void occurred. Live-action child actors replaced traditional animated cartoons. Comic books characters flopped, whose artists followed a rapid cookie-cutter template. Toys became expensive collectors’ treasures, not rugged playthings. I shed a tear for your passing, as well as uninspired imaginations we inherited.

Let me share some good news and hope, Mr. Latta. Face Value Comics debuts this month. We’re the first comic book to feature a hero with autism. This social communication disorder wasn’t prevalent during your lifetime, but now autism affects more than 1% of children worldwide. We only know its symptoms.  Professionals help children and their families understand the social world around them. This is why I founded Face Value Comics. I love discussing the science behind our comic book, but let’s have fun on a Saturday Morning…like we used to do.

The Zephyr vs. ???
The Zephyr vs. ???

In Face Value Comics, we have a Victorian-era society driven by steam-power. Therefore, gadgets and equipment use imagination as well as compressed steam, or solar power.

In Face Value Comics, we have the Chillaxin. This bioluminescent fungi-race returned to Earth after centuries of forced expansion following the dinosaurs’ extinction.

In Face Value Comics, we have the Jartavi. Resurfacing from our deep oceans, these evolved sea-horses seem playfully curious and almost magical.

In Face Value Comics, we have The Shimmer. These women-warriors watch humanity’s social progress and sit as cosmic judges of our destiny.

In Face Value Comics, we have a comic-within-a-comic! The Zephyr is a do-good costumed crime-fighter. He wears “steampunk” gear and sometime sports a very special electric sword…”mMuhTZAP!” The Zephyr gives our middle-school hero – Michael – fantasy and hope of a better future.

Dr Moebius asks, "how do you feel?"
Dr Moebius asks, “how do you feel?”

Isn’t creative play the goal behind all comic books and kids’ entertainment, Mr. Latta? I figured you may know best. Personally, I can hear your voice as our fiendish mad scientist – Dr. Darling Moebius!

Be well, Mr. Latta…wherever you are.

Respectfully,

Dave Kot, Founder of Face Value Comics, Inc.

 

© Face Value Comics 2013