Autism, Emoticons, And Guilt

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Yesterday, an emoticon on a website made me feel guilty.

When I say “emoticon”, I mean those little faces that you put into emails to express how you feel about something. Like this: 🙂

And when I say “guilty”, I am referring to that feeling of being a bad person.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? You’d think there was already enough guilt to go around without having to worry about little smiley or frowney faces.

It all began when I started getting a lot of spam comments on the new, improved version of my blog. For a day or so I lived with this, but then realized that the problem could be solved if I simply activated an anti-spam plugin that was already installed. Activating the plugin involved going to a website to get a numeric key that would then be entered into the plugin settings.

Off I went to the website, where I was presented with options. I could choose the “Premium” version, which naturally involved an annual fee, or I could choose the “Personal Use” version. Somewhat bafflingly, this was listed as costing “$0 – $200”. I selected this one on the grounds that “zero dollars” appeared to be an option, and on the following screen there was a message inviting me to make a voluntary donation to help cover the cost of keeping the software going. The message was accompanied with a little sliding scale thing. If you moved the bar all the way to the right, you were donating $200. If you moved it all the way to the left you were contributing nothing. Beside the sliding scale there was a nice cheerful-looking smiley face emoticon.

Well, I’m hardly going to voluntarily pay for something that I can get for free, right? I slid the bar all the way to the left-hand side of the sliding scale. As I did so, the emoticon’s sunshiney smile transformed into a forlorn-looking sad face.

When I saw that, I found that I was flooded with guilt, to the extent that I almost whipped out my credit card to make a donation. I just couldn’t bear the thought of that little face being so sad. It was almost as if it was an actual person.

I came to my senses, of course, but I was very surprised at how strong an emotion that little face invoked. I suppose the company banks on enough people experiencing that effect and being guilted into paying up.

It is interesting how the mere images of emotions can inspire us to feel those emotions ourselves. In fact, I am using emoticons as a tool to teach my son George how to identify emotions. This is something he has immense difficulty with, and I believe that it leads to his inability to regulate his emotions at times. Not being able to communicate how he feels must be immensely frustrating for him.

I show him emoticons, simply because they are uncomplicated. A round face with a facial expression, and nothing else. I will, of course, have to teach him how to recognize the context surrounding emotions, but that has to come later. He has to first learn how to identify the emotions themselves.

So far, he’s mastered Happy, Sad, and in a recent breakthrough, Mad.

His repertoire of emotions is not big enough yet, not by any means, but it’s more than it was a year ago, and that is progress. While he makes giant leaps in some areas, in other things – like this – he has to take baby-steps.

I’m right there beside him, trying to guide him whenever I can.

(Photo credit: This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)


I Survived A Stressful Week Without Going Completely Insane

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

This last week has been fraught with stress. Along with almost everybody in my department, I spent the first half of the week waiting to hear whether I still had a job. I work for a large corporation, and they do these organizational shuffles from time to time, and invariably not everyone survives these. While we knew that this reorganization was underway, no-one was telling us anything. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, several familiar faces quietly disappeared. And those of us who remained were wondering who would be next.

On Wednesday, the new organizational charts were finally released. I had a brief moment of panic when I couldn’t immediately find my name, but located it under a new manager. I was not thrilled about that – I loved my previous manager – but at least I was there, doing more or less the same work I’ve been doing.

On the same day, I received notification that I had been accepted into the Professional Writers Association of Canada as an associate member. This was big news indeed: it gives me access to all kinds of tools and people that could help me in my quest to get a foothold in the freelance writing business.

While all of this has been going on, I have been trying to resolve some technical issues that have been preventing the upload of my new website. Last night I had to log onto a couple of sites, and click a couple of buttons that would finalize the transfer of my domain name to a new registrar.

My website broke.

I went into emergency fix mode, calling customer support lines and harassing my long-suffering website developer. I was able to put in place a band-aid fix, which will work just fine until my new website is uploaded after the weekend.

Then my email broke – the email that’s associated with the domain name.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what needed to be done. I had to kill off the email address in one place and recreate it in another. Which meant that I first had to sift through the emails in the old place to figure out which ones I wanted to keep. And we all know that nobody keeps their inboxes nice and tidy, right?


I got the email address set up in one place, but now it would appear that I didn’t succeed in fully killing it off in the old place. So the Internet thinks the email address exists in two places. While I’m getting most mail in the new place and none at all in the old place, there is the odd message that simply doesn’t get delivered. Kind of like lost snail mail.

I am trying to muddle through and sort all of this out while coming down from a week of stress.

And deal with an autism meltdown that happened this morning when George couldn’t find his box of DVDs.

All of this is happening as I go a bit mental leading into the final week before my half-marathon.

At least everything that’s happening is, in some way, a step in the right direction. I still have a job. My writing career took a big leap. The infrastructure is in place for my new website, and I can always change my email address.

Even George’s meltdown was a positive thing, because he was able to communicate what the trigger was.

I am ready for a relaxing weekend, and I hope that anyone reading will relax right along with me.