The Masking Theory of Flat Affect on the Autism Spectrum

One of my theories of flat affect on the autism spectrum is our attempts at masking our autistic traits through emotional suppression.

Flat affect includes an expressionless face, a flat tone of voice, and a lack of body language and gestures.

Seven years ago, I had a new job which was probably my first one through a formal job interview. It was a tech job. The people there were friendly, and the position was a good fit. It made me feel optimistic about the future of my career.

I remember that as a new hire, shortly after a tech meetup when I was about to take the bus, I showed that I was happy and a lady asked me whether I was okay.

This is one example of why autistic people feel the need to hide what they’re feeling. If it causes flat affect, it’s like making a poker face.

Even if we learn how neurotypicals react and copy them, we could still come across as robotic or scripted as people pick up subtle social cues, so unmasking autistic traits could be a solution to this issue.

Some of the ways we stand out when expressing autistic traits include:

  • Producing atypical facial expressions. Alexithymia could be one explanation. For example, confusing a smile of victory with a friendly smile.
  • Stimming when expressing emotions such as happy hands flapping and rocking while others tap their feet or dance while enjoying music.
  • Having special interests, which look more like an obsession than a hobby. When we share special interests, we naturally have improvements in eye contact and flat affect

Masking can cause flat affect

Because autistic people often feel the need to fit in, masking may contribute to flat affect.

What are your thoughts about this theory? Please share by commenting below!

Learning Social Skills from the CEO of the Sluis Academy as an Autistic Adult

Many of you may know that as someone on the autism spectrum, I needed to improve my social and communication skills, so my parents decided that I should try out some sessions with the CEO of the Sluis Academy.

A BCIT alumni introduced him to my parents while networking.

For the introductory session, he came to my home. He taught me what to do when socializing. I learned that when socializing, we should gradually introduce something we want to talk about rather than be too abrupt. He reminded to keep my back straight and have eye contact.

One technique of eye contact involves looking near the person’s eyes, but not directly at their eyes. Autistic people often find this method more comfortable.

I had at least a Skype session after classes while I was studying at BCIT.

For one of the sessions, we went to a restaurant, practising what I learned by interacting with the servers there. It’s one thing to know how to socialize, and another to be able to socialize properly in real-life situations.

He gave me tips on how to do small talk, and when I drift, he gently pointed it out by gesturing. I liked his method because it’s much easier to correct problems early before they become habits.

Many, if not most, of us would benefit from getting feedbacks from other people. Encouraging feedbacks are especially effective!

For the later meetings, I practiced job interview skills with sample job interview questions.

Updates on my Employment

After almost a year of getting support for employment, I was hired to work doing vehicle upfitting.

If you know me on social media, you’re probably aware that I’ve been sharing autism posts, which is an easy way of supporting those on the spectrum.

I was getting job search support from Jobs West and other organizations that support autistic people.

Some positions I applied for include Bike Mechanic, Electronics Assembler, and Programmer.

I showed my job coach some of my electronics projects and they included some of them in my portfolio. Sharing our hobbies is one way of showing your strengths and interests. If we can’t do something, we should find alternatives to make it possible instead of giving up.

sunrise simulator image
Custom made sunrise simulator without its diffuser.

Sharing hobbies can help you find a job. For example, while I was waiting for bike service at a local bike shop, I demonstrated my bike setup with electric horns to a bike mechanic and he wanted them on his bike. Shortly after, I got hired on the spot for a summer job!

During the fall,  I volunteered at Bike Kitchen for a while.

Around December, I accepted the vehicle upfitter job position. Once in a while, my job coach kept in touch with me.

tool box
My toolbox at work.

It’s now almost a year of working there.

Update on my Helmet Light (Reduced Weight Design)

This is my newest helmet light for safety while commuting. It’s similar to my previous one but was designed to be lighter.

It was powered by 3 rechargeable AA batteries. The unused battery slot was used for the circuitry. It used AMC7135 LED drivers so that 3 AA batteries could be used instead of 4 for stability.

The front light was warm white for preserving night vision and had a narrow beam pattern.

The rear light was wide-angle and installed on a self-levelling mount to make it consistently visible.

It weighed around 175g. With less weight on the helmet, it should be easier on the neck and back. It’s possible to go even lighter by using 3 AAA batteries instead, but you’ll need to recharge them more often.

The light was programmed to have four settings in total. It has two settings for being seen during the day, and two for seeing at night. On its lowest setting, it lasts around 40 hours, and on its highest setting, it lasts approximately 6 hours which I think is reasonable.

Here are some pictures of the older helmet light. It used 2 18650 cells and had more LEDs. It weighed about 350g, about twice as heavy as the newest version!

Do you have any suggestions for improvements? If so, please share by commenting below!

Updates on Using Noise Cancellation for Sensory Overload at Work

I’ve been using noise cancellation to concentrate better at work and would like to give an update about it.

Doing my best at work was important so I had to do what I can. I even went as far as wearing both earmuffs and ear plugs.

Around this August, I reconfirmed my need for hearing protection. My supervisor noticed that I was distracted by background music. That day during lunch, I wrote a letter, showing that I needed it.

After lunch, I timed how fast I could work. For one task, I usually complete it in 45 to 60 minutes wearing earmuffs only. After wearing dual protection, I cut it down to under 25 minutes, which puzzled my supervisor!

One issue with regular ear plugs is that you can only wear them comfortably for so long, so I experimented with custom-fitted non-vented ones from Nextgen Hearing. My understanding was that the performance gains are well worth the extra cost. During the custom-fitting process, they put silicone in my ears to get an impression.  The ear plugs arrived in almost a month.

Once they arrived, I tried them out, and the good news was that I could wear them all day.  However, there were excessive vibrations from simply walking, so I went back to disposable earplugs.

So far, I have other options, including turning down the music and only wearing them when the task requires more brain power.

VO2 Max Spreadsheet Calculator

Screenshot 2017-11-09 14.25.23

You may not need a lab test to estimate your VO2 max. You can use a calculator to do it. You’ll need to know your age, resting heart rate, waist circumference, exercise frequency, intensity, and duration.

Once you have the information you can use this VO2 max calculator.

The formulas were based on the HUNT Study in Norway.

Here’s an article about it:

Here’s the link for the study:

Minoura M80 Trainer’s Power Curve at its Maximum Resistance Setting

This chart was made using LibreOffice Calc. The power was measured at different speeds. There was a big gap between the last two points because a high power output was required even though I used the minimum resistance to do the test.

Since it’s linear, you can use a speedometer to estimate your power. You should set the wheel size so that the numbers are close to those in the chart. This is useful if you don’t have a power meter.

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Screenshot 2018-03-10 18.27.13

Comparing Different Trainer Selections in TrainerRoad

In TrainerRoad, it’s possible to use virtual power even though if your trainer isn’t supported.

I tested the wattage readings from the selections of Minoura’s trainers at different resistance settings. The speed was around 25 kph and the cadence around 53 RPM. The Minoura M80 trainer was used at the lowest resistance.

Minoura M50/M80/MAG850L

  • Level 1: 53W at 25.0 kph and 53 RPM
  • Level 2: 105W at 25.1 kph and 53 RPM
  • Level 3: 128W at 24.9 kph and 53 RPM
  • Level 4: 146W at 24.9 kph and 53 RPM
  • Level 5: 199W at 25.1 kph and 53 RPM

Minoura 850

  • Level 5: 206W at 25.4 kph and 53 RPM
  • Level 6: 218W at 24.9 kph and 53 RPM

Minoura M80-R/M70-R/B60

Level 0: 121W at 24.9 kph and 53 RPM
Level 1: 143W at 25.0 kph and 53 RPM
Level 2: 161W at 25.2 kph and 53 RPM
Level 3: 185W at 25.1 kph and 53 RPM
Level 4: 194W at 25.0 kph and 53 RPM
Level 5: 206W at 25.1 kph and 53 RPM
Level 6: 218W at 25.0 kph and 53 RPM

The highest settings seemed to match.

I also tested virtual power for my trainer at 46.6 kph and 83 RPM. The power reading was 466W.