Podcast — 35 Minutes

Episode 4: Clay Seim

Podcast — 35 Minutes

Episode 4: Clay Seim

Clay is 25 years old and resides in Charleston with his family.

Picture of Clay SeimClay Seim shares with Dr. Gwynette his perspective on “non-apparent disabilities” vs. “apparent disabilities” and the effects of the former on work and social relationships, how he uses “masks” and “scripts” to “pass” in social settings, and how struggling with performance at school or life can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle of anxiety & depression.

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Dr. Gwynette: Hello and welcome to the Autism News Network podcast. I’m Dr. Frampton Gwynette at the Medical University of South Carolina. You are with us for Episode Four, and I’m joined today by a young man named Clay, Clay Seim, who is here in the studio live and has offered his time up to join us with the Autism News podcast.

Clay Seim: Hello.

Dr. Gwynette: Hey, Clay, welcome. Yeah. How are you? How are you doing today?

Clay Seim: Thank you. I’m doing well, thank you.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Have you slept off all the turkey from the past weekend?

Clay Seim: Not quite, but we’ll get there.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. You’ll get there. So you told me that you actually spent the holiday weekend outside of Charleston in a small area called…

Clay Seim: Edisto Beach.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: We went out to the beach house at Edisto. It was very nice.

Dr. Gwynette: It really is. So for those of you who are not local to Charleston, Edisto is also called Edislow. Have you ever heard that?

Clay Seim: Nah. Actually, I hadn’t.

Dr. Gwynette: Edislow because everything slows down there and it’s very, very quiet and peaceful.

Clay Seim: It is very secluded. We took a couple of nice family photos out on the beach at sunset. I’m pretty sure that’s our Christmas card for this year.

Dr. Gwynette: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. And the weather was good.

Clay Seim: It was good. It rained the very last day as we were coming back. But we were able to actually load up before, right before the rain hit. So it was perfect.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. That’s awesome. Now there’s, I think there’s one grocery store in Edisto. Right?

Clay Seim: One. Just the one BI-LO. Yeah.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s a BI-LO now?

Clay Seim: It’s a BI-LO now.

Dr. Gwynette: It used to be a Piggly Wiggly.

Clay Seim: Well they went out of business, didn’t they?

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m glad that you’re back from your trip and had a good Thanksgiving.

Clay Seim: Thanks.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And we’ve been kind of building up to this for a while, but wanted to just talk to you for the benefit of our audience. So can you tell us a little bit about like, if you don’t mind, your diagnosis and how long you’ve been aware of that.

Clay Seim: Aware that something was wrong? Probably since, around third grade I had a bad grade or something like that. And then a meltdown associated with that. Actual diagnosis, middle school age.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay.

Clay Seim: And high functioning autism. Some dysgraphia. Some central auditory processing disorder. So picking voices of out of a crowd, stuff like that. Aside from that, that’s about it. Some anxiety and depression associated with that.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay.

Clay Seim: There you go.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And so the dysgraphia, for those who don’t know, that’s like a little bit of difficulty with fine motor skills like with writing.

Clay Seim: Yeah. My handwriting’s atrocious. Always has been and always will be. That’s basically what that means.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah. And we see that a lot. Did you ever have occupational therapy or physical therapy?

Clay Seim: I did. I forget who it was with, but I do remember I did not have the best time with them. I don’t think I had a good rapport with the person I worked with. We did a little bit, but not too much.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s difficult these days because I’ve worked with a lot of youngsters who have poor handwriting, because it’s very common for people on the spectrum. And sometimes the schools have the approach of “Yeah, we’re going to use occupational therapy and get the handwriting better.” Other schools say, “Forget penmanship. Let’s get this youngster typing because it’s all going to be typed anyway.”

Clay Seim: Right.

Dr. Gwynette: How do you feel about that?

Clay Seim: I feel like there is a lot of typing, but I don’t know. Writing’s a useful skill to have.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: I would not worry about fine penmanship. You don’t need to be a calligrapher.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: You just have to make it legible. If it’s legible than anything else is just nitpicking.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, exactly.

Clay Seim: It doesn’t matter if it’s chicken scratch, if you can read it, it’s fine. But being able to write, to just leave a note, like if you don’t have a, because there are times, power outages or you leave your phone at home, where you do have to write something down. And if you can’t read it then, then that’s a problem.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, exactly. Yes. Maybe there are some benefits to doing therapy. Trying to get the handwriting as good as possible, but it’s not the be all and end all, like you said. Yeah. And I have known you for a while and you had an interesting path in school because in high school you were involved, was it called a Buddy Program?

Clay Seim: It was a while ago, I don’t know.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. It’s been awhile. Yeah, because you’re 25 now, right?

Clay Seim: Yes.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. I was just thinking back. Yeah. Because I work with a lot of kids in high school, and middle school of course, and they struggle sometimes to get along with peers. But there are potential ways that neuro-typical peers can get involved to support students with autism who are at high school. Were you ever, felt like that was helpful for you or you kind of on your own?

Clay Seim: I found, from peers more, just especially in middle school, high school, once you get into college peer programs and you just letting people know what’s going on with you, the people are generally more understanding and can just work with you. But middle school and high school people are still maturing.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And I find many times, aside from there, there’s always the odd gem that you meet. The person who does get it because they have family or because they’re an empathetic person.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: But for the most part I relied on teachers or maybe like slightly older mentors…

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: … during middle school, high school. I do find that an age difference does typically help with that mentor relationship, just because of establishes a little bit of baseline of respect and rapport. I have had some experience with mentoring myself, I think. We went to Hill Academy, I believe, which was right down the road from where I went to high school for a while. A School of the Arts.

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha.

Clay Seim: And we did, I think we played some games. We did a little, they did the Mentos and Coke experiment. We did diet Coke though, so nothing got sticky.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay. Excellent.

Clay Seim: We did a couple things like that.

Dr. Gwynette: And so these were youngsters with autism themselves or-

Clay Seim: I don’t know what their diagnoses was, but I think it was a little more low functioning. Because I think that Academy was set aside just for folks who had a harder time.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay. Gotcha. So you’re kind of lending a hand, serving the community.

Clay Seim: It’s always a difficult thing to balance when you have folks with disabilities coming together. Because you have, a lot of times you have quite a few insecurities. And that’s just the name of the game because you do have these issues that you’re dealing with personally and that can lead to having some insecurities. So you have this weird conundrum where you have to get just the right balance between functioning level and ability. Because if you have a big difference in between the person who’s lower functioning, can feel maybe like how am I ever going to get to that level, and then the person who’s higher functioning is, how do I relate to this person?

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: So it’s a bit of a, you have, it’s an extra, just like many things with the spectrum, it’s an extra layer of nuance to it. To where you have to balance this extra variable of… Because usually what do you have? You have age difference. You have personality, personal chemistry. And then you have levels of functionality and that’s that extra layer that you get when you have folks on the spectrum. So to where that can impact the personal relationships that you make.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, exactly. And I think your right. So these insecurities pop up and… Do you ever find that your challenges, to most people, are invisible?

Clay Seim: Call that a non apparent disability. So apparent disability is somebody who’s blind, somebody who in a wheelchair for whatever reason. You look at this person, you can tell that this person does not have this type of functionality. A non apparent disability, something like autism, something like a anxiety disorders, depression, maybe you can tell. Especially if you’re looking for it or you know what to look for, but it’s not necessarily something that you see unless you’re told about it.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: Yeah, I’ve definitely had that problem. My philosophy, because I’ve gotten very used to advocating for myself over the years and I’ve gotten very comfortable talking about my issues. That’s why I’m here. Partly it’s because a lot of other folks would be very uncomfortable just kind of sitting here, twiddling their thumbs, leg bumping up and down, not really able to articulate themselves because they’re nervous, they’re anxious. But I’ve found that my mom who has always pushed me to be the best version of myself, really pushed me to advocate for myself. And I found that, over time, it did eventually get easier to just talk about stuff. And it’s actually very cathartic to bring that out. I’ve lost where I was. I’ve lost my [crosstalk 00:09:06].

Dr. Gwynette: No, but exactly. I mean, I work with a lot of families, and a lot of kids who have those non apparent disabilities. And I love that word. I actually had never heard that until you said it. So that’s new for me. But I think it really does describe the challenges because in some ways it’s almost like a hidden challenge because you spend a lot of time trying to convince teachers or peers or other mentors that support is needed. When to the untrained eye it doesn’t appear to be needed.

Clay Seim: I find usually that I just disclose with anybody that I am spending a decent length of time with. “Hi, I have this disability.” Because a lot of times your functionality can be really dependent on your emotional state, with autism. And so how well you do your activities, and how well you can go to work, or just get the basic house chores that you need done, can really depend on where you’re at emotionally. And so I find that when I was in school, any of the classmates that I would be working with in groups, so like lab partners, group projects, nowadays coworkers, bosses, and supervisors. And even people that you meet, you have a good time, and after you get over that initial meeting them and becoming friends.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: I mean usually it comes up at some point during that process, but, excuse me.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: You need to let those people know because if you come in one day, and you’re really depressed or really anxious or angry or you have whatever emotional imbalance, that your coping skills or whatever else that you’re doing in your life hasn’t been able to balance out or make non apparent, then it becomes very apparent.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: And if people don’t know what’s going on with that, you’re going to get a lot of, “What’s this? What’s going on with you?”

Dr. Gwynette: Right. And they can’t support you if they don’t know.

Clay Seim: They can’t. And I have found that there are two types, really, two or three types of people in this world when it comes to support. You have those that will give you more than you need, everything that you could ask for and more.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Which can be detrimental because sometimes you need to stand up on your own two feet, and if you’re handed everything, you got to with those people, you got to know when to say no and when to try to just help yourself, which is a skill unto itself. Then you have those that are just kind of apathetic. They don’t really know how to handle the information you’ve given them. Maybe they don’t know what it means, and so they’re kind of just standoffish. They’d like to help, but they have no idea how to help. They’re kind of this, they’re just, they’re scared by it.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And then you have people who don’t care. Not just, well, that’s what apathetic means, but you have people who are maliciously apathetic. To where they just, it doesn’t matter. They don’t, not only do they not understand, they don’t care to understand. That’s your problem, you have to deal with it.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: I have been very fortunate. I’ve only had, I think, one supervisor that I had that was more of that, just whatever. And luckily they were, they were a, it was while I was working at a BI-LO.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And I had one supervisor who I had a sensory issue where my, the freezer, we were moving stuff around the freezer and it was really hurting my hands.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And she didn’t care. She was going to write me up because I didn’t want to do it. And then I had, I came in the next day and I was real worried about it. And the general floor manager for that, for the whole front end of the store, which is where I worked as a cashier, that person I had established a rapport with Ms. Dorothy, bless her heart.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Sweet, sweet old lady. She was very sweet.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And she had had a talk with her and said, “Hey listen, this is what’s up. You can’t just do that.” And so it was all sorted out by the next day, by the time I got back into work. So I find that if you establish a rapport with those people who are that first type, type that will give you what you need… Rarely, very rarely you get that person who does, who knows when to to stand up to you and tell you, “Okay, come on, let’s push through this.” And knows when to give you some slack as well. But yeah, no, actually, she was closer to that because she would say, “Okay, you can do this. Come on. I really need you to to suck it up and do this for me.” She was a great person. I burned out at that job because it’s just, the hours were random and the business level was very, very, it fluctuated. You’d be slammed for like a few minutes and then dead for a couple, dead for an hour or two, and then slammed for 30 minutes.

Dr. Gwynette: One of the things that always amazed me was that you were a cashier, which is obviously people intensive. How does a young man with high functioning autism deal with people all day?

Clay Seim: I’ve just gotten very good at the the mask of just being polite and courteous, which is just what a cashier is. It’s just mainly a script, really.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And, yeah, I can learn a script and I can spew a script back to somebody. And you have that occasional person who was, [inaudible 00:14:33] you say you got the 10 people in customer service.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: You got one person on one side who is an absolute angel, maybe gave you a tip or something, or was just super sweet and nice to you and understanding, asked about your day. And was genuinely asking about it, not just throwing platitude or something out there towards you. Then you have the person on the other side who is the person who wanted their coupon even though it’s two years expired, and was an absolute bear, rude to you, rude to your manager, was asked to leave the store.

Dr. Gwynette: Disgruntled. Oh boy.

Clay Seim: Those are the two people on either side. And then the other eight people in between, are on that spectrum in between the two of them.

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha. So you see elements of those.

Clay Seim: You see the whole spectrum of society, I guess.

Dr. Gwynette: So you put the mask on. And I guess the mask is, if it’s in place, it prevents people from really understanding your internal struggle and frustration.

Clay Seim: Well, at a job, people don’t want to understand your internal struggle.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Now when you’re making like relationships with friends, that mask comes down a bit.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: But if you’re, especially in customer service, or in situations where it’s not people that you have a rapport with, just with the general public, that mask can be very helpful just to make it through the day, to avoid awkward questions from people, and to avoid making people feel unduly uncomfortable.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: I mean obviously you’ve got to do what’s right for you, but there are ways to make it easier for yourself in society and there are ways to make it harder.

Dr. Gwynette: Can you talk some about your decision to leave that cashier job, and we don’t want to disparage any particular company-

Clay Seim: No.

Dr. Gwynette: … but internally you were really thinking about that for awhile. You made a decision.

Clay Seim: Like I said, like I was saying earlier, is I was burnt out at that job probably a year into it.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Because it’s just, and it had nothing to do with the company, it’s just the industry as a whole is very unstructured, and I prefer structure.

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha.

Clay Seim: You never knew what the day was going to be like?

Dr. Gwynette: Yep.

Clay Seim: Or if you did, you knew it was just going to be slammed the whole day. Like on holidays. Or if there was a hurricane coming, everybody’s coming to get water bottles.

Dr. Gwynette: Yes.

Clay Seim: But yeah, no, it was just the uncertainty of it. It was very, very up and down in terms of how busy it was and what we were doing at each day. But like I said, I was a year in, burned out, and my wonderful boss was the person probably, because when I would have anxiety, and that’s the main thing that that was getting me. It got to the point where I would walk into the front doors of the store and I just, I was halfway into a panic attack, wouldn’t take much more to just pushed me over the edge.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. What was causing that you think?

Clay Seim: Like I said, I think it’s the uncertainty.

Dr. Gwynette: The uncertainty.

Clay Seim: I think it’s just I never knew what was going on or how bad it was going to be. How dead it was going to be.

Dr. Gwynette: And your hours would shift a lot too, right?

Clay Seim: They would. So closing, opening, split shifts. Oh, everything.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. So it was not a nine to five gig. It was very much like all over the place.

Clay Seim: It was all over the place. And you didn’t know what the schedule was till the week of.

Dr. Gwynette: Oh. And that’s not good.

Clay Seim: So there was no advanced notice. So it was just you got your schedule and then you would see what you were doing.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. So you really, that can be very anxiety provoking.

Clay Seim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Gwynette: And it messed with sleep as well, didn’t it?

Clay Seim: It did. I don’t have a lot of, I don’t do that very well anyway. I have horrible sleep hygiene. I sleep whenever, and… I don’t know. I have, my job now I work usually lunch shifts so I don’t go to work until 12 right. I’m usually very much a night owl so I can end up going to sleep at two in the morning and getting in eight hours.

Dr. Gwynette: Sure. And then going to work.

Clay Seim: Yeah. And then going to work and I’m all right.

Dr. Gwynette: And what kind of work do you do?

Clay Seim: I work now as a server assistant at Slightly North of Broad.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay.

Clay Seim: So that means-

Dr. Gwynette: It’s a great place.

Clay Seim: It is. It’s a very nice restaurant. Very, very fancy. Very nice. Good food too.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And what do you do? Like what’s the server assistant’s job?

Clay Seim: Server assistant, so bread and water, there’s usually three SAs on. There’s bread and water, those two are upfront. And then usually I do polish, which is in the back. Things go through the dish pit, silverware and glassware, stuff like that. And I polish it to make sure there’s no water spots on it before it goes back out. So make sure, just a final quality check for it.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah. And so to get to your job, you drive, right?

Clay Seim: I do drive.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. How old were you when you got your license?

Clay Seim: 19 maybe.

Dr. Gwynette: 19. Okay.

Clay Seim: I think so.

Dr. Gwynette: And was it like an anxiety provoking thing?

Clay Seim: Oh yes, for sure. That’s why I, that’s why it took me an extra three or four years. Yeah. I did not, I still don’t like driving. Part of it’s spacial awareness. Part of it was anxiety. I took the 911 course. You got two of them here, I think.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: In Charleston there’s two separate programs, but they’re both good programs. They usually have a, the one I went to anyway, had one instructor who did typically work with people with disabilities. So they had one person who would go out and be a little more intensive, a little more hands on versus the standard-

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha.

Clay Seim: … instruction.

Dr. Gwynette: Is it the unpredictability of the roads or is it all the sensory input?

Clay Seim: It’s the risk is the responsibility of having a piece of metal moving, at 30 to 60 miles per hour, that’s, a couple tons.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And you’re in control of that and if you mess up then you’re damaging your property, you’re damaging other people’s property, you’re taking other people’s lives. And that’s a huge responsibility and it’s very nerve wracking.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, absolutely.

Clay Seim: But yeah, no, I took the course which helped me get over some of that anxiety, helped me get used to driving, and it also lowers your insurance.

Dr. Gwynette: Oh, when you take the class?

Clay Seim: When you take the class, it lowers your insurance. So within a couple of years, because you’re going to be in that, usually people are in that 20 to 25 age bracket, where, especially if you’re a guy, insurance is horrible.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: Car insurance is very expensive. And so taking a couple of hundred dollars off even.

Dr. Gwynette: That’s right.

Clay Seim: It’s going to pay for, the course I think was, I don’t know, like 400 or something like that, but it pays for itself in a couple years.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s a good investment. And being able to drive is a huge factor for independence.

Clay Seim: It is.

Dr. Gwynette: Uber and Lyft are great. However, not being able to drive, especially, we live in Charleston and the public transit system is not well developed.

Clay Seim: They do their best.

Dr. Gwynette: But it’s very limiting.

Clay Seim: Yes.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, I think that’s really great. There’s actually some work being done in Vanderbilt to teach people how to drive using virtual reality. So they bring in adolescents with autism or young adults with autism, and run them through a computer screen. It’s pretty cool. Where they’ll do different scenarios, different weather patterns, different pedestrian crossings, and kind of train them to anticipate the unexpected, and also to pay attention to the right things at the right time. Like the traffic light when you’re at an intersection or pay attention to the speed limit when you’re not in an intersection. Things like that.

Clay Seim: Well you got to learn how to put your focus where your car is going to be in terms of your reaction times. So you know you’ve got two, three, six second reaction time. So what you need to do, and this is what the instructor taught me when I was in that, is to pick out a landmark, see how fast it gets to you.

Dr. Gwynette: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Clay Seim: So if you see something, and then you count down, and in two, three seconds it’s past you, where that thing was when you first saw it, that’s your reaction time.

Dr. Gwynette: Right? [crosstalk 00:22:28].

Clay Seim: That’s where you need to probably put the next car in front of you.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: That’s where you need to keep your focus because if something happens there, you need those two seconds to hit the brakes or take the wheel and do some evasive action, whatever you’re going to do to prevent an accident.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: So you got to learn where to keep your focus. Because if you’re looking right in front of you and you’re going 60 miles an hour, then you’re about five car lengths away from where your focus needs to be.

Dr. Gwynette: That’s right.

Clay Seim: And if something happens in that five, six car lengths, you’re not going to see it until it’s 10, 20 feet in front of you and then you’re going to hit it.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: So you don’t have time to react to then.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And doing all those calculations can be really stressful.

Clay Seim: It can.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: But it becomes second nature. It’s just like anything else. It’s just bigger and badder.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Because the speeds and stuff like that are just much more daunting because they’re much higher than anything else you’ve done before.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: But just like riding a bike, or any kind of experience, you just learn to and you internalize it after a while.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Now your car is somewhat of a legend. Do you have a nickname for your vehicle?

Clay Seim: I do not.

Dr. Gwynette: Not yet?

Clay Seim: I don’t get sentimental about my vehicle.

Dr. Gwynette: No? Okay.

Clay Seim: Because I’ve banged it up quite extensively.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. That can be a good thing because then you don’t have to worry about body damage and stuff like that. Just keep moving forward.

Clay Seim: Yeah. No, I mean I’m a huge Star Wars fan. So when I first started accruing dents and stuff on my car, mostly on, I have had one fender bender with a car that’s moving. And everything else has been stationary objects.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: It’s been, I’ve been tired after a long day of work, and I didn’t realize that the concrete barrier and the parking structure was that close.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Or something like that where I’ve banged it up and scraped it up. And yeah, like I said, when I first started out, I’d get a dent or something on there and I’d be like, “Oh no, this is terrible. Gosh. This is horrible.” And it still is, but now it’s more just like General Grievous, just with, “Ah. A fine addition to my collection.”

Dr. Gwynette: No, that’s classic. Oh, absolutely. So yeah, we’re going to move on to the next topic real quick here.

Clay Seim: All righty.

Dr. Gwynette: You talked some about anxiety and again that’s a huge factor for so many people on the spectrum. And then you mentioned also depression. Can you talk about things that, in your life, have triggered the more, the depressive episodes for you?

Clay Seim: Usually when I set a bar for myself and I don’t meet it. Missed goals, probably be my main trigger. I went to CofC, I went to college for three years. I ended up doing reduced course load, so about nine credit hours a semester, and I’d usually take on an extra class and bring it up to, hang on I have to add, 12 credit hours a semester. And I usually ended up dropping that course, or at least one of them I’d have trouble with, and I’d have to drop halfway through. Which is after the drop/add thing, so I had that on my transcript as well, which was an extra bit of stress. And eventually I just didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I felt like I had gotten my gen EDs out the way. I’d switched my major a couple times. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to just take classes just to take classes. And so when I had to drop out that was something there. Where a lot of my peers were graduating and I had been dropped out for a year, and I only had my gen EDS out of the way.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: So comparing yourself to your peers a lot of times I find can be very depressing, where people are achieving these benchmarks for independence and for for life, that you’re just, you’re not there. Obviously trying to make friends. A lot of the social settings are very stressful. And because you have that anxiety, you can’t attend some of those social events, and you can’t get into some of these social circles because it’s too scary. It’s too-

Dr. Gwynette: Too loud.

Clay Seim: … icky. Too loud. You go there and then you just stand at, you have the groups of clusters of people, where people group up and start talking to each other, these little cliques. Just little groups of people just shooting the breeze, and you’re just kind of floating in between all of them and not quite entering any of them. So because of that anxiety, you don’t make those friends and then you’re lonely. And then because of that loneliness you end up being depressed because you couldn’t make the friends. You couldn’t make the friends because you’re anxious. You go to make more friends because you’re lonely and then you end up being anxious. You can’t make any, you go home, and then you’re sad.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: There you go.

Dr. Gwynette: That’s right.

Clay Seim: And so that’s kind of the cycle between the anxiety and the depression in terms of a social situation.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. You articulated that so well. And I think we’ve had just countless number of participants in our program who have described something very similar. And a lot of times in those social situations, it’s so difficult to feel accepted. And that’s such a key factor. I’m going to put my psychiatrist’s hat on a second. Do you ever feel like it’s difficult to accept yourself? Not be too hard on yourself?

Clay Seim: Oh, I’m always hard on myself. Ah, I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask about that because I don’t really, I haven’t, I don’t think I’ve ever really accepted myself. Because I don’t like where I’m at, and I have a hard time separating where I’m at from who I am.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Because what I have is so much a part of why I’m at where I’m at in terms of just progressing through life.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Kind of like that performance-based mentality that is all about the United States. It’s like we see what people do and “Why can’t we do that?” It’s hard. It’s part of our society. You and I have had multiple conversations about, what you can offer this world is between your ears and you’re sharing that with us today. It’s really amazing. And I’m sure our audience, if they were here, they, many, many, many of them would really literally kill to be in your shoes.

Clay Seim: I’m sure.

Dr. Gwynette: So it’s all relative.

Clay Seim: It is. It’s always, there’s always somebody who has it worse off. There’s always somebody who has it better off. It’s where you put your focus.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And yet, sometimes it works to say, “Hey, there’s other people worse off than you.” But most of the time it doesn’t work because all we can relate to is our own experience. And if we have expectations for ourselves, it’s so difficult to live up to those. And then if we feel like we don’t, then we’re falling short, and like you said, kind of puts that depressive cycle in place.

Clay Seim: Well the thing is that, especially with with high functioning folks, because you have your best and your worst.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And for most people, for neurotypical people, those are pretty close together-

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. It’s not a huge amplitude.

Clay Seim: … unless you add something like alcohol or something like some kind of substance abuse or something like that, or emotional problems. But yeah, just for your neuro-typical person with no outside issues, their best self and their worst self, there’s not, yeah, there’s not that huge amplitude between that. And for somebody on the spectrum, it’s so much more pronounced. I’d say 10 times as more pronounced as what your best self versus your worst self is. And so a lot of times you’ll have a a period of time where you have that best self and you have it locked. You’ve got your coping mechanisms down, you’re taking whatever medications you might be taking, your exercising, you’re eating well, whatever. You’ve got your life together for however long that period is.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: Maybe it’s a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s a couple of months, where you haven’t had any serious breakdowns or anything like that or any serious hiccups. And so you start to think, “Ah, I’ve got this.” And then you have that major hiccup, or you have some major little mini disaster, or whatever else happens, and then you feel like you’re back to square one or even further.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And then it’s just like, “Well, if I can’t even do…” Whatever it was you were trying to do, whether it was taking a class or maybe you’re learning to drive, whatever the task is that you’re doing at that time. If you’re trying to get out of the house more, maybe you’re just trying to find a friend. And I had a group of friends online where we were great friends for about a year and then just had a falling out. And because I had that falling out with one.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s like a chain reaction.

Clay Seim: Well I just, I couldn’t really hang out with the group anymore because the person ended up blocking me. I don’t know why. I don’t know. I don’t have enough knowledge of that person’s situation or my situation. I don’t know how all the pieces fit together. But the bottom line was that I just ended up back at square one. And so I haven’t really made any new friends online since then.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And I think one of the key aspects to when those downtimes come, and they come for everyone. But I think being on the spectrum, can you talk some about like isolating oneself, and if that’s been a part of your world, and what that, what the pluses and minuses are to being alone.

Clay Seim: All right. So I live in a family of five, so when we talk isolation, my isolation is probably different from other folks just because I have, I got two brothers. One is moving, has moved out the house to Montana. He’s establishing residency in Bozeman to go to university there, which is very exciting for him. It’s very cold for him, but it’s very exciting.

Dr. Gwynette: Icy cold.

Clay Seim: Oh yeah, no, it’s like 18 there today, I think. I checked when I came in.

Dr. Gwynette: And here in Charleston, we hate cold weather. Can we all agree on that? Absolutely.

Clay Seim: Actually, I live in the wrong place for that. Because I, when it’s like 50 out, that’s pretty good for me. I like that. But anything over like 80 is too hot for me. So, yeah, I definitely live in the wrong place. But yeah, most Charlestonians who choose to live here, I would say yeah, probably they’re here for the warm weather.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly. And so your house is a busy place, typically.

Clay Seim: It is a busy place. And so I’m never really truly alone, for the moment at least. Maybe a couple of years, have some more people move out, my other younger brother. We’ll see then, might be a little more solitude there. But I found that family is usually pretty constant for me.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: In terms of friends, I’ve always been very just by myself. I’ve never really had a lot of close friends. And if I had, it was maybe one in life, real life friend for, I don’t know, a couple years. And then we fell out of touch, and then hung out again for a couple months again over the years. But I just, those personal relationships are too hard to maintain and too hard to start. So I find that most of the time I just talk with, again, my brothers. Or when I’m sad and lonely, I just find something to distract myself, whether that’s a new book or video game or a movie or a TV series on some of the streaming services that are out there, I tend to just find stuff to distract me because I don’t have that social aspect really.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, I think that’s a common thread among our participants here. And I find myself, from my viewpoint, I see hundreds of individuals with autism who struggle to make friends, and I’m like aching to get these guys and gals together because they have so much in common. They have so many great qualities to offer. But yeah, the social challenges are tough. It’s difficult to maintain a friendship. I was talking with another participant recently, that a friend is somebody who knows all about you and likes you anyway. And sometimes we’re on one side of that equation. Sometimes we’re on the other. But it’s really difficult. So when you look at, like family for instance, you have that unconditional relationship and love. And the struggle really is to have social interactions and friends. And it is quite difficult.

So, okay, well I think we’re going to wrap it up right there. This has been really an awesome conversation with Clay Syme. I wanted to appreciate Clay for coming in today.

Clay Seim: Sure.

Dr. Gwynette: Clay, it’s always a pleasure talking to you. We might hear a little bit more from you later in a future podcast.

Clay Seim: All righty.

Dr. Gwynette: And this wraps up Episode Four of the Autism News Network podcast. And we will talk to you again soon. Bye. Bye.

Dr. Gwynette: Hello and welcome to the Autism News Network podcast. I’m Dr. Frampton Gwynette at the Medical University of South Carolina. You are with us for Episode Four, and I’m joined today by a young man named Clay, Clay Seim, who is here in the studio live and has offered his time up to join us with the Autism News podcast.

Clay Seim: Hello.

Dr. Gwynette: Hey, Clay, welcome. Yeah. How are you? How are you doing today?

Clay Seim: Thank you. I’m doing well, thank you.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Have you slept off all the turkey from the past weekend?

Clay Seim: Not quite, but we’ll get there.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. You’ll get there. So you told me that you actually spent the holiday weekend outside of Charleston in a small area called…

Clay Seim: Edisto Beach.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: We went out to the beach house at Edisto. It was very nice.

Dr. Gwynette: It really is. So for those of you who are not local to Charleston, Edisto is also called Edislow. Have you ever heard that?

Clay Seim: Nah. Actually, I hadn’t.

Dr. Gwynette: Edislow because everything slows down there and it’s very, very quiet and peaceful.

Clay Seim: It is very secluded. We took a couple of nice family photos out on the beach at sunset. I’m pretty sure that’s our Christmas card for this year.

Dr. Gwynette: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. And the weather was good.

Clay Seim: It was good. It rained the very last day as we were coming back. But we were able to actually load up before, right before the rain hit. So it was perfect.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. That’s awesome. Now there’s, I think there’s one grocery store in Edisto. Right?

Clay Seim: One. Just the one BI-LO. Yeah.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s a BI-LO now?

Clay Seim: It’s a BI-LO now.

Dr. Gwynette: It used to be a Piggly Wiggly.

Clay Seim: Well they went out of business, didn’t they?

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m glad that you’re back from your trip and had a good Thanksgiving.

Clay Seim: Thanks.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And we’ve been kind of building up to this for a while, but wanted to just talk to you for the benefit of our audience. So can you tell us a little bit about like, if you don’t mind, your diagnosis and how long you’ve been aware of that.

Clay Seim: Aware that something was wrong? Probably since, around third grade I had a bad grade or something like that. And then a meltdown associated with that. Actual diagnosis, middle school age.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay.

Clay Seim: And high functioning autism. Some dysgraphia. Some central auditory processing disorder. So picking voices of out of a crowd, stuff like that. Aside from that, that’s about it. Some anxiety and depression associated with that.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay.

Clay Seim: There you go.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And so the dysgraphia, for those who don’t know, that’s like a little bit of difficulty with fine motor skills like with writing.

Clay Seim: Yeah. My handwriting’s atrocious. Always has been and always will be. That’s basically what that means.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah. And we see that a lot. Did you ever have occupational therapy or physical therapy?

Clay Seim: I did. I forget who it was with, but I do remember I did not have the best time with them. I don’t think I had a good rapport with the person I worked with. We did a little bit, but not too much.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s difficult these days because I’ve worked with a lot of youngsters who have poor handwriting, because it’s very common for people on the spectrum. And sometimes the schools have the approach of “Yeah, we’re going to use occupational therapy and get the handwriting better.” Other schools say, “Forget penmanship. Let’s get this youngster typing because it’s all going to be typed anyway.”

Clay Seim: Right.

Dr. Gwynette: How do you feel about that?

Clay Seim: I feel like there is a lot of typing, but I don’t know. Writing’s a useful skill to have.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: I would not worry about fine penmanship. You don’t need to be a calligrapher.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: You just have to make it legible. If it’s legible than anything else is just nitpicking.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, exactly.

Clay Seim: It doesn’t matter if it’s chicken scratch, if you can read it, it’s fine. But being able to write, to just leave a note, like if you don’t have a, because there are times, power outages or you leave your phone at home, where you do have to write something down. And if you can’t read it then, then that’s a problem.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, exactly. Yes. Maybe there are some benefits to doing therapy. Trying to get the handwriting as good as possible, but it’s not the be all and end all, like you said. Yeah. And I have known you for a while and you had an interesting path in school because in high school you were involved, was it called a Buddy Program?

Clay Seim: It was a while ago, I don’t know.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. It’s been awhile. Yeah, because you’re 25 now, right?

Clay Seim: Yes.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. I was just thinking back. Yeah. Because I work with a lot of kids in high school, and middle school of course, and they struggle sometimes to get along with peers. But there are potential ways that neuro-typical peers can get involved to support students with autism who are at high school. Were you ever, felt like that was helpful for you or you kind of on your own?

Clay Seim: I found, from peers more, just especially in middle school, high school, once you get into college peer programs and you just letting people know what’s going on with you, the people are generally more understanding and can just work with you. But middle school and high school people are still maturing.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And I find many times, aside from there, there’s always the odd gem that you meet. The person who does get it because they have family or because they’re an empathetic person.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: But for the most part I relied on teachers or maybe like slightly older mentors…

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: … during middle school, high school. I do find that an age difference does typically help with that mentor relationship, just because of establishes a little bit of baseline of respect and rapport. I have had some experience with mentoring myself, I think. We went to Hill Academy, I believe, which was right down the road from where I went to high school for a while. A School of the Arts.

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha.

Clay Seim: And we did, I think we played some games. We did a little, they did the Mentos and Coke experiment. We did diet Coke though, so nothing got sticky.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay. Excellent.

Clay Seim: We did a couple things like that.

Dr. Gwynette: And so these were youngsters with autism themselves or-

Clay Seim: I don’t know what their diagnoses was, but I think it was a little more low functioning. Because I think that Academy was set aside just for folks who had a harder time.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay. Gotcha. So you’re kind of lending a hand, serving the community.

Clay Seim: It’s always a difficult thing to balance when you have folks with disabilities coming together. Because you have, a lot of times you have quite a few insecurities. And that’s just the name of the game because you do have these issues that you’re dealing with personally and that can lead to having some insecurities. So you have this weird conundrum where you have to get just the right balance between functioning level and ability. Because if you have a big difference in between the person who’s lower functioning, can feel maybe like how am I ever going to get to that level, and then the person who’s higher functioning is, how do I relate to this person?

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: So it’s a bit of a, you have, it’s an extra, just like many things with the spectrum, it’s an extra layer of nuance to it. To where you have to balance this extra variable of… Because usually what do you have? You have age difference. You have personality, personal chemistry. And then you have levels of functionality and that’s that extra layer that you get when you have folks on the spectrum. So to where that can impact the personal relationships that you make.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, exactly. And I think your right. So these insecurities pop up and… Do you ever find that your challenges, to most people, are invisible?

Clay Seim: Call that a non apparent disability. So apparent disability is somebody who’s blind, somebody who in a wheelchair for whatever reason. You look at this person, you can tell that this person does not have this type of functionality. A non apparent disability, something like autism, something like a anxiety disorders, depression, maybe you can tell. Especially if you’re looking for it or you know what to look for, but it’s not necessarily something that you see unless you’re told about it.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: Yeah, I’ve definitely had that problem. My philosophy, because I’ve gotten very used to advocating for myself over the years and I’ve gotten very comfortable talking about my issues. That’s why I’m here. Partly it’s because a lot of other folks would be very uncomfortable just kind of sitting here, twiddling their thumbs, leg bumping up and down, not really able to articulate themselves because they’re nervous, they’re anxious. But I’ve found that my mom who has always pushed me to be the best version of myself, really pushed me to advocate for myself. And I found that, over time, it did eventually get easier to just talk about stuff. And it’s actually very cathartic to bring that out. I’ve lost where I was. I’ve lost my [crosstalk 00:09:06].

Dr. Gwynette: No, but exactly. I mean, I work with a lot of families, and a lot of kids who have those non apparent disabilities. And I love that word. I actually had never heard that until you said it. So that’s new for me. But I think it really does describe the challenges because in some ways it’s almost like a hidden challenge because you spend a lot of time trying to convince teachers or peers or other mentors that support is needed. When to the untrained eye it doesn’t appear to be needed.

Clay Seim: I find usually that I just disclose with anybody that I am spending a decent length of time with. “Hi, I have this disability.” Because a lot of times your functionality can be really dependent on your emotional state, with autism. And so how well you do your activities, and how well you can go to work, or just get the basic house chores that you need done, can really depend on where you’re at emotionally. And so I find that when I was in school, any of the classmates that I would be working with in groups, so like lab partners, group projects, nowadays coworkers, bosses, and supervisors. And even people that you meet, you have a good time, and after you get over that initial meeting them and becoming friends.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: I mean usually it comes up at some point during that process, but, excuse me.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: You need to let those people know because if you come in one day, and you’re really depressed or really anxious or angry or you have whatever emotional imbalance, that your coping skills or whatever else that you’re doing in your life hasn’t been able to balance out or make non apparent, then it becomes very apparent.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: And if people don’t know what’s going on with that, you’re going to get a lot of, “What’s this? What’s going on with you?”

Dr. Gwynette: Right. And they can’t support you if they don’t know.

Clay Seim: They can’t. And I have found that there are two types, really, two or three types of people in this world when it comes to support. You have those that will give you more than you need, everything that you could ask for and more.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Which can be detrimental because sometimes you need to stand up on your own two feet, and if you’re handed everything, you got to with those people, you got to know when to say no and when to try to just help yourself, which is a skill unto itself. Then you have those that are just kind of apathetic. They don’t really know how to handle the information you’ve given them. Maybe they don’t know what it means, and so they’re kind of just standoffish. They’d like to help, but they have no idea how to help. They’re kind of this, they’re just, they’re scared by it.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And then you have people who don’t care. Not just, well, that’s what apathetic means, but you have people who are maliciously apathetic. To where they just, it doesn’t matter. They don’t, not only do they not understand, they don’t care to understand. That’s your problem, you have to deal with it.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: I have been very fortunate. I’ve only had, I think, one supervisor that I had that was more of that, just whatever. And luckily they were, they were a, it was while I was working at a BI-LO.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And I had one supervisor who I had a sensory issue where my, the freezer, we were moving stuff around the freezer and it was really hurting my hands.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And she didn’t care. She was going to write me up because I didn’t want to do it. And then I had, I came in the next day and I was real worried about it. And the general floor manager for that, for the whole front end of the store, which is where I worked as a cashier, that person I had established a rapport with Ms. Dorothy, bless her heart.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Sweet, sweet old lady. She was very sweet.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And she had had a talk with her and said, “Hey listen, this is what’s up. You can’t just do that.” And so it was all sorted out by the next day, by the time I got back into work. So I find that if you establish a rapport with those people who are that first type, type that will give you what you need… Rarely, very rarely you get that person who does, who knows when to to stand up to you and tell you, “Okay, come on, let’s push through this.” And knows when to give you some slack as well. But yeah, no, actually, she was closer to that because she would say, “Okay, you can do this. Come on. I really need you to to suck it up and do this for me.” She was a great person. I burned out at that job because it’s just, the hours were random and the business level was very, very, it fluctuated. You’d be slammed for like a few minutes and then dead for a couple, dead for an hour or two, and then slammed for 30 minutes.

Dr. Gwynette: One of the things that always amazed me was that you were a cashier, which is obviously people intensive. How does a young man with high functioning autism deal with people all day?

Clay Seim: I’ve just gotten very good at the the mask of just being polite and courteous, which is just what a cashier is. It’s just mainly a script, really.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And, yeah, I can learn a script and I can spew a script back to somebody. And you have that occasional person who was, [inaudible 00:14:33] you say you got the 10 people in customer service.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: You got one person on one side who is an absolute angel, maybe gave you a tip or something, or was just super sweet and nice to you and understanding, asked about your day. And was genuinely asking about it, not just throwing platitude or something out there towards you. Then you have the person on the other side who is the person who wanted their coupon even though it’s two years expired, and was an absolute bear, rude to you, rude to your manager, was asked to leave the store.

Dr. Gwynette: Disgruntled. Oh boy.

Clay Seim: Those are the two people on either side. And then the other eight people in between, are on that spectrum in between the two of them.

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha. So you see elements of those.

Clay Seim: You see the whole spectrum of society, I guess.

Dr. Gwynette: So you put the mask on. And I guess the mask is, if it’s in place, it prevents people from really understanding your internal struggle and frustration.

Clay Seim: Well, at a job, people don’t want to understand your internal struggle.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Now when you’re making like relationships with friends, that mask comes down a bit.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: But if you’re, especially in customer service, or in situations where it’s not people that you have a rapport with, just with the general public, that mask can be very helpful just to make it through the day, to avoid awkward questions from people, and to avoid making people feel unduly uncomfortable.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: I mean obviously you’ve got to do what’s right for you, but there are ways to make it easier for yourself in society and there are ways to make it harder.

Dr. Gwynette: Can you talk some about your decision to leave that cashier job, and we don’t want to disparage any particular company-

Clay Seim: No.

Dr. Gwynette: … but internally you were really thinking about that for awhile. You made a decision.

Clay Seim: Like I said, like I was saying earlier, is I was burnt out at that job probably a year into it.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Because it’s just, and it had nothing to do with the company, it’s just the industry as a whole is very unstructured, and I prefer structure.

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha.

Clay Seim: You never knew what the day was going to be like?

Dr. Gwynette: Yep.

Clay Seim: Or if you did, you knew it was just going to be slammed the whole day. Like on holidays. Or if there was a hurricane coming, everybody’s coming to get water bottles.

Dr. Gwynette: Yes.

Clay Seim: But yeah, no, it was just the uncertainty of it. It was very, very up and down in terms of how busy it was and what we were doing at each day. But like I said, I was a year in, burned out, and my wonderful boss was the person probably, because when I would have anxiety, and that’s the main thing that that was getting me. It got to the point where I would walk into the front doors of the store and I just, I was halfway into a panic attack, wouldn’t take much more to just pushed me over the edge.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. What was causing that you think?

Clay Seim: Like I said, I think it’s the uncertainty.

Dr. Gwynette: The uncertainty.

Clay Seim: I think it’s just I never knew what was going on or how bad it was going to be. How dead it was going to be.

Dr. Gwynette: And your hours would shift a lot too, right?

Clay Seim: They would. So closing, opening, split shifts. Oh, everything.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. So it was not a nine to five gig. It was very much like all over the place.

Clay Seim: It was all over the place. And you didn’t know what the schedule was till the week of.

Dr. Gwynette: Oh. And that’s not good.

Clay Seim: So there was no advanced notice. So it was just you got your schedule and then you would see what you were doing.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. So you really, that can be very anxiety provoking.

Clay Seim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Gwynette: And it messed with sleep as well, didn’t it?

Clay Seim: It did. I don’t have a lot of, I don’t do that very well anyway. I have horrible sleep hygiene. I sleep whenever, and… I don’t know. I have, my job now I work usually lunch shifts so I don’t go to work until 12 right. I’m usually very much a night owl so I can end up going to sleep at two in the morning and getting in eight hours.

Dr. Gwynette: Sure. And then going to work.

Clay Seim: Yeah. And then going to work and I’m all right.

Dr. Gwynette: And what kind of work do you do?

Clay Seim: I work now as a server assistant at Slightly North of Broad.

Dr. Gwynette: Okay.

Clay Seim: So that means-

Dr. Gwynette: It’s a great place.

Clay Seim: It is. It’s a very nice restaurant. Very, very fancy. Very nice. Good food too.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And what do you do? Like what’s the server assistant’s job?

Clay Seim: Server assistant, so bread and water, there’s usually three SAs on. There’s bread and water, those two are upfront. And then usually I do polish, which is in the back. Things go through the dish pit, silverware and glassware, stuff like that. And I polish it to make sure there’s no water spots on it before it goes back out. So make sure, just a final quality check for it.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Yeah. And so to get to your job, you drive, right?

Clay Seim: I do drive.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. How old were you when you got your license?

Clay Seim: 19 maybe.

Dr. Gwynette: 19. Okay.

Clay Seim: I think so.

Dr. Gwynette: And was it like an anxiety provoking thing?

Clay Seim: Oh yes, for sure. That’s why I, that’s why it took me an extra three or four years. Yeah. I did not, I still don’t like driving. Part of it’s spacial awareness. Part of it was anxiety. I took the 911 course. You got two of them here, I think.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: In Charleston there’s two separate programs, but they’re both good programs. They usually have a, the one I went to anyway, had one instructor who did typically work with people with disabilities. So they had one person who would go out and be a little more intensive, a little more hands on versus the standard-

Dr. Gwynette: Gotcha.

Clay Seim: … instruction.

Dr. Gwynette: Is it the unpredictability of the roads or is it all the sensory input?

Clay Seim: It’s the risk is the responsibility of having a piece of metal moving, at 30 to 60 miles per hour, that’s, a couple tons.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And you’re in control of that and if you mess up then you’re damaging your property, you’re damaging other people’s property, you’re taking other people’s lives. And that’s a huge responsibility and it’s very nerve wracking.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, absolutely.

Clay Seim: But yeah, no, I took the course which helped me get over some of that anxiety, helped me get used to driving, and it also lowers your insurance.

Dr. Gwynette: Oh, when you take the class?

Clay Seim: When you take the class, it lowers your insurance. So within a couple of years, because you’re going to be in that, usually people are in that 20 to 25 age bracket, where, especially if you’re a guy, insurance is horrible.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: Car insurance is very expensive. And so taking a couple of hundred dollars off even.

Dr. Gwynette: That’s right.

Clay Seim: It’s going to pay for, the course I think was, I don’t know, like 400 or something like that, but it pays for itself in a couple years.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s a good investment. And being able to drive is a huge factor for independence.

Clay Seim: It is.

Dr. Gwynette: Uber and Lyft are great. However, not being able to drive, especially, we live in Charleston and the public transit system is not well developed.

Clay Seim: They do their best.

Dr. Gwynette: But it’s very limiting.

Clay Seim: Yes.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, I think that’s really great. There’s actually some work being done in Vanderbilt to teach people how to drive using virtual reality. So they bring in adolescents with autism or young adults with autism, and run them through a computer screen. It’s pretty cool. Where they’ll do different scenarios, different weather patterns, different pedestrian crossings, and kind of train them to anticipate the unexpected, and also to pay attention to the right things at the right time. Like the traffic light when you’re at an intersection or pay attention to the speed limit when you’re not in an intersection. Things like that.

Clay Seim: Well you got to learn how to put your focus where your car is going to be in terms of your reaction times. So you know you’ve got two, three, six second reaction time. So what you need to do, and this is what the instructor taught me when I was in that, is to pick out a landmark, see how fast it gets to you.

Dr. Gwynette: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Clay Seim: So if you see something, and then you count down, and in two, three seconds it’s past you, where that thing was when you first saw it, that’s your reaction time.

Dr. Gwynette: Right? [crosstalk 00:22:28].

Clay Seim: That’s where you need to probably put the next car in front of you.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: That’s where you need to keep your focus because if something happens there, you need those two seconds to hit the brakes or take the wheel and do some evasive action, whatever you’re going to do to prevent an accident.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: So you got to learn where to keep your focus. Because if you’re looking right in front of you and you’re going 60 miles an hour, then you’re about five car lengths away from where your focus needs to be.

Dr. Gwynette: That’s right.

Clay Seim: And if something happens in that five, six car lengths, you’re not going to see it until it’s 10, 20 feet in front of you and then you’re going to hit it.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: So you don’t have time to react to then.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And doing all those calculations can be really stressful.

Clay Seim: It can.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: But it becomes second nature. It’s just like anything else. It’s just bigger and badder.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Because the speeds and stuff like that are just much more daunting because they’re much higher than anything else you’ve done before.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: But just like riding a bike, or any kind of experience, you just learn to and you internalize it after a while.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Now your car is somewhat of a legend. Do you have a nickname for your vehicle?

Clay Seim: I do not.

Dr. Gwynette: Not yet?

Clay Seim: I don’t get sentimental about my vehicle.

Dr. Gwynette: No? Okay.

Clay Seim: Because I’ve banged it up quite extensively.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. That can be a good thing because then you don’t have to worry about body damage and stuff like that. Just keep moving forward.

Clay Seim: Yeah. No, I mean I’m a huge Star Wars fan. So when I first started accruing dents and stuff on my car, mostly on, I have had one fender bender with a car that’s moving. And everything else has been stationary objects.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: It’s been, I’ve been tired after a long day of work, and I didn’t realize that the concrete barrier and the parking structure was that close.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Or something like that where I’ve banged it up and scraped it up. And yeah, like I said, when I first started out, I’d get a dent or something on there and I’d be like, “Oh no, this is terrible. Gosh. This is horrible.” And it still is, but now it’s more just like General Grievous, just with, “Ah. A fine addition to my collection.”

Dr. Gwynette: No, that’s classic. Oh, absolutely. So yeah, we’re going to move on to the next topic real quick here.

Clay Seim: All righty.

Dr. Gwynette: You talked some about anxiety and again that’s a huge factor for so many people on the spectrum. And then you mentioned also depression. Can you talk about things that, in your life, have triggered the more, the depressive episodes for you?

Clay Seim: Usually when I set a bar for myself and I don’t meet it. Missed goals, probably be my main trigger. I went to CofC, I went to college for three years. I ended up doing reduced course load, so about nine credit hours a semester, and I’d usually take on an extra class and bring it up to, hang on I have to add, 12 credit hours a semester. And I usually ended up dropping that course, or at least one of them I’d have trouble with, and I’d have to drop halfway through. Which is after the drop/add thing, so I had that on my transcript as well, which was an extra bit of stress. And eventually I just didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I felt like I had gotten my gen EDs out the way. I’d switched my major a couple times. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to just take classes just to take classes. And so when I had to drop out that was something there. Where a lot of my peers were graduating and I had been dropped out for a year, and I only had my gen EDS out of the way.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: So comparing yourself to your peers a lot of times I find can be very depressing, where people are achieving these benchmarks for independence and for for life, that you’re just, you’re not there. Obviously trying to make friends. A lot of the social settings are very stressful. And because you have that anxiety, you can’t attend some of those social events, and you can’t get into some of these social circles because it’s too scary. It’s too-

Dr. Gwynette: Too loud.

Clay Seim: … icky. Too loud. You go there and then you just stand at, you have the groups of clusters of people, where people group up and start talking to each other, these little cliques. Just little groups of people just shooting the breeze, and you’re just kind of floating in between all of them and not quite entering any of them. So because of that anxiety, you don’t make those friends and then you’re lonely. And then because of that loneliness you end up being depressed because you couldn’t make the friends. You couldn’t make the friends because you’re anxious. You go to make more friends because you’re lonely and then you end up being anxious. You can’t make any, you go home, and then you’re sad.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly.

Clay Seim: There you go.

Dr. Gwynette: That’s right.

Clay Seim: And so that’s kind of the cycle between the anxiety and the depression in terms of a social situation.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. You articulated that so well. And I think we’ve had just countless number of participants in our program who have described something very similar. And a lot of times in those social situations, it’s so difficult to feel accepted. And that’s such a key factor. I’m going to put my psychiatrist’s hat on a second. Do you ever feel like it’s difficult to accept yourself? Not be too hard on yourself?

Clay Seim: Oh, I’m always hard on myself. Ah, I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask about that because I don’t really, I haven’t, I don’t think I’ve ever really accepted myself. Because I don’t like where I’m at, and I have a hard time separating where I’m at from who I am.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: Because what I have is so much a part of why I’m at where I’m at in terms of just progressing through life.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. Kind of like that performance-based mentality that is all about the United States. It’s like we see what people do and “Why can’t we do that?” It’s hard. It’s part of our society. You and I have had multiple conversations about, what you can offer this world is between your ears and you’re sharing that with us today. It’s really amazing. And I’m sure our audience, if they were here, they, many, many, many of them would really literally kill to be in your shoes.

Clay Seim: I’m sure.

Dr. Gwynette: So it’s all relative.

Clay Seim: It is. It’s always, there’s always somebody who has it worse off. There’s always somebody who has it better off. It’s where you put your focus.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And yet, sometimes it works to say, “Hey, there’s other people worse off than you.” But most of the time it doesn’t work because all we can relate to is our own experience. And if we have expectations for ourselves, it’s so difficult to live up to those. And then if we feel like we don’t, then we’re falling short, and like you said, kind of puts that depressive cycle in place.

Clay Seim: Well the thing is that, especially with with high functioning folks, because you have your best and your worst.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: And for most people, for neurotypical people, those are pretty close together-

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. It’s not a huge amplitude.

Clay Seim: … unless you add something like alcohol or something like some kind of substance abuse or something like that, or emotional problems. But yeah, just for your neuro-typical person with no outside issues, their best self and their worst self, there’s not, yeah, there’s not that huge amplitude between that. And for somebody on the spectrum, it’s so much more pronounced. I’d say 10 times as more pronounced as what your best self versus your worst self is. And so a lot of times you’ll have a a period of time where you have that best self and you have it locked. You’ve got your coping mechanisms down, you’re taking whatever medications you might be taking, your exercising, you’re eating well, whatever. You’ve got your life together for however long that period is.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: Maybe it’s a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s a couple of months, where you haven’t had any serious breakdowns or anything like that or any serious hiccups. And so you start to think, “Ah, I’ve got this.” And then you have that major hiccup, or you have some major little mini disaster, or whatever else happens, and then you feel like you’re back to square one or even further.

Dr. Gwynette: Right.

Clay Seim: And then it’s just like, “Well, if I can’t even do…” Whatever it was you were trying to do, whether it was taking a class or maybe you’re learning to drive, whatever the task is that you’re doing at that time. If you’re trying to get out of the house more, maybe you’re just trying to find a friend. And I had a group of friends online where we were great friends for about a year and then just had a falling out. And because I had that falling out with one.

Dr. Gwynette: It’s like a chain reaction.

Clay Seim: Well I just, I couldn’t really hang out with the group anymore because the person ended up blocking me. I don’t know why. I don’t know. I don’t have enough knowledge of that person’s situation or my situation. I don’t know how all the pieces fit together. But the bottom line was that I just ended up back at square one. And so I haven’t really made any new friends online since then.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah. And I think one of the key aspects to when those downtimes come, and they come for everyone. But I think being on the spectrum, can you talk some about like isolating oneself, and if that’s been a part of your world, and what that, what the pluses and minuses are to being alone.

Clay Seim: All right. So I live in a family of five, so when we talk isolation, my isolation is probably different from other folks just because I have, I got two brothers. One is moving, has moved out the house to Montana. He’s establishing residency in Bozeman to go to university there, which is very exciting for him. It’s very cold for him, but it’s very exciting.

Dr. Gwynette: Icy cold.

Clay Seim: Oh yeah, no, it’s like 18 there today, I think. I checked when I came in.

Dr. Gwynette: And here in Charleston, we hate cold weather. Can we all agree on that? Absolutely.

Clay Seim: Actually, I live in the wrong place for that. Because I, when it’s like 50 out, that’s pretty good for me. I like that. But anything over like 80 is too hot for me. So, yeah, I definitely live in the wrong place. But yeah, most Charlestonians who choose to live here, I would say yeah, probably they’re here for the warm weather.

Dr. Gwynette: Exactly. And so your house is a busy place, typically.

Clay Seim: It is a busy place. And so I’m never really truly alone, for the moment at least. Maybe a couple of years, have some more people move out, my other younger brother. We’ll see then, might be a little more solitude there. But I found that family is usually pretty constant for me.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah.

Clay Seim: In terms of friends, I’ve always been very just by myself. I’ve never really had a lot of close friends. And if I had, it was maybe one in life, real life friend for, I don’t know, a couple years. And then we fell out of touch, and then hung out again for a couple months again over the years. But I just, those personal relationships are too hard to maintain and too hard to start. So I find that most of the time I just talk with, again, my brothers. Or when I’m sad and lonely, I just find something to distract myself, whether that’s a new book or video game or a movie or a TV series on some of the streaming services that are out there, I tend to just find stuff to distract me because I don’t have that social aspect really.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah, I think that’s a common thread among our participants here. And I find myself, from my viewpoint, I see hundreds of individuals with autism who struggle to make friends, and I’m like aching to get these guys and gals together because they have so much in common. They have so many great qualities to offer. But yeah, the social challenges are tough. It’s difficult to maintain a friendship. I was talking with another participant recently, that a friend is somebody who knows all about you and likes you anyway. And sometimes we’re on one side of that equation. Sometimes we’re on the other. But it’s really difficult. So when you look at, like family for instance, you have that unconditional relationship and love. And the struggle really is to have social interactions and friends. And it is quite difficult.

So, okay, well I think we’re going to wrap it up right there. This has been really an awesome conversation with Clay Syme. I wanted to appreciate Clay for coming in today.

Clay Seim: Sure.

Dr. Gwynette: Clay, it’s always a pleasure talking to you. We might hear a little bit more from you later in a future podcast.

Clay Seim: All righty.

Dr. Gwynette: And this wraps up Episode Four of the Autism News Network podcast. And we will talk to you again soon. Bye. Bye.

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