Knack to the Future

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No one can really tell the future. But regular people can intuitively know what will happen in certain situations a lot easier than someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) can. Even if knowing what to do when going somewhere for the first time or meeting new people cannot be worked out in advance, most people can react spontaneously in a heartbeat, whilst someone like me is still trying to work out what I should be saying.

Although, this is not an exercise in self-pity; AS is a difference, not a disease. If you got diagnosed with diabetes, you wouldn’t lament constantly over the loss of your doughnut privileges. It’s important to assess what’s important, make a plan, and get on with the rest of your life – low sugar alternatives are available, as there are adjustment to be made to suit AS.

When I talk to people without Asperger’s they seem to think that it’s absurd to think that regular people can tell the future because it comes as natural as swimming stroke does to a fish. One of the problems that those with AS have are a lack of social imagination, this is best explained like this – imagine you’re in an audition for a play at a theatre. It’s a solo audition, you know the names of the characters, but there are no lines to speak, and it is up to you to improvise lines on the spot.  You do not know your character’s back story or their motivation, but unlike improvised drama and comedy, there is a right answer that everyone judging you already knows and getting it wrong will make you seem at best a bit weird, and at worst an uncaring idiot.

It’s the Asperger’s that makes it a solo audition, because it inhibits your ability to infer how you should act and react, it isolates you socially. Therefore those without AS can read the body language and facial cues of the other players and decide if their character should act angry, sad, elated etc because they are plugged into a social web of sorts.

This often leads a large amount of stress and unhappiness when getting used to big changes in life for people like me. This has been the first week of classes for my new course at college, and I often find myself, most probably unnecessarily, being seriously worried about the future. Will I be good enough? Can I handle the work? Part of this will be down to the traumatic time I spent as a trainee teacher, and another is down to human nature, as I am likely to not be the only student on the course who feels this way. However, it is because of my AS, which keeps me from plugging into the shared social web, that impedes me from realising what my peers are thinking and feeling, unless I ask; I’ll have to wait for an appropriate opportunity.

Anticipating the behaviour of others and understanding their motivation in what they are doing also falls into the same problematic vein. This means that situations like teaching, policing, and other spontaneous jobs would be very difficult for me indeed. However, if, like me, you have a strong logical bent and well honed attention to detail it can be used to help understand people and situations where others understand instinctively. It just takes a lot of conscious brain power, which can get quite tiring if you’re doing it almost constantly like lots of people with AS are. In my experience a person’s hands, clothing and hair can tell you a lot about what kind of person they are.

Rough hands suggest a manual job or hobby. Those with short, well maintained fingernails can suggest a job where they make regular physical contact with others, such as nurses and physiotherapists. A t-shirt suggests that they value comfort and aesthetics in equal measure. I have found that women who are sensitive about their weight or body shape often wear black as the colour lessens the visibility of the outlines of their bodies and hides their profiles. A complex hairstyle can show that they pay attention to detail, as a scruffy hairstyle can indicate less of a concern for personal appearance, or a lack of time to prepare due to poor timekeeping, or an unforeseen change to their daily schedule.

As with the vast majority of logic there are flaws but I think there is still a case for it as long as it isn’t taken for bona fide scientific certainty. But it does provide a guideline and alert me towards how a person may be feeling and to react accordingly. That’s the closest I’ll come to telling the future, as I’m definitely no Sherlock!

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The Ringing Grooves of Change

‘Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change.’

Alfred Tennyson (1835) 

I got some really good advice last Friday. People probably won’t make my Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) a big deal as long as I don’t either. I haven’t managed to tell any more of my family about my AS, as I haven’t had the opportunity. This made me feel disappointed, but I think that it’s for the best because I have learned from my local Autism advice service that telling people is best slipped into everyday conversation, and not to make an event of it. This is because the news is more likely to be well received as Asperger’s won’t be the whole point of the conversation; this takes away a lot of pressure from me too, which can only be good. So, at least I can use this strategy when I do eventually share my diagnosis, as I am determined to.

However, I refuse to let this week’s instalment be uneventful.  Today I had my subject induction for my master’s degree, where I would meet my peers on the course for the first time. I have to admit, and this is probably true for those without AS, the sheer amount of information; going to new places and meeting new people has made me feel a bit sick. Meeting strangers is so hard for me because I don’t know how to act as don’t pick up on any vibes they may send me. I can’t tell if they’re just being polite and don’t really want to talk to me, and I can be too formal because that is my default mode when meeting new people because it’s the only way I can be sure I don’t unwittingly offend anyone – although, it’s not 100% effective as it might make me seem unapproachable or cold.

Starting with the bad news first: the opportunities for socialising were very sparse at best. And lots of people already seemed to know each other and had formed groups, which made me feel a bit of an outcast. What gets me through it is to remind myself that there were several other people who were on their own too, so,  to paraphrase Tom Jones said: it’s not as unusual as I initially thought.

However, more positively, the few short conversations I did have with some new people went quite well. I didn’t waffle on about myself and my interests, and I didn’t make any obvious social mistakes (I hope!) and things can only get better from there, even as I hate big life changes.

I have that typical Asperger’s problem with change. I have set ways of doing things, including what order I eat food in, and when they are disrupted or changed it is a source of great stress until I can get used to a new paradigm. Also, there is one change that is most disquieting for me – that is doubt. Before I failed my teacher training course I never doubted myself academically and I always knew very well what I could and couldn’t do in everyday life too. I was told by many teaching professionals that I would make a fantastic teacher, and I thought wasn’t a single reason why I couldn’t do it – until I found out that I cannot successfully communicate a good lesson plan to a group of thirty teenagers. How do I know that I won‘t be wrong again? That I’m not as clever as I thought? All I’m clinging to at the moment is that the university read a few thousand words of my previous work before they decided to give me my spot on the course. I should probably trust their judgement.

Thinking of last week’s entry again: your first response to my not following through with my bold claim to tell someone in my extended family that I have AS is that I wimped out. However, it is because I didn’t do this which makes me feel very proud, even though I didn’t reach my goal this week. Ghandi once said that ‘glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it’, which best describes how I feel. It was a shame I didn’t have an opportunity to share with someone that I have AS, but I am so pleased at how far I’ve come that I would be willing nonetheless.

This goes to show that not all change is bad. This time last year I was getting drunk on my own and slashing myself with a kitchen knife to cope with such intense feelings of failure and worthlessness. Eventually, so that my parents wouldn’t notice any scars, I used to staple my arm with an office stapler, how pathetic was that?! Now I’m finally getting on top of things, so I can’t let doubt creep in and poison my new start. My mum summed it all up for me tonight. She told me that when you ride a horse if you look at the ground, that’s where you’ll end up.

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On what should have happened in ’92 (pt. I)

In 1992  I was three years old. I was, quite probably, one of the worst toddlers imaginable. I broke all of my toys trying to see inside them to find out how they worked. I broke most of my family’s stuff that wasn’t kept under lock and key. I even managed to break my baby cot and my parents had to keep repairing it with string. This only got worse as I got older.

At school I was awful, to the point where I was sent to all kinds of counsellors and behavioural psychologists. I was also sent to a dietitian to work out why most food made me feel nauseated when I tried to swallow it. My teacher at primary school invented a report card system to tackle my bad behaviour.

All the while my alienation from my peers grew, especially as I reached secondary school, where I received more counselling for my perceived “sadness”. I never had a girlfriend as I couldn’t interact very well with my peers because I always seemed so different, or weird, compared to other kids of my age. I worked towards getting the best qualifications I could so that I could become a teacher, as I always seemed to have academic talent, as I could read before I started school.

I managed to get into the university of my choice. I never did the freshers thing where new students get hammered and party all week, as the prospect of doing so made my stomach turn with anxiety. I received more counselling for social phobia/social anxiety, but alas, it never got to the bottom of why I found it very difficult to make friends. So I spent the bulk of my time nerding it up in the library for between six and eight hours at a time. I enjoyed the studying and it paid off: I got the second best degree class possible. I had no social life to detract from my work.

It was when I got accepted onto a highly competitive post-graduate teacher training course that set in motion a chain of events that would change how I perceive myself, and the rest of the world forever…

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