That Man From Gallifrey

“I hate good wizards in fairy tales; they always turn out to be him.”

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A common trait amongst people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is that they have an obsession. Mine is a TV show that started fifty years ago as a kid’s show made on the cheap.

Originally devised by Canadian Sydney Newman, produced by the Jewish, and even more unusual at the time, female Verity Lambert and directed by gay Indian director Waris Hussain, Doctor Who was already a mold breaker from day one. I could blog for several years on it, so I’ll focus on the main character: The Doctor.

The Doctor is my favourite fictional character. I first watched the show during the 1993 thirtieth anniversary repeat run on BBC Two as a four-year-old. It made an impression on me straight away. He’s a centuries old time travelling alien from outer space with two hearts, but I found myself drawn to him. I sometimes wonder if my love for the Doctor as a character is a kind of Asperger’s wish fulfilment.

The Doctor in a nutshell:  

Firstly there is the quite clichéd view of the person with AS as an alien from another world, which has some truth, although I think that is not very helpful in promoting AS confidence and self worth.  I can also appreciate what it is like to look human but not feel a part of humanity.

What I feel may be at the crux of the thing is how The Doctor marries intellect with social skills. All of my life thus far I have had an above average intelligence, (my psychiatrist’s words, not mine) but my social skills are quite slim indeed. This was particularly hard when trying to fit in with kids my own age at school. It would make sense for The Doctor to be my hero. He has endless brains, but makes friends with people wherever he goes, whether they are human, alien or robot dog. He doesn’t have to compromise his smarts to be charismatic and sociable with people, even complete strangers! And on top of all this he saves the day and never considers anyone as being too unimportant to help. He changes bodies, instead of dying, which could reassure someone with AS that change isn’t as scary as it sometimes seems.

These are all just ponderings. I am always quick to stress that AS doesn’t define my life; that it’s just a part of it. Millions of people who don’t have AS love Doctor Who and The Doctor, so this is just a theory. What I am sure of is that The Doctor can be a role model to all kinds of people. Even though he is a scientist he always appreciates the hidden power of everyday people and that it is important to go out there and meet them.

“As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves” 

(The Doctor, The Edge of Destruction, 1964)

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A Saturnalia Miracle

This is one of my favourite Christmas TV moments. According to the writers of The Big Bang Theory Sheldon doesn’t officially have autism, but he does show traits that are strongly associated with it. I myself find hugging people very awkward, so when I want to hug someone it is usually a very special occasion.

I first saw this before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s and I remember having a lot of understanding and sympathy for Sheldon. One of my friends on my teacher training course actually said they thought I was quite like him. That wasn’t the first warning sign to go unheeded!

Enjoy the holiday period and please spare a small thought for those with Autism and/or Asperger’s. The festive period can cause a lot of distress with a large increase in socializing and the disruption of daily routine. I know it’s hard to think about whilst – quite rightly – trying to enjoy yourself too.

I pray that you, and all those you love and care for have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

See you in the new Year!

– Shrugs, Not Hugs

“I am Definitely a Mad Man with Too Many Box Sets”

One common characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is that it gives you a type of brain that loves to obsess over particular things. Lots of people are fans of things and many are obsessed with Star Trek, handbags, cars or particular celebrities. However, with AS sometimes an obsession can be quite unorthodox, or even dangerous.

A teenager with AS who is intensely interested in hair will often find a fulfilling and happy life as a barber or hairdresser. But what if their obsession is with fire to the point of becoming pyromania? Or an intense love of their Xbox (other video game consoles are available) means that they spend more time on Halo than they do with real people? This is where an obsession is defined, it completely occupies the mind. As for myself, I have several areas of interest into which I can very easily get obsessed. At the moment Chess has been on my mind a lot with the crowning of a new Undisputed World Champion in the young Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Nevertheless my foremost obsession is Doctor Who.

Last Saturday I had a Doctor Who marathon to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. I started at midnight and I watched it for sixteen hours straight, a story for each of the eleven actors to have played The Doctor. Then I went to the cinema to see the anniversary special in 3D. My family thought that I was mentally ill to do it, and they couldn’t understand why I went to the cinema to see something that was being put on TV at the same time. I have in excess of sixty Doctor Who DVDs and I am looking to get a new DVD rack because mine is full. I wear T-shirts with Daleks and TARDISes on them; three sonic screwdrivers; I am a subscriber to Doctor Who Magazine (who still haven’t printed any of my letters yet!) and I knitted my own Tom Baker scarf. I won’t labour on Doctor Who too much as I could easily write a thousand words on how great I think it is, but that isn’t what I want to speak to you about.

The problem with AS obsessions is that they can often be unwittingly used to provide comfort that is lost in other parts of life. By throwing yourself into an intense hobby I think the person with AS is trying to fulfil an unmet social need; that they are becoming a part of a collective to feel a sense of belonging. This is because it’s far easier to be a part of a fandom or a specialist field of interest than it is to be part of a social collective. Try looking at it from my point of view – I can feel a part of The Doctor’s story and his adventures, and a part of the global community of fans. I do so because Doctor Who won’t ever say one thing and mean another; The Doctor is always there inside every shimmering DVD disc and will never let me down like real people do. It’s not like being part of a social group where I have to work out what to say, when to say it and having to work out the feelings and motives of others. All of this is hard work and is crushingly disappointing to get wrong, which can be quite often.

So, the important thing is to accentuate the positive. People with highly specialised interests can be quite interesting to talk to, which can sometimes provide an in-route in social situations. My family are not very passionate about much really. So I’m quite different with my many interests from poetry to astronomy, coin collecting and my gadgets. This I can be bad because it makes you feel lonely and a bit of black sheep. Although it’s good too because it forces me to go and meet new people if I want to share my interests with others, and if we share a common interest conversations are a hell of a lot easier for me to handle. The problem then is if the other person doesn’t have the same amount of stamina as I do in waxing lyrical about my favourite things.

“I am he, and he is me”

Having Asperger’s Syndrome(AS) is a bit like having a part of yourself you can’t control, which always turns up at the moment when you’re trying be cool and in control of things. Seeing as some previously lost episodes of Doctor Who have been found in recently in Nigeria I thought a Time Lord flavour would be appropriate.

In the programme’s 10th anniversary story The Three Doctors the then current incarnation of The Doctor, Jon Pertwee (1973) is being faced with a dangerous enemy who seeks to dominate the universe: Omega. Just when he is trying his best to seem in charge, and come up with a game plan to save everyone an alternate version of himself literally pops in to say hello. In the story the current Doctor is, at least to begin with, quite embarrassed about the part of himself he would rather keep quiet and not get in the way. This is how it can feel to have AS a lot of the time. You can be in a social situation that you’ve rehearsed or practiced time and again, but then something unexpected happens. A new person arrives, or a change of location or maybe the other person you’re with decides to talk about personal social things like relationships, or inviting you to a party.

However, you shouldn’t feel guilty or stupid, but to bluff your way through it as best you can and remember what happened so that you can learn what to do next time. The most important thing for me to remember is that Asperger’s is a part of me, just as much as my skin colour or fingerprints. It makes me who I am: different, not defective.