Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Autistics Who Don't Fit The Stereotypes

We autistics are usually all too well aware of how the public image of autism is grossly inaccurate. The stereotypical autistic is usually seen as either –

a)     The non-verbal or barely verbal young boy, presumed to be intellectually disabled, non-toilet-trained, faecal smearing, constantly stimming, refusing to be touched or cuddled, with frequent meltdowns, and running away any chance he gets;
b)     The Asperger's-type geeky adolescent male, neck-deep in computers, who can code better than he can talk, with minimal social skills, emotionally cold, uninterested in making friends, and probably with questionable personal hygiene.

The professionals, meanwhile, describe us as being ‘deficient’ in things like theory of mind or empathy, and tell us we can’t imagine what others are feeling, or understand ourselves properly for that matter, or grasp abstract concepts, philosophical ideas, and so on.

We know that these stereotypes are not true, but even amongst ourselves, we can fall into the mistake of over-generalising. We’re much preoccupied with building community right now, searching amongst ourselves for similarities. We’re doing a lot of “Do you feel this, experience this?” or “Does anyone know what I mean by…?”; type stuff in our groups. We share, we support, we revel in our alikeness, after so many years of being always the ‘different one’, the outcast, outsider, weirdo, or reject.

And this is an excellent and much-needed thing. However, there is one drawback to it. And that is in our eagerness to find and share our similarities, we may gloss over our very real differences. Yes, we all have our autism in common, that ‘different brain’, but that can manifest in so many different ways.

Because for every behaviour or response or trait that even we think of as being ‘typically’ autistic, we can find someone on the spectrum who doesn’t have it, or do it.

Some of us, of course, are female, or non-white (a group waaay under-diagnosed), or not even in Western countries. We come from both genders and the inter-gender, all races and nationalities and religions and sexualities, all classes and sub-sections of humanity, and all ages too (you don’t stop being autistic the day you turn eighteen!).

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are autistics, for instance, who are fine with eye contact, extroverted autistics who enjoy other people’s company, and who can do, and sometimes prefer, small talk, and autistics who find routines tiring rather than helpful, or who are comfortable with change and variety, or even crave it, hating being ‘stuck in a rut’.

There are autistics who have never had a meltdown, who are hypo-sensitive to sensory input, especially pain, whose stims are non-existent or kept very quiet and private or non-obvious, who have no particular ‘special interests’, or who are hopeless with maths and/or technology, preferring the social sciences or the arts or just about anything but computers.

There are whimsical autistics, and those who are totally serious. Many of us have a good sense of humour, although there are a few who must have been behind the door when they were handed out. There are autistics who can handle and even do sarcasm and metaphor, and those who can understand and use abstract or figurative language and/or philosophical concepts just fine.

And while many autistics struggle with friendships and/or relationships, choose not to try for them, or truly don’t want them, many others are able to build long-lasting connections with others, even marrying and/or having children. There are also many autistics who have no problem with physical or verbal affection, including to their children, though they vary a lot as to who with, and how and when, they express it to adults.

There are even autistics who can read facial expressions, though usually after many years of deliberately studying other people, while others are still on the beginnings of this process, or find themselves incapable of even beginning it. Some of us have learnt social skills to the point where we’re actually quite socially savvy, and some are just naturally ‘social beings’, and can work well in team or group situations, including workplaces.

There are also autistics who don’t have autism as their main identity, not because they view it negatively or reject it, but because other factors dominate their lives far more. These factors can include mental health problems, physical health problems, a racial, ethnic, cultural or religious identity, or indeed just about anything that they feel has shaped their lives far more than autism has.

There are even autistics who do (seem to) fit the popular stereotypes, though I personally feel that this is more superficial than real – there’s probably a good intelligence behind at least some of those non-verbal/barely verbal fronts, for instance, if the examples of autistics like Amy Sequenzia, Carly Fleischmann, Ido Kedar or Tito Mukhopadhyay are anything to go by.

This list could probably be even longer, but you get the picture. My point here, is that every time we say “autistics have/do…”, rather than “many/some autistics have/do…” we risk isolating those who differ from our type of autism, leaving them feeling left out and more alone than ever. Sometimes an autistic is rejected or attacked by others as ‘not properly autistic’, on precisely these grounds. And yes, that can and has happened, and it’s often very distressing to the individual concerned.

We need to be conscious that although we all have the different neurology that is the core of our autism, everyone expresses that neurology differently, and will have many other defining characteristics as well. We need to remember that our autism is only our autism, not everyone else’s.

And we all have the right to be whatever type of autistic we are, even if that doesn’t fit the majority view of ‘what autism is’, even in our own communities.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Restless Spirit

This is going to be a more personal blog post than I usually do, and I’m uncertain how many others on the spectrum, if anyone, would identify with some of this.

Anyway, what’s been happening for me lately is the return of a perennial problem – a kind of deep-down restlessness. It’s afflicted me many times in the past, from childhood on, but I’ve never figured what it is I really want. I’ve tried assuaging it with this and that, speculated on what it might be from – winter blues, needing to be more creative, meditate more and better, go for a trip somewhere? - but with never any real answers.

I do know, or at least think, that it arises out of a kind of split or duality in my nature, two forces pulling me in totally different directions – and that have also been there my whole life.

On the one hand, is the side of me that likes order, tidiness, regularity, routine, everything fixed in its place, my life lined up like centimetres on a ruler. This side of me, as you might guess, is intrinsically linked to my autism. It’s the force that sees me religiously keep to my daily rituals, tidy my drawers so neatly that my mother once joked “are you sure you’re my daughter?”, and clean so hard it’s a wonder I don’t rub the pattern off things.

It’s also the part that gets flustered if things don’t go according to plan, or if something is out of place, the part that gets upset, or even panicky and close to meltdown, if there are serious disruptions to my routines and order. In recent decades, it’s the force that has driven me towards a semi-reclusive lifestyle, shying away from the world and curling in on my order like a wounded creature crawling into shelter. And in a sense, I was, and am. The world is messy, chaotic and unpredictable, and not nice to autistics. I’ve been damaged, as many autistics have been.

I’d be willing to bet many autistics, by this point, are nodding their heads and going “uh-huh, yep, I so know what you mean!”

But there’s another side to me.

It’s the side that craves stimulation, excitement, variety and yes, even change. That, every now and again, longs to break out of the box I’ve created for myself, this half-life that isn’t really a life at all, grab a few essentials, jump in my car and drive somewhere I’ve never been before, visit towns or even countries I’ve never been to, see sights I’ve always longed to see (Eiffel Tower, anyone? Stonehenge? No?), and do things the orderly side of me would look at in horror.

It’s the side of me that even remotely contemplates a relationship, even if it’s at some distant time in the future – something my other side shies away from like a nervous horse. It’s certainly the side of me that wants to see more of my aspie friends, be more ‘sociable’, have more of a life, in short.

It’s also the force that compels me to write, the side of me that, more and more, wants to grab the world by the throat, yell “listen to me!”, and tell them what it’s really like, being autistic. That wants to shout from the rooftops the truth of my life, and that of others on the spectrum. That wants to go back out into the world as a strong, independent and authentic aspie, and tell the world to Deal With It. Whereas my other side would prefer to stay cowering in my little cocoon of safety, hoping no-one will even notice I’m here.

The tension between these two forces within me is powerful. My orderly side would be quite happy living a near-monastic existence on some remote hilltop or plateau. My excitement-seeking side, however, would prefer the beating heart of a city. Tugged this way and that, by this need and that, I lurch from isolation to interaction and back again. I go away for a few days, enjoy myself, but then gratefully flee back home into my orderly little shelter. (Or should I say shell?) I go to an event, and then come home and crawl into bed for a couple of days. And so on.

At different times in my life, one side or the other has ruled. In my younger years, for example, my more adventurous side pushed me into social movements like feminism and anti-racism, fighting for the principles I believed in. I waved placards, chanted slogans, marched and demonstrated to stop the Springbok tour, defeat sexism, deny nuclear ships a welcome on our shores, return Maori land, and generally demand a better, fairer world. I was an ‘angry young woman’.

But then I started getting sick, and disillusioned, and heartbroken. So the ‘order’ side of me began to assert itself in a slow withdrawal from the world. And since exiting a very toxic relationship nearly twenty years ago, it’s been winning hands down. But now I feel like I’m stagnating… so the other side of me is breaking into flower again.

Overall, it’s definitely time for a weather change in my life. My autism and my CFS do pose limitations, it’s true, as does my sheer lack of funds. (Guess Stonehenge will have to wait a while.) But I do want, somehow, to have more of a life, live more authentically and more vibrantly. Somehow, I have to find a way to do this.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Autistics and Their Allies Getting Together

We on the spectrum are unfortunately all too familiar with the autism-negative parents and their groups. You know who I mean I’m sure - the ‘curebie’ crowd, the ‘hate autism’ ones, the ‘autism stole my child’ and ‘autism is an epidemic/brain damage/worse than cancer/I’m going to rid my kid of autism come hell or high water’ types. We all know and dread these people.

But a Facebook post not long ago, by the mother of an autistic child, who’d been ejected from an autism parents online group for taking a more positive approach to autism, and the response from some similar-minded parents, made me aware of something that’s been growing in me for a while. Namely, the feeling that there are far more ‘autism-positive’ parents out there than most of us are aware of. Some of these parents are on the spectrum too, but not all by any means.

I have encountered such parents now and again, over the last several years, but they always say things like “well, I’m a rare breed”, or “I’m in a tiny minority”. And given that most of the noise about autism is being made by those negative types above, or a misinformed and/or seemingly tame media, it’s understandable why they think that.

But I no longer believe they are. I think they exist in far greater numbers than either they, or we, suspect. They don’t usually seek the limelight, or go on ‘crusades’ about (against) autism, so it’s easy to overlook them. They accept their kids as they are, and don’t make a huge drama of their autism, to them, it simply is.

They may use various techniques, therapies or supports to help their kids grow and develop, but they don’t bombard them with the kind of harsh therapies we all deplore, or even too many of the not-so-harsh ones. They are simply quietly bringing them up in an autism-positive environment. And they are really, really refreshing to meet.

They’re open-minded and willing to listen to adult autistics, in fact it’s often their doing that which has helped them to become what they are, and to have the courage to shun the mainstream mindset on autism. Others seem to have come to it by themselves, with the words of autistic adults just confirming their ‘gut feeling’.

I believe it’s time for all these autism-positive parents to join together, to form groups both online and in real life, to share their different mindset and support each other, to liaise with adult autistics and advocate whenever they can for a more positive approach to autism and the elimination of such atrocities as bleach enemas.

To present, in other words, an alternative to the usual rubbish we see out there on autism, for the general public, the media, and other parents - who might be new to all this ‘autism stuff’, and really struggling, or who have been in it for a while, and are unhappy with it but don’t know of anything better.

In fact, it’s already started happening. As a result of the post I mentioned above, that mother decided to start her own group on Facebook. It’s called Autistic Allies, and it’s a place where autism-positive links and references to websites etc can be posted. There are also some other groups intended more for support, and parents actively working to see the whole bleach horror, for instance, made illegal. And whether these parents are NT or autistic themselves doesn’t seem to make much, if any, difference to their approach.

Let me be clear here – in promoting these groups, I’m not saying autism-positive parents should be thrown out of the ‘mixed’ groups that already exist on Facebook, where parents and autistics already meet and give each other advice and support. I see them as an adjunct to them, not a substitute.

So what do these groups look like?

They of course have to be careful not to be taken over by the ‘other’ sort of autism parent, so their ground rules have to be ultra-clear from the beginning.


- anyone supporting Certain Autism Organisations (you know the ones I mean!). Initial ignorance of their true agenda might be accepted, but if they continue to support them AFTER being informed, out they must go.
- anyone espousing a ‘cure’ for autism, or posting links that lead to pages or organisations promoting it, especially those involving bleach and the like.
- anyone who advocates ABA or similar therapies.
- anyone who is into ‘pity parties’ or the ‘poor me’ thing, for having an autistic child.
- anyone who insists on normalisation or ‘being indistinguishable from their peers’ as the only worthwhile goal for their autistic child/ren.
- anyone who is negative about autism in any way, eg referring to it as a disease.


- supporting each other in their autism-positivity.
- working on ways to get the autism-positive message out to the general public.
- working on ways to enable their autistic children to be the best damn autistics they can be, ie the ‘maximisation’ approach.
- whenever possible, reaching out to ‘new-to-autism’ parents who may be confused as to what is the best way to help their autistic child/ren.
And of course, last but certainly not least -
- listening to autistics, both adult and if possible teens and children on the spectrum, with an open mind, and liaising with them wherever possible.

Up till now autistic advocates, even collectively, have felt like a lone wolf crying in the wilderness, while the autism-positive parents have largely kept their heads down, perhaps not wanting to attract negative attention from the ‘other’ type of parents, or just getting on with their lives.

But autism-positive parents and adult autistic advocates are natural allies, and I feel it’s time to more and more actively work together, in order to change the public ‘conversation’ about autism, to change government approaches to autism, to change EVERYTHING about how autism is talked about, thought of, approached, ‘handled’ and dealt with, in every sphere of life.

Do these groups represent a turning of the tide on autism? I believe so. I hope so. I believe we can do this, and we will do this. Together, we can change the world!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Introversion and Autism

I’ve been reading some interesting books lately, on introverted people. Introverts have long had a ‘bad press’, it seems this goes back to when Freud (himself an extrovert) had an argument with Jung and Adler, two other (introvert) psychiatrists, and from then on depicted introversion as a negative, unhealthy trait, associated with narcissism and/or rejection of the world. Introversion has been seen in pathological terms ever since, especially in Western culture. The outgoing, gregarious, extrovert type is still often seen as the type to aspire to, and parents sometimes pressure their children to fit this model. That extroverts outnumber introverts about three to one doesn’t help either.

But introversion is far better understood than it once was. It’s now known to be not a matter of neurosis, but an inborn temperament, decided by the response to stimuli taking different pathways in the brain. These paths are now being mapped, and the strengths and benefits of introversion are becoming better accepted.

Whether you’re introvert or extrovert isn’t about whether you like other people or not, or how socially skilled you are. Introverts are sensitive to over-stimulation, feel drained by crowds and lots of noise, and need to be somewhere quiet and alone in order to recharge their ‘batteries’. They’ll also go inwards to sort out any problems or stresses they have, and have a rich inner life, though it often won’t show on the surface. They think long and deeply about all manner of things, though this may not be obvious, and they’re often seen as shy or unfriendly, or even unintelligent. Introverts don’t typically dislike people, but they may restrict who with and how they mix, and are usually content with having just one or two good friends.

Extroverts, on the other hand, are energised by social contact and lots of external stimulation. They like to meet and get to know lots of people, and often have a wide circle of friends. They need sensation and external input to recharge, “like solar panels”1 as one author puts it, and can feel lonely and under-stimulated without it. When they have a problem, they typically prefer to talk it over with someone else, and like to ‘know a little about a lot’, their strength being breadth rather than depth.

It’s said that you can tell the extrovert from the introvert not by how they behave at a party - introverts can get quite skilled at presenting a good front - but by what they say when they leave. An introvert will say “Whew! Time to go home and rest.” An extrovert will say “That was fun! What shall we do next?”

I have known for some time that I am a thorough introvert. On the Briggs-Meyer personality test, for example, I’m an INFJ. Plus I fit the classic description of introverts as described in these books. I’ve experienced a lot of flak for this – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been underestimated, misunderstood and misjudged. I’ve often been scolded for being ‘anti-social’, ‘shy’, ‘snobbish’, or accused of ‘sulking’ when I withdrew. Or it would be suggested that the answer to my problems (any problem!) was that I ‘should talk to people more’ or ‘stop hiding away’. My need for solitude has been seen as pathological, an unhealthy thing. As a result, I’ve sometimes forced myself to socialise till I’m about ready to drop from exhaustion, and seen myself as ‘lesser than’, because I couldn’t be like other people.

So does being autistic automatically mean being an introvert? It’s true, we often have a need to withdraw from the world, at least temporarily, due to sensory overload or social challenges, and many of us would probably identify as introverted, on the basis of the descriptions I’ve read. And the extrovert description fits many NTs like a glove – the love of talk and chatter, the throwing themselves into partying, the tendency to ‘sample’ conversations, topics and knowledge like a smorgasbord, or the ability to cope with far more stimulation than any autie could ever handle.

But the introvert/extrovert axis cuts through gender, race, age, nationality and just about every other category you can think of, and could possibly cut through the neurotype boundary too. So theoretically, there could be some, perhaps many, extroverted autistics2. (Plus of course there are definitely many NTs who are introverts, or these books would never have been written!)

So what might an extrovert autistic look like?

I’m thinking here of the autie who tends to charge into groups, loves to be around people and get to know them, and who, especially when young, can sometimes come across rather like a super-friendly, bouncy puppy, all eagerness but no finesse! Autistic extroverts may get their social ‘refueling’ from being with people they trust and have something in common with, rather than simply ‘the world at large’ – this could be their family, other auties, their church or other religious group, a group who shares their special interest, or something similar.

It’s possible at least some of these extrovert auties, if knocked back too many times, might end up rather bitter and disappointed and negative about the world (as do many of us), and retreat from it. But their basic personality trait would be unchanged, and so they might suffer from ‘energy withdrawal’, if they can’t find a congenial group of people to be around. So these auties might conceivably be in a worse state than more introverted ones, who are able to recharge through being alone.

It’s worth remembering too, that few people are extremely one or the other, so you might have some introvert traits, and some extrovert ones. One of the books even postulates a category called ‘centroverts’ or ‘ambiverts’, who fall pretty much in the middle. These people are able to understand both introverts and extroverts better than each type will understand the other, and can provide some much-needed balance and even mediation between them.

The big thing is to understand that one type isn’t better or worse than the other, and that the world needs all sorts. Whether NT, autistic, or a halfway ‘cousin’, an introvert, extrovert or centrovert – we all have something to contribute to the world, and the right to be whatever we are, and have that true self be accepted.

1 pg 20, Laney, Marti Olsen; The Introvert Advantage, Workman Publishing, New York, 2002.
2 One word of caution if you decide to read more on this subject – the writings are not really autism-friendly. One book for instance, on introversion in children, discusses how some confuse introversion with symptoms of autism. The author warns against “pathologising” introvert children - the unspoken subtext being “…but it’s okay to pathologise autistic kids, because they’re really weird.” She also reiterates the misunderstanding that autistics “aren’t interested in other people”. So get what you can out of it, and realise that not all of it will apply to you, whether introvert or extrovert.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Privilege and disability

I’ve been thinking lately about privilege. Most people think of privilege as something they have or had – “ancient rights and privileges”, “I had the privilege of meeting so-and-so last year…” etc.

But privilege, in the political sense, also has another meaning. It’s about what you don’t have to deal with, what doesn’t happen to you, because of your race, gender, religion, sexuality, neurology, or whatever. It’s what you take for granted as so normal that you don’t give it a second thought – unless for some reason you suddenly get deprived of it, or become aware of what those without it suffer. Though even if an individual is made aware of their privilege, they usually want to deny it even exists. As one person in a Facebook conversation about this said – “The thing with privilege is that those with it …are unaware of it. And many do not want to see it because it rocks the foundation of who they feel they are.”

I first became aware of privilege in this sense when I was in the feminist and anti-racism movements, back in the 80s. I of course don’t have male privilege, or heterosexual, or even able-bodied, now. But I do have the privilege that goes with my white skin and European ancestry.

So I know that as a white person, I can, say, walk down a street in a high-income area without having people think I’m there either to clean a house or to rob it. I’ve never had anyone assume that I got a job because of my skin colour, not my abilities. I’ve never been sneered at or hassled by shop staff because of my race, nor feared being arrested because of it. And if I read a history book, people of my race are almost certain to feature prominently, and usually positively, in it.

Similarly, no man walking into a boardroom for the first time is likely to have people assume he’s there either to make the tea or take notes. (Yes, even now that still happens.) They never have to think about glass ceilings or equal pay. They can fearlessly walk alone late at night, and sleep around without fear someone will think them a slut. Date rape is not a worry for them. And so on. (And this is just in Western countries. Imagine the male privilege in non-Western ones.)

And then there’s heterosexual privilege – your average straight person never has to worry about being denied a marriage license, or being allowed to adopt or foster children, or even to retain custody of their own children. Yet until fairly recently, all these have been routinely denied gays and lesbians, and still are in many countries. In fact in some countries, gays and lesbians still live in fear for their lives. And they aren’t all Third World countries either. Russia has a particularly bad track record of this, and it’s getting worse.

So what does privilege mean for the non-disabled, and/or non-autistic?

For the non-disabled, it means things like never having to worry whether you can physically enter a building, or easily get to where you need to be if you do get in.

It means you don’t have to think about whether you can find housing you can access, or whether you’ll be allowed on to a bus or train or plane, or denied a safe place to put yourself when you do get on.

You don’t have to worry that you will be talked to as if you’re stupid, or have others ignore your wishes and make decisions about your life against your will, based solely on your physical abilities and needs.

You’re never expected to be the ‘token’ person of your ability levels, or be constantly told how ‘inspirational’ you are, just for doing normal, everyday things.

If you’re not autistic, if you get bullied, it’s unlikely anyone will tell you your neurology is to blame, and that if you only you acted more like others, it would stop.

You don’t have to plan your day around the fear of inducing sensory overload, and you can change plans if need be without risking panic and meltdowns.

You needn’t fear that people will ignore what you’re saying because of your neurology, or consider you a ‘burden’ because of it, or decide that any and all problems you have, even medical ones, are due to it.

You’ll never have to fear being attacked because of your neurology, or that police officers will take your normal body movements the wrong way, and arrest or even shoot you because of it.

Perhaps most chillingly of all, if you are murdered by your parents or caregivers, no-one will say that “you’re better off dead”, and offer sympathy to your killer/s, based on your neurological style or physical ability levels. Yes, this does happen, and all too frequently, alas.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the privileges of all the above groups. For more information about privileges, check out the following websites :

And yes, many of the above privileges, or lack of them, intersect. You can have, or not have, more than one sort of privilege. Imagine how they begin to stack up, and you see why some people’s lives are much easier, while some others almost don’t stand a chance.

And here’s the thing about privilege – there’s no point in either denial or guilt. Back in the 80s, I was in the New Zealand anti-racism and feminist movements. I realised then that guilt is a useless emotion, as it changes nothing. You’re not a bad person for being born white, male, straight, able-bodied, or whatever, anymore than others of us are bad for not being any or all of these things. What’s needed is to acknowledge your privilege as a simple fact – and then, hopefully, do whatever you can to ensure that those without it also gain it. I’m not saying that’s easy, or that all of us have to be hotshot activists, but we can always find some little thing to do to change things.

But start with simple acknowledgement. Just facing the truth can go a long way.

Friday, 19 February 2016

My Favourite Things

Too often lately, I’ve been feeling kind of negative, so just for fun I decided to make a list of my favourite things. These are all things that help me get through life. A lot of them, I’ve realised, are sensory things, but not all. Anyway, here they are, vaguely grouped but not in any order of favouritism.

The smell of new-mown grass. Even when it threatens to aggravate my hayfever.

The smell of hot pavement after rain, and watching steam coming up off it.

The smell of onions or bacon frying. Or sausages, especially on the barbecue – and the taste of those sausages (gluten free, of course!) in my mouth. Nom, nom!

Lite Licks Dairy Free icecream, with my own (gluten free) sticky date pudding or self-saucing chocolate pud.

Cadbury’s Chocolate, especially Dairy Milk and Caramello, and Whittaker’s Peanut Slabs. Yes, I know, they’re dairy, but they’re still yummy…

Gluten-free hamburgers from Burger Fuel. I so wish they’d open a store in my town.

Roast chicken with roast potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings. Nom, nom again. (Licking my lips here!) (I guess it’s pretty obvious I’m no vegetarian, lol…)

Spectacular sunsets, with all the delicate shades of colour that surround them, and the deep, deep blue of the twilight sky. Actually, the sky on just about any day that’s not rainy and grey. So many people never really look at the sky, if they truly saw it, they’d marvel.

Gazing at the stars and moon, especially out away from town lights, or pictures of space, galaxies, stars, etc – it’s a feeling I can only describe as soul-liberating or expanding.

Our beautiful NZ beaches, especially when they’re empty of people, and especially when pohutukawa trees are in blossom, their brilliant red and green combining with the blue sky, golden sand, white surf and azure sea, to make a treat for the eye. The surge and crash of that surf makes my skin tingle, and I feel so alive.

Standing on a hill or mountaintop, and being able to see for miles and miles, especially if the view is out to sea, and breathing in the clean, clear air.

Trains – ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved the chugga-chugga-chugga of them, it produces a thrilling resonation, deep in my body. I love to ride trains too, the way they rattle and sway along, and how you get to see all sorts of back yards and people’s lives not visible from the street. There’s something slightly mysterious about trains, even the most ordinary suburban commuter ones.

Stationery stores – they make me want to grab those pristine tubes of paint and slather them across the pure white canvasses, or the pencils and crayons and pastels onto the sketchbooks, or write in those oh-so-pretty notebooks… especially if I haven’t done anything creative for a while.

Spending time with my daughter, especially when we joke and laugh so hard we just about wet our pants.

Good times with my family, especially dinners, where there’s lot of yummy food, and we laugh and joke ditto as above…

Joking and laughing with my aspie friends so hard that yes, sometimes I ROFLOL and just about PMSL…

Watching my favourite movies yet again. Basically any of the following –
- The Sound of Music. Yes, I know it’s impossibly schmaltzy, but I love it anyway.
- Fiddler on the Roof, the movie version.
- All the Lord of the Rings movies, but especially the last one. “Don’t you give up Mr Frodo!”
- All the Star Wars movies, even the ones with such wooden acting you’d think the stars were fenceposts.

Playing my favourite music when I’m alone, turning it up loud, and just letting the sound wash over me, till all my tension is gone. Especially I love -
- ‘Time To Say Goodbye’, it really tugs at my heartstrings (we played it at my mother’s funeral), but oh it’s good.
- ‘I Believe in You (Le Crois En Toi)’ by Il Divo and Celine Dion.
- ‘O Holy Night’, by Il Divo.
- Sole Mio singing just about anything.
- ‘Amazing Grace’, by just about anyone, but especially if it has bagpipes. (I love pretty much anything on bagpipes actually, must be something in the blood - all those Celtic ancestors! - they always send a thrill down my spine.)

Monet’s waterlily and haystack paintings. The first time I saw them in an exhibition, I was blown away. Also too many of the Impressionists and ‘Old Masters’ to name here. They make my fingers itch to paint too, though I know I will never get anywhere near their class.

Old houses and buildings, castles and cathedrals and the like, especially if they have soaring arches and lots of ancient masonry. There’s just something about arches…

The thrill I get when I’m doing family history research, and stumble on something – a name, a birth record, a census entry – that is another leap back in time, another ancestor emerging from the mists of the past (family history research is astonishingly addictive).

Doing crosswords and other word puzzles – and the satisfaction I get from finding that last crossword answer that’s been bugging me.

Curling up on the couch with a good book, a tasty snack and a long cool drink. My favourite books are whatever I’m currently reading, something to do with my special interests, or anything (fiction or non-fiction) about those who are marginalised, outcasts, loners and/or ‘different’.

Anyway, this is my list of ‘stuff I like’, just off the top of my head. It’s longer than I thought it would be, which I’ve realised is a good thing. The more things that nourish me, and that help me get through life and endure a world that I find illogical at best and downright crazy at worst, the better.

Do you have a similar list? What makes you feel good? What do you do, to help yourself cope with life and the world? What are your compensations or treats, that make things more bearable?

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Dishonesty of NTs

I don’t want anyone getting me wrong here – this is not an anti-NT rant. I don’t do such things, not even in my worst and most frustrated moments. That would be doing a disservice to the many NTs I love dearly. Not to mention that I don’t believe that autistics are superior overall to NTs, anymore than I believe that NTs are superior to me/us. Rather, we have strengths in different areas, and in our thinking and approach to the world and life and other people, we’re simply, totally, completely and overwhelmingly different.

And it’s one aspect of that difference I want to explore here, as I attempt to get to grips with something that’s long puzzled me about NT behaviour. Namely, their dishonesty. Or what seems like dishonesty to us.

Note, I’m not talking here about those blatant acts of dishonesty – theft, shop-lifting, burglary, fraud, embezzlement, con-artistry, espionage, treason, and so on - that get punished by the law, and rejected by most NTs even, and rightly so. Nor do I mean the deliberate but not usually illegal deceptions of negative intent – the cheating spouse, the manipulative workmate, the political trickster. I’m talking, rather, about the little acts of social dishonesty.

I’ve come to realise that NTs, unlike us, place ‘getting along with others’ way, way, way ahead of ‘telling it like it is’. So they will do all sorts of little fudgings of the truth in service of that, where we would just blurt things out – and then get jumped on for being ‘rude’, ‘insensitive’, etc. As we almost never intend this, we end up confused and even hurt. What, we wonder, did we do wrong? Why is the truth so bad?

Anyway, here’s something of a guide to the various kinds of social dishonesty (though they wouldn’t call it that) I’ve seen NTs doing.

Phrasing things politely. This is using diplomatic versions of the truth, to soften harsh messages. So people will say that so-and-so is “a bit upset”, by something, when in fact they threw a tantrum, or are bawling their eyes out. Always take a message like this as a huge understatement – the truth is almost certain to be far worse than the literal words. Phrases like “a bit”, “kind of”, or “somewhat” are red flags for this sort of dishonesty. Even between aspies, I’ve seen this one trip some of us up.

Euphemisms. This is a variation on polite phrasing, where softer expressions are used to blunt harsh realities, eg saying that someone has “passed away” rather than simply “died”. I have often used these myself, finding them either less likely to cause offence, or just kinder. Or more bearable – eg when referring to my mother’s recent passing. It has its place therefore, but too much of it is like constantly wearing cotton wool in your ears – you start to feel like everything is a bit muffled.

Circling the truth. Basically, this involves verbal beating round and round the bush, till you’re not even certain what the heck the bush is. I have always found this extremely difficult to cope with. I’m still not sure what the point of it is, other than a kind of super-politeness, or maybe not wanting to commit to saying the truth, but if you’re faced with someone who never clearly states what is it that they want, or are trying to say, circling is likely what they’re doing. My recommendation is, be blunt. Ask straight out what they mean. It tends to disconcert people, sometimes annoy them, and even then you don’t always get a straight answer, but at least the issue is out in the open. And that’s got to be far less anxiety-provoking for you.

The little white lie. Years ago, my then-partner told me about a previous flatmate of hers, who fancied a guy who was obviously gay, something she refused to acknowledge, even once saying to my ex “people say so-and-so is gay, but he’s not, is he?” My ex’s private thought was that the guy was as camp as a row of pink tents, but she agreed no, he wasn’t. This is the ‘nice’ lie, to spare someone’s feelings and supposedly not harmful, though I have my doubts. How can not facing up to the truth be harmful? How long would that woman have gone on deluding herself this guy was potentially available? And how hurt would she have been, in the end?

 If you do hear someone telling one of these white lies, however, it’s best not to barge in with the truth. These situations often needs delicate handling, and are best left alone by those as socially clumsy as we aspies. Of course if someone asks you outright, they should know better than to expect you to lie, but do ‘phrase it diplomatically’ if you can.

The ‘Fairy Tale’. A more elaborate version of the ‘little white lie’, we see this one most especially on sitcoms, where some of the characters invent a complicated tale to tell another character, because they feel they can’t tell the truth for some reason. However it also sometimes happens in real life too, usually I think to spare someone’s feelings, or to escape the consequences of something.

I’ve been tripped up by this one more than once – confused, I would jump in with “no, that’s not true!”, and blurting out the truth. And of course getting a very sharp reaction, which confused me even more – why were they telling a lie in the first place, and why didn’t they tell me they were going to do it? I still think it’s stupid, and usually unnecessary. Or at least they didn’t need to invent such a convoluted lie.

Zipping the lip. Sometimes NTs avoid telling a lie by simply saying nothing at all, also known as ‘keeping mum’, ‘keeping stum’, and similar phrases. Like the little white lie, it’s done to spare other’s feelings, especially in situations where it’s felt that revealing the truth would do no good, and possibly even hurt someone. So there is a place for it, and I’ve done it myself – kept quiet about stuff that it really wasn’t necessary to reveal.

Maybe, for instance, you’ve got a sweet little old auntie who’s on her deathbed, and who’s always idolized her long-dead husband. Why tell her that in fact he had an affair thirty years ago? What purpose would be served by telling her now? (This is a fictitious example, I hasten to add, not one I’ve ever personally faced.)

Keeping our mouths shut is I think about the only ‘social dishonesty’ we aspies can manage, in response to all the situations mentioned above - difficult though it can be, not to blurt things out! I’ve found it best to watch what others are doing. If they aren’t revealing something, I don’t either.

It’s important to remember that all of these ‘dishonesties’ are done with positive intent in mind – the sparing of other’s feelings, at least in the short term. Whether they do in the long run of course is another question, but the golden rule here is “if in doubt, don’t say anything”.