Saturday, 12 September 2015

Aspie sleeping habits

Question: are you (or the Aspie in your life) a morning person or a night owl?  Or do you (or they) have sleeping habits that don't fit the usual pattern at all?

My Aspie tendencies become more pronounced when I'm tired or sleep-deprived - my sensory processing goes to hell, I get even more socially awkward than usual, and my tiny shred of executive functioning deserts me completely. I reckon a solid eight hours z's a night would make a big difference to my health and my general ability to function - if I could get it.

The first problem is I'm a serial night owl.  I've really never been able to handle mornings, by which I mean anything before about 9:30am.  Which presented a particular dilemma when I had a job that started at 5:30am, and is still a problem now that I work office hours.

I've tried just going to bed earlier, but that doesn't work.  It usually ends up either like this:
  • I try to get to bed earlier, but thanks to the disorganisation that comes with executive dysfunction I don't get around to it until the usual time anyway
  • I get to bed earlier and then can't sleep because it's earlier than my body's used to going to sleep, and I've got too many racing thoughts about life and work and whatever I'm currently obsessing about and deconstructing my latest social failure in minute detail and worrying about how I'm not getting enough sleep.
I usually don't sleep in a lace dress or full makeup, though
Plus, I genuinely feel more alert and do my best work later at night.  It comes in handy when I get involved in sporadic performance-related things, but isn't so helpful for 8:30 starts at the office job.

On top of owlishness I also get pretty epic insomnia which resists everything I've thrown at it: warm milk, various prescription meds, herbal supplements, get-ready-to-sleep guided meditations, listening to whalesong and burbly Enya-type nonsense, exercising, not exercising, reading before bed, not reading before bed, and liberal quantities of booze*.

 I'm not sure whether any of this is an Aspergers issue or not.  I only have one brain, and a variety of bullshit going on it it, so it could be any combination of:
  • Aspergers-related sleep issues
  • ADD-related sleep issues
  • Depression-related sleep issues
  • Sensory processing issues - I love the weight of heavy blankets and featherbeds and the heavier the bedclothes the better I sleep.  But I also feel the heat something awful and am way more comfortable when I'm cool, so for most of the year heavy blankets are an impossibility
  • I should probably get checked out for sleep apnea, because I tick a couple of boxes for that.  It's on my list of things to do, along with seeing a dentist, getting my eyes tested, getting a few not-dangerous-but-still-annoying moles lopped off, updating my mental health care plan and getting my eyebrows sorted out.  Don't hold your breath on any of that actually being done anytime soon, though.
I really like the sound of the way we apparently used to sleep until the 17th century, in two blocks of four hours with an hour or two's wakefulness in the middle.  That's a lifestyle I reckon I could get behind, but it'd be hard to make that schedule work around the commitments of the modern day.

Anyway, enough about me.  I'm interested to hear from other people on the spectrum: are you a night owl too, or are you an early riser?  Or do you have a non-standard sleep pattern?  Do you have insomnia?  (And do you have any tips to deal with it???)  I'm really interested to see what trends emerge...

*Alcohol is not recommended as a sleep aid because even if it does knock you out it screws up the quality of your sleep.  But it should be pretty clear that I'm not a how-to guide for sleep hygiene.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

How come douchebags have so many friends?

I can't be the only one who's noticed this, right?

For all my social graces are awkward, I work really hard at them.  I put a lot of effort into interpersonal stuff, and try really hard to be competent in my interactions with others.

Still more popular than you
So it's really frustrating when some jackass comes along, acts like a complete dick, treats everyone around them like shit, and still has people hanging off their every word.

What is WITH that?

I don't know, and some in depth research from the University of Googling Shit suggests it's a question many have asked and few have answered.

Here are my theories:

  • They're not - it just looks that way to me because I'm so down on myself and my own wobbly little social network
  • The have something else - industry connections, a rich daddy, or a tendency to shout free drinks for everyone in a 20-foot radius - that makes them worth hanging around despite their behaviour
  • They treat people differently, so their friends see a different side of them than others do
  • Their behaviour isn't that bad, I'm just a sensitive special sooky snowflake
  • Their friends are as fucked up as they are
  • They don't have friends so much as an audience keen to see what outrageous thing they do next, because a lot of people love a bit of drama and conflict
  • At any given moment they have a load of friends or hangers-on, but it's a constantly changing series of short-term buddies rather than long term meaningful relationships
  • The world's a really weird place, and it's about time I accepted I really don't understand it.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

My Aspie special interests are causing trouble

I have a slight problem with my special interests.  Hell, let's call them what they are: obsessions.

Most of mine are media related - TV shows or comedy mainly, with a side helping of books, comics and movies.  That means they take time to watch or read or pore over and enjoy.  On the whole, it's time well spent because I love it, I learn things, and it helps build my knowledge and skills for the writing and theatre-related stuff that is my living.

But the time my special interests take eats into the time available for that writing and theatre-related stuff, self care, keeping the house clean, and generally being a vaguely functional* adult.

Watching TV shows takes time.  And while you can do other things while watching TV if those other things are knitting or jogging on a treadmill, it doesn't really work if you're trying to write or practice a soliloquy.  Or if you're hanging out the washing, weeding, or moving from room to room as you clean the house.

The rational answer is just to limit the TV watching to when I have time, and deal with the important business of having a life first.

But there is nothing rational about my Aspie obsessions.  If I could just not engage with them when I didn't want to they'd be a hobby, not a fucking obsession. 

It's all the harder because a lot of mine are, tangentially at least, related to my work.  It's a long, long bow to draw, but that hasn't stopped me justifying a 2am QI marathon as somehow relevant to the comedy I'm working on.

"First I'll do the laundry and wash the dishes, then I'll write that article, then I'll watch QI but only until 10pm because I need to be up early for work tomorrow" is common sense on paper.  But in practice it often just doesn't work for me, because I don't have the executive functioning or sequential planning skills to make it happen.

I don't have any answers.  It's a problem in progress.


*Not "functional" in the deeply problematic high/low functioning autistic sense, but in the adulting sense.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

My mum's awesome. Let's talk about that

My Mum's pretty awesome.

I wasn't an easy child, partially for ASD-related reasons and partially just because I was a little shit.  But she never made me feel I was a bad kid, or broken or defective or less than perfect, or that she'd consider trading me in on a better model.

Mum has some Aspie traits herself, and her brother/my uncle was very much on the spectrum for all he never got the diagnosis that might have helped him make sense of his life.  I also see shadows of myself in stories of other ancestors; long-dead Aspergias or yore who hid in their rooms when company came or preferred to communicate by pen and paper rather than speech.  So maybe that's part of why Mum accepted my limitations and weirdness so readily - it's just how some of our family are.

 Mum understands the concept of sensory-hostile clothing, and that made my young life much easier.  She let me choose my own clothes and dress myself as soon as my wobbly motor skills were up to the task, even if that meant a catastrophic confection of clashing colours, football shorts and thongs (the kind you wear on your feet, thank you) that meant I tended not to look particularly pretty or put-together.  Fortunately the whole pink/princess thing hadn't really taken off yet, so a little girl could get away with blue terry-towelling shorts and a Vegemite t-shirt.

Because Mum understood how hard social interaction was, she didn't push it. Of course she wanted her kid to do extracurricular things and have friends, but if it wasn't working and if I was unhappy and didn't want to go, I didn't have to, no questions asked and no pressure.
For all disability awareness and rights still has a way to go, it's come a long, long way. Aspergers has a name now, the autism spectrum is understood to be A Thing That Exists, and we're not the product of poor parenting or too much red cordial or TV.  There's some support and understanding, both for us and our parents.

Society's a bit more civilised, too - bullying and abuse of students by teachers is no longer acceptable in schools as it was in Mum's day, for instance.  And I like to think if I were a child today someone would actually notice I had a developmental delay.

 However, there's still a long way left to go. Services for adults on the spectrum are mighty light on the ground, especially in rural and regional areas. Cognitive disabilities are lagging badly in the fight for respect and acceptance - just look how common "retard" and "special" are as insults. You can try to argue that people who use that term aren't talking about actual people with cognitive issues, but the point remains that it only works an insult because having neurological, developmental or cognitive disability is considered a substandard, inferior way to be.

It isn't. And I know it isn't.

And that self belief is the greatest gift my mother's given me.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

You never had a ticket for Italy: thoughts on Welcome to Holland

If you've spent any time in autism circles, you've probably come across Welcome To Holland, a piece by Emily Perle Kingsley that uses travellling to an unexpected destination as an analogy for having a child on the spectrum.  You've bought a ticket to Italy, you've tooled up on Italian phrases and been pinning Italian landmarks for months... and you land in Holland instead.  Please check your seat pocket for personal belongings before exiting the aircraft.

I've always felt uncomfortable about the piece, for ways I couldn't quite express.  But now I've figured it out:

You didn't buy a ticket for Italy. You had a ticket for an unknown destination, and that's what you got.

You might have expected it to be Italy because that's where most of your friends and family ended up, you probably wanted with all your heart for it to be Italy, or maybe the idea that it could have been somewhere else but Italy never even entered your head... but Italy was never a promise.

About seven percent of Australia's children have disability of some kind.  (Stats here)  Some of those parents would have known in advance their new arrival was going to be disabled, some would have found out at birth or shortly after, some disabilities like ASD might not become apparent for years.

And that's just disability - there are countless ways a kid might just not be who their parents were expecting or hoping for.  Clumsy kids born into families expecting sporting glory.  Tone-deaf children with parents hoping for a little Mozart.  Gay or trans* kids born into families that have a problem with that.  Kids who bear an unfortunate resemblance to a disliked great aunt.  Kids whose skin tone comes out a shade darker or lighter than their family wanted.  Children with food allergies in gourmand families.  Kids who aren't academically gifted delivered into families who expect them to be, and kids who are born into families who don't value that.  Hobbits in Elven families, Elves in families of Men, Men in Orc clans.  This analogy is getting away from me.

There are lots of people who don't 'fit' with their family.  Maybe their family resents their difference and shuns them, or maybe they're welcomed with love, respect, and utter bafflement.

But that's not because a whole lot of families bought tickets for Italy and were then diverted to The Netherlands, Spain, Singapore and Burkina Faso.  It's not because they went to one of those 'build your own cuddly toy' workshops and then on the way out were given someone else's critter instead of their own.

People are people.  When you make a new one, you get an improbable little bundle of genetics and evolution and starstuff who is utterly unique and almost entirely unpredictable.

Every child is a mystery tour. 

No matter how much you think they're a simple trip to Italy.