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.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Store it where you can see it

If I can't see something, I forget it exists.

I'm not sure if it's an ASD executive function thing, an ADD thing, or just a quirk of my own, but whatever the cause it's always very much been A Thing with me.

As with many other bits of my life that don't work as they should, I've found it's much more productive to work around this than try (and fail) to force myself to change.

This isn't a definitive "101 Ways To Deal With This Issue" post.  But it is a walk-through of some of the techniques I'm using at home to ensure that I can see the things I need (or want) to use, remember and take care of.

The bathroom cupboard came with sliding mirrored doors: I took them off, put some pretty paper inside to cover the rust marks and general decay, and now have my deodorant, sunscreen and suchlike on display.  So I remember to use them.

More bathroom hijinks: another cupboard with one door off to expose to turn it into an open shelf, and grooming-type things on the windowsill. 

The to-be-read pile of books beside the couch.  (With bonus cat toy)

This is what I have instead of a bathroom mirror.  There are plenty mirrors elsewhere in the house, so I got a cheap picture frame, framed some more of the pretty paper, and use the glass surface as a whiteboard for reminders and inspirational guff.

My office, with ginormous whiteboard covered in reminders for things to write/look up/do, and office supplies all over the windowsills so I remember to use them.

Outside of my various open shelves and conspicuous reminders of things to do, my decorating style's pretty minimalist.  This is great for cutting down sensory stimulation, but it also means the important stuff doesn't blend into the general background 'noise' of clutter and decorative doo-dads.

Do you have a similar issue?  I'm curious to know whether it's an Aspie thing, or just something of my own.  And what techniques have you come up with to handle it? I'm always very keen to hear how other people deal with issues like these.  For all the tricks I've come up with there are bound to be loads more that I haven't thought of, but you might have...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

How I learned to stop worrying and love the list

To do lists have been a really helpful tool in digging myself out of this big hole of inertia, depression and fail I've landed in over the last few months.  But all lists are not created equal, and it took me quite a few false starts before I made lists work for me.  Here's what I've learned...

how I learned to stop worrying and love the list

Have multiple lists.  My master list - the list of everything I have to do, should do, and want to do, is long.  Really long.  If it was a scroll, it'd unfurl down a four-storey staircase like something out of a cartoon.  That's no use.  That's just overwhelming and intimidating and generally impossible.

So I split my terrifying master list up into smaller lists.  There's one for work, which only lists work chores and which I only work on during the hours I'm being paid, because not being able to switch off when I leave work has been a big problem for me in the past.  There's one for stuff I can do today - hang out the laundry, do the washing up, write 500 words for an article that's due next week.  There's one for longer-term stuff, one for things I need to ask questions about or seek professional help with, one for things that have to wait until spring/summer/Christmas/the new financial year/some other outside deadline. 

I find I do need to keep an overall list - but the smaller specific ones make the whole thing more manageable.

Break tasks down.  "Laundry" isn't one thing.  It's a multi-step process that goes from sorting clothes to washing to hanging out to taking down to folding up and putting away.  I find adding each step to the list makes it easier to keep track of where I'm up to.  Also, it means you can cross half a dozen things off your list instead of just one, and that's very satisfying.

Include fun stuff.  I usually think about a to do list in terms of chores, work and unpleasant things to be dealt with before I can goof off and have fun.  But there's a cast to be made for including fun stuff on the list too, especially if it's something you enjoy that can also do you good, like exercise, learning a new skill, or socialising.  These days my to do list has a mix of chores and fun stuff.  Yes, the chores tend to come first and there are more of them, but I try to make a point to include something pleasant as well.

Work out the order of operations.  This is more than just ranking the items on the list from most to least urgent.  Laundry isn't urgent until you're down to your last pair of clean jocks, but if you leave it that long it'll be a much bigger and more bothersome task than if you deal with it regularly.  Playing music, exercising, stimming, meditating or hanging out with friends is never urgent, but they're things we can and should do to keep ourselves healthy and happy.  I try to work out a daily to do list that includes any urgent tasks, some routine ones, and some fun ones.

Sometimes there's a logical order - for instance, if I have to buy milk, go for a walk, check something in the newspaper and have a shower, the most efficient way to do those things is walk to the corner shop, buy the milk and paper, then come home, have a shower and read the paper.  But I need to actually write a list and sit down and work that out, because I'm jut not naturally organised.

Include things you do every day if you need to.   Going for a walk, meditating, and having breakfast are on my to do list.  They're things I try to do every day, but they don't come naturally to me (yet).  I need reminders, so they're on the list.  Maybe one day they'll become second nature, but for now adding them to the list means they get done more often than not.  And that's a big improvement on the pre-list system, when they usually didn't get done at all.