Monday, 22 April 2013

Monday Muster

Happy Monday, dear ones.
Love is The Answer - Paris (Explore)
photo by Geraint Rowland
Autism in Love is a feature-length documentary being made in the US about autistic adults falling in love and managing romantic relationships.  It's currently funding through Kickstarter, so click through a drop a few bob in their tin if you'd like to support it.

The Birthday Party, a post from autistic blogger E over at The Third Glance, gives some tips for including autistic people in social activities.  I love the idea of having something like a puzzle on a table in a quiet corner at parties, so people who need a break from the boozing and schmoozing have somewhere they can go to have a break while still being present.  Someone in the comments did a similar thing with an origami area, which sounds like a fantastic idea - like puzzles, it can be as social or separate as you make it.

Inner Aspie has also been blogging, posting a thought provoking article about how autistic folk experience empathy.

And on OJ's Blogge, there are a series of graphics illustrating the concept of autism as a spectrum - sounds like I'm not the only one who's come up against the 'if you don't fit the stereotypes you're not really autistic' thing lately.

How many traits can you tick off on this long list of signs of sensory disregulation?  I have A.  LOT.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Tribute to an old friend

This is Brando.

Not long after I moved into my old place in Bundy, I noticed a black shape streaking through the yard, under the fence and into the stormwater drain outside.  Later, I was gardening when I accidentally cornered the black shape.  It was a small cat, which was so terrified of me that he tried to scale a six foot colourbond fence.  Even fuelled by panic he couldn't - it was a sheer surface with no footholds, not even for a tiny paw - so it was basically leaping into the air and flailing madly at the fence as it slid down to the ground again.  I moved back, and it shot past me into the bushes and away.

I started leaving some food and water out for the cat. It didn't touch it.  It did occasionally catch one of the neighbourhood magpies, which were overfed by the locals and subsequently congregated in ridiculous numbers, and I'd find the drain full of feathers the next day.

One autumn, I started seeing more and more of the cat.  It was moving more slowly - by which I mean it was now visible as more than just a blur of motion - and I could see that it moved awkwardly, as if its back legs were injured or crippled.

I started leaving food out again.  This time, it ate it.

As autumn turned to winter, the cat hung around more and more.  Eventually I would find it sleeping in the sun just outside the fence.  Its long hair was matted and tangled with leaves and grass, it was skinny, its eyes were gunky; it was obviously sick.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the back steps having a cup of tea when the stray cat staggered up to me and rubbed against my knee.  I reached out to pat it, and when it didn't shy away I scooped it up and put it in a box with a blanket, and took it to the vet.  The poor thing was suffering.  It was the kindest thing to do.

When they asked for the cat's name to put on the paperwork, I told them "Brando".  Because he was a wild one.

I expected the vet would put Brando to sleep, but instead she shot him full of fluid and antibiotics, estimated his age as being somewhere north of nine, and gave him back to me.

He slept all afternoon and evening.  The next morning he was still lounging on the beanbag in the lounge room.  He looked up and purred when I approached.

I had apparently acquired a cat.

I didn't want a cat.  I didn't want any pet.  They were a responsibility I didn't need.  I didn't want a cat in particular because of their affect on the native wildlife.  I was more a dog person, anyway.  And while I was working full time and living alone, it wasn't realistic to have a dog.  So I was petless, and I thought I was happy with that.

But Brando purred and kneaded his way into my heart.  He was good company, and coming home to a house with a warm, living body in it was very different from coming home to a house that didn't.  As he recovered he revealed his true nature, as the gentlest, most good natured cat I've ever known.  You could pick him up, pat him anywhere, rub your face in his belly, and he never complained.  With brushing, his matted, dull fur was replaced by a glossy cloud of black and white fluff.  While his hindquarters were never quite right, his staggering limp faded to a faint swing of his hips as he walked.

While I'll never know Brando's story prior to meeting me, he had obviously not always been a stray.  He had already been neutered, and once he recovered from his initial fear he was obviously comfortable with being handled and loved.

He was profoundly deaf.  I had a noisy old washing machine that made a bang as it started the spin cycle, so loud that even from the other end of the house it sounded like a car backfiring.  But Brando could sleep peacefully on top of the machine and not even flinch when the spin cycle started.

Time passed.  By now, judging by the vet's estimate, he was more than 13 years old.  He developed kidney problems and incontinence.  He started randomly hissing and growling at Fry, the second ex-stray cat that had followed him into my life and my heart, and the vet said his personality changes were a sign of dementia.

When I moved to Orange, I asked my parents to look after him.  I was worried about how he'd cope with the cold, and how my carpeted rental house would cope with an elderly, incontinent cat.  Fry's presence seemed to annoy him more and more, and it seemed prudent to separate them.

When I went to visit my parents in August last year, Brando was huffy with me.  Perhaps he felt I abandoned him, even though my parents looked after him even better than I did.  Perhaps he didn't recognise me after the better part of a year.  Perhaps it was the behavioural changes that come with dementia.  Whatever it was, I got several hisses and an attempted scratch before I finally got a proper cuddle the night before I left to go home.

Brando's health's been on the decline for a while now, but about a fortnight ago it hit critical.  He stopped eating.  His kidneys gave up completely.  His chest no longer rumbled with his deep, sonorous purr.

This morning, Brando went to the bridge, to a land of warm sunshine and soft beanbags, free of pain and the ravages and indignities of age.

I love you and will never forget you, my darling old soldier.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Dealing with the devious

Devious people suck.  The world is sadly full of liars, users, manipulators, and other dirtbags who are not outright evil so much as casually amoral.  And for people like us - Aspie types who might take people at face value or be prone to trust too much too soon - it's a minefield.

I've had my share of run-ins with these types over the years.  People who only want to know you when they need something, who pretend to be your friend while laughing about you behind your back, or who use your honesty or lack of social smarts to screw you over. People who can't be and shouldn't be trusted.

But how can you tell?  And if you do suspect you need to tread carefully around someone, what do you do?

Here are a couple of trends I've noticed:

Do you become unimportant if you cease to be useful?  If you're the one with the car who gives your carless crew lifts, do you suddenly stop getting invites if your car's off the road?  If you're the clever one who helps others with their homework, do your friends drop you like a stone when class breaks up?  Similarly, if you mention needing money to cover petrol costs or the time you're spending tutoring, do they suddenly find other options?

Part of life is helping other people, but if those favours seem to be suspiciously one-way it might be time to re-evaluate the relationship.

Do they take a sudden, intense interest in some aspect of your life?  Part of getting to know people is exchanging information, but it should be just that: an exchange, on equal terms.  If someone, especially someone you don't know particularly well, suddenly wants to know all about your research, your relationship, or what you do at work, they may not so much have become suddenly very friendly as be tooling up to steal your project, partner or job.

Do they give you the impression they're mentally making notes? I remember one subject in particular who was obvious about this.  Every so often, apparently at random, he'd raise his eyebrows, make a surprised or pleased noise, or generally react to something only he was aware of.  He didn't quite rub his hands together and break into an evil laugh, but he came close sometimes.  There was always this sensation that he was making a mental record of everything I said or did so he could use it later, either against me or to further his own machiavellian schemes.

So, what can you do about it?

Be aware of who's doing (and saying) what:  This is harder than it sounds.  It sounds really petty to keep a tally of how many lifts you've given Bob versus what Bob's done for you in return, but be aware of patterns.  If your memory's as ropey as mine that might mean keeping a private list or a diary.  That way you'll be able to look back and realise 'hey, for the last 17 weeks I've given Bob a lift, but I still haven't got that fuel money/beer/pizza/pony he promised me'.  Unless you pay attention to it, it can be easy to get so caught up in the daily struggle to keep your caboose in order that you don't realise how uneven the relationship's become.

Don't show your full hand:  When you're dealing with the information-miner and the note-taker, starve them of information.  For instance, I was once working on two different projects, each with a different person, and these two other people didn't get on.  It soon became apparent anything I said about one project or person to the other would be used to stir shit, so I just said nothing.  Everything was 'great', both projects were 'lovely', progress was 'fine' and life was 'all good'.  Starved of ammunition, things were frosty but uneventful until I was able to make my escape.

And sometimes that's the best you can hope for.  You just can't get on with everybody, because some people don't want to be got on with, or aren't worth getting on with.  But you can keep your cards close to your chest, and minimise the damage they can cause.

Monday, 8 April 2013

We can hear you

When you say we're a burden
a pity
a shame
when you call us 'retarded' or 'special'
we can hear you

When you reduce us to headlines
and dollars
put a price on our right to existence
we can hear you

When you assume we can't think
if perchance
we don't speak
when you measure our IQ in decibels
we can hear you

When you deny our existence
and silence
our voices
because we don't 'look autistic' to you
we can hear you

When you voice your opinions
on the lives
that we live
but shout down when we speak up ourselves
we can hear you

And we understand.

  Sunrise from Victor Rock

So, apparently I write better and more quickly when I'm cross.  I wonder how much can I turn out before I give myself an ulcer?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Please don't make me hold your baby, I'm scared I'll break it

Baby op een weegschaal / Baby on a scaleI'm not good at children.

I don't just mean I'm not good with children, in the sense of caring for them or interacting with them, but at even being in their general vicinity.

I'm starkly aware of how breakable the little ones are, and how clumsy I am, and that it's not socially appropriate to shriek OH DEAR GODS NO! if someone asks if you'd like to hold their new arrival.  It's not that I don't think it's lovely, I'm just terrified I'll break it.

Plus they make a lot of noise, mess, and smell, and those are three things I just can't handle.  My doubts that I could handle the sensory challenge of looking after a small human was one of many things that played into my decision not to have children.

It doesn't get any better when they get older and stop squeaking.  I don't know how to talk to kids, I don't know what they're interested in or how to judge what language and level of understanding to pitch at them.  They're unpredictable, chaotic and loud.  They're scary.

When I'm in a supermarket, and a particularly shrieky child is making life hell, I tell myself the little one may in fact have ASD too, and they're having just as miserable time of it as I am.

Image: Baby on a scale, National Archive of The Netherlands on Flickr Commons