Friday, 28 June 2013

Cold

It's cold at the moment.  The weather has finally remembered how to winter, and it's pleasantly cool - just enough to wear a jumper.


This is a delightful turn of events for me, because I really love cool weather.  This kind of weather - when it's at the cold end of pleasant - is a great time to be an Aspie.

For a start, my body awareness is better in cool weather.  I bump into things less, trip less, am more in touch with where my body begins and ends and the shapes it makes.  In very hot weather, especially hot humid weather - and I grew up near Rockhampton, so I know a thing or two about that - my body feels like a vague, heavy sort of blob rather than an actual thing with arms and legs that I'm attached to.  Even at the best of times my body doesn't really feel like a part of me, but it's much, much worse when it's hot.

Another boon of cold weather is that I can wear heavy jumpers, jeans and boots, or thick tights or leggings under dresses or skirts, all clothes that work well for me in the sensory department.  The pressure afforded by heavy clothes - particularly soft, heavy, snuggly jumpers - provides vestibular feedback that again improves my body awareness.  The pressure from tights or leggings do the same, making me more aware of where my legs are and what they're up to.  (The only reasons I don't go for tight stuff on my top half are that 1. they'd show off my fat rolls and 2. those kind of tops tend to have high necks, which I can't stand.)

There are other reasons, too.  I love warm, comforting food like stews, creamy pastas and mashed potatoes, and those are more enjoyable when it's cold.  I love the smell of bonfires and the sight of turning leaves, and the way your breath turns to steam on a cold morning.

This weather is not just a great time to be Aspie, but a great time to be alive.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Sorry, I don't speak sports fan-ese

There's something about sport that I don't understand and find vaguely unsettling, that I didn't touch on last time I was ranting about it: the tribalism of sporting culture.

I used to live in Brisbane, and once found myself at large the night we had a home-game State of Origin match.  I think it was the last match of that year's series - at any rate, it was a particularly big deal.  The streets were thronging with people decked out in maroon and yellow, travelling in packs.  When a car went past with a maroon and yellow scarf fluttering from the window, they'd leap towards it grimacing and gesticulating and shouting "Whaaargleflargleblarglesnargle!" and the driver would toot and wave in reply.

I was kind of freaked out by this.

For complicated reasons which are at least partially Aspergers related, I'm not terribly comfortable among people in packs.  There's a very tangible sense of We Are Of This Thing, and by extension, You Are Not Of This Thing.  I don't think I was in any danger whatsoever, it's just that I have an ingrained anxiety about situations where everyone else is Of A Thing and I'm not, because it's led to some crap situations in the past.

I think it's also because I'm somewhat sensitive to potential threats.  Again, this is rooted in Aspergers: because I can't reliably tell someone's mood or intention, and I'm rather literal-minded, if someone leaps at me grimacing and gesticulating and shouting "Whaaargleflargleblarglesnargle!" I'm going to assume they mean me ill.  Similarly I don't really understand "friendly" teasing or piss-taking.  Then again, I've had so much teasing, piss-taking, and startling, threat-like behaviour that hasn't been good-natured, that I've come to treat it all like a potential threat.  So it's a chicken-and-egg thing - do I feel that way because of my Aspergers, or is it a learned response based on the I've been treated because of my Aspergers?

I don't think my usual response - either ignore it, back away while smiling awkwardly, or to outright bolt - was particularly helpful in terms of responding to the Whaaargleflargleblarglesnarglers.  I think it was an expression of goodwill, they were saying "We Are Of This Thing.  Are You Of This Thing?" And the correct response would have been to say "Yes, I Too Am Of This Thing" by going "Whaaargleflargleblarglesnargle!" right back at them.

Of course, I've just worked this out now, and the football game was several years ago.  I don't know that I could ever process this sort of thing quickly enough to do it in real time.  Because sometimes you will have to run, or at least be cautious, and when you've got someone bigger than you in your face you don't have long to work out if this is one of those times.

So maybe, through freezing, or smiling awkwardly and backing away, or bolting, I've avoided what could have been some very friendly folk and probably missed what could have been some very pleasant interactions.

But I've kept my hide safe, too.

 "Whaaargleflargleblarglesnargle!"


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

I'd like to teach the world to stim

It's a bit unfortunate that stimming has that particular name - it's short for "self stimulation", which makes it sound like a sex thing when it so very isn't.  It doesn't help that it's also called flapping, which is one skinny letter away from a slang term for masturbation.

Onanistic nomenclature aside, stimming's a repetitive movement (flapping one's hands, rocking back and forth or side to side, pacing, playing with a toy) that provides regulated sensory input.  Hence the "stimulation" part of the name.

It can serve a number of purposes.  Impact-bearing stims like pacing, jumping or running provide vestibular feedback which can provide a temporary improvement in proprioception.  Gentler stims like rocking or flicking your fingers can help you cope with sensory overload or strong emotions, and prevent a meltdown.

They're also a form of self-expression and communication.  I don't speak sign language (although learning it is on my bucket list) but my hands can tell you a lot about my state of mind:


Confused. Slow, circular motions like this mean I'm confused, thinking, or a bit bewildered.  I do it a lot in shops when I'm looking for something, or while I'm figuring out how an unfamiliar machine or piece of software works.  I also do it when I go into a room and then forget what I went there for.


Stop It!  This one means I'm getting overwhelmed, usually by noise, and need whatever it is to just stop already.  My hands are flat, palms in (like I'm going to cover my ears) and then flicked rapidly up and down. They're not usually out of synch like they are in this photo.  I usually do this stim higher up, with my hands to the sides of my head, but I did it lower for the sake of this demonstration because I wanted to crop my face out of these photos - I kept pulling silly-looking 'concentrating' expressions, and the internet can do without those.  


Happy!  I'm pleased to see you, or excited about something.  My fingers are curled lightly and my hands bounce up and down.  The movement in this stim comes from my elbow, unlike the Stop It! motion which comes from the wrists.

Having talked you through all that, unless you're likely to meet me in person you might as well forget it - while there are some common stims, everyone (it's not just people on the spectrum who stim) stims differently, and the same stim might mean different things coming from different people.

Friday, 14 June 2013

I don't want to know about your kid's undies

It's one thing if you choose to post embarrassing photos of yourself on Facebook, or Tweet wild political hypotheses.  But it's quite another to share your child's embarrassments, weaknesses or private moments with the world.  While adults are old enough to make those decisions for themselves, children aren't.

Information travels.  Just as embarrassing photos and tweets have a habit of popping up again and again like floating turds even when the original's long since deleted, anything on the internet becomes a rogue element, not entirely under your control.  So by posting a picture of your child's meltdown or nappy accident, for instance, you can't be sure that in time that photo won't be seen by kids at school.  Or potential friends or partners.  Or would-be employers.  

The world doesn't need to know my period started
That becomes a bigger issue when the child in question is on the spectrum, because for some reason the rules seem to be different for autistic kids.  It seems to be OK to share our every dark moment and personal secret with the world, all sorts of things that (I hope) the parents of neurotypical children wouldn't dream of sharing.

I spend more time browsing the #autism tags on Twitter and Tumblr than I should, considering they often make me quite cross.  While I've been there, I've seen posts about masturbation, menstruation and meltdowns.  I've read about strangers' children's preferences for underwear (or the lack thereof), and reports of toileting more detailed than seems strictly necessary.  Much of it's posted by people using their real name, or an account that's able to be traced back to their offline selves - by extension making their child's identity discoverable as well.

 Do you really want the world knowing your kid doesn't wear undies?  Is it safe for the child to have that information in the public domain?  Would the parents have shared that information if the child were neurotypical?

There does need to be a place where parents can talk about these things; the gross, icky, scatological, NSFW things that only a parent would know or understand.  There does need to be a safe space, without judgement, where they can ask "is it normal that...", "how do you handle...", "how old was yours when...", "what should I do when...", "...should it be green?"

But that place shouldn't be public, because a public space can never be truly safe for that kind of information.  You don't know who else is lurking, listening, or even just wandering through thanks to a misdirected Google search.  You don't know who's going to see that photo, that rant, that description of that particular incident, or what they're going to do with it.

Besides which, it's hard enough being a 17 year old Aspie without the whole school knowing we still wear Scooby Doo underoos.

Kids deserve some privacy.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Stranger in a strange land

When you're an Aspie, every day is like being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language or know the local customs.  But importantly, everyone else does.  You're not one of a band of merry travellers all getting it wrong together and having wacky hijinks along the way; you're on your own, a stranger in a strange land.

Just another day in the office.  NBD.
For instance, there's some sort of telepathy used in crowded areas to communicate between pedestrians on a collision course, which sorts out who's going to veer which way so they don't bump into each other.  If you don't have that telepathic knack you'll bump into people and they'll think you're rude, or you'll do a shuffly to-and-fro dance as you both end up veering the same way and then both react and veer the other way, and they'll think you're fucking with them.

The people in this land seem to have strangely dulled senses, so to compensate everything is very BRIGHT and very LOUD and very FAST.  Everything's bitter or sour or scratchy or painful and the smell is unbelievable.  And the pace!  It never stops - these people never stop moving and doing and talking.  It's a constant blur of motion day and night and if you can't keep up, you'll be thought lazy or feckless or stupid.

Sometimes you may even find gravity or space and time doesn't work right in this strange land.  You struggle to judge distance and bump into doorways or people, what looks like a slight dip is actually a pothole and you fall when you step into it, you grasp things too tightly and break them, or too loosely and drop them.  You will be clumsy, and the locals who glide through this strange and erratic atmosphere will mock you for this.

The people in this strange land can communicate vast amounts of information with a single syllable.  While they're speaking they're also doing a complicated dance made up of myriad tiny gestures, they're making facial expressions so finely coded that a millimetric shift of an of eyebrow means more than would fit in a set of encyclopaedias, and they're calling in cultural references that may sail completely over your head because it's not your culture.

All the locals of this strange land understand this stuff - the dance, the expressions, the culture, the telepathy - so intimately, and take it so for granted, that they don't even recognise it as as a thing.  They can't understand that you don't know the dance, because the dance comes so naturally to them they don't even realise they're doing it.

At best, you'll find a niche for yourself and make yourself a name, and be celebrated as an eccentric genius.  At worst you'll be killed long before you have a chance to do that.  In the middle, there's a lot of lonely ground where the residents of this strange land will assume you're rude, or unfriendly, or mad, or stupid, or willfully difficult.  Maybe you are.  But you're probably not.  You're probably a perfectly decent human being, quiet and gentle natured and friendly, as sane as one can be trapped in a land that's not your own.

I don't know if there is another land, a homeland, a place where all we misplaced travellers belong.  Sometimes I think there must be; there are too many of us for us all to be random quirks of fate.  But sometimes I think we're as different from each other as we are from the natives of this land, that there must be myriad homelands, a different place for each of us to belong.

Or maybe there's just here.  Just this one land, and it's up to us to make it our homeland; to make it a place where we belong and are safe.  This strange land is not home.  But perhaps it could be, with time and effort.  It'll be difficult, but perhaps it can be done.  Perhaps this strange land could be our homeland after all.

Image: Base image Glacier National Park, Montana from the US National Archives on Flickr Commons, overlay images from From Old Books.

Monday, 10 June 2013

I hate sport

I hate sport.

I can pinpoint exactly where this lifelong hatred of organised physical activity in all forms began: my hometown's PCYC, where I was regularly hauled many years ago for afternoons of intense misery in the name of school sport.

You're fat, ugly and useless.  Also everyone hates you, and life isn't fair
Being forced to participate in this stuff at school absolutely killed any innate affection for or interest in sport I may have once had.  I'm quite sure I'm less active today than I would have been had I not been given so many hangups about my body and the way it moves when I was a child.

Let's get one thing clear from the outset: school sport was not about being healthy, being fit, or having fun.  It was about competition.  It was about winning a shiny thing for the school, or at least staying out of the way while someone else did.  If you came last in the first heat you didn't run (or swim, or jump, or throw) again all day, even though the kids who came last were probably the ones who most needed the exercise and practice.  Instead, you sat in the sun with no water watching other kids run, swim, jump or throw.

The particular instance that really sealed the deal for me was trampolining.

For a start, they did that thing where two favourites team captains are chosen and they then pick their team members, calling out names one by one.  At this stage, it was obvious to a dead horse that I had motor skills issues; I dropped things, I bumped into things, I couldn't catch a ball or ride a bike or swim, I had odd posture and gait.  And since both the favourites captains knew sport was about competition and winning, neither wanted me on their team.

The whole class knew who was going to pick who and in which order.  We all knew I was going to be picked last.  But instead of just sorting ourselves into the teams already preordained by the prevailing social order like civilised human beings, we had to go through this drawn-out charade of sorting two dozen or so children into order from most to least desirable by physical aptitude and general popularity.

There was an odd number.

After a long, awkward silence, the teacher arbitrarily assigned me to a team whose leader hated me (although to be fair, that would have been either one) and we approached the behemoth trampoline.  We each had to go individually, with all the other kids watching.  Which does, in hindsight, beg the question of why we even needed to be in teams in the first place.

First problem: I could not get on. Even when I was slender, I've always had trouble lifting myself - out of a swimming pool, for instance, or on monkey bars.  I can carry quite heavy loads under normal circumstances, so I think it's about co-ordination and working out where all the bits of my body should be rather than a simple strength issue.  But while the rest of the class somehow floated onto the shoulder-high trampoline with minimal effort, I had to haul myself up like a sack of spuds, hurting one arm quite badly in the process and occasioning much mirth from the assembled pack of little darlings.  It's unlikely a professional-standard gym didn't have a stool or step of some sort to hand, but that would have deprived me of an important life lesson: nobody gives a shit about you and your problems.

Second problem: we had to do this move that was basically a faceplant - you bounced once standing up like one usually does on a trampoline, then when we came down we had to land on our stomach, then when we bounced up from the prone position we got back on our feet.  I have trouble with up-and-down motion at the best of times (it's why I don't to roller coasters) but this move just completely defeated me.  I could not do it.  At all.  It wasn't even a conscious thing - some self-preservation instinct seemed to kick in and say no, you are not going to deliberately fall on your face.  Fortunately the teacher was very understanding.

Me: I can't do this
Teacher: Well, you have to.
Me: I just can't
Teacher: You have to
Me: I JUST CAN'T
Teacher: YOU HAVE TO.

Eventually we reached a compromise, where I'd go from standing up to hands-and-knees, then to my stomach.  But being the only kid in the class who couldn't do it - and having to demonstrate that in front of everyone who could - set in concrete the idea that was already forming in my mind, that there was something very wrong with me.  The other kids had already worked this out, and Mum - who's very likely on the spectrum herself and has her own horror stories to tell, much worse than mine - knew too.  But we didn't know what it was, or have a name for it.

And wouldn't have for another 20 years.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Unpopular opinions

Just because we're both Aspies, doesn't mean we have to be friends.

Just because we're both Aspies, doesn't mean we should be lovers.

Just because we're both Aspies, doesn't mean I owe you a root.

Just because we're both Aspies, doesn't mean we have to agree.

Just because we're both Aspies, doesn't mean we have anything in common.

Just because we're both Aspies, doesn't mean we are the same.

Your bullshit has been noted
Just because we're both Aspies, doesn't mean we should be the same.  

Aspergers can be male or female or both or neither, it can be adult or child, creative or logical or artistic or scientific or musical or mathematical or adept at any other field or none at all.

We.  Are.  All.  Different.

And that's OK.

Because there are as many ways of being Aspie as there are Aspies.

(No, before you ask, this isn't directed at anyone in particular.  The "you" is a hypothetical amalgam of many individual douchecanoes and jackwagons that've crossed my path over many years.  It's the man posting violent sexist memes and then complaining that he can't get laid.  It's the woman telling me I'm a disgrace to autistic culture because I'm not an atheist.  It's the boy bugging me after being told repeatedly to leave me alone.  It's all those, and more.)

Monday, 3 June 2013

Monday Muster: the No Means No edition

Good Monday, good folk.

This week's Monday Muster has a special focus on consent and learning to say no.

No
This is important because there's so much pressure on autistic people to be compliant - to pass, to say the 'right' thing, to act 'normal', to be 'nice' - that we're conditioned to always think we're wrong, that whatever happens is our fault.

Many of us aren't taught to stand up for ourselves, or even that standing up for ourselves is possible.  The bullies and abusers of the world know this, and take advantage of it.

Big Love, Little House has a very important post on respecting children's bodies and teaching them that it's OK to say no if someone does something they don't want.  Just don't read the comments unless you want to get your rageface on because the amount of complete missing of the point is staggering, with people somehow equating stopping tickling a child when they ask to letting the kid run out into traffic.

There's a similar post on Diary of a Mom, about teaching kids consent and how to say no, which was inspired by Sparrow Rose Jones' must-read No, You Don't.

Lydia from Autistic Hoya examines an episode of Law and Order SVU, for a discussion of how people with neurological or psychological disabilities are treated by the justice system.  It uses the example of a rape victim not being believed because she has a mental illness, again looking at how our 'no's and our right to ownership of our own bodies.

It all starts with presuming competence: realising that just because someone acts differently, thinks differently, or communicates in ways other than speech, doesn't mean they're not cognisant, aware of the world around them, and able to make their own decisions about their body and their life.  No means no, and all no's mean no.  The "no" of a child.  The "no" of a disabled person.  The "no" the listener considers unreasonable.  All those still mean no.