The Hidden Village of Aspergers

September 21, 2014

Autism and Girls:

This has got nothing to do with the Space miniblogs, but 1) I need a distraction from the despair of my beloved Everton getting totalled by Crystal Palace, and 2) I found this on Facebook and it interests me.

Flyer found on Facebook

Flyer found on Facebook

In case the text is a bit hard to read, I’m going to reproduce it here and add my comments:

Unlike stereotypical autistic boys, autistic girls may have:

– No language delay problems This is true, I learned to talk quite young – I was about two, I think.

– NO interest in technical things (like spinning wheels) I don’t remember having any interest in ‘technical things’.

Autistic girls often:

– Are very shy Yes, I was pretty shy. Still am.

– Are less prone to aggressive outbursts (especially away from home) I don’t remember having any aggressive outbursts as a kid. Those came later, as a teenager and an adult woman.

– Want to make friends Yes, but it was very hard for me, which goes without saying.

– Copy social behaviour I still do. I have a rather large complex about what is and isn’t the ‘right’ way to do things. I should probably not take behavioural cues from Tumblr, though.

– Only have one mother hen friend at a time I’m not sure what a ‘mother hen friend’ is, but I was the sort of kid who’d have one best mate rather than a large crowd of friends like my brother did.

– Are highly intelligent and academically gifted Yes. I wasn’t a savant, but I did get good grades.

– Have very good memories (such as for facts or events) Yes, and not much has changed there. To quote my brother, “Lotte is an encyclopaedia of family history. She remembers everything.” This actually came in handy recently, regarding my mother, in an event which I am not prepared to talk about right now.

– Say NO a lot I might have. I don’t know. 

– Have poor eye contact, especially with strangers Yes, and I still do. If I don’t look you in the eye, I’m either nervous, or I don’t like you. Generally, it’s the former!

– Enjoy arranging toys into groups or sets Yes. Definitely. And later, CDs and books.

– Are very creative and imaginative Yes. I loved writing stories and I read like the clappers. 

– Create elaborate fantasy worlds Yes. Mum used to get angry with me for living in ‘my own little world’, and I got upset because I felt like she was attacking the fantasy world in my head where all my characters lived. This wasn’t a DID thing, incidentally. It was more like an imaginary friends thing. I used to play with toys and dolls and make up stories for them, often based on things I’d seen on TV.

– Have obsessive interests (such as in animals, songs or books) Yes. Abba, Asterix books, Sylvanian families, certain TV programmes. When I got older, it was Space, Naruto, Everton FC, the Chalet School series, and many other things.

– Are hypersensitive to stimuli (such as sunlight or sudden noises) Yes. I hated people shouting or loud crowds, and would put my hands over my ears or cry. I’m still the same. The partner in the Manchester office kept shouting at me when I was having a meltdown, and that made it even worse. People ask me how I listen to metal. It’s expected noise, basically. You know the singer’s going to start screaming, plus it often has a nice tune or beat to accompany it. I draw the line at drone, though. Friends of mine love Sunn O))), but I could never get into them for this reason.

– Have over-the-top seeming emotional reactions Yes. At one point, Mum said she was going to take me to a doctor because there was clearly something wrong with me, because I cried very easily. 

By age 7 or 8:

– Social alienation increases as peers use more complex nuances Yes. I felt left out a lot of the time, and some girls did take advantage of the fact that I was quite naive and took things literally. 

– Stress increases at home, whilst being model pupils at school Yes. Admittedly, a large part of it was my father’s illness, but there was also the fact that my mum was frustrated at my weird behaviour and my brother and I didn’t get on very well a lot of the time.

Credit for this flyer, by the way, goes to L Style, an autistic mother. At the bottom, she has provided a link to the National Autistic Society’s section on gender.

April 2, 2014

The English Language Let Me Down

All my words done failed me
Every line derails me
This is the day that the English language let me down

Words. Language. Etymology, definitions, wordplay, translation, stories and poems, word puzzles, word games. English, French, German, Spanish, Hebrew. Language is both my friend and my enemy. In I Am Unlike A Lifeform You’ve Ever Met, I talked about books and the imagination. This post covers speech and language.

Somewhere, there is a tape of me reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, aged about two. My first word was ‘duck’. I’m not sure when I learned to talk, though I wasn’t a late developer or non-verbal. I do remember, however, that I spoke in a monotone, and that efforts were made to correct this and have me intone words like ‘normal’ people. Mum also told me my speaking voice was too high-pitched and that I should try and make it a bit deeper, and that I was too loud. “Turn the volume down,” was a comment often directed at me. Years later, in synagogue, the rabbi took me aside and asked me not to sing so loudly at Friday night services as I was drowning other people out. This upset me a lot; I was just enjoying the service and had no idea that what I was doing was wrong, and as it was not an Orthodox synagogue, the principle of kol isha did not apply. Was it because of my Aspergers? How the fuck should I know? Maybe it was. I have no idea how I sound to other people. When I hear my own voice played back to me, it sounds horrible, like a cross between Morrissey and Henry’s Cat. I hate my singing voice as well, possibly because Jack always used to tell me to shut up whenever I sang along to music in my bedroom. I have a bit of a complex about it. How it could turn any nice Jewish boy on, I do not know.

Anyway. Tangents aside, I apparently went to see a speech therapist at some point when I was younger. In terms of writing, I was doing OK – I got team points for stories and essays I’d written at school (I even wrote the script for our class’s production of the story of Pandora’s box), I was in the top group for spelling, and when we had to write sentences using words on coloured cards. It was also at primary school that I discovered an aptitude for languages. OK, I’m not a polyglot and I’m not fluent in any language besides English, though I can speak German pretty well, but I got interested in languages after going to French Club in Year 3, having French lessons off a friend of Mum’s in Year 5, and doing French lessons in Year 6. Even when I was little, the way people said things in other languages fascinated me. When we went on holiday to the Algarve, I pored over the Portuguese phrase book we had. I was fascinated by an old English/French picture dictionary and the conjugations of irregular verbs. How could ‘avoir’ become ‘aurons’ and ‘aurez’, and what the hell was the deal with ‘être’? When Dad went on a work trip to Germany, he brought back comics in German. I didn’t have a bloody clue what any of the words meant, though they did come in handy when I started doing German in Year 9. I found the German language even cooler than French, with its complicated word order and Modalverben and ever-changing masculine definite article. I also liked the way it sounded, and was made up when a friend gave me a Rammstein tape. (Till Lindemann’s voice helped. That guy could sing the contents of the Dusseldorf phonebook and make it sound sexy.)

When I got into Sixth Form, I decided I wanted to read languages at university, since languages were my thing; I was doing A-Level French, German and English Language (and my transcripts of Space interviews came in handy when we were studying accent and dialect!) I wanted to read Chinese or Spanish alongside German. Cambridge turned me down, and I got offers from Durham and Leeds, but went with Manchester, which didn’t do Chinese at the time but did offer Spanish. I took night classes in my gap year to give me a bit of a grounding in Spanish. I find it harder than German, I have to admit. Maybe it’s because German is closer to English. When we were studying the evolution of the English language, I noticed a lot of similarities between Old English and German. The fact it was phonetic, for instance.

On the subject of accents, Rudy Simone writes in Aspergirls that she has a tendency to pick up accents; she recalls being mistaken for an immigrant after speaking in a ‘Hispanic’ accent that she’d picked up from a colleague. The same thing happens to me. The one time I did consciously put on an accent was in high school, because I was being bullied for talking ‘posh’, but after moving to Manchester, something bizarre happened where I was out with mates and I started talking in a sort of weird half-Manc half-Yorkshire accent. Everyone thought I was putting it on, but it was real. I’ve toned it down a bit, but it changes depending on who I’m with and where I am. Expose me to Everton matches or members of Space, and my accent gets a Scouse tinge. In London, it goes a bit cockney. I’m not putting it on to make fun of people; it just happens. It’s a kind of osmosis. G-d help me if this ever happens in Scotland. Perhaps it’s some kind of instinct to imitate sounds, like a baby learning to talk.

As I’ve said before, I find writing easier than talking. Writing helps me organise my thoughts better, and I can rewrite what I’ve written, whereas when I say things, that’s it, the cat is out of the bag. Sometimes I can’t find the right words to express myself when I speak, or I say stupid or horrible things without thinking. At least, sitting at a keyboard, I have a bit more control over what comes out.

March 4, 2014

Female Of The Species

Shock, shock, horror, horror, shock, shock, horror
I’ll shout myself hoarse for your supernatural force
The female of the species is more deadly than the male

“Do you know what sex is, Lotte?”

“Do you know what an orgasm is?”

“Why don’t you shave your legs?”

“Have you ever tapped off with a boy?”

“Are you a lesbian?”

“Are you frigid?”

I was new. I was naive. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t into make-up or boys or clothes – most of the clothes I wore were hand-me-downs or bought for me by my mum. I read Q instead of teen magazines and I didn’t watch much TV. I had short hair and bad skin.

I am not going to slag off women who wear make-up and like ‘girly’ things. I am not one of those women who considers herself to be better than other, more ordinary women, what some of my friends call a ‘Special Female’. I am not femmephobic and I get that for some women, femininity can be empowering, and that’s fine. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to be a woman. However, I failed the other girls’ expectations when it came to being one myself, and for me, putting on make-up was not empowering. It made my skin itch and it was a chore and I just could not be bothered doing it every day. Shoes with heels hurt my feet and were a nightmare to walk in (as I learned the hard way during a choir tour where I had to wear court shoes); I preferred trainers, and the highest heels I could wear without being in pain were a pair of wedges. I don’t know how Cerys Matthews does it, frankly. I hated shaving my legs (although I do shave my pits), having my spots squeezed by my mother (which, I found out the hard way, was not something all mums did and was not considered to be normal), and constantly having to be concerned with my appearance. I did go through a phase of painting my nails in all kinds of bright colours, but I can’t remember the last time I wore nail varnish. I was conscious of the hair on my upper lip, my fluctuating tits hidden under a school sweater, the spots on my shoulders, the wonkiness of my eyes, the uncoolness of my clothes. To the other girls in my year in high school, I was something of a curio. They quizzed me on sex and boys and not realising they were making fun of me, I answered their questions. One girl told me I should wear jeans and Trader t-shirts so no-one would make fun of me, and that my skintight leggings made me look like a dork. I was a shambling, ugly, sexless, frigid creature.

When I wear pretty dresses and heels and make-up, I feel almost as though I am performing femininity – like a drag queen, basically. It all feels so artificial and unnatural. It’s not that I have any issues with gender – I have never identified as anything other than cis, never questioned my gender identity or experienced dysphoria, like some of my trans and genderqueer mates have. I could never identify as anything other than female. When it comes to queer identities, I’m neither butch nor femme; I’m somewhere in between. I have long hair, but wear no make-up. I have cross-dressed at parties, but that’s as far as it goes. I feel more comfortable in long skirts, baggy army trousers, band t-shirts, hoodies, Dr Martens. As Rudy Simone says in Aspergirls (which I will be citing throughout this series, no doubt, and if you are a woman with Aspergers, or your daughter is on the spectrum, I cannot recommend it enough, I lost count of the number of times I read it and thought, “Fucking hell, this is me!”), a lot of women’s clothes are too fussy and flimsy. They tear easily and there are too many fiddly bits. I’ve borrowed my brother’s clothes a good few times. Shopping for clothes is a pain in the fucking arse because all sizes are different and a pair of jeans might be big enough to squeeze my colossal arse into, but don’t fit right around the crotch or knees. Clothes, for me, have to be comfortable. I can’t wear fabric that itches my skin; I have a bit of a problem with wool. I do prioritise style over comfort, though I know how to colour-coordinate my clothes and don’t wear things that have food on them to work. When I compare myself to most women, though, I feel like a drab pheasant in a flock of swans. The comparison is deliberate; swans are vicious creatures, and some of the most painful bullying I received in high school was at the hands of other girls (although most of the abuse – physical, verbal and in a couple of instances, bordering on sexual – I got was from boys). There’s being pelted with rocks, and there’s sticking your hand in a lucky dip and getting a fish hook caught in it.

I’m lucky in that I’ve found plenty of friends, cisgender women and DFAB androgynes / genderqueer / genderfluid types, who either have their own ways of expressing femininity, do not express it at all, or do the more conventional thing, but don’t judge me for it. Nor do they judge me for the amount of sex I am not having, and my long periods between relationships (my last one was in 2008). It is a relief to know that there are other women like me out there, whether they are on the spectrum or not. Like I said, there’s no right or wrong way to be a woman or a girl. No matter what society or idiots at school tell you.

Blog at WordPress.com.