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.

March 25, 2014


You’ve lost all the feeling in your heart and soul
It’s not enough to cry

We all knew the end was coming.

In that respect, we were lucky. A friend of a friend’s dad had gone to play tennis and never came home; he’d died of a heart attack. On 11th September 2001, eight years after my dad died, firemen and passengers alike were killed in a terrorist attack, their children unable to escape from the horrible images on TV and in the press for days on end. On 15th April 1989, several kids in Liverpool waved goodbye to their fathers as they went off to watch a football match in Sheffield, never to return. Other children have had to wait for days, weeks, months, not knowing if their fathers are alive or dead, until the dreadful news finally comes. That was the one advantage we had; we knew. Mum and Dad were always honest with us. Unlike my best friend at the time, who only found out her mother was dying through overheard conversations, we were told everything. There was no bullshit, no whitewashing.

All we could do was wait.

We had had a false alarm at one point; it looked as though he was going to be OK. But from the beginning of 1993, he went into rapid decline and had to move in with my paternal gran in St Annes-on-Sea; he was in a nursing home for a bit, but it was pretty bad. He gained a load of weight on steroids and sent letters typed on Gran’s typewriter and – thank G-d – was around long enough to meet Laura, his new baby niece. In September, on the day Jack was supposed to start primary school and I was supposed to start Year 5. Instead, we found ourselves on a train to Lancashire. Jack explained that Dad was going to die any minute. Me not getting my priorities right, I was pissed off because I was worried about missing school. We spent a few days with Gran and Auntie Chris and her family, and said goodbye to Dad, who was in hospital by this time.

That was when I experienced death for the first time, the realisation that people you love won’t be around forever. For days, I couldn’t believe he’d gone. It must have been worse for Mum – just being surrounded by reminders of him everywhere, the ties he would never wear again, the CDs he would never play again, the empty space next to her in bed. No wonder she went crazy. My memories of the time are patchy, but I do recall going to a friend’s house the day after, presumably because Mum was too worn out with grief to pay much attention to us.

Why do I write about this so much? This was the event that pushed me over the edge. It’s not the only time a death in the family pushed me over the edge; my maternal gran’s death in 2005 was one of the things that led to me trying to kill myself. I acted up in school. I could never handle change, but this massive change had hit me, soon to be followed by another one when Mum decided she couldn’t stand living in Brighton anymore, and the bottom had dropped out of my world. Little things got to me, and still do. The Lion King still makes me and Jack cry (and if you’re a kid who’s lost a parent, watch it – it is a fantastic film for bereaved kids to see and it came out at the right time for us), as does Home Alone 2, the last film we saw at the cinema with Dad. The funeral was hell – I’m glad Jack and I went, as it gave us the chance to say goodbye, but seeing Gran collapse and have to be carried out of the chapel by two men, and the coffin going into the incinerator, and grown men and women crying – it was too much to take in.

We didn’t want to scatter the ashes, so Mum went alone one day while we were at school and threw them in the sea. Seeing my maternal gran’s ashes freaked me out enough, seeing what looked like something you’d scatter on your driveway and realising it used to be a person – I could not have handled that at nine years old.

The other massive change that came as a result of Dad’s death was what it did to Mum. She and Dad were always close; they never argued. They loved each other to pieces. Dad dying broke her. We went on holiday to Menorca in 1994 and she spent most of it in bed with stress-induced migraines, while Jack and I amused ourselves in the swimming pool. In April of that year, Mum used some of the money Dad had left us to take us to Australia to see Auntie Debby, Mum’s older sister, and her family. We spent nearly a month there. When it was time to return to England, Mum broke down at the airport. I was still getting accustomed to seeing her cry. Adults crying confused me. I thought it was something only kids did. I couldn’t get my head around why she was ill all the time. Seeing someone you’ve known all your life acting out of character throws you.

I talked before about strong emotions in Mister Psycho, and how for a lot of people with Aspergers, everything is intense. We love intensely and hate intensely. We see black and white, not grey. When we love someone, we put them on a pedestal and act like the sun shines out of their arse, and are surprised and disappointed when they show any kind of flaw. We cannot always find the words or means to deal with strong emotions. Maybe that was why Dad’s death broke me. He’d been a massive part of my life for nine years, and now he was gone, and the despair manifested itself through behaving badly at school, crying all the time, running out of class, skiving, hyperventilating, being unable to interact with large groups of people, and Mum didn’t know what the hell to do with me, and the rest is history.

March 5, 2014

No One Understands

No one understands me, no one understands
I am not an animal, I am a human being

Throughout infant school and primary school, I knew I was different.

My early memories of Stanford Infant School (1988-1991) are fragmented, but I do remember that I read a lot and I didn’t like playing with other kids. I remember a teacher trying to get me to come out of the wooden house in the playground and play with the other kids. I ended up playing a reluctant game of ‘In and Out the Dusty Bluebells’. I remember some nasty boy called Dylan shoving me off a bench, and getting upset because the teacher wanted us to dance around the room, and having extra PE lessons because I was so rubbish at it. I spoke in a monotone and when I was about nine or ten, Mum told me to try and deepen my voice. Apparently it was too high-pitched or something. I had imaginary friends and sucked my finger. I cried when Mum rearranged the furniture in my bedroom. I couldn’t ride a bike or tie my laces, and I walked down stairs in a weird way; I’d put one foot on a step and then the other foot on the same step, almost walking crabwise, rather than walking down stairs the conventional way. People found the way I held my pencil weird; a psychologist of some kind analysed my handwriting, and I was thought to have dyspraxia. Even now, I get told that I have surprisingly neat handwriting, considering how I hold a pen. Speaking of writing implements, I ate my pencils – I didn’t just chew them, I actually ate the wood. At break times, I used to run around the playground, on my own, lost in my own head. The other kids must have thought I was batshit insane. I did this in primary school, Stanford Junior School, as well.

Then Dad died, and the shit hit the fan.

Again, I can’t remember much, but I do remember freaking out whenever we had a supply teacher or a student taking our classes (and this happened a lot), to the extent that I was sent to go and sit with a junior class (Year 3/4 – my school had mixed-year classes) or the class next door to calm down. I’d cry or hyperventilate. I didn’t know why – it just upset me that we had a strange new teacher, and I very rarely liked them. It didn’t start after Dad died, it had been going on a while before that – I remember being particularly arsey with one student teacher, when I was in Year 4. She must have hated me. I remember going on a school trip with her when we were doing the Tudors, to Lewes or somewhere, and being miserable because I wanted to go home and I wanted my usual teacher. It was a bloody good thing the teachers were nice. They knew bad things were happening at home and that I’d lost my dad – Jack and I started Year 3 and Year 5 respectively a week or two later than the other kids. We had to go up north to Preston in the first week of term to say our goodbyes to Dad, as his time was rapidly running out.

I hated getting shouted at, hated collective punishment – my class made the Bash Street Kids look sane, and we were called into an emergency assembly a few times – hated noise, found group activity difficult. When all the kids were talking loudly, I’d hyperventilate or shove my fingers in my ears. I used to eat in the school secretary’s office because I couldn’t stand the noise in the hall. Sometimes the headmistress would shout at us to keep the noise down, which made me panicky – I’d end up throwing away lunches because of it. I remember chucking out this amazing lunch my mum had made me, and feeling bitter about it afterwards. I’d spent whole days skiving lessons by hiding in the toilets. How I didn’t get bored out of my mind, I don’t know. In short, the oddness was there, but Dad’s death exacerbated it. Mum, Jack and I all went off the deep end. Mum had migraines and panic attacks, and Jack had crying fits, and I acted up in class.

At some point, when I was about ten – this would have been 1994 – I saw a speech therapist who shared my birthday, as it happened. I can’t remember the exact details, but I do remember looking at picture cards and being asked questions about what I’d do if there was an accident, that kind of thing. Apparently my answers were a bit weird and inappropriate and illogical, whatever.

Then Mum got a letter from her saying I had a thing called Aspergers Syndrome.

Not as many people were being diagnosed back in 1994 as they are now. Aspergers wasn’t as widely known back then – there were no Adams, no Sheldon Coopers, no Glee characters faking Aspergers, no Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, though there was Rain fucking Man. At least, though, Mum knew why her daughter was a little freak, and it wasn’t just because her dad had died. The weirdness had a name and the odd behaviour had a cause. Even if it wasn’t something that could be cured, at least she – and by extension, the staff at Stanford Junior – gained a bit more understanding.

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