A fact for each year of my life so far

1) I was born in the middle of the day, week, month and academic year, on my due date and on St Patrick’s Day. And exactly 101 years after my great-great grandfather. Beat that.

2) I am a really light sleeper, and will never understand heavy sleepers.

3) After extensive research and self-reflection, I have realised that my Myers Briggs personality type is INFJ (Introverted iNtuition Feeling Judging). I told you I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about topics like this.

4) I do a lot of my best thinking when standing or sitting against a radiator.

5) Since primary school, I have always been prone to anxiety related nausea. Over time I have become very good at hiding it, but believe me, it’s not fun.

6) When I was on holiday aged six, I was playing outside when a girl on a bike ran me right over.

7) I’m significantly more shortsighted in my right eye than my left, even though my right eye is the dominant one. I also need prisms in my glasses to help my eyes focus together more easily. Basically, I am a bit of a puzzle to my optician.

8) When I was a child, eight was my favourite number.

9)  In Year Nine, we learnt how to make scone-based pizza. For future reference everyone, if you put your egg on the table and try to crack it with a spoon, you will be wearing that egg for the rest of the day.

10) I have kept a diary ever since I was 10. The first one was a travel log of our adventures in New Zealand and Hong Kong. I was so determined to write about everything, I made myself write even when I didn’t feel like it. *round of applause for extreme dedication*

11) When I was at college, I had some random teenagers follow me home and pour what I think was Lucozade (?) all over me. It took an hour to wash out of my hair. Not fun.

12) I am an avid reader of the Warrior Cats books, even if all the inconsistencies do irritate me. When a new one comes out, I wait until midnight, then immediately download it on my Kindle.

13) Every birthday I try to note the time I was born (13.13pm) and every year I forget. Possibly because it is lunchtime, when I have more important things to think about.

14) All my scars are on my left hand. They are mostly Burmese induced scars, plus an old war wound from a battle with a breadknife.

15) I am a mezzo-soprano (medium-high female voice). The lowest note I can sing is a low D/D3, and the highest is probably a high A/A5. Think highest note in the “Hark the Herald Angels” descant. That said, I did manage a high C/C6 in one of my singing lessons once.

16) When I was little, I would only watch Pingu and Winnie the Pooh on TV. Thomas the Tank Engine scared me so much when he crashed through a fence I had to tell my grandparents about it over the phone.

17) My sense of direction is so special, I have been known to get lost when just around the corner from my destination.

18) Having Bouncer come when I call him, and insist I follow him around the house has made me very much in favour of Guide Cats for the Autistic.

19) The one game I am not hopeless at, besides the occasional word game, is One Night Ultimate Werewolf. My family introduced me to it, warning me that it wasn’t a very Grace-friendly game. Twice I ended up being the one-person team, and both times I successfully double-bluffed my way into winning. Not that I’m at all smug about this or anything.

20) I tried rollerblading with the Brownies once, fell over and sunk my teeth through my bottom lip.

21) I get migraines on average once a year.

22) Until the age of about 16, you feel so much older and more mature on your birthday. After that, it comes round again and you find yourself thinking “…why don’t I feel any older?” Or is that just me?

Dear early-teenage self

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Dear early-teenage self,

I thought I’d write this for several reasons. One: I was getting all nostalgic while reading your diaries, even if it was mainly you moaning about your life. Two: it might make good blogging material. You’ll never be great with computers, but you will start a blog. Which apparently turned two years old yesterday! Three: Kirstie from Pentatonix did something similar on YouTube that was quite inspiring. This, by the way, is proof we do find a favourite band. Eventually. Four: it’s nearly our birthday.

I recently figured out something crucial: you spend most of your time longing for emotional intimacy that you don’t have, because of the invisible social barrier called Asperger’s. As far as your diaries are concerned, you may be sensitive, emotional and a bit whiny, but now I think I understand why.

I’ll be honest, you’ve still got many hurdles ahead, but plenty of good stuff too. Remember when we moved to Loughborough aged 8, and we hoped with all our heart we would find at least one close friend? Just be patient and over the years, you’ll meet some great people. Including Hannah. She might seem eccentric, but she’s going to be your uni housemate and your closest friend. And she will introduce us to Pentatonix – Evolution of Music. Her best friend, meanwhile, will pal up with yours. Ironic, eh?

Rest assured, you’ll become more self-aware, outgoing and assertive, and (marginally) more socially skilled. We still hate conflict, but hey, some things never change. Look on the bright side, you have a great family, no matter how weird and annoying (you think) they are. The cats are still alive and well, and we even acquire a few more along the way. And don’t take Grannie and Grandad for granted either. Grannie might be short-fused sometimes, but when you lose her – which you will – you’ll cry every day for at least a week.

It is ok to have Asperger’s, you know. It might be a while until you realise this, but when you do, embrace the acceptance you receive. There will always be trials and tribulations, but you can deal with them. We do still get anxiety stomach aches, though. And we start getting migraines occasionally. Sorry about that.

Over the years, we do learn more about God and Christianity. In fact, we form our closest friendships at Christian related activities. Just keep an open mind and an open heart.

I should probably be signing off now, as I’m behind on a certain uni assignment. That’s another thing: we get into De Montfort University! I would tell you about all the writing we get published, but at this stage in your life, you probably won’t believe me.

In the meantime, just keep honing your self awareness, and don’t let your social struggles get you down. And keep your musical skills fresh – you might ditch the steel pans, but you will go many places with your violin and voice.

All the best,

Your nearly-22 year old self.

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Asperger’s and friendships: the ins and outs

Over these past few months, one particular issue that has been heavy on my mind is friendship. Can Asperger people manage it? Why does it look so easy for neurotypical (non-autistic) people? Above all, how does it work?

Previously I spent years watching other people at school or college, wondering how people had such close-knit friendship groups, while I just didn’t feel close to anyone. Even now, I will spend the best part of a social situation staying with someone I know, or on my own like a hermit. Sound familiar?

To complicate things further, true friendship is more than just making small talk. It may start off that way if you see someone a lot, but it requires more than simply being with them regularly. Keep finding things to talk about with them. If you are in a society, you probably have an interest in common, so ask them about it. How long have they been playing that instrument or that sport? Is this just a hobby or an ambition? Give your opinions too, but don’t forget to take in in turns to talk. Just remember: make them feel interesting and assess how many things you have in common.

This, by the way, is how I made friends with Katy. On her first orchestra rehearsal, she was given the honour of sitting next to the shy person at the back who barely knew anyone (me). Tired as I was of awkward silences with other members, I actually talked to her. Several times. Seems like all it took was a similar sense of humour, a few mutual complaints about the music and our shared (we discovered), insane violin teacher, and we never looked back.

Anyway. Maintaining existing friendships is a whole different kettle of fish. I think it is important for neurotypicals to understand how much mental effort it can take for autistic people to achieve this. You might get from the sharing-interests stage to the sharing-feelings stage, but for those who struggle to read people, it takes a lot of careful thought to work out how to initiate, and respond to, openness. There is also a balance – particularly when you live together – between not spending so much time together you get sick of each other, but not neglecting bonding time either.

Then there is empathy. It is a widely accepted myth that Asperger people lack empathy. I have gone through my whole life having to deal with the exact opposite. I feel other people’s emotions so acutely they can make me cry. The problem is, I don’t always know how to deal with them. Sometimes you just have to keep calm and ask: “what would be helpful to you right now?” Make it clear that they don’t have to talk to you, but if they want to, you will listen. Often listening can go further than any advice or cheering up.

So in summary: the better an AS person is at being a friend and “fitting in”, the more effort they may have put into learning how. And, neurotypical friends, if they do something wrong – just ask yourself: is this a crucial mistake that needs correcting? If so, be gentle and clear. If not, live and let live. AS people: if you have at least one friend who completely accepts you, autism and all, be grateful for them. Put that mental effort into your friendship. Tell them they are a good friend. Above all, be there when they need you, and show them the same acceptance they show you. Ignore stereotypes: you can manage friendships.

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