Off to work I go…

You know that weird adjustment phase when you go from being a complete couch potato to suddenly being busy? And you have only a few days’ warning before you have to dive head first into the world of work? And suddenly you are that person behind the till, saying “That’ll be £9.99,” “Would you like a bag with that?” and especially “I’m sorry, I’m still new, I’ll just get my colleague!”

As it happens, I do. Having spent the summer haplessly job hunting, I heard on the Navigators Facebook page about an internship vacancy at a Christian bookshop. Full time retail experience and training – Christian literature themed, at that – complete with a Discipleship course once a week. Right up my street.

So I applied, and was subsequently interviewed. Nothing too scary, just questions about how I work, how I became a Christian, how my Asperger’s affects me, what books do I like. What followed was a period of increasing anxiety. What were my chances? Was I again to be turned down due to my special needs? Would they think that the books I’ve recently read – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Dalai Llama’s Cat – were for sinners? Irrational, I know, but how calm can you realistically stay?

Yet somehow, I was accepted. I was still in Spain, and annoyingly, the day I found out was the day my phone stopped having signal at Grandad‘s house. But my now-manager contacted Mum, who contacted Grandad, and only a few days later, I was off to work.

Working for the first time is an ample situation in which to demonstrate what you are and aren’t yet capable of. For example, I seem to be incapable of not breaking the price gun at least once. But on a positive note, I now know how to take sales. Here’s your receipt, have a nice day!

My Discipleship course so far is proving mildly stressful. The people there are all lovely, and in terms of of spiritual growth, it looks very promising. It’s just that, for all the non-autistic tendencies I have learned, I still don’t present myself at my best in a room full of new people.

Or when I am given an hour to write a five minute talk on a parable. I’m used to writing under pressure, I’m used to Bible studies, I’m used to social situations. Somehow I still panicked. Somehow, with extra time, I managed to complete and perform my talk. My audience was enthusiastic, and whether this was out of genuine admiration or sympathy, I really appreciate their kindness.

And on that note, I’m also raising a glass to all my more experienced colleagues, who have been endlessly patient with me. Hopefully I’ll learn how to get more ink out of the price gun without destroying it.

Face blindness – do I know you?

I am a very visual thinker. Generally. When it comes to analysing a person, or a situation, I’m all for common patterns and the bigger picture, but when doing something that requires memory, I will often rack my brain for relevant visual details. Recalling a past event? I’m on it. Learning a new route? Stored images of all the places I pass – if in the correct order – may be my only saving grace. (Saving Grace, gettit? I amuse myself…)

Unfortunately, my visual memory draws the line at faces. Plenty of people are bad at faces. Some are worse with names. And some people, often on the autistic spectrum, are notoriously bad at both. Has anyone ever ended up making small talk with a (non) stranger who recognised them from an event that happened years ago? Bet you have.

But how often do you fail to remember someone you met earlier in the day? Like when I went to Blackpool with the Navigators in 2015. I spent the afternoon in town with Jonny and the guys, and got into a long conversation with a lad from Birmingham. Come quiz night that evening, I introduced myself to one of my team mates, who, by some unfathomable miracle, was the same person. Don’t you just hate it when new people do that?

Except they’re not doing anything. And according to a radio talk and related article (here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36651390)  that my mum discovered, there is a name for this: face blindness. Or prosopagnosia. Which, apparently, is common in people with Asperger’s, and other forms of autism.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Asperger’s Syndrome basically means that, despite the lack of developmental delay seen in more severe autism, you are not fluent in facial communication. And recognising messages portrayed by the face is only one step forward from recognising the face itself.

When I first read the article and listened to the talk, I was sceptical. Unlike the woman featured, I have no trouble recognising my own mother. Or my friends. Or people I interact with at length regularly. And if I’ve properly seen you at least once in the past, that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t remember you. It’s just that that also doesn’t mean I will remember you. But, like autism, face blindness probably has a spectrum. Or maybe I’m just face-shortsighted.

I think this is partly why I have quite complicated boundaries when it comes to touch. You might feel like you know me well enough to tap me from behind or hold my arm without warning, but if we’re not close friends or immediate relatives, I can’t promise I won’t react as if a complete stranger is crossing my personal boundaries. Like at church when we were sharing the peace, and a woman whom I’d apparently met before moved in for a kiss on the cheek, nearly giving me a heart attack. It’s honestly nothing personal. I just need a gentle reminder.

Although if you know me well, and you still give said reminder, I will quite likely pretend I have no memory of you. Just a warning.

Post uni summer part 3: Flying solo and sunny Spain

New media debate coming up: is the band blue or pink?

band

I was given the offer of a family holiday. For the first time in my life, I declined. I didn’t find the idea of a walking holiday in Ireland hugely exciting. Needless to say, when my parents came home early because they could just as easily shelter from the rain in front of the Olympics here as they could at the hotel, I knew I’d made the right choice.

Instead, I made a giant leap for Gracekind and travelled, unaccompanied, to Spain to visit my Grandad and his partner, who now live part time in Andalucia. Sadly, airports have never been my cup of tea. Like that time years ago when I went through the metal detector and it beeped – I automatically tried to run back because I thought I’d done something wrong, and might have been dog piled by a dozen security staff, were it not for my parents.

Anyway. With Mum’s help, I was fortunate enough to discover Manchester Airport and its Blue Band Scheme, created to make flying easier for those requiring extra assistance. Hence the bright blue band pictured above.

Interestingly, out of everyone in the group that I was escorted with, I was the only person who was young and not in a wheelchair. But hey, makes sense to keep everyone together. Also, our escort was very kind and friendly. Then again, I tend to be in awe of anyone who can be so chatty to strangers for so long.

I did turn down the offer of a wheelchair more than once. Actually, when I got to Spain, I had to step straight off the plane and into a special vehicle for the disabled. Ironically I had to sit in a wheelchair until it was time to get off, because there weren’t enough chairs. Haha.

Spain, as with many countries, is definitely prettier and more scenic than the midlands. I’d been before, but come on, do you ever get such a beach view in the UK? There are mountains for miles around, beaches that I thought only existed in magazines, and the summer sky is almost as blue as my “special flyer” wristband.

spanish-beach

One thing I’d forgotten about was the heat. In the UK, the last week of August is practically autumn. In Spain, summer lasts until at least November. I’d over packed partly because I thought Grandad would be taking me on lots of walks and brought all my gym clothes, like in Switzerland and Austria. Thing is, at 40 degrees C, a 20 minute walk becomes more exhausting than a typical gym workout, and throughout the afternoon, the best you can do is sleep the hours away until your next meal.

And of course, insect bites. I’ve used insect repellent before, and it has proven to be about as effective as ketchup. I specifically invested in an extra strength version of the stuff. One day I had three bites. The next day I had about eight. By the time I got home, I had 20. So much for that. I may be the equivalent of a free pic’n’mix stand for mosquitos, but as my mum reminded me, it’s good to be popular. Yeah.

Until next week, adios!