Mild Autism

This was going to be a personal Facebook status about mild autism, but it got long. It’s really for my friends but I thought why not write it here and open it up to everybody.

mild autism title image

I’m coming up to a year post official autism diagnosis. I’ve spent the last four years going back over almost every moment of my entire life, re-seeing it from an autistic perspective. All the signs were there, you know. The crushing shyness when I was small, the very early reading, the obsessing over specific objects, the having to have certain things. I’ve covered some of this before.

I didn’t rock and bash my head against walls. I didn’t sit in the corner and scream. I didn’t flap my hands. I didn’t have genius mathematic abilities. Is this what ‘severe’ autism looks like in your mind? Maybe. Maybe that’s just what you learned from films about how autism looks. It’s a stereotype.

I could talk. I could look people in the eye (but not when I was being shouted at or being very shy). I could nod and smile in the right places, but occasionally I would completely misunderstand what someone had said and they’d look baffled at my response because I took what they said very literally. I could get jobs, but could I keep them for long? Apart from the occasional slip-up, people only saw what I allowed them to see as I got older.

If I had said I was autistic back then (hell, even now) people might have looked at me and said I must be on the very ‘mild’ end of the spectrum.

However, a spectrum doesn’t have ends. Autism isn’t on a line. It’s more of a circle. I saw a thing once, that explains the round spectrum concept really well, in an easy-read cartoon form.

People who know me offline might say I must only have mild autism because really autistic people have meltdowns. My meltdowns have always been a mostly private affair. If you’ve been super-close with me then you’ve witnessed them, you just didn’t know it.

I can give specific and real examples that certain people who are in my life will recognise, of times I was having a meltdown but neither of us knew it because we knew nothing about autism back then.

I want to come back to this word, ‘mild’ though. What does it even mean? I’ll tell you. It means you can’t see anything ‘wrong’ with me when you look at me. Think about that for a minute. I don’t look like your idea of ‘disabled’. I’m right, aren’t I? And yet it is a disability. From the UK Government website:

  • autism – a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to others

Even my own doctor (not the one I have now) didn’t believe I could possibly be autistic. He referred me anyway, so maybe he thought “ah, maybe she just has ‘mild’ aspergers”. Here’s a hint, doc: aspergers is autism is aspergers is autism. You can’t even get diagnosed with aspergers any more (well, I couldn’t, but results may vary by local health authority). It’s all been merged together in the diagnostic manuals.

So you may see me as having a ‘mild’ form of autism. But remember, you’re only seeing what I allow you to see. I may slip-up due to a build-up of overwhelm and confusion and then you might see a chink of autism slipping through. Likely you won’t realise it’s autism and just think I’m a bit ‘odd’. If I’m spending a lot of time at home, then when I’m out I’m mostly able to hide my autistic characteristics until I get home. If I’ve had to spend a lot of time with other people, out and about, doing a lot of different things, with lots of different noises going on at once, I’m more likely to not be able to contain it.

I wouldn’t change who I am, but autism makes life hard. Not just for me, but for the people I’m closest to as well. Most people won’t usually see the difficulties because it’s all going on in my brain and not showing much on the outside. There are upsides, but that’s another post for another day.

I don’t have mild autism.

You experience my autism mildly. There’s a difference.

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This post was inspired by Rhi’s ‘Autscriptic‘ post. You should read it; Rhi is a fantastic writer.

Art Journal Pages from 2015

It’s been a while since I blogged any art journal pages, so I’m bringing back the ‘My Life in Art Journals’ series and continuing the catch-up.

Let’s have a big flick through my art journal from March 2015 to the end of 2015 shall we? Click on the images to see bigger.

I also want to talk a bit about boundaries.

Someone once emailed and asked me to stop blurring out parts of my art journal pages. She came across as more concerned with reading my personal diary than looking at the art aspect, or the way the pages were put together, or the techniques and supplies that were being used.

I’m not the kind of person who does art journaling just for show. I don’t do it to show off beautiful pages and inspire people online. If people are inspired anyway, that’s fantastic! I started art journaling when I was diagnosed with severe depression in 2011 and I’ve kept it up as a kind of therapy. Therefore, a lot of what I write in my journal is personal.

I put my pages out there so you can see the art aspect and the fun stuff. The writing aspect isn’t really there to be read (for the most part it’s pretty mundane!), but I’m fine with people reading whatever I leave visible. The personal stuff isn’t for other peoples consumption. It just isn’t. And asking me not to blur out that stuff is a really entitled attitude to have. It’s for me, I don’t owe it to anyone.

Now, only one person has asked me to ditch the blur tool in all the years I’ve been doing this, and I’m hoping no one else will. I’m pretty sure most people would recognise immediately why a page had things blurred out, respect my entitlement to privacy and not tell me my photos don’t look good because of it. I don’t care if it makes the photo look less attractive. My privacy is more important to me than anyone else’s bizarre need to read a stranger’s diary.

I know that 99% of people will completely understand and respect this. I felt the need to mention it because there are a lot of photos today and almost all have something blurred out.

Those were the final spreads in my Junque Journal!

Moving on, to my second 2015 art journal:

Like the junque journal, this one is also handbound, but instead of making up the pages from junk pieces of paper I had lying around, I used thick acrylic paper from a local art supply shop. It’s really stiff and holds up really well no matter what you throw at it. The cover is bound with a vibrant Kaffe Fassett cotton fabric I had in my stash from way back.

The old photo on this next page is of my great-grandparents on their wedding day in 1913. They look so unhappy! I’m hoping that was only to do with having to wait an age for the camera to take the photo…

The image in the postcard on the next page is off the stained glass window in the Tate St Ives gallery, designed by Patrick Heron, whose art I love.

The borders on the following page were made with my own hand-carved rubber stamps.

I didn’t do much myself in the next double page spread! The ‘True Face Creed’ and the picture of the woman belonged to my daughter, who gave them to me. I merely painted the page, stuck down the cards, drew white zendoodles behind the woman’s head and gave that card a border.

I love the next page. The background of the left half is available as an instant download and printable in my Etsy store if you love it as much as I do. Just click the little Etsy thumbnail to take a look:

And with that, I can wrap up 2015 at last!

If you blog your art journal pages, please do add a link to your latest pages in the widget below so I can visit (note: post URLs only, not blog URLs please)

It’s taken me a week to edit all these photos, I think I’ll be blogging my 2016 journal in stages!  😀

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Crochet to Make a Difference

A few months ago, I decided to learn how to crochet. For a few years I’d been familiar with the amazing voluntary efforts of a charity called Woolly Hugs and I decided I wanted to join them.

Woolly Hugs started off on the parenting forum Mumsnet, by bringing people together to contribute crochet or knitted squares that are put together to make blankets. It began with blankets being donated to Mumsnet members who had suffered a bereavement, and over time it grew. The charity now contributes various woolly things for all sorts of worthy causes and has extended beyond the forum.

“Mumsnet is sometimes accused of being shouty and cross (and it can be) but put simply, there are few better places to get support when you need it most. These blankets and the work and love behind them shows just how much of a community Mumsnet really is.” Justine Roberts, April 2012, CEO and Co-Founder
www.mumsnet.com & www.gransnet.com

It was the death of a well-loved and inspirational Mumsnetter called Candy that really inspired me to get myself a hook and some wool and get involved.

One of the causes that particularly stood out to me was the Chernobyl project. Woolly Hugs made 112 blankets this year to give to children and teens who came over to the UK this summer for recuperative holidays. They live in areas affected by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. Read more about this project here.

The Chernobyl project is where I started my involvement. I learned how to crochet on 15th March and within 20 days I was able to make twenty 6″ squares and eight 12″ squares (the equivalent of another 32 x 6 inchers!)  which is pretty good going for a newbie!

To put into context the work that the Woolly Hugs volunteers do, for 112 blankets the equivalent of 8,960 six-inch squares were needed. That’s a lot of wool and a lot of work by an incredible team, which I was proud to be a part of. Here’s a small selection of the blankets that include squares I made:

The Chernobyl Kids project is an annual event, with different children coming over each summer, and I look forward to taking part again next year.

There are many ways to get involved in the work of Woolly Hugs – by contributing squares, blankets or other items you’ve made, by donating funds or by donating wool that can be used to make the squares/blankets. They have an Amazon wish list of things they need too. If you’d like to be involved, you can get in touch with them at their website, through their Facebook page or their Twitter.

Individually, each person can’t do much to make the world a better place. But when lots of people work on something together they can certainly make a difference.

 

Current Obsession

I recently had an “OMG I’ve found my people!” moment.

I’ve been a member of an autistic women’s group online for a while now, and someone posted something there that could have been written about (or by) me.

It was about a seemingly common trait in autistics where we fall down a metaphorical rabbit-hole when something triggers a need to know more about something.

alice falling down rabbit hole gif

An example (and it’s long because this is something I could talk about for hours!):

Several years ago, I found someone in my family tree who was killed in battle in WW1. This was the trigger. It made me need to learn all about him and how & where he died. I say “need” because although it’s also a ‘want’, it feels urgent when this kind of thing happens, like I have to know everything about him, right now.

I couldn’t get enough of trying to find out everything I possibly could about him. I even wrote to the War Graves Commission for this photo of his memorial stone (slightly grim fact: it doesn’t mark where his body is – he is buried in this cemetery but it was badly bombed and his remains were never found / recovered).

I just kept needing to know more and more so I got into reading books and memoirs on WW1 in Europe. I mean, literally, that’s the only thing I read for 2 years. Interspersed with the reading I was looking at maps online and finding the places mentioned in the books. I was using Google Street View to explore these places as they are today. I scoured the internet looking for photos and information of my lost ancestor. All I could find were his War Office records, including this document about the medals he earned.

Eric

Current Obsession:

Eventually I’d pretty much learned everything I needed to know about WW1 and it led on to reading about the Second World War. I’m still reading about WW2 a couple of years later and now I’ve got a massive work-in-progress online map of Europe pinpointing all sorts of things from that time period.

Here’s a small part of it:

warsaw ghetto map

The red outline shows the borders of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland that was already out there, online. Everything else is stuff I’ve added. On my map I’ve got pins showing where certain events took place – from big things like the Warsaw Ghetto to numerous Nazi death camps to random things like the location of a cafe where Władysław Szpilman played the piano (Have you seen the film The Pianist? It’s excellent) and where Oskar Schindler lived. And this image above is just a very small part of my map. My map covers the entire European continent.

99% of the books I read are personal memoirs of the Holocaust and the Polish people. Why Poland? No particular reason, but it’s all fascinating stuff.

And I’m even learning Polish because there’s a book I want to read that’s only been published in Polish. Can you believe that? I’m learning a whole other language just to read one book that probably won’t even tell me a great deal about war-time Poland that I don’t already know.

An aside: this is the level of my learning so far – Czy koń jest kotem? Nie, lew jest dużym kotem!  😆 Here’s the translation to English. I’m sure you’ll agree, I’ll be able to read a whole book in no time  😆 I’m thinking it’ll be a few years before I can read the book…

All of this because I happened to discover an interesting ancestor.

So I’ve always felt like this, but pre-internet it wasn’t as easy to access the information I wanted / needed. I’d just read and read, and ask questions or sit daydreaming and wondering about things. I didn’t know I was autistic then, and I guess I assumed everyone was like this. There have been many nights where I haven’t even gone to bed because I was too busy researching this Poland stuff. I get lost down the rabbit-hole. Except in our house we say I ‘got lost in Poland’. And according to the other commenters on the group I mentioned earlier, this happens to them too. It’s the whole ‘special interest’ thing. The obsessive thing. The ‘I need to know this thing now, sleep is for the weak, and I will go off on tangents until I burn out and move onto something else’ thing.

I don’t really know why it’s only referred to as a ‘special interest’ when the person concerned is autistic/aspergers though. In neurotypical people it’s just called a hobby or an interest…

It’s a thing about me that I really enjoy though; something sparking my interest and getting deep into the research, learning all there is to learn. I love it!

What’s your all-consuming hobby, special interest or current obsession?

 

Sketching with Sktchy

No, that’s not a typo, Sktchy is an app that I use occasionally to practice sketching faces. For the uninitiated, Sktchy members upload photos, mostly of themselves/people to the app and then other members can be inspired by those photos and ‘sketch’ their own versions of them. I say ‘sketch’ in inverted commas because the term is used loosely!

When I think of sketching it brings to mind pencil drawings. But of course, sketching can be done in many different ways – pencil, ink, paint, collage, digital painting…

I thought I’d show you some of my Sktchy work today! If you download the app and go to my Sktchy profile https://sktchy.com/zoe_ford, you can swipe across to see the original photos the sketches were inspired by.

^ Pencil and ink

^ Pencil and ink

^ Ink and watercolours on scrap watercolour paper that already had paint splotches on.

^ Ink and watercolour. Drawn without really looking at the paper and without lifting my pen from the paper.

^ Ink and watercolour

^ Pencil and coloured pencil

^ Pencil, ink and paint markers. The woman who inspired this one has vitiligo and was the ‘Monday Muse’ on Sktchy a few weeks ago. She brought a lot of awareness to the skin condition, as well as bringing out a lot of amazing art!

Do you use Sktchy? If not, it’s free to download – give it a try, it’s lots of fun!