Through an Autistic Lens

through an autism lens

Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

A weird thing happens when you receive a late diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. You replay your whole life, viewing everything that ever happened through an autistic lens. This isn’t unique to me – I’m pretty sure it happens to everyone diagnosed as an adult.  You start to think “Oh! So that’s why I was…” and “Ah, that makes sense now…!” and “Wow, how did nobody realise?”
 
Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t a diagnosable condition in the UK when I was little, so I understand why I wasn’t diagnosed then. But still…there was always something about me. I always knew I was different, and felt that I didn’t fit in. I discussed this with my mother a few years ago. She said yes, we were different – because when I was a child we were hippies and vegetarian and nobody else was, where we lived. So we stood out. I tried telling her it was more than that, but she didn’t get it and I couldn’t explain.
 

When you view my childhood through an autistic lens, you start to pick out the signs:

  • Separation anxiety – not wanting my mother to leave me at playgroup; always hiding behind my mother’s long skirt when other adults spoke to me.
  • Never initiating role-playing games with other children; always assigned a ‘supporting role’.
  • I was an abnormally early reader; reading like a 12 year old when I was 4.
  • Delayed eruption of teeth (39 years old and I still have a baby tooth! Some of the others wouldn’t come out on their own so they got removed. Dental problems have plagued me all my life and continue to do so.
  • Not really knowing how to act socially. I’d pay attention to what my peers were doing and copy them (and get it not-quite-right, a lot of the time).
  • Having issues with drinks. I would only drink out of one special cup. Until “it got lost” (taken away from me). I never drank that type of drink again to this day. After the cup removal, I’d only drink pineapple juice. Until the acidity made me ill. Then I would only drink orange juice. Until it also made me ill. Then orange squash (and only one brand). In my teens I discovered Coke and that’s still all I drink. Rarely, I’ll drink water. There was a period of some years when I’d drink alcohol, but we’ll get to that in another post some time.
  • Certain food textures made me gag. I used to throw my packed lunches away on the way to school because I couldn’t eat what was inside. I earned the label of ‘fussy eater’.
  • Repetitive behaviours. I’d watch certain films over and over again with my next-door neighbour until I knew the scripts.
  • Narrow interests – from the age of about 12 I would only read books by two authors: Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
  • I don’t remember if I had a problem with the classic symptom of struggling to maintain eye contact as a child. As a teen and an adult I do have a problem with suddenly realising I’ve been looking someone in the eye for way too long. I’ll also realise my face is making the wrong expression. For example, someone’s telling me something that causes me to smile. The conversation moves on to something else, and I’ll notice I’m still smiling and it’s inappropriate. I then lose track of the conversation a bit while I try to make the right expression.

This isn’t a complete list. There are lots more examples, and I’m sure I’ll post about this again at some point, but the signs were there as a child.

If you’re a late-diagnosed ASD woman reading this, I’m interested to hear what early signs you notice when you look back on your own childhood. Let me know in the comments.

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How Best To Move Forward?

It’s March 9th and this is the first post on my blog this year. What happened to stop me blogging?

My official Autism Spectrum Condition diagnosis happened and I received the written report about it.

I’ve known for over 3 years that I was on the spectrum, but it took that long to get The Official Word from a specialist. And now, almost daily, I get hit by revelation after revelation that actually my ‘condition’ has been pretty obvious all my life, if only there had been people around me who knew the signs and could spot them. Honestly, it’s astonishing, the things I’m discovering about myself-now and my past-self. It’s simultaneously enlightening and devastating.

This was supposed to be a blog about my little art business, but lately all I want to talk about here is this diagnosis. I have 3 unpublished draft posts about it. And I haven’t been doing a great deal of art lately because I’ve had other problems that have prevented me from getting on with things. (Namely, The Great Insomnia War of 2016-2017, which I won, and The Battle of Depression, which is ongoing). So how to move forward?

The renewal of my web hosting is coming up in May and I’m unsure whether or not to renew as it doesn’t come cheap. I feel like I’m entering a new chapter in life and I don’t know whether to

  • renew this website and continue hardly ever posting about art
  • renew this website and bore my artsy readers to death posting about autism/aspergers
  • close this website and start a new one focused on autism/aspergers, with occasional art, or
  • run two sites side by side (I’d probably use a free blog platform for the second blog).

I would be sad to see this website go, in a way. But in other ways it could be a relief. I’m not even sure people are still reading anyway. Maybe I’m just whispering into the void.

But if I close it, there’s the problem of this web address being Out There. There are links back to here all over the place and on products I’ve sold and then how will people find me? Do I even want people to find me?

I feel an urge for a reinvention, but I have no idea if it’s the right thing to do or a step in completely the wrong direction.

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100 Ways I Know I Have Asperger’s Syndrome

100 ways i know i have aspergers syndrome

A light-hearted look at the things that make up my Asperger’s brain.

{This is List #3 in my ‘52 Lists‘ series}

These are things that apply to me personally, but may not apply to you or other aspie females you know. I’m by no means an expert on autism spectrum disorders but I have lived with it all my life and I’m an expert in how it affects me.

Edited to add: At the time of writing this post (November 2015) I didn’t yet have a ‘formal’ diagnosis but I’d had pre-assessment tests (see #1) and had been on the waiting list for 21 months. My diagnosis eventually came through in December 2016. This list was written just as a bit of fun and should not be used to assess whether or not you are on the spectrum. If you have concerns, research it some more and see your doctor.

  1. An expert told me it’s highly likely I have Asperger’s
  2. I love making lists
  3. Love my routines
  4. Don’t like change
  5. I’d rather stay home
  6. Perfectly happy with my own company
  7. Cats
  8. Hate small talk but do it when I have to
  9. Wear earplugs when there’s too many different noises at once
  10. Easily upset
  11. The seams in my socks irritate me
  12. Light touch makes me itch
  13. I don’t understand forgiveness
  14. Struggle with interpreting facial expressions correctly
  15. Can’t always tell when others are being serious or sarcastic
  16. There are 342 tiles in my bathroom
  17. I think other people think I’m weird
  18. I think I’m weird
  19. I’m much louder than I think I am when I whisper
  20. Don’t know when it’s my turn to speak on the phone
  21. I can look you in the eyes while we talk and hold that gaze a long time. With some people I find it’s not so easy.
  22. Thank goodness for Google because I do love finding things out
  23. Taught myself how to build websites
  24. Spent 2 weeks building this website and did nothing else until it was done (inc. much sleeping)
  25. I get in a muddle. A lot.
  26. Getting mentally ‘stuck’ when my routines are interrupted
  27. The round dinner plates need to be stacked separately from the square dinner plates and god forbid you make me a sandwich and do it wrong.
  28. Cats
  29. Eat with fork in ‘wrong’ hand. It works for me, who cares?
  30. I interrupt frequently. I’ll forget what I wanted to say if I don’t
  31. Co-morbid conditions: serious depression, anxiety, possible ADHD and PTSD
  32. Clumsy. Always hurting myself, burning myself, stubbing my toes and walking into table corners.
  33. Difficulty managing time, live in my own personal time-zone
  34. Collector of things
  35. Book devourer
  36. Need to know everything that happened in WW1 and WW2. Everything. But won’t remember much of what I learn.
  37. Realising I’m smiling when I shouldn’t be
  38. No, YOU go in first! I’ll follow.
  39. Fashion? Style? I has none
  40. Nice new hairstyles last about a week before reverting to the ponytail
  41. Mild hoarding tendencies
  42. Like big words, don’t know what half of them mean
  43. Oh look, she used to be in that other TV show!
  44. Oh look, it’s whatshisname who used to be married to that other actor!
  45. Massive celebrity / music trivia bank in my brain. I don’t even know why because I’m really not that interested…
  46. …and yet, I have a crap memory
  47. Difficulty recognising people out of context = if I always see you in a uniform and you’re not wearing it today then I might not realise who you are
  48. Sunglasses always on head outside in case it’s too bright
  49. Bright sunlight causes pain in my eyes
  50. Flickering lights can also be a problem
  51. Remembering all the words from all the songs
  52. Too much noise + bottled up stress = tears + a dark, quiet room
  53. Sensory memory triggered by smells and songs
  54. Details, details, details
  55. Why use ten words when you can use 200?
  56. Visual learning because too many verbal instructions = confusion
  57. I can listen to one song on repeat and not get bored
  58. Gifted at over-sharing
  59. Queen of procrastination
  60. What’s today’s ailment?
  61. Cats
  62. Constantly very busy brain
  63. Overwhelm can make me ‘zone out’
  64. Most comfortable dressing like a male (jeans, hoodie, trainers) but rarely do these days because I’m supposed to be a 38 year old woman
  65. Music is a way for me to escape
  66. Reading is another way for me to escape
  67. The sound of my ‘thinking’ voice has many different accents
  68. Rarely bored
  69. I like counting things (see #16)
  70. Socialising is much easier with alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol gave me confidence. Cigarettes gave me something to do with my hands. I no longer drink or smoke so socialising has pretty much stopped
  71. Either my hands or feet are always moving. Tapping, twisting, flicking, clenching, wiggling.
  72. I have disordered eating habits
  73. Not knowing if I’ve acted or spoken in a socially acceptable way
  74. Needing quiet time to decompress after a day out
  75. Dreading going places because home is the only place I can be ‘me’
  76. Very sensitive to animals suffering
  77. Struggles with leaving my cat alone (stupid, I know) because I know what abandonment feels like and he’s been abandoned before.
  78. Desperately wanting to fit in, always feeling like an outsider
  79. I can’t let go of things that make me angry or hurt
  80. Everything’s black or white, there is no grey
  81. I believe I have a really fantastic sense of direction until I get us lost
  82. I have huge empathy for animals and people in distressing situations, though I tend to keep it hidden
  83. I’m not like Rainman because I don’t have savant syndrome. Many of us don’t.
  84. I’m not like Sheldon Cooper. Apart from “you’re in my spot
  85. A deep thinker, constantly analysing everything
  86. A vivid, full-colour dreamer, always have been
  87. Need a written script before making important phonecalls
  88. Very immature sense of humour
  89. Have a very strong intuition & judge of character
  90. Wanting to fit in, but wanting to be myself. Knowing it’s not possible.
  91. Highly visual memory
  92. Socially awkward
  93. I get my words jumbled up a lot because my brain works faster than I can talk
  94. Always asking questions: How does this work? What does that mean? Why?
  95. The types of food I like are quite limited
  96. I like each day to look basically the same
  97. Difficulty understanding or interpreting other peoples’ motives or intentions
  98. Some minor difficulties with tiny tasks like plugging in my phone charger
  99. Did I mention how much I love cats?? I feel like I’m very similar to my cat. He’s on my wavelength. Yeah, I know that’s weird 😉
  100. The fact I wrote this massive list.

Zoe Sig

Why I Love To-Do Lists

why i love to do lists

{This is List #2 in my ‘52 Lists‘ series}

While browsing Instagram the other day, I found a new listing challenge set up by Instagram user @TheResetGirl. She has a free list-prompt challenge called #ListersGottaList and it looked like my kind of thing so I decided to join in.

I quickly whipped up a new hand-bound mini journal out of 140lb watercolour paper and adapted the first prompt slightly to suit me better, then got to work, and here is the first page:

I’ve briefly set out why I love to-do lists there, but to expand slightly: The Aspie in me appreciates the list because although I can be hyper-focused if the task is something I’m really interested in, the mundane stuff doesn’t really get thought about, so if it’s not on my list, it’s unlikely to get done without me being prompted by someone or something. This is due to impaired executive functioning which is common in those of us with Aspergers / Autism Spectrum Disorders:

“Executive function… is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions and monitoring of actions.” – Cynthia Kim, Musings Of An Aspie

Executive function can cover many things, but one of the things we might find difficult is organising our daily schedules and remembering things, and that’s where to-do lists come in! And to-do lists don’t have to be boring, either… If you saw any of my Documented Life Project posts in 2014 you’ll have seen that I’ve been to-do-listing for quite a while, and combining it with art journaling. For 2015 I decided to separate the to-do lists from the art journal and have a dedicated Moleskine book just for the lists.

As you can see, I have dividers for each month and that’s where I put tasks that I’d like to get done some time *that month*. Then the daily to-do lists follow. I don’t make these lists every single day. In fact you can see in the following photo that I skipped a whole week! Sometimes that happens (usually when I’m not feeling well enough to do much other than drag myself out of bed).

My to-do list book helps me to develop habits. Each day there’s an item that says “make bed”. I always make my bed and this no longer needs to be included in my lists because it’s become an ingrained habit now. But it didn’t used to be and that’s why it got put in there in the first place. I decided to keep it there because that way I can always guarantee at least one thing will get checked off each day 😀 Also it reinforces the habit because due to the impaired executive functioning, I could still forget to do it.

It’s a rare day when everything gets checked off, but I feel a sense of accomplishment when half or more of it is complete. And that’s important. I might not function quite so well as other non-spectrum adults but I can still have pride in myself for what I do get done. And that’s all down to the mighty to-do list.

Do you make to-do lists too?

Zoe Sig

ICAD 2014 #52

Day 52: Practising my big and bold lettering…

#icad2014 icad day 52 by zoe ford at #topfloortreasures

I like the word ‘real’.

Since I found out about the asperger’s, I’m taking a huge amount of stress OUT of my life by being ‘The Real Me’ as often as possible. I suspect it might be giving other people a little more stress (or maybe just annoyance / irritation, I don’t really know) but I feel it’s important for MY health and happiness to not have to pretend to be someone I’m not. Because that’s exhausting. And I’ve been doing it for 36 years. This is me. And it feels wonderfully freeing to be real.

3″ x 5″ index card, watercolour paper, watercolour paints in reds, pinks and oranges; black ink, blue Uni Posca paint pen.

Zoe_Ford_TopFloorTreasures_2014