When our little fella was about to be diagnosed with a form of Autism at the age of 7, I started to read as much as I could about it. I remember one book said you should choose carefully whom you tell, as people may use it to your disadvantage. I guess they meant bullying.
As time went on and we grew into our half Aspie, half NT (neuro typical) family, we came to the conclusion that it was no dirty secret and we would tell whoever we thought appropriate. Most people that I know, know that we are Aspie/NT, in the same way that they know I have blue eyes and orangish hair! And now that he is 15 and we have a wealth of Aspie experience, I feel it is my duty as an Ambassador to educate those who don’t know someone on the Autistic Spectrum.
The first thing you should realise is, you probably DO know someone on the spectrum, you just don’t know you do! You probably just think your friend/neighbour/relative has quirky ways and is sometimes a bit odd. The more I learnt about autism, the more people I could pinpoint in my present and past as having Autistic characteristics.
Next, the list of characteristics and how they affect a person is HUGE! Imagine I was talking about people who have brown hair. You can’t categorise people with brown hair as all being systematically tidy or all hating tomatoes. However, to make things slightly more manageable, Autistic traits are usually organised into three areas. This is called the Triad of Impairments (which I think is inexcusably rude and obviously named by an NT).
Social Communication can be all sorts of things. One of my tribe finds it very difficult to hold a conversation unless it is Einstein level and has never been able to do small talk. The other does small talk brilliantly and comes across as very caring and loving, but will frequently misunderstand a whole conversation, which inevitably leads to conflict.
Social Interaction is hard for both of them for different reasons, but they both hate crowded places and lots of noise. Once it was described to me like going into Curry’s (UK electrical store) and turning up all the radios, TVs, washing machines and and thing that whizzes to full whack. How are you supposed to hold a conversation? Both of them also hear the teensiest of noises that the average NT tunes out, like the humming of a screen. It’s distracting and gives them a headache.
It took me a long time to understand what the clinic meant by Social Imagination. I used to think they’ve got it wrong, because my lil fella has brilliant imagination. He plays Thomas the Tank Engine, he makes up Harry Potter stories, he draws characters and makes up video games.
That’s NOT what they’re talking about. It’s this sort of imagination:
I fell off a building and snapped my leg in half. Can you imagine what that felt like?
Oh my word, that’s horrible, it must have been excruciating. Are you ok?
No, I’ve never broken my leg.
It’s the sort of imagination where you can put yourself in another persons shoes and feel what they might feel, even if it has never happened to you. It’s empathy; although it might not come naturally, it’s a skill that can be learned. When my youngest was born, my then 4 year old wouldn’t bat an eyelid if he cried, but he has learnt and he has proven time and again what to do, even if he doesn’t have that ‘oh no’ feeling.
My boys are now 15 & 11 and we are each learning much about the other’s way of thinking. Being an Autistic teen has had it’s challenges, but in a totally different way to your average teen. We work through it.
I think back to the early days of telling a few people and the look of pity that accompanied the “Oh dear, I’m so sorry to hear that.” These days I don’t give people the opportunity to behave like that. I think perhaps because the vibe I give off is PRIDE in my Aspie Tribe, they can’t possibly be sad for us. I’m thinking Alan Turing, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton….have those people in your mind and no one can possibly give you the misfortune vibe!
If you are in the early stages of a diagnosis, or believe you might be on the spectrum there is one thing I can say to you.
Please leave me a comment. I’d love to know you’re out there!