Authentic Aspie Moment: Playing with scissors

Before I start, yes, there is a 'Playing with scissors part 2'. And I'm not even counting when I cut off my own fringe as I think most small children have a go at that kind of thing...?

In this Authentic Aspie Moment, I was displaying two areas of thought which, when combined, have much the same effect as combining baking soda and vinegar. I was focusing very strongly on the expected outcome of my actions, as well as failing to understand the consequences of failure.

I expect many a grand disaster was based on the same combination. For me, it signalled an event which would be infamous amongst my friends and family for many years.

When I was a little girl, only about 5, we lived next door to another family with a daughter around the same age. Tracy and I had very little in common, but in the way of small children, we got along well enough to play and be counted as friends. I was more imaginative and daring, she was quieter and more sensible. She was also trusting.

One day, we were left unsupervised. I have no idea where the adults were, I wasn't thinking about them. Probably outside, trusting us to be nice children and play well.

Like lots of little girls, we liked to pretend play. Today, we would be hairdressers (I can feel your heart sinking from here).

Tracy would be the client, I would be the hairdresser. Now, there's no good going into these things unprepared. I don't remember this part of the story, but I have a horrible feeling I must have planned ahead, because we happened to have with us a real pair of scissors.

They were small and sharp and silver-coloured. They were proper ones. They made nice little snippy sounds as I cut the air with them. At this point it was only air, and not hair.

Tracy had wispy, cloud-like hair, thin and tender. If it was cut, every cut showed. What she wanted was long, flowing princess locks, thick and glamorous.

I had the idea that I could cut it to make it look better. There was no malice involved. The only negative feeling I had was the one that came when I stopped cutting things, because I did love using scissors.

In my mind, and no doubt in Tracy's mind, we were going to make her look beautiful. We would cut here and shape there and when we had finished, a transformation would have occurred. (This kind of logic is inherently girl-like and often continues into adult life).

So, fully trusting in my skills as a hairdresser, Tracy sat quietly in the little chair and let me loose with the scissors.

I remember moving about like a hairdresser while I cut. It was so great, I can't tell you. Something much, much better than cardboard, paper, ribbon or the hoover wire (that's not part 2 either).

Then, two things happened. We heard her dad coming back in and, at that moment, my unfailing belief in success dropped away and left me alone, faced with the reality of what had happened on Tracy's head.

Reader, I might as well have let a reindeer chew it off for me. She was patchy, her hair was lying on her shoulders, her dress and around us on the floor. Some places were so low on hair, it almost looked shaved. Others, she had tufts left. Some of it was slightly better, but then her dad had interrupted before I could finish those off as well.

Sudden and complete panic overwhelmed me. In that instant I saw things as they really were. I had ruined Tracy's hair, everyone would think I had done it on purpose, they'd all hate me and her dad would probably kill me.

I dropped the scissors and hared off upstairs. There was nowhere to hide, you understand. He was coming in the only available door and we lived next door. This was merely delaying the inevitable, but what else could I do?

I don't know whose room I went in, but I plainly remember shuffling as far under the bed as I could get. I lay there, able to see most of the floor, trying not to breathe loudly.

The bedroom door opened and in he came. I saw his feet come towards the bed. It would be okay, he'd never think of looking under here. I could escape when he had gone.

Of course, he was a grown man and I was a panicking 5 year old - he knew exactly where to look and had probably heard me cantering in. He bent down and his face appeared in the gap, his mouth set in a line, his eyes already resigned.

You'll be glad to know that Tracy's dad decided not to kill me. He accepted it all with very good grace; their whole family did. My mother's reaction was a slightly different matter and she carried the embarrassment longer than I did because I was prone to forget about it. I also thought, given the extra time of Tracy's dad not coming home, that I would have been able to make her hair beautiful after all.

So you see, what had I learned from this adventure? Very little, as it turns out. I truly did believe I could have fixed her hair, if I'd been left alone. I knew I had her best interests at heart. I also thought it was much better to play hairdressers for real, if you were going to, than to pretend.

I was remorseful for any upset but I don't think having such understanding neighbours really helped, either. If I had seen them wailing over the cut hair, I might not have moved onto Playing with scissors part 2.

Still, who can argue with the logic of an aspie five year old: I know what it's going to look like when it's finished; therefore, it will look like that when I'm finished. Any bumps along the way are caused by events outside my control.

So, all these years later, I'm sorry, Tracy. And your hair did grow back a lot better after I cut it all off, so we were right in the end. And Tracy's dad, it's been years and you still find it funny? I always think you'll have forgotten, but no matter how long between the times we see each other, I see the glint in your eye, the twitch of the mouth and I know you're going to bring it up!

Reader, do learn the lessons I didn't and do not play with scissors. Not unless you're absolutely sure you can make a success of it and have a really clear idea of the finished result. Then I'd say, why not? Have a go. What's the worst than can happen?


PS The events of this story are recreated as fiction in my book, Comprehensions: Getting into Trouble.

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Self image: I am what I am...aren't I?

I wanted to bring up the touchy subject of self-image. Touchy because I, like many aspies, am uncomfortable talking about how I see myself. I'm much more used to listening to what others think about me and how they see me.

You see, with aspergers you learn not to trust yourself. For goodness sake, you can't be trusted! How many times have you stared, transfixed, when you should have looked away? How many times have you dodged in perfect time with the poor person trying to step past you? How often do you get things wrong? Plenty, would usually cover most bases.

So, although aspies have a very, very clear self-image, it usually stays locked up, safe and warm, inside. If you bring it out, even to loved ones, you risk losing it altogether, as you find out you were wrong all along.

A small example would be, you think you suit the colour yellow. I love yellow and, for years, I loved wearing it. No one told me I looked like I had jaundice when I put it on and looking in the mirror told me nothing, as I just saw me, wearing yellow, which I like wearing, because I like yellow: are you following my reasoning here? My biggest trouble would be the attention from bees.

Until I was in college and my new friend, Joanne, who knew all about things I had never considered, took me shopping. I picked out a top I thought she would like and she gently pointed out that the colour might be too bright for her skin tone (I had picked out a fair few before then, so she was trying to be subtle at this stage).

It struck me, like one of those wonderful revelations you want to tell everyone about but then realise they already knew: your clothes should match your skin tone!

I spent the rest of the shopping trip thinking about the various rainbow colours in my wardrobe and wondering how many of them looked horrible on me. It didn't take long to weed them out and, unfortunately, yellow was the biggest offender and the one I was most sorry about.

There are bigger things to get wrong than the colour of your clothes, though. You can be wrong about yourself in ways that affect your whole life.

A non-aspie, but interesting example, would be my cat, Custard (bear with me, this has a point). He has a disability and when he was born, his back legs wouldn't work. We did little exercises with him and gradually, over time, he became a normal-looking cat (he'd looked like a small alien before). As he couldn't mobilise much, he spent a lot of time with Granny Tess, our collie. Rather too much time, as it turned out.

I realised something was wrong when, one day, Tess ran into the hall to bark at the front door. Someone was coming and she warned me. Behind her, marching up and down like a little soldier, was Custard, bobbing his head up and down like Tess when she barked and making regular little 'uffing' noises as he did so.

That was the day I realised Custard had serious issues with his self-image. He thought, and still thinks, he's a dog. Judging by his personality and size, we're thinking that he's probably some kind of terrier. We've whittled it down to a Border Terrier. See if you can guess which of these pictures is the real Custard.

We have tried to reveal to Custard that he shouldn't be trying to bark, or get in the bin, or run after dog balls, but he's so firmly set in his self-image as a dog that there seems little point in persuading him out of it. He's happy and only looks disappointed when he doesn't come out on walks with the dogs. He's also useful as a watch dog because Granny Tess is old and a bit deaf, so she misses visitors, and Rupert is a wimp who never barks. We need Custard running up and down, uffing, to let us know when someone comes.

Where does this come into aspie-ness? I've thought about this and, as an analogy, Custard's odd perspective on life is a good lesson for aspies. We have an image of ourselves, the one we don't often tell people, or like me with the colour yellow, we assume to be true without needing to talk about it. Does our self-image, however right or wrong, need to be changed?

Yes, if it's a bad one that we've created so we can put ourselves down. Why would we want to put ourselves down? Well, if enough people make you feel bad about yourself, one way to fit in is to agree with them, so our bad self-image may be one we've created to fit in.

What about if the truth is even more limiting though? What if we like to think of ourselves as sociable, and we are sociable, but we rarely make a success of social interaction? Where does that leave us? Do we go with the truth that we find it hard to deal with people, or the truth that we love people and want to deal with them?

The latter, always. We should always take Custard's route and aim for the good thing we love, but haven't quite achieved. It's so much better, for instance, to believe you're good with people and keep talking to them and interacting with them, because sooner or later, you meet someone on your wavelength and then you have that beautiful friendship you've waited so long for (hello B!).

What if it's something slightly more complicating, like my years and years of always going for jobs where I had to deal with the public, when I hate crowded spaces, can't stand confrontation, have difficulty understanding when people talk to me and generally find others rather stressful?

Again, take Custard's lead here. If he had accepted the fact his legs couldn't work properly, he would have spent his life, at best, mooching around with Tess in front of the fire. What he did was work and work until he could manage what he wanted. At the age of 9 months, he managed to jump up to the kitchen worksurface and, from there, to our little 'cat window', where he had wanted to sit for so long.

Granted, he then fell off and got his head stuck in a tin, but there are always trips along the way.

If I hadn't worked in all those unsuitable jobs, dealing with people every day, I never would have been able to go self-employed and deal with my own clients and customers. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have gained enough self-esteem and self-knowledge to return to my original dream of writing books and stories. By doing something I wasn't really fit for, I challenged myself and also trained myself to feel the fear and still try.

Between you and me, I sometimes suspect Custard knows he is a cat, but we all respect his decision to live life as a dog. If you're ever in any doubt as to whether you should live your life according to what you're given or what you accept as your lot, think of Custard and his determination to succeed.

Every day, you need to think, I'll do a little, small, tiny thing today that is good and is better for me. Sometimes, you'll do a big thing which you think you can't manage and it will exhaust you. Just occasionally, you get to aim much higher and pull it off. And you will, you know; I promise.

Sooner or later, we all have to face that inner self-image and decide if it's a true reflection of us. Are we really that person? Is that our face, our smile? Is that the real light in our eyes as we gaze back, unashamed and glad to be us?

Sooner or later, reader, aspergers or not, we all have to face our inner selves. You may as well come to meet them, hands outstretched, ready to cross that last distance. It doesn't matter how long it takes, we can all reach the high places in the end.


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Aspergers, the part-time disability

Before I start receiving hate mail, this is not my view! Obviously, aspergers can't be switched on and off, or even turn itself on and off. Sometimes it seems to, especially when stress levels rise, but that's not what I mean by this post.

I'm talking about when people close to you, whether family, friends, best beloveds or co-workers, who know about your aspergers, give you credence for it one day and expect you to behave normally the next. Those occasions when you're as aspie as you were the day before, but for whatever reason, they expect you not to behave like you are, because it's not convenient.

This is one of the major downsides of having a hidden disability, which often occurs in people who can function at a high level a lot of the time. You're already looking okay because you can manage all kinds of everyday tasks. Those of who us who are adults have had to incorporate our daily lives into our aspie-ness, making one support the other as much as possible.

We can often come across well, listening to people, talking to them and doing what is needed. When we're having a high-aspie day, the people close to us can tell and, depending on the relationship, make allowances, try to help, ignore it or carry on as usual.

It starts to go wrong when the person with you decides they need the 'other' you, the one who can manage things and do stuff and be an all-round Mr or Ms Normal. This other you doesn't really exist, it's just the front you put on for most of your life. It helps you get through and makes things seem better. It drops on the bad days and cracks under pressure even on the good ones.

So a scenario may be when the other person needs you to do something for them. Let's say they're the ones needing support, or they are having a bad day and don't have time to mollycoddle you. Or it just isn't important in the grand scheme of things that you're an aspie as x, y and z need to get done.

It's at times like this when someone who has known for years that you have aspergers, can turn round and expect you to do everything as if you are a normally wired, fully-functioning, non-eccentric and definitely non-aspie human bean. On that day they need you to be like everyone else and you can almost guarantee that'll be a day when you're feeling like an unsoaked bean, rather than a baked one with tomato sauce.

Of course, we don't help ourselves, do we? Rather than being permanently awkward and aspie, we do have good days when we can do loads of stuff. Often, it should be said, the stuff we do on these good days is not what other people would see as important, but we still manage it. So why can't we step up and be like that when the other person needs us? In their mind, they've stepped up for us many times, can't we return the favour?

It doesn't come across like that, though. Just because we manage well a lot of the time, or seem to, doesn't mean this time, when you need help with x, y and z, we'll be able to provide it. Worse, after years of conditioning that things must be done a certain way and we have to be a certain kind of person, we'll go ahead and try to do what is asked of us, regardless of how we feel. It's the knee-jerk reaction of the adult aspie who has struggled to fit in their whole lives.

And worse than this, suppose you're particularly good at something and that's one area where people can turn to you for help? Great, a confidence booster and a way to repay them for putting up with your Fringe obsession or your latest humdinger of a conversation-stopper. What if your aspie-meter rises at the time they need help with this area and you suddenly find you can't do it? Lead balloon, anyone?

In my case, I've always enjoyed filling in forms - sad but true. Then I had to fill in some forms this summer and I don't know whether it's the extra stress I've had this year, or a decrease in sleep and caffeine or what, but suddenly the forms made much less sense than before. I had to fill them in, they were properly official and other people were relying on me.

I looked and studied them, I worked through them. I wrote my answers separately so I wouldn't get them wrong. I looked up online guides and peered at the help pages. I managed to struggle through most of the form but was still worried it was wrong or that I'd missed something. Even then, there were a couple of questions I just couldn't do.

I must admit to getting upset over them. It was all down to me, I was the only one who could fill them in. I had all the information I thought they needed, I just couldn't make it fit the form. In desperation, I went and had a soak in the bath.

After a long bath and time to calm down, I decided to put aside the panic and look again, calmly and methodically, at the form. There, at the top of it, now sticking out for all to see, was a question I had missed which made sense of the ones I couldn't work out. The answer had been there all along, I just wasn't able to see it.

I completed the form and sent it off and all was well - that time. It shook me, though. This was a task I would have breezed through a year or so ago, yet this time I could barely manage the normal questions. It was like I had grit in the gears and they couldn't move smoothly, so each stage I completed was a separate thing from the rest of the form and I couldn't keep my concentration going long enough to succeed all in one go.

It's at times like this you worry that aspergers matures like old cheese and that by the time I hit fifty, I'll be running naked through Tesco, having finally dumped all my inhibitions along with my common sense.

And amongst all this drama and the belief that I'm now on a downhill slope towards complete eccentricity, is the little voice of people who still want that form, did you do the form? it doesn't usually take this long...

How can you tell people your brain decided forms were no-go? When people want something from you and you say you're having a bad day, there is a blank reaction, because they expected you to manage the thing they want done. To them, it sounds like you're being wishy-washy. After all, it's not as if they can do it any better - you always do it!

So, I got the form done and didn't go into the trouble I'd had with it. I just said it was quite difficult and I'd had a struggle to finish it. I didn't mention lying in the bath, wondering who could help me or if it would ever get done.

I'm cutting myself a break, though. As I've said, it's been a heck of a year, so it's not surprising that, alongside normal stresses, there might be a deeper, underlying stress, slumbering just under the surface, waiting for extra responsibilities to prod it awake. I'm going to write off the form fiasco as a fluke, something brought on by lots of other things. I'll try not to carry it with me when I need to do another.

As for people expecting the part-time aspie, I'm also cutting myself a break there. If I can come out on here, on Facebook and to the world at large, I can certainly turn round to the person expecting Ms Normal and remind them that I'm not her! If they want Ms Normal, they need to look elsewhere. Here is only Ms Cheese, maturing into goodness knows what.

(Please also see this related post, Aspergers, the subtle disability)


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There's nothing wrong with you!

How often have we heard that? Or, as the parent of a child with aspergers, heard that there's nothing wrong with our child that some discipline wouldn't sort out.

Aspergers doesn't leave physical signs that people can tick off on their disability checklist. If you know what to look for, you may be able to spot a fellow aspie at ten paces - there is such a thing as aspie-dar. Otherwise, you're left wondering if a person is on the autistic spectrum or just out to drive you crazy. (It should be noted, some people are just out to drive you crazy and I'm still undecided if there are more of them than there are aspies in the world).

Girls with aspergers possibly suffer less from being threatened with discipline, as aspergers in girls is often harder to diagnose. In my experience, girls tend to suffer on the inside in a way that doesn't always show itself on the outside; or at least, they don't display their suffering in a way that makes people think there may be something more going on.

Again, in my experience, boys are more extrovert in their aspieness. I don't mean they are more likely to be extroverts, but their behaviour is more noticeable. They act out, are more obviously 'naughty' and so on. They are the ones who get to meet the headmistress, while aspie girls sit in mute isolation, not getting into trouble as much but not coping any better either.

This is all generalisation, though, aimed at explaining the main issues. Everyone is different and every aspie is different. I have known girls on the spectrum who burst into a room, their aura a blaze of colour as they burn across the room, then collapse in floods of tears when the reaction wasn't as expected or they couldn't cope. I've known boys who sit, like monoliths, impassive, unmoved, no visible reactions to things they find hilarious and who only emerge very gradually from their shells, once you know them much better.

Both of these examples can be firmly on the spectrum, both can be properly aspie, but will be viewed as loud and inappropriate, or too quiet and unsociable. Their school reports may differ in the advice for their behaviour, but will probably come together as teachers say they can achieve more if they would just try harder, which makes the child look lazy or inattentive.

There's nothing wrong with them, you see. They are only misbehaving, or not behaving in the right way. If they would only do as they are told, they'd be fine.

I have to add that my comments can be applied to the diagnosed aspie, too. For anyone considering a diagnosis, either for themselves or their child, be aware it is not a golden ticket to better understanding and treatment. It's not the label or the diagnosis which brings you these things, it's the people you meet along the way. A teacher or employer who is open-minded about you or your child is likely to treat them just as well and with as much understanding, with or without a diagnosis.

It can be so frustrating as a parent of an aspie child, when you are trying to make people see how they need to be treated. When my son started school, I explained until their eyes glazed over how he shouldn't be unsupervised, he needed clear guidance. I was as straightforward as possible.

This didn't prevent the school disregarding nearly everything I said. They once went on a short trip to the local church. It was five minutes away, on foot. They made the children walk two-by-two. I had already told them they should hold my son's hand if they were ever out of school as he loved to run off. Instead, they let him hold another boy's hand and explained to him he mustn't let go.

Halfway to school, while walking along a street with cars parked on both sides, my son saw something on the opposite side of the road and took off after it. He remembered he mustn't let go of the other boy and, gripping him firmly, took the boy with him into the middle of the road, from between parked cars. They were very lucky, there was nothing coming.

At the end of the day, as usual, I was taken to one side and told how naughty he had been and what had happened. I was appalled at what might have been, as much for the innocent boy he took with him as for my son himself. I admitted how I felt but told them again that I had said, more than once, he shouldn't be out of school without a teacher holding his hand. The teacher talking to me looked irritated, like I was trying to get him out of trouble, and told me they had explained to him fully what he needed to do.

What can you say that you haven't said already? I had explained the reasons behind keeping a good hold of him outside school. I had told them how he took off whenever he could and had no understanding of the consequences and no sense of danger. I had been as clear as I could with people who should have listened. After that, you leave your child in their care and hope for the best.

It was never resolved with that school and we changed schools later. New teachers and different treatment from staff meant my son could enjoy his school days again and be safe.

I've covered in another post ( what it was like for me going through school and work as an undiagnosed aspie. There was nothing visibly wrong with me and I could behave, more or less, like a normal person. I could hold conversations, learn new things, perform when necessary...until I couldn't.

You see, as an aspie, you can do lots of things, quite a lot of the time. To the untrained eye, there is nothing wrong with you. People differ, but a lot of aspies can manage things most of the time, often because they have learned coping strategies or learned to avoid situations they can't cope with. So, at first glance, there is nothing the matter. Then you get the days when things go wrong, or unexpected events shake the aspie's world, or they just wake up and it's a no-go day. Then you're stuck with being unreliable and needing to get across to people why you can't do today what you have done all week.

Why not? would be the question people might ask, if you were completely honest and said, 'I just can't today'. If you haven't been diagnosed or haven't come out as an aspie, then what do you say? It's no good saying you're having a bad day, or feeling down. Then you really sound like you're not pulling your weight. You make something up, that's what you do. You give an acceptable reason why you can't come in today.

I was doing a temporary job, full-time for a few months. It was public-facing, occasionally stressful, working with lots of people. It required organisation and attention to detail. It was all day, for five days a week and I didn't even leave at lunchtime.

By the second month, I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I would go to the bathroom just to have a break and sit in the toilet cubicle, door locked, head in my hands, bent double. I can't tell you how many times I've hidden in toilets in my life! The bliss of a locked door.

I had to take time off and I had no good reason. I also didn't understand what was wrong with me. I'd been pleased to get the job, I really needed the money. I wasn't ill, I wasn't properly stressed, nothing in particular had happened. I just knew I couldn't go in. It was like a forcefield: every time I thought of work, I bounced right off it.

I told them I had a bug and would be off for the rest of the week. I had three days, then the weekend. So, five days before I had to face work again. I spent the first day in town with my mother, as she did her errands. I stood outside shops, waiting for her, because I couldn't stand to be inside, where there were lots of people and enclosed spaces. I went to town with her because I couldn't stand to be at home either.

I remember standing outside one shop, facing across the road. I was looking at a theatre, the Carnegie, to anyone who is local to me. I used to go in the theatre's cafe when my Grandma looked after me, before I started school. I remembered sitting in there, the smoky atmosphere of cigarettes, the gossip of my Grandma and her friends. I sat with three ladies of a certain age, me a small child, content to spend my days with them. The background noise of their gossip and the world around us all was a safe place for me because I was looked after and not expected to participate. It was a peaceful time.

Now, all those years later, I stood and stared at the Carnegie. I touched that place in the past, where I was small and safe. The little me, with the scuffed knees and red shoes; she was satisfied and content. The bigger me needed some of that light, that contentment and safety. Enclosed in my memory, I heard the voices of my Grandma and her friends, their laughter. I felt my hand in hers, my fingers warm under the edge of her coat sleeve.

I knew, then, that I wasn't the person I had expected to be. It was at that moment, faced with the happy child I had been, that I saw I wasn't happy now. I realised that, for whatever reason, my life didn't fit me. The life then had fitted me. I had felt safe and now I didn't.

Reader, if I hadn't been so numb and weak emotionally, I would have cried as I stood there. Not tears of self-pity, or sadness at not being safe in my Grandma's hands anymore, but tears of confusion because I didn't know what was wrong with me. I just knew that there was something wrong.

And there, that was the moment when I started this journey. That was where I began to explore why I was different. Not just eccentric, or odd, or from a family where that could pass as normal. Why I was unfit for purpose in the modern world, what it was about me that made me fear the very places I needed to be.

I've made it here, to you. I know more about myself now than I ever expected to know. I thought, by now, I would know everything. I'm often amazed how much there is still to learn. I needed to suffer then to understand myself now.

I have to tell you, I still sometimes hide in toilets. I still sometimes need to remember the feel of my Grandma's coat sleeve covering my fingers. I'm never going to be so strong that I don't need to look back at a time when I was small and weak and felt absolutely safe.

The difference now is, I know what is wrong with me. And it's not wrong. I just happen to have aspergers, that's all.


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Putting it off until tomorrow... extreme prevarications and procrastinations

How many times have I used the word stress? How many blogs have covered the aspie need to avoid stress? How often have I said that aspies should take any measures necessary to make their lives as stress-free as possible? The answer is: a lot.

So why is it, when stress is such an enormous issue, that people with aspergers bring more stress on themselves by not doing things when they need to be done? Putting things off, important, essential things, as well as smaller, less vital tasks, creates stress and worry. The stress and worry caused by putting things off impacts on the aspie's state of mind and emotions, making them feel worse. They become even less likely to do the necessary tasks and the cycle of stress escalates.

Mad, isn't it? Why would someone do that to themselves?!

A small example. A reply to a letter needs to be written and there is a time limit for writing it. There it sits, on the desk, waiting to be done. It's a necessary task, a little job that only I can do.

I think about doing it. I plan writing it. I can see the finished article and how it will read. There are envelopes in the drawer, so the imagined finished letter has somewhere to go once it's done. All of this is fine.

Still it sits there. It develops a personality, a whiny voice that nags to be done. It grows in importance as the deadline approaches. It's always there.

At night, in bed, I plan to do the letter the next day. I almost (but not quite) get up and do it right then. The next day comes and I forget all about the letter. I do something much better instead (it's reached the stage where anything is better than the letter). I come back and find the letter. I remember promising myself I would do it today and guilt sets in.

I look at the letter and, with a heavy heart, start to re-read it, as if I haven't pictured the reply many times. When I've finished, I will probably just break up the task by doing something else first. Eventually, I might write the reply.

Written and with a triumph of accomplishment, my letter is put into an envelope and set on the side. The feeling of victory is often enough for me to forget it all over again. If it's lucky, it will make it to my bag.

At some stage, I'll find the envelope in my bag and possibly put a stamp on it. Eventually, when someone else finds the letter, it will be posted. Just occasionally, by happy accident, I'll be next to the Tesco postbox with my hand in my bag and see the letter, complete with stamp. Then the sad little item will be dragged out of my bag, pulled as straight as I can make it and finally, blessedly, dropped in the post box.

And this is only a reply to a letter. So, imagine what lengths I can reach to avoid something more complicated and important?

I'm frustrated with myself on a daily basis. I really am. You probably felt frustrated by the time you finished reading about my letter. A simple thing, a simple solution and a person with the capacity to solve it for themselves. Who wouldn't be frustrated?

The number of times I have scolded myself, nagged myself, made detailed lists and plans on how to get things done. This ranges from needing to get my tax return in on time to remembering to set the washing machine off so we'll all have clothes (including underwear) on Monday morning.

Anything and everything that is a task can be delayed, for no good reason at all. The only real reason I can give you, reader, is that when I think about actually doing something, I get the muddy-stomach feeling, that drag in the pit of me that makes me feel bad. Why? I'm not sure, but I think it's tied in to the old self-esteem issues again, as well as the fear of failure: and those two are really one and the same thing.

The planning to do things is rather nice, it holds out promise and hope for the future. There is nothing so satisfying as a to-do list. I love lists! When I sit and focus, I can make the best lists and I won't forget a thing. Quite the opposite; my list will grow and grow, as ever increasing jobs are added to it. If I could only do all of these things on my list, I would be a real person!

When it comes to finally achieving one of the jobs on the list, do I feel as satisfied? No. If it's a smaller job or I didn't put it off as long, I feel pretty good that it's done. If it's a big job, like the tax return, of course I feel relief, but it's actually more like lancing a boil than a happy release.

I always know, whatever jobs I do, there will always be more. So any accomplishment is temporary.

And I do, honestly and without self-delusion, forget to do things. I'll often remember them at the wrong moments, when it's impossible for me to act on it. When I'm in the right place, something else will have my attention and away it goes again.

Still, the main reason for my endless prevarication and procrastonation - and the difficulties I create for myself - is my reluctance to do the job in the first place. Putting if off is a happy little feeling. It means that I'm planning to do the job, which is good, but I don't have to do it right now, which is even better.

I would like to tell you that I've resolved this issue and have the magic formula for change. I don't. I am improved and there are some things which help.

I want to mention two other sites just now. For the smaller jobs (and smaller ones lead to bigger ones), I've found it very useful to follow Pam Young of Make it Fun and the FlyLady Both of these saintly, funny and genuinely caring women have created systems to help people organise themselves. They have non-judgmental advice for the organisationally impaired

While neither of their systems is aimed specifically at people with aspergers, the way they break it down and make it all possible is very aspie-friendly and I'd recommend you take a look. Make it Fun is more about you organising yourself (yay, lists!), whereas Flylady has a reminder-based system by email.

For myself, what has helped is setting deadlines on my phone. It's such a small thing but it really helps. Again, I'll be honest: most of the time I ignore the reminders. Yes, I do. Annoying, aren't I? But I'll keep re-setting them and, eventually, I'll do as I'm told and get the job done.

The other thing I do is firmly remind myself of how much better it was when I did the job on time. This helped with big things like the tax return. After about three years running where I filed it on the last day - the evening of the last day, just like Homer Simpson, jumping through the doors of the post office - I was determined not to suffer again. I've done it a little earlier each year, always reminding myself of the sickening panic I felt when it was almost too late.

For the little jobs, this works in its own way. I do forget the little things more but by still using the reminders, I forget less of them than I used to. It does feel like the phone is nagging me sometimes, but it also keeps the thing in the forefront of my mind and, by having an external reminder, there's more chance of being reminded at the right place and time - like finding the letter in my bag when I'm next to the post box.

Having other people remind you can also help, but is as likely to cause arguments. It's a bit like the phone reminding you, except the phone has an off switch. Other people tend to want an answer as to whether you've done the thing and, if not, when you intend to do it. The phone is friendlier; it's more like, here is the thing, just telling ya!

After all this, I feel I have laid out the problem for you without offering a complete solution. Is it helpful to know I'm part of the way there? I hope so. I've been more able to cope with these things as I've started to feel better about myself, so the clue is most likely in improving self-esteem This won't offer all the answers but it will stop that muddy feeling sloshing up as often.

I'm not saying aspies won't carry on forgetting to do things, but if they feel more confident in themselves, then when the task is remembered, it is more likely to get done.

If all else fails and it's a serious problem, it really is worth having someone close be the 'secretary'. Let someone trusted be the overseer of important and necessary jobs. By this, I do not mean housework and food shopping! If the aspie is starving and sitting naked on the floor, by all means, take over these two areas. Otherwise, only step in and help if there is serious danger of an impact on the aspie's life, mental well-being and safety. Or if they ask you to.

Be prepared for a backlash - the guilt of not managing and not facing up to things nearly always triggers an angry reaction. We're angry with ourselves and, if you must know, pretty angry with you too, for being able to manage these things without batting an eyelid. We're also on the lookout for your judgment, so do keep it in check. And even if you don't feel or act judgmental, we'll suspect you of it. Sorry!

So there we are. Prevarications, procrastinations and the fact it's unlikely to go away. Yippee for the aspie who has someone who is the natural do-er of deeds. For the rest of us, boo-hoo, because, unfortunately, those deeds will still have to be done, no matter how often or how long we delay them. This is an unwelcome truth.

Sadly, when it comes to getting things done the only way to get them done is to do them.


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Authentic Aspie Moment: I chopped it up!

I wanted to share with you an event where I displayed a staggering amount of literal thinking. Even now, I look back and think: Did I really do that?

My neighbour, a very organised, tidy person, was having a clear out and kindly asked me if I would like a big unit (a long, wooden cabinet she had used for her TV) that she had in her living room. I went over to look at it and realised it would be too big but she was so excited about me having it and keen for it to be taken, that I felt I couldn't refuse. I didn't know how to refuse, you see and didn't want to upset her.

Also, she said if I didn't take it, she was just going to chop it up and take it to the dump. I thought, in that case, it won't matter if I end up getting rid of it.

She dropped it off a little while later. I made sure it was the wrong size before deciding to get rid of it. Yes, too big, so out it would go. I called the local charity shop and they came the next day.

I was worried about them coming and me not being ready for them so I prepared by taking the unit out into the front garden (it was summer). That way, I couldn't fail to be ready as the unit was already outside. I covered it with plastic and left it there.

The next day the charity man came and, when he saw the unit in the garden, refused to take it. He said they never took things that had been outside. I explained it hadn't rained and was covered with plastic but he refused and left.

Now what? I had this big unit and nowhere to put it. I couldn't take it to the dump, it was too heavy, Then I had a light-bulb moment.

My neighbour had told me she would chop it up if I didn't have it so why didn't I chop it up and get rid of it that way?

Pleased with my solution and sure it would solve the problem, me and my son set to and chopped up that unit. It was hard work but we really enjoyed it. Before too long it was lying in an impressive heap, shards of wood sticking up to the sky, splinters littering the grass.

We burned it on the bonfire and had a nice time. All done and dusted.

A few days later my neighbour asked me what the unit was like in my living room.

'Oh, I had to get rid of it,' I told her, 'it was too big.'

She already looked worried. 'Get rid of it?' she asked. 'Did you send it to the charity shop?'

'No, they wouldn't take it after it had been outside all night,' I told her, only vaguely registering her mouth open in surprise. 'So I chopped it up,' I finished.

Her mouth dropped. In a choked voice, struggling to keep her voice low, she said, 'Chopped it up?'

'Yes,' I said, 'like you were going to do if I hadn't taken it.'

'That was a good unit,' she said, looking stunned.

'Mmm,' I agreed, not sure what to say. 'But you were going to chop it up,' I reminded her.

We went our separate ways and for a while my neighbour avoided me and our conversations were stilted. Looking back, I'm impressed this was all that happened.

When I relayed the whole thing back to my mother, wondering why the neighbour had been so strange about it, my mother explained that the lady had never intended to chop up the unit - she only said it so that I would take the unit and not feel like I was accepting charity.

With this revelation in front of me, I replayed all the events I've described, imagining my neighbour's horror when she realised what I'd done to the unit she had enjoyed for so many years and had expected me to enjoy. I was mortified!

I never tried to explain to her my reasoning as I'd acted in good faith, based on my straightforward (but very complicating) aspie nature and my belief that she really was going to chop up the unit. In hindsight, it seems funny that I would believe she meant this, but at the time she said it, I thought it was true. It really can be that simple!

You'll be pleased to know we did get back onto good terms and I'm a little more careful these days when people say surprising things that seem to be true. My first thought is often: Is this the same as that chopped-up unit?

If I'm not sure, I ask my mother!


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Expectations and the harm they can do

I was planning this post on expectations and, I have to be honest here, every time I thought about it, I was reminded of the times I have let people down. So, that kind of proves my point before I've even begun!

Expectations can be the enemy of the aspie peace of mind. Like my earlier post about my school days and in the post where I talk about the various jobs I've had, expectations play an important part not just in life events like school and work, but also in our inter-personal relationships.

The expectations of other people define us in much the same ways as how they talk about us and to us. Again, referring to an earlier post about self esteem, expectations of us doing badly can be as much a factor as when people hope or assume we will do well.

Let's look at negative expectations first and get them out of the way. These are the ones we tend to get from people who don't really mind if they hurt our feelings or who care more about the thing we will do wrong than our self-esteem. So the teacher who is determined we won't misbehave again is focused only on the behaviour that has gone before and what she expects we'll do as soon as she isn't watching us this time. Her opinions are vocal and damning, especially to our parents and often while we're present. In her mind, there's no point talking about us when we're not there - it's not as if we don't know what we're doing, is it?

You come away from this sort of treatment believing you can do no right, because most of the time you have made no effort to do wrong, and still you managed it. So if it's that easy to get it wrong, it must be practically impossible to get it right.

The negative expectations of the teacher become self-fulfilling as whatever drives you to behave in class in a certain way, be it nerves, a crowded, noisy environment, missing home, feeling over-tired: all these things combine to cause your aspie behaviours to take on a life of their own and all the bad things spouted by the teacher come to fruition.

This sort of negative cycle of you fulfilling bad expectations can be stopped in its tracks with the right treatment. I don't mean you change personality overnight, but in the teacher example, you just need the right teacher over-seeing the class for the negative behaviour to be curbed and changed, usually by simple measures such as the teacher showing they like you and care about you. With younger children it can really be that simple; though the teacher may still need to keep an eye on your more creative escapades.

Negative expectations from family members can be far more devastating. With a teacher, especially the type to take against you or your behaviour, you are very rarely the only one in class who is suffering. You can usually see others being told off as well as yourself, even if you're the 'star of the show'. You also tend to get sympathy from other children, despite bringing the trouble on yourself.

With relatives, negative expectations are also built on behaviour which has caused them difficulty, but it is all made worse by the fact they are closer to you due to being related and, usually, their wishes and expectations are supported by your parents.

If you do something a relative doesn't like, such as fiddling with the frilly trim of the cushions every time you visit, then you are told to stop. Those cushions, though, oh my but they're frilly. And you know what? The frill has a silky edge on it and when you play with it, you can feel the silk tickling your finger ends. Before you know it, the cushions are removed when you walk through the door.

Your parents would support your relative in this. They don't want to have you fiddling with someone else's cushions when you visit and causing bad feeling. They want a nice visit without an upset relative. Also, you've been told by them and the relative to keep off the cushions. It's not as if you don't know!

The cushions are removed but you still have a reputation as a fiddler. Relatives, especially the more elderly ones, love repetition, especially when it comes to children for some reason. Once you've done something that sticks in the mind, you're always going to do it. And, as an aspie, you probably will.

Those cushions will be brought up every time you visit. They will probably even tell you where they've had to put them, to keep them safe from you. There will be warning looks and reminders of what you did. In other words, negative expectations that you'll do it again.

It doesn't take much effort for this to become negative expectations of you doing something else, similarly annoying and unabashed. You may even find the fiddler reputation following you from relative to relative.

This example can be transferred to just about anything, but keeping it within the friends and family circle. Your aspie as a child and teenager is trapped within family confines and must visit people and behave a certain way while there. Any negative expectations 'enjoyed' by the aspie follow along with them, and there is ample opportunity for them to be brought up again and again.

A quick example for a teenager may be the decision of what to do after school. You can guarantee everyone will ask them what their plans are for when they've left school. This sort of conversation lays the teen open to opinions and expectations galore; they are seen as an open subject where people who know them well can say what they expect them to do.

I think part of the problem with expectations is that they are always linked with someone's personal opinion of the aspie, but are a way of commenting on the aspie without it seeming too personal. It's more acceptable to say that the teenager is expected to stay on at school because of past results, than to say you think they're making a terrible decision. The voicing of expectations is a milder form of giving an opinion, a way of saying what you think while disguising it as something the aspie should know already.

For instance, if the aspie teen has had good results in Maths but doesn't want to go back to school, it's seen as acceptable to talk about high hopes you may have had for them, because the aspie brought it on themselves by being good at maths. It's seen as better to talk about what you expected of them than to say to the aspie, what a terrible decision you're making!

You can see that expectations and talking about them, negative or positive, are a sneaky way of expressing opinions which may otherwise come across as too personal or strong. Unfortunately, the effect is the same as if you had voiced the opinions. Aspies are not stupid, they can work out you are disappointed without you having to come out and say it.

As far as positive expectations are concerned, these can be as bad as the negative ones. The negative ones are familiar. After years of getting it wrong, they become an unwelcome, but often-seen, face at the door. The positive ones are worse because they are often voiced by people you want to please and who really care about you. They express hope for the future and faith in you, the aspie.

You see, aspies often have little faith in themselves, due to low self-worth. Being told by someone else that not only are you a great person, you're also expected to do great things; it can be too much.

Someone with aspergers, at any age, struggles with thinking about the future and what they will do in it. It requires planning and some confidence that it can be carried off without stress or mishap. To be told you are expected to go into that future and achieve things, and that those things are directly linked to you and your talents, is terrifying.

It means pressure is put on you to do well, to fulfill your potential, to not mess it up. It's this last one that makes the teeth grind and the eyes flicker with fear. We're so used to messing it up, we can always see that as a possibility. What we have more trouble with is the thought of independently achieving something without it going wrong.

Added to this is the inability to see it as less than black or white. Either we will or we won't mess it up. We won't partly mess it up but do okay. We won't mostly succeed with a few hiccups. No, it's all or nothing. And as the past is strewn with pebbles rather than sand, we can't see this new venture going smoothly.

We're then faced with your hope. Oh dear, the hope. The light in the eyes as we see that the muck-up aspie is being imagined as the hero of the hour. Within us, we believe that we can put out that light and leave you disappointed. Again.

Even if we have some confidence in our abilities and aren't convinced it will all fall apart, the very fact you have these positive expectations is enough to ramp up the pressure and make it all seem a little too much to face. It doesn't matter that your intention is to support and cajole: we can see past your subtleties in this area, if no other. We know you have the hope, we can smell it.

This is why so many aspies are put off from trying. How frustrating to see all that potential slink off to its bedroom and close the door, hoping to pretend nothing was in any danger of changing and everything will remain the same.

I can imagine you feel very downhearted at times like this, when your aspie is being obstinate and not wanting to go for the big dream, or the little dream, or even the tiny one with the sparkle in it.

This is where it becomes important to make everything about stages and sections. Imagine the task in hand as being chopped up so it can be digested in pieces. If you have any hope of helping your aspie to get past the barrier of expectations, then it's with this staged approach, where you make it seem possible by not being a giant task, but something that can be done a little bit at a time - even if those little bits follow right on from one another.

Don't lose hope (just hide it better!). Keep on with the support and the pep talks. Try to sidle past the obstinate look and stomping feet. Don't let them away with it and then, sometimes, do. It's a judgment call as to whether your aspie will  gain or lose by pushing for the thing you know they can do. Is it for you or them? What good will it do? Is it something they can't afford to do without? Will they love themselves less if they fail?

Each situation is different but do hold off from voicing too many expectations. State the facts of what it might be like and how it can be planned for. Make it seem manageable and you may be surprised by an unexpected willingness to have a go.

In the end, as always, expectations are only that. In the real world of the aspergers child or adult, they can only do what is achievable at the time. The important thing is to have you waiting at the end of it.


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Aspie: child vs adult

I've been thinking a lot about my childhood self and how things have changed since then - how I have changed. It made me wonder how I could describe the difference between having aspergers as a child and what it's like to be an aspie adult.

I think I can sum it up in one word - responsibility.

As a child, however your aspie nature presents itself, you have little or no responsibilities. I would say that the big one for most aspie children is the need to go to school. The strain of school, the damage it can do and the way that stress can exaggerate the behaviours of aspergers, is often the reason why a fair number of parents decide to home educate their autistic spectrum children. (I'll go into home education more in a later post, as it is a very good way to look at aspergers and the effects of normal school).

So, to an aspie child, school is enormously important. It comprises a large part of their daily lives, and even if they enjoy it, school is something which has to be done, so it becomes a big responsibility.

As an adult aspie, it can be a whole nightmare of responsibility, depending on the lifestyle you follow.

As I've said before, I have a lot of different responsibilities, but so do other aspie adults. I'm talking about things that, if avoided, can make your life fall apart.

Keeping up the bills, running a car, raising children, looking after other people, holding down a job. Every aspie adult could give you a slightly different list of responsibilities, but if they have a mainstream lifestyle, they are likely to be looking after others, or being responsible for them in some way.

So, as an adult, responsibility is really foremost in the mind. It is the central hub around which your whole life revolves. You can never really forget it, even if things are going well. If you're lucky and have a job you can cope with or you enjoy, the responsibility element of work fades away a little. If you find being a parent a wonderful, life-fulfilling role, the responsibility of that can shrink compared to the benefits.

It never goes away, though. It's always there and you need to keep one eye on it at all times.

Unlike when you were a child, there is no one to pick up the pieces. Even if you have a partner to help you as an adult, or your parents still pitch in, you are still in the middle of life and expected to be a grown person who does things and can cope with things. You may have a moan or a fret and your nearest and dearest probably know more of your stresses than others, but they do still expect you to get up the next day and do it all again.

As a child you can have a meltdown and the worst that can happen is your parents will have a few more grey hairs or be judged, again, by the neighbours. As an adult, if you go for the full meltdown, you're likely to be carted off by the police or ambulance crew. Inside, the same emotions which brought you to tears as a child, they still mill about, washing over you, trying to take over and make you give in to the all-out pandemonium of losing control.

Mostly, as adults, we don't lose control in this way. We can hold it together long enough to at least make it home and hide in the bathroom. Sometimes you need to control this feeling in stages, so you do what you can where you can, perhaps by going into the car and sitting quietly or finding a less busy corner of the department store and pretending to look at things while you take some deep breaths.

The difference as an adult is not just that you know it will cause so much embarrassment and bother to be seen, on the floor, gnashing the carpet and kicking your legs; you are also aware that you can control it a little and don't need to behave this way to cope. You know if you can just make it to point A, then point B is over there, point C is outside in the car park, point D will be within sight at the traffic lights and point E is the blessed sound of you opening the house door. (This is a coping mechanism I'll cover in another post as it works so well for me, most of the time).

So, as an adult, we can persuade ourselves to calm down a little, or, more likely, to hang on for now, you can lose it later when you're alone. The difference here is that by doing this, you don't lose it later. You get past point E, the door closes and life is still there but the meltdown feeling isn't. At best, you're back to where you started - feeling sad or stressed and with your emotions under control but not helping you at all.

One good thing about having a meltdown is that even when you factor in the exhaustion which follows, you got those feelings all stirred up and thrown out of your system at once. The adult response means you don't usually get arrested, but you do have to carry on with the same feelings. It's a bit like the difference between a pan boiling over. The meltdown gets rid of the problem (the steam) all at once but isn't beneficial afterwards; the calmer adult is like lifting the lid to let out just enough steam so you save the peas and they carry on cooking. Better for the peas (the responsibilities), but much less good for getting rid of all that steam you built up.

The pan of peas looks like a bad example at first glance. Isn't it better to use that steam to cook the peas more quickly? Don't we want it to stay in there, not be all over he cooker with little blackened husks cooked to the bottom of the pan? Yes and no. The answer to that lies in how you view responsibilities.

When it comes to living life in a successful way, you need to cope with everything as well as you can. When you're living with aspergers, the responsibilities are always secondary to you, and the way you cope with things. The peas in the pan are important, but to an aspie the steam is always there, cooking or not and must be released or else we go very mad indeed.

This is partly a problem of perspective as well as mental and emotional health. From the outside, other people will see that responsibilities come first and the aspie needs to adapt and get on with it. From the inside, the aspie knows all responsibilities equal stress, so even the small ones, that they can cope with, become bigger than they are and intuitively linked to the bigger ones anyway.

The key, as an adult, without someone always there to pick up the pieces, give you support and tuck you in at night, is to recognise what needs doing when. This is the same approach as points A-E above. Use it for responsibilities too. A simple example would be, do not avoid paying your rent! If you run out of money, do not pay the Sky bill first. Know which needs the most attention from you.

If you're having  a bad few days and want to ignore everything, ask for help. Other people can do a lot of things for you and sometimes you need them. Do not pretend it will wait or go away because sometimes it won't.

If you have no one to ask, be kind to yourself. Some things can't wait, but you need to be able to do them without making any big mistakes. If you have a few important things which need your attention, think a little about them and decide which is the most urgent. Stop, go away, come back. Do the most urgent part of the most urgent thing. Stop, go away, come back. When you're ready, repeat the process.

Responsibilities are never going to go away and, really and truly, if you had no stresses at all in life, you'd be SO bored. Honestly, I'm telling the truth here, you know I wouldn't lie to you! I know that things can be hard and stressful and you often wish you were like a child again, with someone else doing all the nasty stuff for you. I can't take away all the stress and I can't do the nasty stuff for you. But if you break it up into pieces, it will get done and by trying different ways of coping, you'll learn new tricks and new methods of doing it better the next time.

So, yes, the main difference between being a child with aspergers or an adult is the simple matter of responsibilities, coupled with the very complicated matter of still being an aspie once you're all grown up. That's the secret, folks. We may walk and talk and can cook you dinner, but on the inside we're still the awkward kid who laughed when nothing was funny in the middle of the school play.

Be patient and remember to ask us how we're getting on. And maybe when the rent is due.


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Aspies don't like surprises!

Interwoven in so many of my posts and comments about aspergers has been the notion of aspie reactions to life, the universe and everything. It always seems to be reactions, have you noticed that? The aspie, in defence as usual. This is because we don't often expect the outcomes we're presented with, so we do end up defending ourselves against yet another surprise.

This is why aspies don't like surprises - every blooming day has them and they're very rarely nice. I don't mean that every day I open the post and I've won the Reader's Digest draw or there is a bunch of flowers from a secret admirer on the front step. Neither do I mean that people shower me with unexpected compliments or the cake turns out better than expected.

No, I mean the kind of surprises that are small enough to act like bullets, slipping through the mithril vest of aspergers and into the defenseless heart.

The sort of surprise that happens in conversations with people who should know better, where you get something wrong and they laugh at you. You like them and they like you so why did they laugh? That's a surprise. Or realising in the middle of the queue that you left your card at home and have 23 pence and a button to pay for the load of shopping already travelling along the conveyor - that's a surprise too. Or suddenly remembering the you're meant to be picking the kids up from school and you're already ten minutes late.

All these masquerade as surprises, dear reader. They pretend to be small and innocuous little surprises, the kind of things people brush off and say 'it doesn't matter', 'it's not important'. In the grand scheme, they aren't important, I can see that. I can even tell myself that at the time. In the region of the heart, where the nasty little beggars have found a way through, they do hurt and they do matter.

They are not surprises, they are little shocks.

I'm not talking about proper shocks, like the roof falling in or finding out the hard way there are loose wires in the plug. I mean little jolts, like when a cat gives you a warning bite or a toddler nips you in the neck. You won't die, you most likely won't even bruise and other people expect you to laugh it off.

The thing with surprises and shocks though is that they are unexpected and, with aspergers, quite frequent. A lot of the time you can be surprised simply because you had already worked out in your head how something would turn out. We have a naturally tendency to plan ahead, so we can organise ourselves and know what to do without having to stop everything and figure things out. When something goes wrong - or feels like it's gone wrong - it's an unwelcome surprise and it jars the whole operation, leaving you feeling slightly out of control.

And there is the key word here: not surprises, not shocks but Control. Aspies love to have control, it's a beautiful thing. I don't mean we all want to rule the world or even expect to be in charge (no thanks!), I mean that having control over what goes on around you makes it feel safe and helps you get through the day in one piece.

If you're feeling delicate but still need to go out into the world of lions and tigers and bears, you can plan ahead, plan it step by step, down to whatever detail you like. It's actually safer to plan it only to medium-density, as then you can leave room for little things to change and not feel worried when they do. However, accepting that little things can change is not the same as accepting surprises.

For instance, you need to get the car fixed at the garage. It's not a very good day but it has to be done. You take it in, knowing you can wait as it won't take long. You know how you'll be greeted, they'll take the keys, you'll sit down in the waiting room. There may be other people, the man might offer you a coffee, which you'll decline as you have no idea how to work the coffee machine. The TV may be on. There may not be a place to sit. You decide, before going in, whether or not you'll stay in the waiting room if there is nowhere to sit. You decide to keep your coat on as it can be cold in there and being nervous makes you shiver, so you don't want to shiver through cold as well.

There, all prepared and off we go.

You get to the garage and realise you left your glasses at home. You left wearing the prescription sunglasses. If you take them off, you can see but not well enough to focus properly or read anything. Plus, you have a tendency to scowl at things. If you keep them on, you look weird, sitting in the waiting room, wearing shades.

This unwelcome little surprise is shelved away. You cope with it, try to ignore it, sashay into the garage waiting room and give them the keys. Politely decline the coffee and turn round to sit down.

There is a space and it's opposite the TV. Now you can pretend to watch it while you sit there, regretting your glasses being at home. You accidentally sit on someone's coat. It's okay, it'll be fine. You smile at them, conscious you have a slightly zoned out expression without your glasses (yes, for those who know me, I have this expression with them too).

All is fine and then you need to sign for the car. You have another little shock, realising you can't see where you're meant to sign without putting the prescription sunglasses on. Do you guess and hope you don't sign the counter or put the sunglasses back on and look weird?

In this real-life scenario, I put them back on, waggling them at the chap behind the counter and explaining I had left my glasses at home. Of course he didn't care, I was worrying for nothing. It's always surprising to me how non-judgmental people can be when you're feeling vulnerable and then how callously cruel some will be when you least expect it.

Catastrophe averted, you take the keys and leave. It was all worry over nothing but that didn't stop you fretting for most of the time you were there.

This is the sort of surprise brought on by myself, by forgetting my glasses, but it shows how one quite small thing can impact on everything else. It also emphasises how tenuous that feeling of control can be. It doesn't take much for the control to feel like it's slipping, even when barely anything has changed. That sense of loss of control can change your whole perspective and make a so-so day a really difficult one.

Coming back to the surprises angle, the way most non-aspies encounter this hatred of surprise and change is when they want to do something with their beloved and find a brick wall in the way. This can range from wanting to go to the park on the 'wrong' day, to doing something special and exciting for a birthday, to wanting to make Christmas a day to remember (I'm going to cover aspies and Christmas as a separate post quite soon).

You notice how none of these things are done to hurt the aspie. The worst part is they are often done to make the aspie happy! So when it falls apart because the beloved reacts badly and hares off back to the safety of the computer, the non-aspie can feel very, very hurt and let down. It doesn't matter in that moment that they understand a lot of the aspergers behaviour: what matters is they, personally, planned something lovely and had it shoved back in their face.

I'm sorry, I can't make it better. Too often I've been the one who has had to bear surprises. Adult aspies will often try harder than children and young people to hide their horror of the unexpected. I will try to look forward to the unseen present in the wrapping paper. I'll try to summon enthusiasm for the day out when it's my usual day for something else. I will really, really try to look pleased when you spring a brilliant surprise on me, out of nowhere, when I thought you had just come for a coffee and a chat.

All too often, my true feelings and the true feelings of many an aspie, show in the face to such an extent I might as well just give in and shriek as I run off into my bedroom.

You see, even nice surprises are stressful, mainly because of two very important reasons:

1. It's a change from the routine and we have the routine sussed out
2. You expect an emotional reaction from us and are giving one yourself

I've covered how changing number 1 can impact on us, as the feeling of control slips away. Number 2 is even trickier.

I might love the present, you may have chosen the perfect gift, the most perfect, extraordinary, amazing gift. Then you wrapped it and gave it as a surprise. You watched me intently as I opened it. The pressure builds - a surprise, an audience, expectations, feelings, your eyes boring into my face, the need to show my emotions strongly, so you can see how I feel.

All of this overwhelms the gift itself and the moment of giving. I don't necessarily want to spoil it by being told what the gift is (though that may work for some aspies). It helps if I get a warning, though, something like, 'you'll like your gift, it's right up your street,' or 'don't worry, you will like it'. Nothing specific, you see, just reassurance.

You can watch me open it, but try not to sit forward on your seat, face alight, hands clasped together. Maybe chat a little to other people, or even to me. Maybe hold something in your hands so that I'm not your only focus. Have the TV on in the background, so I can see it out of the corner of my eye and not just have the drama of you, me and the present.

Make the opening and giving of the present something with an element of control to it. Ask me if I would like to open it now, let me know by your body language that you are relaxed and it's no big deal. Let me get myself comfortable; if necessary, let me leave the present and then open it later.

I've concentrated more on presents and the coping mechanisms in play there, but it can be applied to any surprise you need to share with your aspie. The main idea is in the aspie retaining control, or the feeling of control. If you have something shocking to tell them, don't lead up to it too gently. Let them know you have to tell them something they won't like, that is a shock. You can't always soften the blow but it really helps if you know a little of what type of thing is coming.

For the rest of it, for the hurt feelings as you and your idea/present/day out are rejected, just let it flow a little. You have probably been told, or gathered by now, that your aspie does not like surprises. Once you've got over your hurt feelings, reflect on the fact that it shouldn't really have been a surprise to you that your beloved was not pleased. Admit to yourself that you wanted to please your aspie, but were also pleasing yourself, by making it a surprise.

I realise that may read a little harshly, like a criticism. It is and it isn't. I know you do these things because you love us and want to please us. I also know your aspie will have made clear, by body language if not by word and deed, that they do not appreciate being surprised. Please, please respect this as much as possible and make allowances for it.

And if you really must give your aspie a delicious surprise, warn them beforehand. Yes, that sounds like a contradiction but it really isn't. Tell them you have a surprise for them. Their heart will sink, honestly it will. Follow it quickly by saying it's something you're sure they will like, then after that you can give them the surprise.

Like going to the garage, the shop, the school or out into the world in general, when it comes to feeling in control, preparation is everything. Then surprises can be absorbed and coped with and (don't tell anyone!), a little bit enjoyed.

Oh, and before I forget - don't worry about the super-duper special present we seemed so lacklustre about. We actually love it, it really is the best thing ever. We'll go online and tell everybody what a great person you are for knowing us so well. We won't shut up about it. And in bed that night, we'll think about it and smile, because we know you love us so much. And eventually, we'll tell you how much we liked it. You just have to be patient. Annoying, I know, but everything moves at its own speed and aspies are no different.


 A Guide to Your Aspie

 How to talk to your Aspie

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SELF-ESTEEM! Can you hear me shouting yet?

I cannot emphasise this enough: self-esteem is fundamental to aspergers in adults. Yes, it's very important to aspie children too - who isn't in need of some self-esteem, aspie or not? But for the aspie adult, it underpins every single negative feeling and thought process they have ever had. I'm not exaggerating.

You can be a fruity-loop aspie, like me, who loves to shoot off and do creative things without a backward glance and only half an eye on the consequences. You can be a super-introvert and only talk to those you trust the most, always conscious of yourself and your surroundings. You can be living in happy oblivion, just thinking you're a bit odd, like Great Uncle Horace, and it never did him any harm. You can be any version of aspie you like and self-esteem is with you every step of the way, like a small dog after your biscuits.

I mention my own version of aspie-ness first as, to the untrained eye, I am probably the least visibly affected by self-esteem issues. I go about my business, my mood swings are often on the up as I have filtered out any negatives from the situation at hand. As I've said before, in my life I have normal responsibilities which I fulfill to the best of my abilities. I don't look like I have self-esteem issues. If you ask me about something I'm doing, I'll usually tell you the positives and leave out any downsides, so you come away thinking I don't have any big issues.

In the comfort of my own mind, I also try to ignore the negatives and carry on as if life is a bed of pansies (last longer than roses and no thorns). I'm confident in my abilities and can do what needs to be done.

Yes. Hmm. So, has it ever occurred to you why some people are relentlessly positive? I am not, by the way. People close to me hear the other side of it, the downside, the worries. So, that means other people, who show their sunny-side first, they have their worries and anxieties too. But does the world see them? No.

Positivity is a brilliant, life-giving force. It can inspire people, it can carry you along in the midst of dreadfulness, it can be the fuel you need to get by, let alone succeed. This is the secret known to the relentlessly positive. You'll often find, if you dig deep, that the more positive, upbeat, annoyingly optimistic people you know have a depth of sadness within them. They will have experienced pain and loss. They probably won't talk about it often. They still feel it, though. The reason for the upbeat part is that they know life is too short, and sometimes too hard, to let the dark cloud get you. Keep moving, keep jogging, dance if you have to, but don't stand still or it might catch up.

What does this have to do with self-esteem, you may be wondering. Everything, unfortunately. For, while a person may elect to be upbeat after hardship, as a way of coping with life, it is their self-esteem which prevents them from coming to you, their friend, and admitting how bad they feel today. If they had self-confidence, you would know how they felt, they would tell you things more often. And then you could help them.

It's a sad kind of closed-off world where the more jolly types, always with a smile, are the ones least likely to burden others with their problems. You don't want to know about them! Much better that they know about you, so they can help you and spread some more positive energy about.

The reason for such spreading is that they have received rather less kindness and good energy themselves than they needed. They have been left adrift, in some way, perhaps by circumstance, more likely by other people. To be fair, if you are already the sort of person who can present a public front - and so many aspie women are - then you have not given others the chance to know you need support. But there is always a starting point for this front, for the pretence and the belief others won't be there for them.

As a child, it can start very early. Most children soak things up and learn quickly how other people are. They'll learn that Grandpa is grumpy and Grandma gives them cake. They'll know not to bother cousin Henry's chickens or he goes purple in the face. They know that Auntie Lucy doesn't like her ornaments touched, but will let you watch cartoons when you visit.

The aspie child is no different. They also learn these lessons about people, but they are already processing lessons about everything - how you cross the road, how to tie your shoes, why you don't keep your coat on indoors, how not to slam the car door, where to sit when you visit people, when to speak and when to be quiet.

Imagine growing up with so many ongoing lessons in your head. Each new one is added to the list and recited, consciously or not. A bit like an old film reel, it spins past, each image adding to the whole, each sound supposed to connect to the right scene. Then, on top of this, you must remember how to behave with people too? It can be a little too much.

So, sometimes, because of the overload, you forget about not touching Auntie Lucy's ornament. It doesn't break but she's not very happy. She's kind and explains to you how sad she would be if you had broken it and that's why she doesn't let you touch them. She promises, when you're older, you can hold them.

You like Auntie Lucy, you are horrified that you've upset her. You vow never to touch the ornaments again, and because you remember her being upset, you remember not to touch them - that part is fine. But you remember it was you, you forgetful, silly thing, who upset her in the first place. The rest of the visit is spent under a cloud. You know she'll let you touch them when you're older; this translates as when you're good enough to touch them, when you can be trusted. That turns backwards and comes to mean now, at this moment, you can't be trusted and you're not good enough.

Yes, it may sound convoluted, but the mind of the aspie is constantly turning, doubling back, re-processing everything in order to make it all understandable. Even if you do understand it, you're so used to getting it wrong, you repeat the process anyway, to make sure you have it right this time.

Even a simple thing, like a harsh word, sticks to an aspie like a burr on a dog's coat. You look at cousin Henry's chickens and he says, 'No!', giving you a look. You were never going to touch them but you feel the sting of his tone and his expression. It's a small thing, but away it goes, on the never-ending film reel, waiting to pass by a few times, so you can spot it amongst the rest.

You see, due to the over-sensitive nature of most aspies, when they are properly plugged in and listening, or when an event makes them remember something (like upsetting Auntie Lucy), they hold onto it like nobody's business. And you can't run that film reel in an eternal loop past your consciousness, not without a gargantuan memory and no ability to focus on the outside world. So, as time passes, earlier events are shelved away and new ones take their place. Strong, brightly-coloured memories, stay on the reel and pass by occasionally.

What remains are the feelings engendered by certain situations and the lessons those feelings taught you about yourself. You add the feelings to the image you have of you, the person, the personality. You become the clumsy one (this is possibly true) and the knowledge you are clumsy, or perceived as clumsy, becomes bundled up in the sad feelings from the past.

Without ever realising it, you have inserted a little, muddy, nasty brick in the wall of your life and there it stays, only visible when you go close up but still a part of the whole you.

So, by the time you're an adult, your endless learning process has already incorporated many negative lessons about your personality. You are always ready to learn more, too. As an adult aspie, you still haven't got a grip on the world and how it works. If someone says 'this is so' then it its, because someone else said it, and other people know things you don't.

I suppose it's true to say that self-esteem, for the aspie, is tied up with self-trust: you learn not to trust yourself, after all the times you made mistakes, so other people, by definition, are more trustworthy. Follow this on and it means that whatever they say about you must be true. If someone else gives you conflicting information, confusion ensues and you tend to believe whoever you're with at the time, being left with the negative sense of still not knowing who you are.

I don't have the answers to this problem, I'm afraid. I do have some answers for people living with their aspies, and who feel frustration at trying to build the self-confidence of their loved one. It can seem like, no matter what you say or do, your aspie will throw it back in your face, by word or thought or deed. It doesn't matter how much you love them or what proof you have they are a good, kind, intelligent, creative person: your aspie will deny it, even if that denial is only happening within their own mind.

You can't undo years of bad education here. Your aspie has learned relentlessly and is still learning. Yes, your opinions and words will be filed away on the current film reel, and they'll probably appreciate you making the effort. Unfortunately, they may also resent you for bringing up their personality again and harping on about how good, kind etc they are when they don't want to hear it!

Sometimes, at a later stage in life, aspies have done such a good job in learning who they are via other people, they reach overload and can only process new information which seems relevant. If they have bad self-esteem, then good feedback may not appear relevant, as they know good things don't really apply to them. This is why you will sometimes get the tetchy response when you're being nice to them.

What can you do? The short answer: not much except be there. But the long answer, that's a good one...

The long answer is great. Give it time, hang in there, be subtle in your building-up of your beloved's self-esteem. Barely let them know you're doing it. If you have definite proof of their brilliance (ie the computer is working again because of them), include the proof in your words. They may still brush it off but proof is gold to an aspie and often gets filed away when your words don't.

If other people have said good things about them, mention it at the same time as you backing up the comments. Hearing that more than one person thinks they're an okay person is often more persuasive. BUT, do not stand there, with that other person, and tell the aspie together. That means an instant irritation and overload - two people talking at once is a terrible thing! You'll lose any benefit from the negative reaction to being overwhelmed.

I'll leave it there for now. You can see by the length of this post that self-esteem is a major factor in aspie life and aspergers behaviour. I will re-visit it later and cover the areas I've had to leave out today.

I'll finish with one thought: aspies do not see themselves as being the same as other people, which means good words and opinions may only apply to others and not to them. If you say something good to them, don't make it a blanket statement of 'you are good because...' Instead, always say, 'I think you are good because...' Making it your own, specific opinion helps a little when it comes to them believing you. It's a subtle difference, but it can work when other words fail.


 A Guide to Your Aspie

 How to talk to your Aspie

My books and writing blog, with free stuff.
Find me on Facebook.and Twitter!