Sons are not the same as pets

I'm under instructions from IT teen to write about what I did to him yesterday. I think he feels in need of some remote sympathy or literary redress. And all I did was dye his hair for him.

In case you're wondering, I didn't creep into his room at night and dye it against his will. Nor did I fill his shampoo bottle with some beautiful shade of orange (now that I've thought of it, though, it must be done at some stage).

What I did was what he asked me to do: I helped him dye his hair.

He chose a fetching shade of plum-purple. We've used the hair dye before so he trusted me with the instructions. I did tell him to read them as we went along but instructions are really boring and I don't think I was listening properly.

He has very thick hair so I had to work the dye right in, making sure it reached the roots. I'm sure the instructions said something about working it in though there was no warning about turning his scalp purple.

Actually, I lie. His scalp was a deep red, not purple. Frankly, there was nothing plum about that colour before it dried. It was the shade you might find on the battlefield, a dark, resentful red, looking like I had emptied something other than a tube of hair dye all over his head.

I was concentrating so hard on working it into the roots and was then so distracted by his scalp turning red that I forgot to avoid his ears. I only noticed I hadn't avoided his ears when they turned a dark red too.

They looked up at me, those ears. With IT's hair plastered to his red scalp, the blood-red ears stood out, seeming to accuse me, their tormentor, for what I had done to them. Then I noticed his neck. Yes, you guessed it, that lovely shade of red again.

Honestly, it was like we were going to be extras in The Walking Dead. I managed to get it over the whole of his forehead and, mysteriously, down his face under one eye. That patch was particularly redolent of a zombie movie.

His neck was red until it reached the front of him, then his side-burns took over. To be fair, before I started using the hair dye, IT teen didn't really have side-burns, but once I had been round his head a few times, he had really good ones - in red, naturally.

After this, I was faced with the choice of telling him he now looked like Hell Boy's little cousin, or letting him find out for himself. I was also starting to worry about what colour his hair would be when it dried. As his hair started to dry, it was turning towards salmon pink, such an evil colour I'm surprised they still allow it to be used.

Thinking that honesty would be best, especially as teenagers look in mirrors so much, I said,

"Erm, it's covering well."

He immediately stiffened, suspicion flooding him to the core. One hand raised tentatively towards his head as he said, in an unjustifiably suspicious tone of voice,

"What have you done?!"

Yes, I had done something but there was no need to assume I had and definitely no need for his voice to rise at the end, as if to say, 'what have you done now?'

"It's a bit redder than I expected," I said, working some more in.

He leapt from the sofa and looked in the mirror. There was some animated discussion at this point, which I won't trouble you with and then he decamped to the bathroom to try and remove the stain from his skin so that he could still go to college in the morning.

While he was gone, I spent 10 minutes with a damp cloth, scrubbing the patch of the sofa where the hair dye had transferred itself, at head height and made it look like a visitor had come to a sticky end and then been removed, to make way for the next one.

Later, (a bit later than intended as I forgot the time while the dye was setting), we went to the bathroom to wash off the hair dye. This is the dreadful part for me as you have to let the water run over the hair until it runs clear.

Runs clear? Continents clear faster than that hair dye. It's like some physical pain, having to stand there, showering and showering the top of IT teen's head, waiting for there to be no more zombie red going down the plug.

He knelt on the floor, his head over the bath while I attacked him with the shower attachment. Attacked is his word, not mine. All I was doing was rubbing his hair while I showered it, to help the dye leave faster, just like when you shampoo. It's not my fault it's been so long since he had someone wash his hair for him that he's forgotten what it feels like. He was making a big fuss over nothing.

Various comments rose up out of the blood red hair, along the lines of me never going into hairdressing, and if more hairdressers were like me he'd never get his hair cut and hairdressers weren't this rough.

We had a few words about how rough I was being as I couldn't understand why he was fussing so 
much. I was sure I was no rougher than the last time I helped him with the hair dye.

Away I went again, waiting for the interminable hair dye to stop running red into the bath when, after I caught his ear again, he yelped,

"You're washing me like Rupert!"

Now, before anyone gets excited about my private life, Rupert is our dim 4 year old collie. He quite often needs a bath and it takes a bit of effort to work shampoo in and out of a dog's coat.

I stopped and looked at the top of IT teen's head.

"No..." I said, carrying on, but then I watched what I was doing.

Oh dear, you know, I was washing him like Rupert. Without even realising it I'd been working in the water just like I do into Rupert's coat, then using my fingers to roughly scurry through the fur to get rid of any soap. Rupert likes that as it feels like he's getting a massage. For IT teen, however, it must have felt like I had brillo-pad fingers.

"It's just your imagination," I said to IT, trying to be a bit gentler. Then, as if I was watching from outside, I saw my fingers work the water from behind his ears and actually bend his hair as if it was ears.

Double oh dear! I was treating my teenage son like the family dog! This was harsh indeed as Rupert needs this sort of wash, whereas IT teen only wanted his hair dye rinsing out and is not generally in need of fumigating.

Luckily, the water finally ran clear (or was such a pale pink that IT teen didn't notice it wasn't running clear). We departed the bathroom with IT's hair glowing the red of distant furnaces and with me wondering how often I treated people like they were my pets.

Later, once the hair dried, it turned purple. I'm not sure how this magical transformation took place and I was kind of disappointed that the red became subdued into a rich plum-purple. However, we still have IT teen's ears, neck and the patch under his left eye to remind us of what might have been.

Next time he can maybe do it himself or get one of his college friends to help. I expect a group of teenage IT students will be at least as good at dyeing hair as I am. Or maybe he can let RT teen do it and hope that years of small resentments don't crop up at any important moments in the dyeing process.

I'm sure in the end it's a valuable life lesson to him, allowing other people control over his person and trusting them not to make a hash of it. Ahem. Well, maybe the life lesson is to plan things more carefully and give your aspie mother specific, short, interesting instructions at each stage of the process, so you don't end up with more than you bargained for.


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Little worry, big worry and what's the difference?

It's so hard to know if you're doing the right thing. How can you tell if you're avoiding stress or ducking out? What's the difference, really?

None, as far as some people are concerned and no difference to me either, if I'm in the mood for making myself suffer or feeling like some good, honest, self-criticism.

I am aware that it is sometimes easy and comfortable to say to myself, 'Oh, this is too much stress for me, at least today. I'll put it off.' Or worse, that I won't ever intend to act, so as to avoid the perceived stress.

Sometimes the stress is imaginary, built up when I look into the future and see where I'm headed. Then the big temptation is to duck out straight away, avoiding the upcoming stress while completely ignoring the fact things might have worked out differently and it would all have been okay.

You can tell yourself any day of the week that you did it as a safety measure, to keep yourself from a difficult experience, to protect yourself from awkward feelings which might have coloured your whole life for the next few days. There is nothing like an aspie for a bit of added drama.

It could be a small thing, made to look big or a big thing which fills the whole inner screen of your mind. The thing itself doesn't matter, it is practically irrelevant - it's our reaction that counts.

My reactions, last week, were mellow and considered. I had a lot to do and needed to be as calm and organised as possible. When things went a bit wobbly in the middle, I was able to go on smoothly, almost in a haze of nonchalance.

I wasn't fooled, even then. I remember thinking, as I drove round a nearby town for half an hour, totally lost on my way to a lesson, 'This won't last, this calm feeling. It isn't natural to be lost like this and so late and not mind.'

It was nice, though, while it lasted. Now, this week, faced with a smallish difficulty that I've avoided for almost a fortnight, I find myself almost unable to act. I say almost because I'm being honest with you, readers.

I could act: I know what I could do to help things along and perhaps bring a resolution. But I don't want to. I'm shying away from the action and feeling like I need to hunker down until it all goes away. Or take the easy option and make it go away, but in an unsatisfactory manner.

After all, what is easy now and what makes life simple for the moment, often comes back to us as a niggle in the future. Even when you know it's all done with and there's no going back, and even if it didn't really matter in the first place, you still feel annoyed with yourself for giving in and letting life win this one.

Does that mean I'll be brave, then? Will I face up to it and do the smallish thing which might turn into a niggle? Or do I consign it to the (enormous, heaving, grandiose) heap of avoidances that lie in their own special room in my mind?

The problem with these little things, pushed aside in favour of less stress, is that they still exist and carry on exerting a small pressure after they've gone. That pressure translates as a little beep of Failure on the radar, signalling my inability to sort out a problem which other people would have barely noticed.

And once you have a great big heap of avoidances, it doesn't matter how small they are, with each one giving off its own little beep, it doesn't take long before you can hear them all the way down the hall and in the front room.

So, here we are and here I am, back where I started. The smallish thing is a very small thing indeed, requiring me to go the local post office and chase up a parcel. Yes, a parcel. Apparently lost in the post, sent recorded delivery by me but with a completely vanished proof of postage.

I could either refund the person and never find out if it was delivered or go up to the post office and beg the nice postmaster to look up the transaction and track it for me, without my proof. This is after accepting the proof of posting from his hand each time, along with a heartfelt message from him to keep it safe because it's my proof (no, he doesn't know me, he is heartfelt with everyone).

He has no need to look it up for me and it isn't common practice - I just hoped he might. But because I've not had the proof, I don't relish having to go and ask him and even if I do ask him and he does look it up, I can't make a claim against the missing parcel without the receipt. All I would gain is the knowledge of whether it arrived.

You see my dilemma. Yes, mountain and molehill, here we meet again. I could just write it off and pay the person their money or I could satisfy my obsessive curiosity and chase it up, with the help of the heartfelt postmaster.

Do I subject myself to his mercy and the strong possibility of a gentle lecture on the nature of proof of posting receipts? Do I stand, face crestfallen until he gives in and tracks the parcel? Do I ready myself to be carefree and never-mind-ing when he says he can't look it up for me? Do I stay at home and press the Paypal refund button, then aggravate myself later for not having tried harder?

If someone else was bringing me this small but sorry tale, I would tell them what mattered was dealing with it in a way that best suited them at the moment, while not making the poor person wait any longer to get their money back. This seems straightforward, does it not?

And yet, when it comes to our own problems and dealing with ourselves, as awkward people who love to make life difficult, it is so easy to ignore good advice from any quarter. I recognise that I am now being carried along by my feelings about the whole matter and not by the facts and logic.

Step back, breathe and put the kettle on. That's what I'll do. Then later, I'll stop being such a big silly and do one thing or the other, but I won't dilly-dally any more. The dilly-dallying has led me to the point of treating this smallish problem as if it deserves all the attention I'm giving it, when what it really deserves is a few minutes of my time to either refund or go to the post office.

So, having annoyed you all with my failings, I'll go and put the kettle on. Feel free to avail yourself of tea and biscuits and to roll your eyes at my annoying aspie-ness but do think kindly of me too. I obviously was so laid-back last week that I used up my quota of calm for this week too and now I'm paying the price.

Perhaps by this time next week I will have regained the zen-like calm and it won't matter about parcels, or getting lost again or not knowing everything about anything. I'll just drift through the days, content in the knowledge that all will be as it must and I can only deal with Me I am at the time.


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Tantrums, Meltdown or Rage?

When is a meltdown not a meltdown? When is it temper? When does it expand and evolve, like an inflated, super-fast cell division into pure rage? And is there any real difference between them all?

Firstly, and this is aimed at the friends, family and best beloveds - yes, there is a big difference between all of these things so please rest easy in the knowledge that you are not being unreasonable in treating many of your aspie's outbursts as temper tantrums.

I think, as an aspie and the parent of an aspie, we can be far too eager to tiptoe around the aspie moods and treat them as something allowed instead of going with our gut instinct that is telling us the aspie is having a tantrum, not a spectrumised meltdown.

It can be unpopular to say that aspies have tantrums. No, come on, people with aspergers don't have tantrums, they have meltdowns! (Cue some patronising explanation of why aspies are misunderstood and why meltdowns are not the same as anger).

Listen, everyone has tantrums. Just everyone. Yes, your great aunt Ida in her bath chair, she has tantrums. And good old Uncle Simon, with his benign smile and model plane collection? Of course, I guarantee he has tantrums too.

Part of being a human bean is to have tantrums, it's probably why we're still here. It's hard to kill off a species that is so self-involved it feels the need to regularly let off steam in a display of selfish temper which makes the steamer look ridiculous and the steamees run away or kick the steamer.

The difference with grown up members of the human race is that their tantrums are not usually the same as when they were children. The usual definition of a tantrum is a loss of control and temper and, in the case of small children, a meeting of body and floor as arms and legs flail in an imitation of Godzilla shadow-boxing. If adults went down onto the floor and flailed about like small children, then there would be very many more hospital/police station admissions.

As adults, we do have tantrums but they are transmuted into something more personal and, at first sight, introverted. Uncle Simon, with his planes, will have plenty to say on the subject of the postman who regularly bends his plane magazines as they come through the letter box. He will have politely asked the postman to desist with the folding, he will have called and written to the post office. He will have had replacement copies of the magazine sent because you can't read a ruined magazine.

Amongst all this, at the moment when his magazine drops on the mat, a giant crease with broken edges running down the middle, right through the reanimated Spitfire F Mk. 21 in 1/48 Scale, Uncle Simon will have cracked, readers. If anyone had been present, they would have seen his face twitch, a feeling passing across it like ripples on the pond. His lips would quiver then thin, his hands clench, only opening to pick up the sad creature which used to be his beautiful magazine.

His tantrum is internalised and unseen, controlled by years of knowing how to behave but no less painful for that. Despite letting off a little steam with his letters and phone calls, if the magazines continue to be ruined, Simon will stop ordering them. The pain is too much to bear, the stress of not knowing if he will have to see them lying, creased and broken. He will avoid what causes the internal tantrum and move on.

And the aspie? Well, all of the above and then some. The extra ingredients with the aspie are not just less self-control or more temper, but rather the aspie feels it more keenly. I don't mean to demean what Simon feels over his magazine, but to the aspie this will be too much. There may be tears, this was the one they were waiting for! It cannot be read and why don't they listen and not fold it? Why do they have to be so cruel?

You notice how the aspie feelings escalate, creating more drama and sadness as they work their way into the event, all the while staring at the ruined magazine, fuelling the fire until it is really too much and either meltdown or tantrum occurs.

In the scenario of the magazine, it can go either way. A meltdown is more likely if the sadness is uppermost. The feelings of upset and disappointment become too strong and the aspie loses control, the kind of control that holds it all in and makes them safe to approach. It doesn't matter what you say, this magazine, this cruelty, this monthly torture, it has become too much to bear.

For the tantrum, things are a little different. I would say that the anger over the ruined magazine gains the upper hand. Either you have a more inflammatory aspie to begin with, or they don't care as much about the magazine and instead care more about the wrong done to them by the evil postman.

This gives anger a foothold and off they go, displaying many of the same traits as the meltdown but with more honest anger behind the scenes than an absolute lack of control.

And the rage? The rage is beyond anger and has little to do with meltdown. To me, the rage comes as an excuse to behave like you have a meltdown while being able to observe everything you do. I don't say you can necessarily control the rage, not once it's started, but I suspect you could, if you really, really wanted to.

I don't accept excuses that the anger was too much and the rage took over. Rage takes time to nurture and becomes a separate entity only when it is allowed to do so. I don't want any excuses about rage being a type of meltdown either. Rage is designed to hurt, designed to get out of the system the very real anger of the aspie and rage often touches the people closest to them.

Meltdowns can also hurt loved ones, through words or actions, but there is a panic and sadness embedded in it that is evident to the aspie, if no one else. There is an element of need, of reaching out in the full flood of the meltdown and yearning for someone to make it all right - even though no one can get near you to help.

The rage wants no comfort, it wants only to hurt like it has been hurt, to take self-justified revenge against the cruelties of life. Afterwards, the rage claims it had no choice or control and was a direct result of being provoked.

Meltdowns are too exhausting to explain themselves and can only say, 'I was so upset, I'm sorry.'

And temper? Plain old aspie temper raises its head many times in life, more in some people than others, just like other personality traits. Temper is there to let rip in the small ways, over things which annoy or patience tested past any limits. Anger is normal and, mainly, a healthy if aggravating way to get rid of negative energy and carry on with the day.

The problem comes when temper is allowed free rein and becomes rage and then rage is allowed to be passed off as a meltdown. I will allow that rage is a by-product of aspergers, something which occurs because of the way the aspie brain and heart process the hardships of life. But that is as much as you will get out of me.

Even if you are criticising yourself, readers, be brave enough to look closely and see the differences between rage and meltdown. And be honest if you give in to your temper. I know sometimes these things happen and you need to react, but how often do they happen and you could have held back a little?

It is very hard to step away from rage-inducing temper. Sometimes, often, it doesn't work. What has to happen is a gradual, small-step attack on temper, as well as a commitment to yourself to see it as a problem with a solution.

In small ways, every day, it can be done. I did it myself, I'm not just talking from behind the chicken here. More often than not, my temper would still rise and take me with it but by watching myself and wanting to change, I did change. I reverted to the person I was before, someone who could lose her temper and was (quite often) grumpy in the face of hardship, but who no longer gave in to the temper tantrums which I had told myself I was entitled to.

Readers, I don't often tell you what to do. No, honestly, I don't. I usually suggest, guide, inform and tell you what I do or did. This time, I am telling you, watch yourself and, where you are able, take a step back and turn down to simmer.

In time, with practice, rage is kept in a back cupboard only to be brought out on very rare occasions. The temper is always in your coat pocket but you can usually move through life without bringing it out.

And the meltdown? That one, readers, is a free spirit and I couldn't tell you where it is. All I can say is that it appears, often when least expected, and takes over proceedings when I am no longer able. Afterwards it departs, like a long-lost friend who you know you should drop but you can't because they care. At least it never outstays its welcome and leaves me calmer than when it arrived. How many visitors can claim that?

In the end, it is up to the aspie themselves to take responsibility for their feelings and to be honest about what is what and when a tantrum is more or less than it appears to be. Tell people, talk to your best beloveds, explain how flawed you can be and how you sometimes blame them when you are in the wrong. At least by talking about it at calm moments, you have something to hold onto after the harsher ones.

As usual, above all, reach out to one another. The aspie temper, meltdowns and rage are all there as part of your personality. I'm not asking you to change who you are, just sometimes to consider what you do.

In the end, the most important thing I did for myself was not to control the tempers and the rage, it was to appreciate myself. 'It's okay, you are a good person. These are small things we can leave behind and they don't change who you really are.'

Sometimes, readers, the most important conversations you have are with yourself.


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 How to talk to your Aspie

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Spotting an aspie adult

Have you ever wondered how to spot an aspie adult, at a distance, without having to get too close? It would be so convenient, wouldn't it? To be able to detect the aspieness before you are drawn in, before there is any danger of becoming part of their mad world and waking up one morning, trying to work out where it all went wrong and what happened to all your socks.

Bearing in mind there are always exceptions that prove the rule, here is what you should look for.

In the supermarket I often wonder if I have spotted a fellow aspie. Walking along the aisles, it's easier to people watch than shop, usually because I've forgotten what I need. The supermarket is a good open space where you can spot aspies as they grapple with the complex practicalities of staying alive by food shopping.

The walk: Yes, from a distance or as they pass by, the walk is a dead giveaway. It seems to veer towards extremes, either a fast paced booster effect from A to B, or a meandering wander with no visible pattern.

I'm a meanderer myself, able to get in people's way as I divert, lazily, like the Queen Mary, at the last second. I drift along the aisle, knowing I need something down there, just not sure what. Deciding, as I play with the hand soap bottles, that I couldn't have needed anything important and moving on to the pizzas, totally forgetting my anti-histamines. Again.

In contrast, the go-getter aspie will leave me in their wake. They shoot past, a blur of ad hoc hair and billowing coat, the very epitome of the single-minded shopper, knowing exactly what they want and where to get it.

You might admire the determined attitude of this aspie, but don't be fooled. Their pursuit of beans comes at a price. They will have a mental list and know what they want, but will miss the things they forgot to put on the list or which go with what they have left at home. They will leave the store only with what was on the list and nothing else. The sense of accomplishment will fade away as they realise what they missed and they may even repeat the whole process before leaving the car park.

The attitude: This is a big one. Although not exclusively aspie, an odd attitude is also top of the list for spotters. Again, with the extremes. Your go-getter aspie, having powered through the store will wage war at the tills (self-service only), often grumbling aloud when it goes wrong. They know it's nothing they have done, they are highly intelligent and know how to use a self-service till. And yet, like lesser mortals who have more time and a less pressing schedule (private server meet up with the Minecraft group in 20 min), they have to wait for the assistant to come and put in their code.

The shopping will be thudded onto the till, the bags will be bullied into submission; everything will be done with an air of authority that belies the fact the go-getter aspie is completely detached from everything they are doing and the outwardly purposeful actions are an automatic response. This is how you behave in the shop to get in and out as quickly as possible, while your brain is utterly engrossed with a much more interesting problem.

And here I come, the meanderer, angling for my beloved self-service tills, tied to them like a love-hate relationship of Shakespearean proportions as I cling to the idea of being served without human contact, only to have them turn on me at the end.

I struggle with the bags, they seem to re-close against me. I tear them as I put my shopping in, I drop my money, forget which slot is for notes and which for coupons. I get distracted by the shoppers on the other side of the tills and forget I'm meant to be pressing the screen.

The inevitable moment comes when I'm approached by the assistant, their training having identified me as the perfect shopper-in-need. I stand back and let them deal with whatever problem I've caused and smile distractedly, having memorised their pass-code.

Social: When there is no option but to be served at the human checkout, our two aspies stand out from the crowd in little ways. The go-getter is still on auto-pilot and could be confused with any busy person wanting to get in and out of the shop.

There are little signs the rainbow spectrum is close by: the slight twitch as they have to make eye contact with the assistant, the sudden fascination with the overhead lighting, the need to bend forward to have a look in the till, the scrutinising of the receipt as if there is something terribly wrong, holding up the queue and worrying the checkout operator, before moving off with a grunt that sounds like a satisfied bullfrog.

The meanderer, seeming so adrift as to not care, is in fact intensely impatient once in a queue. The relaxed manner around the store evaporates as soon as there is any suggestion whatsoever of A Wait. But the meanderer is good at pretending to be normal and still attempts to put on the show.

Having reached their turn in the queue, the feckless expression and worried air will mean the meanderer is probably helped with the packing without being asked. Those pesky bags will be opened and the shopping bundled in.

At this point, the stress levels rise as the shopping may be put in the wrong bags, in the wrong order, with too many things together. But the checkout operator is being kind in packing the bags, which means the anxiety is instantly ramped up because you can't upset them by unpacking the bags again, can you? You'll have to struggle until you get outside or re-pack it all in the back of the car.

This is where the pretending to be normal falters, pushed aside by the anxiety of the bags, or the queue behind, or not being able to remember if you have coupons, or if you are paying by cash or card.

The meanderer will try to keep up the conversation, saying whatever seems appropriate, only realising too late that one person's appropriate is another person's so-far-off-the-wall-it-might-as-well-be-the-middle-of-the-floor.

Having gathered up the unsatisfactory bags, hoping they don't break on the way to freedom, the meanderer picks up speed and exits the shop in a state of panic, vowing never, ever to be served by a human being again.

Outside, sitting in the cars, both types of aspie come together in a common goal. Whereas other shoppers pack quickly, jump in and leave, the aspies sit behind the wheel, glowering at the receipt, sure they missed something, or overpaid. Positive that they'll have to go back in and run the gauntlet of customer service.

Go-getter or meanderer, at this stage they are both plagued by the idea that the trip to the supermarket could have been so much more efficient, if only they had planned better before going in. Next time it will be different. The next time will be when they stream through the shop like they are meant to be there, with a trolley no less, filling it like other people do, with a week's worth of shopping.

The aspies believe that, the next time, it won't matter that they can't bear to be in the shop long enough to do a week's worth of shopping, or that they are so used to using a basket they won't know how to fill a trolley. They forget that the best of lists relies on the person fulfilling it and not the act of writing it in the first place.

Relieved that next time will be a brilliant success, both aspies leave, driving happily away, once more focused on the whole of life, all ahead and involving small things, glad to leave behind the mundanity of the tortuous supermarket, full of tricks and dangers and never the same twice.


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We're living in the Age of the Aspie

Forget about naming the modern age after anything we've invented, or blown up or claimed for our own. Until we colonise Mars, the most defining thing about our modern age is the nature of humanity's relationships within itself. And that is why I'm renaming our times as The Age of the Aspie.

In days gone by, in the Western World, stiff manners seemed to be everything. No matter what you did behind closed doors, you had to greet people in the right way and present yourself as an upstanding member of society.

It was all about being seen to do the right thing. You had to be polite, hold down a steady job (or look after the home). Everyone knew their place and that place was unlikely to change, even if you made more money or became a success in other ways.

Even when you move into the more modern, outwardly permissive, undoubtedly socially-mobile era, there were still expectations of how people would behave. Society as a whole had guidelines and it was your choice if you lived within or without them.

As time moved on towards our present day, computers flourished and seemed to become part of everyone's life, whether they wanted them or not. Here, just here, with the mouse being connected to the computer, came the emergence of the aspie as a force in everyday life.

I don't mean the mass release of computer geeks all over the world, a naturalisation process hampered only by the uneven divide between the sexes. I don't even mean the way the internet took over everything, suddenly, while no one was looking, aided and abetted by aspies everywhere.

While many aspies have found their calling in the world of computers and technology, I want to point to a lesser-noticed but very important change in society at large.

Once you have a look at the way things have changed, the manners, the expectations, basically everything that makes up society and communication in the modern world, I think it is now an aspie world.

It doesn't matter if you are on the spectrum, your communications are likely to be mechanical at times, disjointed, governed by the expectation that all information shared will be in a format suitable for email, Facebook, Twitter or video blog.

If you used to call Aunty Mabel to ask about her bad arm, you're now likely to text her instead and hope the old dear can use her other arm to text you back. Heaven forsake the unlucky friend or relative who is unwilling to embrace this new technology. They'll find themselves wondering why the phone is so quiet these days, even while they receive those annoying beeps on the mobile Betty or Joe got them for Christmas.

Anyone who shuns the modern world and doesn't imbibe of Facebook, email or (I hesitate to type it) doesn't go online, will find they still end up talking about these things with the vast majority of people. They'll try to talk about what they read in the newspaper and be given the kind of look reserved for the Penny Farthing as it rolls down the street. Or there might be a confused moment where the other person asks, 'You mean the TImes online?'

The modern world is all about instant information, instant reaction, everyone talking about the same things at the same time, or lots of different things with the same people. It is an aspie paradise, full of information to be shared with other enthusiasts and it doesn't ever matter how much you know, there will be a website where you can find out more.

In real life, face to face, aspies will always have their troubles, but thanks to the instantaneous nature of the modern world, non-aspies will no longer think it strange if their aspie talks about internet download speed or mentions the latest videos on Reddit. Aspies can talk about these things, more or less safe in the knowledge that the recipient of the conversation will have at least heard of them and probably won't think it's an odd thing to know about.

Conversations themselves are truncated in the modern world, as we rush off to our destinations, mobile phone in hand. People we see on the street, who speak when we meet, are as likely to be Facebook friends as ones we actually know. In fact, it's a relief to see a Facebook friend because having seen their face on screen so many times, we are left in no doubt about who they are and how we relate to them.

Emotions, so rarely displayed in public in the past and such a bugbear for aspies in real life, are now paraded with a whole carnival of dancing butterflies down the main street of online communication. If an aspie is in doubt about how someone is feeling, they can check up on their status, see which pictures they have shared or send them a fun quiz and find out that way.

What was once hidden within, is now there for all to see and, best of all, written down so that aspies can read it and know what people mean. How strange that if you meet someone in real life and ask how they are, they tell you they're fine, but expect you to know if they're not. Online, they tell you everything, whether you want to know it or not and we lucky aspies are not left guessing or trying to work out if we've given the wrong reaction.

And one of the best things of all, readers, is the delay. In real life, if someone speaks to you and asks you a question, or wants a reaction, it all has to happen now. In this one important regard the modern world has slowed things down. When people talk to you online, there is a delay, either while you write back to them or while you pretend to not be online while you formulate a response.

So many times I've been caught out by the need for an instant reaction, or simply by the look on my face. Online communications, with their in-built delay, are the best advancement in communication our world has ever seen. How many arguments have been avoided by people having time to think of the right thing to say instead of the truth?

Yes, I know there are many drawbacks to this modern world and techno-communication. But I tell you, hand on heart, the vast majority of those drawbacks belong to non-aspies. In the aspie world, as well as mostly loving technology, we also love the aspie-spin that has been blended into communication and life in general.

Now, if I get confused, I can Google for the answers. If someone insults me, I can pause before letting fly. If I get a strange email, I can forward it to three different people and have it explained to me. I can look people up, find out what they mean, see what they're feeling today and know them as deeply as is comfortable for me.

And the best thing, yes, the very best thing? Meeting all the other people online who feel the same way and who are willing to consider what we have, with the internet spread out between us, as a proper friendship. The aspie has never been so lucky or so popular as in this modern world, where every day people complain about being displaced and alone.

Readers, until now, it is the aspies who have been displaced and alone. Thanks to the unmanageable speed of modern life, we can now slow down and enjoy the ride. This is what it means to belong.


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The eternal teenager

I freely admit to being stuck in my teens. Depending on the day, I can be anything from 13 to 15. On a good day I make it all the way to 17 and if it's a bad day I feel as old as 19, with the whole world to worry over.

The thing about teenagers is, in a normal family situation, they are just getting ready to be fully fledged adults. They can take care of themselves in a lot of ways. They won't starve if you leave them alone, they know to lock the doors at night and feed the cat if it meows. They can do a job of work and be pretty much reliable.

They are emotionally volatile at times, ready to fly off the handle at a perceived wrong and also ready to support their friends no matter what. Your average teen can spin through a range of emotions in the same hour and come out the other end smiling.

They are creative and interested in doing fun things with their time. They know the value of free time, you see and are not yet tied to the world of work and responsibility. They plan and hope and dream and understand that the world is an infinite place, made finite only by the adults who claim ownership over it.

Does any or all of this sound familiar? The aspie at large can identify with many teenage traits, not least of which is the belief that responsibility is a limited thing, not a constant companion and something to be treated with disdain if it gets too close.

When all's said and done, the emotions of the aspie which are close to the teenage world of feelings can be written off as being moody, or difficult, or hyper, or over-sensitive. Lots of adults are capable of fulfilling these labels and more. But what brings the aspie closer to the teenager is that these emotions feel very natural, as if that's the way it's meant to be.

Proper grown up adults know, in moments of calm, that they shouldn't be moody, difficult, hyper and so on. Aspies look back and accept that those feelings were felt and believed in at the time and cannot be wished away.

When someone calls an aspie childish or melodramatic, besides it causing more arguments, it changes nothing. The aspie often knows when they're being this way, but that doesn't mean they can stop it. Like a teenager, they have greater self-awareness than a child but a limited ability to control their emotions and behaviour.

The attachment to friends is a very real aspect of the aspie as an eternal teenager. Teens will often do just about anything for their friends. At this stage in life, friends can become like family, understanding you in a way no one has before. It is now you realise there are other people in the world who you can choose to spend time with, and who make what you are seem like a glorious thing.

Your friends don't tell you off, they don't want you to behave or change. They accept you as you are and celebrate you as a person. They are friends with you simply because they like you, not as an accident of genetics or because they have to share a house with you.

Friends choose you and an aspie who has been chosen is someone who knows the value of another person seeing them as they really are and actively seeking their company.

In other words, aspies are eternal teens when it comes to friends because the whole element of friendship in the aspie world is often more intense than in a non-aspie relationship. Friends are needed on different levels and offer the kind of support that can't be found in other people.

As responsibility to the silly things in life, like work and money, are shunned by the eternal teen, so are the responsibilities of friendship appreciated and respected. If the boss needs you on your day off it is a physical pain to go in and not be able to relax at home or do what you had planned. If your boss needs you on a proper work day, but your friend also needs you, then you call in sick or flake off and go to your friend instead.

Teenagers are often seen as rabble rousers who need to grow up and learn how to live in the real, adult world. The aspie eternal teen never really made this step. They saw the value of the world they discovered growing up, the one where they were finally left alone to do their own thing and realised the joy of obsessions and interests which would carry them through life.

Aspies know that the final step to being a grown up, someone who will live fully in the real world and accept everything that goes with that, is a hard one to take and fraught with danger. Aspies often try to take that extra step and find themselves tripping along an unknown path, with no way off the road and the feeling that they need to walk faster and faster just to get where they're going before the darkness comes.

Better to live as a teenager instead, with limited resources, not enough money and a shaky grip on responsibility, than to try to survive as an adult and see yourself fail at crucial moments. Aspies know there are things that need to be done, things which require an adult to do them. Sometimes it works and they can operate all the way up to their real age. Mostly it seems as if the trials of life are sent as a test of how successfully the aspie can avoid and hide from the nasties of a grown up world.

Being an eternal teenager is not ideal - far from it on many occasions! But it beats trying to live a lie, trying to succeed in a life that doesn't belong to you and which will never fully make sense. Sometimes, accepting who you are is a matter of also accepting where you are, in life and within yourself.

For me, I live as an eternal teenager, hopeful for the future and with the kind of self knowledge that suggests, while anything is possible, I only have to do what is right for me. Of course, this isn't always true, but like a real teenager I prefer to ignore that reality and make one of my own.

Living in your own reality is not a very grown up thing to do but it is surprisingly liberating. And readers, if it works, even for most of the time and not all, then why not do it your way? If people try to tell you to do it differently and to grow up, you can always flounce out the door and hide in your room until they give in or you forget you were angry.


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The bossy aspie vs the helpful aspie?

I'm taking over and that's that. I've waited and been patient and there is very little to show for it so, from now on, I'm the big bad boss of IT teen's job hunting.

I discussed it with RT teen and our aspie wisdom decreed that IT teen was unlikely to look for jobs by himself, let alone apply for them, so it was perfectly reasonable for me to do it and then present him with his interview shoes if necessary.

Yes, I can imagine the cringing going on at your end. For all sorts of reasons it's not really acceptable for a mother to do the job hunting for her son, is it? Reason 1, the lazy so-and-so should look for himself. Reason 2, job hunting is valuable life experience. Reason 3, it's not honest for the employers. And Reason 4, the big one, it's just too controlling, right?

Right on all counts, readers. And I'm sure there are many other reasons why IT teen should do the job hunting himself. But I've done it the right way since last summer. I've encouraged him, I've hidden his DS, I've threatened him with scenarios of what will happen if he's jobless and penniless when college finishes in July.

I've appealed to his better nature and used other people as examples of how it is possible for a teen to get a job and still be happy and fulfilled.

In short, I've done everything I can, bar kick him out onto the street until he comes back employed.

I did pause before taking over the job hunting, but then thought to myself, if I don't do it, he won't either. I comfort myself with the knowledge that once he has a job, he'll be able to do the rest by himself. He lacks confidence, you see, and is secretly petrified of going out into the world.

I understand this feeling, I really do, it's just that if he doesn't go out and work, then he won't have any money, I'll have even less money and he'll carry on being petrified because he won't have faced the fear and got to grips with it.

As for being dishonest to the employers, one thing I can reassure them and you about is that anything I say about IT teen will be true and I am only applying for jobs he can do. Anyway, he still has to do the interview himself.

I feel I should slip in a small note here: I am not usually this controlling, honest. I'm quite good at stepping back and letting the teens do their own thing. I am not a helicopter parent, I'm not a generally bossy person. Cough.

Well, okay, I have my moments. I'm not generally bossy, that's true, but if I'm on a mission to help someone, oh dear. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of my help, asked for or not, knows that it's the kind of help that makes you feel like a rhino decided to help you do your hair.

I instantly spring into action, a fully-fledged plan bursting from me as I take the reins and guide that whole shebang in the right direction. My plan will be solid and it will all be done with the best of intentions. The main problem is usually that it's done at my speed and not at yours.

To be fair, if we did it at the speed other people move, then we'd get nowhere and the shebang would still be parked up outside the saloon, with the horses dozing in the sunshine. The main reason I do barge in and 'help' is because other people complain about their situation, ask me for advice and/or help and then, for some reason, object when I actually give it.

It never ceases to surprise me that people do this. They make all the noises of wanting and needing help, but then don't want to do anything to help themselves. I've never been very good at inactive sympathy, I've always preferred fixing things. After all, what's the point of talking about something unless you want to fix it?

In the case of IT teen it would be dishonest of me to say he asked for my help. He's actively avoided my help and wriggled out of applying for jobs. He's very good at taking advantage of my poor memory and hazy grasp of time. So in deciding to help him, I was making a decision without him asking for anything.

For other people, I do now try to hold off a bit more. I see the fear in their eyes as they start to tell me something, then remember how much I might get involved. I don't want to frighten people more than necessary, so these days I try to exercise some judgement and leave the shebang standing, if that's what they want.

I say try. I know and you know and any aspie knows, trying is only one egg in the full cake and it isn't usually possible for me to hold off altogether. I must confess, if it becomes obvious someone just wants to talk and not to help themselves or change a bad situation in any way, I back off completely as I can't bear the stress of not doing anything and only talking about it.

I hope this all doesn't make me sound like a complete nightmare. In practice I am very good at problem-solving and I don't always make things worse instead of better. It just looks bad in black and white on the screen; in real-life, it's fine...

Although, if you ever see a shebang being driven hard and recklessly towards Dead Man's Pass, you'll know who's at the reins. You'll also notice how well it goes round corners and how expertly it deals with near misses. Don't take any notice of the passenger trying to get off and screaming for help. They already have help, they have ME.


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Setting up a fretting

I try not to worry, I really do, but sometimes you just can't help it. Things are difficult, they go wrong, they promise to be a trial and I'm only human. It's natural to worry sometimes and, for some of us, it's natural to worry a lot of the time.

I am aware of this trait in myself and must admit to feeding it at times. I don't want to suffer, but I don't want to be caught unawares either. I'd rather see trouble before it comes than find out, too late, it's already here.

I wouldn't want you to think I have a bleak outlook. On the contrary, fretting to one side, I have quite an optimistic frame of mind. I put this down to hope as much as experience: I hope things will go well and celebrate when they do.

So where does this leave me as a natural worrier? Well, the urge to worry is tied up with not being surprised. Surprise, above so many things, is to be avoided. If I can avoid surprise, then I feel I have accomplished something and my natural anxiety is taken off the boil.

Even if I avoid surprise by anticipating trouble, it is still an achievement because I won't have to wonder what is coming. It may sound odd, but an aspie would rather know the giant troll is waiting behind the door, ready to eat them than not know and be eaten unexpectedly. It doesn't matter that both scenarios end in being eaten and it doesn't even matter that most people would think it preferable to be eaten without expecting it, thereby avoiding a dreadful anticipation.

Seriously, knowing you are going to be chowed up by a giant troll is much better than just having it happen. You can plan ahead, finish what you're doing, feed the cat, have a cake and, finally, go through the door and be eaten by the troll. As you pass through the ragged teeth, you don't want your last thoughts to be, 'Gosh, what a drag, I do wish I'd eaten more cake.'

And, in case you hadn't realised it, having this foresight and the ability to plan out a bad event means you perhaps have the chance to avoid the event altogether. You may decide that you're not going through that door and maybe, by the time you've done all your jobs and stuffed your face with cake and biscuits, the troll will have got bored and eaten the neighbours instead.

So, worrying about a thing can be good, you see. It takes away the sting of the unexpected and helps you to work out what you will do and how you can make it all seem better, even if it isn't. But it is also a rotten weight on the mind at times too.

Last night, I was thinking about taking my cat, Jeffrey, to the vet. He's had bad teeth and needed to have most of them taken out a couple of months ago. Since then it's been one thing after another and I have now seen most of the vets at the practice. He's had antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, special diets and so on.

I've paid one bill only to realise days later that I'll be paying another. And with no pet insurance, Jeffers has been responsible for a fair bit of worry, besides the anxiety over his health.

So, last night I started thinking, 'What if his remaining teeth need to come out? What if the antibiotics haven't worked? What if it's something else?'

I realised, then, that I was ready to worry, primed for and expecting trouble. I imagined arguing with the vet and wanting to know why they didn't just take out all his teeth, or take the last few out two weeks ago instead of sending him home with super-strength antibiotics. I imagined disputing the bill if I had to pay out another lump sum for a second operation. I imagined writing to the regulatory body for vets, in the hopes of reducing the cost. And on, and on.

Then I looked at myself and, in an indignant way, realised this wasn't normal worrying, with planning mixed in; this was bona fide fretting. There is a big difference. One has some purpose to it and can help you plan ahead, the other is one small step from a good old wallow in self-pity. And I just detest self-pity, readers, especially when I'm the one indulging in it.

I sat up a bit straighter, visualised a finger wagging and decided to put the worry to one side. I was still concerned about the whole thing, as much for Jeffrey's health as the bill, but I could see that by fretting over it, I was helping nobody and just setting myself up for bad dreams or a sleepless night.

It might all come to nothing and Jeffrey would be fine, or he might need more treatment and extra expense. Either way, I was not going to help by going over and over it, building up an immense story in my mind when what I was supposed to be doing was putting out the cat basket for morning and then taking him in for his check-up.

Anything else would have to wait, I decided. I needed to forget about worrying and, in doing so, also forget about planning and working things out. Sometimes, to avoid the extra anxiety, it's necessary to forgo the usual planning too. Unnatural as it felt, I had to let things be and see what happened.

So that's what I did. Changing my usual habits, I realised with some relief that all I could do was go to bed, get up in the morning and take Jeffrey to the vet without planning the detail beforehand.

And relief was the word, readers. How strange, when I love to plan ahead and not be surprised to find that by not doing so, I felt some freedom and relaxation. The surprise was on me there. I didn't know it could be a good thing to push aside the worry and decide to let things play themselves out. Is this what it's like for most people? To accept life as it comes and not always look ahead?

I'm not saying I could do it permanently and I very much doubt the relief would happen each time. I think I am a creature who likes to look ahead and needs to see what is coming. But it's good to know that, once in a while, I can do it another way and things still work out.

You'll be pleased to know that Jeffers is home and still in possession of some teeth. The antibiotics worked, though he now has to stop them because they're making him feel sick. He has to build up his eating again and, hopefully, not be back at the vet for much longer.

Now my planning can lay dormant for a time, put to one side while I carry on with the things I am used to and which don't need effort put into them. Next time that a worry comes up, I know I won't be able to resist looking at it and working out how I'm going to approach it, but I hope I'll be able to see any fretting that creeps in and threatens to take over.

I would like to think being able to step back and relax a little is not a one off and that I can, in future, worry like other people do, with less drama and more shrugging of shoulders. I'm not saying I'll turn into a lovely relaxed person (my imagination is not that good), but perhaps I don't need to be climbing the walls either, looking for a way out past the ogre.

It turns out that, just sometimes, there is no ogre and I could have just walked through the door. Now that is a surprise.


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Please wait here while I head for the door

I'm so annoyed with myself sometimes. Not always and never in the planning stages. Just when things begin to come to fruition and there's a danger of making some progress - then I become annoying.

Why is it, when faced with any kind of imminent success my reaction is so often 'Eeek!' rather than 'Yay!'? Why should success, such a good thing, be a source of fear?

In my head, when making lots of plans, I visualise success and know that I'm working towards it. I relish the planning stage and love the anticipation. Rather like Christmas, I have a view of the end result, a hope for the outcome to be just as I imagined. And, also rather like Christmas, when it comes to the actual event, things are often less than perfect.

I think it's a pressure reaction, mainly. It's easy to plan and to imagine what might be, a little harder to put effort into making these things a reality. Then, having done all that, the actual success can inspire terror as it means you are suddenly at risk of becoming a real person, someone who has accomplished a task and may be held accountable for it.

You could be noticed and it may be remarked upon. You might find yourself the centre of attention. You may have to communicate with new people and carry on behaving like a fully-fledged person for longer than a few minutes.

More terrifying than all of this is the unspoken knowledge that being successful once means you should be successful again. If you did it this time, then you can do it again, can't you? You have finally proved yourself! Now you can toddle off and be a full member of society and do all the things normal people do.

Except that even just the hint of these expectations are enough to prevent any form of success from repeating itself. Worse, not only may it not be repeated, you might even work against that repetition, becoming the agent of your own destruction.

By breaking apart the very thing which has been successful, you ensure the pressure to continue being a success if pulled away and you can go back to being little old you with odd socks and a fridge full of sauces and nothing to add them to.

It is definitely a case of shooting yourself in the foot and is seriously annoying to those around you and to your own self, if you were being perfectly honest.

I mean, I know it's far preferable to be a success and do something right than always to be getting things wrong and making your usual mountains out of molehills. But by self-sabotaging you bring it all back to a manageable level and don't need to worry about being what other people expect.

It's rather like the reaction of many small children after their first day at school. Having done really well and enjoyed themselves, they can bask in the glow of praise from parents and teachers, deciding that this school business is okay. Then they discover they have to go every day. Every day! Over and over, still being good and doing as they are told, but now expected to behave well without being praised all the time too.

This is the shock of the normal world: do a thing well and you are praised, do it again and it becomes common-place and shouldn't need praise.

Mind you, it doesn't matter if you praise an aspie or not. In the end, the fact of having to repeat success is all that matters. It is the repetition of this success which is the problem more than other people's reaction to it. Please yourself if you want to praise me, I'm not denying I would enjoy it. But don't expect me to link that praise with the thing I am doing, so that it means I can do it again and again.

I'm never quite sure in my own mind whether it is the pressure of expectations that puts me off continuing with plans that turn out well, or if it is the element of repetition which galls me. I hate being noticed too much, but I also hate doing the same thing over and over (unless it's a time-wasting computer game, then it's fine).

It's almost as if I expect life to be one big garage sale, full of knick-knacks and old curiosities, all being sold at super-cheap prices, all there for the taking and with some gems to be found if you know where to look.

The minute you turn life into a glossy department store, where everything has its place and I have to earn proper money to buy anything, then my nerve goes running out the door with me close behind.

I don't want the smooth, repetitive trip through life with everything new and organised into sections. I would rather pick through, searching for what I want amongst a myriad collection of life's little ironies.

So, faced with success, expectation and the need to repeat them henceforward, I am annoyingly likely to give that pained, shame-faced grin and sidle to the nearest exit. Yes, it is a kind of sabotage, but life itself is sabotage if you don't know how to play it. And I am so wary of people's faces lighting up, delighted that finally I'm doing something right.

I'd much rather surprise them with occasional right-ness than set up false expectations of me having clicked into the right way of doing things, so that from now on I will be a successful, upstanding person who never needs pulling back out of the quick sand.

Having said all of that, readers, if I could be successful quietly, without any fuss and minimal face-lighting, then I might not backtrack so readily. If I could do it on my own terms, I might yet manage the department store scenario and not need to resort to garage sales all the time.

Sometimes, it would be nice to buy new, you know?


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You can only avoid things for so long...

As a verified and authenticated Mad Cat Lady, I can tell you with confidence that cats love hierarchy. Rather like human people, cats like to know where they stand and, more importantly, who is above or below them in the pecking order (if you'll forgive the avian reference).

If you have only one or two cats, it's pretty simple to sort out who is in charge. Once you get a few, it becomes complicated and this is where cat politics come into play. (Bear with me, there is an aspiefied point to all this).

Dusty is a small cat with delicate feet and a pointy nose. On the inside, he is a great Caesar, with his troops arrayed before him. On the outside, he is still small, black and inoffensive. He took it upon himself to become top cat a few years ago, displacing Granny Miffy, a fearsome female with quick-draw-paws. Since then, he's had to keep up appearances.

He knows he has a responsibility to fend off other cats, to maintain his position, to be the leader and not the led. He sits in the garden, waiting for trouble and keeping an eye on things. As he is a small cat, he also tries to avoid trouble and would rather keep what's left of his ears, so when he sits in the garden, he faces the wrong way.

He pointedly directs himself to only look in the least busy direction, where hardly anyone ever comes. He sometimes changes position and looks at the second quietest place. Any number of cats have walked past him, unseen and unchallenged, as he focuses on the path of least resistance.

This has resulted in a lot of bother from other cats. It's only a matter of time before they notice they can do whatever they like and walk on by as if there is no one there. Only sometimes is Dusty forced to notice them and give chase.

Usually, Miffy has to dust off her spurs and go looking for trouble. Even in cat years she is getting on but no one can stand up to her for long. She's had to see off every tom in the district, while Dusty sits, staring at the back fence.

And the reason for inflicting cat stories on you? I was standing at the back door yesterday, thinking about everything I had to do before IT and RT teen go back to college and I go back to work properly. I have a mountain of washing, literally. I am now climbing to reach the washing machine and either need to wash more or install a hand rail as I nearly fell off last night.

IT teen has lots of work to finish for college, but is procrastinating (goodness knows where he gets that from) and RT teen is fully confident he has forgotten nothing for college, besides that white T-shirt I was meant to get him a fortnight ago for an Art project.

For me, I have people I need to get back to about work, I have parcels to send, I am now faced with all the housework I ignored for the fortnight of our Easter break. Amongst all this, my mother has had a big birthday, so there were things to organise for that, as well as days out and other jobs which threw routines out of the window and left me wondering what I was meant to do next.

So, what have I done about all this? Figuratively, I have looked at the back of the garden, while it all gathered behind me. When I was standing at the back door yesterday, I spotted Dusty in his favourite place, surrounded by tall grass, a nice bush coming into bud in front of him. Birds cheeped around and about and he was washing his ankle.

I realised then, that I have been doing a lot of the same thing. Insert me doing what I like, instead of doing what I need and my approach has been much the same. I have thoroughly enjoyed ignoring the things which needed my attention. I have spent all my time relaxing in my favourite spots, pretending not to hear or see anything awkward that needed to be dealt with. In metaphorical terms, I have done nothing but admire the view and wash my ankles for a fortnight.

Now, as things pick up pace and I can't ignore them any longer, my attention is forced back to what I should have been doing all along. It's no good just waiting and hoping your Granny Miffy will come along and sort them for you - even though this is often what grannies and other family members do. Sometimes, you have to shift yourself from that comfy patch and take action.

Dusty is still relevant even when he actually does act because unfortunately, in true aspie style, when he launches himself at the task in hand, he often comes in with another notch on his ear and the sound of Miffy cleaning up his mess while he hides in the kitchen.

I'm sure, like me, he decides it will be a long time before he does anything like that again and agrees with himself that sitting in the garden and washing his ankle is a much better plan than chasing scary things and trying to assert himself in the world.

Where this leaves me and other aspies, I don't know. We all have responsibilities we need to address, it's just a part of life But what if we come away with a sore ear and a dented ego? What incentive is there to try again?

Not much, frankly, except that we have little choice. If your Granny Miffy won't do it for you, you have to do it yourself and hope it turns out okay. It's not ideal to hide in plain sight and hope no one bothers you as they just end up either taking you for granted or ignoring you. As far as other people are concerned, if you aren't visible enough, you have no use or role in the world.

You don't necessarily have to be top of the heap, or even a dynamic and vital part of the mix. But you should try to do what you can, without spending too much time closeted away where you feel safe. Like Dusty in his garden, our safe places are often not what they seem and are more open and obvious to other people than we would like to think.

It's far better to risk the occasional look around and see if there is anything that needs your attention before it launches at you or eats all your birds. And you know, even if your Granny is a quick-draw-paw, wouldn't it be nice to let her take it easy once in a while?


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How are aspies awkward? Let me count the ways.

Actually, shall I just count the ways we're not awkward instead? It would be a lot quicker and might come across as more positive? Or am I just being awkward now?

All right then, but this list is not my final decision and I'm sure if you asked a non-aspie, then the awkwardness list would become an epic fantasy novel, with dragons, battle-hardened maidens, songs around camp-fires, sprites in jars, no toilet facilities and too much protein.

The aspie is awkward in their physical attitude: We droop, we mooch, we bump into things, we get in the way, we trip over thin air, we drop stuff, we touch the TV and the house falls into darkness. If there is an awkward way to do something, we don't need to find it, it finds us.

Even aspies who are good with their hands will open the door the wrong way going into the shop, let it fall back accidentally against the little old lady then step on her as they turn back, trying to put things right.

The dog will be let loose as the lead slips through the fingers, the knife will chop the thumb and not the cheese, cleaning the toilet will always end badly, emptying the bin will mean cleaning the floor.

The aspie is awkward on the inside too: I don't understand, I misunderstand, I say whatever comes into my head, I tell you what I really think, I find something funny at the wrong moment, I cry at sad adverts, I don't cry when I'm supposed to, I thought you wanted me to do this?

I feel sad at the precisely wrong moment, I feel happy when you need empathy, I forget something important and remember every detail of last night's Hoarders. I thought you wanted my honest opinion?

Awkward decisions: It seemed like a good idea at the time, it made perfect sense, I didn't think of that, I thought you'd enjoy it, I didn't think you wanted it any more, I forgot it was worth that much money, I gave it to the dog, I cancelled, I paid before checking, I wanted it to be a surprise, I thought you liked cats, I never said I was a hairdresser.

Awkward lifestyle: I don't do crowds, I need my own space, I don't need much money, I've forgotten to pay the bills, I love this job, I've quit, I've become a vegetarian, I have allergies, it's not clean enough, but I can see the germs! I can't leave the house, I'll live in the attic, I can't, I have to go to Comicon, I'm living as a wizard now.

Awkward obsessions: I love this, I'm sharing it with you, I'm sharing it with him too, I'm sharing it with the person next to me on the bus, I'm sharing it online, I'm sharing it with anyone who'll listen...What? That old thing? No, that's history, I love something else now. I'll share it with you!

Awkward finances: I have no money, I'll work it out, I'll be fine, I have enough, I've got a plan, I've managed, I forgot about that, I'll make a budget, I'll pay you back, I have no idea what that is, I have no money.

Awkward romance: I like you, I like like you, I maybe love you, I'll just stand over here, I'm at the door for the breeze, I'll be back in a minute, I'll see you later, I was busy, I ran out of money, I forgot, I misunderstood, I was too sad, I was too busy running, I became a vegetarian, have we met before?

Annoying noises: The mystery noise in the car when we go round a corner, the roof in the rain, my feet in the supermarket, what you do when you chew, that drip no one else can hear, everyone else's voice, ever.

Awkward everything: What? I wasn't listening, did you want something? I don't know, I was thinking about something else. I'll think about it. No, I won't forget, honest.

At this point in the proceedings, I was a very brave aspie and asked IT teen what was the most awkward thing about me. I was completely confident that he would come up with something that was not on the list. Apparently, the most awkward thing about me is: always being ill.

Humph. Okay, there might be a slight touch of the hypochondriac about me but if I'm ill, then I'm ill, right? Except that when I'm really ill, I don't notice so I guess that proves the other times are mainly me being awkward? Oh dear, I'll maybe not ask next time.

So, there we are readers, the very non-definitive but mostly inclusive list of Aspie Awkwardness. Just like IT teen, I'm sure your friends, family and best beloveds could come up with personalised reasons why you are awkward - if you're brave enough to ask.

For me, I think I'm going to walk the dogs and try not to drop the lead, lose the car keys, fall in the hedge, forget the poop bags, ramble about latest obsession....


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Getting the wrong end of the stick...and waving it

In other words, taking something completely the wrong way or misunderstanding what your own senses are telling you. It's very easily done, can cause great confusion and is often exasperating to everyone else.

A small example: I was sitting in my car when I heard a man whistling, the kind you do to get someone's attention. He kept repeating it and I was looking to see where he was. A few seconds later I spotted him. It was an older gent, in a bright pink jacket with a shopping bag. He was moving along the pavement at speed, doing a jig as he went. He was bent slightly, laughing and was focused on the man walking ahead of him, who was oblivious to being followed.

The older man was speeding up and would soon reach his target. He had his head lower now and if he didn't slow down, he'd barrel right into the back of the man in front. I waited to see what would happen, wondering if he was going to jump on him, or head butt him, or even hit him with the carrier bag. Whatever, he certainly looked like he was having fun.

Then, at the last second, the man in front crossed the road and the older gent's target was revealed to be a woman waiting at the very end of the road, patiently watching him do his jig as he came towards her. He slowed in front of her, laughing and gave her a little bow, then the shopping bag.

Everything he had done was for her. He had whistled to get her attention then entertained her with his running jig. He never had any interest in the innocent man walking in front of him and, luckily, the man didn't hear him or look behind at the wrong moment.

All became clear, this time, and it made sense. If I had looked past the man in front, I might have seen the woman and understood, but once I had in my mind the scenario I thought was right, I stopped looking for another explanation. As far as I was concerned, the older gent was about to spring some kind of surprise on the other man and even though this behaviour was out of the ordinary, it still never occurred to me to look for a different answer.

It's a small example of how wrong you can be, or at least, how wrong I can be. I am often wrong like this, either getting mixed up with what people are telling me or want me to do or coming up with reasons for things which bear little resemblance to the truth. And all of this is complicated by my tendency to choose an outlandish reason, or response, instead of an ordinary one.

I mean, why would a gentleman of a certain age jig along the pavement to jump on a stranger? Is it not more rational that I had missed a detail and he had a good reason for acting as he did? Does this mean I see it as more reasonable, in my own world view, for him to do something odd than something normal?

Maybe, although I tend to think people behave very oddly a lot of the time and they're not really doing anything extraordinary. It's just they seem odd to me, so I don't file it away as common behaviour, even if it is.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my regular Saturday morning lesson with a student I knew well. It was pouring down outside, the kind of heavy rain that makes you feel it never does anything else and other weather exists only on the Moon. It was Summer and we were bemoaning the weather, in true British fashion, both of us distracted from the lesson by the way it was beating against the window.

Then my student pointed across the street and said, 'There he is again.' I looked and saw a man in the front garden of a little bungalow over the road. He was wearing a jacket with no hood and had a bag in his hand.

'What's he doing?' I asked.

'Gardening,' my student said in a sardonic voice. 'If it's weather like this, he comes out and does gardening, then if it's sunny, he's never there.'

We watched the man for a minute longer. He had the bag ready to put prunings into and was clipping at the roses near the gate. A couple of times he wiped his hand across his brow then carried on. If we weren't peering at him through heavy rain, it would have looked like a normal activity.

Losing interest, my student turned away, finishing with, 'No one else is daft enough to be out in this weather.'

That's when it struck me. The possible reason for the man's strange behaviour was that, in this downpour, he was guaranteed privacy to do his gardening. His little garden fronted onto the pavement at a busy section near the cross roads. If he had been there in sunshine, lots of people might have passed and he would have had an audience.

Does avoiding an audience when you're pruning roses seem like a reasonable excuse for getting soaked to the skin? It did for me; I could see the attraction of not having to worry in case someone went past, but I also admitted it wasn't as likely for other people to be avoiding company in the same way I might.

I took another look at him and noticed, despite the rain and the occasional shake of the head, he seemed quite content. He moved about the garden and did what he had to without hurrying. He was at peace, in the pouring rain. Just him and the weather, enjoying the day.

That time I probably did get it right, as my student lived in a busy and not always peaceful area. If you were a quiet person who didn't want any trouble, I can well see why you might garden in the rain. So, my aspie thinking gave me a possible right answer that time, but perhaps only because I was applying it to someone with the same motivations as myself.

In normal situations, it's often safe to assume that aspie thinking does not help when it comes to understanding non-aspie folk. They seem to operate under different rules, unspoken motivations drive them and they expect everyone to share their world view.

It becomes second nature to think something and keep it to yourself, having experienced too often the disbelief and laughter when you put forward an opinion on what something means, which is totally off the wall for other people. Very occasionally, if you're lucky, they take what you say as a joke and laugh with you instead of at you.

So, even though I often misunderstand things, I find myself hesitating and trying to re-think, in case I have it wrong again. It causes an annoying type of hesitation which aggravates other people. They ask you a question or want you do something and you dither, re-processing what was just said or done to see if you have it right.

If you feel unsure enough, you might risk asking them to repeat themselves, which often makes things worse as they take you to be a fool who can understand nothing and should be left to their own devices. Or, if you're completely sure you got it right (but actually have it wrong), you may cause even more trouble by reacting in the wrong way or saying something inappropriate.

It's a confusing mess at times, never improved by seeing the world in a different way so that even if you see it the right way today, you'll still doubt yourself tomorrow. But it does make life much more interesting, you know. It's easy to see a madman in the rain, rusting his shears, but better to see a private man with a solution to a problem no one else understands.

It doesn't really matter whether or not I have the wrong end of the stick or if there is a fellow aspie holding the other end and fighting me for it. I'll carry on seeing things as they appear to be, to me, only realising they are not what they seem later, when I've made the day a little stranger, or more odd, or funnier or complicated.

It's much less boring to believe that happy looking gents are about to surprise strangers than to see the reality of an unimpressed woman watching her dad jive along the pavement. She may not have appreciated his antics, but I did. So, gent in the pink coat, I salute you for not caring whether the other man saw you and dancing anyway.

We should all do our own thing, readers, whether or not we have it wrong. In the end, we can only be ourselves and let other people worry about it if they will.


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Building up your worries

I was talking to my mother about stress and she pointed out that you can only deal with one bundle of worry at a time, that it was important to separate your worries out into piles and then work on taking apart one pile at a time. She used the word 'dismantling', which made me think my worries were like something I had built.

This makes sense, if you think about it. Stress and worry and all the attendant nasties that go with them are built up by us, often into a monolith, ready to tower above us and blot out the light. We don't mean it to happen, we often intend the very opposite, thinking if we examine our worries, then we can work through them and find solutions.

Somehow, so often, looking for solutions opens up all the other worries too and I realise that I have more to resolve than I first thought. Or, I realise this isn't the time when I can resolve them, either because I'm not in the right frame of mind or it just cannot be done.

This last one is a whopper: something that cannot be done. The ignorance of life! How dare it throw in my path an impossible problem! How dare it make me wait! Why should I have to exercise patience when I could be getting stuck in and making everything better (or worse)?

I often find it irritating when people talk about totally accepting their problems and having great reserves of patience. I admire the truly patient person, the one who is really at ease with the world and can step back to see the bigger picture. The other kind are the ones who profess to be this type but are, in fact, people who accept their problems and seem patient more because they give in and don't want to try to solve them than through any genuine acceptance of Fate.

I possibly sound unkind there - and I mean to be! If someone has reached a stage of despair in their life and can't see a way out, then let me help them and give them a hand to reach that first step. But if someone has reached a low stage and is using a patient, accepting manner to avoid any action, let them watch out.

I accept that I build my own worries, even when I'm looking for solutions, but I can't accept when people watch their worries pile up around them, growing ever-higher and there they are, in the middle of it all, talking about acceptance and patience.

There is a place for everything. Sometimes, I could really use some of that patient acceptance, especially when I'm so busy trying to dismantle my edifice that I create a giant pile of rubble between myself and the exit. But I think other people could sometimes use my manic rushing at a problem, if only to give them a kick-start.

So, this week I'm working on careful dismantling. I think the word 'careful' is probably as close as I can get to being patient. I know the two aren't the same thing but they did go to the same school and they share a second cousin.

If I can be careful about my problems, and look at them closely, before taking them apart, then maybe I won't end up with the pile of rubble that makes it look like I went in with a wrecking ball. I don't want to step back from my work and realise I have blocked my way, yet again, with all the things I thought I'd seen for the last time.

What I really want is to see a path through and not find I've built something impressive with my worries. That kind of building work I can do without, especially as it seems to happen when you're not looking and be waiting for you to turn around and notice it at the worst moment.

I'll dismantle one of the small things first and not look at all the pieces as I take them off. I don't want to spend all my time obsessing over the one little building project, being so careful I achieve nothing and then have to build a new thing, out of guilt and anger at myself.

I'm going to take my own advice and keep it all small. Small steps, small plans (ha!), small achievements that are solid in their foundations. I'll ease myself forward and work gradually, until it feels a little easier than before.

When I've finished, I may even take a picture, to prove to myself that sometimes, if I really want to, I can take to pieces the very things that I spent so much time putting together. And perhaps they'll stay in pieces and I can move on to something else that doesn't need so much care and won't re-build itself as soon as my back is turned.

Eventually, I may even be able to use the word 'patience' without gritting my teeth. I guess stranger things have happened.


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