The DIY Aspie, approach with caution

A simple job, you know? Take out one cupboard, replace with one dishwasher. How hard can it be? Especially with two strapping teenage sons to help (sigh).

Firstly, IT Teen has an opinion on everything. Rather like the perennial meddler in office management, he'll be completely absent until you start to do something useful. Then, fleet as a fox, he's there, watching what you're doing and offering advice on how you could do it a whole lot better.

Similarly, Custard the cat who thinks he's a dog likes to supervise any kind of DIY. You can do anything else without him, bake, dance, perform acrobatic striptease, but once he hears the sound of a hammer or power tool, he's there.

This was how, on Tuesday night, I came to be supporting a half-broken worksurface and concertina-ing cupboard, with the dishwasher teetering on two corners, while Custard zipped past, trying to get under the whole thing and make sure we were doing it right.

It's a bit like a can of worms, DIY. You set off doing one thing, it breaks/explodes/changes mass and you're suddenly doing a different job altogether. I had emptied the unnecessary cupboard myself, without supervision or advice and had actually wanted to do the rest on my own too. Except I can't move the dishwasher by myself as I'd need at least three hands to make sure the worksurface didn't break (and I think you can guess how that turned out).

The worksurface unscrewed from the cupboard - check. Custard relegated to the living room, again - check. Tess banished from trying to get in the cupbaord with me - check. IT made to put down the flippin' phone and hold up the worksurface while I move the cupboard - check.

Except, the cupboard wouldn't move.

'I know!' IT exclaims, suddenly full of enthusiasm, 'We'll do it the Jeremy Clarkson way!' Before I could decide if he meant hammer it to death, set fire to it or explode it into space, he launched himself at the cupboard and booted it from under the worksurface. Yes, this is one of the Jeremy Clarkson ways.

At this point, with a sad creak, the cupboard started to fold like a soggy box and the worksurface leeeeeeaned. IT just caught it in time before it snapped. Then it snapped anyway, leaving him with hands full of compressed chunks of wood and the sink flailing about in a light breeze.

'We'll have to rip the whole lot out!' he said, frothing at the mouth and with a wild eye. If there's anything he adores more than the iphone, it's ripping stuff out.

'No, we won't,' I said, firmly. 'We'll push the dishwasher under the worksurface and hold it in place until we get a new one.'

'We can't do that!' he gesticulated wildly, still holding the chunks of dead surface. 'It'll all fall apart!'

'It will if we don't support it!' I started to push at the dishwasher.

As it was too late to go anywhere for any supplies, worksurface included, for once IT had to give in. We took a hold of the dishwasher and PUSHED.

It all went well until one corner of it found an inexplicable obstacle in the floor. You know the type. The kind of obstacle that is absolutely invisible and doesn't exist at all in the material world, only in DIY circumstances. There was nothing to be seen, but that corner would not budge.

We looked at each other, wary and defeated. We'd have to do what we always avoided in any DIY situation. We needed to ask RT Teen for help.

Now, let me get this straight, as I don't want you thinking badly of him. RT is a kind person and doesn't offer opinionated advice or obsess over his iphone when he could be helping. RT will assist you, to the best of his ability. It's just, well, you know, things tend to happen when he helps. Never on-purpose things, always by-accidents.

I yelled for him to come, as at this point we were still holding the recalcitrant dishwasher at an angle from the floor, with the leery worksurface rocking about on top of it. Every moment spent waiting meant more compressed chunks snapping off and dropping to the floor.

Eventually, we penetrated the haze that lives, like a small solar system, around RT's head and he appeared at the door, complaining that he was in the middle of talking to Toby (his American friend) on Skype. After some rather harsh words, he came forward to help.

This was the point where Custard made his reappearance, full of triumph, running like Caesar across the battlefields, knowing no enemy could withstand him. Right under the edge of the dishwasher, then a quick, sideways turn and onto the remaining worksurface.

Never one to be put off by shouting, Custard looked around madly fort he source of the voices, a la Pigs in Space from the Muppet Show.

Pretending not to know he was in the wrong place, he skittered across the surface and tried to jump on the dishwasher. IT let go of the dishwasher as RT grabbed it and Custard was banished again (RT had let him out when he came - a by-accident, you see).

The idea was that IT would hold up the worksurface, I would tame the cupboard side which had tried to collapse and RT would push the dishwasher in, hopefully avoiding the invisible obstacle once everything else was out of the way.

After shoving and using muscles he didn't have, RT proclaimed the dishwasher to be stuck and blamed IT for not holding the worksurface high enough. Not having a hand free to smack him, I growled for him to swap with IT and we tried again.

For the love of Mike, the same again! A great 'normous teenager, hefting an empty dishwasher and getting nowhere, while I broke my back holding the leaning cupboard and half the worksurface out of the way.

More growling and we swapped again, by this time not looking unlike a scene from the Muppet Show ourselves. I took the dishwasher, moved it on one side then the other, came up against the invisible obstacle again (kitchen goblins) and simply walked the machine over whatever it was. Like magic, it slid into place.

Both teens expressed astonishment that their shorter-than-average mother could have done this, then RT escaped back to Skype and IT took out his iphone to check the prices of worksurfaces. He has decided we should get a really nice one, marble or similar and that £999 per metre is fine for the quality. When he becomes the next Jeremy Clarkson, he can buy one for himself.

With Custard dancing back through to the kitchen yet again, I was pleased we had got over the worst of it. Zoning out IT and his online window-shopping, Custard and I got down to plumbing in the dishwasher, making sure we didn't have a flood from the outflow, tidying up the sorry ends of the worksurface and then leaving IT to clean up the floor.

Somewhere along the line, we saved most of the worksurface and the dishwasher was so tightly wedged that the cupboard stopped collapsing. I did find out later tha I'd also moved the washing machine, which had shuffled up against the wall like a maiden aunt away from a mouse, but it was a small problem.

I was just glad that we didn't have a pile of rubble where our cupboards are meant to be. I'm also glad that IT seems to have forgotten we need new marble worksurfaces.

It will be some time before I tackle the next stage of this job and I think I should have someone in to do it. With Custard to help them, they should be okay and I may hold off my tradesman phobia long enough to have a new kitchen put in.

You never know, stranger things have definitely happened.

PS I found a dead goblin under the cooker a day later. It had crawled there sometime after we squashed it with the dishwasher. I let Custard have it.


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The perfect storm: aspie vs aspie

The scene was set for a proper aspie showdown, a chance for all those little niggles to grow and inflate until they're big enough to take over the house. I asked RT Teen to do something and he messed it up.

Now, if I had swapped those two sentences around, you may have looked at it and thought, 'What's the big deal? Teenagers mess up all the time?' Yes, I know, I am a mother of teenagers and I'm well aware they mess up a lot. As I'm also an aspie, I can't say too much about their messes when I create my own on a daily basis.

RT Teen and I usually get along very well together, both in our haze of aspie-ness, buffered from the real world by the belief that our inner lives are as important as the outer. Sometimes we crash up against each other (and sometimes that's literally, if we both rush for the same door), but usually we're happy to accept each other for who we are.

When we do collide, it's nearly always on a grand scale, often set off by me not watching how I say something so that RT takes an instant, no-return-policy kind of offence and flounces up the stairs, the house shaking around him. Or, sometimes, it's me who loses it...

I've done my best, readers. I try to not fly off the handle and fall foul of my aspie nature when I'm also being a mother. I admit my obsessive traits and irresponsible nature. I struggle to be as adult as possible for as long as I can, then hide in a corner and hope no one needs me until I recharge. But I am only human.

On this particular day, as with most dramas, it started quietly. We had the shopping delivered from Asda, my new way of saving money. Ordering online stops me going in all the time and wandering. It's like a magic trick, making my money go further just by keeping me away from the shop.

IT Teen had to call in at college, so we waited for the shopping then left, with me telling RT to put away the frozen and chilled food. Simple, right? (I can hear those who have parented teenagers sighing at this point).

While we were out, RT called me. I thought someone had died, honestly. He said, in the darkest, saddest, slowest of voices, 'Um, erm, oh...' dramatic pause, 'the mouse has completely broken. It won't work at all! Can you get one while you're out?'

Panic averted, IT and I went to find a mouse. Like anything IT buys, there has to be a prolonged investigation into the merits and geek value of any item, with some internet use to back it up. A triumph for modern parenting, I managed to come away with the cheapest one on the shelf.

Finally, after an hour and a quarter we came home. There, waiting to greet us, was the shopping. No, not all of it, he'd put away the orange juice. Yes, hmm. And the fish fingers. The rest of his time had been spent discovering the mouse had broken, then discovering if he pressed hard enough it did work and then doing his art on Gimp.

All this time, the shopping had sat in our summer-warm hallway, gently defrosting, warming or rotting, depending on its nature. I saw red.

There was commotion, involving flailing of arms, battle cries, much pointing at bags and IT (uncharacteristically) vanishing to his room. Tess left us to it and Rupert hid in his bed. The cats, ever hopeful, circled the bag of ex-fish we had been going to have for tea.

After much natural expression, RT started to put away what was left of the shopping. As he stocked the fridge, the new packet of mini pies fell out, opening on the way down and tumbling all over the floor. At this point, I saw ultraviolet. Before I could implode in the middle of the kitchen, I stalked off to the living room, saying, 'I'm going to be on my own for a while.'

As I hadn't said, 'leave me alone,' he followed me ten seconds later to say he'd put all the frozen and chilled away. Rupert started vibrating in his bed, expecting us to turn into fireworks again. This part of the fiasco was not helped by RT entering the self-pity stage earlier than was physically safe.

He wanted my sympathy as he'd had a bad few days where he kept forgetting things. He couldn't remember what he'd forgotten, but he knew he had and he was sad about it. You can imagine how sympathetic I was. There were a few more rockets going off then he retreated to his room.

I cooked our ex-fish for cat supper instead of ours, forgetting about it as it cooked and wondering what strange things they had on the barbeque next door. The cats were very glad of the fish and made me feel a little better about having to eat something else.

I then turned the fridge up as it seemed to have got a bit warm and I didn't want to lose even more food. After this, RT and I made friends, with him acknowledging responsibility for the cats' supper and me nit-picking over what I had done and said to see if I could have been any more patient (I could, but then I'd have been a Stepford mother).

There are two post scripts to this story. One is that IT and I won't be putting away any shopping for a very long time. The other is that I don't know which way is ON for the fridge temperature control. I had turned it down instead of up and was back at Asda yesterday morning, replacing yoghurts and the like, having fed our very, very happy cats on cooked pork and cheese.

It did work out in the end and we came back to our happy understanding, with barely a  whiff of 'I told you so' from IT Teen (he knows when to shut up sometimes - who knew?) We also have very contented cats who are almost crazed when I come in with a shopping bag now. That's going to make life difficult for a while.

Other than that, it's all normal aspie stuff, I guess. The kind of thing you find hard to explain to other people but, at the time, you think to yourself, 'This is why life was never going to be boring'.


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Aspie in the City 3: A whirlpool of people.

As we left Chinatown, I was ready to face the crowds and go shopping. IT Teen told me that when he came on the college trip with his friends, they wandered around for ages before coming upon a big shopping mall.

'That's the Arndale Centre,' I said, looking for signs.

'No,' he said, 'It wasn't, it was a shopping mall.'

Why he took against the name I don't know, but he was sure he knew where it was and that it wasn't the Arndale Centre (it was) so I let him lead the way. At this point, I want to make it clear, getting lost was not my fault for a change.

It's surprising how many side streets there are in a city. Well, maybe not surprising but shocking how many times you can find a new one and only be a stone's throw from the main areas. We ducked down street after street, in the distance seeing people who knew where they were and were probably going to the Arndale Centre.

Stopping to photograph another building, IT was distracted long enough for me to have a good look around. We diverted to follow the crowds and, guess what? Yes, we found the Arndale Centre. I pointed, silently, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, up at the sign. In the way of all teenagers, he shrugged and said, 'Is that what it's called?'

Finally, something I could understand, the modern shopping centre. Here, getting lost is acceptable and wandering around with an aimless look on your face just makes you blend in with the crowd.

It was at this stage that I suddenly realised something that had been nagging at me since we arrived in Manchester: there were an awful lot more good looking men here than at home. (By home, I mean Cumbria. I don't mean I have a special supply of good looking men who live in their own converted boudoir).

Leaving IT to enjoy the shopping mall and take us into various shops, I just drifted around, appreciating the scenery. Readers, so relaxing! barely a beer belly in sight, all the suits were pressed and fitted the suitee, the hairstyles had been decisions rather than appointments. At one point, completely distracted, I actually walked towards one of the men, almost ending up being trampled.

I must tell you, I don't do this everywhere I go and haven't done it properly since I was at college. It was a very nice change to feel like it was wall-to-wall quality gentlemen. It reminded me of  Buck Rogers in the 25th Century where he goes on the cruise ship and is surrounded by loveliness. Obviously, in the middle of the Arndale Centre, I wasn't assailed by women in shiny gold lame swim suit-space suits, but you get the idea.

The only problem with being distracted for this long was that I didn't notice the crowds had grown, a lot, since we came back to the main shopping areas. Everywhere we went, there were masses of people and I was starting to feel the strain.

When you compare my usual crowd experience, of a busy supermarket or small city centre, a day full of people is something unusual. I was also aware there was no quick escape plan; we were here for the duration.

I could feel myself building up, looking around and all the faces seeming to fill my vision. The voices, the sounds of the city, the need to know where you are going and how to get there quickly, the feeling that if I faltered, hesitated, lost my footing, I would be consumed by the surrounding crowds and no one would see or hear me fall.

Recognising the type of thinking that would end with me vanishing into an unexpected side street or odd corner somewhere, I asked IT where he wanted to go next, so I could focus on something other than the hungry faces everywhere I looked.

Luckily, IT was determined to check out some anime films, so we left the crowds behind and entered an unlikely sanctuary of geekdom: the DVD section of HMV. Finally, I could breath a sigh of relief...

To be continued...


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Aspie in the City 2: Chinatown and Step-gate

This is a short series of articles based on my recent trip to Manchester.Part 1 can be found here

So, off we go to Chinatown with me thinking an awful, awful lot about the cup of tea I had been craving since we passed the halfway mark to Manchester. It was an extremely hot day and as we come from Up North, it only got hotter as we moved down to Manchester. The need for any kind of drink was great but the desire for tea superseded the rest.

IT Teen said I could have some tea in Chinatown, but I said I didn't want Chinese tea, I wanted Indian tea (whine whine). He said there'd be no difference, which led to a small spat in the middle of a gaggle of young professionals.

I dropped subtle (as a pit clog) hints about stopping in a cafe on the way to Chinatown, how we could look online to make sure we found Chinatown (while in cafe drinking tea), how Chinatown was probably many miles away and if I didn't get a drink right now I was going to collapse.

Didn't IT Teen care that I was dehydrated? Didn't he appreciate that I had driven us all the way here? Did he not remember how stressful it all was for me? Did he not have any gratitude at all for me putting myself through this ordeal? Did he not think it would dampen his day if I collapsed in the middle of Manchester and showed him up?

I was actually feeling dehydrated, which is really bad because by the time you feel it you're on the way to being a heap on the pavement. At this point, I had a heady sensation as we walked along and life started to stream past, quite pleasantly. I was now feeling dizzy and out of it, but the plus side was that I shut up.

IT looked much happier after this and even smiled at me as we wandered along. I smiled back, thinking, you'll be sorry when you're dragging me out of the way of the trams because I've collapsed. So, you see, in my head I was still moaning on. I just didn't have the energy to do it out loud.

Then he dragged me into a store and we bought a cold drink. I was confused by the queuing system in the little shop but cheered up when I finally got my drink. Not tea, so I was still on moan-alert, but I didn't want to pass out anymore.

We made our way through the streets, stopping A LOT so that IT could take photographs. We had expected him to be able to indulge in street photography without danger of being thumped, but it turns out people in Manchester are as camera shy as people in Cumbria so we have quite a few shots of startled pedestrians.

We finally started to see signs for Chinatown and headed there quickly. IT said we would know we were heading in the right direction if we started to see lots of Chinese people. This didn't seem as logical to me as it did to him as I had a feeling Chinatown was more likely to be full of tourists but hardly had the words left his mouth than we rounded a corner and found ourselves surrounded by about 40 Chinese teenage girls, all heading in the opposite direction.

After this cosmic joke at our expense, we arrived in Chinatown feeling underwhelmed. I hadn't expected dancing dragons or perpetual New Year but I had expected a little more than there was. Still, we were there so we looked for somewhere to eat.

IT recognised the Wasabi Sushi Bar logo and wanted to go in there. I knew the name too but stopped short when I realised their front step was dirty. Here began what can only be described as step-gate. No, this is not a story of steps and gates who get married in later life and have a blended family of step-gates. It is the story of how a big chain of Sushi bars are far too busy to fill a bucket with soapy water and get the darn thing clean.

I looked at the dirty step and felt I was looking at their kitchens. I could see the germs. IT said I was being unreasonable and pointed to the sign that said they were refurbishing in a month. I said that I didn't expect them to refurbish, just to clean the step. He said the step was no reflection on the place itself.

At that point I turned into my grandmother and decided it was a pretty good reflection of the place itself because if you don't clean the front step then what else don't you clean? He said we should judge it by the name and how popular it was and look at all these other people who didn't care about the step.

Readers, I won't bore you with the prolonged nature of step-gate. It involved my lip sticking out and a lot of looking across the street for somewhere better, plus some geeky internet checking to see where locals liked to eat. To be honest, I almost came onto the Crazy Girl page and asked you all for help. Step-gate was such a massive thing by this time.

In the end, predictably, we went into Wasabi Sushi and were met with a gleaming paragon of cleanliness. At that very moment, three members of staff were bearing down on a place setting to clean it. I was cheered up though still grumping to myself about the step.

When we sat down, there was another moment of Country Mouse as IT and I both realised at the same time that we had no idea how to use a Sushi bar. It had the conveyor belt going round and a menu and people seemed to know what to do with both.

I had to ask the waitress how to use it, then forgot to listen to the whole of her answer so asked her to repeat herself. She became patient and kind, like you would with a lame goat and told me again how to use the sushi bar, this time speaking more slowly and enunciating her syllables.

By this time, we knew what we were doing, but I was then faced with a dreadful truth. I wanted to mess with the conveyor belt. SO badly. I really wanted to put my hand on it and have all the dishes pile up til they toppled off. I wanted to play with them, patting them as they went past like a cat with a toy. I just wanted to make a game of it and every time I looked away, I could see the conveyor belt moving past in the corner of my eye, taunting me.

Then the food arrived to distract me and I was very much distracted. I had accidentally ordered noodles and have never used chopsticks before. I didn't mind learning to use them but would have preferred to do it at home, without noodles. I had a go, making my usual three-thumbed hash of anything that needs hand-eye coordination.

After struggling for a few minutes, I called the same waitress over, figuring I had no self-respect to lose with her and asked for a fork. IT was totally shown up at this point, having already glowered and muttered that no one asked for a fork in a sushi bar, No One. I told him Someone was asking for one and that was me and that if he wanted us to be out of there within two hours, he would let me use the fork.

After that I had a happy few minutes of eating noodles, smugly, with my fork while IT suffered manfully with his chopsticks. He did manage, we both ate, no one was harmed during my prolonged use of a fork in a sushi bar and I came away feeling I had accomplished something.

If this all seems like a storm in a teacup, I must make it clear that I had got us all the way to Manchester, extricated us from being lost, dealt with a multi-storey, almost passed out on our way to Chinatown and, readers, and, been surrounded by crowds of people the whole time.

Coming out of the sushi bar into the blazing sun, I felt like I had overcome some of my inhibitions, especially my OCD reaction to the step. It wasn't that I expected everything else to be a breeze while we were there but I did feel like I had helped myself to enjoy the day more like other people would, rather than like an aspie on day release from aspie-world.

Having said all of that, at this stage I shot back into Manchester like a puppy from the vets and put TEA at the top of my to-do list. Nothing and no one was going to stand between me and that cup of tea.

Then, we got lost again.

To be continued...


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Aspie in the city 1: Making it to the Start Line

This is a short series of articles based on my recent trip to Manchester.Part 2 can be found here.

When I think of visiting a city, I am confronted by so many of my phobias, irrational fears, OCD and social issues, that it can be exhausting just thinking about it. Panic is always the watchword of the day. For the next few blog posts, I'm going to take you with me, as I went into the city and, amazingly, came out the other side of it.

I am seriously good at getting lost. Let me say that straight away. So when IT Teen and I went to Manchester this week, I expected to see parts of the city and its surroundings that weren't on any guided tour.

Usually when I visit a city, I also visit the worst area, the most congested area, the same area at least three times and the one-way system/bus route. In fact, I'm very fond of bus routes.

We were well prepared, though. IT had used his almighty iphone to download the route and we carefully, deliberately followed it until we were almost at our destination. Then, just like a computer, it didn't say which lane we should be on before our next turn. One lane went left, into the city and the other went right, also into the city.

For whatever reason, given a chance I'll turn left. We turned left and then the flippin' thing piped up that we were on the wrong route. Nice timing, iphone! We were then stuck on our usual merry-go-round, trying to find out where we should have been.

I acted against type again and asked for directions. This didn't help as the chap we asked had no idea where we should be so, like a true tourist, I headed for the nearest big parking sign and entered the dreaded environs of a multi-storey.

My throat closed, my breath quickened, my eyes started to flick from right to left, waiting for the monsters to appear. We went up and up and up and on each turn, the tyres groaned and cried. I met a car coming down and realised I'd been going up on the wrong side (again, my love of left led me astray).

Finally, one level from the top we found a space. I stopped, turned off the engine and resisted a Victorian fainting session.

We were in Manchester and safely parked. I had no idea how much it would cost or whether I could find my way out of the city, but for now we only had to worry about finding the shopping centre and the nearest decent cup of tea.

Staggering from the car, I felt quite proud that we had only gone wrong the once and that it had been the iphone's fault. I was also pleased I had Asked Directions. I know some of you will understand how monumental this can be. And the person I asked didn't turn out to be an aspie-guzzling monster! (He was from Liverpool, so that probably explains why I was unscathed).

Teetering off to the stairs, dragging IT away from the lift (have never trusted them since reading Willy Wonka, plus teeming with germs), we went down seven levels of parking and out into the street. Looking forward to a sit down on an unmoving table and a cup of tea, I turned and smiled at IT Teen.

He smiled back and said, 'Right! Now let's go find China Town!'

My smile wavered into the face I pull when there's a knock at the door and I followed him, feeling the cuppa evaporating in front of me as I faced more journeying into the heart of adventure.

To be continued...


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When your son comes clean about what he truly loves

I've reached the day every parent dreads. I've discovered my son likes smoked meats.

I suspected this day might come when, as a little boy, he always wanted to eat the stronger flavoured food and avoided sweets. All little boys like to experiment, but is it really normal for them to ignore sweet food?

When he was older, I forgot about my worries for a while. He seemed just like other boys then, eating big meals, trying new things, copying what his friends were eating. It was a false sense of security.

By the time he was a teenager, he was asking me to make curries all the time. Bacon had to be thick and well-cooked. He liked his sandwiches with butter instead of margarine or low-fat spread. And he wouldn't drink milkshake.

I put my new worries to one side. All boys go through phases, don't they? Especially in their teenage years. Friends can have such a big impact on them. So, I blamed his friends.

Except, his friends ate anything. They didn't insist on special meats, presented nicely with side salad. They were happy with whatever came first. They didn't mind what my son ate, either, which was good. I just wish I had realised earlier that it wasn't a phase.

Then, the day I'll never forget. We were in the supermarket, buying ham and there was only smoked ham left. He said, casually, 'Why don't we just get that? It tastes better anyway.'

We looked at each other, him realising he had spoken without thinking and me, sinking into the morass of years of memories, jumbled together: my son eating beef flavour crisps, laughing as he ate a 100% meat sausage, the time he threw up after trying to force down candy floss.

It all came together into the dreadful knowledge that he had fully accepted his love of smoked foods and wasn't afraid to show it. I had to face facts, I was never going to watch him eat cup cakes or even skim the top off a trifle. He was always going to head straight for the all-you-can-eat meat buffet.

We went home, a little quieter than we set out and I cooked the smoked ham for supper. I ate it with him trying to ignore the unnatural flavours caused by the smoking. I tried to hide the taste by serving it with a sweet sauce. Together, we managed that first meal.

Now, I have a fridge full of unusual foods that I've never tried before. I even have smoked salmon - who knew fish could taste good both ways? I've found I can enjoy things I never knew existed before and, better than that, I'm not ashamed to admit it.

My son is still the same person he was, it was me who was unwilling to see him for his true self. I'm a better person for looking at him clearly and understanding he was his own individual. I know now that he didn't need to try the food I thought he should, he was quite capable of choosing for himself.

Readers, if you find yourself in my position, don't lose heart. Try shopping in a different part of the supermarket or accepting that what your son or daughter brings home may not be quite what you expected. Look at it as the chance to try a whole new world of experiences, different from the life you know but just as good.


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Your life, on screen...required viewing for aspies and friends

I come to you today a wiser woman. Aren't we always saying, how good it would be to see ourselves as the world sees us? Well, thanks to a new Japanese anime show, I did just that. For the first time in my life, I saw what I look like from the outside.

Readers, this is not a paid review or anything officially linked to the Watamote, the anime. This is purely my response to something which, hum, how can I put it? Well, if I tell you that I sat through the whole show, with an expression of horror and recognition on my face, would that tell you how it was?

IT Teen had told me to watch it. He bought the manga first, the Japanese version. He waved it in my face and said, 'This is about yoooo!' I remember scowling at the book cover, to find a edgily-drawn girl scowling back at me. Yes, already it was accurate.

IT told me that it's a 'slice of life' story, all about this socially awkward girl called Tomoko. I thought, well, yes, I am socially awkward but that doesn't sound like it would be much of a story.

So, we sat down to watch it. Within the first minute, I was hooked. Tomoko has just moved up to high school - she has reached that part of the teenage years which we aspies often don't get past. She is old enough to really suffer.

She can't speak to people, she spends all her time in her room, playing dating games on her pc. She believes that going up to high school will mean a new life, a place where she can make friends and be like everyone else. And yet, once there, she can barely lift her head from her work.

There is a scene in a restaurant which really brought things home to me. Some classmates have come in and Tomoko needs to get past them without risking any contact. The image zooms out and we see a map of the restaurant, with arrows plotting her various escape routes as she works out which way she can go to avoid them seeing her or speaking to her.

I was thinking to myself, 'There is no escape, she'll have to go into the toilets.' And then she went into the toilets, to work out what to do next and I felt like I was with her, cowering behind the temporary safety of a locked door.

What hit me hardest by the end of the first episode was that this poor girl has more in common with me as I am now than when I was a teenager. I was like her then, too, but I've actually developed into a more socially awkward person over time. I hide it better, I pretend more, but on the inside I am a teenage girl, plotting her escape routes.

Any aspie will identify with some of this story. Many will identify with most of it. If, like me, you sit there with your face contorted, hiding behind your hands at the parts which are too familiar to watch, then you are not alone.

Friends, families and best beloveds of aspies should be made to watch this show. Strap 'em down, readers and sellotape their eyes open. They must watch it. For all those times when you've tried to explain why you can't speak to people or why you find something hard to do. Make them see how it is.

This anime shows our lives from the inside, the outside and also from the viewpoint of other people. Within the story, we get to see how society sees Tomoko, who can only interact with her brother by blackmailing him to sit and talk to her.

The message I came away with by the end is that this is an anime about a socially awkward girl. She is not labelled as aspie or anything else, just awkward. To anyone who knows aspergers, she is very obviously an aspie.

Share it with anyone you know who might benefit from seeing the aspie life from all angles and don't let them wriggle out of it. They can ignore the textbooks if they like, or avoid the letter from school, work or the doctor. Let their eyes glaze over when you explain  aspergers to them. But make them watch this show.

You have twenty-something minutes to see the truth!

Watamote is available in the UK from Crunchyroll, who have a 14 day free trial. Searching the anime itself should give you access in other parts of the world. I should point out, this show has an 18 rating, though it would probably be a 15 in the UK.


 A Guide to Your Aspie

 How to talk to your Aspie

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Facing the monster

I dreamt last night of someone I know, their face twisted like a monster. We sat, facing each other and they were growling and turning their face away, as if they couldn't decide whether to attack me or run from me.

There is no love lost between me and this person, though we get along when we relax. I try my best, I'm just being myself most of the time, but they resent me. This resentment is a living thing between us and causes intense friction each time we meet.

The dream came as a shock to me because I had thought things were okay, even though there is the tension there. I thought the good times, the laughter, outweighed the negative feelings. It seems I was wrong.

What keeps coming back to me is the expression in their eyes, a bright, dangerous gleam, as if they would do just about anything not to have to look at me again.

In the dream, I was less afraid than I make myself sound. They had someone with them, telling them to behave, cautioning them, raging at them. This made them simmer a little and we would go on for a few more minutes before their face twisted into the monster and it started all over again.

When I woke, I thought at first my own feelings had been the whole of the dream. Then, the more I thought about it and really considered how this person behaves, I realised my dream was making me see them as they really are - at least towards me. It took a dream to make me see how serious they are about disliking me.

Readers, I'm not in any danger from this person, not physically. But having mulled over the dream and gone over all the real-life evidence, I realise I couldn't see how they really felt because I was too busy coping with how they behaved towards me.

When someone is persistently negative, even if the negativity emits as an annoying beeeep...beeeep, rather than a klaxon for danger, then the behaviour is a distraction from what is really going on. I guess, as aspies, we are very used to working around other people's odd behaviour, so when someone is very difficult, it's natural for us to work round that too.

Also, I hate to say it, but having been to blame for so many misunderstandings, I tend to take responsibility for awkward situations with people. I think, it's probably more me than them, so I'll try harder.

When this isn't true, when the other person is twisting into a monster inside, simply because that is what they are, then it's easier for an aspie to overlook. Someone else might say, 'They're a nightmare, I'm not dealing with them again!' But if the 'monster' is occasionally decent with us, then an aspie is more likely to say, 'They're really difficult, I wish I could deal with them better'.

We're used to our own behaviour being difficult for other people too, so although we're easily irritated by the smaller things, we are also, on some level, more forgiving of the bigger irritations from other people.

Readers, I think it's really important to say to ourselves, 'It may be them and not me'. Sometimes, other people are just not cut out to get along with us or with society at large.

I'm not suggesting that this person is a monster with everyone, but perhaps they hide it better with others than they do with me? I'm guessing that my own dogged, aspie behaviour sets them off because their usual tricks don't work. I shoot past the little things they do and carry on, forcing them to escalate their behaviour to something more noticeable.

I woke today thinking I wasn't going to bother with them anymore. Now that I've thought about it, I'm undecided. To be honest, the writer in me wants to see them again, to pick out all the monstrous elements and see if my dream was right. The imagery was so strong, my curiosity makes me want to have at least one more look.

Will things be different? Having recognised the monster in them, will I now be able to see the humanity more clearly than before? Will my smacking hand stay still the whole time I'm with them? Will I be able to stop comparing them to others I know, similar in many ways but without this need to make life so very difficult for people?

Perhaps I have the answer to some of it. I do sit there and consider them. I already see through the tricks and the distracting behaviour to the personality beneath.

Do they look up and catch me judging them? Do they see it in my face? Is that the part of the dream where they turn away, instead of attacking, afraid that someone looks at them in this dispassionate, scientific way?

If I warm up my behaviour and make things funny and happy, they respond and become a different person - but only for as long as it takes me not to challenge them again or need anything from them. As soon as they have to do anything they don't want to, the eyes harden and brighten and we start all over again.

Readers, while I'm sitting there, I'll think of my dream and this blog post. I'll look again, in a new light and decide if the monster is there all the time or if my writerly mind invented it, to explain to my aspie mind what was going on.

Then, I'll decide if I'm ever going back.


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Absolute Aspie Frustration...doing things the right way

I often think of Danny Kaye when I'm having one of those days - and I'm often having one of those days. You know, how he would sing, piling one idea on top of another on top of another until, in a paroxysm of chaotic feeling, he'd somehow bring it all together at the end in a last, gasping effort. Does this sound at all familiar?

I feel like the piles and piles of ideas are always there in the aspie world: you get used to one idea only to be confronted with another. And the first idea has to match up with the second one and together they make something new, which I guess makes number three. Then they have to be kept handy while you consider idea number four, which goes with idea number seven, leaving you wondering what happened to five and six.

Somewhere along the line, on days like this, you just know that you'll be expected to hop forward to eleven, realising as soon as you manage the jump that everyone else already moved forward to fifteen. By the end of all this hopping and jumping, you're left with the feeling that however hard you try you will never find all the numbers or know how to put them together in the right order.

Sorting things in the right order, mainly ideas but also the events of the day, the week, the hour, is a major problem for many aspies. You tend to think that things are as they are, that there is a way to go about your life, be it in large or small steps, which leads you naturally from one point to another. It's being successful at this that seems to be really tricky.

A good example would be when my step-sister asked me to go out with her and her friends. I hadn't been out for ages and never enjoyed it when I did go. I knew if you went out that you got your hair done, put on the make up, wore a nice outfit and, most important of all, enjoyed yourself, being with other people.

I duly went and had my hair done - a perm, glob help me. I didn't know you had to give them time to rest. (Why do they need to rest? Are they tired?) Apparently, without this resting, it doesn't look right in the end. Mine certainly didn't, I left the hairdresser looking like a middle-aged aunty.

Then I did the dreaded make up, which never really goes as intended. I could never work out why I had to cover up my peaches and cream complexion (as it was then) with make up that made me look like I had a tummy bug.

After that, the outfit. I had very fixed ideas about what that should look like, most of which turned out to be wrong.

The whole day, I was a buzz of activity, building and building to the point when I left the house, feeling sick and wishing there was another way to have a good time that didn't involve going out with other people and pretending to enjoy myself (this was before I discovered my beloved internet).

I remember meeting my step-sister at the door of the club and her face did what it always did when I dressed up. I aspired each time to avoid that look crossing her face and never yet managed it. Now, I confess, I dress to make the look happen as I appreciate the funny side of her sensibilities suffering. In those days, I took her to be the guru of all that was good in the normal world, and wanted to get it right, just once.

My hair was wrong, my clothes were wrong and I'd only done half the make up because I didn't want to look ill. The music was loud, everyone wanted to get drunk and it was dark and claustrophobic. I hated every minute and pretended, the whole time, that it was great.

I'm thinking, on this ill-fated night out, that I was probably operating on numbers one to three, then patching my way up to seven, stopping at nine for a quick rest and finding myself in the middle of a group of people who had started the night at fifteen and were cruising comfortably at twenty by the time I left the house.

It didn't matter how much I flurried and flustered, or whether I followed rules written or unwritten. I got it wrong in the end and knew I had, being left with the feeling that I was adrift in a sea of confusion.

How frustrating this is! I don't want to be the same as everyone else and never did want to be but sometimes, just occasionally, it would be nice to do what other people do without looking like I'm a spy from Planet Herfel-Pferfel. I would like, if it is my choice, to fit in, unnoticed. More than that, I would like to know what everyone else knows, even if it's only for a few hours.

I guess I'm describing a Cinderella effect here? The wish to leave the house and be what I dream of, without any effort and then go home and be myself again. Unlike Cinderella, this last bit is very important to me. I have no interest in living life at the castle, a permanent fixture in this world of normality, where I'll always wear the right clothes but then have the responsibilities other people have.

A temporary knowing of the numbers is what I would like. A fleeting glimpse of what others know without being told, just so that I can see life from the other side occasionally, without dashing about, trying to work things out and only getting some of the way before mishaps set in.

Somewhere, somehow, the numbers and the right order aren't as important as we feel they are at the time. We need to remember that aspies don't work well when being pushed onto a straight path, from one to ten and on from there. It's in our nature to hop from one to another and work out what we might have missed as we go along.

Sometimes, the best solutions come when we can cope with being ricocheted from one point to another. By knowing how to deal with constant, disordered motion, we also learn how to work in our own way and resolve problems without needing a handbook.

This is the real secret to aspie frustration: forget trying to do things the right way. Someone else made up the rules for this kind of world and just because they thought it was a good idea to go through the numbers in the right order, doesn't mean everyone has to do the same.


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