Everyone has a kettle! Aspie declarations in conversation.

With a flourish, the aspie rounds off the argument with,

'And anyway, everyone has a kettle!'

This may sound like the very end of a deconstructive monologue on modern consumerism, or it may sound too random even for that. In fact, many arguments with an aspie start and end with a Declaration.

Aspies are very focused people. To survive in the modern world, with no handbook, we need to know what things mean. Angry faces mean angry people, raised voices mean shouting, going to work means getting paid.

There is also this logical, slightly rigid outlook when describing objects. If we have a house with big windows, then a house with small windows is totally feasible but our image of a house will have big windows.

This is a very simplistic way of explaining that aspies see things the way they have grown up seeing them and have learnt to see them. Being rigid in the way we visualise certain aspects of life leaves our minds free to tussle with the harder to understand elements, like human behaviour.

It's not that we aren't capable of knowing life has many variations - we are amazingly complex people, you know! It's more that if we are to cope with these variations, we need some constants to keep us sane.

If I had to file through all the known variables of what people use as kettles every time I want to talk about making a cup of tea, then I would never get to the tea. I have to take it as a rule that everyone has a kettle. My ability to divert down other paths means if I hesitate and visualise the many kinds of kettle, then I will become absorbed in it and forget about the tea.

Imagine it: I want to talk about making tea but I suddenly visualise a beautiful, shining, old-fashioned copper-bottomed kettle, sitting on a hob, waiting to whistle. Very different from my cheap old plug-in but still a kettle. Then I remember the time the kettle broke and I had to boil water in a pan to make tea. Or the time before that, when I still had the microwave, and I tried using that to boil water for tea (just don't).

From there, the sky's the limit. Do I venture off into doll's house miniature kettles? Do I divert from that into kiddie-sized wooden kitchens with plastic kettles? Do I go sideways to coffee machines? Do I hop over to tea-makers?

Do I ever get to making the tea?

So, for the sake of your sanity and my need to talk about tea, let's just say everyone has kettles! I know it's not true; statistically there will be some people who (I blush to say it) don't drink tea or coffee. And there will be some who use other methods (like doll's house miniatures, for all I know).

But for now, everyone has kettles. And if that translates into everyone has _______ (fill in the blank) then forgive me, it's a short cut to a successful conversation.

And for those times when I argue the point and am adamant that everyone has a kettle? I'm sorry, I may believe it when I debate with you, red-faced and finger in the air. Or I may just be very tired of being told I'm wrong in the middle of stressful, complicated conversations.

Deal with it. Everyone has a kettle, okay?


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There's a troll in my bag!

I had one of those moments yesterday: I said what my brain threw out first. This is not the same as blurting any old thing; it's not even the same as saying something inappropriate. It has a special place all of its own in the Embarrassing Conversation stakes. This is also known as Telling the Truth.

I was finishing a lesson and struggling to close my bag before I left a client's house. Instead of just struggling, then leaving and keeping it all as people like it kept, this is how it went:

Client watches as I struggle to close my bag.

'There's a troll in my bag!' I say cheerfully and look up to see a very confused expression.

At this point, my client is probably telling himself I didn't say troll and is trying to think what word I could have said. Faced with this confusion and only vaguely feeling I should stop right there, I dig my hand into my bag and produce a bundled shape.

I brandish a vividly-decorated pillow case, folded into a lump and triumphantly cry,


At this point, my client's face is skewed, as if he is concentrating so hard on making sense of me, he can't remember how to hold his mouth on straight.

I unwrap the troll, an ugly, beloved, elderly ornament and show him what I mean. Yes, I mean a troll.

'Not a real one!' I reassure him with a laugh. 'I'd never fit anything in the bag then, would I?'

Finally, after far too long, I realise it may have been a mistake to talk about the troll. I forget other people aren't as troll friendly as I am. Strange.

I re-wrap my troll, put him back in the bag, package in everything else I was trying to fit and leave, swinging my bag through the door ahead of me as it won't go through on my shoulder because of the troll.

I'm often surprised by the reactions of other people when I bring unexpected objects out of my bag (this wasn't the first time). Many a conversation has been derailed by the sudden entrance of Object A from Flap C, occasionally attached to part of Object D. The children love it - other adults in their life don't do this sort of thing. But the adults are often slightly uncomfortable, as if the keeping and then displaying of eccentric objects is part of some deeper problem.

Perhaps we should all be prepared to surprise others in conversation and in life? Maybe we could have that metaphorical Bag of Life packed full of interesting items, just waiting to be sprung into dull conversations with people who grew up all the way? My troll could take centre stage; I could have him with me wherever I go, to see how people react?

No, that wouldn't be right, would it? You shouldn't use your troll just to be different or to confuse people. You shouldn't even use him to get out of awkward situations or to amuse yourself when you are bored.

Trolls should only be there when necessary, as part of a bigger picture. Also, trolls should be enjoyed because there are a lot of people in the world but not so many trolls. We should value their input, even if they take up a lot of space in bags and make for awkward social moments.

Celebrate your trolls, readers, and don't be afraid to introduce them to new people. There is always someone out there who has never met a troll before. Give them the opportunity to understand why your bag won't close or why you need to go through a door with a flourish.

And if they look confused? Well, not everyone is meant to understand trolls, just the same as not everyone is meant to understand people. We are all different and, believe it or not, some people don't have anything surprising in their bags. No, not even in Flap C.


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Interruptions from an aspie

I just need to interrupt you there...

It would be useful if I could insert this phrase in at least half of my conversations, because I really do need to interrupt. I need to stop what you are doing to start a small part of the conversation that most likely has not much to do with the rest. I need to open up a gap you never knew was there and say a few words that popped into my head a nano-second before I said them.

I need to hesitate very rarely, only long enough for you to wonder what I am doing, what I am talking about. My few words, my line, my phrase, my piece of information takes precedence and it doesn't matter what your face does as I step in, it only matters that I say what has to be said.

The interruption is key because my information has a shelf-life of seconds before it is lost forever. Or not lost, but left behind to the point it may as well be lost. I know if I don't speak right now, right in the middle of your turn, that the words will evaporate, leaving only the feeling that I had something I needed to say.

Aspergers, so often the model of manners, learned and better learned as a way of managing social situations, loses all control when it comes to interruptions. I know it isn't polite to talk over people and it is very bad to actually stomp about on their conversation. I know how awful it feels to be spoken over because it has happened to me, a lot. But I also know it has to be done.

If I leave what I have to say, it never gets said. Your ability to wait your turn and still speak is lost on me. I need to tell you something and the something is transitory but very important. If I don't tell you now, I won't tell you later.

Like a child interrupting you on the phone, or tugging at your sleeve while you're trying to talk to a neighbour, I must be heard. A child learns interrupting is bad - I learned the same thing. A child usually stops interrupting, even though they also might lose their opportunity to share.

I also stopped interrupting, for a while. When I was younger and much quieter, through all the years when shyness haunted me, it also stopped me from butting in. I didn't say what I needed to, I stepped back and let others speak and I knew it was the right thing to do. I also very often felt like conversations were unfinished creations, role plays where all my lines were printed badly and I had to squint at the script to work out what I was meant to be saying.

I grew more bold, confidence wasn't always lost to the four winds and I managed more fulfilling conversations. As well as learning what people expected me to say, I was also brave enough to share what I wanted to tell them.

It follows naturally from this kind of confidence that you begin to say what you need to right when you feel it needs to be said. Why wait when you know it will be lost? Confidence leads to conversations and conversations with an aspie lead to interruptions.

I know the interruptions aren't always relevant - sorry! But they are important to me and will have some connection with you and I, even if they have no connection with the conversation you and I were just having.

The good news is that I am willing to shut up again after I've interrupted and you can carry on with what you were saying. I might actually be more interested post-interruption because I won't be waiting for my chance to interrupt you. Yes, so do continue. Where we you? Your trip to the dentist. Hmm, yes, you were having something or other done, weren't you, and you thought I might want to know about it.

Did I ever tell you about the time I found myself in a lift with a man with no teeth?

Yes, you were having a big filling? No? Root canal? Oh...

I drift off, thinking of the Suez, and we both enjoy the conversation in different ways. No more interruptions from me as I'm trying to remember which old film I watched about the Suez canal. And happiness from you because, finally, I'm paying attention to you. After all, if I'm not interrupting, I must be listening. Right?


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This is Bob, he has Aspergers too...

Every year my step-sister holds a Halloween party. It's a mix of adults and children and I usually go off with the kids and leave the adults to do whatever they do in the kitchen (it involves unexpected laughter, drinks in plastic cups and small pockets of serious conversation).

I love these parties. I get to dress up without being stared at and eat candy. I also get to go to a party where I don't feel like bolting for the door or holing up in the spare toilet. It's so rare for me to enjoy a party that Halloween has become a time of year I now associate with happy social gatherings - that is, as long as I stay with the kids.

This year, someone new is coming. He's the father of one of the children I already know and usually their mother does the honours, dressed as a gloriously gaudy witch. Their mum can't make it so dad is coming instead. I asked if he'd be dressing up.

My step-sister's face changed to an eager expression and she powered through the 'Yes,definitely!' to what she really wanted to tell me.

'Bob is potentially Aspergers,' she said, nodding and smiling at me, as if she had told me Bob would be bringing ten pounds of chocolate with my name on it.

'Oh good,' I said, not really knowing what to say but feeling I was meant to be pleased.

'Yes, there's definitely something there,' she went on, looking thoughtfully at her internal list. 'He's brilliant with computers, very very good, but erm, he's not actually done that much with it.'

So we can tick off the under-achieving part of Aspergers then? Thanks sis!

'And he's,' she gave a short laugh and paused. 'He doesn't have great social skills, you know. He can come off as a bit strange around people.'

Resisting the urge to ask her how he was around goats, I waggled my eyebrows and said,

'Sounds like a candidate then. I'll make sure to switch on my aspie-dar and get back to you.'

She looked pleased and confused at the same time. Perhaps she was expecting me to bring an actual piece of tech or at least a recognised checklist for Bob to complete while he's holed up in the spare toilet.

Feeling the need to explain, I pushed my hand behind my waist and said, 'It's a little switch at the back somewhere, I flick it off and on when I need to detect aspies.'

There was cosy laughter at this, but more the kind you get when children tell awful jokes and you have no idea what they're talking about.

'Anyway,' I added, suddenly thinking of something, 'If he's dressed up he might be in character so I won't be able to test his social skills.'

I imagined Bob as an extrovert wizard, you see, playing the role as we so often do. Or a crazed timber wolf, hungry for blood.

My step-sister looked at me like I'd gone over the edge, obviously not understanding how being in character could affect how his personality came across.

'Maybe,' she said weakly and changed the subject.

I picked up where I left off, drinking my tea while I watched my step-sister interact with her friend. They were so engrossed they never noticed and it was a happy few minutes dissecting the way they related to each other.

I also thought about poor Bob, relegated to the realm of Aspergers because he's not right, an under-achiever and probably says things he shouldn't in the middle of normal conversation.

Hmm, I wonder why my step-sister thought of him when I walked in?

I suppose it's like when you were a child and people came to visit. If they had children, you were expected to make instant friends with them because, well, you're all children, right? What more do you need in common?

I don't mind, though. I'm looking forward to letting Bob take up the slack at Halloween. I can enjoy the kid's side of the party while Bob speaks in character, misaligns conversations, explains complex coding and, very, very, possibly, swishes up and down in his costume.

I do love Halloween.


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The Hunt for Organisation

Organisation is running scared. I'll have you know I've taken the best part of a week to track him down and it won't be long now before I find out where he's been hiding and flush him out.

It started at the weekend. I was struggling with my timetable for the new term and it just wouldn't work. That's when I realised Organisation had done a runner.

I looked everywhere but ended up having a sleep on the sofa instead of finding him. I woke up and realised I had found two cats and a dog instead, which is very nice but not very useful and certainly not organised.

I spent a day resting from finding Organisation and then set back to it with renewed gusto. Then I got distracted by someone else's timetable (neatly organised) and by designing a timetable template. I now have a beautiful, empty timetable, waiting for Organisation to do the rest.

The next day I sat myself at the desk and made a plan of action. Organisation was bound to be somewhere close by. The new term started this week and my work goes back to normal next week. I knew this meant that Organisation was just around the corner somewhere. All I had to do was, well, be a little organised and I would find him.

I found a lost book, a pile of forms actually filled in and two emails I'd forgotten to answer. I answered them, had some custard bread and watched an episode of Star Trek that I had somehow missed all these years.

Then I got a piece of paper and a pen - old school! - and started to plan my timetable. I thought this was a great way to tempt Organisation out into the open. Once he was out, I could nab him and get on with my work.

Except that I realised what a nice pen it was and spent some time making the old school timetable look nice then I talked to my friend online and then I had an answer back from the email and then it was somehow time to buy pizza.

So I sit here, listening and waiting, putting my trust in pure chance. I am hoping that Organisation will turn up by himself, without me having to do anything. Surely that will work? I mean, it can't all be down to planning and knowing what to do in the right order, can it?

I am sure if I wait long enough that Organisation will tiptoe out, eyes blinking from his long sleep and then I can grab him and get on with everything I've had to put off while I was trying to hunt him down.

Soon I will be able to use my beautiful timetable template and then I can be certain of what I have to do and when I have to do it. All I need is a little bit of Organisation, that's it. One little bit and I'll be set.

Wait, what was that in the corner? Was that him? Is it time?

I'll look in a second, I just need to do this one little thing first...


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