and then there's Anxiety



Anxiety is like living next to a busy road and feeling responsibility for every car that goes past, even though you know each and every one is driven by someone else.

Somehow you can't stop listening. You are at home, the car is separate, the driver is separate: you are unlikely ever to meet and could pass them in the street without knowing. And still, here you are, paused in mid-step, face turned partly to the door, trying not to, trying to walk on, facing the noise.

You are inside your house and safe, yet you strain to hear the cars as they turn the corner at the end of the road. Your senses are acutely aware of the tyres squealing when this other driver decides to set off too quickly or speed. You know there is a tricky turn further down the next road and you hear more squealing as the brakes are applied.

and in your mind's eye

is every turn that can be made and each little danger just ahead of it

and then every big danger that exists in the worlds of 

Might Be or Consequence.

Later, when you can't sleep and there is nothing wrong, you lie with one hand clutching the other and listen for cars going by, one, one, two together and eventually drift into dreams of roads tumbling into motorways, ditches waiting in country lanes, sudden turns and unreadable signs.

In the morning, waking to the sound of traffic, you sit up and look at your hands, determined this day to only worry over what can be seen and felt by these two hands.

Closing the doors and windows to shut out the traffic you consider, then build a barricade of soft blankets and down pillows to blot out the noise of a hundred separate engines. Sure, it's difficult to move in a hurry and tricky to step over as you leave, but whoever said life was easy?

Closeted in your muffled rooms you look at your hands and smile. Somewhere out there is traffic but you won't hear it today.

only imagine it as it passes and imagine it turning the corner and know if something happens, you 

wouldn't hear it because all is quiet at last.


Amanda



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I'm sorry that you're sad



I'm sorry I didn't realise you were sad. It's not that I don't care or that you hid it too well; it's more because it is your sadness instead of mine, so I missed it.

I'm sorry I didn't realise the shape of your face had altered in those subtle, tangible ways which mean you have been crying and are hiding it. I didn't see your tears so I didn't see you had been crying and I even shared a joke with you. I didn't realise you could be sad and still share a joke.

I'm sorry I didn't notice your whole life fell apart while I passed you by. I did notice you passing by, I did think how pale you were and how focused on the road ahead. I just thought you were going somewhere very important, I didn't think you might feel like your journey had ended.

I'm sorry I didn't know you well enough to be able to put out my hand without having to say anything. I'm really sorry I still don't know you well enough to come round with biscuits and time.

I'm glad you have love, that the people in your life know and love you well enough to see when your face changes and you have been crying and to be able to hold you up when your feet don't know which way to go or you can't see the way.

I'm glad you know me as we are now, that I know you as we are now. I'm very glad I know you well enough to have shed some tears of my own for you, to have worried.

Sometimes I'm sorry I'm not enough like most people so that all the little things could be clear and obvious and I would know the right time to say the right thing.

Instead, I'm content that when you smile to greet me you mean it and we are pleased to see each other.

I'm sorry that today you will be crying and living through sadness filled with the light from a thousand gentle moments. When I see you again, I'll be able to see that, if not quite see your face.

I'm wishing you those gentle moments most of all.

Amanda




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Becoming the aspie



I stretch out my little red legs across the car seat, smooth my patterned skirt and prepare to take another selfie for Facebook. This is one of those moments when even I can see my outfit is Not Normal. Instead of wondering if I should change, I hurry to take a picture while the sun is out and reflecting off the red tights.

In days gone by, I might have changed; or more likely I would have worried, but not changed, the small amount of bravery I had making me stick my nose up at the world and carry on. These days, I put on the tights and clatter out of the house and only wonder if the selfie of my legs should be done in the car or the garden.

Years ago, when I was trying and failing to fit in at school, I wore brightly-coloured clothes which seemed to clash. I say seemed because to me each outfit made sense, each colour choice carefully matched with something else I was wearing. My shoes matched a tone in my jacket, my socks blended with my blouse, my glasses kachinged with my trousers. As a whole event, my outfit must have looked like some rainbow accident but to me it was an on-purpose.

Somewhere in-between I went into black. I suit black and I felt good in it. I also felt it reflected an important facet of my personality at the time. Looking back this is a worry as it coincided with being newly married.

Then I moved on to more normal adventures. I still liked colour but over the years I experimented with looking like everyone else. You know, it can be nice to fit in, to feel like no one would notice you in a crowd. It took me many, many years to realise people who didn't notice me weren't worth my time and also that I still stood out in a group anyway.

Finally I worked my way back round to now. I think of these as the Post-Blogging Years, or the time since I started this blog and decided privacy was over-rated and what my life needed was the top ripping off it.

Since then everything in life that involves other people will, with a kind of soothing inevitability, be compared to this blog. Once I opened up online to anyone with internet access there was a reference, a way of looking at life that involves not just what has really happened to me but also the kind of person I am post-blog.

I am not the same person now. The lack of privacy has changed me: the talking about everything, the explanations, the introspections and the interactions with all the people I have met online. This made me someone else, with a different life online and also a new perspective on the life I have led - and still lead - offline.

There is a freedom to being yourself in at least one place in life and, given enough of this freedom, you start to relish it and then to feel resentful if it has to be relinquished in other places. So it is that a person who is free once secures it for themselves again. In very small ways this shows and in very, very large ones too.

There I go, out of the door each day and in colourful tights, patterned dresses and skirts, jaunty shoes and new things done to my hair that may or may not unravel to the delight of 8 year old students.

It is a very small thing indeed to match your red rights with a thread in your dress, or to know that the only thing your shoes match are your glasses. Compared to bigger changes, though, they are nothing and compared to opening up to the internet, they don't register as a worry.

In fact, I admit it: once you have freedom, you don't simply want it for other parts of your life, you demand it. Why not be free? Why not be the person you really are? There are many reasons we face but they mainly boil down to not being who we are because of how other people will treat us. Will they leave? Will they worry? Will there be words behind closed doors?

Worse still, will there be shouting and finger pointing and those phrases we have heard over and over again for most of our lives? There might be.

And still, today it will be bottle green tights with an orange-patterned dress and those shoes which make the satisfying clump as I trot along, swinging my big file under my arm and reflecting, as I manage not to fall up someone's step, that this is who I am and this is now who people expect me to be.

The biggest freedom of all is in not fitting in. It shows in the clothes you wear, or your smile, or what you do next that you never did before. This is becoming who you are and showing it so often that people would be surprised if you were anyone else.

Amanda




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Going Full Aspie



I've failed miserably at being normal this week. It's as if the controls I've had in place broke just a little last week, then this week, as soon as I tried to use them, they fell apart in my hands. With no time to make more and no chance to calm down, I started jogging along and haven't stopped since.

Super-busy with my tuition, I've dashed about meeting new students and almost-new ones. Usually I come across as eccentric but okay: you know, eccentric in a good way (I hope) but still able to show children how to do their school work. Then this week the eccentric side took over and I've been running to keep ahead of it without realising it was already in front and waiting round the corner.

The control to stop me over-talking has gone - I think I heard a clunk as it hit the floor and rolled away. Wow, conversation anybody? No, me neither, you can just listen to me have enough conversation for both of us!

Desperately trying to make the best of over-talking, I filtered quickly so that the torrent of words was at least relevant. So the Maths lesson became Fast Maths because, with over-talking, you rarely have anything like slow.

Fast English too and Fast Parent-Speak after the lessons. What a mess!

Then as if that wasn't bad enough, I keep going the wrong way, getting lost, forgetting instructions, times, appointments, you name it. And how does that look?

No, running a business as an aspie is always a balancing game, always a gamble. Most often the gamble is seeing if you can keep it going, withstand the pressure and succeed in what you need to do. But this week the gamble has been going trying to do all of the above while in Full Aspie.

Door steps have waited to trip me so I fall into people's homes, my hair has been exciting, my file, books and papers have been like things possessed, escaping as soon as I stop looking at them. And don't even mention loose rugs.

That little detail in your ceiling is now my secret nemesis and I must not look at it through the whole lesson. Your child's drawing of an antelope is all I can look at. The child's father's teeth are all I can look at. My hand, my own hand in the middle of a lesson, like wow, look at my hand.

Anything and everything that can happen to distract me from behaving in a real-life, sensible way has happened.

The bonus is that I have a feeling my students have got through more work this week. Perhaps they've been somewhat rushed and with explanations decorated grandly by flailing hands, funny faces and hastily drawn diagrams. But they have worked, and looked exhausted, by the time we were finished

It still happened, you see. Full Aspie and the business carried on together; new students were inducted into the Hall of the Rainbow Spectrum and unsuspecting parents endured my Warner Brothers approach to social interaction.

Some of it was fun - young children react very well to Warner Brothers anything. And, oddly, my older students looked pleasantly surprised then amused, as if what they expected had not happened and instead they got an inappropriate version of Mary Poppins.

Now, this end of the week, I am exhausted but feeling calm again. Perhaps we all need to go Full Aspie sometimes, just to stay mostly sane. Or, more likely, working 6 days a week doesn't leave me enough time of my own to be myself so it leached out into the work time.

Whatever caused it, I made it through. I can now dance on a loose rug without falling, pick everything up I just dropped in record time, charm angry children (yes, of course I could do that already), ask strangers for directions (thanks to over-talking - yay!), turn round in very tight places and scream loudly while driving up unexpected alleyways that weren't meant for cars.

Really, I should have filmed it all and kept it for when life is dull. Maybe I should even throw off the shackles and go Full Aspie every week?

No, though, no, I shouldn't. There should be only so much edge of the seat excitement because if I carried on like this I would become a one-woman variety act and I do need to make a living.

That said, I've decided not to fix the whole of my broken control unit. I thought it might be better to leave some of it in pieces and have a little extra freedom in my working world. Then, when I need to be myself, I can let it happen without breaking anything and without having to run on the spot when I'm meant to be going somewhere.

And I can continue to charm angry children and their antelopes.

Amanda




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Don't be so eager to please



Apparently girly aspies are far too eager to please. From nursery through to marriage, we're the ones who hide our difficulties behind a veil of smiles and trying-too-hards. We're the girls who slot in where everyone else would like us to be and this eagerness to make ourselves good and true and kind and perfect is what is supposed to mask our Aspergers.

Well, let's ignore for a moment the absolutely abhorrent message buried in a shallow grave in this whole scenario - that to be a girl is to be a creature made to please everyone else, no matter who this mass of everyone else might be - and move onto the masking.

So, you have Aspergers and you are a small child of 4. As a girl aspie you have a super-power: you have the ability to run into your school years without anyone knowing you are on the spectrum. From the age when children still have trouble holding a pencil or tying their shoelaces, us girls are able to not only mask our needs well enough to fool a whole world, we are also doing it on purpose.

Yes, as a girl aspie we are meant to be so eager to please that we can mask our true nature under a bouquet of smiles and curtsies. Any 4 year old can do that!

Do you feel some sarcasm leaking out? Do you feel some anger too? Hold onto it, you might need it later.

Fast-forward from this 4 year old maelstrom of mood-management to the little girl who has just turned 10 and understands the world a lot more. She can look at Susy and Chloe and know they know things she'll never know. And then she'll get distracted by the repetition of 'know' and go to tell Chloe and Susy in great detail why this is fascinating and remember too late about not doing that kind of thing.

Our 10 year old is a lot more aware of pleasing people. She now watches for the teacher's face changing, or her classmates noticing her doing something out of the ordinary. She watches all the time. And she watches quietly, even when she's being loud.

You might see her running about, shouting, playing, being part of a group but a person who looks more closely will see how this little girl's eyes travel from side to side as she runs: she is checking that all is well, that she does the right thing. And if she gets carried away and does the wrong thing, she will try to realise in time and cover it up before anyone has noticed.

By this age, life is more complicated because those other 10 years olds are also more aware and they sussed in nursery that our 10 year old was different. Good different or bad different? Her true friends don't care that she's different but with other people there is a tangible ping to her, as if at any moment she might do something incredible and terrifying.

You go forward, she goes forward and we find ourselves looking at the 16 year old girl. She is now well-versed in fitting in. How good she is! How practiced at walking into a room and not doing anything that might single her out as apart from the group. And yet her every step is tempered by the knowledge of many other steps where it didn't go as planned and she was suddenly the centre of attention.

This 16 year old might be outgoing but she's more likely to be quiet. Yes, I'm generalising. But again, just like the girl running in the playground, outgoing or quiet your aspie girl grows up watching the world to see what it might do and what she should do in return.

She chooses her words carefully, when she remembers, and has a tendency to sound stilted and formal. Or she forgets to choose them and sounds like herself and doesn't realise this is okay.

She is charming, odd, good at unusual things, bad at what everyone can do or just very bad at doing anything with an audience. She can tell you facts you never even knew there was a question for and completely forget to bring her lunch to school. She looks at you to see what you are going to say, sometimes forgetting to listen to you say it. She is adept at avoiding the angry teachers and at making friends with the stern, scary ones everyone else hates.

(For what it's worth, stern, scary teachers actually appreciate children who know fab facts and can tell when students are trying to be ordinary).

In essence, she is herself, right there on the spectrum with all kinds of amazingness which goes unnoticed by most and can be filed under quirky. Yes, she is quirky, but you know what?

That 16 year old is still in nursery. She has spent all these school years learning about other people and the way the world works as well as learning about her school work. Or at least she tried. Want to know why she couldn't do her lessons? Want to know why she went through a phase of meltdowns so big she had to be sent home? Do you? Well, maybe you should have found out at the time instead of sending her home or having a meeting without her parents present.

She went home to her sanctuary and all was like the blessed fall of cool water after a long, summer's night. She tilted her face on the way through the door and saw the light shine just so on the front windows of her house and she was safe again. She left behind all the pressures and went home to where she can breathe out and go to her room.

And this girl grew and knew what she should do and say and still wanted to go home. She still wanted to have meltdowns too, and sometimes she would. Not always a people pleaser, but always watching, waiting, seeing what they do and what they want so she won't be in danger today.

The assumption is that girls are expected to be eager to please, that it is in their make-up or their upbringing to please others. But perhaps it's just the way they react to danger?

Girls are often expected to be quiet more than boys and if you have an aspie girl who is working her frilly socks off to be the same as other girls, she'll learn that people want her to be compliant. Also, girls figure out that compliance can mean being left to get on with your life, which is peaceful.

Let me smile at you and nod and agree to whatever it was you wanted just so you turn around, right now, and leave without asking me for anything more. I might not do the thing you wanted, I might forget, or say I forget; I might frustrate you and anger you and make it worse for myself, but in the end you will accept I was trying and leave me alone more often. People who try to please are left alone and then they have a pocket of time to be themselves so I'll try to please and when you are not looking, drift off into that place where you cannot ever go and wouldn't be allowed if you were able.

Don't look at me that way I hate, don't raise your voice, don't disapprove of me because disapproving feels like danger and I need to be safe. Don't expect me to be like the others, yet I can't ask you this last thing. I try to seem like the others, just so you won't look at me, and shout at me and disapprove of me, so I have to accept that you want me to be like them and do my best to seem that way.

It is logical and, despite the pictures of butterflies and aliens, and alien-butterflies and my endless knowledge of the two - despite this I am logical and I know if I smile and say yes, then life is quieter and I can carry on being safe.

Later, when I'm not 4 or 10 or 16, it might occur to me this wasn't the best plan, that perhaps it wasn't as logical as I thought to fit in just so. By then, maybe I'll have the courage to be myself all the way through from the middle to the outside? Will I still be eager to please?

My dear world, of course I will, so long as it suits me.

Amanda



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Forgive me if I seem to stare...



Forgive me if I seem to stare but what you don't understand is that Other People, this tribe so different from how I feel, are endlessly fascinating to me. You may think you are ordinary, even a little dull, but to me you are better than an afternoon at the museum.

Other People are like education but with ice cream, learning the fun stuff like what they do when they argue (in public! joy!), or how they raise their kids or what they think is a good idea for tea. I like to see the way their face changes when something annoys or amuses them, I like to watch them as they think to themselves and don't know anyone sees.

Yes, it is creepy, I am creepy, but then so is the whole world. At least I am honest when I say I watch you and, take this as a compliment, I learn how you behave so I can behave also.

This is a good thing. To learn to pass along the street and not worry the people going by, to behave as those around me behave so that, in life, I can be friends with them and move through the world with the minimum of friction and the maximum chance of having fun.

It is good to watch, and yet I know it worries people. They feel uncomfortable, predated almost. I remind some part of them of dark places and cold nights with eyes unseen waiting for dinner. I remind myself of that too, at times.

Take it in good part, Other People. I watch you because I am fascinated. You are so amazing! I want to see what makes you tick. I want to see what you do when you are being yourself. I don't want you to see me though.

Let me not rattle your nerves with my unwavering stare. Instead, pass by as if I wasn't there and go on your way, unaware of me moving to let you by or turning a little as you brush on and into Canned Goods.

I leave with a lift in my step and a little more knowledge and you leave in innocence and only here for the shopping. This is as it should be.

And if we should ever meet in what is laughably known as real life, I will pretend not to stare and we might be friends. Don't worry, I'm quite safe and so are you.

Now, do that thing again when you laugh. Yes, that one, right there.


Amanda




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Why I'm still saying No.



"I've got too much on," I explain. Or at least I think that explains it.

There is a moment of considered silence, the kind where you know the other person is deciding whether to say what they think or let you away with it - again.

"Like what?" they ask, obviously determined to pin you down.

"Well, I had that thing last week," I say, waving my hand at the event which I spent 4 weeks building up to and am still coming down from on the other side.

Their face twitches like a fly landed on their cheek, except there is no fly. The fly is me, the one in the ointment, in the doorway, in the line of sight. That fly buzzing around, the one they need to keep in one place long enough so they can -

"You can still come," a sideways triumphant gleam. "That thing was last week, it's been eight days, you're not too busy!" Done, dusted, you're coming. Right?

"No!" I refuse, not even knowing how else to refuse than saying No. If I can fully explain myself, in person and face-to-face then it still isn't sorted because my explanations don't fit the standard Reasons to Avoid or Depart that most people keep in their head.

"It took a lot of doing," I try, clenching my hands and starting to pull faces. "That thing last week, it took a lot-"

"It was last week!" Exasperation sets in, as usual. "Last week," they empahsise as if I am five. "This week, you're not busy."

Busy is so relative! I'm not actually doing anything much, no, but I feel busy. The sense that I have lots of different parts of life clamouring for attention is very strong still, the come down from being stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and officially busy last week hangs around into this week too. I am still busy because I feel busy.

While I'm casting about for a reason they will understand and accept (other than No, which seems like an invitation for more pressure to say Yes), they take their chance to ice the cake.

"Anyway," they shrug, as if I am already gathering my coat to come, "it'll be fun!"

I stop in my tracks, not moving, frozen in disbelief that they could use the F-word in this way.

"Fun?!" I splutter, incredulous.

"Yes!" I get a happy face, oh joy. "You enjoyed yourself last time, after all your moaning!"

Last time I managed not to leave early, you see. It's always a mistake to show weakness by not walking out when you want to. Stay the full time one week and people expect it every week; don't run out crying one week, they decide you had a great time; don't beg to be taken home; they know you've finally got over your funny little social thing.

Don't refuse to come in the first place? You will be asked, pushed, pressured, kicked into the car and driven to the damn thing whether or not you explain yourself or claw, pitifully, at the window all the way there.

No, I want to say. I want to back away and say NO until it's listened to, a word with rights, an answer that is acceptable because it's the only one I can give.

"Hurry up then, or we'll be late."

They walk out the door, leaving it open behind them, confident I'll follow.

"No," I whisper, then decide whether or not to pick up my coat.

Amanda



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Is it bad to feel Special?



You know how you try not to be that kind of special? It's not that you want to be normal but being able to pass for normal usually makes life so much easier.

Far, far easier to stifle down your meltdown than run out crying and slapping the doors until they open; better to keep quiet than give in to the little voice in your head that desperately wants to tell Dave about his hair; terrible to find yourself making That Face because Liz has started explaining Windows to you again; awful to realise you have been making your own repetitive noise for the last five minutes to drown out the noise of your co-workers talking.

Yes, being that kind of special is for when you can't help it - as long as you can help it, you tend to keep it under wraps until you're somewhere safe. Then, like a tight belt, it can all hang out and you collapse and forget the rest of the world.

How galling then, to find myself having to pass for normal lately and need to put up with people discussing RT Teen with me, as if he is Special.

I've been trying to set up work experience for RT and have found a really great place where he can explore his Art and help other people with theirs. It's volunteering so no 'proper' job, but he's going to be learning all kinds of things, including how to deal with other people.

He does need some help. He has coping issues, he finds people difficult and stressful sometimes, he finds life the same, he needs guidance and care and someone who can tell him when to just quit it, if he swims in the cool sea of honesty too much.

But how disheartening to have him discussed like he is Special. Not as the eccentric academic who finds life a little perplexing, but as someone who is on the spectrum and needs help because people like him need help; 'they' need support, 'they' need guidance.

I know 'they' do, I know we do. I know I could have conducted each of these interviews and phone calls from the starting point of, 'Myself and my son are both on the autistic spectrum'. But would it have been the same?

How would the conversations have gone if I didn't do grown-up? After all, if you're on the spectrum and admit it in a professional setting, you immediately become one of the people needing help. It's a metamorphosis visible to the naked eye, seen in the face-change, the eye-flicker, the unconscious movements of the hands as people take longer to choose their words, either for fear of causing offence or because they want you to be able to understand what they are talking about.

Instead I have been the mother of a son on the spectrum and, in looking for help, have endured well-meaning 'they's and kindly comments on soft achievements and gentle results. The only meeting where he was fully discussed as himself was with an adviser who knew RT years ago and takes everyone at face value - Joan, you are a star!

My son is an academic with an acerbic style of honesty; he is an artist who transforms illustrations into digital images to an industry standard; he is an eccentric person who revels in meeting other eccentric people. He is very special, but is he Special in that other way?

Maybe it's not so much the wrongness of this word, but the rightness which bothers me? Am I asking too much for the world to view him as a highly-intelligent, creative person who needs a little extra help? Does his place on the spectrum mean he is automatically Special? Am I more fearful of the label than what it entails, for him and for me?

I don't know. All I know is that we have to go for a joint interview on Monday and be told lots of information about an opportunity to join a project for people like him. I am not ungrateful, I really hope it works out. But I hate that it's all set up from the premise that there are people like him: every person in the project will be someone's best beloved, with their own amazing qualities, lovable endeavours and awkward habits.

I have to put aside my worry about RT being treated as Special and, yet again, concentrate on not being Special myself. I need to be his advocate so I can pick up all the information and help him make a decision. I must not, must not! sit and stare at the person talking because of their teeth, or look at the calendar, or the window, or the fax machine. I must not allow myself to become bored and make my own entertainment, I must resist the urge to be funny.

And RT must have the free rein to be as Special as he likes, without me worrying over it or wanting to stand between him and the kindly people looking at him in that particular way.

In the end, if this will help him, does it matter how they refer to him or exactly what it is called?

You know, it does matter, it really does. Sometimes I think it's the only thing that matters because we all start with a name, a word which defines who we are when we aren't able to say it for ourselves.

And no matter what, our name should be the only label we carry around because that one was written in permanent ink and sewn on with love.

Amanda




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The Myth of the Broken Face



The blank stare, stony-faced, unwelcoming, generally frozen expression is one of those 'clues' we hear about when it comes to spotting the aspie among us. You know them by the face that doesn't change to suit the situation, by the monotone voice and so on.

Yes, when it comes to society you can spot aspies really easily because they're the ones mimicking automatons. No need for I-Robot or even good old Robbie, you have your aspie to do the unfinished humanoid for you. (You do hear the sarcasm, right?)

Is this true? Sometimes, maybe. It's true if we're bored that we might switch off and unlike the more socially worried, switching off is taken seriously. So the blank face appears as you talk and, dimly, we wait to switch back on again when you've finished.

And the monotone voice? Hmm, I suppose it's also true that my voice might take on a level quality if the rest of me is struggling like a cat in a harness to figure out what to say next, when to say it, what to do when the other person speaks and so on. The voice can be the least of my worries, so deal with it, okay?

But the blank face and monotone voice are only half the story. I am very, very guilty of going the opposite direction, towards the sort of animation that would make Pixar proud.

I find myself, in lessons mainly, getting so engrossed in what I'm describing that my whole face, voice, hands, do the describing along with me. No need to set the tone when I'm talking about Macbeth and his walking forest - I can be the walking forest, I can be Macbeth!

Or using a great big simile to illustrate something, a good one, you know? Like dragons eating princesses or something equally colourful. I get right into it, I do the voice, I do the claws, the face becomes the dragon.

My students generally react well to this, probably because children up to a certain age are big fans of the over-describe. They appreciate the fun and effort that goes into the right face and a good soundtrack.

Sometimes they can be surprised, if they're serious children from serious families. It doesn't stop me, though - obviously, it makes me worse. Usually they forget to be surprised and step into the world of face gurning and voice changing.

So, I notice I've talked about two extremes here. Does that mean I operate in extremes of blank face or dragon face? Possibly. And the voice, monotone or drama? Maybe.

The in-between, trying-to-be-normal voice and face are held back for when I need to speak to real adults and people in authority. You don't want the ones paying your wages or deciding your fate to see you getting carried away in tales of Gloria and the Graysnipe.

Sometimes, though, it's far too easy to slip into the over-describe with people (adults) who aren't expecting it and aren't used to other adults doing it. I don't realise I've slipped until I see their eyes sparkle and their mouth twitch.

This is how other people get to know you, though. Sometimes it's far better to slip and show the real you than to carry on trying to be what others expect. If they see the face pulling, is it such a bad thing? And if it worries them, then it's a shame they lead such sheltered lives.

As for the ones who most often see your blank face and never hear the dragon growl, what can you do? They just have to go on believing this is the true aspie and not get to know the other side of you.

You keep the best part of you for the best people. Or the ones you slip with - and often they also turn out to be the best people. It may surprise them to see you re-enacting a scene from Shakespeare but, well, life would be very dull without a little drama.

Amanda




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Apparently there'll be hugging...



You know when you look back over those job interviews where everything you did or said seemed to come out wrong and you may as well have screamed across the table, 'Don't hire me! Are you insane? I would be TERRIBLE at this job!'?

And then the ones where you managed to pass yourself off as the perfect employee, said the right things and knew what they wanted to know? (We won't mention what happened once you started the job and had to repeat all this success on a daily basis).

When it comes to the workplace, most aspies have an eccentric approach to job hunting. The systems in place do not favour those of us who like to say exactly what we mean; they favour people who think first, weigh up the options, know the right phrases.

When a potential employer asks what you'll be bringing to their company, having resisted the urge to tell them you'll be bringing a packed lunch, you also have not to tell them how much better everything will be once you've sorted out their staff rota (not even colour-coded!), purged their outdated, paper-based filing system and transferred their database into those boxy things sitting in the corner that Gladys has been using for her spider plant collection.

The correct answer is something along the lines of how their company is just fab, that your amazing skills are a great fit because this is how you'll improve perfection by helping them become even more brilliant. And so on.

And when they ask you if you've faced any challenges, they don't want to know, not really. Unless you happen to have a triumphant story of your struggle to re-emerge from the Australian bush two holidays ago, they want some clever-sounding monologue on how work was kind of challenging but you overcame it by being a genius (just not as much of a genius as they are).

This silliness is something I've learned over the years. I can go into most job interviews and be who they expect and often who they want (I should offer training courses in this). Getting the job is a fun challenge, like The Crystal Maze without the death traps. It's keeping the job I find nigh on impossible.

But readers, soften your hearts for a moment, because now RT Teen is looking for a job and things are far worse for him. As if it wasn't bad enough before, now the interviews he will face are all about showing the real you by doing activities, group games (I'm starting to hyperventilate), team-building (...) and, oh, I'm sorry, I have to tell you - hugging.

Yes, apparently there'll be hugging.

Hugging?? Is this not some kind of abuse?

You go to a job interview to show them you can do the job and find out what sort of company they are and they make you hug each other? Cats are for hugging, not other job seekers! People are only for hugging if you love them, or it's the only alternative to listening to their problems. Or small children, they like hugging, but they don't know enough about people to have been warned off it yet.

Your competition, though? People who are fighting you for a job? What if you don't want to hug them or they smell or they look like they bite? What if they hug too long, for heaven's sake? Do they get a polite tap on the shoulder like a dance competition and then have to leave the floor?

Whatever it is, it seems to have very little to do with stocking shelves in a supermarket. For what it's worth, I have a feeling an OCD, non-hugging, efficiency freak may be more useful in keeping a shop floor tidy and running smoothly than someone who hugs strangers and can dance in front of a room full of people who aren't also dancing.

I have nothing against companies using new methods to find out if people are who they want, but really, is this the way? Perhaps if job hunters hadn't needed to fit into a pre-shaped box in the first place then everyone would have told the truth and been themselves to begin with and none of this would be necessary.

You know what, though? It isn't necessary. Just take those aspies who don't pass the standardised tests and who fail at social handling and put them on the other side of the interview table. We are the kings and queens of getting to the bottom of things. We will find out who people are and what they really mean and never need to hug anyone. Ever.

Unless you are employing animals, small children or unstoppable extroverts. Then you can get Bob from Accounting to do it.

Amanda





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I love you, cubicles!



Where would I be without the humble cubicle? Be it toilet or changing cubicle, this simple cuboid with ill-fitting door and essential locking mechanism is often all that stands between me and a screaming exit.

The times I have sat there on the toilet seat, resting my head in my hands as I wonder how on earth I am ever going to be able to unlock the door and go back to the throng. Or in the shop, aware of the brief but blessed interlude to be had from pretending to try on clothes so I can avoid People.

Toilets are always better. You definitely have a lockable door and people don't like to ask why you took so long. Also they are sweetly anonymous so that anyone coming in and out of the main room has no idea who you are, whereas changing rooms tend to be patrolled a little better, in case you are stealing something or have died, mid-pants-leg-change.

Oh toilets, how I love them! Besides their obvious use, they are so full of the promise of solitude, of beneficial and chosen isolation. They have a seat to sit on, a big door, toilet paper in case you need to have a little cry or to finally blow your nose in the way you have been desperate to all day but couldn't because it's rude.

They have a barrier between you and the world outside, even if that world is three feet away and desperate for you to come out so they can go in. They have enough room to move about in case you need to do some restricted star jumps to loosen up or some subtle yoga. They even have running water, in case you are planning a really long break.

Best of all you can go on your phone, once you have recovered a little, and message your real friends on Facebook about how awful it's all been and how you knew you shouldn't have come and how they won't believe what you have been through.

Finally, you do have to leave. The difficult moment when you unlock the door, the pit of your stomach churning up the day-so-far into a metaphor of loneliness in a crowd.

And then you emerge, victorious in your bravery, a little more able to cope than when you went in and with the knowledge that you are strong enough to leave when you need to, and next time by the front door.

Or the fire exit behind the umbrella plant.

Amanda





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Who needs tact when you have over-sharing?



What is this mysteriously magical pull between my brain and someone I barely know? Why do I feel the need to bridge the gap by telling them something they never expected? And why do I always share things you're supposed to keep to yourself?

Yes, those times when normal chit-chat would do but I fill it with nuggets from my life, hard, gold, treasure-finds that leave people at a loss for words - which then leaves another hole in the conversation for me to fill with something else.

It's as if one piece of information, unasked for but wholly perfect for the moment it pops into my brain, then opens the door for all the others. As if one metaphorical cat, instead of running into the garden, turns round and opens the door wide for the rest of the cats to pour through.

All I had to do was fill in one simple piece of conversational by-the-by. There was no invitation to share (whoever really needed one?), there was no suitable opening only the size and shape of that one share: I could have talked about the weather and it would have been good.

But no! Why talk about the weather when you can open a door into your life and let all the cats out? Wouldn't people rather have this great little conversation-stopper than the same old guff about the cold and the rain?

Personally, I love it when I get gossip instead of guff. People over-share and they are safe with me. If it's too much I say to them, 'That's probably more than you should be telling me!' So then they know they're over-sharing. Also, they're always surprised it's too much information, so at least I know I'm not the only one who finds it confusing.

Unfortunately no one ever seems to say that to me. Rather they listen, trying to fix their face into Not-Surprise so that they can respond when I finally shut my mouth.

So I apologise if this great bit of gossip is over-sharing, or that tidbit about my toilet habits; don't worry if you have no comeback to this as your silence will be taken as rapt interest and I'll just carry on where I left off, if I ever did leave off.

When we have to move on and I realise I did it again, at least you'll know me better than either of us expected. The best of friendships can start this way, you know? And you might feel like over-sharing yourself sometime. I promise to tell you if it's too much, but also I'm full of great advice for that little problem of yours.

See how great over-sharing can be!

Amanda




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Are you feeling blue today?



Sometimes it's hard to be an adult. All that to-ing and fro-ing in the real world takes its toll. One minute, blindly rushing along the great path of life, the next huddled to the side, wrapped in your blanket, watching all the proper grown-ups go by.

Just so: one moment a person who does, the next a person who does not.

And, to make life extra creative, the does and does not can be as simple as not wanting to be somewhere or leaving a whole portion of your life behind because it can't be done anymore.

This can be the very hardest of things to explain to people who are not on the spectrum, that what you did today might not be done tomorrow. How can you explain that this person in front of them, same-faced, same-voiced, same-souled, can react so differently from one moment to the next?

I used to read a series of books when I was very small, where the people in the town were divided according to the colour of their hats. For some reason I liked these books, I liked what seemed a logical division of people and I most especially liked that you were never in any doubt as to who everyone was. You just had to look at their hat to know.

The problem in real life is that hats come off and we change colours, it's a part of human nature. What makes Aspergers so interesting to live with is that you change your hat a few times every day, sometimes every hour. Or you leave on that same old hat for weeks at a time, long enough for everyone (including yourself) to become used to you in blue, only to walk through a door one day and emerge wearing a bright red cap.

The change can be so immediate, you have no idea it is coming and have to learn to go with it. No good telling yourself to act like you're still wearing your blue hat when the red one is already there. If you do that then you're lying to yourself and, sooner or later, you will have to admit there has been a change.

The trick is in knowing how to react when this happens. For a long time there is the temptation, egged on by your nearest and dearest, to cope in a certain way so that you can get on in normal life. Please insert the curse of your choice here. Normal life knows what it can do with itself. The only reaction which brings long-term peace is to bend your life to suit yourself - and this very rarely turns out as anything resembling normal.

If you can go to work every day and stay there for the whole day and earn your monthly wage without going insane, then I applaud you. But if you do all of that and are withering inside or screaming in your own head while smiling at the people around you, it could be time for a change.

Sometimes the screaming bursts out of your own head and happens in real life. Or you stop yourself from making any sound and leave, quickly, efficiently, letting the door close behind you on your way.

This moment where you feel you have failed again, weakened in the face of life, is not necessarily a bad thing. Take a look in the mirror and see which hat you are wearing and if it looks at home on your head.

Screaming, panicking, leaving, slamming doors, walking out on whatever it is that makes you bend too far and too often, can be the first step to finding what really suits you in life and making it yours.

Here's to the yellow feathers and damask, the flowers on straw hats, the black and shady trilbys, the top hat in glossy purple, the white, silken creation made only for you. Here is to the hat you make for yourself and never have to take off, until you make another one.

Amanda




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