This is the first in a mini series of blog posts I wish to write about the difficulties I have to overcome and cope with in every day life. Since my childhood I have had many of the traits which would show the signs of being autistic or even suffering from Aspberger’s syndrome. However I have never been formally diagnosed with either autism or ASD and do not wish to make a massive fuss over the way it makes me react to the world I perceive and evolve in so this post will not leave me totally vulnerable and open for remark however hopefully give a broad explanation to why my motives and responses may appear unusual to someone who doesn’t suffer from neurodiversity disorders.
So what actually is autism?
Autism is a very broad term for a mental condition which exhibits signs during childhood and adulthood, and is generally characterised by difficulties in communication and relationships with other individuals when using language and abstract concepts. Aspberger’s Syndrome is a heightened disorder which is based upon being autistic.
Autism cannot be officially “cured” however since scientists have explored the psychology of the brain and began to see traits which define a person as autistic, the learning and understanding has developed very progressively and more evidence-based interventions will help. However each individual will display unique traits and characteristics so there is no general aspect which defines that person from another and as we grow older our biological make up and acceptance of the environment around us changes too.
As I mentioned above an autistic person will see, feel and hear things in their own individual way and this is a lifetime disorder however the best way to cope with it, is by celebrating the positives it can bring to an individual’s presence. Along with autism, it is common that an individual might have learning disabilities, mental health issues, along with other conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Down’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Epilepsy among others.
I know from my own personal evaluation of life I also suffer with dyspraxia (which I aim to write more about in the second part of this mini series) which I believe both combine and certainly attribute to my daily life. It is estimated that in the United Kingdom alone, there are about 700,000 of us which are having to cope with autism with the majority being male, however there is no other bio-diversities which seem to be more likely to see these traits.
The world can be deemed overwhelming by many with autism therefore it causes great levels of anxiety which in turn can make the processes of being social with others even close family and friends can be a struggle along with our occupations be it in our schooldays and or working careers. However there are those who find talking and building a relationship with another easier than someone who is having to cope with autism but might find it a challenge to interact with an autistic person. This can lead the individual feeling isolated and out of place as well as misunderstood.
As autism is not a physical disability, so the signs and traits can only be deemed through psychological analysis and diagnosis. This can be examined by a multi-disciplined team of professionals including occupational therapists, psychiatrists and/or psychologists.
As well as no cure there is no clear causation for these traits however it is being looked into more and research indicates that genetic and environmental factors both contribute and it is important to stress that autism is not caused by the upbringing an individual encounters or their social interactions and is definitely not a fault of that person.
As mentioned there are many traits and characteristics associated with autism. The main aspect is the sensitivity of an individuals senses, these can either be under and or over sensitive aspects and or a mishmash of both.
As humans we have five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch and all of these can have different levels of responsiveness.
From my own personal experience these are my own sensory sensitivities –
- In combination with my dyspraxia and eye-sight issues, I have a sense of clumsiness and find some fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination activities a real struggle and challenge. I also have had episodes where I’ve had sleeping problems due to a sensitivity towards light and wanting more darkness. My balance also struggles at times especially walking over uneven terrain as I’m unable to work out the depth perception as easily.
- I definitely feel I am quite sensitive to sounds, I have never been comfortable with loud noises such as music played in pubs and clubs as this feels magnified as well as sudden sounds like when a balloon bursts or something smashes. However there might be people who feel okay in that environment and have a partial hearing level to an average individual. There are often also times when tiny noises irritate me more than they would the average individual which stress me out however I am good at trying to relax my mind to these either by keeping my mind active with other thoughts or using a basic form of mindfulness, so if it looks like I’m zoned out, please do not see that as my ignorance, I’m still listening to what you have to say I may just be attempting to balance out the distractions so I can focus upon the conversation between you and myself.
- Many autistic people find smells either overpowering or underwhelming in order to diagnose them; however by and large I feel that my sense of scents is not something I feel is heightened or limited by my autistic traits.
- Taste and putting things in my mouth to swallow is certainly something I have found I am oversensitive towards. For example, despite how small a medication tablet is, I cannot swallow it whole. This certainly was a problem when attempting Cod Liver Oil tablets in my teenage years. I also consider in comparison to most people my diet and preferred foods are quite bland in taste, being not keen on spiced foods such as curries or Eastern cuisines. However during my childhood I was comfortable eating mild curried dishes as part of my school lunches. Where there are those who may feel the opposite.
- Finally, touch is something that many autistic individual may feel differently to someone who isn’t on this spectrum. As mentioned in my previous bullet point, the texture of medication tablets in my mouth is something I struggle with, I also am considerate about the materials used in my clothing as I do not like to wear too much polyester based shirts, preferring my cotton t-shirts. I also like my personal space around me without feeling too claustrophobic in environments where others are huddled up close to me, however I do not mind hugs as a way of showing affection and intimacy with another. I also feel very sensitive to the temperature of something, therefore I am a bit panicky when touching something that is very hot or been in boiling water.
I feel that one key aspect of my autism is my social anxiety which develops at times I least wish it to, be it causing me to go very quiet and coil within myself at times I really wish I hadn’t for example at one of my best friend’s wedding nearly five years ago at the time of writing this post. In recent years I have taken steps to try and self defeat this, by taking opportunities I never thought I would and embracing more of what life is about and developing stronger friendships.
Over time my social interactions have improved however there are times when my social skills have lacked in comparison to others. Such as developing friendships has never been straightforward neither has communicating with people I don’t know in voice only telephone calls. I have also struggled with making my voice heard at times and doing public speaking has always been challenging no matter how confident I feel on the topic.
Autistic people have a tendency to get obsessed over certain aspects in their life. These intense interests can be lifelong or can affect different eras of the individual’s life. Certainly through my own life, I know I have had many of these, such as Thomas the Tank Engine and British railways, football statistics, otters, Harry Potter and also the political landscape of the United Kingdom since the 1960s to the present day.
With many of these interests have also made me look at careers or hobbies which are related to them, so my first considerations for jobs included being a train driver or at least something involved with being on the railway network and a sports journalist.
Subsequently I have taken voluntary roles within the Green Party in Derby committee to enrich my interest and dedication towards politics which I hope to go in more depth about in a future blog post about how I settled on taking up this interest and why I feel being part of the Green Party of England and Wales suits me.
Another aspect with my interests is gaining knowledge and attempting to plug the holes of my sponge-like brain and mind. This is done by the amount of trying to understand more of the world around me as I tend to prefer non-fictional aspects as well as venturing deep into surrealism and wit.
As an example these blog posts often take far longer to write than many realise as I try and do dedicated research along with and my understanding of subject matters and hope to portray it in a fashion which I hope doesn’t alienate or condescending to you, my audience and I hope to use all the posts on this blog in a way of giving my mind a chance to breathe and let the voices inside my head express what I feel I understand but of course respect that others may see and valuate in a different way.
Being organised and following a regime helps me feel in control of the situation, so knowing a timetable to follow or doing things structured rather than being spontaneous or leaving things to the last minute helps me get satisfaction that the task I am trying to achieve will go well.
I also believe I have a series of repetitive tasks which I do in dealing with life’s peculiarities so for example, when I feel a bit shy and nervous ahead of doing something, I may do my shoe laces to buy myself some time ahead of doing the task and to reduce my anxiety. Autistic people may also avoid change, admittedly my initial reactions to adjustments to life can appear difficult at first however once accepted I cope with it.
Thankfully I have had no major difficulties with my general health, however I admit my own personal health care on aspects could be improved upon such as my oral hygiene and general physical appearance (self grooming and attire). During my childhood I found it difficult to communicate with health care professionals, however I have got better should I need to consult someone to help me with something.
Thankfully, I’ve not had to go to my General Practitioner very often in my life, and until my late teens I was fortunate to have little issues with my teeth at the dentist but into my twenties I’ve had a fair number of fillings but I have not found those too problematic in regards to my well-being whereas someone might have anxieties about those aspects.
Family life can also be a sore subject when an autistic individual is in the middle of it all, be that son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, grandparent etc. I have tended to prefer my own company and also keep a limited aspect of family especially as I am an only child I have never got too involved with too much else outside that albeit I’m thankful for the support from my parents with regards to my traits despite the usual family politics which I can only assume is standard for most.
People with autism need a lot of support from their friends and family, as well as to be felt like they are individual with their condition as no two people are alike.
I would like to stress in this post that my autism is of only a mild case rather than a high level on the spectrum so therefore I admit that the signs to this are not often exposed but having support from my peers, my friends and family on my own little contributions to life matters a lot.
For further information on how Autism can have some effect on day to day life, can be found on the The National Autistic Society website – http://www.autism.org.uk or through a great book by Tony Attwood: The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome.
I recently bought the book mentioned above and find it a very insightful guide if you are wishing to understand what elements of autism separate different people and how it can be a big part of someone’s life and their well-being and how to nurture their world.
I’m happy for others to know I’m mildly autistic and do not wish there was a button to remove it from my personality and make-up of my being so I only hope for more awareness and compassion when it comes to autism as a whole as it is not widely understood still and many feel that it is an excuse, living with autism can be a curse but I feel it can also be a blessing and I’m grateful to have many who do treat me well despite my quirks.