The Drawing Board

30DaysOfAutismAcceptence – Day 29 (Part 1)

Day 29.  Talk about executive functioning.  Do you experience executive dysfunction?  How do you deal with it?

This is one of the first questions I did not understand, as I did not know what executive functioning was … So I had to go away and read up on it quickly … and JESUS GOD DAMN CHRIST … I have just learnt so much more about myself as an autistic person and this may actually help me to make my life and my family’s life better.

So executive functioning is the broad term referring to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions.

It includes:

  • planning
  • working memory
  • attention
  • problem solving
  • verbal reasoning
  • inhibition
  • cognitive flexibility
  • initiation of actions
  • monitoring of actions

I suffer from dysfunction in all of these areas, now I’ll talk a little about how I suffer dysfunction in these areas.

Planning

To anyone on the outside, I may look like someone who just shys away from housework out of laziness. Now I’m not saying sometimes I don’t, but most the time it is due to an issue I have with planning.

When I look at an unclean house, I want to clean it, the main problem I have is I don’t know where to start. Eventually I make a start (about an hour or two has passed), I’ve done the dishes, it has taken a while but I have done it. Now where do I go? I try to assess what would would be my next starting point, I get overwhelmed my head hurts. Now its dinner time and the kids need food, I’m hungry too. How can I do two different meals simultaneously? Not effectively apparently, before I know it everything is burnt, I’ve dirtied loads of dishes, but I’ve just done the dishes, what to do with these new dishes? Shit I spilled something, better use a tea towel, all the tea towels are dirty. Why are they all dirty? Because I was meant to do the washing, probably should have done that first.

Problem Solving

Can I effectively problem solve? Usually when its someone else’s problems, the answer is yes. When its my own problems … Not so much!

Firstly, I find it difficult to identify when there is a problem to begin with. This only makes the problem that I am not aware of, a bigger problem. I’m okay with problems, as long as it doesn’t become problematic to my life, routine or plans. Problem with problems is, they usually do become problematic. If a problem does disrupt my life, routine or plans, I act like its the biggest deal in the world. To be fair, to me it usually is the biggest deal in the world, because until the problem that I can’t solve is solved, it stops my world. I get stuck on the problem that I can’t solve, and no matter how many times I’ve been stuck with a problem, I find it very hard to accept help to fix said problem. I’ll try the old tired problem solving techniques, i.e the ones that don’t work. If someone offers an alternative technique, I shoot it down, scared that the one thing that may actually solve my problem, will end up causing me more problems.

Verbal Reasoning

Verbal reasoning is the ability to understand, analyse and think critically about concepts presented in words. As an English student, this can be quite difficult as Essay questions are always written in an obtuse and awkward manner. I never understood why they can’t be written in the same way people talk, the hardest part of an essay for me is understanding what the actual question wants me to do, I am someone who needs clear and precise instructions. This bleeds through into my personal and professional life as well. If my partner asks me to laundry, the clothes will be washed but not necessarily dried and put away as she wanted me to. We have found a way around this as she writes clear instructions onto a white board in our kitchen, that way I can follow them, and tick them off as I go along. In work the same applies, you want me to do something, you make it clear, or you’ll find me doing something you don’t want me to do. Another problem in my education stems from my inability to take lecture notes, whilst also paying attention to a lecturer. My notes are usually insanely complex and difficult to understand after I leave the classroom setting. Texts and written speech can also be difficult to understand, I have difficulty reading the meanings in written language. This can lead to me feeling like someone is annoyed with me when they are not, or not realising that I have upset anyone until I see them face to face. I also have difficulty paraphrasing or retelling my stories as they can be long-winded and full of unnecessary details.

Attention

My attention span is short, but not always, if it is something I enjoy, it can get my undivided attention to the point of pure obsession.

Sometimes even the things that I do enjoy can lose my attention and when that happens I struggle to set my attention back on these things, and complete what I started. For example these blog posts about Autism, I started them months ago and they were meant to be created in that month. Yeah that didn’t happen.

This is due to my inability to concentrate on one thing at once. One minute I’m a student, then I’m an artist, then I’m running a community group, then I’m a fitness freak, now I’m a wrestler. To be fair wrestling has held my attention for a long time now. So I must be getting better at this stuff.

Another annoying thing about my autism is that it makes me want to strictly follow a rigid routine and schedule, which dictates that I must do things at a certain time and place. But it also makes me unable to do these things at a certain time and place.

I can also get easily … dis … tract … OOOOO pussy cat.

This one has ended up being quite a long one so I am gonna split it into two parts … Hope you enjoyed reading this … Part 2 will be done … soonish

 

 

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30DaysOfAutismAcceptence – Day 27

Day 27.  Talk about eye-contact.  Do you make eye-contact?  Why or why not?  Does it make you uncomfortable?

In most situations, I ‘make’ eye contact… ish.

What I have learnt from being an autistic, is that most people that are off the spectrum don’t really make eye contact either. If they did make eye contact they would realise that my ‘making eye contact’ does not involve any actual eye gazing.

My version of eye contact involves finding a point directly behind the person I am conversing with’s ear, then I unfocus my eyes, so that the person face is blurry and I focus on whatever it is that I found to look at. Common ones include: pictures, TV, a stain on the wall.

Most the time this works, and I hardly ever get caught out doing it. If I do, I can just say I’m very interested in whatever happened to be my point of visual fixation. If I’ve used a stain on the wall, it can be quite awkward to explain away.

Why do I not make eye contact? I don’t make eye contact because it takes a lot of mental effort for me to make eye contact, so if I do make eye contact, I can’t do much else, and it can be quite intense to have someone stare at you deep in the eyes, whilst he forgets to breathe, blink and talk back.

I find people think I’m weirder for staring at them like a serial killer, rather than looking slightly off to their ear.

Does it make me uncomfortable? Yes but so does nearly everything else in life, the difference is, eye contact is one of the things I can get around quite easily. I will look people in the eyes if I really need to, but if I can pretend to look people in the eyes and make everyday a little bit more comfortable for me, why should I?

Also why is it normal to stare at someones eyeballs with your own eyeballs, who made that a rule of normality?

Well now my secret is out there, I wonder how many people will now be looking to catch me out for not looking them in the eyes? Time to up my pretend game.

 

 

30DaysOfAutismAcceptence – Day 26

Day 26.  Talk about echolalia and scripting.  Do you use echolalia?  What about scripting?

Before I begin talking about echolalia and scripting, I will give a brief explanation of what each one is…

Echolalia is the repetition of words, phrases, intonation, or the sounds of speech of others. Immediate echolalia is the exact repetition of speech, either immediately or soon after the autistic has heard it. Delayed echolalia is the repetition of speech, hours, days, weeks, months or even years, after the original speech was heard. The speech could be taken from movies, video games or maybe even books.

Scripting is then using these words, phrases, sounds and intonation in reaction to questions and situations in life.

I’m sure you are now reading this thinking, well isn’t that what everyone does, once they have learnt to speak? That’s how you learn to talk.

For autistics like me, it is not that simple.

Yes, many children use echolalia to learn to speak. Teachers and parents encourage it… “Repeat after me class, ‘The cat sat on the mat'”. But whereas neurotypical children will repeat the words, many autistic children will repeat the words, tone, pronunciation and accent. If the teacher happens to the sniff half way through the statement, the autistic child will probably repeat that too. Or at least that’s what I did as a child.

Growing up I was mocked a lot for my ‘weird’ accent and way of saying certain words. I used to get so annoyed, how can I help it, nearly everyone speaks in different ways and if I’m learning through the use of mimicry how am I meant to help how other people’s words sound coming out of my mouth.

I’d pick up everything from other people, so my own accent never formed, I didn’t even know if I had my own accent, or way of talking. Another problem was that if I learnt a  few words from someone with a speech impediment, guess what Steve you just got yourself a speech impediment. Or if I learnt a word from someone who pronounced the word incorrectly, I would then pronounce the word incorrectly myself. I then get told off for pronouncing it wrong, not my fault, people didn’t tend to believe that.

Another problem with repeating what people say exactly, if I did it to the wrong person, I’d get a slap. Because they thought I was taking the piss out of them.

Eventually I stopped repeating people and would just do it from films, tv shows etc. Again the issue with this is, watch an american show, suddenly I sounded american. Or if I learnt a word or phrase that is uttered in a dramatic fashion, I then sounded over dramatic when I said it.

Since being an adult, I don’t tend to have to repeat people anymore as I don’t really have many more words or phrases to learn. When I do learn new words, I can still sound odd, it just happens less often now.

My echolalia can also be a form of stimming, this is when I don’t repeat people for the sake of learning new words, phrases etc. This is when I repeat mindlessly, without even meaning to. I do it a lot to my wife, she just laughs it off. Whereas other people give me a strange look for repeating them.

Sometimes its not only people I repeat either, I have found myself repeating animals, cars, machines. These are when I definitely get the strangest looks.

Scripting is something I have always lent on, my social skills seem better as an adult but that is only because I have a vast range of scripts to pull on now.

When younger I did tend to get the scripts wrong quite a lot, insulting people, confusing people and generally being misunderstood. This can still happen when stressed or dealing with new people. But as a whole I can communicate verbally quite effectively, if I want to.

 

 

 

#30DaysOfAutismAcceptance – Day 25

Day 25.  Talk about meltdowns/shutdowns.  Do you have them?  How often?  What are your triggers?

MELTDOWNS and SHUTDOWNS! The bane of any autistic person’s existence. Some of us will only suffer the one, some of us suffer both.

I do suffer both, but meltdowns are more common. Shutdowns are rare and only happen at very stressful points in my life.

My meltdowns can range from a tantrum on par with a toddler, to full near mental collapses. I don’t have them as often as I used to, but they do still happen, and when they do its not a pretty sight to behold.

My meltdowns tend to happen at home mostly, but they have been known to happen in public if I’m with people I trust. If I’m out alone or with people I don’t trust I tend to bottle it up until I am in a safe place. This will usually result in a bigger meltdown eventually though.

My meltdowns before I grew up were more violent, whereas my ones now are more verbally angry.

As a child/teen I would attack people, smash property, hurt myself, scream horrible things, they could last for a few minutes or maybe hours. But then the moment I’d calm down, I’d be right back to my usual mostly pleasant self. With a vague idea of what I’d done and a shit ton of guilt slamming down on my back too. After those meltdowns I would need to rest, as all my energy would have been wiped out. Back then I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and most the time other people thought that I was going crazy. Christ, I thought I was going crazy.

My adult meltdowns are more restrained, but can still be scary and intimidating to anyone seeing one for the first time. These days I’m likely to be found screaming at the top of my lungs, repeating words and phrases, pulling at my own hair, stimming uncontrollably, slamming doors and stomping around from room to room. The problem is I can never realise I’m having a meltdown until its too late. By this point I’ve usually scared or pissed off everyone around me. I’m more of a danger to myself these days than anyone else, but I can still be pretty hurtful with the things I say. My adult meltdowns are shorter than my adolescent ones, but the time to recharge afterwards is still as long. If I don’t take or get time to recharge afterwards, I can end up having multiple meltdowns, which is not a fun way to spend your day.

My triggers for meltdowns are varied but here are a few…

  • Sensory Overload
  • Memory Lapses
  • Changes to Routine or the Day’s Plan
  • Hungry
  • Tired
  • Stress
  • Bad News
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of Alone Time

Knowing my triggers now enables me to try and avoid these things with the help of my family. But even with knowing my triggers, a meltdown can happen at anytime if I am experiencing any of these in my day.

Now, shutdowns are completely different, meltdowns are an eruption of emotion, whereas shutdowns are almost a complete lack of emotions, or at least that is what it would seem like to anyone, who didn’t know what was happening to me.

My shutdowns can last for a long time, this is when I just go on autopilot. Usually because I have had to deal with something so stressful or tragic that I cannot safely release it as a meltdown. Shutdowns are usually reserved for deaths or when someone gets taken ill.

During a shut down, it is hard to get through to me, I will carry on doing what I need to do, and that is it. I will not find any enjoyment in the things I do, I will just do them cause they need doing. People tend to worry about me when I’m like this, but it is better than the nuclear power-plant level meltdown that would happen if I didn’t go into shutdown.

Now and then during a shut down I will fall into mini-meltdowns, but they will be short, quick, and then its back to being like a high functioning zombie. Eventually I will recover from a shut down, but as I said earlier it can take a while.

This was a difficult one to talk about as a lot of my family and friends don’t even know I experience these, so thank you anyone who takes the time to read it.

 

 

#30DaysOfAutismAcceptance – Day 24

Day 24.  Talk about the stereotypes and misconceptions that neurotypicals and allistics have. What stereotypes have you heard about autism?  How do you respond to people who have incorrect stereotypes about autism? What kind of things should people not say to autistic people?  What’s something you wish NTs/allistics knew about autism?

Autistic Stereotypes and Misconceptions… There are too many to list in full.

Some of the most common ones I have heard include:

You must be a mathematical genius…

Did you know vaccines caused you to have that…

Firstly, I am not a mathematical genius… I’m not even close. My math skills are laughable, I struggle with even the most basic of sums. Throw multiplication and division into the mix and I fall to pieces. The only thing that autism has given me in regards to maths is a very strange way of working out sums, the usual techniques don’t work for me, but my techniques are a lot more complex and take a hell of a long time. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but I usually come out with the wrong answers anyway, as by the time I get to the end of the sum, I’ve forgotten what I was originally doing.

Secondly, vaccines caused me to have autism… People have done copious amounts of research on this argument, I’ll admit I am not one of those people. But even if vaccines are the cause of autism, I’d still take the vaccine over the plethora of nasty lethal diseases that they protect me from. Autistic is definitely a step above dead.

As for people who have incorrect stereotypes about people with autism. The only way to get rid of these stereotypes is to meet actual autistic people. But of course we are all different, so if you know one autistic person, you know one of us.

What kind of things should you not say to autistics? Lets list a few…

“You don’t look autistic” – For some reason people think this is something that we autistics will feel good about. All I ever think is what do autistics look like? I don’t know what people are expecting me to look like. Sorry I don’t have any distinguishing features that make me appear visually autistic.

“I think we are all on the spectrum in one way or another” – No, just no, don’t say this, ever! If you are autistic, you are on the autistic spectrum, if you are not autistic, you are not on the autistic spectrum. Its not complex, its quite simple. By saying this you are stating that the daily struggles of anyone on the autistic spectrum are no big deal, because everyone is on the spectrum, so therefore everyone has these struggles. If this was true, autistics would not find it so hard to be understood, as people would understand their struggles because they face them too.

Moral of the story, don’t stereotype people, or have prior misconceptions about them, as there is a very a strong chance you are wrong.

 

 

#30DaysofAutismAcceptance – Day 23

Day 23.  Talk about your living situation.  Where do you live?  Do you live alone or with other people?  Are you happy with your current living arrangements?

Well I’m living, so that’s always a plus to begin with 😉

I live on Penrhys Estate, a mountain top village overlooking the Rhondda Valleys in South Wales.

I’ve lived here for most of my life. That is always easier for someone who doesn’t like change.

It’s not too loud up here, there are no big crowds, traffic is sparse and if you want to hide away for a week or two its easily done.

I live in a three bedder house with my partner, our son, her daughter and our two cats. My daughter also comes to stay 3 weekends a month.

Sometimes sharing a house for me can be difficult as it easy to become overwhelmed, and overstimulated, and it is not easy to get alone time. Especially in the six weeks holidays.

So sometimes I do find myself thinking “would I be happier living in a house on my own”, and I’m sure my family knows I think this occasionally too.

But I’ve lived alone before, I once had a one bedroom flat and when it wasn’t being used as a dosshouse or a drinking ground, I found myself alone in a very small space. This gave me way too much time to think etc.

I’ve also experienced having no fixed abode and the insanity of floating around from place to place with all my belongings inside my pockets. Sure staying at your mates for a few days is fun, but when you there for weeks on end, then it puts a strain on the friendship, and you soon find yourself not feeling so welcome anymore.

So yeah living with others can be difficult. But when its your partner and kids, you never feel alone… Even when you want to be lol. You always feel welcome, and a house suddenly feels like a home 🙂

 

#30DaysofAutismAcceptance – Day 22

Day 22.  Talk about autism parents.  How do you feel about this section of the community?  Do you feel as if they speak over you?  Do you find the term ‘autism parent’ rude or offensive?

I believe that autism parents have one of the hardest jobs in the world, parenting is difficult when your child conforms to all the stereotypical children that you find in parenting books. But when your child is autistic, neurotypical parenting books are not that helpful.

Neurotypical children have tantrums, but autistic children can have meltdowns over the littlest things. If autism parents can adapt and learn to help their children through these meltdowns then my “imaginary” hat goes off to them.

I don’t feel as if autism parents speak over me. Although his could be due to me not really having much communication with them.

I don’t find the term “autism parents” rude or offensive. Its a label that enables a group of people to come together, share stories, and learn to grow as parents and do their best to raise their autistic children in the best way possible.

 

#30DaysofAutismAcceptance – Day 21

I apologise that there has been such a huge gap in between Day 20 and Day 21. But my life has been a little mental since the last time I’ve posted on here. I know that it was only meant to be a thing done in April, but seeing as I started, I should probably finish the series.

Day 21.  Talk about co-morbid conditions.  Do you have any other disorders commonly related to autism?  Were you misdiagnosed as something else first?

Co-morbid? That’s not an attractive word. I think I was one of the lucky ones who wasn’t misdiagnosed as a child. Or I don’t believe I have any of the conditions that are commonly referred to as co-morbid conditions of autism/aspergers.

What I do have is some conditions that are made worse for me because of my autism.

I have hayfever, which is pretty much being allergic to the outdoors. This makes my natural anxiety of being outdoors even worse in the summer. I find it very hard to fit in and act in a neurotypically acceptable fashion when my entire face itches. When the pollen count is high, my public face goes right out the window. It literally leaks outta me. I stim more when the pollen is high, and just touching my skin can send me into a meltdown.

I also suffer from Insomnia. This makes it very difficult for me to sleep. Sometimes I’ll go whole days with only a few hours kip in my system. This is where my grip on reality can start getting shaken, I just walk around in a daze not really awake or not really asleep. I hear things that haven’t been said, I see things that aren’t really there, and the ringing in my ears becomes a constant loud hum. The louder the ringing becomes the harder it becomes for me to sleep, and it becomes a vicious circle.

 

#30DaysofAutismAcceptance – Day 20 : Communication

Day 20.  Talk about communication.  Are you verbal? Nonverbal? Partially verbal?  How do you usually communicate?

I am verbal. I am able to communicate with people verbally. That doesn’t mean I always like it.

I dislike small talk, how are you? how is everything? I hate these questions because if you answer them literally nobody ever wants to know the answer.

If you answer with the answers people want “I’m fine/good/okay … Everything is fine/good/okay” you are lying 90% of the time.

I would much prefer a deep conversation than this mind numbing back and forth between people who don’t really seem to care how the other person is feeling.

I can do face to face conversation, I can text, one thing that I really don’t like though is conversing over the phone.

If people ring me, I will usually let it ring through and text if I don’t think it’s an emergency. I always struggle on finding my cue to speak when it comes to speaking over the phone. This results in me talking over people, or awkwardly long silences when I don’t know or realise that it is my time to speak.

I would much rather listen to someone, be spoken at, rather than speaking to someone. I have no problem with listening to people. I find this easier than talking actually, I haven’t got to use my filter so much when someone is talking to me. I just got to try and give back the proper responses. As if you give the wrong response to what someone is saying, they can get angry, upset or annoyed.

I prefer texts as it enables me to think about what my response will be, if I write a reply and it seems like it may insult, offend or upset the person I’m speaking to, I can just delete it. I cannot do this in a face to face conversation. You can say no offence, but if you need to say no offence, the chances are you’ve already offended someone. Saying no offence afterwards does not help the situation.

So yes, whilst I can communicate verbally, sometimes being non-verbal would be a nice change. (I am not trying to make light of the struggles faced by non-verbal autistics here). I am just saying that if I didn’t speak I would probably offend a lot less people.

 

#30DaysofAutismAcceptance – Day 19

Day 19.  Talk about your struggles and strengths.  What things are difficult for you because you are autistic?  What are the positives of being autistic?  Do you have a special skill or talent?

I’ve spoken about a lot of my struggles over the last 18 posts.

I struggle to maintain friendships, I struggle with time management, I struggle with everyday sights/sounds/smells, I struggle to be the boyfriend that I’m needed to be, I struggle to be the parent that I’m supposed to be, I struggle to sleep decent hours, I struggle with change, I struggle with getting my god damn thoughts out on paper.

But there are positives.

I notice things that other people may not notice, I notice solutions to problems that other people haven’t thought of. I notice a literal and logical solution to a problem when no one is thinking literal or logically.

I say things that need to be said. Mostly because my filter isn’t working but I say them things anyway. I don’t think about who it may offend or hurt, I say those things cause they need to be said.

When I got friends, I’m a good friend. I will do anything I can to help someone. Even if they may not deserve it.

I can draw, I can draw good. I have an eye for detail and I can call upon images from memory and draw them.

I can pour a lot of time and effort into things due to my obsessive nature, If I got a job I will work my arse off to do that job.

I come up with ideas, creative ideas, outside of the box ideas. I don’t know where the ideas come from but I come up with them.

I can take pain, both emotional and physical, my body doesn’t always feel it. But sometimes it just goes on auto pilot. My feet are blistered and bleeding … Keep walking. My mum has just had a stroke … Be strong when everyone else falls to shit. I may have dislocated my shoulder last Saturday … When is my next wrestling match.

The positives and negatives of autism usually go hand in hand, I don’t have superpowers or special abilities I just have traits that help me in ways, whereas others hinder me.

Autism is my sunlight and my kryptonite.