(In my opinion) the best thing and the worst thing about being autistic

Hi everyone,

Hope you are having a good weekend (hopefully none of you are still working into the evening!)

Just thought I’d blog again, this time about both what is great and what is hard about being on the autism spectrum.

I’ll start with the negative and then finish with the positive!

The negative

The worst thing about being autistic is the isolation. The fact that I was born with a neurodiverse brain means that I pretty much do not fit in to the rest of the human race – it is almost like I’m from a different planet! (I’m getting flashbacks here to be asked when I was growing up “Sam, what planet are you on?” Of course, if I were Doctor Who and could go back in my Tardis, I’d probably answer “Planet Autism!”)

A different brain leads to different behaviour, which means that other people can see me as “weird”, which can then lead to social exclusion and difficulties in relationships (for the first 30 years of my life, prior to my ASD diagnosis, I was struggling in all my relationships without really knowing why, and now I know that autism was a key reason why).

The flip side is that sometimes, I actively choose to be alone (and I don’t feel lonely at all!) – this is mainly due to sensory overload – when all the sights, colours, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations, emotions, people and change get too much!

The positive

Being autistic is awesome. I get to see the world in a way that no-one else does (with the exception of God obviously, on account of His being omniscient!)

It means I spot things that other people miss – which is a great asset when I am working in audit.

I’m also very organised and hard-working and am tenacious to the point of pretty much never giving up; for example, when I finally passed all of my chartered accountancy exams in summer 2018 having started in late 2014 (8 first-time passes, 7 fails and 7 second-time passes – 22 exams in under 4 years was pretty intense!)

But, it’s not all about me.

I also want to help other autistic people achieve their potential.

Autism means that the brain is different from 99% of the human race, but autistic people can do things that the 99% can’t – so let’s find their strengths and help autistic people thrive!

Just now I was reading in 1 Corinthians 12 (in the Bible, duh!) about how the Church is one body, but many parts.

What a great opportunity the Church has to show its unity and diversity no matter who we are as individuals.

Yours in Christ,

Sam

Autism and time

Hi everyone,

Hope you are well. Just thought I’d write another blog, on this occasion about time.

The Past – There is no escaping the fact that, for the first 30 years of my life, I did not know that I was autistic (on the Asperger’s part of the spectrum). This is kind of upsetting 😦

Looking back over my life, I can see how the signs were always there:

Pre-school: got into a fight with a friend on my first day (probably can’t blame that entirely on autism though!)

Primary school: on one occasion I was the only person to forget to do the homework (I forgot to write down the assignment in class!)

Secondary school: was threatened with suspension when I complained to a teacher in 6th form that her attendance record was not great (I stand by what I said – I was right! – but maybe should have been more careful in how I said it!)

University (Cambridge): really struggled in my second year and was told that I might risk being “sent down” (=excluded) if my work did not pick up (fortunately it did!)

Basically every job I’ve had: misunderstandings, miscommunications, near misses with disciplinary action etc.

But in the end, I have to leave the past in the past!

The Present – doing a return to work and seem to be improving day by day :-).

The Future – who knows? (Oh yeah: God!) I’m hopeful that life will be better now that I know that I am autistic.

As Psalm 90 verse 12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”.

Love in Christ,

Sam

P.S. This short video is worth a watch:

Autism and changing the world

Hi everyone,

I have a dream of a world where autistic people are able to thrive.

Where autistic people are not made to feel less than human, misunderstood, “not good enough”, selfish, weird, rude and lazy etc. but are accepted as they are.

Where autism stigma, discrimination, intolerance, indifference and prejudice is dead and buried.

I don’t believe we’ll get there fully until Jesus returns and there is a new heaven and a new earth, with no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

But let’s, by God’s grace, do what we can with the time that we do have before then.

In Christ,

Sam

Sensory sensitivity, overload, shutdowns and meltdowns

Hi everyone,

Hope you’re all well. I’m part way into my phased return to work and just thought I’d write another blog post on the stuff above.

As an autistic person, I experience sensory sensitivity, i.e. I am sensitive in (some of) the 5 senses:

Sight – I often ‘cannot see the wood for the trees’ as I see the detail, sometimes I am so focused in on detail I see the branches, or even the twigs or leaves. Other examples that can make me feel ‘overwhelmed’ include other people’s hair (especially long, straight hair which can look like spaghetti to me, as I see every strand of hair!) and not seeing a lawn but individual blades of grass. Bright colours and coming out of the cinema after a film in the daytime can be almost blinding.

Sound – at times when my hearing is very acute, I can hear through walls and also I can ‘zoom in’ on conversations going on across a room (kind of like binoculars but for hearing!) Naturally this is making it hard for me to concentrate in an open-plan office at the moment, but I am soldiering on. At other times, I am so focused in on something that I cannot hear a conversation which is going on right next to me.

Touch – I prefer a firm handshake to a limp one and do not like to be touched unexpectedly.

Taste and smell – I’m not that sensitive in these two senses.

My sensory sensitivity – particularly visual and auditory sensitivity – can sometimes all get too much and I go into ‘sensory overload’. This can happen quite suddenly, without any apparent prior warning.

I then need my own space to recharge and both work and church have been good about accommodating me, e.g. by finding a quiet room I can go to.

I then sometimes go into a shutdown, where I do not interact with anyone or anything – not moving at all and staring off into the distance as I recharge.

The worst though is if I go into a meltdown, which is more or less like a combined panic attack and tantrum (I have been known to destroy furniture, which isn’t great!)

The challenge here is from Ephesians 4 verse 26: ‘In your anger, do not sin’, which is a daily struggle – please pray for me!

Love in Christ,

Sam

P.S. I was trying to think of an illustration for a ‘meltdown’ and the video below is the best I could come up with (extreme artistic licence used though – it is Disney; by the way, if you haven’t seen Frozen, have you been living in a cave?!)

And now for something completely different: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and autism

Hi everyone,

(If you’ve never read the Harry Potter books or seen any of the films, you can probably just ignore this post!)

Disclaimer: I know Christians disagree on Harry Potter, but I think that they are great stories of good versus evil, so you can probably guess what side of the debate I am on 🙂

I was thinking the other day about one of my previous posts in which I explained that autism in girls and women is often missed and thought I would use an example from fiction to illustrate. Per Professor Tony Attwood, the world expert on ASD/Asperger’s, Hermione Granger is the “quintessential Aspie girl.” (see YouTube video ‘Could it be Asperger’s?’), so she was the obvious character to pick.

I’ll go through the DSM 5 diagnostic criteria (A through E), commenting as I go along.

So, here we go!

A. Deficits in social interaction and communication:

A.1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity: Hermione appears to spend a lot of time lecturing other people e.g. It’s Levi-O-sa (as opposed to Levio-SA!)

A.2. Deficits in non-verbal communication: not sure here to be honest (I probably need to re-read the books to see whether she has any unusual facial expressions noted in the text for example).

A.3. Deficits in developing, understanding and maintaining relationships: She starts off with no friends at Hogwarts and doesn’t appear to be bothered by this, but at one point Ron calls her out on it which makes her upset. However not long after, she makes friends with Harry and Ron.

B. Restrictive, repetitive patterns of behaviour (at least 2 of the following):

B.1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements (none noted, but this is more associated with classic autism than Asperger’s).

B.2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines or ritualized patterns of verbal or non-verbal behaviour: just don’t mess with her study timetable! Also, in the 3rd book she managed to take several classes despite the handicap of some of these classes going on at the same time!

B.3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus: e.g. her work for the promotion of the social welfare for house elves.

B.4. Sensory sensitivites – none that I’ve noted.

C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life): we don’t really know anything about Hermione’s early childhood, so to be honest I can’t conclude on this one.

D. Significant impairment in social, occupational or other contexts: at the start she appears to be more concerned with showing off her knowledge of effectively the entire curriculum than she is with making friends.

E. Not better explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay: obviously she is not in any way intellectually impaired – arguably, she is the smartest student at Hogwarts!

So in conclusion, Hermione Granger is most likely autistic, having Asperger’s/ “Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1 without accompanying intellectual or language impairment” (Asperger’s was much quicker to say pre-DSM 5!)

God bless,

Sam

Update

Hi everyone!

This isn’t really a proper post – I just saw this video on YouTube this morning and thought this was a brilliant example of someone living positively with autism!

In other news, I’ve got back to work on a phased return this week: it’s a slow start, but I am getting better day by day!

Love in Christ,

Sam