Ask an Aspie

I’ve recently been asked questions by customers, colleagues and friends, about having Asperger’s Syndrome or just Autism in general. So, I thought I’d post something along the lines of what I’ve been asked, in case anyone who reads this is unsure.

I like to clear up some myths and misinformation that surrounds this condition. After all, if you want to know something, you may as well go straight to the source! I should clarify… I’m not claiming to have all the answers, it’s just my opinion.

Here are some of the most common myths that I’ve come across, together with what I perceive to be the truth.

Myth – “Autism is caused by vaccination”

This is one of the biggest myths being perpetuated today. It was first brought to light in 1998 when (now disgraced and struck-off GP) Andrew Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of dishonesty and flouting ethics protocols. (BMJ 2010;340:c696) There have been many scientific research papers undertaken on this subject, and put simply, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support his claim. If it were the case, we’d have been able to replicate and prove his claims. Autism is extremely complex and appears to be caused by various combinations of factors, including genes, environmental influences, etc. Unfortunately, many parents have been seduced by Wakefield’s outright lie and have taken the extremely foolhardy and dangerous decision not to vaccinate their children. Other parents of autistic children are looking for a quick and easy answer, and for the promise of a sudden halt to autism or a “cure”.
The thing is that life is not that straightforward. Enormous efforts are being made to look at all the factors involved, with the aim of understanding autism better, and hopefully in the future finding a way of treating its more challenging symptoms in a positive and sympathetic way.

Myth – All Autistics have savant skills, just like Rain Man.

This myth is one that really irritates me. It began after the 1988 movie Rainman in which an autistic character played by Dustin Hoffman has savant-type abilities. The character is based on real-life mega-savant Kim Peek.

I used to work at a pub where a staff member and a regular used to drop cocktail sticks on the bar and tease me, asking me to tell them immediately how many sticks were in the pile. They used to call me “Raymond”, as they had seen the film Rain Man and assumed that all autistic people are like that. It’s quite simple – we can’t all recite the phone book, or tell anyone what day of the week they were born. Certainly, some Autistic people can perform some amazing memory feats, but this isn’t common. Many of us on the Autism Spectrum have various strengths, such as being visual learners or having a good visual memory. I have an exceptional memory for television and movie facts and scripts, much to the annoyance of Mrs Bob. But I’m not a savant. Just as Neurotypicals, we’re all different and all have our own talents.

“So, is that like being retarded?”

Factually speaking, in many cases Autistic people do not have an intellectual or cognitive disability. Likewise, many people who have intellectual or cognitive disabilities are not Autistic. It’s a common misconception that we are all mentally disabled and therefore slow or retarded. There are some Autistic people who also have an intellectual or cognitive disability. Nevertheless, the word “retarded” is very hurtful to use to anyone because it’s frequently used as an insult to dehumanise people. It’s also used to express hatred for people with disabilities. Please don’t use it.

“You should be very proud of yourself. You seem so normal. I couldn’t tell you’re Autistic.”

This is very frequently said to me and to other Autistic people whose autism is less obvious. It’s insulting, because it suggests that, just because the person doesn’t appear to be disabled or fit preconceptions of what Autistic people are supposed to be, they are not Autistic. It also suggests that “normal” is the standard to which anyone should aspire to appear or act and that “normal” should be the ultimate goal for therapies or treatments for autism. This isn’t the case. Instead, the goal is to teach pragmatic coping skills to navigate a world where those with autism are currently in a minority. I am proud of the skills autism has given me, not ashamed.

This phrase also gives the impression that it isn’t acceptable to act or speak in ways commonly associated with being Autistic, even if those behaviours don’t actually hurt anyone. This is dismissive of a person’s disability and experiences. It’s like saying “you’re married/have a job/go to college. You couldn’t do that if you were really Autistic.” Yes, it’s true that not every Autistic person will get married, have a job or go to college, but likewise, not every neurotypical will do those things. But plenty in both category do. This statement is insulting because it’s ableist. (For those who may not regularly read my blog, ableism is like racism, ageism or sexism, but directed toward people with disabilities).

While not every Autistic person may be able to do some or all of these things, it’s very ableist to assume that no Autistic person can, or that anyone who can do those things must be neurotypical.

It’s actually very hard to get a diagnosis of Autism. You have to fit a very specific set of criteria and there is a real reluctance to diagnose unless those criteria are met, especially adults. So, when someone has a formal diagnosis, like me, there really is very little room for doubt, and that diagnosis should be respected and accepted by everyone.

“I know a kid whose autism is really severe. You don’t seem like him.”

Every Autistic person is different, because autism is a wide-ranging spectrum. It gives a huge range of individual abilities, skills, needs and challenges. It is impossible to know what an Autistic person’s abilities and skills are versus their needs and challenges after just a brief conversation (either in person or in the comments thread of an internet post). What makes Autistic people a group united by a shared diagnosis, are the commonalities of all Autistic people. All Autistic people share some of the same core characteristics that define autism and which lead to a formal diagnosis:-

Key differences in neurological functioning, sensory and cognitive processing, and communication abilities that often manifest as disability. Autistic people are Autistic regardless of whether they look, speak or act like another Autistic person you know or know of. There is a great phrase that sums this up in my opinion:

Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” – Dr Stephen Shaw.

“Autism is something kids grow out of”

I have heard this a number of times and it is completely wrong. We don’t grow out of our autism – it’s a lifelong condition – we just adapt as we grow up, learn to hide things and get better at adapting. I personally treat it as a science experiment – I give a response and if it causes offence or the wrong reaction, I try another response and try to remember not to use the one that didn’t work, again. If it works, I’ll try it again a few times and if I get a positive result, I’ll keep it and use it from then on.

Here are some general facts and statistics about Autism, which might surprise you:

Autism is much more common than many people think. There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – that’s more than 1 in 1001. If you include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people.

Autism doesn’t just affect children. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults.

Autism is a hidden disability – you can’t always tell if someone is autistic.

While autism is incurable, the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.

34% of children on the autism spectrum say that the worst thing about being at school is being picked on.

63% of children on the autism spectrum are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them.

17% of autistic children have been suspended from school; 48% of these had been suspended three or more times; 4% had been expelled from one or more schools.

70% of autistic adults say that they are not getting the help they need from social services. The same number also said that, with more support,they would feel less isolated.

At least one in three autistic adults are experiencing severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support.

Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work.

Only 10% of autistic adults receive employment support but 53% say they want it.

Around 700,000 people may be autistic. That’s more than 1 in 100 in the population. There is no register or exact count kept.

The latest studies of autism indicate that 1.1% of the population in the UK may be on the autism spectrum. This means that over 695,000 people in the UK may be autistic – an estimate derived from the 1.1% prevalence rate applied to the 2011 UK census.

Panic Disorder

I’d like to take a minute to talk to you. Yes, you at the back. Grab a chair, get comfortable.
The following scribble is not an indication of my state of mind, in any way at all. Not in any multiverse.. well, okay, String Theory says that it has to be the case in at least one. So.. not in this universe, anyway.
This is merely my interpretation of the experience someone might have with anxiety. 
Please understand that I’m perfectly fine. I just wanted to write something with a deep emotion in it, while I relaxed with some music and my Mrs Bob. So don’t fret. Lots of love to you all. Yes even to you.
Stay Safe X

(Panic Disorder)

By Bob Christian.

Here we are again, my old companion.

You’ve given me so many nightmares;

Waking up sweating with dark and horrific 

Memories stuck on repeat in my head.

Try as I might, I can’t erase or forget them.

Aren’t I supposed to be a grown-up now?

Not scared to be home alone inside

My head. That’s when you’re at your worst.

Your images haunting me over the years.

We’ve grown up together, side-by-side.

Ive tried evicting you a few times. Yet

Here you are, throwing your friends

A pity party. I can’t remember the first

Time you attacked me. Your knife in my gut.

Icy fingers on my neck, stopping my scream.

Still you’re my oldest companion. I’ve tried

Staying awake, hoping you’d sleep before me.

Tried drowning you – you’ve learnt to swim.

Always awaiting your return now. I guess

With us it’s “‘Til death do us part”. 

(C) Bob Christian 2019

Rainy Day Parade

Grab your umbrella for my latest scribble. Titled Rainy Day Parade

(NB this is a first draft, final results may vary).

Rainy Day Parade

Looks like all fallacies become

Self-fulfilling prophecies, huh?

You’ve no idea, life without dad?

Really?! Poor you, that’s why you’re sad?

I wrote the book on this supposed

Life you’ve had.

I was eight, Mother’s Day morning 

Mum trying to be strong. Asking 

Where? Why? But my dad was gone.

I was sent to boarding school, beaten,

Bullied, hated. Difference is I’ve lived

Your fantasy.

A nightmare thinking ’bout that stuff.

Daily school beatings, so much anger

Aimed everywhere, mistakenly. Not

At some sperm donor who bolted.

Tried to run from me, but tripped, fell 

Broke his legs

You lie for sympathy. Hurt others. 

i had to learn how to mend myself.

To walk again I’ve made mistakes.

Made me much stronger than him

Made me the man I am. Granfather

Time, to stop

These damaging lies. Truth is, you’re the 

Only one who believes your home-made

Horror story. Look out behind you!  Its

The door-smashing axe-wielding bogey

Man! I hope he’s not too drunk. No angel. No devil either. 

National Poetry Day

As it’s national poetry day I figured I’d share a scribble with you. I performed it for the first time at a poetry slam last year, just before I released my third anthology Alexithymia,

It’s called Stop.

Please, stop for a minute.

Yes, I’m talking to you. 

Don’t do what it is that,

You’re planning to do.

Let these words reach you

While I have your attention.

I won’t try to say that I know 

The things you’re going through.

Just know that this pain 

You’re feeling right now?

I’ve been there – reaching

For the solution in whatever 

Form it might take – cold steel,

Booze or pills. So, even though 

I don’t know you, we have, at this

Point, something in common.

I was twenty-seven the first time

I felt I was out of options. Taking

The ultimate step that day

When I tried to put myself away.

I felt like I was screaming inside.

Remember, I’ve been where you

Are. I’ve walked that mile in those

Shoes; I want you to know this:

You are stronger than you realise.

This is a fight you can win, even 

If your doubts drown everything 

Out, hold on a little longer. Stay.

Let me talk to you. Let my words

Through, even if you don’t 

Think you can do it. I’ll share

This pain; be a voice of reason.

You have better times ahead 

Believe me, try to see, I beg of

you. Don’t take your life. Instead,

Take my hand – we’ll do this together.

Weekend Paradox

Last weekend was a paradoxical one – the same yet, very different. It began with my trip to the barbers on Saturday, as I do every two weeks or so. If you know me, then I’m sure I just heard you yelling or laughing at the screen. Mainly asking why I go to a barber! Well, I need my beard trimmed and sculpted to maintain this look. Here’s where it began, at the barbers, I waited for my usual guy, Marc, who I’ve been going to for a long time. He’s into the same things as me and I really enjoy talking to him about fantastically geeky stuff. He was very busy, though, and I was told I could wait 40 minutes or so, or step out of my comfort zone and see someone else. I decided to go for it. This was a strange situation for me, as it’s taken nearly two years to get to the relaxed stage with Marc. It was slightly awkward to begin with, but I managed to avoid the silences nicely with the new guy.

Then I spent the weekend doing the usual relaxing and occasionally annoying Mrs Bob. I even managed to get a trip in to a (different) supermarket with Mrs Bob, which after the other weekend was good going for me. I got a couple of my medals engraved, grabbed some snacks and we headed home. Then to do something different, i decided to clear my office as it was getting cluttered … EMRACING CHANGE!

Strangely, it was a nice feeling. There were lots of things that I don’t need now, and it was quite therapeutic to rearrange stuff if I’m honest, but shhhhhh I may get my Aspie card revoked!

The following day I went to the beach with Mrs Bob. “It’s nearly October,” I hear you say. Well, it may be, but it’s still warm down here. In fact, I’d say it’s warmer than last year. We hit the pier and played a couple of games in the arcade there, chips on the seafront, and a walk on the beach with my girl. This was the high point of my days off. It’s also the memory I’ll hold close while doing ten days straight at work this week and next. I can’t think of anything better at all than being by the sea with her.

So, the result was a weekend that was the same, but completely different at the same time.

Stay Safe

P.S Thank you for the recent chats on social media and all the likes & follows. I love interacting with each and every one of you.