Happy Easter to all!

Firstly, I must apologise for my neglect of this blog over the past few months. My husband and I have both been very busy moving into a flat suitable for our growing family and sorting out the nursery and baby’s furniture. My pregnancy has also recently run into a couple of potential complications, one of which I have been cleared for and one of which I am still undergoing testing and monitoring for. With only a month or so left to go, it’s really beginning to feel real now! Soon we will be a family of 3 and I will have a son or daughter who is completely dependent on me. I can’t wait but it’s nerve wracking too.

I would like to wish all of my readers a Happy Easter if they celebrate it. I hope the Easter celebrations have been all you hoped for. I’ve had a quiet Easter this year but really enjoyed the Easter Sunday church service we attended yesterday.

Of course April also marks Autism Awareness Month. I have seen a lot of activity on the online groups I belong to and I have enjoyed reading all the blog posts about life on the spectrum that people have been writing to raise Autism Awareness and to promote Autism Acceptance. As mentioned before, life preparing for our new arrival has meant that my own blogging has been limited but, as always, I hope that my blog has been helpful to my readers and I have noticed a couple of new readers comment on my older posts since the beginning of April, pointing out that what I describe sounds exactly like them. It always makes me happy when I receive comments like this as it reaffirms the fact that there are people out there who rely on my blog to help them make sense of the world and help them realise that they are not alone in the way they interpret the world, something that despite all the facts, figures and statistics, most people on the spectrum feel on a regular basis. As long as this blog is available to the public, I feel that I am doing my bit for Autism Awareness/Autism Acceptance and, as I move on to the new life chapter of parenthood, I will have so many more experiences to write about and hopefully receive help from mothers already in my position and, given time, also be of help to other mothers on the spectrum.

I wish all of my readers the best. Look after yourselves and I will be back with another blog post soon, I promise!

Happy New Year!

I know it’s been a couple of months since my last blog post and I have a lot of updating to do!

Firstly, for those of you who don’t know me personally, my husband and I are expecting our first baby which is due on the 18th of May next year. We found out I was pregnant very early on but had it confirmed by an ultrasound scan on the 3rd of November. We had our Foetal Anatomy scan yesterday and all is looking well. I have to say that, although I cannot wait for us to start our journey as parents, pregnancy has elevated my anxiety levels hugely. I never knew it was possible to be as anxious as I have been throughout the whole process. I have read, though, that it is common in a lot of first time mothers to have such feelings, even those who aren’t on the spectrum. I know that parenthood on the spectrum can bring all sorts of challenges but I am looking forward to taking them on and proving everyone who believes that we can’t be good parents wrong. My blog posts will certainly take on a different tone once I’m writing about parenting! In the meantime, if anybody can offer any advice on parenting with Aspergers, I would love to hear it.

Directly related to our growing family size, we are also in the process of buying our first home together. 2016 has not been a quiet year for us by any means but, overall, it’s been fantastic. As 2017 awaits us, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone all the best for their lives in the New Year and also to thank my followers and readers for their continued support over the last 3 years even though my blogging is nowhere near as frequent as it used to be. 2017 will bring new challenges and we will finally get to meet our baby, a unique individual with so much love to give! Personally, I can’t wait!

30 things I have learned from 30 years living with Aspergers

Hello to all my readers. I apologise for not blogging as regularly recently-settling into life as a married woman means I am very busy a lot of the time. I also turned 30 this past Monday so have been busy celebrating that. To coincide with turning 30, I thought I would do a blog post detailing 30 things I have learned from 30 years living with Aspergers. As I always say, this list may not be applicable to every person with the diagnosis as we are all individuals-this is based purely on my personal experience. It’s intended to be a bit of fun so hope everyone takes it in the spirit that’s intended.

1. Living with Aspergers is an emotional roller coaster-so many highs and lows, but the best thing is just to accept your life for what it is. Trying to improve your life is never a bad thing but work with what you’ve got to do that, rather than just hoping one day the Aspergers won’t be there.

2. Your friends and relatives can set their watch by your little routines.

3. Talking of watches, you are always early to every appointment and social engagement you have as you hate being late for anything and so take great lengths to ensure that doesn’t happen. (I know some people on the spectrum can struggle with time keeping due to executive functioning issues-I’m not one of them).

4. Social rules keep changing and, as an adult, it’s a lot harder to get away with making social mistakes than it was when you were a kid.

5. These days, a lot of people think they know what Aspergers entails (largely through media exposure) but have the wrong impression or idea when it comes to you personally. Try not to be offended-instead use the opportunity to raise awareness and educate them into what Aspergers is like for you.

6. You may as well save some time and not even take a menu in a restaurant as you know exactly what you are going to have there but you end up glancing through the menu every time anyway only to choose exactly the same meal you’ve chosen for the last 10 years every time you eat at this restaurant.

7. A lot of people, including a worrying number of professionals, seem to believe that, once you turn 18, your condition suddenly disappears and you go from being a child who needs a lot of support to being an adult who needs no support at all despite having a whole different set of issues to cope with. This is very frustrating and has ended up being very harmful towards some people on the spectrum, particularly with PIP being declined in a lot of cases. This is one aspect of ignorance that I find so hard to change because so many people still think of autism as a childhood condition.

8. Traits which often lead to bullying in your school years, such as being hard working and eager to please, are well respected in the workplace. (That said, the employment statistics for autistic adults are dire-I have come across an extremely high number of people on the spectrum who are perfectly capable of working but are not given the chance which really upsets me because we, as a community, deserve more. I have been lucky enough to find a career in an industry I thrive in but I know that a lot of other people on the spectrum are not as fortunate. Hopefully, in time, things will change).

9. You seem to have a special affinity with animals.

10. You have odd little habits that most people don’t understand but that you rely on to feel secure. One of mine is watching TV with the subtitles on. I don’t need to have them on as my hearing is fine but, for the past 20 years, I have needed them on to make me feel secure. It’s really hard to explain but I know that a lot of other people with Aspergers have similar sorts of comforts.

11. Clothing was never designed with us in mind. Labels feel like sandpaper against your skin and certain textures lead to frenzied itching (wool is the main one for me). Most people on the spectrum dress for comfort, not style, hence why most of us are never going to win any style awards!

12. Certain sensations that don’t seem to phase other people are such an issue for you that you do anything to avoid them. One chief example for me is static electricity. The thought of receiving a static shock is so distressing to me that I will roll my coat over my hand before I touch the handrail of an escalator or open a car door because these have given me static shocks in the past. I will also avoid unfolding any item of clothing that’s just come out of the dryer and has static properties. I recently received a static shock from an escalator in a busy London railway station and spent 10 minutes looking for a lift so I wouldn’t have to step on the escalator again (there wasn’t one so I ended up having to go back on the escalator after a couple of “false starts” because I was so worried about getting another static shock!)

13. Everyone wants you on their quiz team at the pub quiz because you’re great at knowing the small details that most other people overlook because they find them boring.

14. You get so fed up when people accuse you of not having empathy because you are actually highly sensitive and emotional.

15. You don’t understand how anybody could find clubbing a fun night out as it’s far too overwhelming for your senses. You’d rather a nice meal in a curry house any day!

16. You love a bit of repetition! Whether it’s a certain episode or scene from your favourite TV show or a certain song, you have no qualms with watching/listening to it 500 times in a row!

17. You realise who your true friends are when you’re in meltdown mode in front of them.

18. You are always accused of being too open but you don’t know any other way to be.

19. Your inner thermostat never matches with the weather. It can be the middle of summer and you feel the need to wear a coat or it could be the middle of winter and you get your shorts and T shirt out!

20. Your family, friends, teachers and work colleagues recognise your handwriting anywhere because it’s so unique, to put it politely!

21. You’ve always seen clapping or jumping as a legitimate expression of excitement or happiness and don’t understand why so many people can’t understand this!

22. Textures of food items are more of an issue than how they taste when it comes to whether you can eat them without gagging.

23. You don’t understand why people see obsessions as a bad thing when they have brought you so much happiness over the years.

24. It’s hard to try new things but, once you do, you continually amaze yourself with how you can adapt to your new circumstances and how strong you are.

25. A lot of people have low expectations for you and you are continually proving people wrong.

26. You are so disorganised and continually misplace or lose your personal possessions but seem to be able to find other people’s lost possessions with ease.

27. You wonder constantly how you managed to get to adulthood with such non existent observation skills.

28. You know that the friends who stick by you are special and you would do anything for them. We’re not the easiest people to be friends with a lot of the time so those who remain friends with us are life’s decent people.

29. A lot of people won’t ever understand you or have the will to try-those who do understand us are the ones we need to keep in our lives. It makes life so much easier than constantly trying to explain yourself to someone who will never understand you.

30. Finally, despite all the negatives, you wouldn’t change who you are for the world because you have a great life.

My thoughts on people claiming children can grow out of autism

One opinion I have come across rather a lot lately in autism groups online is that children can grow out of their autism once they become teenagers or young adults. This opinion is mainly held by parents who claim that their children have grown out of their autism. The most famous recent example of this was Toni Braxton claiming that her 13 year old son Diezel no longer displays symptoms of autism (my IPad is funny about hyperlinks but Google Toni Braxton autistic son and you’ll get several articles about it come up). However, I have also come across a couple of adults online who claim to have grown out of their autism and say that, if they were to go through the diagnostic process today, they would not get a diagnosis of any autistic spectrum condition.

Let me clear something up before we go any further-autism can not be grown out of. It is a neurological condition which means our brains are hard wired in a certain way that gives rise to the symptoms of autism. Every individual is different but, while outward manifestations of the conditions on the autism spectrum will differ from person to person, the neurological make up is similar. I do maintain that people who do not have the associated severe learning disabilities that can be co morbid with autism can learn social skills the same way that someone without autism can learn regular skills. This is how I learned the social skills I have-through years of hard work and many mistakes. This does not mean that I have grown out of my Aspergers though. It doesn’t take much for me to forget these social skills-if I am tired, stressed, anxious or not feeling well, my brain cannot access these as they are not natural to me and so people who haven’t seen that side of me before where I am unable to communicate verbally or blurt something out impulsively find it hard to match that person with the person they normally know me as. I am constantly working at 100% to be socially acceptable and the irony with that is that, when you work so hard to fit in with the world, people can be very unforgiving when you do have a bad day and suddenly, as the quote goes, “my autism starts showing”. It worries me that these children who have apparently grown out of their autism are putting themselves under immense pressure to fit in socially and, as such, are not given enough recognition that they do still struggle and, from experience, this can lead to a vicious cycle of low self esteem and self loathing because it feels like they can never truly be themselves. I feel a lot happier when I have an outlet for my stress, such as stimming. After a long day at work, I usually stim for at least 30 minutes uninterrupted and, after that, I feel calm enough to attempt to sleep. I know some autistic people who have been shamed out of stimming, either by relatives or by professionals such as teachers, and feel like they have no outlet for the stress that comes from having to constantly monitor your behaviour in order to fit in as best as you can with society.

I also maintain that people usually grow into their autism rather than grow out of it. Autism is a lifelong condition and, like any lifelong condition, over the years, you learn to live with it and you learn coping strategies. Many people with autism who are sensitive to noise, for example, really struggle as young children and can have very public meltdowns due to over stimulation but, by the time they become adults, they have learned which steps to take to avoid over stimulation such as headphones or ear defenders or ordering shopping online rather than going to busy supermarkets. People who have severe learning disbilities alongside their autism also learn, over time, how to regulate the auditory input they receive from the environment. A lot of autistic people make their own unique vocalisations which often serve to block out other auditory input by making that noise the loudest input they are receiving. We need to respect other people’s coping strategies. As long as it is doing us no harm, why force them to stop, creating more anxiety and distress? If someone flaps their hands to calm themselves down after holding it together all day, respect that and don’t try to stop them from doing it. I have never seen personally why hand flapping is considered so socially unacceptable by some. I can think of so many things that I would consider socially unacceptable but wider society deems perfectly fine but they can’t tolerate seeing someone flapping their hands. It’s one thing I really don’t get.

People with autism also benefit from extensive support (where available). This support can enable them to fulfil their potential but it doesn’t mean they are no longer autistic. I benefited hugely from the social skills sessions I attended in secondary school but I am still autistic. Yes, as a child, in home videos, I came across as very noticeably autistic (lots of hand clapping and running around in circles) and now, as an adult, I just come across as shy and socially awkward to most people (unless they work in the autism field) until you get to know me a bit better but that’s down to years of hard work. Another thing I find ironic is that, with the recent Government cuts, a lot of autistic children in both mainstream and special schools are having their support reduced precisely because they have benefited so much from that same support. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I find it interesting that most people believe that the people who have grown out of their autism are the extroverts. Toni Braxton claims that her son is now a “social butterfly”. Whilst there are a lot of people with autism who do present as socially awkward, conversely some of the most charming and sociable people I know are autistic. The media has done a lot of damage by portraying autism as introversion. Yes, a lot of people on the spectrum are introverts but there are lots of extroverts on the spectrum too and also a lot of introverts who are not autistic. It is not impossible for people with autism to make friends or to keep them. It is stereotypes like this that can do so much damage to our community. I have read accounts from women who have gone for a diagnostic assessment only to be told that they cannot be autistic because they made eye contact with the psychiatrist who was assessing them or because they are married. One man was told that he cannot be autistic because he works full time as a highly paid professional. Prejudice is still very much in existence when it comes to autism. There are still far too many professionals who believe that autism is a childhood condition and that, if you weren’t diagnosed before your 18th birthday, you’re obviously not autistic. People whose autism is not picked up until adulthood often have mental health issues such as depression from working so hard to fit in and never feeling like they can truly be themselves.

Lastly, misdiagnosis can and does happen although it is nowhere near as common as some people would have you believe (mainly the people who believe autism is just an excuse for poor parenting but that’s a whole other topic!) I once came across someone on an autism forum that had never experienced a meltdown or shutdown, never had obsessions, was very adept at reading body language and social cues, had no sensory issues, did not have any urges to stim and strongly felt that they had been misdiagnosed which we all agreed with but I think he was a very rare case. If anyone truly feels they have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition but do not have any of the symptoms any more, I would suggest speaking to your Doctor or the person who diagnosed you as you were most likely misdiagnosed. Although I have changed a lot since my initial diagnosis, I know that I would still receive the same diagnosis today if I went for a reassessment because my brain hasn’t changed since my last assessment. Well actually I would now be given a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder Level 1 given that Aspergers has now been absorbed into the spectrum as a whole which, in my opinion, was the best thing that could have happened but that’s for another day!

So Toni Braxton’s son, unless misdiagnosed in the first place, is still autistic. Given that I don’t think she ever accepted her son’s condition in the first place (she was quoted as saying that his autism was a punishment from God for a previous abortion-it’s pretty distressing to know that some people still consider autism or other disabilities as punishments), I think her eagerness to assert that his autism has now vanished is related to that. More than likely, Diezel, like most teenagers on the spectrum, has devised his own coping strategies and grown into his autism. I am sure he will grow into a fine young man who hopefully accepts his condition and works with it to achieve his full potential.

 

My thoughts on the autism and vaccination debate

Firstly, apologies for not having posted in a while. I am getting married next Saturday and my mind has been pretty occupied with that. I’ve also been very busy at work recently. As a consequence, my blog has been a little neglected but I decided it was definitely due an update.

This is a topic I have debated very seriously over whether to cover in this blog. I tend to shy away from confrontation and this topic is one which tends to lend itself to confrontation. However, I do believe it is a topic that needs discussion and I am going to do my best to write as articulate a post as I can surrounding this issue.

I have been a member of several Aspergers groups on Facebook ever since I first joined back in 2007. Every couple of weeks, someone will post an article claiming that autism and vaccines, in particular the MMR vaccine, are linked and that autism is essentially vaccine damage. Since the release of the documentary film Vaxxed, which features the now discredited research by Doctor Wakefield on the links between the MMR vaccine and autism, these links to articles have become a lot more frequent.

Now let me start off by clarifying that I do believe that there are some children and indeed some adults who are sensitive to vaccinations. Everybody’s immune system is individual and what might cause simply a sore arm in one person can lead to fevers and indeed lasting physical or neurological issues, such as what has been happening in some cases with the cervical cancer vaccine. However, I do not believe that vaccines and autism are linked for two primary reasons.

Firstly, it is now pretty much universally accepted that autism has a significant genetic component. Environmental triggers are almost certainly implicated too but these almost certainly happen in utero. Autism is a neurological condition. It affects the brain’s wiring. Our brains have always been autistic-an autistic person is born autistic and dies autistic. It’s a cradle to grave condition. It may appear obvious at different stages of a person’s life-someone with classic autism may start displaying stereotypical autistic behaviours at the age of 18 months whereas people on the Aspergers end of the spectrum can go undetected without a diagnosis well into adulthood. However, pretty much every parent of someone on the spectrum I have come across, whether through my work or my interactions in the autistic community online, realised very early on that their baby was different. I had my vision checked when I was still in hospital as my mother was concerned that I may be blind because I wasn’t focusing on her face. Proof that my aversion to eye contact was present from birth. I have lost count of the number of posts online I have read from relieved parents who have finally received a long awaited and fought for diagnosis where they mention that they were aware from when their child was just weeks old that there was something different about them. The crucial thing is that these subtle signs of autism are present before the age at which the MMR is given. There are also autistic people who have never been vaccinated.

Secondly autism has always been around. Diagnosis rates are higher now but that’s mainly because the medical profession are becoming so much more aware of the spectrum. Until relatively recently, most people with severe learning disabilities who were also autistic did not have their autism recognised because it was assumed that their learning disabilities were the cause of any other symptoms they were displaying. On the other end of the spectrum, people with Aspergers were often just viewed as pedantic geeks or nerds whose problems with social interactions were simply a result of being so academically minded. In the past 20 or so years, it has been recognised that autism encompasses a far wider spectrum than previously thought and people on both ends of the spectrum who may not have received a diagnosis 20 years ago are now receiving them. That doesn’t mean that the increase is down to the MMR vaccine particularly as a lot of adults receiving late diagnoses did not have the MMR as children because it hadn’t been invented back then.

There is a rare condition called Childhood Disintegrative Disorder which is considered by many to be on the autistic spectrum. This differs from the other autistic conditions because, in this condition, there is a period of regression and loss of skills at the age of around 18 months to 2 years. I believe that most cases where the MMR vaccine is blamed for autism are probably cases of CDD. Because the MMR is given at the same age, it is easy to assume that the 2 are linked but the regression would have taken place anyway even without the vaccine. Another important thing to take into account is that the social skills impacted by autism are only seen to be impaired when it comes to the age where other children use them, in play with toys and play with other children. Again, this usually coincides with the age where the MMR vaccine is given.

I can understand the need by parents to have a firm answer as to what has caused their child’s autism. From their point of view, they have just been given a diagnosis which is massive and has lifelong consequences. To then be told that the professionals can’t pinpoint why your child is autistic must be devastating. Humans love answers and there isn’t any with autism. However, this doesn’t mean that the vaccine is to blame. The danger of course is that a significant number of people are so scared that vaccines might cause autism that they refuse to vaccinate their children. Consider how this makes people on the spectrum feel. To say that you would rather your child catch an illness that can be fatal rather than risk autism is basically saying that autism is a fate worse than death, which is not true and deeply hurtful to everyone living with autism on a daily basis. Refusing vaccination also has a significant impact on immunosuppressed individuals for whom a relatively minor illness can cause serious complications that could be fatal.

Of course, whether or not to vaccinate your child is entirely the decision of the parent. I would just hate to think that fear of autism was behind refusal of vaccinations which can have serious consequences. Autism is a hard condition to live with but it’s not something that people should fear to such an extent that they are willing to put their kid’s lives at risk. What we should really be asking is why is autism seen as a fate worse than death and what should we, as a society, be doing to change that? I’ll leave you all with that thought.

My Thoughts On The A Word

As many of my UK readers will probably be aware, the BBC recently aired a 6 part drama series called The A Word. The programme featured an extended family, at the centre of which was a young boy called Joe who was autistic. I had seen The A Word advertised several times in the fortnight prior to the first episode airing and I felt it would be a good series to watch.

The series follows Joe and his extended family through the diagnostic process and examines their feelings towards Joe’s autism as they go through the journey from denial to anger to acceptance. There were some aspects of Joe’s condition that really resonated with me. Firstly, his obsession with music and listening to the same tracks repetitively. As most people who have lived with me can verify, I can listen to the same song hundreds of times in a row without getting bored. I found it very fascinating when the speech therapist said to Joe’s parents that his constant repetition of song lyrics was his way of shutting the world out. I remember attending a training session on autism in a professional capacity, hearing the trainer say that the ultimate way to block sensory stimulation for autistics growing up today is through personal headphones and IPods and suddenly realising that’s exactly what I do on a daily basis. Yes I enjoy listening to music but it also serves a much more specific purpose for me in that it allows me to retreat into my own inner world and cuts out certainly all other auditory stimulation. Without music, I would definitely struggle a lot more than I do on public transport, for example. Music is my number one coping strategy for life in general.

His withdrawal from activities always resonated with me. He does display destructive behaviour on a couple of occasions, once when he rips all the photos from the photo album and trashes the living room and then when he trashes his classroom after his makeshift au pair Magda is forced to leave due to issues with her immigration status. On most occasions, however, he isolates himself and plays on his own, even sitting on the floor seperately from all the other children at his own birthday party. He is a sensory avoider rather than a sensory seeker, hence the headphones all the time, and this reminded me so much of how I was as a child. I still avoid certain types of social environments such as bars or nightclubs because the amount of people and noise is too overwhelming for me.

I have seen several discussions online in which people on the spectrum have commented that they feel the views expressed by Joe’s parents in the programme are too harsh, particularly the view expressed by Joe’s dad that he wants a “normal child” in the episode where he talks about wanting another child. However, I actually think the programme showed an honest portrayal of the process of accepting a diagnosis of autism for your child. Very few families accept straight away that their relative has autism-it’s often a very long journey and sadly not everybody ┬áreaches the stage where they can see autism as a part of who their child is and seek the positives in the condition. I would also like to point out that I have met a lot of people on the spectrum who cannot accept it themselves and lots of us have times where we wish to be “normal”-if we cannot accept it and embrace it all the time, how can we expect families of newly diagnosed children to do so? I thought the progression was sensitively portrayed. At first, Joe’s mother refuses to allow the word “autistic” to be used in her house. In the final episode, when Joe, as happens to a significant percentage of children with autism, wanders off and is declared missing, you can see her finally voicing to the small rural community that Joe has autism and explaining how this may mean he can be unresponsive when people call his name. The crisis forces her to accept Joe’s differences. I did appreciate the sensitivity and tolerance that Joe’s older half sister, Rebecca, displayed towards her brother. In fact, Rebecca and Jo’s uncle and auntie Eddy and Nicola were the three characters who embraced Joe as he was and had no desire to change him. I thought this was refreshing and is similar to most families in real life. You will always find some people are more accepting than others whereas some, like Joe’s mum, confuse wanting the best for their child with wanting a “normal child”.

What was plainly obvious to me was that Joe’s parents loved him dearly-this was never in question. It is because they love him so much that they are so scared for his future. His mum is determined to find him the best therapy available and her obsession with helping Joe means that Rebecca feels emotionally neglected and ends up turning to her uncle when she has sex rather than her parents because they are so busy searching for people that can help Joe. Rebecca’s opinion was that Joe is the same boy he has always been which was charming to see. She is annoyed that her mum cannot see this. The programme deals brilliantly with the plethora of emotions and opinions that a diagnosis of autism brings but at the core of it all was love and devotion. By the end of the series, there were signs that Joe’s mum was now beginning to accept Joe for who he was which was the best ending.

Another criticism levelled towards the programme from parents going through the diagnostic process for their children is that the diagnosis seemed to be given very quickly. In reality, depending on where you live, a diagnosis of autism in the UK can take up to 4 years from when parents first suspect that their child may be autistic to when an official diagnosis is given. This means that, by the time autism is diagnosed, most parents have already accepted that this is what the diagnosis will be, unlike Joe’s parents in the programme. I think this is generally a case of artistic licence to fit in with the timings of the programme. I do think it would have been interesting to have a set of parents who were relieved at the diagnosis rather then initially in denial though.

Others have expressed the opinion that the character with autism should have been a girl or from an African, Asian or Far Eastern background as these factors often make diagnosis harder and cultural factors mean that autism is treated very differently in certain communities and thus under diagnosed in certain communities. Some people thought that the programme should have explored an adult receiving a diagnosis rather then a young child. Much as I agree that exploring different options would be interesting, I did think the programme was brilliant anyway. I particularly liked the fact that it showed people’s misconceptions about autism. Joe’s grandad Maurice says when he first hears the news, “But he talks, he smiles, he looks people in the eye. How can he be autistic?” I know that the producers of the programme worked very closely with the National Autistic Society to ensure that they portrayed every aspect of autism as accurately as possible and I thought it was great that this misconception was addressed early on. This misconception can be a very damaging one-I have come across people in the autism community online who have been told by medical professionals that they cannot have autism because they can maintain eye contact with the professional who is assessing them. These are people who are desperately fighting for a diagnosis because they are struggling only for a diagnosis to be dismissed because they can look into someone’s eyes. It sounds unbelievable but sadly it’s true.

Overall I loved the programme. I would love for there to be a second series following Joe as a teenager to explore the many issues with puberty and the spectrum and also to explore the mental health problems that often come from years of feeling different from others, such as depression and anxiety. Joe did not seem to care that he was different during this series because of his age but I can guarantee, from my own experience, that, as he grew, he probably would start noticing and caring and it would be interesting to see how this was tackled in a separate series.

My thoughts on World Autism Awareness Day

Today marks World Autism Awareness Day. Over the past couple of days, I have noticed a lot of my Facebook friends have changed their profile pictures to represent this. Here are my thoughts on the whole concept of Autism Awareness Day.

Personally I feel awareness of autism is actually pretty high. What is lacking, in my humble opinion, is understanding. Most people I have come across have heard about autism, seen documentaries on it or known someone on the autistic spectrum. What a lot of people struggle to do is realise that every single individual who is on the autistic spectrum is exactly that-individual. My own experience of my autism is completely different to the experiences of the people I have worked with in residential care over the years. All of us suffer from stereotypes. People like myself are often dismissed and told that we cannot have autism because we are able to communicate verbally (even though to do so a lot of the time is extremely difficult and stress inducing) and have formed close relationships. People who have a learning disability alongside their autism are often assumed incompetent and this is what leads to a lot of challenging behaviour. How frustrated and angry would you be if people never thought to seek your opinion on something because they believed you had nothing to say because you communicate through other means, rather than verbally? Both ends of the spectrum and everything in between need a lot more understanding.

People also need to understand that autism is extremely complex. We may be able to do something one day and then, the next time we attempt to perform exactly the same task, it fails because our brains just can’t process it at that particular time. I have noticed that it is this particular trait of mine that has the tendency to annoy people the most. People don’t seem to get how I can be able to do something one day and not the next. I don’t blame them, to be honest, as I struggle to understand it myself a lot of the time. It took me 30 tries to be able to fill in a paying in slip for the bank-I was equally as frustrated as my mum at the end of it. Please don’t shout at us if we are not able to do something we have done before. Please understand that our processing system struggles sometimes, particularly if we are tired or anxious and, for me personally, knowing that someone is getting frustrated with me makes me anxious and thus even slower.

I also feel that, while World Autism Awareness Day is a good thing to have, what we should aspire to be as a society is one which is so understanding of people on the spectrum that we don’t need our own day to educate people because everybody already has an understanding. I believe we are closer to achieving this goal all the time. Blogs like mine have a part to play in this. I have always believed that you cannot moan about someone’s ignorance on any topic unless you have done your best to educate them on it. Yes sadly there will always be people who, despite education, remain ignorant but the majority of people are decent human beings and are receptive to education. I have been thanked so many times from people who have read my blog and said that it has taught them so much about Aspergers, although, as I always remind everyone, we are all individuals with our own traits, hopes, dreams and fears.

I wish everyone a Happy World Autism Awareness (Understanding) Day. I hope this blog post goes some way in helping to promote understanding.