My Last Post of 2014

I cannot believe that 2014 is almost over! As I get older, each year seems to go quicker than the one before. I would like to thank each and every one of my readers and followers for supporting my blog over the past 16 months. It has grown and developed further than I had ever dreamed possible when I wrote that first post back in August 2013!

2014, like every year, has had it’s ups and downs. The ups include my boyfriend finally gaining his British citizenship, a lovely holiday in Turkey and getting our adorable kitten Bailey, who turns one a week today (can’t believe how much he’s grown since we first got him!) The downs mainly revolve around disappointment because I have not achieved something I set out to achieve. I am looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings. I have a couple of New Years Resolutions that I am determined to stick to this time. I need to get my body into shape and I need to improve my fitness and energy levels. I also need to go for things more rather than talking myself out of trying new things.

I wish each one of my readers all the best for 2015. I know that New Years Eve/New Years Day can be hard for people on the spectrum who suffer with depression or who are not yet at the stage in their diagnosis journey where they can accept their diagnosis and start working with it rather than fighting against it. It is very tempting to think that, because things have been a certain way for however many years, they will always be that way. However, I am a firm believer that things can and do get better. I am a completely different person in terms of attitude than I was even 5 years ago. My Aspergers hasn’t changed but my thoughts towards it have. I still get down about it sometimes but I have grown to appreciate my unique way of thinking and the insights my condition gives me that some people don’t even think about. Remember that you are valuable and worth something to this world, no matter how bad you may feel at a particular time.

As we go into 2015, I would like to ask my readers what they would like to see discussed on this blog. I have written about many topics but would welcome further ideas. I will endeavour to fulfil your requests. Please just let me know what you feel needs addressing.

All the best and Happy New Year everyone!

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Autism and Christmas

Firstly, I would like to apologise for not posting for a couple of weeks-I rely on a Wifi dongle to blog when I am at work as the 3G coverage is so limited and, although it might be enough to browse Facebook for 5 minutes, it is nowhere near reliable enough to write and then submit a blog post. Unfortunately my Wifi dongle ran out of bandwidth for the month earlier than I was expecting it to. I am now back at my mum’s where there is Wifi so I am back to blogging again!

As Christmas Day is almost here, I thought it would be nice if I wrote a seasonal blog post about how people on the autistic spectrum cope with Christmas Day. Christmas Day can be very challenging for many people with autism and their families. A lot of people with autism struggle to cope with changes to routine and Christmas Day is so often unstructured with extra people coming for lunch and dinner. One simple thing that really helps is pre warning your relative with autism that there will be extra people for dinner for this one day and perhaps writing a social story based on relatives coming to celebrate Christmas with you. If you will be spending Christmas Day at somebody else’s house, again warn your relative with autism that this is what will happen but remember to consider carefully when you will let them know. Some people with autism like to know weeks in advance but, for others, letting them know so early will just cause extra stress and anxiety, particularly if they have no concept of time.

Presents can also be a huge issue for those of us on the spectrum. A lot of us don’t like surprises and I remember reading a recent post on a Facebook group about a mother whose son had asked his parents to take him shopping so he could buy his own Christmas presents, help to wrap them and then unwrap them the same day because he couldn’t cope with not knowing what he might get. There are some people with autism who enjoy receiving the same gift year after year because it is predictable and comfortable. This also combines with lacking the patience to wait, something else which a lot of people with autism experience. I have read stories of parents of children with autism having to ensure that new toys that require batteries have those batteries in place before the present is opened as their children simply don’t have enough patience to wait for batteries to be found and then placed in the toy. They want to play with the toy immediately and reject it instantly if it appears to be broken, sometimes experiencing meltdowns because they don’t understand why it doesn’t work. Others on the spectrum, like myself, have no problems with waiting for presents but struggle with thanking other people for them. I will thank someone for a present and genuinely mean it but this won’t translate to my facial expression and voice which will remain deadpan and monotone. It is difficult for people to understand that actually we are very grateful for our presents, just not always very enthusiastic about it!

Christmas decorations can be a source of sensory overload to many people on the spectrum. Bright and flashing Christmas lights, a variety of coloured baubles and tinsel that gets absolutely everywhere can be fun for lots of people, myself included, but, for people on the spectrum who are hypersensitive to visual stimuli, they can be a source of great distress. I am not advocating that all households with an autistic person or people living in them never put Christmas decorations up but perhaps leave your relatives bedroom plain of decoration and only have certain rooms of the house decorated so their exposure to stimuli is limited. For some children on the spectrum, indeed young children in general, Santa can be quite frightening. Some children with autism have strong aversions to facial hair and some have a strong fear, even to phobia levels, of a particular colour. If the particular colour that causes distress is red, you won’t have much luck getting them near Santa!

Another source of stress at this particular time of year for some people on the spectrum is Christmas dinner. As mentioned on this blog before, a lot of people with autism have a limited diet and are often described as fussy eaters. Some people with autism will happily sit down to a Christmas dinner with their families-others will refuse to break their usual eating habits for Christmas Day and follow their usual diet. My advice is not to engage in any battle that will leave both of you feeling more upset and stressed. If they won’t eat Christmas dinner, don’t force them. Christmas should be about families being together, rather than everybody eating the same thing.

Overall, I would recommend trying to make Christmas as peaceful and stress free as possible for yourself and/or the person you know with autism. If you are on the spectrum yourself, respect your limitations at this incredibly social time of year. If you know that the effort of going to a Christmas party and socialising all night will leave you exhausted and unable to function the next day, consider whether it is really necessary for you to go. If you have a relative or friend on the spectrum, listen to what they are trying to communicate to you about how much they can cope with and what they can or can’t tolerate. This simple act of respecting limitations can make the Christmas period a lot less stressful for everyone.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate it and Happy Holidays for those who don’t celebrate Christmas. I hope it all goes smoothly and I will be back next Monday for my last blog of 2014!

My research I did today on decision making in autism

Today I participated in a research study based in London. The study had been recommended to me by a friend of mine who had taken part in it a few weeks ago. There are two parts to the study-the first part focuses on whether people with autism have increased auditory perception and on the differences in how autistic people and people who don’t have autism respond to faces. The second part of the study focuses on the perceptual differences in autism and how these affect decision making compared to people without autism. It was a really fascinating day and I was paid for my time and my travel expenses which was a bonus!

I met the researcher in charge of the study at the local Tube station-I had requested to meet him there because my sense of direction is so poor that I don’t trust myself to navigate the streets of London even though the building was only a 5 minute walk from the station! In the first study, I had to put on some headphones and listen to some auditory recordings focusing firstly on just the women in the recording and then solely the men and answer some comprehension questions afterwards. It was really hard for me to focus on just the one group and the sounds were getting very jumbled in my head but I didn’t do too poorly on that task as far as I know. Then I had another task where I had to distinguish between a dog’s bark and a lion’s roar from a millisecond sound clip and then say whether I had also heard the sound of a car mixed in with them. I found this very challenging as, to me, the lion’s roar and the car engine sounded the same! I then had a hearing test and the results of that were that my hearing in both ears is very good. The second part of the task featured several screens of 2 playing cards with female faces on them and I had to choose which face I preferred and there were multiple options as to why I chose that face. Some were based purely on aesthetics whilst other options dealt more with how friendly the person looked. That was really interesting!

Then I went into the room next door and did an IQ test. I didn’t get the full breakdown but the second researcher told me afterwards that I had scored brilliantly on the verbal reasoning sections but my block design score was extremely poor as I only got one block design right. It was rather embarrassing being sat there knowing how the blocks are supposed to fit together but not being able to manipulate them in the right way. As I have mentioned on here before, I don’t like making mistakes and failing a task like this in front of 2 researchers was rather awkward. The researcher said at the end that my lack of ability in this task relates to my everyday problems with direction and spatial awareness and that I am definitely more skilled verbally. He said that the extreme discrepancy between scores made it difficult for him to find an exact match with someone without autism to assess our differences in decision making. Who said I make life easy? Lol! After the IQ test, I had to do a number accuracy game where I had to fixate on the centre of a computer screen and there were two boxes (one either side of the screen) with numbers flashing up too quickly to be calculated and I had to guess which box had the highest score. If my guess was correct, it flashed green and, if it was wrong, it flashed red. My accuracy for this ranged between 74% and 77% which was not too bad at all. I was able to look at both boxes at the same time and compare how big or small the figures were to try and work out which scored the highest. I then had to fill in a questionnaire aimed at finding out which autistic traits are most prominent in my manifestation of the condition and then I had another computer exercise where I had to look at a flashing circle and listen to a series of beeps and press one button if the sound and image were in sync and another button if they were not in sync. After this, I went back to the number accuracy exercise but, this time, I had to select the box with the lowest score. In the middle of this, the fire alarm went off so I was a bit distracted at this point! I then went back to the flashing circle and beep exercise and, after that, the experiment was over.

I walked back to the station with 2 of the researchers. I was having a fascinating conversation with one of the researchers, a lovely Greek man. He was telling me how he is trying to broaden autism research away from solely children and explore its impact on adults who have, in the majority of cases, learned how to socialise in what is seen as an appropriate way through learning it as an intellectual skill.

It was a fascinating day and I look forward to eventually receiving the results once the analysis has been done. I hope that it will help people understand more about the unique way in which we perceive the world. I would definitely be interested in taking part in other research studies focusing on adults with conditions on the autistic spectrum and hope to be involved in some more pretty soon.