Apologies for my late seasonal greetings, but I’d just like to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers every blessing for 2023 🙂
This week marks 6 whole years of my blog (where on earth has the time gone?! :O ) so it’s time for a bit of an appreciation post!
Thank you all so much for your continued support and readership this past year. 2022 saw 73,000 of you guys stop by to read my posts- a new record for this site! I am truly honoured and humbled by your kind words every year about how much this blog means to you guys. I could do none of this without your love and support ❤
Last week in Ireland saw the return of the annual international Rose of Tralee festival, and with it one of the first openly autistic Rose contestants- the Toronto Rose Maysen Tinkler.
But first things first, what is the Rose of Tralee?
For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Rose of Tralee is a festival celebrated every year in the town of Tralee in Co. Kerry in Ireland. First held in 1959, the festival was conceived to increase tourism in Tralee and to encourage expats to return home. The festival serves as a pageant of sorts to select the Rose of Tralee- a young woman of Irish heritage who embodies the virtues of Mary the title character in the eponymous song which the festival derives it’s name from. The chosen Rose should be “lovely and fair”, chosen for her personality to serve as role model and ambassador to Ireland for the duration of her reign. The festival is billed as a celebration of the “aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage” of modern young women.
This years festival introduced us to the first autistic rose Maysen Tinkler from Toronto. Maysen, like me, was diagnosed with autism as an adult, finding the diagnosis a relief after years of feeling like an outsider. Refusing to be limited by autism, she decided to enter the competition to challenge stereotypes, providing visibility for autistic women everywhere. If you’re in Ireland (or have a really good VPN blocker) you can see her interview here round the 28 minute mark available until the 23rd of September.
Interestingly, she was not the only potential autistic candidate this year as there were two candidates, one in the Kerry selection and one in the Dublin selection who both discussed their diagnosis to raise awareness about the condition. Jennifer O’ Conner who competed in the Kerry Rose selection even recited a spoken piece she wrote called ‘Autistic Joy‘ about her experiences of autism and the festival over the years and the joy that is often overlooked:
As autism is so poorly understood in women, it’s amazing to have this representation in this international platform for young autistic girls to look up to.
This week I’d like to talk to you about one of my specialist interests- the Eurovision Song Contest, as this year one of the entrants is on the autistic spectrum! 😀
So, first things first, what exactly is the Eurovision Song Contest?
The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is an annual international songwriting contest organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that was first established in 1956 as a means of bringing divided European nations together through music in the wake of World War II. Originally, only 7 countries participated, but over the years musicians representing 52 countries have competed across Europe, Israel and Australia (don’t get me started on the logic for that one…)
Each participating country submits one original song under 3 minutes in length, and performs the song live on stage to the world, competing to win a trophy and the chance for their nation to host the contest the following year. There are two semi finals and one grand final, all held over one week, usually in May. The voting is a 50/50 split from audience televotes and panels of industry experts from each participating country.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Eurovision is very popular in Europe with an average annual audience of just under 200 million viewers. Over the years it has grown from a simple song contest to a huge spectacle with elaborate staging and often crazy performances from bread baking Russian grannies, to metal monsters, dancing drag queens, to flapping puppets (sorry again for that one Europe!), to powerful songs that unite us and capture the hearts of an entire continent.
We get it, you love Eurovision Aoife, so where’s the autism link?
This year, the Australian delegation (we’ll let the geographical issues slide for a few paragraphs) are sending autistic singer Sheldon Riley to the contest in Turin, Italy with his song ‘Not The Same‘ where he talks about his struggles in life, and particularly his struggles growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can check out the song here:
Diagnosed at 6 years old, Sheldon was told that he would never be “normal”, that he would never achieve his dreams, never have a job, friends or a romantic partner. Instead, he has defied the odds and went on to compete in several song competitions in Australia in addition to America’s Got Talent. As part of his stage persona, Sheldon incorporates elaborate crystal masks into his performances to hide his face to allow him to focus on his singing as he often feels judged for his appearance, a shield to allow him to perform, taking autistic masking to a new level. With his participation in Eurovision however, Sheldon finally feels confident to start ditching his mask to embrace who he really is. You can also hear Sheldon talking about his experiences of autism to BBC in the video below:
Sheldon isn’t however the first autist to take to the Eurovision stage. In 2015, Finland sent the rock band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät comprised of disabled musicians with Down Syndrome and Autism. To this day it holds the record for the shortest ever song performed at Eurovision:
On another level, Greta Thunberg’s mother, Malena Ernman, who is an outspoken advocate for autism awareness, represented her native Sweden in the Eurovision in 2009!
Whilst these are the only confirmed examples of autists competing in the Eurovision, it’s quite possible that other past artists may also have been on the spectrum (knowingly or otherwise) but they have not revealed their diagnosis.
Fun Fact– yours truly contributed to last years 4th place Icelandic entry as part of an online virtual choir of 1000 fans, so you could say that one other autist has appeared on the Eurovision stage (in a roundabout way 😛 )
Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂
Have a lovely weekend and enjoy the competition tomorrow night if you’re watching!
This week I’d like to discuss something that I’ve been wondering about for a while, whether Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain was on the autistic spectrum.
As a teenager in the mid noughties, I discovered the music of Nirvana during a particularly turbulent time in my life (the joys of being an undiagnosed teenage aspie). Kurt’s words brought me great comfort as he verbalized so many emotions that I was struggling to identify. Reading more about his life, I really identified with him and felt a sense of kinship- his experiences of bullying and struggling to fit in as a teen, his shyness and intense sensitivity, his struggles with mental health and how he was so often misunderstood by the world.
After receiving my Asperger’s diagnosis in 2014, I became more familiar with autistic traits, and I often wondered if maybe Kurt had been on the spectrum- a question that many people have pondered on various messaging boards across the internet. Kurt was a quirky individual, often aloof and preferring social isolation, regularly rejecting social norms as many autists are prone to. He was an extremely sensitive individual who often struggled to balance empathy and apathy as he cared so deeply about the world and everyone in it. His struggles with addiction are well documented, something that is increasingly associated with autists. Kurt also suffered from an agonizing, unexplained stomach complaint. Many autists suffer from co-morbid digestive issues, issues that can be exacerbated by intense stress- the kind that would be worsened by such a meteoric rise to fame like Kurt’s.
Interestingly, Kurt’s widow Courtney Love is mildly autistic- if Kurt was indeed on the spectrum, this could explain their intense connection and turbulent relationship. Some of my closest friends are on the spectrum and the sense of connection I feel with them is completely different to my other friendships- we understand each other more than anyone else ever could, like matching locks and keys clicking perfectly together.
Having recently finished Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s memoir ‘The Storyteller‘ (for any Nirvana or Foo Fighter’s fans I highly recommend it 🙂 ), Dave’s personal stories from life on the road with Kurt have really reaffirmed for me what I had long suspected. In the book, Dave talks of how the huge crowds that gathered to see Nirvana in tiny venues at the peak of their fame would drive him to breaking point, constantly crawling onto the stage and interrupting the set. Kurt would reach a point in the show where he would become completely frustrated and seemingly overwhelmed with the feral fans and he would proceed to break things around him like instruments, soundboards, anything he could find to vent his frustrations. As Dave described in the book, when Kurt got frustrated, things were going to get destroyed. To the media, this seemed like a deliberate rock and roll statement, but Dave assures the reader that it was no show.
Reading these passages felt so much like someone describing an outsiders view of a meltdown. So many times during a meltdown I’ve felt the intense need to pick things up and throw them or break them just to disperse some of the pent up emotions from sensory overload (my maths book was thrown at the wall soooo many times when I couldn’t understand my homework!). When your brain is overloaded from sensory input, it pushes you to physically output energy to try to redirect your overload and expend some of the excess energy coursing through your brain. Stimming is the classic example, but sometimes the physical urge manifests in other ways like throwing things, punching, kicking etc.
Kurt’s quotes and lyrics have always resonated strongly with me. As many of you may have noticed, my homepage is emblazoned with his immortal words: “Trying to be someone else is a waste of the person that you are.” Kurt’s lyrics are ablaze with the pain of someone who always struggled with their identity, never felt at ease, never felt like they belonged. In the song Dumb, Kurt gently lilts “I’m not like them, but I can pretend,” a sentiment that resonates with so many of us autists. Perhaps his life could have turned out differently had there been a better understanding of neurodiversity during his lifetime ❤
Wow- I cannot believe it’s been 5 years!😱 Where has the time gone?!
205 posts, roughly 1000 regular readers, 123,000 views and 94000 visitors from almost every country on the planet! 🤯
I am truly humbled by your continued readership and support over the last 5 years. When I first started out I never dreamed that my audience would grow very much from it’s humble beginnings as a side project to keep me entertained as I was searching for employment. I don’t think I’ve managed to keep any other project tipping away for this long- except perhaps when I spent 8 years persistently trying to find a way to get 100% completion on ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘ for PlayStation 2 (turns out the game itself was glitched all along 🙈)!
Sorry I’ve been very quiet lately but the weeks leading up to Christmas were very busy and stressful so I’ve been taking some downtime, but I hope to be back on schedule with a brand new post next week 🥰
Thank you all so much once again for your continued love, support and encouraging comments ❤
Just taking this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2022. In spite of all the lockdowns, this year has been quite good to me- the blog hit a milestone 100,000 all times views a couple of months ago! 😱🥳
Thank you all so much for your continued readership, support and kind messages this year. I read them all and appreciate every one.🥰
Happy New Year! 😀 Please God 2021 will be a lot kinder to us than 2020 has been (current Irish lockdown aside 😛 ).
It’s time again for my annual reader appreciation post! 😀
Can you believe it’s been 4 years already?! 😱 I know I say this every year, but I am genuinely shocked that I’m still here and that you’re all still interested in listening to what I have to say! 😂
Thank you all so much for sticking with me whether you’re new to the blog or have been with me over the last few years. I greatly appreciate your readership and messages. Particularly during these difficult times, I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you this year; you’ve given me many warm fuzzies to lighten the darker days 🤗.
I’ll have a brand new post for you next week so stay tuned! 🙂
Wishing each and every one of you all the best for 2021- we’ll make it a good one!
Leading on from my recent post about autism and COVID-19, I’d like to focus in on the issue of face coverings and autism.
With the debate raging in the media as to the true efficacy of face masks, there has been little discussion as to the impact that face coverings may have for autists. Face masks are not fun for anyone (except for maybe playing dress up), but for autists, they can pose a serious sensory challenge. Overheating, irritating materials against sensitive skin, the uncomfortable sensation of elastic bearing down on your ears, and last but not least, the feeling of suffocation from the mask pressing against your nose and mouth.
Thankfully in many countries such as Ireland, guidelines have been issued for people with sensory needs that do not require them to wear a face mask if they are unable to do so, however, if you can, it is recommended that you should. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen viral videos of anxious people berating those who do not wear face coverings, which can further compound anxieties for autists should they be targeted. In these difficult times, whilst I know it can be hard not to judge people when they don’t wear a face mask in public spaces, try to spare a thought for autists. Autism is an invisible disability after all; when you don’t see a mask, consider what else you may not be seeing.
It is also worth noting that face masks can create further issues for autists as they act as a communication barrier. As autists struggle to read nonverbal cues and facial expressions, wearing a face mask can make communicating all the more difficult- especially given struggles with eye contact. So don’t judge us too harshly if we completely misread social situations with greater frequency than normal 😉
Interestingly, in my own experience, I have discovered that face masks have an unexpected advantage in that they have actually helped to suppress meltdowns and have kept me from getting overwhelmed! When you hyperventilate (as I often do during a meltdown), the carbon dioxide levels in your blood drop as you are over-breathing. This can also cause your oxygen levels to drop. The restrictive nature of the mask creates a seal around the face causing you to inhale more carbon dioxide when you hyperventilate which will help to re-balance your blood gas levels and calm you down- just like breathing into a paper bag.
So ironically whilst the face mask may trigger a meltdown, it can equally help to offset one! 😂
This week I’d like talk about some of the things I wished I had known about autism when I was first diagnosed. There’s so much to learn about the autistic spectrum, but here are just a selection of things I personally wish I had known:
Autism is neurological not psychological– This is something that really stems from a lack of proper education about autism in the world. Because autism is so behaviour orientated, there is often a lot of onus on the psychology of the condition, and as such, people can be very dismissive of it. “If you just did this..”, “if you just tried to fit in…”- it’s not that simple. The autistic brain is wired completely differently to the neurotypical brain. There are chemical differences, differences in multiple structures in the brain, even differences in the number of brain connections. Behavioural changes can be made and coping strategies developed, but we need to be aware of the biological aspect- you can’t just swap out your brain for another. I wish I had understood that my own brain was hardwired to drop me into unfortunate situations growing up!
Autism is a different way of thinking– The autistic brain is built differently, so therefore it thinks differently. It doesn’t mean that autistic thinking is not “normal”, just different.
Autism is a spectrum- I know this one may seem silly as we’ve all heard of the autistic spectrum, but I wished I had known what being on the spectrum really meant. I had often heard the phrase “oh so-and-so is on the spectrum”, but took it to be a catch all term for people who were a bit odd, didn’t quite learn like everyone else, didn’t quite act like everyone else- basically people who weren’t quite “normal”. I never understood the minutia of the spectrum, that there were high functioning and lower functioning forms of autism. I wish I had known that traits were highly variable, that not everyone with autism is the same and that every case is unique. Perhaps if I had known this, I would have been far more understanding and less dismissive of my fellow autists growing up.
Autists do experience empathy– We just may not be the best at expressing it. In fact as I’ve previously discussed, research suggests that we feel emotions on an even greater scale than neurotypicals.
Autists want love– Asexuality is often thought to go hand in hand with autism. As I’ve previously discussed, most autists want to be loved, we’re just not sure how to communicate that or navigate the complexities of romantic relationships. Yes, there are a number of asexual individuals on the spectrum (as there equally are in the neurotypical population), but as with the spectrum of autistic traits, there is also a spectrum of sexuality.
That I wasn’t alone– For much of my life I felt like I didn’t fit in, like the world just didn’t understand me. I was always saying or doing the wrong thing, regularly subjected to looks of disappointment and dismay followed by lectures about my behaviour. When I would meltdown, I was ridiculed or punished as I sat there baffled by my own reactions, unable to explain to myself or others what had happened. Everything changed once I got my diagnosis; suddenly my behaviour was not so abnormal after all. There were articles, books and blogs filled with thousands of similar stories to mine. There was a name, an explanation, a community- I never have to feel alone again.
That I was “normal” (whatever that means) – As a result of being undiagnosed and misunderstood, I was constantly berating myself for not conforming to the accepted “norm”. The world told me that I was weird, that I was “wrong”, where nothing I ever seemed to do outside of academics seemed to be “right”. Had I truly known and understood that there is no such thing as “normal”, had I, and the world, known that being autistic is “normal” for millions of people, my life could have been so much simpler.