What I Wished I Knew About Autism

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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:

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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!

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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.Β 

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.

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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.Β 

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.Β 

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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.

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Hope you liked this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚Β 

Enjoy the weekend!Β 

Aoife

Happy Easter 2020!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

In the midst of these trying times, I’d just like to send you all a quick Easter greeting for 2020! πŸ™‚

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I wish I could say that my Easter plans will look like this, however, the reality will unfortunately look a lot more like so:

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Wishing you all a very Happy Easter wherever you are, and hoping that you’re all doing OK during this crisis.

Sending my virtual love to all my Earthlings!

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Aoife

Autism and COVID-19

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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As I am writing to you this week from an Ireland on near total lock down, I’d like to talk to you about the COVID-19 pandemic and how this affects the autistic community. While many autists will be content in isolation, concerns over contracting the virus, disruption to routine and difficulty obtaining preferred foods due to panic shopping can make this time quite stressful.

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Here are some of my top tips for navigating the pandemic on the spectrum:

Try to remain calm– I know, easier said than done for the anxious and over-thinkers, but panicking will solve nothing, and will trigger meltdowns and shutdowns. If you’re struggling with your emotions surrounding the pandemic, try to write them down or talk about them with your family. A problem shared is a problem halved.

Stay positive- I know it’s hard to see the sun through all the cancellations (Eurovision and my recent non-holiday were particularly heavy blows for me), and the rising number of cases, but this shall pass. Try to see the positives of our situation- more time for family, new hobbies, a break from the office the environmental impact of restricted movements etc.

Know the facts– do not allow yourself to get distracted by fake news, this will only make things harder. If you must read about the virus, educate yourself using the official information released by the World Health Organization. Knowledge is power.

Turn off the news/take a break from social media– if you’re the kind of person who get’s easily weighed down by all the fake news and mass hysteria on our airwaves at the moment, just take a step back from the media. Limit and reduce your consumption- perhaps taking a break from social media might help to drown out the panicked buzzing all around you?

Keep busy– this is crucial for the easily bored autistic mind. Cabin fever comes on all too quickly when you’re not adequately entertained, so try to keep yourself occupied. Indulge your specialist interests and hobbies (why not even take up a new one?) take plenty of walks (if you can), sort out all of the items you’ve been procrastinating on your to-do list etc. Find a way to keep both body and mind distracted and the time will fly by!

And most importantly, stick to the following rules for preventing the spread of the virus:

 

 

I know it seems like the world is spinning out of control, but we need to do our best to stay calm to get through this time. We all have to do our bit to combat the virus- sacrificing our routines for a few weeks may seem difficult, but it’s the only way to lock this thing down and stop the spread.

Stay safe everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and the Catherine Noone Controversy

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

This week, I’d like to talk about a highly controversial incident that’s happened this week in Ireland in the run up to our general election on the 8th of February.

 

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Fine Gael election candidate Catherine Noone has gotten herself into hot water this week for making the following comment about Taoiseach (aka our prime minister) Leo Varadker while out on the election trail:

“He’s autistic like, he’s on the spectrum, there’s no doubt about it. He’s uncomfortable socially and he doesn’t always get the in-between bits.”

In the wake of these comments, she initially denied them before a tape emerged of the conversation. Since then, Catherine has apologized profusely to the Taoiseach, which he has accepted, and she will not face suspension or sanction from their political party.

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This entire incident has naturally caused outrage among the autistic community in Ireland that autism was used in such a derogatory way.

The biggest issue here is Catherine’s lack of education about autism and her sweeping stereotypical comments. Most people have a certain percentage of autistic traits, but that does not mean that they are on the spectrum. Moreover, someone can be perfectly at ease in social situations, but can still be autistic.

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In my opinion, I found it quite insulting that this statement would imply that I, as an autist, am like the Taoiseach. I do not appreciate being lumped in the same camp as a man with such a serious lack of empathy for the people over whom he governs. The housing and homelessness crisis, our abysmal health service (despite being a trained medical professional), the death of rural Ireland – the country has been falling apart while the salaries of his cabinet have increased. As I have discussed previously, contrary to popular belief, autists are quite empathetic. We may not always know how to convey empathy, but it does not mean we are devoid. Few autists could sit back and allow what’s happened to Ireland in the past few years as our clear cut understanding of right and wrong would forbid it. To imply that I am anything like an unfeeling politician is extremely hurtful.

To be fair, this lack of empathy is fairly typical of most politicians- but I’m not one for stereotypes πŸ˜›

The world needs to be properly educated in the range of ways that spectrum traits can manifest, maybe then we would be far less quick to resort to derogatory stereotypes.

Hope you enjoyed thisΒ  post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism Friendly Shopping

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Shopping can be quite an overwhelming experience for an autist- the hustle and bustle, bright lighting, loud noises, strong smells etc.

As autism friendly events are all the rage at the moment, I decided to take some time to check out Lidl’s weekly autism friendly shopping hours.

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So what’s so special about Lidl’s autism friendly shopping experience?

Every Tuesday from 6-8pm across all Irish stores, Lidl takes the following autism friendly measures:

  • Reduced lighting
  • No music or announcements
  • Lower till scan sounds
  • Priority queuing
  • Offers additional help if requested
  • Assistance dogs are welcome (sadly none of these cuties were around during my visit 😦 )

They also include a sensory map for kids which can be downloaded from their website to show you the layout of the store to familiarize yourself with it, even providing a key to indicate where there may be strong smells, cold areas, and items that you shouldn’t touch:

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This map would also be of benefit for anxious adults on the spectrum, albeit the ‘do not touch’ symbols on the alcohol, pet food and cleaning products is a bit insulting. These symbols could be challenging for literal, rule-abiding adult autists- who says we don’t like to drink/cook with alcohol, have pets to feed or need to clean a toilet πŸ˜›

So how was my shopping experience?

I’ve lived and shopped on my own since college, so I’m perfectly at ease with the hustle and bustle of a busy shop (except for Lush in Dublin- so narrow, crowded and impossible to find what you’re looking for that I have to say a prayer before I enter πŸ˜› ). Nevertheless, I found the whole experience quite soothing.

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My eyes didn’t recoil from the harsh transition from the darkness of the carpark to dazzling supermarket lighting, but rather gently adjusted to the dimmed lights. Even the freezer lights were turned off to reduce the sensory impact. The quietness of the store was similarly soothing. I could slowly walk around the store at ease, my mind clear to focus on the items in front of me.

I was really enjoying my experience, however, it was cut short abruptly without any warning.

Lidl’s autism friendly hours are 6-8pm on a Tuesday. At 7.45 I looked up from my phone to be blinded by the store lighting which had been turned on early. Granted, shops aren’t a sensory problem for me, however, had another autist been in the shop at this time it could have been a whole other story.

What if someone had started their shop at 7.30 under the assumption that they had a solid 30 minutes to get a few bits?

This begs the question as to why the hour ended early? Autists are very literal andΒ  would assume that when something is advertised to last until 8pm that that is when it ends- not 15 minutes earlier with no advanced warning. At this point in the evening, there were no children in the shop, so was it assumed that there were no more autists doing their shopping? My presence meant that there was one confirmed autist still shopping, who’s to say there were not others?

If the decision to end the hour early was based on the number of children in the store, it is highly insulting to adults on the spectrum. People still consider autism to be a childhood disorder, but it is lifelong. We keep forgetting that the child with autism will one day grow up. These autism friendly evenings appear to be mainly geared at children, but adults with autism may choose to shop during these hours too and this must be considered.

Aside from their disregard for accurate timekeeping, Lidl is nevertheless the perfect spot to go for an autism friendly grocery spree! πŸ˜€ If arriving later in the hour though, especially for adult autists, perhaps it would be worthwhile flagging it to a member of staff or carry a sign or something to avoid getting caught out like I did πŸ˜› πŸ˜‚

bitmoji-20200108115511Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Happy 3rd Anniversary!

Greetings Earthlings!

Happy New Year!! πŸ˜€ Hope that you and yours enjoyed the holiday season as much as I did πŸ™‚

Here we are again- another year’s blogging under my belt! 😲

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No one is as shocked as I am that I have now been writing this blog for THREE whole years, and even more so that you’re all still enjoying my ramblings! πŸ˜‚ I am so appreciative for your continued readership and support. Reading your messages and comments about how my words have helped you has meant so much to me these past 3 years πŸ™‚

I’ve got some brand new ideas cooking away so roll on 2020! πŸ˜€

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Aoife

Seasons Greetings!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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As 2019 draws to a close (and so two does my third year of this blog! 😲), I’d just like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and every blessing for 2020 πŸ₯³

Thank you all so much for your continued readership, support and kind messages this year, and I look forward to writing for you all again in the new year πŸ™‚

Enjoy the holiday season dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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Aoife

Greta Thunberg and Autism

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

So this week I’d like to discuss an inspirational young autist that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time- climate activist Greta Thunberg.

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For those of you who’ve been living under a rock (and I mean, seriously living under a rock, this girl has been all over the news πŸ˜› ), Greta is a Swedish teenager who began striking from school on Fridays outside the houses of parliament in Stockholm for action against climate change in 2018 at just 15 years of age. Greta rationalized that the impending climate crisis means no future for her generation, so why should she go to school to prepare for a future that would not exist?

Since she began striking, Greta’s actions have spawned an international movement known as ‘Fridays For Future‘ where students the world over are striking from school for climate change action. She was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019.

What a girl!

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In recent months however, attention has focused on the fact that Greta has Asperger’s syndrome (I’m in good company!). In her viral Ted Talk, Greta speaks of how learning about the climate crisis at 8 years old led to her diagnosis. Unable to process the inaction of the world, Greta became withdrawn, depressed and stopped eating, which led her to be diagnosed with OCD, selective mutism and Asperger’s Syndrome. As Greta so eloquently explained in her talk, thisΒ means that she only speaks when necessary. Now, in the midst of the climate crisis, is one of those moments.

You can see her viral TEDx Talk here:

 

 

Like me, Greta does not see Asperger’s as a disability, but as a gift, calling it her “superpower”. She recently discussed this on the Ellen DeGeneres show where she talked about how autists are important in a crisis such as global warming as we are different, and we need to think differently to find solutions. Her tenacity, her passion and her black and white, no nonsense speeches (all autistic traits), truly are superpowers in her fight to save the planet.

 

Greta Fun Fact-Β her mother represented Sweden in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest πŸ˜€

However, the media have recently begun to turn on Greta because she is neurodivergent. A guest on Fox News recently described her as “mentally ill” sparking much discussion about the state of her mental health. As is often the case, once people hear the ‘a’ word, they automatically assign you a box…

Just a reminder– autism is NOT a mental illness; it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder. We may be greater disposed to having issues with our mental health due to higher stress levels, but an autism diagnosis is not synonymous with mental illness.

Whilst I would echo some journalists concerns about the strain of her current international exposure (fellow aspie Susan Boyle had to check into rehab for exhaustion after her viral appearance in Britain’s’ Got Talent), ultimately what Greta needs is action. Saving the planet is her specialist interest, and as I’ve discussed previously, we are consumed by our passions. She will stop at nothing or for no one to save the world.

Without a doubt, Greta is an extraordinary girl, and really shows that you should not allow yourself to be limited by your diagnosis. Indeed, there are people out there vehemently trying to write her off, but the rest of the world is listening.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

“You Don’t Look Autistic!”

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

After reading a write in to an advice column in the newspaper this morning, the parent of a recently diagnosed child rationalized that the diagnosis didn’t make sense as their child was doing well in school, popular and “good socially.”

I found this particularly annoying as this type of attitude is something that we high functioning autists encounter all the time.

“You don’t look autistic?!”

“You’re normal!”

“You can’t be autistic!”

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These are some of the most common phrases I hear when I talk to people about my diagnosis, as do many high functioning autists. Whilst this is a great compliment to my upbringing and acting skills, this kind of reaction can be quite damaging for autists.

First things first- no one looks autistic πŸ˜›

It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder, how are we supposed to look? Unless you have eyes like an MRI or some type of X-ray vision, you won’t physically see our neurological differences! Roughly 1 in 68 people are autistic- that’s 1 person per double decker bus, 1 person per carriage on the average train, and 3 people on the average international flight. Would you say that you’ve seen someone that “looked” autistic every time you’ve used these transport services? 🀨

We’re everywhere, looking exactly the same as you do.

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^^^ Sorry couldn’t resist giving my favourite musical a shout out- 10 points if you get the song reference 😎

With autism, it’s very much a case of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

With the increased generalization of the spectrum, from the outside, our books look alike, each with the same rainbow-coloured ‘autism’ cover on display. The stories inside however are very different. There may be similar themes, experiences and symptoms between books, but ultimately each is unique.

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Contrary to popular belief, just like the child in the advice column, many high functioning autists have an active social life. In college I was at every party going and the last one on the dance floor- had you seen me, would you have said I was autistic? Appearances can be deceptive, you don’t know how hard some of us have to work on our social skills behind closed doors. Eye contact isn’t natural for me, but with practice and forcing myself out of my comfort zone, no one would be any the wiser when chatting to me now. I’m a social butterfly who doesn’t outwardly appear autistic, but I have a piece of paper and an autism spectrum quotient score that say otherwise

No, I do not “look” like the stereotypical image of autism, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not riding that spectrum.

This attitude towards autism’s outward appearance could in fact be quite detrimental. If we don’t recognize that a person is autistic when they don’t fit the preconceived mould; they may languish for years without adequate understanding and supports for their needs. This is especially true for females on the spectrum who have learned the art of social masking, often flying under the radar of male centered diagnostic criteria.

As I have discussed many times before, autism is a spectrum, everyone is different and therefore their traits will be different. Don’t judge us by the ‘autism’ cover adorning our story, delve deeper into the book and you may be surprised at what you’ll learn πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post and have a lovely bank holiday weekend dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Aoife

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