Autism, Opening Up

Being Friends With Me

So I decided to ask two of my best friends some questions about autism, specifically what it’s like being friends with me and dealing with my autistic traits.

Me and Holly (she’s going to kill me for this image)

Holly’s Answers:

Q: Can you give a brief description of what autism is?

A: Autism is a developmental disorder. It is different in ever single person on how it presents itself.

Q: What was one of the earliest signs that you noticed, that gave you an idea I was on the spectrum?

A: I pretty much knew from when we first met that you were on the spectrum because of how you would talk about films you loved and if someone changed the subject, you would always somehow bring it back to the films you love. Also, if there was someone new around you, you would go really quiet and back off a little but when they left you started talking again.

Q: Are there any aspects of my autism that you find annoying or difficult to comprehend? i.e. Leaving large groups to be alone, wanting to leave places early, wanting to be early for things such as public transport.

A: No it’s never bothered me and to be honest I don’t think I notice you doing that sort of stuff half the time because in my brain that’s just you being you. It does make me laugh when you wonder off in shops and then I look like I’m playing a game of Pacman trying to find you.

Q: Are there any situations you can think of where my autism is more prominently on display?

A: Yeah when you get into something (like a game or TV series) that’s all you talk about and send me multiple messages about it because you’re excited. If new people are around you tend to be quiet and let me lead the conversations to help find common ground where you can then input to the conversation. Also, We have a pretty set routine for when we’re just hanging out in town (Sheffield) such as going to certain shops, getting food and then going to the other shops before getting the bus home.

Q: Any final comments on Autism?

A: I spend 90% of my time around people with autism because of work, family and friends. I wouldn’t change it for the world. People with autism give the best perspective and advice. I think society still has a long way to go before understanding autism and the changes needed to make the world easier for those on the spectrum because it is a hidden disability. My 6 year friendship with you is really precious to me because of all of our stupid memories and adventures but mainly because of who you are as a person and your autism is a big part of what makes you who you are!

Me and Kieran

Kieran’s Answers:

Q: Can you give a brief description of what autism is?

A: It’s a hidden disability that effects ones ability to comprehend the “social norm”. Those with autism may not understand social interactions, boundaries, or may misinterpret danger as safe or vice versa. It has a range so it might only effect someone in a minor way whilst effecting someone else in a more severe way.

Q: What was one of the earliest signs that you noticed, that gave you an idea I was on the spectrum?

A: You had a similar mindset as me when it came to public spaces, and people. I’ve had the signs of autism my whole life but haven’t been tested for it, so it wasn’t long after I met you that I noticed.

Q: Are there any aspects of my autism that you think people would find annoying or difficult to comprehend? i.e. Leaving large groups to be alone, wanting to leave places early, wanting to be early for things such as public transport.

A: Nope, you’re just difficult anyway haha. In all seriousness, I’m the same in some regards. I’d rather be early than late and I don’t like people, so genuinely there is no aspect of yours that bothers me.

Q: Are there any situations you can think of where my autism is more prominently on display?

A: Meadowhall (an indoor shopping center), when you message me about work, when we worked at Sheffield Arena together. Basically anywhere there’s a large crowd and you can’t control the number of people in a close proximity to you.

Q: Any final comments on Autism?

A: It needs to be recognised more as a mental disability. Even in mild cases it can be such a problem for a person to adapapt and cope with many aspects of everyday life.

So that is what my two closest friends had to say about autism and being friends with someone on the spectrum (Me). I hope this helps some of you to understand a little more not just about spotting the signs, but also how to accept those around you that might be on the spectrum. If they wonder off from a crowded place, ask if they’re alright and accept that they need space to breathe and relax. If they want to be early for their bus etc. then indulge them and don’t question them on it. It’s apart of who we are. There’s no cure for autism, it’s just another part of what makes certain people who they are, and the world needs to be more accepting of this, instead of questioning it all and saying thing’s like “You don’t look autistic” because there’s no “look” to autism. It is often referred to as a hidden disability and for good reason.

Autism, Opening Up

Escaping Reality

One thing people soon realise about me is that I love fantasy worlds more than the real world. I’ve mentioned in previous articles about how much I’d prefer to deal with Dark Lords of fantasy worlds rather than any issue causing human being in the real world, and for this I often get called a nerd or geek by those who come to know me, though these terms aren’t offensive to me because I accepted who I was long ago.

I love Role-Playing Games, such as Skyrim, Fable, Witcher etc. because I get to be a hero (or villain should the option take my fancy) in a world filled with fantastical monsters and fun characters to interact with. If I don’t like certain characters, I can ignore them completely, or kill them if I decide to be evil (which is a lot of the time in video games, because role playing is all about exploring new characteristics that you don’t necessarily have in reality). It’s my way of escaping the real world and it’s many issues. I get to go on quests and travel the land without the need for money for any traveling methods like buses, planes, boats or trains etc. It’s as simple as walking a few minutes to a new region on the maps built into the game and suddenly you can be greeted with different cultures, new allies, new enemies and new items.

Some of you may be thinking that this could be done in reality, and in some ways it might be, but if I was to suddenly pack up and go out into the world, I have next to no social skills, my anxiety of not knowing where I am or where I’m going would be insanely high, I may never return and could wind up injured or dead, and more importantly, I would be leaving behind my friends and family. In a video game it’s different, because I have a map I can pull up instantly which shows me where I am and where I can go, I have health potions to heal any and all wounds and illnesses, I have weapons to defend myself and I have the option to save and load the game in case I find myself in a difficult or deadly situation. I can be revived in the video game world, but not in reality.

One of my dreams is to travel to places around the world, but my mental health slows down that dream, because it’s adventuring into the unknown and being on the autistic spectrum means that I don’t like the unknown. I prefer to know where I’m going, what I’m doing, who I’ll be seeing. It takes so much planning to travel somewhere. Even on certain days when I go to the city to meet my friends, they can often tell me the certain days when we’re more likely to be approached by strangers and beggars, so I can prepare my mind and say “be ready to be approached” and that helps. I can’t do that if I’ve never been to a place before in my life.

So when people tell me I need to get out more, I would love to, but for now I will explore the world within the fantasy genre of games, films, TV shows and books, because although I am traveling to unknown lands within these particular mediums, I know that in reality I am safe and sound in my room.

Autism

The World is too Loud…

You know those scenes from films where they focus in on all of the things happening on a busy street, from the rumble of car engines, to the hammering of workmen, the fluttering of birds, the multiple conversations happening, the clinking of cups in a cafe, and much more? Well imagine hearing all that at once, without being able to properly zone it all out and focus on specific things. Sounds annoying right? Well that’s how I hear the world.

Some of you may read that and think “that sounds like a superpower!”, but if it is a super power, I don’t want it. The world is far too loud for people with autism, and this is why you’ll notice me wearing headphones or at least one earphone most of the time when I’m in the streets, walking to the bus stop or to the shop, because the world is too loud and it causes me stress that I can’t focus it out. If you have seen me without headphones or ear phones, it’s probably cause they broke or because I forgot to charge my iPod, and you’ll notice I look miserable when this happens because I’m stressed with the effort it takes to try and cancel out the noise.

Sometimes it can be fun to use, such as when I’m sat in a restaurant or pub with friends/family and I can hear multiple conversations going off. It can be fun to listen to whatever other people are saying. A little nosy of me I know but I literally cannot help it if I hear you talking from across the room. Some of the stuff people talk about is comical to me, so I like to try and listen for the most random conversations I can, or a conversation about a film or TV show I’ve seen, just to hear other peoples opinions.

It’s no secret that I’ve been to rock/metal gigs with friends, and I know people who know me are probably thinking “How do you deal with those places”. The answer is simple, there only a few things to focus on in a gig, the music, the singing along and the cheering. I can’t deny that they are super loud for me and they do hurt my head, but I endure them because it’s not something I do often and it’s only for bands/artists I really love. Plus I’m with friends, so the anxiety of being in danger is majorly decreased because I’m enjoying the memories we’re making.

However, I have not felt and do not feel like I am ready for festivals yet, because to me a festival is different. The gigs only last a certain time, whereas festivals are a couple days at least, and I don’t know if I could handle the noise for that long, especially since a lot of the people at festivals will be making much more noise, and there are so many other elements to a festival that I’m not ready to take in just yet.

Autism

Spacial Awareness – The Mr Bump Story

One of the symptoms of my particular case of autism, is my spacial awareness, or the lack there of. Everyday I bump into objects around me or whack my hand/arm on a wall or door frame because I don’t have the spacial awareness of people who are considered neurotypical. As a child, it seemed to most that it was just a child-like thing to happen, as I was always bumping into lamp posts and tripping over the slightest irregularity in a path, so it was fun for me and those closest to me to give me the nickname of the popular Mr. Men character Mr. Bump.

It’s difficult to say if I ever really noticed it happening everyday but when I think back, there’s not a day that goes by when I haven’t in some small way knocked my body against something that hurts, whether it’s just a small knock that only hurts in the moment, or a fall that leaves me with a cut or bruise for a couple days. I have always been known as being clumsy, and every job I’ve been in has had employees that have called me out on it, and we’ve all had a good laugh about it because it is funny most of the time.

However, I also recall times when it wasn’t funny (at least not at the time), such as the multiple scenario’s where I’ve started a chain reaction of pain that has lead to more serious injuries. For example I remember one day getting ready for work, and as I was about to head down the stairs, as I walked out of my bedroom door, I whacked my arm pretty hard on the door frame, and so I was holding that arm instead of the railing, which then lead to me slipping on the step, causing me to go tumbling down the stairs and on the way down I somehow managed to hit my little toe on the banister which caused it to cut and bleed…a lot!. I called up work to tell them I wasn’t coming in, and it was short notice so I got a talking to when I returned but honestly, my health is more important than anything in this world, and there was no way I could go to work in that state. I could barely walk I was in that much pain. Luckily though, I somehow have never broken a bone, only dislocated.

If you know someone who is clumsy, and they’re laughing, laugh with them. However if they seem hurt, don’t laugh, because it makes said person feel stupid, or at least that’s how I feel when I really am hurt from my lack of spacial awareness and the people around me are laughing at me for being “a clumsy idiot”. I mean, even for neurotypicals, laughing at a friend or colleague who appears to be in serious pain should be the last logical thing to do anyways, but if you know or suspect that it might be because of autism, then especially don’t do it!

As sadistic as it may sound, I laugh at a lot of my pain these days because of a saying my mum always taught me “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” and I find that very true. So if someone is laughing at their own expense, it’s okay to laugh with them I guess, but if they’re crying, don’t laugh until you’ve cheered them up enough or find a time where they are comfortable laughing about it. Injuries make memories, and those memories build friendships.

Autism, Opening Up

Social Distancing before COVID

Covid-19 changed the world, because for the first time since whenever the last worldwide pandemic happened, people are keeping their distance from one another. For the most part. It has to be said though, that for me and others like me, social distancing is nothing new and in some instances I think Covid-19 did me a favour by convincing other people to keep their distance from me.

A lot of people have called me anti-social, or tell me I’m not trying hard enough to meet new people and talk to them, but the truth is, it’s hard for me to converse with others unless I know them better, and so I’m trapped in a circle of trying to know people but not having enough courage I guess to find out that information. As someone with autism, I like to talk a lot about the things I love whether it’s films, video games, comics or something else, and when the subject is changed to something I don’t like, I distance myself and feel uncomfortable. Some may say that’s selfish but think of it like this, your friends are talking about your favourite things, then all of a sudden they start talking to one another about something you either don’t enjoy, or have no clue about. Do you not get that sense of exclusion from your friends? If so, multiply by that by 10 and that’s how dealing with autism in those situations feel.

I want my friends to laugh and joke together, I would definitely be selfish if I said otherwise, but when you feel excluded from a group because you have no idea what they’re talking about, it can give this overwhelming sense of no longer belonging. If you’ve read some of my previous articles, you’ll have read that I got bullied a lot in school, it always comes back to that, because I never really felt like I fitted in to any one group of people, and when my friends at the time wondered off and talked about things without me, I felt alone. Part of that came from the depression but a big part of it comes from what I now know is my autism.

Luckily for me I have a small group of very close friends who are basically family to me at this point, and each of them understands what it’s like to go through this or they at least understand what it’s like for me, so they help me to be included and I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends than that.

I went to wedding once, and It was hard for me to mingle. Instead, I just wondered around the venue, because it had a lovely garden area with a little stream and lots of nature surrounding it. I wanted to make an effort but when I got to the wedding, I found that I couldn’t connect to anyone, I got into a panic and I decided to separate myself from everything. I found peace in the garden but I knew it wouldn’t last long, because I knew why I was there, and who my social distancing was going to effect most, but I could not bring myself to socialise with these strangers that all had some sort of history together. I was just a plus one, and I let someone important down, but now I realise that I honestly couldn’t help it. I didn’t have the mental strength to do it. I wish I did, I like making friends, but when you have pressure on you to do so, it’s hard for someone who isn’t autistic to imagine the mental stress I was going through. I don’t blame my then girlfriend for leaving me after that, but I sometimes wish I hadn’t gone at all. It’s not easy for me to admit when I’m not okay, especially when we’re at social gatherings because I don’t want to ruin everyone else’s time.

When I’m with friends, I can be okay, at least for a little while. If the venue is crowded like at a club or bar, I get uncomfortable and have to go outside to catch my breath and cool down. I’ve had some great times with friends and family in crowded areas but only because I knew a decent amount of them.

If you have a friend like that, please don’t ever try to force them into social situations, or try and make them socialise with people they don’t know. To someone who doesn’t have these mental disorders, it’s as simple as “I’m going to find a topic we both like and go from there” but to me, and those like me, we feel a sense of pressure that we cannot begin to cope with, because all we want to do is run the other way.

Autism

Introvert with an Extroverted mind…

Being an introvert is hard for me, but it’s not easy when you deal with an autistic mind that seems to have a little voice in your head that tells you that this is the safest way to be. I love adventures, I love the open world away from the busy streets and crowded rooms of a city or town, but because of my anxiety and autism, it’s hard for me to tell myself that an adventure will be easy.

Whenever I go anywhere, even with people who know where they’re going when we get there, I have to know any important information about where we are going, what I will need, are there any shops near by or will I have to take my own food and drink with me in case I get hungry? It’s a real process and it’s hard to deal with when I get there and discover that I was mislead on some information, meaning I am now less prepared than I was expecting to be.

In 2018 I took one of the biggest steps in my life, and took my very first solo adventure. The destination was Whitby, my favourite place in the world (thus far), but the destination wasn’t the issue with this adventure. I know Whitby well, and have walked its streets many times, so once I got there, I knew where my favourite stops were to shop and sit down for a drink, but the real panic came from the journey to Whitby. The only time I catch a train on my own, is when I travel from Rotherham to Sheffield, that’s it. So catching a train from Rotherham to Whitby, with multiple stops and train changes, this sent my anxiety sky high until I was on that last train on headed for that final destination. Why would I put myself through that you might ask? Well, I did it to evolve, to feel more like an adult, and to give myself that confidence that If I ever want to travel solo again (and I will) then I know I am capable of doing so, and I often thank my autism for that becuase I arrived early for my first train, I ensured I was at my next stops earlier than I needed to be, and I made sure I was prepared for any delays or changes, by checking the internet constantly and packing any essentials I might need such as food, drink and my iPod to keep me calm.

I love adventure, but it can be difficult when I’m so introverted, but in the future I hope to evolve into someone who can go on more adventures either by myself or with others. I have enjoyed trips with friends, but again it’s been to places I know beforehand, so in the future I’d like to venture to unknown territories so I can feel that sense of true adventure.

Autism

Am I Just Weird?

All of my life so far I have been called weird, silly, stupid etc. when I do something that most “normal” people don’t do. Whether it’s misunderstanding something I was told, or doing things in a particular way that seems easiest to me but seems more complicated than it needs to be to most “normal” people.

Here’s an example of when I was young, in a time when Autism wasn’t widely known in the medical world and even less known to public knowledge, as many people who dealt with autism were considered “weird” and in some ways I personally am weird, or as my mum likes to remind me “You’re not weird, you’re unique!”. So the example is this, when I was young, learning to count to 10, my mum told me that once I managed to reach 10, she asked to to count backwards…now most kids would respond with the appropriate “10, 9, 8, 7…etc.” but my brain, dealing with autism which we didn’t know about until decades later when I turned 25 years old, decided to take the instructions in a literal sense, so instead of counting backwards from 10, I turned around so that my back was now facing my mum, and I counted 1 to 10 again, because to me that’s what counting backwards meant.

When my mum told me this story not long ago, shortly after we realised I could be autistic, I laughed, and encourage others to laugh as well because whilst it was an early sign, there was no way my mum could have known that it was anything more than her son being silly. Nowadays, there are guides to discovering autism early and tests that can be done for both children and adults, and if you feel like you or your child might need the test then I encourage you to take it. It doesn’t necessarily change anything, and as I said, it’s better knowing now that it’s not just that person being weird.

I take things too literally sometimes. A good example is when I decided to visit my friend in Wales where she was studying at University. This was the first time I had travelled across a border on my own, and though it’s laughable to think about it know, my friend decided to joke with me about needing my passport to cross the border, and I honestly thought I needed it. She later told me she was joking but I was panicking trying to find it until my mum told me I didn’t need it. It’s all in good fun but my brain takes things like that seriously unless I have prior knowledge that tells me otherwise.

Another example is when given instructions. My mum is a care worker and so I am at home a lot of the time with instructions on what she needs me to do to help tidy the house a bit before she gets home. If there’s no instruction, my brain thinks there’s nothing to do, and if the instructions are vague or only refer to one area of the house, I will ONLY follow what is said. So if mum writes “hoover the kitchen please” then the kitchen is the only room I will hoover and believe my work is done, but when she returns home and asks why the living room and hallway aren’t hoovered, I will remind her that she didn’t ask for those to be hoovered. It might sound lazy to most of you but that’s how my brain works. Even though I write about it now, on the day my brain will still think that the one thing my mum has written down, is the only thing she wants to be done. I can’t help it and that’s that.

Autism is hard to truly understand even for someone like myself who is on the autistic spectrum. I’ve only just started to learn about it and there are many memories that I look back on and think “Is it due to autism, or is that just me being weird?”. It’s hard to pin any certain thing on mental health or just characteristics of an individual. However, when I decided to get diagnosed, it wasn’t so that I would have an excuse for my actions, it was so I could understand some of my actions and thoughts, as well as help others understand, so that I no longer have to be called “weird” constantly for just being me.

If you ever feel weird, tell yourself yourself that you’re unique. So own that shit and don’t let anyone put you down for you being you.