Asperger’s and Enrichment (My Sixth Form Transition)

flatlay photography of wireless headphones

When I got back to school in sixth form after so long off, it was weird. Everyone had raved about the jump from GCSEs to A levels, how much harder it would be. But personally, at the start of the year, I was surprised. I didn’t find my subjects (English Literature, History and Spanish) all that difficult, and I kept on top of work fine. If anything, I was a bit bored. 

It became apparent that I’d gone in expecting it to be much harder than it was, and part of that, I believe, was because I’d sort of settled into the level of stress that I’d experienced at the end of the GCSE course. Due to the COVID rearrangements, I didn’t do my exams, but rather ‘in-class assessments’, which were basically exams only there were twice as many and they were stretched out over a period of six weeks. Therefore, I’d gotten used to functioning at that extremely high level of stress, doing tons of revision, constantly, almost on the edge of burnout. So the return to a ‘normal’, baseline workload at the start of year 12 came as something of a surprise. 

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Asperger’s and COVID-19.

The pandemic has been a turbulent time for all of us, so I wanted to talk a little bit about my experience of being on the spectrum during lockdown and how COVID has affected me as an aspie. 

Before the first lockdown, I was in quite a bit of denial about what the pandemic was going to entail. I don’t follow the news, so the first I heard about COVID was from school gossip. When my peers expressed the sentiment that the school would close due to the pandemic, I dismissed it out of hand. The school, close? That was unthinkable. School was foundational to my routines. In my mind, it was impossible that it should close…

And then we all know what happened. 

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Asperger’s and Birthdays – an autistic perspective

Birthdays can be a difficult time for people with aspergers. Both our own birthdays, as well as the birthdays of other people pose challenges, most of which are tied in with our difficulty in understanding neurotypical social nuances, but which also come from the neurotypical perception of our own behaviours.

Because autistic brains have difficulty picking up on social cues, it can be difficult for aspies to decode the hints you drop about what presents you want, even more so because we can find it difficult to put ourselves into the perspective of other people, especially neurotypical people. The message here then is that it’s generally best to be upfront with an aspie if you expect to receive a present from them – it makes our lives easier, and you’re more likely to receive a present which you actually want!

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Autism & Empathy

There’s a misconception that autistics don’t feel empathy. While every autistic experience varies, personally I have found that although I do sometimes struggle with empathy, the issue more often comes from the fact that I am intensely empathetic, but I lack the instinctive social skills to express that empathy. But before we get into that, let’s remind ourselves of some definitions, just so we’re clear:

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Surviving a Cambridge Residential – Tips for managing autism and anxiety.

Recently I had the privilege of going on a two day, overnight residential visit to Trinity Hall College at Cambridge University, organised by my sixth form. When I received the letter informing me that I had a chance to go, I was both excited and nervous. On one hand, it was undeniably a great opportunity – a chance to go to one of the most famous universities, potentially somewhere I might apply to in future. On the other hand, it was an overnight stay in an unfamiliar place 4 hours away from home with unfamiliar people. In other words, an anxiety-inducing nightmare of a prospect, especially with me being autistic.

And yet, here I am. I survived! So here’s some of the strategies which I used to manage my autism on this trip, which helped me, and which will also hopefully help you, to not only survive the trip (or similar situations), but to come out the other side feeling so much more confident and capable in taking on new opportunities going forward. I’ll also be giving a run down of what happened on my trip, for any of those interested in what university residentials are like.

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Volunteering at West of England Falconry Centre

Florence, the Burrowing Owl, in her aviary. (During my second week, Florence decided to attack my shoelaces and succeeded in shredding tiny holes in the bottom of my trousers – thanks for that, Flo.)

Given that I am someone who has zero aspirations to go into veterinary sciences or to work with animals, it may seem slightly odd that I decided to volunteer at a falconry centre. But (generally) I do like animals and this seemed a reasonable opportunity to do some work experience. As an aspie, it initially seemed a daunting prospect, what with my social anxiety, but I’ve found that it’s been an incredibly supportive environment and has been incredibly enjoyable.

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Retrospective on The Guilt Complex

I posted The Guilt Complex in 2018. Here we are now in 2021, and I believe that with my few years more experience of living and existing and all that nonsense, I’ve come to have a bit more insight about my own emotions.

First of all, for anyone who looked at that post and felt that they experienced a similar thing – let me tell you right now: it gets better. I don’t know how, I don’t know exactly why, but let’s just say that maturity seems to be this intangible thing where one day you realise that actually your worth doesn’t depend on your always being in the right.

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Look Who’s Back

Hey! I’m back! How is everybody? It’s been a while since I’ve touched this blog, frankly because I’ve been preoccupied just living. But I’m making a return to this blog with the renewed goal of continuing to share my experiences and advice for managing asperger’s syndrome.

From now on, you can look forward to (hopefully!) more regular posts. I plan to post at least once a month, so we’ll see how that goes.

I’m going to start by doing some retrospectives on my existing posts – honestly, re-reading through the thoughts of my eleven-year-old self has been quite a treat – and hopefully my newer, wiser self can provide some better insights. I also plan to record some of my experiences with volunteering, and my experience of a Cambridge University residential trip. And of course I’ll be doing lots of updates on strategies for how to cope at sixth form.

I’ll also be posting some content related to my own interests. For example, short stories I’ve written or thoughts on books that I’ve read; some of which will be explicitly related to my aspergers, some of which will just be my own opinions on things. I’ve found that being on the spectrum influences every part of my life, as I view everything through a neurodivergent lens, and so recording my reactions to things and the topics that come up in my own fiction has been useful for me in spotting patterns in how my aspie brain works, and I hope this may also be of interest to you.

Eye Contact

Why do you find it hard to make eye contact?

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It just feels wrong. I wouldn’t say that it scares me, because it’s nothing like that, it just doesn’t feel quite right and makes me uncomfortable. Most of the time I don’t even realise that I’m not looking at people’s eyes until either I think about it or until they comment on it. What I’ve noticed some aspies, (Chris Packham for instance) and myself doing, is that sometimes we consciously make an effort to maintain eye contact. We hold it for a few seconds, really trying to do it, then our eyes drop again, and we go back to looking around. In Chris Packham’s case, I watched him on TV, and watched the way his eyes moved. What I feel when I’m in conversation, is just that there are so many things happening at once, it’s like I’m supposed to listen to what the person is saying, look at what their hands are doing, look at what their body is doing, look at what their eyebrows and facial expression is saying, work out whether they’re speaking metaphorically, with sarcasm or perhaps they’re teasing me, then I have to analyse it all and figure it out all whilst even more things are going on in the room around me that are far more interesting! And it all happens so fast! When I say this, I of course mean no offence. I am not saying that people are boring or anything like that, but what tends to happen is my brain moves way to quickly and before I know it my focus has moved on to a whole new subject. It’s way too much for my brain to comprehend, and so I just try to focus on one thing at a time, which often isn’t the words that are coming out of their mouth. This tends to give the impression that I’m not listening, or that I don’t care what’s someone is saying. I’ve heard some aspie bloggers saying that the reason they don’t like looking into people’s eyes is because they feel like they’re being judged, and that it feels eerie to be looking at someone’s eyes and not being able to tell what their mind is thinking. I don’t like being judged, (after all, who does?) but looking at people’s eyes doesn’t always make me feel that way, it’s just that indescribable discomfort. They also said that they have no trouble looking at people’s eyes when they are on TV, I find that I don’t have any trouble with that either. They said it was because the eyes they see aren’t ‘real’. The eyes on the TV can’t see me, and therefore can’t judge me, and they aren’t looking at me directly, just the camera. That fact makes me feel better, so I have tried to make eye contact with TV characters, and actually see how their eyes and faces move in detail, but I still don’t understand how neurotypicals can read each other so easily, when faces move so fast and the hints are always so subtle. The solutions me and my parents came up with is that when in public and I have to speak to someone (for example if I’m ordering food at a restaurant) I will try to look at their eyebrows or nose, then at least I’m looking at their face, even if I am just making eye contact with their eyebrows. If I don’t like that strategy, I try to find out what colour their eyes are, although sometimes what can happen is I’ll be so focused on looking at them, that I’ll forget what I’m supposed to say. It becomes natural after a while to just give people’s faces a quick glance when I’m talking. I guess it just comes with practice. It also helps to have a clear idea of what you want to say (in my case what I want to order) and also have a few answers prepared in case they say something else as well. Sometimes, this doesn’t always work, so I’ll occasionally just look to my mum for help. It helps to have someone who, if you get in trouble, they can jump in and save you!

The Anxiety…

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Where do I begin? Anxiety is a very troublesome emotion, but is one that varies hugely depending on the individual. For me, anxiety is usually a growing sensation of being on edge, but can also be a feeling of detachment, and surrealism, which in turn creates panic.

The latter sensation often occurs when my routine is interrupted. For example, recently my school was closed due to the snow. As much as I was relieved and happy to get a day off and have fun in the snow, for the rest of the day, I felt quite disconnected – like things weren’t real. This wasn’t a pleasant experience, and it also led to a lack of focus on my part, as I felt like I almost couldn’t remember what day it was because nothing was fitting with the routine. The feeling of detachment also made me panic – it reminded me all too much of a similar feeling I get when I’m dreaming a nightmare but I can’t control it.

The former, however – the sensation of being on edge – I most commonly feel when I am surrounded by lots of people. It’s just your classic feeling of nervousness, and any person who is shy or introverted will have likely experienced it. When I get anxious, a lot of the telltale signs appear: walking on tiptoes, looking down, fidgeting and also that subtle stiffness when I move.

In situations like the one directly above, there isn’t always necessarily a solution. I tend to either seek out a distraction (e.g headphones, reading or even chatting with close friends or family if they are present), or to make a game out of it; pretending I’m on a mission to infiltrate a building or street and I have to act natural in order to remain undetected. It’s a little childish, I’ll admit, and I don’t use that strategy often, but thinking of it that way can sometimes help calm me down, because it’s a challenge to solve that I can think about in the same way as a puzzle, rather than dwelling on how many people there are and panicking about what to do if they approach me.

Anxiety, as I have mentioned before, is yellow in my eyes, and when I experience it, I often find it causes my mind to race, and the music track going round in my head almost always speeds up. In previous posts, I said it felt like the floor had dropped out from beneath me. That is partly true, but that is more when I am worried I have done something wrong, rather than just being nervous. So in a way, to me, anxiety has three meanings.