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. 

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

The (very) early years of having an Aspie-Kid

Our gorgeous daughter was born in 2005. You may not know Erin but she is beautiful, kind, intelligent, has amazing creativity and to us, is perfect in every way (takes after me I think!). She was our first child and my husband and I were the ultimate proud parents – although we really had no clue and I thought I deserved a medal for just getting out of the house before 3pm!

We realised Erin was not happy with other children pretty much as soon as she was old enough to know they were there. She didn’t really crawl and when other babies would crawl over to her she would start to scream and cry – a real “end of the world” type cry. As time went on and we graduated to soft play centres, Erin would be the one sat on my feet, wanting to investigate the toys but from the choice of staying attached to me or playing, she would choose the former. She didn’t need me to acknowledge her there, on my feet, but she would not let herself go unless I went with her. It’s worth saying we weren’t with strangers, I had the most amazing post natal group of friends who became my life line of support and who we met with once or twice a week every week for 5 whole years! One even became Erin’s Godmother! Erin knew these children and their parents but it made no difference.

When Erin was up and walking we would go to the park. On one occasion Erin was sat in a timber car up a ramp. It had a side window, a tiny gap that was about 5 foot off the ground. Another child slid onto the seat beside her and Erin shot out of this tiny gap to get away – luckily I caught her! Our friends just accepted she wasn’t good with other children. Nursery was a nightmare. She went for one day a week so I could work. I lost count of the number of calls I had to go and collect her because she had been crying so much she had made herself sick!

Erin liked everything just so. But that’s not unusual, many children like things in a routine. Their drinks out of a certain cup etc. I can remember one day I was carrying Erin upstairs for her nap and I had been dusting and had not put an ornament back onto the window sill. Erin screamed and cried and was burying her head in me saying “put it back, put it back”. I think it was this final reaction that made me realise that something was going on.

Erin’s dad and I did some research and we realised Aspergers seemed to fit the bill. Erin was clearly very bright. We still had very little understanding though and kind of muddled through. Erin was so well behaved but just got sad. It wasn’t until Erin was in about Y3 at Primary School. It was Christmas time and she was standing underneath a gazebo at school and I could see her face twitching. By the time we got home the twitch was worse. Having no idea I said “what on earth are you doing with your face??” Now knowing that that was probably the worst thing to say! The twitch got worse over the next few days so much so that in one period of 90 seconds she twitched over 60 times. I made an appointment with our GP who immediately referred us to a neurologist. Terrified does not come close to how we were feeling as parents. But it was Christmas so we had put up all the decorations, cards were hanging from every wall space and we tried to cheer everyone up by constantly talking about Santa.

We saw the neurologist within a matter of days. He examined Erin and told us it was stress. Stress! What on earth did my 7 year old have to be stressed about? My God, were we really such awful parents? He was great and explained that a child’s stress is completely different to an adult’s stress. Even exciting, positive stimuli could cause stress to a child on the spectrum. Erin’s stress levels were so high they had manifested themselves into a physical release.

We were referred to CAMHS. Initially I refused to accept the referral. I was mortified that my child was stressed and felt that CAMHS dealt with really ill, depressed children and that was not my daughter. My GP spoke to me and reassured me that they would be able to help. I am so glad we went. The wonderful Dr we saw chatted to both me and Erin and felt that Erin did have Aspergers. She explained the importance of keeping stimuli to a minimum and taught us both about the spectrum.

I cringed at how we had done just the opposite of that over Christmas. The guilt you feel as parents is indescribable. I grew her in my tummy so ultimately I felt the blame rested with me. How could my daughter who is so loved, feel so sad? We analysed over and over again everything we had done “wrong”. Then the fears for her future enveloped us, would she be happy? How could we make her happy? How could we protect her from this huge scary world? Well, with lots of research (and I mean loads) and lots of support from some fantastic friends, family and school, we put in place some great strategies for keeping routines and helping Erin know exactly what was coming next and importantly what was expected of her. Erin simply transformed.

Erin, at times, had a kind of sadness about her. People have said to me since, “oh she was such a miserable baby” (yeah thanks, that’s really great!) but now we understand why. Now that we understand so much more about what works for Erin she has absolutely blossomed.

I could write forever about our experiences, this all just seems so brief, but I think knowledge is truly key and Erin is the one who gives us, as her family, so much knowledge about where she is coming from, it makes it a privilege to be able to help her overcome the massive challenges that she faces in a simple day. We couldn’t be more proud of our Aspie-Kid and we love her to bits!

Day at school as an Aspie kid

As an aspie kid, even regular activities such as being at school can be incredibly stressful.

As I enter the school gates, I can sometimes feel anxious simply because I am unsure, even after 7 years at the school.  Am I late? Early? I will glance in the window and discover if any classmates have arrived already. This helps to give reassurance that I am doing the right thing,

After hanging up my bags, and having a momentary conversation with a few classmates in the cloakroom,  I am often reluctant to enter the classroom first. I feel this is a result of previous entries when my teacher has greeted me in the morning.  I dislike it when this happens because I am never certain how to respond. Usually I will mumble a response and attempt to smile away any uncertainty, but it is important to know that I don’t mean any offence by not looking in your direction and not responding confidently.  It is normal for me to avoid eye contact and looking at other people’s faces.  It is important that my inability to obey the phrase ‘look at me when I’m talking to you’ is understood.

During lessons, I become most confident being left to focus on my work. Maths is by far my favourite subject, mainly because I feel I excel at it.  Knowing that I’m doing the right thing is very reassuring for me. However, sometimes direct instructions and questions that are aimed specifically towards me can be a problem .When teachers ask me questions it is far better saying ‘Erin, can you pass me that book?’ rather than ‘Pass me that book please Erin.’ This is because I can become over absorbed in an activity, (especially when reading) resulting in me blocking out any other sounds, until I hear my name. If the question precedes my name, I don’t hear the question I only hear my name. Then I worry because I know I have missed something!

Lunch time can demonstrate a large issue for me; as an aspie kid, I have an enormous sense of right and wrong, therefore, if someone else is misbehaving or just pushing in the queue I can become tense. At times I can actually feel scared. I can’t anticipate when that behaviour will reach its limit. However I will rarely inform anyone else about this during the school day. When I become tense or stressed, I struggle to release my negative emotions which results in me becoming irritable and preferring not to speak. I find that all these emotions just hover in my stomach which leads me to occasional tears and a complete breakdown.

I have a canopy in my class room that I can retreat into but still feel part of the class and importantly, still hear the lesson the teacher is giving. I prefer it this way rather than having to walk out and then worse – back in to the class with everyone looking at me. I need time out to process things – usually after break times because they are so busy.

Home time brings relief to me; if I have been stressed at school I will release all my emotions in the car, explaining it to my mum and calming myself down.

The promise of a new day is a huge consolation; sometimes when something bad happens in the morning and I cry or become deeply annoyed and upset, I just want to start the day again. In my mind I have the concept of every day has to be a good day, and I class days as good, bad, really good, really bad etc. This may seem illogical but I enjoy it. However if a morning has been upsetting, I can become irritable and upset at school for I feel even if I do brilliantly at school today, it can’t be a super good day because I’ve had a bad morning.

I love school. I love learning. It really pleases me when I have done something right. My advice for helping me would be fairly simple: Try and get to know me. Give me praise to boost my confidence – which is low at times. Realise that even though I may be functioning ok, I may actually be in pieces inside. Know that it is impossible for me to keep eye contact with you without it causing me physical discomfort. Try and pick up on my signs that I am uncomfortable –Do I look stiff when I walk? I can’t tell you I am upset about something, but the signs are all there. Teachers will rarely see me upset because I contain it all until I release it at home time. If you notice that I look tense and you understand the reason, the best thing to do is explain things to me gently (if you can, try to make it funny and get me to smile) and reassure me that I’m doing the right thing. This helps me to calm down and become happy again.