Tuesday, 22 April 2014


at the beginning of the month, I went to Wales. this was a big deal, mostly because I was teaching my first polymer clay workshop. I've informally taught beginners to clay through the LPCG, attended a few proper workshops as a student and helped out at some where mum was involved in the organising, but this time it was my own technique and I was responsible for making sure everyone understood the process well enough to repeat it at home.

I had casually "come out" to my host before (in all relevant senses of the term), when she came to stay with us for a workshop in London. she was...confused by my label. she couldn't equate me with the caricature of "Autism" in her mind. over dinner one night at her house, she asked The Hardest Questions.

I seem so normal, so what's wrong with me? if I've overcome the problems, why do I still identify with them?

I can't answer that. the answer doesn't exist. I can explain why it doesn't, but only here & now, long after the event.

these questions don't acknowledge my reality. they assume a lot of things. NTs are bizarre creatures, I pass for NT mostly because of the absurdity of your caricature of how I should be (with some lack of observation on your part, and some internalised NT supremacy on mine). I've "overcome" in that I've found coping strategies that keep me sane and normal looking, but I still practise them every day. let's take the trip to Wales as an example:

firstly, I developed the technique for making the "flight pendants". I'm unemployed, with geek tendencies and live in greater London, therefore I enjoy the science museum lates. at the lates, among other things, they have lectures related to that month's theme in some of the galleries. on one particular night, I was trying to listen to a lecture in the "flight" gallery. a combination of bad acoustics and ND sensory processing meant that I really wasn't following. my mind and eyes drifted, they drifted up, to the vintage aircraft suspended from the ceiling. most of the wings were canvas stretched over wooden forms. they were beautiful. I wanted that as a bangle. I started plotting. I thought I had it. I tried. I failed. over a year later, the magical solution to the problem came to me in the bath. a day later I had my bangle. it was (and is) beautiful. from there it was easy enough to develop pendants with a similar construction for the workshop (my flight bangle is apparently too big for most people).

secondly, packing. being dyspraxic (and over 6') I hate using wheelie suitcases or anything similar. being dyspraxic, I also have all the organisation of a 6 year old most of the time (and you really don't want to know how much chaos I could cause as an actual 6 year old). these restrictions make packing interesting. I need to get it all in my rucksack, but I need to know it's all there. I have a rucksack pocket for toiletries and another for "handbag shit". I have no idea how people are supposed to remember undergarments when they pack clothing, but I make "t-shirt rolls" (I roll up a bra, pair of knickers & pair of socks inside a top) because of paranoia over forgetting them. lots of little details. I get it done, I even enjoy it, but the process seems both faster & slower than it would be for NTs.

then travel. I don't sense time. if you tell most NTs you'll be back in 5 minutes, they'll notice if you come back after 2 ("that was quick"), 10 ("that took a long time") or an hour ("I was starting to think you weren't coming back"). I don't. I have literally no idea. imagine negotiating public transport with that mind. this journey involved 3 different trains, none of which left from the station that the previous train arrived at. try to picture the underwear moistening panic of arriving in an unfamiliar city, knowing you have a limited but essentially unknown amount of time to get to one of the other stations in that city, find the right train and get on it. add to that a brain that refuses to "see" left & right, meaning if I have to ask for directions I'll need to mentally translate them.

to make public transport possible (which, as I don't drive, means "to make independant travel further than the nearest shops possible") I obsessively check the time & the map, allow at least an extra hour of "chaos time" for anywhere outside london, and stare at the departures board until my train gets there. like I said, I'm in no way NT. this is my normal setting, obsessive planning and riding an exhilarating wave of pre-panic energy. the journey to wales was further complicated by the brain fug of depression (I was coming out of a bad patch), meaning I couldn't enjoy that dangerous thrill.

then, the weekend itself. we had a 1 day workshop, followed by a morning exploring the local area and an afternoon playing with the clay. we spent my last evening making koch canes and talking. my host (as her local clay friends had at the workshop) commented several times on my unusual perspective. she laughed at my insight ("even if she [my aunt] had taken my confidence, it wouldn't have been any use to her"). so, I seem "normal" and yet see life differently?

you see, it works both ways. life is scary and chaotic and exciting and beautiful. that's the point. my life is Autistic. I'm not your caricature image of "autism", because I'm not 5, because I think and feel, because that caricature is just that, oversimplified to the point of nonsense. I don't identify with some abstract "problem" I overcame during childhood (any more than you, hypothetical reader, identify as illiterate), I identify with my mind and the mostly unknowable ways it colours the world I experience. I identify with the friends I'm drawn to because of shared interests & humour, and with childhood memories & mums favourite me-as-a-baby stories. I identify with me.

(and, incase you were wondering, no I haven't quite gotten around to physically unpacking. tomorrow. tomorrow is good)

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