Friday 12 January 2018

On Autism & People (Part 2 of 2)

(Part 1 here)

So, if my life and experiences are as I described in Part 1, then why do I do what I do?  Or, more specifically, the way I do it?

Blogging and Twitter are easy, and as such I've been doing them a long time. I sit alone and type. Easy, right?  Whereas sometimes the consequences of what I've written can be difficult, the actual act of getting the stuff out there isn't.  This is a way for me to put my point of view across, and if it wasn't there I doubt I would be able to do it.  This is where the stereotype of the "angry autistic" comes from - the inability to get what you think and feel across to other people. It builds and builds until it gets to the point where you explode in rage.  Even though I'm diagnosed as being more "high-functioning" (as the literature puts it), this does happen to me on occasion, though I usually try my best to remove myself from the situation before it becomes noticeable.  But in the main, I do very well at this, even though it may not come across that way.

Beer-related events I do fewer than I used to, mainly due to the energy required to do so.  Whereas most people, when put into a noisy and crowded situation with no obvious direction, can simply filter out the "unwanted" stuff and concentrate on the matter at hand, I can't do that.  I have to manually process everything around me, try to push the "unwanted" stuff to the back of my mind (where it still is, trying to get out), and work out what I'm supposed to do.  It's sometimes taken me half-an-hour just to get inside a building where an event is taking place. And once I'm inside, the whole process has to start again.

I know that some of you have seen me and introduced yourselves to me at various Beer Fests over the years (and let's face it, with how I usually dress I'm easy enough to spot).  Many people have seemed nonplussed when I look startled as they introduce themselves to me. This is because I'm still in the "processing" stage of trying to orient myself to the surroundings and I've just been given something unexpected to deal with in addition to this.  My conversational skills are not great in the most ideal of circumstances, so it's unlikely anyone's going to get a great deal from me.  I've been told that people are wary of me due to my "beer blogging's greatest monster" reputation and are surprised when I'm more anxious and less obnoxious than they've been lead to believe. All I can say is that, usually, things are rarely what people expect them to be.

I will never be able to be part of a "gang" or a "scene" or group of beer people charming their way into recognition and "fame" (such as it is in the beer world).  Networking isn't something I'm able to do, and this has probably hindered any progress I've made over the last 5 years or so.  I have to work with what I have.  And what I do have is the ability to see things in a different way to most people.

My autistic brain has no time for what it sees as "irrelevant" social details.  Whereas this can make me appear clumsy and rude, I can usually size people up fairly quickly, if for no other reason than they can't use their "preprogrammed" social interactions on me.  This, as you'd expect, has led me to feel a certain degree of cynicism about the human race. More specifically, about the massive gap between what people say they want and do, and what they do in reality.  Such is the mindset of the chronic piss-taker, and as such explains 80% of this blog.

Whereas I don't like arguments and conflict, I have no problem speaking my mind.  As someone who had great trouble communicating as a child and teenager, I now have a way to do it.  I would never wish my early life on anybody, but it has given me a certain set of skills in dealing with life.  Even if they seem bizarre or baffling to anyone else.

So, this is what being autistic is like for me.  I wouldn't dream of speaking for anyone else as all experiences are unique. But for all those who think I'm a "nutter", a "flake" or a "complete prick", this is why.

Thursday 11 January 2018

On Autism & People (Part 1 of 2)

In my initial preparation for this post, I asked around on Twitter about what people's perception of Autism Spectrum Disorders was.  Based on the answers I got, it seems to be either Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, or cute little kids lining up coloured objects on the floor.  Not exactly accurate depictions, but at least people seem to have moved on from the whole Rain Man stereotype.

I'd say it's reasonably common knowledge to those who know me online that I've been diagnosed with an ASD (fairly late in my case, at 32 back in 2008).  Some have even sought to ascribe my alleged "dick" behaviour on it.  I'm not aware of having made such claims for myself - I may say and do things that others may not like, but I've never sought to "blame" it on Autism.

But obviously having an ASD does affect my life in some ways - so what are they?

I do prefer to spend a lot of my time alone. Dealing with people is awkward for me.  I'm better at it than I was twenty years ago, but there's an awful lot I'm still unable to understand.  It's not easy having to slowly and painfully work out the rules of social interaction as an adult that most people have completely mastered by the age of nine.  And I still get a lot wrong even now.

I learned long ago that saying the first thing you think of in reply to someone is usually a bad idea.  And having had many bad reactions from people having done this, I've learned a full range of facial expressions that (hopefully) are less likely to annoy and upset people.  I'm aware that this can make conversation with me unsatisfying, but believe me it's far easier than the alternative.

The pub is the ideal place to interact with people for me.  I barely know most of the people in them, and as such they have few expectations of me.  I've always found that if you get too close, people start telling you things about them that you'd rather not know.  One major characteristic of ASDs is an inability to deal with emotions in a "typical" way, and, although I know I should be expressing something emotional, I'm very rarely able to do it.  This presents more awkwardness as people think I'm ignorant or cold when I don't react in the way they expect me to.  So I avoid these things where ever possible. "Don't get involved" is my axiom.

Of course, contrary to popular perception, those with ASDs do have emotions.  We may not be able to deal with them "properly", but we do have them.  As a child, these mostly manifested themselves for me as temper tantrums, which got me a certain reputation at school and at home.  Looking back, a lot of these things were classic autistic behaviour, but children were rarely tested for ASDs in the 1980s.  I have a better handle on emotions now (as I should at 42), but there are still things that set me off.  The main one for me is being ignored, or unjustly accused of things.  I always react badly to that, which, after much thought on the matter, stems from my childhood where such things happened all to frequently.  That's caused me a lot of grief in the past, and has led me to falling out with people and refusing to go to places that have "wronged" me in some way.

If only I could handle stuff better, I often think to myself, these things wouldn't happen.  But, unfortunately, that's not the brain I've been given.  As many people with ASDs will say, Autism itself is not the problem - it's how the world reacts to it that's difficult.  In a social milieu that expects demonstrable empathy, expected reactions and mutual acknowledgement, being autistic is always going to be difficult.  But not blaming those with an ASD for not reacting in "expected" ways would be a start.