Life on the Spectrum: A World Autism Awareness Week Special

Whilst I usually keep my posts on this blog themed around creative topics, I’ve decided to do something different this time. World Autism Awareness Week started last Saturday, but I’ve known about it for a good few months. So, I decided it would be time to open up about my High Functioning Autism.

I can guarantee a good half of my friends have no clue that I’m autistic, especially since it’s not something I talk about on a day-to-day basis with those I know. With that said, it’s definitely something that needs to be talked about, so here it goes. Here are the pros and cons of my autism.

Pro – It gives me my creative spark

I honestly think the biggest reason I have as much passion as I do for designing, and in turn have as many skills in being a designer, is because of my autism. Whilst most other boys when I was in school were are into things like sports, games and construction, I was far more engrossed in crafts and technology. I also knew from a very early age that I wanted to do something artistic when I grew up.

And why do I think my autism is the reason for this? Well, all of the autistic friend I have, both high and low functioning, are equally passionate about creative topics. Some are more into music, some are more into fashion, and some are more into storytelling. But all of them are creative, and I wouldn’t give up my creative spark for the world, especially if it also meant giving up these friends.

Con – It cripples my socialising skills

Easily the biggest problem my autism causes me is that it makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to socialise with people. For one thing, I am easily overcome with shyness when talking to someone, especially for the first time, and especially if they’re talking to someone else. Often, just saying “hello” to someone takes a lot of self-encouragement.

For another, I have an awful lot of difficulty making eye-contact with people. I have to really force myself to look someone in the eye, and even then, it only lasts for a split second. The only way I can describe the feeling of looking into people’s eyes is like looking into a pair of black holes, since the darkness of the pupils just never seems to end.

Pro – It makes me truly dedicated to things

Whilst I may not be into the same things as most other men, when I get passionate about something, I really get passionate about it. This includes my love for design, which can be evident in the 43 books I read for my Modernism/Postmodernism dissertation (excluding journals, websites, and the documentary film I watched).

Furthermore, if I’m given some kind of job to do, I try my hardest to not only do the job, but to do it either better, or do a lot more of it. I will spend every spare second examining every detail to see if there’s some way I can make an improvement, rarely ever telling myself that “It’ll do”. This, again, is a common trait for autistic folk, that when they have a goal they want to achieve, especially if it’s linked to something they feel strongly for, they go to the ends of the earth to achieve it.

Con – My parents had the hardest time raising me

Nowadays, I’m a quiet but friendly, calm and approachable person, which is a million miles away from the kind of child I was. Because I would easily be traumatised by change (more details regarding that to come), if anything I didn’t expect to happen happened, I would often begin screaming and try anything in my power to stop it happening, even if that meant me becoming physical.

Also, because I didn’t clearly understand the world around me, I would often do things which I never realised weren’t right, such as break something or take something from someone without their permission.

I’m none of these things today, but the only reason is because my parents, especially my mother, loved me regardless. Through their love, they raised me to be a better man, and I am forever thankful for that.

Pro – It makes me understand things others struggle with

Autistic people are neither smarter, not dimmer, than the average man. The difference is that our intelligence is focused on particular areas of our minds.

For example, being autistic, I’m especially good at systems and organisation. Not only do I plan my schedule and projects more effectively than many others do, but it means I only took half the time others did to comprehend both web-coding, and algebra.

It also allows me to have a more advanced mind for visualising things, since autistic folk like me tend to think in pictures. We can both visualise things which haven’t been created yet, and we can remember the look of something with more advanced details regular people. I can actually remember how everything looked from my earliest memory, when I was young enough to sleep in a cot.

Con – It made things you might consider ‘simple’ difficult

Whilst my autism does make me understand things others struggle to comprehend, it also has the adverse effect of making me struggle with things other people are used to, especially if there doesn’t seem to be a system involved. For example, regardless of my blog, I often struggle with reading and writing, particularly fictional material. Not only does fictional work vary more in tenses, sentence lengths and topics, but it’s also a lot less ‘matter of fact’ and uses more indirect, emotional methods of describing things (I.e. Metaphors).

Also, if there’s a change to the routine an autistic person is used to, this can often become increasingly stressful for the autistic person, since they end up becoming lost with no clear sign of where to go or what to do next. It’s like being diverted away from a road you’re used to driving on onto one you’ve never seen before. The destination might be the same, but it’s still confusing and stressful.

Let’s Talk About MMR

Yes, over 2 decades ago when the whole controversy about MMR vaccines and autism were a hot topic in the news, I was one of those children supposedly made autistic because of the vaccine (we even have before and after photographs).

Before anyone mentions them, I know the stats supposedly show no direct correlation between the two. With that said, think of it this way: some people have peanut-allergies, but we don’t go telling them that peanuts can’t cause allergic reactions since the rest of us can eat them without any side effects.

Furthermore, many of the things linked to MMR have been discovered to be potential causes of autism. Many scientists believe that autism can be a form of mercury poisoning (multiple-dose vaccines are preserved in Thiomersal, an organomercury compound), a long-term effect of contracting Rubella (what the ‘R’ in ‘MMR’ stands for), or even caused by early childhood trauma (I think having 3 diseases at once as a baby is a pretty traumatic experience).

I’m not claiming anything regarding the MMR-autism controversy. After all, I’m no scientist. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t be so conclusive that MMR doesn’t cause autism, especially since we’re still so unsure as to what does. We’re still in very early days regarding this research, so let’s keep our minds open and let the future tell us whether or not the scientists of today were right.

My Summary

I’ve met autistic people who see it as a gift, giving them skills the average human being could only dream of having. I’ve also met autistic people who see it as a hindrance, making it hard for them to fit in with society and be mocked because of it. What do I think of my autism…? Meh…

Truth be told, I don’t really think of it as a blessing, and I don’t think of it as a curse; I just think of it as the way I am. If you asked me to describe myself with a single word, I’d probably choose ‘autistic’, since I think it says just about everything you’d want to know about me in one breath.

I do think, however, that it’s something people should at least be aware of. Autism, for better or worse, is a condition that will stick with me until the day I die, and the more that people understand it, the easier life can be for all of us. You might not think that you need to know about it, but knowing how many of my own friends never knew I was autistic, it wouldn’t surprise me if you knew many more people on the spectrum without realising it. It’s not impossible for someone with High Functioning Autism, or Aspergers Syndrome, to be undiagnosed, so keep your wits about you if you spot the signs.

So, what do you all think of autism? Do you think it’s a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between? I’m interested in your opinions of it, so comment below with your thoughts regarding autism.

Last Week, I Went Back to School

Even though I’ve now been to University and had the experience of schooling which has more more in common with the ‘real world’, many of my old teachers from my secondary school remain to be my favourites. After all, I still write Christmas Letters to them each year (which reminds me…)

So, knowing that I still had some connections to Queen Elizabeth High School, I wrote an e-mail to Jason “Mr. K” Killingsworth and asked if I was able to come by for a few days and represent a former pupil who’s gone on to do their own freelance work. It didn’t take long for him to write back, and for us to start planning ideas of what I could do for my short time back at school.

What’s Changed About the School?

Not much, in all honesty. There was a slightly creepy feeling as I walked through my old corridors and the layout started coming back to me. With that said, some of the paintwork has been redone with a new colour scheme, and I could have sworn that the roofs were taller when I first started.

The only major difference there, as far as I was concerned, was that the 6th Form Common Room now had its own fully-functioning cafe. Back in my day, all we had was a microwave and a sink filled with a mountain of mugs taller than the nearby sign which read “Anyone who doesn’t wash their cups up gets a £1 fine”.

Regardless, it did feel good to be back in school, especially with the added bonus of now being a grown-up. The teachers and I could talk to one another like real adults, now, and believe me, that was a wonderful feeling to be able to talk to them in that way.

Day 1: The Presentation

On Wednesday, I gave a presentation to some of the 6th Formers who were considering having a career in a similar field. It was based on the pros and cons of going to university, as well as a way to offer some general tips on how to succeed in the creative industry.

There was a slight technical blip when my recording device unexpectedly ran out of memory, yet the day was saved when my friend whipped out her iPad and did the rest of the recording on that (I owe her one!)

Other than that, the presentation itself went really well. Feel free to watch the video below and see for yourself.

I also gave a small lecture to the pupils about how to use Adobe Flash. And you know what? This experience gives me a whole lot more respect for my teachers. Knowing a subject is one matter, being able to teach it is another. If you ever wonder why teachers get paid as much as they do, I can tell you from that little bit of experience that they deserve their pay cheques at the end of the day!

Day 2: The Open Evening

The next day, I returned to the school and took part in their open evening, when potential pupils and their parents came around to see if the school was the right one for them. And, it was a good thing that I returned, as Mr. K was unexpectedly dragged away from the D.T. room for a meeting, and I had to take the reigns for an entire hour.

It was great being able to talk to some of the parents and tell them about the sort of things I learnt from school. Furthermore, it was great to see some of the things the pupils had made and put on display for us all to see. What they had on show was more focused on product design than on marketing, yet I could still tell that some of his pupils have outstanding creative skills, and great futures ahead of them.

Once Mr. K had returned, I was able to show him some of the physical products I’d designed. Amazingly, I managed to teach him about some of the websites and companies I use for my printing services, too. They may be expensive, but they’re worth it!

Soon, it was dark, and we had to call it a night, but not before a few book recommendations and a photograph of the two of us together, holding what was easily my favourite of the products they had on show.

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