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.

Creative People with Creative Ways to Sell Themselves

Sometimes, it isn’t just the art someone produces which makes them famous, but the way the artist sells themself which makes us look at them. That’s why I’m taking a look at some people who work in the creative industry that have managed to make a name for themselves by means which are out-of-the-box.

Just to be clear, I’m focusing on individuals and small groups, as opposed to big companies which used clever marketing tactics to make us buy their goods.

Also, I’m only looking at people with creative professions, so I’m excluding cases like Alfred Ajani holding up a sign in Waterloo Station. It’s a story worth reading, but not quite right for this list.

James Addison – ‘Puzzles for Postmen’

A talented graphic designer who graduated from Bournmouth in 2011, James Addison hasn’t just put his name on the map because of the big companies he’s designed for, but also for the ingenious ways in which he teases our Royal Mail.

Rather than use the standard address format, what James likes to do is send letters to various secret addresses in a variety of cryptic ways. From drawing the location on the envelope, to writing the address in morse code, James (to the annoyance of the Royal Mail) has inspired other creative souls to find equally challenging ways of getting their letters sent.

LESSON TO LEARN: Doing something unconventional will most-likely grab peoples attention.

My Dog Sighs – ‘Free Art Friday’

Artists are often incredibly reluctant to give some of their work away for free, but My Dog Sighs is an accepttion. The difference with him is that he only gave his art away on Fridays, and would give clues for people to find where the art was. Then, it was up to his followers to take part in a scavenger-hunt for that secret place and get a free piece of his art.

Now only was this trend popular with his followers, but it was so popular, that it spread to other artists from all around the world, and My Dog Sighs was the man who started it all.

LESSON TO LEARN: Encourage brand-loyalty by giving your customers a reason to keep track of the work you’re producing.

Maria Malone-Guerbaa – ‘Famous Face-Paints’

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A mother of two from London, Maria Malone-Guerbaa, despite working for various TV shows as a make-up artist, never found a way to make a name for herself. That was until one day when she decided to combine her make-up skills with those she has an an artist, and see if she can transform herself into different celebrities with nothing – yes, nothing – but face-paint.

With each painting taking approximately 4 hours to complete, she’s gained an immense following on Instagram, she has recently expanded her skills into transforming herself into animals. She has also had multiple media-appearances, and become involved in a variety of make-up based competitions.

LESSON TO LEARN: Sometimes, finding a niche where you can use your talents is enough to make someone want to follow you.

The Clarion Quartet – ‘Having a Jam in the Traffic Jam’

Between junctions 26 and 27 in the M5, a massive traffic-jam was caused when a horse escaped it’s horse box and ran rampant in the road. The quartet in question, on their way home from performing at a wedding ceremony, were also caught in the jam. So, as bored as everyone else was, they decided to step out of their vehicle, and play Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D’ live on the motorway.

It wasn’t long before an audience crowded around them, video-phones at the ready, and were given a round of applause once they finished their piece. And, as you can guess, it was media-appearances all the way from there-on.

LESSON TO LEARN: If you see an opportunity to make your voice heard, you might-as-well take it.

Ben Wilson – ‘The Spitting Image’

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Don’t you just hate it when you see a pavement that’s littered with chewing gum? Well, so did painter and sculptor, Ben Wilson. So, being the son of an artist, and a graduate from art-school, he decided to brighten both people’s spirits and streets by getting on his hands and knees, and painting tiny paintings into the individual pieces of spat-out gum

He was once arrested by police for allegedly vandalising property, yet was released without charge after a wave of supporters wrote letters demanding to set him free. He went full-time doing his chewing gum paintings in 2004, and still gets media-appearances for it to this day.

LESSON TO LEARN: Producing work that can turn a negative into a positive can make you popular.

Doug Walker – ‘Calling it Quits’

Whilst working as an illustrator, Doug used his spare time to make comedic videos of film-reviews. After discovering he was making enough money from the reviews alone, he decided to quit his job in the most OTT way possible, by parading around his workplace to ‘Bohomian Rhapsody’ and putting the clip on the web.

It’s an extremely risky move to make (and one I’d never try in a-million years), but seeing as his reviews have remained successful, even labelling him as one of the Top 10 YouTube Movie Critics according to WatchMojo.com, I’d say it was a successful move.

LESSON TO LEARN: Not everyone will like what you do, but if your target market is going to enjoy something you want to do, it’s a chance worth taking.