Monday 29 February 2016

Myths About Autistic Partners in Relationships

There was a study done by relationship counsellors.  A book was written about autistic people.  The book used the research from that study.  Well, some of it.  The book said that 7 out of 10 autistic partners were horrible to the other partner.

Except, the study showed at nearly 8 out of 10 non-autistic partners were horrible to the other partner.  The book forgot to mention that.  They also forgot to mention that the study included 'ever swearing at their partner, in the whole of their marriage', etc.  So this isn't about violence and crime.  This was about someone once saying a naughty word to their 'other half.'

And that's how careful autistic people have to be, when researching the awful myths about us.  Autistic diagnosis is nothing to do with nasty behaviour at all.

Luckily, that book is going out of print.  Good.

But, we still have a reasonable number of Professionals who peddle the 'autistic people are all monsters' the people we married.  And get a lot of money out of it for themselves.

"Are you married to an autistic person?  Do you feel traumatised?  You have Spiffle-Syndrome!  (Yes, a syndrome I invented, for this non-existent trauma, for marrying someone who's been autistic their whole life)".  Well, more or less that.  Except they don't call it Spiffle-Syndrome.  To save their blushes, I have disguised what they invented.

Now, first of all, autistic people are nicer, on average, than non-autistic people.  No, really.  See above.  And the research showing that we play more fairly with others.  And the research showing that we are more honest than others, on average.  

Genuinely nicer.

But...we can't see you.  Generalising, we are effectively blind, when looking at people. The bit of the brain that decodes body language, eye contact, voice expression and face recognition does other stuff instead.  So it's pretty rubbish at decoding hidden meanings, gestures, etc.

Imagine you have a friend who is Blind, and you fall in love with them and marry them.  Would you honestly then say, "I am traumatised!  They completely ignored my new hair colour.  And when I was looking sad, they didn't say a single thing to cheer me up.  Plus, they did not buy me the top I wanted in the shop, just by knowing which one I was looking at...which proves they Just Don't Care.  I'm going to join a society for distressed partners of Blind people. Blind people can't be trusted to be nice partners.  They are all horrid". 

Well, why not?   Yes, because the reason the person is failing on those things is because they are Blind, not nasty. 

That's what some people do with us, though.  And it's really odd.  Equally odd is complaining about our need for low-sensory stuff.  And our need for clear instruction.  And our need for time out with our passionate hobbies and interests.  All of those have been present from the earliest age. They didn't develop after we married.  And the reason we need those things is because autism is a very real brain wiring difference, not a personality defect.  It's not an illness. It's not a 'deficit'.  It's nothing to do with lacking empathy (that's sociopaths, not autistic people).  We thrive in the quiet.  Our brains literally overheat in busy, noisy social gatherings.  And it causes us very real pain because of the overheating.  It's not that we hate your friends and can't be bothered to go.  Or are being rude deliberately.

Worse still, a well known Professional got women whose partners were abusive to agree that those partners Must Be Autistic.  No actual autism diagnosis was required.  If someone was nasty, that was all the proof we need that they are autistic, see? No, really.

So, the next time you get someone telling you that they were 'married to an autistic person who was horrible', and then tell you that 'no autistic people should be trusted'...please have a really careful think about it.  Because, actually, that's not OK.  Or true.   It's as untrue as 'no woman can be trusted' or 'all men are violent', or 'all clergy are a danger to children'.  You know a nasty myth when you hear it.  Now you know the main one about autistic people.

Know the realities about this largely gentle, caring bunch of wonderful autistic people that I have the honour to call friends.  We're dedicated quirky specialists whose brains have a very different 'operating system'. Whatever our IQ, and whether we can speak all the time or not, most of us care very much about others.  Our loyalty, integrity and love can be breathtaking.

And, if autism isn't something you can live with, please don't marry us.  Very simple.

Many thanks for listening.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Autism and Integrity

A privilege of the work I do?  The chance to work with groups who have been given the wrong information about autism.
Other blog posts of mine talk about some of the myths. And the damage done by those myths.

Here, I would like to explore the reactions to the myths.

Let's start with some facts.  Autism is not a mental health condition, any more than 'being male' is a mental health condition.  It is a permanent difference in the way the brain is wired, from birth.  We can spot the brain wiring differences in functional scans.  Our brain operates in a different way to that of other people.  It's designed to.  It's not a 'fault'.

We are designed to sense the tiniest changes in our environment.  It would have been a fantastic skill set to have, in ancient times. Generalising, since each person is somewhat different:   Forest fire?  We're the early warning system.  Approaching predator? Yes, we'll hear it first.  Poisonous food?  We'll detect it first.
The brain wiring is designed for intense detail, intense accuracy, and intense dedication to a task.  Want the best craftspeople, the best engineers, the most specialised of any career?  Often, it's autistic people doing those roles. Quietly, quirkily, but goodness me, effectively.

In a modern society of deafening noise, blinding artificial lighting, crowding and socialisation, we're at a huge disadvantage.  That same brain design literally overheats with the sensory input.  It causes real physical pain and disorientation in the brain, when that happens.  Some suggest a link to epilepsy events, when it happens.   It's not a behavioural condition, where we are alleged to have some 'personality defect'.

Nor is it a 'low IQ'.  We are no more likely to have a low IQ than anyone else.  What happened is that those who had a low IQ....or a mental health condition...or a behavioural well as autism?  Well, they got noticed and diagnosed with autism first.  The majority of us didn't get noticed, didn't get diagnosed.  We're still finding the majority of autistic people, living quiet, sensible lives.  That's the difficulty.  The research, the findings so far?  A lot was based on a minority whose behaviour was extreme.  94% of the research was done on children.  Nearly all boys.  Nearly all with other conditions as well.  So, a bit like going to a secure Pupil Referral Unit for children age (say) 8-11 - to find out what an average adult female in the country is like.  No, really, that's what the research is based on.  As if all of us are just like the most profound examples of 'lively young boys'.  Bizarre, eh.

So.  When I tell some people that I'm autistic, I am sometimes faced with a barrage of myths.
"Ann is going to be dangerous".
"Ann is not able to keep things confidential because people like her can't do that"

"Ann is a bit unstable, bless her, so don't trust her"
"Ann is going to be nasty.  Avoid her"

I could go on.  I have many of these, on a regular basis.  In writing, too. No, autism is nothing to do with paranoia.  We're just keen observers of fact.

Now, the strange thing is that I'm MD of a Professional Practice, and adviser to a vast number of places.  I've spent a lifetime working peacefully for safety for people.   I am fortunate enough to enjoy the most wonderful business and charity relationships across the UK, and have done for more than 30 years.  Well over 1000 business contacts, including most of the major Banks, Solicitors and Accounting firms.  Long established relationships of confidentiality, trust, accuracy and integrity.  Like most other autistic professionals with whom I work.

And it's not a pleasant thing to find myself in a room of people who treat me like the 'village idiot',  or an escaped criminal,  when I declare autism.  Nor is it appropriate.

I don't want us behaving like this towards any other autistic person either.

What I'd like us to do, as a society, is learn about autism, and learn respect for autistic people.  We put up with such a huge amount of nonsense from some people.  Not all, of course - many are splendid.  But oh my goodness me, there's some treatment towards us that we really could do without.  I don't say this crossly. I say it out of concern for what we're losing out on, by the myths.  Treatment that assumes incompetence.  Treatment that tries to make us into copies of people we're not.  And thus a lack of interest in the immense amounts of bullying and abusive behaviour towards us, including the very worst crimes imaginable.   "Well, they must deserve it, these awful people", to quote someone I overheard.

If we're looking for people to be afraid of, we're looking in the wrong direction.  80% of autistic people are bullied.  70% of autistic women report sexual abuse of some kind, and 30% report rape.  Nearly all have been defrauded by people who pretended to be friends.

Please, my friends, be very careful which myths you 'buy into'.  And what the consequences are.  Very, very careful indeed.  Because a society that is without autistic people is not 'better', and it is not 'safer'.  It is vastly worse off, in countless ways.  We are not tragedies.  We're the people who have made sure your stuff works, and keeps working.  We're the people who have stood up for social justice and kept standing up, long after others got exhausted.  We're your friends and allies.

Get to know us, and find out about autism.

PS:  I'm not 'mildly autistic'.  My family include others who are not 'mildly autistic'.  I work with hundreds of autistic people of all IQs and ages and situations, and they are all absolutely loved and wonderful.  Every one of them with much to share, whether verbal or not.  Sometimes I'm not verbal.  So, away with the 'oh Ann doesn't know what Real Autism is like' thinking. I do.  And I've been proud Mum to a lively one.

Friday 19 February 2016

Autism, Criminal Justice & Security Checks

I'm a blonde haired middle aged mum.  Comfortably built, quite short, a bit creaky in cold weather.  I dress in fairly conventional ways, I'm MD of a Professional Practice.  I live in an ordinary house in an ordinary suburb of an ordinary town.  I am also a Director of a Professional autism company, work for charities and organisations, and my work has informed the Government and the Police.  I haven't so much as an unpaid parking ticket to my name, thus far. 


Almost every single time I go through an airport or similar security checkpoint, I get stopped, frisked and checked.  Without fail.  Teams take one look at me, and pull me aside.  Sometimes several times at airports, per visit.  It's painful and exhausting for me.  Sometimes it renders me non-verbal, and then the whole thing is a waste of everyone's time.  I cannot do my training or take the meeting that I'm being paid for.

Now, clearly, there's a waste of security services effort going on here.  So, what's happening?  The thing that's happening is that I'm autistic, and I 'speak' a different communication system.

Autistic people have eye contact and body language that is different to others.  Even those of us who disguise this (for whatever reason) will still respond in slightly different ways. And security individuals are trained to spot the tiny 'giveaways' that something's different.  "Could this be a terrorist threat?  Something's wrong.  Better frisk her"...and of course each time they find they are frisking a surprised middle aged mum, not a master criminal about to conquer the world.  Conquering the ironing pile might be my limit.

The reason I do the work with so many security services across the country, with many of my fine colleagues?  Because they are fed up wasting their time picking out surprised middle aged mums and dads, etc, who happen to be autistic.  They need to focus on people who are actual criminals.  And so, understanding autism becomes vital.

There's some two million autistic people in the UK.   And if you're picking out 1 in 30 of the population who are just 'walking about in an autistic way', you'll soon get exhausted.  So will the autistic population.

Are autistic people more likely to be criminals?  No.  All the research we have suggests that we are more likely to be law-abiding, rule-driven and social-justice seeking.  The challenge is that most autistic people are repeat victims of crime, whether it's defrauding, violence, hate crime, sexual assault or otherwise.  It's vital to know how to interview and support autistic victims in the Criminal Justice system.  Enabled to give good evidence, autistic people can be very good witnesses indeed, with a keen eye for detail that others may have missed.

Are autistic people more likely to get into trouble with the law?  Yes.

How do we work out why that is, then?  How does a group of people who are desperate to obey rules, and are most usually the victims of crime,  then potentially end up in so much trouble with the law?  Several reasons.

Firstly - that misidentifying, as above.  And it can be worse for, say, autistic People of Colour, who may be at even higher risk of being misidentified as behaving 'inappropriately', when they are not.

Secondly, security checkpoints are sensory nightmares for most of us.  They literally hurt our brains, with beeping, physical contact, flashing overhead lighting, angry people herding us. Crowds jostling.  People rummaging about in our personal stuff and removing it from us. Massive noise where we can't even hear instructions.  It's very very scary indeed for many of us.  Thus,  some autistic people will panic and run, to get away from the pain.   Or will be a bit shouty out of terrible fear and anxiety.  An autism ID card can help in some countries...if the teams know what autism is, and what to do.  Minimise everything possible.  No eye contact, straightforward slow calm instructions...repeat if necessary...find a quiet place for recovery before any further aware it may take an hour and a half to let brain wiring literally cool down before speech and function can return).

Above, a picture of how a security checkpoint looks to me, under fluorescent lighting.  I can't process what I'm seeing well enough.  Nor can I hear well enough.  A 'refusal' to comply with an instruction may in fact be from not seeing or hearing, or being able to read, the instructions.  Be cautious about physical contact in such spaces as well; it can trigger a panic response because of pain from being touched.  It is rarely a deliberate and malicious resistance.

Thirdly - some autistic people are very persistent at seeking social justice and may not fully understand the rules for 'how much is enough'.  Add in loud voice tone (some can't hear how loud they are being), and seemingly 'erratic' behaviour, and it's too easy for someone to be misidentified as aggressive or law breaking. 

Autistic people are shown in research to be, on average, no more likely to be deliberately violent or nasty towards others than anyone else.  Most of us are gentle, kind, loving and very caring people, who are on average less likely to have a criminal record than other people.  But we certainly are relentless at trying to keep people safe and well, in society.  That's not a bad thing, provided enough social rules are understood by the autistic people, and provided enough about autism is known by the other people.

Fourthly - many autistic people are fairly na├»ve, because they rely on honesty and rules, and expect others to say honest and accurate things.  They are also often lonely. Generalising, of course.  But it's so hard making friends with non-autistic people. The two groups don't speak the same non-verbal language as one another,so both sides can misunderstand one another.

Example: Along comes a seemingly friendly person who says they will be our young autistic person's friend, if only they will help them by doing something criminal .....   It just doesn't occur to some of our autistic youngsters that this could be a bad thing.  That the person may be lying about being their friend.  That there could be something dodgy happening.  Often the criminal party in this will lie about the situation.  "No, it's legal, honest".   Guess who gets caught.   And then, the autistic young person is really literal in their answers:  If the Police Office, Solicitor or Barrister says, "Did you do it?" probably they will say yes.  Well, they did.  That's literally the answer.  But that's possibly not justice, because they may have had no idea at all that it was wrong.  The circumstances often aren't fully explored by the Court teams.  The actual criminal gets away with it, to prey on others next. The autistic person ends up with a criminal record.   And perhaps into jail goes a very vulnerable and confused person, to be re-targeted by every criminal in there.  Is society safer?  Arguably, no.  The criminal is still out there.

Then we get a small number of autistic 'computer geeks'.  They like exploring the internet.  It's a quest, a game,  an intellectual challenge.  And so good are some of them at overcoming barriers.that they end up breaking into secure systems.  Almost always not out of malice, personal gain or a hope to take over or destroy the world....but just because the brain design is about, 'How does this this a safe system or are there weaknesses in it?'  It's what makes some autistic people brilliant computer programmers or engineers, that ability to test for weakness and fix it.  Autistic teams arguably built the internet.  Bridges.  Planes.  Cars, Parachutes.  Medicines.  Test, re-test, test again.  Things that must keep going, safely, week after week.  Brilliant, when properly steered.  Excellent people to hire to make sure others cannot break in. Unfortunately, breaking into secure computers, without authority, isn't a good idea.  That autistic naivety may be the problem again.  Some just don't understand the consequences well enough.   Some may think that they are doing the security system programmers a favour by helping them strengthen weaknesses in the computer defences.  Obviously all people need to understand the rules, and criminal actions are never OK.  But it's too easy to suspect malicious motives when none exist, when someone is autistic.  I've seen some companies and Government departments do excellent thinking around this, and use autistic specialist focus to great effect.

Much of what I and other autistic professionals do is train Police and security professionals on how to identify possible autism, how to put us in spaces in which we can see and hear,   how to communicate well with us,...and how to ask good questions about the behaviour and its motives.  Interviewing in spaces we can access, and using technology or other methods that allow us to communicate well  if we cannot use spoken words at the time, is important.  8 out of 10 autistic people are sometimes unable to use spoken language.  It's not a refusal to co-operate.   

Knowing about autism saves wrecked autistic lives.  It saves costs in wasted time and wasted prosecutions.  It saves possible embarrassment in the press.   And it often leads to catching the real criminals.  The people who use vulnerable adults to do their 'dirty work'.  Know about autism allows autistic victims to access justice, lead safer lives, and have a far reduced chance of terrible life outcomes.  So many suffer poor mental health and a lifetime of suicidal thoughts because of the strain of repeat targeting, violence, bullying and fraud.

Autistic professionals who 'speak autistic' are a vital link in all of this.  Make sure you include autistic professionals in your quest for good, secure, cost-effective and meaningful work.  You'll have to meet with us in places we can access, but that's a very small price to pay for a safer and better world for those two million autistic people.

I'm very glad to be working with Police Forces and Security Services in various roles with teams, and pleased to see excellent work being done by other autistic individuals and by companies run by autistic allies, such as Autism Oxford and AT-Autism. We're making a difference.   

Monday 15 February 2016

Autism, Mums, Assessment of Parenting Skills

I am an autism professional, invited to lecture at the Royal College of Psychiatrists on the subject of autism.  I train social workers and healthcare professionals across the country.  I have worked with autism for more than 20 years, and lived with it and alongside it for a lifetime. 

Many of the best parents I know are autistic, and parent autistic children.  Their ability to cope with almost zero support is extraordinary.  And often leads to huge stress, of course.  We really do need good understanding of autism.  And good support services around autistic families to enable them to thrive.
A reasonable number of autistic mums have been misunderstood by assessors, evaluating their parenting skills.

Some have had to fight very hard indeed to keep their children, as a result.

In this post, I am going to talk a little about autism in women.  It is an informal 'starter' for professionals. 

We know from the work done by my colleague, Professor Simon Baron Cohen, that for every three adults diagnosed with autism, another two remain undiagnosed.   We also know that autism in adult women is rarely diagnosed.  Women tend to be misdiagnosed with other things, because of the lack of knowledge.  Many diagnostic professionals are as yet untrained in how to diagnose females of any age.  Women can present differently to men.  Generalising:  We tend to have 'female' hobbies and fascinations, not an interest in trains and timetables.  We tend to manage a friendship or two, and a relationship, and a family.  We tend to be more able to study the social behaviour of others and mimic it for a short time.  We are every bit as autistic, arguably.  But many diagnostic professionals tended to assume they were looking at schizophrenia, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, eating disorders or just plain 'manipulative behaviour'.   Autistic people  arguably cannot be manipulative.  It requires a depth of thought about the mindset of others that we do not have.

Unfortunately, for example, this means that we have quite a few autistic women who have become parents and do not know that they are autistic.  They may not know that their children may be autistic.  There is a genetic link in autism that means it often does carry through generations.

An autistic parent will parent an autistic child differently.  They will not make a lot of eye contact with their autistic child, or with visiting professionals.  They may not cope with sensory environments such as assessments in centres with fluorescent lighting.  This can be seen as avoiding or hiding something.   They may talk in a way that seems too loud, too intense.  This can be seen as confrontational.  They may lose language skills when under pressure. This can be seen as avoiding or refusing.   If their autistic child falls over, they may not rush to pick them up.  They won't offer huge eye contact and lots of soothing conversation to the child.  In reality, they are doing exactly the right thing for an autistic child; avoiding sudden sensory and social overload for that child.  Both child and parent may not use typical face expressions or body language to convey emotion.  Both may be misunderstood as angry or afraid when they are not.  Or vice versa.  Both may struggle to know how they are feeling when asked (look up 'alexithymia and autism').  Just some examples of difference.

Parenting an autistic child requires autism skills.  Such children may grow up to be amazing specialists, very social-justice-oriented, very fair, very honest.  And very, very passionate about their specialisms.  These are good things for society.  And an autistic parent will value those skills and enable them.   Autistic parents are not broken versions of 'real parents'.  Certainly some will need help to interpret and parent their non-autistic children.  The same as non-autistic parents need help to interpret and parent their autistic children.

Very often, such undiagnosed autistic parents end up in more and more difficulties.  The more pressure that is put on them to parent an autistic child in 'alien' ways, often the worse it gets for them, and for the child.

If you are assessing a family, be aware of the possibility that you may be with an undiagnosed autistic female.  Look for that lack of eye contact, desperation to know what will happen and when...repetition of information...desperate need to clarify something over and over...extreme anxiety in new, unfamiliar surroundings under fluorescent lighting.   Instead of thinking it's a mental health condition, or very poor parenting skills, think 'could this be autism?'.   Autism isn't a mental health condition of any kind.  It is a permanently different brain design, from birth.

With an autistic child, their behaviour can resemble that of a child experiencing trauma of some kind.  They may be extremely avoidant, extremely distressed or non-communicative (with strangers, in a strange situation, under fluorescent lighting).  No wonder, since such situations really do overload brain wiring until it literally overheats and causes pain.   Autistic children can have a lot of injuries, because they often cannot see what is around them very clearly.  Some have little or no sense of pain, and may not realise they have injured themselves.  My own son, for example, played national level rugby with a broken foot, without even realising it was broken.  Even the medical teams missed it, because when they said, "Does it hurt?", he told them it didn't.  Well, it didn't.  Different pain responses.  And yet, a tiny injury hurts immensely.  Be aware of this.

Lots to think about.  Of course, where there is genuine risk to a child, one must always act appropriately.  The question is how to assess whether that risk is genuine, or is perceived because of misunderstanding of autism needs.

Take good advice from an autism professional.   Get good training on all of this.  This is only a summary for thinking purposes.  But we really do need to 'think autism', before assuming a child is in danger from 'poor parenting'.

Saturday 13 February 2016

Autism Sunday Prayer

Loving God
We thank you for the love and friendship of autistic people
For their gifts of prayer and fellowship, worship and service
For their insights into your nature and your caring for all.
For their honesty and straightforwardness, in a world so often full of untruths
Help us to walk together
to grow together
and to learn together, as companions on life's journey
Now and forever
In the name of Jesus

Photo credit E Baker - copyright

Thursday 11 February 2016

Autism. Friendships. Seeing us as the problem.

An ABA/Positive Behaviour Support based charity has put up the most awful 'newsletter'  about autism, a couple of days ago.

In it, the charity have tried to interpret our social behaviour.  As they don't know why we do it, their interpretations are wrong.  For example, a young adult who gets someone else to unlock a door for them, rather than just doing it themselves.  "Aha, this is because they think other people are just tools, not just people!", the ABA-style charity have said [paraphrased].  No, it's probably because the ice cold metal of a key and door handle hurt so much that it's indescribable, for many of us.  Thank goodness someone else can help.  As others don't have that sensory experience, how easy it is to just say something dehumanising about us. Something that makes out we treat others in inhuman ways.  Goodness me.

Then, we have the myths about how we can't interact 'properly'.  Well, funnily enough, non-autistic people can't interact 'properly' with me.  For a start, they make eye contact and insist on it whilst speaking.  That's a no.  And they make faces do strange contortions.  That's another no.  And they talk about totally irrelevant things.  No.   And they tell baffling mini lies all the time, like "I'll be back in five minutes", when they mean, "Some time later today".   And they insist on talking to us in busy, noisy places where we can't possibly hear them or see them properly.  No.  All totally wrong for autism.

They insist on calling our stimming (repetitive movements) a 'problem behaviour', and reward themselves for making us stop.  "Oh look, we can reduce 'problem behaviour' by 60%!  How good are we!"  Maybe we get a jelly sweet if we comply.  Er, thanks.  Well, actually, it's a way of communicating, for us.  And a way of calming.  And a way of balancing our internal body-senses.  And a way of detecting the environment around us.   So taking that away is silencing us and making our lives worse, not better.  [No, I'm not saying people should be allowed to self-harm in dangerous ways.  I haven't even mentioned it, and that's not what this post is about.  I'm talking about rocking, flapping, etc, the everyday stimming done by the million autistic people in the UK].

So, the ABA based charity tells us that we are awkward hopeless friends,.... who see people just as objects and have no clue how to interact with them.   And they completely miss everything we are...and the rich, deep complex wonderful friendships we have with autistic people.  People who 'speak our language'.  

 You see, once they have silenced our natural way of communicating....well.... what they have done is stopped us interacting with other autistic people in our natural ways.   That's not a step forwards, any more than conquering the USA and 'teaching the natives how to behave' was an appropriate thing to do.  We are not 'savages who need taming'.   We are people who deserve to be able to be ourselves. And live a life free of pain, exhaustion, restriction and 'othering'.  Yes, it's great to learn why other people do weird things that we don't.  And of course we all need to co-exist in good ways.  And be safe.  All of that is OK.  But making us do 100% of the work to change how we socialise, and describing us as the broken ones - well, that's not OK.

Learn about autism, from actual autistic people, or from other professionals who are respectful of us and our ways of making friendships.

Me, I am so blessed with my autistic friends and family, colleagues and professional contacts.  Every one of them caring, thoughtful, kind, wonderful people.  Deeply misunderstood. 

A different, and better future for us all.  Let's work for that. 

Visual Autism and Understanding Language

This artwork above?  It's based on two brain scans.  Both are taken whilst the person is talking about a social situation.
On the left, an autistic brain.  Someone who is a very visual thinker.  They think in pictures, not words.
On the right, a non-autistic brain.
That's electrical activity, the colours.  Electricity makes heat.  Which one is going to reach 'boiling hot' inside first?  Which person is going to want to leave the conversation first?

That's dilemma one for visual autistic people like me.  No matter how much we love being with people, chatting with them...well, it can lead to real brain pain.

The second problem, for visual autistic people like me?  We really do think in pictures, not words.  There are different sorts of autism.  I am a visual autistic person.  Here's a bit of conversation:

"Did you hear that Donna has a bun in the oven?  Well, I told Sam that he can't have his cake and eat it.  Now he'll have to face the music."

Apparently this is nothing to do with buns, cake, or music.  Apparently it's inappropriate to ask what sort of bun mix Donna used when cooking.  Or what the cake was like.  Or what Sam is playing.

People like me  - visual autistic - spend much of each social meeting being completely baffled.  Other autistic people who think in words may understand perfectly.

Then, there's long sentences, with weird words in them. 

"A commission is a tried and tested model for influencing change.  It is an opportunity to draw a group of key people together with parliamentarians to hold inquiries, hold evidence sessions, call for written evidence, write reports and produce recommendations for policy and practice.  These inquiries will be time limited.  The first inquiry will be on access to healthcare for people.  This inquiry is currently in the scoping stage.  
Critically, a commission creates an opportunity to ensure that individuals, charities, service providers, policy-makers, academics and health professionals can collaborate and work strategically in partnership with one another to see the world become a more friendly place "

So they are drawing a group of 'key people'?  People who have keys?  People who are shaped like keys??  And there's a scope involved somehow.  Possibly like a periscope?  There's people holding things and calling out things.  The last sentence has 37 words in it.  But none of them make a 'picture' of what is happening.  I have no idea at all what that sentence means.  If I had to guess, it means that a lot of people will get together somehow, and do something really vague.  Possibly that is correct.  I hope they remember their periscope.  It takes me a long time to decode.  I ask people to help.  Often they wonder why, and think I am just being awkward.  People tend not to take the request seriously.  "Oh that Ann, she even studied at Oxford University.  Of course she can understand.".  I did, too.  Local history.  My topics  - statistics, maps, plans, buildings, landscape.  Pure visual.

And it's awkward, because I'm expected to know what complex sentences mean.  As the MD of a Professional Practice, I can write technical reports with no trouble at all.  So why can't I read the 37 word sentence?  

OK, here's a sentence or two from our technical reports:  "The property is a two storey modern office of brick construction under a tiled roof.  It has an area of approximately 340 square meters, subdivided into:  Reception, open plan office, three WCs, kitchen, stores."

We are describing a thing.  All of it involves writing down what we can see.  I can remember every detail of every building I've visited with my professional team.  From every angle.  Every colour, every crack, every item stored in it.  A complete 3D 'walk through' of that building and site.  With my visual system, I can see colour changes that others cannot.  I can spot patterns that others cannot.  I can hear at frequencies that others cannot hear.  Those are advantages for the work that we do.  I'm not interested in being bribed to report a value that is not true, because that is against the rules.  Not even if they offered me £millions.  Not interested.  That's another advantage for the work we do.  I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of maps and plans.  Another advantage.  But tell me that Donna 'has a bun in the oven', and I'm baffled.    16 years of producing reports. Thousands of reports. 100% accuracy.  One of the most respected professional practices in the UK.  Co-owned and run by an autistic woman.  Yes, that could be your child in a few years' time.  If you work with their strengths and interests.

The work I do to help autistic people in society is fantastic.  But working with some non-autistic people can be very very hard work indeed, sometimes.  So many expectations that I can read any University level stuff.  So many expectations that, if I can't, I must be too unintelligent to include.  We miss out on so much talent and expertise from autistic people, as a society.  We misunderstand autism, and especially how visual autism works.

If people use shorter sentences and straightforward explanations, I can understand just fine.

I write at 'easy read' level.  60+ on the Flesch Reading Ease scale.  That's a 'how easy is it to read this' program that is part of Microsoft Word.  You can find out what the score means online, very easily.  Other reading ease programs are available.

Here's the next challenge:

I said I like cake
I said I like cake
I said I like cake

Word emphasis.  Voice tone.  People use this all the time.  It can be used to create sarcasm, jokes, etc.  It changes the whole meaning of a sentence.   And many of us who are autistic will struggle to hear it or read it accurately.

Those sentences, with different words emphasised in bold?  The first has the word 'said' in bold.  The last has the word 'cake' in bold.   But they are the same words.  To me, all we have done is write the same thing three times, and made one word darker than the rest.  Visually, it's the same.  A person who is happy when they see or eat a cake.  That's what I visualise.

For visual autistic people, keep sentences short.  Describe something.  Use the words you actually mean.  Avoid sarcasm, as too many of us will understand it literally.

Visual autistic people can be a fantastic asset to any team.  Our creativity and understanding of the physical world around us can be amazing.  But we really do use and understand language differently.

Instead of thinking that we are being rude or lazy, or unintelligent, learn about autism.
Learn about our own ways of communicating.  Ways that involve being totally straightforward.  Ways that involve pictures, and communication by movement and pattern. Ways that do not need eye contact, face expression, body language, voice tone or strange expressions.  It's a different way of communicating, not a broken one.  And it is wonderful to explore.

Friday 5 February 2016


Quite a subject, eh?

Important, too.  Not important for everyone, of course.  But generally.

One of the ways people control others?  Controlling how they express their sexuality.  Controlling which other consenting adult they form a long term loving relationship with.
In the world of religion, there's a lot of assumptions about what God wants.  Arguments and debates aplenty.  Theologians searching for answers.  Religious leaders issuing commands and guidelines.  Threats of hell.  Of losing your livelihood if you dare to go against the church, or society.  Perhaps losing your freedom.  In some parts of the world, losing your life.  And right here, so many lives lost through suicide, because of the massive burdens and condemnation put on some LGBT young people.

I am faithfully married to a lovely man.
We could stop there, couldn't we.  That would be OK with everyone, eh.  

But it's not OK to stop there.  If we stop there, we haven't explored a sometimes uncomfortable dynamic.  A dynamic about church and its power. About the literalism of autistic people.  About damage and denial.  About whether we 'permit' disabled people to be sexual beings.  About 'What does God actually want for people'.

You see, I was born as a white female blessed with autism and identifying as lesbian. 
All four things are me.

I cannot wake up and decide that I'm not white.  I'd be white even if I had married someone of a different race.  I'd be white even if I decided to dress and act and talk as if I were from a different ethnic group.   White is what I am.  And female.

And autistic is what I am.

And lesbian is what I am.

I cannot become straight by marrying a straight man.   I cannot become straight by being shamed into it or hated into it.

I cannot become non-autistic by being coerced or bribed or blackmailed or shamed into denying it or hiding it.

Why I am I telling you, the reader, this?   Because there are a million or so autistic people in England.  Because from all the peer research we have, a third of those are lesbian, or gay, or bisexual, or transgender, or asexual, or genderqueer, etc.  In other words, some 300,000 people in the country are autistic, and gay, etc.

And many are Christian.  Many.

Going to my local church is a blessing.  Wonderful people.

Meeting my clergy friends is a blessing.  Wonderful people.
Supporting lovely churches and charities financially, that's a blessing too. We do that through my company financial fund, where we can.  Not for gain or applause, but because the work so desperately needs doing, and they do it well.

And yet..., someone like me is told in Christian online settings - run by big well known Christian organisations...(and sometimes to my face...)

....that I should be ashamed of identifying as lesbian
....that I am no different to a murderer, if I 'come out' as lesbian.  Better to hide it, always.
....that I am not a Christian and cannot claim to be one
...that I have no soul as an autistic person
....that I have invented a satanic 'god' of my own who believes people like me are loved when we're 'obviously' not
...that if I am near others in worship, as an autistic person, I'm spoiling it for them
...that people like me  - autistic or lesbian - need curing
...that people like me need therapy to make me non-autistic, non-lesbian
...that it is too risky to speak to me
....that I'm out to create trouble and damage everything, because 'that's what people like her do'

I kind of expect someone to wander up and tell me that I should have therapy for being white, too.  Or female. Or tell me that all females create trouble and we should treat them all as if they are dangerous.  It would make as much sense.

The endless impact on people who may be Vulnerable.  Ice cold buckets of scorn and 'othering', poured over us, shaming us, sneering at us.  (To use an expression).

Walk on by, Ann.  Take no notice, Ann.  Don't let it get to you, Ann.  Be stronger, Ann.  Always, always the onus is on the vulnerable to cope, to be strong.  Never on the attacker to behave.  It's odd.

It's moments like that when I am thankful to remember my lovely local church, and my caring Christian friends.  There are plenty who seek love for people like me.  But goodness, how it silences our voices, that condemnation.   How it silences the voices of those who already have a sensory and social communication disability, which autism is.  (We communicate differently, and it can lead to spectacular misunderstandings - a bit like an English team communicating with an Amazonian tribe, and both sides accidentally insulting each other in the most appalling ways).

Why do some shame those whom God loves? 

What of God in autistic LGBT+ people?  What do we say about that part of God that is autistic? What do we say about that part of God that is lesbian, or gay? 

We are wonderfully made, each and every one of us.  
I support all my faithful friends of all kinds, faiths, backgrounds and sexualities.  I support their faithful relationships and their marriages.  I support their lives and their love for one another.  I support their care and gentleness for others, their concern and hard work in communities.  

I see no shame.

I am autistic, and I identify all my life as lesbian.  Neither thing will ever change.  It is not in my power to Not Be Me.  Nor will I cease to be white on command.  That's how it is.  We have to square with it.  And respect it.  And embrace it.

So, my loved readers, my prayer is this.  That we truly do learn from difference instead of fearing it... and instead of ascribing that fear to God.   God is not afraid.  God is not angry about how He made me.  God made me as I am.

That we learn to love one another for how we are.  For, you, my friends, you are loved.