Good Evening one and all!

My flipping beast of a laptop has decided to pick up the charming new habit of disconnecting from its battery if I pick it up wrong, so this might have to go up a couple of times…no matter.

Anyway, I’ve been stupidly busy over Easter, with both family and schoolwork, but it’s finally coming together and it’s all looking good.

So, in this installment of ‘What’s going on in Hannah’s head’ this week, I was thinking a bit about boxes. Mental boxes, not physical boxes. I just about finished my abstract philosophy essay this morning, and I’m pretty proud of myself for it. Maybe it is just a question of familiarity. But the thing about mental boxes, or labels, or whatever you want to call them, is that they’re quite a contentious thing these days. I spend a lot of time on Tumblr, when I get the chance, and when I’m not browsing my fandom tags (don’t judge me, okay) I’m skimming through the social activist posts that inevitably crop up on my dashboard. And most of them are on the same wavelength – “Let People Be Who They Are.”

Which is fantastic, but then you get into the argument of just where the boundaries lie, and that’s where you get problems. It’s like a sociological border skirmish.

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Here’s the thing about human beings – we like to put things in boxes. We like to label stuff – there’s evidence to suggest that we form impressions seven seconds after meeting a person, and stereotypes become formed by age 7. It’s probably a defence mechanism – we like to know what we’re dealing with. Ingroup/outgroup, and all that jazz.

Something that came up during my last ‘Philosophy of Psychology’ essay (let’s call it that for now) was that I can’t deal with abstract concepts, like theories with no scientific basis. Which is the whole basis of philosophy, as I see it – it’s all speculation based on either observation or one too many snifters (for further information, please see Monty Python’s ‘The Philosopher’s Song.’). Hence I finally grasped what the hell I was meant to be doing and promptly went, “Ah, f*ck this.” (The same is happening now, except I have more of an idea of how these people think, so it’s no so much of a holy mystery). But, anyway, something that came up between me and my mum was that I don’t do abstract. Like, at all. Stuff that I can’t put away under a label, or in a box, blows my mind.

Realising this was a good thing. I was able to tell him, “Be precise!” when I was doing some DIY on the farm over Easter with my Dad, rather than getting yelled at for getting confused (and then yelling back at him for being confusing) . Usually, I’m quite good at DIY, and at working with Dad cause we’ve had a lot of practice; but sometimes he trails off in the middle of an instruction, and then I can’t read his mind and get confused. Maybe a neurotypical could, depending on level of experience, but I can’t. Please, be precise, I don’t know what you’re thinking. I can’t extrapolate what you want.

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I think, as an Aspie, that’s why I like mental boxes so much. I like to have a category, I like to have a prescribed set of drills, I like to know what I’m supposed to be doing. I think maybe that’s why there’s such a lot of overlap between autism and OCD – it’s not just about the sensory stimulation, the tic-ing, the love of routine et al., et al…it’s about knowing what, or who I’m dealing with, which social scripts to access. The need to have everything where it should be so I can sort through it both mentally and physically.

It’s made more complex by the fact that my dyspraxia means I can’t always make my body or my words do what I want them to. Knowing who or what to expect makes it easier because I have time to activate the right script and practice it. You hear me talking to myself? That’s probably me doing just that.

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So, I see all these people on the internet, arguing about what constitutes a particular label, or what’s the best way of talking to people who identify with a particular group. And different names for the same thing, or different ways of referring to the same thing. Its like wading through a bramble patch. Hence I don’t really engage because I know I’ll slip up, so I stick to what I know.

Yeah, I’m aware of how closed minded I sound. But bear in mind this is the girl who didn’t engage in class discussion from the age of about 12 to 18, who had her first curry at 17 and thought she was brave for trying a korma (I still hate overly spicy food), who found it easier to lie about the fact she was in a same-sex relationship because it was preferable than facing the questions. Who had a complete sexuality crisis when she was in that relationship because she was changing boxes – from a girl who thought her bisexuality was a phase to embracing it fully (and loving every second, might I add).

I want to step outside the box, but it isn’t easy for me. I’m trying, but outside the boxes, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know where the paths are, and I don’t want to get lost.

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As a species, we love boxes, and putting labels on them. For the people that don’t fit in a specific box, it’s tough. Hell, I don’t even fully fit into the Aspie box, but here I am. But labels can be empowering as well as stigmatising, so we shouldn’t throw them out altogether.

I suppose the end message is this: Box things up, but make sure you put them in the right place.

Stay awesome, everyone!

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Box

 Filing Cabinet

 

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Review: A Boy Made of Blocks

*Will contain spoilers for the novel*

Evening everyone!

You know, there’s very little that’s more British than wishing for rain while the sun is shining in a clear blue sky. We are never happy with the weather.

Okay, there’s a good reason for it; we need to roll out the lumps in the horse’s fields and we can’t do it while the ground is like iron, which means I get to ride the quadbike, which is AWESOME. And I just realised how incredibly middle-class that sentence makes me sound. I am so sorry.

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It’s one of the many things you don’t have to worry about in Minecraft. The earth always breaks when you want it to, and it regularly rains like a bitch. If you don’t mind the odd zombie hanging around (or a skeleton, God I hate skeletons), it’s pretty idyllic. The very ground beneath your feet bends to your will, which is at least part of the appeal of it for Sam in Keith Stuart’s novel ‘A Boy Made of Blocks.’

Some scene setting; Sam is eight, and on the autistic spectrum. He’s fairly high-functioning, but he had his moments – a lot. Alex is his father, and is, to put it bluntly, a complete mess. Jody is his mother, and perpetually stuck in the middle. Sam likes to play Minecraft, and Alex eventually realises that it may be the only way he and his son can reliably communicate. There are some other characters which move in and out of the story as necessary, but I would say they are more central to Alex’s story arc than Sam’s.

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The book is based on the author’s experiences with his own son, and I think that real-world edge really shows through; it manages to be both very true-to-life and heartwarming novel. It’s told from Alex’s perspective, so we don’t get a lot of Sam’s psyche; nevertheless, despite the insider view, I spent the first half of it wanting to punch Alex in the face (sorry mate), and the second half of him yelling at him to sort his life out. I can’t really blame him, in some respects. We’ve all been there, on occasion – life falling to pieces, no idea what to do about it, and burying our heads rather than try. It isn’t an excuse for not trying, though. There comes a point, even when depressed, one has to say ‘enough,’ and I think Alex was long past that stage – to the point I felt sometimes it was being milked for dramatic effect, but mental health issues aren’t overcome in a day, so Mr Stuart is forgiven. For now.

But I got so furious every time Alex got angry with Sam, whenever he shouted rather than tried to understand, whenever he gave up and snapped rather than tried to get down to Sam’s level, or Jody’s for that matter. Like he’d rather cause an argument because that’s what he’s expecting. There was a lot in the family dynamic that reminded me of growing up in my own household; not so much in terms of character personality, but in their interactions. It’s even true today, though these days my parents won’t even mention one another unless made to. It hit me quite hard in that area.

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No wonder Sam wants to run away and hide in a sandbox world. I did the same thing with storybooks. The same ones, over and over and over again, because they were predictable and therefore safe. I could deal with them. And Minecraft itself isn’t just a ‘run wild and free’ kind of game, even though you can build basically anything you want to. There are rules for it; all your recipes have to be exact or they won’t work, you can only pick up certain blocks if you break them with certain kinds of tools, certain things only spawn in certain places or biomes, it’s actually quite formulaic. You know what to expect. But there’s just enough freedom to make your own mark on the game. And okay, I can only really understand things once I’ve experienced them, that’s just the way I work, but I think the way it brought Sam out of his shell is actually quite accurate. In the same way I related (hah, still do) a lot of the world to what I read and saw in stories and films, Sam relates the real world to the virtual blocks of Minecraft, and in that way he starts to understand it. And so he starts to understand his dad, who starts to understand him, and it’s that understanding which starts to draw the family back together, in the end.

It was really beautifully done. And I guess that’s the point – if we don’t understand,or even try to understand, nothing will ever get better.

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Yeah, I guess it was one of those books which hit me in all the right places, even if the protagonist spent a lot of it annoying the hell out of me. And it portrays autism in a realistic light, rather than the overly positive or negative skews you can find depending on which media you access. Yes, I think it made a bit of a meal of Alex’s issues to try and create some drama and sympathy, but in terms of its portrayal of Sam and the spectrum, I thought it did a wonderful job of showing both the beauty and the strain. 9/10 would recommend to someone who was lowkey interested in the subject, or to someone looking for a starting point to learn about autsim.

Thanks for reading, and stay awesome!

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A Boy Made of Blocks (link to Amazon)

Minecraft (Mojang)

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Alex Skin

Broadcasting the Word

*raps* Guess who’s back, back again…

Yes, she’s back, she’s still alive (just about), and she’s having some pony therapy with her extended family down south. Just got back from a brief but lovely hack around the local farm; for those wondering, Josh is fine, but currently sporting the World’s Worst Haircut. Picture will not be forthcoming (yet, muahahaha…)

I’m still busy as hell, but I have got some good stuff stewing for when I have some more spare brain-space. So, what can we expect from the next few weeks? Well, I recently finished a book called “A Boy Made of Blocks,” about a boy with autism who learns to communicate with his family through playing Minecraft. As a borderline Aspie and a fellow player of Minecraft, I would highly recommend it, full review to come, probably later in the week. Still chipping away at that ‘Theory of Knowledge’ essay – I should not be complaining, I chose the title, I have nobody to blame but myself. Like I said in my last post, I’m not so good at abstract concepts, so there’ll be a bit on that, and why it’s so important for me to be able to fit things into boxes.

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But first things first – my stepmother listens to Radio 2 a lot, and I happened to catch the lunchtime’ Jeremy Vine’ show today while I was doing some work in the kitchen. It’s a show which covers relevant issues in the headlines, and invites both professional and viewer discussion, and it caught my ear this week because Paddy O’Connell (covering for Mr Vine) announced a special medical section on ‘dyspraxia.’

BBC iPlayer link (begins at 1:08:05)

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Paddy was talking to a medical professional, Dr Sarah Jarvis, and a woman called Charlotte who has dyspraxia herself (for the first section). On the whole, it was really lovely and quite respectful (aside from some unfortunate language use…’This dreadful condition of dyspraxia.’ Honestly, Paddy). I did also think Dr Jarvis took a bit of a patronising tone at times, but I’m looking at this from an informed insider’s perspective rather than a layperson who might know absolutely nothing, and she’s actually doing a very good job of explaining it in terms of someone who might never have heard of such a diagnosis. Let’s be fair here.

They focus a lot on the motor aspects of the condition, but I was very pleased that they included a section on how tough exams can be for us, because we have so much trouble organising our thoughts as well as ourselves. Charlotte told quite a humorous story about not being allowed to climb ladders because she couldn’t get down them again; I hate climbing on stepladders, I simply do not feel I can balance. Eating soup as well; Good Lord, it can be a struggle. Bread is such a saving grace when it comes to mopping up spills. She also spoke at length about always being picked last for sports teams. I never really cared all that much about sports, but I always thought that was because everyone thought I was weird, and it was quite distressing, on a personal level.

It’s so nice, so so nice, to know that these experiences are basically universal. We are a small but interesting community.

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We’re still focusing on the negative though; plenty of the people calling in were talking about losing jobs, being considered weird, never learning to drive a car or ride a bike. What happened to the rest of it? The differences in how we see people, and the world, the creativity and diversity of our voices? The doctor, the presenter, even some of the guest callers took a very negative view of the condition, focusing on its limitations and the negative impact it can have on children and adults, how hard it can be for us.

This isn’t to do down the people who do find it very difficult – there are people out there who are more profoundly affected than I am. I was lucky in that I was a very physical child and did a lot of physical activities including bike-riding and horse-riding, which let me practice co-ordination. Horse-riding is used as a therapy technique for children with conditions such as cerebral palsy, it’s amazing for co-ordination skills. But I recall saying to someone, long before I even knew dyspraxia was a word, that while I could balance perfectly on a horse (I have a very good seat and I’m very hard to dislodge, even when the horse is corkscrew-bucking), I could not do the same on the ground. Slow, careful, and fumbling on the ground, absolutely unstoppable in the saddle. Funny, that.

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 I suppose the point Dr Jarvis is trying to make is, it’s a lot easier with a diagnosis. Dyspraxia is one of the most underdiagnosed developmental conditions there is, and being teased for just being ‘clumsy,’ or ‘weird’ or ‘disorganised’ or ‘stupid’ (I heard that one a lot) can make it a very negative experience. As a young and confused child, it is very distressing and can very much colour your view of your condition. I was diagnosed at 21, some people aren’t diagnosed until 35, some get lucky and are diagnosed at 5. With a diagnosis, one has a new awareness of why this is happening, and we can start developing coping strategies for dealing with these difficulties, no matter what age we are. And this is true of any condition; dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, even things like depression and anxiety as well.

Of course, if we don’t have an awareness, we can’t give the diagnosis.

“Aren’t I lucky that I don’t [have dyspraxia]?” is also a really unhelpful phrase, doctor. Let’s try and promote understanding, rather than creating an ‘us and them’ mentality, yeah?

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So, we’ll finish with a word from Mr O’Connell himself:

“Dyspraxia; learn what it is, and stop taking the mickey!”

Stay awesome, Internet!

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Microphone

Horse and rider