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

 

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

 

The Abstract and the Concrete

Evening, Internet!

So what’s up this week? Well, I’m wrapping my head around prism therapy, getting my Irish on for Varsity, and trying to stop my dissertation from crumbling around my ears. I am also highly aware that the structure for this whole blog has gone a little out of the window. Bear with, I’m doing my best.

I’m also trying to get my head around philosophy, which is no mean feat. Fun fact about me – I don’t do abstract. Like, at all. And translating the abstract into the concrete is even worse. I remember having a huge row with my mum over the right approach to the theoretical foundations to clinical case formulation because I simply could not comprehend what she was on about.  And now I’ve decided to write an essay about epistemology (also known as the theory of knowledge) in qualitative research, and I’m wondering if I’ve officially lost it for good.

Though occasionally I manage to surprise even myself, ’cause I wound up with a merit for the formulation essay. Who’da thunk it?

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It’s a bit like a lot of academic stuff, I think – a little bit harder for me, because my brain simply doesn’t urn that way. Most of the time, though, trying to grasp philosophy is more like  putting diesel in a petrol engine – *cough cough* and it’s dead. And I genuinely not sure why. Way back in undergrad, I just kind of accepted it (and took Dutch instead of a philosophy module because f*ck you). Can’t get away from it now, though. I deal in the concrete, the stuff I can measure, and analyse and then apply to previous knowledge, never mind the theory.

It might be a global picture thing. It’s a fairly well known facet of autism that we focus on the details first and the big picture second. Or maybe it’s just the fact I think along ‘tramlines’ according to my mum, which I think is a bit unfair, but not untrue. Anyway the long and short of it is, I might have screwed myself over with this one. Oh well. Just make it sound good, mm?

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On the other side, my organisational, people/social and general ‘cool’ are in the process of being pushed to the limits by my dissertation project. It’s just me – big contrast to last time. Which is simultaneously better and worse, I think. Yes, it’s more stressful, but ultimately, my really independent and narcissistic side would far rather be solely in charge. And here’s where I think the dyspraxia kicks in again – or rather, my coping mechanisms do. I have my own way of organising and my own ways of doing things (also known as three calendars, a spreadsheet and a decent mobile data connection). I don’t know why, but letting someone else into that tightly-run ship just puts my back up. It was a big problem back in undergrad – my partner had all the ideas and I felt like I was being swept along for the ride, and I had no idea at all what I was doing. It’s all so different now. I don’t know what happened in the two years between undergrad and postgrad, but I grew a backbone, that’s for damn sure.

Not helped by the tech that record the data screwing me around royally the other day and not actually recording anything, so I now have virtually nothing to work with. Joy of all joys.  And I have to deal with people. Wow. It’s so awkward. But I do have a script. A literal script.

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Anyway, as I said, dear audience, please bear with me while I sort out the whirlwind that is currently my life. I want to expend a bit more on small details vs big picture vision, and I’ll keep you updated on the dissertation research (without going into too much detail, obviously). It’s just all a bit much to juggle.

Have a good week, and stay awesome

Now trending – #ignorance

Hola!

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Last week, I quoted an old opinion article from the Evening Standard, talking about how we need to stop giving kids diagnoses like dyslexia and dyspraxia, and dyscalculia and the like, blaming the failings of the education system and the willingness of teachers to believe these children have ‘brain diseases’ rather than bucking up their act and teaching them maths. You may also recall I got a Bit P*ssed Off about this.

It seems to be a trend.

Fessing up to my own ignorance first; until I did a Google search for autism a while back (for something else), I did not realise that there are people out there who do not believe the condition exists. I was moderately horrified (though I suppose, in the end, not really surprised) to find that this was the case across the board for learning disorders, and mental illnesses in general. Like this article from the Telegraph quoting a group of academics who want to drop the diagnosis of dyslexia because they fell there are no unifying characteristics for it. (To which my slightly incredulous response was, ‘Have you never heard of an umbrella term?). I had a fight with my flatmate’s boyfriend last week when he came out with the phrase ‘People with depression should just grow a backbone.’ (He apologised afterwards, but only after being shouted at for five minutes straight). This afternoon I was chatting to a bloke with an autism spectrum disorder, who apparently was made to attend a “special needs school” because nobody ever thought he’d amount to anything. Can’t vouch for its veracity, but all together it got me thinking about how we find out about learning disabilities and mental health.  I’ll tell you something – at school, when I was growing up in the 90’s/early 00’s, we were taught zip until A-Level, and then only because I took psychology.

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We all ought to know about the whole ‘autism is caused by the MMR jab‘ debacle that went down in the early 90s. Essentially some idiot published a paper of (completely fabricated) data that established a ‘causal link’ between MMR and autism, and anyone who’s ever done scientific research will know that concrete causal links are something of a holy grail, especially in psychology. This particular link was, of course, pure bullshit: yet is still extensively quoted by the anti-vax movement even today – America’s very own President Fart included. Because obviously, your child dying of measles is preferable to them having autism :/sarcasm/. What really gets to me is the wilful lack of education that these people seem to display. It’s not like we’re blinding them to the benefits of vaccination: we’re giving them reams of information on why it’s good for them, and the health of the population as a whole. We’re practically shoving it in their faces. Are they listening? Big Fat Nope.

(I should add, my mother and father were some of the ones that listened; autistic or otherwise, I was vaccine-ed up to the gills. Five-year-old me was not impressed).

It’s the same, I think, with mental health disorders. It’s gotten better, there is no doubt about that at all, but the second (and I mean the second) someone who has a mental disorder gets a gun and shoots someone/gets shot by the cops, everyone with a mental disorder immediately feels the fallout. Sometimes I feel like no matter how much we try to teach people about these disorders, and how to manage and care for people, and treat people with these disorders, it falls completely on deaf ears – or that all ears turn conveniently deaf whenever someone with a mental disorder commits a crime. And when you have people who are supposed to be professionals coming out and saying that disorders such as anxiety and depression are nothing more than myths…it’s enough to make anyone despair.

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It’s evident through history as well. One of the prevalent theories of autism through the 50s and 60s was that of the ‘refrigerator mother’ – the idea that autistic children are the way they are because their mothers are emotionally distant. This has thankfully been disproved a thousand times over, but the idea remains – as shown in this 2012 article arguing that children with autism are simply deprived of love. This, as we all know, is bullshit. I and people like me, react differently to the world; this does not mean we are neither capable nor deserving of love.

Thing is, as I said before, I never really expected to find the same case with dyspraxia as well – I guess because I grew up with a name for my difference, I simply took it for granted. Not to mention I study psychology, which probably colours my view somewhat. But then you get stuff like that Evening Standard article, and this book (the blurb actually makes me feel a bit ill). You note they both call learning difficulties ‘diseases’ as opposed to ‘disorders.’ Shoot me down if you will, but I think calling them diseases is a complete misnomer, and not for the reasons you might think. Yes, disease has a different stigma to it, but the word also implies that there is a ‘cure.’ And there isn’t. There is no cure for what I have, there is no cure for what my friends have, and in trying to cure us of autism, or ADHD, or dyspraxia, you’re more likely to destroy us. It’s like thinking you can cure someone of being gay, something else that makes me feel ill – the curing attempts, not the gay.

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And who suffers for this ignorance? The academics in their ivory towers, the titled professionals and the opinionated parents? No – it’s us. The labelled ones. Parents will scour blog-sites and newspapers for confirmation that this scary thing their child has is curable, and meanwhile I feel like nobody wants to understand why I am the way I am. Until my diagnosis, I’d never heard of dyspraxia. Nobody ever talks about this stuff, and it’s a crying shame. Because until we do, this culture of ignorance and fear of the unknown, or the different, or the extraordinary, is only going to grow, and prevail and I do not want to know where it may lead us.

So can we get the #ignorance trend out of society, please?

Stay awesome, everyone.

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Glasses

Needle

Newspapers

Guess Who’s Back?

Salutations!

My God, what a week! First, I am so sorry there was no update last week – my Wifi decided to kill itself, and it didn’t come back until halfway through the weekend. It chose the worst time to do it, I have so many assignments to get in. Combine that with the lack of motivation I was experiencing a couple of weeks back, and academically I’m in the shit. I’m getting no sleep this weekend, I can feel it in my bones.

So, I’m a week late, and I feel like crap about that, but hey ho. On with the content.

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What I was going to put up last week was based on this wonderful article that was posted in the Guardian back in October 2012, and cropped up on my Facebook newsfeed the other week courtesy of a friend of mine. You don’t see dyspraxia in the news a lot, and I always love it when you do.

Anyway, the author of the article is about living with a slightly worse case of dyspraxia than I have, but much of it rings very true across the board, particularly the part about maths and statistics. Numbers give me a headache; trying to manipulate them is even worse. I feel like I could have passed the statistics portion of my dissertation if I’d had someone looking over my shoulder and telling me what I was looking at, maybe I’d have done it right. The author makes a very important point about verbal IQ and non-verbal IQ – while her verbal comprehension is extremely high, parts of her non-verbal are ‘subnormal.’ It was the same case with me – when I was assessed, I had a verbal comprehension score of something like 99.98, but couldn’t recite a string of six numbers backwards. This isn’t uncommon – maths troubles can be found in many developmental disorders. Dyscalculia is perhaps the most obvious is terms of mathematical disability, but across dyspraxia and dyslexia as well, troubles will be found. I recall trying to perform a task in which I had to arrange cubes with different sides into the pattern shown on the sheet in front of me. I got through 3 or 4  in the time allowed. I think the average is about 9 or 10.

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The other important point I think the article makes is the one about hearing people and remembering clearly what they’ve said. A person can say words to me, in plain, slow, clear English, and my brain will just say ‘What?’ I call it a lack of processing power. I can  multitask, but only on a good day; lecture slides for me are a godsend because it summarises what my lecturers are saying if I can’t make it make sense in my head. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “If her verbal IQ is so high, what’s with the lack of comprehension?” The answer is; I have no idea, and neither, it seems does science.

And that’s the sad part, I think. Dyspraxia’s called the condition that too many people shy away from, and it’s largely ignored in favour of the more noticeable, better understood and more easily diagnosed dyslexia, or autism, or ADHD, or dyscalculia. One article I came across while researching this was this one from The London Evening Standard in 2004 which genuinely pissed me off. For one, dypraxia isn’t overdiagnosed, it’s underdiagnosed if you ask me. Yes, diagnosis wasn’t always as sensitive as it is today, and diagnostic systems have changed and improved vastly over the years since this article was written, but that isn’t the point. If you don’t diagnose something at all, there is no getting help for those who can’t afford it privately (as these people obviously can). For another thing, it’s not another ‘excuse for academic underacheivement.’ I think the phrase that pissed me off the most was ‘brain defect.’ Bollocks. If I have a brain defect, it’s one that I love; it’s one that allows me to see the world in a poetry that nobody else does. And if I – an MSc student at one of the best universities in the country – am an academic underachiever, I would love to see your definition of an over-achiever!

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Yeah, I got annoyed.

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I have said it before and I will say again, and I will keep on saying it until I am blue in the face; the only way to get around this silence is to break it. I find it so interesting that the posts I make tagged as ‘autism’ get exponentially more views and likes than those tagged simply ‘dyspraxia.’ One disorder is not more important than the other, of course not, but ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.

Like my dissertation proposal. Though I wish it did – this weekend’s going to be tough. Think of me while you relax?

And, as always, stay awesome.

Dancer

 

 

Odd Socks

Good evening, fellow browsers of the Interweb!

First off, I must apologise for saying there was nothing going on last week and moaning about it. I take it all back. I’ve just had four separate assignment dropped on my head, all in within a week of each other. Not to mention, my motivation has been wrapped in a straight-jacket that someone has locked up, pocketed the key, and wandered off. Please, take me back to last week…

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So on that cheerful note, and before I go away and sink into a pit of work-related agony, I want to give you my five top ways of getting myself organised.

The thing about dyspraxia, or at least the way I have it, is that I find keeping myself on track with all the things I have to do is occasionally impossible. It’s worse the less I have to do, weirdly, but I can find juggling even one or two things a nightmare. Unless it’s something I do regularly, like dance class or going to lectures, I’m a bit useless.

So, as presented by Rafferty, here are my top five ways of Getting All My Shit in One Sock.

  1. Diarise Everything. 

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And by everything, I mean everything. Times and dates, the right bus to catch and at what time, provisional things, concrete things, when to go shopping, deadlines…I never go anywhere without my diary (which, incidentally, is from PaperChase). Having everything written down in one easy place where I can access it quickly has saved my bacon on a lot of occasions. On the days I’m feeling lazy, I set alarms on my phone, which is synced up to my Outlook calendar. It works.

The only downside is I no longer have any excuses if I do screw up. I remember writing down the wrong time for a nurse’s appointment once and turning up an hour late. Fortunately they thought it was funny and let me re-schedule, but that isn’t the point. Get it right the first time, and keep it all in one place. Sorted.

2.  Keep it Clean

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Clean and tidy rooms make for clean and tidy minds, as I’ve found. I’ve never been able to comprehend people who live a floor-drobe (although one them is my best friend and I love her dearly). When I feel myself getting cluttered and confused in my head, I clean my room. It’s also healthy procrastination – as in procrastination that isn’t watching Achievement Hunter Let’s Play highlight videos for the fortieth time. Washing up and cleaning as I go also lets me keep track of things like pens and cutlery, which have a nasty tendency to wander off if I don’t. It also stops fruit flies accumulating in my room via my many discarded apple cores. My boyfriend did that once. I’ve still not quite forgiven him (don’t tell him).

On that note, put something somewhere and leave it there. If stuff keeps moving, it will get lost, it’s like a Law of the Universe.

3. Labelling is your Friend

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I thought I had two lots of one kind of bolognase in the fridge the other day. I was wrong. I had one lot each of two different kinds, and I didn’t know, because I couldn’t be bothered to label them before they went into sandwich bags and into the freezer. I still have trouble remembering which folder is which of Important Documents, because neither of them are labelled. Seriously, put labels on everything. I have all my course notes in a bit of an odd system that nobody but me would get, which is fine cause I’m the only one that uses them. On an even stranger note, before my gran was put in care we used to label everything for her – the only trouble was she refused to use her glasses so she couldn’t read any of them.

So, find a system and use it. As long as you know where it all is, and you can find it, it’ll work.

4. Lists

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I sometimes try to do my weekly shop with a mental list. It never ends well. Even with a list, I forget things. It’s irritating as anything, especially when I only forget one thing, and it was the one thing I actually needed. Make a list, make it comprehensive. And not just for your shopping; it works for everything. If I had a lot of jobs to do at work, I’d list them and then sort them in order of priority, so they were out of my head and quit taking up so much space. I physically cross them off when I’ve done them. If you need it, list it – jobs, travel packing, revision topics, shopping, meal plans…the list goes on.

(Ha, get it? Geddit? Okay…)

The most annoying lists are the long ones that keep growing, but there’s nothing more satisfying than physically crossing the last item off a really sodding long list.

5. The Writing’s on the Wall(chart)

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I tend not to use wallcharts and calendars so much, because I use my diary, but occasionally, having something written in massive f*ck-off letters on the wall can be the slap in the face you really need – good for urgent reminders. And it’s right in front of you as well, no flipping pages to get to where you need to be. Cross the days off as you complete them – also really satisfying, and it gives you a chance to make sure you’ve properly prepared.

Get one you don’t mind looking at every day as well – if you use a calendar you don’t like, you’ve got that picture for a whole month and the same theme for the whole year. I like horses or landscapes, maybe films if I feel like it.

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My constant, and best piece of advice, is use this as a starting point and find what works for you. And if you like living in a floor-drobe, well fair enough. You are very strange, but fair enough.

Have a good week, and stay awesome!

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Socks

Books

All pictures of Rafferty are mine.

Examine This!

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Happy New Year! So Rafferty and I have finally quit country-hopping and are safely back at Uni. And that means we’re gearing up for exam season. Again.

The one thing I didn’t miss during two years in work was university exams. Before anyone starts jumping down my throat, I am deeply aware it is one of the biggest cliches in education – the age old student of adage of ‘F*ck My Exams.’

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Thing is, it never used to be like that. Up until the age of around 17 I was completely neutral about exams, to the point where I would just not study and still come top of the class. I only revised for my GCSEs because my mum would have strung me up otherwise.

Then I failed a couple of A-Levels because Holy Hell, I was not expecting that jump. And After that very rude wake-up call, I joined the ranks of the other students, filing into the exam hall with the sharp tang of terror in my mouth.

Hands up who out there was considered ‘Gifted and Talented’ at school? Hands up who then also failed to make that big jump/a similar big jump and ever since then has been struggling with academic self-esteem issues? Yeah.

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It’s not a knowledge thing; I could spit out any amount of facts for these exams just off the top of my head. It’s a technique thing. I know that I know it, it’s just proving that I know it. Whether that’s a dyspraxia thing or just a me thing, I don’t know, I just know that even when I plan an answer out, what comes out onto the paper bears no resemblance to the answer in my head. I recently did a 48-hour take-home exam (which was awesome by the way) but I took one look at the first draft of my answer and just went, ‘Well, sh*t. Is that how all my exam answers read? Now I understand why I nearly failed my second year…’

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The thing about uni is, most of the support systems that eventually pulled my grades up and got me in the door in the first place got pulled away. I couldn’t get my lecturers to look at my practice exam questions (trust me, I asked, the answer was an unequivocal no). Even with an official diagnosis of a learning disability, I found it really difficult to access the support I needed. All I got was extra time in exams, and general help with the rest of my coursework, which I really felt I didn’t need. Fortunately I have a much better idea of what is supposed to be happening in exam answers now (I read a book about Critical Thinking and constructing arguments and a lightbulb came on), but for a while I was absolutely lost at sea. At 23 I’ve had to learn how to revise, because I never bothered all the way through school.

A word to the wise – bother. Don’t get complacent, sat on your intelligence, because A-Level and undergraduate level truly screwed with me, is still truly screwing with me, and it will truly screw with you as well. I’d love to know if I could have come top of the year every year if I’d put a bit of effort in, or at least felt like I needed to.

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I can’t change the past, and I can’t stop it screwing up my future, but I think that a lesson learned late is still a lesson learned. And with any luck, I can used this degree as a springboard to get into my chosen field. It might take me a bit more time, but I’ll get there.

Stay awesome, everyone.

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Pen clip art

Books

The picture of Rafferty is mine, please don’t reuse without permission.

Christmas Crackers

First off, I’m a bit annoyed with myself. This was supposed to be going up earlier in the week. Regrettably, I then went to my Dad’s, who turned out to have no internet. Oh well, it’s forcing me out of room and into being social, which I guess is the point of having a family Christmas.

For a long time, Christmas has been a bit of a weird time for me. Up until the age of about 16, it was me, my Mum, and my Dad in a mildly stressful but ultimately happy dynamic. That fell to pieces at 17, and at 18 I outright refused to come home. Ever since, Christmas has been a mixture of the weird and the wonderful. More weird than wonderful, to be honest.

See, now my Dad has a whole new family (and cat). Josh is still in the picture, obviously, and my sort-of-stepmother has a mother, and three kids of her own, two of whom have long-term partners. Christmas Day rocketed from three people to about nine in the space of a very short time. New house, new town, new people, new baby this year…for an awkward dyspraxic-autistic kid it was like being thrown into the seventh circle of Hell. All my little Christmas traditions went completely out of the window, along with my comfort zone. Which incidentaly, I’ve never found since.

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I’ll be honest, I spent the first year of it all drinking steadily. I think I drank about half a bottle of Amaretto, plus some bubbly with dinner. Worked for me, since Amaretto I can drink pretty well without being too ill. My boyfriend and I, however, agreed that it wasn’t a very healthy comping strategy and I abstained last year. Big mistake. Massive anxiety attack slap-bang in the middle of dinner.

If there’s one day you don;t want to be having an anxiety attack, it’s Christmas, made worse when Dad wanted some help and then got pissed when I couldn’t give it to him and accused me of throwing a tantrum just to be awkward. Anyone who knows me knows I grew out of that phase aged about 15. Would he or my stepmum listen to me? Absolutely not. And ever year since, something about Christmas has devolved into some kind of massive argument. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to it this year.

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Well, that’s a lie. I still love the spirit of Christmas; the pretty lights, the good food, and the crap telly. The one time of the year the family really comes together in the season of forgiveness n’ all that. Thing is, I feel more and more like a guest in my own family a lot of the time these days. Mum’s got her lot, Dad’s got his lot, and I’m left somewhere in the middle, drifting from one to the other as time and money allow. I’d stop; but Josh IS my Christmas tradition now. I’m not sure I could ever really stop seeing him, even if the rest of the visit is awkward as hell. My Dad’s partner’s family are lovely people, but occasionally I’m not convinced of how much they understand about a condition like mine – nothing obviously wrong, just a different view of the world that they’re not necessarily expecting.

It harks back to a point made by by our old friend in this post here – If you misunderstand something, it’s Your Fault. It’s not the nicest feeling in the world, misunderstanding something and then being told off because you misinterpreted it. This applies to all the times of year, not just Christmas. And I’m not throwing a tantrum – I’m being overwhelmed. Anxiety attached to autism is not restricted to small children in supermarkets – it occurs in adults to, even adults who are borderline. Dyspraxia itself comes with its own dose of social awkwardness, and I find, especially with me, it’s often this that creates the anxiety; they aren’t mutually exclusive. You screw up in public, you aren’t sure why or how, and nobody will explain it to you.

So think about your family neuroatypical this Christmas. If they’re scared, or triggered, or down, try talking to them. We exist, we’re valid, and it’s not just up to us to make Christmas amazing for the whole family.

Stay awesome, and have a Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday, one and all. I’ll finish on a word from Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol)

“Bless us, every one.”

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Picture credits:

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Snowflake

Driven to Distraction

Joy of joys, I passed my driving test on the third try last week. Considering some of the ridiculous driving you see out on the roads in this day and age, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’d be easier.

I do get asked, occasionally, “So, if you’ve got dyspraxia, how can you drive?” Same way everyone else does, mate; one foot on the gas, two eyes on the road. Oh, yeah, and a pair of these on my hands.

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There’s a very interesting book about the anatomical and cultural constructs of left and right – Right Hand Left Hand by Chris McManus. Left and right – working out which is which, anyway – are an issue for a lot of people. I’ll bet there’s a lot of times you’ve had to think twice about left and right. It’s a spatial thing.

Dyspraxia’s the same; it’s not just motor co-ordination, it’s spatial awareness as well. I can’t follow spoken instructions for the life of me, or give them out – I need a map. I navigate by landmarks, not left and right. The amount of times I hit the kerb trying to parallel park or do a turn in the road is outstanding.  An old instructor of mine seemed to think it was a given that I would know where my wheels were based on the angle of the steering wheel while I was learning how to reverse – erm, no. And even if I could, I’m more interested in not hitting that nice BMW than I am in working out where my wheels are pointing.

It’s also how I failed my first test; I though I had a good foot or so between the wall and the car – my examiner informed me afterwards, very succinctly, that it was only a few inches. Add the fact I missed a sign for a hairpin turn and took it at around 35 miles per hour, and you get a big fat fail.

(Second test wasn’t as exciting – just a car in a blind spot that I forgot to check. Irritating but ultimately boring. I call it ‘foiled by the invisible car’).

But the biggest struggle for me isn’t clutch control or steering, it’s having to work out left and right on the go. I require at lest a couple of seconds to remember which is which. I was pulling out of a car park on the day of my test; my instructor told me to turn left. I very calmly flipped the indicator to the right and then got confused when she said, “No, left.” It took me a full 10 seconds to work out I was going the wrong way. God help me if I ever try driving in Europe, or the US. I mean, driving on the left can be complicated enough, then flip the car around AND all the traffic signals and I think it would end very badly. Hence the L and R inked on my hands. It’s not cheating, it’s a safety net. I checked it at least three or four times on my test. Sometimes it’s not so bad and I don’t have to think as much. Then there are days like that.

This is not to say I’m not a good driver. I’m a very good driver, actually. I may be a bit shoddy on the clutch every now and again but I think ahead, I plan, I observe (most of the time, hehe). And I passed my test within a year of taking my first, so I must be doing something right. I’m looking forward to getting out there as a licensed driver with my own wheels, learning how to drive properly. But the L and R aren’t going away any time soon, I think. It’s a useful strategy – even more so now that I can drive without supervision.  There’s not always going to be someone in the passenger seat to tell me I’m turning the wrong way.

But still.

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On a different note, the mountains outside my window looked like an alien planet the other day.

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I really love wintertime in the countryside.

Stay awesome everybody.

 

NOTE: All pictures are for once mine, please don’t reproduce without permission =D