Fidgeting with Widgets (and Other Distractions)

Hey all!

Well, look at that, I have a couple of free Fridays. And I bought a fidget spinner.

There’s been this whole Thing about fidget spinners ever since the craze started a couple of months ago; I don’t pay all that much attention to fads, so the first I heard of it was when my friend posted something vilifying the authorities for banning them in schools. Then suddenly it’s like BAM: they’re everywhere. Schools are getting them banned because they’re a distraction for the kids, I see people cracking them out on the street, on the train, they’re in shops for anything from a fiver to twenty quid…marketed as a stimming and a focal aid all in one.

It’s a genius idea, but I was sceptical at first, I’ll freely admit. I stim a lot. I run my nails over my hands in regular, prescribed patterns that I’ve been using since I was about five. If I’m not doing that, I’m picking at my nails or picking at my acne. Always listening to music; I need background noise when I’m working or cleaning up. I require a lot of sensory stimulation, which is something I’ve come to accept. I am a consummate fidget, and my initial thought was, ‘Just spinning something around in my fingers is not going to be enough.’

So, I bought one. No harm, no foul, right?

20170616_214234

I was half right; in many ways, it’s not enough. I think the acne-picking is a stress-relieving compulsion rather than a habit – one I’ll have to deal with some day when I have the time and inclination. I still scratch my fingers, my arms. But, my nails look better than they have in a very long time, and I’m having a go at retraining myself. If I feel the need to scratch, or pick at my nails or whatever else, I spin for a bit. And as a focus aid…well, I forgot I was spinning it during a lab meeting today, and as someone who constantly suffers from wandering thoughts, I can say with some certainty that it definitely helps there.

black-and-white-toy-ball-md

So I got curious and did a bit of digging around. According to experts, there is no scientific evidence that they aid focus for children with ADHD and autism. There was a nice article on LiveScience about attention spans in kids, both neurotypical and neuroatypical; so, there have been plenty of studies on attention, but almost none focusing on fidget spinners and their ilk, which have been around for a while. In my opinion, the spinners haven’t been out for long enough to really gauge how honestly useful they are in improving attention in children. So, I think saying ‘there’s no scientific evidence and there never will be’ is jumping the gun a bit. There’s some evidence out there that fidget toys can be useful in reducing anxious habits like skin picking as part of a wider therapy; they are, however, woefully understudied in clinical, domestic and educational contexts as a specific aid.

Then there’s the matter of design. I have a metal one; my boyfriend took one look at it, found a stray bit of metal (not sharp) hanging off it, and wrote them off as not worth the money. Bit premature, I though, but considering the thing was half price (down from £10), it may be a fair point. Customs at Frankfurt Airport in Germany are having to destroy 35 tonnes of ‘unsafe’ spinners imported from China, as the LEDs embedded were embedded so poorly that they were a choking hazard. I imagine when they fall apart, they do so spectacularly and at high speeds.

They have their downsides, there’s no doubt about that.

black-and-white-toy-ball-md

Anecdotally, and in practice, though, they seem to be working out. Fidget toys and other sensory aids are used extensively with children, in clinical and domestic situations respectively. There’s some concern about how schools banning fidget spinners might negatively impacts the learning – and indeed, the social – experience of neuroatypical children, one person’s focus aid/stim is another person’s distraction. This blog post from AustismAwareness.com sums it up very nicely. There’s also evidence to suggest the stimming IS the focus tactic for people with autism (which unfortunately I haven’t got the link for); does it then matter what the stim is? And it begs the question; if they are so widespread, why do they seem so understudied?

I like my spinner, and I like that it lets me fidget without looking overly weird (not that that’s ever mattered much to me). I think the major problem is that people have is the anti-social nature of fidgeting. I fidget to focus and someone else finds it distracting. Where did we get this idea that fidgeting was something to be avoided? I can’t imagine what it would be like not the be a fidget, and I’ve never quite comprehended how people sit still. I think then expecting me to sit still to ease the experience for everyone else is asking a bit much.

black-and-white-toy-ball-md

What I would say to schools and other institutions looking to ban them is; think about who you’re impacting. Yes, some kids in class would benefit from having them remove, but also think about your friendly neighbourhood neuroatypical who may be relying on the hum or the vibrations of the spinner in their hand to pay attention to what their teacher saying. This is why special needs measures are supposed to exist; don’t screw over a child’s education for the sake of the majority. And to the experts; run some proper, scientific experiments on specifically fidget spinners, or just fidget aids in general; don’t assume something won’t work simply because there’s no basis for it.

Stay awesome, everyone. And happy stimming!

nintchdbpict000320005279

Spinners

Ball

Pink Metallic Fidget Spinner picture is mine, ask before you reuse please.

Advertisements

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.

720f5fd6137d8aa537eca6b1f831264d_open-box-clip-art-at-clker-com-cardboard-box-clipart_600-426

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.

720f5fd6137d8aa537eca6b1f831264d_open-box-clip-art-at-clker-com-cardboard-box-clipart_600-426

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.

720f5fd6137d8aa537eca6b1f831264d_open-box-clip-art-at-clker-com-cardboard-box-clipart_600-426

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.

720f5fd6137d8aa537eca6b1f831264d_open-box-clip-art-at-clker-com-cardboard-box-clipart_600-426

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!

230688

 

Box

 Filing Cabinet

 

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.

58103

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.

58103

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.

58103

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.

58103

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!

089b8abe0653d8fa3a7378f8093a72b3_minecraft-quiz-by-minecraft-alex-clipart_150-300

 

A Boy Made of Blocks (link to Amazon)

Minecraft (Mojang)

Diamond Pickaxe

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.

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

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)

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

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.

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

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.

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

 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?

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

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!

woman-riding-horse-silhouette

 

Microphone

Horse and rider

 

Now trending – #ignorance

Hola!

black-glasses-clipart-black-glasses-hi

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.

hypodermic-clipart-eps-images-289-hypodermic-clip-art-vector-tcgn8w-clipart

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.

hypodermic-clipart-eps-images-289-hypodermic-clip-art-vector-tcgn8w-clipart

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.

hypodermic-clipart-eps-images-289-hypodermic-clip-art-vector-tcgn8w-clipart

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.

newspaper-clipart-newspaper-clipart-6

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.

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

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.

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

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!

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

Yeah, I got annoyed.

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

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

 

 

Paltering Along…

20170119_213958

Salut! Another week gone and another one still to come. It’s back to all systems go in the Land of Uni next week, but right now it’s really quiet, with everyone still waiting for term to restart. And in the gap, I find myself, in the manner of all great TV shows, with a filler episode.

simple-question-mark-clipart-1

One of the things I’ve always been very bad at is lying. Not because I’m a bad actress, but because lying to me feels nasty and unnecessary. And for want of other things to talk about, there was an article that cropped up on the BPS research digest this week which was interesting – how misleading someone with the truth can do you more harm than good.

I’ll be honest (ha!), at first I looked at it and went, ‘Is that even a thing?’  But no, apparently it is a thing – paltering, which is telling a truth to mislead someone. The example given from the original study was attempting to sell a car that occasionally wouldn’t start to someone, without telling them that it occasionally wouldn’t start; “The car mostly runs very smoothly.” According to the researchers, misleading someone in this way – telling a truth but lying overall – may feel better in the short term, but costs more in terms in trust and in future associations in the long term as it’s viewed as unethical.

simple-question-mark-clipart-1

From my own personal standpoint, that makes perfect sense. I’m quite an honest person, occasionally to the point of painful bluntness. This has cost me some friendship points in the past. Yes, it’s an autism thing, we’re really bad liars as standard, but I was also raised that way. I still got in trouble for breaking stuff but if I was honest about it, all I got was a ticking off rather than a lamping. But in return, I’d far rather the other person was completely honest with me. The truth can hurt, but it’s far easier to deal with than suddenly changing your whole viewpoint of a person or situation after finding out they’ve outright lied to you to spare your feelings. That hurts more than pure honesty.

simple-question-mark-clipart-1

I guess because I could never quite conceive of someone lying to me, I can never tell if they are, even to this day. And yeah, I’d lie to my parents to get myself out of trouble (not that it ever worked), but apart from that I was always on the side of truth. And they were always fairly truthful with me, like when our cat got cancer or ‘they’re not monkeys, they’re Orang-utans.’ So the concept of using the truth to mislead at first was a total mystery to me – but think of any ad campaign you’ve ever seen. I always find myself wondering, ‘Well, what’s the catch?’ which, I suppose, is the one question they don’t want you to ask. There’s always a catch, that they gloss over with something like paltering. When I realised people did things like that was the point I started to become jaded. Fortunately I’m not so jaded that I can’t see the good in humanity any more – but nevertheless, consciously comprehending a concept that comes more naturally to neurotypical kids I think had more of an impact on me.

In any case; lying costs – financially, emotionally, and if you don’t tell your mum, sometimes physically as well. Lesson over.

I’ll try and think of something a bit more fleshed out next week. Dissertation proposal coming up, as well as a few more assignments, so everything’s gearing up to go ape again. Though not orang-utan. I think they’re quite happy where they are.

Stay Awesome!

orangutan-clip-art-ape-3

Original BPS post

PsychNet article

Cookies

Question Mark

Orang-utan

What’s in Your Head?

Good evening Internet!

11,teapot

So this week’s post is going to focus a little bit on what’s happening in the brain when someone on the autistic spectrum meets the world at large. I should also mention I’m fresh out of an exam on this kind of thing, so forgive me if I get a little technical.

I should also mention being inspired by this post here; an article on “Meta-Culture” written by a good friend of mine. I think Meta-Culture is a really good phrase to describe someone’s mental landscape, so I’ll continue to use it here (no infringement intended, except possibly on the good name of psychology). Like me, he’s a bit on the spectrum, and a lot of our personal experiences in society line up.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

The defining feature of any Autism Spectrum Disorder is social impairment. Whether high-functioning, profound, Aspergers, or somewhere in the middle, we are born without this innate ability to…I suppose ‘read somebody’s mind.’ To be able to tell what somebody means without asking for clarification, or to read the subtext without needing a prompt. It’s not an upraising thing either, so you can dispense with the whole ‘cold mother’ argument right here and now. Children on the spectrum show changes at the most basic building blocks of brain structure – we’re talking the neuronal level. We are literally wired differently to neurotypicals, like Jedi and their midi-chlorian counts.

And as you might expect, a lots of these differences are found in the ‘social’ areas of the brain; Frontal lobe, temporal lobe, facial processing, language areas…there’s even been a psychologist try and show mentalising abilities are linked to issues with ‘mirror neurons,’ which stop us from imitating other people. I can tell you right now that’s not true for everyone, but interesting nonetheless.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

Definition: Mentalising, to mentalise (v)The ability to understand the mental states of oneself and others that underlie overt behaviour.  So not quite Derren Brown, for those of you who were wondering.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

So, it’s hardly surprising that we’re not sure from the outset what these funny little creatures trying to interact with us are really trying to achieve, if anything. I don’t have a lot of explicit memories of primary school but my overarching ones include a lot of being lectured by my classmates whenever I’d done something ‘weird.’ Not a nice feeling.You spend a lot of time messing up on the playground or in class and nobody will explain to you how, or why you messed up. It’s deeply confusing. Claire Sainsbury, in her wonderful book ‘Martian in the Playground‘ said “It was like everyone around me was playing some elaborate game, and I was the only one who hadn’t been taught the rules.” At eight years old, with only the vaguest concept of what autism was, having someone put it into words for the first time was a real eye-opener, and that quote has sat with me ever since. After that I started forgiving myself a bit for all those social screw-ups that made me so unpopular at both primary and secondary school. It was me, but it wasn’t really my fault. It wasn’t like I asked to be born like this.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

In terms of emotional development and in some areas of higher functioning, I’m about 3 years behind everyone else in my peer group (my own estimate, not a clinical opinion). As I mentioned last week, I’ve only just worked out higher education exams. Yes, everyone has to learn some social scripts, like eating in restaurants or going to the cinema, but not everyone has to learn them all; like the correct greeting, or when to greet, or knowing when to talk to someone and when to leave them alone. The correct protocol when seeing someone you might recognise in the street. When to pet the dog and when not to (that is so difficult. So many nice dogs, so little time).

Even today, walking into a new cafe and ordering a coffee can be fraught with difficulty, even fear, especially if I’m not having a ‘good words’ day. Did you know that anxiety disorders have a prevalence of around 40% in children on the spectrum? A lot of the symptoms are often mistaken for the characteristics of ASD, though, like hand-wringing, and social withdrawal, and insistence on sameness, so some will go untreated. Ultimately, anxiety disorders are a lot more common in neuroatypicals than in others – and it honestly makes logical sense. I don’t even have to cite the science. If you grew up knowing that there was a high chance that every time you went up to speak to someone – be in your best friend or the barista – there is a higher than average chance of f*cking up massively, wouldn’t you develop some anxieties?  As I’ve said before, social awkwardness and anxiety are not mutually exclusive, whether in a disorder or other wise.

I eventually grew over a lot of those, mostly through some good friends, sheer grit and the knowledge that hiding wasn’t going to solve anything. Trying to act like my favourite book characters helped, because I got thoughts and scripts and a lot of confidence from them. The internet helps as well, through mediums like this; people sharing their stories. We’ve all got a lot more in common than we like to  admit. As Sherlock Holmes said last week in The Lying Detective, “I have this terrible feeling from time to time that all of us might just be human.”

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

We don’t all have the best understanding of other people’s meta-cultures, but it’s not an excuse to be an arsehole – on either side of the table – and it’s not an excuse to bully or belittle. While a lot of us will learn how to talk to people – how to be ‘earthlings’ if you like, rather than the martian in the corner, some of us need a bit of understanding every once in a while, be it our own space and permission to do what we want to do to calm down, or an out in an emergency.

We’re doing our best, and we love you.

Stay awesome, people.

cocktail-glass-wine-glass-mug-beer-different-glasses-drinks-67509838

Lightsaber

Wine and Beer

Teapot and Teacup

If anyone’s interested, this is the paper which demonstrated lack of connectivity to mirror neurons in the brains of autistic adults

 

 

 

 

Examine This!

20161221_150954

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.’

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

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.

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

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…’

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

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.

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

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.

book-clipart-black-and-white-5

Pen clip art

Books

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

Words Are All We Have

I HAVE INTERNET AGAIN, and it feels good. Hopefully everyone had a fabulous Christmas and is looking forward to an awesome New Year. We spent it very quietly at Dad’s, and surprisingly for us, had all the leftovers done with within two days, which has got to be some kind of record. Mum, unfortunately, is still making turkey pie,among other things – I am not complaining about this.

Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games – we heard the devastating news on Tuesday that the amazing Carrie Fisher had passed away following a heart attack on Christmas Eve. Not only a wonderful actress and an all-around amazing woman, Carrie was also a big favourite of mine because she never kept her mental illness quiet, and her service dog Gary was a feature at many of her public appearances. I recall – I think it might have been my Mum – well, someone I knew once, talking about Star Wars and how much I loved Princess Leia, and that other person just turning around and saying, ‘Well, you know Carrie Fisher’s a drug addict, don’t you?’ As if that negated every single one of her achievements. As if that was the sum of her life’s work. She lived all her life with bipolar disorder and everything that entailed, and she not only survived, but thrived. She wrote some incredibly funny, incredibly honest memoirs, she starred in one of the biggest blockbusters on the twentieth century, and don’t even get me started on her interview comments prior to ‘The Force Awakens.’ She was human. We’re all human. We all have our weaknesses. Let’s remember her as a woman who did not survive her mental illness – she lived with it, and my God, did she live.

carrie-fisher-1

Carrie herself wrote a brilliant column for the Guardian, and in November she wrote one about living with bipolar disorder. She absolutely says it better than I ever could. The column can be found here.

description-fireworks-2-png-xhmmvy-clipart

In other news, in my internet travels I came across another article – this time in the Telegraph – talking about a 2008 interview with Daniel Radcliffe (of eponymous Harry Potter fame) in which he discusses living with dyspraxia. I’ll admit to being quite surprised – I like Harry Potter but I’m not a rabid fan and the eighth film pretty much wrecked the entire franchise for me (Fantastic Beasts notwithstanding), so I don’t follow it that closely.  Also because dyspraxia is not usually a condition which makes the news – or anything else for that matter. More recently, Cara Delvingne of Suicide Squad and Paper Towns gave an interview in Vogue in June 2015 in which she talks about having depression and dyspraxia and being bisexual – a cocktail of conditions very close to my own experience. And it needs to happen more. I notice that, when I talk about my dyspraxia and my experience with it, barely anyone bats an eyelid – but the second I bring my autism into the mix, everybody wants to know.

tk

Regarding Daniel Radcliffe, his statement about living with dyspraxia was responded to by the Dyspraxia Foundation USA. It has its own page. Yet the corresponding foundation in the UK made almost no mention of it, and regrettably they don’t keep archives as far as I can tell.  I don’t believe that one condition is any more important than another, and autism is sometimes the more obvious of the two – nevertheless, learning that you have something wrong with you, no matter what that ‘wrong’ may be, is a very scary moment. You’re being suddenly thrown into this scary void that not everyone really understands, and the more people that come out and talk about these problems, the better. I have to sit down and explain what dyspraxia is every time it comes up, and it does get rather wearing. I have to explain to prospective employers when I go in for interviews, that I’m not being rude or nervous, I genuinely don’t like to make eye contact – and only about 50% of them are sympathetic to this.

description-fireworks-2-png-xhmmvy-clipart

Carrie Fisher was spoken of as being incredibly brave in talking about her mental illness. I’m not sure brave is the right word. Gutsy, yes. But also absolutely the right thing to do. We need to talk about these things, and to coin a feminist shout that echoes through the inter-web at various points, “Representation Matters!” Be that on the big screen, small screen, or real-life celebrities talking about what makes them human – their flaws and foibles. They make all of us human, as much as we’d like to ignore it.

Talk. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Stay awesome everybody.

description-fireworks-2-png-xhmmvy-clipart

 

Picture Credits:

Carrie Fisher

Fireworks

Cara Delevingne