‘Are You Autistic?’ Channel 4 Review

Having recently watched this programme on Channel 4, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how refreshing its content was. Whilst it is clear there is still some way to go in terms of research and understanding of autism, it nonetheless provided some inciteful points:

1. The spectrum is not a continuum ranging from mild to severe

It was pleasing to see the programme acknowledge this, as so many people still believe ASD forms one straight continuum. This belief, itself, can potentially be harmful as it implies that if one is on the ‘milder’ side of the spectrum, that they have less difficulties to deal with. I believe this misconception has caused many people’s issues to be overlooked.

2. They used autistic experts!

I loved how the presenters were autistic themselves. It wasn’t just any presenter stating lots of ‘facts’ about the topic; they have actually experienced the differences they are speaking about. Furthermore, the fact that they included opinions and experiences of other autistic individuals really helped to educate the viewer. They were able to convey some of the issues individuals on the spectrum face on a daily basis whilst also challenging those ‘Rain Man’ misconceptions.

3. They acknowledged a missing generation

Anna Richardson described this as ‘a scandal’ and I have to say, I fully agree. Its such as shame that so many people go through life feeling so different or having mental health issues. Yes, they will probably still feel these things but to be able to explain why they feel that way may provide some reassurance.

4. How many more females are on the spectrum?

Although it recognised that there is, without a doubt, a lost generation, it was great to see them raising the question of females on the spectrum, particularly the fact that they can present themselves differently to males with ASD. This was highlighted particularly well, in my opinion as, again, it has always seemed to be male-dominated.

5. They challenged the Rain Man myth

I absolutely loved the fact that the differences some of the autistic individuals displayed were invisible. I just feel that it is these people who are more misunderstood than those who display clear signs or ‘recognisable behaviours’. It really challenged the myth of people with ASD acting a certain way or of being able to do certain extraordinary things. The fact is, someone with autism can present just like anybody else; we absolutely need to be more aware and accepting of this. The fact that we were introduced to two individuals who have ‘fallen through the net’, demonstrates how individuals can display less obvious signs of ASD.

Anyway, these were just some of the thoughts I had whilst watching and whether correct or not, overall, I am pleased they are highlighting some of the often overlooked issues associated with autism.

Photo courtesy of Channel 4

A letter to my younger self

It was ok when you refused to speak; you were not being rude but instead, were suffering with anxiety.

It was ok when you left your own party and went upstairs; you were feeling overloaded and exhausted.

It was ok when you made plans with friends and then cancelled them; they were too much to cope with that day.

It was ok when you shouted at your parents when they tried to cuddle you; the physical contact had been unexpected.

Everything was always ok; you were just being you.

Everything will be ok; just continue to be you.

We can often be extremely hard on ourselves, not just in the present moment but when we look back at things in our pasts. It’s easy to be self-critical but less easy to be self-accepting. Sometimes, we need to remember to be kind to ourselves.

Ho-ho-hoping for a Bright Christmas…

There is only one week left until I break up for the Christmas holidays! I’m looking forward to having some time off work so that I can recharge, but at the same time, I’m dubious. The lack of structure and change to routine added to the social commitments can be extremely stressful, which has led me to consider what I can do to make the Christmas period as stressless as possible (as much for others as myself).

  1. Surprise presents: there is nothing people like more than to see another person’s eyes light up when they open their Christmas gift. However, if it’s me on the receiving end, they inevitably always end up disappointed with my response. You see, I find receiving gifts incredibly stressful! For years, I tried to persuade my Mum to only buy gifts I had personally chosen but she has always struggled with that concept. Some people just cannot understand (through no fault of their own) the stress it can cause to be given a surprise. Personally, it’s due to a number of factors. Firstly, there is the lack of control which I think is quite self-explanatory when it comes to a person with autism. Another aspect is the guilt one feels when they open a gift they don’t actually like. This is a huge issue for me and I have all sorts of thoughts go through my mind. I worry before I open the gift in case I don’t like it, I worry about how to respond if I don’t like something (my facial expression doesn’t alter much even when I do like something) and I don’t like to feel that someone has wasted their money if I won’t use the gift they’ve bought me. These all sound like trivial things and to many people, they would be; however, to me the emotions they cause are consuming. I have accepted that I can’t always control what presents people buy so I am going to try to let them know beforehand that I might not react the way they’d expect, but that this does not mean I’m not grateful for their gift.
  2. Social gatherings: I often feel comfortable in my own company. I can read, listen to music, have a bath or watch a film without having to consider anybody else or become socially exhausted from having to deeply process every aspect of conversation I’m having with someone. Over the past year, I’ve learned to be a bit more selfish and not feel like I always have to attend family gatherings in order to focus on my own wellbeing (Sometimes, they are just too much to handle). At Christmas, this isn’t really an option but it means there is more chance of social overload. I have decided to put a few thing in place this year, in order to think about what strategies might make things a bit easier for me. I am going to my brother’s house for Christmas dinner and am going to explain to them beforehand what things I might need to do when I attend. That way, if I need to leave suddenly, it won’t seem rude. If things become too much, I will take myself out of the situation for a short time. I am also going to take an activity that I can focus on whilst I’m there (I’ve recently bought a camera so I might try to get some shots so that I can focus on a task rather than the social aspect if needed). I have also decided to drive myself there, rather than get a lift with my parents. That way, I will be in control of how long I spend there and if I start to become overloaded, I can always leave before having a shutdown.
  3. Making time for me: Christmas is a busy time so it’s important to remember that I need to look after my mental health. I’ve suffered with anxiety and bouts of depression for most of my life and I’m just beginning to realise that I need to look after me. I am going to make sure I spend some time each day doing an activity on my own that I enjoy, so that I can recover from any social overload, general anxiety the Christmas period brings.
  4. Change of structure: because there is going to be a drastic change to my routines, I am going to list things that I will be doing or need to do each day. I don’t like timetables but find making lists can be useful (I wrote a separate post on this topic recently). That way, I can see exactly what will be happening but also, if I find myself with some free time, I will have some options of how to spend it. Hopefully, this will help with any in-the-moment decision-making I might need to do.

These are the main issues that I have thought about that I know affect me personally during Christmas. Considering some of these strategies before-hand should, hopefully, make some aspects of Christmas slightly easier so that it can be enjoyed by me and the people I am spending it with too!

 

 

Autistic Burnout?

So, I am currently in bed feeling so worn out I could cry. Sadly, I have been here many times before and I’m sure will be here again in the future. I’m not sure whether I have burnout, having come across it on several internet posts recently.

I went on holiday about five weeks ago which was nice but stressful due to the change of routine etc. Then, after a week back at work, I had to go on a school residential for a whole week. The week was quite difficult and extremely tiring being in charge of children 24/7 so, naturally, I started with a cold and sore throat. This progressed onto sinusitis and I’m just recovering from it now.

I’m not sure if it’s a combination of all these different stressors but I have started to find things that were fine before to now be incredibly difficult. I feel really overwhelmed by the slightest of situations, am finding that I am more sensitive to noise levels and feel generally tearful and delicate. I am finding it even harder than usual to make decisions and have to try really hard to stop myself from ‘zoning out’ when things become too much. I can barely hold myself together during the day and when I get in my car to drive home, I keep crying.

Like I said, I’m not sure if this is autistic burnout or something else. I have been through two periods similar to this before and ended up taking time off work. Both occasions were before I received my diagnosis. Unfortunately, I really don’t feel that taking any time off work is an option at the minute but I am also worried about things becoming progressively worse unless I do something about it.

Timetables or lists?

Well, I panicked when school finished for the summer holidays, worried that I would drive myself insane with the amount of free time I would have. It was suggested to me by a support worker that I create a timetable of activities for each day. That way, I would have a certain amount of structure and routine. As a teacher, I should embrace the idea of timetables; however, something didn’t feel quite right about making one. I decided to try it for a few days and here is what I found:

I arranged my timetable so that it contained practical things such as food, vacuuming the living room, watch an episode on TV and so on. Unfortunately, the day didn’t even start according to how I had planned: I got out of bed later than I had scheduled on my timetable which therefore meant I wasn’t working to the correct times straight away. This itself causes me anxiety. Anyway, I tried the timetable for several days, blocking off each hour to suggest when I would carry out an activity.

The next step was thinking of a way to organise myself in a way which wasn’t quite as restrictive. Thus came about the idea of writing my jobs/activities in a list which I could tick off. This seemed to work much better for me as it meant that all of the same activities were there but it wasn’t as demanding: I could choose to do each activity as and when I felt able to. I wonder if it worked better because I felt more in control and was able to adapt according to how I was feeling at the time. For example, the fact that I no longer had to walk my dog at a particular time meant that if it was raining or I just didn’t feel as though I were in the right headspace, I could simply choose another item from the list to do first. Equally, I got up one morning feeling raring to go and actually ended up walking the dog much earlier than usual.

All this has lead me to reflect on routine: I thought I felt comforted by routine but now I am wondering whether it is more the control that is the bigger factor? 

I have started writing lists for work now, too. Although I am a teacher and there is a certain amount of timetabling that has to occur (for example, the times of assemblies simply cannot be altered to suit me), I am finding that if I work through a list of lessons rather than a rigid structure of times, I actually feel less stressed. At the moment, the school I am at allows for this; however, I am well aware that many others insist on certain lessons be taught at particular times.

I wonder if anyone else has similar thoughts, finding timetables difficult to create and follow?

Super Sunday?

School holidays can be tough…

Normally, on a Sunday I would be starting to get butterflies in my stomach at the thought of going back to work tomorrow. However, being a teacher, I am currently taking advantage of one of the perks of the job – the summer break. At least, that is what I should be doing. Instead, I am wondering how to survive the coming weeks, knowing that the lack of structure and routine means I will have to become a 'proper adult' and make decisions. Yes, I hate going to work, but when I am teaching I know how to act; I take on a role that I have learned to play (and can do so rather well).

Behind closed doors, I am anything but the confident, animated character most people see during the day. That is the time when my normal self can appear, the inner child who needs to be given direction and reassurance. What's strange is that I never realised this about myself until recently. I struggled for years to act normal, get a degree, secure a job, manage friendships, desperately wondering why I seemed to find normal aspects of life so difficult compared to other people.

I am still processing my diagnosis of autism. There are some times when I think there must be a mistake with the diagnosis. How can I possibly be autistic? I have friends and absolutely love to be sarcastic! (Something I wrongly thought all people with autism struggled with). I think years of being a female on the spectrum mean I have pulled the wool over my own eyes, as well as the eyes of everyone else around me. I was able to 'learn' how to act in many situations to the point that I'm not even sure where my own identity actually begins!

I am hoping that being able to write things down will not only help during this unstructured time but will also help me on my journey of self-discovery. What does it actually mean to be me?

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