Why I feel people hate me before they’ve ever seen me!

One word. “Atypical”

Netflix’s latest offering is a “Dark comedy” about a young 18-year-old male growing up on the Autism Spectrum and trying to get a girlfriend.

Ok.. sounds familiar (well apart from the elephant in the room that is the fact I wasn’t diagnosed Autistic until I was 46) “perhaps this could be interesting” Thinks Me.

Oh boy.. So much hatred on social media for this show. Calls to boycott it, tweet upon tweet upon tweet about how they didn’t hire an actual autist for the role, about how he’s white, about how he’s straight, about how he’s Cisgender, about how he’s a he! I’ve seen posts about “Toxic Masculinity” dear god an 18-year-old boy imagining having sex? How very dare they.

Ok, look. Sure, they could have hired an actual autist for the role. I’m not a huge fan of The Big Bang theory. People say Sheldon Cooper is “an example of someone on the spectrum” I disagree.. I think he’s an example of someone who’s an a**hole! I associate more with Leonard or Raj than any other character. My wife says I’m like Moss from The I.T. Crowd (the original British version I hurry to state!) Yes I can see that. Naïve, intelligent, awkward, loyal and at times as dim-witted as two short planks stacked together. Sums me up that does! Played perfectly by the talented Richard Ayoade I really see a lot of myself in Moss (except I don’t live with my mum any longer and actually have a social life .. of sorts) When I heard there was a show where the “hero” was autistic, not implied but actually written as autistic, I was glad. I was looking forward to the show. Then I saw the vitriol being targeted towards it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I understand where they are all coming from.  I see your points and, in part, I agree with them.  But let’s just step back for a second. Take a look as someone who *IS* a white straight cisgender male on the autistic spectrum. (heck worse than that.. I’m middle aged AND middle class) When I see people saying how they’re not interested in seeing “toxic male cisgendered straight guys with all their ill-gotten privileges” I feel like they’re saying “Pete? I don’t like who you are.. I don’t like what you are and I don’t think anyone needs to hear anything you have to say. Please delete your twitter and blog immediately!

Intellectually I KNOW they’re not personally attacking me. But my aspie side find it hard to separate the words from the meaning. When I was 18 I wanted nothing more than a girlfriend. I was “lucky” I had a high school girlfriend. We’d hold hands. I was 18… other boys my age were bragging about their conquests. I didn’t want that. I was happy holding hands. I got a peck on the cheek once; I still remember that nearly 30 years later.  I had my first “proper” girlfriend when I was in my very late 20’s/early 30’s . Which is why I can’t watch the comedy “The 40 year old virgin” .. I wasn’t quite that bad but, really, not far off and it’s not really a fun nor funny experience. I wasn’t preoccupied with sex, I’d rather have someone to cuddle and chat with. (I love cuddles)

Ok, So Atypical isn’t ideal. Surely an autistic hero is better than a NT hero? Even if he is being played by an NT actor? (I grew up in the Sean Connery/Roger Moore Bond era. How’s that for an unrealistic view of toxic masculinity and overly sexed NT heroes?)  I was looking forward to having ONE fictional character I could call my own. One like me. Not identical, not a carbon copy, but someone with SOMETHING in common.

And now I feel that I should be ashamed of who I am, Curse me for being born male, damn me for being born white and a hex on my head for being straight! I cannot help these things, this is who I am. Warts and all. I do my best to acknowledge my privileges and do my best to signal boost, promote and support others of all groups. So why do I feel hated?

This whole Atypical thing is making me very low. I’m sinking into a deep funk. So much so I’ve recently blocked any tweets mentioning it, I’m not going to watch the show, I’m also not going to listen to anyone telling me I’m not entitled to my say.

I’m feeling truly lost.

Aspie without a Spoon, or why “Spoon Theory” is not for me.

I only realised that I was on the spectrum late last year but I have friends who have had various debilitating conditions both mental and physical and, as such, was introduced to the “Spoon Theory”. Gradually phrases entered my lexicon “out of spoons” “Me and my fellow spoonies” etc and I never really questioned it. I never really understood it either but it wasn’t for me to question someone else’s world view.

Then I got diagnosed autistic. Ok, no biggie. I’m still me! I’ve not changed overnight! I’m still the same old weird nerdy guy with his encyclopaedic knowledge of movies, an interest in word play and a penchant for math puzzles and Rubik cubes. I hadn’t been swapped for a shape shifting replicant from the planet Autismia! However, suddenly friends and colleagues who knew suddenly kept “giving me spoons” (not LITERALLY you understand) I’d have a bad day and a friend would say to me “Aw you out of spoons?” .. I’d have a meltdown and I’d be offered a break to “Regather my spoons” Spoons, spoons, spoons – they followed me everywhere.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not “dissing” spoon theory. I understand where it comes from. From Wikipedia

The spoon theory is a disability metaphor used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. Spoons are a tangible unit of measurement used to track how much energy a person has throughout a given day.

Ok. I get that! It’s an arbitrary unit of measurement. Could be spoons, buttons, paper clips or bananas! I’m a mathematician. I’m used to arbitrary symbols representing numbers.

th0GONSJ36
Euler’s identity anyone?

 

But to me, spoons made no sense. As a single home owner 15 years ago I had to buy all the mod cons for my new apartment. I bought cutlery. Never once did I feel depressed or worn down because all my knives, forks or spoons were in the dishwasher! If I ran out of spoons I washed some up.

I couldn’t get my head around the spoon analogy.

Then, a couple of days ago someone mentioned on twitter that they couldn’t get the spoons thing either. To them it was Jenga blocks. You have a tall stable tower of Jenga blocks. Everything takes a block away. Dentist visit? Remove a block! Meeting at work? Remove a block! Problem with the plumbing? Remove 3 blocks!! Over the course of a day the tower gets more and more precarious, full of holes and unstable. Eventually you have something that removes that last crucial block. It might be something mundane, like the sandwich shop running out of Tuna and sweetcorn mayo filling. Suddenly your entire tower comes crashing down.

Capture

Link to the original tweet that inspired this post.

I’ve never crashed into a heap over running out of spoons, but a tower of bricks falling into a chaotic heap because of a small thing happening is a much more appropriate analogy for me.

By all means, keep your spoons, forks, paper clips, pencils, umbrellas, coins, batteries, unicorn dust or Midi-chlorians. Whatever works for you! It’s all good.

For me, I’m all about the Jenga!

Now if you excuse me, I’ve got a tower to rebuild.

Jenga_distorted

 

Cleanliness is next to Aspieness..

Dirt, Mess..

I hate it. No really. Ever since I was a young child I’ve had problems with “dirt” . Dirt in this context can be ANYTHING from mud, paint, blood or even something like dough or flour !

As a child I remember the circus coming to town. I bugged my mum and dad for weeks to take me and in the end they relented and took me to the circus. Standing outside the big top I was getting excited to see all the wondrous things inside.. until that was I saw what was happening at the ticket office. The “ticket” was actually an ink stamp on the back of the hand. Suddenly, I didn’t want to go in. I remember the anger of my parents after me begging to go for ages suddenly changing my mind last-minute. of course, back then I didn’t know I was on the spectrum so I had no “excuse” i just didn’t want to go in. I remember saying something about seeing something inside I didn’t like. I didn’t want to admit to not wanting to go in because of a silly ink stamp.

I developed a habit of washing my hands. Wash hands before you touch something, wash hands after you touch something, wash your hands before you wash your hands. It spiralled out of control. Before I realised it I had a problem. I was washing my hands constantly.  My hands were cracked and dry, I’d carry a bottle of alcohol hand sanitiser around with me and apply it constantly. My fingers would crack and bleed and therefore make my hands “dirty” again. I’d wash some more.

Now I’m 47, I’ve mostly got over this strange aversion. Don’t get me wrong. I still dislike getting messy but now I tolerate it better. My wife loves me to make bread (something I’m surprisingly good at apparently!) Every time I add the liquid to the flour and yeast and get my hands in there to mix it I wince. As soon as the dough is kneaded and rising I HAVE to wash my hands. I can tolerate it for as long as it’s necessary but not a moment longer. My cooking apron has towelling inserts on the side for wiping. After I’ve baked I swear you could bake my apron and get a 2nd bread/cake out of it XD

My aversion to getting “mess” on me has some very odd spin-offs. I’m .. hmm.. I won’t say Frightened, but I’m certainly uncomfortable around tattoos ! The idea of getting ink on you that you can NEVER wash off fills me with dread. The idea of me getting a tattoo is bad enough but for some odd reason if there’s someone with tattoos near me I really don’t want to go near them, I CERTAINLY don’t want to touch them. I know logically and intellectually that the tattoo can’t jump off their skin onto mine, but there’s that strange childhood dread of getting dirty screaming in the back of my mind. It’s really illogical and I feel silly for saying it. I know some very nice decent people with many many tattoos on their person. I love them dearly.. but still there’s that slight revulsion attached to the friendship I feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed about.

My old OCD tendencies are gone for the most part. My hands have healed although now I suffer from eczema/dermatitis no doubt brought on by the years of me mistreating my hands. I have this strange repulsion to getting paint on me.. I’ve painted the house many times, but it takes me about 50% longer than it should on account of the number of times I have to go wash my hands.

I still don’t like clubs/events where I need to get a hand stamp. And as for the circus? Well, I did eventually get to one only to realise I was afraid of the clowns. No, not for the usual reasons.. all that face paint you see.. .. .. .. 😉

man-person-red-white

A letter to my younger selves Pt 2

A while back I wrote two time travelling letters to my 7 year old and my 17 year old former selves. In this blog entry I fire up my quantum pen and put temporal ink to hyperspacial paper and write two more letters to the 27 and 37 year old versions of me respectively.

“Hi 27 Year old Pete!

It’s me! 47 year old Pete writing to you from the year 2017! How are you doing? Congratulations on your math degree by the way! I know you found it quite easy. Math always was your strong subject, you might not have known you were Asperger’s back then, but you were, one of the rare positives of austism I suppose, although not everyone develops super math skills like you. I hate to tell you though, you won’t be using your degree skills much from now on as you’ve no doubt found already? Let me see you’ve had a couple of small jobs already. A Document Controller for an oil and gas pipeline project? Oh and you worked for that Joinery and Building company in Aberdeen didn’t you? You wrote their client tracking and employee scheduling system for them didn’t you. That’s what you’re going to do from now on I’m afraid. You’re a Software engineer now, you’ll write software for other people! Still it pays the bills (admittedly it doesn’t pay very many bills at the moment.. but you will get paid more eventually, especially when you move)

Oh yeah, I really should cover that. You’re in Aberdeen at the moment. The “Big” city! I know you found moving there really stressful and you miss the quiet of your small home town. It’s ok, it will get better. Trust me you will get used to city life. You’ll be here for around 10 years yet, just in time for my next letter I guess. You’ll make some great friends and even have one of those more serious Girlfriends I told you about previously. You’ll end up as a software developer for a huge multinational oil and gas corporation and you’ll be there for nearly 8 years. However there’s going to be some big changes ahead. Good ones I have to say – don’t make me worry you. But there are big scary changes ahead and you can’t avoid them. Just try to enjoy your time in Aberdeen. Anyway, I’ve only got a short while and I still need to write a letter to your 37 year old self. Enjoy the next 10 years, by my calculations I’ll be writing to you just around the time of your big change! It’s ok. I won’t spoil the surprise just yet. See you in a decade

Your friend, You (aged 47)”
Right that’s one for the Doctor to post next time he’s popping over. Time for one last one.
“Dear 37 year old Pete,
Hello once more ! This will be my last letter to you as a decade after this – well you’ll be me here writing them! So you’re still in Aberdeen for now and you’ve recently bought a flat?! Wow you own your own home! Feels very odd doesn’t it? You and your last girlfriend broke up if I remember, it’s a pity but hey, you’ve got a new girlfriend now haven’t you? Yes, and what’s more she’s from London! I still cannot you met through social dancing of all things XD It was your best friend who suggested you go dancing after you broke up with your ex.  I recall you didn’t particularly enjoy the dancing, but you made some very good friends there, friends you still have today..er.. my today that is – not yours. My my time travelling is so confusing! Anyway you like this new girlfriend of yours and I believe you’ve been popping up and down to visit her and she’s been doing likewise. I know you have a good feeling about her and you’re right to. Ok, in my last letter I told you about a big change, one I knew you wouldn’t like much. I just want to take a moment to prepare you for it. The company you work for is being bought out, they are going to get rid of most of your department and I’m afraid to say, you will be being made redundant. It’s nothing personal, but I know this will really upset you for a while, it’s ok to be upset but I’m here to tell you something you might not expect. Ready? THIS WAS A GOOD THING!

Yes really! You and your Girlfriend have both been travelling back and forth from Aberdeen to London for months. You don’t need to do this any longer. You’ll get a sizable redundancy package, you’ll find someone to rent your flat – and you’ll move down to London!

No, I’m not kidding. Don’t panic it’s fine. It all works out REALLY well. You move down to London and move in with your girlfriend in her flat. You’ll get a REALLY COOL new job working for a famous F1 motorsports company and you’ll be making so much more money. But that’s not the best part. Ok, I’m probably spoiling the surprise a bit but here goes. When you turn 40 you’ll get married. YES, you heard me right, married. Believe it or not, you’ll actually get up in front of all your friends and do a speech! And you’ll barely stammer at all. You’ve come a long way since that scared little 7 year old boy I first wrote to.

You and your new wife will then sell both your and her flats and buy a house in London together. You’ll have ups and downs, you’ll change jobs a couple of times but eventually you and I will catch up. We’ll be living in our family home with a cat called Jelly. No we didn’t name her. You won’t have any children unfortunately but that’s ok. You’re happy. Eventually during one of your low periods you’ll go to the doctor for counselling and , in doing so, will finally be told the truth of who you are. It’s taken you 40+ years to get here but here you are – Aspie and proud.

It’s been one hell of a journey and I’m glad I got to share it with you

Best regards

Pete.

The Whisper that Tingles – My Experiments with ASMR.

Quoting from Wikipedia
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is an experience characterised by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synaesthesia. ASMR signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterised by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin”. It is most commonly triggered by specific acoustic, visual and digital media stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attentional control

It has been referred to as the so-called “Head Orgasm” although I dislike this term intensely as to me ASMR is a deeply pleasing, relaxing and totally un-sexualised experience.

ASMR recording tend to be whispers in the ear, crinkling of papers and tissues or the sounds of haircuts! These actually don’t do anything for me and in fact, whispering close to my ear or giving me a haircut is probably going to do the EXACT opposite to me. These sounds represent someone getting “too close” and invading my personal space. The back of my neck as a no-go area to most people other than my wife. I have to force myself to brave the monthly haircut as I’m supposedly a grown up now 😀

Sounds which trigger ASMR for me are the white-noise static sounds. hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, washing machines, babbling brooks and rushing streams, heavy rain and the such.  These sounds often (but not always) trigger the unmistakable scalp tingle that travels down my neck and across the back of my shoulders. It’s an odd sensation and one I cannot really pin down, like a cross between a cold breeze on the skin and a nervous shiver.

I’m a bit of an audio experimenter in my spare time. I create “Soundscape” tracks. Not musical per se but a bizarre melange of natural sounds, synthetic drone sounds created using pseudo-random mathematical functions and strange oscillating pulsating sounds generated to strobe from ear to ear creating the so-called “Binaural Beat” effect which people claim to be able to entrain the brain into broad frequency states (Alpha, Beta, Theta, Delta etc) I’m open-minded about this claim however I don’t buy in to the more out there and “esoteric” claims of it “opening the third eye”, “aligning one’s chakras with one’s QI” or “Enabling astral projection” . Instead, to me they are nothing but an oddly relaxing sound.

I layer my sounds in what I find pleasing arrangements then master them to create these fairly lengthy tracks which range from 20 mins up to around an hour in length each.

I don’t do this for any personal gain, other than having a repository of tracks to listen to when i feel the need to relax and try to achieve a more mindful state. I mentioned this briefly in a previous post :- Music, meditation, mindfulness, and Me.

As I sit here in my office, the air conditioning has just kicked in, there’s a gentle hum from the fans that just triggered an ASMR response compounded by the sudden breeze of icy cool air blowing across the back of my neck.

To me, ASMR and White noise/nature sounds are a form of safety net. It’s a comforting sound that makes me feel good. You could almost say it’s a form of auditory stimming as it provides everything stimming does and more.

if you want to experience these yourself, please feel free. I’ve put them on Soundcloud and can be played free of charge as often as you like. You can find my “audio creations” under Mycrofttech Audio – Soundscapes

About my Anosmia.

Ok, on a blog about living with Asperger syndrome I do a post that’s nothing to do with Asperger’s! I’ve been getting a few questions about this and how it affects me so I’ll do my best to answer them below.

Q. What is Anosmia?
A. Anosmia is the medical term for loss of the sense of smell. It can be caused by many things such as head trauma or infection, Nasal polyps, exposure to toxic chemicals, drug abuse or medication side effects (to name but a few) . For some people, like me, it’s a congenital condition meaning we were born this way. I’ve never known what a smell is; I will never know what a smell is. My brain just isn’t wired to receive this information.

Q. So if you can’t smell, you can’t taste right?
A. Wrong. I *CAN* taste. “Flavour” is a combination of both taste and smell (and affected by other senses too such as sight, mouth feel etc) The human tongue detects 5 basic flavour groups, Namely Salt, Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Unami (the strange “savoury” or “brothy” taste found in foods like Beef, Mushrooms and Soy). I can also detect the burning sensation (an actual physical pain response) from the capsaicin in chili, and the cooling sensation of menthol in mints. What I *CANNOT* get is the aromatics found in food. These travel both up the front of the nose, and up the back and give an extra level of information about the food you’re eating. This is why I don’t really drink. Wine all tastes the same to me. Beer all tastes bitter. I can’t differentiate between herbs in dishes and subtle nuances are totally lost on me. It’s all about the primary flavour and the mouthfeel to me. Explains why I ADORE salty potato crisps! (Chips if you’re an American 😉 )

Q. But it’s not serious though is it?
A. Yes AND No. I do not consider myself to be disabled. It’s not as limiting to my day-to-day life as deafness or blindness would be. It doesn’t degrade my quality of life significantly and on a day to day basis I rarely think about its absence. However, that said I have had issues in the past. I’ve had more than my fair share of food poisoning. I’ve eaten foods that have gone off because they LOOKED ok. I’ve set fire to my kitchen at least twice because I couldn’t smell the food I was cooking was burning. Finally, I’ve NARROWLY avoided killing myself because I walked into a kitchen and was about to turn on a light.. not realising a recently fitted gas appliance had been leaking all day! Luckily I was with someone with a good sense of smell who stopped me before… well. Also, among people who have lost their sense of smell, the sense of deprivation has been linked to severe depression and even suicidal thoughts. Luckily I don’t miss it as I’ve never had it.

Q. Wow! I hadn’t really thought about that! So any positives about anosmia?
A. Well, as positive as one can be about missing one of your five senses. I used to work on my Aunt’s farm at weekends as a child for pocket-money. I do not need to go into any great detail about why having no olfactory sense would be a benefit there 😉 It’s also fairly invisible. Unless I tell someone, no one knows. So I don’t have to suffer discrimination (positive or negative) over my condition.

Q. So how else has Anosmia affected your life?
A. For a while I was obsessed with being clean. I mean overly obsessed. As I didn’t know if I smelt fresh or not I would constantly wash myself. This developed into an OCD fixation with hand washing to the point where my hands were dry, cracked and bleeding. I’m “better” now. I manage my condition much more effectively than I did. I still don’t like being “dirty” but I can tolerate it. I can do things now I couldn’t do previously. Like getting my hands messy with dough making bread for my Wife and I. (Apparently I bake the better bread of the two of us.. so this is my task now XD ) I do not know if my Anosmia and Asperger Syndrome are linked. It’s likely. I’ve always felt “detached” from reality, like I’m living inside a plastic bubble. I cannot really connect with anything as I’m missing out on a layer of information I cannot perceive. Food is mostly boring for me. I forget to eat mainly because I’m not being prompted by external signals. I do like some foods over others but mostly I eat because I have to not because I want to.

I also don’t use deodorants or scented soaps. I wash with plain white unscented shower lotion and do not use any sprays or perfumes.

This is just a brief introduction to anosmia for those who didn’t already know anything about it. If you are interested in hearing more please feel free to contact me.

Is Twitter a Toxic Environment?

I love twitter; it’s my social media platform of choice. I have a Facebook account but I don’t use it for anything other than sharing fun stuff with my family. As my parents use it and read/comment on EVERYTHING I post it’s a heavily edited and censored version of me. My parents still don’t know about my AS diagnosis, as far as they know I’m the same old “normal” son I’ve always been.

On Twitter I have a cabal of interesting people I follow, a caucus of weird people who follow me and a junta of people I respect and occasionally see other people re-tweeting. For the most part Twitter is fun and I can be truer to myself than on any other social media platform. However it’s not without its problems. On more than one occasion I’ve fallen foul of “Twitter etiquette” or been set upon by the baying hounds of some Twitter lynch mob just because I had the audacity to either disagree with someone – or agree with the wrong person!

My current Twitter account is at least my 5th – I say “at least” because I’ve honestly lost track. I’ve deleted accounts when I’ve been picked on so many times. People might tell me to “man up” but I can’t. My aspie side hates conflict and I can’t stand it when I think people dislike me.

I try VERY HARD to be likable. I’m VERY OPEN to alternative lifestyles. I DO NOT CARE if you are Black, White, Straight, Gay, Cis, Trans, Male, Female or a Yellow polka-dotted bisexual tribble! As long as you’re a decent person I’ll probably get along with you. Unfortunately my eagerness to “get along with people” has been misinterpreted on more than one occasion. I know I can be a little “invasive” and I try to curb this.. but if I see something I agree/disagree with I’ll usually respond to the person who tweeted it originally. I’ll often mistake twitter conversation for friendship and a friendly “hey you look good today!” tweet from me comes across as a creepy perverted tweet to another.

I had one ex-follower recently accuse me of being a pervert and a “chaser” (I still don’t fully understand this..) to another friend and encouraged my friend to “be careful” and “steer clear”. Thankfully my friend disagreed with this person’s opinions and stood up for me in my absence. Unfortunately the spreader of this toxic accusation had MANY MANY followers who took up arms and picked on me, my friend and mutual friends. So much so they drove my new friend off twitter, blocked me and anyone I followed and who disagreed with them and spent the next few days rubbishing anything and everything I’d ever done via poisonous subtweets. After that, I deleted my account (again) and was very careful about who I let in.

Speaking as an Aspie, I find the terse 140 character limit very problematic. I find it very difficult to read subtext in such a small piece of text. I can’t always pick up on irony or sarcasm; sometimes I’ll read the gist of a tweet wrong and comment inappropriately. It’s not easy to read the mind of anyone from the contents of their tweet, not just for aspies but for anyone.

Another problem with Twitter is its lack of any form of control. Anyone can form a twitter account and say anything they like, admittedly inflammatory or racist comments get picked up EVENTUALLY but usually too late. The number of far right, islamophobic, homophobic, anti-female, anti-male, anti-science, anti-common-sense twitter accounts out there is staggering. Then you have “The Eggs” the accounts who’s only purpose to throw a bucket of steaming hot poison into the room then vanish. They pop up like a rash, Egg or Pepe the frog accounts with random names just to insult someone and cause a ruckus (or fan the flames of an existing ruckus and pour gasoline on the fire!) because there’s an anonymity that makes people think they’re untouchable. I’m @CopernicusCF on twitter. Copernicus, you’ll be surprised to hear, isn’t my real name! I’m loathe to put my real name on twitter or anywhere else where it could be used to track me, my wife, my family or my friends down.

If only Twitter would open up the verified account mark for EVERYONE who supplies proof of id. You wouldn’t need to use your real name, but JUST have your account linked to an identifiable person in the background. Then they could add an extra filter to say only see tweets from verified users. Ok this in itself wouldn’t rid twitter of ALL the bile, but it would dissuade some of these more vocal hate mongers from spewing their vile bile over the internet. But it’s not in Twitter’s interest to do this. They don’t want to limit users access and of course there’s the screams of “Hey free speech and all that! You grok me Earthman?” any time any mention of a filter is suggested.

I’m not for limiting the right of any user to say whatever they want.. I’m just saying we don’t necessarily need to see it in our daily feeds.

 

An Aspie Sidesteps The Multiverse

There is a theory which is popular among science fiction writers that we live in one universe among many other parallel and different universes. In these universes life is similar to the one we live but not exactly the same as here, so I might be a professor teaching mathematics in one instead of the software developer I actually am in this universe. Small events can ripple outwards to make huge changes in the eventual outcome, meaning even a small change at the start of a life can lead to a very different one at the end. It made me wonder. What if?

Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a 47-year-old with autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 5. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, I just remember being told I had to go to the “special class” when I started school.

I didn’t much like school. The teacher never really listened to me and we kept having to do stuff I found easy, Like working out change from shopping or how to make a sandwich. I always felt really odd in there, surrounded by kids with Angelman’s syndrome, profound deafness or other similar conditions. Perhaps these days the kids would be more integrated and less isolated but this was a small Scottish lowland school in the 70’s we were hidden away in our own class like an embarrassment. I remember Mum and Dad arguing a lot. Dad always wondering about who was going to take care of me. Mum worrying about how I’d cope when they were gone. I tried telling them I was ok and could look after myself but they never listened. Primary school came and passed. I didn’t learn much, at least, not from the teachers at least. I read my own books and learnt from them. When I went to secondary school again I was segregated into our own special little class only difference now was there were more of us from other schools in the area. Teachers tried to give us the basics, but with limited staff and so many people with different abilities and disabilities more often than not we were just told to keep quiet and read.

I got picked on a lot at school. I didn’t really make any friends unfortunately. I’d often just spend time in the library, but even that was frustrating as the librarian always seemed to think the books I wanted to read were “too advanced for me” and gave me other ones. I get angry when I’m not allowed to do what I want and as such I’m always in the headmaster’s office for punishment.

School finishes and I’m told I have to go to the adult learning centre. It’s not what I want to do, I see people on TV using computers and things and I think they look fun, unfortunately my Mum and Dad say they’re for “other” kids and we don’t get one. I’m so bored so I make my own fun. I’m arrested several times for lighting fires. Just piles of rubbish but I loved the flames. I remember mum crying again and dad not speaking to me. Next thing I know I’m in “sheltered accommodation” living with other “disabled” and elderly people in a large town in SW Scotland. I’m given pocket-money every day and I have to report in all the time. I’m really bored. We have a computer in the home. It’s not very fancy but it’s got some games and stuff. I’m not allowed to mess around with it though. I was looking around one day and changed something and the printer stopped working. I was just curious.

I stay in one sheltered home after another. I’m allowed a little more independence now. Seems people are more accepting of the mentally ill. I have a small job working in the local supermarket. I’m not allowed to be on the tills or anything, but I sweep up the store and stock the shelves. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.

One day a new book shop opened across the street. It was an odd place, sold books but also have a coffee shop and computers you could use! If you paid 50p you could use one of the computers and search for ANYTHING you wanted. It’s amazing.

This one time, I found this story about a guy the same age as me, funnily enough also called Pete. Only he’s married and living in London with his wife and works as a senior software developer for a large multinational company. Gosh.. what a wonderful life that would be but it’s not likely.. it’s just pure science fiction if you ask me!

Afterword.

Obviously none of this happened to me. But it’s not all fictional. My school did have quite pronounced segregation for special needs students. Even the deaf students who were bright and intelligent were schooled with the more acutely disabled students. I did actually (and erroneously) end up in that class for one afternoon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My life as a troublemaker, arsonist and shop worker didn’t happen to me either. There was one boy in our school who this happened to. I never really knew what happened to him, I recall him being sent to a borstal school because of his arsonist tendencies.

My mum and dad were supportive all my life and encouraged my curiosity and wild ideas. Not many kids in early secondary school had two full sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica! (Admittedly 2 very old moth-eaten second-hand sets – but still !) I got my first computer aged 10.

And yes, I knew of people consigned to the care system. Living in sheltered homes and the such. My mother used to work as a carer in one such establishment and I got to know some of the residents who lived there. In this “what if” scenario I just put myself in their shoes.

I was never diagnosed at school. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46 by which point I was working in London and married. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have changed so drastically and dramatically. But I know my parents would have worried about my future and I also know I wouldn’t have got the level of education I needed. The rest is pure fiction and conjecture.