Tuesday 1 September 2020

Stay alert...for Aspies


With September’s arrival and schools (attempting) to start new terms, it feels like we are settling in to another, possibly more relaxed phase of coping with the pandemic.

Not in this house.

We are taking steps to manage an Aspie Covid meltdown which, frankly, I’m surprised has taken this long.

At the beginning of lockdown, Beloved Aspie went from ‘vulnerable adult’ to ‘essential worker’ in three days flat. He works at a cycle shop. And for the most, this was a good thing, maintaining some sort of order to his week and social contact where all else had been erased.

He continued to ‘encounter’ the reality of Covid every day.

Eventually his support worker was able to meet with him and take him out – meeting Covid rules in other places.

And the learning centre he attends re-opened – with another set of rules.

At this time, I unhelpfully broke my leg, got locked down in lockdown and lost touch with the outside world and its ever-changing guidelines. As the hubs works fulltime and now had extra duties as I couldn’t drive, Beloved Aspie also took a generous and compassionate caring role for me.

I am back on my feet, albeit a little painfully, and I’m seeing how the world looks again. I seem to have forgotten how to function! What does it mean to go to a shop? Have tea in a café? Wander around town?

Well, I was so busy working out the rules, the one-way systems, and the distancing that I forgot what I was actually looking for! And I am supposedly an intelligent, socially aware human being…

So is it any wonder that an Asperger’s brain is struggling? Aspies like order and constancy. They are inclined to follow set rules rather than make their own. This inconstant, unstable time is especially confusing for them.

I watched a guy in a teashop give Beloved Aspie a slanty eye the other day because he was stressed that the guy was in his way without a mask. I was ready to pounce.

Please, people, be kind, find your compassion and don’t assume. You have no idea how hard some people are working to function right now. Stay alert…for the needs of others.

Thursday 9 May 2019

John Connolly: what's in your head?

There’s a fabulous independent bookshop in Taunton called Brendon Books which always has a programme of author talks. A couple of days ago I went along to listen to John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker detective series among others. 

Confession: I haven’t read any of the Charlie Parker books. In fact, until last week, I hadn’t read John Connolly at all. I was going to the talk with a friend who’s a huge fan and the blurb about the author was interesting.

That said, I don’t like to turn up knowing nothing, so I bought his books of short stories, Nocturnes, to get a flavour of his style. These stories are scary as hell!! And there is quite a variety of beasts and devilry going on. I couldn’t help the question that formed in my mind…what on earth is going on in his?? I was even slightly apprehensive of meeting him.

The question led me to consider a few things about the reader’s psyche, and the writer’s psyche. Back in my schooldays, in English Literature, we were taught to analyse texts. ‘Why do you think the poet used that word? What do you think the author is trying to say?’

These days, as a reader, I read primarily for pleasure, entertainment, to be taken away by a great story or immersed in fascinating characters. Although I read closely, too often with my writer head on, I don’t ask those questions anymore. Maybe it’s just more obvious to me now what an author’s message is.

As a writer, though, these questions make me nervous. Imagine a reader asking about my message, my intentions? I think on one level, that’s okay. But imagine them analysing my mind !! From this current work in progress, the reader will no doubt question me on father/daughter relationships…probably wrongly. And I was certainly asked some very odd questions about my research for my previous novel 😉

I understand that my writing is influenced by my life experiences, relationships and belief systems, but just remember another key factor- we writers make things up!

Monday 19 March 2018

Beloved Aspie and Cats

The cat obsession probably starts with me. I had my first kitten when I was five years old. I loved it but when it went bananas and started running up and down the curtains and all those naughty things that kittens do (which was called fleeping in our house) I was terrified. So the little kitten didn’t stay long.
I didn’t have cats again until I was pregnant and poorly and was going to have to give up work earlier than I planned. So I was given two kittens to keep me company and perhaps to prepare me for the responsibility of having a child! As the pregnancy progressed the kittens used to love to jump on my bed in the morning and as the baby woke up and started moving they would jump on the quilt and try to catch him.

Sadly although I lived in the country I was near a main road and those kittens didn’t last long either.
The next came along when Beloved Aspie was nearly 4. He was a bit lively, too lively for the little cat, who moved next door with an elderly lady and a quieter home. He minded very much that the cat wouldn’t come home. It was around this time that the first traits of Asperger's syndrome appeared. Now some people will tell you that people with Asperger’s have no empathy and struggle with emotional connection with other people. They don’t find it easy to read facial cues or emotional cues. And this can lead to frustration and anger which in turn is misunderstood. But let me say this, just because Aspies struggle to show their emotions doesn’t mean they don’t have them.

I guess this was when I realised that I could use his obsession with cats to our advantage. I say obsession I think mean more of a fascination. My son loves everything about them, how they look, hi they behave, their cultural representation, their mythological status, their deity status in ancient Egyptian culture. While I did say everything.

So when we moved to Somerset, and lived in the country with a big garden, it was time to renew our relationship with cats. We got two sisters and one of them adopted Beloved Aspie from the outset. She followed him everywhere. She loved nothing better than to stand at the foot of the stairs and listen to where she might find him. He loved that cat. He would spend hours in the garden playing with her. And he loved nothing better than to regale anyone with stories of latest antics. To our shock and sadness, she was run over. He was traumatised. But I used all of these experiences to help him explore his emotions. We talked about how much he loved his little animal and how much joy and happiness she brought to his daily life. In turn we were able to talk about loss and pain. And we took that topic into the wider world of losing friends, relations and people we love.

Over these last few years our cat family has become three. And these days Beloved Aspie knows that they are his responsibility. He feeds them, he checks where they are to make sure they are getting outside exercise, he gives them all loads of lap time and loads of love. And I still use them as strategies in life. When I collect him from work in Bridgwater, if he looks a bit tired or grumpy, I start cat stories. I tell him what each of them have been doing during the day, what bed they slept on, who they tried to scratch, whether they tried to chase the ducks. It never fails to get him smiling and engaged in a conversation. And that’s a big hint actually, if you do have an Aspie in your world and you see them struggling to have a conversation or to start a conversation, use their obsession. Anyone can start a conversation with my son if they start with cats.

The only problem is this cat obsession is a bit infectious. When my husband and I are out on our own, we have been known to spot a random cat in the street and say ‘oh look it’s a cat’. Then we shake our heads at one another. And if we spot anything in a shop window that has a cat on it it’s always ‘ I know who’d like that.’

One day my son asked my husband what is the ideal number of cats? We reckon he was angling for another one, you know, maybe bring it up to even numbers. So my husband said one. That should keep him quiet… for now.