Archive

Socialising

I’ve been working on a big project for a local college and it’s made me realise just how much help and support kids get these days. I’ve also been watching a series called Educating Yorkshire, which has been a real eye opener!

In the TV series, the teachers really care about their students’ welfare, and they listen to what they have to say. The college I’m doing work for seem to take the same approach. They want to prepare their students for life, not just get them ready to pass exams. This mature, forward-thinking attitude is wonderful, and I wish it had been more prevalent when I was at school more than a decade ago.

It’s alright – this isn’t going to turn into a whinge! In fact it’s made me quite happy. I was worried about my daughter going to school. All the early signs indicate that she hasn’t turned out like me, an Aspie. Even so, I have been concerned with what might happen. My own experience of school was quite negative and I didn’t want her to go through years of sadness. I know that many of my peers enjoyed school, but having the experience of how bad it could be was frightening. I don’t believe home schooling is an option, and I know (in my head) that school is full of great opportunities. Nonetheless, I was afraid for her.

Now, if she goes to nursery, I know there’ll be a ‘key person’ who will take care of her properly. When she gets to school, there will be teachers who know how to spot and take care of emotional and social problems. When she gets to college, she’ll have similar support options and a probably a special tutor to help her stay on-track.

What a luxury, that there should be trained and caring staff at every stage of my baby’s childhood. I hope every country that is capable of this level of care provides it.

Advertisements

This weekend I’ll be travelling to stay with some of my husband’s university friends for a two-day ‘party’ in their palatial new home. I’ve known these people for seven years and there are usually at least two of these events a year. Weekends filled with people (about 20 adults usually) and now an abundance of children too. Seven children in fact – and two ‘bumps’. It was only fairly recently that I managed to get through a whole weekend with them without crying, or feeling a desperate need to escape.

Since having my daughter I’ve started to relax a bit more. I feel a little more like I belong with them, and I’ve no idea why. Somehow, being a mother makes me more legitimately human. Do I associate being a mother with being normal? Before I was just myself, the Aspie of the group, the one who was not normal.

The more I consider it the more I think that motherhood has become the ultimate camouflage for me. I’m a wife and a mother, so I must be normal, right? That’s what I hope everyone thinks. But after seven years they must be getting used to me too. Perhaps my idiosyncracies blended away before I got as far as the pregnancy. Maybe it was only my perception that didn’t change, until now.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at home lately. I’m not alone, because the baby is with me, but even though I love her, she isn’t great company.

I haven’t felt so lonely since finishing university in the mid noughties. That was when I left my friends, my boyfriend, and the best time of my life (so far) to move hundreds of miles back home. It left me distraught, depressed, and wondering if life would ever pick up again. What I feel when I spend all day with just my daughter for company isn’t as bad as that. At least I know my husband will come home soon, or the babysitter will arrive, or I’ll be able to meet a friend for coffee. But I’m used to having a lot more conversation than I get. I’m used to having the background noise of people around me.

A walk in the park, or a trip to the shops can alleviate the symptoms but when I get back it’s still just me and her. I miss my husband. I miss talking to someone who understands me and can answer back with real sentences. For all the joy contained in my daughter’s gurgles, it doesn’t make up for the lack of a good friend.

I watch TV for companionship. I listen to music and sing along. I try to keep my home filled with voices. When did I get so sociable?

One thing I think all Aspie’s are familiar with is the need to have a bolt hole to help them cope with parties and other noisy occasions. Sensory overload is a problem, making it hard to muster the energy and enthusiasm for socialising in very busy environments.

This is something we seem to share with newborns. Having a mind like a blank page (or a dry sponge) makes it easy for babies to get overloaded with sensory information. Then they can get upset and over tired. Sound familiar?

Some people know I need a bolt hole for certain occasions. Now everyone accepts that I may need to go somewhere quiet to feed the baby or take her home early if she gets upset. My child has provided me with an obvious excuse for escaping and we can both benefit from that.

Even so, I hope she grows out of this trait. I have no problem with Aspies (obviously) but I’d like her life to be easier than mine. Coping with parties would certainly help that.

 

This week’s post is inspired by my latest weekend visit to see my other half’s university mates. This particular visit involved spending the whole weekend with 10 other adults (plus me and my other half) and five children under the age of three.

Does that sound like Hell to you? If you have Apsergers, probably it does. I was apprehensive too. I always am when faced with the prospect of these weekends. When I first started attending these gatherings I would often end up crying (mostly in secret), feeling exhausted (OK, this still happens), and generally feeling like a fish out of water.

I still feel a little out of place, but not as much as I used to. I still get very worried about the possibility of not having a private bedroom to retire to, although I’ve been lucky most times. I still get tired, and I’m always the first person to go to bed. But I have stopped crying. I don’t get nearly as freaked out as I used to.

These changes have not come quickly. It has taken several years, with two or three weekend visits each year. I have only stuck with them because I know they’re very important to my other half. Now I feel it’s worth it, because I can see that I’m making progress and I have learned to like the people I spend these weekends with.

I still think it would be easier to see them in smaller groups, but it’s not usually practical to do so. And it doesn’t really matter, because I can cope with seeing them all at once.

That is why I chose the title for this post, because there is always hope, even when you feel hopeless.

I have this vague recollection of hearing that pets, and especially dogs, can help develop children’s social skills. If the pet is something stroke-able it also helps to soothe children and adults. Today I read that robots have also been found to help children with autism learn and develop.

The robots model good behaviour and, because autistic people feel more comfortable with technology than with other humans, they’re easier for the children to interact with and learn from. As someone who has wanted an Asimo from the moment I first saw one I imagine this must be a wonderful thing for children on the autism spectrum.

I go though phases of thinking it would be nice to get a dog but I always decide I don’t want one. A robot on the other hand… what’s not to love? Next to Asimo my favourite is the cycling robot. I love the way it puts its feet down and then struggles to balance as it starts cycling, just like a person.

One day I hope Asimo-style robots will be cheap and prolific enough to be used in hospitals and to help provide companionship to old people who struggle to get out. I also hope there will be more in schools, because these are extremely difficult to deal with for children who have autism.

You can read the full article here.

This morning it occurred to me that what would be really useful is some kind of app or other automated system that would alert you to abnormal and appropriate behaviour. For example, if a colleague came into work declaring that their cat was dead and you just carried on typing it could tell you that you’re being weird and unsociable. Equally it could tell you you’re doing the right thing when you express sympathy and offer to put the kettle on. It might even suggest an appropriate comment to make.

Then I thought, that seems totally over the top and unnecessary. So what if we don’t always do the ‘normal’ thing? As long as we’re not being mean to people or breaking the law, does it matter if our responses are sometimes not what’s expected? It’s not as if non-Aspies have everything figured out anyway!

People have misunderstood my behaviour for years, thinking I’m stuck-up, shy, uncaring and stupid. So it follows that there are plenty of non-Aspies who have these qualities. But I’d never think an app would be necessary to tell non-Aspies how to behave, so why dictate how Aspies should conduct themselves?

I don’t advocate being completely asocial, but everyone has a right to be different.

If you tell me your cat has died, I will try to sympathise because I know that you must be upset about it, even if I don’t understand why.

Don’t expect me to get it. Just enjoy the fact that I’ve offered to make tea.