How are we supposed to act?

One of the ‘triad of difficulties’ that people on the spectrum have is in relation to social interaction and another being communication issues.  Personally, I’m fairly high functioning in some regards and not in others, but that’s the key, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ in autism; hence it’s a spectrum condition.

Personally speaking, situational awareness is something I struggle with. I sometimes fail to be aware of my surroundings in a physical sense. This is ironic for someone who rides and races mountain bikes, but hell, it took me a very long time to learn to ride a bike. I do occasionally get in people’s way inadvertently although my spacial awareness is good.

Where I sometimes struggle is in how I should act in certain circumstances, I am fine once I have learnt a fixed set of rules. However, in social situations, these rules are subject to variation and change: obviously, social relationships change and develop and what was apt for a first meeting does not apply after interacting with a person you have known for months or even years.

For me, an example is for an invite to a house party. I dread such things, despite the fact that I am not introverted. There is simply too much happening, generally to many people and noise and smells and I probably only know a few of the people who are likely to be there. Who do I talk to? What if I end up hogging the hosts attention for to much time? These are just some of the reasons I seldom attend house parties and I only do now, on occasions because it’s something that someone close to me wants to do.

I have ran highly successful music events and club nights throughout London, the U.K. and have DJed around Europe. I was happy and successful in that high stress environment for around a decade, some would say that I thrived. From a business point of view, yes I did well and was happy making others happy. However, now I rarely return to such a situation; I always had the escape of being able to hide behind the DJ booth, or in the Green Room or simple stand outside and smoke. I’ve quit for five years now and the main thing that I miss is that it gave me an instant excuse to remove myself from situations which became challenging.

How does a person learn behaviour: 

We all, learn behaviour from peers, parents, partners and so on. But is that learned behaviour always socially acceptable?

  • I suspect that a good deal of the behaviour in teenage years isn’t.

Is there a rise in antisocial behaviour in amongst society as a whole, or is there a decline in standards? 

  • I’m not a social commentator and seeing as I do make mistakes, it takes something truly out of the ordinary for me to notice it. I notice social decay and levels of extremely ill manners: I don’t have bad manners, but I don’t alway have the correct filters between thinking or feeling something and voicing something which may or may not remain an internal monologue.

People on the spectrum learn and a lot of incredibly intelligent, but we just learn and engage differently. I mimic sometimes and at other times when I am fortunate enough to have someone with me to advise, I ask ‘So, what is the protocol if x happens?’ I may also give the people close enough to me to understand the consent that they may interrupt me and change the subject or stop me making a fool of myself.
Interaction and communication is a nightmare of pitfalls and likely faux pas, so the autistic person has additional hurdles, many of us can’t read subtle facial expressions or subtlety at all. Changes of tone can be lost on us and we tend to take things said very literally. That said, we patience and compassion we more skilled in some areas. I am better than I was and I continue to learn on this journey.

Advertisements

Rigidity and routine

One of the issues that most autistic people have is the need to establish patterns and routines. In a world which can be disordered and unpredictable, I find that a rigid plan helps me to deal with the world at large. No, I don’t mean this in a megalomaniac style; I have no desire to control others. It’s a simple case, that I plan things, I have to visualise things or plot them. I have done so for as long as I can recall.

This might come across to some people as incredibly organised and in control, the reality is often far from it. Even worse, I cannot always control the plans and routine, for life gets in the way. This results in throwing me completely and can be the cause of meltdowns or shutdowns: at the very least, it causes major anxiety flair ups.

What is a meltdown? Basically, if you think of the brain as being like a computer operating system, when too operations are running at the same time, the result is that nothing works, it goes into a suspensory mode and you get that beach ball or egg-timer telling you that too much is happening and that normal service may be resumed or that you need to shut everything down. We might lash out, shout, stamp and generally act in an unacceptable or unbecoming manner, but at that point, we have simply too much going on and our brain and system is completely overloaded. The person having the meltdown is not in control, there actions are not planned or intended. In short, they are awful and exhausting.

Shutdowns are simply a protective device whereby the person stops interacting and retreats to a metaphorical safe place; thereby limiting the overloading stimulus.

I know that plans don’t always work out as I wish, but this doesn’t limit the effect on me. I’m also aware that I am not the only one who has this. In amongst my cycling friends, I know several who will feel the same frustrations. I suffered from such at the weekend due to racing and running a flat rear tyre within a couple of hundred metres off the start line (despite a reasonable start off the grid for me). Don’t misunderstand me, I had no illusions of obtaining grand results, but I did picture finishing the race. This type of mechanical happens to everyone who races, it’s rubbish and it’s frustrating for anyone. For me, it through my mood for two days and left me feeling like I had no control, which of course, sometimes we don’t, we can simply seek to limit problems.

My meltdown left me unwilling to touch the bike for several days and for a brief moment, I very nearly said ‘stuff it’. Support from my partner and a mate helped to pull me through this and I am training again and have sorted the tyre and will return to normal.

However, for me and many others, it is that simple a trigger to lose control and it’s an awful place to be in. We might lash out, shout, stamp and generally act in an unacceptable or unbecoming manner, but at that point, we have simply too much going on and our brain and system is completely overloaded.

Anyway, onwards and upwards…

Sensory neurones and pushing myself

Many people with autism seem to have issues with pain sensitivity. This might be independent or part of a comorbid condition.

This weekend is the first mountain bike race of the year for me: I didn’t race much last year due to personal things and limitations on travel. So for me, this coming weekend is a big one.

I have my kit packed, the bike has been stripped down (as far as I am happy and confident to do so), checked, cleaned, oiled and put back together. Tyre pressures and clothing choices have been obsessed over. I’m now tapering down on my training towards the weekend in an effort to be most efficient on race day.

Here’s where my sensory neurones will kick into effect on Saturday; I know that racing isn’t easy, it hurts and I have been working hard to get my body used to hurting and still pushing through this; for an hour and a quarter or there abouts. My geek side says that my functional threshold power has increased, my cardiovascular fitness is good enough for me to push my heart rate very high ans maintain it at a level which is excellent for an ex-smoker in my late forties. According to the metrics I can obtain, my VO2 max (the amount of oxygen my red blood cells can carry per millilitre) is also very good. So, all of the numbers and geekery look good, my technical skills could do with some working on, but the course is unlikely to be the most technical that I have ever raced.

I do feel reasonably happy and confident in my abilities and I’m sure that on the day, adrenaline and the fact that I enjoy riding and competing will help me to suppress the pain and nerves. Let’s hope that it all goes well.

Recovering slowly

I should state frankly that as I’ve got older, the shorter my patience has become. I’m not sure why, but I find myself very driven in most things, but waiting for anything, even in a queue becomes very frustrating and I find myself having to constantly stim; sometimes consciously and at others not.

I’ve got my first cross country mountain bike race of the year on the 27th and training has been hindered by my being ill with a cold and chest infection. I’m on the antibiotics and they are helping: today is the first time that I’ve started to feel human in about a fortnight. I can’t wait to get back to training, but I am aware that I’m not going to be pushing myself hard until race day now. Being unable to absorb myself in my obsession makes me irritable and frustrated. So instead I have to plan and prepare without training. This will involve making sure that the bike is running as smoothly as possible and that my kit is prepared, checked, double checked and strategies are firmly in mind. I have, today, organised my race entry and category, which means that I am committed.

Focus has been difficult in the last week or so, external factors relating to my health and that of those around me. My mind has also been feeling rather foggy, which happens when I’m unwell. This has impacted upon things and energy has been rubbish.

However, I am getting back to normal. I’m internally battling not compromising  recovery by doing something stupid and fighting to acknowledge that if I can’t ride for another few days, then so be it. Better to be well enough to race than not.

Keeping my obsession fuelled in preparation will simply have to satisfy me for another few days and next week will involve a couple of gentle spins to just get my muscles happy with turning over.

img_0010.jpg

Obsessions

Well, my obsessions include bikes, specifically mountain bikes. After years of not being able to ride, I returned to riding five years ago. During which, I spent almost a year off in recovery from a badly broken leg.

However, mountain biking remains as my obsession, it’s my outlet both physically and mentally. I have my first race of the year in three weeks on Saturday and I’m busy in preparation for it. The aspie loves the fact that I can plan for every detail, this feeds my obsession and helps motivate me towards the event. I can plan details and still not predict anything more than that… I can just train as hard as time permits.

I struggle with ‘rest days’, always did. Hence, I stuffed my knees in my youth. Today was technically scheduled as a rest day, I did a short turbo session as I couldn’t do nothing. I’m sure that obsession versus recovery is something every autistic athlete has to battle. Has anyone else experienced this dilemma?

#actuallyautistic #austistic #autisticmountainbiking #autisticcyclists #autisticmtb #xcmtb

Spreading the love…

Autism Day

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Hence, my blog is going up a day early.

I aim to write my blog each Wednesday and that’s usually fine; occasionally, life gets in the way and I’m either a little late or a little early, but I am still here. I’m not an authority on the subject, nor am I a medic, nurse or carer, I’ve never held myself out as any of the above. Actually, that’s possibly not entirely accurate; as whilst I’m high functioning, I still require a great deal of self-care, both physically and mentally and this requires details planning and thought, or, as has been the way in the last week, it all goes hideously wrong and I feel like rubbish.

Anyway, I decided to give awareness some consideration. I wonder when, or more importantly, if, people will become more aware of the condition, but possibly that’s difficult for a predominantly neurotypical world, because of the simple fact that the spectrum is so very wide and that we all exhibit so differently. As I’ve stated before in the UK alone, it is estimated that the autistic community is equivalent to the population of Greater Manchester, so at some point, everyone will have encountered a person who is on the autistic spectrum.

Awareness requires understanding and people, aren’t easy to understand. I don’t understand the vast majority of people that I interact with. I’m reasonably intelligent and educated, but people often confuse me. I can only imagine that the the neurotypical person finds the neurodiverse just as bewildering. Imagine a standard conversation between two people for a moment: –

Person A: “What’s wrong?”

Person B: “Nothing”

Person A: “Oh, OK”.

The nuances are lost on the neurodiverse, I, for example, may sense that something is wrong which is why I would ask the question, but I’m not entirely certain that I would get the myriad of subliminal cues which would tell me that the person is simply trying to avoid talking about an issue.

So, how exactly do we get around these problems with social interaction and communication? For myself, I find that my being very direct (some people say blunt) helps and I ask that people are the same with me. It’s possibly why I’ve always got along well with children, they are less bound by convention, in fact, given the choice I think that most children prefer not to have to follow all of the social rules and therefore we seem to have a good balance. Maybe that’s the key, maybe kids get to understand me more than adults and the adults who do ‘get me’ are also magical and appreciated.

In the meantime, we can only hope to raise awareness to the spectrum condition and I’m always happy to answer questions.