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Tiny Tyger, Baby Bear and Me: January 2016

Sunday 31 January 2016

Why I Struggle to Write Blog Posts

I'm not a very prolific blogger.  I very rarely write more than one blog post a week and, even then, I'm often 'late' posting it.

Largely, this is because my days consist of a torrent of noise and demands from the cubs.  Even if I am sat not really 'doing' anything, I'm unable to focus on something for more than a few seconds without an interruption from one of the boys (even when they're watching a film I have a constant barrage of: 'Mummy, who's that man?  Is that the girl's daddy?  My daddy doesn't have glasses!  Why is she running?  Is that her house?  Where is it?  Where's her mummy?'...etc.).

However, I have another problem with getting blog posts written, which means I suspect I'd struggle even if my life wasn't constantly punctuated by having to separate the cubs when they fight, letting the dogs in, letting the dogs out, letting the dogs back in again, getting Tyger a drink, asking Bear if he'd like a drink to be told 'no', getting Bear a drink because actually he does want one after all...

I find it really hard to settle on a topic for my blog post.  And it's not because I can't think of one but because I think of too many.  I think of a subject and it's perfect and interesting and I start to construct the post in my mind and it's going really well and maybe I even think of a couple of humorous asides to add...and then I think it's getting too long and I should focus down on one point...but then I realise other people might disagree with that point and I start to think about why so I can preempt them and rebut them before they can even make the point...but then I start agreeing with this opposite stance I'm trying to argue against and wonder if I should write about that instead and...it all becomes too complicated.

Last week I tried to write a blog post about autistic 'shut downs' (as opposed to meltdowns).  I was really interested and asked quite a lot of people I know in real life and online if they'd come across them or suffered from them and how they presented and everything.  I wrote most of a post.  It's still sitting there in my drafts but...I got stuck somehow.

I didn't like the post.  It seemed too...bitty.  The structure was all wrong and there was no humour and I gave up and posted this list of funny things I've said to the cubs in a panic instead.

So, this week I thought I'd finish the post about shut downs.

But I have this block about it now.

Even my pen's against me.
I kept trying to get into it but ended up procrastinating and generally browsing online and saw this blog post has been doing the rounds: She Divorced Me because I Left Dishes By the Sink by Matt at Must Be This Tall To Ride.  I suggest you read it but for anyone who hasn't/doesn't it's a post about how ostensibly his wife divorced him because he left dishes by the sink but actually it was a bigger issue of him refusing to accept that to her his repeated refusal to do something that took so little effort on his part but was important to her symbolised a complete lack of love and respect.

I read it and liked it and immediately started to have ideas for a blog post of my own.  I'll give you a heavily cut down inner dialogue of my thought process (I won't include all the interruptions involving the cubs but, needless to say, there were many):

I wonder why it is so often women who get wound up by mess and clutter and why men - generally speaking - don't seem to care or even see it.  Maybe I could write about why women feel this pressure?  Yes!!  I'm not naturally a clean or tidy person at all but Wolf and I still have those same sorts of problems.  Why do I care?  I do feel calmer in a tidy environment and it does help reduce my anxiety but I guess it's largely to do with 'what other people will think'.

I'll write about that and how women are still looked down upon and seen as failures if they don't keep on top of housework.  It doesn't matter what else they do or whether they're innately neat people.  And women are conditioned to judge themselves by how their house looks and if someone comes round it will be the woman they consciously - or subconsciously - 'blame' if it's not up to scratch.  And there are assumptions made about how good a wife or mother or just person she is based solely on whether she's...dusted or hoovered or whatever.  So, of course men don't understand the big deal; they've never had the same pressure put on them.  It's acceptable - and even funny and endearing - for men to be messy.

Actually, that's reminded me I wanted to write a post about how female Aspies differ from male Aspies and how so many of our anxieties come from having been conditioned by society to try to keep people happy...so we feel a constant sense of guilt and are always trying to keep everyone happy despite knowing we're not always socially intuitive.  That's what I'll write about.  I've been wanting to write that post for a few weeks anyway.

Maybe I can sort of include both the thing about keeping a clean house and...no, it's getting too complicated!

No, I won't write about women on the autistic spectrum, anyway; I was going to take a break from writing about ASD for a week or so.

Okay, back to that post about the glass by the dishwasher...I could link to it...but what if Wolf thinks this is a passive aggressive message to him by posting something like that?  Hmm...I wonder what he would think of the post.

I wonder if there's any equivalent thing I do...or don't do?  Maybe DIY.  I could write about DIY and how I tend to just leave it to him without thinking about it.  Is that the norm and is it really equivalent?  Although, I have put up flatpack furniture.  And there was that time I put up a spice rack on our larder door.

I liked that spice rack.  It wasn't expensive but it did the job it was supposed to do.  I should have removed it from the door when we sold that house; now, I'll have to buy a new spice rack and there's a good chance the people who bought the house didn't even keep it.  Poor spice rack.
'What did I do wrong?  Did I not hold your spices?'
I don't want to write about that glass by the dishwasher thing anymore.  I've overthought it now and I don't even know if I could add anything worth writing.  Is it even okay to write a blog post about a blog post?

What can I write about?

I'll write about this.  This right now.  I'll write about how I talk myself into and out of writing about a million different things before settling on one!

I could do an inner monologue type thing and...but is that a bit boring?  Will anyone even want to read such ramblings?  Isn't it a cop out to write a blog post about not being able to choose a topic for a blog post?

Ah, frack it.  I'll just write the Goram thing before I end up without anything at all.

There you go.  I probably do this with everything in my life, actually, and not just blog posts.  No wonder I feel perpetually exhausted but never get anything done.

Please tell me I'm not the only over-thinker out there?  (And also let me know if you'd actually quite like to read a post on any of the garbled half-thoughts above and I'll do my utmost to write one!)

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Monday 25 January 2016

I Never Thought I'd Say...

I've been struggling to compose  my blog post this week so to take the pressure off I have decided to just post a list of some of the things I've found myself saying to the cubs over the last few months; things I'd never have thought I'd say before I had kids.

1. Don’t stick the paint brush in your dinner.

2. None of the birds in our garden are actually elves.

3. We don’t drill flies.

4. It’s not magic, it’s you flinging yoghurt everywhere.

5. Don’t lick your reflection in the TV.

6. You’re not going to draw with your pens, are you? Just put them in your toaster for fireworks!

7. No, you don’t ‘check’ your brother’s toothbrush by licking it.

8. Please don’t suck up the window condensation through a straw.

9. If you want to run away from home, next time run away to your bedroom instead of the extension.

10. Would everyone stop getting their hand stuck in a teapot?

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Sunday 17 January 2016

Has Autism Increased?

If you go on any parenting forums and read threads about ASD - and if you don't I can assure you I do it more than enough for both of us - you'll know it's only a matter of time until someone makes a comment about autism being more common 'these days'.

Sometimes it's worded as an accusation and mentions the 'overdiagnosis' of autism or using ASD as 'an excuse for bad parenting'.  Other times it's a genuine question about whether autism is more common these days (and, if so, why or, if not, why it seems more common) from someone who is curious.

It's hard to give a definitive answer but I certainly have a good idea based on observation and reading up obsessively quite a bit on the subject.  If there's one thing I'm good at it's prattling on about ASD so here we go.

Firstly, no, the answer is not in any way connected to the Goram MMR vaccination.

I think there are several interlinked reasons for the apparent rise in ASD.

Professional understanding of ASD has increased to the point where many more people with Asperger's are being recognised and diagnosed now.  That doesn't mean they didn't exist before; in fact, I wrote a post last week about the realisation I'm probably on the spectrum.  Now, in times past (and even in my own childhood only a couple of decades ago) there's no way anyone would have thought I was autistic.  A bit weird, yes.  And with my slightly 'hippy/alternative' taste in clothes and green hair they probably still think I'm 'that odd mum with the unicorn hat'.

On the one hand, I'm not so odd I bought the hat; Wolf bought it for me.
On the other, he got it because I had an imaginary unicorn friend as a child...
which is perhaps slightly odd.
Going back further, my dad is also very definitely autistic but we didn't understand that until relatively recently (the last few years).  For a long time there were things about my dad that didn't seem to quite fit.  He's a nice person and good husband and father...who sometimes comes out with the most bizarrely unthinking/insensitive remarks (a couple directed at me have been, 'are you really tired or is it just your makeup?' and, 'what's going on with your hair?').

He has a professional job in a highly-paid position with lots of responsibility but if something disturbs his morning routine (having to clean up cat sick, his keys being in a different place etc.) he's completely thrown for the day.

As a child I also remember him getting incredibly annoyed with me for being too loud but he would go about the house whistling and clapping himself even when people were trying to have conversations.

So many 'inconsistencies' and 'quirks' in my dad's character make complete sense in the context of ASD.  There is absolutely no way anyone would have thought to use the word 'autistic' to describe my dad when he was a child - it would have been laughable - but he would more than qualify for a diagnosis now.

Even our cats are starting to look into it...
It's not just the Asperger's 'end of the spectrum' professionals understand better.  More and more research is being done into ASD in general and children and adults with 'classic autism' are being given much more support.  Families being given more assistance means there's a higher chance of autistic children attending mainstream schools and less need for them to be put into residential care homes (though, of course, some parents do still have to make this incredibly difficult decision).  ASD is generally more visible as people see it less and less as something shameful and/or simply unknown.

I had a friend at school whose brothers are autistic but it's only in more recent years I've learned this.  At the time I didn't know why they didn't live with her and her parents full time.  All I knew was they had 'something' that meant they needed extra help and support.  I was completely ignorant and I didn't ask (which I probably should have done).  I hope, even in the decade that's passed since then, awareness of ASD has grown to the point where teenagers now would be more likely to know what autism is and feel they could ask questions.

The rise of the internet has helped massively.  It gives people a place to talk about their ASD - or their kid's ASD - anonymously.  Social media means stories about people on the spectrum are often shared and read quite widely.  People on the spectrum often find text based communication much easier than face to face/spoken communication so you're probably more likely to have a long conversation with an autistic person on an internet forum than in 'the real world', too.

All of this: the greater understanding, the higher rates of diagnosis, social media and the internet in general adds to the perception that ASD is more common than it used to be.  But it's just that: a perception.  The reality is autism has always been there but we wrote off autistic people as 'weird', 'eccentric', 'quirky', 'rude', 'stupid', 'naughty' and a whole host of other derogatory adjectives.

I like to think that's all changing.

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Sunday 10 January 2016

Am I Autistic? Take Two

I don't like lying.

With this in mind, I'm sorry if I have deceived you.

I wrote a blog post titled Am I Autistic? over six months ago.  My conclusion was I exhibited a lot of ASD traits/behaviours but no, I absolutely was not actually autistic.


It seems I may have thought I wasn't autistic but others - specifically my parents and Wolf - are of a differing opinion.  Not necessarily at the time of me writing the blog post but certainly more recently.  We had a conversation about ASD a few weeks back (a pretty regular occurrence in this household) and it came up.  Since then, I have read up a bit more on females with Asperger's and have even taken a pretty good online test...with the conclusion I probably am autistic.

Wolf said he thought I knew.  I didn't.  I knew they joked about it but I didn't realise they were serious.  Not that it's in any way autistic to not get when someone's joking...or anything...

I've started to assess my behaviour in the way I do with Tyger and it's a little disconcerting.

There are certain things it seems I do - and probably have done for years - that I was totally oblivious to.  Apparently, I violently rub my face when stressed.  I also bite my thumbs (not like some Shakespearean character trying to insult someone in a rival family but biting down on the knuckle absent-mindedly).

Like this.  Huh, looks like my teeth are off-centre...never noticed that before.
Having asked my parents what my most obviously autistic traits are they've said I'm obsessive, like routine and have always been a bit of a loner (and the close friends I have had have generally probably not been neurotypical themselves...and at least one of them reads this blog so...umm...not you, obviously...).

I don't know what they're talking about.  It's not like, when I was a teenager, I used to read through my Friends books listening to my Friends CD with my Friends poster staring down at me and test myself on my Friends knowledge using my Friends daily calendar in between each episode of Friends...when I'd always make sure I had a mug of milk (Friends mug, of course) on my Friends coaster with the same number of biscuits in plenty of time so I could always clap along with the theme tune...on a Friday night...at home...with my family.  An obsessive, routine-driven loner!  Pfft.

This week I went to the first session of the 'EarlyBird' programme (a course for parents of young children with ASD).  What better place to start analysing myself for autism than on a course all about autism with a load of parents of autistic children?

First clue was how anxious I was about going.  New place, new people, not knowing what to expect - it's a lot to stress about and stress I did.  Queasiness and pressure on my head and face (somewhere between numbness and feeling like they were being squashed) seem to be pretty reliable signs of my anxiety.

Actually, Wolf has said I'm at my most autistic (he probably worded it differently, to be fair) when preparing to go somewhere new for a specific time.  I'm not sure exactly what I do!

Once there, I coped pretty well with going in (desperately trying to remember the direction from which I entered the building so I'd know which way to go at the end because I could get lost in a phone box) and meeting everyone.

I did almost have to leave the country and live as a hermit forever more after declaring the big hot water flask for tea and coffee was empty only to find out it needs pumping.  I valiantly stayed and didn't even curl up into a ball in the corner!

So, we began.

The room where the course is held has those horrid tube lights.

I have problems with light.  There are days when it's not hugely bright out but I find myself squinting and struggling to look up at all (not at the sun but just up near the sky), whilst everyone else is unaffected.  That's nothing compared to my problems with artificial lights, though, and certain colours of bulb that make everything seem either really saturated or unsaturated and I can't focus on anything properly.  It comes up in my dreams a lot and I spend a lot of my time feeling like I've suddenly gone from darkness to bright light and my eyes haven't adjusted yet and those lights didn't help.

There was constant noise, too: rain drumming on the roof, a video playing in the next room, people in the reception area.  It made it hugely difficult for me to focus on the video we had to watch.

And I noticed myself doing...things.

People with autism often have a problem with 'proprioception', which is your ability to know where your body and limbs are in space without having to look.  Sounds ridiculous, right?  How can you not know that?  That's what I thought until I realised at this course that I totally have problems with it.  I was sat there struggling with the lights and the sound and realised I was doing all these little things to keep me 'grounded'.  I was constantly rubbing my toes together, I had my legs crossed and was pressing the top leg into the bottom one really hard.  And I was constantly pinching myself, digging my finger nails into my hand, pushing my fingers together or stretching them really far apart.

What happened if I made myself stop doing all these things?  I really did feel like my body was floating, like I couldn't really feel my limbs without concentrating really hard on them and on the feel of the fabric of my clothes touching them.

I sat there listening to people talking about the sensory issues people on the spectrum have and they were talking about me.

Not that anyone would have known to look at me: they couldn't see inside my shoes at what I was doing with my toes, couldn't tell how hard I was pressing on one leg with the other, and it's easy to push your thumb nail into your hand so nobody can see.

See, just normal hands with fingers interlocked.
Except, I'm pressing the nail of that bottom thumb in my finger.
It was thought ASD was far more prevalent in boys than girls.  However, the more we understand about autism the more evidence suggests girls actually present in a very different way and tend to be very good at 'masking' their ASD.  When it comes to supposedly 'higher functioning' ASD, these girls' autism goes completely unnoticed until they reach puberty and then the combination of physical and emotional changes, the increased social pressure and the greater academic demands suddenly all combine to completely overwhelm them and that's the point at which - if they're lucky - they might get a diagnosis.

If I have ASD I have always been very good at masking it.  I have been so good at masking my autism, in fact, I've hidden it from myself.

What now?  What am I going to do with this information?

I don't think I'll try to get a diagnosis.  Not right now, anyway.  I will need to start pushing to get Bear diagnosed soon and I don't think I can cope with both.

What I will do is cut myself some slack.

I have always thought I was a terrible friend because I find it really hard to reply to messages or initiate contact or meet up.  I agonise over every 'hi, how are you' and response.  I start messages and never finish them because it's just too much.  Knowing there's a good chance I have a disorder that predominantly affects social interaction and communication makes me feel a little less guilty.

I'm not an uncaring friend; I'm autistic.

I have always suspected I'm a bad parent because at times I know I should be playing with the cubs and instead I am sat on my laptop.  I think actually my ASD means I get so overloaded by the boys' constant noise (which is part of their ASD) that I retreat and the only thing that stops me breaking down and crying in the bathroom is focusing on my laptop for a while.

I'm not an indifferent mum; I'm autistic.

I always thought I was useless because I don't do things I know I need to do like sorting out various insurance or phoning the hospital about something.  I knew I was physically and intellectually capable so didn't understand why I just couldn't bring myself to do these things until well after the point where they needed to be done.  Now, I understand my problems with executive functioning and anxiety - both elements of ASD - are probably to blame.

I'm not lazy; I'm autistic.

Knowing I'm probably autistic is enough at the moment.  It's a relief just knowing why I am the way I am.

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Sunday 3 January 2016

It Was the Best of Christmases, It Was the Worst of Christmases

Christmas and New Year have been and gone and after a tumultuous lead up (since Christmas can be very overwhelming for kids on the spectrum as I wrote about here), I thought I'd give a quick update on the last couple of weeks in the Nym household.

Tyger's ASD means everything is either the best or the worst.  There's no nuance, no grey, no in between.  My sister has always been much the same.  Any big events like Christmas, birthdays, performances, parties etc. are either euphoric successes or devastating failures.

According to Tyger this was, 'the best Christmas ever.'  It was only his fourth Christmas and I doubt he can remember any previous ones (perhaps for the best in the case of his first Christmas when he had an ear infection and slept through most of the day) so I can see how he reached his assessment.  However, this doesn't mean that every moment in the day was amazing...or even good.

Last year Tyger was completely absorbed by each present he got to the point where it was hard to get him interested in the next so other people opening presents wasn't a problem.  This year was...different.  He moaned constantly whenever someone else was opening a present and complained that he wanted a present.  In a household of eight people who go in for Christmas in quite a big way, this meant a lot of presents and so a lot of time spent moaning.

The whinging and whining culminated in Tyger opening a present from my sister (Colour Blind Sister, not Aspie Sister).  Now, Colour Blind Sister wanted to get Tyger a toy till, which was an excellent present idea.  Unfortunately, it was such an excellent present idea that the Wolf's parents wee already getting him one so CB Sister had to rethink.

Tyger opened the present from her.  It was a very cute, miniature wire shopping basket to go with said till.  He was unimpressed.  In fact he got extremely upset and angry and proclaimed he wanted a tiny shopping trolley like Aspie Sister and not a shopping basket.

The baskets and - clearly superior - tiny trolley.
Luckily, it turned out my mum had, in fact, bought Aspie Sister an identical basket (to go with the trolley) and quickly rummaged around the tree to give it to my sister so she and Tyger could be 'matching'.  Bear also has one from CB Sister and they seem to have been accepted, now.

All in all, Christmas was a success.  Tyger immediately looked to see if the mince pie, sherry and carrot left for Father Christmas and the reindeer were gone before even glancing at his stocking, which was very sweet.

Everyone in the house seemed happy with their presents.  I suspect Tyger's tablet will see a lot of use and he loves his bike.  The cubs have enough Duplo to rival the laundry basket mountain in quantity, which is pretty impressive.

Wolf and I also got the cubs a 'Bilibo' each.  Whilst they're great for all young kids, they came highly recommended in particular for kids with ASD on a forum I frequent.  I daren't try to describe them because I've already had the piss royally taken out of me for my - apparently terrible - explanation when I first bought them.  Instead, I'll include a photo.

I told Wolf they were, 'like spheres with a rounded triangle cut out of them.'
That's...ummm...sort of accurate right?
Bilibos (I promise I'm not on commission and I'm not popular enough yet to be asked to review products!) can be sat in and used for spinning and rocking.  Tyger also likes to climb on his when it's upside down and jump off it.  Apparently, they can also be used for games with balls and water.

The reason they're recommended for autistic children is they're great sensory toys that can provide a physical outlet when the kids are becoming overloaded (and these ones have also been decorated by stickers, which provided a little peace for me for a few minutes so they've already been very useful).  I did manage to avoid a meltdown a few days ago when Tyger was becoming fraught and I convinced him to let me spin him in his Bilibo.  Beforehand he'd been following Bear around trying to wind him up.  Afterwards he took Bear stacking blocks Bear had dropped.  It may seem small but I was very relieved!

Despite giving little to no inkling of what I wanted for Christmas (not because I thought it would be funny to leave everyone guessing but because I genuinely didn't know what I wanted) I was given some lovely presents.  I'm at home with the cubs pretty much all day everyday, my one real hobby (this blog) doesn't require anything I don't already have (a laptop) and we're living with my parents at the moment so I can't really do much with ornaments or household items.  As such, I'm kind of difficult to buy for right now but even so I got a lot of awesome clothes, a few Terry Pratchett and William Blake themed presents (Tyger's pseudonym on here is largely inspired by Blake's poem The Tyger and he's my favourite poet), three mugs (when you drink as much tea as I do these are extremely practical gifts likely to see far more use than most presents ever will) and - in the same vein - a big box of various teas of the world.  I have made a dent in the latter.

I don't know if Tyger will remember anything about this Christmas (I guess it's becoming increasingly likely any moment will be his first memory) and Baby Bear almost certainly won't but nonetheless I think this was an overall good Christmas.  I guess our 'ASD Christmas' turned out okay.

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