When I was just a little girl

It’s taken me a few months to gather my thoughts sufficiently to be able to write about this.

In September 2013 I was at the mental health clinic with my mother, getting interviewed on my childhood behaviours. This part of the adult autism diagnosis refers specifically to the section in the DSM-5 that says:

“Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).”

I felt incredibly nervous about this part of the diagnosis.

Mostly because I knew I didn’t exhibit many symptoms in childhood. Sure, I always had hobbies that I was intensely occupied with, and that weren’t very typical of other children my age, but overall I just seemed a shy, studious, slightly naive but happy young girl. My parents were very supportive of me and my interests and never made me socialise with others if I didn’t feel like it. It was perfectly acceptable in our family to spend most of Christmas Day reading the books we had received as presents.

© Grecaud Paul - Fotolia.com

© Grecaud Paul – Fotolia.com

My mother was nervous about the interview too. I noticed she was clutching her hands so hard that her knuckles were turning white. Up until that point, the therapist had addressed most of her questions to my mother, so I’d kept quiet and let my mother do the talking. But she wasn’t doing much talking. So when I saw her hands, I took control.

The questionnaire

Maybe the questionnaire had set us both up for feeling a bit unsettled about this part of the diagnosis. It was obviously meant for the diagnosis of children, with some half-hearted attempts to make it suitable for adults. And by half-hearted, I mean questions like:

As a child [section heading says 0-5 years old], did he look at people (meet their eyes) when they were talking to him?

  • Never or rarely
  • Only with parents
  • Usually did

And at a later age? [emphasis mine]

Some of the questions did indicate that they were meant to cover specific ages, like 0 to 4 years old, 1 to 5 years old, or 4 “and older”, but none of the questions specified HOW MUCH older. Not even adolescence was mentioned specifically.

I had planned to go through the questionnaire together with my mother, to explain things and to give feedback on her recollections. But about halfway through reading through the questions, my mother gave up. She said they were such leading questions that they were making her feel anxious and she couldn’t remember all those things about my childhood anyway. We did spend some time reminiscing about my childhood and even getting out my baby book, so that was fun. But filling out the actual questionnaire wasn’t going to happen with me there.

She brought the filled out questionnaire with her to the interview, so I had about 2 minutes to scan through her answers before the therapist came in. She’d basically answered “my child was normal” to every single question.

As a child, did he feel very afraid or anxious?

  • Normal
  • Yes, about strangers or specific people
  • Yes, about animals, noises, or (mechanical) objects
  • No, showed no fear or sense of danger

Yep, they used the word normal.

The interview

Of course, it’s been a while since the interview, so my recollection is a bit hazy. There were a lot of questions about how I interacted with others. Like, did I have any friends (yes, I did). Did I get invited for birthday parties (my mum’s answer was, “We didn’t do birthday parties”, ha!). Did I come across as bossy or controlling when playing with other kids (my mum ran into my nursery teacher a few days before the interview, and even she remembered how much I enjoyed “playing teacher”. I was in nursery school in 1981). Things like that.

Me taking control of the interview meant that I started answering the questions with how I remembered things. Like playing with other kids but not knowing when it was OK to join in. Constantly feeling puzzled by the behaviour of other kids. A very vivid memory about not understanding when someone’s joking or serious. (Still makes me cringe to remember that: I’d given a presentation in class about windmills, and a classmate asked me how windmills actually worked. I thought he was joking, so I gave an extremely scathing reply. And got reprimanded by the teacher for making the kid look ridiculous, because it was a serious question. Ouch).

My mother started relaxing a bit more when I was the one doing most of the talking, and started adding and elaborating on my recollections as well. It got to the point where it was mostly a conversation between me and her, with the therapist desperately trying to keep us on subject and within the time limit. That was fun.

The diagnosis

Of course, with my mother seeing me as normal and that attitude colouring all of her replies, I wasn’t feeling all too sure about the conclusions the therapist would draw from the interview and the questionnaire. I knew my diagnosis would hinge on autistic traits being present in childhood.

To counteract the “normal”, I got in touch with the therapist the day after and explained a bit about my family. About how most of my family members exhibit the same traits as I have. How within my family, I am indeed our kind of normal. Which, I can tell you, didn’t seem all that normal to others who got introduced to our family. My youngest brother even made a point of warning friends who stayed for sleepovers that they shouldn’t pay attention to anything happening at breakfast, because, in his words, “They all like to have these discussions, you know?”

© Alon Brik | Dreamstime.com

The fact that I grew up in such a family meant that I never had to explain why I’d rather read books than play football. That it was perfectly OK to hate crowds. My parents never told me that it was my own fault for getting bullied because I should try harder to behave in a certain way; they encouraged me to remain true to myself and to take pride in my differences. They never expected me to read between the lines, to understand things instinctively just because “everyone knows how to do that”. My parents provided me with the support I needed to function in an overwhelming world.

My diagnosis took this information into account. Yay!

From the official diagnostic report:

Judging by early childhood, there are very few indications of an autism spectrum disorder, although there are several examples of not understanding social interaction as a child. There are several explanations for the lack of symptoms in childhood, such as the close ties within the family and more family members possibly having undiagnosed autism spectrum disorders. For example, patient indicates that it is very normal in her family to talk in a formal, old-fashioned way (they often talked about scientific subjects and regularly consulted the encyclopedia during discussions).

Even though in the Netherlands the DSM-5 has not yet been adopted, the idea that “symptoms may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life” has obviously been accepted. This will hopefully help others get diagnosed. Others who, like me, don’t seem all that autistic until you realise how many supports they have in place.

Advertisements

Asking for help

I curled up into a foetal position in bed, where I had been reading a chapter in Business for Aspies: 42 Best Practices for Using Asperger Syndrome Traits at Work Successfully by Ashley Stanford. On a side note, why do subtitles always need to be so incredibly long and cumbersome? Anyway. Here I was, curled up, tears running down my face. Not because something had reminded me of work, which you would expect from a book with that long cumbersome title.

No. The author had written about asking for help.

Her example was a young single mother with a full time job who was having a particular bad day. Overload. The thing she ended up getting stuck on was having to clean two plates to be able to give her daughter her dinner. And. She. Just. Couldn’t. Her brain simply stopped. Meltdown.

The only thing she could think of to do in a meltdown was to grab her “need help” list. First item, call parents. Say “Dishes”. Mother says string of words. No verbal recognition. Move on to second item, go to neighbour. Say “Dishes”. Neighbour can read between the lines. Comes home with her. Does dishes. Serves dinner.

And I cried. And I got so upset that I had to leave my safe space, my bedroom, and get dressed and come downstairs. Because my bedroom no longer felt safe. Because that’s where I realised.

I don’t have a “need help” list.

© Yong Hian Lim - Dreamstime.com

© Yong Hian Lim – Dreamstime.com


This is what goes on in my mind when I hit my brick wall.

  1. I should be able to do this myself.
  2. I will look like an idiot for needing help with this thing that I should be able to do myself.
  3. If I call my parents, they’ll worry about me. Because I’m 36 and I should be able to do this myself.
  4. My parents are over 60 and they live 30km away and I can’t ask them to come all the way here to help me with something I should be able to do myself.
  5. My youngest brother lives 30km away and he has his own young family and I know he often feels overloaded dealing with his own stuff. I should be helping him, not asking him to help me.
  6. My younger brother lives 70km away and doesn’t have a car. I can’t honestly ask him to help me with something this small and that I should be able to do myself.
  7. My best friend lives in London. I’m not even going to calculate how far away that is. And she’s busy with work and getting her law degree and doesn’t spend much time online these days, so I can’t whine to her about how difficult this thing is that I should be able to do myself.
  8. My ex works close to where I live. I can ask him, but he enjoys it when I need help because that makes me dependent on him and that might mean I want to get back together. And I’m afraid he will make jokes about sleeping with him as a thank you, and I never know if it’s just a joke or am I actually expected to sleep with him.
  9. I have another friend close to where I live. I can ask him, but his wife hates me because she thinks I flirt too much even when I’m not aware of doing it. And I’m afraid he will make jokes about sleeping with him as a thank you, and I never know if it’s just a joke or am I actually expected to sleep with him.
  10. Another good friend lives 60km away and doesn’t have a car. He would help me with this thing. But he never answers his phone or email. And besides, I can’t honestly ask him to travel all this way to help me with something this small and that I should be able to do myself.
  11. I don’t know anyone else close by.
  12. People will know I’m not the strong person they always say I am if I ask for help.
  13. I should be able to do this myself.

The stuff about being seen as not strong, or as a helpless idiot, are on that list because it wouldn’t be accurate to deny that they’re a part of the problem. But they are far less important than the fact that I simply don’t know WHO to ask. I know there are people willing to help me, but the practical obstacles to them actually getting here and helping me are HUGE.

And I don’t feel I’m worth all that effort. Other people’s problems always seem bigger than mine. What’s not being able to do my dishes compared to not being able to spend enough time with your children, or not having the money to jump on the train at a moment’s notice, or feeling exhausted from doing a full time job and getting a degree at the same time? I simply can’t feel that sense of entitlement. Other people’s problems should have priority to them.

But when I do manage to overcome all those objections in my own head and reach out and tell people I’m not coping, the results aren’t always favourable either.

An example of that happened recently.

I’d started a new job at the same time as I started the diagnosis process for autism. I soon got overwhelmed. Not only was the diagnosis draining my resources, but the job was something I’d never done before and I soon realised I didn’t have the knowledge to perform it accurately. After two and a half months, I crashed. I told my employer I had a burnout and asked for sick leave. I also asked him to get me in touch with work health services (this is a legal requirement in the Netherlands so wouldn’t be an additional burden for my employer) to help me get back to work as quickly as possible. I made an appointment with my GP and I called the clinic where I was doing my diagnosis to say I was having a crisis.

My employer asked me if I was OK with signing an agreement that I was not suitable for the job (which would qualify me for unemployment), and when I agreed he didn’t log my sick leave and didn’t get work health services involved.

My GP said that because of the diagnostic process, she thought I’d be better off asking the clinic for help because they had more experience with that sort of thing.

And the clinic said they couldn’t help me until I was officially diagnosed.

I was in crisis. I was losing my job and completely unable to function. I was desperate and asking over and over if there was anything anyone could do to help me get through this and start working again. And they all said I was on my own.

© Eladora - Dreamstime.com

© Eladora – Dreamstime.com

It’s just an example, but this sort of thing happens too often for me to be able to write it off as a fluke. Or as just bad luck. Or as people being stupid and inattentive.

No. This has to be me. This has to be the way in which I ask for help. It has to be the words I’m not using, the emotions I’m not showing, the way in which I am wired SO DIFFERENTLY from others that even professionals don’t recognise my despair.

Does that mean it’s my own fault for not getting the help I need? NO. MOST EMPHATICALLY NO. I can’t help being this way. Other people can’t help having their own preconceptions about what “asking for help” is supposed to look like. It’s nobody’s fault that I don’t match those preconceptions.

Does that suck? YES. MOST EMPHATICALLY YES. But I don’t have the power to change the world in one fell swoop. I will have to start small. Small changes. Creating awareness.

Does that mean I need to tailor my needs to fit what people expect? To make my needs fit a predictable pattern? NO. MOST EMPHATICALLY NO. But I will have to take responsibility for my own needs. Those needs are mine. I need them met. I will just have to get more creative in getting them met by others.

And the crying? That hasn’t changed. I need to forgive myself for crying about the fact that I have absolutely no idea how to make a list of people I can call when I need help. It’s OK to feel sad about that. Maybe I will never have a list. But I need to stop feeling like a failure for not even knowing who to call.

Job interview advice – Grooming

This article was first published with permission on Invisible Autistic.

In my previous post, I discussed some of the unspoken rules around the clothes you wear to an interview.

This week, I want to focus on something that I still struggle with myself: personal grooming. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Apparently it’s fairly common for individuals (both children and adults) on the spectrum to have problems with personal hygiene and grooming habits. I seriously have no idea why this is so. It might be related to hyper- or hyposensitivity (not wishing to be covered in artificial scents like soap and shampoo and deodorant, or not being aware of your own body odour), or it could be something more cultural and social in nature. There’s a lot of social pressure to say that you shower every single day (and sometimes twice a day), but I know for a fact that not everyone does so. Yet people won’t ever admit that, because of the stigma attached to lack of personal hygiene. For myself, I feel perfectly comfortable showering every 3 or 4 days at most. I don’t think people have ever noticed.

Pig-tailed macaque at Khao Yai National Park

For a job interview, however, it’s important that you look and smell like other people.

Hair

Wash your hair the day of your interview. You don’t need to worry about styling, this is completely optional. As long as it doesn’t look greasy you’ll be fine. If you are worried about your appearance, you can go to a hairdresser a few days before your interview and get your hair cut and styled. DON’T under any circumstances get a haircut on the same day as the interview. The stray hairs will drive you absolutely bonkers and you will look like a crazy person constantly trying to pick hairs out of your neck. Trust me, I’ve done this.

Clothes

Make sure all your clothes are freshly washed, with no visible stains or tears. Bring one or two safety pins for emergencies. I usually only discover a hole in my jacket 5 minutes before the interview is about to start. Stains are harder. If you discover a stain right before the interview, one option is to go to the receptionist or office manager (if they have someone like that) and say “Excuse me, I’ve just discovered a stain on my jacket / trousers / skirt. Do you have a wet cloth or some wipes so I can try getting it out?” It may sound counter-intuitive but they won’t be at the actual interview and therefore won’t judge you on accidents or not being 100% prepared. In fact, if you thank them (about 3 or 4 times max) and apologise for the inconvenience, they will see you as an approachable, sociable human being with a normal amount of nervousness. Everyone is nervous before a job interview, right? So that’s a good tactic to get the office manager or receptionist on your side. And believe me, that helps.

Body odour

Put a small anti perspirant stick or roller in your bag or in your outer jacket. I know sticks may feel icky but sprays are usually too big to carry around with you. And you’re going to need anti perspirant, not deodorant – because deodorant is usually only perfume and nothing else. Sometimes, when I’m really nervous, I even dab some anti perspirant on my hands about 15 minutes before the interview so my hands won’t feel too sweaty when I’m shaking hands. Don’t do this too shortly before the interview though, because it might feel too dry. 15 minutes is a good time frame and will give you the opportunity to wash your hands if by accident you’ve used too much.

Fingernails

With many thanks to Ben Forshaw

This is something I was not aware of, even though I am a ferocious nail and nail bed biter. Your hands — and nails in particular — are likely to get noticed. I don’t know how the interview people do that if my attention-to-detail, notice-irrelevant-information autistic self doesn’t. But it’s probably one of those uncanny senses that neurotypical people have to immediately notice things that don’t conform to a certain standard.

So, here’s the advice. For men, nails should be short, neatly-trimmed and clean. For women they should be neat and clean, but can be short or long. What does neat mean? No ragged edges, no bleeding. If painted or false then they should have an even finish (I’m also a ferocious nail polish chipper, so I can attest to that one). Best to avoid nail decoration that’s too flashy or trendy, like very bright colours or patterns. If you habitually bite your nails so they appear untidy, Ben recommends getting a manicure close to the interview appointment: within a day if possible. I’ve never had a manicure but I can definitely see that working. My additional advice: avoid doing DIY or anything with sharp knives in the days leading up to the interview. Plasters and bruises are not an attractive look.

I hit my middle finger with a hammer about two months ago

I hit my middle finger with a hammer about two months ago. Don’t do this right before an interview.

Make-up

Here’s where there is a huge difference between men and women. As a man, you’re not supposed to wear any make-up at all, but women are regarded as social misfits when they don’t use any. I hardly ever use make-up myself, but I made an appointment with a make-up artist last year to explain to me how to apply all that stuff properly and what would work with my skin colouring and so on. Because I just couldn’t figure it out. When I wear make-up, I notice that people tend to take me more seriously. It’s silly but it works. So I would definitely advise any women reading this to invest in a (private) make-up tutorial and some products. You don’t have to slather your skin with crap, but some mascara and eyebrow pencil will already make a difference. Take your time to figure out what feels OK on your skin, I find that powders feel less sticky than creams. But even if you have sensory issues, a make-up artist can actually help you find products that don’t feel icky. Still, don’t worry if this is something that you simply don’t feel comfortable with. It helps with a job interview, but it’s not as important as clothes and hygiene.

Jewelry

Again, no jewelry for men. Watches and wedding rings are OK but if you have any other jewelry, take it off. For women, it’s again the exact opposite. I never used to wear jewelry but I have noticed that especially in job interviews with other women, this tends to set me apart as unfashionable and nonconformist. Even men to a certain degree prefer one or two pieces of discreet jewelry to none at all. The easiest option is to invest in a matching necklace and bracelet. You can even use a bracelet to unobtrusively stim a little bit when needed. Silver, gold, and wood coloured necklaces and bracelets work with nearly all outfits. Stay away from big chunky costume jewelry or jewelry with too many gemstones, however, unless you have pretty accurate fashion awareness.

If you have trouble operating a clasp, like I have sometimes, you can try very long necklaces like the white and the green/blue bead necklaces above. You can simply pop those over your head. They’re even fairly easy to make yourself if you don’t have a big budget. Just measure off a long piece of yarn (long enough to wrap around your head at least twice, just experiment a bit), string some beads together, and tie it off with a knot. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as you use interesting beads.

Shoes

This is a difficult one. If there’s any industry-specific footwear, like safety shoes for workshops or wellies/rubber boots for farm work, then that’s of course perfect. But overall, I would say leather shoes for men and (moderate) heels for women. However, a lot of autistic people have issues with uncomfortable shoes, especially autistic women and high heels. I personally like them because: toe walking! In public! Without comments! But not everyone does and that’s OK.

The most important thing is that you can walk on them and that your shoes don’t pinch your feet during the interview because that’s distracting. Leather shoes or brogues can be very stiff, especially if you don’t walk on them often. Suede is a bit more supple. Canvas sneakers, like Converse or Vans in a solid colour, are an acceptable alternative. I would advise against other sport shoes, especially white ones, unless you really can’t walk on anything else. A workaround is to wear your normal shoes to get to the interview and then change into your nice shoes just before. However, that definitely poses the risk of pinching or other uncomfortableness, so only do that if you’re sure the other shoes won’t drive you insane within an hour or less. Try it out while sitting on the sofa at home if you’re unsure.

Two last tips: make sure your shoes are absolutely clean (especially sneakers), and never ever wear open toed shoes or sandals, no matter how hot the weather is.

Too much?

That wraps up my advice on clothes, accessories and grooming. It all sounds very superficial, but it helps to not get rejected before the interviewers even hear what you’re capable of. I had a job once doing data entry at an HR department, and I’ve seriously seen interview reports where a candidate got rejected for wearing the wrong kind of shoes. I would love to hear if you’ve got any similar stories or tips to share!

In the next post, I’ll be looking at what to do when you’re early or late for the interview, how to greet everyone, and other situational pitfalls.

Strong currents sign

Job interview advice – Clothes

This article was first published with permission on Invisible Autistic.

For my first post on job interviews, I would like to tackle something that seems straightforward but actually has a lot of hidden social implications: what to wear to an interview.

There’s a lot of advice on the internet, but I always ended up feeling very frustrated because none of the articles would explain what I needed to wear to this particular interview. And their generalisations sort of seemed to hint at things that I was clueless about.

So I simply muddled along, trying to find what worked. And now, after countless job interviews (literally. I can’t count them anymore. I’ve had a lot) I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned. Autistic style!

Casual Friday?

First of all, there are certain levels of informality / formality that are implied in the clothes you wear. Casual and business attire simply doesn’t cover all the options. So I’ve made a little chart.

Level Men Women
1 Naked Naked
2 Underwear Underwear
3 Swimsuit Swimsuit
4 Shorts Shorts and tank top
5 T-shirt and jeans T-shirt and jeans
6 Shirt and jeans Blouse/top and jeans
7 Jacket and jeans Jacket and slacks/skirt
8 Suit without tie Trouser suit
9 Suit with tie Skirt suit
10 Tuxedo Gala dress

You’ll notice that it’s mostly the same for men and women, although men can get away with jeans for a bit longer and women have a few more styles to choose from. I’ll give you a few examples.

The level 9 guy is wearing the same suit as the level 8 guy, just with the addition of a tie. I thought it would be interesting to see the difference in close up.

A few things to keep in mind: it’s never ok to wear shorts, cut-offs, short skirts, tank tops, or crop tops to a job interview, no matter what the position. Well, unless you’re applying for a job serving drinks at the beach, maybe. But even then it’s not a bad idea to at least keep your thighs covered and most of your chest (a shirt can be open to about armpit level). And always wear something with sleeves. This goes for men as well as women.

Trick the company

For most interviews generally, you’ll want to be aiming for about a level 7-9. A lot depends on the company where you’re applying for a job. But don’t worry! There is actually a magic trick that hardly anybody tells you about.

You can simply ask the person you’re doing the interview what you should wear.

Not literally, of course. I’ll give you two scenarios. You can choose whichever one you feel comfortable with. Phone is quicker but scarier because there’s more interaction needed. Make sure to keep a pen and paper handy so you can make notes!

Phone

“Hi, this is Karen, I’m calling to say that I’m really looking forward to our interview on Monday. I’m doing a bit of prep work on the company and I was wondering if you could tell me what most people wear around the office.”
[Answer]
“Oh, that sounds fun / practical / very professional*. Is that for customer facing / non-customer facing positions** or just in general?”
[Answer]
“Thank you, that gives me a lot of valuable information about your company! Well, thanks for your time and if you have any questions for me, you can always reach me through e-mail or phone. See you on Monday!”

* Choose which of the three works best. Fun is shorts and flip flops. Professional is suits. Practical is everything in between. Yes, this will require some improvisation on your part.
** Choose which of the two YOU are applying for.

E-mail

“Hi,
Thank you again for scheduling an interview with me next Monday. In preparing for the interview it would help me immensely to get a copy of your company’s dress code, or a general idea of what other employees in a customer facing / non-customer facing position*** usually wear from day to day. Could you let me know before Friday? Thank you and I look forward to discussing other aspects of the job with you on Monday!”

*** Choose which of the two YOU are applying for.

The beauty of this setup is that you are being honest about what you need (instructions on what to wear), and they get the feeling that you are genuinely interested and want to get to know the people as well as the company. They LIKE it when you ask them what you should wear! Isn’t it awesome?

Uncertainty and colours

If you’re not sure where on the scale their answer falls (especially in IT this happens a lot – IT people don’t pay that much attention to clothes so they can’t or won’t give you a straight answer), err on the side of caution and overdress a little bit, or choose a similar outfit as what they describe other people wearing but with more conservative colours. For levels 5, 6 and 7 conservative basically means no patterns or prints, only solid colours with a preference for muted blues, reds, and greens. Purple is also an option for women. You can do blacks and greys but in those levels you run a risk of being seen as boring. So some colour is better than none. For levels 8 and 9, stick to dark to light blues or greys. Dark to light brown is possible but risky. Black makes you seem like an undertaker.

Comfort level

One important part that I haven’t mentioned so far is your own comfort level.

For a lot of autistic people, clothes can cause a major sensory overload. If this is the case with you, DON’T force yourself to wear something you’re uncomfortable in. It will do you more harm than good. If you think you can make it through an interview in uncomfortable clothing, then by all means do so, but test it out first. Put on your interview clothes inside your own home and do random stuff for an hour or so. If that’s already overloading you, then no way are you going to make it through a stressful interview.

Two options: turn down the interview and look for a job that expects a lower formality of clothing, or disclose to the people doing the interview that you have sensory issues. You don’t need to mention autism if you’re not comfortable doing so, but it’s better to tell people beforehand why you won’t be wearing appropriate clothing. Otherwise they will be surprised and they will hold that against you because interviewers don’t like to be taken by surprise, because that diminishes their power and control over the interview.

If you have some clothing that you feel comfortable in, that fits your body well (not too tight or too baggy), and that still conforms to the expected level of formality, then you’re all set. You won’t have to worry about sending the wrong messages and it will enable you to appear more confident and self-assured. And that’s what half the interview is about.

Final tip

If you feel up to it, ask a trusted and honest friend how you look. Or take a picture of you in your interview clothes and post it in an online community where you can expect honest feedback. I still do this for every interview I have. It really helps to have someone look at your clothes with a fresh eye, and it has nothing to do with being autistic or not! Everyone can make clothing mistakes sometimes.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about accessories, make-up, and grooming. Not the monkey kind.

Pig-tailed macaque at Khao Yai National Park

What Others Had to Say: Love, Overwhelm, Violence

OK this is pretty awesome. Also because I got quoted (whee!) but seriously, so many parents and autistic adults sharing their experiences with upset turning into violence. Make sure to read the original post and comments as well. There is support. It’s here, in our voices, in knowing what you’re going through. You’re not alone.

Emma's Hope Book

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled, When Upset Turns Violent.  I wrote it hoping for feedback from those who may have at one time, or currently have felt so overwhelmed they strike out and from parents who are on the receiving end of children who become violent.   I wanted to get a better idea of the kinds of support that might be beneficial to all involved.

As the comments came in, both here and through email, I realized a few things.  One was the shared feeling of shame so many felt. Tremendous shame was described by almost all the parents of kids who express themselves violently, as well as some who become so overwhelmed they become violent.  Exacerbating, or perhaps a part of the shame, was the feeling that this should not be spoken of for fear of ridicule, blame and judgment.   Many people remain silent, which…

View original post 1,898 more words

What is my face doing?

That dreaded moment has arrived again. Time to renew my passport. Of course my passport expired a couple of weeks ago already (yay executive function!) so I really need to get it done SOON. In the Netherlands you are required to have a valid ID document with you at all times, and that means a passport or an official ID card. Driving licenses aren’t always valid ID, and besides, I don’t have a driving license. So passport it is.

And that means getting my picture taken.

That’s what I hate about renewing my passport. The rest is fairly standard, scripted stuff, nothing much that might throw me off. But photos? Argh.

Because I have no idea what my face is doing.

With all the rules about “no smiling, no visible teeth, face has to be completely visible, neutral expression”, having my picture taken becomes a task of gigantic proportions. Especially the neutral expression bit. In my current passport picture I look like a particularly depressed heroin junkie. And that took about 25 minutes of non-stop instructions by the photographer. “Tilt your head a little bit to the left. No, LEFT, not right. Raise your chin. Don’t smile. Open your eyes wider. Stop tilting your head to the right. You’re smiling again. Don’t frown.” And so on and so on. It’s really stressful because I have no idea how I look. Am I smiling? Is this ok? WHAT IS MY FACE DOING?

I used to practice at home for hours, trying to see in the mirror what the “right” position is to put my face in, and trying to remember which muscles I’m tensing and which I’m relaxing and what facial configuration does that result in and can I reproduce it? But usually as soon as I get to the photographer, I forget everything I’ve practiced and simply adopt my standard “deer in headlights” look. Or inappropriate smiling.

But that was before I knew about autism and maybe it’s not just me who gets confused by all the facial expression stuff. So this time I was determined to do it differently.

I took a mirror with me.

At the photographer’s, I tried to explain that I have trouble knowing what expression I have on my face and would it be OK if I kept the mirror in my hand so I could check? He just looked at me and asked me why on earth did I need to do that for? OK, fail. He then started explaining all about the requirements which I KNOW BY HEART so really that’s not the problem here. Fail again. Just take the damn picture already.

And then I went to a second photographer.

Yes, it’s an expensive solution. But I figured, if I just get as many passport photos taken as possible, at least one should fit the requirements. I can’t deal with the stress of not knowing whether my photo will be accepted or not. And if it doesn’t get accepted, I’ll have to do the entire thing ALL OVER AGAIN. So I’d rather have some extra expenses than all that added stress. I’m learning to accommodate myself. Which rocks, by the way.

When I explained to the second photographer, he turned the computer screen so I could watch and see each picture he took and adjust my face in whatever way I felt comfortable doing. And he helped me get my errant left incisor under control as well (it has a tendency to slip over my lower lip). And it took about 15 tries but I didn’t feel as self-conscious as at the first photographer’s.

Maybe I should go to a third photographer as well, but I’m sort of out of spoons and I think the second set is probably going to fit the requirements. Although I look cuter in the first set, I think. Oh well. I’ll take both of them with me when I go to the passport office.

Cognitive love

My baby nephew is celebrating his 1st birthday tomorrow. He’s my youngest brother’s first child and so very adorable. But my brother and his wife are both adorable too so I guess it’s a genetic thing. 😉

Anyway. Because I’ve been so fixated on the birthday party being tomorrow (notes in my Google Calendar and everything), I completely forgot that his actual birthday is today. Until my sister-in-law posted a picture on Facebook showing my nephew with a party hat.

Oops. My mind immediately went into social panic mode. Keep in mind that this is my brother, who knows better than anyone how awkward I can be and who loves me regardless. He’s the only person in the family who isn’t socially awkward in one way or another (my father’s pretty good with people as well, but he admits it’s still not entirely effortless and he doesn’t really start enjoying it until after one or two drinks). None of us are diagnosed but my youngest brother is very obviously the only neurotypical person.

I had no idea what was expected of me.

I’m going to the birthday party tomorrow. My brother knows this because he invited me. So should I congratulate them tomorrow? When I’m supposed to be there? Or is the posting of this picture some kind of clue that they’d like to be congratulated today as well? Will they be upset if I wait until tomorrow? Or will they say I’m silly for calling to congratulate them when I’m already coming by tomorrow anyway?

OK. Hold on. Take a deep breath. YOUR BROTHER LOVES YOU. Nothing you can do will make him think you’re any more of a fruitcake than you already are.

And so I arrived at the easiest solution. I called my brother and asked him if he wanted to be congratulated. He laughed and said yes. And also that he liked me calling to ask. And that he was looking forward to seeing me tomorrow.

I love my family. Even if I have to reason it out sometimes.