Everything is going well at university. I'm two weeks ahead of my modules, my flat is friendly and so are friends and staff. There is just one issue. And that is food.

So far, I'm finding it very difficult to plan when, what and how I'll be getting in my nutrients. It involves a lot of executive function and a lot of my time. Shopping for food, planning meals, nutrition, budgeting, cooking, washing up, socialising in the kitchen, time. It's not as simple as sitting down to a yummy food.

This would all be fine if my appetite gave me the motivation to complete this sequence, but I'm finding increasingly that my low level anxiety I'm experiencing at the moment has made food somewhat repulsive and is messing with my tummy. I have noticed that I've lost weight, and I'm feeling a little pumped and shaky; normally all waning signs for me that I should up my intake.

I have GOT to get a hold on maintaining my weight. It's essential for mood, success and keeping my dog fit. I hope one day I'll view food as a pleasure rather than a chore!


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Today I disclosed to one of my seminar leaders that I was on the spectrum. It was a very scary, spontaneous thing to do but I desperately wanted some help with things and I knew I just had to bite the bullet. I was pretty nonverbal today because it's one of my busiest days with intense group work. Not only this but room changes had thrown me off, which meant I got a bit lost. This particular day I was also stressing out that the essay questions hadn't been released yet, so I wanted to speak to my seminar leader about that. And so I asked if it were possible to see her next week about the essay, because I'm autistic and starting things can be quite difficult. I also mentioned that knowing when/what to say during a seminar can be quite challenging. And she was totally nonplussed! She reassured me that it wasn't noticeable and that she always found me one of the most engaged students because I'm always smiling or reacting to the things she's saying (I've also noticed that I'm the only student she remembers the name of lol, probably because I don't shut up). She even said that she really values my input and finds what I say really interesting and then gave me her office hours.

That's given me a massive confidence boost. I've made an appointment with the student centre to put in reasonable adjustments for me (that aren't already in place). So far these are/will be

1. An assistance dog (already have)

2. Extra time in exams (wanted)

3. Access to the quiet study room in the top of the library (wanted)


I contacted my library on Twitter last week asking if their were any study spaces for autistic students because I'm finding the environment pretty stressful. This was their lovely reply:

Hi Scarlet - saw your tweet about spaces in the library. We have silent study rooms on first and second floors with windows (you're right, walls are pretty white though...) If you have a RASA in place you can book the ATC annexe, which is glass-fronted and sunny and yellow, through the form here ******************,

If you don't have one in place the Ground floor Group Study Room is open to anyone for bookings. Hope that helps a little.

If you have any suggestions for making the space better do let us know 🙂



Thing Universities/Colleges should have in place for autistic students

1. As I've aforementioned, designated study areas for autistic students, or those with other disabilities. My university seems to have this, but information should maybe be sent out to these students beforehand.


2. At the beginning of term, a welcome pack should be given to autistic students detailing support, mentoring, study spaces etc.


3. Seminar leaders should periodically ask at the end/beginning if the student is okay or the environment is okay and make appropriate adjustments. They should also encourage them to approach them if they find themselves needing help,


4. Students (probably already do have this) a thing called reasonable adjustments. This means that these should pop up to seminar leaders on the information about the student.


5. Meeting deadlines can be difficult, and arrangements to extend these should be reasonably accommodated. As should abrupt absences.


6. PLEASE PUT ALL INFORMATION ONLINE IN ADVANCE.


7. Please make questions and instructions as direct as possible where possible.


8. Please don't ask us to contribute if we haven't volunteered to.


9. Please try and keep times/room arrangements the same


10. Please give out information to staff members about mental health, learning disabilities and autism




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SPD is defined as "a neurological disorder in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses. A more formal definition is: SPD is a neurophysiologic condition in which sensory input either from the environment or from one’s body is poorly detected, modulated, or interpreted and/or to which atypical responses are observed" [SPD STAR]

How does SPD affect me?

SPD has affected me my whole life and I've only just been able to put my finger on the ACTUAL official disorder. It affects my balance, my depth perception, motor skills, hearing, sight. I have a lot of trouble with any kind of touch and I have an under sensitive and oversensitive sense of smell to various different smells (confusing!).

However my main sensory difficulty is around my vision, and hopefully I can explain myself today.


What does it feel like?

Overwhelming and exhausting is the short answer. My brain is very adept at noticing the details in my surroundings, but as a coping mechanism for seeing the whole picture at once I slip into a mild disassociation most of the time. This can make me look spaced out and can hinder social interactions. It often feels like sitting two close to the screen at a movie theatre, or your eyes being too slow. If I'm particularly sensitive that day than things can seem like a freakish kaleidoscopic circus and my head feels disconnected to my body or I start to panic.

Motion such as traffic can be quite scary as it tends to slice through the protective layer of spaciness I've created. Lighting is one of my biggest enemies. Weather that is bright and grey is painful for me, post rain light means everything is being reflected off of surfaces. Sunsets can actually physically disorientate me, and I've got lost heading back to my own flat from a short distance. Sounds like cutlery are unbearable and if too many people are talking at once I won't be able to understand one of you.

Textures that affect me are towels and sometimes human touch. Can it get worse???? Yes. I've moved to London. College is very unfriendly for people on the spectrum, it's loud, busy, bright, sounds of cutlery and other conversations. The city is full of sounds, sights and smells that are difficult for anyone to deal with let alone on the spectrum. As a result I've realised that my stimming behaviour has increased. Sirens can feel like a stab in the chest, people talking on a bus can make my head hurt. I'm going to try and find a spectrum-friendly study space in the library because at the moment it's pretty inaccessible for me.


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Today has been pretty surreal. First the sky turns jaundiced, and then I'm asked a bunch of freaky questions for 2 hours.

My appointment today was at 10am and it's 8 miles away, which is a significant distance for someone who doesn't drive and doesn't know that area o the county like. At. All. So the journey there was stressful, my carefully planned timings went to pot because I'd accidentally used my coins for the train and had none left for the bus. LUCKILY the buses now take contactless on certain routes. Anyway, in typical fashion I turned up half an hour early and super stressed.

I'd stalked my psychologist on social media before I met him so I knew what he looked like. He was also a guy so I felt uncomfortable initially because I've always been used to female practitioners.


SO. Let the 2 hours begin.

First of all in the first hour he asked me about my daily routine, primary school, secondary school, motor skills, sensory difficulties, family members, university. The main things he picked up on were primary school bullying, why I made friends with teachers and pupils with learning difficulties and sensory difficulties. This was an intense hour, he said to me afterwards that I had only made eye contact with him 5 times (oops!). I also fiddled with my hands and actively avoided eye contact pretty much the whole time.

Now the second hour was weird, it involved 4 questionnaires. The first one was a risk assessment and was the strangest thing I'd ever had to complete. Questions such as:

1. Have you kidnapped someone?

2. Have you ever choked?

3. Have you ever injured yourself outside? (Funnily enough it was such an out of context question that I thought he literally meant outside the centre LOL)

4. Have you ever set fire to things?

5. Have you had a search party after you? (Also funnily enough, this had happened to me aged 12, when I didn't understand what my dad was saying and thought he meant that he wanted to race back 5 miles along a steep coastal path back to the car. So I did. I was "missing" for 2 hours and they found me sitting inside the car)


There was then a set of questions about sensory things, what textures , sounds and smells can't I bear. I said towels, cutlery, traffic, sirens, perfume, basically all lights.

Then there was a last questionnaire about difficulty in social situations different from the eq and was all about whether they were present in childhood/adulthood.


Now I think I will be asked back because he asked about future meeting being done via skype and whether I wasn't my parents involved (NO). I've managed to get things sent to my London address now and I should hear from them within a few weeks. For now I'll struggle on with the weather messing up my eyes and head back to uni. Thank GOD.


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It's back! I've had my very first bad mental health day at university.

Normally I'd go with the flow and feel guilty that I've let things slide, but tonight I'm going to overview it with a more balanced way.

Last night I got 4 hours sleep, and I had a very late night meltdown. This was due to a lot of noise above my room, house music and also someone was dragging furniture across the room. Although house music is loud, it doesn't bother me as much as the furniture noises due to its regular beat and structure. Moving furniture noises, however, is a trigger for me and it feels like my entire body has been shredded at unpredictable intervals. I then had to confront 6 stoned teenagers at 2am.

I had to wake up at 6AM for leaving enough time for a dog walk and getting ready for my 9am lecture. I struggle to leave the house in under a certain amount of hours, and I always have to be significantly early.

I snoozed my alarm too much and I was running out of time, I ran over there , I was sweaty. Anxious.

"Lecture has been moved to 10AM"

-___________-

In today's lecture and seminar I was spacey and anxious, I flushed every time I spoke, I stuttered, I couldn't understand what people were saying. And I stimmed pretty much the whole time.

My sensory difficulties were amplified so I hid away as soon as I could and I was so clumsy I kept dropping different things.

I slipped up on old habits this evening too and I'm still feeling very anxious and restless.

You've got to accept that bad days do happen, and mostly are due to an accumulation of things that build up in the day and do NOT reflect or threaten the progress you've made. Mostly they're there to remind you to take a few minutes or hours out and repair your brain, which is what it's telling you to do.

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SO!

The first week of lectures and seminars is complete. And what an improvement to last year.

I think one of the main reflections I've had so far is how lovely and supportive my seminar leaders have been in the FIRST HOUR I've met them. I'm blessed so far to have genuinely kind and engaging people, which I certainly lacked the first term o last year. It's very important for me to have a good teacher, because it is my special interest it's also one of the sure ways of getting in my daily human interactions. It also makes me feel secure in my work, as I know I have someone I 'know' and trust looking over it, and also makes me feel motivated knowing I an share my work with them.

On Peppa's front; she's been impeccable in all lessons. In every lecture and seminar she's been invisible to the point where teachers have actually been shocked when we get up to leave! Although se can get a bit bored in the last hour of our 9-6 day, she's behaved politely every hour or two hour seminar. One teacher even said he wished he'd known earlier she was in the class so he could call her name out on the register!

So I've had two seminar leaders discuss my needs after a seminar, which was very considerate. One of my module conveners also has ensured I'm in her seminar group this year because she was the person who also dealt with my illness and year out.


Also, I've realised how organised I am and can be for my course. I am finding the work load very manageable and enjoyable, because I've read my primary texts already. I also jot down goals and times in my planner every week. This does make seminar groups frustrating because I can be the only one willing to contribute, and I have been told to shut up... nicely. Lol.

Self-care wise: This is more of a struggle to keep tabs on. Because I can get so absorbed in other things, looking after my body can often take a back seat. At the moment I'm struggling to know when I'm hungry or not, but am still managing to keep 3 good meals a day. Having my own shower is proving a Godsend and is much less of a chore, and my kitchen area is always clean.




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I've fully started my fresher's experience now and there are a few things I've found difficult in regards to Asperger's at the moment. I'm sorting out my cbt toolbox at the minute so hopefully I'll sort myself out and find some things to do,

SO:

1. Managing many conversations at once: I'm realising how difficult it is to understand what people are saying to me if many people are talking at once. I normally invest a lot of cognitive energy into conversations and with everything else going on it can distract me.

2. Knowing what to say during social chat. There are definitely a few tools missing in my conversation box, if I have something to say or add; I will do. But if I have to say something for the sake of social chat, then I won't know what to say. This can often lead to me saying inappropriate things, things that don't make sense or nothing at all.

3. Cluttering. I do suffer from cluttering. Cluttering is a communication and fluency disorder. It can make my speech too fast, garbled, influent and jerky . It can also mean I make pauses in the wrong places. Cluttering to me is that I am still unable to form a concrete idea of what I want to say a lot of the time, the pathway from brain to verbalising is a bit messed up. Because I do this, I speak very quietly, and often people don't even realise I'm speaking or tend to not pay attention; which again makes me anxious. It can also mean I say totally random gobbledegook.

4. Sensory difficulties: traffic, many people talking at once, strobe lighting, strip lighting. These things can really disorientate me and make me very anxious.

5. Coming across different: Always a fear of mine is coming across as awkward and influent in social situations. This leads to a vicious cycle because it makes me even odder to talk to! Managing behaviours that are quite visible is a struggle too.

How have I tackled these??

I DON'T PRESSURE MYSELF!

Freshers week is meaningless, unnatural and lasts a very short time. I'm weathering out the storm so I can start to socialise in my own comfort zone and in my own time. PLEASE don't feel inadequate or extra-terrestrial, because first year of university is another planet itself.

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What is a Special Interest?

People on the spectrum often have very particular interests that they follow with an approach and intensity that distinguishes it from a usual hobby. The rigid thinking and often obsessive traits of a atypical person often contributes to the special interest, as well as providing some comforting functions, as "Ambitious about Autism" set out:

- provide structure, order and predictability, and help people cope with the uncertainties of daily life

  • - give someone a way to start conversations and feel more self-assured in social situations
  • -help someone to relax and feel happy
  • The Autism quotient test also has a question along the lines of "do you have a special interest or hobby of which you get upset if you can't pursue". Which demonstrates really how vital the hobby is to someone on the spectrum . Despite quite a few traditional sources saying that special interests stay the same over a very long period, it is common (especially amongst girls) for them to change after a few weeks. The difference between a new interest " and a "special interest" is in the way, as I've outlined above, that the person gets involved with them.



    What are my Special Interests?

    I think the one that is the most classically autistic is my obsession with dogs. And it's the easiest to write about too, as I have chronological evidence since I was around 2!

    My interest in dogs, I feel was pretty much evident as I popped out the womb. I would watch 101 Dalmatians on repeat, obsessed with spots. I think another very important indicator was my refusal to go to nursery in anything other than a Dalmatian suit and face paint , would only respond to the name "Todd" and would only play with other children in this form. At the time, this was considered "imaginative play" but I was using an animal (mostly obvious nonverbal communication with simple play rules) in order to interact with human children... So... I was a bit odd. Unfortunately, my earliest memory was when I arrived at nursery in said suit, and ran up to a girl barking and pretending to want to play. Unfortunately, the girl was petrified, I was told off and was banned from coming to nursery in the suit again and made me change right there. I do have a very strong memory of total confusion and shame, and I was only 3 :(





    From then on, the dog obsession grew and grew. I'd have probably over a thousand different dog toys by the time I was 13. I had an ordered subscription to a dog magazine. I created a walk-in "Dog Shrine" of which included a totally memorised encyclopaedia, a few other encyclopaedias, a variety of toys, a whole shelf of extensive dog literature I'd collected, about 100 pipe cleaner dogs, 3 albums of random dogs I'd photographed. The list goes on.

    As I got older, this special interest took a back seat whilst I was at school. I'd realised at primary school that blabbing on about imaginary dog friends and quoting random facts about subcategories of dogs was not a particularly effective way of making friends. It still persisted, however, in collecting and organising things and the almost freakish way any dog information was retained.

    Shit hit the fan at university, I bought one dog. Bad idea, didn't work out. And then I bought another a month later, who did work very well out. However I was not prepared to go back to uni (after I'd dropped out for a year) without her. So, stubborn and "upset that I COULDN'T PURSUE MY INTEREST!" I made it work. And we're off next week.


    I've had quite a few kind of disbelieving responses to my obsession with my dog. I've lost some very good friends over it, and my refusal to kind of lay that part down for a while and be independent. I guess this is where the impairment pops in and affects my social life. But in reality, a special interest is what keeps me calm and grounded. Whereas before my interest did provide some routine and order, having it embodied into an actual dog literally does impose routine and functionality into your life. I go to my dog for comfort during periods of distress, I use her as a conversation starter, I use her various names as a comforting stim in private. She really is like an ultimate sensory toy, and she also gives me companionship and interaction with no unspoken rules I have to comply to and with absolutely no pressure.


    Another last thing I'd like to mention is special interests and bipolar disorder. Because I would also have a variety of obsessive special interests, that would last years (such as the subject of my course) and sometimes only a week; I was actually considered to have Bipolar disorder. These special interests were considered hypomanic periods, instead. Which I kind of accepted but didn't really resonate with last year , as I was still very miserable despite engaging in the interests. I's time to be more aware of female Asperger's symptoms and also the very serious comorbidity/misdiagnosis crisis around female undiagnosed autism and mental health.

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    Stimming , or 'self-stimulatory' behaviour , is a repetitive coping mechanism people with Aspergers/Autism use when a situation becomes either too or too little stimulating. It can provide stimulation in a stressful environment as something to focus on, perhaps swap one sensation for another, or create sensation.

    Because I'm seeking diagnosis and am totally new to this world, I came across this term only last week. And I've been recognising certain stims that I engage in:

    Certain stims I do keep at home. Rocking from side to side or hands covering my face are when I have a meltdown in private, luckily my dog is able to stop these behaviours most of the time.

    In public, my fingers dance about constantly in certain patterns, and occasionally my hand will make it up to my face for 2 seconds if I don't catch myself. Leg jiggling is also a culprit.

    If I'm sitting down and feel anxious, my arms can contort themselves into a double twist which presses my arms against my chest and my hands up to my face.

    One of my worst stims is self injurious, and I've found that it can be very common. Scratching when anxious is quite a problem, my hands are scarred. One of my worst meltdowns involved a trip to A&E because I could not stop scratching my arm. Luckily my dog also stops this behaviour #blessed


    What do you do if you see someone stimming?

    Ignore them unless they are obviously distressed. Yes, some stims can be noisy or distracting. Most of the time they just look like nervous habits that happen a tad more frequently. If the person is having a meltdown and is injuring themselves (biting/scratching/headbanging) the best thing you can do is try and lead them out of that situation and into a calmer one and wait it out best you can. Meltdowns are a total lack of behavioural control in response to stimuli, and they can't snap out of it as you can in a tantrum.

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    Our WonderWoman Martial Arts Adventure
    Following our viewing of 2017's WonderWoman, we felt particularly inspired to be just as Kick-ass as Gal Gadot (or at least try). As usual, these schemes of mine tend to be random and intense but usually last a short time. HOWEVER. It's coming up to my 25th session and it's become an enjoyable hobby by accident. Whoops.

    The reason we chose Krav Maga is because it seemed to be the most applicable and no nonsense approach to self defence. It focuses on defending yourself with aggression and then trying to escape, nothing fancy, just blocking an attack with an attack and then finding enough space to disengage. Perhaps our first hearing of the word was in relation to Gal Gadot, our current idol, who was enlisted in the IDF and must have practiced this kind of combat. I'm going to try and not think about the Palestine issues now and just go on to say that Krav Maga was used initially to defend against (and sometimes maim) Nazis in the 2nd WW. Now I'm not going to sit back and pretend that that skill won't be needed today , unfortunately.

    Here's a picture of Gal Gadot doing some krav because fuck me she's so gorgeous and cuuutttteeeee and her smile Goddamn . I digress:

    These past months we've learnt punching techniques, blocking techniques, blocking knife attacks from front and behind, dodging certain punches, escaping from various chokeholds, ground work (throwing off an attacker with a knife on top of you). Not only have we learnt these practical "moves" , but we spend about 10 minutes performing some various cardio and strength exercises at the start of each session. I've noticed my arm strength significantly improve, as well as my balance, co ordination and also ability to retain choreographed moves. There is no time to overthink in krav, you either do something or you die. Perhaps this is why I've had far less trouble copying a set of complicated steps than various dance classes: there just needs to be a bit of danger.

    Another thing that has given me more confidence is training amongst 20 men and being one of the only women. I was pretty anxious about not keeping up, but the classes are set up in a way that suits all abilities, and as far as respect goes, it seems like turning up twice a week has gained it all for us anyway. The guys go easy on us but still challenge us.


    Although I do have to say goodbye to kraving before I leave university, I can say that I have effectively channelled my inner WonderWoman, and am more confident in defending myself- whether against an inner city assailant, a Nazi, or even a sidechick. And who knows, maybe I'll be back next summer.

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