Sunday, 24 February 2019

A congruity of Aspies

I write today, after one of our 'Sunday Group'  meetings.  This comprises some Directors of The Different Engine CIC, some counselors and psychotherapists trained in transactional analysis.  A 50-50 mix of Aspies and neurotypicals.  We don't have an agenda, as such, but they always generate interesting discussion.  It is a safe place, and somewhere I feel I can indulge my vocabulary without rebuke.  I like words.  I find there is something remarkably pleasing about putting different words together in a certain order, for particular effect.  The complexity of the English language encourages flexibility and creativity, and I appreciate any tool that allows me the luxury of such fine tuning.  I consider what I write very carefully - something I wish I had the luxury to do in everyday conversation, but long pauses in conversation are frowned upon, I find, which is why our occasional get-togethers are so pleasing.  A good vocabulary seems to be a characteristic of many Aspies, and when we have occasion to use ours, we go above and beyond.  Indeed,  during this meeting, someone (an NT) made a comment on having a collective noun for Aspies, and we all rose to the challenge, quickly coming to agreement on "A congruence of Aspies".

Word games aside, there is an important point to be made here.  As a person with Asperger's, I live in what is essentially a chaotic social world.  This is a world where 'yes' doesn't always mean yes, 'maybe' doesn't always means that there is a possibility, and questions aren't always a request for factual information.  The Aspie sees incongruity everywhere; discordance, dissonance, incompatibility, inconsistency, difference, disparity, discrepancy.  We crave harmony, compatibility, consistency, conformity, balance, consonance, but this is hard to come by unless you are very fortunate.  I suppose this is why so many of us end up working in the sciences, engineering or computing - fields where an appreciation of congruity is valued.

Part of our discussions touched upon modifying our training workshops to accommodate those who work in education with their limited resources, finances and time.  It had become clear during our last short workshop, that teaching people with very limited time that they needed to slow down, (if they were to give their students the support they needed) was, to their ears, rather unhelpful.  Teachers and Teaching assistants, Learning Support Assistants and Higher Level Teaching Assistants are given training in all aspects of their job throughout their employment, and the delivery method is generally the same, providing them with a 'checklist' or 'tool-kit' to take with them to the classroom. It occurred to me that we were doing the opposite.  We were asking them to throw away their tool-kits and checklists, highlighting a huge and complex issue and merely hinting at a solution.  We were, in their eyes, suggesting incongruity where they saw none (despite a lack of success with the tools they were using).  I was reminded that these roles often attract the more empathetic of us, and that NTs employ cognitive bias without conscious thought much of the time.  This can mean that changing these habits is extremely difficult.

I remain convinced, however, that a fundamental change in approach is needed if we are to achieve rapport with our Aspie students.  How can we meet their needs if we don't understand the reason for their anxiety?  How can we communicate if we don't share a language?  How can we possibly understand if we do not fully appreciate the scale of the challenges faced by these students?  How can we empathise when we do not accept their different experience?

The final and perhaps most formidable obstacle to overcome is the perception that time can only be spent on those students who have been identified as requiring help (those who have received a formal diagnosis).  The obvious issue here is the process of diagnosis itself:  The process is quite long and can be distressing.  People can score very high on the AQ scale, but compensate by trying to not appear different.  They can be disappointed and distressed when they are told they do not qualify for the medical diagnosis - they are functioning too well.  I don't doubt that there is a significant number of students with undiagnosed Asperger's in any educational setting. They might even have been misdiagnosed with depression or pathological demand avoidance... There is no easy fix for this.  It takes time and commitment if we are to effect positive change for these vulnerable students.  There may be a solution in the application of transactional analysis (TA) itself.

Although TA (including our 'tweaked' Aspie version) has proven to be a powerful communication tool for Aspies, it is a similarly powerful communication tool for NTs.  In fact, all the changes we would prescribe for educators working with Aspie students would be beneficial for all, students and staff.  After all... any organisation can only be strengthened by incorporating greater diversity, and wouldn't we all benefit from a little congruity?

"As the new generation of bootstrappers explores this abstract theory space, they seem to be verifying the vision that Chew, now 92 and long retired, laid out half a century ago — but they’re doing it in an unexpected way. Their findings indicate that the set of all quantum field theories forms a unique mathematical structure, one that does indeed pull itself up by its own bootstraps, which means it can be understood on its own terms." (Geoffrey Chew's Bootstrap theory on quantum geometry.)

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Navigating the Event Horizon

Our lives are full of cycles:   We learn, we teach, we become wiser.  We gain confidence, we take risks, we learn moderation. Some cycles are repeated again and again as we age. We trust, we are disappointed or betrayed, we make better choices about who we confide in, or we don't.  These cycles of trial and error are the mechanism by which we learn to navigate our world, but when you remove the 'why' from these experiences, our ability to learn from them is compromised. If you don't recognise that your trust has been abused, rejected or betrayed, or do not understand the reason why, how do you make a better decision next time?  How do you protect yourself?

One particular cycle (trying and failing to get the outcome I desired, and blundering into exactly the same issue next time I tried) was interrupted when I got my diagnosis 7 years ago:  I learned about Asperger's and that lent me the understanding I needed to begin to extricate myself from the cycle.  I nearly fell back in when, after copious research, I realised that there were no apparent solutions to how Asperger's affected my life.  I had simply added one more step in my cycle:  Try and fail, but fully appreciate the impact on myself, and others before blundering into it once again.  I still didn't know why, and even if I did, I did not have the language, skills or support to try to improve things.

But I wasn't ready to admit defeat.  I decided to embrace the positives.  I decided to use my experiences to illuminate the little-understood world of Asperger's. - to provoke discussion and highlight issues.  I had some success, which allowed me to take the next step...  And when the invitation came, I accepted and I learned about a possible solution - a way to claim back a portion of my life that I had never realised was lost.  I began to co-present Peter Flowerdew's TA/Aspie workshops. I made new friends and eventually, the illumination spread to those around me, letting everyone see me more clearly, and I, them. I am no expert in Transactional Analysis - I have a basic vocabulary, but is is enough to enable dialogue, and consequently, understanding.

But life with Asperger's is rarely so straightforward....

One of the most painful aspects of living with Aspergers, is the way that huge, hulking misunderstandings can still come barrelling out of left-field to knock you senseless and make you question your entire world view from the tiniest details to the broadest foundation.

Everyone suffers unexpected setbacks at sometime in their lives, no matter how they try to insulate themselves from disaster.  I myself have spent a lifetime, unsuccessfully trying to find ways to avoid getting hurt.  Enhanced understanding cannot cover every eventuality, and certainly cannot stop the dreadful emotional impact of misunderstandings when they happen.  So you explain yourself, people understand, you feel more relaxed and accepted, you take a chance and trust more.  In neurotypical people, there are numerous buffers (tests, if you like) that ensure that the risk is manageable; trust growing incrementally, allowing only the most worthy and compatible into the inner circle of genuine and mutual intimacy, where lasting harm could be done. This is not the case with Asperger's.

Asperger's not only means you are without the vast majority of these 'buffers', (meaning you are likely to risk far too much in one go), but also that you are likely to be unaware that this is happening until it is too late (leaving you totally unprepared for the disaster when it descends and utterly defenceless in its wake).

When I have encountered such disasters in the past, I have always responded to the appalling emotional and psychological pain they inflict by removing myself from everything and everyone involved immediately and permanently.  An over-reaction?  It may seem that way to a neurotypical, but I have a pitifully limited defense.  It is rare for me to trust, and rarer still that I relax in another's company.  So when it turns out that, in my enthusiasm to celebrate some of those rare relationships, I have unwittingly caused harm to them, my world falls apart.

 I suppose it is a nod to progress that I have not acted immediately on this occasion, despite the impact of this particular disaster being as painful as any I have encountered.  I need to know if this can be resolved, if my world view can survive, and whether I can live with that resolution, should it materialise. Running away and hiding from the pain is as attractive as it's ever been, but I will see this through. I need to know if it is possible to build mend bridges instead of burning them.  Sometimes, it seems, the only thing you can do when trust has let you down, is to trust that things will get better, and I'll emerge from this black hole.

Image result for hawking radiation

If Hawking radiation can do it... maybe I can too.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Mourning the loss of "Why"

First, I must make my apology for being silent for an extended period.  Suffice it to say, it was unavoidable and I will do not wish to bore you with the details.  I will say that recent events have left me in reflective mood; hence the subject matter today....

I have been tasked to support literacy in a class where many of the students speak English as a second language.  After the first lesson, I realised that grammar and spelling were not the issue.  The difficulty arose on interpreting the wording of the essay questions.  Students would wax lyrical about a subject without getting to the real meaning of the task.  It struck me that this is a difficulty I, and many autistic people share.

I spoke at length with their teacher about strategies for helping them with the questions which involved stating their understanding of psychologically-influenced decisions, and the discussion inevitably led to talk of our experiences of perspectives and misunderstandings.  My colleague mentioned a funeral he had attended many years before;  that of a male colleague who had died in an accident.  He mentioned the reaction of the man's autistic teenage son who, mid-ceremony, had turned to his grieving mother and asked if they could 'get a dog now'.

Now, I have a particular difficulty with emotionally charged situations, especially those as heavily shrouded in social rules and ritual as funerals...  I remember the funeral of my own father, when I was 17, and the huge anxiety I felt.  Interestingly, the anxiety was caused not by 'grief', but by the fear of not knowing how to 'act' at such an occasion.  The vignettes of outpourings of grief exhibited by the the other people at the funeral were at once fascinating and bewildering to me.  I did not cry, and although I was sad about the loss of my parent, I don't remember 'feeling' any different than usual. (I have strong emotions, but most of the time I struggle to connect them to particular experiences.) It did not affect me acutely, in the way it clearly affected others in my family. But I certainly felt shame. I could not conceive of trying to 'act' a certain way for fear of being 'found out'. I even spoke with friends at college and asked about grief, what it felt like, how it should be shown and how long it should last etc.  I waited for the feelings of grief (as described by my fellow students) to begin.  They never did.  What did affect me, was the clear concern and judgement on the faces of those who realised I was not reacting in the usual way.  I don't doubt the boy my colleague spoke of noticed peoples' shock and even disgust at his words.  I cannot bring myself to attend family funerals, to this day, for this very reason.

I thought about the boy my colleague mentioned and, after many years of avoiding the subject, I realised a sad truth.  It is not that I did not experience grief - it is just that grief is a constant. In one of our many TA workshops, Peter Flowerdew talks about 'the loss of "Why"  I must confess, the significance of this eluded me for some time, but I think I understand it now, and it is dangerous territory.

So, the "Why" refers to the process of making sense of the world around us.  It is about the journey we take through our experiences and the lessons we learn from them.  It is how we acquire the answers that allow us to grow in confidence and navigate the chaos that is life, and in the answers, we take comfort.

I crave answers.  Like many people with Asperger's, I am fanatical about researching, learning and sharing information, but there are vast tracts of my world that will always be closed to me:

I grieve for the things I have lost and the things I will never have.  Every day.  I grieve for the unspoken moments I have missed, the expectations I have not lived up to, the experiences I couldn't share, the joys that didn't register, the opportunities I never saw, the disappointments I have proved.  I grieve for the friends I will never make, the belonging I will never experience, the camaraderie that cushions, the intimacy that soothes, the feelings and perspectives I will never understand.  (Regardless of new skills and perspectives... the volume is too great.)

Do not confuse this with regret.  Regret infers that there might have been another outcome had different choices been made. Grief is the response to the tragic, unrecoverable events that may happen without warning and despite our every effort.  Grief is my background.  My baseline.  It is the expectation of loss that insulates me from it.  My emotions are nerves stripped bare, the comfort of 'why' is absent, and I dare not dwell on it.

It is this fear that has me looking to the repercussions of actions, instead of indulging my emotions. (I do not have the experience or skills to indulge anyone else's.)  It is this that has me looking to the future to find new problems that I can fix, and this, I suspect, that led that boy to be thinking about a dog, when 'he should have been' mourning his loss to the world.

I don't mean this to garner pity.  Just perhaps to shed a little light on what might appear to be heartless, emotionless behaviour at a time when everyone is vulnerable.  Consider those who are so vulnerable, they cannot afford to show it.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Trust Relationship Between this Workstation and the Primary Domain has failed...

I can only apologise for the delay in posting my blog…  I wrote one for February and also for March.  I will post neither as, looking back, they were not my thoughts.  Suffice it to say that, (due to my condition (chronic migraine and allodyna) and the medication I have to take in order to function) my personality, and consequently, my outlook were altered both pharmacologically and by sleep deprivation.  I have no wish to share these experiences, and I don’t think hearing my woeful rants written during that time will be of any benefit to anyone, least of all, me. 

Despite the weather and disruption of March, things have recently become much more settled for me.  The situation at work (which was responsible for many of the difficulties of previous months) has been satisfactorily resolved.  When things looked bad, I applied for another job and was invited for interview, which I attended.  Before they finished their deliberations, the problems at work had evaporated, and I withdrew my application - this time for the right reasons. (The hours didn’t suit; the commute was a problem…  It simply wasn’t worth the move, despite my delight at the possibility of working in graphics once more.)  There were emergent opportunities in my job for including some graphics and marketing work… things were looking up.

It got me thinking about ageing.  I will be 50 later this year, and I think I am finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin.  I still have no well-formed sense of self, but I am much more likely to consider my own needs when making decisions.  I am happy with my current work situation.  So, is this really just a plateau in the profile of peaks and troughs?  I think not. 

A little while ago, I was introduced to Erikson's theory of the Psychosocial Stages of Development.  I suppose I approached in much the same way as someone would an astrological forecast – fitting my experience to the categories and feelings, but I was quite sure, that I had not come out of this process unscathed…

There is nothing like the first flickering shadow of one’s own mortality to make you reassess your priorities.  Life, it seems, is too short.  I have had an interesting and varied work life.  I don’t need a highly paid, high pressure job.  I don’t want a long working day and short holidays so I hardly see my son.  I have other things queuing up to fill my time:  I have a book to finish with my son;  I am a director of The Different Engine; I have historical events to attend; I have paintings to paint, music to listen to, et cetera and so on…

Perhaps it is this age-earned ‘wisdom’ that was responsible for my decision not to post my previous two blog entries… The confidence to wait is something I have always felt I lacked in the past – my need for additional time to process probably played into my anxiety for not responding quickly enough, and fear; my tendency to make panicked decisions.  With hindsight, the waters were always calmer than they seemed at the time; the tempest exaggerated or wholly imagined.  

Perhaps this is the wisdom of age, or maybe a by-product of deepening trust. Trust is a fragile thing, but I have followed some excellent advice a friend gave to me several years ago: Surround yourself with kind people.   Trust is fragile, but I now realise that it gets stronger when maintained.  I have acquired a very select but extremely high quality group of friends over the last few years, and I trust them as much and more, than I have trusted anyone.  But I nearly walked away from my job when I perceived that my trust had been betrayed...  But trust must be maintained in the face of apparent betrayal, to be sure there is no solution to be achieved, no corner to be turned... Because I waited, a solution was found, an apology and a commitment made and trust was renewed.  It made me realise  just how many times I may have turned away too soon....

There is a central principle in TA. Eric Berne initiated the principle within Transactional Analysis that we are all born 'OK' — in other words, good and worthy. Frank Ernst developed these into the OK matrix, (also known as the 'OK Corral' after the famous 1881 Tombstone shootout between the Earps and the Clantons).

I realised some time ago that, for the most part, I have spent my life in the two left hand boxes, and this position is indicative of a complete lack of trust (in myself and others).  The title of my blog is "The trust relationship between this workstation and the primary domain has failed" and is the only surviving element of my discarded rants of last month.  You can imagine my metaphorical interpretation of this innocent computer error message - it was very much in line with the bottom left hand square of the matrix:  “Everything is broken and it won’t get better.”
Now that things have settled somewhat and my trust is restored, I can put my title where it belongs which is in the top right hand square of the matrix:  “Ha! That error message is a T-shirt, right there!  I’ll call IT and they’ll come and fix it”. 

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The best of times...

It's that time of year again, and I had hoped to have something heartwarming, insightful and completely out of character for a logic loving, systematic, no-nonsense Aspie, to share with you all.  My Christmas tree is still up, so I've thrown in some Dickens, and have sprinkled it with a comforting amount of efficiency in the form of a 'round-up of the last year' so I haven't completely thrown caution to the wind...

I have never read much Dickens, or Austen, Tolstoy or any of the other great writers who's chief delight was in spinning tales of the human condition and the intricacies of complex family or romantic relationships.  I've tried a few times, but I get lost quickly - there is little common experience here to keep my attention.  That doesn't mean I cannot appreciate the masterful and inspiring skill demonstrated by these giants of literature in smaller doses - they are, after all, eminently quotable.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…" 

When I turned my mind to writing my personal round-up of 2017, it was this quote from Dicken's 'A Tale of Two Cities' that my mental Rolodex fell open on.  2017 has been a year of contrasts...

The year began with struggle.  I was desperately trying to manage an increasingly stressful job, (not, difficult, highly responsible, very important or suchlike... just really, unnecessarily stressful).  This was being made more difficult because I was trying to cope with debilitating migraines and equally debilitating side effects from unhelpful drug treatments.  There was, I noticed, an uncomfortable familiarity about the way I was treated as a migraine sufferer...  The lack of understanding about the condition, the isolating effect, the ineffectual and sometimes harmful treatments, the lack of available help:  I'd been down this path before...

But, (I said, boldly starting a paragraph with a conjunction, and including a split infinitive in the explanation) another path was being forged at the same time. This was taking place thanks to the tireless enthusiasm of a small group of people I have come to think of as Friends.  (I feel the need to pause and explain at this point, for those of you who might skip over the significance of this statement.  Naming someone as a Friend, for an Aspie, is akin to bestowing the Nobel Prize.  Make no mistake - great things will be expected. (I write this with the confidence of someone who knows their Friends will see the humour here - which is the most delightful part!))

The formation of our fledgling Charity "The Different Engine" has been a difficult, time consuming, fiddly, awkward, tough task.  And it has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of it.  At the start, thanks to the migraines, I could barely look at a computer screen, but now I have nearly finished our new website:  We have our workshops for next year set up, and interest in what we are doing is growing fast.  Leaflets, articles, books and conference appearances are in all the pipeline. I am learning more about myself and how Asperger's effects the way I experience the world around me, every day, and thanks to Peter Fowerdew's Aspie TA, I can share this learning with my husband, son, students and anyone else who wants to know about it.

Without it, I would not have had the confidence to leave the harmful environment of my last job (because I wouldn't have recognised what was doing the harm).  I would not have had the courage to talk to prospective employers about my Asperger's, (for fear they would not understand) and they would not have realised the breadth of what I could bring to the role (I would not have had the language to explain).  The essential support and understanding of friends and family that I have relied upon through this difficult year would have been drastically reduced, were it not for the the fact that they have joined me on this journey, and we all now have access to this common language.  After 3 years of investigating this tool and its applications, it still amazes me that writing about it can still raise a tingle of excitement and a hitch of breath.

A last minute meeting, recently, proved to the icing on the cake for me...  I had agreed to come along to a meeting arranged by my friend Rich Hall, with a representative from an Autistic support organisation from which we had we both received support over the years.  I wasn't sure if there was an agenda, or if we were just testing the waters, but I listened as Rich spelled out the key stages of our work over the past few years.  Before long, my enthusiasm got the better of me and I there I was:  Waxing lyrical about my experiences and the way my cynical viewpoint had been changed irrevocably by the efficacy of these techniques and methods...  Our audience was somewhat taken aback by what we had achieved in the time since our previous acquaintance, and he spoke at length about his concerns about the direction of Autism research in the international arena.  It was heartening then, to say the least, to hear his positive response to our work - developed by NTs and Asipes together.  This is the most important type of endorsement in my mind - that of people who have lost faith in the systems that are designed to help people like us (most of them researched and designed by NTs in isolation, or using NT designed and interpreted research from autistic contributors)...  If they can see the benefit and scope of what we are doing, then even my appalling self-doubt cannot put up a sufficient argument.  'Nothing about Us, without Us' is one approach, but we chose to look beyond 'Them and Us' to the potential that comes from truly understanding the strengths of diversity  from both perspectives.  What we have achieved could not have been done by NTs or Aspies working in isolation.  We have tackled the barrier itself, and it has toppled.

2017 has indeed been a year of contrasts - illness and healing, leaving a job and gaining new employment, giving in and taking the plunge, despair and hopefulness, self-doubt and self-belief, trying to help and allowing myself to be helped.  Not as eloquent as Dickens, nor as dramatic, but I feel this year marks an important landmark.  "The Different Engine" is about to make a world of difference to a world of people, hopefully, two worlds.  I am very proud to be a part of it.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Cut on the Bias?

I suppose seven days is enough time to tell if one has made a terrible decision in leaving one job and starting another, wouldn't you agree?  Time enough to feel the familiar lick of flame as you realise you have inadvertently left the frying pan for the fire, or to realise that the grass, did in fact only look greener on this side.

There were some familiar 'failings', that could have started alarm bells ringing: The induction schedule being rewritten in favour of actual work, meetings being cancelled, people being unavailable. The odd thing is that, given the general atmosphere of the place and the level of activity of the people involved, at no time did it occur to me that any of the changes were actually harmful to me.  I was always able to catch up with the people in question later, and they were always happy to discuss issues and answer questions.  So I was happy, therefore, to forego the induction in its full sense and get stuck straight into 'being useful'.  I got the distinct impression that this came as an enormous relief to the rest of the team.  I know this because they actually told me.

I am a systemiser, and it was clear almost immediately that the systems and procedures here are inefficient at best, and might be entirely unworkable were it not for the tremendous effort being put in by the staff to keep everything running. I would like to be a part of seeing this fixed, and think they might let me. I know this because they actually agreed - the systems don't work well. Their honesty was refreshing, to say the least.

This was never the case in my previous job:  Systems and procedures were everywhere and constantly updated without consultation and force fed with no concern about their wider effect, beyond their ability to inflate the progress statistics that drive results and ultimately, funding.  In order to be both efficient and successful then, it pays to be cognitively biased:  Try to consider too many things; too many people. Slow things down, and people at the top start to sweat.  People at the bottom start looking for another job.

I watched a re-run of an horizon programme recently about the work of Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel prize winning economist.  The basis of his work on cognitive bias forms an important part of the model of NT and Aspie cognitive processing in Peter Flowerdew's work.  It was interesting to see people falling into the trap of making biased decisions by 'cutting out' data in everyday situations in favour of faster processing, even to the point of 'ignoring' a plainly visible assault in one experiment.  This is Kahneman's 'System 1' (Fast thinking): That wonderful, flexible neural network that filters out all the 'unimportant' stuff and allows instant, intuitive connections to be made in their place, all at lightning speed, and mostly without your knowledge:  The network that is so underdeveloped and underused in Aspies...  Kahneman's genius was to highlight the triggers, influences and repercussions of this type of decision making.

Sadly, the programme concentrated on System 1 and never really went into any detail about 'System 2', (the system I find myself limited to for much of the time).  This slow, logical, analytical, and much more reliable way of thinking is usually reserved for difficult and involved maths problems and the like in neurotypical people.  Aspies tend to rely much more on this system, and it is often developed to a remarkable degree.  If everyone had to use this system for all their thinking, they would certainly need things to slow down, as Aspies do, but would certainly make fewer mistakes.

As I watched the programme, my voice was raised at the end of every experiment:  "An Aspie would have made an objective decision!"  "An Aspie wouldn't have made that judgement!"  "An Aspie wouldn't have been swayed by popular opinion or simply by 'apparent fit'!" "An Aspie would have looked at all the facts!"

So, the question is:  What is better?  To rush decisions and finish on time, but with a good chance of having got something important wrong, or to take things more slowly, consider carefully, and finish later having got everything right?

I had hoped that Economists had learned something from the financial woes of the last 15 years.  Kahneman told them that people take risks - and the greater the potential loss, the greater the risk they are prepared to take.  Perhaps it's time to consider putting System 2 to use a little more.  (I know some Aspies who could help with that.)

A beautiful map of necessary ignorance?  What would the Aspie version look like?

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Abused Amoebas and Career Correlations

I was reading an excerpt from a zoological textbook the other day about the reactions of different types of amoeba to stimulus.  (Yes - this is the sort of thing you will find in my web surfing history.  Shut up.)  It seems that amoeba, generally, rarely move because of a positive stimulus.  (Towards things.) It follows that most of the experiments described involved annoying the amoeba with various negative stimuli and provoking movement. (Away from things.) After I stopped feeling sorry for the amoeba, it struck me that I had something in common with them.

It's been a long time since I had to start a new job.  I began my current employ at the end of 2009, and so, this is as long as I have held any job.  My length of employ in my various jobs has depended on all sorts of things in the past: from the effects of global financial crises, to dodgy contractual practices by employers that left me significantly out of pocket and on the end of a long list of creditors.  Only twice in the 11 jobs I have held, (As a graphic designer, Photographer, Technical illustrator, Administrator, Office Manager, IT Technician, Technical Author, Marketing Manager and Cover Supervisor,) have I chosen to leave.  And then, only because the stress of the situation has begun to effect my health.

It is in the nature of people with Asperger's to work hard.  After all, most things about everyday life are hard for us.  By most things, I mean all the stuff that is relatively easy for NTs.  (Chatting, socialising, networking, building relationships, finding advocates, friends and allies, navigating office or organisational politics.) The things that most NTs find hard:  being focused on work; wading through piles of boring, difficult or unsavoury tasks; learning new and difficult procedures and skills, staying motivated; is relatively easy for us.

Where people like me come unstuck, is that point where we need some support, help or recognition for our work and we look up from our narrow focus and find there's nobody there.  Because we haven't spent our time socialising, building those relationships, finding our allies and advocates, we have to rely on the formal organisational structure, as is. As anyone can attest, this alone is rarely adequate and sometimes even, shockingly, not always in the employee's favour.  It reminds me a little of what it was like during my maternity leave after having my son, Charley.  Finding myself alone with a new baby...  just the two of us, music, the park and a bunch of books:  (The idea of going to 'mums groups' or 'baby massage classes' filled me with absolute terror.)

But this seems to be a fate shared by of many of the people I have since met who have managed to secure regular employment, and who are on the spectrum.  Their remarkable skills and work ethic go unnoticed, simply because they don't know how to get them to register with their colleagues and employers...  The widely proclaimed CPD programmes seem in principle to be diametrically opposed to the 'one-size fits all' mentality of their actual content... and the forms!  They are anathema to the logical mind of an Aspie. The whole thing actually works against us, making us appear 'difficult' and 'unhelpful', when nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, I think this is probably the most hurtful thing I could be accused of, simply because I try so hard to achieve the opposite outcome.

After discussions with several of the people I will be working with in my new job, I have much more confidence that they understand this.  They are aware of my Asperger's, the skills and strengths that it affords me, and the accommodations that they will need to make for me (some flexibility when it comes to CPD and conferences (large, noisy gatherings in strange places).  For many of us, our work is really our only 'social' contact, and what we do there is how we reach out to people.  It is up to our colleagues and employers to notice that, and accept the offer.  They would certainly not be disappointed if they did.

I digress, and do so because I have to go and write the obligatory 'goodbye email' to fulfil my social duties.  It seems awkward and pointless...  I have no wish to rant about my reasons for leaving, or single anyone out for particular thanks - this I have already done, in person. I see no purpose in throwing out more of the bland and meaningless platitudes that litter the daily lives of teachers.  I expect no card, no presentation, no celebration of my contribution of the last 7 years, which does sadden me, but it's a dusty, old and familiar sadness.  No, I'll leave quietly as usual.  After all, haven't I heard somewhere that it's better to speak softly and wear a loud shirt?

Amoeba Proteus, formerly known as Chaos Diffluens (I wonder why the change...?  Perhaps it's in Witness Protection....)