The Blame Game

It was January 2007. Several people in my class had been given their first mobile phones for Christmas. My best friend of the time, who I’ll call Jane, had downloaded some ringtone that repeated “Ginger Alert! Ginger Alert!” over and over again. Jane played it when a redhead in our class came near. Mrs P found out and blamed me for being a ‘bad influence’ on Jane and encouraging her to download it.

This was nonsense. I’d never heard the thing before and my parents didn’t even let me take my phone to school. I lost more golden time* than Jane did for this incident.

As a visibly autistic child, I was subjected to many of these incidents, when I was demonised and blamed for things I had nothing to do with because I was different. Sadly, these tales are all too common for neurodivergent people. Society uses us as scapegoats rather than dealing with the real problems, and that has very real and visible effects upon the neurodivergent community.

When the media paints a picture of neurodivergent people as ‘dangerous’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘potential mass murderers’ and advocates for restricting our human rights and locking us up, the natural response is for even the most pacifistic neurodivergent person to be viewed with suspicion by others in their life. Neurodivergent people are blamed for things we did not do as it is a convenient lie – we are expected to be bad, therefore when something bad happens it is our fault.

At some point in that same year, when the weather wasn’t terrible, we had cycling proficiency classes to teach us how to cycle on roads once a week, on a Friday. One ‘Friday’ I arrive at the school and tie my bike to the fence. Jane is late. The other people from my class arrive and tie their bikes up. I notice there is no space for Jane’s. So, I go back to mine and try to make room for hers, in order to be nice. But it’s complicated and it makes me late as well. When I try to explain, Mrs P outright calls me a liar (which hurt even more as I was telling the truth) and I lose golden time.

You know what they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Unknown date. A boy in the class I’ll call Ross makes a fist and holds it up to my face like he’s about to punch me. I don’t know he’s faking and in panic and self-defence I shove him away from me and run. One of his friends sees. They go and tell the teacher. Mrs P again doesn’t believe that he made the fist and I lose golden time for pushing him.

There were more.

I hated that year, and that teacher. I was made to feel like a horrible, nasty person who couldn’t do anything right. When you tell someone, especially a child, something over and over again they begin to believe it. I began to believe that everything was my fault. I started blaming everything that went wrong on myself. The following year, Jane’s father banned her from being friends with me because I wasn’t religious and I was a ‘bad influence’. I believed the latter, though I found the former quite irrelevant and still do.

I started to compulsively apologise for everything and to everything, including inanimate objects. I felt like everything I touched went wrong. I started to think my existence was harming the world somehow and I deserved all the pain society gave me. I hated everything about myself, and everything that happened was always MY fault.

These days, people are often criticised harshly for apologising too frequently. Articles full of interview tips warn us not to apologise, as it makes us seem weak, uncertain, insincere, etc. Apologies have become associated with negative qualities. They are either seen as an admission of weakness, or as insufficient.

These feelings still persist. When things go wrong I invariably, once I calm down, start blaming myself regardless of who was in the wrong. I will apologise and try to fix things when it is the other person that should be apologising. I let people get away with doing and saying horrible things because it can’t be their fault there’s a problem, it’s always my fault. And if someone does not accept my apology, then it is a sign that I am the worst type of person and should never have been born.

I can no longer (if I ever could, I guess we’ll never know) tell whether something is my fault or not. The subconscious reaction of self-blame overrides everything else and clouds my judgement so much I can’t see my metaphorical finger in front of my face. Which means I am incredibly vulnerable to gaslighting as I will just assume I’m in the wrong. I hate arguments because they mean I need to beat myself up for a week after for being wrong, for starting it because I must be wrong, it’s me, and I am a terrible person.

This is the real effect society’s scapegoating and demonising of neurodivergent people has had on me. The entire idea of ‘different’ being equal to ‘wrong’ that is so prevalent in our society leads people to behave in a hateful manner to others not like them. The effects this has on those on the receiving end can last a long time, even whole lives. You can never tell what effect your actions will have on another person, and you can never tell how long the impression will last.

I don’t know how to move on from this blame game I play with myself, in which no matter what happens I lose. People eventually learn that I’ll blame myself if they leave it more than a few hours, and so nobody ever apologises to me for any wrongs they’ve done. They just wait until I think it’s my fault and apologise to them, and then they win whatever argument was had, regardless of who was right. And sometimes I finally realise this and then resentment builds up – but if I let it out then I just blame myself for losing control.

The truth has been twisted and distorted and thrown out more often than I can count. All these accusations and misinterpretations and unjust punishments in my past have created a future where I cannot see the truth for the self-hatred designed by a teacher who despised me for no reason other than I was different.




*Golden time was the last half-hour of the school day on a Friday where we did ‘fun’ things, but you could lose certain amounts of it for misbehaviour.


Identity First vs Person First Language

It appears the topic of disability language has returned to the forefront of discussion on autistic twitter, as it does every few weeks. As such, I have decided to add my take on the topic. For those unfamiliar with disability discourse, the language used to refer to disabled people is the source of an often very heated debate between proponents of identity first language (IFL) and person first language (PFL).

Identity first language is phrases like “I am autistic”, “she is a disabled person”, i.e. using the disability as an adjective describing the person. Proponents of identity first language are usually disabled activists who argue that their disability is part of their identity, part of what makes them who they are and they are proud of who they are. They do not feel the need to separate themselves from the disability, as without their disability they would be a different person.

Proponents of person first language argue that a person is not their disability, and that in order to put the person before the disability, people should use phrases such as “she is a person with autism”, “he is a student with a disability”. This language is favoured by parents and professionals.

The personal preferences of an individual may vary, some people with autism prefer to be referred to in that manner, but the majority of autistic people generally prefer identity first language. I myself have no personal preference, I use whatever works best within the sentence and context I am speaking or writing in. Given the preferences of the majority of the autistic community, I tend to predominantly use identity first language, however I don’t mind what language others use about me.

My personal preferences aside, it is important to respect every individual’s preferences. When talking about the autistic community in general, it is better to use IFL, as that is the preference of the majority. However, if a certain person prefers PFL, that is what you should use to refer to that person.

The most popular reasoning behind the use of PFL is that emphasis should be placed on the fact that an individual is a person, and not on their disability. However, many of the parents and professionals advocating PFL are also those advocating the use of abusive ‘therapies’ such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) that treat autistic people as less human than neurotypical people.

Identity first language follows the same pattern as statements like “I am Scottish”, or “I am asexual” – as in the same pattern as other identities. If an autistic person was not autistic, they would be a different person – and IFL reflects this. You cannot separate the autism from the person, the way PFL implies.

Last week, Autism Action Colorado, a group claiming to be founded in 2014, who had no online presence until this year, tweeted in favour of PFL, claiming that “person with autism” should be used in the same way as “person with cancer”. This is incredibly offensive, comparing autism with cancer.

We should always respect people’s personal preferences, including their language preferences. Some people will prefer person first language, others will prefer identity first language. Communities as a whole will have a majority preference. All of these should be respected.

Advocates of both PFL and IFL have one thing in common – they both aim to show that disabled people are people. So whatever side you are currently on, I ask of you to respect the choices of these people, and to show you think of them as people by using the language preferred by each individual.

The Chaos of Social Interaction

The world of human social interaction often seems to me to be the exact opposite of logical. People will say things they don’t mean, mean things they don’t say and act as if apparently implied subtext is of more importance than the words actually said. These actions can lead to a higher probability of misinterpretations and conflict. Yet, these social norms persist. Why?

I have on several occasions considered the possibility that our species enjoys it when things go wrong. The amount of unnecessary arguments, broken friendships and hurt feelings could be greatly reduced, if only people would make their meaning a little clearer. It is the logical thing to do, and considering how usually both sides get hurt in misinterpretations, the best thing to do emotionally as well.

Social interaction norms are baffling and nonsensical. Even a neurotypical person, when asked why people do a certain thing, usually cannot come up with a better answer than ‘because that’s what’s done’. Society seems to lack the capacity for change in this regard. We have a system which doesn’t work, hurts people and makes absolutely no sense. There is a very easy way to change it, at no cost. Yet we don’t.

Humans often seem to ignore our instincts. We cast aside any instinctual feelings we have if they do not suit our purpose at the time. Everything from the need to sleep for long enough, to the fight-or-flight response can be ignored by humans. Given these instincts are there for survival, I rather think evolution has disadvantaged us in that regard. Our instinctual method of communication ought to be truth, yet the common system is based in hiding the truth under platitudes and false emotions.

Autistic people who do not behave in this illogical manner are punished. Behaving instinctually, speaking your mind truthfully, taking people at their word – society tries to stamp these out of people in childhood. You want to behave in a logical manner? No, you must be disordered and defective, here’s some abusive ‘therapy’ to make you act More Civilised, Like Us.

The concept of ‘civilisation’ can be very harmful. Oppressors have used it throughout history to justify their occupations of countries they deemed ‘primitive’ or ‘uncivilised’. But civilisation is one of those words that the definition will always be open to interpretation. And often ‘civilised’ means no more than behaving in a manner those in power deem acceptable. No matter how illogical or immoral.

Saying there is only one ‘right’ way to communicate is always going to be wrong. In a neurodiverse world, there will always be a multitude of different natural communication styles, and this should be respected. At the moment, however, there is only one society has deemed correct: and it is a style that is confusing, illogical, and seems to defy nature. It seems unlikely this system of hidden truths and spoken lies is anyone’s natural style.

Misinterpretations in interactions can have a world of unintended consequences. Lives can be ruined, wars can start… and given the giant number of misinterpretations that must necessarily happen on the whole planet, there will be some positive effects as well. Yet the unpredictability is a result of our chaotic system of communication. The number of misinterpretations per person could be reduced greatly if only we could adopt a more logical system.

The truth should not be something we try to hide. Naturally, we want to avoid hurting other’s feelings, yet often a hidden truth that later comes to light can be infinitely more hurtful than to find out the truth from someone who cares about you. All too often these days, people neglect intentions in favour of results. Yet intentions are important in communication.

For example, if someone had chocolate on their nose, a friend could point it out in effort to prevent further embarrassment. A bully could point it out in order to hurt. Both these interactions use the same fact, and will probably have the same initial result (embarrassment of the person with chocolate on their nose). But these are not equal, due to intentions.

The world of social interaction appears on the surface to follow a strict set of rules. Yet due to potential misinterpretations, and the infinite number of different effects these can cause, the system is entirely chaotic. It’s a bad system; if you don’t believe it, analyse it for yourself. We as a species can do better, and we should. Society needs to realise that it’s social norms are nonsense, and adapt the systems of interaction to make them more inclusive for all.


Oops I Burnt Out Again

In August, I wrote a post about how little time I have due to the large number of commitments I always make. And I think the fact that nobody has realised quite how unreliable I am, is testament to the masking skills I perfected in the latter years of secondary school. Because I’ve been almost burnt out for years.

It’s the second day of term today, and I’ve already almost passed out, took an unscheduled nap and feel thoroughly fed up. While I don’t sign up to do stuff I don’t enjoy (aside from the degree itself), that does not negate how tired it all makes me. I ought to quit something, but I almost always regret it when I do.

I don’t hate my degree subject, for all I say. But while I was brilliant at maths at school, I’ve struggled at university. It’s affected my self-esteem, and however interesting I might find the subject, I struggle to enjoy it just by virtue of disappointment in my grades. And then I feel guilty for not enjoying it as my lecturers are lovely and I don’t want to let them down.

By the end of last semester, I was struggling to survive. Between seven committees, university, and my untreated depression, things kept going from bad to worse. In December, I saw a doctor and started on antidepressants. Combined with a month-long holiday from university, I managed to relax and things got better.

Now I’m back, and the cycle is starting again. Throughout the semester, I teeter on the edge of burnout, pushing myself to the edge and over. I frequently don’t know how bad it is until it’s too late. I want to break this cycle but I don’t know how to do so without quitting what I like (such as the Doctor Who society) to focus on what I hate (like job applications).

Since my depression started, I’ve reached burnout earlier and earlier. I’m hoping with treatment for that, I can extend the time before I reach it and get to the end of the semester. There’s no guarantees though. It’s my final semester, and I’m hoping so much that things will get better once I’m away from this place.

I think I try and keep myself busy to distract myself from all the bad memories here. At the end of my third year (this is my fourth), a bunch of stuff happened and while I’m here I am constantly reminded of all my mistakes. There has been a lot of good at university too, but I just want it to be over now.

Which brings me to my main point. I will get everything for all my committees done, and usually on time. But at the expense of my studies. I almost never study enough, because I’m so exhausted with all the other stuff. Perhaps it would be different if I was studying something else, but perhaps it would not.

I am stuck in this cycle of pushing myself, burnout, rest, push, burnout, rest. I don’t think it will ever stop. I don’t think it can stop, without sacrificing all my interests. And I think the most challenging barrier to ending the cycle is that I’m not quite sure I want to.


Autism on TV

Autism awareness campaigns operate under the premise that few people in the world have accurate information about what autism really is. And while acceptance campaigns are fundamentally a better idea, there is a distinct lack of awareness among certain sectors of the population over what autistic people are really like and the different ways autistic people can appear. These awareness campaigns, however, rarely present an accurate picture of the diversity of autistic people and our behaviour.

In 2017, there were a fair few TV shows focusing on an autistic person, all of which had their positives and negatives, although some more one than the other. I’d like to focus on four: Netflix’s Atypical, the BBC’s The A Word, the bio-documentary about Chris Packham Aspergers & Me, and the 10-minute clip from Sesame Street, Meet Julia. I want to talk about what parts of these I identified with and what I thought was good, but also what harmful stereotypes they continued to push, and all the negatives that come with that.


Netflix’s Atypical was met with a negative response from the autistic community right from the trailer. It seemed to depict a horrifically stereotypical white male obsessed with having sex. This analysis was sadly quite accurate. The main plot of the show is the main character Sam’s quest to find a girlfriend.

Sam’s mother is the stereotypical Autism Mom, complete with parent groups, Autism Speaks fundraising, and autism being a “huge part” of her identity. I study mathematics and my mum doesn’t go around talking about how being a maths student is a huge part of her identity – because she’s not a maths student. Autism is a part of the autistic individual, NOT their parent.

The parent group shown in Atypical is exactly what you would expect – they lecture the dad on person-first language, frequently use functioning labels and there is one scene where they are icing cupcakes in the Autism Speaks colours. One of the parents also wears a puzzle piece necklace. The mother arranges “Autism Walks” for fundraising every year, presumably for Autism Speaks due to the colours but never explicitly stated. And as I said on twitter, the only person who seems to need reminding that autistic people are people is the mother herself.

The mother is not the only thing wrong with this show. During the show, Sam acquires a girlfriend, Paige. Paige seems ok with being locked in a cupboard by Sam, and also has a “card system” whereby Sam has three cards and when he mentions his special interest – Antarctica – has to give her one and can only mention it three times a day. That’s not a sign of a healthy relationship. Also, his best friend at work takes him to a strip club which again is wholly inappropriate.

Aside from all the autism stereotypes, this show is also terrible when it comes to gender stereotyping and heteronormativity. The mother at one point judges Sam’s sister Casey’s sweatshirt, telling her she should “flaunt [her] cute figure”. Sam also behaves in an abusive manner to women throughout which is never dealt with and seems to be accepted.

The show was not wholly without it’s relatable moments however. At one point, Sam paces around his bed because he’s stressed, which is very similar to the way I pace around the dining room table in my parents’ house, or the coffee table in my own living room. The actual meltdown was also quite similar to how some of mine were a few years ago, and the show does admit that autistic people can feel empathy. Sam also wears noise cancelling headphones, which is very relatable.

While there are of course a few relatable aspects to Atypical, overall it is not a good depiction of autism and not something I would recommend watching, especially if you’re not heterosexual.

Atypical – 3/10

The A Word

The second season of The A Word was broadcast on the BBC in Nov/Dec. I would say this particular autism-themed show is somewhat false advertising – most of the show focuses on the relationships of adults who happen to be related to an autistic child. I wouldn’t say autism is the main theme of this at all. The show focuses on the family of Joe, a five-year-old autistic boy.

This show is not about autism – it is a family drama which seems to use Joe’s autism as a catalyst for people having family arguments and separations. The most harmful aspect of this show is its continuation of the autistic kid causes parents to split up stereotype. Autism as the cause of separation is all too prevalent in fiction and we don’t need more of this. Parents don’t split up because of their kid – they split up because they are having problems with each other. Not all relationships last, that’s fine – but to blame it on their kid? No, that’s so harmful when the child grows up and faces that.

Joe’s special interest is music, and he frequently listens to it. When he’s asked a question, he will name a song and unless someone names the artist and year he won’t answer the question. He’s also depicted stimming and making repetitive movements. This all seems fine to me, it’s accurate enough as a depiction of autism.

It’s the attitudes of adults in this that is problematic. The parents seem to despise the word “autism” and use any euphemisms they can find. They frequently use phrases like “something wrong with him” to talk about Joe, and they seem visibly ashamed of having an autistic child. The sister also talks about how she has to stay at home because she is Joe’s sister and how she’ll be the only one there for Joe when he’s older – like autistic people can’t develop relationships outwith blood relatives.

Overall the show isn’t that great but it does have many more positives than Atypical, and provides a decent depiction of autism, albeit surrounded by unhelpful stereotypes from the adults in the show.

The A Word – 6/10

Aspergers And Me

As a documentary, this of course is spared the invented stereotypes that often plague fiction. I really loved this. I thought it was a fantastic documentary, really relatable in a lot of places and showed ABA to be the horrific thing it is.

I’m relatively unfamiliar with Chris Packham’s work, animals are not one of my special interests though clearly are his. He’s so knowledgeable about it and shows how autistic people can make a career out of their special interests that they actually enjoy which made me very happy. He also lives way out in the woods away from other people which I often wish I could.

In it, Chris Packham, visits the US to view what is considered autism “therapy” there. There’s some electromagnetic radiation “cure” therapy that seems like a potentially harmful scam, and then he visits an ABA school. It looks so bright and noisy like it’s designed to be as painful to autistic people as possible. The documentary also talks about the origins of ABA and deals with it in a way that shows that ABA is in fact harmful. I was so pleased to see this viewpoint broadcast.

It’s not perfect, he’s described as like an “alien” by his partner which we could really do without and there is an awful lot of talk about a hypothetical cure but overall this is a fantastic documentary and I would recommend.

Aspergers And Me – 9/10

Sesame Street

Even as a kid, I’ve never been a big muppet fan, so all I’ve seen of the much-discussed Julia is a 10-minute clip I watched on YouTube a few days ago. But it’s good. It presents autism in a positive way that’s accessible to kids, showing Julia to be just a bit different, and also acknowledging that every individual is different regardless of neurology.

The episode also demonstrates the sensitivity to noise many autistic people have by showing Julia being upset by sirens that she finds too loud – a common occurrence in my own life. It shows a meltdown in a considerate way and demonstrates that giving her time and space to calm down is the best approach.

Julia also stims happily in the episode, which is very validating to see, as stimming is often seen as negative in the neurotypical community, so to see positive happy stimming represented on TV is brilliant. The others also accept her the way she is which is refreshing to see (although sadly probably unlikely in real life).

Overall, it’s a wonderful episode and a fantastic depiction of autism in the media that I hope will change the attitudes children of an age to be watching it have to their autistic peers. It also shows an autistic girl which is fantastic as autistic women are often very underrepresented due to years of underdiagnosis.

Sesame Street’s Meet Julia – 10/10

Of course, what is being presented on screen is only one side of autism representation – there is a behind-the-scenes question of how many autistic people are involved in making these things. However, that is a question for another day.

The representation of autism on television in 2017 ranged from the terrible to the brilliant, but I am optimistic that we are making progress and the on-screen depiction of autism in 2018 will show more Julias and less Autism Moms.


The Fluidity of Obsession – Autism & University 3

This is the third and final of three posts I will be writing about my experiences at university as an autistic undergraduate student. These experiences are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of other autistic students. I study mathematics in Scotland, other courses & countries would vary greatly. You can read the first post about academic structure here and the second about noisy student culture here.

Regardless of your preferred language to describe it; obsessions, special interests, or intense fixations are something that many autistic people have. Many autistic people have the ability to focus very intently on a subject for extended periods of time. These interests can last for anything from a few weeks to a lifetime. In the recent documentary Aspergers & Me, Chris Packham demonstrates a lifelong intense interest in animals.

And how lucky he is, I think to myself as I sit in the university library studying for a degree in a subject my interest in faded long ago. I do not have a single lifelong interest. My obsessions are far more fleeting. I have little passion left for mathematics, my interests have long since moved on to Star Trek and politics and autism. If I had to choose a degree subject now? Probably psychology, maybe ecology, but certainly not mathematics.

My special interests generally last for a month, and become intense and all-consuming before they fade only to quickly be replaced by another. In reverse order from now to back in primary school, I can list politics, autism, Star Trek, Doctor Who, politics again, a book series called Gallagher Girls, vampires, the Titanic, feminism, writing fiction. I have missed some things off the list, so it’s not too long. Politics is the only thing on the list that has recurred.

So what does this have to do with university? For those who have a lifelong interest, it’s a very positive situation. They can do a degree in that subject, follow a career path related to it, and become very successful due to their intense focus on their subject. Provided, of course, that it’s something ‘useful’ in a capitalist society like zoology or mathematics, and not something like Star Trek.

For those whose interests are fleeting and temporary? A recipe for disaster. I will talk about my own experience as someone who has fluid special interests and is studying a degree I lost interest in a long time ago.

When I chose which subject I wished to study at university, I was 17. It was 2013, a year before the Scottish independence referendum, and I was naturally very interested in it. For the first half of 2013, I wanted to study politics and French at university, the latter because I wanted to learn a lot of languages, and I had the top mark in my year in 2012 in the subject. That summer, I attended a summer school at Oxford University for state school pupils, to study French for a week. I didn’t like it. It was so hard, it was much more like English with the analysis of texts and very little language learning. I decided that academically speaking, languages were not for me.

The reason I decided against politics was more complicated. I cannot trust my own memory as I have a tendency to lie to myself, however I will explain to the best of my ability my reasoning. My experiences at Oxford told me one thing: a subject at university will be nothing like at school. I decided that I didn’t particularly want to read the large books my mother, who did study politics, told me I’d have to, and that studying it at university would probably put me off the subject entirely as I’d have to write academic essays on the areas of politics that didn’t interest me. I believe this was accurate, I do not regret my decision to not study politics – it is very likely that doing a degree in it would have put me off the subject entirely.

So I chose mathematics. If I remember correctly, my reasoning for this was that I was very good at it in school, it is a subject with clear cut right and wrong answers, and little ambiguity. I also wouldn’t have to write essays – while I enjoy writing in my own time, usually the minute it became compulsory I no longer wished to do it. And it is a subject with good career prospects, much more than politics. You will notice that mathematics does not appear on the list of interests above. It’s absence is accurate – it was never on the list. My reasons for choosing it are solely those listed above. There was no passion.

I have looked back over my personal statement from my application to university, and while it’s much better written than I remember, I detect little truth in there beyond the factual statements of what I’ve done. I exaggerated my passion, but while most of it is slightly inaccurate there is only one outright lie:

“Overall, my interest in mathematics has existed throughout my school career, however as I have had more and more opportunities to use mathematics outside of the classroom, my fascination with numbers and logic has only grown.”

There wasn’t any growth of passion. Perhaps I convinced myself there was, after all I was a young seventeen year old being told I needed to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I convinced myself I wanted to do mathematics. It’s a coping mechanism I probably still use, though it’s only recognisable in hindsight.

As for it existing throughout my school career? I guess my 17 year old self had a penchant for editing history. I can prove that is not true – in a diary entry from 2011 I distinctly state that I hate maths. I decided to study a subject I had no passion for. It was always going to end badly.

I, like many other autistic people, do have the ability to intensely focus on one topic for extended periods of time. I do not, however, possess the ability to choose the topic. Obsessions choose me, they creep up unexpectedly and overthrow their predecessor and then they’re just there. I watched 700 hours of Star Trek in a little over a year. I campaigned on people’s doorsteps for a Yes vote in a referendum – making eye contact all the time, long before I have the confidence I do now – because that’s what my interest was at the time. I cannot create or destroy obsessions any more than I could energy.

I think that’s where I went wrong at university. I chose my degree subject, I did not let an interest find me. In my defence, I was pressured into choosing before I was ready. My parents would never have let me take a gap year, and my teachers didn’t want me to deviate from the path they had laid out for me. I had little choice but to follow, but now I’ve left them behind, I’m lost, and I have no way back.

My advice for any autistic people (or people of any neurology, really) considering going to university – choose your subject wisely. If you do not have the requisite passion, you won’t do well, and you won’t enjoy it. If you have a special interest in something other than your degree subject, it will consume time and prevent studying from taking place. If you know what you want to do, really know, then I wish you best of luck and I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly. But if you are in any way uncertain, please, please take the time to think about it.

It is better to wait, and delay the future for a year or two, than to set off on a life path you will come to regret. I don’t believe in certainty, the future isn’t fully in anyone’s control and the unexpected can happen. But if someone asks you how certain you are that you want to study a certain subject, if your answer is anything under 90% please stop and think. Your future self may well thank you one day.

Special interests can be hugely helpful in the academic and career choices of autistic people. If an autistic person can study their interest, or get a job related to it then that is a wonderful thing and will help them to thrive. We should be encouraging people to use their interests, especially as it’s probably more likely to make one happy than doing something they have no passion for. On the contrary, making choices to do something one has no passion for can be detrimental to one’s happiness and success.

We need to stop putting pressure on young people to make life decisions to a deadline. If I had waited a year before attending university, I would be much happier now and likely more successful. The pressure young people are put under to follow a certain path can be very damaging. We need to start accepting there are alternative pathways, and not everything needs to be done exactly by the book. Only then can we have a society where everyone lives up to their potential.


At Least It’s Not A Negative Number

This will be the last weekly Thursday post. I will be switching to Sundays after this as I won’t have time to write on Thursdays once university starts.

I have a terrible habit of pushing myself beyond my limits. Since I will do far more than I have the energy for and eventually reach autistic burnout every few months. And I can’t stop it – especially since most of me doesn’t want to. There’s nothing I want to give up that I actually can. The list of things I have to do each week, added to the things I want to provides me with so little time left over. As an autistic person, this can cause me so many problems, including anxiety and stress.

Much time is taken up by things I must do as an adult, as is the case in most people’s lives. Things such as sleeping, cooking, eating and cleaning take up so many hours of each day. And while (two of) these things can be pleasant, they take time and often aren’t as efficiently planned as I’d like. In my busier weeks, sleep is often neglected which contributes to my lack of energy by the end of them. I also need to go food shopping at least once a week – something made even more difficult as I don’t have a car and have to carry the heavy bags back walking. These things must be done if I wish to survive, but they also drain so much time from my schedule.

The other big ‘must’ is university work. While theoretically I chose to go to university and am studying something I like, in practice the very addition of the word ‘must’ makes my brain categorise it as a chore – even the bits I should enjoy. As my main activity, university naturally takes up about 40 hours a week – or should. A huge part of my problems with keeping to schedule and not running out of time is procrastination. When I’m supposed to be studying I’ll be watching Netflix or playing games online. These are things I have zero time for but I do anyway because they’re enjoyable. In an ideal world, I’d have time for them, but this world is far from ideal.

Something that is very much optional, but also something I cannot bring myself to give up is committee work. I’m currently on four committees, and by the time I go to bed tonight I expect to be on another. I care deeply about every single one and I don’t want to quit. Some I’m on because they’re fun, some because I think they can help me make a difference. The Doctor Who, Sherlock and Science Fiction & Fantasy societies have all provided me with better friends than I ever thought I’d have and a place to go and have fun around other humans every week. I want to contribute to each of them and be a bigger part.

The fourth is the St Andrews University Students for Independence (STAUSFI) society. The fifth one I might be joining tonight is the the Young Scots for Independence Mid-Scotland and Fife Regional Association. Provided I win the election, of course. Politics is something that is important to me and important in general. By participating in political societies and political party events I hope to try and make a difference, and also show that autistic people can be involved in politics. I’ve tried giving this up before because it can be a source of stress, but it didn’t work for me – it made me feel like I was doing nothing important with my life. So the more politics, the better, as far as how I feel about my role in life is concerned.

After having all this to do, you would be forgiven for assuming I would make no further commitments to actually give myself some time to wind down. But you’d be wrong. I constantly add more things to the list of Things I Should Do every week. This blog is one of them; I’ve committed to posting weekly (I missed last week due to illness, said so on Twitter) which takes about 4 hours of writing, editing and thought time each week. This is why I’ll be switching from Thursday to Sunday after this post – when the summer ends and I go back to classes, I will not have that time available on Thursdays.

Other further commitments include: volunteering in a charity shop for two hours a week, German lessons (though I might be giving those up because of a lack of time, funnily enough) and meeting up with my friends on Friday and/or Saturday evenings. While that last one is not a commitment per se, it is something that I enjoy doing, and something that I do feel I need to participate in if I am to remain a full member of the friendship group, something I’ve found difficult all my life.

By my estimations (and bear in mind they are just that), Sleep + Adulting + University + Non-political Committees + Politics + Blog + Volunteering + (German) + Friendship + Travel = 56 + 23 + 40 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 2 + (3) + 10 + 3 = 150 out of a total of 168 hours a week, giving me spare time of a mere 18 hours a week. Well, at least it’s not a negative number. And there’s the problem. Because that is insufficient time to recover from the amount of socialising I do in the other hours.

While 8 hours of sleep a night is factored into the above equation, the standard adult sleep time is insufficient to counter all the exhaustion I face as an autistic adult in the world – especially since I’m masking for most of those activities, especially the committees. I can find things both enjoyable and exhausting at the same time, they are not mutually exclusive. So while the things that require masking are exhausting, I also don’t want to give them up. 18 hours a week (2.57 hours a day) is not enough downtime to relax and counter the negative effects of the other 93 waking hours.

Also bear in mind that this is a typical week – most weeks are like this. Some are worse. In some weeks I need to do 50 hours of university work; other weeks require 10 hours for politics, maybe more. Holidays are of course much better as the university hours aren’t there. This week is okay only because of no university. This week, politics is estimated to take 7 hours and travel 7. Tonight I’m travelling to Inverkeithing for the YSI event which due to connection times could be about 2 hours each way. If this week was term-time, it would be a problem.

Last week I didn’t post, because I had a cold. Even a little illness can completely stop me doing anything – I’m very sensitive to pain. I can go a whole week only doing Sleep + Partial Adulting if I’m ill. So I try and add all the missed hours to the following week. Which normally results in a spare time output of a large negative number. If illness wasn’t a thing, I could probably survive a whole semester on my tight schedule. But the minute I become ill, the effects carry over for weeks and weeks and weeks until the thin threads of my life start unravelling; I lose friends and fail exams and everything is ruined.

With no margin for error, and a world that is full of potential causes of error, this is a situation that can’t be allowed to continue. But the only thing on my current list that I’m willing to give up is the German lessons (3 hours a week – 2 for class and 1 for homework). So as things stand, I’m going to be pushing myself beyond my limits for the foreseeable future. And hoping beyond hope I don’t get ill or distracted.




For those who want a more detailed breakdown of how I calculated the standard week:

Sleep: 8 hours x 7 days = 56

Adulting: (2 hours cooking, eating & washing up) x (7 days) + (1 hour showering/brushing teeth/getting dressed) x (7 days) + 2 hours shopping = 23

University: 40 hours as the standard work hours, there’s a more specific calculation I could do but that would take time!

Non-political committees: 2 hours x 3 committees = 6

Politics: 5 is an estimate I remembered from an earlier calculation, I don’t have my breakdown for it with me right now

Blog: 4 hours, I timed myself as I wrote this and then added my estimate for how long editing & posting would take.

Volunteering: 2 hours is what I said I’d do

German: Class is 2 hours and we get homework which takes about 1

Friendship: 10 is an average, can be as little as 5 and as much as 14, usually 5 on Fri and another 5 on Sat. Can be 7 hours each, can be only 5 on one.

Travel: Since I live in a small town, travel time to a single location is always less than an hour, added together travel to all events over the week (about 26 individual journeys, possibly more) only sum to 3 hours usually.