Welcome to Steve’s Aspie Adventures

Whether you are reading this as a parent, carer, friend or are on the spectrum yourself, a warm welcome to the blog and I’d welcome your comments. I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition as a teenager. Throughout my life this has brought unique challenges, deep lows but also very happy times. I hope with this blog I can share some of my experiences, challenges and successes with you. My hope is that it can help along the way at breaking down some of the fears, misconceptions, stereotypes that come hand in hand with Autism by giving an insight into what it’s like as an individual living with the condition.

At times when I’m affected most by my condition life can grind to a halt, but that has given me a drive to experience all I can when I’m feeling well. Travel brings a new perspective on life and the experiences it brings have made my good days even better and given hope in my bad days. For me it’s a metaphorical middle finger to a life-long condition. In my other blog (Roaming Steve) I share some stories of my travel and adventures.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog. Feel free to share this with your friends if you've found it helpful. I'd love to hear your thoughts, any topics you'd like to read about and own experiences so please comment or message me.

Please note, that in all my blog entries I can only relay my personal experiences and perspective. It is important to remember that every single person on the spectrum is an individual with a different story to mine. I have no medical expertise or training and am writing to share my personal experiences only.

Monday, 22 September 2014

A Day at the Volcano

The earth rumbled as the pressure beneath built ever stronger until finally…. BOOM! An explosion of mayhem flowed down into the village of Lego houses. The villagers (unfortunate woodlice) scattered and I set about engineering a barricade to halt the hosepipe-mud-volcano avalanche. I was fascinated by volcanoes and as a child I dreamed of one day being a world famous volcanologist. With no local volcanoes at hand I had to make do with a hosepipe and my parents flower bed. Still, I was happy.

Like many with autism, I have ‘special interests’ – intense, almost obsessive interests in often random things. I circled through Volcanoes, Tornados, Maps, Travel, Eurovision (I know… but there is a score board with lots of numbers – how autism friendly is that!!!), stamps, fungi…… For each one got obsessed, became an expert, got bored then moved to something new.

For many years I tried to moderate my hobbies and forced interests to fit my peer group, but recently I’ve come to see this more nerdy side to me as being a great asset and something to cherish. In fact I’d say the focus it gives me on subjects is one of the greatest gifts that autism brings me. In this weeks post I’d like to share with you of a time recently that two of my interests met and I got a chance to travel and visit a fascinating mountain. Come and join me on a day at the volcano….

‘Come and visit one day’ is something often said between friends over Facebook, but this time I’d decided to do just that and here I was 5000miles from home with my friend Andrea, camping in the forests of Washington State. My camping expeditions at home usually come with some sort of mishap so the bears, snakes, spiders and poison ivy were playing on my mind. Top it all off with evil, slimy, foot long banana slugs… yeughhh. ‘You’ll be alright’ said Andrea as we casually sauntered past a Tsunami escape sign and wild fire warning chart. ‘Everything here is trying to kill me’ I sighed.

Dangers aside, the natural wonders of the area shone through. The campsite nestled amongst mighty trees, draped over the dramatic foothills of the Cascade Range. Bright lakes sat in the valleys, reflecting the snow capped volcanic mountains.

One of these mountains was out destination, although this one was no longer a perfect cone. We were heading to Mt St Helens. This notorious mountain catastrophically erupted in May 1980, replacing over 400m of it’s height with a mile wide crater. It still stands over a kilometre taller than Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. I’d read a lot about this volcano and I was excited to get the chance to visit.

As we approached the great mountain started to reveal itself from behind the surrounding hills. It’s battered and grey hulk standing in sharp contrast the verdant surroundings. The crater appearing as though it’s summit had been punched by an angry giant, crushed like a used drinks can.

An ominous sign announced our arrival to the blast zone, 12miles from the mountain. The surroundings got steadily more barren, twisted trunks jutting from the loose earth, slowly being reclaimed by new growth forest. We finally arrived at the visitor centre, just 5 miles from the gaping crater.

A Park Ranger met us and told us the story of the barren place we had found ourselves in. The eruption that had happened here was in fact triggered by a landslide of gigantic proportions. Like my mud volcano, the pressure had been building, until finally something snapped. What snapped was the entire north flank of the mountain. The whole side slid away and released the highly pressured and superheated gasses and material below. The mass of rock ploughed across the valley to where we were now stood. At this point it was carrying car sized boulders at 155mph and at a staggering 400celsius. This ‘scorch’ zone was stripped of everything down to the bedrock. Nothing survived here. Continuing on it’s journey, the turmoil rumbled over ridges and down valleys for a further 12 miles, flattening trees like matchsticks. Meanwhile to the west glacial melt water and displaced lakes had sent a torrent of hot acid mud down river to where our campsite was now sited.

In total the eruption caused over $2.8 billion in damage and took the lives of 57. An evacuation had taken place of the local communities and being a fairly remote area this could have been far worse but even so these sobering statistics still brought a new perspective to the battered landscape.

34 years later wildlife has slowly begun to move into the blast zone, bringing life back to the scorched hillsides. On cue to prove this point a small chipmunk popped his head up and stood proudly on the wall in front of us.

Back at the campsite that evening I had chance to reflect on the day’s adventure up the volcano, having seen first hand the immense power of the not so solid earth we stand on and having a new found respect for the forces that shape the earth below our feet.

Now what was that rustling outside the tent…..  a bear?....... an evil banana slug?

......or just a racoon?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

10 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Non Autistic Person

There are many things that I do and say that can range from amusing to exasperating to those around me. That’s the joy of having a brain that’s hard wired slightly differently to that of the average person. In my post 10 things you shouldn’t say to an aspie I took a light hearted look at some of the things that have been said to me that have been less than helpful, but I also recognise that sometimes the things I say aren’t helpful in return. It’s great to recognise that the way I understand other’s communication is strained, but it’s also important for me to recognise that the way I communicate back is also potentially different to yours. Communication works both ways after all. Here is a look at the top 10 things I sometimes say that hasn’t had the response or affect I’d expected.

So anyway let me start by say ‘Hi, How are you?’

1: Answering honestly ‘How are you?’

‘Not so good’ I reply, ‘I didn’t sleep well last night as it was hot. My bedroom doesn’t cool down very well so I was up at 4am. Otherwise I’m not too bad but I’ve had a few concerns on my mind lately about the increase in water rates and whether I'm on the best phone tariff. At the moment I’ve been trying to figure out whether to visit a friend this weekend as they live a long way away but at the same time I’d like to see them. I am however really enjoying writing this blog about life with autism.’

-          puzzled look back

‘Oh sorry, fine thanks and how are you?’

You see to me the question ‘How are you?’ requires an answer. In true aspie style it is so easy for me to automatically bombard the poor recipient with exhaustive details about ‘how I am.’

This isn’t the askers’ intention. It is simply a greeting that requires no more than a simple ‘fine thanks, and how are you’ type response. Any more results in being given a very strange and scared look back from the person who asked!

2: How old are you?

So how old are you?

            You NEVER ask a woman her age!


                                    Why just women?

In settings where I’m surrounded by fellow aspies the question of age doesn’t appear to have such a stigma as it does out in the wider community. It is a simple factual statement. In reality as an adult, knowing someone else’s age has never been that important. I’ve always tended to either enjoy someone’s company or not (regardless or age or any other demographic). It’s when the conversation starts taking a bewildering dance around age that I have the tendency to just say ‘How old are you?’

            ‘I’m so much older than you!’

            ‘You look so young’

            ‘How old do you think I look?’

These questions will all likely result in me bluntly telling you how old you look or asking your age (you’ve asked mine in a roundabout way after all!) – if you don’t want to know then don’t ask.

I’ve been advised that telling everyone that they’re 21 is the best approach (Although it mystifies me why anyone would want to be 21 – I hated that age, 31 is so much better!)

3: Who are you voting for?

So people fought and died to give me a right to vote and live in a democratic country but I can’t talk about politics?

I can understand the reason that politics talk can lead to disagreements but I will and do openly talk about politics when an election is looming.

Filtering information from a random selection of leaflets on who to vote for is bewildering. I’d much rather balance my opinions by having open chats with those people around me who’s opinions I respect.

4: Do you have a faith?

This is one I both understand but also find frustrating. Whatever your faith may (or may not) be is a deeply personal thing that quite clearly can and does cause great conflict. Two people who hold opposing views but both have deep convictions justifying their respective stance can clearly clash on this issue so the reason for having discretion when discussing faith is clear.

The frustration comes for me when deciding where and when is an appropriate time. Faith has played a big part in my life. It has been a fluid journey with times of holding a Christian faith close to heart and more recently settling for more agnostic views. I have a genuine interest in faith and religions but exploring this has always felt restricted due to lack of open communication. I have no answers here, so lets quickly move on before arguments erupt or I’m smited by the almighty…..

5: Lets talk about the birds and the bees…

There are no birds and bees involved so at least there aren’t going to be any seagull sized bee hybrids, but if there were it’s certainly be much easier to talk about than the subject in question.

The unwritten rules on how, when and where sex can be discussed is so perplexing that it can be a huge minefield. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can not only lead to huge embarrassment but has the potential for much worse. A single statement that could be light banter in one setting could lead to formal action in another. Knowing the boundaries can be challenging enough for anyone. One thing is certain; no one seems to know how to talk about this. It’ll cover this more in a future post, but for now I’ll stick with the giant bee hybrids, they scare me less!

6: You don’t understand

Chances are you don’t, but then again at least you’re trying to relate? Saying ‘I know how you feel’ is often said and tends to illicit a blunt but factual statement back from me, ‘no, you don’t understand’

I’m seeing it as a whole and there is no way you can understand everything from my perspective, but by saying this I’m missing the point. You can understand and relate to certain emotions, situations or experiences I have (fully understanding the intricate details isn’t really relevant).

It’s probably best I reserve my judgement on your understanding and keep my mouth shut. After all, you may just understand far better than I give you credit for…

7: I don’t understand you

As above, but chances are I don’t understand either. Again I tend to look at the intricacies of things rather than just trying to relate. When faced with a situation I will quickly judge that I don’t understand you and say so. This gives one clear message – I’m aloof, am above your problems and un-empathetic. This is far from the truth and avoiding saying that I don’t understand you is wise.

Perhaps you’ve just split up with your girlfriend and are upset. I would feel unable to relate as I haven’t dated this particular girl, gone through what you’ve gone through, been on your journey – but I have split up with girls before and experienced the grieving process that follows. If I step back from the detail then I may find I do understand far better than I give myself credit for…

8: You’re wrong

There are certain subjects that I know a lot about. We all have areas like that. Our interests, hobbies, studies all give us an expertise somewhere. Even personal matters like your family or even your long term health issues are probably areas you personally can call yourself an expert in. I’ve studied fungi extensively (yes, I’m aware that this is strange) and unless you’re a seasoned mycologist then I will probably dismiss your knowledge on this subject as inferior. The difficulty is that no one wants to be told they’re wrong. If someone approaches me and informs me that all fungi are poisonous, instead of pompously dismissing them for making such an uneducated remark it helps to step back. Does their lack of knowledge affect me at all? No! Perhaps this is a good opportunity to have a chat about a topic that interests me. In turn they are guaranteed to have something of interest to tell me about a topic I know little about. Not saying ‘you’re wrong’ can open up very interesting new conversations.

9: Being direct about pretty much anything

An autistic tendency that doesn’t seem to blend well with the British societies' politeness is being blunt and direct. If there is a problem or difficulty I’d rather just say it than meander aimlessly around the subject.

‘You upset me’ Is confrontational, ‘My washing machine is broken so I’m stressed and don’t know how to get it repaired’ is pessimistic. Instead we have to weave around what we’re saying.

‘Hello, splendid day wouldn’t you agree! I wonder if you could advise me, my washing machine has broken. Have you got any recommendations for good repair centres? Isn’t it jolly good that we live in such a blessed position to not have to wash out clothes in a dirty river!’ or some such gibberish.

10: Talking about myself

Talking about myself comes naturally, I know a lot about myself. I can easily go into a never ending monologue that will put you in a coma given half a chance. I have to remind myself frequently that you really don’t need or want to know every last detail about my evening’s plans.

I was once set a challenge, try having a ‘you’ day. The challenge was simple; to not talk about myself for a whole day, even direct questions about what I’ve been doing should be turned around and directed back to the person asking.

‘How was your lunch?’

Instead of replying with the details of my lunch I could say, ‘Great thanks, what did you have today?’ Following this up with questions about their favourite foods or places to eat.

Sounds easy? It was actually quite challenging but very rewarding and it was a great way to connect more with those around me.

I hope this post has been of interest and shown how the challenge of communication is a two way street – but also a very rewarding one. I would be very interested in hearing your views on this topic. Please feel free to add your comments and share this post if you found it interesting.