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Autism and the stress of a simple walk

I have written a lot about sensory overload, and the impact this has on me and other autistic people, but there might be an idea that to get this overload I have to go somewhere busy, or noisy. This is not the case. In fact just the act of walking my dogs in the streets for fifteen minutes can be full of so much sensory and social stress that I become overloaded by the time I get back home. I would like to use this blog to explain how even something that sounds so small can be so full of stress. So let’s use the idea of walking the dogs as an example for now – the point being that I don’t have to go anywhere; I am not going shopping or to a meeting at the end of the walk, in fact I am just walking around and and then going home. So why is that stressful?

  1. Build up: There is still the build-up to going out even if I am only going on a small walk. I have to decide when to go, plan for it, get myself ready, and know that I will have to deal with all the stress that I encounter when I am out there. For some things you might be able to go out early in the morning, and get them over with, but other times you might have to wait and the longer you wait the more the anxiety about having to go at all builds up. It can get to a point, for me at least, where if I am not able to go out until the early evening – even if it’s for something I want to do and something I know will hardly take any time at all – I have had so long for the anxiety to build up that I would do almost anything not to have to go.
  2. Noise: The outside world is noisy: be it birds, cars, planes or people, almost anywhere you live someone or something is making noise. These are just the background noises of life, but sometimes, depending on how I feel, even they can be too much. In the course of walking down one road with my dogs I might have to contend with the sound of drilling, of a plane going over head, of people walking by talking, of music coming from cars and the sound of the cars themselves passing by. Because for non-autistic people these sounds just fade in to the background I think it’s easy for them to forget just how much noise there is outside on a normal day, and how quickly that can build up in terms of sensory input. It’s worth pointing out here that a lot of autistic people deal with this by using headphones, with or with out music playing.
  3. Crossing the roads: I have not had the chance to talk to a lot of other autistic people about this one, but I know that it is a real issue for me. Over the years I have known some autistic people who did not feel a sense of danger, and would just run out in to the road (some of whom have even been hit by cars/buses) but that is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the awkwardness of crossing a road. When I get to a road no longer can I walk with my head down, not looking at anyone. I can’t stay lost in my own thoughts, blocking out the world around me. No, I have to come fully back in to reality. I have to look up and be aware, stop blocking things out, look around me and try and pick out the sounds of cars approaching from the noise all around me. I have to think and make decisions on the spot; do I cross now or do I wait? But it’s not just making that call, it’s all the things going on around me as I make it. There might be other people waiting alongside me; are they crossing? No? Why not? Is it wrong of me to try and cross now? Yes, they are crossing? Should I go too, or wait here? Should I have gone then? If the road is busy do I just stand here and wait, or keep walking and cross later? What should I be doing now? Am I doing the right thing or not? OK, you might say that is being silly, that none of it matters, and that if you’re unsure what to do just wait till there are no cars and cross – staying safe is all that matters. Fine, but that’s not so easy when you have a brain that will overthink everything without giving you much say in the matter. Then when you do get to the point of crossing the road there is the interaction with the drivers. Cars come to a stop and you have to look at the driver and work out what they are trying to communicate to you. It’s hard enough to read what someone is saying via non-verbal communication when your face to face and have the time to think about it, but trying to do it from a few feet away through a pain of glass when you`re in a situation where you are expected to move quickly (at least by the waiting driver!) it becomes even harder. You have to work out if they are slowing down to let you go or not. Are you waiting too long when they are letting you go? Are you misreading what they mean and stepping out when you should not be? Again the main question for me is am I doing something wrong here? And again the answer comes back, who cares? It’s not like the interaction with the driver means anything; it comes and goes and everyone moves on with their lives. I don’t care in the long run what the people in the cars think of me, and I know that even if they did think anything it would be forgotten in the space of seconds. But that’s the point, it’s not what I know to be true in my head that has the impact, it’s the way my brain over thinks that brings on stress from even these seemingly meaningless interactions. Overthinking brings on more stress and anxiety, so much so that it can get to the point where the worry about crossing the road sets in before I even get to them, no matter how much I know on logical level that it is a silly thing to worry about.
  4. Walking past people: Another point that relates to overthinking is when you pass someone in the street. There is little to no interaction with them; perhaps they might smile or say hello as they pass, but that’s about it. But if like me your anxiety makes you over-think things you will find that as soon as you see someone walking down the road in your direction you will start to worry about what to do. Should you look at them? Will that seem as if you are staring at them? If you look away will it look as if you are avoiding looking at them? As if you think there is something wrong with them, or are passing some kind of judgement? If you look away then look back up will it look strange? At what point do you step aside to let them pass if need be? Does any of this matter? The answer to that last question at least is a simple one. No. The chances are if someone walking down the street notices you at all they think nothing of you, and if they do it’s not like you would ever know or be able to guess. But again I must go back to the fact that just understanding this on a logical level does not do anything to lessen the impact that it has. It’s all about what’s in your head, and the fact is that unlike noise from the outside world, you can’t do anything to shut it off.

I hope that the points listed above give you some insight in to why even a short work with no big social interactions such as going to the shops, or going to work can be a stressful and anxiety provoking experience for autistic people. It’s not to say every walk will be like that, or that every autistic person feels the same things I do, but it might be that some of you out there understand how I feel. For me what can be so hard about the whole thing is knowing that apart from the noise, the rest of it is in my head. People are not judging me as I walk down the street or try to cross a road, and even if they were I would never know. But when your brain is pushing you in to thinking certain things and feeling anxiety and stress it can feel like there is not much you can do about it. When you add that to the noise that surrounds you as you walk down the street, and the stress and anxiety that is a part of the build-up to going out you can see how even a small walk can lead to a sensory and emotional overload.

It’s worth keeping in mind that an autistic person does not have to be in a room packed with people talking at the top of their voices to become overloaded. Something as small as walking the dog can be so full of anxiety and stress, and lead to so much overthinking that it can bring about an overload that might come as a surprise to the autistic person, and those around them. And yet when you break down what goes in to even a small trip outside you start to see that for a lot of autistic people it is not so small after all.

Let me know what you think in the comments, as how ever much I try, I can only really speak for myself.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

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A Book Launch, A Thunderstorm, and an Overload.

There has not been a blog up on here for quite some time, and I feel I should explain why.  As some of you know it’s been a pretty busy few weeks. I had the launch for my new book last week and my time has been taken up with planning for that, and dealing with the overload after the event.

A book launch in itself is an odd thing; you write the book, send it off to the publisher, and then spend months waiting, and then editing, and then you are told it`s going to come out, and you just wait some more. A few months later there is the book. And more than a year after you started working on it, and almost a year from when you knew it was coming out, you have an event to mark the beginning of something.

We never had a launch event for any of our other books, but the publisher got in contact with us and told us we could set one up for my new book if we wanted. Even though we were unsure of what to do we said yes, and went about trying to set up our first ever book launch.  And all things considered it went very well. We of course were unsure what to do, but we managed to book a room, get flyers printed out and sort out food and drinks. Even though we ended up with a lot of food left over! We ordered books from the publisher, and advertised the event on twitter and Facebook. I can’t say we got everything right, as I say there was far too much food. But we got things as right as we were able. Yet on the night it still looked as if the launch was going to be a failure. We got there two hours before it was due to start to get everything set up, and about half an hour later, as we were setting up the food tables it started to rain. Within half an hour it was pouring down with rain, and a short while after that the thunder and lightning started. It just so happened that the worst storm to hit Manchester for a long time happened to hit on that night. We carried on setting up, but we all felt that the weather was bound to put some people off. We found out later that some of the trams had stopped running and some roads where so full of water they were impassable.  The weather calmed down somewhat in the twenty minutes or so before we opened the doors, but it was still a bit of a surprise to see over thirty people crowd in to the room. Thinking about how bad the weather was, and how easy it would have been for them to stay indoors, I am very glad they came out, and ensured that the launch was not a failure.

The book launch only ran for an hour and a half and felt like it was over in no time. I talked about the book and my reasons for writing it, and then sat behind a table selling and signing books. I was happy to see how well the book sold, and I hope it will be of use to everyone who bought a copy. As I said in my talk that is the main aim of the book; to help both the professionals who read it, and the autistic people they work with.

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Even though it went well I was very overloaded from it, and still am to some degree. This is why I am only now sitting down to write about the event. I am sure most of you know how hard an overload can be. It’s not the same as being tired, and I think it must be hard for anyone who is not autistic to fully understand how much an event like this can impact on someone who is. Not just standing up and giving the talk, but also all the one-on-one talking that came after.

Seeing as this was our first book launch and the weather was against us I feel it went as well as it could have. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I had fun and sold quite a few books so all-in-all it could not have gone much better.  I don’t know if or when there will be a new book, and a new launch, but hopefully there will be another one sometime soon.  But with it being over at least for now I plan to get back to my normal writing and blogging.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

9781849057080

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Dyslexia.

I spend a lot of my time witting about autism, how it impacts on me and others, but it`s easy for me to forget that I don’t just have autism. I also have Dyslexia and Dyspraxia, and it`s about time I said something about those.  Autism tends to dominate; it`s what I write about, it influences my day to day life more than anything else, but my dyslexia gets me down more than autism ever has.  Well it used to.

I should start at the beginning, I was able to read well from a young age, and that could almost hide how much my dyslexia did impact on me.  It took me years to even be able to write my own name. I still to this day can’t spell basic words.  Some of them are starting to stick, and I can spell better now then I ever could before, but I am twenty – I should have been spelling better than this when I was eight or nine.  I can still recall with absolute clarity that burning embarrassment of not being able to spell, or having someone look down at a page of writing that is basically sideways slanting gibberish.  For years my Mum tried to help me; she came up with all kinds of clever devices to help me learn to spell and improve my hand writing. The impact?  Well there was some, but it was a long, hard journey.  In college I had help with my dyslexia too, but still no huge change.

I have to admit I am finding it hard pin-point times, and dates when this has impacted on me as you might be able to tell, but one word keeps coming to me – Education.  Not the time I spent being home-educated, but the few years at school and college I had. It seemed that the aim of both was to get me writing like normal – school pushed that a lot more, and in a much more heavy-handed way, whereas college allowed me extra time in exams, and did offer me help.  But I still had to go once a week and do the same stuff I had been doing from the age of eight or nine to try and get better hand writing.  I think university is the only education esablishment where I feel my dyslexia does not impact on me.  The amount of help I have been given there is well woth talking about.  I have someone to take notes for me, a laptop with programs on that allow me to talk in to a mic, and watch my words appear on the screen, and much more.  The impact of this?  I am able to think about the work and not about spellings!

Where am I now?  Well I am at peace with the fact that I will never be very good at handwriting or spelling.  That might sound a bit odd.  You might be thinking “But you`re a writer! You write books and if all goes well you will be writing for a living one day.  How can you do that if you can’t spell”. Well it`s easy.  We are in 2015 now – there are spell-checks on computers, and as I said above I can just talk, and have a lap-top write up my words for me.  Over the years most of my work was written by me dictating, and my Mum typing it up. Without her doing this I would not be where I am today.  The point is I will always find a way to write. I don’t have to be good at spelling or have neat hand writing to be able to write.  So I don’t feel the impact of my dyslexia much anymore, but that does not mean it`s not there – just that I can live with it now in a way I could not when I was younger.

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

January Meltdowns …..

Christmas and New Year have been fun, but also quite stressful.  I think however old you get, or however many strategies you put in to place, this time of year will always be difficult if you are autistic.  The amount of change and transition, plus the sensory issues means that Christmas and New Year can`t be anything other than a difficult time.  This doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable as well.

For me, I finished my first semester at university, and then had the change, and transition of Christmas and New Year.  All of these things together meant that my behaviour, and mood was affected quite severely.  I began to have more meltdowns than normal, and these also increased in severity.  I don’t think that this is uncommon at all among autistic people.  In fact, I think you would struggle to find someone who doesn’t get like this after Christmas, or during Christmas.

Early January can actually be the most difficult time because at least during December there are the positives of Christmas and New Year, so the good comes with the bad.  But January can be a pretty miserable month for people anyway – everything goes back to normal.  While this can be a positive thing, it is also not the easiest thing to deal with for anybody, let alone somebody with autism.  From my point of view it is even stranger as I don’t actually start university again until early February.  All my assignments are handed in so it is as if I have transitioned to another stage – it`s kind of a holiday, but not really.  I am not complaining about getting so much time off, it is just a little bit odd as I was just getting used to university, and I am sure that in some way this must have contributed to what`s been going on for me.

December is a strange time of year for people with autism and their families.  It is very positive and there is a lot of fun to be had – I am not trying to take away from this at all – but I also think it is the most difficult time of year.  I have written about why this might be previously, and I am sure everybody reading this will know anyway from personal experience, but for me early January has always been a bit more difficult.  It is harder to find the positive edge in all the changes and transitions that are going on, but it is possible.  It may be the case that some people are excited to get back to their old routine; may be they want to see friends they`ve not seen for a while?  There could be all kinds of positives to the transition back to everyday life, but it can still feel overwhelming.

The other thing to remember is that while meltdowns are not good – and it`s always best to ward them off, or at least resolve them quickly if possible – just because they get worse in January doesn’t mean that they will stay at this level for the rest of the year.  Things pass, and calm down.

In order to make sure things aren’t too much of a problems in December and January it is important to plan far in advance.  I think last year, may be because I am older, or simply because we were so busy, we didn’t put anywhere near as much planning in to Christmas and New Year, and the transition back to everyday life as we normally do.  And my Mum and I have both felt the effect of this.  We created strategies and techniques to make this transition easier, but for some reason we didn’t put them in to place this year.  My Mum was diagnosed with autism in the build-up to Christmas, so obviously this had quite a big impact on her life, and mine.  But one positive to come from this is that going forward in to Christmas and New Year this year, we can look at not only how it might affect me, but how it might affect Mum.  We both obviously struggle with these things.

What I am trying to say in this blog isn’t anything particularly negative; I just think that it`s important to make the point that things such as the stress created by change don’t simply go away as people with autism get older. Strategies and techniques are not things simply to be used in childhood and then left, especially for things like Christmas which only comes around once a year.  There is so much time in-between each event that the techniques and strategies need to begin afresh every time.  Even though we didn’t take our own advice for the Christmas and New Year just gone, hopefully some people reading this will have done, and had a more peaceful Christmas and New Year holiday than we did.  I wrote lots of articles and blogs in the lead-up to Christmas offering advice and tips that we know work – and we will certainly be using them next Christmas and New Year J Paddy-Joe

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To read some of my autism articles check out my author page http://www.autismdailynewscast.com/author/paddy-joe/

I have co-authored two autism books. Check them out J

http://www.jkp.com/uk/helping-children-with-autism-spectrum-conditions-through-everyday-transitions.html

http://www.jkp.com/uk/create-a-reward-plan-for-your-child-with-asperger-syndrome.html

Paddy-Joe Moran J

Results day.

Students always get incredibly stressed whenever it comes to results day because whatever level of education they are in, they are told that the results they get will have a massive impact on their future life, and career.  It would be silly to suggest that results don’t have some impact on your life, but the world is full of people who tried to do one thing, couldn’t and went away and did something else very well.

Obviously you want to get the best results possible, but the important thing is not to become overly stressed with this.  Especially for people with autism; a lot of benefits that can be gained from college, and university aren’t purely academic.  Often people can become much more social, and independent when they go in to higher education, and being able to go out by themselves and communicate with others can open up more doors than simply getting an academic qualification.  It also improves self-confidence.  People can often make good friends, and have a lot of good memories from their time in education.  Obviously this isn’t the only important element, but if somebody has struggled in making friends their whole life, and they come out of college with a close group of good friends, then they are doing a very good job – and that in itself is a massive achievement for them.

For example, I got good grades in college, but just as important as my grades was the fact that I was travelling independently nearly every day, and I was able to become more sociable, and make friends.  Of course I was pleased with my grades, but I simply saw them as a way of getting in to university.  I wasn’t particularly bothered about the academic element of the course.  If I hadn’t got the grades I needed for university though, I would have been able to re-take elements of the course to try to bump my grades up, or I could have left and taken some kind of vocational course.  I could have simply dropped out of education altogether, and gone in for a different kind of work.

 It is also worth pointing out that whatever stress teachers try to put on your shoulders, at eighteen you are still a teenager, and whether you get in to university or not, will not define you, or who you can be.  It all depends on your skill-set.  If you struggle to cope in college maybe going straight in to university is not the best thing you could do – why get yourself in to all that debt, and put yourself through all that stress when there are other options out there – other training programmes, courses, and jobs that may be much better suited to you?   I took a year off after college to focus on my writing, and if I hadn’t done that I probably wouldn’t have set up this blog, made the contacts I have, or be writing for on-line magazines and newspapers now.

The idea of staying in education until you are in your early twenties is only a recent thing for the majority of people.  This doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken up by anyone who wants to take it up, but no one should ever feel that it is the only option for them.  It is an option, and a good option, but the level of stress some people put themselves through when choosing this option is ridiculous – you’re still a teenager, so relax.  Even if you have to repeat a couple of years of college, and you are in your twenties when you go to university, it’s no big deal.  You are still young.  You can go to university at any time you want to in your life.  The idea of learning as much as you can by a certain age, and then going out and getting a job based on the knowledge you`ve accumulated over the past twenty one years, is redundant in today’s economy.  Anyway, education is a life-long thing.  The fact that you are not smart enough to do something aged eighteen doesn’t condemn you to a life-time of not being able to do things.  It just means that things might come a little more slowly, but you have to see the bigger picture – in forty or fifty years’ time, what will you care if you achieved something aged eighteen, or aged twenty?

There are all different kinds of education, and all different types of knowledge, and each of these can be put to use in one job or another.  Many of these forms of knowledge are not taught in colleges or universities, but that doesn’t make them, or their effect on your life, any less real.

 

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS? On Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762