Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Autistic gifts

You know how they say some autistic people have special gifts - some special skill that is extremely rare?  Well, I wasn't sure if I had any.  But I recently discovered mine.  This was how.

I was in the car with my friend, going ice-skating.  She told me that her daughter was ill, but that she herself wasn't.  But I could smell illness in the car all around her.  I figured, oh, this is just very strong because it's an enclosed space.  Later, at the ice rink, I skated up to her and got a really big whiff of ill-smell - in a massive ice-rink with lots of air and other people around to dissipate it.  So I said, "excuse me, you're definitely ill, who are you kidding on - it's not just your daughter".

My friend (who's a GP) looked surprised and asked me how I knew.  I said because I can smell it.  She told me that it wasn't normal to be able to smell illness.  I was completely surprised - I thought everyone could do it.  I smelled the same smell that I used to when my sister was off sick from school and spent the day lying on the couch, so I'd learned that was the smell of illness.

Last weekend, at a party, my friend told me she had the lurgy.  I got a whiff of her breath and knew that she was telling the truth - she smelled pretty ill.  I told another friend that I could smell her illness and it became a big topic of amusement, with lots of people reacting in a pretty astonished way.

Well, pretty cool, eh? I never knew it was a special gift because I assumed everyone could smell illnesses!  I can't smell every illness - e.g. I can't smell colds or cancer.  I don't know what it is that I'm smelling - a virus, a bacteria, a body's reaction to these, or some sort of substance produced in response?

But, of all the possible gifts and amazing autistic talents out there, I did wonder - could I not have got something a little more useful or spectacular?!? 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The escalating child!

Shortly after my diagnosis, I was at an autism teacher training event, being run by an autism professional I knew.  I was there to contribute my tuppence worth. 

We were having lunch and we were joined at our table by one of the teachers receiving the training.  The conversation went along the lines of how difficult it was to tell I'm autistic.  So, I told this little story as an example:

I'm in the ground floor of a clothing store, walking towards an escalator.  I'm quite close to the foot of the escalator.  I see a small child get onto the bottom of the escalator by mistake.  Her mother, who is looking at clothes, doesn't notice.  The child tries to walk back off the escalator, but doesn't quite manage it.  I watch in fascination as I see the rate of travel of the escalator upwards is just a bit faster than the rate of travel of the child, trying to get off the escalator.  The child stumbles a bit, and starts to get carried up the escalator.  I feel sorry for the child, who is starting to get distressed.  The thought enters my mind (clunk, click) that maybe I should do something, but I don't know what. 

At that moment, another woman runs up from behind me, leaps onto the bottom of the escalator, grabs the now-wailing child by the hand, walks down the up-escalator faster than the escalator is going up, dragging the child.  The child goes back to her mother, still crying.  Suddenly, there is a swarm of women around, and a lot of high pitched cooing noises.  Everyone, including me, feels happy and relieved that the child is rescued.  But someone is feeling something other than purely happy.  A woman's voice, from just behind me declares in an acid tone of voice:  "And some people were just standing there, not doing anything!".  I know that's directed at me.  My happiness vanishes and I go up the escalator, feeling guilty, crushed and criticised.  I start to think that I must be a horrible person.
After some time feeling yuck, I figure it out.  I wasn't delighting in the child's predicament.  I felt sorry for the child.  But I didn't know what to do.  I never grab strangers' children who I don't know in a public place.  I have no experience of going down an upwards escalator, and I'm not sure if I'd be quick enough to manage it.  If I had been quick enough at thinking to get on and grab the child, perhaps both of us would be swept up to the top, with me then looking like I'm kidnapping the child!  Okay, so I was unjustly criticised and I don't need to feel guilty.  But I still did feel pretty terrible and I felt upset for quite some time afterwards. 

The autism professional that I'm with then turns to the teacher and says something explanatory about how my (lack of) response was different than what non-autistic people would expect.

The teacher then asks me:  "How old was the child?"

I reply:  "Maybe about 3 years old".

The teacher then says:  "Oh, well, if it was 3 years old, then I wouldn't have bothered about that child at all.  Children don't really get interesting until they're about 5 or 6, so I would have been quite happy to ignore the child."

My eyebrows promptly shot up to my forehead. Well!  I at least did care about the child - I just didn't know what to do!  But here is someone stating the quite controversial view that she didn't care and wouldn't have bothered about the child at all, without seeming to be aware that (a) her not caring was unusual, and (b) stating to us that she didn't care was controversial and socially unusual because people would be likely to condemn her for lack of compassion.  I suddenly felt a lot less guilty.

I respond to the teacher with interest and curiosity as I start to suspect that the teacher is also an aspie.  I restrain myself, with some difficulty, from saying what I'm thinking.  The autism professional later told me (after the woman had left) that she was thinking the same thing and was really hoping that I wasn't going to blurt it out and tell the teacher how she is at least as autistic as I am!

Lesson 1 for the world - aspies are everywhere!!!  Even in the audience of professionals that are learning about autism!

Lesson 2 for the world - please stop being judgemental!  Judgement is wrong (yes, I know, that's also a judgement!)