I’ve just watched the BBC show Chris Packham: Aspergers and me. For those of a certain age, like me will have grown up with the seemingly odd Chris on The Really Wild Show, and of course a whole plethora of nature programs in the past 30 years. Unfortunately, I am sure many people will have missed this show and won’t get to see it because of BBCs dated licensing rules, here is a link just in case http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/42/chris-packham-aspergers-and-me.
At the end of 2015 I was diagnosed with Aspergers something which I knew a little about, but like most of the world not a great deal. We are all familiar with the extreme end of the spectrum. Everyone I have told about this have questioned the claim. I am high functioning, I am quite capable to communicate with people and I don’t seem autistic. Well that’s because I am as autistic as you are. We are all capable of displaying autistic traits.
The big difference between us is that some of the things that make me, me can cause me to stop functioning and when it happens to me it is on the whole disastrous.
Throughout my life I have found certain social scenarios difficult. I still vividly remember from the age of around 3 or 4 being forced, or that’s how it felt to go to birthday parties. They were always the same, loads of hyped up kids running around, loud noises, balloons, scratching around and then being popped, music, dancing, eating and on several distinct occasions clowns.
I would kick up a fuss, cry and scream and try to avoid having to stay, it rarely worked. My way of coping was to just eat anything in sight and then try find a quiet corner or the back of the group to position myself in.
Throughout primary school I really struggled to make friends, no the difference between right and wrong relationships with boys, girls, teachers. I had a few friends who came and went, literally leaving the country in one case and the county in another. After that I was a bit of a loose end. There was a girl who became my best friend and two boys who bullied me. That was pretty much my social capacity. I was the only kid I knew of at my school who had been given an entire week of lines at lunch time which was read “I must not say shit”. I had hand cramp for days and I never told my parents because the teacher made me feel I was in the wrong; maybe I was I don’t think 8yr olds are meant to say oh shit when they’re caught indoors when they’re meant to be in the playground.
Secondary school was much, much worse. By the time I left, with no qualifications to my name I had been suspended 3 times (a sheer fluke considering there was a 3 strike and out policy), one of those for assaulting a teacher (I threw a table at him in a hysterical panic), one for being beaten up (I know, it was exactly like Ice Hockey at my school), and one for arguing with a teacher who had a different opinion of whether or not Jesus Christ was white or not (not a chance, look at a map, which was in fact what I had made the teacher do).
I was put into a special needs class for two terms but they pulled me out because I could read, write and although it was (and still is) a struggle to do math I can add and subtract just fine. Therefore – nothing wrong with me, off you go back into society. Green tick. My main problem was authority, not in a rebellious sense that I am sure my teachers felt it was but because I just couldn’t understand why. Why did we have to learn about this, why did we have to learn about it in this way and critically my downfall, why did teachers have to abandon or ignore those in the class who needed help to focus on the ones that shouted the most.
I spent a large amount of time sat outside classrooms for being disruptive. Almost all of those instances, the definition of disruption was that I was helping whoever I was sat with to figure out how to answer the question, solve the problem et et et whilst they were ignored by the teacher.
Listening to Chris talk about his life, I could see so many similarities to the things he was explaining, or struggling to. I am not affected anywhere near to the same level as Chris, but many of those moments I felt, hard.
Over the last 20 years more research and understanding has been done to how we function and what are brains are doing day to day that make us behave, or react to things. I’ve met a few people who have had more experience of people with various learning difficulties, mental health challenges and live somewhere on the autistic spectrum.
I have learnt to detect behaviours that gave things away, and how to avoid certain situations. I’ll give you an example.
If you had met me anywhere between 1994 and 2008 you would have found me sat with a small group of friends (I can’t cope with groups of more than 5 people at a time) with my backpack on. It wasn’t until one of those friends confronted me and told me why she thought I always had this backpack on did I realise I had been doing it.
She knew that my bag was always empty. I wore it because it was a way of signalling that I was about to leave. It gave me the comfort of feeling that if I needed to escape I was prepared.
Now I don’t wear a backpack unless it has a function i.e. I have a load of stuff I need to take somewhere.
I’ve lost friends and jobs because of harsh attitudes and matter of factness that is considered rude or offensive. But it is just how I see things. I’ve tried, so, so very hard to mask these things but it is exhausting and has resulted in having several breakdowns in the last decade.
One year I spent 5 weeks in bed.
We all have behavioural traits that could be connected to Asperger syndrome, and or autism. Ever noticed a colleague tap their ear when they think? How about someone who cannot look you in the eye whenever they talk, even if it is just two of you in the room? Outbursts of aggressive speech? It’s all possible.
Like anything I write, and here’s another trait, I get distracted, go down a route I wasn’t expecting, and I find it difficult to stop talking because I am not sure where my brain is going. I’ll leave this here, I only meant to say thank you to the production company, BBC for airing the programme and to Chris Packham for being so open and honest with his story and giving me a little more courage to write something myself, even if it does make zero sense.
Also published on Medium.