Sunday, 20 October 2013

New Years' resolutions?!

New Years' resolutions...I used to think this tradition a fairly strange thing one.

Looking back on the year gone by was something I could understand, but only then really looking at what you could change and possibly do better made no sense whatsoever.
Why would you wait for one moment in time in which to be truly critical about your actions in life?
Why not endeavor to do this throughout the year?
As far as I know, I have always tried to be aware of how I can improve myself, no matter what time of the year I find myself in. Why wait? Life can be so short. I am reminded of this again and again when I watch the daily reports showing people who have lost their lives because of senseless violence. We do not know when our time on this earth will be over and the start of a new journey will begin.

Then something happened to me. I received extremely good news regarding my health. It was only that I realised how much the waiting had been holding me back in an area of my life.

I now finally understand why the end of the year can be so important in making changes in life.
I don't know which is more important, the almost magical transition of a new year which gives us a chance to reflect, or the hope that a new start is within our grasp.
Transition or hope? I liken that moment of receiving my good news to the moment Big Ben strikes twelve.
The feeling you experience of finally feeling able to see new possibilities. New ways in which we can move forward, try new things, put ourselves out there.
Maybe this all boils down to the willingness to take a risk? Risks mean that there has to be an element of fear. Whether it be fear of failure, fear of making a fool out of ourselves or a failure to realise a dream we hold dear.
I am not waiting for the clock to strike twelve. Risks are the spice of life after all!
All you can do is try to limit the dangers you may encounter and accept that wanting to move forward in life may mean that you end up taking two steps back.

So the real question is, am I prepared to take the risk?
I will answer that question with another.

How can you not be prepared to move forwards?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Thriving on the Spectrum

I find myself with a rather large dilemma.

After being asked to participate in the 2012 Awares international autism conference I of course looked through the 44 people that would also be taking part. I am happy to admit that I was more than impressed with the online company I would be keeping, but also healthily intimidated.
You cannot help but consider why your name should be included on such a list.  
This therefore leads me to ask the questions; why should someone find what I have to say interesting and what makes me so different?

 Differences force us apart from the rest of the world and yet pull us all together. It is a complicated and wonderful contradiction. I could reel off a list of possible things that make me different from you. However, as we are taking part in a conference on autism, the most logical 'difference' that sets me apart is just that.
I received my diagnosis at the end of 2008, a day that I will never forget. I embraced this change in my reality because I was ready to, even though I could not have foreseen the many consequences it would bring. The knowledge I have since accumulated about myself, my personal version of autism and the people around me is priceless. A gift that I would never return.
Yet for every advantage there will always be a disadvantage. That disadvantage is one that is becoming increasingly apparent each year that goes by.

I started off living life in my reality. When that reality came crashing down I entered a time of crisis and knew it was necessary to start my journey of discovery. I lived in a world of permanent fog which sometimes faded into a mist, but never fully cleared. The day Dr.Cees Kan uttered the magical word “autism” was the day the sun came out and cleared that persistent fog.
Finally I could again move forward in life.
However, once you have opened up the pandora's box containing that awareness, it becomes impossible to turn back time. I found myself moving away from the world I thought I knew, to one only I could discover.

The feeling of always walking slightly out of sync with the rest of the world is one I feel comfortable with. After all, I was taught to embrace being different and to enjoy being unique. Having an artist for a father will (thankfully) do that to you!
Yet now I find myself in a sort of no-man's land.
The world as I know it has changed. The world of autism is one in which I have not yet fully found my footing.

So where do I belong?

This question is, I believe, at the heart of every human being. We define ourselves through things such as our families, our jobs, our religion and our relationships to name just a few.
I define myself through myself, not the world around me. This is shaking my world as the 'self' that existed prior to my diagnosis, no longer exists in that form.

My former 'self' grew up in Wales in idyllic surroundings. My father was Head of Art at Atlantic College, a college for 16 to 18 yr old students who came from all over the world to study for two years. They came together to not just learn from the teachers, but also to learn from each other.
The world I was brought up in taught me to embrace differences and to enjoy and anticipate change. New faces arrived each year. New languages echoed across the campus. New students found my childhood hidey-holes and forced me to be more creative.
And yet some things stayed consistent. The seasons came and went, student faces always changed and yet the castle environment always stayed the same. I believe this introduction to change within such a safe environment meant that I was better able to prepare myself for the abstract life concepts I would later encounter.

I naturally seek to become aware of the consistent aspects in my life.
My three cats and dog make my house into a home and force me to be aware of the surrounding world.
My dog Kaya has helped me in countless ways and accompanies me wherever I go, even when I work. She becomes at those moments the center of my universe and provides me with the consistency I look for in life. She helps to reduce the negative consequences of having autism. I recently traveled without her and was amazed at the positive impact she has had on that part of my life.  
As I am writing this, all three cats are lying on the sofa next to me with Kaya curled up on my lap. How can you not appreciate the world when you are surrounded by so much life (and love)?

In answer to the question 'where do I belong', it is moments like this when I know exactly where I belong. Even though I have not yet found the balance, these moments where everything clicks into place are beginning to happen more often.
After discovering that autism was the key to understanding essential parts of myself, I focused my attention on getting to know the parts of me that had been buried for so long. With the help of my autism coach, my eyes were opened as to how many different strategies I had developed and why they had not worked anymore prior to my diagnosis. We worked towards getting to know the positive and negative sides to my autism which were, and still are, exacerbated by my physical disability.

Unfortunately my back has decided to age faster than the rest of me, which causes me chronic pain. When you go over the limits your body sets for you, it of course makes total sense that you will pay for this in some way whether it be tiredness, getting more easily sick or having some form of pain.
Due to the autism, I nearly always go over the limits my brain wants to set for itself and this causes a knock-on effect of causing stress and therefore the weakest place in your body getting the brunt of it. This would, in my case, be my back.

The threat of pain forces me to be constantly aware of having to keep a certain amount of balance in my life. Keeping a balance means that I cannot afford to let myself fully go in my autistic ways. An interesting dilemma!
This means making sure I use the life skills and coping techniques I have available to me to keep my autism more under control. I am especially aware of the amount of energy this costs me but I have accepted this fact of life for the most part.

I will never let myself be controlled by my autism but I will also never deny it or the problems it causes me. Denying that what also makes me strong can only make me weaker. The difficulties with my back could only be seen as something negative. Yet it is teaching me to be aware of how I and my body feel. I of course do not always get this right. However, I do not think that I would have been able to learn the skill of quickly implementing lessons learnt into daily life had this not been the case.       

In regards to my diagnosis, if I had not embraced and learnt from it, I would not be doing the things I am doing today. I give lectures and workshops about autism since 2009 and also take photographs for a living.
Contradictions to what most people would expect a person with autism to be doing in their lives.
I have my own business, Post Productions which involves a ridiculous amount of organizational skills. Skills that I am still developing and perfecting with the help of my two autism coaches as well as my business coach. Due to the work I am doing with my autism coaches, I am now more able to recognize the moments when I should ask for help. This has a positive knock-on effect on my productivity within my business. As I wrote earlier, every advantage has a disadvantage, and vice versa.
A member of the public at one of my lectures recently asked me if I would want to be 'cured' of my autism. As I am sure you can imagine, I first had to take a deep breath before answering. I proceeded to tell the lady that had I not been able to communicate and trapped in my own world, yes, you might use the word 'cure'. That is not a life I would wish for anyone, whether it be because of autism or for another reason.

In my case, no, I would not want to have my autism stripped from me. It is true that autism is a large contributing factor to making my life more challenging and sometimes downright tiring. And yes, there are days when I am fed-up, exhausted and wonder where I am going to find the energy to get up in the morning. It is also true that I not only have autism to contend with on a brain function level, but a physical disability to contend with body-wise.

Which one of these limits me more in my mind? Which one would I label a disability and limitation? I choose my back every time.
The lady looked surprised. Shocked that I had not conformed to her opinion whilst able to give clear reasons for why I would not choose to be 'cured'. I made sure to explain that I was not in any way against the scientific community looking for why autism happens in the human brain. The shear scale of the spectrum is reason enough for research to happen in that field.
I would not want to loose that part of myself, the good and the bad. But this is because I am capable of setting goals for myself in life and reaching them, whereas a lot of people with autism get stuck in the making of plans and not getting any further than this. I learn from my mistakes and actively confront myself with my weaknesses in order to further my knowledge and grow.

I think the more important question is, 'would I have not wanted to receive the diagnosis?'

My answer to this is a resounding no. The process of diagnosis happened because it was necessary from my point of view. Had I not had one, I would have stayed stuck in a monotone, problem solving state of mind where I would have missed the capacity to see alternative solutions.
The world might be difficult and sometimes impossible to decode, but it is a wonderful and magical place. I doubt I would see the magic in such a clear manner were I not so obviously confronted by my strengths and weaknesses on such a frequent basis.
This is something I would not change for the world.

'Autism is my gift, not a restriction.'

The Voice

The 'Voice'


The last few months have been a challenging time for me.

I have had to accept that sometimes, even when everything seems to fall into place as if it was meant to be, things still don't always work out the way I had expected.

I have always followed the little voice inside me, also known as your gut feeling. Whenever I heard that voice, I knew whatever the outcome; I would be making the right choice. The word 'fail' did not truly enter my vocabulary after this feeling. If what I expected did not happen, I would then rationalise that it was therefore not meant to be or I needed to learn something from if it had not worked. Had I been religious, I would have chalked it up to a higher power trying to teach me a valuable life lesson.

Experiencing this feeling was my way of knowing when I'd chosen the right path to follow. Now, for the first time, my inner voice had failed me. I am, even now, still reeling from the confusion and heartache this has caused.

I choose to first see the potential in people, not their faults. Apparently I have high expectations of people around me. I know this because friends, family and even my autism coaches have told me. When I look from my own perspective, I see how I measure others against what I expect of myself. A simple concept such as wanting to challenge myself to the extreme, distorts my view on how I interpret the behavior of the people around me.

When I see someone not pushing themselves to the level I push myself, my first instinct is to push for them. I came to a breakthrough a few months ago where I faced the distinct possibility of loosing a good friend through the pressure I put on him. Even though my initial reflex was to help in this way, I realised that I was forgetting to look at the person.


As a wise man once told me, your greatest advantage in life can also be your greatest disadvantage. This life rule of following my gut feeling, that had never failed me before, had now, for the first time, turned into my greatest disadvantage.

If you look at someone you love for example, and see how much potential they have, are you really seeing the reality of who that person actually is at this moment in time?

I have had to learn the hard way that this is not the case. You are superimposing another reality, your reality, onto this person.

Some of you might be reading this and think, ah, this is her lack of theory of mind that all people with autism supposedly have. However, when you really think about it, how often do you truly see the person standing in front of you?

We colour our world and the people in it with our own perception. We might hope that our children will have better lives then we did. Yet when you look at this example, who are we to say what will make our children’s' lives better...for one parent that would be growing up without money issues, for another getting a good education (i.e. college or university) and for someone else it might be the hope that their child will just be happy.

However, these hopes are all subjective. Your reality and opinions are coloured by your past experiences. Maybe you did not get to go to university but really wanted to. Or maybe you grew up in a household where money was scarce and you experienced the stress that goes hand in hand with that.

The other person has not had these experiences: you have. When we come to the subject of happiness, well, that is the most subjective idea of all. One persons' version of happiness can be another persons' version of hell. It is all a matter of perception.

So don't we all sometimes have difficulty with theory of mind?

I just have more chance of putting my foot in it if I get stuck in my idea of what would be the best path for someone to follow. Then again, if you watch the reality series' that are very popular at the moment for example; 'Toddlers and Tiara's' (where children take part in beauty pageants in America), the majority of children there obviously want to be doing something else rather than practicing how to walk, smile and turn. I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually seen a child who obviously thrived and loved to practice, perform and take part. The number of times I heard mothers' say with a smile on their face, 'I wish I had been able to participate in beauty pageants when I was her age' or 'I'm living through my daughter', can be counted on more than two hands.

If that isn’t an argument for looking at the similarities instead of the differences, then I don’t know what is.

So, if I see the potential of who someone can be as my reality, but am not able to link two versions of reality in order to get an authentic view, how can I rely on my gut feeling?

The answer is, I can't.


What is possibly one of the biggest problems in life if you have autism? In my opinion, it is the feeling of doubt. What happens when someone is unsure about something? You get stressed!

People with autism live with stress on a daily basis. Going through life with high levels of stress causes our mind and body to live in a constant fight or flight mode. One of the rules I had put into place to help cope or sometimes even totally avoid stress had failed me. This caused me to re-evaluate my rule of following my gut feeling and I came to a shocking epiphany!

If our gut feeling is coloured by our life experiences, and had worked for me for so long, what had changed?

My age. I was older.

I have grown, seen more, felt more and learned more. The Monique I am today is not the Monique from 15 years ago, or even from 4 years ago.

The younger you are, the less experiences you've had which distort the 'voice'. Therefore the older we get, the greater the chance that the voice will be distorted by everything we are experiencing in life.

Will I now have to dig harder through the layers life has built up to hear my true gut feeling again? Will it be more difficult to hear the voice in all areas' of my life in general or only my personal life when emotions are involved?

I have no answer to those questions at this moment in time.

My hope is that I will discover the answers quickly, but as my sense of time is pretty dreadful, I know that it may take longer than I expect.

This is a human problem, not an autistic one. It would be too easy for me to pass this off as a side effect of autism itself. Yet I do see it as a response to my autistic way of thinking.

I have spent years developing ways in which to survive and thrive in the world. I have done this because of autism. It makes total sense that these ways will also have to adapt and change as I myself do.

So what is the difference between the present and the years before my diagnosis? It is that I am now fully aware.

Awareness is like opening Pandora's Box. Once you open your eyes to it, you will never be able to close them again. I have sometimes found myself envying a person with autism who has not yet had that awareness. Yet had I not opened my eyes, or had them opened for me, I would not be doing what I'm doing today.

My work is based on having this awareness.

There is a balance to everything in life. The Chinese figured it out and have shown it so beautifully with their yin and yang symbol. Even in this, there must be balance.

I find myself asking, how many people in this world are truly aware?



Monique Post 2013

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Lezing over autisme en vrouwen!

Monique Post (@MoniquePost1) tweeted at 4:49 PM on Tue, May 21, 2013: Aankondiging voor lezing over autisme en vrouw-zijn bij Lunetzorg, Eindhoven, 29 Mei, 19.30-21.00.
Iedereen is welkom! (

Thursday, 4 April 2013

So, tonight is going to be debut for a live online interview for the week of autism.
Exciting! The theme is autism and women, a subject that I am fairly qualified to speak about seeing as how I'm a woman with autism ;-)
I've been collecting views of other women on the spectrum and it has been fascinating to see how everyone has, pretty much, the same view about why autism is often not as easily recognized in women. Why we first get diagnoses focusing on either the consequences of autism (depression) or a wrong diagnosis such as Borderline.
It is frightening to realise that had I first had a diagnosis of Borderline, I would have accepted it. Yet the treatment/s are exactly the opposite to what someone with autism needs.

Can you imagine what state your brain will be in by the time you've gotten the correct information?!
No wonder women with autism have a high rate of depression, especially people who have had conflicting diagnoses!

One of the questions I'm going to be asked tonight is, 'do I think that autism is more of a challenge for women than for men.'
Can you imagine how arrogant it would be for me to say, yes, it's much more of a challenge...It is not worse or heavier, it is different. We have different challenges to men, but I would never say that those challenges weigh heavier compared to challenges men with autism face.
It's easy to think that way though. When you look at the expectations society has of women, the amount of different 'jobs' women are expected to be able to handle and how much we are expected to be verbally strong...then yes, it's easy to think 'we have it much harder'.
But look at what men have to face. Society expects men to not verbalize how they feel, to show no weakness in any area (apart from at home with your about confusing!) and be dominant+ successful if possible.
I know a lot of men with autism who are very sensitive, whose emotions are extremely near the surface, who don't like to play the social 'game' (if they see it and understand the game rules that is) and who are fairly timid+ careful.
So no, auti men do not have it 'easier' at all.

Comparing our differences is necessary I suppose when it comes to the science part of how we are different to men...but in daily life I'd rather be looking at the similarities.
When we keep focusing on differences, we don't open our minds to connect on a deeper level. This is a big danger that we have to be aware of as people with autism, but also as human beings.
We need to get over the 'different' aspect, and focus on who the person is. Who the essence of that person is. Only then will we learn to connect to the world around us and care about what happens to others.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

There is more in you than you think!

Our world is seriously amazing. Let me start off by stating that fact.

I recently watched an amazing BBC wildlife documentary about whales and the filmmakers who risk their lives to learn more about these graceful giants of the deep. I grew up watching these types of documentaries and the narrating voice of Sir David Attenborough can, even now, still send me back to my childhood days and a feeling of total security.

I love animals and find them fascinating beings. I think I have always felt a greater affinity towards animal-kind rather than human-kind. The words used to define our species felt so wrong to me.

Human-kind? When I begun to realize that I felt different to the outside world, kind would not have been a word that I would have associated with human.

But let me first tell you about where I grew up. This place has had a defining effect on the person I am today. I am the daughter of an artist, Marten Post, who was Head of Art at the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales. I grew up living on a campus where more than 350 students from 16 to 18 years of age from more than 80 different nations lived together, studied together and worked together. Students come from a wide spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and creeds and many are accepted based on full scholarships.

The United World College (UWC) movement was inspired by a man called Kurt Hahn, an inspirational educator who believed in the innate ability in each child to make correct judgments about moral issues, no matter the situation they come from. He believed in education which called forth and developed the deepest qualities of character and compassion. After witnessing the First World War, this conviction only became stronger.

The UWC concept was conceived in the 1950’s at the height of the Cold War. Hahn believed that students aged between 16 and 18 would be grounded in their own cultures but still be impressionable enough to learn from one other. So much could be done to overcome religious, cultural and racial misunderstanding and avoid future conflicts if young people could be brought together.

I therefore grew up in an environment where differences were celebrated, compassion and helping others was the norm, your own personal responsibility and integrity was vitally important and where you were enveloped by a sense of idealism…one person can change the world.

The beautiful natural environment I grew up in was my reality. The celebration of being different was my ‘norm’. And then there was the outside world. Whilst looking back and examining my childhood, I realized something vitally important. I grew up in a society which was totally unrealistic when compared to the outside world. Whenever I left the safety of the college walls, say to go to school, I was confronted by a world in which differences were frowned upon and laughed at, compassion was few and far between and idealism was something that was practically non-existent in my fellow students.

At a young age I became very aware of my personal preference for which world I found to be the right one. And then I set about trying to bring some of that world into the outside one. I started up a school newspaper when I was 8yrs old, persuaded friends of my mothers’ to bake cakes to sell to college students and raise money for a local dogs home, and after seeing a children’s’ program about how African children were losing their sight because they could not afford eye surgery, I set up a stand at a crafts fair to raise money for the appeal.

I took to heart the concept of personal responsibility and tried to pass this onto others through my enthusiasm for life.

This taught me that it was possible to help people to care and have compassion for others.

But, I realize that my childhood concepts of compassion did not start off with humans, but with animals. I’ve always had a sense of right and wrong and hate it when I see an injustice happening, especially when the other being cannot speak out for themselves. Animals encounter this problem on a daily basis. We all know that. What I am saying is nothing new.

But I strongly believe that because I grew up with pets and animals around me, I was introduced to this hugely complicated concept ‘compassion’ in a way in which I could begin to understand it. If an animal cannot in the face of wrongdoing speak out for itself, then that is wrong. This concept transfers easily to humanity. If a human being is not able, for whatever reason, to speak out for him or herself in the face of wrongdoing, then that is not right. This may sound too simple, but I find the strongest concepts often are. Sometimes things in life are just that simple.

Compassion for another is one of the simplest concepts of the world, but one which can cause the most destruction if ignored.

So I leave you with a quote from Kurt Hahn, “there is more in you than you think”.

 And remember, one person can change the world. Now let’s go do that!

Unexpected Lessons

I was recently asked my opinion about the case of a Dutchman with autism who had received a jail sentence after publishing fairly vile and rude Twitter messages about the Queen of the Netherlands. I'll call him the Twitter guy.

The more I looked into this story, the more I realised the intricacies of the case. You see, Twitter guy had already received two official warnings for sending threat letters to the Prime Minister and another event and was therefore on probation.
His four month prison sentence was based on all of these events and also took his autism diagnosis into account; otherwise he would have received a longer sentence according to a judge.

A few weeks later I heard the news that Gary McKinnon was not to be extradited to the USA because of hacking into 97 military and NASA computers causing over $700,000 of damage. This decision took the government 10 years to make. 10 years of waiting. 10 years of his life on hold. 10 years of fear of being 'fried', as some clever soul in the American press wrote.
Again, the diagnosis of autism had been taken into account. Mr. McKinnon has always acknowledged that what he did was technically against the law, though possibly in his mind, the means justified the end. He does acknowledge that he will be punished.

If I were the US government I would be employing Mr.McKinnon to find all the loopholes in their supposedly 'secure' firewall systems! He has proved that they are there and that he can find them. But then that would be out of the box thinking. Unfortunately something that is not that common in government.

A week after this news, a poignant and emotional documentary aired on Dutch television called 'The Rules of Matthijs'. A filmmaker and best friend of Matthijs filmed him during the breakdown of the world around him after loosing his house which resulted in his consequent suicide.

Unfortunately the documentary is in Dutch and has, as of yet, not been translated into English. Keep your eye out for it in the future as I'm sure this will happen due to the many awards it has so far received.
The judge who decided he was to lose his house said something that chilled me to the bone,’ you are hiding behind your autism.'

That a judge can say this in this day and age shocks me. Yet maybe I shouldn't be so shocked?
This sentence fits in with so many questions I'm often asked, such as 'but you don't look autistic', or 'what problems do you have then, I don't see any.'

Notice that these are more statements than questions. I truly don't mind if someone asks me how my autism works or what the advantages and disadvantages are.
Stating that I don't “look” autistic and then waiting for my response, means I actually have to defend myself. Something that I have vowed not to do.

Explain? Yes. Defend? Never.

Now what do these three cases have in common?
Obviously the diagnosis of autism is the connecting factor, and the fact that they have all had associations with the legal system.
Twitter guy was out of work, depressed and got drunk when he did the things he did.
Gary McKinnon only received a diagnosis after a viewer saw a TV interview in 2008 and contacted his lawyers saying he should get checked out. After 6 years of legal proceedings, he received an official diagnosis compounded by clinical depression.
Matthijs took his own life because the world as he knew it did not exist anymore. Depression was also a part of his reality for which he took medication.

As I'm writing, I'm starting to feel quite uncomfortable.
(And yes, I am going old school and am using a simple pen and paper! My local bookstore/café has decided to ban all laptops, see text:

'Nope, no WiFi. This is a place for talking and drinking coffee. Please leave your laptops in your bag and take a break. Say hi to your neighbour. Emails can wait'
Auti-friendly or what? I did state the fact that there was no other customers and therefore had no neighbours to talk to; to which the owner replied,'what about your dog?' He has a good sense of humour. I might have a chihuahua, but I am not one of those freaky people that have monologues with their dogs! :-) Pen and paper it is then!  )

But back to feeling uncomfortable. Why is this feeling bubbling under the surface?

A lawyer will use anything that will help his or her client. A diagnosis of autism apparently seems to encourage the use of diminished responsibility.
This raises questions in my mind. Should a person with autism be seen as different and therefore be judged less severely having committed a crime?

I argue in my lectures that people with autism should indeed be viewed as different but not less that someone without autism. However, I also do argue that everyone should be seen as different.
There is no 'normal'. That is, in my opinion, an illusion people create to feel safe.
There are however accepted behaviours and rules that the majority have to abide by.

So if I agree that people with autism should be judged differently, what then makes me feel so uneasy?
I think it is because I see the next logical step. Let's take a hypothetical situation.

Say there's a woman who has no official diagnosis but knows she has autism. Her life is perfectly organised and she is fully in control. She does not need to acknowledge her autism, because in her opinion she doesn't experience any problems related to it. After all, if someone is totally independent, can design their life to the tiniest detail, is self employed and has a supportive family, why would they need a diagnosis?

But then she becomes involved with the legal system and her lawyers tell her it would be to her advantage to have a formal diagnosis. She follows their advice and does so.

A step further has been taken. The person has effectively used their diagnosis to their advantage. Whether this did effect her behaviour or not, the important concept is that the person does not believe this. Fortunately I have not heard of this happening in reality, but it seems only a matter of time.
I see a dangerous parallel to daily life. I will never use autism as an excuse for not having done something, or for having done something for that matter.

It can be a reason, but never an excuse.

Why you may be asking?
Because this opens up a massive squirming can of worms. If someone with autism manipulates their surroundings and uses it as an excuse, you set a precedent for how the surrounding will judge the next person with autism that comes along.

Maybe that next person has not got the ability to verbalise their thought processes and so they are judged unfairly. Or as the judge in the case of Matthijs said, they will be seen as 'hiding behind their autism.'
None of us can afford to encourage this way of thinking as it is
not only for our own good, but for the good of the next generation of people with autism.

Home 2011

A place of safety, a place of peace,
a place where I can finally find my own release
of the feelings I have which scare me so much,
the ones I hardly ever let touch.
The silent watcher, inside of my mind,
the one which I let nobody find.
Pill popping, a daily theme,
pushing down the screaming pain within,
Asking myself the question of life,
Is it really worth it, this daily strife?
But then I look down at their golden eyes,
My silent friends, the ones that are always there,
that in their own way really do care.
What to do to make myself feel good?
I would do all those things if only I could,
One day I know, that time will come
until then, I'll wait, and just try to have fun.

Autism and Art

I recently watched a documentary about a young girl of four called Marla Olmstead and her almost prodigy-wise ability to paint at a level that did not fit her age. I watched with disbelief and a great deal of skepticism. Something in the documentary struck me in a more profound manner than her ability to paint in a way far beyond my means.

An art critic spoke about the concept of Modernism and how we often react to artwork in that category. He said that unfortunately, if a piece of art does not seem to explain itself or is transparent in what it’s trying to achieve then the art is often seen as inherently bad. It is the work of art’s fault that we don't understand it, not our own. 

This struck a cord in me. I have never heard such a beautiful analogy of what people with autism so often have to cope with in their lives. If the person with autism cannot explain themselves, or are not transparent in the way the viewer expects or demands, it is often seen as the persons' fault. Not the viewers'.

I experienced my diagnosis as a blessing with the positive aspects massively outweighing the negatives i.e. people often see the term autism as a label. I have always felt different, as if the world was not made for me but have always known that I would find the answer to why I felt this way. I have of course had my dark moments, like so many others who get a diagnosis later in life. Those moments will never leave me. I will never be able to forget. But, I do not see this as a bad thing.

They help remind me of how strong I am and how I should never accept anything less than what I am capable of.

As an artist, these moments only help to color my work. They have helped me reach greater emotional depths within emotions that none of us really want to have to face in life. As I progress with my artistic development, I find myself asking the question that many artist's ask themselves; how does my creative process work and is it any different to that of other artists'? However, my question now has an added dimension to it; the dimension of autism.

How is my creative process different to that of an artist without autism?

My brain is wired differently, that much is almost certain within the medical community. Could this be my answer? I don't think so. I think that this is almost a necessity for someone who aims to be an artist! Whether it be on the level of actual genetics, how you choose to interpret the world or how your mind chooses to see it.

I don't want to go too deep into the semantics of it, but needless to say, you view the world in a different way and feel the need to communicate this 'other' view.

I suppose I could say I don't have a choice in how I see the world. There is no on or off button that I can use when details almost physically jump out at me (not handy if ​you're already vertically challenged!) or when the sunlight gets too bright. But then I'm sure if the artist Edvard Munch was standing over my shoulder he would debate this with me. Pointing out that when he experienced the moment upon which 'The Scream' is based, he had no choice but to hear the scream of nature as the sun was setting during an evening walk.

So if it is not my brain’s wiring or my choice in how I see the world, what could be the difference...if any?

What do I use to facilitate my creative process?


When I am in my studio, working through the hundreds of images I have shot and selecting those that have most potential, I often listen to music. And recently, I have become aware of a certain pattern in how I go about my work. Depending on my mood or on the emotion I want to convey with the image I am working on, I will play music that will call up that required emotion. Now we are all aware of how music affects us; good or bad, happy or sad.

But I seem to have taken it a step further. Emotions are frightening, weird, unsure random concepts that can be good and bad all at the same time. Or at least that's what they are in my world.

How can I then imbue my artwork with the emotion I want it to convey?

By playing music that will open up the door/s to that specific emotion or collection of emotions. The depth of the image changes through the emotional depth the music calls up in me.

I do not dictate what the end result is going to be, but I am actively seeking to control in some small way what is going to come out of the creative process. This is something that many artists try to do.

My autism is therefore enabling me to achieve this in an almost intuitive and effortless way. Now if that's not an advantage of having autism, I don't know what is!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Rather no help then bad help!

The words I've chosen to use in the title of this blog entry might cause alot of disagreement and/or discussion.
Good! That is exactly the right thing to be doing when deciding on whether you can support a statement someone is making. I have met so many people with autism, young and old, where receiving the wrong help has meant the only option left open to them has been to close themselves off for all help, good or bad.
Receiving bad help is damaging to the extreme.

I think that there is one essential thing that people without autism often forget, even the very best of health professionals.
Opening up to someone about the difficulties you encounter in life, whatever they may be, is not the same as someone talking about their daily problems. It's one thing to experience them yourself but quite another to actually verbalise them. Turning those thoughts into words make them even more real then they were before.
We all know the saying 'admitting you have a problem with something is the first step'.
I disagree with this in my case and for many other persons' with autism. The first step was going through the pain of not knowing what the hell was going on.
Getting to the stage where you actually verbalised your thoughts is equivalent, I feel, to abseiling down a cliff.
Why you say?
Well, you know how hard the rocks are beneath you as you've experienced falling over before. The cliff face is just as hard, easy for you to cut your hands on whilst trying to find a safe way down. Then think of all those rocks that looked so sturdy and safe that you thought could be used as a handhold, but who crumbled under your touch.
Last but not least, the rope. Something that looks so delicate and yet can support so much; assuming that it is going to function like a rope should function that is.
The key to getting down that cliff face safely is the rope.
What if it had been overstretched? What if it had been called upon too many times and had started to fray?
What if the rope was the wrong rope for the job but wanted to help so badly that it ignored the feeling?
Health professionals are our ropes and yet if they fail us, even with the best of intentions, the results are potentially the same. We crash onto the rocks, pick ourselves up and vow never to go abseiling again.
Yet we might miss out on an amazing future experience because of a previous one they went wrong. Worse of all, the next person who wants to help is going to have to move mountains to get him or her to trust them, and that's before you even start the process of helping someone.
Just getting them to the top of the cliff is a journey in itself. In this society, where everything has to go so quickly (including in the health profession because time is money and there's only going to be less of that in the future!), who are the ones going to suffer?
Maybe we need to take a step back and just take a moment to realise the enormity of the task at hand, as health professionals, family members and people with a diagnosis.
So yes, I'd rather have had no help then bad help. Thankfully I haven't had much bad help, but I'm still working at reversing those effects years after it happened. What a waste of my energy. Energy I could have been putting towards achieving my goals.
Then again, you learn from everything in life and I wouldn't be the person I am today had I not experienced bad help.
I am however relieved that I didn't have to go through that much of it!

Thankyou to my auti coaches, Dick and Pien for providing the best guidance I've had yet.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Autism and dog training classes

This evening was my weekly dog training class. A wonderful time to spend with man's best friend...a wonderfully frustrating time!
When I decided to say yes to giving a home to an 8week old chihuahua, I made a conscious decision to enlist in the nearest puppy class. I had met too many nasty or pathetically afraid chihuahuas to not do this. I knew how important early socialization and training was for dogs of any size, let alone mini dogs with a mind as stubborn as a block of cement!
We completed a year long course and she did brilliantly. I, however, did not do so well. The key words told to the owners were repetition, be consequent and patience.
Now repetition and consequence are words I know!
Having autism is definitely not a bad thing in this case as following rules set out by animal behaviorists, doing the same thing repeatedly and always being consequent is natural behaviour for me. Why would a dog learn something without me teaching her in a way that works? Why would she remember which behaviours link with which words if I didn't use the same word every time? Simple questions with obvious answers but ones we animal owners more often than not forget.
Then we come to the last word; patience. Teaching a human or animal anything requires patience. Teaching a dog means first learning their language. That's the start of the great journey of patience!
If the most of us were truly honest, we would acknowledge that we rarely take the time to learn this language. Humans are unfortunately not known to be that blatantly honest most of the time which is a great pity.
The second leg of the patience journey happens when our little monsters hit puberty (I'm talking about both humans and animals here by the way!). A wonderful time where we have to hope that the lessons we taught them in the beginning will eventually resurface once the hormones have calmed down.
Kaya and I have gotten through this stage for the most part I am thankful to say. Now the third part of the journey has started...I decided after a break of just under a year that we both missed the classes, but she wasn't a puppy anymore so we had to find a new class.
Then we found it! Where could we both have fun whilst getting some exercise and meeting other dogs? An agility class! However, before starting in this class I had to start off in the basic obedience class before taking the test.
To my shock and dismay, I realised that I had fallen short of what I had expected of myself as Kaya's owner. I had become lax.
She would sit brilliantly for the allotted time, weave in and out of cones whilst following me to heel but then we came to the lie down (and stay for 1 minute).
I tried and tried but she just would not do it.I then realised something. She had learnt to lie down in the summer time, when the temperature was warm, the grass dry and the days light. I now go to evening classes so it is not only dark, but it's cold and usually wet.
I am sad to admit that I was ashamed of her behaviour in the beginning and got frustrated very quickly. Today was my first time back after the Christmas holidays and I vowed to do things differently. I had come to the realisation that patience was to be my personal challenge.
So I took a deep breath, changed my attitude and changed the reward I was giving her.
This all worked! Tonights class went brilliantly and both Kaya and I left with our heads held high.
Again, the world has chosen to teach me a life lesson through my dog.
'Be patient, with others and yourself.'
Another month and she can take the test and hopefully by mid February we'll be taking part in the agility classes. Patience will be my new middle name and I'll have learnt another valuable life lesson.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Dogs, legs and chocolate

So, what do dogs, legs and chocolate have to do with eachother?
Well as I have nerve pain in my leg chocolate can sometimes really help to give my brain some happy endorphines. But dogs and chocolate don't go together as we all can maybe see where I'm going with this. My small chihuahua Kaya managed to sneak a taste of milk chocolate for the first time this Christmas which gave me a shock. Luckily this wasn't enough to have to go to the vets.
This evening I came downstairs and saw an empty packet of chocolate lying on the floor with a very happy Kaya sitting next to it. I had left it on the kitchen table and had not even thought a dog that size could reach it. Never assume anything when it comes to dogs, their sense of smell, a chair and chocolate. Maybe one of my 3 cats made a deal with the devil to get rid of the damn dog (in their thoughts!) or it was just chance that they knocked it off. If not, then that mi.d means she jumped onto the kitchen chair to reach the table.
This is an amazing feat considering I have laminate flooring and she slips and slides all over the place so doesn't even dare to jump off my lap if I'm sitting there. I can definitely say that she follows the example her owner sets when she goes after something she wants!

20 minutes later we were at the vets and a €1 chocolate bar turned into a €58 one!
Poor Kaya got stabbed in the bottom with a nasty vomit inducing injection and within 5 minutes was heaving all over the vets floor. 20 minutes later I was driving home with a very sorry looking doglet who then installed herself in her bed once home.
She has now emerged from her bed and is looking much happier and refreshed.
Her owner is left swearing off chocolate which should help the weighing scales for the new year!
One other good thing that has come out of all of this is the fact that the adrenaline has helped to reduce the pain for the time being. And never make assumptions as they make an ASS out of you!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

First Attempt!

Good morning to my as of yet non-existent readers!
As this title says, this is my first attempt at blogging. Maybe a strange thing to be saying in this day and age...'what?! You've never blogged before!' you may be thinking. I never really saw the point to be honest, and the big question- what have I got to say?
Now that I am writing articles for the autism Looking Up magazine edited by +Adam Feinstein I realise I do indeed have something to say. 'What?' you may ask. Well that is something I can't write down in black and white at this time.
You see, I am still on that journey of discovery. Maybe this blog will be a written account of this journey?
So I will keep it short and sweet. Welcome to my thoughts, memories and hopes.