Functioning. It’s a concept that as someone on the autistic spectrum, it’s impossible to get away from. Rightly or wrongly it is how we are judged, it becomes sort of like a sub-label to our autism. So what does it mean?

Functioning effectively means the extent we’re able to pass as ‘normal’. I am high functioning, I am able to understand non-autistics relatively well by autistic standards, I have a degree, I’ve generally learned not to melt down in public or do other things that would get the wrong kind of attention from non-autistics.

Lower functioning autistics don’t find it so easy to fit in. They may stim in ways that can be distracting. Looking after themselves may take up so much energy that they’re unable to hold a conversation to even high-functioning autistic standards. They may have bigger sensory issues than higher functioning autistics. They are the ones that are more likely to get into trouble.

Relatively straightforward right…well this article suggests not neccersarilly. Here we have an autistic woman who seemingly describes two different autistic women…and then says that they are both, in effect, her. Except that one is seemingly high-functioning and one is seemingly low-functioning.

So how can that be possible? From a high-functioning perspective…well maintaining that level of function takes up a significant amount of energy. I run out of that energy…due to tiredness, anxiety or hunger and it gets fairly obvious. My conversation skills plummet, my sensory issues heighten, my speech goes all over the place…this can get messy.

So why use these labels in the first place? Because…quite frankly…they are still relevant. My best is still consistently better than the best of some other autistics overall…though that doesn’t meant to say that lower-functioning autistics don’t  also have their strengths…get to know them and you’ll be able to work out what they are. No one on the autistic spectrum should be written off completely.

Surely though…those labels are divisive? OK…maybe. To me, everyone on the autistic spectrum is like part of a second family but we are not saints. We judge each other by functioning as much as any non-autistic judges us. Lower functioning autistics can and have been excluded from social groups by higher-functioning autistics.

Why? Here lies the rub. From a higher-functioning perspective…dealing with non-autistics takes up energy…but dealing with lower-functioning autistics also takes up energy and some higher-functioning autistics may not feel they should have to deal with lower-functioning autistics when they find non-autistics to be draining enough. I’m not saying its right, I’m saying it happens.

The curse of the high-functioning autistic can be in finding the right kind of support or even in some cases, working out what that is, particularly if you have other issues on top of the autism that you might want to resolve.

The curse of the lower-functioning autistic is probably finding any support at all, as we’ve covered…non-autistics may write them off and higher-functioning autistics may be constrained by their own limitations. There has to be some way of resolving this particular issue but I suspect it’ll take a long time.

One further issue when it comes to functioning. I have seen multiple higher-functioning autistics drop in functioning over the years. Why? Not sure, in some cases it may be down to trauma…but you suddenly see these people make mistakes that they didn’t used to make regarding social interaction and awareness. This worries me a lot, partly for my own sake, the only obvious thing stopping myself from going down that road at some point is seeing this happen to others. Maybe that’s enough to guard against it – time will tell.

Bottom line is though, that while “functioning” labels are still somewhat relevant…they should not be written in stone. They only give the roughest guide to the strengths and weaknesses of anyone on the autistic spectrum.  As we’ve established…functioning can and does vary depending on the circumstances that the individual is in. 

sound and vision and autism

This is a small and interesting study. It does not produce a 'wow!' result, but it does capture the subtlety of Autism.

Two groups of children and teenagers, autistic and non-autistic, were asked to differentiate between low and high pitched sounds. They showed their choice by clicking on the appropriate button on a computer screen and all the while MRI scans were taken of their brains. 

Mainstream individuals were found to process sounds through the sound processing part of the brain (surprise surprise!) while autistic individuals used the visual processing part of the brain (the left lingual gyrus since you asked). The non-autistic group were better at distinguishing sounds, which is probably the reason we have a sound processing area in the brain ;-).

And the autistic folks who differentiated the sounds in the test better were the ones who used their visual cortex for the task more. That is kind of interesting. Even more interesting is that the autistic individuals who used their visual processing more were those individuals who showed more symptoms of Autism in their lives.

But all the autistic group were relying on their visual cortex to some extent or another to process sounds.

It is the subtlety that we know affects us constantly but is never really captured in research or even addressed. And we know that how each individual copes with Autism changes with the individual, the environment, age and a host of other factors.

Personally I like the idea of looking at sounds, but I also like to understand what people are saying sometimes. That is a big 'sometimes', mind you. So I can imagine a little thing like processing some sounds visually is going to affect a lot of behaviour, both positively and negatively.

Inattention to speech, more sensitivity to sounds, difficulties in high quality seeing and listening at the same time...

But yet how does this bring strengths? This is a blog post so imaginative speculation is allowed...and how about the necessity of focussing on speech and excluding visual cues. This deep focus could also mean a deep analysis. And so small talk is subjected to the same analysis as a scientific argument...ooops :-). That would make small talk burn with idiocy. Which it tends to do when you are autistic. 

Imagine how a necessary deep focus on sound (for those of us who can) could also bring strengths to discussion, music...even car repair. I knew of one mechanic who could diagnose faults in BMWs just by listening to the sound of the engine. Whether that mechanic was on the Spectrum or not I don't know, but it shows you how a difference can be a strength.

By 2012, NAS SOMAAG Devon had proved unsustainable and the three groups did their own thing. NAS SOMAAG Exeter existed for a while…but we lost patience with the NAS and reverted to DFL. The membership had changed a bit over the course of four years but it was still a surprise when Barbara effectively announced that DFL had decided to wind up the Exeter group. She suggested that we try to organise our own group for social stuff. And one of the guys comes out with “Oh…Matt could run something”.

Now 2012 had not been one of my happier years, my attempts to start a website design/IT career in Exeter amounted to a series of false starts…just wasn’t able to hold down a full time job long term. The temptation was to retrace my steps and head back to the London burbs and rejoin my old crew. Out of the blue…something else entirely meant I would be hanging around.

If memory serves, it started with a woman called Tina Feather trying to build a team that would give workshops to the police on learning disability and Aspergers and related hate and “mate crimes”. She asked Barbara if any of her guys would be interested and before the year was out I was taking a presentation course at Middlemoor police station to prepare for a series of talks around Devon over the course of 2013.

This had the potential to be a very big deal and so I have to say, trying to start a new Aspie social group on top of that wasn’t something I was that enthusiastic about initially but I decided to give it a go…and that band is still together despite having zero resources. I have to admit, the group is hamstrung by my own limitations, I don’t have Barbara’s knowledge base, I don’t understand the neurotypical world anywhere near as much as I need to explain it to other Aspies so the structure is very casual but it still works well enough.

In the meantime…the presentation work has led to me getting citizenship awards both sides of the Tamar (we expanded our work into Cornwall during the tail end of 2014/early 2015). It also led to me becoming a “go to guy”/someone to go to if Aspies need help dealing with the police. Only been involved in one such incident so far but it was successfully resolved.

Just when the presentation work was starting to fade I wind up being invited by Douglas to get back into the website game in helping build this site. I decide it’s worth a go though it proved more work than I suspect Douglas and I were anticipating but well, we did it.

Overall, I do feel caught between two worlds at times. I was very much raised to survive in the neurotypical world but I’ll never be one of them. I understand the frustrations of my fellow Aspies in trying to survive in this world but I can’t afford to give into them myself. For me, life is a balancing act, I learn most of my social lessons the hard way and just about keep a hand or foot on a rope.

Good enough.

  • Tour taken by an autistic group of Torquay custody suite
  • Discoveries about procedures in this environment

group piccap2

On Thursday 25th February 2016 an autistic support group based in Newton Abbott was given a tour of the Torquay police custody suite. Here’s some highlights of what happened that afternoon.  

An officer called Kate begins proceedings before leaving us at the mercy of an officer called. Mo, who’s the main guy to show us around. The first batch of cells we see resemble swimming pool cubicles…I find it hard to imagine anyone being held there for 24 hours.

torquay small cell cap2

Then we have the sign in room. Here Mo makes it clear that they try and to get any health issues of the detainee worked out ASAP, because they have been caught off guard before.  This room turns out to be little cramped and a few of the guys are claustrophobic – not a good combination. After that…more cells…which are slightly more spacious and do have something resembling a bed in them... 

 torquay cell2cap2

and an exercise yard which…is too small to do much exercise in – in fact, well, what excercise are you meant to do here  – it’s more like just a pocket of fresh air.

 

 torquay excercise yard2cap2

 

I did however get reassurance that though Mo says they take most posessions from detainees once in the cells, they are still allowed one phonecall, it just had to be to someone the coppers deem relevant. Amongst the other rooms we swung by was a medical room, an alcohol testing room (it’s amazing how much alchohol an individual can have in their bloodstream and still believe themselves fit to drive)...

alchohol test room3cap

and an interview room…complete with an impressive looking digital recorder that I didn’t initially recognise. Also a digital fingerprint room, though some of the guys weren’t comfortable with the idea of digital fingerprints in case the coppers get hacked or someone within the system decides to manipulate the data.

 

 fingerprint room3cap

 

Towards the back end of the tour we actually got to see a room which is technically an extension of Torquay Crown court…but actually allows a video link to any courtroom in the country. Very impressive, if I do wind up called up as a witness for anything, it’ll be worth remembering.

Overall, it was certainly an educational visit and with a few eyebrow raising features, certainly in terms of the technology that the police have available nowadays. Also you got a better idea of the protocols involved with taking individuals into custody, including making sure that they get hold of the required meds. Clarifying the limits of how long someone can be held without charge.  There was also the sheer scale of security features. Card swiping to go into the toilets? Inmates having to ask permission for pretty much everything…though usually being allowed it. Still, now we’ve made one trip there, maybe we’ll be back, one of the guys has already decided he wants to hang out with CID.

 

 

So, Dimensions for Living. It was circa April 2008 when an employment coach recommended that I find some local support for my Aspergers. I had made a group of neurotypical friends by that point through the local University’s Scifi Society but having an extra group for Aspergers support sounded like a good idea. Having a look around led me to a woman called Barbara Wilson who was running a group out by Exeter hospital. This was…”DFL SOMAAG Exeter”.

The laugh is, I initially had no idea how to interact with my fellow Aspies outside of cyberspace. I actually had to ask on one of the forums I was on at the time how to go about it. The group turned out to be…7-8 of us, mainly men of various ages involved in a discussion group led by this older neurotypical woman on a Monday evening.

This proved to be very good for me, partly because Barbara seemed more grounded than some of the insanity I was dealing with online at the time and partly because of her expertise. It wasn’t long before I made friends in that group but doing so was still a learning experience.

My neurotypical family always gave me a solid idea of how to deal with “people”…but for “people” read “neurotypicals”. Tony Attwood has a line…”if you know one Aspie, you know one Aspie”. I would expand that by saying “the more people you know with Aspergers, the more you know about Aspergers”. Furthermore…knowing how to deal with neurotypicals proved to be of limited use at best when dealing with my fellow Aspies. The strategy I eventually came up with was to take what I knew about dealing with the NT world…and park it. This is something that proved relatively easy for me. The neurotypical world is strange, but I can manage it. The worlds of other Aspies…are other brands of strange…but I manage that as well.

Fastforward to circa 2010 and I had become an established member of SOMAAG Exeter and we were now interacting more with other SOMAAG groups in Newton Abbot and Plymouth. Eventually someone got the idea of getting the NAS involved and the three groups merged under the umbrella group of “NAS SOMAAG Devon”. Having become a “go to guy” amongst the Exeter group for some of the guys there, it was me that volunteered to put myself forward as “Exeter Secretary” of the umbrella group’s committee. This meant hauling down to Plymouth once a month, a city I hadn’t even set foot in before moving to Exeter.

It also meant volunteering for a sponsored swim in May 2010. 50 lengths a session, two sessions a day, for five days. For a sportsfan, it was probably just a taster of what the people I admire go through, though Adam Peaty and Liam Tancock probably consider that just a standard training week.

Why do that? Because the Aspergic community had become like a family in a way, one I felt I owed something to. We’re a messed up family at times and a frustrating family but certainly my Exeter Aspie friends I sometimes refer to as my rough diamonds. Loyal, solid individuals who mess some unbelievable stuff up at times…but can still then surprise you in a good way. 

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