Emotional processing #autism

October 22, 2016 § Leave a comment





Selfie with my Arts Council Funded work for Through An Artist’s Eye.

This post is about one insight into autistic processing from a very personal perspective.

I’m beginning to learn a little more about my own emotional palette, and perhaps why my responses may not be quite so ‘in-tune’ with non-autistic people’s. This is one of the mismatches in experience, which can make a person feel remote from ‘the crowd’ or ‘outside the norm’.

Recently I’ve been showing some publicly funded work and rolling out a series of events relating to it. In all cases the work has been extremely well received and “public engagement” has been high. This is arts funders speak for people really getting and liking what you’ve put out there.

I should be happy and at the very least relieved. But I’m neither. Partly because it’s been hard to generate a wider buzz off all this good feeling about the work. My last blog post is about my sadness about not reaching more people. This is frustrating even though it’s completely understandable. Competing demands in an overwhelming world make dissemination of new material a real challenge.

But also (and probably mainly) I can’t feel great because I’m exhausted. More than this I’m numb. Behind the scenes I think I’m probably just processing but I feel empty – emptied out.

Like a sudden glimpse of yourself in a mirror, yesterday I caught a flash of insight as to why this might be more so in an autistic person. The sheer physical effort of managing the extreme demands on mental and physical resources is what gets in the way. Working on the principle that we have to work double – due to our sensory and processing challenges – just to keep up with neurotypicals, imagine working four or five times as hard when you have an extra heavy workload.

It is also the case that when we give our focus to a project we’re likely to give over and above the norm. Due to an unusual ability to focus on one thing at a time we probably go deeper often.


Although feeling happy is natural, accessing or even processing emotions demand resources, which in the moment we might not have because we’re all done.

There may be an understandable delay, by which time the moment has gone. Emotion disconnected from source is hard enough to access, let alone decode and then express to others. The joy might never arrive or be conveyed. A vital component of positive feedback lost.

It’s distressing or a least puzzling when you know you ‘should be’ feeling something but you’re not.

I wonder if this is why neurotypical observers have interpreted autistic people as being characterised by ‘flat affect’. No – we’re probably just keeping it together in the moment. No – we’re having to work hard most times, that’s all. And then we’re probably having to deal with the aftermath of dealing with…

This goes further in explaining the so called  differences in “autistic motivation” which may be partly to do with perspectives on the world. But I begin to realise there’s much more to it than that. A thing has to be truly worth doing to expend such vast resources on – there have to be significant gains when exhaustion is the end point AND you won’t necessarily feel the joy of feedback in the moment.

I wonder too if the delay in and sometimes disconnect with our emotions is why we need to replay events (almost on a loop at times) until we get there – if we’re lucky.

Right now all I can do is trust that joy, or it’s good friend relief may be round the corner.



Processing success #autism

October 20, 2016 § Leave a comment


Photograph by Stu Allsopp

Understanding that there is a delay, is helping me somewhat. My recent diagnosis of autism means I am beginning to realise that there is sometimes a disconnect. It takes time to know what I’m feeling when activity steps up in intensity.

The past few weeks have been madly busy by anyone’s standards. I’ve brought my Spanish Civil War project, about British artist Felicia Browne, to a successful conclusion and it’s time to slow down a little. I can’t stop though as work comes in on the back of our events, mainly in the form of  requests for talks which have to be written. I have to draw all the elements of the project together in a report and send in an evaluation to my funders. Tomorrow I will run a workshop which needed careful thought and a lot of equipment, including rather fine teas and coffee to keep us going. I have new projects on the horizon. But mainly my family need me back and my focus is returning.

I’ve had my moments of relaxation and brief snatches of joy. Taking my family to see the work last weekend was a high point among others.

Yet a sense of satisfaction is elusive – and I know that this is partly because some of the people I really wanted to see the work couldn’t make it. I think I have a right to feel sad about that. These particular people matter and the work matters. I have to wait and plot more showings, while knowing that this symbolic showing was special and can’t be repeated. Site specific work of this nature is temporal reminding us that everything is.

I’m sad mainly at how hard it is to make the work accessible to all the people I wish could see it – including those no longer with us. I seem to be glancing against a shard of grief like a broken bottle in the shallows. My work usually mitigates sadness – in honouring my father and my grandparents I actually feel more connected. But this time it’s different. The poignancy of the two project mama’s meeting one another at the exhibition when their now dead Spanish exile husbands were the connector was sometimes hard to bear, and I have a new work in the studio which features family photographs – it’s proving emotional.

I also want more people to know about Felicia – and I’m sad about that too. She deserves to be more remembered and for this I have to play the longer game and trust that this is just a beginning. We’ve had such a brilliant response to the work – now we need to find it a bigger stage.

I have to hold on to my original vision of bringing the history home as a symbolic act – and this being achieved in the most beautiful setting imaginable. In this and in all the wonderful responses to the work we have succeeded.

You can read all about the project here.

Autism and antifascism: a sharing of works.

October 9, 2016 § 1 Comment

My autistic friends span across the globe and often can’t come to my shows. I really want to share my most recent work with my community – it’s a project called, Through An Artist’s Eye. We will be uploading our project film at some time in the future – but I’m not sure when. So in the meantime I’ve uploaded a short video with an important message. My work has a strong political undertone, which deals with antifascism. Sadly this remains relevant and appropriate.

Precipice – the sensory swill and public speaking #autism

October 8, 2016 § 2 Comments


My last post A racy blouse and a bottle of paracetamol was partly about the challenge of presenting material to a roomful of people when sensory processing and co-ordination is an issue.

On blogging about this, I received some helpful hints from a growing autistic network of professional people who are out there making it – thank you my people!

Understanding that it is exposure and practice which ultimately help improve performance made the next experience completely different.

I reflect also on the differences in the spaces into which I was to project my voice on two occasions. How access to a mic, to being elevated on a small stage and to have an audience seated informally, all helped me to gain a sense of flow and fluency. Even the lighting in the room and the journey to the venue were factors which differed greatly in my two recent experiences.

This kind of knowledge is the gold dust of acquiring fluency – you might say it could be the bedrock of a professional armoury. Knowing in advance (where possible) the conditions for a talk could allow for adjustments both mental and physical – and to seek accommodations.

As I absorb the learning from my experiences and look forward to more opportunities to share my work, I return to this poem quickly penned on a train on the way to a recent conference. It’s another way to talk about the above.


Vertigo swills.
until I (being so very disconnected)
lose my toe-hold.

A kaleidoscope of colours,
the fairground whirl.

As an overfilled
supermarket trolly
narrowly missing horn,
and prang,
I teeter.

But this is no carpark.

The secret is to be busy,
in this hellish soup
of sound.

The spoon scraping at
scraps till nerve ends flail.

The point is to distract.

Of course, of course,
you say.

And you nod kindly
like a solar powered doggy
in the window.

©Sonia Boué 2016

A racy blouse and a bottle of paracetamol #autism

October 3, 2016 § Leave a comment


These days I’m mostly running to chase my tail. My project has had it’s central London launch, and in a few days time we’ll host an introductory evening, and open our show.

First we have to install the exhibition.

It’s the culmination of months of work, with  each phase of the project bringing it’s own intensity. But this is off the scale bonkers.

So how do I cope as an autistic? Cognitive load. Overload. Load of stress. All the loads. You name it I go it.

I mainly put my head down and push through each task as it comes – having learned that I must in most cases find the short cut and deal quickly with practicalities so that tasks don’t back up.

I carve out time to focus quietly and on my own. Collaboration requires contact and communication – but I do the majority of the troubleshooting in my own head arriving at solutions I know I can manage. Sure, I accommodate my colleagues but they generally know how I like to work and are incredibly respectful. I try to make sure I consider their needs too.

Paracetamol has been my friend – I’ve had a LOT of headaches, and discern a pattern of build-up in tension. I now know it is my body’s expression of overload. A classic was the two day social hangover after our launch – and the fact that despite it’s obvious success, I just couldn’t locate any sense of satisfaction. My focus was on the social mistakes I made that evening & my brain’s insistence on playing them on a loop.

As the kind comments and reviews come in, I am suddenly reminded of the intense concentration in the room as we presented our work. I make the connection. People really did like it. Kind phrases return and I begin to settle into a more comfortable feeling – it’s not joyful (not yet) as there is too much work to be done and a whole lot of paracetamol to swallow. But I’m getting there – almost in one piece.

An interesting development – I seem to have an increased tolerance for wearing pattern. Or maybe it’s that knowing myself better I can more easily work out what I can manage. I actually kept that blouse on all day, and didn’t pack the usual spare black smock in case it all got too much for me.

What did go to pieces was my short speech – the room fragmented and I couldn’t do the looking back and forth at the audience and my prompt sheet. Overtaken by vertigo I mainly read off the page. A disappointment to me. Any tips for overcoming this my dear fellow autistics who find binocular focus a challenge? I’d like to read my piece for our following event without the hand wobbles!

You can read about the project Through An Artist’s Eye here.

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