Olives are not the only fruit #autism

November 4, 2016 § 1 Comment


Except they are. Well, apart from bananas. This is what functional gut disorder means in my case. There are virtually no fruits left that I can tolerate but I’m pleased about olives because I LOVE olives.

Occasionally I eat other fruits but stick to one or two raspberries, or three strawberries. Mainly to minimise the damage, knowing that any more will be disastrous and not worth such  temporary bliss on the tongue. They taste good but they don’t do good.

I’m not complaining because I’ve learnt to adapt to my extremely poor digestion with the help of the very lovely and talented @flojoeasydetox who has given me dietary advice that enables me to live and work effectively – something no-one else has ever achieved and I’ve been to more medics and nutritional specialist than I care to mention. For this, and because she’s lovely, I LOVE Flo (she also takes Skype consultations if you’re interested.)

Being autistic brings with it co-mordbid conditions and dietary intolerance seems common.

But I haven’t really come on to the blog to write about this, however debilitating and eroding it has been to deal with over the years. I just felt so cheerful about olives today, so grateful and happy to have them. So they come first.

More important is my growing understanding of how some people can make you feel like their time is more important than yours as an autistic thing – a thing that happens to autistics I mean. ALSO how bad this feels.

Today I spent a lot of time counselling a young autistic person on some serious social worries. Neurotypicals vs autistic social processing translated, if you like. The metaphors which helped most were fast lane/ slow lane (even hard shoulder at times), and paternoster / elevator. Not hard to guess which is NT and which is autistic!

As I spoke with my young colleague I felt on absolutely certain ground. Hey – this is so not personal when you look at it like this. What seems like indifference is just heavy a volume of  traffic for them while you’re interested in one to two cars.  Also think about what the NTs miss out on – they miss out on spending time with you. Don’t think so much about fitting in and accommodating their needs – they have so many options they won’t even notice how much effort you’re putting in. You do what you need to do for you – conserve your energy.

Without realising it I was counselling myself.

A strangely challenging situation I’ve been dealing. Wow. THAT. A person making me feel their time was more important than mine because they were so busy.

Thing is with autism is that our processing is often slower putting us at a huge disadvantage in understanding the subtle balance of power exerted by those more ‘socially skilled’.

Conclusions :-

Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit  is the inspiration for the title of this blog – I recommend it.

Also that for autistic people to locate and ground ourselves in social spaces we must first find not only bodily sustenance, but also the metaphors with which to legitimise the bodily manifestations of neurology. Neurotypicals may cruse the fast lane and whizz round and round in the paternosters of social life but this can mean that they are incapable of valuing autistic perspectives.  And so we must start by valuing ourselves.

Lesson learned.


Adult Autism: A Deeper Pool.

May 14, 2016 § 13 Comments


Photo on 14-05-2016 at 12.59Hot on the heels of my last post, this one is born of an absolute compulsion. A necessary response to the swell of emotion eddying the shores of its expansive comments section. Please do take time to read it. In turn it has both warmed and angered me, and broken my heart.

The size of it is one thing. Never has a comments section sprawled so extensively  – not even for my best read post to date, Asperger Syndrome and Me.

The content is something else.

I call it a deeper pool.  My words have conjured a deeper pool of unmet need than I could have ever imagined. Late diagnosed adult autistics have not been called the lost generation for nothing.

After writing it I travelled to London. Descending into the bowels of the underground system at Victoria I felt again that familiar lurch on the escalators. Cue vertigo. Cue headphones (useless against the dreadful cacophony – I will have to buy better). And cue the thought that since diagnosis I have lived the most cliched metaphor of them all – that of peeling the onion. Frustratingly I realise cliches are so apt often because they are so very true. Overused they lose in value. This precious onion feels too good for common currency,  for  as I gazed on and off (poor signal) at the comments coming in on my phone I FELT another layer slew right off. How to convey the new and totally naked sensation, the through the eyes of babes state I then found myself in amongst the insentient crowd?

As though pulling off a heavy woollen jumper on a suddenly sweltering day, I had removed one more layer of discomfort and confusion. That is how it is to be diagnosed autistic so late in life (at least it is for me). ALL your perceptions have been founded on a misapprehension – and you must shed them one by by one.

For the first time the true weight of my position – and that of my fellow autistics – dawned on me. Through the comments of others I was able to join the dots. The disconnect I experienced  with my GP is a very much wider autistic reality. Not a one off, near out of body experience, but rather the ubiquitous blanket of neurotypical obsfucation we face en masse in the task of “translating ourselves” to the non-autistic world.

“Obfuscation is the obscuring of intended meaning in communication, making the message confusing, willfully ambiguous, or harder to understand.”

I use this word cautiously. It is not necessarily that neurotypical (NT) culture wilfully obsfucates autistic experience. It is probably rather the case that NT culture is blinded to it. There exists a real and highly problematic inability to see beyond the monolith of neuro-normatism. In one sense I knew this from all my exposure to autistic culture through blogs and friendships with autistic adults. My experience as a mother also taught me this. But here was a new form of data, which rendered me naked (so to speak) on the tube.  My own fledgeling attempts to “explain myself” to my doctor had chimed in (profoundly it seemed) with other autistic adults.  This was the lived experience of that which I had talked about so often with my friends. To live it is to truly know it.

So I’m now caught between two poles of reaction. On one hand, I blink in wonder at how I could have been so naive to expect otherwise. On the other, I shake my head in disbelief and fail to see why it is not possible for other sentient beings to grasp my situation, and that of my fellow late diagnosed autistics, as a delicate and extraordinarily emotionally complex thing. Further, ours is a life long condition – so where is the adult support?

It is almost as if, because we’ve seemed to cope thus far (or rather remained under radar) it is considered possible for us to sink back into our pre-diagnosis invisibility. But it’s just not like that from within. Diagnosis (self or official) is a Pandora’s box, the lid can never be shut again. Invisibility is not an option unless it goes by the name of erasure. For that is what it is when you acknowledge the existence of but then ignore a people.

I’m a newbie, so it behoves me to be perplexed, but I believe it is utterly bewildering that our condition post-diagnosis is neither acknowledged or understood.

Resoundingly I found repeated and repeated in the testimony on my blog that NO, there is no such understanding, no conversation, and no provision. Support for adult autistics  just doesn’t exist.

Abruptly I dislike my metaphor. Onions make me weep.  I tunnel my way giddily up and out into the busy street. This was not a good sensory day and a powerful gloom descends of the kind we do so well in England. The British weather is treating me to a full menu – coat on and off, umbrella up and down. Jumper round my waist and then pulled back over my head. And worst of all grey, grey, grey.

I think some more about the deep pool as I make my way home. I’ve had enough of London and just feel so awfully sad for the crushing isolation of my people.

For all my struggles with the world I have enormous privilege and joy. I am an autistic person, who can navigate aspects the NT world – I’ve been conditioned to it all my life. My difficulties stem from living in an ableist society and the overwhelming denial of my autistic experience and of my needs. I’m exhausted at the effort it takes me to be NT spaces, and battle the daily assault of the unpredictable sensory world.  I don’t diminish this struggle but I do recognise that I am lucky.

With privilege comes responsibility.

So I will keep writing.



A Shot in the Dark. Autism and TMS.

April 6, 2016 § 18 Comments


“Sometimes I allowed my thoughts, unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathizing with my feelings and cheering my gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation. But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone.”

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“During a TMS procedure, a magnetic field generator, or “coil”, is placed near the head of the person receiving the treatment.[1]:3 The coil produces small electric currents in the region of the brain just under the coil via electromagnetic induction. The coil is connected to a pulse generator, or stimulator, that delivers electric current to the coil.”


There is a certain easy parallel to be drawn between John Elder Robison’s Switched On, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Application of electricity near the region of the brain via TMS strikes me potentially as the nightmare of fiction brought to life in the neuroscience labs of today. But mostly I chose this quotation because it is the version of autism as the alienated monster in John Elder Robison’s book which unsettles me so.

A Shot In The Dark is a personal response to a new book called “Switched On” by autism advocate John Elder Robison. Switched on is an account of his experience as a subject on an experimental research project for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation/ TMS. It must be said right away that this was undertaken by John as a potential treatment for his autism. Many autistic people I know, would flinch at such a notion. I flinch because this hurts me. I feel I don’t need a cure, but rather that what is needed is understanding.  But I remind myself that autistic people can suffer distressing co-morbid conditions, and their families may struggle to understand the distinction between this fact and the alternative paradigm of autistic consciousness. Society is also cruel to difference and especially cruel to the physical embodiment of difference. Autistic people and their families especially suffer societal cruelty. This too is often confused with autism itself.

The spectre of autism cure (rather than social change) can thus appear as a dazzling light, which blinds many to such reasoning, when reason is what is most needed to see our way through what is a tangled web of shifting and often suspect moral values, and a bloody history of crimes against disability. This book, I will argue, seeks to hover in a the kind of vacuum (devoid of historical or social context) which serves mainly those who are against brain diversity and are anti-disability. In other words it (unwittingly I believe) plays into the hands of those eugenicist in spirit. This may seem exaggerated, yet it isn’t. Read on and you will see how John himself leads us to this question in his own concluding chapter.

So, I am tempted to say that Switched On, might as well have been written on a red rag (I’m thinking autism cure lobby as the bull here) and leave it there. I note how few commentators there have been for this work to date – it is indeed tempting to put it aside and move on. Yet I feel I must go on because this is a subject too important for cursory dismissal. Also because John himself is a powerful voice within a wider cultural sphere of influence that accepts, assimilates and disseminates autism cure as valid and moral.

My first point though is that I am grateful to John for his helpful responses to my comments on both FaceBook and Twitter. In the autism world many feel beleaguered and at war, for the reasons I describe above. I feel it is important to express difference, sometimes anger (it is often a useful tool), but mainly I want to show respect to the multiple opinions I encounter. I know that for most autistic people life has contained much struggle, especially to obtain dignity and to be heard. It’s in the latter spirit of respect that I try to proceed. Nonetheless my perspective is radically opposed to John’s and it will be important to write with clarity about this and that it be understood that my piece is in no way a personal attack.

John Elder Robison’s dust jacket for, Switched On, claims he is,

“…a world recognised authority on life with autism…”

Recognition (and by whom) is one thing, but if we are being honest it is more accurate to say that John is an authority on his own life with autism (and those he has encountered ). We are, after all, in a groundbreaking era in which we begin to understand (and hopefully acknowledge) that it takes all kinds of autistics to make a world. More specifically, John Elder Robison is absolutely not speaking for me and my autism in this book. Many autistics I know would agree.

As an autistic I’m duty bound to respect John’s self-advocacy, and also his right to undertake whatever brain experiment he choses for himself. The problem occurs, as I suggest above, because in spite of his disclaimers, his blogs and now this publication will function as promulgation of a cure for autism. My note in the margin on reading about his immediate blogging right after the TMS began – which created an influx of volunteers for the protocol – reads, “unethical to blog so early”. I believe that on this count he has been sincere in his enthusiasm but hopelessly naive about the response to his findings.

Throughout this book I hear a conflicted voice, and I hear confusion. There’s an important reason for this. I fear that John Elder Robison does not like his autistic self (though there are many pages devoted to his accomplishments) causing him to stumble somewhat in making his way through the moral complexities of the subject effectively. Sentences meander this way and that – an attempt to tease out ethics I know – but ultimately his enthusiasm for the science always wins. The chimera of autism cure is too powerful for him to resist.

So although he talks nuance and advocates caution (for children – in case we miss their exceptionality), we know that the cure lobby will be unlikely to listen – and why would they listen to such a muffled voice? But they should listen and listen hard. Not least because I wonder if John is even (strictly speaking) talking about autism in this account?

John has alexithymia. A co-condition for some autistics and also present in non-autistics, alexithymia is defined as the inability to recognise emotions in both oneself and in others. This is not a diagnostic criteria for autism, yet this appears to be at the core of John’s TMS experiment in both focus and effect. Some of us are empaths and don’t need our emotions to be switched on. (Since writing this piece I have also been appraised that this may also be true in alexithymia, which is not in itself an absence of emotion but rather a difficulty in identifying, and articulation of emotion).

This should give pause for thought, as some of the most traumatic experiences for John in his TMS journey  involved over intense emotional responses to ordinary levels of emotional stimuli. We could speculate that John experienced what it is to be an empath having lost elements of the so-called “protective” functions of alexithymia (as the lead researcher suggests). This was both exhilarating for him (producing joyful connection and hallucinations) and debilitating to an almost fatal degree. I’ve called this piece, A Shot in the Dark, for it’s dual meaning. On page 221 we learn that,

“ I think suicide was an impulse that snuck up on me when I was overcome by what felt like never-ending psychic pain. In one of those moments I came an inch from shooting myself on my back deck, but at the last second I turned away.”

Suicidal ideation beset John on several occasions. Why these brushes with death – a direct result of TMS reshaping his emotional landscape (and I would say the loss of his internal compass) – are buried thus in the latter stages of the book is a mystery to me. Shouldn’t this be the first thing you learn about TMS? It’s just one (important) example of how this type of autobiographical account hinging on chronology of fact rather than salience of point can prove unhelpful to rational analysis.

A Shot in the Dark, also refers to page after page of John’s theorising conversations with Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone (the TMS specialist and research lead). It is clear that the experiment (previously carried out on lab animals) was in all senses a leap of faith, an encounter with the unknown whose outcomes could have been negative and distressing (and indeed often were). On many occasions I wrote “clueless” in the margin indicating that Dr Pascual-Leone simply didn’t know why John responded to the treatment the way he did. John’s speculations are literally shots in the dark, and in my view weaken both the narrative and the science with multiple rabbit holes.

At one point, John raises the issue of emotional support as a necessary adjunct to TMS with Dr Pascual-Leone. But, Alvaro (as he becomes) explains that this would ruin the experiment’s results. You wouldn’t know which intervention had produced what results. Right. Again this is information is served chronologically and we don’t hear how John’s suicidal vulnerability impacts on the science protocol. This is something I should like to know about.

Another observation is that John received an incredible (and most probably clinically significant) amount of input from the research team. John was valued both as subject and for his opinions. The team shared knowledge and supported his autistic style of processing the experience (to become expert). TMS  became a compelling interest for John allowing him to develop a new range of topics, relationships and opportunities through which to be valued (such as his role in advising on research).  We know that validating collegial style friendships, and supportive environments in which autistic people are valued for their particular skill sets can be powerfully enabling and connecting. Which is kind of my point in writing this piece. There was a powerful social change in John’s life as a result of the protocol.

John is clearly a hugely intelligent and capable man, able to demonstrate the power of autistic learning styles (often autodidactic) and thus an attractive role model for parents and young people alike. It therefore saddened me at almost every turn to read his views about autistic people (only marginally modified in his postscript). John demonstrates what can be termed internalised ableism.  This can and does happen (it is a powerfully prevalent social value/norm embedded in many cultures) creating havoc with self-esteem. I felt that John was only able to value the exceptionality of autism and not think positively about disability.

The reason being that he has allied himself to the medical model of disability, side-stepping social models almost entirely in this book. Therefore the underlying philosophy with which he advocates is not only one-sided, it’s also ableist. Lodging disability in the individual, naturally places responsibility for change at this level. John also continually practices a disturbing two tier system of human value.

“After fifty years I’d come to accept my lot in life, but now that I saw a chance to leave second-class citizenship behind I was going to grab it.” p10

Ouch. Equality anyone?

Talk is always binary – disability pitches against exceptionality at each and every mention. To be fair John advocates caution about treatment for children, and is aware of the dangers for adults too, particularly when he speculates on the possibility of using TMS in combination with advances in MRI imaging which might help to target areas of the brain and deploy seemingly mind reading capabilities with which to better our brains (George Orwell country, to be sure). But I was stopped in my tracks at the most sinister of allusions, which unmasked the issue at the core of TMS and autism, pretty much like the curtain lifting scene in The Wizard of Oz. I will return to this below.

John is clearly excited by what appears to be at the forefront of scientific development in neuroscience. How a book published in 2016 by such a man then seemingly ignores the seismic developments in our conceptualising about autism from the thought pioneers in the field is another mystery. You only have to read the transcript of Steve Silberman’s recent UN keynote address on autism to understand how at odds this truly is. It’s as though the social context is irrelevant to questions of scientific research when indeed it is key. Any considerations of social justice, and of valuing all human life as equal are essentially absent from Switched On, instead we feel the icy shadow of normalisation fall as the book closes.

I noted that among the devastating effects of TMS,  John conversely found resolution and redemption through relationship. A relationship he determines was made possible through the beneficial effects of TMS (kickstarted by treatment but truly worked on by John himself). No doubt John’s third wife has a talent for relationship of a certain kind. Such people do exist – I know several. I do not believe that Maripat’s healing effects on John’s extended yet fractured family can be attributed to his TMS. That the effects of TMS made John ready for a new kind of relationship is also a loaded question – how much the social effects of undergoing the protocol influenced this too will probably never be known.

It is perhaps more accurate to say that undergoing the TMS protocol in it’s entirety (also as an intense social experience) has wrought the changes he’s keen to publicise. Will I be alone in feeling uncomfortable with the chapters about John’s personal relationships? Relevant to an account of relatedness as they may be it must also be remembered that they are by nature highly subjective. Fair play, this is personal account but I feel John goes beyond remit with his expert advocate hat on. I don’t feel you can have this both ways.

I also dislike the hierarchical position given in this account to neurotypical relatedness as primary and more satisfying. This is in itself could be the subject for an entire blog post.

More importantly for the question of TMS, in the later sections we meet a young man called Nick whose TMS proved painful on administration (he asked for treatment to be stopped) yet it produced some notable results for a period of time. To cut a long story short, he became seemingly more recognisably neurotypical, and his delighted parents brought him in for more treatments. Subsequently he “regressed” and refused further TMS. His mother has however founded an non-profit organisation to fund research into autism and TMS.

Here we brush up against the very autism war I refer to in my first paragraphs – sometimes characterised as a battle between parental perception and autistic autonomy. I believe it is more properly described as a rights based issue and a question of autistic identity. Furthermore, while emotional intelligence, as described on page 270, continues to be defined in neurotypical terms (as John so clearly does) our autistic brains remain in danger of the cure myth and the battles continue.

But of course it is all far more sinister than this. In discussing the ethics of brain imaging and TMS in combination, John reveals the deadly nub of the problem, a la Wizard of Oz.

“A hundred years ago we imagined the prospect of improved humanity through eugenics, breeding the supermen of tomorrow. Soon brain imaging and stimulation may offer us the ability to make ourselves into those supermen. But what will be the price.”

My distress on reading Switched On, is increased because it feels like something of an own goal.  Zapping our plastic brains into normality or even optimal exceptionality is simply not a future we should be contemplating. The potential for violation of neurodiverse individuals is clearly right there.

I have found it extraordinary the lengths to which John has been willing to go to change himself and achieve what he believes to be superior connectedness. On his second TMS stimulation his then wife Martha accompanied him as an observer.

“Martha said my face had twisted with every pop of the coil, but the thing that most disturbed her was my strange expression.” p87

And later,

“This time I had to clench my jaw to keep my teeth from clattering together, which was somewhat uncomfortable.” p90

I have written in the margin, “this is truly horrible.” I believe that it is.

Inevitability (which John contends re TMS) is no argument. Inevitability as justification is simply a moral bypass. My contention in full is simple. Why should autistic people be made to believe they must alter their brains (by whatever means) when autistic brains are not the problem. By the by (and no offence) there are many disadvantages to neurotypicality if we’re going there. Social solutions to the lack of parity and respect shown to autistic people are what’s required. A shift in paradigm is needed and this takes time. The first step is, I believe, self acceptance (and self-love) for autistics  rather than the particular brand of low self-esteem that treatment options like TMS would appear to represent.

There are very many way to achieve connectedness and to value alternative forms of being connected. There are also many ways to achieve change.

In conclusion. I think this is an important book – but probably for the wrong reasons. Some may find it either painful or annoying, others I’m afraid will find it inspiring. It is interesting. Mainly it’s an important read for anyone concerned with ensuring the future of brain diversity. I found the book both revealing and troubling about what the future may hold for subsequent generations. As John himself has said, TMS is not a free ride.


















Switched Off? (Autism and TMS).

March 25, 2016 § 13 Comments



Photograph by Stu Allsopp at our switched on PV for Autism Family Support Oxfordshire’s Brain Dancing exhibition. 

This post is about my personal reflections on and responses to John Elder Robison’s piece on TMS in The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.

Last night I read the interview with John Elder Robison on The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism’s Facebook page about his experimental treatment with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and its possible implications for autistics. I found it an exceptionally sad and frankly worrying piece.

John opens with the following statement:

“There is no ethical problem with an adult like me going into TMS therapy eyes wide open.”

Perhaps not, but I’m not sure writing a book publicising TMS  – at this early point – is the way to go for autism.

I have to say that John appears sincere in this interview. However, I believe that airing our differences is vital to our progress as a social justice movement. Autistic people are not one voice.

So I want to address some of the issues raised for me as a newly diagnosed autistic woman.

John goes on to say this.

“Using TMS to reshape a five-year-old is a lot chancier.”

I would go further. It is likely unethical. As John himself says, it’s outcomes are uncertain. But we must also consider autism as culture and identity. Viewed from this perspective, TMS could raise similar questions to those of gender reassignment at birth, we are also looking at parallels with the notion of gay cure. Both of these unethical practices are becoming history as our progress in understanding human diversity has increased.

I am left wondering what would have become of me, had this treatment been available to my parents back in the 1960s. It is quite a terrifying thought.

Robison says this book exists to open a dialogue about an inevitable treatment development. It is in the spirit of public service he has ventured forth. I don’t doubt his sincerity but I believe he is misguided.

So I’ve called this post, switched off, because it seems to me that John Elder Robison has lost as much as he has gained. To put it in simplistic terms – in switching some areas of brain function on – John has sacrificed others.

I should state right now that I’m coming at this from an empath’s perspective. I don’t have a difficulty connecting to my emotions or those of others. Indeed I am flooded with them. So it’s difficult for me to know what it is like to feel isolated from your own emotional world and that of others. Not withstanding, these are my thoughts on what happened to John.

He now processes his photographs entirely differently. Mainly colour saturation is turned up to the max. Why? I wonder what has happened to certain areas of perceptual function in using TMS? Certainly colour is being filtered very differently and the photograph taken by John before TMS is correct in colour balance, whereas TMS appears to have created a significant distortion.

As an artist – let alone as an autistic – I would be frankly unwilling to undertake such an experiment in the same way that I’m not willing to risk laser correction and prefer to wear varifocal lenses. My art expresses exactly who I am in the most precise perceptual terms. The risk, it appears, could be a loss of my creative vision and identity, also of becoming a lesser artist.

There’s also been a true unhappiness in personal circumstances. John’s experiment with TMS has led to divorce. How very, very sad. I couldn’t bear to think of loosing my life partner, nor that any treatment I had chosen would precipitate such a radical and negative change in life circumstances.

We’re talking about seismic shifts in the internal landscape of an individual with TMS. I like my inner geography and I don’t want to find myself in another country.

Might any of this have been worth embarking on TMS for? What has John gained?

In his own words:

“Looking back at the experience I’d say the benefits were great, but the cost was very high. Contrary to what I had thought, “getting smarter” is not a free ride.”

It is worth repeating that TMS is not a free ride – and to ask how this might translate for our children. It reads like John has been scarred by his TMS experience.

I note too the “getting smarter” in quotations. John it seems to me was smart before TMS, but his smarts were autistic smarts plain and simple. Robison risks the charge of internalised ableism – a problematic platform from which to practice advocacy I must say.

The gains have been emotional awareness, including extremely painful memories, which had been previously been blocked. John is also able to connect to people, unlike before, and is compelled in his advocacy, making friends everywhere.

This seems to summarise the plusses in John’s terms. He concedes that his business was more successful before, but that his advocacy is more meaningful to him. Perhaps what he has gained is a sense of purpose? On balance Robison cannot say that he is happier – his interview is wary.

John observes social isolation as a primary disabling factor in autism, but remains pessimistic about social solutions, believing that others cannot change sufficiently in their level of acceptance of “switched off” social behaviour. From this viewpoint, it is logical to place the responsibility with the affected individual to effect self-change via whatever therapy available. I disagree, and add that this argument could also be used to justified ABA, for example.

So what’s wrong with his analysis? Basically that we must have a high threshold of tolerance for intolerance. Must we really damn neurotypical people as incapable of ever developing empathy for and understanding of autism? No, I don’t believe so.

Yesterday I was privileged to attend a private view of a show called Brain Dancing, to which I both contributed works and assisted with curation. It was an exhibition in celebration of autistic creativity hosted by a local charity called, Autism Family Support Oxfordshire. Autistic people were prized and accepted by all who attended and supported the event. It was wonderfully connecting.

This was a space in which the disabling elements of social disconnection had been eliminated. Every effort of accommodation had been thought about from the meta message contained within the hang of the works, to the exact tilt of the electric lights in the gallery.

It is but one example of the spaces that can be created when the will is there. I don’t believe that autistics need to be ostracised in any society in which difference is valued and the benefits of autism are well understood.

Late last night as I drifted off to sleep thoughts of John’s experiment washed about and began to filter through to my subconscious. By the morning I knew I would write about this and had a good idea about what to say.

I concluded that I like myself too much as I am to ever want to try such a thing. My recent diagnosis has brought me wave after wave of self acceptance and self love.

John’s analysis circumvents this point about self acceptance and self love being the fountainhead of the change we seek as a social movement. Autism as culture is what switches me on.

I agree that any treatment which may help epilepsy or any such potentially life threatening conditions sounds interesting from this point of view. However, I fear very much that John’s book, however well intentioned, is in real and present danger of throwing fuel onto the fire of autism cure.


A Week of Autism

March 12, 2016 § 7 Comments


My paintings (Earth and Sky) will be included in an exhibition called Brain Dancing, hosted by Autism Family Support, Oxfordshire) 

So how has it been to spend my first week as a newly diagnosed person?

(You can read about my diagnosis in Asperger Syndrome and Me)

To say that I am ON TOP OF THE WORLD would be metaphorically accurate. I wake early. Waves of euphoria and wonder wash over me as I greet each new day.

It seems there is nothing like the true power of knowing yourself to make you feel solid and substantial rather than composed of wavy lines (like a grinning Cheshire cat liable to disappear at any moment). No need to feel like a person who is doing a bad job of being a person anymore.

An apple among bananas comes to mind, or perhaps it would be the other way round? Knowing I’m an apple and not a banana (or vice versa as the case may be) means I can be just the type of fruit I was meant to be. I’m good as an apple. Let’s go with that.

These thoughts conjure a fruit basket – I can almost touch –  where apples and bananas sit together comfortably, their distinct shapes and colours proving complimentary. You could never confuse one for the other. They are palpably and indisputably different.

It makes perfect sense to me to say – and so it is with brains, except that we can’t see them.

And so you can imagine the struggle and often impossibility of fitting an apple shaped brain into a banana shaped world.

But now I don’t have to. Well, not all the time. Crucially, I never have to feel lesser when the fit is wrong. I am not wrong.

Yesterday I tagged along briefly in a conversation about the word spectrum. On the spectrum is often used in lieu of autism or autistic. Spectrum is way softer than autistic in sound I notice. I will be thinking about this some more.

Presently, the collective view is that the only really good fruit to be is banana shaped,  and so it’s important to look like one if you can (hence passing). But the apples know this isn’t so.

Let’s not kid ourselves some of the bananas haven’t caught up with where the apples are at core (excuse the pun).  Not being a banana is pretty good too.

And I’m not talking about best apples, or a spectrum of apples. In my mind apples are apples. Apples don’t do lines. This is how my apple brain works.

It is also true that there are many kinds of apples. Many.



Selfie Time. #womentakingselfies

February 12, 2016 § Leave a comment


A new exploration of the selfie via Instagram and my new app Layout, which allows me to do some layering of images. I’m taking a ride on the hashtag #womentakingselfies and enjoying thinking about how women of my age are supposed to be invisible. My first few attempts had me looking away from the lens, but this one and my previous one (below) take the lens on.


This could become the basis for some new work around women of my age and power. The female gaze, self-gaze, directing the viewer’s gaze all become interesting when you have a new tool to play with.

The Other Side 2015 in review

December 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.



Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,200 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Health category at The other side.

%d bloggers like this: