Tag Archives: autism

…And a Font-Filled New Year

31 Dec

I can’t think of a nicer way to spread cheer and to end the year than mentioning an old chum from my childhood.

Every card of Stuart's topically features our local landscape. Here's the monstrous IKEA too!

Every card of Stuart’s topically features our local landscape. This year’s features the monstrous IKEA too!

Stuart Vallantine (can tell you himself) that he hasn’t always had an easy ride in life. A few years younger than me,  this wonderful lad first presented himself to the world as a bit of an unusual wee dude. Stuart lived around the corner from me and I spent many an hour in church, trying to keep a lid on the enthusiastic little boy’s outbursts during really dull sermons. He used to hook onto something said by the minister and then start reciting adverts from the telly that used the same word or terminology. Great fun to be around – as he really annoyed old ladies who took the Old Testament just a tad bit too seriously and who failed to appreciate the nuances of British Telecom commercials.stuart-2013-xmas-card

Anyway. The merry / melancholic season just isn’t the same unless I received a hand-drawn card by Stu (no pressure there, our kid.) So I wanted to nudge you towards his story and his website.  stuart-xmas1

Stuart hardly needs more followers; he is probably the most successful, proudly autistic-blogger in the UK. But if you *do* want to find out a bit more about Stuart, his life, his artwork, his politics, Stalybridge Celtic, 70’s and 80’s pop, his writing and poetry, plus the public transport history of the Mancunian area – then please, put your feet up and check out his blog.

A previous year's - worship of waterways too.

Oh. And the ‘font’ bit? Stuart is an expert on fonts. He really is a national treasure.

So where’s his ruddy OBE then? I’m sure Stuart would have an interesting political answer for that one.

Have a great 2017 and go see https://mancunian1001.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

More talent in this little finger than most of that lot on the Honours List. Really!

More talent in his little finger than most of that lot on the Honours List. Really!

Don’t Be A Bird Brain

16 Oct

Followers will know that I like to blog about all kinds of stuff, but that I can become the gobbiest when it comes to the issue of ‘outsiders’. Yes, I get all crabby about those who are on the fringes of society (because of lack of income or birth right or connections) but I also get my knickers in a twist in relation to the way that people who are deemed to be a bit ‘different’, ‘quirky,’ ‘eccentric’ or who seem to be singing from a completely different song-sheet from the rest of us ‘normals,’ are treated.

Elvis falls into one of these categories.  Not only is his name un-cool (because most families don’t listen to Elvis obsessively as we do) but he also happens to be a budgie. And after Father Christmas delivered him to us last year I have lost count of the number of times people have exclaimed “Ha-ha! You have a budgie! Aren’t they a little old ladies’ pet? How bizarre!”

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

He was a loving little companion. Until he shat on my copy holder.

So even though our Elvis is one un-cool dude – he has clearly has a feathery little soul of his own. So he gets treated like royalty (better than royalty actually, if Prince Harry trucked up to our house – I certainly wouldn’t be cleaning his turds up with a wadge of Kleenex). During the daytime if the house is empty, Radio 4 is switched on so that he doesn’t get too lonely (he is a huge fan of Women’s Hour and has a bit of a thing for Jenni Murray). And if I’m working from home he accompanies me to the office (he’s sitting on the printer right now chirruping away – and yeah, it’s yours truly who has to leave the room if the phone rings. Not all professional callers are as understanding of a budgie’s need to squawk along to The Archers as you’d hope that they might be.)

Yesterday, I was in the middle of reading an excellent guide  for employers on how to create an autie-friendly workplace when my daughter (who was trying – and failing –  to train Elvis to sing a Beatles song) interrupted me with “Hey Mum, why do we use ‘Bird Brain’ as an insult? ‘Cause Elvis – and all birds – are way cleverer than my brother…” and this reminded me of a fantastic book that I recently read.

‘King Crow’ by Michael Stewart had me all fired up. Indeed, chuffed to bits. Because the action takes place in a very foreign, an oh-so exotic and distant place. Far-flung shores which are all too often overlooked by the UK south-eastern dominated publishers. Yeah folks, this venture into alien territory involves all of us suspending those LondonCentric belief systems and assimilating a superb tale that centres on a general geographical area known as ‘the North of England.’  And then focuses further on an even smaller microscopic part of the landscape which happens to possess a very un-Kensington and Chelsea place name. That of ‘Salford.’ Or pronounced ‘Sol-fud.’ (In case you somehow thought that it should be uttered as ‘SORL-FORRD’)

So yeah, thank God for people like Michael Stewart who are proud of their roots and who enjoy writing for the literati – as well as for plebs like me n’ mine. Folk who get all giddy because we used to wander through those exact same tower blocks which he touches upon.  People who know precisely what the terraced houses he mentions still look like (or indeed,  taste like … I used to have a thing for licking red brick work when I was a nipper. But let’s not go there.)

And my interest in reading this book was piqued further when I realised that the story is told through the eyes of a school boy who is autistic. Although the ‘A’ word is never used. It doesn’t need to be. Michael S  simply shows that his protagonist Paul Cooper, operates on a different plane to most others. And that Paul’s obsessive traits are focussed on birds (and unlike most teenage boys, this kid’s fixation is with on the ornithological – the feathery, rather than the female form.)

Who's The Daddy?

Who’s The Daddy?

Now, you might already be familiar with the ‘Rainman’/ Dustin Hoffman version of what being autistic might entail – but ‘King Crow’ is a beautiful reminder of how autism can take both stark and subtle shapes within a personality. And it also nudges the reader into realising that obsessions – which might at first hold no interest for the reader whatsoever, when so cleverly woven into a story with such a fascinating character – can leave your fingers itching to find out more via Google. Or cause you to fall into petulant arguments with your six year old as to whether “it IS a sodding Crow in the back garden. Or a raven.  Or…let’s get the damned field book out, eh our kid?”

I don’t normally blether on about books that you MUST read – but if you tend to care about the sort of things that I get all het-up about, then this is a book for you. And I won’t say anymore about it for fear of spoiling the storyline…

And for those of you who have already read this book and who have enjoyed other stuff delivered by Mr Stewart. you will be pleased to hear that his next book will be launced in the new year. (Although sadly, the guy cannot guarantee any budgie cameos.)

But hey.  Back to the report that I mentioned earlier*. And an excellent quote from it. Courtesy of a fella named Stephen Shore. Who offers some very sage advice.  Which I reckon, should be applied not only to autism but to many other hidden impairments. And to the overall issue of ‘intelligence’ itself.

“If you’ve met one person with autism. You have met one person with autism.” (Stephen Shore.)

 

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Sherlock's latest cerebral rival...

Never mind your bloody bird-brain! Going pipe to claw.  Sherlock’s latest cerebral rival… (and never mind my northern bias – check out Museum of London’s ace new exhib on our Sherlock and his incredible legacy)

 

* ‘Making Employment a Positive Experience for People in Calderdale’ By Matthew Lowe – for Calderdale Council and National Autistic Society

 

 

Barclays! Nowt Wrong With a Bit of Chest-Staring!

24 Sep

I was a bit gutted to see that in their latest LifeSkills advert, Barclays have opted for the old ‘C’mon kids! If you can’t make effective eye contact – you’ll be on the job scrap heap forever!’ approach.

I would have hoped that Barclays – given their oodles of dosh – could have thought a little bit longer and a little bit harder before they decided to embrace such an off-the-peg and unhelpful approach to customer service training. The last thing people who really, truly struggle with this issue need is a an advert going out there – telling all and sundry that they are somehow ‘wrong.’

Sure, it’s important to tell young people that *some* people (not me, for example – good grief, no) prefer being looked slam-dunk in the eye when they’re asking you where the tins of baked beans are located.

But it’s equally important not to discriminate against those of us who cannot do this – and who cannot be trained to do this. Whether due to cultural differences or disability issues.

Get the balance right, Barclays!

Get the balance right, Barclays!

So c’mon Barclays! We all liked the nice, chirpy lass who stars in the advert…but please drop the emphasis on Eye Contact Or No-One Will Ever Give You A Job tosh.

(and now to re-blog my original article…)

STOP STARING AT MY CHEST!

Now that I’ve got your attention…

This is a semi-serious post. Yesterday I began a discussion with my daughter about ‘eye contact.’  I was trying to pre-empt some of the social misdemeanours that she might commit when we return to southern Africa. The thing is, my lass has *the* most incredible staring prowess. When we lived in Namibia, she used to freak the locals out. We’d often hear ”Why must your daughter stare at me so much?” and “That kid is scaring me with the way it is looking at me!”

Even the cat buggered off and left home after the babe in arms trumped it in a staring competition.

My girl isn’t being rude. But in certain parts of Africa, as Libertina Amathila (freedom-fighter against apartheid-turned politician) outlines in her autobiography, youngsters in southern Africa are taught that it is a sign of disrespect to hold eye contact with an adult. And yet – when Africans from this tradition meets a westerner  – all too often this comes over as a very negative action to the likes of you and me. This person cannot be trusted. Is shifty.

During the early days of living in southern Africa, I found this lack of eye contact to be distubing. Once (when pregnant and probably feeling even more paranoid than usual) I became convinced that Africans were looking at my crappy footwear. Regarding it with total disgust. Probably thinking “Buy yourself a new pair of shoes, you crazy and scruffy white lady!” But it transpired that they were simply moving their eyes away from my face, then away from my bump – and finally resting on my feet. (Well, this is what my partner explained to me. But the tightwad was probably making an excuse up not to have to treat me to a new pair of shoes.)

And of course, the apartheid system also had an effect on whether a black person dared to hold eye contact with a white person. And the legacy of this still very much remains.

And as I was giving my 9 year old a very nurturing and compassionate mini-lecture providing sage advice such as “so don’t go gawping at people. Okay?” I was reminded of the similarities with regards to misunderstandings about autistic behaviour and eye contact.

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don't GAWP at people. Okay?

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don’t GAWP at people. Okay?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I try to raise awareness of autistic spectrum conditions and of any kind of ‘exceptionality.’  And thanks to initiatives such as World Autism Awareness Day and some of the incredible charities and associated campaigners (with a special nod to Potential Plus UK here) society now knows more than ever about some of the more common autistic traits.

Lack of eye contact is often cited as a key characteristic of autism.  And this is just one of the huge barriers that ‘autie sorts’ really suffer from a lack of understanding about. Classroom teachers – if the signs of autism are more subtle in a child – might well simply write the kid off as being surly or rude, if they don’t make eye contact.  Adults with autism can ‘bomb’ at job interviews, for this reason alone. Even some of the organisations that you might expect a bit more awareness from haven’t clicked just how excruciating it can be for an autie to meet your gaze (The Co-operative retail outlet once asked me in a customer feedback questionnaire ‘Did the till operator make eye contact with you?’ Yes dear reader, you can imagine what my response was….)

And finally – a distressing example – I know of one young man (then undiagnosed autistic) who was mercilessly bullied because he couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Several of the more immature teenage girls in his classroom took hysterical offence to the fact that his eyes would always drop downwards when talking to them. He’s Staring At My Tits.  Cue regular beatings by the other lads and for the rest of his life being known as ‘weirdo’ or ‘pervert.’

So today on World Autie Day – let’s try and not judge everybody else by the eye-balling Stepford Wives cultural and customer service standards.

Let’s convince ourself instead, that it is polite, it is pertinent and sometimes it is the proper thing to do – to look away and to give someone that extra bit of peeper-space.

(So long as you don’t look at my chest today, poppet because this T-shirt has got gravy stains all down it.)

Stop Staring At My Chest!

2 Apr

Now that I’ve got your attention…

This is a semi-serious post. Yesterday I began a discussion with my daughter about ‘eye contact.’  I was trying to pre-empt some of the social misdemeanours that she might commit when we return to southern Africa. The thing is, my lass has *the* most incredible staring prowess. When we lived in Namibia, she used to freak the locals out. We’d often hear ”Why must your daughter stare at me so much?” and “That kid is scaring me with the way it is looking at me!”

Even the cat buggered off and left home after the babe in arms trumped it in a staring competition.

My girl isn’t being rude. But in certain parts of Africa, as Libertina Amathila (freedom-fighter against apartheid-turned politician) outlines in her autobiography, youngsters in southern Africa are taught that it is a sign of disrespect to hold eye contact with an adult. And yet – when Africans from this tradition meets a westerner  – all too often this comes over as a very negative action to the likes of you and me. This person cannot be trusted. Is shifty.

During the early days of living in southern Africa, I found this lack of eye contact to be distubing. Once (when pregnant and probably feeling even more paranoid than usual) I became convinced that Africans were looking at my crappy footwear. Regarding it with total disgust. Probably thinking “Buy yourself a new pair of shoes, you crazy and scruffy white lady!” But it transpired that they were simply moving their eyes away from my face, then away from my bump – and finally resting on my feet. (Well, this is what my partner explained to me. But the tightwad was probably making an excuse up not to have to treat me to a new pair of shoes.)

And of course, the apartheid system also had an effect on whether a black person dared to hold eye contact with a white person. And the legacy of this still very much remains.

And as I was giving my 9 year old a very nurturing and compassionate mini-lecture providing sage advice such as “so don’t go gawping at people. Okay?” I was reminded of the similarities with regards to misunderstandings about autistic behaviour and eye contact.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I try to raise awareness of autistic spectrum conditions and of any kind of ‘exceptionality.’  And thanks to initiatives such as World Autism Awareness Day and some of the incredible charities and associated campaigners (with a special nod to Potential Plus UK here) society now knows more than ever about some of the more common autistic traits.

Lack of eye contact is often cited as a key characteristic of autism.  And this is just one of the huge barriers that ‘autie sorts’ really suffer from a lack of understanding about. Classroom teachers – if the signs of autism are more subtle in a child – might well simply write the kid off as being surly or rude, if they don’t make eye contact.  Adults with autism can ‘bomb’ at job interviews, for this reason alone. Even some of the organisations that you might expect a bit more awareness from haven’t clicked just how excruciating it can be for an autie to meet your gaze (The Co-operative retail outlet once asked me in a customer feedback questionnaire ‘Did the till operator make eye contact with you?’ Yes dear reader, you can imagine what my response was….)

And finally – a distressing example – I know of one young man (then undiagnosed autistic) who was mercilessly bullied because he couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Several of the more immature teenage girls in his classroom took hysterical offence to the fact that his eyes would always drop downwards when talking to them. He’s Staring At My Tits.  Cue regular beatings by the other lads and for the rest of his life being known as ‘weirdo’ or ‘pervert.’

So today on World Autie Day – let’s try and not judge everybody else by the eye-balling Stepford Wives cultural and customer service standards.

Let’s convince ourself instead, that it is polite, it is pertinent and sometimes it is the proper thing to do – to look away and to give someone that extra bit of peeper-space.

(So long as you don’t look at my chest today, poppet because this T-shirt has got gravy stains all down it.)

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don't GAWP at people. Okay?

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don’t GAWP at people. Okay?