James Christie's Blog

October 11, 2018

It's 0.651, And I'm Going To Work

It’s 06.51, and I’m Going to Work.

I’m an Asperger, and according to a recent National Autistic Society survey, I’m one of only 16% of Aspergers in full-time work. 32% of us are in some kind of paid work (either full or part-time), but 77% of us who want to work are nevertheless unemployed and four out of ten have never worked.

So, I think as I manoeuvre the car out of the driveway, I’m actually part of a rare, if not happy breed. Not that I feel that happy on a chill November morning in Scotland, the sun far from up and the engine even further from hot.

The spreadsheet that sometimes seems to serve as my brain goes through the checklist for the umpteenth time. All the things neuro-typicals cruise through on autopilot or take for granted:

Shirt clean and laundered? Tick.

Clock-on card in place around my neck? Tick.

Haircut regulation length? Tick.

Car serviced? Tick.

Boiler timed? Tick.

Cat fed? Tick.

And so on. Every last detail laboriously attended to and, noted author or not, I go off to work worrying about every last thing that may happen. About whether or not I’ll be up to it.

I’d say that’s a given for Aspergers.

Humour helps, though. I use it a lot. I explained to my manager once that I was “a well-composed nervous wreck,” and I was joking, but also deadly serious.

As a fellow Asperger once said:

“I often get very frustrated after receiving rejections for jobs and find it quite difficult to manage these feelings so they often manifest into depression ... I still find interviews quite hard and my confidence and self-esteem can take a knock quite easily, as my autism makes me quite sensitive to rejection.”

As a result of some of the knocks I’ve taken in compiling a CV nearly thirty-two years in length, I myself feel like a Vietnam veteran with post traumatic stress disorder; but we’re all on the same spectrum, and I lack as much confidence and self-esteem as the next Asperger.

I’m also prey to all the fears and anxieties which haunt us all, and they never let up.

But I’m coping on my own. There are advantages for Autists if the spreadsheet can conquer the fear:

I coped with the executry (probate) for a recent bereavement.

I’ve arranged and managed several repairs and upgrades to the house.

I had the car serviced and took her round the country.

I even got the cat wormed.

I coped.

Not all of us can, and I sometimes think they should put my venerable house in a glass case and make of me a living exhibit.

But some of us are able to contribute. I’m the living proof.

It’s 06.57. I pull into the staff car park, check three times I’ve locked the car correctly and clock on.

“Have a good shift,” I say to a colleague, “and may God have mercy on your soul.”
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Published on October 11, 2018 13:31 Tags: autism

August 14, 2016

Autism Life Skills

Adult Life Skills hit the cinematic trail recently.

Starring Jodie Whittaker, it’s about a young woman who can’t cope with a bereavement and retreats to a shed at the bottom of the garden, which seems like a dopey thing to do.

And it seems dopey to me, you see, because my mother died the other day.

Now I’ve laid both parents to rest, it’s fair to say I know of what I speak; and in the midst of everything else that came to pass, I was reminded of a recent statistic: that “80 % of people who have heard about autism are unaware how common it is and 49% do not know that it is a life-long condition.”

(The National Autistic Society, 2007. - Think differently - act positively: public perceptions of autism in Scotland)

Or in other words, while many people have heard the word autism and know it’s out there somewhere, a large number of them still have no idea how widespread it is (more than one in a hundred people in the UK are living with autism) or how broad a spectrum of disorder it covers (John Harris of The Guardian recently commented that “people still prefer to fixate on autism as something associated with childhood, and thereby avert their eyes from the issues surrounding autistic adults.”), and presume grown-ups with autism like myself will react to an issue like bereavement in exactly the same way they themselves (neuro-typicals) do.

So I’ll admit to being a bit bemused when I fairly regularly received this comment:

“It’ll take time for you to come to terms with it.”

No, it won’t take me any time at all. I react differently.

For Aspergers, it’s logic first and emotions afterwards. For neuro-typicals it’s emotion first and logic later…

We are different from you.

When it happened, I accepted the fact that Mum had died of a stroke without the slightest disbelief or any attempt at denial.

The emotions came along very shortly afterwards – the pang of loss in the gut, the weariness striking early every day; the feeling that if I let my breath out too quickly, my stomach would fall out as well.

That is the order of things for an Asperger. I knew that bereavement felt like a slow-motion car crash, and I knew it was going to hurt.

Worse, that long week after the death requires the survivor (usually feeling at their worst) to be at their best. Administratively speaking, anyway. And at such a time, a focused Asperger’s logical approach is definitely an advantage. The logical awareness of what had to be done was translated into immediate action. I contacted the doctor, the lawyer, the funeral director…

But not, I admit, the candlestick-maker.

Death, I’ve realized with dark irony, is an industry – one with a guaranteed supply of clients and continuing demand for the services of its specialists. But even so, it’s vital to be able to talk calmly and coherently to those professionals (minister, registrar, financial adviser etc.) who are strikingly supportive, but only human.

And while I was very grateful for words on Facebook offering “light and love,” I did sometimes find myself wishing some subtle benefactor would sidle up to me on the quiet, slip me an envelope with £5,000 in hard cash and offer me the services of a personal administrative assistant.

Words must be said for the departed. I wrote an effective eulogy, complete with efficient rhyme and couplet; and once the service was done our priority was to ensure the burial passed off without a problem - put the right cord in the right hand, don’t drop the coffin, don’t fall in the open grave…

It has happened.

I’d already said my private goodbyes in the room where Mum died, so all there was left to do was send her on her way to the strains of Anne Shelton’s Petite Waltz.

I cleared the house but kept a sense of her presence, took time in Culter Library where she’d watched me work in her last days. Most surely felt the pang of loss.

Then I turned to the shed. I denuded it of a few useless items (Dad, we never needed that Garden Vac!), but didn’t retreat to it because I couldn’t cope.

That’s not the Asperger way.

Life goes on. I know there is another day.
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Published on August 14, 2016 16:21 Tags: autism

July 28, 2016

Last of the Rare Book Cataloguers

<![CDATA[Only a few books to go and then so will I. It's been a long journey to a virtual chapel complete with stained glass windows, weeding and shelving rare books in a reading room not twenty miles from the special collection where I first learnt the library trade nearly twenty-five years ago.]]>
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Published on July 28, 2016 05:25

July 15, 2016

Maybe Best for Britain?

Maybe May will be able to broker the best deal for Britain - all of Britain - in the days and months yet to come. And maybe not.
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Published on July 15, 2016 03:24

April 22, 2016

Why Stop the One Stop Autism Shop?

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Published on April 22, 2016 03:48

April 19, 2016

Why Stop the One Stop Autism Shop?

So it seems the future of Scottish Autism's One Stop Shop in Motherwell hangs in the balance. Three years financial support by the Scottish Government is coming to an end and as yet no joint commitment to further funding has been made by either North or South Lanarkshire councils.

One concerned parent, Karen Noble, has been very well aware of the benefits the One Stop Shop brings to understanding autism ever since her daughter was diagnosed with high-functioning autism (HFA) on her eleventh birthday. It had taken quite some time and struggle to receive the diagnosis in the first place, and afterwards the only support provided was a list of books and the One Stop Shop's phone number.

But in this case, that number was indeed the means by which Karen's daughter gained confidence and found common ground with her family and neuro-typical sister. The One Stop Shop provided courses in arts and social skills which made a great difference to a young girl with HFA, giving her the confidence to understand who she was and even explain to schoolmates that she was on the spectrum. In addition, the Shop delivered numerous courses which social workers, parents and therapists could attend plus a convenient family drop-in service.

As only about 6% of Autists hold jobs and (according to Professor Martin Knapp of the London School of Economics) "autism remains one of the UK's most expensive medical conditions, costing over £32 billion per year," you'd think any set of measures put in place to improve the lot of those on the spectrum and alleviate the ongoing financial haemorrhage would be deemed vital and continue to be supported.

But I'm afraid it's neither lie nor exaggeration to say that Scottish councils and the NHS sometimes show all the clear vision and far-sightedness of three blind mice.

After successfully completing a year-long voluntary project for South Lanarkshire Council and requesting the letter of acknowledgement and appreciation I'd been faithfully promised, I'll never forget being told by some apparatchik that "they cannae do that, the council widnae like it..."

Nor will I ever forget being left hanging in redeployment hell for four years by a Scottish NHS trust which plainly did not know what to do nor how to make any sort of decision. Aspergers need certainty and like structure. I had neither. It was hell.

There are times I'd have been happier leaving the decision-making process in the hands of said mice than with the council, and I wonder if this is one of those occasions...

Nor is it any exaggeration to say that many local families would be devastated by the Shop's closure, and in the meantime they (like I was) are left hanging in a hell of uncertainty while the councils fail to commit. Aspergers may dislike a lack of structure, but that doesn't mean neuro-typicals, conversely, have any affection for chaos, misrule or inertia.

Karen Noble is clear about her feelings on the matter:

"My daughter wouldn't be where she is without our One Stop Shop, and neither would we. The advisors have helped Amy relate to her own family, and helped us relate to her."

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau and The Legend of John Macnab. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.

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Published on April 19, 2016 15:41

March 24, 2016

Don't You Dare Do Away With My DLA!

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Published on March 24, 2016 05:24

March 23, 2016

Don't You Dare Do Away With My DLA!

After a torrid few days which saw Iain Duncan Smith resign as Work and Pensions Minister partly over the change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP), blow a hole in George Osborne's budget before he turned out the lights and left, and the government then backtrack and say it wouldn't introduce new extra cuts to welfare; it's fair to say there have been and will be more twists than a contortionist turned into a snake by the name of Ouroboros...

So I'll keep it simple, and explain how I myself got DLA.

I was diagnosed with autism in 2002 but it wasn't until 2008 that an autism charity suggested I apply for DLA and helped me fill out the form. My first application was rejected and I appealed, giving specific information relating to the nature of my disability, which as I said then and still say now, is "an incurable neurological disorder which causes me significant depression as I struggle with the frustrating and demoralising tasks an ever more complicated world requires of me." I asked the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to look again at their decision in January 2009, only to be rejected once more.

With the autism charity's support, I took the DWP to an appeals tribunal held in July 2009. My appeal was allowed and I was awarded DLA from 2008 to 2011. Between July and October of 2011, I had to claim DLA again. This time it was awarded indefinitely.

It would be easy to moan about the inequities of a system which basically made me apply three times, but I was well aware I'd probably have to appeal as there are people who try to manipulate the system and, in general, a more protracted process does weed out the chancers.

However, after four years, in receipt of payments totalling no more than £21.80 a week (I deserve no more - I'm physically fine but mentally slow), formally diagnosed with an incurable neurological disorder ensuring that "my ability to literally make sense of the world on a daily basis is very limited and may well worsen as I age," and just after celebrating my forty-seventh birthday, it seemed I could relax and breathe easy.

After all, autism is incurable and I'm only going to get older.

But only sixteen months later (February 2013), I was one of many who got letters telling them DLA was going out, PIP was coming in and we'd have to have face-to-face consultations.


The previous paragraphs have been tightly written and well-controlled, but now I think I'll just let it all hang out.

I'm now over fifty. This lifelong incurable disorder won't go away or improve, that's why they call it lifelong and incurable!

D'oh, as Homer Simpson would say!

Due to the specific nature of my disability (crippled information-processing capabilities), I will never be able to work as fast as others. You can't incentivise a Nissan Micra to perform like a Ferrari, Mr Smith, Mr Osborne and Mr Crabb; the engine capacity simply does not and never will exist!

I've sat before an appeals tribunal. I've delivered verbal and written evidence of my diagnosis. What riles and provokes me is the inability on the DWP's part just to accept the answer and be done with it. I feel I'm being both kept hanging, and also poked and prodded like an experimental animal. Adults with autism dislike instability and uncertainty just as much as companies and organizations do. You've been given the facts, they will not change, get the message, stop bothering me.

And just in case you haven't worked this out, there aren't many jobs going for over-fifties anyway!

Frankly, if I get hauled in front of a PIP assessor, my first impulse will be to be as obstreperous as possible. I even have to wonder whether there's a cynical desire afoot just to keep on questioning people like me until we throw in the towel in exasperation and/or die or something.

Well, is there?

Enough is enough. It would have been harder but cleaner simply to have been refused in the first place, but now that I and others like me have fulfilled the criteria you really should just let us be. I accept that tax receipts are not a bottomless pool, that the UK population is aging and the government has both debt and deficit; but my disability and employability will not change much now. In the future you, the government, will have to find ways of letting people like me work you can't currently even imagine (there is talk of a universal basic income, which sounds a bit like Universal Credit to me); and you'll have to come to terms with facts of life which will not change: at fifty-one (happy birthday to me!), I will only get older and slower, and with autism I will probably never again be up to a stressful full-time job.

In the end, and as the psychologist who first diagnosed me said:

"Know your limitations."

I do know mine. I've explained them clearly to you. It's time you accept what I've said and be done with it; and let me contribute as well as I'm able within a stable and supportive framework.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau and The Legend of John Macnab. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.

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Published on March 23, 2016 14:10

March 11, 2016

Best Bus Shelter in Britain, Bryson!

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Published on March 11, 2016 02:55

March 10, 2016

Best Bus Shelter in Britain, Bryson!

"But nobody, absolutely nobody, hates you as much as the people who make English bus shelters. I've no idea why, but their most earnest wish, the single-minded thought that carries them through every working day, is to make sure that no user of a bus shelter in the United Kingdom ever experiences a single moment's comfort. So all they give you to rest on is a red plastic slat, canted at an angle so severe that if you fail to maintain a vigilant braced position you will slide off, like a fried egg off Teflon."

(Bill Bryson. The Road to Little Dribbling)

I really like Bill Bryson. In fact I once got very much into the habit of consulting his anthology of Stateside articles, Notes from a Big Country, as if it were a shabby Bible, and realized that beneath the humorous carapace was a very good journalist indeed, with an eye for detail ("Iowa women are almost always sensationally overweight"), an ironic delivery of economic fact ("the United States Congress ... recently voted to give the Pentagon $11 billion more than it asked for") and a delightful way of describing American buses:

"...Most of the people on long-distance buses are one of the following: actively schizoid, armed and dangerous, in a drugged stupor, just released from prison, or nuns."

It helps to have that quote to hand whenever I'm jawing on about the perils of crossing the States and people start looking sceptical. It reminds me of the time I got reluctantly back on a Greyhound bus in Salinas, followed closely by the local sheriff and two ex-cons. In fairness, they made no trouble and I even chatted to one for a time before he got off at Berkeley. Any schizoids aboard were probably already in a drugged stupor, no one fired a gun and I didn't notice any nuns.

All of which is a far cry from the stop for Stuart's service 30/31 'tween Lanark and Wanlockhead. It is indeed another world, but in defence of British bus shelters they built a new one on our main road the other month and though its design may not be quite art deco sublime, it's clean, efficient and neat, no weeds grow through the asphalt floor and it's a far, far better thing than the tiring transparent box it replaced, with its scratched plastic panels, shrubbery pushing against the base and (every single time) one discarded sweet wrapper whistling on the wind.

I wouldn't quite call it comfortable (I guess sadism still lurks deep within the genes of those who devise such shelters), but it's a nice change from the previous craphole. Photographed from the right angle there's even the church in the distance and sheep on the lea.

Oft-times, dear old Bill turns a moribund eye on Britain, from gloaming glen to dribbling hill, and that I too should do.

But remember this, old boy, there's at least one foreign road and humble stop worth catching the eye of Hopper, Constable or Rockwell

Mind you, if a Greyhound draws up, run like hell.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau and The Legend of John Macnab. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.



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Published on March 10, 2016 14:54