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autism Balkans decision making holiday hyperfocus loneliness masking social skills university

Balkans Roadtrip

I’ve just got home from a roadtrip across the Balkans with my two high school friends. We booked our flight to Budapest back in December so for a long time the trip was simply referred to as Budapest 2022. Then we went on a trip to Dublin at Easter and gained a trip mascot – Kevin the carrot. We created a Kevin the carrot Instagram page called Kevin’s crazy carrot adventures so spent a lot of the trip getting content for it. A group trip is something I never really thought I’d do but I really really enjoyed it.

This picture was taken in Bosnia at the Tara Canyon. It is the second deepest canyon in the world and we had a 6 hour rafting trip down it.

Countries visited: 7

Number of days: 18

  1. Budapest, Hungary
  2. Ljubljana, Slovenia
  3. Lake Bled, Slovenia
  4. Hochstuhl, Austria
  5. Belgrade, Serbia
  6. Sarajevo, Bosnia
  7. Tara canyon, Montenegro
  8. Split, Croatia
  9. Trogir, Croatia
  10. Zagreb, Croatia

This trip isn’t really something I ever thought I would do for a number of reasons:
It was very poorly planned
I get stressed when I have to spend to much time with people
We were constantly changing location

This is a view of Lake Bled in Slovenia.

A lot of these points are relating to my autism and I will explain further below. 

It was very poorly planned
For autistic people, lack of planning is a big issue. We like to know all the big W’s – who, what, when and where. We all had exams until 1 week before the trip though which is where the planning problem came from. It helped massively that I had exams to focus on first. I’m a very all or nothing/ black and white style thinker so whereas I used to need to know exactly what I was doing, I am now a very in the moment person and struggle to think ahead to the future – which provides a planning problem on the other end of the scale. Luckily, as we were travelling before school holidays, it didn’t matter that we were last minute. We did it all very systematically:

  1. Decided how long we wanted to go away
  2. Which countries we wanted to visit
  3. How long we wanted to spend in each country
  4. Which places we wanted to go to in each country
  5. How we would get between cities

We left the daily itinerary to when we got there but had a good basic plan. I really didn’t mind this because my main issue with lack of planning is wasting time and not having anything to fill a time slot however, I took my laptop meaning that in the time that the others spent faffing, I could work yet still be available to contribute to any decision making. In the past I think I’d have just got very anxious at the empty time spent unsure of what the plan was. 

I get stressed when I have to spend to much time with people
The main reason I don’t like spending too much time with people is because I get exhausted from socialising. Despite this, I found I was fine. I think this is because I went away with a group of friends who I have known for a very long time so can be myself around them and don’t have to mask. This relieves most of the strain of being with a group of people for a prolonged period of time. Additionally, a lot of the time we spent together was walking which is far less intense. 

We were constantly changing location
This is something that in the past I would have found very stressful because I like knowing that I have a ‘safe place’. Despite this, I find now that as long as I have my phone and laptop with me on a trip I’m fine. This is mainly due to the fact that it means I have a sense of normality in that I can work. It probably doesn’t make sense but it just provides a constant and something that I’m in control of. I am someone who likes to exercise as a way to relieve any stress so it really helped that most of the days were spent walking around. Our trip total miles were 255! I do think my friends got slightly frustrated that my solution to everything was walking. Lost? Don’t bother with Google maps, just walk and you’ll get to an important landmark eventually. Too hot? Just walk. Too tired? Walking will energise you. 

So overall, it was a great trip and I had an amazing time.

This was taken on the way up a mountain, at the border with Austria.

Top tips:
1. Don’t get night buses to save money, they are really busy, you won’t get any sleep and it’s much better to get an early morning bus. The bus from Sarajevo to Split was one of the most scenic rides I’ve been on and I had a whole row of seats to myself. 
2. If you are in a group of three or more, it’s often cheaper (and more pleasant) to rent an apartment. 
3. Splitwise is a great app for logging shared expenses. 
4. Most of the touristy attractions are quietist early morning and late afternoon. 
5. As long as you have access to a washing machine, you can manage with a small rucksack for 3 weeks. 
6. Using a monzo travel bank card means you won’t get charged for using a card abroad. 
7. Most cities have apps for buying tickets both for the airport shuffle bus and in the centre. 
8. Make sure you always have a snack supply. 


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autism masking smalltalk social skills university

Social hangover

I was always someone who thought that being alone was when I was happiest – which makes sense. I would always choose being alone over anything else because socialising would have such a negative impact on me. I wrote this poem titled ‘social hangover’ to describe how it feels. 

Social hangover

The morning sun seeps in
Splintering clammy skin
A wave of humid heat
Through curtains paper thin

Sharp scatterings of narratives
Pangs to a sluggish mind
Burning larynx
Chords severed, left behind

Stuck stagnant in a dry throat
Static embers of last night
Reeling in an uneasy stomach
The acidic bite –

Of unheard words
Boiling turbidly in the brain
A throbbing,  aching
Social hangover pain

Whispers of memories
spiralling deep in my head
The soft comfort of hiding
Under the bed

Anticipation 
Participation
Rumination
Repeat.

I think this poem depicts how it feels to be autistic and navigate social situations.

You may get from this poem that the main issue I had with socialising was the overthinking that comes from it. I would always feel anxious that I’d said or done something wrong. I think that having time during lockdown to learn to accept myself and the way I am really helped me to embrace spending time with people without feeling guilty about doing things wrong and making social errors. It means that I can socialise now without overthinking as much.

So I’ve gone from someone who despised socialising to someone who actually really values social interactions. Obviously the whole sensory side of things can still be an issue but I’m quite good at managing that.

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autism masking social skills Uncategorized university

What would I be, without my autism?

I’ve not posted in a while but I’ve been super busy with work, volunteering and Uni. I got the news that I passed my exams this morning which is great and I’m pretty happy with the way my life is going right now. I just thought I’d write a bit about something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently.

I think once you gain an autism diagnosis, it’s a constant learning process. There’s always more to learn about it. After all, it’s a very complex condition that exists on a spectrum so there are many different ways that it can be experienced by other people. So the more and more I learn, the more and more I get these realisations of ‘ohhh, that’s why I’m like that/ behave that way’. And then on the converse, the more I think ‘wait a minute, is my ENTIRE personality and identity autism?’. Now you may be forgiven in assuming that it doesn’t matter either way – which is possibly true. However, do I really want my entire identity to be autism?

Personality is defined as:

The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.

While identity is:

A person’s sense of self, established by their unique characteristics, affiliations, and social roles.

I think it’s important to note that anyone, regardless of there disability or condition, will exhibit different personalities. Some people are very individualistic with their disabilities, others identify with the condition and feel proudly part of a group. I think it’s hard to know whether something is an autistic trait or a personality trait and often there is a big overlap. For example, I am a very happy person and get very easily exited by things. Some people would describe me as being like an overexcitable puppy. So my question is: Is my personality a happy go lucky one or, do I just see and feel things very intensely as a consequence of my autism?

We can broadly speak of autism using the analogy of a sportsman. Yesterday morning, I cycled to a nice little spot on the river and had a lovely swim. I was thinking about how much I loved my bike and how I would struggle to live without it. Life just wouldn’t be the same. We can say the same about autism. If the cycling is taken away from a cyclist, that part of the person will no longer be. Just like if you take the autism away from an autistic person, that part of the person will also cease to be. Cycling makes up a massive part of a cyclists life – it’s what they do. Without it, the thing that makes up there identity is gone. It’s the same with autism I think.

Personality is much to do with peoples perceptions and how they respond and react to different things and a lot of autistic people react similarly to certain external stimuli. It could be thought of as like a cake. Imagine you have different options of base eg. Chocolate sponge, vanilla sponge or carrot cake. And then you can also choose sprinkles, fondant icing or buttercream frosting. Imagine that all autistic people have the same base ie autism. However they can have different toppings because there’s extroverted autistics and introverted neurotypicals. Some base and topic combinations are more common than others but that doesn’t mean that either is a given. Neurotypical people can have the same toppings as autistic people just like they can have the same traits.

Photo by Ahmed Aqtai on Pexels.com

That’s not to say that my autism isn’t connected to my personality. Because it is. It is a big part of my individuality. However, I do think that there is more to me than my autism. It is a part of me but not all of me.

This kind of links into whether we use person first (person with autism) or identity first (autistic person) language. Person first language distinguishes clearly between the person and their disability – however many people argue that there is no need for autism to be separated from the person. I think the issue a lot of people have with person first language is that it kind of gives the impression that autism is an accessory. A bit like a handbag that you can just leave at home if you want. Really, autism can’t be cured or just used as an accessory, it’s a neurological difference that affects someones day to day life. You could argue that person first language would require you to say ‘person with gayness’ or even ‘person with masculinity’.” This wouldn’t really make sense. Some people prefer person first language whilst others prefer identity first language. I don’t really have a preference so long as people see me as more than my autism. I feel like often, when I tell people I’m autistic, they can’t see beyond it. I think it’s mainly due to stereotypes and lack of education. Hopefully in the future, this will change.

But to conclude – I think that my autism makes me me. It has caused me a lot of struggles in my life but also a lot of successes. I think that over time, I have learnt to flip the coin and use my autism to my advantage rather than let it be a negative. This has actually come from learning about autism and how it relates to me and my individuality in great depth. I know exactly how it effects me and exactly how I can manage those effects.

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autism decision making loneliness social skills university

How to get better at socialising as an autistic person

People with autism don’t tend to have the best reputation when it comes to social skills. Autism is primarily a social communication disorder so wether it be due to inability to read people, to understand social cues or make eye contact – as a person with autism, socialising can be very stressful. Despite this, I know many autistic people who thrive in social situations and in this post, I want to try and understand why.

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Things you may be doing wrong

  1. You don’t know what skills you need to work on.

If you don’t know where you are going wrong then you can’t possibly know what to work on! Once you’ve identified where you are going wrong, you can work to push yourself to overcome them. For example:

  • If you get anxious making phone calls, try making one in the next week.
  • If you find yourself interrupting people when they are talking, challenge yourself to let people finish what they are saying before you talk.

2. Not socialising with the right people

I used to think that I was rubbish at socialising but when I came to uni and joined societies where people with similar interests went, I found that actually, I’m okay at socialising. I just needed to find the right people. People are generally nice and will accept your differences just as you’d accept theirs.

3. Not socialising in the right place

I find that if I meet up with people in groups and indoors, (for example in a cafe) I really struggle to participate in conversations because I can’t focus on everything that is going on at once. When I arrange to meet people, I often suggest going for a walk as I find it a lot easier to talk as there is less pressure and it is more acceptable to have periods of silence.

4. Dwelling on negative thoughts and overthinking

It is very easy to spiral into thinking about what you are doing wrong and ways you’ve messed up when reflecting on social situations. However, it is important to practice self compassion because everyone makes mistakes! Rather than overthinking things you may have done wrong, learn from them. Identify where you’ve gone wrong, think about how you can do things differently next time and move on! This is easier said than done, but by focusing on thinking about what you can do going forward rather than what you have done wrong, you are doing something positive and proactive.

5. Not getting on with people

Sometimes, you may perceive people to not like you or sense friction when really, you are just misinterpreting them. Some things you could do to get over this are:

  • Learn about other cultures. Friendships aren’t all about similarities. Sometimes you’ve got to appreciate differences too. Look up documentaries, exhibitions or books on different cultures so you can understand them more.
  • Keep and open mind and try not to jump to conclusions.
  • Ask questions – Rather than saying “You’re wrong!” ask “How come you think that?”

Ways to overcome these problems

  1. Study other people

Socialising is an art and is just one of those things that is better learnt through observation than learning a set formula. Think about:

  • What is their body language and eye contact like?
  • How do they make people feel?
  • What do they talk about?
  • What are their energy levels like compared to the other persons?

2. Visualise

Another thing you can to to improve your social skills is visualise certain scenarios and play them out in your head. It links to the above paragraph because you can visualise yourself doing the things that a ‘good’ socialiser does.

3. Active listening – encourage people to talk about themselves.

Active listening is a really good skill to have and will make people want to spend time with you. I actually did an active listening course a few years ago that really helped me. Some top tips are:

  • Show that you are listening through your body language. For example, make eye contact, nod occasionally as they talk and lean forward slightly.
  • Listen to non verbal cues. Are they rubbing their eyes because they are tired? Crossing their arms in defence? Or maybe they are just smiling.
  • Try to focus on listening and not preparing your next question while they are speaking.
  • Say ‘yeah’ or ‘uh huh’ to show that you are listening.
  • Don’t try and solve their problems, just offer a listening ear.
  • Ask questions relating to what they’ve said or repeat or paraphrase things back to them eg. ‘It sounds like that made you really upset…’

4. Start and end the conversation right. To start the conversation:

  • Ask a question eg. ‘How’s your day going?’
  • Ask for their opinion eg. ‘What do you think of the new….?’
  • Give a compliment eg. ‘I love your t-shirt! Where’s it from?’
  • Make an observation about the surroundings eg. Isn’t the wether great!’

Then to know when a conversation is over:

  • Summarising statements eg. ‘Well, I hope it works out for you!’
  • Short pleasantries eg. ‘It was great spending time with you!’
  • Mentioning meeting again soon eg. ‘We should meet up again to do this again!’
  • Referring to other commitments eg. ‘I have sooo much work to do later!’

Non-verbal signs include:

  • Packing up belongings
  • Looking at their watch or a clock
  • Appearing distracted

Hopefully these tips will help you have better social interactions!

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autism decision making employment hyperfocus obsession Uncategorized university

Why Autistic People Make Good Employees

Looking at the traits most commonly associated with autism, you could be led to believe that autistic people and employment don’t go very well together. However, it is important to remember that although autistic people struggle in some respects, they also have many strengths and good qualities that can be very advantageous to employers. Autism is a spectrum and no autistic person is the same, meaning people can present very differently. Just like neurotypical people, every autistic person will be more suited to some jobs rather than others. I think it is really important that autistic people are given a chance in the workplace, as well as the appropriate adjustments. Below are some reasons why.

  1. Alternative perspectives & logical and creative thinking

People with autism tend to be very good at problem solving and take a logical and structured approach to work. This, coupled with creative thinking, allows autistic people to think up alternative approaches to things – which can be really beneficial. We are both resourceful and innovative. I think for me, my mind is constantly on the go and if I’m asked to do some brainstorming, I will come up with a multitude ideas. Maybe not all of them will be useful but I will keep them coming until a solution is formed. We are also good at seeing crucial things that may have been overlooked.

  1. Loyalty, reliability and punctuality

Autistic people love routine so once they are settled into a job, they will usually stay there for a long time. Similarly, due to this need to follow strict structure and routine, autistic employees are very likely to stick to time limits and be punctual.

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com
  1. Focus and concentration

One so called negative autistic trait is the fact that we easily get obsessed with things. We can easily shut everything else off, just to focus on one thing – which is great if it is something to do with work! It means that we will often be devoted to projects and therefore do them to a very high standard.

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com
  1. Sense of right and wrong

We tend to have a very good sense of right and wrong. We will often fight for justice and not let things go until we get them. I think this often stems from our black and white thinking.

We are also very honest and, although our bluntness can sometimes be an issue, we will bring up problems in the workplace that other people may prefer to just avoid bringing up. Personally, I think this is good in terms of a workplace developing.

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  1. Knowledge and specialist skills

Many people with autism develop special interests. Their thirst for knowledge can often mean they can become experts in their area of interest with an in depth knowledge of the field. This is great when working in an area where this specialist knowledge can be applied.

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  1. Ability to do repetitive tasks

Often, people with autism find repetitive tasks enjoyable. In a chaotic and overstimulating world, repetitive tasks bring calm. We can do the same thing for hours on end, without losing concentration and making mistakes. We can happily do jobs that other people would find tedious and boring.

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autism employment university

How to keep down a job as an Autistic person

In my previous article, I gave some tips on getting a job as a person on the autistic spectrum. But what about when you’ve secured a job? How do you keep it? Work is hard for the majority of people and for autistic people, despite the skills, knowledge and positive attributes autistic people bring to a workplace, it can be particularly challenging and be filled with barriers to overcome.

The main issues with employment arise when employers don’t recognise these barriers or subsequently attempt to remove them.

The main reasons that people with autism may struggle at work are:

  • Overwhelm
  • Anxiety about change
  • Difficulty dealing with change
  • Work environment
  • Lack of awareness

Overwhelm

If you’ve had a job before, it’s likely that before starting the job you had to complete and array of admin tasks – all of which can be overwhelming and require significant organisation. Signing contracts, providing bank details, national insurance number, background checks completing forms etc…. If you’ve never done these tasks before, it can be really hard knowing where to start and how to find all the information.

I remember when I started my job in the warehouse, I found it really stressful having to source all the information for the forms. I found that the best way to do it was to create a checklist and focus on one point at a time rather than trying to do it all at once. I now keep all the important documents and information in one place to make the process a lot easier in the future.

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Anxiety about change and issues coping with change

Autistic people tend to really struggle with change. This is because they use routines and rituals to try and cope with the chaos and distress of everyday life. Keeping things the same gives some sense of control. A new environment can really disrupt this. For my most recent job, I work remotely meaning there were a lot fewer changes to contend with.

Before employment autistic people might have lots of questions such as:

  • What will I do as soon as I arrive at work?
  • What will my colleagues be like?
  • What will the work environment be like?
  • Will I have to stay overtime?
  • When will my breaks be?
  • What if I get overwhelmed?

The list goes on and it can be very easy to get stuck in a cycle of overthinking about these things. When I started my job, the thing I was most worried about is what the actual job would be like. I was lucky in the fact that my partner at the time started at the same time as me, which gave some form of sameness and comfort as we were in it together. Additionally, the first week was classroom based and gave us a really good introduction to the job and gentle easing into the warehouse work.

Something that can be done beforehand is to request that employers give (if they haven’t already) clear guidance on what can be expected in the job role, working hours, what the general day to day structure is like etc. You could even ask for an opportunity to visit the workplace prior to starting to be introduced to colleagues and the environment. This can really help with visualising what the day and routine will be like in order to aid the transition.

Settling into the new job and environment can be really hard however there are some things that can aid the transition.

  • Ensuring people know your preferred method of communication. If you prefer written instructions or instructions given separately then tell people!
  • Develop a plan for how you are going to prioritise certain tasks.
  • Sometimes it can be useful to ask for the personal profiles of colleagues. In the most recent job I had, we had to all create personal profiles with key facts about how we communicated and what we found annoying.
  • Some employers may offer mentors to give support.
  • Ask for clear guidelines on what the rules are and what is ‘acceptable’.

For example, I always thought that the half an hour break at the warehouse started from when you left the chill but it turns out that the majority of people started it after going to the toilet and sitting down with food. This is an example of something that is ‘acceptable’.

Work environment

For many people, it is the work environment rather than the actual job that causes the most issues. This can be due to sensory problems. Many people with autism are more sensitive to sensory input than other people. Things like lighting, noise, smells and temperature can all cause sensory overload. One of the issues I have is having a conversation with someone when there is a lot of background noise as my brain seems to focus on the background noise rather than the person talking which can be problematic when being given instruction in a noisy environment as none of it goes in. I was quite lucky in my job as I find that a way to reduce overstimulation for me is exercise and my job required me to constantly be on the move.

If I was in an office space I think I would really struggle to work. I’m in the library at uni now, on the quietest floor yet there is still too much noise for me. Sniffing, clicking, typing etc… Luckily I have headphones.

Sometimes employers will be proactive. For example, if you work in a shop that gets busy, they may move you to a quieter area. Sometimes it’s important for you to be able to respond to your needs yourself or let your employer know that you are struggling. I used to start making a lot of mistakes in the warehouse when I got bored because my brain couldn’t process the information anymore so I would get moved to a different role.

It is standard for employers to provide opportunity for feedback and this is a great time to tell them what’s working and what isn’t.

Lack of understanding

Often, if colleagues don’t know that there is a reason for your peculiarities caused by autism then they may just label you as weird or misunderstand you and develop friction. Autism is called a hidden disability for a reason – many people don’t know that you are autistic until you tell them. If employees don’t have understanding of the condition, you will potentially lack the support you need from others. There are many unwritten rules in the workplace that can be hard to grasp. These rules vary, so it can be good to talk them through with someone. Additionally, many workplace break times involve a lot of smalltalk – which can be hard to grasp but some good topics of conversation are:

  • The weather
  • TV
  • Plans or the evening

It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid controversial topics such as politics or money.

If you can, it could be a good idea to provide your employer with some information to give to colleagues about how your autism effects you. Most workplaces offer disability awareness courses as well.

In my opinion, it is a good idea to disclose autism to an employer as they will the have certain duties to you. The main law that is relevant to you is the Equality Act 2010. It requires promotion of opportunity for disabled people. It means that you shouldn’t be discriminated against based on you disability and should be treated equally and fairly.

It also means that you should be given reasonable adjustments. 

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes that employers make in order to best help you carry out your role. They can include:

  • Having your own desk.
  • Enforcing a policy that avoids people being noisy near your workstation.
  • Agreeing an alternative dress code due to sensory sensitivities.
  • Allowing flexible hours.
  • Allowing noise cancelling headphones.
  • Allowing you to start early and finish later to avoid rush hour.
  • Putting communications in writing.
  • Being given advanced notice regarding changes.
  • Extra training.

Some useful resources:

You may be entitled to extra financial support as an autistic person in employment: https://www.gov.uk/financial-help-disabled

practical and financial support can be provided to help you start or stay in work https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-to-work-factsheet/access-to-work-factsheet-for-customers

Equality act 2010 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents

Free advice on workplace rules and rights https://www.acas.org.uk

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autism decision making medical school university

Decision making as an autistic person

I really struggle with decision making. I even struggle with making simple decisions such as what flavour ice cream to get or what to have for tea. In fact, these small decisions are often the most exhausting to make and are the main reason why I rely on sameness: eating the same meals everyday, wearing the same clothes and buying the same things from the shop.

Bigger decisions, such as choosing a degree are even harder and one of the main reasons I actually chose to pursue medicine is because it would reduce uncertainty. I’d have something to pursue and a guaranteed career path at the end of my degree. In addition, it gives me a goal that every decision I make can relate back to.

I just wanted to share a quote that I came across a a few days ago that I thought was really quite profound.

If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.

Deepak Choprat
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It resonated with me because I used to feel very much paralysed by decision making. I think catastrophysing and overthinking all stem from the black and white thinking that is a typical autistic trait. Often, my brain leads me to think that there are only two possible scenarios: Good or bad. In reality there are many possibilities to every situation with equally as many factors to influence them. This thinking just leads to an overall snowball effect of spirallig into thoughts about what ifs. I often overthink any decision I make and obsess over what could have happened differently, as well as what I may have done wrong. Like many autistic people, I am highly self critical.

I think i’m extremely good at making logical decisions, especially when it is concerning other people which I think is in part due to being able to detach myself from the situation. I think that making decisions is all about gathering data for me. I like to research things extensively before jumping to conclusions, thus having a lot of data to consolidate my choices. If I have a lot of data, or all the pieces to the puzzle so to speak, then I am able to be confident in my choice. This could explain why I am bad at making decisions relating to any interpersonal issues as I am unable to gather sufficient data or worry that I have misunderstood and gathered the wrong data.

There is also the factor of uncertainty that decision making brings. Oftentimes this fear of uncertainty can be a driver of decision making. Autistic people struggle with uncertainty, often more than neurotypical people, so if an option gives less uncertainty, then it could be a better decision. There are so many variables in every single part of our lives. Things fail, people lose, things go wrong all the time. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. There’s only so much you can prepare for things. So much of life is unpredictable and control is just an illusion that helps us stay sane. I may feel in control of everything in my life, but a natural disaster could suddenly jeopardise it all. No matter what I do, nothing will ever go completely to plan. Which is hard to accept but that’s why I really like the above quote, because it views things in a different way.

I think additionally, one of the main issues with autistic people and decision making is our ability to deal with the consequences. This is due to being so self critical about our mistakes and ruminating over small details. We hold onto these minor things as if they are memories that should be cherished – or in my case, factors in future decision making (hence why it can be overwhelming when. so many factors come into play).

All of this indecisiveness can lead to us making good decisions, likely better decisions than neurotypical people however, neurotypical people are often able to better deal with the consequences of poor decisions and don’t waste so much of their life worrying.

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Here are my top tips for decision making:

  1. Try to remember the above quote when you are stuck in a cycle of trying to make the perfect choices.
  2. Rather than making one big decision, maybe make small choices along the way. For example, if you are making a choice about changing career, you could volunteer in that area for a while first.
  3. If making a small decision like what to cook for tea, you could either stick to the same meals throughout the week or use an app that looks at what food you have in and tells you what to make based on that.
  4. Shop online specifically for what you want so you won’t be overwhelmed by the choices available.
  5. Write a pros and cons list down and think rationally about the outcomes of each option.
  6. Try to do things that are out of your comfort zone, it may be hard at first but it will open up more opportunities in the future.
  7. Remember that nothing is permanent and there is always a way out of something if you don’t like it.

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autism medical school university

Autistic Medical Student

I am a medical student, and I also have Autism – two things most people might not expect to hear together. The phrase ‘doctor treating autism’ seems a lot more natural than ‘doctor with autism’.

I was diagnosed with Autism in 2016, aged Fifteen. Fifteen is quite late to be diagnosed with a lifelong condition; however, it is broadly accepted that there is a gender bias in autism diagnoses, with more males being diagnosed than females and females gaining later diagnoses. I believe that there are many flaws in both society’s perceptions of Autism and how it is viewed by health professionals. Many women go undiagnosed because they present differently to autistic men. Much of the indicators for Autism don’t take into account gender differences. Women are generally better at hiding their Autism compared to men and are simply viewed as ‘ a bit different’ or ‘shy’. For some people, living behind a facade is fine, and they get by, but for many women, it is exhausting to constantly pretend that you are someone you’re not, only being yourself when you are in a ‘safe’ place. Women get diagnosed with every other mental health condition but Autism because they are compared to the male representation. They gain labels that they don’t fit. A diagnosis isn’t for everyone but for me, it enabled me to be myself. Yes, people view you differently after diagnosis, but it was good for me; people were more understanding of my quirks, and life became a lot easier.

I thought it would be helpful to just give a bit of clarity on what Autism is.

What is Autism?

According to Autistica, “Autism affects the way people communicate and experience the world around them. Autism is a spectrum of developmental conditions, including Asperger’s Syndrome.” They then go on to list the symptoms as

“delayed or absent speech

difficulty with listening, concentrating and understanding

frequent repetition of words and phrases

taking things literally

difficulty sensing and interpreting people’s feelings

difficulty expressing feelings

over or under sensitivity to sound, touch, taste, smell or light

rituals or repetitive behaviours

disliking changes to routine

difficulty making friends and socialising”

Autistica

Some people would say that I have ‘mild’ Autism, but there is no ‘mild form’ of Autism. Autism exists on a spectrum, and all individuals with Autism have traits in common that can vary in intensity. One of my favourite quotes is,

“[So-called] mild autism doesn’t mean one experiences autism mildly…It means YOU experience their Autism mildly. You may not know how hard they’ve hard to work to get to the level they are.”

Adam Walton

It took a long time for me to get where I am today, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m ready to work really hard at university and hopefully become a doctor.

If we think back to the above list of autistic traits, it may seem as if there is no hope for an individual with Autism becoming a professional. However, just like neurotypicals, we all have strengths and weaknesses that can be developed. I would argue that medicine actually selects for autistic traits. The above list only tells half of the story; there is also a list of more positive qualities that actually make an autistic person very employable.

  1. Autistic people usually have a greater interest in and dedication to their hobby, meaning they have great expertise. A strong work ethic and drive mean autistic individuals can progress through training programmes while minimising the effect of their personal life.
  2. Communication with autistic people can be very concise and clear. This means less miscommunication.
  3. Autistic people may have excellent attention to detail which is very desirable in some jobs. Many autistic people can easily spot anomalies, patterns, and errors. We are also very good at looking at things from different perspectives and suggesting new ideas. This is great for the problem-solving side of medicine.
  4. Autistic people are generally very self-aware and only need a few things in order to feel content. As long as there is routine and structure, we are mostly happy. This is a positive trait for being at medical school because there is a lot of self-study and time spent studying whilst others are ‘having fun.
  5. Autistic people are likely to be very reliable, honest, loyal, and committed. Because we are different ourselves, we are generally very open-minded and non-judgmental, which makes good doctor-patient relationships.
  6. Contrary to popular belief, autistic people are incredibly empathetic and develop excellent communication skills. I was really pleased when I was told that I give good eye contact by my communication skills teacher as it is something that I have worked really hard on overtime.

The issues that autistic people encounter during medical school are likely to be unrelated to the degree. However, due to the Equality Act, which involves ‘Reasonable Adjustments’, there is a lot of support out there to assist autistic students. There is also the DSA (disabled student allowance), which can help people by providing aids to studying.

Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com
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medical school Poetry university

Shifting Family Dynamics at University

I wrote the below poem after seeing my family for the first time after moving to university. It was a strange experience because I suddenly felt like a visitor in their lives. It was something out of the ordinary for them to see me. It reminded me of when we used to meet up with family members for a meal after not seeing them for a while. I did not belong to their ‘unit’ anymore. Maybe it was the fact that I just met them for lunch and a walk; maybe it will be different when I go and stay at home, but it felt so strange. I felt like I was a dead person, looking on at my old life before I moved to uni – except I wasn’t there. It was almost like a feeling of grief because it dawned on me that things would never go back to the way they were before I moved out.

I tried to personify my house in this poem because I guess growing up we assume that our house will be our home forever. And it feels like a living breathing thing full of life (or at least it does to me). There’s a strong rhyme scheme to that section too because it reflects familiarity. I wanted to repeat the phrase ‘life goes on’ because despite the fact it’s a scary concept – life does go on whether I’m there or not. I think I have a lot of insecurity about whether my family miss me, prefer things without me etc. However, I think I’ve just got to realise that this is a time of change. Things are different and not the same but, that doesn’t mean they’re not good. One period of time does not compare to the other because it’s different. Life moves on.

Grief buried in my bones,

Bones of the body that is my home.

My own –

My only permanent home.

Pulling the new experiences,

Deep into my skin,

Letting sadness evaporate

and dissipate at dawn

The old me looks on

(From the outside)

At those four walls

With their glowing white front

And their brick back

With the trees round the side

And the blinds it lacked

With its warm red walls

And uncarpeted floors

With it’s four toilets

And heavy wooden doors

The old me looks on

From the outside

Because life goes on

Missing one

I’m not there,

But i’m very aware

That life goes on

Missing one.

I wonder if they like it,

Without me there?

Whether they miss me,

Or even care?

Shifting dynamics

A time of changes

Building a new life

with a bunch of strangers

Finty Royle