The book that changed my life

Teenage undiagnosed music lover Part 2. Yours truly discovers classic rock beyond the Beatles and his life will never be the same again.

“Come on it’s not all music” one relative half-teased me when I didn’t recognise the name of a famous sportsman on her Facebook status.

But for me at the age of thirteen, boy was it.

Nobody else was interested in how far a line of pylons stretched (no Google Earth then).

I didn’t dig sport and team sport lessons at school usually led to someone getting mad at me back in the changing rooms for scoring an own goal or somesuch. All the teacher could say was “I know he’s annoying sometimes but AREN’T WE ALL!!!” God rest his soul but they didn’t know how to handle that sort of thing back then.

The nearest cinema was half an hour’s bus ride away and anyway I needed plots explaining to me more then.

My favourite TV series had dwindled to a shadow of its former self and only had a few years left before the BBC pulled the plug. (It came back in 2005, that narrows it down a bit).

Music had it for me. The genesis of my love affair with the Beatles has been detailed in a previous entry. But a series on TV at the time called The Rock n Roll Years, which admittedly I was watching so I could get my visual fix of the Fab Four, opened my eyes to there being so much more. When the Rolling Stones appeared playing a song that had been on a single a mate of my dad’s had had, I remembered the song and how cool I had thought it was at the tender age of six.

“What’s this song called Dad?”

“Jumping Jack Flash”

I knew I’d have to start investigating the Stones at some point – when not chasing up George Harrison’s solo stuff through the local library system that is. One term into second year (Year 8 in today’s parlance) the time came.

It was nearly Christmas. I had been browsing music related titles in my local bookstore. One in particular had caught my eye. It is pictured below (image grabbed from eBay).

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I opened it up. Facts and figures. Aspies love those. I already had them for the Beatles courtesy of a lyric book complete with discography. Now I could investigate further. When a book token came by post (you always opened what only looked like a card early) I knew what I was going to spend it on.

The Stones entry was the first I looked upon. Yes, Jumping Jack Flash had deservedly topped charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Ah but there was more. So much more. With no streaming services or YouTube back then, I was left with guesswork. Why I didn’t avail myself more of my local library is anyone’s guess. But anyhow I familiared myself up on the Beatles’ solo careers, got to know which Stone did what and found myself looking through to learn of artists they’d covered like Chuck Berry.

Then there were others I’d heard of in passing like Pink Floyd and Deep Purple (I’d  heard Smoke on the Water on the curate’s son’s guitar not long before). Now I could read up and learn more and see what was touted as worth listening to. Now I knew why one sixth former’s jacket had Black Sabbath emblazoned on the back. Now I knew why the names Abba, Roxy Music and Thin Lizzy had all disappeared from the charts not long after I’d started noticing their names in them – surprise surprise they’d all disbanded at about that time. Abba… so THAT’S who did that Money Money Money thing Mum used to sing while she was doing the housework (much as she loathed Abba). Bob Dylan – I had to look him up cos I’d learnt Blowing in the Wind at a summer camp the previous year and heard Peter, Paul and Mary’s rendition on The Rock n Roll Years soon after. It wasn’t in the hit singles list but I knew which album to find it on.

At my school it wasn’t cool to be a trainspotter and somehow my love of the few Sinclair Spectrum games I had didn’t inspire me to save up for or hunt out more. I knew it would be a long time before I got to explore Britain’s railways in any depth (I’d bought a national timetable and map with birthday money on turning thirteen).

But now whole new vistas were opened up. And the folks singing these songs knew how I felt and expressed it better than I could, and certainly better than any counsellor or form tutor had managed to relate to.

Unrequited love and being a target of bullying with varying degrees of provocation? George Harrison could deal with both in one stanza.

In the eyes of the lonely one
Everything is cold and hopeless that he looks upon
He needs a friend, a lover who can comfort him
His deeds offend, he knows that he has brought on him… Teardrops

Teardrops (Somewhere in England, 1981)

And when I made a start on other bands, the Rolling Stones knew about my innocence that had died.

It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Smiling faces I can see
But not for me
I sit and watch as tears go by

As Tears Go By (single track, 1965)

It wasn’t long before I got into Fleetwood Mac too. Their entry in the book had fascinated me – even their name had a certain strange allure. Conveniently, they brought out their first single and album (Tango in the Night) in five years not long afterwards. A getting on point which led me to delve deeper. If I had had enough of being told “That’s the way you get bullied when you call people names” and thinking “Well heck I get bullied anyway” and hearing the “Just ignore him” advice yet again right in front of said tormentor, thus encouraging him all the more by making me the fall guy then I had no further to look than the Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie co-write World Turning.

Everybody’s trying to say I’m wrong…
Maybe I’m wrong but who’s to say what’s right
I need someone to help me through the night

World turning – I got to get my feet back on the ground
World turning – everybody’s got me down

World Turning (Fleetwood Mac, 1975)

“You’re obsessed with records aren’t you. And groups” the French teacher chided me one summer afternoon out on the lawn when none of us wanted to sing Alouette. “You have to remember to focus on real life as well you know.”

But heck this WAS real life. The Doctor and the Daleks weren’t real. Nor were Tom Tomato or Pete Pepper whose ‘adventures’ I had been magnetised back to a few summers before.

But these people were. Whether it was John Lennon pouring his emotional pain out in between political rants or Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks ranting at each other in song on songs like Go Your Own Way and The Chain, I had found real people to identify with. I read their stories in the Rock Handbook over and over again. It all reached deeper than any shrink could and moreover at my independent school where it was “hip to be square” (to quote Huey Lewis) and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd could be heard drifting out of the dormitories, it helped me meet my non-autistic comrades halfway and made it easier for them to relate to me and vice versa.

“Reading your Bible again?” my grandmother would tease me when she would see the book spread open in front of me on the dining table.

Well maybe not the Bible – more on a level with Greek mythology albeit with real-life tails of derring-do, psychotic episodes and great music being created that made me thirst for more.

I shall probably recount how certain artists caught my attention and brought me to the point where I own all their commercially released studio work in future entries.

But though multiple copies of it fell apart over the years, I will never forget the book that changed my life.

 

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A fat man’s FAQ

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Co-morbid with autism is anxiety. This can sometimes lead to overeating which in itself leads to anxiety which makes me feel like I’m being watched to see if I make progress, act on advice etc.

I developed my present weight problem in my late twenties roundabout the time I lost the best job I ever had. I was fighting to hold onto my mental health as undiagnosed OCD got me in a vice-like grip so anything else people said was good for me or necessary (apart from earning my keep) took second place as I dealt with inner panics few could understand. Also I was less physically active – partly because I had quit the warehousing industry and also because I was on the internet a lot more. I’d never had so much trivial info at my fingertips before and it was an Aspie’s paradise.

Sixteen years later after trying diet plans and finding them very hard to stick to, I’m going to lay some ghosts here.

For your reassurance I am at the time of writing going out walking with friends more and potentially about to purchase a bike.

The trouble is the minute anyone makes even a simple suggestion like that I feel like either (a) they think I’m ignorant enough not to have thought of it for myself or (b) I’m a stubborn reprobate for not having done it before or (c) plead a list of circumstances that may have mitigated over the years.

But I don’t want to be this big anymore. I’ll write more about how I feel the problem developed another time. But for now, here are my responses to some stock questions and statements I receive about the matter from my wonderful friends and family (for such they are).

What do you do to keep fit (if anything)?

In the past I used to enjoy walking. I guess I lost that habit round about the time I came as near as I ever have to a breakdown. Also the rise of the internet gave me occasion to spend most of my free time chasing the trivial information I so crave.

Why don’t you join the gym?

No thanks, especially not after one famous author suffered a fatal heart attack after going on the exercise bike at his local gym. I like swimming when I can spare the money and the time which I should do more often. Trouble is swimming pools aren’t often open for the use of all – a lot of classes and senior citizens sessions etc so you can’t just go along whenever you’re free.

Is there anywhere nice to walk round where you live?

Most of it you have to walk down main roads to get to. A lot of traffic dodging even when you walk on the right.

What about changes to diet?

OK let’s look at a few of them.

Cut all carbs and/or fats and/or sugars

I am not psychologically equipped to go cold turkey. I got put on loads of different diets as a kid to alleviate undiagnosed problems, irrational fears, poor co-ordination, bed wetting, you name it. One of them I got taken off because it just wasn’t working. The memory of having to avoid most of my favourite foods for a year (and it looked like it would be for life) is so painful.

Alright then just be moderate. Try a diet plan where you’re only allowed so much of XYZ per day.

Long lists confuse me. Also I save on my weekly budget and reduced benefits by volunteering at a cafe where I get my food for free. No it’s not a soup kitchen for those of you about to say so. The food is very difficult to quantify when it’s not the kind of thing that’s saved in a fitness app and has no calorie count already attached. I try to just have a big meal there and eat minimally for breakfast and dinner but it often doesn’t work out particularly when we get to take freebies home.

Do you think you might have compulsive eating disorder?

I have in fact had that looked into. My local mental health centre concluded I didn’t have one, I was just overeating because of ‘unhelpful belief systems’ referring to the religious based anxieties that had contributed to the problem arising in the first place.

You’re killing yourself you know

Of course I frickin’ know (adopts autistic whine and covers eyes)!!! You obviously either consider me stupid or a reprobate.

We’re all very worried about you

You know what? I’m worried about me too. I just feel so hooked and trapped. Just keep me far away from nice food. Really far away. Unless it’s a special occasion of course 😉

I’ve got a suggestion for you

And no doubt you’re expecting me to either act on it or give you a very good reason why not. You know what? That makes me feel like my back’s to the wall. My motto is that I never promise anybody anything, least of all to act on their advice. That doesn’t mean I won’t, just that I don’t appreciate feeling like I’m being watched.

We’re not having a go at you/trying to be horrible etc etc

I NEVER SAID YOU WERE!!!!!!

MY BIT: Some thoughts of my own

When people are addicted to drugs they get sent off to a clinic

When people are addicted to tobacco no-one takes much notice as long as they go outside to smoke. When did a smoker last hear anyone say “We’re all very worried about you!”?

When people are addicted to booze it’s much easier to diagnose (well so it seems). They even have medication for alcoholics now.

When people are addicted to certain foods they’re expected to join a group and get a grip of it.

But if it’s any reassurance peeps…

My blood pressure is regularly checked and medicated by my doctor who was pleased with my progress the last I heard. Also my level of negative triglycerides has been dropping steadily in recent years.

“I’m not so self assured” or “All my troubles seemed so far away” – my troubled early adolescence and the Beatles’ music.

Music therapy is a big thing today. Part of me thinks if only they’d had it readily available in my youth but then I remember how much harder I found it to open up and be myself when forced to lay my emotions bare in other kinds of therapy.

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I made my own music therapy. I found I could think and express myself far more clearly with a lyric or two to identify with. Oh sure we all have to some extent. Who hasn’t found a love song to sigh along to with those early crushes. But let me give you a timeline.

I had always appreciated music. I had been exposed to folk music at an early age courtesy of an aunt and uncle with guitars and always enjoyed the records my mother got from the library of songs like Old Daddy Fox and Peri Meri Dixi Domini (google them) considerably more than the stuff like The Wheels on the Bus and I’m A Little Teapot that were supposedly the height of excitement and intellect for the average child of my age. With books it was the other way round – I never really stayed deeply into them after I got past the age of having illustrations to guide me but that’s another story.

When I was five my mother bought me a Beatles record – a rare pressing of their first American album (the same as the first British one but minus two tracks) that just happened to be in our supermarket. I liked it so much that she got me another – a compilation only available on the European continent where we were living at the time (sadly lost in a house move a few years later). I loved that so much that she bought me a songbook. All in alphabetical order, no discography or guide to that strange eight year journey through their recording career. But we sang Yesterday, Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da and When I’m Sixty-Four at school, a kindly great aunt gave me the Yellow Submarine album one Christmas and somehow I knew there was so much more to these four guys.

 

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In the summer between Junior and Senior Schools I felt the need for a trip down memory lane to a safer place. I didn’t get kicks out of watching The A-Team and didn’t have the co-ordination for break dancing or doing wheelies on a BMX. My beloved Doctor Who had had an 18-month hiatus imposed on it by the then controller of BBC1 and there was a bit of a vacuum. I had spent the summer before buying five-year old books with my pocket money to try and get the ghost of infanthood laid (and complete my collections) before I had to go to secondary and be all intellectual (I thought) and the mental erosion from this episode was noticeable – I was studious enough at school but at home my mind was full of which members of the Munch Bunch lived in flowerpots and next door to whom etc etc. Now one year on, once again I needed a safe familiar place – one that wouldn’t have anyone saying “Isn’t that a bit young for you?” As end of term tension simmered while we worked on the end of year play (I only had a small chorus role) I found my mind drifting to what little music I had in my personal collection at the time – bits of classical, some French chanson my mother had tried to turn me onto and… the Beatles.

I had a record token left over from Christmas and after an exhausting week at an activity centre where they thought the height of excitement was to spray you with string or push you into the pool, I decided to get a Beatles record. And I did… it was called A Collection of Beatles Oldies and collected so many songs I already knew from the lost compilation along with gems like Paperback Writer which I’d heard my father singing round the house on occasion and Michelle which I absolutely fell in love with (partly cos I had a crush on the Michelle Fowler character in Eastenders).

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Soon I could talk of little else. I got a second hand single with the two tracks missing from the American album I’d had and bought second hand singles and rereleased EPs whenever I could. My uncle put loads of his Beatles vinyl on tape for my twelfth birthday and for Christmas. One guy at school even gave me a compilation tape he’d nicked off his brother (Rock n Roll Music Volume 2) – not often I’ve been guilty of receiving stolen goods but hey I was only 11.

This influx was to prove fortuitous, for the transition to secondary school, although initially it gave me a thrill to have different teachers for different subjects and a homework diary, proved very difficult. Although it was merely the secondary department of the same school where I had spent my primary years, the major influx of new pupils couldn’t get their head round me and my ‘differences’ and it didn’t take long for the taunting to begin. I reacted by shouting and yelling a lot and it wasn’t long before there was a concerned phone call to my parents who were duly summoned in and told I was to see the school shrink. It also didn’t help that the staff at the railway station, who had perceived inappropriate and potentially hazardous behaviour from this strange youngster had spoken to my school who had in turn written to my parents thus causing them (and me) even more distress. Well heck no-one told me you had to keep back from the platform edge even when there wasn’t a yellow line! One of the railwaymen had clearly got on the train and followed me as there was also a report of “embarrassing other commuters by pulling non-existent threads out of their conversations” rather an exaggeration as although I found myself being befriended or addressed by other commuters, ranging from old ladies to college students, who saw me wandering up and down the corridor looking for the perfectly positioned seat, I didn’t usually butt in on conversations between perfect strangers.

Suddenly I had become a problem case – one of the “bad boys”, receiving treatment I thought only juvenile delinquents got. Suddenly, Lennon-McCartney lyrics that had just started to become meaningful became much more so. Songs like Help! and Yesterday, both quoted in the title of this piece (though I turn my nose up at the latter nowadays), were my real therapy. It really had become the case that I was not so self-assured, my independence was vanishing in the haze life was no longer an easy game and I needed a place to hide. Written by John and Paul respectively – Paul the promising student, John the rebel constantly marked down for insolence etc. Previously I had polarised everybody as either Menaces or Softies thanks to my love of Dennis the Menace and other strips in the Beano where the bullies and the wimps were polarised (today’s autistic kids seem to do the same with Perfect Pete and Horrid Henry). Now I saw that in real life there was no need – the rebel and the student had formed the most popular band of all time together and written two equally vulnerable lyrics. You didn’t need to be plonked in front of a psychoanalyst to “talk about your feelings” as I had been on and off in those pre-diagnostic days when the then powers that be thought my problems were likely to be purely emotional. All you needed was a record and singers and writers who felt the same way and had committed it to plastic with a little help from their guitars.

And if I needed a stroll back to childhood innocence again then I could do it without the aid of the Munch Bunch or other juvenilia – all I needed was to listen to something like the White Album where a psychotic suicidal song like John Lennon’s Yer Blues sat snugly between Paul McCartney’s more all-age friendly Birthday and Mother Nature’s Son. A pop/rock song took about as long to listen to as a children’s picture book being narrated, was just as entertaining and nobody could accuse you of being juvenile for liking it. The TV series The Rock n Roll Years opened your mind up to the political unrest going on at the time and to other music too so all in all I was enjoying innocence and experience all in one.

The year got better as it went along. Although it took time to learn the difference between me misbehaving and others misbehaving (they weren’t having to see the shrink!), the letter home which had caused such hurt was burnt up and washed down the sink by my mother who had sensed my ongoing distress and need for full closure. I even became the notorious Beatle freak of the class – when our music teacher announced that her Beatles songbook had gone missing there was a cry of “Give it back Stobart!” from across the room. Surprisingly enough, I knew it was only a joke.

There were more adventures to come and rock would be there throughout them all, defining and shaping my worldview, giving me an outlet where previously there had been little and an escape route that no-one could deny me.

More to follow soon…

 

Wot a kerfuffle! – Three kinds of support

The pros and cons of the ‘support worker’.

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Photograph of my own DVD so the BBC can’t sue me…

Back in the 90s when our condition was first becoming well known under the now virtually obsolete banner of Asperger’s Syndrome, people like your author had to rely on the support of fellow ‘sufferers’. Come the early 2000s we were starting to get given help of the kind previously only given to those considered far more disabled than ourselves. Like the famously put-upon carer Lou Todd in Little Britain they had their little ticks and catchphrases that supposedly made them endearing. I had one of the ‘help getting back to work’ variety who would end every session with “I just need your squiggle on there.” He even liked some of the same music as me which seemed ironic considering music was where I always took refuge from the insane world of Special Needs in my confused teenage years.

I had others later and have support of sorts now and mercifully they’re much less cheesy than that.

But now that we live in supposedly more enlightened times, what are some of the pros and cons of the so-called ‘support worker’?

Here are a couple of definitions from the Autistic Hermit’s Dictionary (which doesn’t really exist but there you go).

Support: Something or someone that holds you up.

Hold up:

  1. To keep from falling
  2. To obstruct and/or delay. Either can be applied in the above context (see Support).

Support can take several forms.

  1. Finite support: A worker is assigned to you, usually to assist either with domestic skills or with the vicious circle of gaining jobs only to lose them again. They are guaranteed to act superior to you even if this means doing it in a kind way. They can work with you for between 4 and 12 weeks. At the end of this period you are expected to either:

a) Be so sorted that you no longer need help.

b) Have proved yourself to be a lazy sod.

c) Have proved yourself to need infinite support (see 2).

ADVANTAGE: Lights a fire under your backside.

DISADVANTAGE: Encourages anxiety and potentially creates an unhelpful pressure similar to that experienced by autistics in the workplace.

2. Infinite support: A worker will be assigned to deal with you week in and week out regardless of how well you are doing. This often takes the form of psychoanalysis for the undiagnosed – you have to fight to be free because you know you’ll always be a bit ‘different’ and all the therapy, psycho, occupational or otherwise in the world will never change that.

ADVANTAGE: Always there when needed.

DISADVANTAGE: Always there when not needed.

3. Bespoke support: Like your GP, your support worker will simply be happy to make an appointment with you as and when you feel it necessary. This may lead to a regular series of appointments but may also continue to take the form of occasional visits as and when the client feels it necessary. This form of support is ideal for those who have no desire to be forced to conform within a limited period (see 1) or to be treated as if their needs were never going to decrease with time (see 2).

ADVANTAGE: Works entirely within the client’s needs.

DISADVANTAGE: Doesn’t exist.

M. Pathy at your service

The rule book has been rewritten of late regarding us autistic types and empathy. The theory used to be that we usually lacked it and particularly in the more extreme cases. The new trend is towards saying we not only are capable of empathy, we feel it more deeply than most.

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As usual I will be taking the view that the truth lies somewhere in between and using personal experience to try and back up my point.

THE NO EMPATHY THEORY: Perhaps this is used less for us Aspies than for the more extreme forms of autism. But my own condition did have more extreme manifestations in my early years. According to both dearly departed parents I “treated people like objects”. I guess that means I shoved past people or gave unwelcome hugs or something. But I do remember getting a kick out of watching reactions – it pains me to think of an event at my nursery where everyone’s parents but mine seemed to be there and I had no understanding of what was going on and decided to get kicks by shoving toddlers over and watching them burst into tears. The teacher told me very politely to be careful but I knew my own maliciousness and it’s not a memory I’m proud of. I have sent prayers up that in adulthood those former toddlers would be healed of any emotional scars remaining but it shows that empathy can develop over the years if nothing else.

THE EXTREME EMPATHY THEORY: Flash forward a few years and I’m at an independent primary school on the continent (English speaking). Looking at my first report (aged five) it mentions a few pronounced eccentricities but also says that Christopher “cannot bear to see another child in distress and tries in his own way to comfort them” or somesuch.

Crying. Witnessing someone cry is the easy end of empathy (though I have heard of autistic husbands failing to comfort their wives when in distress). We’ve all cried. We all know something of the emotion that leads to us bursting into tears even from our early years when the experience of something like a bumped head is more of a shock to the system than it would be in adulthood. We know, unless we’re the kind of autistic who hates physical contact (which I’m not), how we appreciate the comfort of having an arm slipped around us, whatever has caused the distress. There is a feeling of not finding it easy to witness someone else’s distress but there is also what our own experience has taught us.

But that’s the easy bit. That’s where we don’t have the subtleties to cope with. Where the rubber hits the road is in terms of understanding the feelings of others when not explicitly stated. This is the classic autistic thing – not understanding what is communicated in less than obvious terms with the assumption that we will put two and two together, join up the dots or whatever.

There is also a struggle, for myself at least, with remembering, in more impatient moments to consider my reaction and think “How would I like to be on the receiving end of this?” One only knows how to be oneself. I hate when the person in front of me in the queue at the local store, bus stop, train station etc takes ages getting hold of what they want and find it nigh impossible at times to contain the groans. But when my own order takes more time than usual to process, I have to remember that were someone behind me to start groaning Autistic Hermit style, I would struggle to hear what the (wo)man at the counter was saying and probably have a meltdown myself. I only know how unbearable my own feelings are at any given time – it takes mental effort to consider the other person and keep patient. I can’t handle being interrupted in conversation but I also know what it is to feel so grossly misunderstood or talked into a corner that I cannot hold my peace and make an interjection myself.

So my conclusion?

  • Empathy can, in less extreme cases of autism, be learned even if it does not come automatically.
  • Empathy lacks most in more subtle situations where we do not always realise how our words and actions will be taken.
  • Empathy is an ongoing issue for us, either we have more of it than we can handle or we just can’t muster it up – it’s feast or famine.

AFTERTHOUGHT: And what about you lucky neurotypical types? Are you all A1 when it comes to empathy? When it comes to relating to the Aspie, the answer is probably not the one you want to hear. Those who get a kick out of our extreme reactions to distress or parade our weaknesses like they were something we took for granted rather than something we were keen to overcome are not our idea of good friends, regardless of any generosity or kindness they show us in other ways. In this instance, who lacks the empathy? Doesn’t take long to guess, does it.

 

I Cannot Tell a Lie… or can’t I?

It’s a popular belief that people with autistic disorders are incapable of lying. This Aspie would beg to differ…

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Whoever said Aspies can’t lie? The theory would seem to originate from the Aspie tendency towards literalism and pedantic degree of factual accuracy – for example insisting that Bohemian Rhapsody came out 40 years ago rather than the more strictly accurate 41 at the time of writing.

Of course such a question might be more requiring of a literal answer if one were asked “How long ago did that record come out?” whereas the more general ‘40’ would be more likely to be used in terms of a question like “How much do you think the influence of the song and its video are felt now, 40 years down the line?”

It took a while for me to develop in this regard. One does eventually learn that such exacting terms can make one look like a nerd and don’t work towards assimilation in a world where the motto is that “He who thinks by the inch and talks by the yard deserves to be kicked by the foot.” (Yes we can do humour – see here if you doubt that).

But can we act to deceive should we wish to? Of course we frickin’ well can. Unless we have especially neurotic issues with scruples as I did back when even a cover story to conceal the fact of a surprise party for the person being spoken to, or even to preserve someone’s life was totally contrary to my conscience.

Oh yes Aspies can lie. We can exaggerate our condition. We can use it as an excuse. If you’re anything like me then you can try to deceive yourself, in a conflict situation, that you didn’t understand what somebody said when the truth is it meant exactly what you were afraid it did. We can make a psychological reaction to it sound like a symptom, only for a more desirable set of circumstances to show that yes we blooming well CAN do whatever it is. Note to neurotypicals – do not make assumptions about what we can and can’t do, I’ll deal with that in another entry someday.

The late Marc Segar used to talk about what he called ‘deception strategies’. This meant basically trying to assimilate into society, conceal one’s idiosyncracies and even one’s specialist subjects i.e. obsessions. I don’t believe in that to the same extent that he did but again that’s a topic for another time,

But I believe it proves that yes we CAN lie when we want to. Maybe not when it comes to our incurable obsession with exactitude but certainly when we feel a strong enough desire to protect our own interests.

Three diets – Part 3: The gluten-free option

1981-82: The milk and eggs free diet
1988-91
: The milk and yeast free diet (also caffeine, chocolate and dust mites).
21st Century: The diet that cried wolf…

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Photograph taken in Pennsylvania, June 2013

And so I entered adult life freed from allergy diets and wet beds. Eventually I started going to parties – nothing wild, just housewarmings and suchlike but at one of those I got chatting with a mate who knew his stuff about health and diets. He noted that I still had acne at the age of twenty (one workmate dubbed me Zitty McLean round that time) and asked if I was allergic to anything. I told him about my troubled past and the on and off diets and he told me that when an allergen is imbibed consistently, the body sort of pretends it’s not there for a while but it later manifests in things like zits hence why acne often breaks out in teenagers. He also told me that Dr Wong’s methodology (see previous entry) sounded rather like divination – doctors who share my Christian persuasion have said the same. My mother confirmed the former point about acne and “masking” as it’s called when the allergies go into hiding. “Dr Wong said you’d always be sensitive to these things to some degree anyway”. She rejected the divination theory as she still held Wong in high regard for seemingly curing me of enuresis, conveniently forgetting that I had another nocturnal incident or two in the weeks subsequent to this.

But subsequent years have seen more information come to light. I will begin by referring to the work of one Dr Adrian Morris, an allergist based in Surrey. The full article to which I refer can be found at http://www.allergy-clinic.co.uk/introduction-to-allergy/controversial-tests but I was interested to note the following points from it:

Hair analysis: It transpires that when the lock of hair reaches the testers, it is checked for the presence of lead, mercury and suchlike as well as whether elements like zinc and magnesium are lacking. This would appear to partly explain why when I was on the “lock of hair” diet I was having to take zinc and calcium tablets and for a while dolomite as well. I seem to recall these tasted gross and I was relieved to be relieved of them when my mother discovered they contained milk. But according to Dr Morris, “Numerous studies have failed to find any accuracy in hair analysis diagnosing allergies”.

Muscle testing: The Dr Wong method of testing the shoulder strength with a vial of the suspected allergen, a technique known to the professional boffins as Applied Kinesiology, I now discover. It transpires that the method was devised in the US in 1964 and relies on “energy fields” which sound like they belong in science fiction. Again though, Dr Morris confirms that “There is no convincing evidence that this test has any useful role to play in allergy diagnosis”.

But even having heard of these, I now gather that there is an autism friendly diet. Not of the kind that blames autism on vaccines or views autistic traits as allergic reactions but rather the view being postulated here is that one physical trait of us autistic types is that when we imbibe gluten (found in wheat) or casein (found in cows milk) the body doesn’t break them down and by some process this causes bad behaviour in autistic children.

If I were to take the above to heart I would be on a “no milk no wheat” diet. So bread would be back out (unless it was gluten free) but I could still have my pint of cider without fear of yeast causing reactions.

Isn’t it weird though that of three diets, the two I was forced to try as a child and the one I’m not sure I can be bothered to as an adult, the only thing all three have in common is their exhortation to avoid dairy products.

It has to be said I do sometimes find that imbibing vast quantities of dairy produce can sometimes cause mild digestion problems (pre teens I was very sensitive to milk straight from the cow at my uncle’s farm) and overdoing it in the bread department can make me feel sleepy. I can see the need to maybe moderate or gradually steer away from these. We live in a different world now from the one I was forced to function within in the 1980s and diet-friendly produce is no longer confined to the health food shops but has dedicated shelves in the supermarkets. Soya milk, which tasted gross back then (Johnny Ball proved it on his Think Again programme, I’d already discovered it for myself) now has an element of sweetener added to it though whether sugar or an artificial product I don’t know.

But do you know what? I can’t be bothered to do the whole total abstention thing again. I cannot keep constantly switching the no-milk diet on and off like a light, alternating between cold turkey and carefree indulgence. I can see the need to be minimal and only have things like macaroni cheese as a special treat. But I still have a drop of moo-moo in my cup of PG Tips (apologies to all you vegans out there). This diet, after all, which not all autism specialists entirely recommend (see http://www.autismspeaks.org/node/112986 for the view of a Dr Kent Williams in Ohio) is not seen (I hope) as a cure for autism, merely an alleviation of some of the symptoms.

So my conclusion? Know your body. Know its reactions. Don’t go by phantom non-existent evidence that relies more on hair and muscles than outward behaviour. Know that whatever you abstain from it may be that it’s not causing quite the problem you think it is cf abstaining from bread would that be helpful to me because of the yeast factor as Dr Wong would have it or because of the gluten element as the likes of Luke Jackson maintain? Dr Williams’ article provides an excellent in depth analysis of this point for those who wish to investigate further.

In short, if I ever do try the gluten/casein free diet then the diet will be my servant. Not my master as in days of old.

 

The article “Allergy tests of no proven value” quoted above is copyright Dr Adrian Morris 2008, 2012, 2015.