I wrote this back in late September when the whole idea of my being autistic was still very new and I was still exploring what autism was all about. At that time I didn’t have the faintest notion of “visual stimming” (although, of course, I did, because I’d been unknowingly doing it all my life – I just didn’t know what it was called), and I was only just learning that there were things that autistic people particularly tended to enjoy doing and watching – and not only enjoy (because many people enjoy the same things), but find totally compelling, and enjoy not just for a short while, but for hours and hours on end.
27 years ago I was a first year undergraduate in Oxford. I had this friend on the next staircase who had this thing that we called “the pea factory”. It was a bit like an egg timer, but instead of sand it had liquid and little balls of green liquid would come out of the top and hit a succession of small ramps and then end up at the bottom. When it was done you turned it over and it did the same thing again.
I spent many many hours with the pea factory. While people chatted, dropped by my friend’s room for coffee, ate toast and chocolate, and nattered about college life, I would sit on the window seat and turn the pea factory over time and time again and watch the little green blobs make their way down the ramp. I loved it. Sometimes it was just my friend and me, and we’d watch the pea factory together and chat quietly, late into the night, while the little green blobs kept on going.
Last night I was on Amazon. As part of this whole process of discovery I’ve been getting hold of books, so was typing “autism” into the search bar. It suggested “autism aids” to me, so I followed it to see what such things might be. And there, half way down the first page, was a modern version of the pea factory. Blue and yellow instead of green and white, but essentially the same thing. And they were selling these things as calming aids for autistic people!!!!
And I almost fell off the sofa as the memories of sitting calmly watching the pea factory in my friend’s room came flooding back. I’m going right through my whole life at the moment and keep coming across so many things like this. I’m trying really hard to just gather evidence to help with the assessment, whenever it will be, and not to fall into some sort of trap of retrofitting everything to an autistic profile, but there are so many things that are making me think and remember.
Maybe there was a reason I loved the pea factory? Maybe whatever soothes autistic people who buy these things on Amazon was the same thing at work in my friend’s room 27 years ago?
And maybe the most extraordinary bit of this story is the identity of the friend who owned the original pea factory…
He’s been my husband for the last 14 years!