Success Fail!

I read an article the other day. Nothing spectacular, not one to which I was ever intending to pay significant attention, and not one that I sought out – it just appeared in my facebook feed and I was sufficiently intrigued to click through and see what it said.

It was entitled something like “How to be Successful”, and was a list of the things you should do in the workplace in order to achieve success and be perceived as honest, open, secure, confident, and so on. I immediately disliked the article, very very much. It was a classic example of “ableism” and discrimination against the neurodiverse, and it made me cross enough to save it to refer to so that I could write a blog post about it.

I have long known that I could never work in any sort of “business” scenario. The closest I ever got was an administration job for a business project attached to an academic institution. I lasted a month. The tears and trauma of putting on the suit every morning were substantial, and I felt my confidence seeping away day by day as I was evidently unable to do the job that I had been hired to do. At the time I thought they were simply impossible people (that may have been true), but the reality of the situation was probably that I was never going to be able to cope in such an environment. If the list below is anything to go by, then it’s now glaringly obvious why I’ve been such a failure in the world of that sort of work (obviously, this is one perspective on one type of work, in one type of environment – this is a blog post, not a thesis attempting to cover all eventualities, and only provides a snapshot of one particular aspect of success in the workplace).

I learnt from the article that to achieve this “success” I should: sit up straight, use gestures correctly, open my arms, not touch my hair, smile, make appropriate eye contact, and give firm handshakes!


And I’m expected to do all that while wearing clothes that hurt me, and knowing by magic when to offer to make tea, and being comfortable with working as a team, possibly in an office with lots of office machinery making a lot of noise and fluorescent lighting overhead, and so on…

It’s no wonder I failed.

If I consider each of these criteria for success one by one then I come to the following conclusions about my ability to meet them.

I can sit up reasonably straight for a short period of time, but I find sitting on a chair “normally” extremely uncomfortable – given the choice I always sit with my legs folded under me, and always have. I imagine this is because the pressure is reassuring and helps balance my errant sensory system. If I have to sit on an ordinary chair in the ordinary manner for any length of time I start to feel stressed and sick. My legs will jiggle (involuntarily), and I will run out of energy very very fast.

I received my draft report from my autism assessment the other day (it will be completed after the next meeting). The assessor observed that I can use gestures, but that my range of gestures and facial expressions is much narrower than would be expected and that my gestures are formulaic and learnt. This is me, with 40 years practice and learning – and I still don’t make gestures or facial expressions like most people are able to.

I should open my arms. Like sitting on a chair, I can do that for a very limited time, but it feels forced and unnatural. My natural inclination is to draw my arms in towards me, to bend my elbows upwards, and to clasp my hands together. Sitting with arms open for any length of time feels contrived and uncomfortable, and, also, dishonest, because it feels so clearly like acting. Apparently having closed arms means I disagree with what someone is saying to me – I disagree most strongly with that assumption!

Apparently touching my hair shows a lack of attention!!! Since hair twirling is one of my biggest lifelong stims, it’s actually something that helps me to pay attention. And, moreover, it’s probably one of the more socially acceptable stims – if they don’t want me to touch my hair would they rather I played with a toy or flapped my hands? Maybe I could substitute the hair twirling for rocking and biting my fingers? I suspect that wouldn’t be acceptable either, but any of the above would actually HELP me to pay attention!

Smiling at the right time in the right place is apparently also good if you want to achieve success. How on Earth you’re meant to know what is the right time and the right place to smile I don’t know, and that’s before you have to remember to do it. I refer back to the assessment report that noted my limited range of facial expressions. This smiling business is rather hard work!

And, of course, there’s the inevitable mention of eye contact. If I make eye contact for too long with people I am, apparently, insecure, but if I don’t make eye contact enough then it’s because I have something to hide. And someone like me, who struggles to make any real eye contact with anybody at all just reads this stuff with blank incomprehension. How do I figure any of this out? What do I do?

The last of these pieces of “advice” is probably the only one I could actually follow. I am perfectly capable of giving a good firm handshake. Though I fear that by the time I’d sat up straight with my arms open trying not to touch anything and to work out what gestures and smiles and eye contact to use I’d have such shaky sweaty hands that even my handshake would fail the “business success” test!


Yes, this was just some bonkers article off the internet. Yes, I’m being slightly facetious here (but only slightly). Yes, it’s not typical of all workplaces and I’m sure there are some fabulously inclusive disability aware places with people who don’t judge on any of the above. Yes, I’m sure that sort of workplace is not suitable for everyone, autistic or otherwise. I’m trying to avoid a barrage of “but it’s not really like that” comments because I’m aware that all I’m actually doing here is giving a personal response to an article I saw by accident on the internet.

BUT, the very fact that such an article exists indicates that there are people out there who are still equating the things above with “success”. There is no mention anywhere in the article about the person’s ability to DO THE JOB. It’s all window dressing. It’s all superficial. And on some level it must be true – that those things matter to some people, and if they are the things on which they judge potential colleagues or associates, then autistic people are really going to struggle. We’re at a massive disadvantage – and possibly most massively disadvantaged in the world of work at the “higher powered higher earning” end of the market.

I am not in a position to get any such job, and never was. My business acumen is zero, my ability to cope with working in such an environment lasts for a few hours at most these days. I have never aspired to such a career, but maybe there are autistic people out there who would like to work in such an environment and do have exceptional business skills, but who are judged by their ability to sit “correctly” or do appropriate things with their hands, and their skills will be ignored. That makes me sad.

And, if being able to do the seven things listed above is what enables one to be “successful” then I am destined for “failure” because I have a condition that means I cannot perform those tasks “properly” even with massive effort and 40 years practice. I am DOOMED!!!! (Not really, that last bit was sarcastic)!

And the real irony is that I am actually honest, open, and even, at times, can be secure and confident. But because I have a communication disability, some others might have problems perceiving that. Which is sad!

To reiterate – I was definitely cross about the article being quite so ridiculously ableist and I do think there are some massively serious points to be drawn from it when compared to the skills of an autistic person. However, I am old enough and ugly enough also to laugh at such an article, and to say “What a load of rubbish!” My reaction of “Well, I’m an automatic fail then!” wasn’t one of despair, but of sarcastic amusement and a gentle “Fuck you, because you really are clueless about what it’s like to live my life!” to the author of the article and all such articles!

I say this because my husband once wrote a post about how he tripped over a hillock while out running – he’d intended it as a funny story but got a huge number of concerned comments about how sorry people were that he was injured when he wasn’t really injured at all, just recounting an amusing event!

If anyone is still reading at this point and has understood any of this blog post then I congratulate you wholeheartedly! Reward yourself with a cup of tea! I’m off to sit on my feet with my arms crossed, and play with my hair while wearing a blank expression – and I won’t be shaking your hand because I’ll also be holding a cup of tea!

Weighted Blanket

46-2017-01-13-17-51-00I got a weighted blanket.
It was very expensive.
I used my Christmas money.

It came about a week ago.
It is quite big.
And fairly heavy.

It has to be quite heavy.
Because I am quite heavy.
Percentage of body weight.

I got home one day from being out.
Exhausted and queasy.
Stressy and stimmy.

And I covered much of me.
With my heavy blanket.
Weighing down on me.

And I started to feel calmer.
And better, less dizzy, less ill.
Reassuring pressure.

Proprioceptive input.
Sensory rebalancing.
It works. Is good.

The Pea Factory

41-2016-12-20-17-00-59I 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!


37-2016-12-19-18-41-09Some of this
Is easy.

Totally instinctive.

All I have to do is stop
Trying to do anything at all.

Forget what I have learnt
About how best to feel better:
Lying still, keeping calm,
Breathing this way or that.

Just listen.
Really really listen.

And allow myself to feel
What my body wants to do.
Accept my real self.
It was so easy
Once I knew.

I give myself permission
Not to care
About anything else
For as long as I need.

And I rock
Back and forth.
The tension starts to go.

And I bash myself
Against something soft
And safe.

Over and over and over.
Again and again and again.
Repeating repeating repeating.

Over and over and over.
Again and again and again.
Repeating repeating repeating.

Over and over and over.
Again and again and again…

For as long as I need.

Sometimes twenty minutes.
Sometimes half an hour.
Sometimes even longer.

Sometimes gentle.
Sometimes almost violent.

What started as way to relieve anxiety
Becomes a beautiful pleasure.

My head clears.
I feel better.


I flap my hands.
I twirl my fingers.
The filtered light dances before my eyes.

All this completely natural to me.

Even after decades suppressed.

It is only one step away from breathing.

Calming Tactics

11-2016-12-15-17-49-32My head.
In a bad place.
Jumpy. Edgy. Like an engine misfiring.
Out of sync.

I rub my face.
Move my legs.
Arch my back.
Scratch my head,
Trying not to do too much damage.

The stress triggers an asthmatic cough.
I feel sick.


I am at home. Safe.
So I can press my head into a cushion.
Bash my back against the sofa.
Dig my teeth into my thumb.
Flap my hands hard.
Tense my legs repeatedly.

And start to feel a little better.

Meltdown averted.