The Uncertainty Principle

A new code review system is being introduced at work which will see new/changed code formally peer reviewed before being accepted to the code base.

Sounds great!

It is, from the point of view of streamlining our development process without compromising on quality.

I sense a but?

But… the whole thing has me burning through spoons fast.

How so?

I’m worried because the process will force the two kinds of interaction that I find most troublesome when working with NTs:

1. Following a set of rules.
2. Providing fact based feedback.

Rules and facts; no offense, but isn’t that what you guys live for?

Ha, no offense taken and without speaking for all autistic people, it does seem to be generally true that we like rules and facts.

So what’s the problem then?

Well, following rules around NTs is hard because they don’t follow them. Or at least they often treat them as optional. I can’t do that. I’ve asked the Rule Makers and been given clear guidance that I should always follow the rules. If I break the rules, I am disobeying an instruction – clearly wrong. If I follow the rules, people get frustrated with me – clearly undesirable. So I just have to wait for the conflict.

And providing feedback, what’s the problem with that?

Essentially, it is the uncertainty of the interaction – I have no scripts that I can use to guide me.

Practice makes perfect, I’m sure you will pick it up.

I doubt it. I develop scripts using a trial and error approach, but this requires predictable results and in terms of providing critical feedback, I can find no pattern in the responses and reactions I have observed. I have spent the past few weeks trying to prepare in readiness for the change, informally reviewing the checkins and working on providing feedback without upsetting or antagonising people. This can’t hurt, but I know it’s not going to help.

What are you going to do?

I’m going to make sure that I use the review process tool to the best of my ability to try and ensure the quality of our code is as high as possible. I’m never going to compromise there. I’m going to try my best to spot patterns in behaviour and change course before DEFCON-1 is reached. And if an NT locks on to me and malfunctions ED-209 style, well, I just hope someone is able to pull it’s plug before my skin turns green.

Post tune: Ludacris, Beast Mode.

Skills to Pay the Bills

It took some nine or ten months, but this week I finally completed the Life Skills training course that I started in the summer. It was hard work, but satisfying and I shall miss it.

The hardest session was on eye contact, which I can only assume is analogous to being probed by aliens. In the final session we recapped some of the things we had learned and when the subject of eye contact came up everyone got really interested in the carpet. I think for the most part my technique of looking up for four or five seconds and then looking away again is passable enough in the NT world.

The biggest realisation was how much I struggle in an environment with rules that are not enforced and people who exploit this. I am unable to function in such situations and end up feeling incredibly isolated. It is inevitable that at some point a line will be drawn between the two sides, but I will never be the one to cross it and so conflict is a certainty. I suggest that the people who choose not to follow the rules are normally choosing the path that requires least effort, as if they were motivated by the idea that there was a better way of doing things then they would surely work to change the rules.

The most valuable thing I learned was about identifying friendships and true friends. Unfortunately I have not managed to learn these things through trial and error in life, which has led to repeated error. I am working hard on applying this one. Temporary people are not my friends.

I will miss being submerged into an autistic environment.


Sometimes I have to tune out the world because it all gets to be a little too much to process.

As the story was breaking about the latest mass shooting in the US and details started coming through, I got a horrible sinking feeling.

The news media seems to only have a few ways they report stories like this. Terror attack, ghetto thug, mental health issues. A white guy with an English sounding name from a privileged background? That’s going to be neatly wrapped up in box number three. They could try following the evidence CSI style instead of developing a story and trying to fit the evidence to it, but since the advent of 24 hour news channels the emphasis is on entertainment and audience numbers rather than education.

A new data point surfaced, the shooter had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Thanks by the way BBC for empahsising this point, good work. I especially liked your little paragraph explaining what Asperger’s was. I struggled to find the same level of emphasis when it turned out he had not in fact received this diagnosis.

Shit. Here we go again. We did this with the Sandy Hook shooting already. I know how it plays out. Suddenly, “Ass Burgers” was to blame.

Come on people, at least do enough research to be able to spell/pronounce it correctly.

My twitter TL slowly began to fill with the testimony of millions of experts in autism/Asperger’s/mental health. I never realised there were so many knowledgeable people out there. I mean, I was totally fooled by your complete ignorance on the subject and failure to understand even the most basic of facts about Asperger’s.

And so we are further stigmatised. By a bunch of lazy reporting, ignorance and hatred. A whole host of negative qualities ascribed to us. A whole host of our qualities mocked and derided. And nothing has been done to actually try and work out what did cause this tragic event in the hope that it can be prevented from ever happening again.

Good work.

*puts on headphones and walks away*

It’s not black and white

One thing I have learned about being openly autistic is that people will often give me the “It’s not black and white” speech. Truth be told, being openly autistic has only made this speech come about more often; I have heard it many times in my life, even before diagnosis. I think this is a classic example of the kind of misunderstanding that many neurotypical people have when it comes to autism: I think in “black and white” means I am decisive, not that my decisions are extreme. I think in “black and white” does not means that I distill all decision making situations into a set of binary options; it means that I examine all of the options and then commit to one.

Many fragments. Some large, some small.
The logical, analytical thought processes common to many people on the spectrum mean that they can take in a huge amount of information, parse it, and arrive at a decision in pretty quick time. For me, this involves running simulations. I conciously run a best guess simulation of events that would be likely given a certain decision, to see if it has merit. I am making comparisons to other information stored in my brain. I am linking things using a picture based index system (I think in pictures not in words).

Isn’t that SPECIAL?
This process is rapid. I have often observed that I am able to run all the scenarios and make a determination much faster than the people around me, even when there are several scenarios that are considered viable right up towards the end of the process.

You see those two guys over there? They want to take your books away!
Sometimes I realise I do not have the information I need to be able to make a determination and I set about filling in the gaps. My brain snaps into Johnny 5 mode; I crave input. Once something catches my interest, I will not rest until I have satisfied my desire to know about it. Related to this, I am often able to determine that the stated reason for a decision is not plausible. I get frustrated by such situations. I wonder how people expect me to understand their position/decision if they deny me some of the information?

Malfunction. Need input.
I hate it when people do not tell me the truth. If the information I have is inaccurate, my decisions are likely to be way off: garbage in, garbage out. Please do not give me bad data, it will make me cranky. My need to make good, balanced decisions outweighs my need to be nice to you. It is often very obvious if I do not trust the information I am being given simply by the number of questions I am asking.

Don’t fuck with my program!

Living with Autism

There was a Horizon documentary on Autism on this week on BBC 2. Available to some via iPlayer here. If you haven’t watched it then take a look.

There were lots of positives to take away from it:

  • It showed footage of an awesome curved wall that kids were propelling Matchbox cars up (did this in my garden with plywood and sand when I was a kid).
  • It highlighted how the different way that we see things and think about things can allow us to do things that neurotypical people can’t.
  • It described the difference between functional communication and conversation. And introduced people to concepts of masking and mimicry.
  • It dispelled the myth that autistic people lack empathy (authors note: yes dude, even though the Wikipedia page on Asperger’s still suggests this).

There was one thing that left me quite cross though. The suggestion that a diagnosis is/should be withheld unless it is “clinically significant”.

I have two big problems with this:

  • If the diagnosis/label is only applied to people who are struggling, people who need help (hence making it clinically significant) then you deprive the world of some positive stories of people with autism. This would seem a great way to underline the stigma attached to the diagnosis.
  • I just don’t think it is fair for someone else to make the decision over whether the diagnosis is significant. I know first hand the impact this can have.

In the experiment with the boat in the box, why did the neurotypical people copy the knocking on the box? That’s a genuine question. I didn’t understand, which I guess makes sense considering I am autistic.

I leave you with the words of Kenny, “I see things in a different way… I think about things in a different way.”

I reserve my right to feel uncomfortable

Louis Theroux tweeted a link to this story over the past weekend. It’s an adaption of a book written by the Father of an autistic person that covers the diagnosis and life afterwards. It is a happy story. Owen, the autistic person, is clearly content and is obviously very loved. I like the way the story captures some of the journey that the family experienced, but bits of the language used troubled me.

“Thank God, he’s in there.”

“Owen reached out, if only for a moment, from his shut-in world.”

I could not shift a single thought from my mind, “Why is your way, the right way?”, which is probably more accurately expressed as “Why are the things we do considered bad just because they are different?”

Having to hide my stims makes my day harder. Having to mimic your behaviour makes me tired. #StopCombatingMe. Just let me be.

I reserve my right to feel uncomfortable, reserve my right to be afraid.
I make mistakes and I am humbled every step of the way.
I want to be a better person. I wanna know the master plan.
Cast your stones, cast your judgement, you don’t make me who I am.

Sometimes You’re The Hammer, Sometimes You’re The Nail; Common Courtesy; A Day To Remember


One of the best things about the extreme research phase of determining that I was autistic was discovering that there were words for things. Things I thought, felt and experienced, but which previously nobody ever seemed to talk about, or understand.

For a long while though, I have had something on my mind. Labels. People get super upset by them, especially in the autism community. I’m kind of sick of being told what words I should use to describe myself.

I hate functioning labels, i.e. high functioning or low functioning. I think they represent a polarising oversimplification that is at the heart of this issue. Stick with me though as I have to use them to explain this next bit.

I feel trapped between two groups:

  1. Those who think that people with Aspergers are too high functioning to be described as autistic.
  2. Those who strongly reject the term aspie and instead favour autistic.

In my experience, those two groups are mainly made up from:

  1. The parents of low functioning autistic people.
  2. People with an autism diagnosis who would be described as high functioning by the people in group one.

I’ll be honest and say that I have little sympathy for the people in group one. High functioning and mild autism are easy things to say from the outside.

My point though, is that if you tell me which labels you prefer for you, then I will try and remember to use them and I would hope you would do the same for me.

Asperger’s Syndrome. Whilst this is my official diagnosis, it somehow always feels scary. I think it’s the “Syndrome” part which does it. I tend to say “I have Aspergers”, but “I am autistic”. I also describe myself as an “aspie”.

“Person with autism”, that shit is just a mouthful. To me, it is so clumsy and obviously tiptoeing around in a way that totally defeats the purpose, I don’t ever say it.

I am autistic, I am an aspie, I have Aspergers Syndrome. To me, these things are all true. So suck it up, buttercup!

Today I disclosed to my colleagues

Today I disclosed the fact that I have Asperger’s to my colleagues. Here is a slightly edited version of the email I sent them. The only reason for the editing is to protect the identities of my colleagues and just to make sure I don’t get in trouble for sharing anything related to my job.

I am autistic
Some of you already know, and for some of you this is new, but I am autistic. More specifically, I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome a couple of years ago.

What, like Rain Main?
No, not like Rain Main. In general, that film is considered by autistic people to be almost entirely misleading. (The Keifer Sutherland TV show where the autistic kid can see in to the future isn’t very realistic either.) We are all different. Autism is a spectrum condition. Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) is probably the best example of an autistic person with an Aspergers diagnosis on TV; use him as your reference point for me.

But you seem normal. Are you sure you’re autistic?
Erm… thanks? I am definitely autistic though. The diagnostic process is lengthy and involves an entire panel of psychiatrists. No offence, but I really wouldn’t want to be neurotypical.

My sister’s friend’s nephew’s cat is autistic, but you’re not like him?
If you have met one person with autism then you have met one person with autism. We are all different. It is a spectrum.

Aren’t we all a bit autistic?
No. There is a massive difference between being shy, anxious, generally socially awkward and being autistic.

So what is it?
Autism is a neurological developmental difference. Simply put, my brain is different to your brain. If we were given the same task to complete and were subject to brain scans throughout, you would see that we were using totally different parts of our brains and were tackling the task in entirely different ways. As a result I am better tuned to some tasks than you are and vice versa. I test off the scale for some things and way below average for others.

What does this mean?
I can solve a Rubik’s cube with ease, but I cannot carry a tray of drinks**.

No seriously, what does it mean?
In a working sense, it significantly impacts me in two ways. Firstly, I have trouble communicating. Conversing requires conscious effort on my part; I think in pictures, and then have to translate them in to words. I interpret words literally. Extended periods of communication/interaction makes me tired. As you know, the majority of communication is not directly in the words exchanged, but in tone, body language, facial expression, etc.: I only get the words, and the rest of it misses me almost completely. Consequently, I ask lots of questions and attempt to get concrete, black and white answers in an attempt to fill in the blanks. I am aware that sometimes this could feel like an interrogation, but I do my best not to have this happen. Please be patient with me if I am asking lots of questions, it is likely only because the information you are giving me does not balance in my head. Conversely, I am normally just giving you words and not broadcasting any of the other stuff. I am almost incapable of anticipating your response, sugar coating information, or lying. If you ask me for my opinion, you are going to get my 100% honest and unreserved opinion and moreover I am going to be surprised when you don’t like it.

Secondly, I have what I can only describe as super senses. All of my senses are turned way up to 11. My brain does not focus on an individual stimulus, but instead attempts to process all inputs simultaneously, in real time. In an environment like an office this can be exhausting. Heads up: I can only assume that strip lights were designed by Satan himself. The combination of buzzing and flickering is torturous for me and this is why there is a sign on the light switch at the front of the building and why I get cross if people don’t follow the instructions on it. My dark corner and my headphones are not just whims – they enable me to do my job.

Is there an upside?
Yes there is. I think in pictures and this means I can organise and process huge amounts of information in my head extremely rapidly. My eye for detail is well honed. I can hyper focus on a task for extended periods of time. Perseverance is a common trait right across the autism spectrum. My brain catalogues *everything*. I can replay conversations in my head like videos. Heads up: this means that if you promise me something or agree to something, I am not going to forget and I am going to hold you to it without exception. Likewise, I know exactly what I have promised or agreed to. No amount of spin will save you. My default response in these situations is to request “Permission to treat as a hostile witness?” from <person>.

Aspergers wasn’t a thing when I was a kid.
And at one point people thought mercury was a cure for pretty much everything, Heroin was a reasonable cough medicine, lobotomy was a reasonable solution to depression and that trepanation was a sensible cure for migraines. Things move on.

I’m talking to you, why aren’t you concentrating on me?
I am concentrating on you. If I am looking around the room, playing with something in my hands, or shifting around then I am concentrating on you. If you force me to sit in silence, hands empty and then stare at me, I will drop my shutters. “Normal” eye contact requires a level of trust only those closest to me can achieve. If I shift my gaze from you when talking, I am not lying to you – I’m just trying to prevent you from locking on to me with your optical probes and scanning the depths of my soul – yes, this is really how it feels for me.

Is this why your desk is so tidy?
Yes. My desk is intentionally spartan and I need it this way to in order to work efficiently. I prefer to do things at my desk rather than yours because I realise you are unlikely to want me to tidy your desk before answering your question or helping you. Most people are okay with this and <person> has even learned to use the guest coaster (no really, there is a guest coaster) without needing to be reminded.

Is this why you leave the same time every day?
Yes. My routine is extremely important to me. I realise that you can’t fully understand why, but if you mess with my routine then my world begins to crumble around me.

Why are you telling us now?
Probably not for the reason you think. My reason for not telling you up until this point is that it isn’t really anyone’s business and I felt I was doing an okay job of masking it. I have had almost 30 years of practise at pretending to be like you. I can more or less keep the illusion going during the working day, but this takes a massive amount of effort on my part and leaves me exhausted. Currently, I am running a spoon* deficit and I am simply unable to maintain the facade. Since the reason for the deficit isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I am unlikely to be able to rectify the situation and rather than be judged unfairly for my behaviour, I thought it was better to explain.

Have I told you everything?
No. I have intentionally only told you as much as I think you need to know.

Do I want to talk about it?
Not really. Unless you are one of the people who already knew because I told you, I am really not comfortable discussing this verbally. I am sure some of you have questions: Google is not your friend! There is a huge amount of misinformation available on autism on the internet. If you have a question, email it to me and I will try my best to answer it. If you would feel more comfortable raising your question to <person> then this is also an option.

Do you “Light it up blue!”?
Ugh! You have found the Autism Speaks website. Please do not talk to me about cures or eugenics, I will become extremely annoyed, [metaphorically] turn green and Hulk smash my way out of the conversation.

* Spoon Theory

** This is actually true.

The week that was…

This week has been really rough.

I have been operating beyond my capacity at work for an exceptionally long time. This is due in part to the ridiculous demands placed on me by the current project I am working on. The result is that I am starting most days without any spoons and my ability to behave “normally” is severely impaired. I end a regular working day exhausted; at the moment I am struggling to avoid melting or just shutting down completely during the course of the working day. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by my colleagues and lets just say that it has made things difficult.

My employer has suggested I could make things easier on myself by disclosing the fact that I am autistic to everyone in the company; currently, only a few trusted people and the people I interact with directly know about my diagnosis.

Whilst I am making an effort to protect myself more, my employer is ultimately unlikely, unable or unwilling to rectify the causes of the issues for the foreseeable future. My mask is slipping and people are making unfair judgements of my behaviour based on neurotypical standards.

I realise that I can’t put the genie back in the bottle once it is out. My fear is that once people know, it will be used against me. Look around in the media, people aren’t generally that accepting of neurodiversity.

I need your help guys! Do I disclose to my colleagues, or do I just try and ride it out?


I love my bed. It is my sanctuary at the end of each day.

I have two identical sets of bedding. No surprises. No need to even think about which bedding is on. Neutral colours, nothing that will stimulate my brain. I find it incredibly hard to switch off at the end of each day and get to sleep, stimulation is the last thing I need.

My sheets are fitted. Always pulled tight. Hospital corners. Flat. Nothing that will feel different. Everything is cotton and soft. The duvet covers have a pattern of lines on them. I can pull them square this way.

My pillows are always pulled tight and aligned to the middle of the bed. The ends point out.

My mattress is hard memory foam. It stays nice and square. There really isn’t a lot of give.

I need all of this if I am to sleep. Change it and I will get very anxious. Agitated. Upset. Same as if I get home and there is stuff on my bed. I don’t like stuff on my bed.

This is my space. It is one of the places where I indulge my aspieness completely. I love it.

I put my headphones on and fade into the music.