Creating New Routines

Creating New Routines

Why isn’t there some standard schedule of household chores? My wife is going to be laid up for some time after a recent operation so I’m taking on as much of the cooking, cleaning and general housework as I can find the time to do alongside work and looking after her. Or trying to…

The trouble is that housework is not one of my usual routines so I have trouble remembering what needs doing. Also, unlike my wife, I can only focus on one task at a time – for example, I can’t leave the washing to do some dusting because I’ll forget that the washing was in progress. I need to build these tasks into a routine so that I can perform them automatically, without needing to consciously supervise myself throughout.

This got me thinking – what are the obstacles that make doing these things more difficult for me than, say, developing software? Right up there has to be my memory problems. I can recall technical information relating to my job without any issues, navigating through millions of lines of code as easily as finding my way to the local shops. But I have lost count of the number of times I have poured the water into a cup of tea, left the room while it steeps and completely forgotten about it until my wife asks where it’s got to. I’ve also been known to go into another room to fetch some item only to have forgotten what it was by the time I get there. It’s the same with any non-routine task – if I step away from it to do something else, more often than not I will forget what I was doing. It seems to be only my short-term memory that is affected in this way.

So how can I create new routines so that I get these tasks done efficiently? My first thought was to create a full schedule, but I realised that this would require more detailed information regarding task durations and frequency of repetition than I possess, and would be too inflexible because of ad-hoc demands on my time. So then I thought about just making a checklist of tasks that need to be completed, perhaps with deadlines where appropriate. I think that’s the method I’ll try first – I need a way to organize myself and to-do lists generally work for me. I use them at work – along with decomposing tasks into manageable chunks. This is a common technique, breaking a large task down into smaller sub-tasks, that I use at work, first to estimate how long a particular software development project will take and then to structure my approach to the task. It also helps a lot when faced with a huge job that daunts by its very size and complexity. Breaking it up into small pieces allows me to focus on each individually and keeps me from trying to fit too much detail into my mind at any one time.

Once I’ve run through the sequence of jobs a few times I believe I’ll get used to the pattern and – as if by magic – a new routine will exist. Sounds simple, but I’m sure there’ll be some difficulties – I’ve got a feeling that some of these household jobs are ones that get done as and when they are needed rather than according to a fixed schedule like “mop the kitchen floor at 7pm on Tuesday evening”. I wish I knew how my wife coped with it all – it just seems so complicated and time-consuming to me. I’m amazed that she could manage it all without any written plan.

Tired But Happy

Tired But Happy

This weekend exhausted me but – for a pleasant change – not because of emotional problems. It was down to working (and playing) hard. I worked the bar Friday night during a 21st birthday party – it was a sensory maelstrom with loud music, flashing coloured disco lights and plenty of people shouting. I handle it by focusing on serving the customers, getting into the rhythm of taking orders, pouring drinks and working the till. It’s so familiar and I enjoy it so after about ten minutes I just flow. I can block out everything else pretty successfully – so much so that I don’t even notice much of what’s going on more than a few feet beyond the counter – and I lose most sense of the passage of time.

However at one point it got really loud – several people whistling – and I overloaded for a brief time. I have little idea how long it was – nobody else appeared to notice. I just stood there with my back to the room, holding on to the back bar counter to keep myself upright, with two half-poured vodkas in front of me. I couldn’t think – the noise had suddenly become painful as it breached the mental blocks on my senses and flooded in. All I was aware of was this glaring, intense, piercing whistle – everything else ceased to exist as my other senses were drowned out.

The whistling stopped and it was like waking up – that short period while my brain orients itself before I remember where I am and what I’m doing. Somehow I remembered the order I was in the middle of pouring, and – slightly unsteadily at first – carried on. It took a couple of minutes to get myself together before I was back to business as usual.

Saturday morning I had to go shopping. It wasn’t a long list I had to pick up but I needed to visit several shops to get everything. I hate having to shop on a Saturday morning – it’s so busy and people get in my way, encroaching on my personal space. It started fine. I got parked where I wanted and even had enough change for the car park ticket machine – a definite result because I usually forget to check I’ve got enough before leaving home. There weren’t many people around yet so I was feeling reasonably comfortable. And then I got into the mall and there was music playing too loudly – it was distracting and put me off balance a bit and I thought about fetching my earphones from the car but decided to persevere.

My first destination was a department store to look for a shirt. To get to the menswear department I had to get through the perfume department. I don’t know why but nearly every department store I’ve every been into puts the perfume department just inside the front doors so you have no choice but to endure the overwhelming smells and eye irritation from all the solvents in the air to get to any other part of the store. It turned out they didn’t have what I was looking for after all: I’m very particular about my shirts – the material has to feel right, the colour has to be right (usually black) and the arrangement of buttons and pockets has to be right. Ideally I would be able to pick up exact replicas of the shirts I already have but it doesn’t work that way. They change things. So I ran the gauntlet of the perfume department again to get out of there and went on to the next store. That one was thankfully simple – straight to the single item I was after, on to the checkout and out of there. Then back to the car, enduring the intrusive mall music on the way, and on to phase two: the supermarket.

Up to now I’d managed to avoid the crowds – it must have been because they were already at the supermarket, waiting for me to arrive so they could block the aisles and bump into me and run over my feet with their trolleys. In the midst of all this I ran into the first obstacle: my wife had put “nail varnish and lipstick amethyst” on the list. Now I’m not very familiar with these kinds of products but I did know which area of the store would have them. So I headed there and there were about six different brands, each with at least two or three different kinds of lip and nail colouring stuff. I examined them all and not one had the word amethyst on it! Any number of different, almost-descriptive colour names but not what my wife had written on the list. I was getting stressed so I decided to phone home and ask for clarification. Then I discover there’s no phone signal in that part of the store. Aargh!

I moved around until I got a signal and made the call. On my third attempt it didn’t drop out and I asked my wife what colour she meant by amethyst – she said “purple”. I asked was it a blue or red purple and she seemed confused – I explained that purple is a mix of red and blue with some being more blue than red and vice versa. I think I managed to make myself understood, but she said any shade of purple would do. (So why write amethyst then? I wondered.) So that was sorted. I went back to the shelves of cosmetics and looked for something that was unambiguously purple-ish. I found a nail varnish and then just had to locate a matching lipstick. Because naturally they would have matching colours, wouldn’t they? Hah! That would be far too easy. So I just picked up something that purported to be a kind of purple lipstick and high-tailed it out of that section of the store to go look for the next thing on the list.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that they are reorganizing the layout of that store. Even the staff are not sure where to find some products. What hope have I with my out-of-date mental map? It took me about an hour to pick up eight or ten items and by the end of it I was about ready to throw a tantrum right in the middle of the place – like most of the children in there appeared to be doing. That’s one thing I struggle to understand – why do people persist in dragging their children round busy shops when they clearly get bored by it, hate the experience and don’t want to be there? I can completely understand a child finding it all too much and having a screaming fit because they have no other way to communicate their frustration. I don’t like to hear children crying and screaming – I find the sound unsettling and uncomfortable, even painful to hear.

I managed to get hold of every one of the dozen or so items on the list and was back home about two and a half hours after leaving – it was about a six mile round-trip. Boy was I worn out! But there’s no rest for the wicked – not even the very wicked – and I had to get changed, ready to go out to a wedding. Which meant I couldn’t wear my usual comfortable clothes. Suit and tie. In temperatures above 80 degrees, and humid with it. Unusual weather for this time of year in southern England. I’ve never enjoyed hot weather – I feel too hot and sweaty and my clothes cling to me in a most uncomfortable, irritating way. But I wasn’t about to let anybody down – it was somebody else’s big day and I was determined to show my support, relax and enjoy myself. And I did.

It was rather warm inside the reception venue – the local pub – even with the doors wide open but I just popped outside for a bit of fresh air every now and then to cool off. And to get a bit of a break from the disco lights, loud music and too much movement from people dancing close in front of me. I struggled a few times with the levels of sensory stimulation but got through it. And I did enjoy myself – it was a good night and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly – although it was very tiring coping with the heat, noise, lights and people.

As a result I was kind of hoping for a quiet Sunday afternoon shift at the pub. I turned up a little early in case there was any setting up to do. Just as well as it turned out – even though a group of volunteers were helping, the place wasn’t nearly ship-shape by opening time. It was a moderately busy shift as well, with two soccer matches on the TV that brought a number of customers in. But I like it like that – as I said before I find my rhythm and it just flows. (I still dislike the food – table-waiting – side of the job because it disrupts that flow, but that’s only a small part of the whole.) I didn’t notice I was getting a bit dehydrated – I forgot to make sure I had a drink of water every now and again. Sometimes I’m not that good at taking care of myself! I think I surprised the boss a bit when I readily agreed to take a break the first time I was asked and grabbed a glass of water – I’m normally reluctant to take a break because I find it a distraction but that afternoon I was feeling drained and needed a short break.

I was pretty exhausted by the end of the shift – we seemed to go through an inordinate number of glasses given the moderate level of trade, and I’d also moved a number of barrels around the cellar. The 22 Imperial gallon kegs aren’t light when full – they weigh more than I do – but there’s a technique to moving them so you don’t have to lift the whole weight. In a way I was happy to finish the shift. I enjoyed it but I was so worn out and drained by the end. It had been a long, physically- and mentally-demanding but ultimately very satisfying weekend and I was very glad when I got home to retire to bed for a well-earned rest. Recharge the batteries ready for Monday morning and the return to my main “paid hobby”, software development.

An A to Z of Aspergers

An A to Z of Aspergers

A is for alexithymia, without words for emotion.
B is for bullying, to which many autistic people are subjected at some point in their lives.
C is for communication, the spoken word that gives such trouble.
D is for different: wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same?
E is for empathy, which I experience even if it’s in a different way to you.
F is for fear, a very common emotion for me.
G is for guts where my butterflies dwell.
H is for human: I am, you are.
I is for interests, “special” of course, that are such a consuming passion.
J is for jam; what happens to my words when I try to speak about how I feel.
K is for kindness: a little goes a long way.
L is for literal: how I interpret what people say.
M is for meltdown, the red mist that can descend in response to overload.
N is for neurotypical, a brain that functions in the average way.
O is for overload, when there’s too much going on around for me to handle.
P is for programming, my main special interest.
Q is for quiet, a vastly underrated experience.
R is for respect, to which everybody is entitled.
S is for shutdown, an involuntary state I find myself in from time to time.
T is for therapy: my writing fulfils this function for me.
U is for understanding, which I don’t always get.
V is for variation, which you find right across the autistic spectrum.
W is for withdrawal, a need to just get away from it all for a while.
X is for xenophobia, fear of strangers.
Y is for you, reading this and, I can but hope, gaining an insight into my mind.
Z is for zebra, because I got stuck on the last letter and I happen to like the stripy creatures!

Shutdown

Shutdown

I shut down for about three hours on Saturday. I don’t know exactly what the triggers were this time – I do know things have been building up and getting on top of me lately. I’ve been feeling more insecure than usual and I’ve largely avoided making phone calls and other interaction with strangers. I don’t even know what the “final straw” was this time – one minute I was eating my breakfast; ten minutes later I was sitting, hunched over, rocking gently and staring into space.

I am almost completely non-verbal while shut down. I hear what’s going on around me but I can’t respond – words rush around my head but I can’t get them out of my mouth. It’s as if there’s a paralysis. I can’t write either – my fine motor coordination is affected too much for me to form the letters. In that state I feel like an observer in my own body – I’m stuck inside without much control – just along for the ride.

I can’t handle much stimulation while shut down – I will actively avoid loud noises, physical contact and bright or flashing lights if I can’t block them out. I prefer to be left alone in a quiet, darkened room until I come out of the state naturally. In fact, too much sensory input while I’m shut down can switch me into a meltdown. I avoid eye contact – I just stare blankly ahead or sometimes close my eyes, more so if I know I’m alone because I worry about being touched unexpectedly if somebody approaches me.

The best way to approach me when I’m shut down is to speak slowly and quietly in a soothing tone – the actual words don’t matter so much. Don’t get too close to me because that makes me uncomfortable, don’t shout and don’t sound aggressive – any of that will deepen and prolong the shutdown. A hug is usually the only contact I can handle – but if I stiffen up then I’m not receptive at that point in time. In general the best thing to do is be patient and wait for me to come out of it.

Prevention is better than a cure – so the proverb goes. How can a shutdown be prevented? Well, it’s a reaction to stress, so prevention is all about reducing or even avoiding stressful stimuli. What I find most stressful are unfamiliar social situations and forms of aggression or confrontation. But a shutdown often isn’t an immediate reaction to a particular event. It will be a combination of factors that build up over time – possibly even years – and can be triggered by something seemingly so trivial that I might not even be aware of what it was that pushed me over the edge.

This can be confusing for people around me who may not realise what is happening – that I have shut down – and try to interact with me without any response. I’ve had people accuse me of being ignorant or sulky – as if I have any control over shutting down and am just choosing not to speak to be awkward. I find that particularly insulting – just because I don’t have many obvious outward signs of the shutdown there is an assumption that I’m being deliberately uncommunicative. So let me say it again: I have no control over a shutdown. When it happens I am simply along for the ride, trapped inside until I get a measure of conscious control over my body again. How could anybody really think I’d shutdown if I had a choice? So please have a little patience and respect.

They Sang "Happy Birthday"

They Sang "Happy Birthday"

They sang “Happy Birthday” after the bell struck midnight. I felt uncomfortable at all the attention – I’ve always said I don’t like a fuss. In a way I’m dreading going out this evening and putting on the happy face so I don’t disappoint. Because right now I feel like I need some down time – some time on my own.

I’ll do it all the same – put in an appearance. And people will be nice to me and – as far as I can tell – enjoy themselves. But I will feel under pressure to fit in and live up to normal expectations. So I won’t quite relax and let my guard down because it will be a little unpredictable. Social occasions are not easy – more so when I’m attracting attention.

I’m sure they mean well and are sincere with their birthday wishes – I can’t tell if it’s otherwise so I take it all at face value. The truth is that a birthday is just another day to me. I’m happiest if it all procedes according to established routine. No surprises.

In case I’m giving the wrong impression let me state now that I appreciate all the happy returns – they make me feel that people do care about me (did I ever mention I’m insecure?).

Birthday Nerves

I rang the bell at midnight.
The bar was closed,
My shift was done.
How could I know that they might
Start singing out
“Happy birthday”?

I stood there, no time to hide:
Like a rabbit
Caught in headlights
I felt embarrassed inside
But carried on.
What could I do?

Discomfort’s normal to me:
I feel awkward
In the spotlight.
One-to-one is best you see:
Interaction
On my own terms.

I hope that they keep in mind
Limitations
Of my syndrome.
Only trying to be kind,
They overload
Me: it’s too much.

So come in turn with greetings:
One at a time,
More is excess.
I can cope with such meetings
Without the stress
That groups can cause.

Between Shutdown And Meltdown

Between Shutdown And Meltdown

Sometimes I feel like I’m being carried along by the current of a turbulent cataract – now drowning, now gasping for breath as my head broaches the surface – overwhelmed by the relentless surge of my own thoughts and the sights, sounds, smells crashing in on my senses – unable to block any of it out, I am dragged down into a maelstrom of fretful anxiety – frozen and locked into a tense immobility as I fight against myself to regain some measure of conscious control over my body – unable to move as my muscles oppose their own motion, unable to speak as the words log-jam in my throat – caught on the cusp between shutdown and meltdown, trying to restrain myself from exploding into the irrational red mist of berserk rage – too agitated to withdraw into the soft oblivion of shutdown.

After some time has passed I either succumb to exhaustion and gratefully sink into restful shutdown or I expend my last energy erupting in a paroxysm of violent, undirected anger before quickly subsiding. Whichever route I take I end up drained and need time to rest and recuperate, to regain some strength. But at least there is usually calm once the storm has passed.

Learning to be More Understanding

Learning to be More Understanding

Over the past few months my relationship with a certain other person, whom I shall refer to as W, has been up and down so much that visualising the turns it has taken is enough to make me sea-sick. At the heart of the problem is difficulty in communication: W is neurotypical while I have Aspergers Syndrome.

When W is suffering with health problems or depression she will talk about it at great length in a highly emotionally-charged way and her language will become much more figurative and abstract than normal. I find this combination particularly difficult to handle. Because I know her so well I have learned to interpret the emotional cues in her voice – when she is feeling so tired and frustrated and even angry at her illnesses this comes through to me in her voice and mannerisms. I find the strong emotions very difficult to cope with and tend to shut down.

It appears that this response is not very helpful to W – how could I have known? My own reaction to pain – physical or mental – is usually to keep it all inside. I become more withdrawn – even though I might be yearning for some comfort, for a hug that will make me feel safe and less anxious. But in that state I can’t express how I feel or what I need to help me deal with it.

So it turns out that what I need at times like this is almost exactly what W needs too. And now we’ve figured it out. I know it sounds simple, almost trivial, but between my inability to speak about my feelings and my literal misinterpretation of W’s descriptions of her feelings – when I haven’t just shut down from the emotional overload – we’ve been failing to communicate. Which has been causing far too much unnecessary stress on both sides.

I’m not saying that we’ve completely resolved the problems – time will tell on that score. But we have reached a new level of understanding. I know it sounds contradictory but I’m learning to be more supportive by taking less notice of W – I have to partially block her out so that I avoid overloading and shutting down. So that I can continue to function and respond. Which all helps her deal with what she’s going through and in turn helps me.

Yes, it would probably have been easier for both of us to have ended the relationship rather than work hard at discovering problems and trying to fix them. But what seems easy in the short term often turns out not to be the best option in the longer term. We both feel that there is enough value in our relationship to make the effort of repairing it worthwhile, because when it’s working it is so strong and strengthens both of us.

Why I Hate CFLs

Why I Hate CFLs

Fluorescent lighting can cause me problems. Older strip lights are especially bad with their 100 Hz flicker (UK mains AC frequency is 50 Hz) – I am particularly sensitive to flickering light and it causes me eye strain and headaches. Newer fluorescent lamps pretty much avoid this. Until they start to fail, and then they flicker and flash. And cause me discomfort.

I grew up with incandescent light bulbs – I’m very used to their colour temperature which gives warm, comforting yellowish hues. I’m used to flicking the switch and having the light reach full intensity as near to instantly as I can discern. There’s an old joke about a bedroom being so small they you could switch off the light and be in bed before it went dark. With a CFL it’s the reverse – you can switch on the light and be in bed before it gets bright! Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are different. I don’t like different – I don’t do change.

Light from CFLs appears cold by comparison – it has a higher colour temperature which is more blue. At low intensities (my wife and I like low lighting levels at home in the evenings for that cosy atmosphere) they appear particularly cold and dim. They don’t light up instantly – there is a warm up period that can take up to a minute or so. They get noticeably dimmer long before they fail – about halfway through their lifespan – so their useful life is reduced. And the powers-that-be have decreed that we shall all use them hence forth – I take a special dislike to having inferior alternatives forced on me. Yes, their energy efficiency is higher in use, but they require much more energy to manufacture, and manufacture and disposal exposes the environment to more hazardous materials. I remain to be convinced that the argument in their favour is as clear-cut as some people make out – especially as their stated longevity is far higher than their practical useful life, taking into account frequent switching and disposal when light output falls below an acceptable threshold rather than when the lamp fails.

We’ve tried CFL lighting in our kitchen. The brightness of the illumination was subjectively equivalent to the incandescent bulb once it got warmed up but it was dim enough to irritate me before that – no good when you just nip in to make a cup of tea or a sandwich during a commercial break and don’t want to hang around waiting until the light gets bright enough to work by. My wife has some vision problems and found it very difficult to see clearly by its light. I ended up throwing the CFL in the trash and reverting to an incandescent bulb – the CFL was just not fit for purpose. We don’t have the choice of replacing the one in our bathroom because the fixture is specific to a particular type of fluorescent lamp. There’s no regular heating in our bathroom – just an electric fan heater – and in winter the temperature in there can fall close to the outside ambient level. That means that the lamp takes much longer to warm up and produce an acceptable level of light – at the time of year when it is needed more. I can be in and out of there, ablutions complete, before it reaches full brightness. So much for technological progress!

Incidentally, I didn’t know until recently that CFLs are supposed to be disposed of separately because they contain hazardous materials. Maybe it said something on the packaging but who keeps that to read months down the line? So I’ve inadvertently added a little Hg to our local landfill. Wonder how many other people have done the same because they either didn’t know or couldn’t be bothered? It’s not like anybody’s going to sift through all those tons of waste just in case there’s a CFL that found its way in there. So there’s going to be more toxic waste building up in the environment as a result. Sheesh! Sometimes I think we as a species don’t deserve this planet.

Writing My Way To Happiness

Writing My Way To Happiness

Why do I derive such pleasure from writing? It ties in with my special interest in words. It provides a means for me to communicate without speech. But it’s more than that – there’s the joy I get from the creative act of crafting a written work and the release I feel when I am able to express how I feel through this medium.

My first writing, naturally, was at school – “What I Did On Holiday” and the like. I was taught spelling and grammar from the outset and this has stood me in good stead – knowing the rules and conventions allows me to decide when to bend or break them for effect. But it’s not just my scholastic education that has influenced how I write – I’ve also picked up elements of style and structure from works that I’ve read over the years.

I’ve never had much trouble recounting events but imaginative writing has always been a problem – I find it impossible to invent characters and settings and have to fall back on stereotypes – so I avoid writing fiction when I have any choice in the matter. The last time I remember writing a fictional account I was at school – it was a diary entry from the perspective of Rev. Parris while we were studying The Crucible. I chose to concentrate on events from a segment of the play rather than attempting to ascribe feelings to the character, and found the most interesting aspect to be my attempt at recreating the language of the period – special interest strikes again!

I enjoy writing poetry in various forms – the range of constraints within the form offers an interesting challenge – but I worry that I’m not very good at it. It can be a challenging technique to become truly proficient in – I’ve always had difficulty maintaining the rhythm of the prosody because I have trouble determining the appropriate stress and intonation of words in speech. I have a somewhat monotonous tone and rhythm when I speak – I’ve got better at it over the years but it doesn’t come naturally. (My wife sometimes asks me to read to her at night to help her fall asleep.)

None of my essays are what I would describe as long – one English teacher wrote on a school report, “concise but errs on the side of brevity” and I had several similar comments across various subjects over the years. I believe it’s linked to my AS and my lack of small-talk in conversation. I have an innate inability to waffle – I consider this to be a positive trait because I find listening to such talk causes my attention to wander, and I just want to tell the speaker to get to the point!

So, how do I write? I get an idea in mind for a subject – often about myself or something that evokes strong feelings – and just start writing. Sometimes I’m inspired by an article I’ve read; sometimes it’s a way of dealing with my emotional state. Sometimes I drift off topic but I do try to maintain focus. Since I enjoy writing much more than editing, I worry about the end result being a bit rough around the edges – I never spend much time reviewing and polishing. I start at the beginning with no idea how it’s going to end, and keep writing until I’ve included pretty much everything I wanted to cover. I read it through, maybe tweak a couple of words here, a phrase there, and somehow it seems to turn out all right. I can’t really explain my writing process any better than this: I know what I want to convey and the words simply come out.

In some respects it does come easily to me – I can turn my thoughts into words with little effort. But only when writing. And this fluency is another reason I gain pleasure from it, when I contrast it with the hesitancy and mental blocking that afflicts my speech. I find the written word to be a more natural means of communication.

Aspergers Relationships

Aspergers Relationships

The difficulties experienced by most people on the autism spectrum when it comes to social interaction are a major handicap when it comes to forming relationships. I’m no different in this respect – I have never “chatted up” anybody in my life and wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s not something you ever get taught. Besides that, approaching a stranger – even one that I find attractive – causes me too much anxiety and I can’t manage a conversation in that frame of mind. It’s hard enough for me to start a conversation and keep it going with somebody I know well and feel comfortable around. I should also note that “attractiveness” for me is a very subjective thing – for example, I never come up with names that people are expecting when asked to name a celebrity I find attractive. But that’s another subject.

The end result of my social difficulties was that I never had a girlfriend right through school and university. To be honest I didn’t even try – it wasn’t something that I felt I needed or was able to do. My first relationship began after I moved away from home to start work. I was about 23 and she made the first moves. Looking back I guess I got almost obsessively involved very quickly – this isn’t uncommon for people with Aspergers, but at the time I hadn’t even heard of the condition. Although we got married and had a daughter, the relationship didn’t last for a number of reasons – some of them related to my AS, others to do with a more basic incompatibility. The break-up was extremely stressful on both sides and I ceased contact soon afterwards – I just couldn’t face it because even thinking about it would overload me.

Understandably I wasn’t looking for another relationship after this experience, but a year or so down the line I ended up in one – only my second – with the woman who was to become my second – and current – wife. This one also started intensely and cooled over the years but we have proved to be rather more compatible than was the case in my first marriage. It was my current wife who first suspected that I have AS – she has some experience with neurological disorders which helps her understand me.

Our relationship began when she started chatting to me in a bar. We had friends in common and I believe that’s why I felt so comfortable so quickly. I never had any plan – any end result in mind – for where our friendship might lead. I just kind of got caught up in the flow and without having a clear idea of how we got there we ended up living together and, some time later, got married.

We have had times when we have argued – or, to be more precise, when she has got riled up and I’ve responded by overloading with either a meltdown or more usually a shutdown. But these have been rare and short-lived and in the main we get along very well. We complement each other’s strengths: I am normally placid and level-headed while she is emotional and impulsive. She instigates the majority of what we do while I keep our feet on the ground. She manages the household (finances and suchlike) regarding which I have a major blind spot.

What I regard as my biggest strengths: I am completely loyal and faithful, I care very deeply about her. My biggest weaknesses: I can’t show or express my feelings in speech, I fall into repetitive behaviour very easily. I know that life with me is difficult for her at times. Even after nearly ten years together, she still expects me to react “normally” in certain situations. But between us we are making a success of this relationship. One of the keys to that success has been the fact that she understands how having AS affects me.