The looming future; leaving home to go to university and start my life as an independent functioning adult is simultaneously one of the most exciting and the most petrifying things on my mind at the moment. On the one hand, I will be studying the subjects that I love and taking the first steps towards a potentially fantastic adulthood, and on the other, I’m just not ready. I want to be a child forever. Peter Pan was right.
While this is perhaps a common dilemma for people my age, I have the added problem of having a different ability to make it more complex. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Many people have asked me to explain exactly what Asperger’s Syndrome is, and I always struggle. Its like trying to explain what its like having blue eyes or being a Scorpio (my eyes are green and I’m a Leo, but you get my drift). The best way I can describe it is like this; imagine a bar graph of as many bars as you like, all of which are varying but very similar heights. These bars represent a neurotypical person’s levels of achievement in various aspects of their life (make them different colours if you want, go nuts). Now imagine another similar bar graph, but even though the bars are brightly coloured, they differ vastly in height. Some of the bars might reach the top, while another is hardly there at all. There may be some bars that fall dead in the middle. These bars represent the ability levels of an autistic person. To put it another (less graph-orientated) way, I find that while many autists have areas where they are intellectually behind their peers, or not as advanced skills-wise, they almost always have peaks, where they excel, often to a point way behond the abilities of a ‘normal’ person.
For instance, I have a none-verbal friend who is an amazing artist. Someone may be unable to do their own shopping or manage their bills, but be a brilliant mathematician or scientist. That is my general analogy, its probably bull though, I’m not a psychologist.
One of the areas I do best in is English and creative writing, particularly journalism and fiction. This is what I want to study at university next year, and my ambition is to develop a career in this field. However, my independence bar isn’t so high at the moment. I am, admittedly, somewhat dependent on friends and loved ones, as are most people to an extent, but their bars are higher than mine.
So, the prospect of being suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar environment and forced to spend lots of time with people I have never met before is not an ideal situation for me. But, even if further education is optional, growing up and leaving the comfortable life of childhood is mandatory. I just have to grit my teeth and get on with it.
I’ve been preparing for independence (ironically) with a little help from my friends and family. For instance, my mum has been teaching me to make a few tasty and nutritional meals, and my dad has been discussing financial tips, how to budget, etc.
Since doing my TED speech in Washington DC in 2014, I have become a public speaker and am on my way to financial independence. I am having some writing success as well, so that is all good news.
Still, though, I face problems that other people dont. My well developed imagination sometimes has a life of its own. Its both a blessing and a curse.
I have devised a successful method of self-control before; I imagine another person is giving me the advice that I give myself. This person is usually an older, wiser, and considerably more attractive version of myself. For whatever reason, it usually works when I listen to her, but only on the occasions when I can actually summon her up. My mind needs to be at least a little bit balanced and composed in order to imagine properly. But if I’m in a situation where my mind is racing, off the rails, I can’t do anything but panic and scream. My mind is like an enormous wild animal that I find very difficult to chain up. But I have to.
This is where Brain in Hand comes in. I found out about it whilst at an autism conference and another autist recommended it to me. Brain in Hand is pretty much what it says on the tin; a huge list of solutions to potential problems that you can encounter in your day to day life. This is programmed into your mobile phone (by you; the user). Heather from Brain in Hand came to help me programme in my list of solutions – but the solutions all came from me. When I am calm, thinking practically and clearly in this way is no problem for me, that raging beast is sleeping and I can chat my older, wiser, hotter self (sometimes I feel like I am becoming her).
Its as though I have that older Rosie in my pocket and I can call her up for advice whether I’m just a little uneasy or having a full blown panic attack. Even now, before I’ve even set foot out my door, Brain in Hand is making my life so much more manageable. As a self-control tool its very discrete. The great thing is that if I get a few reminders from my phone in class, the most anyone else is going to think is how ultra popular I am. I almost cant wait to go to Uni now. Almost – I am, of course, still utterly terrified, but now I know that when the time comes, I can handle it. I would recommend Brain in Hand to anyone, disabled or not.