When I was both at school and university I cannot remember learning anything at anytime from any teacher. My mind was always elsewhere. Everything I learned I learnt through taking ‘no doze’ caffeine tablets and swotting through the night before the deadline, whether it be an exam or an assignment due.
The idea of leaving things to the last minute may not be everybody’s cup of tea but for me it’s been my total calorie intake. In fact, the exhilaration of just making it and drawing close to the wind is part of the buzz that throws bright colours onto the predictable fabric of my every day living. They say that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, but for me the sheer repetition would lead to unsustainable boredom.
Right the way through school, my family meal times with my mum, dad, older brother and older sister were like World War Three. My family never agreed on anything that each of us ever said. For at least three of us at the table, I now realise that it was SHEER entertainment. Mention an opinion and you’d get instant disagreement. I’m bad, very bad, when I watch the news – I disagree with everything being said. It’s not that I ever have a set opinion, it’s just that my mind gets a buzz out of thinking through all of the alternative opinions to the one that’s currently being heralded. It’s fun. It’s annoying. It’s ADH for sure – but not necessarily a disorder – more of a gift waiting to be channelled for good!
It’s for the very same reason that I hate walking! It’s far too slow for me! Whether it be a shopping mall or a service station, I’ll always find myself running between the shops or between the car and the till. It’s not that I’m in a hurry – it’s just that I get so bored. To smell the roses and to kick the autumn leaves may add to someone’s quality of life but I’m definitely not interested in roses or leaves. My giftings are better suited elsewhere.
All of my life I’ve had a hyperactive brain. If outwardly I’m like someone with ants in his pants, then inwardly my brain is like ‘A Night At The Museum’. It comes alive when the door’s closed and just loves to play around. My mind is always racing and darting, imagining and strategizing. Like an old computer screen that needs a ‘screensaver’ to stop it burning up, my mind is always switched on, lost in its own underground network of thoughts. For certain periods of my life, it has even had a life of its own, like a train with no driver playing tricks on me and often bringing me into the all consuming world of crazy obsessions and paranoias. Cracks in the pavement weren’t to be stepped on and anyone who looked at me from out of a car or a bus was definitely thinking something horrible about me. If I talk about my minds’ current array of silly and purile tricks such as the trick of completely shutting down on me while publicly speaking, it can almost tip me over into the arena of actually empowering my mental-ness! So I won’t say much more. I’ll keep the gift at bay in that particular arena!
In all of the reading that I did on ADHD, I discovered that I still didn’t quite fit the cut out that was being described to me. My need (NEED) for a super tidy desk with all of the objects in their designated places, my up-tightness unless I’m completely alone, and my inability to be spontaneous (even my spontaneity is un-spontaneous) all point to aspects of autism! In fact after reading ‘The ESSENTIAL Difference – men, women and the extreme male mind’ by Simon Baron-Cohen 1, and completing his Autism Spectrum Test, I came just one point below the category of Asperger’s Syndrome (much to my son’s amusement). I know that it’s all a little unscientific, but it does point the compass in a general direction.
Infact Mr Baron-Cohen believes that all men have a touch of autism and their ability to multitask is evidence of it (Simon Baron-Cohen 2003 Allen Lane, The Penguin Press). Very few can watch TV and listen to their partners at the same time!
After having met other people with officially diagnosed ‘Asperger’s’, I realise that a portion of them have a much more reduced social and spatial awareness than I do. I have also met many people who have never been diagnosed with anything in their lives except a common cold yet carry traits of autism such as social inflexibility, tunnel vision and a detachment to the world around them.
Like all things, there’s a spectrum. You may come in just under the official radar, but to understand the way you’re wired and why you do what you do can be the beginning of a hugely liberating experience! Remember if it wasn’t for the gift of autism there’d be no one working for NASA and only a handful of people working for the Carphone Warehouse!
Do Not Disturb
Up until the age of twenty I can’t remember having one conversation that lasted more than one sentence with either my father or my mother. For much of the time I had a ‘do not disturb’ sign over every part of my world. If I was ever asked a question, I felt that the workload of assembling the words together (and the interruption of my mental pre-occupations) was just too difficult. Instead, a grunt kept me in touch – (maybe that just made me a normal teenager! In fact for years when I came down for breakfast before school I would either hide in the pantry or sit facing away from everyone in order to eliminate my social involvement as well as hide my ‘ugly’ face!) Even now, almost three decades on, I still feel the strain of human involvement. My brain consciously relaxes when it’s in the presence of – no-one. I can really feel the difference. Through it all I’ve learnt the art of socialising – ask lots of questions. It not only makes the recipient feel special but also takes the immense pressure off me of having to unite words together to create what most people would call ‘normal conversation’. I have become the ‘Parkinson’ of socialising. The more extreme the questioning the more interesting the answers and the more entertained I am. It’s a sincere smoke screen. The more they talk – the less I have to.
Throughout my teen years I exhibited much ‘spectrum’ activity! In Year 10 at my posh private school, I spent four hours each night doing my homework. That’s no longer attention deficient, it’s hyper focussed – but I wasn’t studying in the classic sense though. I was re-writing any notes I’d taken that day using four different coloured pens. I failed Year ten but my notes looked brilliant.
In my twenty fifth year on the planet, I learnt about the ancient spiritual discipline of fasting! Well, that year I fasted over two days every week, and sometimes way, way more. In total, I didn’t eat for over one hundred and twenty days! Fanatical – yep. Obsessive – sure. Sincere – trying my best!
Today, I drive my staff crazy with the necessity for continuous background music in the foyer of our city wide community centre in order to create a great atmosphere for people to connect. I’ve ruined the atmosphere a few times trying to create the right atmosphere. They’ve had to take the pauses out between the songs because I’d panic that the music had stopped, when in reality it was simply ‘between numbers’. I’ve stopped walking through parts of the building I oversee because the tables are never in the right place – and they wobble. I hate wobble. Control freak? I admit it. In the midst of this craziness, however, is a gift that’s being used to continuously create new ministries, raise up new leadership and develop a whole batch of new ideas. My autistic gift may be a little annoying when applied on a micro level (even though much of life is the sum of little things), yet it becomes greatly releasing when applied on a macro level of leadership and creativity.