Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Making Peace with Misfitness

A friend of mine has been going through a rough time.

To those of us who know what life on the spectrum looks like, and who know her and her family, it’s been no great surprise to find that her youngest son is autistic, and she and her oldest daughter, at the very least, have Asperger’s Syndrome, if not high functioning autism*.

To them, however, the news has ben devastating.

I’ve mentioned before how very empowering and useful our diagnosis has been to us. I hope it will turn out to be the same for her, as well, and I wrote the message below for her, with that end in mind.

I don’t mean to diminish this situation in any way. I know that, in every possible way, we are enormously blessed – far beyond what we could ever hope to deserve. I know that many who walk this road have had a much tougher time than us. I know I cannot hope to understand, intimately, what that must be like.

And I don’t pretend to.

I know that I have days where I want to sit in the corner and sob because I just can’t bear another blank look of incomprehension, another unnecessary argument borne in misunderstanding, another three-hour melt down in which I can never allow anything else to be more important than the crisis facing the sobbing child before me. And

I know that these small hurdles that are the end of me, some days, are less than the smallest blip on the radar for some families. And that includes my friend’s family.

But I also know that the world needs minds like these. And – more than that – it needs acceptance* of these beautiful minds, and support. Not resistance.


My dear friend,

I almost want to congratulate you on having Asperger’s Syndrome. I came to the same conclusion about myself when I started this journey.

I was lucky to have two parents on the spectrum: a zany and extremely extroverted artist mom and a classic Aspie engineer dad. They don’t see how alike they are through their very different personalities. But all my personal study has shown me that common traits like depression, bipolar disorder, ADD, creativity, extremes of extroversion or introversion, attention to detail/OCD, engineering and social skills that don’t come naturally all point to the same thing: the autism spectrum.

My parents actively discouraged "being normal" in favour of "being interesting"

My parents actively discouraged “being normal” in favour of “being interesting”

Because my parents always felt like outsiders, and because both have formidable intelligence, they felt that our independence and uniqueness were much more important than trying to conform to society. If anything, they actively discouraged “being normal” in favour of “being interesting”. So understanding and accepting our Asperger’s has been less difficult for us than it is for many people. We see it as a blessing: a special and unique way to see the world. A way the world NEEDS to be seen in order for us to progress.

I really believe that once we can accept ourselves we can be so much happier with who we are, and also make a significant contribution. I hope this journey turns out to be a good one for you. As you say, the label doesn’t change what is. But it does make it so much easier to accept it.

And when you have a melt down, which we all do, it makes it a lot easier to understand and work through if you give yourself the grace to just feel what you feel in that moment. Melt downs – and all the challenges we face on the spectrum – are the ways our mind uses to tell us it needs to be taken care of. Whether that means taking a break, or establishing some boundaries, or even letting go of the things that weigh you down, you have the right to make those changes so that you can be as whole and healthy as you need to be – both for yourself and your family.



*I know these terms are clunky and insufficient. “High-functioning” implies so may things that just aren’t appropriate to the people with the label – and their lack doesn’t apply to people who don’t qualify for the label. “Acceptance” implies a coming to terms rather than an appreciation. It’s simply not adequate. But it’s the language I have available right now. Please don’t let offense at my hurried laziness rob you of any happiness.

Read more on Asperger’s in women, and adult diagnosis.


To provide some context to this next piece, I need to explain something. I work too hard. I always have. My sense of self-worth is inextricably tied to how much people like me is inextricably tied to how much work I deliver and how brilliant AND fast AND affordable it is. People tell me to slow down. People tell me I need boundaries. People tell me to take care of myself.

I ignore them.

Why? Because a good night’s rest bears no weight against a single word of approval. None. Nada. Not-a-sausage. I feel the absence of those positive strokes like a physical ache and it bores through my soul like cancer. Like water in lungs. Sleep be damned.

Yesterday, my mentor said three words and blew my mind. Because he’s a genius. And he changed the way I work and the way I view myself, my work, and my time.

Since I was fourteen, working around the clock and drinking inordinate amounts of black coffee to finish French projects, people have been telling me to guard my time more wisely. They’ve explained about boundaries. They’ve expounded on the necessity of placing a higher value on my work and my time.

No one has every called me unprofessional before.

He did.

It was exactly the wake up call and perspective shift I needed.

Those words have been burning a pathway into the core of my brain and I can feel paradigms shifting all over the place.

Changing the conversation from some ephemeral self-help discussion to a cool, calm assessment of how other people see me was like an ice-cold slap in the face with a wet fish. Not pleasant, but effective. And rejuvenating.

I am in his debt.

Update – 14/09: I should have mentioned that what my mentor referred to as unprofessional was the fact that I have been saying “Yes” to every client request I get, without planning my time or being realistic about what I can actually take on. I thought I had to. When he pointed out that, rather than make me look awesome and helpful, that behaviour was the one thing I did that is actually UNprofessional, it was the wake up call I needed. And I appreciate it. And it’s a good thing. :)

Being your own ENOUGH

Some time ago, Goldilocks explained to me how frustrated she was. She was working very hard to be “normal”. Not that she was trying to fit in – nothing like that. She was trying to moderate her responses to life’s stressors. She was trying NOT to get anxious, or talk to Zoomer*, or say unkind and thoughtless things. She was trying to integrate and keep her temper and respond rationally – every single day.

That might not seem like a lot to expect of someone.

But for her, the task was mammoth. Is mammoth, I should say.

It takes all of her energy and all of her emotional reserves, and some days it takes more than she has to give.

And no one notices.

She was getting exhausted and run down, and could hardly see the point in being this person people wanted her to be, since no one realised she was being it.

We had a long chat.

I explained to her that, if no one notices she’s doing it, it means she’s doing it right. If no one understands the cost, it means she’s made it look effortless. If no one praises her efforts, it means her efforts have paid off. She’s succeeded.

And then I reminded her that I see. I know.

And God knows.

And she knows.

I told her to be proud of herself for all that she has achieved – and does achieve every day. I pointed out that she has worked hard and has earned a certain amount of righteous back slapping.

And then I told her one of the hardest truths:
“That may be all the acknowledgement you ever get. You need to learn to let it be enough.”

You need to learn to let it be enough

If you do your job so well that no one even realises a job was done – making it look effortless; keeping the cogs running – day in and day out – no one will thank you. They won’t know that you’ve earned their thanks. Especially not when “the job” you do is “being socially acceptable”.

Deep within yourself you need to find the wellspring of self-approval – those reserves of strength that say, “Well done, Me. Nice job.” You need to shed archaic constructs whispering lies about how this kind of self-congratulation is wicked and prideful. And you need to let go of any need for approval.

You have what it takes to achieve what you need to achieve.

And that’s enough.

*Zoomer is the subject of a story I’m not ready to tell. In fact, it’s not really mine to tell.

When you feel everything

People assume that people with high levels of empathy have a deep insight into how others’ are feeling, and can thus moderate both their own behaviour – and that of others – to give everyone the highest comfort levels possible.

But this isn’t always the case. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, sometimes, empathy can actually cause the opposite result. People with high levels of empathy can become baffled by human behaviour, and unable to moderate their behaviour at all.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of empathy. There’s biological empathy, and social empathy.

Social empathy is the empathy we read about in magazines. It’s compassionate side of individuals that allows them to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Social empathy is usually an acquired skill. It needs to be developed over time, and it requires three keys things:

  • Emotional Intelligence on the part of the person exercising the empathy (or hoping to do so);
  • Compassion and a willingness to set aside judgements, prejudices and preconceptions;
  • And keen observational skills.

These can be developed over time. Research into the field, as well as personal observation and anecdotal evidence all contribute to social empathy. It’s the kind of thing that become your life’s work, and if we all invested more time in developing our own social empathy, the world would be a safer and more peaceful place.

But there’s another kind of empathy. Biological empathy is sometimes mistaken for ESP or something out of the ordinary and, frankly, a little strange. A person with high levels of biological empathy feels the emotions of those around them. It doesn’t matter where they are or who they’re with – even complete strangers can give off very strong emotions. And those with high levels of biological empathy have no choice but to feel those emotions as if they were their own.

(And – notice: I didn’t say highly developed biological empathy, but rather, high levels of empathy. This kind of empathy seems to be something you’re born with. Any personal development in this area needs to focus on managing and understanding it, more than expanding it.)

There’s a lot to be said for biological empathy. if you can learn to separate your emotions from those around you, and teach yourself to read the cues that suggest whose feelings you might be feeling, you can develop your social empathy remarkably. It becomes possible to understand – deeply – what another person feels, whether their motivations for feeling a certain emotion seem logical or valid to you or not.

It certainly short cuts a lot of the explaining work that usually needs to form part of social empathy development. Over time, because you can feel what a person is feeling, you can begin to develop an understanding of why they feel it, too.

But biological empathy is not without its share of problems. For one thing, it’s exhausting. The people I know with high levels of biological empathy are usually pretty sensitive people themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re easily offended or they cry a lot. It just means that they come with a lot of feelings of their own. Strong feelings. And managing those can be hard enough without the burden of feeling everyone else’s feelings, too. without guidance – especially at first – it can be very difficult to figure out which feelings belong to you, and which belong to those around you. That makes every day an emotional roller coaster.

But it goes further than that. People lie. They lie to those around them, and they lie to themselves. They especially lie to children. So when a child has a high level of biological empathy, they may feel the emotions of the adults around them. But when they ask those adults if they’re okay, the adult will blithely assure them that all is well. Often, that adult hasn’t even admitted to themselves what they’re feeling. They may well believe themselves when they say everything’s okay, because they’ve spent so long denying their own emotions.

But the child (or biological empath) is not necessarily asking because they want to help, or because they’re nosy.

They’re asking because they need to figure out if the sudden welling up of anger or heart ache or frustration they just felt is theirs – and where it could have come from – or not.

When the person feeling the emotion doesn’t take ownership of that emotion, the person feeling it with them has no way of dealing with it. It becomes difficult to separate where his or her own self ends, and another person begins.

If we could all learn to be more honestAnd it becomes very difficult to develop social empathy. You learn not to trust your emotions or instincts. Because you know what you’re feeling, but not why, and because the person you believe is actually feeling this sudden welling up of emotion refuses to clarify it for you (probably innocently), it becomes very hard to read people at all. Knowing how to behave around other people becomes an opaque minefield of confusion and overwhelm.

When you behave based on what someone says, rather than what their actions reveal, it’s possible to come across as callous and thoughtless. But when the words a person says are baffling to the biological empath, they may not have any other options.

Eventually, these gifted people, who could offer so much to the world, retreat into their own worlds to protect themselves. It’s a great loss to society.

We could benefit so much by being more honest and real – with each other and ourselves. And, since we can’t identify the biological empath by sight, if we all took steps to be more honest, they would naturally benefit as a happy side effect of the whole world becoming a better, safer space to be in.

Let’s chat about making choices.

Just because I choose it, that doesn't make it easy

Just because I choose it, that doesn’t make it easy

And of course, living with the consequences of those choices. Which can be hard.

Really hard.

Suppose I wanted to climb Mount Everest.

That would be my decision – a choice I’d made.

I’d have to do a lot of preparation and – being me – I’d spend months and months online, doing “research”.

My research would cover the gamut of mountaineering, from which boots to wear when facing a Himalayan summer (warm ones, preferably headed to the tropics) – to which tent is best suited to sleeping on the side of an imposing great hulk of rock.

I’d consider the food I’d need to take, the best kind of ruck sack, how to get enough air, and where to find a therapist to help me through my mania and keep here, where things are nice and “normal”, rather than teetering on the side of some distant mountain clearly bent on my personal annihilation.

Now, I love me a good hike. And I am addicted to the imposing majesty of mountain peaks. I’m also a graduate of the “if-you’re-gonna-do-it-be-the-best-at-it” school of over achievement. So if I were to invest serious time and effort into this wannabe hobby, it’s not entirely outside of the realms of possibility that I would consider tackling Everest.

As Terry Pratchett made clear, “This I (might) choose.”

But here’s the thing about choices. Just because you choose something, that doesn’t make it easy. Or fun all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t even turn out to have been particularly pleasant at all.

In some cases, in fact, the choices we make kind of happen by accident. One tiny flap of a butterfly’s wing over here sets off a chain of events whose end e can’t hope to predict or even imagine. It just plays out before us (sometimes without us consciously realising the part we’ve had to play in all this drama). And the next thing we know, there we are. Mired in insurmountable drama.

Not fun.

In the last few weeks I’ve been chatting to a few of my friends (as you do). And we all seem to be facing the consequences of our choices in various aspects of our lives. Maybe it’s a natural by-product of getting older – both living long enough to see the outcomes of the path we’ve headed down (which is a blessing), and having the clarity to recognise the role we’ve played in getting to where we are (which, frankly, is a bit of a mixed bag in the blessing department).

The thing that strikes me every time I chat to these fine folk is a single line they all seem to repeat: “I know I chose this. It’s self-inflicted. I only have myself to blame.”

Well – sure. Okay. Great job on accepting responsibility for where you are in life. Let’s face it: no one can change your life but you.

But just because you chose it, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just because you got yourself to wherever you may be on your personal journey, that doesn’t mean you need to go the rest of the way alone.

We can’t always predict the results of the tiny, seemingly insignificant choices we make along the way until it’s way too late. And while it’s mature – and even healthy – to recognise that we’ve had a part to play in getting to the place we’re at now, that doesn’t mean we’re to blame for it.

Frankly, blame shouldn’t even be a part of the equation.

And it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve compassion, support, and maybe even real, practical help. Many of us face obstacles we need to surmount – our very own Everests. No one can face a mountain alone. We need each other to achieve goals. Often, we need each other just to help us identify the goals in the first place.

And we certainly need help to get to where we’re headed. Because no matter how each of us got to wherever we are now, you can be sure not one of us did it alone.

So if you’re feeling stuck in a morass of guilt, blame – maybe even self-pity – and you feel like you need to pull yourself out of it all by yourself, maybe take a minute to stop being so hard on yourself.

Your experience is no less challenging, painful or – above all – valid just because you chose it. And just because it’s your path, and the result of your choices, that doesn’t mean you have to walk it alone.

Party Poopers

LEMONADE, 'Actually, I hate places like this.'

LEMONADE, ‘Actually, I hate places like this.’

Since Goldilocks joined a little home school / unschool collective, she has made some new friends. One of them, who we’ll call Bat Girl, has become a regular addition to our family.

Today is Bat Girl’s birthday party. The girls are going under duress – not because they don’t want to do, and certainly not because they don’t want to see their friends. They do want to see their friends. They love their friends, and they know how much it will mean to everyone if they’re there. And if they’re not.

The thing is that they, like their parents, hate parties.

We love party food – crisps, cake, sweets … okay, not cake. Or sweets. None of the girls in this house like cake or sweets. But definitely crisps. And chocolate. Always chocolate.

And we love our friends.

We even love mad crazy dancing to fun music. We like to dress up. We like to play. We love to enjoy ourselves.

Parties offer none of these things. Especially kids parties. Kids parties are loud. There are lots of sugar-fuelled monsters tearing around chaotic spaces, screaming their heads off. The children are expected to play “fun” games with stupid rules and meaningless rewards, while the adults sit around and make “small talk”.

What is about children’s parties that turn a group of adults who – I am almost certain – are completely charming, interesting and intelligent people under normal circumstances – into a gaggle of gossipy old bores? And if you don’t know the people they know, the conversation is dull and hard to follow. And did I mention dull?

Besides the lack of context that comes with not being deeply immersed in the daily soap operas of the locals, for some reason kids’ parties always seem littered with that very special variant of human (one I go to enormous lengths to avoid): the smoking racist. I don’t mean smoking as some kind of adjective – either positive or negative. They’re not “smoking hot”, for instance. They’re not so racist that their ears are smoking … well, okay. Yes they are. But that’s not what I mean.

I’m referring to that most deeply annoying of small town stereotypes: the smoker, who is also rabidly racist. Or just generally bigoted. How are you supposed to have a conversation with someone like that without massive amounts of accusatory face leakage?

I wish I knew. I don’t.

My Tourette’s goes into overdrive: I can’t accept what they say, so I twitch. I don’t want to appear rude, so I twitch some more. I don’t want to appear to agree, either. Cue more twitching. I realise that my “resting bitch face” has morphed slightly into “judgey bitch face”. Which I also don’t want. Trying to adjust my face into something a lot more vague and opaque means even more twitching. And then they smoke in my face. I can’t breathe, I’m trying not to sneeze, my nose and eyes are streaming – and all the while they’re saying the most outrageous and insubstantiable (is that even a word??) things about people they don’t even know.



To make matters worse, this party is a dress up party. Now, I for one am all about dress up parties. I love them. (I think it’s some kind of control thing.) Red Riding Hood loves them, too. But Goldilocks and Papa Bear? Not so much. Cleverly enough, Red went to today’s party as Black Widow from X-Men fame. Really, it’s the perfect alter ego for her. Goldilocks bucked the system by going as an “innocent” bystander.

And I cheated by not going at all.

Yep. That’s how good a parent I am.

Speak-FrenchToday we got to the front gate of our property, about to head out and do Saturday-type parent-y stuff. The gate wouldn’t open. It does this sometimes. Because we live at the top of a very steep and twisty driveway, “running up tot he house” to get something is a chore. It’s an especially daunting challenge for people sporting our current fitness levels. (Let’s just say: standing upright is a particular challenge for people sporting our current fitness levels.)

Thus, a gate that doesn’t open needs to be solved with tools one finds to hand. Dried husks of hydrangea are about as good as it gets – and a lot less useful than you’d imagine.

As he got out of the car, he was exercising a mammoth amount of self-control, and simply said, “Please excuse me while I … ” He couldn’t finish the sentence without expletives, so he got out and tended to the recalcitrant metal monster barring our exit for the day.

Meanwhile, young Red Riding Hood piped up sardonically, “Please excuse me while I step outside to practise my French.”

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