How my life is shaped by ASD

brain exploding

This is how I have coped with life. It may or may not help others.

Having only been diagnosed in later life as being affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, I am now reluctant to mention it to friends as reactions range from disbelief to dismissal. I missed the window to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome because it has now been removed from the official diagnostic toolkit, but it’s still the best shorthand description of where I find myself.

There are elements of your personality or your brain wiring that you can never change, but you can find workarounds for some of the problems they present. Some solutions I found early in life, some I am still perfecting.

Eye contact
Always awkward, but if you look at someone’s nose it seems to them that you are looking at their eyes. This causes me less stress and they are happier because I appear to be engaging with them.

Physical touch
This took a long time to cope with and is something I still find awkward to initiate and with which I am still sometimes uncomfortable. I made major leaps forward by joining a theatre group when younger who told stories through physical movement and voice. Interpersonal touch was required in this process, but as it was in the context of ‘playing a part’, I became, to some extent, more comfortable with it.

Reading facial expressions
Studying cartoons was really helpful to me. The artist has to convey emotion in a few deft strokes of a pen and exaggerates each facial expression. My reference data from this study is not infallible, but I now get it right maybe 75% of the time.

Hyperfocus or obsession (talking too much)
I still haven’t got control of this one but now recognise, sometimes a little late, that I need to shut up sometimes. Very few people are really interested in anything other than having their own beliefs reinforced.

Social interactions 
I have a tendency to be too serious, to take everything too literally and to ask for explanations on any opinion that someone holds. When you have a compulsion to ask interrogative questions it is often assumed that you hold the opposite viewpoint – when all you’re trying to do is understand their attitudes.

When I remember, I now ask shorter questions, leave lots of silences and accept that most people occupy immutable positions on religion, politics and gender issues. They are not going to question or even logically justify their own long held views.

Attention to detail
This is a benefit as well as a hazard. It’s possible to get so involved with detail that you lose sight of the wider picture. Reminding or questioning yourself as to why you’re so engrossed can help add perspective. On the plus side, that kind of dedicated concentration can pay dividends in some areas.

I love good comedians. I think I have quite good sense of humour. Where I can trip up is with the unexpected joke, the quip introduced into a conversation. It’s difficult to ‘switch track’ from serious to funny and it sometimes takes a minute for me to realise a comment was a joke. When the unexpected intrudes into a conversation I often replay the previous few seconds in my head to check if I missed a change of tone.

Changes in patterns and routines
It’s in my nature to think things through, to see the road ahead as clearly as possible. When someone changes a plan it’s extremely unsettling because I have to rethink all the detail again.

I try to take a step away and see whether there is logic to this change (other people find it easy to be impulsive). I don’t like changing well thought out plans simply because other people are happy to ‘wing it’. I haven’t really solved this, other than to engage in work where I can plan independently.

Collecting and listing
These are habits (obsessions) that are not uncommon in non-ASD people too. The difference is probably in the zeal, focus and the way they can dominate your life. I have found that the more collections I allow myself to indulge in, the less any single collection dominates my life. I still don’t fully understand this one.

Depression and confusion
All sufferers of depression are probably familiar with the internal cry of ‘but there’s no point’. After years of avoidance, prescription pharmaceuticals have eventually helped me.

I always assumed that if you made a good friend it would last a lifetime. I still don’t understand why not, but sadly it doesn’t seem to work that way. It’s not easy to become close enough to someone to trust them. When they subsequently ghost you, it’s impossible to understand why. I presume I’ve done or said something that offended them. 

I have found that it’s easier now if I don’t consider anyone a long-term reliable friend.

In General
You have to accept that people don’t find you easy to get on with at a social level – however ‘normal’ you try to be, it never quite works. Accept yourself for who you are. Ignore the perfect friendships others appear to have (possibly an illusion anyway). Find something that will interest you for a lifetime. Write a blog, not to become famous, but to clarify your thoughts.

The Six Colours of a Rainbow

We’ve seen a lot of beautifully drawn rainbows recently but what colours should you use. It’s a simple matter of physics, but not everyone has seen rainbows the same way, and when Sir Isaac Newton got it wrong we all followed. This is a potted history of how rainbows have been described over millennia.

homer's rainbow

About 3000 years ago, Homer, an Ancient Greek epic poet and philosopher, described rainbows as being a single colour – purple. Maybe he was severely colour blind or more interested in poetry than painting.

a rainbow of three colours

About 2500 years ago, another Greek philosopher called Xenophanes of Colofon identified two more colours. He added red and a yellowy-green to the purple. Still not much like a real rainbow.

The European Renaissance
Some 500 years ago, during the European Renaissance pretty much everyone ‘in the know’ agreed there were four colours, red, yellow, green and blue. But they got a lot of things wrong in the Renaissance period.

It’s worth remembering that orange had only just been named as a colour – before then it just meant an orange – and the colour was referred to as a yellow-red.

The Enlightenment
It began to make a little more sense around 400 years ago at the start of the Enlightenment, known as ‘The Age of Reason’. Science began to challenge some long held beliefs. Europeans expanded the rainbow to five colours – red, yellow, green, blue and purple.

Science takes over
A major change came in 1665 when Sir Isaac Newton split light using a prism (he bought it at a county fair) to make a rainbow on the wall of his room. He got his assistant, under instruction, to mark the divisions of colour with a pencil.

A incorrect correlation
Newton believed there must be a connection between the number of colours in a rainbow and the number of notes in a musical scale (he was wrong). We still use the names he gave those seven colours – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.

But colours sometimes change name
Newton probably intended for the seven colours of a rainbow to look more like this. That one he called indigo was almost certainly dark blue – he would have known Indigo as a dye that comes from a plant called Indigofera – and his blue might well have been a paler greenish blue.

The primary colours of light
The three primary colours of light are Red, Green and Blue. Mixing them is called additive colour mixing because the more of the primary colours you shine in one place, the closer you get to white. (its not the same as mixing paint)

Red and Green combine to make Yellow.
Green and Blue combine to make Cyan (a pale blue).
Red and Blue combine to make Magenta.

You may recognise the colours, or even just the letters RGB, as they are the three colours used in televisions, computers, smartphones and stage lighting. The three secondary colours may also be familiar as the colours of the inks in a inkjet printer.

A more accurate rainbow
So it might make sense to use these colours for our rainbow drawings. Of course we’d have to think of a new mnemonic to remember them. Roy G BIV (USA) or Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (UK) would no longer work.

How about a new mnemonic for Red Yellow Green Cyan Blue Magenta?

Rainbows You Gladly Colour By Magic?

Lynmouth, Harbour Lights

poster of lynmouth harbour lights

When I first knew Lynmouth, in the 1960s, the Harbour would be bustling, both during the day and in the evenings during the summer. Pubs, shops and cafés would all be open. Now it’s much quieter after the day visitors have left, but still as atmospheric as the light fades.

I am probably one amongst many who would like to see it busy with tourists as the sun sets, but life changes, habits change and holiday-makers have changed too.

This poster is available to purchase in three sizes. All prints are made to order and produced on a silk matt 170gsm paper. A visual guide to these is shown below:

poster sizes
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Watersmeet, East Lyn, Lynmouth

poster of watersmeet

This poster is in the mid 20th century style of British travel posters for coastal resorts. It’s the location of Watersmeet House on the East Lyn valley above Lynmouth. The property is now a National Trust tea room, but was originally a fishing lodge built for Walter Stevenson Halliday in 1832.

Two rivers meet here and cascading waterfalls tumble in this iconic Exmoor landscape.

This poster is available to purchase in three sizes. All prints are made to order and produced on a silk matt 170gsm paper. A visual guide to these is shown below:

poster sizes
buy on etsy button

I used to draw postcards

It feels like a different life when we didn’t have cameras on our phones, or not even mobile phones. In those distant days people would send a postcard to friends and family whilst on holiday. Sometimes the postcards even arrived before they returned home.

postcard blow-up doll
postcard nut on beach

Somehow I started drawing cartoons for holiday postcards. It was only ever meant to be an idle amusement and an interesting challenge. Over the course of a dozen years or so, we sold somewhere between two and three million postcards. This didn’t make us rich or famous as the net profit on a postcard is only a few pence.

Sometimes I find myself browsing in an antique shop and discover my own work. I never reveal my identity – it might spoil the owner’s day to find out that I’m still alive.

The first postcard was mailed in England in 1870. Over 150 years later does anyone send them? If they do, I have a big back catalogue.

postcard dad buried in sand

North Walk, Lynton

poster of North walk Lynton

From a painting in acrylics. This is a favourite place of mine and one of the views that entranced me when I first visited North Devon.

The view is one of the few I am able to enjoy because my fear of heights prevents me from completing the whole route. Every day the colours change and you never quite get the same light air clarity.

This poster is available to purchase in three sizes. All prints are made to order and produced on a silk matt 170gsm paper. A visual guide to these is shown below:

poster sizes
buy on etsy button

Southport Pier

poster of Southport Pier

Southport in Merseyside, North West England. Taken one late afternoon for no other reason than it looked amazing. I was there partly to see Antony Gormley’s Another Place and this view was breathtaking. The government was going to move my parents to Southport from London, during WW2, but in the end my father remained in London at the Ministry of War. This was my first visit to a beautiful town in which I almost grew up.

This poster is available to purchase in three sizes. All prints are made to order and produced on a silk matt 170gsm paper. A visual guide to these is shown below:

poster sizes
buy on etsy button

Three Reasons to Write

psychologist and client

Behind every author, professional or amateur, is a reason they started and continue to write. I have fumbled for words when asked ‘Why do you write?’, especially as I would be classified as commercially unsuccessful (no agent or publisher). But I have spoken to and listened to a lot of authors in my life, from both sides of the publishing divide, and I think most fall into one of three categories.

Literary Ambition
This might be the most common reason people start writing their first novel. Didn’t we all think we going to write either a top-ten best-seller, or the best prose since… well, fill in your favourite writer here.

Emulating a Genre?
There are a lot of writers who have loved a genre so much that simply want to invent their own worlds, their own characters and join with the cohort of authors they have enjoyed and admired.

Therapeutic or Cathartic?
This is me, and I doubt I’m the only one. Through writing characters and plots, I work out some of the sociological and interpersonal conundrums that elude me in real life.

So, is there a writer who doesn’t fall into one of these three groups, or maybe straddles two of them. Love to add categories to this nascent list.

Where it feels right to write

interior of charlie fridays cafe

After a lifetime of working freelance as an illustrator, graphic designer, copywriter and cartoonist, I have an established working routine and a quiet studio with forty years history embedded in every dust mote – or I did have until we moved house a few years ago. I now have a smaller studio, but much of the dust moved with me.

I have always been happy to work alone and have music playing to cut out any distracting sounds. Maybe this is not untypical for a slightly autistic mindset – it certainly works for me. I have no problem focussing on whatever I’m working on and don’t really experience things like writer’s block.

exterior of charlie fridays cafe

Charlie Friday’s
Sometimes I walk down to my favourite café, Charlie Friday’s, where they have great coffee and make the best scones and cakes I’ve had anywhere, not to mention fantastic lunches and suppers. The ambience is totally different to my desk space and makes a pleasant change that can revitalise my mood – at least it could until lockdown struck.

How this works in practical terms
I write predominantly using the Pages app on a Mac computer. The files automatically update on my iPad so I can stop mid sentence, grab my iPad, walk down the road to Charlie Fridays and continue writing.