Autism Life Skills

14/08/2016 23:21 | Updated 14 August 2016

Adult Life Skills hit the cinematic trail recently.

Starring Jodie Whittaker, it's about a young woman who can't cope with a bereavement and retreats to a shed at the bottom of the garden, which seems like a dopey thing to do.

And it seems dopey to me, you see, because my mother died the other day.

Now I've laid both parents to rest, it's fair to say I know of what I speak; and in the midst of everything else that came to pass, I was reminded of a recent statistic: that "80 % of people who have heard about autism are unaware how common it is and 49% do not know that it is a life-long condition."

(The National Autistic Society, 2007. - Think differently - act positively: public perceptions of autism in Scotland)

Or in other words, while many people have heard the word autism and know it's out there somewhere, a large number of them still have no idea how widespread it is (more than one in a hundred people in the UK are living with autism) or how broad a spectrum of disorder it covers (John Harris of The Guardian recently commented that "people still prefer to fixate on autism as something associated with childhood, and thereby avert their eyes from the issues surrounding autistic adults."), and presume grown-ups with autism like myself will react to an issue like bereavement in exactly the same way they themselves (neuro-typicals) do.

So I'll admit to being a bit bemused when I fairly regularly received this comment:

"It'll take time for you to come to terms with it."

No, it won't take me any time at all. I react differently.

For Aspergers, it's logic first and emotions afterwards. For neuro-typicals it's emotion first and logic later...

We are different from you.

When it happened, I accepted the fact that Mum had died of a stroke without the slightest disbelief or any attempt at denial.

The emotions came along very shortly afterwards - the pang of loss in the gut, the weariness striking early every day; the feeling that if I let my breath out too quickly, my stomach would fall out as well.

That is the order of things for an Asperger. I knew that bereavement felt like a slow-motion car crash, and I knew it was going to hurt.

Worse, that long week after the death requires the survivor (usually feeling at their worst) to be at their best. Administratively speaking, anyway. And at such a time, a focused Asperger's logical approach is definitely an advantage. The logical awareness of what had to be done was translated into immediate action. I contacted the doctor, the lawyer, the funeral director...

But not, I admit, the candlestick-maker.

Death, I've realised with dark irony, is a major industry - one with a guaranteed supply of clients and continuing demand for the services of its specialists. But even so, it's vital to be able to talk calmly and coherently to those professionals (minister, registrar, financial adviser etc.) who are strikingly supportive, but only human.

And while I was very grateful for words on Facebook offering "light and love," I did sometimes find myself wishing some subtle benefactor would sidle up to me on the quiet, slip me an envelope with £5,000 in hard cash and offer me the services of a personal administrative assistant.

Words must be said for the departed. I wrote an effective eulogy, complete with efficient rhyme and couplet; and once the service was done our priority was to ensure the burial passed off without a problem - put the right cord in the right hand, don't drop the coffin, don't fall in the open grave...

I'd already said my private goodbyes in the room where Mum died, so all there was left to do was send her on her way to the strains of Anne Shelton's Petite Waltz.

I cleared the house but kept a sense of her presence, took time in Culter Library where she'd watched me work in her last days. Most surely felt the pang of loss.

Then I turned to the shed. I denuded it of a few useless items (Dad, we never needed that Garden Vac!), but didn't retreat to it because I couldn't cope.

That's not the Asperger way.

Life goes on. I know there is another day.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau and The Legend of John Macnab. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.