I built the garden shed the other day. Actually it took two weeks, I had to uprate the original specifications (if the manufacturer says use a 60 mm screw, use a 70 mm screw..), create a windowsill from scratch and bolster the foundations while the shed itself teetered above my head at a ninety degree angle restrained only by a ladder wedged up its underside. What a daft way to die if it had fallen. One can imagine the headlines:
ODD AUTHOR AND ASPERGER KILLED BY SHED.
ASPERGER GONE TO HELL WITH DRU, MOST ATYPICAL.
Or, most accurately...
WHAT A STUPID WAY TO GO.
But the shed didn't fall on my head, though some may think it might have improved my writing if it had. It also seemed some sort of internal mechanic kept watch on my construction, calling up to my conscious mind from a neurological Engineering in the manner of a deranged Scotty with comments like:
"Ye cannae do that, the crossbeams willnae take the strain..."
"Ye're really gonnae gie yersel' a hernia this time..."
and, most frequently:
"Are ye com-pletely deranged!!!"
And so it came to pass that I put the final bolt on the door, added the coat of arms to the finial and finished the wood in a soft shade of harvest gold, nicknaming the shed my Type 40 TARDIS and explaining away the fact that it looked nothing like a nineteen-sixties police box with the simple comment that "the chameleon circuit on this one actually works."
Not exactly newsworthy, of course, except for the fact that in Barbara Jacob's helpful book, Loving Mr Spock, an early but lucid, analytical and realistic look at life with an Asperger, she had said:
"Don't expect any DIY or much help around the house. Aspergers can be very good at arranging things, but can take hours over a simple task, and are too clumsy in subtle ways to do decorating or home improvement."
With regard to her Asperger spouse, a contributor to Spock also commented that:
"He often strips screws, breaks components when he is assembling things, because he fanatically over-tightens. He is so precise he makes simple jobs very complex and time-consuming."
However, although there certainly were echoes of this in my own behaviour (plus some swearing when I broke another drill bit...), I tightened screws but knew when to stop, selected the right tool for the job and erected the whole thing efficiently and without ego.
So although Aspergers can be a great excuse to avoid doing jobs around the house, it's not a total get-out clause.
Well, apart from the fact that autism is a broad spectrum disorder and those on the spectrum are as different from each other as chalk is from cheese, there are (very roughly) two types of Asperger - the focused and the unfocused. There are those who painstakingly grind their way through the flood of information coming at them and slowly, carefully, sometimes crudely, make the right decision. The Mr Spocks who work it out with hard logic and no little effort. Carrying out functions under manual control which neuro-typicals deftly fly through on autopilot.
Then there are the unfocused others, like Danny in Loving Mr Spock, who:
"...actually managed to put the wardrobe together, in a makeshift kind of way, but had to prop it up with a piece of wood. The rest of the bedroom remained in the boxes. It was still there the last time I looked."
Overwhelmed by the information they cannot filter and unable to let up on their need for precision, they may indeed be dunces at DIY; and it must firmly be remembered that mundane tasks which are easy for neuro-typicals may be like climbing Everest for those with autism.
So I was pretty pleased to finish my shed, manage the house and even work the washing machine efficiently while Mum had a brief stay in hospital. It may seem a bit soulless, but at least she had a clean, tidy, neat and ordered home to return to when the time came. Aspergers has its advantages.
And we also have our childlike imagination. My shed became a TARDIS and sparked a renewed interest in Doctor Who; and though I can't quite claim it's dimensionally transcendental, that golden box at the bottom of the garden looks to me like a ship ready to cross the universe.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders when not time-travelling through other galaxies.