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The best of times... (First published 01 Jan 2018)

By Chris Russell · Jan 7, 2018 ·
A New approach for the New Year... and this one works...
  1. It's that time of year again, and I had hoped to have something heartwarming, insightful and completely out of character for a logic loving, systematic, no-nonsense Aspie, to share with you all. My Christmas tree is still up, so I've thrown in some Dickens, and have sprinkled it with a comforting amount of efficiency in the form of a 'round-up of the last year' so I haven't completely thrown caution to the wind...

    I have never read much Dickens, or Austen, Tolstoy or any of the other great writers who's chief delight was in spinning tales of the human condition and the intricacies of complex family or romantic relationships. I've tried a few times, but I get lost quickly - there is little common experience here to keep my attention. That doesn't mean I cannot appreciate the masterful and inspiring skill demonstrated by these giants of literature in smaller doses - they are, after all, eminently quotable.

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…"

    When I turned my mind to writing my personal round-up of 2017, it was this quote from Dicken's 'A Tale of Two Cities' that my mental Rolodex fell open on. 2017 has been a year of contrasts...

    The year began with struggle. I was desperately trying to manage an increasingly stressful job, (not, difficult, highly responsible, very important or suchlike... just really, unnecessarily stressful). This was being made more difficult because I was trying to cope with debilitating migraines and equally debilitating side effects from unhelpful drug treatments. There was, I noticed, an uncomfortable familiarity about the way I was treated as a migraine sufferer... The lack of understanding about the condition, the isolating effect, the ineffectual and sometimes harmful treatments, the lack of available help: I'd been down this path before...

    But, (I said, boldly starting a paragraph with a conjunction, and including a split infinitive in the explanation) another path was being forged at the same time. This was taking place thanks to the tireless enthusiasm of a small group of people I have come to think of as Friends. (I feel the need to pause and explain at this point, for those of you who might skip over the significance of this statement. Naming someone as a Friend, for an Aspie, is akin to bestowing the Nobel Prize. Make no mistake - great things will be expected. (I write this with the confidence of someone who knows their Friends will see the humour here - which is the most delightful part!))

    The formation of our fledgling Charity "The Different Engine" has been a difficult, time consuming, fiddly, awkward, tough task. And it has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of it. At the start, thanks to the migraines, I could barely look at a computer screen, but now I have nearly finished our new website: TheDifferentEngine.net. We have our workshops for next year set up, and interest in what we are doing is growing fast. Leaflets, articles, books and conference appearances are in all the pipeline. I am learning more about myself and how Asperger's effects the way I experience the world around me, every day, and thanks to Peter Fowerdew's Aspie TA, I can share this learning with my husband, son, students and anyone else who wants to know about it.

    Without it, I would not have had the confidence to leave the harmful environment of my last job (because I wouldn't have recognised what was doing the harm). I would not have had the courage to talk to prospective employers about my Asperger's, (for fear they would not understand) and they would not have realised the breadth of what I could bring to the role (I would not have had the language to explain). The essential support and understanding of friends and family that I have relied upon through this difficult year would have been drastically reduced, were it not for the the fact that they have joined me on this journey, and we all now have access to this common language. After 3 years of investigating this tool and its applications, it still amazes me that writing about it can still raise a tingle of excitement and a hitch of breath.

    A last minute meeting, recently, proved to the icing on the cake for me... I had agreed to come along to a meeting arranged by my friend Rich Hall, with a representative from an Autistic support organisation from which we had we both received support over the years. I wasn't sure if there was an agenda, or if we were just testing the waters, but I listened as Rich spelled out the key stages of our work over the past few years. Before long, my enthusiasm got the better of me and I there I was: Waxing lyrical about my experiences and the way my cynical viewpoint had been changed irrevocably by the efficacy of these techniques and methods... Our audience was somewhat taken aback by what we had achieved in the time since our previous acquaintance, and he spoke at length about his concerns about the direction of Autism research in the international arena. It was heartening then, to say the least, to hear his positive response to our work - developed by NTs and Asipes together. This is the most important type of endorsement in my mind - that of people who have lost faith in the systems that are designed to help people like us (most of them researched and designed by NTs in isolation, or using NT designed and interpreted research from autistic contributors)... If they can see the benefit and scope of what we are doing, then even my appalling self-doubt cannot put up a sufficient argument. 'Nothing about Us, without Us' is one approach, but we chose to look beyond 'Them and Us' to the potential that comes from truly understanding the strengths of diversity from both perspectives. What we have achieved could not have been done by NTs or Aspies working in isolation. We have tackled the barrier itself, and it has toppled.

    2017 has indeed been a year of contrasts - illness and healing, leaving a job and gaining new employment, giving in and taking the plunge, despair and hopefulness, self-doubt and self-belief, trying to help and allowing myself to be helped. Not as eloquent as Dickens, nor as dramatic, but I feel this year marks an important landmark. "The Different Engine" is about to make a world of difference to a world of people, hopefully, two worlds. I am very proud to be a part of it.


    About Author

    Chris Russell
    Chris Russell is an Aspie and a trustee for the UK based Asperger's support charity* "The Different Engine" which uses a modified version of Transactional Analysis as a language to create dialogue between neurotypical and Aspie. The charity also trains employers, psychotherapists, educators and counsellors about the neurological and psychological differences between NTs and Aspies and how to use TA to encourage real communication and understanding. (thedifferentengine.net)
    Sabrina likes this.


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