An Outback Interlude

Lucky me got to visit some outback towns this week, while I was out doing fieldwork.

In hindsight, I wish I’d thought to get a few more photos, but at the time I was occupied with work and logistics and stuff. So a few of these are mine but most are scrounged off the internet.

Day one: Winton (population 954).

Winton’s dual claims to fame are that it’s the birthplace of the song “Waltzing Mathilda” and it hosts a quarry full of fossilised footprints, known as the dinosaur stampede. There’s a dinosaur museum, too.

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Not that I had time to go see any of this, but still, it’s interesting to know. Apparently in the early Cretaceous, about 100-95 million years ago, Winton was on the eastern edge of the vast inland Eromanga sea, home to countless dinosaurs and plesiosaurs. Enormous quantities of sediments were deposited in this sea, forming sandstone and mudstone to depths of up to 400m. In extent, it’s basically what is now the huge underground aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin.

great-artesian-basin So I got to see the end result of all that sedimentation as we drove west out of Winton on the Kennedy Developmental Road. First there were mesas, where a former plateau has eroded away except for remnant sandstone caps. The things that look like grass tussocks are actually spinifex, which has green spikes in place of leaves.

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Day Two:

And then, on the long drive to Boulia, there was a landscape that actually kind of freaked me out. Where there was once sea is now three hundred kilometres of nothingness, the flat horizon wavering with mirages and the lower sky reddened with a band of dust. In places there were swathes of scrubby trees, but these were prickly acacia, a declared weed. Here’s a shot from the car window, looking at a distant plateau:

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Further on we were back into mesa country, like these at Cawnpore lookout:

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And then the town of Boulia. Based on its prominence on the map and the fact of it being a regional centre with its own Council, it was… well, all I can say is that it was a bit smaller than I expected (population 440). You could stand in the street and see to either end of the town. And when I went to the store for supplies, the mandarins were $13.50 a kilo. But, hey, it has 3-D pedestrian crossings:

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That photo’s off the internet, when I was there they were in need of a new coat of paint, and had lost that 3D effect.

Apparently, Boulia is also famous for its camel races, but, yeah, I didn’t see any camels, either. Had a weird dream about them, though (which I put down to an excess of sun and a schooner of beer. What can I say, we were staying in the pub).

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Day Three:

My only concern, about an hour into the drive north out of Boulia, was an urgent one: in a landscape of unending flat scrubby plains, where the heck is one supposed to go to the toilet? Luckily, I was saved by a little place called Dajarra (population 150), which has not just one but two blocks of public toilets! The roadhouse (below) also provided a very decent egg and bacon toastie (with three slices of bacon, onions and BBQ sauce). M-mm.

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Heading to Mount Isa we got into a different geology. Here we’re in metamorphic rocks, which were older sediments that have been subject to immense pressures and thrust upwards. In the roadside slopes there were all kinds of rock, from ironstone gravels to sparkling pyrite-bearing schists and dykes of pegmatite and quartz. I grabbed a few samples:

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Day Four: Mount Isa (population 18,678)

Mount Isa is basically a mine with a town attached to the side. The Mount Isa inlier hosts the largest deposits of lead, zinc and silver in the continent, formed 1,650 million years ago from percolation of hot, metal-rich brines through sea-floor sediments. They also mine copper at the Enterprise mine, which is the deepest and hottest in Australia with a shaft extending to 1,900m below ground. On the drive into town we passed steel towers that are air vents for the underground workings. You can just about see the Mt Isa silver mine in the background of my photo:

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I can’t say I’m too fond of Mount Isa, to be honest, though I only stayed the one night. I had time to kill in the morning before flying out, but the riverside footpath shown on the tourist map didn’t seem to exist any more.  There was an acrid tinge to the air, probably from all the sulphur dioxide given off by the workings, and there were posters up with messages about “living safely with lead”.

But then I was flying home in a 34-seater SAAB, on the “milk run”, with stops at 3 towns on the way. This little place is Julia Creek, known for it’s “Dirt n Dust Festival” and triathlon:

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On the 20 minute hops between towns, the plane didn’t get up to normal flying height, which meant we got bounced around by a tailwind and updrafts. A short break on the tarmac at Richmond and then up for more turbulence on the way to Hughenden. Everyone was clutching their stomachs and trying not to groan.

Overall it was an eye-opening trip, but I was pretty glad to see the (relatively) greener landscapes of home. Hope you enjoyed sharing my outback interlude.

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Positivity as a Social Skill

Well, still no novel writing going on here. It’s been a difficult few weeks for me, bordering on traumatic if I’m honest, but I’m not ready to write about that yet, I’m still processing it all. Still, I wanted to write something here because… I dunno… it seems silly to have a blog and never write anything in it. So here I am.

This is my effort at a bit of pop psychology, another post related to Aspergers. Not really sure why I wanted to write it. Maybe just to understand myself better, or help you guys understand me, or in a roundabout way help you understand yourselves, from a neurodivergent point of view.

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So, it happens sometimes that I’m talking to someone and their manner towards me changes and I have to think back to what I’ve said and try and work out how I’ve offended them, or what it is about my words or my manner that’s turned them off. Actually – scratch that – it doesn’t just happen sometimes, it happens a lot.

I can often work out what I did wrong, given the time and space to think about it. Too late, of course, to change that person’s perception of me; and without much hope that my no-longer-particularly-plastic brain will adjust enough to avoid repeating the mistake next time, all I can do is get frustrated with myself.

One of the mistakes I make is to be overly negative. Yeah, just like that ^^

From what I’ve read, negativity is a pretty common problem among those on the spectrum. Together with literal thinking and too much honesty, negativity and a pessimistic attitude are probably what cause us so many problems in job interviews and the like. These are behind our (perhaps justified) criticisms of previous companies/ bosses, our cautious assessment of our own abilities and ready admission of our faults.

So I’ve been mulling over why. That is to say, I’ve been thinking about why I tend towards negativity and how that ties in with my own personality, on the assumption that it might be similar for others. Let’s explore a few hypotheses:

  1. We’re a bunch of miserable depressives

Maybe this is how it seems to others, but no, I’m not buying it. It can’t be the whole truth because when people call me out for negativity, it usually comes as a surprise to me. Generally speaking, when I made the negative statement I wasn’t feeling particularly miserable or blue, nor was I intending to be that kill-joy who ruins the mood and gets everybody down. It’s actually rather upsetting to realise that’s the way I’ve unintentionally come across, when I was just trying to make conversation.

Admittedly, they do say depression is a common co-morbid, but not all of us are sufferers. People just mis-read us when it comes to mood, as they mis-read us in so many ways. There has to be more to it than this.

  1. We deal in truth and logic

For reasons that I won’t go into here, many of us keep our emotions dialled down to zero. (Incidentally, this is why we can have trouble making decisions – because we’re trying to work through all the variables using only facts and logic, without the moderation of feelings). It also means that when we talk to you, we’re likely to favour statements of fact.

In that millisecond before an utterance passes my lips, my mind runs through a checklist, something like this: Is this statement true? Or does it fit with the available facts? Is it justifiable? Can it be logically implied? What others take as a pessimistic comment may be, for me, a simple statement of the facts as I see them.

  1. We can’t foresee people’s reactions

Running through that mental checklist takes time, and people don’t want to wait forever for me to speak, so I might not finish the list. Sometimes you just have to say something, anything, before they decide you’re cognitively impaired or mute. So I might not get as far as asking myself “Is this statement appropriate in the circumstances?”

And because my emotions are dialled down to zero, I might not think to make another important check: “How is this statement going to make people feel?”

Hence you get James Damore pointing out to Google that women are less able than men to work in tech. The poor guy had the double Asperger whammy of taking Google’s freedom of speech policy literally, and no understanding that such comments, however logically justifiable, are bound to offend.

And you get me, just trying to make friendly conversation, saying something which fits my idea of truth but is implicitly (or even explicitly) critical, of others or myself.

The trouble is, people don’t want to hear uncomfortable truths; they want to feel good about themselves and about what they’re doing. They’re not going to continue a conversation that makes them feel awkward. If we want a favourable reaction, we have to make our interactions positive and uplifting.

So how to people do it? This whole positivity thing?

My argument is that I’m just as positive as anyone else on the inside. Maybe even more so. The issue is one of communication, of displaying that positivity externally by communicating in a socially acceptable way. Hence my argument is that positivity is not only a mindset but also a social skill. And social skills can be learnt, in theory.

I say “in theory” because I’m a little cautious, nowadays, in assessing my ability to improve my social skills. I guess years of trying and failing have taken a toll. It’s tempting to just give up.

So when I read this paper on the value of learning to reframe negative statements more positively, my first thoughts were cynical. It’s hard to believe such a simple technique, learnt over a few 10-minute sessions, could have long-term beneficial effects.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281761886_Using_Reframing_to_Reduce_Negative_Statements_in_Social_Conversation_for_Adults_With_Autism_Spectrum_Disorder

But perhaps I should re-phrase that:

Experience has made me cautious about the benefit of social skills interventions, but what do I have to lose? This reframing may be worth a try.

 

Pictorial Interlude

Hey.

I know it’s been a while. That was me puzzling over whether to keep going with a “writer’s blog” during a prolonged period of not actually writing.

Finally figured I might as well keep blogging my thoughts on things, even if I go way off the original topic. In fact, topics will probably jump around all over the place, because I guess that’s what my mind does.

Right now, I feel like showing you some of the prints and posters and stuff I have in my bedroom, and what they mean to me. Hope you enjoy.

I got two more posters yesterday, so I’ve got a few blue-tacked up there now. (And if you’re wondering why I still stick up posters like an adolescent instead of buying ‘grown-up’ art, all I can say is I just impulse buy what I see, and I don’t visit art galleries nearly as often as I walk through shopping centres).

This one is not a poster, it’s a print and I can’t remember where it came from, though the name might be a clue – “Islet in the Terraced Rice Fields of Bali”:

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Sorry about the reflections on the photo, I tried holding up a dark jacket behind me to block them out, but without success. I don’t have curtains in my room (it’s a sleep cycle thing). Anyway, I love looking at this one because of the patterns of the contours. It connects with my love of nature and natural patterns, and also my abiding interest in landform and maps. Doubly whammy!

For similar reasons, I have a poster of Hokusai’s “The Great Wave”:

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With this one, the interest is more in the artist’s unique rendering of the natural patterns, with the wave-foam appearing like hundreds of grasping fingers. This artwork has been quoted as an illustration of the fractal nature of the world, with its wavelets on top of waves. How can you not love that?

Here’s the other new one I got, I don’t know who the artist was for this, but it’s published by Reindersposters with the title “Where’s the bike gone?”:

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This is another double whammy one, for me. Partly it’s a pattern and colour thing, that just attracts my eye and encourages me to get lost in the details. Looking at it, I get a feeling like a meditation within the boundaries between the real and the artistic, the solid and the abstract. PLUS it’s got a bicycle in. So I like bicycles, OK?

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Couldn’t resist a Lord of the Rings poster, could I?

I’m told this one is quite horrible, and I can see what people mean. There are a few dead orcs lying around, and the artist has a weird take on eyes.

But I like seeing a pre-movie interpretation of the characters. It reminds me of why I love reading books so much – every story can be interpreted a hundred different ways. The Lord of the Rings tale that lives in my head is unique to me, it’s mine alone, the tale to rule them all, my precious.

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The artwork’s a bit crude in this one, but I appreciate the sentiment. I am, you see, a deeply happy person.

Which probably surprises you, because I know I come across as negative, and it’s true I always consider the downsides, the risks more than the rewards. And I do struggle with the overwhelming complexity of the world, and with people and their expectations.

But I do take enormous joy from the world and I do, essentially, like people. This is a reminder that it might be worth expressing that, now and then.

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This little artwork I picked in Bali years ago I never framed so it’s now a bit worse for wear (yes, it is curled, and yes, that is dust on the bottom).

I’ve kept it because I like it, and I’m not even sure why. Might be a pattern thing again.

Or maybe it’s just for the memories. Pushing the little hired jeep up the slope from the beach. Buying enormous green mangoes from a stall beside the road. Hiking up a volcano and eating a breakfast of ginger tea and eggs cooked in a steam vent. Watching the dancers in Ubud. Good times.

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And here’s my dreamcatcher ->

As usual, I am years behind the trends, buying my first dreamcatcher just when they’ve become totally passe. But that’s me, I live a decade or two behind the times.

I just think this one is incredibly beautiful. Don’t you?

Thanks for joining me on a tour of my bedroom, see you later!

 

 

 

Always a Reason

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What the hell am I even doing?

That was my thought as I sent an email to work, requesting a special consideration for my ASD.

Just WTHAIED?

Considering I only just got the permanent job and am still on probation, it felt stupidly impulsive. And I can be impulsive, I’ll be first to admit that, but I’m pretty sure I’m not stupid. Yes, okay, I now accept that I have a developmental disorder, that I might not be quite up where I should be on a social and emotional level, but I’m not stupid. There’s always a reason.

This one dates back 5 years. Being a ‘live-in-the-present’ sort of person, I rarely think back to the past and have a terrible memory (probably atrophied from lack of use 😀 ), so I can’t recall exactly what happened. All I know is I took time off work because I’d lost the ability to cope, I was burnt out. And what I do remember was not understanding how that could have happened, because I actually enjoyed my job, I liked my colleagues, and I wasn’t under a particularly heavy workload – it just made no sense whatsoever.

Now, after reading about others’ experiences with autistic burn-out, the picture is clear. This is what happens to those of us who remain undiagnosed by mid-life, the ones with mild traits, who’ve learnt to mask their difficulties and live a normal life. Normal activities for others can be uncomfortable for us, they create a little extra stress. Over time, it builds up. Maybe I’d just been juggling too many projects, going to a few too many client meetings, maybe I’d lost my head altogether and attempted to engage in verbal negotiations. Repressed autism demands payback.

Well, now I have another job, and I’m enjoying it even more than the last. The work is right up my street and my colleagues are great. I felt comfortable enough to disclose my ASD to my line manager and his reaction was just like my parents, a non-plussed: ‘but there’s nothing really wrong with you, is there?’ Which is good, because that’s where I want to be at, and how I want to be perceived.

Except…

Sitting there at the back of my mind is fear. Not fear of how I might be perceived, it’s greater than that. It’s fear of losing it all – the job, the colleagues, my self-esteem, everything, through another burn-out. I’m willing to do just about anything to avoid that.

So what can I do? I figured the only way is to increase self-awareness of my limitations and do my best to stay within them. I need to recognise the situations that cause me stress and instead of just “sucking it up” as I would have in the past, I need to learn how to avoid them. I have to stop pretending I can do the same as everyone else without consequences. Basically, I have to loosen up my self-control and allow myself to be more autistic.

So that’s why, when something at work was bothering me, when I was put in a situation which I felt I should have been able to handle – which anybody else would have been able to handle – but which was actually stressing me out, I gave in. Well, I tried making it a suggestion. Then I tried outright asking for what I wanted. And when nobody was getting it – because how could they? It wasn’t a problem for anyone else – I sent an email essentially saying, ‘I’m on the spectrum, this is an issue for me, and I need your support’.

It felt bad, having to do that. ‘Uncomfortable’ doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling, the uncertainty and vulnerability. The trouble is, I know how bizarre this must seem to others, that someone who seems to be normal and capable might suddenly start claiming to be autistic and in need of special treatment. Too weird, right? It wouldn’t surprise me if they start thinking me to be – I don’t know –  self-serving? Attention-seeking? Mentally unstable?

But this is what it is to have ASD, isn’t it? Being Asperger is to be chronically misunderstood. We do things that are perceived as odd and defy expectations. What people don’t understand is that, just because we have trouble expressing why we do what we do, just because it makes no sense in their eyes, doesn’t mean there’s no reason.

There’s always a reason.

The Confidence to Withhold

I’m reading the last in a series of fantasy books by N.K.Jemisin, The Broken Earth Trilogy.

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This series is good, very good.

And the strange thing is, the story is really too dark for me. It’s basically the end of the world; life is hard, and people die. Babies die. Yet I’m drawn to keep reading. I finish one book and want to go right back and read it all over again.

It’s all down to the writing.

I don’t just mean that a lot of this is written in second person, although that’s part of it – and quite a feat to pull off in itself. And it certainly helps that there’s some great world-building as well – the idea of earth-shifting magic particularly appealed to me. Above these, though, the thing that makes me want to read over again is the way the story is structured.

What N.K. has done is hard to describe – and demonstrates so much more mastery of story-telling than I’ve attained that I’m not entirely sure I understand it. If anyone else has read these books, I’d be interested to hear your opinion on what she’s done.

It’s something to do with withholding information, a key part of the main character’s story. Then bringing plot threads together in such a way as to reveal everything at the end – and also hint at a wider plot. Each book has its own major reveal – enough to satisfactorily conclude that stage of the story – yet the overall picture remains elusive until the end of the series.

It’s something to do with non-linearity – following individual story threads in the present and the past, until the combination creates a picture that is wider than the story of each character alone, that encompasses world-changing events. Then drawing these threads together into a satisfying conclusion.

As a writer, I know this is hard to do, incredibly hard. It takes great skill and confidence to be able to hook readers into a story in which nothing has yet been explained. Yet this is what N.K. Jemisin does, seemingly with ease.

I’m in awe.

 

ASD and Acceptance

So, it’s been a while. I’ve been a bit distracted over the last 3 months or so, getting my head around the concept of being on the autism spectrum. Not because that’s changed anything about who I am, but because it’s forced me to confront a few uncomfortable truths about myself, which had never before been at the forefront of my mind.

Right now, I really want to stop thinking about it, to ‘get over it’ and get back to more productive pursuits (like writing, yay! – Thanks, Alison, for reminding me how much I enjoy even talking about writing). But I’m feeling like I need one more post on the topic of ASD. Maybe just to set down some of what I’ve learnt, and to get things clear in my head, so I can move on. So here are my thoughts. Oh, and this is going to be a long one, I’m afraid… and mightily self-absorbed. More like an essay than a blog post (you have been warned).

So, first off, how did this happen? How can someone go their whole life without realising they’re on the autism spectrum?

I think it’s because, in the past, I had little self-awareness of the sort that lets you see yourself as others see you. In my teens, I was pretty much oblivious to my own social ineptitude, chalking my mistakes up to immaturity. In my twenties, I read about the concept of emotional intelligence, EQ, and realised I had a deficit, but still thought I was capable of change. In my thirties I was having babies and emigrating and was too busy to think about anything much.

It took me forty-odd years to get to the point of realising that, not only was I failing to behave towards others the way I thought I ought, the way everyone else did, but there were limits to how much I could change that, however much effort I put in or however many years’ experience I gained. Maybe I needed those decades of trying to be like everyone else and not quite succeeding to recognise that if I hadn’t outgrown my limitations by then, I probably never would.

So that’s how I came to the realisation that there was a hard-wired difference in my brain. When Aspergers ticked a lot of boxes, that led me to seek a diagnosis. But to have it confirmed, well, the effect on my psyche was unexpected. And, well, kind of brutal.

I guess I thought it would be a relief to know – and yes, it was. For a while. Until I started reading about ASD and consciously noticing my own behaviour. Like noticing how truly inept I am at explaining myself verbally (or, horror of horrors, over the phone). Like at the Spec Fic group, when we’re given a writing prompt, noticing how others can write a story off the top of their heads and I… well, I just can’t. And realising that the reason I clash with my Director at work is because he has a top-down thinking style (decide on a solution and design towards it), whereas mine is an autistic bottom-up (gather data, analyse, and see which solution pops up). And however much I ought to know the importance of not disrespecting one’s boss, I can’t bring myself to see his way as right. And, worst of all, I can’t stop myself from telling him so.

Is there anything I can do about any of the above? No, not really. This is what makes it autism and not just learned character traits – these behaviours are basically out of my control.

So… yeah. I think I’ve discovered autistic frustration, too.

On the other hand, the more I learn about ASD, the luckier I feel. It’s such a wide spectrum in terms of the severity of traits, whether mind-blindness or executive dysfunction or hypersensitivity, and factoring in co-morbidities, in all respects I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Aspergers is so much easier to deal with than classic autism, and with a decent IQ and no learning difficulties or sensory sensitivities to speak of, I’ve had it remarkably easy.

Even amongst those at the mild end, it’s sobering how much a minor brain difference can potentially affect their lives. There are some shocking statistics out there about levels of anxiety and depression amongst those on the spectrum. And long-term unemployment rates are horrendous. They’re so really, truly, awful, that I’m furious at the injustice of it, with a passion I haven’t felt about anything since I was an undergrad.

Seeing how much easier my life has been compared to others on the spectrum, sometimes I wonder if I haven’t got it all wrong, that maybe what I’ve got is not the same thing at all. But then I start interacting with the people in my life and I start noticing my own thought-patterns and behaviours (because once you start it’s hard to stop), and, yep, it’s clearly the same thing. How it affects people, though, is… well, it’s complicated.

I’ve been reading a bit about ASD and there’s a particular book that really made an impact on me. It’s called “Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Adults” by Dr Luke Beardon, and in it is presented a simple principle:

Autism + Environment = Outcome

In other words, the inherent severity of autistic traits is only part of the picture.

Summarising the concept in my own words, if one accepts that autistic people think and experience the world differently to neurotypicals, and that most social environments have been set up by and for neurotypicals, it’s hardly surprising that an autistic person might feel out of their element and suffer stress and anxiety.

In the sphere of work, for example, there might be a role that would be perfectly suited to an autistic person’s talents. But with recruitment practices relying on networking and multiple interviews, with HR staff acting as corporate gatekeepers, and with the modern emphasis on communication skills, flexibility, and teamwork, that person is unlikely even to get through the door.

But I’m digressing. As angry as I feel at the employment situation for those on the spectrum, what I was trying to say is more general, related to the environmental factor.  The reason I’ve had things so easy, I believe, is not only the mildness of my traits but also having been brought up in a favourable environment.

My parents had a lot to do with that. Looking back, they were amazingly tolerant – I never, ever, felt that they were disappointed in me, or they might have wished for a daughter with a more conventional personality. As a child, I felt loved unconditionally. With all the self-esteem issues that go along with ASD, that has to be the greatest of gifts. Somehow, the way my parents brought me up has given me a deep sense of security and a belief in the inherent goodness of other people.

Later, when I started out at work, my colleagues were also remarkably tolerant. In hindsight, engineering was a good choice. I was working with smart, well-educated people, who were secure enough in their own worth not to engage in bullying or passive-aggressive behaviours. If you can forgive a (slightly sexist) over-generalisation, the fact that most of my colleagues were male may have contributed to an environment that was less attuned to social mis-steps. These were guys who understood the value of cutting out the gossip and getting on with the job.

Because of my parents’ acceptance of a quirky daughter, I survived to adulthood without major issues. Because of colleagues’ acceptance, I’ve maintained employment for most of my life. And because of my husband’s (somewhat begrudging) acceptance, I get a certain amount of leniency with my behaviour at home.

I like to think this goes both ways, and an accepting environment for me has benefits for others. It gives me space to do what I do, to use my talents. At work, apparently my ability to focus exclusively on a task for hours on end is an autistic trait, too, but of the good variety. There are odd little things I seem to find easier than others, like looking at a roadside slope and sketching it more-or-less to scale, like picking out landslide hazards faster. And in writing groups, does ASD have something to do with my ‘feel’ for stories – my quick grasp of plot patterns, and keen eye for errors? Probably.

So, when it comes down to it, I’m not complaining.

I guess what I’m saying is all about the importance of acceptance. While I know I’ve been incredibly fortunate in having ASD in its mildest form, and having the intelligence to adapt to it, that’s not the whole story behind my relative success in life. And while I know life is incredibly tough for those facing the challenge of the more severe forms of autism, I’m inclined to believe this principle holds for them, too. That is, that everyone has the potential to develop skills that are useful to society. To give those skills space to grow means creating environments that in which the person’s worth is recognised and respected, they are loved unconditionally, and above all, accepted.

Yeah. That’s all I wanted to say.

Book Review: The Shadow of His Hand

Reading ‘The Shadow of his Hand’ was an unexpected pleasure – it’s rare to find a first novel that can pull me into the story so capably.

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In this epic fantasy, the Jerikan armies are camped on the border of the allied kingdoms and war seems inevitable. When a baby is born with a prophesied mark, the young King Eldilin dares not defy the Unseen God but must send his sister and the babe on a dangerous quest.

Fredrick is a directionless young man who enlisted as a soldier because it “seemed like the right thing to do”. With his uncanny ability to calm the screaming child, he’s an unlikely and reluctant addition to Princess Kathryn’s company. Can they beat the odds and complete the prophecy?

For the genre, I thought the plot proceeded at a fast pace, with never a dull moment, and the world-building was quietly effective (if hazy on the geographical details). The stand-out for me, though, was the characters. There was something appealing in Fredrick’s assessment of himself as an ordinary man out of his depth, and honesty and humour in the way he coped as fate stretched him to his limits and beyond.

Shifts of point of view from the main protagonists to other plot threads were also effectively managed, maintaining my attention. In particular, I became quite absorbed in the secondary plot revolving around the King and his unexpected bride, a meeting of singularly unusual personalities.

Overall, this was a diverting read. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment, though less to see how the war will proceed than to be involved in the developing relationships between the characters.