I’m not disabled!

I *could* just leave this blog entry there. Three words on the title “I’m not disabled!” and call it a day. Although I guess that’s not really why you, gentle reader, are here is it?

I’m an aspie, I’m on the autistic spectrum, I’m a mathematician, I’m a husband, I’m a punster, I’m a steampunk aficionado and I’m pretty handy in the kitchen. I’m all these things and more, but there are two things I’m most certainly not.

  1. I’m not disabled.
  2. I’m not gifted.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had well-meaning (and some NOT SO well meaning) Neurotypical types put me in one of those two categories against my will. Let me explain why I don’t feel either of those terms applies to me. (Note this is me talking about me here. I am using first person narrative here. I know some aspies and auties DO consider themselves either disabled or gifted – or both! – that’s perfectly fine. It just doesn’t apply to me).

Let me give you a bit of background here. I have an MSc in mathematics (cliché alert!) I’m a white cisgender male (cliché alert!) with an interest in sci-fi, science, puzzles and memorising facts and figures about movies (cliché aler… ooh my cliché klaxon has over heated!). Yes I’m afraid to admit I’m the poster boy for Hollywood autists. I should point out however I’m no Rainman-esque savant. I’m certainly nothing like young Simon in ‘Mercury Rising’ either. Ok yes, I bought the GCHQ puzzle book and, yes I had a good crack at some of the enigmas contained therein. I CERTAINLY couldn’t just pick up the book and decipher them with just a glance at the page! Like my MSc qualification, I had to work at them. Yet, somehow when I tell NT’s I’m a mathematician AND an aspie they sort of look at me like I’m a cheat! “Well of COURSE you passed your maths degree when you sneaked that quantum supercomputer filled with all the answers into the exams! Anyone would have passed if they did the same..” (no one actually said those exact words but I’ve had similar implied to me in the past) . Let me say two things here. 1. When I sat my exams and did my MSc I didn’t know I was on the spectrum. I was just a nerdy math obsessed geek with terrible social skills. 2. (I need to shout this) AUTISM IS NOT A GIFT!  It’s not some magic information processing system that gives the owner superhuman levels of perception and calculation! I had to study hard, revise long and was just as confused as others at times. I may have a math orientated brain but so do many many others in both AS and NT groupings. It was a long hard slog but I got there eventually. Nothing about the process was what I would call “Easy” at any time.

Conversely I’ve had people imply I’m somehow damaged goods. I’m mentally deficient and disabled. Erm… Hello! 46 years on not knowing I was on the spectrum here. I’ve held down some PRETTY DARNED IMPRESSIVE jobs in my time. I’ve owned my own flat, I’ve married and now we own our own 3 bedroom semi-detached house and a cat! I’m certainly NOT disabled. There’s nothing holding me back other than myself. I’ve had this argument put to me previously but in reference to my congenital anosmia. “Oh but you’re missing one of your five senses! Therefore you HAVE to be disabled!” again, erm no ! Does not being able to smell anything entitle me to park in the disabled bay at the supermarket? Does not being able to smell anything stop me taking a train into the city centre for a job? Or entitle me to any form of benefit? No, of course not. It doesn’t affect the way I work (it might if I was a perfume tester or a wine taster.. but I’m not and loads of NON anosmics can’t do those jobs either!) same with my autism. I don’t like crowds but I deal with them. I dislike speaking in front of the team but I do it. I get stressed by deadlines but work to clear them (and show me one NT person who DOESN’T EVER get stressed by deadlines)  My asperger’s doesn’t limit me in my day-to-day living. It might make certain things a bit harder but I still do them. I can work, travel, date, marry, party and dance like the next man. My autism is just a different way of looking at things, it’s not a disease to be cured nor a cancer to be cut out. It’s a preference for mint choc chip ice cream over vanilla,  it’s liking Jazz and hating Rap. It’s a personal way of thinking.

No I’m not gifted nor am I disabled. Who am I? I’m Pete.. pleased to make your acquaintance!

About my Anosmia.

Ok, on a blog about living with Asperger syndrome I do a post that’s nothing to do with Asperger’s! I’ve been getting a few questions about this and how it affects me so I’ll do my best to answer them below.

Q. What is Anosmia?
A. Anosmia is the medical term for loss of the sense of smell. It can be caused by many things such as head trauma or infection, Nasal polyps, exposure to toxic chemicals, drug abuse or medication side effects (to name but a few) . For some people, like me, it’s a congenital condition meaning we were born this way. I’ve never known what a smell is; I will never know what a smell is. My brain just isn’t wired to receive this information.

Q. So if you can’t smell, you can’t taste right?
A. Wrong. I *CAN* taste. “Flavour” is a combination of both taste and smell (and affected by other senses too such as sight, mouth feel etc) The human tongue detects 5 basic flavour groups, Namely Salt, Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Unami (the strange “savoury” or “brothy” taste found in foods like Beef, Mushrooms and Soy). I can also detect the burning sensation (an actual physical pain response) from the capsaicin in chili, and the cooling sensation of menthol in mints. What I *CANNOT* get is the aromatics found in food. These travel both up the front of the nose, and up the back and give an extra level of information about the food you’re eating. This is why I don’t really drink. Wine all tastes the same to me. Beer all tastes bitter. I can’t differentiate between herbs in dishes and subtle nuances are totally lost on me. It’s all about the primary flavour and the mouthfeel to me. Explains why I ADORE salty potato crisps! (Chips if you’re an American 😉 )

Q. But it’s not serious though is it?
A. Yes AND No. I do not consider myself to be disabled. It’s not as limiting to my day-to-day life as deafness or blindness would be. It doesn’t degrade my quality of life significantly and on a day to day basis I rarely think about its absence. However, that said I have had issues in the past. I’ve had more than my fair share of food poisoning. I’ve eaten foods that have gone off because they LOOKED ok. I’ve set fire to my kitchen at least twice because I couldn’t smell the food I was cooking was burning. Finally, I’ve NARROWLY avoided killing myself because I walked into a kitchen and was about to turn on a light.. not realising a recently fitted gas appliance had been leaking all day! Luckily I was with someone with a good sense of smell who stopped me before… well. Also, among people who have lost their sense of smell, the sense of deprivation has been linked to severe depression and even suicidal thoughts. Luckily I don’t miss it as I’ve never had it.

Q. Wow! I hadn’t really thought about that! So any positives about anosmia?
A. Well, as positive as one can be about missing one of your five senses. I used to work on my Aunt’s farm at weekends as a child for pocket-money. I do not need to go into any great detail about why having no olfactory sense would be a benefit there 😉 It’s also fairly invisible. Unless I tell someone, no one knows. So I don’t have to suffer discrimination (positive or negative) over my condition.

Q. So how else has Anosmia affected your life?
A. For a while I was obsessed with being clean. I mean overly obsessed. As I didn’t know if I smelt fresh or not I would constantly wash myself. This developed into an OCD fixation with hand washing to the point where my hands were dry, cracked and bleeding. I’m “better” now. I manage my condition much more effectively than I did. I still don’t like being “dirty” but I can tolerate it. I can do things now I couldn’t do previously. Like getting my hands messy with dough making bread for my Wife and I. (Apparently I bake the better bread of the two of us.. so this is my task now XD ) I do not know if my Anosmia and Asperger Syndrome are linked. It’s likely. I’ve always felt “detached” from reality, like I’m living inside a plastic bubble. I cannot really connect with anything as I’m missing out on a layer of information I cannot perceive. Food is mostly boring for me. I forget to eat mainly because I’m not being prompted by external signals. I do like some foods over others but mostly I eat because I have to not because I want to.

I also don’t use deodorants or scented soaps. I wash with plain white unscented shower lotion and do not use any sprays or perfumes.

This is just a brief introduction to anosmia for those who didn’t already know anything about it. If you are interested in hearing more please feel free to contact me.