Autism, Experiences, General

My Publishing History (4th Anniversary Special)

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka The Autistic Blogger). And today is the 4-Year-Anniversary of this blog. So before I begin, I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s continued supporting me. Whether you follow my work regularly or stumble across it by chance, I really do appreciate every one of your views – no matter where you are in the world.

Anyway, for this anniversary, I wanted to talk to you about something personal to me. Many of you already know this, but my biggest ambition in life is to become a published author. Since I was 4-years-old, I’ve had creative ideas swimming in my head, eager to get out. Then one day, I tried writing a mystery novel. I’ve never looked back since.

Admittedly, when I first started out, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had no idea what I wanted to my writing to achieve and even writing itself proved tedious given my Autism. However, I was keen to hone my craft. That’s why I applied for a Professional Writing course at the North (West) Kent College in Dartford. Since then, I’ve had varying degrees of success in getting my work out there. So, today, I’m going to look back on some of the more significant ones; telling you how they came to be and what I learned from them. This is George Harvey/The Autistic Blogger’s publishing history.

First Publication (The Real Me)

My first publication came about during my first year of college. And how it happened was actually due to a happy accident. It all started when we were given a writing assignment. I can’t remember what it was exactly – it might’ve had something to do with Creative Non-Fiction. Anyway, I decided to write mine based on my Autism; explaining how it affected me, what I thought of other people representing it, and how you can’t understand the condition properly unless you have it yourself. Follow the link below to see it:

https://georgeharvey2015.wordpress.com/2019/05/31/the-real-me/

After completing the article, I printed it off and left it on the side for later. I was planning to put it in my bag, but then my mum just so happened to be passing by. After noticing the piece and reading it, she came to me and said it was one of the most aspiring things she’d ever read. In fact, she insisted I let her have a copy so she could show her work colleagues the next day. One of these colleagues had connections with the NAS; who then asked if I’d like to feature it in their Communication Magazine. I agreed without hesitation. And after a few edits, it was released in their Summer 2013 Edition.

Looking back on it now, while this was my first publication, it also wasn’t my best-written. I hadn’t taken English as one of my Sixth Form subjects, and it clearly showed in my grammar; I was using dashes rather than commas too often, and some of my sentences could’ve been better structured. However, the NAS didn’t seem to mind. All that mattered to them was having someone like me who was willing to share their opinions and life experiences with Autism. And then it suddenly hit me.

For the longest time, I’d been so unsure how I was going to sell myself as an author. What made me different from the billions of others who wanted to be published? After this article, however, I had my answer. Unlike many of those people, I had experience in a specific field – one that not everybody is willing to talk about. If I could express my Autistic experiences through writing, then those who had the condition could relate to it, and those who didn’t would be given a better understanding of it. At long last, my path in writing was made clear; I would write to raise awareness of Autism and other personal issues.

Second Publication (Successful Studying)

My second publication was more of a group project. And it was released mostly due to my tutors’ involvement. However, it was still satisfying to see my name credited in a real book. Towards the end of my first year, we had the opportunity to write a guidebook called Successful Studying. This would be made available to future students and help them to overcome the difficulties of studying at a university level. For copyright reasons, I can’t post the chapter I wrote here – so I’ll leave you a link to the book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Successful-Studying-Neil-Nixon/dp/1907502130/ref=sr_1_31?keywords=successful+studying&qid=1559068665&s=books&sr=1-31.

To summarise, though, I give readers tips on how they can stay focused on their work, even if they have learning difficulties. These tips include: interacting with fellow students, asking for help from their tutors, staying in contact with everyone, not stressing over workloads, studying at home and knowing how to manage their time efficiently. I then ended the chapter by revealing it was written by a student with Autism – assuring them disabilities don’t prevent success.

Compared to the magazine article, this piece was much better-written. There were still some grammar issues, but my structuring and overall presentation had improved since the year began. It was also the first chance I had to make use of my new writing style. Because I was drawing from personal experience (i.e. using studying methods that had worked for me as examples), it made writing the piece that much easier. Plus, the way I conveyed it made things more relatable for the reader – adding something of myself to it brought out its full potential.

Working to my Strengths

As the course continued, I would use this writing strategy wherever I could. It would even be the driving force behind my Overcoming Limitations presentation, which I gave at the end of my second year (see my 1st Anniversary Special: https://georgeharvey2015.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/1st-anniversary-special/).

After that, however, things became more challenging.

My third year of college was, quite literally, make or break for me. I’d moved away from North (West) Kent to Greenwich University (London). And it brought changes that I ultimately wasn’t prepared for. The new workload and deadlines were so tight that I barely had time to relax my mind anymore. It got so stressful that I was actually waking up every morning, shaking and vomiting with anxiety.

But even with the course taking a toll on my health, I was determined to make the most of any opportunity presented to me. That’s why I became a student ambassador; it was another chance to share my experiences and advise younger students on how they could survive university as I had. I also briefly joined the student magazine, before committing to it became impossible. Arguably the best opportunity I had, though, was contributing to another book. This one was called Making Our Mark.

Making Our Mark

Towards the end of the year, a project manager was looking to feature students’ work relating to future ambitions. Although I was up to my neck in deadlines by this point, I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass. Who knew when I’d get another chance to be published? So after attending a briefing on the book, I wrote two pieces of flash-fiction for it. Both of which were included in the final publication. Again, for copyright reasons, I can’t post them on this blog – so here’s a link to the book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Making-Reeves-Editor-19-May-2015-Paperback/dp/B013RPI1VY/ref=sr_1_159?keywords=making+our+mark&qid=1559072399&s=books&sr=1-159.

But I will share what each is about.

First of all, although the book says flash-fiction, my pieces were actually based on personal experiences. So they were technically “creative flash-non-fiction“. Not that the editor minded.

Anyway, the first piece was titled Never Judge a Book… and drew inspiration from my time as a checkout operator. The idea was that people who saw me probably thought I had a very easy job; beeping items, sitting down for hours and getting paid for it. However, they couldn’t see how I felt on the inside: the strain of repeating the same actions, the stress of dealing with challenging customers, the overall dissatisfaction I had with the job. They didn’t know it, but I had connections in the world of writing and was fixed to become something greater than they could imagine. Emphasising you should never judge a book by its cover.

Aside from my usual grammar errors, this piece turned out better than I expected. It comes off as insightful, creative and even metaphorical at times. It’s an inspiring piece to anyone who’s striving to become better than what they are.

The second piece, Believing is Achieving, was more of a story. It draws inspiration from two of my past experiences: seeing my work published for the first time and receiving advice from Jacqueline Wilson. It features a boy named James (me), who is surprised to find something he wrote (The Real Me) published in a magazine (Communication). He never intended to show it to anyone because he lacked the confidence and doubted the praise his mother gave him. Realising she submitted it on his behalf, however, he sees the positive effect it has on other people. He then makes the bold move to contact his favourite author, Mrs W (Jaqueline Wilson), who actually replies to him and gives him some advice. From then on, James is more determined and confident to become a successful writer.

Like the first piece, this was intended to be something inspirational. Names and events were changed slightly, but the message was the same. You shouldn’t let your disabilities/confidence prevent you from pushing forward in life. With the right motivation, you can achieve almost anything.

Making Our Mark proved, once again, that writing from experience was my winning formula. However, once I left university, I knew it would be harder finding ways to be published. I wouldn’t have nearly as many resources, contacts or opportunities as I once did. Consequently, this was the last book I contributed to as of 2019. But that doesn’t mean it was my final publication, period.

Ambitious about Autism

Going back to when I was writing for the Student Magazine, I had the opportunity to interview Johnathan Andrews; someone who was heavily involved with promoting Autism. After I graduated, he invited me to join Ambitious about Autism; an organisation that works to improve the livelihood of people with the condition. Some of their previous work includes setting up Treehouse School (http://www.treehouseschool.org.uk/) for severely Autistic children and advising producers on how to represent Autism in the media. During my time there, I took part in several of their projects. Including Know Your Normal, where I was a panellist discussing what normal is for people like me, and Are You Autistic? – a documentary by Channel 4 (see my 3rd Anniversary Special: https://georgeharvey2015.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/are-you-autistic-review-3rd-anniversary-special/).

The most fruitful of these projects, however, was their Employ Autism campaign. Not only did I give a presentation, explaining why employment needed to be improved for adults with Autism. But Ambitious held an event teaching employers what to look out for when recruiting these people. A brochure was made to assist with proceedings, and I wrote an article detailing my own opinions:

https://georgeharvey2015.wordpress.com/2019/05/31/autism-in-the-workplace-2/

Unlike my previous publications, this one didn’t have much creativity. It was just me giving my honest thoughts about what could be done to fix employment procedures. It still came off as professional though; explaining what problems Autistic people face when applying for jobs, and what support they need when starting out. Additionally, the message about not using Autism as an excuse to refuse employment was made abundantly clear.

However, there was one issue this article had in common with my other pieces. It’s limited availability.

If I was going to continue producing content, I needed a proper outlet; somewhere to showcase my work to as many people as possible. That’s when somebody introduced me to WordPress.

Blog

Like many things, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to achieve with my blog at first. I didn’t even give much thought to the title, hence why I called it the least-searched Google term in history: georgeharvey2015. Over time, however, I got a better idea of it’s identity. It started off small, with short pieces about Autism and how it affected me. They weren’t anything special, just samples to show everyone the kind of person I was and what I wanted to achieve. It later grew to include reviews – like the ones I’d been writing on Amazon for years:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AHNGEVB42MLFVOSAZTJJKBFBACEQ

But these had an emphasis on disabilities and personal issues. If I felt something touched on a subject like Autism (Lesson Zero), child neglect (Lily Alone), or living independently (Kiki’s Delivery Service) very well, then I’d feature it on the blog. Hence its tagline: “Home of Reviews and Autism Advocacy“. I also started a second blog to show off my older Amazon reviews, but regularly updating it proved too difficult; I was torn between fixing old pieces and writing new ones, and the latter required more attention.

As time went by, my ideas got bigger. And my Autism pieces got longer. I knew I couldn’t keep writing something every fortnight. So I decided to pace myself and write new content only when I had the mindset for it. This would evolve into the once-every-other-month schedule I have now.

Today, blogging continues to challenge me. But the benefits have been invaluable. My presence on the internet has put me in contact with many new people. Including those who’ve asked me for advice, and others who’ve listed my site on their own. In 2016, I even got in contact with somebody who ran after-school clubs for Autistic children. After showing her my posts and giving my Overcoming Limitations presentation, she invited me to become a volunteer myself. This would mark the beginning of a new ambition for me.

New Ambition

Until now, all of my future goals had been writing-based. But working with Autistic children made me realise something. The best people you can confide in with your problems are those who’ve experienced them personally. What made me such a valuable asset was being the only volunteer who also had Autism. This made it easier for me to relate to those children and understand their behaviours (shyness, isolation, lack of motivation, etc.). I also remembered something else. Some of the best support I’d had was during my school years. Without my various TAs keeping me on track, I never would’ve made it through school – let alone attended university. From this point on, I wanted to try becoming a teaching assistant. And that brings me to where I am today.

Hopes for the Future

Currently, I’m 25-years-old and have been taking courses in Special Educational Needs. I’ve also had chances to go into schools and get experience, but they haven’t lead to anything permanent so far. I still get notifications about positions today, but applying for them isn’t as simple as it used to be. Why? Because like most people, life has caught up to me.

I now live in my own studio flat; paying bills, going to work and occasionally meeting with friends and family. Additionally, the job I have is full-time with the hours and days varying from week to week. This makes it difficult for me to plan anything long-term, as I never know my rota until a month in advance. Even if I wanted to quit my job and become a full-time TA, I’ve been made aware of several money issues I could face – it’s tricky paying my rent even now. However, I don’t want to give up on being a TA. Because if I become one, it will be a two-way benefit; I can help children overcome their Autistic problems and learn what life is like for them in primary school. The latter of which would be essential to my most ambitious project.

Ever since my first year of college, I’ve wanted to write a children’s book series that raises awareness of disabilities and personal issues. In recent months, I’ve been brainstorming more solid ideas for it, but I still have a long way to go before writing the first story. And that’s not considering the time I’d need to finish the thing and refresh my memory of the publishing process. It might sound easy. But there’s a lot that eats into my spare time; work, socialising, drama, relaxing. Even blogging.

One reason I keep writing is to maintain my profile. I don’t want people to think I’m some random person who wants to get published. I want them to know how devoted I am and what I want to achieve. But like I said, blogging takes time for me. Sometimes I wonder whether I should even hold back writing longer pieces and push forward with my personal projects. My book series might be a long ways off, but I still have other ideas that could work. There was even one that came close to being a reality – before the organisation said they couldn’t provide what I was after.

I think maybe I should set a goal for myself. For the 5th Anniversary special, I should get something of a finished project completed and share it with you on this blog. Even if it’s not published at that point, a sample will show the progress I’ve made, and keep me motivated for the future.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say for this post. Again, I want to say a special thank you to everyone who’s continued supporting me. It really helps to know that my work is being shared and enjoyed by many people. If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, or have any questions, then please leave me a comment – I’ll be more than happy to answer them. And, until next time, stay tuned.

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Autism, Experiences, General

Autism in the Workplace

*This article was originally written for the Ambitious about Autism ‘Employ Autism’ campaign brochure (February 2016)

My name is George Harvey. I am 21 years old and I have been diagnosed with autism since I was three. My condition has made life challenging for me, but I’ve always strived to do my best despite my limitations. In recent years, I’ve been very ambitious about using my skills in creative/professional writing to raise awareness of autism and give motivation to others like me. In the past, I’ve written for the NAS Communication magazine (Summer 2013, and made contributions to books such as Successful Studying (2013) and Making Our Mark (2015). My dream is to one day write a successful children’s book series that touches on disabilities and personal issues.

I have worked as a checkout operator for almost three years now. I’ve personally never had an experience where my autism has cause me discrimination at work; the people I work with are respectful and threat me the same as any other colleague. However, I think it is important for managers (and the like) to be aware of their employees’ autism, if they have it. This isn’t to say the condition should be made a big deal of and it should never affect how fellow colleagues see or treat that person. But it will help them to remember that certain colleagues need additional help sometimes.

Whilst it’s never happened to me, personally, I have heard cases where somebody was turned down for a job, because of their autism. In other cases, people have applied for things like driving lessons and only informed their instructor about their condition later, which then harmed their relationship. Naturally, not everyone understands the effects of autism and not everyone feels they can deal with a condition they have no experience of. Sometimes there are only certain driving instructors who specialise in teaching autistic students. However, the fact that somebody has autism should never determine whether they’ll be given a job or not.

The misconception is that because someone with autism may have learning difficulties, they won’t be able to handle the pressures/requirements of a certain job. But if this were true, why wold they apply for the job to begin with? If anything, they have better knowledge of their autism and what their limitations are. So if they’re still passionate about applying for the job regardless, they clearly don’t think their autism will be much of an issue.

Of course, it is still important to inform managers (and the like) about having autism. Just because there won’t be many issues as they might think, it doesn’t mean there won’t be an at all. If a person with autism knows their limitations, they’ll know if there’s something that could pose a challenge to them in a role. If this is the case, they should be given the opportunity to tell managers, recruiters, etc. what they might need – preferably during their application process. Usually these requirements are very small and don’t affect a job (or management) too greatly. The slightest thing, like one-to-one support or being reminded regularly of how things work, will all the difference to somebody with autism. And soon they’ll be settled enough into a job that they won’t need additional help or support anymore.

Everyone’s worried about making mistakes, but sometimes having autism makes a small mistake seem big. Managers (and the like) should be aware that autistic employees may be more stressed when staring out, which is why they sometimes need additional help. They should also be aware that just because an applicant requests additional help with some things, it doesn’t mean they won’t have the skills to do a good job. They just want to be assured that they’ll be supported during their early days/weeks and can settle in more easily. It’s not like they’ll come into a job and request it be drastically altered just to better suit themselves. If they knew there was too much about a role they couldn’t handle then they wouldn’t have bother applying for it.

In my opinion, any kind of application should allow people to say if they have a condition, like autism, and note down some additional requirements they may have. But I don’t think this should affect whether somebody will be given a job. That’s why I think information about disabilities should be given at the end of an application form, so the people making the decisions can judge people on their work skills first – after all, this is what they’re looking for in an application. If the applicant really wants to make it clear they have a condition straight away then they can mention it in their profile/summary – in addition to the section at the end. If application forms were completed this way, the beginning would have to state that applicants will have the opportunity to mention their disabilities and requirements at the end, but it won’t affect their chances of employment.

One final thin worth mentioning is that I feel manages (and the like) shouldn’t tell other employees about certain colleagues having autism. This should be left up to the people themselves, so they won’t feel like they’re being singled out and others won’t treat them differently because they know about their condition. People should be given the opportunity to settle into their new workplace and establish themselves on their own. Then they can let fellow colleagues know about their conditions when they feel it’s appropriate. Even to this day, there are people at work who don’t know about my autism. But I prefer it that way, as I don’t always like to make a spectacle of my condition. I only bring it up when I feel it’s necessary.

In summary, what I’m saying is this. Employability should be decided on a person’s work skills and (sometimes) their experience. Although an applicant still has the responsibility to tell employers about their autism, how much it’s made an issue of should be left up to them. They will know their limitations and requirements better than the employer, an they’ll know how often they want their autism brought up in conversation. It’s up to the managers, employers, etc. to be prepared and offer additional help when, and only when, it’s required.

Some workplaces have the things I’ve mentioned in place already.  But if all of them did, people with autism would feel less concerned about their ability to be employed and the community would be a better place.

Autism, Experiences, General

The Real Me

*This article was originally published in the NAS Communication magazine (2013)

Before we begin I’d like to make something quite clear: You don’t know me. Well, maybe you do… a little bit… but not the real me – not the whole me. You might think that you have me all figured out, but really you don’t. Because the truth is: only I know me. I don’t want you to feel I’m being rude – I’m not – but you have to understand that only by being me could you possibly understand what it means to be like me. You see. I’m not what you’d call an average person. Every since I was young I’ve had this condition that’s made my learning abilities and social skills more difficult than others. Some would pronounce the name of it differently to me, but I prefer my way, just as some people would prefer tom-mate-toes to tom-mar-toes – though I do like how their version sounds a lot like ‘burger’. Even now, as I write this, my condition is affecting me to the point where I’m going over and rewriting these paragraphs, just so I can make them sound right to you – and me.

You should know that I’m not the only one with this condition; millions of people all around you – especially young children – quietly suffer the effects of it every waking day of their lives. Your best friend could have the condition and you wouldn’t even realise. It’s not a disease, and it comes in various forms, but a lot of people get the wrong idea about it. Some mistake it for ‘dumbness’ or ‘weirdness’, which is why I think more people should be made more aware of it. Personally I think the media does it all wrong. True they put people like me on TV and show off the effects of the condition and it helps to raise awareness. But I think their portrayal of it, though intended o be meaningful, can at times feel almost insulting. There was a scene in an episode of Channel 4’s ‘The Undateables’ where an older man with my condition was filmed playing a Yu-Gi-Oh card game with his friend I couldn’t help but feel a comparison as it was a game I used to play myself every day. The experience felt like a knife to my chest. It makes me feel proud to hear that people like a friend of my mother’s, whose grandson has the condition, uses the infamous Facebook to bring truer light to the issues.

People claim to be experts on the subject, but in my view the only true experts on my condition are me and anyone else who’s actually experienced it. A positive side to the condition is that it allows me to use my brain in ways that others can’t. It gives me an almost photographic memory of certain, but not all, moments of my life. I could retell you a particular story that was read to me at the age of seven with word-for-word accuracy or even what I said at a particular moment whilst watch a pantomime or The Lion King musical years ago.

The is absolutely no part of my day when I am not being affected by my condition. Even when trying to sleep, a world of fantasies swims across my mind every second. Fantasies where Pokemon characters play dodge-ball like that film starring Ben Stiller, where my favourite WWE wrestlers take part in game shows like Crystal Maze or Fort Boyard, or where characters from some of my all-time-favourite animes play out roles in episodes of Doctor Who. I basically take everything that I find interesting – any character, scene or line that I find funny or dramatic – roll them up into one and play mind games out in my head. The excitement of these memories and crossovers is so excited that my body can’t contain them and I find myself repeating lines – sometimes whole scenes – though my mouth no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter whether I’m alone or with others, at home or at college, or even when I’m working on the till at ASDA, if I try to put these thoughts to the side it just makes me want to think of them even more. Naturally this causes trouble with my attention and my socialising.

At this point, you’re probably lost at what I mean and want an example of what it’s like. Well here’s one for you. Imagine you see a group of people sitting and talking happily at a table. You sit down at their table with them and they barely even notice you. You want to engage with them, talk with them and be a part of the conversation, maybe even make friends with this group of people. But the trouble is you don’t have the slightest idea where to start. It’s almost like these people are talking a foreign language about a subject you don’t understand or have no interest in. You’re worried that if you try to say something to engage yourself, you’ll just end up saying something wrong and then they’ll laugh at you for your mistake. You’re too worried to change the subject, because what you’re interested in might be downright boring to them and they’d just end up going back to their subject as if they’d never head you at all. So in the end, you decide the best option is to just stay quiet, entertain yourself and not try to speak to this group of people at all.

Even with my best effort this example does not even come lose to what people like this feel 24/7. I’m 18, I’ve never been on a date in my life and I’m still very much a virgin. If you can’t understand a single work of what I’m saying it’s quite alright. It’s simply because you’re not me.

Autism, Reviews

My Little Pony: Rock Solid Autism (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1: https://georgeharvey2015.wordpress.com/2019/02/01/my-little-pony-rock-solid-autism-part-1/)

Spying on Maud and Starlight’s kite-flying, Pinkie worries the two of them aren’t bonding quickly enough. And that Maud could still choose to live in Ghastly Gorge rather than Ponyville. She decides to intervene. Under the pretence of delivering a pizza, she asks them how things are going and suggests now might be a good time to start talking about each other’s feelings. This makes Maud and Starlight rather uncomfortable, as Maud isn’t good with feelings and Starlight worries it could bring up her evil past again.

Being Aspergic myself, I’ve often dealt with this scenario. People ask me how I’m feeling in everyday situations, like just after work or meeting with friends. Sometimes I don’t really know how I feel. I’m just the same relaxed way I always am, with little to no change. Even when my mood is different, there has to be something significant to it. Or I feel it’s not worth mentioning. For example, maybe my day was eventful because I discovered a fake £20 note. Or a new colleague started at work that afternoon. If it were just a regular day, I’d describe it as one. Even so, people still expect me to give long, detailed answers every time. Which is why I often say things like “I’m good” or “fine” to end the conversation. It might seem rude or unengaging, but it’s because I genuinely have nothing more to say on the subject – and I don’t want to be pushed into giving details that aren’t there. In this case, Pinkie is pressuring Maud and Starlight to become closer friends when they’re only just starting to know each other.

In a cunning move, Maud finds a way to ditch her sister so she and Starlight can spend more time alone together. She then takes Starlight to the Ponyville gem cave, where she explains why she finds rocks so fascinating. Each one has its own unique story to tell if you look closely enough. For instance, the line-markings on her pet rock, Boulder, tells Maud he’s over 2000-years-old. Another reason she likes rocks is “they don’t exclude you if you’re…different, from other ponies.

Exclusion is a serious matter for people with Autism. It can affect their self-esteem and how they choose to interact with others. It can also harm their self-confidence. As I mentioned before (Part 1), Maud is one of the few ponies the Mane 6 couldn’t make friends with initially. They didn’t exclude her from their activities, but they also couldn’t work around her limited interests. Her obsession with rocks just wasn’t something they were used to dealing with. Other ponies have likely felt the same way, but worse; not wanting to get involved with Maud because they can’t grasp her unusual personality. It’s a setback she’s probably faced for years.

However, it’s not always other people’s fault. I’ll admit, when I was younger, I may have put up social barriers myself. When I first learned I had Autism, I started feeling a lot more self-conscious – like there was something about me that alienated me from other people. I would often sit by myself, watching others socialise and think about joining in with them. However, I never did so in the end. Because I was worried they wouldn’t be interested in what I had to say. Fear of rejection might be why Maud has never tried making friends before now.

Fortunately, Starlight isn’t the sort of pony to turn a blind-eye so quickly. After hearing what Maud has to say about rocks, she sees they’re “beautiful and strong, but they don’t judge you or make you feel less than in any way.” Rocks are a nice hobby to have if you don’t want anyone dwelling on your past. It’s at this point she says, “I think I’m starting to like rocks, too.” And then something incredible happens: Maud smiles!

Now, I’m not saying Autistic people never smile – that would be unfair. And this isn’t even the first time Maud has smiled onscreen. However, you need to understand how significant something like this is for her. Keep in mind, Maud rarely shows any emotion. Even when talking about her interests, she maintains a neutral expression and talks as if they’re no big deal. For her to show happiness so openly, it almost feels out of character for her. So whenever she does smile, you know you’ve done something special. And this is a special moment. Not only has she found somepony to share her love of rocks with (outside her family), but she also likes Starlight’s kite-flying hobby, and Starlight likes her for not judging who she used to be. For the first time since Pinkie suggested it, Maud believes a friendship with this pony could actually work out.

As they continue exploring the cave, Starlight finds a wall made of hallow granite. Breaking through it, they make an impressive discovery: a vast underground cavern, full of crystals, with a large waterfall and stream running through it. Maud admits she’s never seen anything like it – which is “highly unusual, for [her].” It’s definitely a sight to behold. But then Pinkie shows up. She satirises the moment by taking a picture and saying how she can’t wait for the two of them to be “old, and eating pistachios together, and telling their grand-foals about this.

Again, Pinkie is overstepping her boundaries here. She doesn’t realise Maud and Starlight are bonding organically, and they don’t need her trying to speed up the process. In fact; Pinkie is so desperate that she sets off an explosion in the cave, trapping them all inside. She hopes it will give them time to bond. But Maud uses Boulder to break through the sandstone ceiling. Starlight is so impressed that she even compliments Boulder on his actions as though he’s alive – showing how much she understands Maud’s mindset towards him.

Free from the cave, Pinkie tries to keep an eye on Maud and Starlight again. But Starlight finds another way to ditch her, which makes Maud smile – thus making her the first pony to achieve this feat twice in one episode.

Later on, as Maud and Pinkie are going to bed, Pinkie says she’ll be there every step of the way to help make Starlight Maud’s new best friend. She’s even made plans for the next 17 days! However, it’s clear that Maud is becoming frustrated with Pinkie’s actions. She can’t bond with Starlight properly because her sister keeps interfering. And it’s starting to feel like she’s doing this because she has to, not because she wants to. Unfortunately, Maud struggles to tell her sister this because she’s not good with words. And with Pinkie too overexcited to listen anyway, she eventually just gives up.

This is another familiar scenario for me. Sometimes I do want to make conversation with people. But getting my words out can be a challenge. Everybody is so focused on talking to each other that they don’t always notice when I’m trying to speak. And chances to make myself heard (e.g. pauses in speech) are few and far between. I suppose it often comes down to people’s expectations of me. Since they know I don’t talk much anyway, they just assume I won’t have anything to say throughout. But that’s not necessarily true. I might want to comment on something, but it’s tricky getting my words in edgewise. As Maud does with Pinkie.

Maud’s other problem is finding the right way to express herself. She wants to tell Pinkie she needs to stop helping so much, but she’s isn’t much of a talker. As such, she can’t find the words or tone of voice to make her understand. In recent years, I’ve noticed something similar with my own speech. Whenever I try explaining things without thinking, my thoughts often get jumbled up in my head. I start tripping over my words, repeating myself or even stopping and starting over again – which is really embarrassing. The same can be said for my writing skills. For years, I just wanted to get things done as quickly as possible. But because I never structured my paragraphs, ideas would continuously change, and I’d spend more time editing my pieces than actually finishing them. Consequently, they’d take me forever to complete and they rarely turned out how I wanted.

For Autistic people, getting their points across can sometimes take planning and pre-thought. Which is why they often prefer writing down their feelings as opposed to speaking them. So that’s what Maud does. The next morning she leaves Pinkie a goodbye note, thanking her for her efforts. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, though, she doesn’t mention the trouble her sister caused. Instead, she claims her decision needs to be rock-based, and that she probably won’t have time for friends. Which is crushing to hear, as we know how much she really wants to be friends with Starlight. With her note delivered, Maud departs for Ghastly Gorge.

Distraught over her sister leaving, Pinkie goes to Starlight to tell her what’s happened. Interestingly, she takes the news better than her – almost as if she were expecting Maud to make this decision based on what would be most comfortable for her. Pinkie then asks why the two of them couldn’t just be friends, causing Starlight to realise how ignorant she is. She tells Pinkie she does like Maud. “She’s weird [but] in a good way. She sees the world in a totally different way than any pony [she’s] ever met. She accepts her for who [she is], she taught [her] that a rock is never just a rock, and she can make anything funny.” They never had to say it, but they “got” each other. Pinkie was just getting in the way too much.

Everything Starlight says here is right on the money. Particularly the part about Maud seeing the world differently. What many people mistake for strangeness in Autistic people is actually their habit of noticing what others tend not to. It might seem trivial to focus on things like the markings on a rock. Yet it’s this attention to detail that makes Autistic people such experts in unique fields. Without Satoshi Tariji’s love of bug-collecting as a boy, Pokemon would never have existed. If Einstien hadn’t been obsessed with numbers, he wouldn’t have become a famous scientist. And if Maud weren’t so fascinated by rocks and their properties, she wouldn’t have become a professor. Just because something seems irrelevant, doesn’t mean expertise on it won’t be considered valuable one day.

Realising her mistakes, Pinkie goes to Ghastly Gorge to find her sister. She arrives just in time to save Maud from being eaten by a Giant Mountain Eel – yes, this world has those. A fact Maud is almost oblivious to, as she’s autistically distracted by an emerald jasper.

As they escape, Maud claims Pinkie “didn’t need to come. [She’s] having a great time on her own [and] even made a new friend.” This, however, is a flat-out lie. Before Pinkie showed up, Maud was miserably gathering rock samples with only Boulder around for company. Although she was doing what she loved, the isolation was clearly getting to her and making her depressed. It just goes to show no matter what you strive for in life, it’s important to have somebody to share it with. Otherwise, it can all feel meaningless.

Maud continues by saying she “[doesn’t] belong in Ponyville. It only proves [she’s] better off all by herself, like she always has been.” But Pinkie tells her not to think like that. Everything was her fault. She forced Maud into making friends her way, but her way isn’t Maud’s way. She didn’t even realise what her sister was going through.

This might be the most important lesson to take from this episode. I said before (in Part 1) that Pinkie wanted Maud to live near her so they could spend more time together. But also so she could look after her. Pinkie cares very deeply for Maud and understands her condition better than any pony. However, she thought her Autism would prevent her from making friends on her own or living independently. Hence why she tried taking charge of the process and putting extra work into it. However, this only succeeded in stressing Maud out. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help somebody. As long as you support them in a way that’s comfortable for them.

I know just how Maud feels. Back when I was looking for a new job, I would be asked on a daily basis what positions I’d applied for. Or what I’d done to improve my CV. It got to the point where I felt like I was being pressured to devote all my spare time to this task, which made me hate it even more. I actually started hating the people who were asking me, too. They didn’t understand I needed to go at my own pace. That way, I could feel I was doing this for my own sake – not their’s.

Pinkie shamefully admits she underestimated Maud and didn’t take her feelings into account. Maud understands she did it out of love. And after reconciling, she agrees to give Ponyville another chance. With Pinkie promising to give her some space.

Back in Ponyville, Maud is seen flying a homemade kite alongside Starlight – the latter’s hobby having rubbed off on her. They’ve officially decided to become friends, but agree they don’t have to talk about feelings if they don’t want to. Maud then shows Starlight her new home: the carven they discovered, with added furnishing. Pinkie appears one more time to say how happy she is that Maud has moved to Ponyville. But then she swiftly exits, remembering her promise.

*

And that was Rock Solid Friendship. Quite possibly one of the best-written stories Hasbro has produced. There was just so much this episode got right about Autism; Maud’s unusual interests, her difficulty speaking, her struggles with independence, her insensitivity, her literal way of thinking, her imagination, her desire to make friends, feeling pressured, wanting to be understood, getting distracted, and so much more. Add in the relatable situations, and Pinkie less-than-helpful actions, and it paints a clear picture of what life with Autism can feel like.

The best part is, Maud’s journey didn’t end with this episode. Towards the conclusion of Season 7 (Uncommon Bond), we were given an update on her relationship with Starlight. Although they still don’t talk about anything personal, they’re happy being in each other’s company. And Maud is well-acquainted with Starlight’s other friends, Sunburst and Trixie. So, all in all, their friendship has remained healthy. Also, Maud continues moving forward in life. In Season 8 (Maud Couple), it’s revealed she actually has a boyfriend: Mud Briar. He’s just as Autistic as she is and they share much in common. He’s a very literal pony, has specific interests, rarely shows any emotion, and even has a pet stick (Twiggy) – just as Maud has Boulder. His personality can be a bit annoying at times, especially when he’s always saying “technically” and correcting others. But it’s clear he and Maud are perfect for each other. Plus, he makes her smile more than any other pony in the series.

In conclusion, Rock Solid Friendship is another example of why this series is so beloved. My Little Pony still has a stigma against it, given how girly it used to be. But if people took the time to watch Friendship is Magic, they’d realise how far the brand has evolved and why its fanbase extends across all ages and genders. If you’re looking for a piece of media that perfectly represents Autism and the people involved with it, then this is definitely for you. Rock Solid Friendship will inspire those who have the condition and enlighten those who wish to learn from it.

And that’s all I have to say for this review. I’m glad I posted it when I did. Because in less than a week, the final season of Friendship is Magic will begin (April 6th, 2019). It’s sad to see the show end. But its legacy will live on through the lessons it’s taught and the people who’ve been inspired by them.

If you have any questions, then please leave me a comment – I’ll be more than happy to answer them. And if you enjoyed this review, please check out the episode itself, and join me for the end of an era this year. Until next time, stay tuned.

(Image courtesy of: http://www.mylittlepony.it/2017/05/05/rock-solid-friendship-commenti-dal-blog/)

Autism, Reviews

My Little Pony: Rock Solid Autism (Part 1)

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka The Autistic Blogger). And today, I have another review for you discussing Autism in the media. For this one, I decided to go back and write something of a follow-up to a piece I made quite some time ago – one I’m sure many of you are familiar with.

Back in October 2016, I wrote a piece on the My Little Pony episode Lesson Zero (2011). In that review, I discussed how the main character, Twilight Sparkle, seemed to exhibit Autistic behaviour throughout the story. Her organisation skills, perfectionist mindset, and attention to detail were all common traits of Autism. Plus, the way she got stressed over a deadline was very similar to how I felt during my last year of University. Out of all the Mane 6 characters (Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy), she’s the one I relate to the most. For the record, I didn’t think Twilight really was Autistic. She did have obsessions and social problems in the beginning, but they gradually faded as the series progressed. What was clear to me, however, was the episode’s writer did have experience with Autism and wanted to exemplify that in her script. And it paid off, too. Not only was this the first episode of Friendship is Magic I ever saw, but it was a testament to how the show could appeal to all audiences – not just young girls – and teach them about disabilities, relationships and other mature themes.

Since the review was posted, the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly positive. Both parts have been viewed almost 500 times combined, making it my most successful piece to date. Even my Lily Alone review has been surpassed – which I consider to be my magnum opus. Given these statistics and the fact that Friendship is Magic will be ending soon, I decided it was the perfect time to talk about another of its defining episodes. This one is called Rock Solid Friendship (Season 7 episode 4).

Before I begin, it’s worth giving you some background on the character of focus: Maudelina Daisy Pie. Or Maud, for short. Introduced in Season 4, Maud is the older sister of Pinkie Pie; the overzealous party pony, who’s constantly defying the laws of physics. Despite this, however, Maud is the opposite of her sibling in every way possible. Pinkie is lively, eccentric and bursting with colour. Whereas Maud is slow, plain and mostly grey. Pinkie has many interests and hobbies. But Maud only has one passion in life: rocks. She was born on a rock farm, she studies rocks and their properties, she eats rocks, writes poetry about rocks, and even has a pet rock named Boulder. Basically; if it’s not rocks, she’s not interested.

On top of that, Pinkie expresses herself in the most exuberant ways. While Maud rarely shows any emotion. She always wears a neutral expression and speaks in such a monotoned voice that it’s impossible to tell whether she’s happy or bored – even when talking about her interests.

Now, on paper, Maud may sound like an incredibly dull character. Especially compared to some of the more diverse ponies in the series. But strangely enough, it’s her dry personality that makes her so popular. Even if she wasn’t the most relatable pony, we still wanted to know more about her. Why was she so fascinated by rocks? What gave her such a unique outlook on life? What did Pinkie see in her that made her so lovable? These were all answers we wanted to know. And Hasbro delivered.

Since her debut, Maud has appeared in every season of the show thereafter. Evolving from a one-off character to a mainstay of the series. Her popularity has grown thanks to her simple demeanour, considerate nature, and surprising ability to make us laugh. She’s no stand-up comedian, but the way she delivers some absurd lines with little to no emotion – e.g. “I didn’t get a Rocktorate because I can shred on guitar like nopony else” – is so outlandish, that it sounds funny without her even trying. Not bad for a pony who never laughs herself.

So Maud has earned quite the lovable reputation. In fact, she’s often viewed in the same light as other fandom-grown ponies, like Trixie, DJ Pon-3 and Muffins (aka Derpy Hooves). But why am I so fixated with her and not one of those characters? Well, it’s all to do with her presentation. You see, the more she’s appeared, the more I’ve noticed something familiar about her behaviours, i.e. the way she reacts in social situations. Unlike with Twilight, though, these have remained consistent with her character and gradually developed over time. It seemed as though everything was pointing in one direction. And after watching Rock Solid Friendship, there was no longer any doubt in my mind. Maud was Autistic! She’s one of the first animated characters to be portrayed with Aspergers Syndrome. How do I know? Well, although it’s never been officially confirmed by Hasbro, many would agree it’s the best explanation for her personality. And nowhere is this more evident than in Rock Solid Friendship. So today, I’m going to break down the episode and show you exactly how well My Little Pony represents a character on the spectrum.

***

The episode begins with a graduation ceremony. Maud is receiving a Rocktorate, which makes her an official professor in the study of rocks. What’s interesting to note is that she’s the only pony receiving this degree, which shows just how isolating her passion for rocks really is. Believe me, I know.

Some of my Autistic interests include wrestling, anime, games, trading cards, Pokémon, Doctor Who, and a TV series about magical talking ponies. These are all things I really enjoy, but I’m also aware of how obscure they are. Compared to people who like things such as football, cars and celebrity gossip, there are very few who share my level of passion for the things I do. Because of this, it’s often difficult for me to socialise. If people can’t get into my interests, then I can’t get into theirs’ and then we have very little to talk about. The same can be said for Maud. She’s an expert on rocks but has no pony to share it with.

Another thing worth mentioning is Maud’s incredibly short acceptance speech: “I’m Maud. Hi. Thank you.” This could be a reference to how Autistic people sometimes find it difficult speaking in public. I’ve personally never had a problem with it, but finding the right words to express yourself can be challenging if you have multiple ways of doing it. So Maud keeps everything simple and to the point.

Following the opening credits, we find out Maud could be moving to Ponyville since she has nothing left to study back on the rock farm. Pinkie is overjoyed her sister might live in her hometown. But Maud says she’s also considering Ghastly Gorge, as it has many exotic rocks for her to study. With this in mind; Pinkie decides to show her around town, hoping to convince her that Ponyville is the better option.

Now, there are two ways of looking at Pinkie here. On the one hand, she is acting a bit selfishly. All she’s thinking of Maud is living near her, despite the fact it could prevent her from using her Rocktorate. But at the same time, it’s understandable why she’d want this so much. In previous episodes, it’s been shown that Pinkie left home long before her sister did. And Maud wasn’t always there when she visited, because she was off earning her dissertation. Being separated for so long, it’s only natural she wants to make up for lost time.

Additionally, it could be Pinkie wants to look after Maud. We’ve seen before she’s the only pony who understands her Autism. And she knows moving out could be an overwhelming experience. So she wants to support her sister through it. More on this later (Part 2).

Pinkie’s efforts to convince Maud don’t go so well at first. To begin with, she shows her the Ponyville gem cave – hoping to amaze her with some rare stones. Unfortunately, Maud points out all the gems are actually quite common – not something worth getting fussed over. Pinkie then shows her Twilight’s castle, which is made entirely out of crystal. But Maud still isn’t impressed. Lots of structures are made from rocks and they “literally just saw hundreds of them in the gem cave.” Then Pinkie gets really desperate by pretending some sting bush seed pods, a tortoise named Tank, and a pony named Lyra, are all rocks she’s never seen before. Maud doesn’t even bother playing along. And why would she?

That’s another thing about Maud; she takes everything she hears very literally. It’s not that she doesn’t have any imagination – Boulder is proof of that – but whenever someone uses a figure of speech or says something slightly incorrect, she can’t help but correct them, or reply as if they’ve said something serious. For example, when she first met Rarity, the latter asked her, “What is the delightful frock you’re wearing now, saying?” To which Maud replied, “It doesn’t talk, it’s a dress.” On that note, Maud can also be a little insensitive sometimes. She doesn’t consider how her words might affect those listening. For instance, when she said the gems in the cave were actually common, she did so in front Rarity, who often uses them in her dress designs. Hearing this reduces her to tears, and Maud even doesn’t notice. It’s the same with me. Sometimes people say it’s quarter-to-two (1:45) when it’s actually 1:47. I’m tempted to say it’s thirteen-to, but I know pointing out this small technicality would seem rude. So I resist the urge.

Anyway, back onto the story.

Pinkie begins to lose hope of convincing Maud to live in Ponyville. But then her sister reveals it’s not just rocks that are influencing her decision. She admits that while she is passionate about exotics rocks, it bothers her she’s always had to study them alone. She could handle some less interesting ones if it means she had somepony to talk to besides Boulder. In other words, she really wants a friend. Hearing this, Pinkie is keen to help her find somepony. But there’s a catch: Maud’s problem isn’t finding somepony she likes, but somepony who “gets” her. Pinkie doesn’t count because she’s already used to her personality.

This was the scene that convinced me Maud was Autistic. As I’ve said before, Autism and isolation often go hand in hand – through no fault of the person affected. The trouble is people having the wrong impressions sometimes. A common misconception is that we don’t like talking to people and we’re perfectly happy being in our own company. This isn’t true. While I do enjoy moments of solitude to focus on my writing, nobody wants to be lonely all the time. Autistic people want the same as everyone else does; a life we can be proud of and friends we can rely on. The issue is working through some additional social barriers, like the clash of interests mentioned above. We’ve actually seen Maud go through this personally.

In her very first episode, Maud was introduced to the Mane 6 by Pinkie. She spent some time with each of them, doing activities they each enjoyed; designing with Rarity, nature-walking with Fluttershy, reading with Twilight, making cider with Applejack and competing against Rainbow Dash. Unfortunately, none were Maud’s cup of tea. And because they couldn’t grasp her unusual personality, she was one of the few ponies they couldn’t form a bond with. Even by the end of the story, when they were much better aquatinted, you couldn’t really say they’d become friends.

In spite of Maud’s social problems, Pinkie tells her not to worry. Because there’s nothing wrong with who she is. Also, when it comes to making friends, you never know who you might run into. Enter Starlight Glimmer…

Oh yeah, Starlight. I should probably tell you about this character, too. Originally introduced as a villain in Season 5, Starlight was an evil dictator, who ran a cult-like village, where ponies had to give up their special talents and conform to equality. She even tried forcefully conditioning the Mane 6, as well. After being thwarted twice, however, she saw the error of her ways and became Twilight’s personal friendship student. Since then, she’s played a very prominent role in the series – often to the point where fans consider her the 7th “Mane” pony of the show. She’s even had her fair share of saving Equestria from time to time. What made Starlight so different was her unique background as a former villain. At this point, she was troubled by her past and keen to move on from it. But it kept getting brought up, making her uneasy. Even so, it was essential in building her character. With her past experiences, she was able to relate to others in ways the Mane 6 never could; understanding their corrupted mindsets and giving them a chance to learn what she did. This made the most empathetic pony in the whole series, and even lead to her becoming a guidance counsellor in Season 8.

Anyway…

After bumping into Maud, Starlight seems to recognise her. It turns out, they actually met each other once before. While travelling Equestria for her Rocktorate, Maud encountered Starlight when the latter was a villain. She then directed her to a magical stone, which ultimately allowed her to enslave her village. Freaked out by this revelation, Pinkie demands that Maud “tell no pony.” But Maud nonchalantly replies “it’s not like she’s enslaved anypony lately.

Realising there’s a small connection between Starlight and her sister; Pinkie encourages them to spend time together, hoping something will blossom from it. Again, she is genuinely trying to help her sister here. But it’s obvious Pinkie is doing this more so Maud will choose Ponyville.

While running errands together, Maud and Starlight discuss some of their interests. Aside from rocks, Maud also likes minerals, plate tectonics, and stand-up comedy. It’s here that Starlight reveals she has her own unusual hobby: she likes kites. Upon hearing this, Maud simply looks at her in silence for a few seconds, before saying, “kites are cool.

This might be the best-executed moment in the whole episode for me. It’s very brief, but it’s the perfect response from somebody with Autism. You can tell Maud doesn’t really mean it when she says “kites are cool” – there’s no passion in her voice. And that’s understandable. Kites aren’t something she’s particularly interested in. Nor is it something she knows much about. She’s not sure how to react to Starlight’s love for them. She spends a moment trying to think of a good follow-up sentence, but can’t quite manage it. So she just says the simplest, most polite thing she can think of.

Now, usually, this sort of response would end a conversation. It’s happened where I’ve said something this bluntly, and people have changed the subject because they knew I wasn’t getting into it. Fortunately for Maud, Starlight actually takes her response as an opportunity.

Sometime later, we see Starlight flying a homemade kite next to Maud. She then explains how to craft a perfect SLK (single-line-kite), clearly enthusiastic to be sharing her knowledge. Maud seems intrigued by how much goes into something as simple as a kite. Just like how much goes into something a simple as a rock. She admits “they’re starting to grow on [her],” thus making this her first new interest in years.

How will things play out in the rest of the story? You’ll have to wait and see.

(Continued in Part 2: https://georgeharvey2015.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/my-little-pony-rock-solid-autism-part-2/)

 

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment – I’ll be more than happy to answer them. And, until next time, stay tuned.

(Image courtesy of: http://www.unleashthefanboy.com/news/little-pony-friendship-magic-maud-pie-review/93307)

Autism, College, Experiences, General, Schools

Two Special Messages

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka The Autistic Blogger). I’ve recently started work on my next big project, but it probably won’t be finished until after the New Year. This is because I’m currently rehearsing for my latest stage performance (A Christmas Carol) and December will be a hectic time for someone who works in retail. In the meantime, I’d like to share a couple of messages with you.

Over the years, I’ve been in contact with numerous people who’ve had a profound influence on my professional career. Whether it’s about something I’ve written or something I hope to do, their messages have inspired me to keep working towards my dreams – even when they seem a long way off. The first of these came just over five years ago.

Before I started working on this blog and raising awareness of Autism, my biggest ambition in life was to become a published author. And it still is to some extent. There are magazine articles and books out there with my name on them, but they’ve always been collaborations with other people. One day I hope to publish something that’s all my own, and that it can help raise awareness of disadvantaged people and their problems.

The most ambitious project I’ve had is a children’s book series. The idea first came to me during my first year of college, when we were asked to write a series of short stories to promote a fictional product called Chunky Monkey. I got so into the task that I wanted to use what I’d learnt to create my own series, which would teach readers about the joys and hardships of childhood. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, but there was just one problem: I didn’t really know how to write a children’s book, let alone a series of them. Fortunately, I knew somebody who did.

Out of all the authors I’ve admired over the years, Jacqueline Wilson has been the most influential on me. Her stories not only address real-world issues, but they do so in a way that’s relatable to children. You could literally pick up any one of her books and believe it was inspired by a true story. I knew that if anyone could understand what I was trying to achieve with my writing, then it would be Jacqueline Wilson. So, on October 18th 2013, I sent her this email:

Dear Miss Jacqueline Wilson
My name is George Harvey. I am 19-years-old, and I am an inspiring writer. I work in an ASDA’s store in Swanley and whenever I see one of your books on our shelves I just know the story is spectacular, without even having to read it – especially your latest book Diamond. Your illustrator, Nick Sharratt does a wonderful job with his cover art, too.
I am writing because I recently read something you said in an interview once. You said: “I want to write to every age group, in a way that can prepare them for what happens in the real world, and raise the awareness levels of many life-changing situations. I want to be a friend, really.” These words captured my heart because this is almost precisely what I want to do with my own writing.
As an Asperger’s sufferer, I have experience of what life can be like for someone who has a personal life problem or condition. I also know that if these issues are misunderstood, they can cause troubles for those who suffer from them. This is why I want to use my writing skills to raise awareness of not only autism but other personal issues so that readers can understand them better and more people would be treated fairly in the future.
Also, while my intended audience is children, I want my stories and characters to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, so that readers, young and old, can understand my intentions. (Would this be commercial or literary fiction?)
Anyway, I have been taking a professional writing course at my college for two years now. And ever since my first year, I’ve had an idea for a children’s book series called ‘The Adventures of Nicky Dream‘. I won’t bore you with details as I know you’re very busy and you get a lot more fan-mail than mine. But the basic idea is that Nicky Dream is a 10-year-old girl who lives alone in a large house, and she has a large number of friends who she shares “adventures” with. The twist is that each of her friends has a personal issue about them (e.g. one friend is childish and represents immaturity, one has damaged vocal chords and is partially mute, one is a bully turned friend, etc.) and the adventures not only focus on their individual characteristics, but also advises readers on how such issues should be treated, and how those with similar problems can overcome them. (Sorry if that is too much detail.)
I am confident this is a good idea, but my trouble is making it work. Whilst ‘Adventure’ and ‘Slice of Life’ are two genres I would use to describe my vision for this series, I have a lot of story and character ideas that might crossover with their limitations, and I sometimes wonder whether or not even I, myself, know exactly how I want to write this series – I’ve often imagined it as a TV series in book form. (Did you ever have a story idea without knowing exactly what genre it was going to be?)
My question to you is when you write about such personal issues as abuse, grief, foster care, etc. how do you do it in a way that’s entertaining for all audiences to read, while keeping the focus on raising awareness, and avoiding anything that could be hurtful or insulting? Also, with your book series’, did you intend them to be series’ when you first started writing the original books or was it down to their popularity that you wrote sequels? Any other advice you could give me would be very helpful, too.
I have written to you because I think you are the one author who can truly understand my feelings and ambitions for writing. I hope I can hear from you soon.

Yours Faithfully
George B. Harvey

(P.S. I’m very sorry that this is a long letter/email. I tend to over-write things a lot.)

Now, to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting a reply. As I mentioned in the message, I knew how busy Jacqueline Wilson was. And she probably received thousands of fan letters a day. It didn’t seem likely that mine would be one she’d personally respond to.

But then, twelve days later, I discovered this in my inbox:

Dear George
Thank you so much for your long and interesting email. I’m so pleased you’ve enjoyed my books. It’s good to know that you give them a favourable glance when you’re at work! It’s great that you’ve studied writing and now want to create your own children’s book series. Your Asperger’s condition will give you a true understanding of Nicky Dream and her friends, and I think the series could have great potential, helping to raise awareness of young people’s problems.
I don’t think you necessarily need to fixate on whether your stories are going to be ‘adventure‘ or ‘slice of life‘. It’s possibly a bit overwhelming too, to think of a whole series of books at this stage.
If I were you, I’d concentrate hard on your characters first, thinking about them in detail until they become absolutely real to you. Then get started on your story and try to imagine it’s happening inside your head. Describe it as if it’s really happening with as much emotion and detail as you can manage. Think yourself down to a child level and write from their point of view, and that way you should naturally be able to avoid anything too hurtful or insulting.
Good luck. I really admire your determination and ambition.

Very best wishes,
Jacqueline Wilson

I have treasured this email ever since. To think, the Jacqueline Wilson had taken the time to read my message and given me advice on my writing. Needless to say, I took her words to heart. Now, whenever I can, I plan my series to the smallest detail: mind-mapping locations; thinking of ways to develop it; and most importantly, writing character bibles which detail every aspect of the characters from their favourite colour to how they became the people they are. It’s an arduous process, but I know it will benefit me in the long-run. As Jacqueline Wilson said, the world I’ve created now feels real to me.

This second message was sent to me just a few months ago.

Since starting my blog, my pieces have lead to many professional opportunities for me. One of the earliest came from a lady who ran an after-school club for Autistic children. She read my ‘Diagnosis‘ post and asked if I could come in and present my life story to her members. She then offered me the chance to become a volunteer supervisor there, which I readily accepted. I, unfortunately, had to resign from the post after two years, due to work commitments, but the time I spent there was invaluable. Interacting with Autistic children, relating to their problems, and helping them make a difference in their lives, made me realise just how much I wanted to do for this for a living too. Hence I started to pursue a new ambition: becoming a teaching assistant.

While my current job makes it difficult to apply for anything permanent, I do occasionally take online courses in Special Educational Needs. I’ve also had the chance to present my life story in primary schools, and I spent the day as a teaching assistant in one of them. Sometimes people will even come to me for advice. Following one of my recent posts, a secondary school TA asked me how to help one of her students prepare for their GCSEs. For privacy reasons, I won’t reveal names. But this is what she had to say:

Hi George,
I wanted to ask you for some advice. I wondered if you completed your GCSE English exams or how you managed them. I am supporting someone with ASD and, after reading your story, I sensed some similarities. They are also a perfectionist which is causing great difficulty when practising for her GCSE’s next year. I wonder if you have any tips that may help us? Thanks for sharing your story and your work it really does make a difference.
Thanks.

After thinking long and hard about my answers, I sent her this response:

Thank you for your message. It’s not often I get comments on any of my posts, so it’s nice to speak to the people who read them. In regards to your question, I was able to pass my GCSE English exam, but I think it took me three tries to get the grade I wanted. The literature part was easy enough, but language has always been a challenge for me. I’m always second-guessing myself on whether I’ve used the right punctuation marks, or if my sentences are too long, etc. So it does take me a while to write the pieces you see. Even so, I try to learn from my experiences and I do have some tips that could help your student.
First of all, before anything else, make sure she spends 5-10mins planning what she’ll write. It’s very tempting to start straight away – especially if you’re conscious of the time. But if you go into anything without a clear plan, you’ll end up stopping, thinking and rethinking as you go – which will waste more time than if you lay everything out in the beginning. What I do is highlight everything I need/want to talk about in each of my paragraphs. I do this by making subheadings (e.g. Introduction, Dogs, Cats, Why Dogs Hate Cats, Conclusion/Summary) and then bullet-pointing two or more things I could say in each paragraph. By doing this, you’ll never be lost for what to write, and you might even work out a definite order for everything. For example:

Introduction
Why do dogs hate cats? (attention-grabbing, opening sentence)
– If a dog sees a cat, it will give chase? Why?
– How the cat looks at them? The way they smell? Why would the dog want to get rid of the cat?
– Let’s look at both these animals and find out.

Dogs
– Nature – friendly, cuddly, protective
– Confined to home, unless taken for a walk
– Territorial – bark at new things and mark their territory

Cats
– Nature – friendly, cuddly, adventurous
– Able to roam anywhere freely and still return home
– Not territorial, but will return to a place they like and defend themselves fiercely if provoked.
– Why dogs hate cats
– Are dogs protective of their territory when cats turn up?
– Are they scared to see something new?
– Are they annoyed when they keep returning?

Conclusion/Summary
– Easy to see why dogs would hate cats – protective of their territory, thinks cat is invading, constantly returning, could feel threatened.
– Maybe there just needs to be better trust between animals (concluding sentence)
– I also think about how to end and begin each of my paragraphs so they can lead into one another seamlessly.

The second tip is one I’m sure you already know. But it’s resisting perfection. Once your student has come up with a plan, make sure she sticks to it. It’s common to suddenly have an idea you think is better than what you’re writing. But it’s better to make a mental note of it and return to it later. If you try correcting things then and there, you could spend ages “fixing” it, and you probably won’t make it to the end of your piece. The quicker you finish it, the faster you can improve things at the end. This is helpful for two reasons. It prevents your student from going off-track and undoing all their planning work. And it stops them from making unnecessary changes. I’ve often found that the way I’ve written something the first time is better than what it ends up being after all the edits. Trust your initial thoughts and then you’ll have less fix at the end.
Finally, my last tip concerns reading work back. Sometimes you’ll want to check over your paragraphs to make sure they’re written well. But if you do this after every sentence or paragraph, your perfectionism will take over – you’ll keep spotting more and more things to “fix” and lose momentum for writing. Only read through the work once you’ve finished the final paragraph. If your student has made a good plan, she’ll be able to look back on it, and it should help her get moving again if she’s stuck. It’s better to trust your instincts than second-guessing yourself.
That’s all I have to say. I hope these tips have been helpful to you. And I hope your student does well in her GCSEs. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Best of regards
George B. Harvey (aka the Autistic Blogger).

P.S. I’m sorry for not replying sooner. I wanted to make sure these tips were perfect for you.

Admittedly, my reply may have been a bit long. But I wanted to make sure that whatever I sent was the best advice possible. Plus, if it was shared with anyone else, then anyone could benefit from it just as much as the TA. It’s incredible to think that five years ago I was asking Jacqueline Wilson for advice, and now people are asking for mine on Autism. It makes me proud to know my blog is making a positive impact and helping others to do good in their community.

That’s all I have to say for now. I hope these messages have given you an idea of how far I’ve come, and where I hope to be in the future. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to anautismobserver.wordpress.com, who were generous enough to list my website (The Autistic Blogger) on their own, so more people could find and enjoy it. Be sure to check them out and some of the other Autistic bloggers they have listed.

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment – I’ll be more than happy to answer them. And, until the New Year, stay tuned.

Experiences, General, Into my Autistic Mind

Into My Autistic Mind: Before I was Autistic

Hello everybody, this is George Harvey (aka the Autistic Blogger). I haven’t been able to start any big projects lately, given my work schedule and other commitments. But today I have another edition of Into my Autistic Mind for you. Now, before I begin, there is something I’d like to address about this series. There have been people who’ve come up to me and asked what the point of it all is; they’ve read the texts, seen them as nonsensical jargon and said they just “don’t get it.” I have explained what their purpose is before, but I feel it bears repeating for any new readers to this blog. You see, Into my Autistic Mind isn’t so much about telling a story or making a point, it’s about giving readers an insight into my Autistic thoughts. It doesn’t happen all the time, but occasionally when my mind is relaxed, different thoughts and memories will occupy my head. Thoughts which I personally find memorable and exciting. There isn’t any structure to what I think of, or when, they just happen when I allow them to – hence why I don’t structure these texts into paragraphs or edit them too heavily. By writing down my unfiltered thoughts, I aim to show why Autistic people sometimes have difficulty concentrating and what can be done about it. To put it simply, it’s okay if you don’t ‘get’ the Into my Autistic Mind series – because it’s not meant to be ‘got’.

Anyway, to show how these thoughts influence me while I’m writing, this edition will involve me reliving some of my earliest childhood memories, whilst not ignoring any non-related thoughts that may enter my head. Enjoy:

***

I wasn’t always Autistic you know. There was a time when I wasn’t. Autism is something that develops overtime. I was officially … hang on, I’m remembering the opening to The Emperor’s New Groove, Beauty and the Beast and a Harry Potter PlayStation game. Anyway, I was officially diagnosed when I was 3- or 4-years-old. I can still remember what happened before then. I’m just thinking of the books I used to read when I was in primary school: the Magic Key books – which later became a TV show. Anyway, I CAN … sorry. Sorry again, I had the caps lock on. As I was saying, I can’t remember when I was born – I don’t think anybody’s brain is developed enough to remember that. I remember a Fairly Odd Parents episode that addressed it. But I do remember where I used to live. I just corrected the typing ‘fairly’ there. I used to live in Belvedere. I can’t remember the name of the road, but I know it was on a hill. Interestingly enough, Belvedere is where my aunt’s husband Tom works now. It’s also where I went for interviews when I was applying for jobs with both ASDA and Lidl – they have a headquarters not far from there. But anyway, ignoring my memories of an old Chip ‘N’ Dale episode (Three Men and a Booby), I remember the layout of – sorry, I corrected something else there – I remember the layout of our house. As you went in the front door there were stairs to the left. Down the hallway it lead into the kitchen, which was connected to the dining room which was also connected to the living room. I’m just remembering the end of Roald Dahl’s Matilda – he never did like any film adaptions of his books except the BFG. You could get into the living room by turning right as you first entered the house. At the top of the staircase was the bathroom, and to the right were two or three other rooms. I can’t remember exactly what the third was used for, but one of the rooms belonged to me and my sister and me, of course. And the other belonged to our parents, of course. I’ve put my washing machine on so I’m wearing sound-cancelling headphones to write this. The dining room lead out into the garden. For our birthday one year – it might’ve been our third – we had a yellow bouncy castle with teddy bears on it. Now, whenever I think of that garden I always think of that bouncy castle and that birthday. My sister used to watch home-videos of that old house. There was one where we first woke up on our birthday – I had slept in very late as I was so tired – and our mum and dad kept trying to encourage us say how old we were. There was another where we were on the bouncy castle and I kept play-fighting with a boy called Harry. We weren’t really trying to hurt each other, but my day kept saying “no fighting.” I always remember whenever people sang happy birthday to my sister and me, my sister’s name would always be said first. So my granddad would always say the line again with my name first as a joke. I loved it so much that I started doing too, as a way to remember him. Not far from our house there was a playground. Our dad would always take us there to play football. Sorry, I don’t know why I’m remembering this, but I think one time I found a board game with a scary man’s face on the cover. I’d flip it over and it was there again, but on a television screen. I’m not even sure if this is a real memory or if I dreamed it at one point. Sometimes dreams can feel so real you’re sure they’re happening, even though you know you’re asleep. Sorry, back on track. I used to love that playground. I also used to love Swanley Park and Danson Park. How they used to be, anyway. I’ve been back to them all a few times since and they’re nothing like how they used to be. Swanley has mostly become a water park, rather than sand and water – probably because kids kept putting water in the sand and vice versa. Danson has gotten rid of all its classic apparatus (including giant wooden animals) and is now a field, while a new park has replaced it. And the old park near my first house, has completely changed its apparatus as well. I remember one of my favourites was a giant tower with interwoven ropes, which you could climb. I always loved seeing how high I could go before I got scared. I once saw a boy climb to the very top and sit on the black ball at its peek. I wanted to do it too, but knew I’d never be brave enough. I’m just thinking of the movie 127 Hours now because of a song they used in one of the montages. Aron Ralston is played very well by James Franco – who also played Harry Osborn in Spider-Man. Apparently, my sister and I used to have an imaginary friend called Kiki. Somebody who only we could see. If she was sitting in the car or on the sofa we would tell our mum to be careful not to squash her. Apparently, there was also a time when we thought we saw a scary lady with long fingers hiding in the corner of our room, but when mum can in she vanished. Sounds like something out of a horror movie doesn’t it? In my later early years I would always have fears like that. I’m remembering the episode Night Terrors from Doctor Who now. It’s starting again soon with a female Doctor and Bradley Walsh as one of the companions. The premier is this Sunday. Not far from the park near my first house, there was also a water park. But as far as I can remember it was only ever open once or twice. All other times it looked like it was completely abandoned and served no purpose. I just made two corrections there. Now I’m thinking of Hercules, my mum’s favourite Disney movie. There are other memories I have from before I moved house for the first time, but I couldn’t possibly list them all. I do remember the time we went to Legoland and we were told to pretend were younger so we could get cheaper tickets. I didn’t understand though and I kept saying my real age. Speaking of Legoland, I do remember some of the great TV adverts they made for it over the years. Like some with a Mexican band or the “Heroes Wanted” ones. I think this is a good place to stop. So there you have it. I have very clear memories of the time before I was Autistic. It was only after we moved house, and before I started school, that I started to develop it. Maybe in future I’ll tell you about my early years with the condition. But for now, stay tuned.