This is an article I have written about my experiences with Mental Health Services and Learning Disabilities in England. The article is going to be used to help healthcare professionals in their training for people on the autistic spectrum. All comments are welcome.

The Autistic Impressionist

Andrew Smith

Sunday, 20 September 2015

I was at a meeting recently with some healthcare professionals from various backgrounds, but all with an interest in autism. The meeting is held every three months at Halifax, West Yorkshire. It is always interesting to hear the views and opinions of the professionals that attend with regards to developments in local and central government policy that affect both the professionals and people on the autistic spectrum.

One of the topics that came up was the diagnosis of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome and which local services a person with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome comes under. For myself and many others this was a choice between Learning Disabilities (LD) or Mental Health (MH). This is a topic that is often discussed because it affects nearly everybody who is involved with is on the autistic spectrum.

I recounted the story of when I was visited in my home by LD and MH services as they tried to determine which service I fell under and who would pay for any services I may require. This was of course far more important than anything else that may or may not decide I needed. What seemed to surprise some of the professionals at the meeting was the extraordinary lengths I went to, to ensure my house and myself were clean and well presented. What they didn’t and couldn’t know was how this also took over my life in the lead up to the meeting.

The advice I had been given by some support workers at a local autism charity was to present myself and my home environment in as natural and normal a way as possible for the meeting. This was to ensure that the professionals visiting me got an honest impression of how I lived and coped. This is to ensure that I or anybody else in the same position gets the right amount of support based on their circumstances and not based on false impressions.

However having Asperger’s Syndrome and quite possibly a touch of OCD as well this was something I just could not do. I had to tidy my house and prepare it as if it was a royal visit! And this was my problem. Despite knowing that this would go against all the advice I had been given and create the wrong impression, I still could not bring myself to leave my house as it was. The feeling to tidy up was intensely overwhelming and all consuming.

In the weeks and days leading up to the meeting getting and keeping my house tidy was all that occupied my every waking moment. There was nothing else on my mind, nor anything else I wanted to do. I had always been brought up to believe that you could live in whatever squalor you chose to do, but if you had people coming to visit you your house had to be a palace. And being on the autistic spectrum I took this literally and to extremes.

This was what, on reflection made my behaviour different to that of a neurotypical person. A neurotypical person would know when to stop and would not let the situation take over their lives in the way I did or at the very least have far more control over the situation than I did. In addition they would I believe take the advice of the charity and leave their home as it was.

But I am not neurotypical and I didn’t know when to stop cleaning. In the weeks leading up to the meeting I kept thinking that although things were clean they would get dirty again. But then I thought that unless I cleaned them they would be dirty on the day of the visit wouldn’t they? This cycle of thinking, cleaning and reflecting dominated my life over this period of time.

All these thoughts were going round and round my mind 24/7 in the days and weeks leading up to the meeting and they took over my life and overwhelmed my daily existence. However looking back I believe I needn’t have worried as much as I did. Nobody seemed that bothered by how clean or unclean my house was.

All they were bothered about was me and I hadn’t prepared myself for that either mentally or appearance wise. Again I got the impression that this didn’t really matter too much at the end of the day to anybody there. In the end Mental Health was selected as the service that would have responsibility for me and I had more in-depth meetings with people afterwards.

What I hope this story illustrates is how the desire to put on a false impression for people can takeover and overwhelm a person’s life to such an extent that is their life and the sole reason for existence. They may give the impression of being tidy, clean and in control but in reality they are untidy, dirty and have no control.

But the desire to create the right impression is all that matters to them and they will go to any lengths and endure all forms of mental and physical torture to do so.

What this also illustrates is the constant fear many people on the spectrum live in of being judged by others. This has an effect on an individual’s personality and impacts on their identity as a human being living in a social world they have tremendous difficulty understanding. As a result some people and especially people on the spectrum will do even more to be accepted and judged in a positive way even if this is detrimental to their actual situation and health.

I will add that this is my own personal experience and others on the spectrum may react to the same situation very differently and exhibit very different behavioural traits.

© Andrew Smith 2015

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