An Aspie Abroad: Autistic Anecdotes from Australia

Pre(r)amble

OK, there are three things that I need to establish before I start telling stories. Otherwise, nothing’s going to make any sense.

The first thing is that I’m autistic. That’s hopefully obvious from the post’s title, not to mention the blog’s title, but let me elaborate. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Synrome at the age of fourteen. Now I’m twenty-four. Holy crap, ten years. That anniversary snuck up on me. I’m low on the spectrum, but autism is nonetheless a hugely defining part of who I am. I’m open with it, and perhaps overly so.

I’ve struggled with a fair amount of autism-related challenges, alongside bog-standard self confidence issues, throughout my life. Various things, including this blog, have helped me learn how to deal with those issues. It’s taken a long time to get there, but now I can say this without hesitation: I like me.

If you want to read more on that, I’d suggest this feature I wrote a year ago. Part 1 for the light-hearted stuff, part 2 for the heavy stuff.

Coping With Autism: My Perspective, Part 1

Coping With Autism: My Perspective, Part 2

20150707_153722The second thing is that a month ago, on the 22nd of June, I said goodbye to my British homeland and moved all the way to Melbourne, Australia. I’m going to be studying journalism here for a year. This is my first time living outside the UK, and hopefully not the last.

The third thing is that I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. This blog isn’t about that, but safe to say it’s going to come up when I talk about my social experiences. I’ll most likely write a full post on the subject in the near future, but for now it suffices to say that the church is my social life.

So, this feature is a way for me to share any experiences I have here in Australia, and hopefully along with it will be some insights into the autistic mind.

Got it? Good. Let’s go.

My Friend What’s-His-Name

Last night, I got together to hang out with a bunch of fellow Mormons around my age (See? It comes up). I’ve known most of them for about three weeks now. We’ve had no shortage of opportunities to get to know each other, since there are often several events and activities throughout the week. Since I’ve made it somewhat of a habit to overcompensate for my social anxiety, I’ve firmly and loudly established my presence at this point.

This particular evening we’d initially planned a Nerf gun war, but we’d since dropped the idea. Now we had fourteen-or-so young adults gathered in a house with no particular plans or props. Some were new to the group, so we did the whole circle introduction thing. Your name, what you’re studying or where you’re working, pass it on.

Once we’d all done that, the girl who’d organised the get-together made the announcement that the game we’d be doing required us to know each other’s names.

I couldn't think of images for this post so, here's some vaguely relevant expressions from the Awkward Zombie webcomic!
I couldn’t think of images for this post so… here’s some vaguely relevant expressions from Awkward Zombie!

CRAP. Of all the people present, I confidently knew the name of precisely one – and that only because she’s one of my housemates. I’d been hanging out with these people for three weeks. I get along with them really well. No doubt I’d heard their names several times over that period – including just moments before.

Here’s the thing: I just can’t learn names that easily. That’s always been the case, and it’s never been more apparent to me than now. Every name, every person, every place is new. I have to devote a great deal of mental energy into just processing it all. Usually I only have to learn two or three names at a time, and that’s hard enough. Now all the new names are getting jammed in the door to my memory, and almost none are making it through. Even adding people on Facebook isn’t a guarantee of retention. I learn the names I have to learn.

And now I had to learn. It’s always embarrassing and a little awkward when you’re put in a position where you have to admit you don’t know someone’s name. Those moments have multiplied in these last few weeks, and now at the very least I got to roll a few into one occasion. We went around the circle once more – and then once more, at my sheepish request.

Here’s how the game went: we split up into two teams, and divided the teams with a curtain. One person from each team was to move up to the curtain, and wait for it to drop. If you’re the one who moved up to the curtain, you have to call out the name of the person on the other side before they call out yours. The point goes to the winner’s team.

awkwardzombie3For my first go, I edged in front of the curtain, waited… the curtain drops, and there’s my housemate.

And for a second, I forget her name.

She calls my name out instantly, and I double over with laughter. Classic brain fart. That kind of thing usually happens to me when things don’t go according to my expectations. Names just don’t come easily when I have to think quickly.

That particular weakness can land me in some embarrassing situations. Said situations are usually triggered by bumping into someone I know on the streets. Sometimes I’ll recognise their face, but will be completely unable to call anything else to mind. Occasionally I won’t even register their presence until they’re practically jumping in my face. A couple of times, they haven’t jumped in my face and I’ve passed them by without a second glance, leading to particularly awkward moments later.

awkwardzombie2For some reason, after the game I volunteered myself to go around the circle and name everybody. I tend to put myself in that kind of position. I think it’s partly because I wanted some shot at redemption. I mean, it’s not like I don’t retain names because I don’t care, but I can’t expect people to know that. Still, the plus side to these situations is that they add a much-needed element of necessity. That kicks my brain into the right gear.

One halting, guesswork-riddled round later and I had everyone’s names down in my mind. It really doesn’t take long once my mind is in the right place. The trick is getting it there. I don’t fully understand it all works, and I doubt I ever will. Still, I’m happy to keep on figuring my mind out, one embarrassing experience at a time.

Naturally, I’ll be writing more about those experiences here. That’s part of the process. It can be really difficult to describe what goes on in my head sometimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if I sound self-contradictory on occasion. I’m not an expert – not even on myself. Still, I hope sharing my experiences helps people understand me, and others like me, that little bit more.

-Jesse (@BackBlogGuy)

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