Under the Big Top

August 2014:
My first article to be published has appeared in the August 2014 edition of the Autism World Magazine. ( http://www.autismworldmagazine.com )

I am very excited about this and wish to share it with you.

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Intensity: What you see is what you get

 

One thing that has always upset me has not been my inability to make friends but having long lasting friendships. I am going to be the first to admit that seeing people that have been friends for long amounts of time intrigues me but also makes me a little sad. I always think to myself, why can’t you make friendships like that?

I have reached a time in my life where I am feeling as though for the first time in forever I am starting to forge the beginnings of friendships with people, people who share common interests and people who are around my age. While I enjoy these friendships very much, recent comments from a few people in my life have made me really think. I have thought long and hard about their comments and these are my conclusions.

1.Intensity

Yes I am intense, I put great energy, strength and thought into things I love, to be honest five minutes with me and you will have a pretty darn good idea of the areas I am passionate about.

2. Nature

Yes sometimes I can be a handful, full on and I can’t just “get over it” it is how I am. I am working hard on the ability to have two sided conversations, it is a challenge for me and you may just find out enough information on my special interest areas to fill several encyclopedias but we all have to start somewhere.

3. Public Situations

My “out in public” skills need an oil change and major servicing, I will probably talk really loud or on the other hand really soft, I may stare, I may overload quickly, will probably walk into at least one pole, parked car or even a person while out and about and I struggle to tell if its safe to cross a road. I’m working on these too, sometimes I go to the other pole and talk so soft that you need a huge satellite to pick up what I’m say, but it’s OK if you ask nicely I may even repeat it a little louder or softer.

As for the staring, it’s getting there and the overload I am becoming much better at self regulating and pulling myself out of said situations to “cool down” as for the walking into things . . . that’s going to take a bit longer.

4. Obsessions/Addictions

Or whatever you wish to call them . . . that encyclopedia knowledge. For me as I mentioned above you will probably know what they are within five minutes; actually I’d probably go with two minutes to be more accurate. In case you didn’t know I love circus, musicals and sport among many others.

I will travel, often interstate and I will see shows more than once. I am not “wasting my money” or “annoying people” I am being me- there are worse things I could be addicted to then going to the theatre.

How to know I am really comfortable with these: you will probably know about these in about thirty seconds give or take about twenty-nine seconds, they say I’m good at maths but i’ll get back to you on this one.

but its not all bad . . . I come in handy at trivia nights

What you see is what you get though, I will honestly try to breath a little, feel free to tell me to be quiet or “Nichole, I think we’ve heard enough about that” just do it nicely! -please and I would love it if you taught me what you are passionate about.

5. Emotions

Some specialists and highly paid people believe that those on the Autism Spectrum have an inability to show emotion. They obviously haven’t met me. I will laugh (often at some rather inappropriate times), I have a very dry and sometimes twisted sense of humour, when I am upset, angry or on the verge of melting down you will know about it. Most often I get more frustrated and angry at myself then anyone else, I am harsh on myself and my own worst enemy.

Those I feel as though I bond with I will probably tell you more information about every going on in my life then you ever need to possibly know and come across as a handful or intense but I don’t know any other way and can only learn through experience.

One thing I ask though is for that chance . . .

and with that I leave you with this video which I think sums me up pretty well.

(video made by Sarah- Jill www.facebook.com/sarahsshout)

 

Above and Beyond

For a lot of people a visit to the theatre includes buying a ticket to their show of choice and forgetting about it till a few days before they have to work out all the details of how they are getting there and where they are sitting etc

For me personally once I buy a ticket the journey never stops until after the performance itself has taken place.

February 11th, 2014 was my first visit to Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in person but in a way I felt as though I had that familiarity.

The familiarization for the week of February 11th to 14th had actually begun back in October of 2013.

Tickets Bought: Oct 10th
Initial Email to Theatre: Oct 11th
Accommodation Booked: Oct 11th
Travel Booked: Oct 29th

On top of this I saved maps of Melbourne CBD mapping routes, transport maps and colour coordinated my seats on the theatre seating plan among other things.

You are probably wondering what I mean by initial email to the theatre, aren’t you?

On Oct 11th I emailed the theatre where the show I was going to see was being performed, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. In this initial email I asked the questions I felt I needed answers to to make my visit easier.

Fast forward to February 11th, I walked over the road (literally) to the theatre and into the stage door area to meet with Derek, the theatre manager who I had shared much email correspondence with.

He showed me firstly where to collect my tickets but also which doors I was to go into each time, where things like the bathrooms were and I was able to ask questions. From that moment I knew this was as corny as it sounds going to be one of my best experiences ever.

During my week the theatre staff continually made sure I was ok pre show and at interval.

After the shows I was able to meet and catch up with many of the fabulous cast of Grease at the stage door. Many people know these beautiful guys and girls hold a special place in my heart not only because they are all ridiculously talented performers but because of their hearts and attitudes.

The interactions and funny moments I have shared with these guys will stick with me for a long time but what sticks with me more is the fact that many if not the majority of these guys knew I have Aspergers, some only fairly recently some have known since the first time we met.

Among chatting about circus and the show I was able to have that conversation about Autism and it’s impact on my life an how theatre helps with a few of the cast.

This has been a common thread I have found as Autism slowly becomes a non taboo subject, many people actually wish to learn and also help me learn.

Theatre in Australia is in great hands with the cast or Grease among many others helping in awareness.

With the Lion King and its autism awareness performance later this year it is hoped that many other shows follow suite to give those that do have trouble with mainstream productions the chance to attend this magical world of theatre.

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ELI COOPER (EUGENE)

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SCOTT MORRIS (BOBBY)

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HEATH KEATING (ZANE)

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ANTONIETTE IESUE (PATTY)

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KARLA TONKICH (MARTY)

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ROB MILLS (DANNY)

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LUCY MAUNDER (RIZZO)

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LAURA MURPHY (JAN)

Shuffle, Repeat and Restart

Laying here listening to my music on my phone this morning, I place it onto shuffle (which means it picks songs at random from my music albums to play), one song starts and if I don’t like it or simply feel that’s not what I’m in the mood for this morning I hit the next song button, sometimes forwarding a few times. Then I get to one song I really like and I’ll restart it and replay it multiple times before moving on, until suddenly I feel my head starting to explode and I need to press the pause button and pull out the headphones, needing to breath and recollect myself.

This I feel is how my brain works. Throughout a typical day in my life, especially one that I am constantly around people my brain fills with so much information that just sits there, gathered in a list all together, uncategorized, unlabeled. I allow things into my mind that isn’t exactly healthy for it, people’s judgments, negative thoughts about myself, frustrations from not being able to do something and such, then I also try load into it the happy things, my joy at finally nailing that trapeze trick I’ve been working on for month, the happiness I feel when one of my kids nails something, that sheer joy I get when they get my attention to show me something.

This all molds together on one playlist, one that is growing and growing and suddenly my brain stops collecting that information, it will shut down or explode and that is when I need to just take a break, walk out of the room or go for a walk around the showground. I am lucky that I am starting to be able to pick up on my own cues for when I am hitting overload, it use to just erupt like a highly volatile volcanic eruption. I am also lucky I have people who understand this.

When I get to that space I pause my life, letting it all go into shutdown mode, relax and let it all restart for the moment while I try to make sense of it all, I struggle quite often to sleep at night as my brain is processing everything and it’s difficult, my body is wrecked but my brain is like “Hey lets party!”

Then it starts all over again, but I enjoy it, I enjoy the busyness of my mind and of my life, I enjoy being wrecked at the end of the day, now if my brain and body could sync it would all be perfect….

Why do we have to suffer?

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a little task for you:

Firstly open up the search page on your computer

Secondly type in the words aspergers suffering and hit enter

Numerous pages are brought up by this search, depicting that having aspergers is something that the people diagnosed “suffer” with.

Why do we have to suffer?

Aspergers is a life long diagnosis and effects different people in different ways.

Some of the things that aspies may find challenging:

  • communication
  • social skills
  • gross motor skills
  • making friends
  • emotion 

But why is it that so much light is placed on the so called negative side of things?

Why is the aspie often placed in a box, whether it be by themselves or by someone else?

Why do we have to suffer?

We don’t !

Focus on the positivity and the unique gifts that aspergers has given you, your loved one, your work colleague or the random person you meet on the train.

Some of the positives:

  • attention to detail, picking up on the small things that others may miss
  • a quirky sense of humour
  • loyalty
  • high level of knowledge in special interest areas
  • a thirst to gain new knowledge
  • focus
  • strong researcher
  • doe not like to leave projects incomplete
  • a good ear to lean on when you just want to talk
  • great memory and recall of information
  • persistence
  • internal motivation
  • desire to prove self

Just like everyone else, no two aspies are the same. When someone tells you they have aspergers don’t look at them like they have an incurable disease that can be caught. We don’t suffer from aspergers any more then you suffer for having blue eyes.

The power of perception

Perception: 

  • to become aware of or identify by the means of senses
  • to recognize, envision or understand 

Perception plays a huge part in our lives. We make decisions each and every day based on how we perceive things through our senses.

Lets take a pea for instance, a solitary  pea sitting in front of you on a plain plate with nothing else around.

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Hearing– Is it making a noise as it rolls around the plate?

Seeing- We see a small object; usually green in colour as it sits there alone

Smelling- How does it smell, for you is it a sweet smell; or does it make you gag?

Tasting- Does it taste sweet or bitter?, do you like the taste?

Touching- How does it feel as you roll it in your hand? Is it hard or soft; smooth or rough?

Each of us would answer these questions differently, each of us would look at that pea differently wouldn’t we?

So what would happen if one day you woke up and one of your senses was not what you perceived as normal to you?

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What if all you could hear was constant ringing, loud noises and inaudible voices?

What if what you saw was you in a large room with heaps of people in groups and you froze in fear?

What if you walked down to the beach and the smell of the animals and water set you off?

What if you couldn’t bear the taste of certain foods?

What if you couldn’t stand the touch of certain material on your skin or couldn’t bear the thought of even your closest loved ones hugging you?

Have you ever thought that for some people this is a very real reality, something they deal with every day?

In the world of aspergers, many aspies are either sensory avoiders or sensory seekers. Sensory avoiders and sensory seekers are very different as the terms suggest. 

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(please note in no way is this list exhaustive and some aspies can be both seekers and avoiders, though primarily falling in one area.)

Next time you see someone, try to step out of your perception of them-

Did you see the kid who wears her sunglasses everywhere ?

There must be something terribly wrong he’s forever pulling all his clothes off!

For goodness sake do you have to move all the time and touch everything in sight?

Maybe if you don’t spend your whole time perceiving this as weird or wrong and get to know the person for who they are you may even find you have something in common.

(For your record peas are one of my favourite foods)

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if you’ve already found what your searching for?

For me sport activities at school and club level were rather painful. I don’t know why I put myself in the same place every day but I did. I was always last picked for the team during sport classes whether it be softball or football or anything else. In club sport I sat on the bench and watched others play with that small glimmer of hope I would be put on the field some time soon.

I’m not the most coordinated; but I paid my money so why can’t I play? I will never forget the year that my name was left out of the year book and when I raised the issue I was told that it wasn’t a big deal. Why then did I put myself in the same place day after day, year after year?

Because I like many others feed off of the desire to be with others, to interact, to have that friend you can hang out with. I dreamt that this would happen one day. Most people in my life came and went, I knew sometimes it was my fault but didn’t know why. I was that weird kid who sat in the library reading encyclopedias or took naps in the music room at lunch.

Many years on I look back at these thoughts and while some stay in my head, I’ve reached the point that I’ve realized I can’t change them and if I could, why would I?

My experiences are what have made me and I still seek out where I belong, I have started to ask why I am still out seeking, what if I have already found the place?

I have found one place where I have truly come into my own. My quirks are celebrated and I am free.

I quite often still sit and watch others desperately wanting to do what they do, I get sad for a while but I try not to envelope my self in this sadness but to grasp that thought with both hands and use it to give my feet that boost, that passion and that rekindling of wanting to be MY best.

While I love learning skills and challenging myself; I am finding my true passion lies in a different area.

That moment where I can kneel down and reach my hand out to that child, that child that is shy, scared and down on themselves. That child that has been trodden on, told they can’t do something because they don’t fit because of their disability or simply because they are larger, slower or shyer then others. That is why I get so upset when I hear children bullying others, saying things that makes that child doubt the possibilities.

When I can stand next to a child as they struggle to place their feet on the trapeze or hook their knees, that scariness when they let go for the first time. It turns to joy when their hands slide up the ropes and they sit up with a big satisfied grin on their face and delightfully exclaim “I did it”

That is when I close my eyes and say to to myself “this is where I’m meant to be”

life is full of contradictionsnichole roll 1st time

Exercise can be fun

For some people going upside down brings thoughts of red faces, dizziness, headaches etc. For myself and many others on the spectrum it can be a great source of relaxation and comfort.

This can also be used in many ways to benefit the aspie (and not only fulfilling their sensory needs). Benefits such as exercise and fitness.

I feel very blessed that in my area of work, I am not only able to fulfill my sensory needs but I am also able to exercise and gain fitness and strength at the same time.

Some of the activities I do: 

  • hanging from the trapeze bar or hammock and do repetitious sit ups and crunches. This not only helps with strength but can be a great way to stretch ones back.
  • Pull ups- hanging under the trapeze bar and using my arms to pull my body up, this helps with strength.
  • Leg lifts- laying on ones back (can be done while in bed or even while watching the TV) start with a small number and gradually increase as time goes on.

Activities like these aren’t the only things that you can do. Many people on the spectrum have trouble with motor skills so activities like the below can be used to help not only motor skills but also social skills.

  • Juggling
  • Passing rings from one person to another
  • Hula hooping
  • Poi
  • Plate spinning
  • Skipping
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Explaining aspergers to children

At one of my performances recently, I was approached by a child who asked me

“what is aspergers?”

In all honesty, I had trouble describing it. I felt completely tongue tied and didn’t know what to say, so I decided to write.

I found this great video which can be shown to kids to kick off the explanation:

Aspergers affects different people in different ways and instead of using the generalized Google searched picture of aspergers; I’ve gone for the more a “how aspergers affects Nichole” approach.

Aspergers for one is not a disease, it can’t be caught; it is completely safe to hang out with me. Aspergers is part of the Autism Spectrum.

Some things I have trouble with:

Social Interaction- 

  • having a desire to make friends, but sometimes not knowing how to go about it
  • trouble understanding others feelings and body language
  • trouble with creating small talk
  • sometimes I can be pre-occupied with my own thoughts and that is all I want to talk about, much to others dismay
  •  I may rock or fidget alot, this is called stimming. It doesn’t mean I am ignoring you or not listening, quite often if I draw while in meetings or conversations it actually helps me focus alot better, rocking however usually means I’m a little stressed and I need a break.
  • I may withdraw from a situation, going for a walk and getting a drink is one of my favourite things to do especially when I am in a situation that I need ultimate focus- like teaching children on the trapeze. As a child I used to flip the trampoline up and kick a ball into it as hard as I could. I may also sit alone and place my headphones in (usually only the right as I can’t stand the feeling of having anything in my left ear).

I am definately alot better now at socializing then I was even one or two years ago thanks to some very patient parents, workmates and friends. I find it easier to interact if I know I already have something in common with someone such as circus, sport or musicals.

Relationships-

  • Some days I can be very huggy and I will hug just about every person I come in contact with, bouncing around cheerfully, other days though I may struggle to even make eye contact with that same person I was hugging just yesterday.
  • I find it hard to read people, knowing what they are thinking or if they’re being sarcastic, at times I may even ask you if you’re joking.
  • I may get upset very easily at criticism, quite often I find it hard to be told off for something especially when I have genuinely tried my hardest. It helps for someone to explain what I can do to improve the situation that way I can take it away, reflect and work on it for next time. If I don’t know how to change it I will often cry and over think everything.

Physical-

  • Sometimes I may appear to be in my own world or even slip into my own world while someone is talking to me, is this because I find you boring? definately not, I don’t know why I do so during conversation but I can explain out of conversation; quite often it is to recharge. I find it happens more when I’ve spent a whole day with a group of people and I go into overload, kind of like a volcano, there is only so much one can take,
  • Engaging in tasks; I can spend hours and hours doing some tasks, I understand if it needs to be sped up, you can tell me, but maybe I could teach you something about how I’m processing and going about the task?
  • Spending hours “researching” and learning, I love reading and finding information especially on my special interest areas. I can sit and read the library out of encyclopedias or I may just simply read the same book over and over again.
  • Clumsiness- I have a slight habit of running into things…..
  • I love collecting things, when I was a child it was tazos, pokemon cards, football cards etc I even have folders of old gymnastics pictures and articles in storage. These days I love things such as playing cards, hair scrunchies.
  • I may come across as a little “weird”, please don’t judge me until you’ve talked to me, you may even like me.
  • Memorising facts and figures comes easy to me, especially if it is in a topic I really enjoy, such as history and mathematics. I can still roll off my timetables that I rote learned in grade 5.
  • Expression- I am working hard at showing expression, particularly when I perform. Facial expressions are not a strong area for me so please bear with me.
  • Special interest areas, my special interest areas are gymnastics, circus and musicals if you haven’t worked this out yet (or if you don’t know me in person) I can talk for hours and hours. If you get bored; why don’t you introduce me to your special interest area?
  • Reading body language, tone and facial expression – this is one area I have immense trouble with. I am getting much better but if I am staring at you a little too long it is often because I am trying to work these things out. I like to improve these areas when I travel by “people watching” at bus terminals and airports. Jokes often will either be missed on me or will laugh alot, quite often there is no middle ground. If you think I have missed something or not understood it properly, please let me know.
  • Single minded- some days I will be so completely and utterly in my other world, focusing will be hard but if I have a task to do such as teaching I will become engulfed in teaching.
  • Sensitivities-  I am very sensitive (that is a joke), jokes aside many aspies are sensitive to lights, touch, smell etc. I mainly have trouble when there is a lot of noise in a small enclosed space or flickering lights but things such as bright colours may set me off if I am near overload.
  • Uncoordinated-  I am very uncoordinated in some areas, such as anything that requires balance, this is also partially due to my ear problems.

I am what is known in the aspie world as a sensory seeker. I think this term is pretty self explanatory but let me explain anyway. For me it is like a bug going to the light, there is certain things I will gravitate towards. Some of these include:

  • Spinning- I love the rides on the showgrounds that spin really fast and can go on them without getting sick
  • Climbing- My favourite thing to climb is those spider web contraptions in the parks but if there is not one of those I will climb anything that I can such as the monkey bars, trees etc
  • Hanging upside down – I enjoy this and will often hang upside down for long periods of time off of things. I love hanging upside down from the trapeze or hammock at work it helps me think clearer, kind of like making decisions in the shower.
  • Sensory play- probably why it takes me much longer to do the dishes, I sit there and play with the suds, I also love water over the top of me, the feel of gak, mud, clay pretty much anything I can get dirty with.
  • Chewing on things- this use to frustrate my mum and probably still frustrates others because usually it is my shirt or jumper, I will suck or chew on it while I think, often without realising and I find myself doing it when I am upside down too.
  • Having trouble speaking soft or loud, I have trouble monitoring my voice so if I am too loud or too soft please tell me as I may not realise.

This is just a start, if you have a question please don’t hesitate to ask me !

Nichole

Define Normal

 

 

Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly- Morticia Addams (The Addams Family)

 

The oxford dictionary defines normal as conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected.

For you this may be waking up in the morning, taking the children to school then going to work. The children may play sport on the weekends and you may enjoy outings to the theatre or sporting events. This will vary from what your next door neighbour does with their time and so forth. You see “normal” changes depending on who you talk to.

Why am I rambling on about this you ask?

because I want to introduce you to “my normal” …..

I’m a 27 year old young woman living in the Lockyer Valley in QLD, Australia. A circus performer and trainer who lives to help children and adults realise their potential and hidden talents through the magical world of circus.

Why circus?

because not so long ago I was a 14 year old with a dream. The seed was planted when I met the Ashton family, Australia’s oldest circus family. I would visit them when they were in a town nearby and soon began doing jobs such as taking tickets, learning to put up and pull down the big top and learning the fine art of performing.

I have the possibility of realising my potential because someone dared to give me a chance. Having gone from the outcast child to the teen with Aspergers who was too scared to explore the possibilities to what I am now, a young woman on a mission to help others like me.

I hope to inspire, you- the reader through this blog.

DARE TO DREAM 

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