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8 Mr Waffle Man

Updated: May 19

My diagnosis has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. I see being autistic, as silly as it sounds, as a strength. Although there are moments where I wish I could be “normal” (whatever that means), I really wouldn’t want to be any different. In fact, when I think about being neurodivergent, I see it as a strength; I observe the world around me through an idiosyncratic lens. Some of the most visionary individuals, demonstrably ahead of their times, are neurodivergent too, like Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Temple Grandin, Elon Musk the list goes on. Yet, I feel society focuses heavily on the challenges autistic people face, so much so that our strengths are commonly overshadowed. Hence, I wanted to use this blog to draw attention to some unrecognised positive attributes autistic individuals may have using my own experience as examples.

Resolute

As I was born premature, I had very poor muscle tone and coordination. This affected me in many ways: I never crawled, I would get cramp in my hand when writing a paragraph, I was clumsy as a child. Thus, my parents encouraged me to attend a variety of physical activities in the hope it would help develop some of these skills. I was the very uncoordinated ballerina lacking grace and elegance, the clown of the gym class who constantly fell when attempting to balance on one foot, the person all the other children laughed at due to the funny style of running at sports day and that child in tennis who no matter how hard I tried, could never actually hit the ball with my racket. And it didn’t stop at sports. Musical instruments require co-ordination and strong fingers too. I tried my hand at guitar, saxophone and piano. After two years of lessons, the teacher told my parents I ‘just didn’t have the fingers to be a pianist’! However, despite all the failures, I fell in love with netball. It had the right balance of physicality and competitiveness. I was definitely not amazing but there was something about the sport that made me feel good. It was an outlet for my frustrations. I was also tall for my age at primary school which aided me on making the team. And thus, I persevered and decided to commit to netball.

Over the years I have battled, and continue to battle, with all sorts of injuries. I have torn pretty much every ligament in my ankles. Nevertheless, with each hurdle, I have become more resilient and determined to be better. Every time someone told me I ‘couldn’t’, I knew I would just have to show them I ‘could’. Training and playing netball made me feel alive, maybe because I knew I was already doing more than anyone ever thought I could. My family and friends could recognise that my level of commitment and willpower were solid traits. I became single-minded to do more, go further, be better and defy the obstacles. I think it is fair to say, I reaped the benefits of that attitude as not only did I find my love for the gym through netball strength and conditioning sessions, but I was lucky enough and honoured to represent the country of my then residence on an international platform.

I truly believe being autistic drove me forward. Having the ability to hyper-focus (a recognised trait of being autistic), I latched onto netball and undertook all related tasks with unwavering conviction. I feel it may be a consequence of the added barriers neurodivergent individuals generally face, that we learn to be even more strong-willed and persistent.

Compartmentalisation

I am unsure whether this is a common autistic strength, but my brain is ruled by straight lines and right angles; it works almost like a map. It may sound silly, but I find linear shapes and sequences comforting. Everything has a space and a position, a place of belonging. For instance, I put my thoughts and feelings into boxes or similar to a filing cabinet system, and access each as and when required. I have been said to compartmentalise my thoughts, which I have also recognised as not always being a compliment! However, this helps me to concentrate on and achieve the task at hand rather than be distracted by emotions elicited by other events occurring simultaneously in my life. It's probably fair to say that at times people judge me as blunt and cold, but my take is that if I mix emotions then nothing will get done. I like to finish one ‘job’ and then deal with the next. I guess this is how I got through my A-levels whilst managing the grief of losing my beloved grandfather suddenly. Don’t misunderstand, compartmentalisation was far from the immediate reaction in the initial month but rapidly became my coping strategy for the following six months. Time for study and time for sadness but very much separated.

Powers of Observation

Several years ago, my family went on a trip to Japan, for the first time. On our exploration one day, we came across this tiny little stand called, Mr Waffle Man. They made incredible waffles, with all sorts of unique flavours. A few days later, we wanted to return to the shop. As it had never been a planned point of interest on a tourist map, we had little luck when asking locals for directions. Just as my parents resigned with defeat, I claimed to remember the route to get there. What ensued was a 30-minute walk-train-walk trip to Mr Waffle Man! My family were in awe of how I managed to navigate the streets of Japan with only having been there a few days.

Walking to the waffle stall, following straight lines and turning right and left at various crossroads whilst silently taking in the landmarks, was second nature to me. An obvious thing to do in my mind. I assumed everyone looked where they were going! Having strong observational skills and attention to detail made it easy to navigate the streets of Japan.

Although I have only summarised three example traits here, I hope you can see my intentions. In fact, what many of you may have previously viewed as concerning behaviours you may now see through our lens: being stubborn and single minded when the world is pitting against you could lead to resilience, being overly detailed or tunnel visioned could be beneficial for staying focused and completing a task, assuming we are lost in our own world and distant may actually be us observing and just being present in the moment such that we take in even more. Our brains are just different. We are just different. I know there are things I and other neurodivergent individuals find more challenging than neurotypicals but it doesn’t mean we are any less.

Thanks for reading,

Nidhi :)


 

References


Anon, 2019. Autism and... NHS choices. Available at: https://www.oxfordhealth.nhs.uk/news/autism-and/ [Accessed January 20, 2022].


Cover image: unknown artist


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