The new me is one month old… a month since I came out as autistic ...
Things are good.
It’s certainly an interesting time, being re-born. So, I thought I would reflect on these first few weeks of my new life; three things stick out.
I had a melt-down in a restaurant on my wife’s 50th birthday. ‘Happy Birthday, dear’.
I also came out in a public meeting and dared – noting my new-found position as an autistic writer – to ask for advice.
And I have a new business idea. Well, I am an entrepreneur after all.
My wife's birthday
It started well enough. My wife’s 50th birthday. It wasn’t to be a big affair. A small dinner for six in a village inn’s restaurant. We’d done an earlier visit, to scan the menu and try the beer. All looked good for the evening.
The day came, and we arrived. Pre-dinner drinks in the snug with a roaring fire set in a blackened grate. Menus in hand we made our choices. Mine included a starter of king scallops, pea puree, and a parmesan crisp.
Come on… Many of us may have seen similar dishes on TV chef programs, I feel no need to elaborate. I was looking forward to it.
My main was to be a rib-eye steak with sauce Diane. I was looking forward to that… Not so much the rib-eye. It has been a favourite for many years, and I am a creature of some habit (at times). No, it was the sauce. I know what sauce Diane tastes like. I don’t have it often. But when I do, I love it.
‘Your table is ready, sir,’ said the young, personable waitress.
We went through.
I was aware there was to be a large party of 20 plus adults in, that night. I know what that can be like. I’ve owned and run a busy restaurant in the past.
But is was noisy. And it was a little uncomfortable. We’d all found it so. And we had, without fuss, asked if we could return to eat in the snug. But alas, our previous table was now occupied. Not to worry. It was just volume, and they were on their dessert. We were happy to stay in place.
Our starters were brought out.
It was as if I was an already near-to-the-boil kettle, slammed back onto the boiling-plate of my Aga cooker.
I was looking at three discs of scallop. Seemingly, chef had taken one thick scallop and sliced it into layers. If I was lucky, it was a single scallop. And there was nothing king about it; its deconstructed form appeared to sit on a sauce of some sort. (By this time, I had forgotten the pea puree and parmesan crisp, of which there was no visible sign of either.) There was more green salad leaf on the side than a garnish would typically call for.
I was distinctly unhappy.
But it was my wife’s birthday. I was not going to create a scene.
‘Do you like your starter,’ said someone.
I’d started to eat it. There was nothing, strictly bad about it. It just did not appear to match the description I had been given. Then I found what appeared to be very small pieces of shell in the thin sauce I now know to be the pea puree.
My kettle was boiling now, and no one was helping me.
But I was still not making a scene. It was my wife’s birthday. But now everyone at the table knew something was wrong.
More bits of shell-like substance – small, hard, unpleasant. I removed them from my mouth and put them on the side of the plate.
The lid on my kettle was rattling now. The noise from the table had, somehow, worked to increase the temperature of an already-hot, boiling plate. If Aga could recreate that level of heat increase, that quickly, they be on a winner.
I called over the waitress to complain about the bits of shell. She looked. She went to the kitchen. She returned with a single parmesan crisp, displayed on a small plate.
‘This is what it is,’ she said. ‘It’s a parmesan crisp.’
The small perfectly round, brownish-coloured disc was about and two inches in diameter; it would have made sense, if it had been placed on the dish before me. It looked, well, like a parmesan crisp should look like – if a little oddly perfectly shaped.
The waitress turned and took the wafer back to the kitchen. Like Cinderella’s Slipper, born on a satin cushion, it was removed from my sight. Out of my reach. I wouldn’t be going to the ball.
I was left looking at several crumbs from one such wafer which, covered in the thin pea puree, had turned whiteish. They had all the appearance and texture of crushed scallop shell.
I looked around the table. I couldn’t take it. I got up and left. I took myself off the stove. I removed myself to the one small room in the inn that would be relatively quiet. I was away for a few minutes. It worked. I came off the boil.
This has happened to me before. Something, seemingly small has led to a meltdown out of all proportion to the event that triggered it. In the past, I have been accused over over-reacting on many occasions, of being rude and arrogant…
Now, because I know I am autistic, I knew exactly what was going on. I was inside my head analysing the steps of the melt-down as they occurred, but powerless to stop them. But I knew it for what it was. I was powerless to stop it happening, but fortunate enough to know to remove myself from the situation. Not to let it break out in a public display of anger that would have spoiled the occasion.
And, because I’d been open about my autism, the family understood. I was no-longer the rude, arrogant, anti-social husband/dad/brother/son-in-law/brother-in-law. Consequently, we had a great family party for my wife.
And the sauce Diane?
‘How was the steak, sir?’ said the waitress.
‘Great,’ I said, thankful that she had not asked me about the sauce.
Opening up and asking for advice
Then, a week or so back, I sat in an editors and writers panel discussion during a Literary Festival. The audience were a collection of aspiring writers. I listened to some of the great and the good of the publishing community address many aspiring authors. They talked of the shortage of diverse voices… the lack of non-London-centric themes.
I had a question, clear in my mind. I had been practicing it in my head. I had written it down. I don’t usually ask questions in such circumstances. They never come out like I intend. Anxiety (now I know what to call this strange feeling) was rising throughout the introductions and the chair-person's warm-up questions.
Then it was the audience’s turn. I didn’t hesitate. I was at the front. My hand went up. The chair recognised me and I got my turn.
I came out to them…
‘I have just been assessed as autistic,’ I said.
The rest of the question was not as clear as I had planned. But, in my anxious-laden state, I had asked what advice they would offer me in getting my work out – not to my autistic community – but to the neurotypicals of this world. Now I know my authentic voice. After all, they had raised the issue first, hadn’t they? They had said there was a shortage of authentic diverse voices. I hadn’t mis-heard that, had I?
It was clear to me that not one of the panel members was comfortable with my question. Not one had any genuine words of encouragement. They stumbled over a few platitudes. They tried but failed to re-shape generic advice. They had not been prepared to meet a genuine authentic autistic voice. Despite their “nod” to wanting to see more diversity.
I cannot even recall their specific answers as there was no value in them for me. We still have a long journey ahead of us. But we are making progress.
And the third thing?
I now have a new business idea – the entrepreneur in me is alive and well.
But that is a story for another time.
P.S. I did not write a negative trip adviser review. Many people would have been happy with the scallop starter. My issue was that I had been told something. I trusted what I had been told. I expected to see what I had been told I would see.
What I was presented with was not what I had been told it was. I went to the manageress at the end of the meal. As I paid, I calmly explained. Sorry, I am autistic. You weren’t to know. But when I see something described a certain way on a menu, I find it difficult to accept that what I might be given does not meet the description. I take on trust what I am told. I find it difficult to read between lines sometimes. I was thanked for my feedback. A week later, I saw the menu description of the item had changed, the price lowered to better reflect the dish they had served me. There is hope. We must not be afraid to use our voice.
Do you have a personal experience, story or insights linked to Neurodiversity which you would like to share? If so, please get in touch.