The Forests of the World Project will be in aid of WWF, the world’s leading independent conservation organisation, documented by the bestselling author & photographer Arabella Carter-Johnson.
Following Iris has always been an adventure, her paintings have inspired people throughout the world allowing us to see beyond a diagnosis. We believe ‘Different is Brilliant’ raising positive awareness for Autism. It’s all about building on strengths instead of focussing on the weaknesses and following the lead of your child – that is the precious key.
Iris’s love of nature is the foundation of her development, the inspiration for her paintings and where I have found she learns best. We are now embarking on a new adventure together travelling to the Forests of the World. Each trip will be tailored to Iris’s interests and we will educate her throughout the journey. After all where better to learn about the jungle or volcanoes, eco systems and different cultures than be immersed in them. She will learn in a real way that means something to her and I will document the process inspiring others, showing them the beauty in our world that needs to be protected for future generations.
The Forests of the World Project will be in aid of WWF, the world’s leading independent conservation organisation. Their mission is to create a world where people and wildlife can thrive together. To achieve this mission, they are finding ways to help transform the future for the world’s wildlife, rivers, forests and seas.
We will discover and share the delights of the forests in California, Cambodia, Canada, Romania, Chile, New Zealand, Germany, India, Finland, China, Romania, Madagascar and hopefully others too over the coming years but our first trip this year will be to Costa Rica as it is a fine example of how it can be possible to live in harmony with nature. A 5 week adventure that will be inspiring, challenging, mind expanding & a joyful celebration of our beautiful planet that needs to be protected and of course how ‘Different is Brilliant’ with Iris Grace.
Costa Rica is considered to possess the highest density of biodiversity of any country worldwide. Its biodiversity can be attributed to the variety of ecosystems within the country. Tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, Atlantic and Pacific coastline, cloud forests, and mangrove forests.
This incredible country shows us how people and wildlife can thrive together, over twenty-seven percent of the country’s land has a protected status as national parks, wildlife refuges & forest preserves. The Costa Rican government is active in protecting its biodiversity, encouraging tree farming to provide some habitat for wildlife, enabling some measure of biodiversity to remain in these areas despite humans’ use of these natural resources. Jaguar ‘corridors’ have been created, protected trails which allow these big cats to pass safely from one area to another.
Ecotourism brings in 2.8 billion dollars in revenue for the country. Ecotourism is defined as “tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.” The profitable industry of ecotourism entices businesses to capitalize on natural resources by protecting and preserving them rather than consuming them.
If you would like to buy a giclee print of ‘Magic Place’ here is the link –
and here is a detailed section of the painting
Bidders are requested to please submit their bids by email, all bids are confidential.
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‘Tiddle Tum’ is dry mounted onto board. The Painting is acrylic on watercolour paper, 55cm x 75cm.
There is an option to get the painting mounted and framed by our framers and then sent using a specialist courier company.
Bidders are responsible for the transport cost, the framing option and Insurance of the painting whilst in transit.
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This week we have released Iris’s new painting called ‘Eyebrook’. It’s named after Eyebrook reservoir which is somewhere that has been a favourite of Iris’s lately.
You can buy a print through her online shop here – Eyebrook Giclee Print
The Printer uses the very latest in art printing technology with fully calibrated photo-scanning, processing and printing equipment, they pay fastidious attention to colour balancing to ensure extremely accurate reproduction. All of the profits raised from the sales of her prints go towards her ongoing therapies, education and some saved for her future.
Here are some detail images from the painting
Exciting News Everyone, a selection of Iris’s paintings will be on show at the Artistic Spectrum Exhibition in London from 16th (Private View) & 17th- 26th Feb (open to the public) to find out more info email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Story Behind the Painting
Iris is listening to her favourite African music while she paints, making me laugh as I watch her body sway to the music. Cloaked in blue cotton with little tassels on her cape dancing to the beat. Her arms shoot out this way and that as she works quickly from one side of the paper to the other. Then disaster strikes! Her cape drapes into the paint and spreads it’s mark across the paper. Iris is in shock, standing perfectly still for a while as I make a plan to help her. First by trying to get as much of it off her cape as possible, she points to the paper and I give her a hug telling her that it will be alright, we will sort it out. She is miserable and I have to take her away into another room to calm her down and we leave the painting to dry. Later when all is well again, the cape washed and dried, she returns to her painting and I fill with pride as I watch her try again. This time she uses the sponges to create different effects on the paper and a beautiful image grows and evolves before my eyes. A dramatic and incredibly expressive painting lies before her on the coffee table in the kitchen next to the breville bje200xl juicer and the coffee maker. So here it is, Iris’s Painting called ‘Kuendelea’ a Swahili name meaning growth and evolution.
The ‘Iris Grace’ paperback is out today
To buy your copy click here
‘Different is brilliant . . .’
Iris Grace is different. From the moment she was born she found the world a strange and terrifying place: she neither smiled nor spoke. The doctors couldn’t help, telling her parents she might never be able to communicate – she’d never call them mummy or daddy.
But then Iris met Thula.
This special kitten and Iris became instant best friends. They did everything together – painting, playing, bathing, snuggling, sleeping, exploring. And then a miracle happened: Iris said her first words.
The story of the amazing bond between Iris and Thula is a heartwarming tale of finding hope and happiness in the most unexpected places.
Because different really is brilliant.
‘An astonishing talent’ Daily Express
‘A miracle’ Best
‘Astonishing, remarkable’ ITV News
‘Iris’s astonishing tale of talent and relationship with Thula is lovingly told’ Daily Mail
I’m delighted to tell that you that the ‘Iris Grace’ paperback will be published by Penguin Books this Thursday 22nd September. The book tells our story, and is illustrated, Colour & Black and White photographs plus of course Iris’s paintings.
To buy the book click here
Question for the Spectrum: This week our question to the spectrum is from a mother who has been following Iris, her daughter is 7 years old and has sensory integration disorder and ASD.
‘One of our biggest challenges is loud noises. Dogs barking, kids yelling, fire alarms, cars honking, even people coughing or sneezing will set her off, she has been really annoyed by the fact of not being able to get the best car insurance for her car. I am wondering what if feels like to other people on the spectrum who also have sensory issues to hear these noises as my daughter has trouble explaining it to me. She says it feels like her brain is shaking and I can see it physically hurts her and it causes a lot of anxiety and stress if she feels a place we are going is going to be loud. Funny thing though as she can be extremely loud (screaming in excitement) and it doesn’t bother her at all. Why is that? I am so confused about that one. I would think her voice would also be a trigger but it is not at all. It is totally ok for her to be loud but not anyone else.
Also wondering what has helped people on the spectrum overcome the loud noises or is it even possible? Does it ever get a bit better? I just want to help my daughter by understanding it better and trying to find new ways to help her. Thank you!’
Answers from the Spectrum:
‘Your own noises come from yourself , it’s processing seemingly outside noises that’s hard. Also it’s because we can feel our own noises, understand what the feeling is that makes a scream or a sound where as we cant always understand why another would make a noise. Why are so many people talking and banging tea cups down. Etc.’
‘like there’s a million ants crawling under your skin. You zone in on that noise and hear it above all others.
Washing machines spinning and hoovers in the flats surrounding me… can’t handle it. often have to go out. it makes me feel like, all is doomed. like, i Should be frightened. Does get easier as you get older, but only for me as I have the understanding to put the noises in context and reason with myself that they are safe and ok.
a battle im bound to have this afternoon when my neighbour above does her washing. I dread it.’
‘I think the thing I’ve noticed with loud noises is that when I can anticipate them there not always so bad, it’s often when there straight out of the blue that irritate me the most like if I’m relaxed and reading and then someone stomps or drops something on the floor above my head, loud noises that I make will always be easier on me then loud noises made by others, because I can always anticipate them I always know exactly when there going happen. For anyone who hates loud noises like I do that’s a big advantage.
Getting use to working in a loud environment can help with tolerating louder noises to, or at least I’ve definitely noticed, I’ve worked at a cafe for almost 2 months now and I hardly even notice loud noises there anymore.’
‘Imagine you are next to a jet plane as it’s taking off. That sound would be physically painful, right? Now imagine your vacuum cleaner is that loud. What would you do?
Making my own noise (screaming as a child, humming under my breath) helps fill my head with a sound I control. If you get the right frequency it even helps cancel out the bad sound, like noise canceling headphones.
And as a child, why would my screaming bother the adults around me? They are obviously unaffected by much worse noises (the ones that bother me so much).
Noise is my biggest sensory problem. My hearing goes from ultra-sensitive to dull without warning, but most of the time it’s the first. As an adult I deal with it by knowing every sound around me. I _must_ locate and identify any new sound. (This annoys me sometimes as I didn’t really _want_ to stop what I was doing, but I just have to find the sound,)
I try to avoid loud or high-pitched sounds. I don’t use an electric blender; I wear noise-canceling headphones to vacuum; I don’t go to concerts, bars, loud restaurants, or places children frequent–since they are known for unexpectedly emitting high-pitched shrieks for no reason.
How does loud/unpleasant noise make me feel? It’s physically painful, makes my head throb, makes me want to curl into a defensive fetal position and cry, which as an adult you just can’t do in public unless you want a whole lot of unwelcome attention. It’s overwhelming and dominates my ability to focus and my ability to cope.
And knowing that about me, you would be amazed at how loud my workplace is. But I know every sound there. I know why it’s happening, how long each one lasts, and what each one means. So those sounds belong and are okay. Except the fire alarm. That one is so loud and painful it’s all I can do to leave the area instead of curling up and whimpering… not exactly what the designers of that sound had in mind!’
‘Screaming babies is the absolute worst sound in the world to me it’s like someone is scratching nails on a chalkboard in my head relentlessly, it’s an intensely painful high frequency sound wave thats slashing through my ear drums and going straight through my head, it feels like my brain is literally short circuiting. The best thing I can do when I feel like that is just keep my ears plugged go downstairs and read till my fried nerves chill out.
Some noises actually help me, especially with going to sleep. Every summer when we have to keep the dehumidifier running downstairs I keep it right outside my room at all times , not so I can have the air in my room cleaned first, the constant humming noise is just loud enough to block out nearly all the other noises in the house or at some luxury apartments Norman OK, it feels like a protective sound barrier. Whenever it turns off for a few minutes I feel almost anxious though, every noise feels so much louder, it’s very helpful for falling asleep cause it blocks out all the other noises that would usually keep me awake longer.’
‘I describe it as having a cheese grater being rubbed vigorously back and forth across my brain. I can actually feel the noise vibrate through my whole body and it gives me terrible anxiety. It’s horrific.
I’ve often been told that I raise my voice a lot if I’m excited about something, though I don’t even realise. I think us being loud ourselves probably doesn’t bother us because we are in control of it and it’s not unexpected like other noise is.
I put my headphones in and listen to music to try and block it out. If the noise isn’t too loud but still bothersome, I’ll have my earphones in but with no music, just to dull the outside noise. I’ve heard from other autistic people that Alpine earplugs are good but I’ve yet to try them.
I’ve found that my sensory problems are getting worse as I’m getting older. Hypersensitivity is one of my biggest problems, I have really low tolerance for most things.’
‘For me, it isn’t so much the volume as it is that I have absolutely no ability to tune out the things that, for other people, are considered background noise.
It can be an issue with all kinds of noise, but it’s particularly problematic with voices – if someone has the TV on in the next room, it’s difficult for me to concentrate on anything but the noise from the TV. The only way it’s not a problem is in a place like a restaurant, where the number of voices is sufficient to make all of them indistinct.
Think of it like a photograph. For most people, only the object in the foreground is in focus. For me, it’s like there’s no difference between the subject and the background – it’s all in focus, so instead of a well-composed, artistic shot, it looks like a mess. I know I’m supposed to be looking at the person in the foreground, but my attention gets focused on the stuff in the background instead.
As far as the distinction between other people making noise and me making noise, I agree with previous commenters – I control my voice, so it doesn’t surprise me or steal focus from everything else that’s going on.
As far as the volume of my voice goes – well, most people subconsciously adjust the volume of their voice to the amount of background noise so that they can be heard. I’m going to take a guess that I’m doing the same thing, but because I’m so much more sensitive to the background noise, I feel like I need to talk more loudly to drown it out for my listeners.’
‘Music works wonders when mine is distressed because of sensory overload. We have an MP3 player with all her favourite songs and when she goes into meltdown it makes a massive difference. Noise blocking headphones are really worthwhile. My older son (15) now copes better but he was the same when he was little too.’
‘To me, it depends on the meaning of the noise rather than how loud it is. fire alarms and children screaming are both a distorted noise that means something is wrong, it is the same noise as a mechanical device breaking down or someone being in pain. if I can’t see the thing that is wrong, I assume that the world in general isn’t working or that my ears aren’t working. there are also noises I associate with unfriendly people because of past experiences, e.g. certain types of music, certain types of laughter. It especially freaks me out when peoples’ noises don’t match the situation e.g. when I am feeling sad and people are playing happy music. I’m also scared of silence for the same reason. In the genre/era of video games I’m used to, silence usually means either something awful is about to happen or the sound isn’t working.
I always have an MP3 player to hand so I can control the background music. I use a Samsung Tic-Toc because I can operate it without looking at it, it has very simple controls. I can’t just leave it running, it has to the be the right music track, and I might have to change it at a moments’ notice. I try and avoid situations that I know often have the bad sounds, such as crowded public transport. I have my phone on silent because phones freak me out for a variety of reasons, mostly bad past experiences with them. I’ve never found anything that works to stop the bad associations. learning new mental associations doesn’t really work. It’s another of the things I can’t do because people try and force me to do it, and a lot of the time I can’t control my mood or whether I can think positively about things anyway.
I should also mention that it works the other way round, certain music and sounds are euphoric to me. Sometimes I just have the music from games playing and meditate to it. I really love the sound of cats purring, but they are vibrations, not sounds, which according to my senses are a completely different sense.’
‘Two parts of this: first: If I go to a shop with sounds from kids screaming and advertising and stuff, I like to wear headphones and play music loud enough to make me able to fucus on one thing only. This is great for trains and public transport too. Usually makes people avoid starting random conversations too as a bonus! I can hear the fridge humming, the wind blowing and if you add dogs barking and shoes hitting asphalt, cars, roller scooters and what not to the mix it overstimulate my brain, even worse add flashing lights or lots of colours and movements… so I dont expect to ever get something like a drivers license. I cant even use a bike and focus on the rules and everyone around me at the same time. The other half part of this issue is that I feel sound like a physically item in my life, so a sound from me is ok, but a sound from the man living below me feels like part of him is on my area, and that is violation of my home. Feeling others sounds is like having them touch you on the skin and making it vibrate in your ears. I do prefer to only feel myself on my skin. So her liking her own voice is natural 🙂 ‘
‘The sound of people eating (chewing/slurping/crunching) makes me very agitated to the point of tears. I have very good hearing and can hear things louder than people around me. I dislike the sound of heavy breathing unless it’s my dog. I used to have to have a fan on 365 days of the year for many years as it was the only way I could fall asleep but since having a panic attack when I woke up in the middle of the night and the fan was really loud I have had to stop that routine. I’m extremely jumpy and get panicky when I hear sudden loud noises.’
‘For me it’s the little noises that upset me. When I was a kid, I used to live in a town with an air force base. Cold war time, so there were days when the fighter jets were screaming all day long. You couldn’t hear yourself thinking. Didn’t bother me at all. Nor did fireworks, motorbikes, cars, … Little noises though: if my younger brother wanted to get me mad, he just had to chew or slurp with a little noise. Still can’t stand that. Certain keyboards have an annoying sound. All kinds of ring tones (text messages, whatsapp messages) all day long. People doing things with their hands or feet. A typical office environment is very distracting and annoying. And it doesn’t seem to improve.’
‘The problem with incoming sound is that we have no filters, so it all comes in all at once, and we can’t process it, and the overload causes a cascade of other responses, like pain and fight/flight.
The only thing I have found to be consistently effective is in-ear ear plugs and music. The in-ear plug blocks all or most external noises, and the music helps to mask what does get through.
I find this to be a big help.
As far as her shouting, bear in mind that our own speech is relayed to our ears through our jaw bone, and not through the air – which is why our voice sounds so different when we hear it played back to us…’
‘It’s like sudden overload for me. Too many noises at once or too loud and I lose the ability to respond appropriately to the stimulus. Confusion, disorientation, frustration, it’s the information traveling into me can’t be processed in the correct order and I can’t make sense of it to respond. Say I’m at a restaurant and you’re the waiter and its a busy Friday night and we’re somewhere there are TVs and a crowd. I might hear two words from one person three beats from someone else’s headset, the whir of a motor and a tapping noise, the sound of silverware, sizzling, liquid sloshing, two or three different tv shows, and people breathing, and three words of a different conversation, cell phones going off, buzzers vibrating, all while you’re trying to tell me the special and take my order and I have no idea what you’ve asked me because I can’t sort you out of the rest of it. It can be physically painful. I also experience epidermal overload where my cloths feel like they are slicing through my body and to have both of these things happening at once makes me shut down. I actually will scratch myself till I bleed because I can’t stand how the clothing feels and when I get too upset I get the heaves and just start crying hysterically, the endorphin rush temporarily alleviates the pain of overload.
This is why I avoid concerts, bars, city’s and movies on opening weekends. Head phones help. I can be loud, and there are times I enjoy loud things but I have to be ready to removes my self or have an “out.” In a crowd headphones can be an out as can ear plugs.’
‘I think if the noise is unexpected or sudden I react or if I am having a “bad day” where there has been a lot of things to cope with. My family says I can be loud sometimes and not realise it. But it’s because I often can’t tell before the sound comes out. I occasionally speak too quietly too. Clubbing is hard for me because of the people, however I tend to get lost in the music if it’s continual. However, my friend popped a balloon in a club once and I had to leave because of that. It was just too much. When I go for a walk or to the supermarket I put on headphones so I have a continual noise that I can concentrate on to drown out the rest. Music has really helped me cope with a lot of noises and places I don’t like. I recently got the best watering system for my house, in this website you can find more information about it. ‘
‘yesterday a good metaphor came to me about noise.
This is only applicable to non-controlled noise (the noises that you did not choose to do or that are not consequences of actions you deliberately made).
It feels as if I were a fish and somebody was banging against the tank.
It makes you want to put your head back into your shoulder while closing your eyes.
This is a really tricky one because for example if at work somebody let the microwave ring for ages (one minute) after food is ready I start to get crazy and try to not be an ass about it but its hard. People always say “run for your food, Josephine is going to blow a fuse if you dont” even tho I try really hard to be super tolerant, they feel my frustration.’
Question for the Spectrum: Everyday life for those on the Spectrum can be tricky where clothes and shoes are concerned, the materials, how they feel against your skin, getting the right fit, the different sensations…
How are you dealing with this?
What experiences do you remember from your childhood and do the clothes still cause daily problems?
Or has is got better as you have grown up?
What ways/techniques have you developed to get around this issue?
Answers From the Spectrum:
‘My work uniform feels horrible against my skin. So I put a long sleeved cotton top underneath and wear different trousers. I also hate suede and velvet as well as not being able to play with felt as a child. Slightly related, but I also can’t walk in heels. My lack of co-ordination has never allowed for it without falling over. This makes it even harder to fit in with other girls my age as they go out in heels and I can’t. As a child I could never get shoes to fit properly. I only wanted clarks bootleg shoes of a certain type. Then they stopped making them and I refused to wear any others. Luckily I get to wear black trainers to work. I feel physically sick when I touch anything I don’t like. I get shivers up my back too. My work place are very good with it. They even let me have my hair down sometimes because it hurts if it is up for too long or I’m feeling particularly sensitive on that day.’
‘I had more sensitivity as a child but still have issues finding underwear that doesn’t irritate and I can’t wear things near my neck, high necked clothing, scarves and necklaces are all out. I can’t wear or sit on woolen things, the fibers poke me like tiny needles. Socks can still be irritating. My daughter wasn’t diagnosed until she was 13 because I didn’t know about the spectrum at the time but oh the issues that we had every single morning about her socks! Our family now all wear the same type of socks and the problem is not an issue (she still has bad sock days though).’
‘As far as I am aware I never had issues with any clothing as a child. It never affected me, there were certain materials I didn’t particularly like the feel of but it never used to cause me to have a meltdown.’
‘My grandmother still tells stories about when I was small – I would take off all my clothes and run around saying “naked baby!” She thinks this is hysterical. What I really remember is that I’ve always been picky about my clothes – my family tried to give me clothes as gifts when I was a kid, but I usually wouldn’t wear them, I remember telling them to take me to an amusement park instead of giving me socks, and one time they actually took me to this place that had a really good theme park software, I definitely want to take my kids there in the future. Even with clothes that I pick out for myself, sometimes they’ll seem fine in the store but end up rarely leaving my closet.. On the other hand, if something is comfortable, I’ll wear it all the time – to the point of wearing my favorite sweaters day after day. One thing that’s really changed over the past couple of years is that I almost never wear man-made fibres anymore. There are a couple of exceptions, but most of my clothes are cotton, and I have several cashmere sweaters that I inherited, as well as sweaters I’ve knitted for myself out of various animal fibres. Another thing that I’m weird about is sleeves – I’m always cold, but most of my go-to shirts are tight, short-sleeved T-shirts. I’m okay with long-sleeved shirts and sweaters sometimes, as long as the sleeves are loose enough to push up.’
‘I believe I had more issues with this when I was a child than I have now at age 24. The thing is that I never got a diagnosis as a child (My parents did not believe that autism/mental illness was real ) so when I was a child I did not get any help and my parents thought I was a hysterical child. I remember with clothes I could not wear anything too tight. Or with bottons (I did not like the feeling of bottons). Or anything too close to my neck. Wearing a scarf I was like no go and I remember we had battles about this when it came to clothes. I wanted to wear something soft always. Socks I *hated* them. I still do today.
When I think of this with clothes I believe it has something to do with ‘how it feels’ otherwise it makes me feel uncomfortable. My grandmother was somewhat understand about my need to wear soft clothes but we had battles about the socks. I always remember the happy feeling of walking barefeet. I also remember something else that is slighty offf-topic, but I also believe has something to do with ‘the feeling of it’ and fabric. When I was a child and today I still need to have the ‘right kind of pillow’. The fabric has to be right, and it has to be flat otherwise it is so uncomfortable for me and I cannot fall asleep. I remmber once my grandmother bought you know the thing you put around the pillow for me and it was stracty and itcthy for me, but soft for her. So I will admit – sometimes if I travel somewhere I take my own pillow with me, I know it might be weird but last time when we rented a beach house on twiddy rentals, I left home without my pillow and we literally had to come back and get it because we knew I was not going to make it trough my vacation without it.
So how do I deal with it today? Well I am a woman who so I do care about what I look like and I have a thing for feeling like a princess. When I buy clothes I touch it and see if I like the fabric if I do I try it on. I avoid the things like botton I can’t stand. I admit I only wear socks if I feel too cold. However i can still not wear anything like hats or scarfs . it is just a no go. And bras too. My rule is i don’t wear to force myself to wear anything that makes me uncomfortable .’
‘Clothes are a huge problem. I don’t like ‘girly’ styles. I hate soft, drapey fabrics. I hate things that crinkle and swish. I hate dresses, skirts, heeled shoes. I hate fitted, clothes, ‘bodicon,’ or body conscious (close fitting, as the Japanese say) clothes. I like loose, non constricting clothes and mostly rough cotton (woven or knit) and some wool. This was a huge battle with mom, especially, as a child, more I believe because she didn’t want me reflecting bad on her and her parenting than she really cared that I dressed ‘gender appropriate.’ She also always told me that my choice in clothes would hinder my adult life, which to some extent it has. I don’t do ‘business attire,’ certainly not gender appropriate business attire. I also prefer modest clothing and wouldn’t dream of flashing cleavage. In a business environment where we’re all urged to dress for success and where leadership and gravitas have a certain uniform, I’m probably not taken as seriously as my work product merits because I simply don’t look the part. This is disappointing, but it is what it is and I’m not especially motivated to change. I wear clean clothes in good repair, not always ironed, I admit. I never wear a dress or a skirt. At work mostly I wear men’s khaki pants and a mix of men’s button down shirts, women’s blouses, and unisex turtlenecks. I hate showing too much skin and often wear layers to correct, for example, open, wide necklines that show too much shoulder or cleavage. At home I wear baggy cotton sweats or cargo shorts with t-shirts, maybe a sweat shirt if it’s cold. I hate logo-wear, so much of my wardrobe is plain, dark solid colours. I also like ‘Bohemian,’ so have lots of arty-farty clothes, too. I have a huge collection of Birkenstock clogs and sandals. I’m not blind to style or fashion, but I have my own, idiosyncratic sense of what works for me in terms of aesthetics and comfort. Don’t even get me started on women’s underwear – not even going there! Cotton boxers and slip-on cotton sports bras.’
‘I’m also not fond of overly feminine clothes. I worry I’ll attract the wrong sort of attention to me. I think I’d probably do myself an injury if I tried to balance in high heels.’
‘I still cut the tags out of my clothes, and I can’t stand clothes that make noise.’
‘I need to wear my trousers tucked into my socks and my top tucked into my trousers. It feels unbearable if there are ‘loose connections’ like that in my clothes – it chafes, it lets in the cold and it looks awful. I can’t wear bras because they can’t be tucked in to other clothes, which can be a problem because the lack of support hurts me, but I recently discovered padded camisole vests which work well. I need to buy long-legged high waisted trousers so my clothes tuck into them. I mostly stick to jeans with shirts or t-shirts, sometimes long skirts over leggings if I can put up with the lack of pockets, with long socks. Finding suits that fit properly is a nightmare. I also don’t like any kind of solution that involves hiding the fact that my clothes are tucked into each other or finding clothes that don’t need to be tucked in, because I feel like I’m giving in to the pressure of people around me. I have had problems with family members, people at school and at work trying to make me change or hide the way I dress, they make me feel like I am repulsive and shameful.
I also can’t have tags in my clothing, which can be a problem as I don’t have the co-ordination to remove them without making a hole in my clothes. In general I can’t stand shopping for clothes. I find it very difficult to estimate whether clothes will fit me or if they’ll be comfortable. They’re just objects flattened out on hangers or on statues of people who don’t look like me, I can’t visualise how it relates to me wearing them in everyday life. People sometimes laugh at me when I make a mistake, so I find it hard to ask for help. I also can’t return things to shops because I lose all my receipts.’
I vaguely remember refusing to wear a certain sweater as a child, because the fabric made me itch. So cloths were not such a big issue. I still cut tags from shirts though, as they irrititate the back of my neck. But maybe everyone has that issue?’
‘clothes weren’t a massive issue for me. I remember having arguments with my mum because she used to insist I wore nightwear to bed, but I didn’t like wearing clothes in bed, and would only settle for silky smooth nighties that felt cold on me when I put them on. Obviously being older, I can decide whether I wear pjs to bed for myself! I also used to cut out the labels. When I shop for clothes these days, it doesn’t bother me too much, and if I like the style I can often tolerate the fabric to some extent, but this is rare. I choose fabric and comfort over style.’
‘I remember very well tactile issues as a youth. I could only tolerate cotton against my skin and could not stand loose fitting clothes. If, during the summer, I had to wear a loose fitting garment, such as a button up shirt, or a suit, I always wore cotton undergarments to shield my skin. Being a bit warm was better than having to deal with the sensations of non-cotton. This does continue to this day actually although with age my reactions are a bit more mature. BTW… during my brothers wedding a few years ago, I actually wore jeans and a cotton shirt underneath the tux… nobody noticed at all.’
‘I apparently can’t answer these questions without writing an essay, so bear with me! As I don’t remember if I had clothing issues as a child I asked my sisters and my mom, who all said “YES! You had issues” and my sister recalled that I used to go around the house trying to pull my dress off over my head. I thought I got worse as I got older but perhaps it’s the same; I just remember now better than I remember back then. I know that my mom made a lot of my clothes (no tags in those!) and bought a lot of them second-hand, which meant they’d been washed to softness already, so that may have helped. I don’t like stuff around my neck like turtlenecks or collared shirts, but I can wear a scarf as long as it’s fuzzy. I love fuzzy clothes/scarves/socks but they have to be fuzzy in all directions, not like velvet which only runs one way. It’s relatively hard to find fuzzy clothes that are fuzzy in all directions so mostly I go with smooth clothes. No nubby or bumpy fabrics (no corduroy, wool, jeans, etc) and nothing that catches in my skin, like felt (I forgot how much I hate felt until someone mentioned it in a comment and the mere thought made me shudder). I love clothing that has just a hint of spandex in it (like 1%) so that it flexes and moves with me rather than sliding across my skin.
All clothing must be washed before trying to wear it, as new clothes have a stiffness to them (even the soft clothes) that I can’t stand the feel of and have a tendency to have skin reactions to (rashes mostly).
Luckily for my clothing issues, several years ago I started getting really cold all the time, so I wear layers now in comfort even in summer and the layer next to my skin is a washable silk long underwear with a non-elastic waistband. It wouldn’t stay up without the other clothes, but I can wear elastic waistbands as long as they aren’t next to my skin. Some silk is nubby and nasty feeling, but this is really soft as long as you put it in the dryer and don’t let it air-dry.
Bras were also a major problem as most manufacturers seem to think we all want lace or netting in the side panels … ventilation, I suppose, but that rough scratchy feeling is unbearable. It also gives me a rash, so … I finally found some that had wide shoulder straps and were smooth all over. Unfortunately I need more and they stopped making that brand so I have to go clothes shopping and I don’t want to.
I don’t actually care how I look as long as my clothes are neat and clean. So if I match, it’s mostly because I wear the same color pants every day (black) and make sure everything I own goes with them. The person who mentioned that their clothes have to be tucked in–I do that to, only not quite as severe; but the outside shirt _must_ be tucked into the pants. Someone tried to convince me that you look slimmer if you don’t have your shirt tucked in but it just looks untidy to me, so I tuck everything in. And I don’t like the loose cloth at my waist/hips (depending how long the shirt is).
Shoes are always “walking” shoes–athletic shoes. I have a pair of boots for if it’s dreadfully wet, but rarely wear them and always bring my other shoes to change into. I finally found a pair of shoes I really like for work and I bought five pairs so I don’t have to go shoe shopping for years. They keep discontinuing the styles I like–I should be able to get the same style and the same shoe ten years later, I think! I have some shoes that have knit uppers that were designed for people who were barefoot most of their childhood (that was me) because that does something different to the shapes of your feet, and they are comfortable but not supportive so I can’t wear them all day at work. I have high arches too, like Iris, and I gave up on finding shoes that fit; I found an insert that makes the shoe fit and make sure I only buy shoes I can pull the original insert out of.
Socks–I can’t stand the seam at the toe of socks. Someone told me about gold-toe socks (it’s a brand, but they actually have gold colored toes on the white socks) which have a softer seam and those I can wear. All other socks have to be turned inside out to wear them (like the fuzzy socks I wear in the house).
Tags–these are weird for me because sometimes I have major issues with them (like I have to stop and go to the bathroom to turn the tag to the other side; since I wear layers I can do this with the layer closest to my skin and it doesn’t look strange) and sometimes I don’t even notice the tags are there. This is for the exact same shirt! On rare occasions I’ll be wearing something on the outer layer that I can feel the tag on, and then, well, I just flip it out, and to the coworkers who tell me “your tag’s sticking out” I just say, “Yeah, I know, it’s driving me crazy today.” (They’re used to me.) And some manufacturers have started printing the information directly on the shirt (coldwater creek does this) or putting the tag in the side seam down toward your waist where your underwear would keep it from your skin.
So mostly I get around my clothing sensation issues by being picky about what I wear and not caring if I look fashionable or not. I have a tendency to buy every color in that style if I find something I like (I have five dresses all the same style, just different colors). I hate clothes shopping because my “touch system” gets overloaded and I can’t tell if I actually don’t like the feel of that particular fabric or if I’m just overwhelmed, so I wear clothes until they wear out and do a lot of online shopping from places I know have clothing I like. (shirt woot’s shirts have a lovely soft fabric, for instance.) I really didn’t realize how much I structure my life around making sure I have clothes that I can wear until thinking about how I would answer this question. It’s just the way things are for me.’
‘When I was a child I couldn’t handle the feel of the underwear seams. One day my mother said “try them inside out”. Been doing it ever since. Same with undershirts.’
‘problem as a child, not so bad in the late teens to late 20s, then sensitivity increased slowly back to where it is now in my 50s (which i think is about where it was as a child. Cotton for preference. silk is okay sometimes. no synthetics touching my skin because they make my skin itchy and prickly. i take out tags for most things before i can wear them. i check seams before wearing things (preferably before buying) because sometimes soft cotton is serged with prickly poly thread.
Can’t stand pressure around my neck; turtlenecks are evil! Bras were always an issue because a) they itched and b) they hurt my shoulders and ribs. now that I’m homebound, i no longer even try to wear them. Underwear: 100% cotton only, elastic must be covered or soft with no lacy. shoes have been an issue since childhood; i still remember my grandmother taking me for shoes when i was 4 or 5 and the salesman insisting he’d brought “the right size” so they DID fit –while i cried because they hurt. my beloved grandmother let him have a piece ofher mnd, and we left with shoes that did NOT hurt. my feet are narrow at the ankle and very wide at the toes, and any pressure on the toes leaves me shaking and in tears. my sole footwear these days are emu books (a brand name of australian ugg type boots).’
I have to make sure I dont feel suffocated, so no turtlenecks – a huuuuge opening for neck please! and I dont like sleaves that touch my wrists either – so no sleaves unless they are very long and wide. I never wear socks and prefer to go barefoot, only wearing sandals when I go outside – even in winter and brah – those things are torture!!! as a kid I wore huge stockings always cause I suffered from cold feet’
‘Omgoodness clothes are a mare!!! Shoes, socks, 13 years old and just wearing certain types of socks!’
This has been sent in by many educators and employers, so I would like to open up the discussion to anyone on the Spectrum of all ages, from school/university to being employed. We would love your thoughts on everything from the interview process to how are instructions best given? Mentors, support, the architecture, space to chill if needed, lighting, room layout, materials used, noise levels ?
Answers From the Spectrum:
I’m 25, diagnosed as high-functioning/Asperger’s at 20. I don’t know how representative I am, but physical space is pretty important in a lot of ways. I don’t like having other people in my personal space, and I really don’t like having other people positioned where they can see my face while I work – I always feel like they’re watching my facial expressions while I work. And I like to have a space that’s mine – even if it’s just a space twice as wide as my laptop where I can keep office stuff without worrying about other people cluttering it with their paperwork.
So traditional lecture hall/classroom arrangements are very comfortable for me, especially if it’s a large enough space where we can all spread out. Being in a group of desks arranged for group activity while not actually engaging in group activity feels awkward to me. And working in a traditional cubicle would be just about perfect.
LIghting shouldn’t be too bright, and I personally hate overhead fluorescents. But it can’t be too dim, either – although my eyes are very light sensitive, so indirect sunlight is often enough to light a whole room brightly enough for reading. And a quieter workplace is more comfortable than a louder one, although quiet instrumental music is nice for making the noise of other people working less distracting. And workplaces where everyone wears earbuds all day long bug me, especially since the earbuds seem to be used as a substitute for physical separation or proper sound insulation.
In terms of instruction, you need to be absolutely clear. Don’t make assumptions about what I know or how I’m going to do something. And if you need to make a point, even if it’s critical, just say it straight out and be specific. You can be direct without being mean.
Workplace standards and expectations need to be clearly established; don’t ever assume that someone will just pick up on everyone else’s behavior and conform accordingly. In a lot of ways, the more institutionalized these things are – from rules and expectations to mentorships – the better, especially if it’s all written down so I can check the document when I’m uncertain instead of needing to ask for clarification.
And this might go without saying, but in the classroom, group projects are difficult on a couple of different levels. When told we were doing a group project, nothing relieved me more than being told that we’re being assigned to those groups. On an academic and social level, I think it’s better for students to have to interact with people outside of their social circle, and personally I never know what to do. I feel like it draws attention to my difficulties socializing to have to figure out which group I’m supposed to join. (I actually substitute teach, and if the lesson plan is nonspecific I always count the kids off by the number of groups I need and all the 1s are a group and all the 2s are a group and so on.)
And then there are the spontaneous “projects” that aren’t really projects, but just an in-class assignment that no one else feels like doing on their own. Think lists of math problems. I’d honestly rather work them all on my own instead of be forced to work in a group – and I’d rather you not draw attention to the fact that I’m working on my own instead of in a group.
Answer from an 48 year old male, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome 2 years ago.
Aspies are always honest. So interview questions like “Why are you the best person for this job?” are impossible to answer: I don’t know the other candidates, how can I possibly answer this question? Honesty can result in modesty, which is not a good quality when applying for a job. To open up an Aspie, ask for his/her special interests.
Regarding work environment:
Distraction = stress. Noise = stress. The current trend of large, open office areas is not good for Aspies. Private offices are the best.
Contact by phone = stress. Aspies prefer to make contact by media such as e-mail.
Don’t expect Aspies to show up voluntarily at informal get togethers. This is not ill will, such a get together is simply not an environment where an Aspie wants to be. Similarly, asking an Aspie to work on his/her network during such meetings is not productive. It will only result in stress.
Assigning some kind of mentor during an Aspies first weeks at a new job is good. The Aspie him/herself will have trouble making contacts, so a first solid contact would be beneficial.
Vague assignments = stress. Unambiguous, clear assignments are preferable. Sending an Aspie into a meeting where political games are played is asking for trouble. Don’t let an Aspie deal with people who have hidden agendas.
Structure = good. It helps the Aspie getting things done.
From a young Lady with Aspergers – I am a teaching assistant, so I suppose it’s quite interesting dealing with children, including those on the spectrum themselves (and I naturally find I get along with them better). Ive not told my workplace as I wanted to see how well I could manage, so I haven’t had any adjustments made. When I was interviewed, I had practised what I was going to say so much, and answered their questions from the script I had memorised in my head. When it comes to working, I can get overwhelmed by noise and I tire easily. They have noticed this and met my needs by giving me less duties so I can break more, and I know how to calm myself either by changing what I’m doing or moving around a bit, or find a job to do that takes me out the room briefly. I have my routines that I follow and they know this and it works well with the school environment. I suppose I’m lucky that I work in a place that understands the spectrum, and naturally apply any assistance to anyone whether they are or are not autistic.
I’m looking for work at the moment so it’s a bit of an obsession)
I’m mostly talking about an office admin job because it’s what I see myself in, I don’t know enough about other kinds of work to comment.
I agree that an interview is not a good way to recruit a person on the spectrum. I’m not going to use the social skills in the job – I wouldn’t go for such a job as I know it wouldn’t suit me! A work trial or a non-timed or generously timed test would work better. Although it would be cool if they could invent a type of interview where you talk like a normal person so they know what your actual personality is.
I’ve had huge problems in a workplace with people assuming things about me from the way I act. I was sent away by an agency because I look like I really dislike the job and am struggling. I can’t control my body language at all. I can’t hide that I look stressed, where others would be able to, so people assume it’s because I’m unusually stressed rather than just being unusually honest about it. The stress often has nothing to do with the job, I have lots of intrusive thoughts and I can’t block out everyday worries when working. I’m used to just working in spite of the background stress. For instance, my body clock is not suited to office work, so I will be constantly battling falling asleep and dealing with waking dreams until I fall into the rhythm. It helps me to have music, which I can listen to quietly. I can’t stay awake in a meeting. I don’t really want to chat with people while working, most random people I meet scare me unless they have the same interests as me. For the same reason, I also don’t want to go to work socials. If I get used to the other people and they’re nice, I will open up to them in time.
I don’t find a normal office environment sensorily disturbing but I need to be allowed to behave more as I normally would when working at home. I can’t answer a telephone and I can’t go on a reception desk. I need lots of bathroom breaks. I need help getting out of a building if there is a fire alarm, I need to block out the sound so I don’t freeze up, but this means I can’t use my arms and so can’t open doors. I just can’t wear certain items of formal clothing, particularly uncomfortable shoes or trousers without pockets. My clothes need to tuck in tightly to each other or I can’t wear them. I don’t have the motor skills to stop my clothes getting messy.
In terms of actual work, I work best when I’m given a daily routine with specific tasks that have a clear start and end. Small tasks that I can realistically finish in a day will be most manageable, even if they’re obviously just the bigger task divided into smaller chunks. I also need indications of how urgent each task is. I need a period of time to memorise the job and someone around to ask for help if I don’t understand something or forget what I’m doing. I am very sensitive to feedback so it’s important to praise me for things you want me to keep doing, and be careful with negative feedback as I will obsess over it.
In my ideal role, I would train in more advanced systems over time and take on more responsible roles, which I would expect better pay for, but I wouldn’t be expected to go up in leadership ranks.
Wow, most of what has been written in the comments overlaps with what an introvert and a highly-perceptive person needs to make the workplace more friendly or even bearable.
Background: I’ve been working in the same position at the same multinational corporation for the last 18 years. I was not interviewed; I was called by the temp agency the autumn after I graduated college and asked if I was still looking for work (“yes”) and did I want a job “um, sure?”. What I’ve observed in working for a company that is _not_ autism (or disability) friendly beyond that required by law: A company that wants to be autism friendly should think about “sound, sight, scent.” Put sound-deadening panels on the walls of places like breakrooms in order to mute the echoing of many people talking at once. Provide a breakroom without a tv, or, if that’s not possible, permanently mute the tv and turn on the close-caption for those people who want to watch it. Don’t use scent-coverups in the bathroom that any worker can access, because most people think if one “squirt” is good, 10 is even better. Ban perfumes/colognes/scented hand lotions. A lot of companies are already doing this due to allergies, but it would really help autistic people. It’s very difficult when my boss leans over to get a file from in front of me and I choke on her perfume. And she doesn’t actually wear an inappropriate amount like some people do.
As far as locations: an office with a door is ideal–it doesn’t have to have a window; we just need a space that’s ours. A cubicle is next desirable, followed by a desk. But even a desk is more desirable than sharing an office. We need an area that is ours, a place that’s “homebase” where we can retreat to. Noisy environments aren’t good, but if they are steady noise and not random, a lot of us can get used to that.
Rules and regulations should not only be clearly written and stated, but they should apply to everyone equally. If that means you have to write a different handbook for each department, so be it. It’s incredibly difficult to pick up on the unwritten rules that govern most workplaces. For instance, officially we are supposed to clock out for 30 minutes for lunch. Now that in and of itself is a problem even if you enforce it equally–how do you manage to never do 29 or 31 minutes? But the unwritten rule is, you can clock out for less than that as long as you don’t make a point of it or allow the people from manufacturing to notice, because they will complain and then HR will demand we all clock out for 30 minutes … for a few weeks and then it goes back to normal. The underlying problem there is that the company is trying to make one rule apply to many different situations.
Having a mentor, someone who knows the other coworkers and is willing to help you along, and someone to whom you can come with social problems (“this is happening, what do I do”) would be excellent. Unfortunately such mentors are usually unofficial and you have to find them the hard way.
But the biggest problem companies have with regard to becoming autism friendly is the attitude of the people in charge. This isn’t something you can regulate. Believe it or not, there is a prevalent, unspoken attitude especially among the older people that autism is a children’s disease and you magically get fixed when you become an adult, and anyone who can hold down a steady job and interact with people is just using the diagnosis as an excuse for bad behavior. “You should know better by now.” It’s an insidious belief that no one will admit to having but I’m coming to realize spreads through most of the 30 or older people at my work. Perhaps my job is unusual … I don’t think so.
One thing my coworkers and supervisors did do for me with regards to accomodating my autism is grudgingly, reluctantly, accepting my request to stop touching me. The men didn’t have a problem since the spectre of “sexual harrasment” lies over a male-female physical contact of anything beyond hand-shakes, and you don’t normally shake hands with your coworkers. It was the women who had this bizarre belief that it was a violation of their rights for me to refuse to allow them to touch me. I’m talking the arm-clutch during a dramatic re-telling of an incident; a shoulder tap to get my attention; a pat on the back that is literal. I _hate_ being touched, even through clothing. I almost got fired over it because my boss really got her feelings hurt when I was having a very difficult functioning day and she clapped me on the shoulder and I winced back and said “don’t touch me.” (This was not the first time I had requested that.) I finally figured out that people responded much better to “I don’t like having humans touch me” than “please don’t touch me,” no matter that the latter phrase seems more polite and to the point.
So companies who _want_ to be autism friendly need to understand that we all have different quirks, and usually if you can just work with that one main quirk, we can handle the rest. (By the way, the no-touching thing has become self-perpetuating. I believe my coworkers take a new coworker aside and tell them “don’t touch Josie” because I haven’t had to tell a new person for ages, yet no one even tries any more. It’s nice. But it took over a decade.)