Woman kneading dough on kitchen table.

How Autism Makes Me a Baker in the Recipe of Life


For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved baking and cooking. Some of my earliest memories are of being stood on a dining chair in the kitchen, as a toddler, helping my mum stir cake batter, or licking the bowl out after she’d make a sponge. She taught me that it was OK to cook, and make a mess — and how to clean up, but that what you took out of the oven a short time later would make all the hard work worthwhile.

Once I was into my teens, she taught me the skills of batch cooking, of creating meals from scratch so that in her words “When I had my own home to run, I’d be able to look after myself”. The meaning behind it was “when you get married,” but she didn’t want to say that out loud in case it scared me.

I was 33 when I finally left home, but she was so right. When I began my journey as a single woman, living in a rented flat — I was able to take care of myself and not rely on ready meals or takeaways to survive.

Fast forward another four years on, I’m 37 and finally in the situation my parents never thought would happen. Engaged to a man who means the world to me and running a home not just for one person, but two. Cooking meals, baking and looking after my partner is a pleasure and using the skills Mum taught me has been invaluable.

But a kitchen mishap the other week set a train of thought going. I’d baked a cake, nothing fancy or remarkable, to serve for dessert, but when I took it from the oven, it sank in the middle. It was silly, but I felt hugely shaken up by this. My cakes never sink. So why did this happen? What did I do that was so wrong that it collapsed? Sure, it was still edible, it just looked a mess.

Most people would just pass it off as a mishap and let it go. But my brain doesn’t work like that. I had to go through every stage of making the cake, looking at all the ingredients, to work out where I’d gone wrong. In the end, when I thought through the process, I remembered I’d forgotten to add in the half teaspoon of baking powder to the mix, which normally makes the cake rise properly… and that was probably the reason it sank.

Then it suddenly struck me. In the world of cooking, autistic people are the bakers, and neurotypicals are the soup makers (or stew, or salad…or whatever!)

Think about the two things separately.

In cooking, whether it’s a soup, a stew, or anything — you can follow a base recipe, but the rhythms of the cooking and ingredients mean there’s flexibility. You can adapt to suit tastes, your mood, how much time you have to cook and what you have in your store cupboards and fridge. If the recipe calls for two onions, but you only have one and a leek or a spring onion in the fridge, you can substitute. If you need 250 ml of red wine, but only have 200 ml, you can add stock, or water; it’ll still taste good.

In baking, it’s an exact science. If you’re making a cake, or bread, the recipe has to be slavishly followed. You can’t veer off and add in an extra few grams of flour, sugar or an extra egg because “you felt like it.” If you did that, the cake would turn out badly, it would sink, or not cook properly. You can’t suddenly change butter for dried fruit, or put a can of anchovies in with your chocolate cake mix. It would taste horrible, and no one would want to sit near you for the rest of the night. If the recipe calls for 100 g of flour, butter and sugar you need to put those exact weights in.

It’s the same with our brains.

A neurotypical person can veer off the straight and narrow; change isn’t quite so important. If in their recipe for life, they encounter hiccups along the way, it may not affect the outcome of their life stew so much. They just get on with it, adapt and hope everything turns out OK in the end.

An autistic person often can’t veer off their path. Change matters very much. If the mix is constantly altered in their recipe for life, then it stands to reason the cakes they bake won’t ever turn out exactly as they’d planned. And that can be a really upsetting and damaging experience to go through.

That’s why we, as people on the ASD spectrum, are the bakers in life.

Anyone for a slice of cake…?

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Thinkstock photo by Sergey Nazarov.

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Female dentist in dental office talking with female patient and preparing for treatment.

How a Compassionate Dentist Helped Me as an Autistic Person


For over a year, maybe it has even been two years, I have been smiling with my mouth closed. This has been due to an issue with my two top front teeth. As an autistic person who becomes overloaded easily, seeing a dentist is a challenge. Bright lights, loud drills, physical sensations, you name it — it’s at the dentist. It’s many a person’s worst nightmare — or close.

I’ve finally met a dentist who really is a calming presence. This is because she was genuine. She was actually very funny, and most importantly, non-judgmental. Well, at least she didn’t judge my teeth out loud.

 

She gave me two root canals, did some other work and even did a bit extra she didn’t have to do — she made them “look better.” When she said she was going to make them look better, I thought just slightly. After all, they wouldn’t truly look better until I got my crowns on at a later date, right? Wrong! She performed what I consider a miracle and filled in the large hole I had in my front teeth, making them look natural and new.

I had my doubts about seeing the only dentist I was able to because I’m on Medicaid. Well, there was one other option, but they gave me the gut feeling of a big no way. I was wrong regarding Medicaid and got really lucky to see a dentist who helped give me back my confidence and checked in on my every now and then to see if I was “OK, sweetie.”

What a great day! I no longer fear going to the dentist, and I hope you don’t either.

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Thinkstock photo by Solis Images.

Shoe walking on eggshells.

Why Being Direct Helps Me as a Person With Autism


Whenever someone has to talk to me and I hear the term “you’re not in trouble,” I’ve come to not trust it. On occasion, it’ll be something great like praise for extra effort/going above and beyond with an assigned job or an explanation to clear up a misunderstanding, but most of the time it hasn’t been a good thing. It’s condescending and painful, because I get told what I’m doing wrong even though sometimes I don’t notice it’s wrong at first, or I’ve been told multiple times that it’s wrong. Not to mention the other scenario where I feel like I’m never allowed to get away with anything while someone else gets off scot-free.

As a person with autism, I’ve grown up hearing that lie so many times, it’s ridiculous. Even in middle school, my eighth grade special ed teacher pulled me aside and sugarcoated the fact I was journaling in class. Cut me a break, I needed some way to let out what I was feeling – yet I was told it’s wrong. To this day, I can still remember her telling me I wasn’t in trouble.

Most recently, I was being a pain in the butt to my friend during rehearsals of a show and one of the other cast members said the director needed to see me. I got downstairs and asked if I was in trouble. Yet again I was told, “No, you’re not in trouble.” I fell into that false sense of security that I was off the hook at first, but once the conversation began to go on the subject of me annoying my friend – I could tell right away that yep, I got busted. I knew I was in trouble.

Not being able to call someone out for using that on me hurts; they think they’re helping, but instead I end up distrusting them. Plus, saying that sends mixed messages to me and makes me question my future relationships with other authority figures. I’d prefer if I was told directly what I was doing wrong, instead of feeling like everyone has to walk on eggshells around me. I feel like I’m not being treated fairly when people sugarcoat what I’m in trouble for.

Next time someone tries to tell me I’m not “in trouble,” I hope they’re telling the truth.

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Thinkstock photo by Raspberry HMAC.

A drawing of a boy in a field holding a crayon with a rainbow in the back

BBC TV Show 'Pablo' Features an All-Autistic Cast


BBC has a new kid’s show coming in October and it’s the U.K. broadcaster’s most inclusive yet. “Pablo” is the first show in the U.K. to feature an all-autistic main cast, according to BBC. The animated show will air on CBeebies, a BBC program for children, and Irish broadcaster RTEJr.

Pablo is a 5-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who creates imaginary animal friends that come to life through magic crayons. His friends help him with everyday situations that make him anxious such as going to the supermarket.

Pablo is played by Jake Williamson, a 10-year-old boy on the spectrum. Andrew Brenner, the head writer, did extensive research and consulted people on the spectrum before creating the show. The people who play the imaginary friends are also on the spectrum and have co-written some of the scripts.

According to BBC, real-life experiences of children on the spectrum inspire each episode. The show used the ideas and perspectives of autistic contributors to create storylines that are honest and humorous. 

Other characters played by people on the spectrum include Pablo’s imaginary animal friends. Each one portrays characteristics of autism.

Wren is a bird with a lot of energy, who flaps her wings to calm down when she feels frustrated. Mouse likes things tidy and in order, and is sensitive to sounds and smells. Noasaurus is a dinosaur who doesn’t talk much but has great spatial awareness.

BBC will also introduce 12 short films and six games associated with the show. The films will be shot from the point of view of people on the autism spectrum and will explain how they see the world around them. The games will be based on the personality traits of the characters in the show and are designed to help people better understand the perspective of someone on the spectrum.

The Mighty reached out to BBC to find out if and how people in the U.S. can watch and will update this post when we hear back.

Photo via BBC

Trying New Things With My Son Who Is on the Autism Spectrum


There is no denying there are some activities that are more challenging to do with your child when they are on the spectrum. All sorts of things factor into the overall outcome of whatever it is you have set out to do. You think about sensory overload, how their day was yesterday, if this outing will mess with their schedule or routine, and you think about all of the possible outcomes of the situation.

The thing is, when you are going to a doctor’s appointment or therapy appointment, you still think about all of these things but you go because you have to, no matter what the outcome.

Instead of thinking of all of the things that could go wrong, or wondering if our children will like it, perhaps we should also take this approach with the fun things in life. If it turns out they don’t like the activity or event that you attend, then I understand you probably wouldn’t go again. I think it is really important our kids have the chance to make that decision on their own.

We have tried several different sports, activities, places to go out to dinner, etc. Have all of them ended in pure joy? Of course not, we all have personal preference and the things you may think are fun could be different from your friends or family. The important thing is that you keep trying new things, and if you find something your child loves, you keep doing it!

It would be easy to talk yourself out of doing events that may sound challenging. You might even tell yourself, “He is just so happy at home.” Possibly, but he could really enjoy the event you are talking yourself out of. What is the worst that can happen? If they don’t like it, you can always leave, and if you think they did like it but it was too overwhelming and you left, you can always try again with more supports.

 

When we started to go to sensory friendly movies, we saw just the beginning of quite a few movies. My son would say he wanted to go to the movie, we would get there, and he would watch 10-15 minutes of the movie before he would ask to go; then it became 20-30 minutes. The progress was slow but he wanted to go. So we went and eventually he sat through an entire movie and we couldn’t be more proud! He wanted to go to the movies, but that didn’t make it any easier for him to be able to sit through the whole thing.

In my experience, I base whether or not my son liked something on things other than how he acted while we were doing it. For example, how much he brings it up after the event is over or if he acts like he wants to do it again. Since my son is nonverbal, we make stories for a lot of the things we do using an app on his iPad. It is easy to tell when he really likes something if he watches the story over and over or shows it to others. That doesn’t always mean the event was perfect or that he never struggled. What it does mean, is that it was worth it. To him, being overwhelmed or struggling at the time didn’t make it less worth it. If it was worth it to him, who I am to say, “We should skip that, he might struggle,” or “What if he get’s overwhelmed?”

I guess some things are just worth getting overwhelmed for.

Try the fun stuff. It might work out and it might not, but you never know unless you try.

We take my son to Superkids at Soapbox Derby. No, it isn’t always perfect. He struggles to wait his turn and in general wait for it to start. However, when you see his huge smile as he experiences the thrill of coming down the hill, it is all worth it. He shows these stories to people all the time.

It isn’t always easy, but it is worth it!

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Photo from left to right of Bridget Lundy-Paine, Kier Gilchrist, Michael Rapaport and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Netflix's 'Atypical' Renewed for a Second Season


“Atypical,” a new Netflix original series centered around autism, has been renewed for a second season. Its renewal comes less than a month after the show’s premiere. 

The show centers around Sam, an 18-year-old high school senior on the autism spectrum, as he navigates first-time love and other aspects of life. The show also depicts the lives of Sam’s family and how Sam’s autism affects their lives.

“Atypical” was met with mixed reviews from the autism community. There were parts of Sam’s character — played by Keir Gilchrist, a neurotypical actor — that people found stereotypical, while others liked certain aspects of his portrayal, like stimming.

Robia Rashid, the show’s creator, previously told The Mighty the show did its best to have people in the autism community involved, noting, “We have several crew members who are parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We had an autism researcher and expert on staff who read every outline and script and watched every cut to give notes. It’s something we feel very strongly about and are always working on.”

However, some people on the autism spectrum believe the show did not go far enough, as “Atypical” only features one autistic actor, Anthony Jacques, who had a small speaking part.

Season two will have 10 episodes.

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