Mental illness and neurodivergence often result in disability which is invisible, even to the person affected. Is a particular quirk just an aspect of one's personality, or is it a symptom? Bel had tell-tale signs of Asperger Syndrome (AS) from early childhood, but this was never picked up on: "‎I was strange in school, I was picked on and bullied, I think for my reactions. I don't know what to do with my face. When other's engaged with me, I would become the loudest voice in the group, talking over everyone, and then find myself outcast again."

Bel's AS tends to manifest in her social interactions: "In unexpected social situations, I tend to clam up, can't speak, can't look anyone in the eye. But on the other hand, with friends or on a one to one basis, I tend to be super confident and outspoken and assertive. I always get accused of giving funny looks or staring at something I shouldn't or having the wrong expression on my face or being cold and uncaring. I don't mean to be." Despite being highly intelligent, studying through Open University and taking part in recreational science like MathsJam and Astrobash, she finds it difficult to deal with the complex interactions essential to normal employment: "I've never really had a job. I've had some, each lasting a few weeks at most, due to misunderstandings, me not realising things I could and couldn't get away with saying or doing. I would take time off with 'flu' and stretch it out for two weeks. I would completely misunderstand things, I would be considered the weirdest person in the office/warehouse/laboratory/bar..., and I could only do what I was specifically in detail told to do, I never figured out my own initiatives."

Her childhood and early adulthood involved a rocky adjustment to a world that didn't seem to be optimised for her, but until staff at her son's nursery noticed his unusual behaviours, she didn't have a name for her symptoms.

"Ryan's AS was picked up at nursery, he didn't like to play with other children, all he ever wanted to do was look at pictures of planets and space. A psychologist was sent in to observe and she suspected AS and referred him to LADS, Lanarkshire Autism Diagnostic Service. They sent him to speech therapy because his speech was too advanced and inappropriate for his age‎, as in parroting anything sciencey he heard. Speech therapy involved giving him dialogues 'if someone says/does this, you respond by...' which I felt was ridiculous and unhelpful, but after months of therapy and play and observation sessions, the team confirmed he appeared to have what they'd term Asperger syndrome, but would only apply an official diagnosis with consent of both parents, which didn't happen. But because of his background, he was still observed by psychologists from time to time."

"We were told to cut him off from his love of science, maths and astronomy, which both me and his dad disagreed with, and he was advised to spend an extra year at nursery, but we decided to send him to school. He was offered a place at a school specialising in AD, but we decided to enrol him in the local primary, the headmistress bluntly told us she 'didn't want him', but he was enrolled anyway. He had a bit of a rocky start, socially and following instructions. For the first two years every day I'd drop him off and I'd have to call him back because he'd forgotten his bag - every day! If he got new shoes or a new jacket, he'd freak out for a few days. The school employed a classroom assistant pretty much just for Ryan for the first 3 years, and the psychologist would come and see how he was getting on a few times a year. Academically, he was always top of the class, but struggled in other ways."

"Finally, he got a teacher who sussed him out. Instead of 'get ready to go home' she'd say to Ryan 'go and put your indoor shoes away and get your outdoor shoes and jacket' or instead of 'tidy up' she'd give Ryan specific tasks 'gather up those pencils and put them in there, pick up those and put them in the bin' that sort of thing, and it worked wonders. Now he's 2nd year at high school and doing great. What is good is aspies seem to be cool in their own right now! He's an oddball, but happy to be an aspie, he calls himself that, and says his friends are too (confirmed by his younger sister "omg, Ryan's friend will only talk about penguins" for example)."

I asked if there are challenges associated with parenting with AS. "I'm not sure about the last question, I'd never really given it thought before. Preverbal, I seem to do ok with as it's simple rules, food, bum changes, sleep, cuddles, and the 'daily entertainment' to tire them out: a walk, swimming, soft play, visit someone. I feel it's very easy that way with babies and toddlers. Perhaps I'm not so intuitive to their needs around the ages of around 3 to 7 or 8, as they're little people with opinions, but maybe not so good at expressing them as an older child‎, and I might get a bit frustrated at their tantrums and huffs. Ryan keeps himself to himself and is difficult to figure out at times, I'd never thought about it till now, but maybe it's partly down to me not reading him as well as him not expressing himself. I do find when I'm alone with the little ones, I can be more short tempered than if someone else is there interacting with them too."

Bel has become more at peace with her AS: "As I've got older, I've got happier with who I am, I accept it. I'm lucky enough to have a husband who lets me work at his workplace, taking all the social stress out of work, and I'm trying to finish a distance learning physics degree.

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