This week, despite being on leave, has been fairly busy. I’ve done a lot of writing, a lot of chess, a lot of self-reflection. Just one bit of writing this week, about my experience with part of the assessment for autistic spectrum disorder I’m undergoing.
The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (Second Edition)
You arrive ten minutes early, because being late for things is Wrong. You present yourself to the receptionist and she says to take a seat. You circle the room and find one whose leather isn’t cracked. You sit down.
Your appointment is with Alex. Alex, it turns out, is extremely attractive. This is obviously deeply relaxing, because now you get to to tell a very attractive person details about your life that you’ve been socialised into thinking are deeply unattractive.
Alex takes you through the test: the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (Second Edition). There are a lot of questions. There is no sign whether there is a right or wrong answer, which after the first couple of questions is…freeing? Because you can stop worrying and really come clean about the fact that you struggled with relationships because people’s faces and their tones and their words often don’t match, and that makes it impossible to understand them. And what the fuck is ‘banter’. And ‘flirting’.
They ask you to ‘read’ a story from a picture book. The story doesn’t make sense, but there are lots of clocks, and you can identify that the story is set in the US because of the fridge, the electrical sockets, and the cars. You proudly calculate the time on each page, even when it can only be gleaned from an upside-down wristwatch with four dots to represent 12, 3, 6, and 9.
Then they ask about emotions, and how you know what they are, and you’re grateful you’re very well-read because you can tell emotions because you’ve read about them and matched the descriptions with the physical sensations that happen in your body. They nod. You do your bit on grief being a ball in a box and they smile. Is it a sad smile? Possibly. Their eyes aren’t crinkling as they would in a genuine smile. A genuine smile is also called a Duchenne smile.
Why might they be sad?
They pull out a bag of odds and ends and ask you to make a story with them. They pull out a little bouncy ball, a shoelace, a cube, a toy candlestick, and a feather. They hold the ball and call the ball ‘Sue’.
Is the ball still a ball? Is this a world where balls have sentience?1behave Or is the ball just a representation of a person?
They set the candlestick on top of the cube and refer to the cube as a table. It is not a table. This does not distress you unduly because you have studied Art and are aware that sometimes people pretend that things are other things, and since cubes and tables aren’t a million miles away from each other, it’s not distressing you nearly as much as the ball.
What the fuck is going on with the ball.
A bird – represented by the feather – flies in and knocks over the candlestick. Things catch fire, apparently, but the hose – the shoelace – is unwound from the kitchen and puts out the flames. Alex does the noises too, psh-phs-psh for the water and fwoosh as the flames leap up.
They ask you to do the same. You pick a circular disk, a playing card, a toy car, an ice-lolly stick, and a hair scrunchie. And you slip into the persona you use when you’re performing and it feels so fucking good because now you can focus on bending truths you’ve heard or seen and you won’t be interrupted and everyone knows they’re lies so it’s Fine. And you say:
Alex – there’s a laugh from the whole audience and you smirk2you think it’s roguish and enticing but it’s a smirk, and you’re really lucky it makes some people just want to kiss you so they don’t have to see it any more – gets back from her high-paid job as Chief Psychologist. It’s late – you hold the disk aloft like a priest giving sacrament – and the moon is high. As they enter the kitchen, they see on the table a hair scrunchie – and, trapped below one of the table legs, a playing card. Alex realises with a flash that their partner is having an affair…with a magician! They reach for the carving knife – you pick up the ice-lolly stick and hold it pointing downwards – and start up the stairs, where they can hear two voices giggling together…
Alex lets out a whoosh of breath and you feel happy3Thank you, books! and return to yourself. “That’s a tense story,” they say. You don’t know what to say so you say nothing. There are a few more tests and then they tell you there’ll be a final appointment and a detailed report. You thank them politely and leave.
You spend the rest of the week worrying that one of the key things your organisation looks for is people who ‘See the Bigger Picture’, and you are the kind of person that notices the electrical sockets in the background of a children’s book.
You write it out in the hope that it’ll make you feel better and, weirdly, it does.