Someone asks a question about artificial sweeteners on a forum. Others post one or two sentence responses, for the most part long on personal opinion and short on fact.

I write an 8-paragraph essay. With references. I would have included figures, but they wouldn’t fit. I might reproduce the essay at some point in the future, but it’s not good enough for me to want to put it in a blog yet, so I’d have to work on it more.

Moral of the story: Don’t ask me to info-dump on something related to a special interest – in this case, chemistry – unless you’re prepared for the consequences.


I don’t learn idioms intuitively. I learn them through study, by rote. I have a mental list of all of them, and I’ve learned most of their etymologies because that helps me make sense of why, for example, a pot calling a kettle black is an expression for hypocrisy when most pots are the lustrous light grey of aluminium, or maybe a darker, dull grey of Teflon-coated steel. and most (electric) kettles are white. The answer: Back when they were made of cast-iron, they both were black. The expression makes a lot more sense when you know that, doesn’t it?

In fact, my difficulty with idioms was why I got interested in etymology in the first place, as a kid. I couldn’t get why having a chip on your shoulder meant that you were angry and looking for a fight, or why someone who rises quickly in something was referred to as a dark horse. Me being me, my thought process at the time went something like this: I don’t get these things! ->  why would they use something that makes no sense? -> maybe people use them because everyone else does, like a code -> but then why did they start using them? -> did they made sense once upon a time? -> maybe, if I read about their history, I can make them make sense to me.

Likewise, I learned metaphors and symbolism through research and memorization, and because I had to do through careful analysis and deconstruction what most do through intuition, my answers were often off, and I was often marked down. Imprecise and figurative speech was often something I’d often misunderstand.

My difficulty with idioms came from the same place as my difficulty with figurative language: I’m literal-minded, probably to a fault. If someone says something, I take what they’re saying at face value. I have a hard time with subtext and an even harder time with inferring what someone means if what they say and what they mean don’t match up well.

Case in point: When I was a kid learning to ski, the ski instructor told me to ski into the lodge. So I did. And nearly got banned from the ski hill. I was told not to be stupid, that I knew what he meant when he told me to ski into the lodge, but no, I didn’t. My parents later made sure to tell other ski instructors that I would take their words at face value, and so if they want me to stop in front of the lodge, they should say so in those words, because if they tell me to stop in the lodge, I might just do exactly that.

Another time, I was told to roller blade into the wall and stop that way when I was learning to rollerblade. Crash. And I refused to go roller-blading with my mother for the next year. What she meant was for me to rollerblade alongside the wall and use it to stabilize myself as I stopped. But she told me to rollerblade into the wall, and being a kid without the experience to know that was a bad idea, I did as she told me.

And of course, there was the whole “books don’t talk” confusion when I was in elementary school and being told by teachers the kids might like me better if I didn’t talk like a book all the time.

And while I’m a lot better at it than I used to be, if you surprise me with a new-to-me idiom, my response will most likely be a blank stare.

Autism in the family

I’m not the only person with autistic traits in my extended family. While I’m probably one of a few people in the extended family who is diagnosably autistic, autistic traits run in the family, even among people who are allistic. A few examples, drawn from people I’m fairly sure of. There are a bunch of other “maybes” in my extended family, but mental illness and addiction runs in the family and complicates matters.

  • My father: Strong, enduring interests in atypical things, like animal training. Has his own set way of doing things, and if your way is different, it’s wrong. Loves routines, extremely frustrated with those who seem anti-routine, and/or those who don’t keep appointments. Highly anxious, though he would deny it fiercely. Loathes small talk like me. Floated the idea he might have Asperger’s around when I first started thinking I might be autistic. He dropped it in response to my mother’s vehement denial, then followed her lead in discouraging me to investigate further. The member of the immediate family who gets me the most, though either he’s gotten better at faking social/sensory stuff or he’s not as affected as me. He has always had a reputation for being gregarious and charismatic, so… ? Not sure. I’m up in the air about whether or not he’s autistic, but he and I are both sure he’s on the broader autism phenotype if he’s not autistic. My father would get why I’m walking with my eyes shut, but wouldn’t think to offer a hat.
  • My sister: Best illustrated with her collections: She had a leaf* collection as a preschool kid. She didn’t care about the types of trees, or how pretty the leaves were, she just cared about the leaves, and counting/sorting said leaves (by size one week, then color, then type, etc). At the highest, she had about 3200 of them. When we moved, she had to leave her leaves behind because we didn’t have room to bring them (I also had to leave most of my books – no pun intended). She started collecting stuffed animals instead (I was still on books). Then fashion magazines. No social difficulties, no sensory difficulties, does like routines, though, and is prone to black-and-white thinking. Thinks me and my father are both autistic. Would know more than the layperson, considering uni studies and work experience. She’s not autistic, but shows traits (special interests, black and white thinking, and other stuff I won’t mention because privacy). She doesn’t get me as much as my father, but is more in-tune with me than he is – Dad gets why I do stuff after I do it, my sister knows what I’m feeling usually before I do. She might not get why I’m walking with my eyes shut, for example, but she’s the one who will hand me a hat if it’s bright out before we even step outside.
  • My mother: Extremely prone to black-and-white thinking and obsessive thinking. Has a number of mental health issues commonly comorbid with and/or related to autism. If you don’t do things her way, you’re wrong. Difficult to elucidate to what degree she has social difficulties because of her mental illness, but has no sensory issues, executive function issues, or problems with disrupting routines. Not autistic, but maybe BAP-y. She would yell at me for walking with my eyes shut and insist that it’s not that bright, that I’m exaggerating my discomfort.
  • My paternal grandmother (deceased): By all accounts that aren’t me and one of my cousins, a very strange and difficult-to-get-on-with woman. Me and my autistic cousin on that side of the family thought she was normal and liked her a lot. Very black-and-white in her thinking, with strong, unusual interests. Growing up, she was the only one in the extended family who liked Star Wars as much as me, and on the rare occasions we got together, we’d spend hours quoting it at each other (in order of the script, according to film release date, and the Great Ewok Adventure and the Christmas Special don’t count), to the befuddlement of everyone else who thought she just hated people. There were two colors she’d wear (grey and blue), and she would only wear stuff made of long-fibre cotton. She moved across the continent to get away from neighbours she didn’t like. Twice. She would never look anyone in the eye. She would look above you instead (I didn’t notice, because I don’t look people in the eye, either, but my sister mentioned it). She could spend days without talking, and was the only one in the extended family with a similarly deep appreciation for books. She loved routines, and would get extremely angry if you disrupted them on her – case in point: she once smacked my then-preschool-aged sister because my sister went to her chair the wrong way around the dinner table (that’s why my sister and I didn’t see her often).  I’m almost certain she was autistic. She would say, “It’s too bright out. Let’s wait until it clouds over or gets dark.”
  • Paternal great-uncle: Brother to my grandmother, though her family tried to erase his existence. He was institutionalized for, from what I can piece together, sounds like nonverbal autism, in the 1930s. I don’t know anything beyond this, and that he died sometime in the 50s. Not sure what he would do re: brightness. He died long before I was born.
  • Paternal cousin: is diagnosed autistic. Stereotypical little professor as a kid. Loves routines, was an extremely talented diver** by 10 (people called him a prodigy), and refused to compete thereafter because competition environment was “too stressful.” Loves computer code. Is a programmer for a living (he jokes he lives up to the stereotype of the autistic computer nerd). People in the extended family lament that he could go to the Olympics “if he wanted to,” but I get it. I know exactly what he’s talking about, and I don’t blame him a bit – high level sports competition is sensory and routine hell. It’s why I didn’t go beyond Nationals in my sport.*** No thanks. He would grab a hat for himself, and, seeing me walking with my eyes shut, would offer to go back and get another.
  • Maternal cousin: Is diagnosed autistic, and didn’t talk much until age 5. Oddly doesn’t care much one way or the other about routines (odd in my extended family anyway – pretty much everyone except her and my mother likes routines). Typical interests growing up, but unusual in depth – she didn’t just like boybands as a kid, she knew what her favorite members liked to eat for breakfast. Likes banking. Extroverted by nature, good at faking socialization, but gets exhausted by putting on the typical mask, so she has a solo office where she can do paperwork alone to recharge a bit, and often goes out with friends who know she’s autistic and don’t mind her being her. The best at passing of the autistic people in the family, unless my father turns out to be autistic, in which case she’s the second-best, but she probably pays the biggest toll for her passing. She’d wear her sunglasses on a bright day and wouldn’t notice my discomfort unless I mentioned it. If I did, she’d know a quiet, out-of-the-way store to get a new one in, to which she’d take me without delay.

*wasn’t actually a leaf collection, but was similarly unusual. Changed to protect her privacy.
**sport changed for privacy reasons.
*** sport not identified for privacy reasons, but yes, I went to nationals in a thing a few times. Fun sport, hell environment.

Some days

At martial arts

Kid: *garbled noise*
Me: huh?
Kid: *repeat noise, parsed as “Ask can ally oh cat?”*
Me: *pause* *blink* Erm, repeat slowly?
Kid: Oh, sorry. Wrong class. Can *noise* bathroom?
Me: Bathroom? Sorry, I didn’t hear you correctly.
Kid: I’m in French immersion. Sometimes I use French by mistake. I said, “est-ce je peux aller aux toilettes?”
Me: I understand the French, just didn’t hear it right with the background noise.
Kid: Okay. *noise, not parsed sensibly except immersion was in there somewhere*
Me: *realizes kid probably wants to go to the bathroom* Go ahead.

Some days, it’s hard for me to make sense of anything people say to me if other stuff is going on. Background noise + stress makes words hard.

Something in the news

TW: Bullying, victim-blaming, complete indifference on the part of the people supposed to protect the victim

So, this happened. And it doesn’t sound familiar at alll. */sarcasm*

Short version: Kid gets bullied in class by classmates while teachers are in the room, sometimes while teachers are watching. Teachers ignore it, turn away, pretend they didn’t see. Kid has autism and ADHD, and therefore it’s his fault his classmates videotaped themselves hitting and teasing him.

And people say as much in so many words.

And the school seems to be backing up the perpetrators, because they say that videotaping yourself hitting and teasing someone, and videotaping their stimming for the purpose of ridicule isn’t bullying and therefore isn’t covered by their antibullying rules.

This hits very close for me. Because I allegedly brought bullying onto myself, too. And when kids slammed my head in my locker and beat the crap out of me, that wasn’t bullying. It was me not trying hard enough to avoid them. And when kids jumped me on my way home after school, it wasn’t bullying. It was me not trying hard enough to fit in. When kids stripped me at a birthday party, it wasn’t bullying, it was me provoking them by yelling at them for asking me if I was a “real girl”. And it takes two to tango, and if you fight back, it’s your fault because you hit, too, but if you don’t fight back, it’s your fault for sitting there and taking it and if you run away, well, that’s just being a coward and you deserve a few slaps to teach you bravery, amirite? Everything. Is. Always. The. Victim’s. Fault.

That’s how these things work. It’s your fault. Even if you had no way of predicting it. It’s your fault, even if you tried to avoid them. It’s your fault, it’s your fault, it’s your fault.

Very familiar. And not surprising. And I’m sad for Levi and angry at his school and his classmates and his teachers. And I’m angry that only one of the news stories I’ve seen on the issue thought to interview the kid in question, because, y’know, he’s just the kid living through that shit, who wants to hear from him, amirite? It’s not like autistics can speak for themselves or anything. He needs his mother to speak for him. Ew. 

But mostly, I’m sad for Levi and angry on his behalf. I’ve been there. And, as a member of the class of fuck off we made it, I hope he makes it, too. 

Scents redux: Scent-free vs. Unscented

Inspired by the fact that someone wore strong cologne to martial arts and had me so wheezy I sounded like a squeaky toy.

If you’re looking to be considerate to your peers and colleagues with asthma, you probably want to stop wearing scents. However, terminology around scents is confusing at best, so I’ll go into it a bit.

Unfortunately, in my country, “Scent-free,” “Unscented,” and “Fragrance free”, are not what you’d think they are. Sometimes they mean scent free, but far, far more often, what it means is that a masking agent has been added so you don’t smell like soap, as all that’s required is for them to not be smellable from a certain distance. Which isn’t helpful to an asthmatic, as there’s still perfume in there.

Therefore, what you want to do if you’re looking for a scent free product, is read the ingredients. Look for stuff like [smelly thing] extract, parfum, perfume, fragrance, [smelly thing] oil, etc. All of those words are used to mean scents. Avoid them. Look for stuff that does not have any of those listed.

Just, FYI.