It’s been four months since I arrived in Perth. I’ve been kept extremely busy.
University – some administrative problems that dragged and only solved recently. Stress contribution – High.
Accommodation – poor arrangement and handling that could potentially cause them a court order, never did resolve, I compromised in a way. Stress contribution – Super High.
Functional assessment – disagreed and rejected the inferences of the psychologist, but overall recommendation fits the purpose, I just don’t accept her inferential report on the results. Stress contribution – moderate and only briefly.
Studies – lecturer and tutor have been extremely supportive, and the delivery method is suiting me very well. The equity support is very helpful as I started to learn about my learning difficulties which were not prominent previously as I was not required to do higher level of numeral tasks. I was careful in selecting my majors and minors in previous studies to avoid statistical unit. Unfortunately, statistics is one of the core units in psychology.
*Challenges: Establishing the disability support plan with the Equity division is not the difficult part, the challenging part is to communicate your needs with all the unit coordinators and tutors separately, on your own. There are a lot of things to do before I start my semester.
1. Update any new support adjustments with the equity officer.
2. Retrieve the document through the network system.
3. Plan for the unit for next semester way ahead (this is a complex step, which involves meeting with the academic chair to discuss my study plan according to my learning challenges. I need to be very sure that I don’t match numerical processing units such as cognitive processes and statistical units together, because I have a specific learning difficulty in numbers, so one unit of such capacity is equivalent to 2 units of other areas of studies. The academic chair will know the requirements of each unit, so he/she is the best person to help me make a better study plan.)
4. Book the classes for lectures and tutorials online when the Uni opens up the booking (this also takes some planning, many of us don’t score well in executive function – I do though, relatively high, I am raised in Singapore that encourages (adamantly) self-efficacy, if I didn’t learn how to plan on my own, I would be left to rot and die, literally – so think this through before booking for the classes).
5. I need electronic format of the learning text, so I have to communicate with the unit coordinator as early as after I booked for the classes, to allow them to source for it in time before the new semester starts.
6. Arrange to meet and discuss with the unit coordinators and tutors about my needs. This is to prepare me to know what to expect, to minimise anxiety due to uncertainties.
7. To actually find the different offices in different buildings and meet them.
See, it’s a lot of work, because this can take up more than a day for some of us who find it hard to compose and organise things all at once. That is why it’s important that I don’t overload my schedule, because I have so much more administrative stuffs to do than others, and I have to do them on my own, while trying to sort out timetable for revision for exams.
It’s been very ‘adventurous’ even within the ‘safer’ compound. I was locked out of my room one night, because the door knob came off!!! Everything else (except my key) was in the room! I went to the administrative office where a Resident Assistant should be on duty, but no one was there! I had no phone, so I couldn’t phone! There was in-house phone outside the office, so I picked up and dialled for the RA, nope, didn’t work. Phoned for security instead (what else could I do!!), and the security was on walkie, so the message took much longer to be understood because I had to wait for the pause before speaking. Otherwise my words kept getting cut off. The security manager came to my rescue! He was so tickled by my door that he couldn’t stop laughing. In the end, he found a way for me to open the door, knife! Who knew!
The door knob was fixed the next day, but came off a few days ago, this time I had no key, no anything!
*Challenges: It’s not easy for me to get help, it’s not in my nature to seek help without resistance. For many people on the autism spectrum, the ability to seek help depends on the state of mental/physical stress they are in. Some of us just froze and broke down because everything that we had planned for the evening or days, or weeks were ruined because of this unexpected incident.
There is no laundry facility in the apartment, we have to use the communal laundry facility. That was new to me. Each wash cost AUD3, each dry cost AUD3. I have my favourite washer and dryer after three washes.
*Challenges: We develop routine fairly quickly. We depend on routine to feel safe and in control. We always have favourite food, favourite seat, favourite this and that. Favourite things lessen chances of surprises. The downside is that such a routine can set us up to malfunction too. With shared facilities, we don’t always get the machine we want. There was once that I was anticipating my favourite machine to be empty during that same time of the same day that I do my laundry every week. The washer was in use. I found myself froze for a bit, and was actually quite upset because other washers have slightly different washing time, and I have planned to do housework and a bunch of other things. I took a bit of time to try to reframe and reorganise the schedules in my head (takes years of constant practices), then, when I was more comfortable with the adjusted itinerary, I tossed my laundry in not-my-favourite machine. Some of us may not get around that, our rigidity is a coping mechanism to help us function as normally as possible, it’s not a flaw.
Then, there was a huge spider on the wall! I arrived much earlier than most students, and the village was not well prepare, so they didn’t give me the welcome pack that contained useful information about things like ‘what may kill you in Australia’, and some freebies which I don’t care for. I had to go to the reception area to ask for directions all the time, and that poor guy must have thought I was stupid, since all the information could be found in the welcome pack (that I’d never received).
*Challenges: I didn’t know it was a problem – ignorance is a bliss, so I thought. I have been advised by caring friends that I am sometimes oblivious to my surroundings. I am afraid of insects (all of them!), so I think I am safe in that category. It all comes around the same edge. With the lack of social interaction, there is a lack of information exchange – social interaction is one of the most effective ways to acquire new information and knowledge – we depend heavily on information sheet. I always read the literature of the medicine or whatever, not just because I am generally hungry for knowledge, but also because it’s the direct source to information that I need. I can ask people, but I have lived long enough to know that my questions are sometimes deemed ‘strange’ or ‘inappropriate’ even though my motive was genuine and innocent.
Then, came the day to go to a new place – South Perth – at the Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation for functional assessment for dyscalculia. I had been feeling quite stressed out by the thought of getting there since I booked the appointment in February, and the earliest appointment was in March (they made an exception for me, the earliest was September). I was talking to my lecturer about it and she prompted if I would consider taking a taxi to ease the fear of getting lost (again). It presented another stress factor. I had not seen a taxi in Perth since I came or I didn’t recognise it. I spent quite a lot of time searching for taxi information, and then download the booking app from Swan Taxi and Black & White. Then, I booked the taxi the night before, but they couldn’t confirm if you would get a taxi or not. I had a restless night. I woke every hour because my brain was just too overloaded with worries that I would not get the taxi.
*Challenges: Many of us on the spectrum have trouble with new places; although I didn’t receive the diagnosis for dyscalculia (mathematic disorder that also impacts the spatial ability – probably in the same region of the brain), my test result for dyscalculia shows significant deficits in numerical tasks and spatial functions, but my high cognitive function and processing speed showed that I have the potential to learn that tasks (I would leave my disagreement on this for another time – I had since spoken to a few other professionals, and they are in agreement with me on my disagreement) – in shorter argument, a hearing compromised person compensating hearing impairment with assistive equipment doesn’t make him any less hearing impaired; we must separate factual presentation from capability to compensate.
My poor sense of directions attributes to high-stress level by my Asperger’s traits. My brain develops a coping method to ‘prepare’ me for the day/task ahead. It doesn’t stop until it finds out how to do it. Although I had found out the travel route on the google maps app, maps app, and even via Transperth planner, my brain refused to stop routeing. It takes up a great deal of mental capacities each time it does that. My brain is trying to help me visualise my route in order to reinstate my level of ‘in control’ mental state; my spatial inability means I cannot visualise directions in my head. It’s a dead end every time, yet it continues to do this stupid task that drains me mentally. So, this adds to my anxiety; most people cannot understand this and ask me to take it as an adventure; it’s like a black hole to me, and it’s anxiety attributing because it threatens my optimal in-control level. There is a reason why I don’t go out much; my friends always meet me at places that they know I won’t get lost.
Before I left for Perth, I ‘trained’ myself while in Singapore to take public transport as often as possible. It was extremely stressful because of the high density of population in Singapore, the comprehensive and great infrastructure of the public transport systems equalled to highly confusing routes to me. I used conditional techniques on myself for the longest time, to cope.
On the second day that I checked in to the student village, I took the bus to the train station, and took train (for nothing, let’s call that a joy ride), then after much effort, I arrived at the bank.
The route should be – Take bus 99 from Discovery Way, pass by the train station, alight at Bull Creek Shopping Centre. 10 mins.
What happened to me:
Found bus stop, saw a bus, it’s not bus 99, so I walked on.
Bus driver called out to me from the bus.
Told him I was going to Bull Creek, he said no other bus will take me there, I have take train to Bull Creek.
His bus will bring me to the Murdoch train station.
Arrived at the station, I asked if I were to alight, he said yes.
I went to train station, asked the vendor selling some stuff if the train took me to Bull Creek, they said yes.
Boarded the train towards Perth direction, I should alight at next stop, Bull Creek.
Train stopped at Bull Creek station, I stood at the door, it didn’t open!!!!!!!!!
(See the elderly people sitting by the door in the photo?)
The elderly man nearest to the door spoke very discreetly to me, ‘you have to press the button’.
I pressed, the train moved! (In Singapore, the doors open at every station!)
‘Oh oh, it’s ok, next one’, he said softly (I felt that he was trying to shield my ego and pride as much as possible)
Train stopped at Canning Bridge station, he signalled me to press the button. The door opened!
I thank him many times.
At Canning Bridge, I had to cross over to the other side to take the train back to Bull Creek.
And I did.
Arrive at Bull Creek station safely this time.
Looked around, no shopping centre. Confused.
Asked the Transperth staff.
He told me that Bull Creek shopping centre is not at Bull Creek!!! It’s at Murdoch station!!!!!
Ok, so you see, I took train and got stressed up for nothing!
Now, at Murdoch station, I asked for more directions.
I should take the bus, alight at 2nd bus stop, the staff pointed at the direction where there was a ‘Hungry Jack’ signboard. I should alight there.
On the bus, tried to count bus stop – problem: the bus stop here doesn’t always look like a bus stop, it could just be an insignificant pole!
Then, when I saw Hungry Jack, I pressed the bell, but I was actually passed the shopping centre already (Hungry Jack sign appeared only AFTER the bus stop!).
I thought it should be ok, it’s just one stop away, I could walk back.
Bus did not stop!
Alighted 2 stops from the shopping centre.
Walked about 20+ minutes under the hot sun to the bank.
I had an appointment with the bank to activate my bank card and verify my ID for the account I opened when I was in Singapore. I was late, very late.
After all the hassle (and hardship), the bank told me that they had destroyed my bank card because it was ‘sitting around’ for a while.
YES! That was the whole purpose of applying it online so that when I arrived I would have the card ready for me!!!!
Now, can you see how inconvenient that my spatial inability causes me in a daily basis? Dyscalculia is rarer than dyslexia, it doesn’t mean that there are lesser people affected by it, it only means that there has been lesser diagnosis. It’s explainable, for example, back in Singapore, there is no diagnostic tool for dyscalculia; in Singapore, they use IQ tests to screen children for dyscalculia (What!! You heard me right!) and other learning disabilities (What!!! What!! Yup!) and they don’t have anything for adults. Like autism, people assume we ‘outgrow’ them; then when we tried so hard cope but struggle every day with the daily inconveniences and unduly stress, they tell you that you have the potential to learn the tasks. Don’t get me started with my numerical ability. I rest my case on that for now, since I don’t need a dyscalculia diagnosis that my Asperger’s diagnosis doesn’t already got me the assistance I need. I don’t need more, I just need enough. There are people who exploit services with their disabilities, these are the people who gave us the bad name, and I don’t respect it.
I feel that everything that happened since I regained ‘independence’ was to prepare me for this ‘adventure’. Last winter, I spent 3 months in the States and Denmark. Although I was a guest, I couldn’t just expect to be served food and not do anything! I learned to cook, a little. I actually have it in me in cooking! I never had to cook back home, like a pampered Princess, my mother cooked, or someone will get food for me.
Now that I am living independently in Perth, I am more confident in handling food and cooking facilities after winter ’training’. I became quite a chef, if I may say! From bolognese, to fried noodles, to fried bee hoon, to braised chicken, to KFC be-like coleslaw (it really tasted like KFC coleslaw!), to fried wings, to rojak, to crockpot chili! I am impressed too! They tasted really good! I have only ate at one cafe since I arrived in Perth; just arrived in Perth. I have been eating my home cooked food all this time, except for the Japanese takeout for sushi rolls.
*Challenges: I don’t drive, and buying groceries without your own transport can be difficult. It means you have to do a lot of planning on what you want to buy, since you may have to walk quite a distance if the bus-stop doesn’t stop at your place, or the grocer’s. I order most of the groceries and foodstuffs online, and to enjoy free delivery, I have to order at least $100. I like online shopping, so it’s fine. I get lost in the shopping lanes sometimes. I also get distracted when I am out, because of the sensory overloading from time to time, then I forget to buy stuffs that I need. Online shopping is easier, because I can take my time, and the environment remain quite constant (until my drunk neighbours started to yell and do stupid things), and I can use the search function! It’s also easier for me to compare prices.
**Numeral task: See, I cannot count literally. I train myself to do simple mathematical sums every day (yes, everyday) so that I retain the basic counting skills. I rehearse my cell number every morning (yes, every morning) so that I remember my number. If I forgot to do for just one day, and I needed to recall my cell number, the memory becomes a little fuzzy. Numbers have no value to me, so they don’t stick in my memory (it’s one of the prominent markers of dyscalculia, but well, the expert says I don’t meet the criteria *sarcasm*).
Strategy to overcome the numbers problem: I develop simple strategies to reduce foreseeable anxiety with numbers leading issues. I cannot count very well, and I don’t remember numbers. It’s very difficult (nearing impossible) for me to remember how much money I have left, and it can be potentially disastrous if I were to find myself penniless in a foreign country! To prevent that from happening, and to relieve my mental resources, I buy things cheapest, except for specific products that I MUST have that brand etc.. That way, I know that I don’t exceed my allowable expenses and still get all the things I need.
With time, I grew slightly more confident with navigating my ways around using the maps app. I am now sourcing for accommodation for next semester when my current rental lease ends. The village is not suited for matured students; it’s definitely not the right fit for people on the spectrum.
*Challenges: The village can get rowdy, they say they have strict control and they have noise policy, well, let’s say, usually people don’t do what they say they should do. That’s the good thing about rigidity, we promise, we don’t change until the terms are renegotiated. Personally, it’s a waste of resources and time to do anything other than what had been agreed upon; it also invites unnecessary dispute – like the one I have with them.
Finding a suitable accommodation is difficult for people with limitations to compromise and sensory processing difficulties. People can tell you they understand, but they usually don’t. I wouldn’t say they won’t, because they may try, but sometimes it’s just beyond their comprehension level of what they don’t experience. They don’t understand that talking loudly overwhelms me; they don’t understand that bringing unexpected guests can trip me to an overload and meltdown especially if I were in the middle of assignment (that has a dateline). People want to try, but sometimes they cannot understand; I can understand that, but I think the meeting point is just follow agreement and allow this person to stay in the ‘safe and controlled’ situation. We just want to feel safe and in control.
I went to view a house in Japonica Way, which is within walkable distance to the campus (I don’t remember how many minutes, maybe 9, 12, or 19, it’s walkable). To get to there, I have to walk pass an underpass. I met the landlord at 1:30pm (or something) and I didn’t see another person all the way from the campus to the house. That didn’t bother me though. No person is good, I like quiet and undisturbed.
*Challenges: We can be oblivious to dangers. I don’t perceive dangers the way most people may, unless it’s explicitly pointed out to me. I have been advised strongly against the idea of finding a place that is within walking distance. Even if I don’t walk in the nightfall, what if something happened to me and there was no one around to help? I should not inspect houses without company, so I was warned. Well, I have been here for 4 months, I have not made any friends, so who am I going to invite to accompany me to inspect houses? I have friends here, but they have families to attend to, it’s just unreasonable (to me!) to expect company; and company means I may feel pressured to accept the offer because I feel bad that I make my friend come with me.
It is recommended to find a place that is near a bus stop that will take me to the campus. It makes sense, because I can get the security on campus to escort me to the bus stop should I need to stay for lectures/tutorials till late, the security will wait with me until I board the bus. At least when I was on the bus, I was ‘safe’, and after alighting, there is only a short walking distance.
My personal recommendation is: DO NOT stay until late, unless someone is sending you home. I am especially vulnerable since I don’t recognise places. I lived in my place in Singapore for 15 years, I still don’t recognise the bus stop!
I looked kind of nerdy and quite delighted. It was Mother’s Day. I did the most stupid thing. I went to the mall, bought something for my mum, and the postage costs more than the item. I didn’t mail it until yesterday. It really takes a lot of time for me to process numbers, and with a few assignments due, it can take as long as weeks for me to process simple maths problem. I took a quick selfie and posted on facebook for my mother instead.
*Challenges and Coping:
There have been students with Asperger’s studying in Murdoch; I am possibly the first international student with Asperger’s. One of my key limitations is anxiety. My decision to put myself here, raises my propensity for anxiety to the maximum unthinkable level.
Strategy to cope:
Since I was a small child, I knew I had limitations. I have always been rigid, I have always been inflexible and follow strict routines. I started developing coping strategies to cope – it’s not exclusive to me, most people develop coping mechanisms to cope with difficulties.
Cause and effect:
I used to enjoy meals with other people, and I didn’t think much of my weird eating habits. When having chicken rice, for example, I would eat the rice and cucumber first, then I will eat the chicken. Everything is the same. With western meal, I will eat the salad/vegetables, fries, and the meat. It’s just easier to process digestively. Then, people start to pick food from my plate. 🙁 I can get very upset when that happens, although I may not show (I don’t know, I can’t see myself, but internally, my eating routine is being ‘hijacked’!). People assumed I didn’t want to eat the meat, so they ate it. 🙁 It’s not about the food, it’s about my thought process that gets disrupted. See, like finding direction, my brain pre-empt every single thing (every.single.thing), so in my head. I already visualised myself finishing the meal as always. It’s not something major, but I learn that it’s more enjoyable to eat alone – no surprises. I believe that most of us on the spectrum lead an isolated lifestyle mainly because life gets in the way, and sometimes, we really just want to have simple no-surprise days.
In order to function as normally as I could afford, I need to retain a 60/40 balance; the most can be stretched to 50/50. The heavier weight goes to resting place. I am only giving you a small glimpse into my brief journey thus far, how much mental activities have you picked up in my post, just so that I can complete one task that you may take for granted, and still have energy to do many more? It’s not what happened outside, but what actually happens in the head. Don’t even think of asking me to ‘not think so much’, I would if I could. It’s an involuntary coping mechanism; it’s analysed that I actually killed two birds with one stone (she is Russian, so she said killed two rabbits, same meaning, we just kill different animals!). The rationalisation is my coping mechanism to help me stay in the safe zone, so when considering one situation, my brain rapidly (high processing speed, remember?) developed at least 10-15 possible scenarios – most people stop at 2 or 3. This capability also continue to enhance and accelerate my cognitive abilities; at this rate, the speed will continue to pick up (not if you lose track of the topic), so does the cognitive expansion.
In order to cope with day to day function (unless I don’t have to go out), I must make sure that my living space (60) remains expectable and unchanged. Living with other people will compromise that number, that means, instead of 60/40, I now need 70/30, because even at home, I have to manage the unpredictables. My brain doesn’t get the rest it desperately needs, it’s still racing to maintain balance. Back home, my mother didn’t touch any of my things. She learnt it a long time ago when I was a child, that when she shifted my things and put them back exactly the way they were, I would know and I got upset. Back home, I had to deal with unpredictables too, that’s why it was difficult for me maintain longer ’normality’. I needed more time alone. I knew from a long time ago, that I cannot afford children. If I ever had children, my partner had to be much stronger than a regular partner, because I would not be able to sustain the 24/7 needed attention. I never had children, because none of the partners proved to be ‘qualified’ or ‘worthy’.
When we lose that balance, we cannot serve the activities or tasks. I am looking for a place that I only need to deal with one other person who is quiet, tidy, private, and respectful. I am not the easiest housemate, and I feel apologetic towards people who have to deal with me, but my objective is very simple. Unlike you, I wake early to prepare myself for the day, unlike you, my brain decides to do a full review every evening about the things I do for the day; it becomes more intensive when I have met and spoke with people. My brain is very unforgiving, it scrutinises everything and sometimes torture me for the simple social mistakes I make.
I am penning down my learning journey and independent living. I have a feeling that some day, it would benefit in what I may be doing.
Another house-viewing tomorrow. Heading to sleep now. I have fed the brain and it’s ready to sleep. I am slave to my brain.