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Good Coffee, Chocolate and Wine Please

I actually wrote the title for this post on my “In Case of Emergency/Dietary Requirements” form for a residential workshop I attended last month.Because I am a fussy person and I think it is best to be clear about your preferences and not be out of sorts when you are only offered things you don’t particularly like.

And being autistic must feel a bit like that all the time. With limited communication and understanding of social cues, it can be difficult to get people to understand your preferences, which must be very frustrating. I know if I was presented with instant coffee for example, I would feel very uncomfortable about drinking it. (can barely type it without making a face, GAH!)

It would be considered very rude to refuse it and ask for something else- or push it back at my hosts so I would either have to let it go cold, (and suffer from caffeine withdrawal) or discreetly make my way to the kitchen and tip it down the sink while furtively making a cup of tea. In other words, rejection, then helping myself to find what I really wanted would be the option.

Remind you of anyone?

In order to attend this residential workshop I was given the opportunity to choose what I really wanted in writing – making it clear. When I got to the wonderful house where we were doing the workshop, there were strong sensory cues that I would be getting an excellent brew of freshly ground coffee: An empty packet, a good smell and the tell-tale plunger pot. So I relaxed and accepted and was able to concentrate on the task ahead.

It was a different story at the B&B. I don’t know if you have ever been to an Irish Bed & Breakfast but they are run by families who live on the premises and offer exactly what they say; A bed, a shared bathroom and in the morning, breakfast. You are totally dependent on the Irish Landlady; a kind of subsitute Mammy who offers you tea and cupcakes on arrival, 15 different kinds of cereal in the morning, a full irish breakfast with fried everything and when you get in at midnight, she will be there behind the door with more tea and some freshly baked scones.

There is no chance to make a visual request. No access to the kitchen to help yourself and if you are nervous about coffee quality – no way of making sure it will be okay. So I meekly accepted tea. I don’t eat breakfast so refusing the entire list of offerings I took a banana from the fruit bowl – and went on my way.

I’m pretty sure the Landlady didn’t like me much. She probably thought I was taciturn and rude for not accepting her hospitality and piling up the toast, bacon and eggs while letting her pour me more coffee. She would have seen a much more relaxed and sociable me over in the Big House at 10 am with my coffee, some chocolate and a keen mind ready to learn.

Again, does this remind you of anyone?

Given the opportunity to access my preferred choices I found it easier to relax and integrate with my surroundings. Denied of access and independence I preferred my own space.

But I needed this:

Grace App Screenshot displaying I want Coffee

And this:

Grace App Screenshot Displaying I Want Chocolate

I’m not being critical of the Landlady – she is an Irish Mammy after all and probably believes that if she wasn’t there the world come to halt as everyone stared at the empty tea cups and unplugged kettles in dismay. It’s just a long time since anyone minded me. I was amused to see that several in the party were very comfortable with it – but I am sure they were still capable of looking after themselves if need be.

So that’s why I appreciate Grace App. Even if you do have some communication – it can be a lot easier to get your message across with the support of the visual. In my case it was the “In Case of Emergency” Form that smoothed the way. For children and adults with Autism it can be the difference between getting what you need easily and feeling at ease-  or being constantly frustrated and uncomfortable and as a result; isolated and withdrawn.

Everybody deserves the right to say what they want. My Aim is for them to get it.

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