I sat in Simon Baron Cohen’s office and noticed it’s simplicity. It was quiet and tidy and had a pleasant feel of an old Cambridge building. It was a sunny day and some of that sun meandered through the window and tickled the walls. There was a poster on the wall detailing something about autism. A picture of a small boy crouched in the corner of a room reflected back my own endless battle to fight the tyranny of extreme introspection.
Mike came in and brought, with him, a macbook. I liked him and I certainly liked that he had a mac. That meant that, at least, I was familiar with the technology needed to help him with his research. We talked mac language for a short while and I explained to him that winning my macbook pro from the ‘Arts Council’ was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. He had set up a research questionnaire on his laptop and, as I sat at the desk, he gently, but firmly, explained what I needed to do. I got it straight away and I was pleased that for the next hour of my life – it looked certain that I wasn’t going to be bored. I hate being bored. I fired through the questions quickly, succinctly, thoughtfully, impressively and with the focus of a brain surgeon. I loved it.
I loved working with all the rese archers at the Cambridge Autism Research Centre. It was the only time in my life when I was tested (very specifically) at a level way beyond the drudgery of rain on a supermarket car park. Over a number of months and as a Volunteer for the centre – I was ecstatic at being allowed to arrange three dimensional cubes into complex two dimensional patterns. who needs maths? I turned the cubes and studied them in split seconds. I became a new character from the ‘X Men’. Each time, the researchers and professionals timed me with a watch. Each time I completed a pattern, almost before they had had time to reset their watches. It was phenomenal – I could see in their faces they knew, too, that it was phenomenal.
I was filmed for research training and asked to make up scenarios and stories from inanimate objects.
With the plastic sealer of a loaf of bread, a toy car, a feather and other tiny, mundane and everyday objects. I told them a story that entranced us all. It had to be a love story because the small plastic bread sealer had a heart shape gap, the gap that firmly holds the twisted end of a white sliced.
I wanted to live there – at the centre. I wanted to be tested like that everyday. I wanted to crawl under Simon’s desk and live there like the small boy in the poster. My experiences of being a volunteer for the centre were precious. are precious. I wore sophisticated equipment on my head while watching films, I answered questions about words and their meanings, I worked on links about Harry Potter, as fictional, and real people. I placed very obscure and rare words in everyday contexts and sentences with ease. They took a sample of my blood for ‘Hormone and Autism’ research (they asked first). I would like to trust that my contribution was (and is) valuable – Will help the little boy in the poster. Who Knows? – such can never be measured.
At the times of being tested – I felt a completeness that I had rarely felt before. That I am profoundly gifted became ‘normal’ and I allowed myself to stretch out of hiding into the sunlight – without fear of retribution.
Footnote: Aly Gynn (Alyster) was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome by Professionals from the Cambridge Autism Research centre. This was in 2004 and he is still a Volunteer to further research. Alyster was ‘formally’ diagnosed with Severe Gender Dysphoria and is a Transsexual Man