A different subject for you, along with apologies for the tardiness of my blog.
My husband, Joe (also with Asperger’s) is a freemason and has been through the Master’s Chair of his lodge. It was pretty stressful for him (and me), so he took a break following that year. Recently he has returned to active freemasonry and to our shock he is now about to be promoted to grand rank, quicker than most.
I shall attempt to reveal how an autistic person may be affected within freemasonry as general autism statistics would suggest that there are likely to be others like Joe.
Joe had a desire to join freemasonry, because one of his obsessive or narrow interests is history and tradition. He absorbs facts like a sponge. He spent many years studying freemasonry and its traditions before contacting Grand Lodge and consequently being introduced to his local Lodge. He knows more facts about freemasonry than many more experienced freemasons (or brethren as they are called by those ‘in the know’). While some may think this is strange, or even try to belittle him for it, others admire him for his obvious passion and commitment.
He loves the tradition of ritual and the ways it is performed, which I understand he does with military precision. He has been complimented on this often. He dislikes sloppiness because if there are correct ways to do things, autists believe they should be followed exactly. They thrive on correctness and routine. Paradoxically this is where some aspects of freemasonry can be more challenging.
Learning needs to be systematic. Joe has to learn ritual, one part at a time. Once he has learned a part, he can then move on to the next part, and then the next part. It is difficult for him to move around haphazardly before he has learned the words properly. He will just get confused, panic and then likely miss lodge meetings or practice because he feels overwhelmed.
If there is ‘unrest’ or ‘incident’ at an event it is likely to affect an autistic individual severely. They tend to be either hypo or hyper sensitive and react to situations quite differently, often seen as dramatically, to non autistic individuals. Autists may find interpreting others’ comments or reactions difficult and can often misread situations. They can be easily upset especially when they are feeling tired, stressed or panicked by situations.
Social occasions can be overwhelming and you will often find an autistic person sitting alone, calming himself down. Joe uses a tactic to get over this discomfort, which may be considered unusual for the autistic individual. He approaches everyone as quickly as he can and speaks to them before they speak to him. This way he is in control of the situation, what he says, how he needs to react. It is a way to reduce feeling cornered and under pressure in social situations. As he is a leader, within top management, within his professional career, this tactic has worked well for him and enables him to network superbly.
I, on the other hand, do the complete opposite given the chance unless I know people, in which case I imitate Joe’s methods if the situation allows me to do so. Imitation is something autistic individuals do a lot – it is their way to learn how to behave in social situations.
As a freemason’s wife I struggled when Joe first entered the Lodge. I had to attend lots of social events with people I mostly did not know. The wives of Joe’s proposer and seconder, were told to look after me. They did, and they continued to do so throughout most of Joe’s masonic career thus far.
At this point it is worth mentioning that Joe’s masonic break after his Master’s year was forced pretty much for reasons which caused him to become overwhelmed with events which spiralled out of his control, through no fault of his own. We had a fantastic Master’s year, running many events both large and small, and managing to raise £5000 for a local charity supporting children with disabilities and their families. We had tremendous support from his own Lodge, and from some other Lodges within Kent.
At the end of the year we were both physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and a break was desperately needed by us both. One such event is tiring enough for anyone, a chain of events in just a few months experienced by a couple with autism was a challenge akin to climbing Everest twice in a month. To add to the pressure I was also in the throes of completing my doctorate in education.
Despite the immense pressures we loved his Master’s year and I loved the dressing up and organising all of the events. Being a dancer and having been part of the competitive world for so long, Ladies Night was made for me. As the organiser, my social phobias were lessened as I could act a part; be another person.
Autistic individuals can sometimes seem rude and seemingly ignorant. Often there is a lot going on, lots of noise, lots of talking, lots of information, and autistics become overwhelmed easily. One way of overcoming this, if it is not possible to leave the situation and find a quiet space, is by ‘switching out’ and appearing to be ignoring what is going on. It can be a way to avoid sudden rage or episode of anxiety. Be patient, they will eventually ‘come back’.
You will also find an autist is very exacting about detail; perhaps the directions to a lodge, the invitation to a lodge meeting, what he or she should wear. This is not just them being pedants, but the detail is essential for them to process the situation so that they can accept it as fact. They will get anxious about travelling, about being told one thing and then it being changed at the last minute.
If you know a freemason who is autistic, this essay may be useful to pass around his or her masonic community. If you know of or are a freemason, this will be useful information for you. Not everyone is the same and we all need help and support from time to time. Autism is not an excuse; it is simply a difference in the way the brain is wired, which cannot be altered.
You can find Joe’s masonic ‘ramblings’ at www.facebook.com/uniquefreemason or on Twitter @UniqueFreemason
Until next time…