Special interview with Chloë Asper, the author of web-comic ”Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur”
interviewer：Yutani (writer from TENTONTO)
Salutation for English readers
TENTONTO is a volunteer group for the people who have Developmental Disorders in Japan. Mainly we have two activities: publishing paper ZINE, and managing daily web magazine, “TENTONTO web“. On TENTONTO web, we provide various kinds of information about people with Developmental Disorder, especially who try to describe feelings, thoughts and sences of having those disorders. As one of the example of our work, we translate Ms.Chloë’s comics and introduce in an article, every week. We post articles everyday. If you’re interested in, please check articles in our web site.
What is country or region you live in, and your gender? How many families do you have?
I’m a twenty-something female from England, UK. When I’m not at university, I live with my mum, stepdad, and younger sister, plus my mum’s two cats. My dad lives some distance away but sometimes I go and visit him, which is always nice.
What is your hobby, or any favorite things to do?
Of course, I love drawing the Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur comics! Apart from that I like reading other webcomics, listening to music (especially the 70s British band Supertramp), and especially playing Scrabble on the Internet. I am also a perpetual student; I have two degrees and have just started studying for a third, so I love learning and collecting information on different subjects of all kinds.
Do you have any other favorite genre of music, musician or band?
I actually love many different kinds of music — my iTunes library is full of many different artists from Pink Floyd to Pulp, Nick Drake to Noel Gallagher, The Beatles to Bonobo. My dad is a classical musician and I played violin and piano as a child, and one of my special interests growing up was composing my own music; my favourite Western classical composers are Handel and Purcell. I am also really interested in world music, especially music from China and India, both classical and popular.
Do you have any favorite children’s movie and animation?
My favourite film ever since it came out when I was really quite young has been Disney’s ‘Mulan’.
I related a lot to the character of Mulan shown in the movie because all she wanted was to please her parents and those around her, to do what was expected of her, and she tried really hard but always ended up playing a role that she didn’t feel she was supposed to play, pretending to be someone she wasn’t, just to fit in. Growing up as an undiagnosed Aspie, that was very much my experience. The movie is also very funny and has some great songs, so it is a solid favorite for me.
A more recent Disney film I love (in fact, the one that I was actually going to see when the ‘Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur and the Cinema’ incident happened) is ‘Frozen’, again probably because I relate a lot to the character of Elsa, who has to keep her magical powers hidden and ends up isolated in her ice palace far from other people just because they do not understand and mistakenly hate her and see her as dangerous. I particularly like that one because my little sister is a lot like Elsa’s sister Anna in the movie; it could almost be about the two of us!
What foods do you like to eat?
It probably doesn’t count as a food, but I really love coffee. It’s an important part of my daily routine! I get up early each day and have a cup of coffee, and then I have another right before I go to school or work. If I can, I’ll have coffee mid-morning, and after lunch, and again in the afternoon! It doesn’t make me jittery or keep me awake, in fact I can drink a cup of coffee and go straight to sleep, so I guess I must just have an unusual reaction to caffeine. It’s been like that since I had my very first cup of coffee when I was 19, so it truly is innate, not just developed tolerance!
This actually interests me a lot, since I think that a lot of people with ASD/ADHD may be naturally under- or over-sensitive to caffeine; it is something I would like to find out a lot more about. In terms of actual food, I also eat porridge for breakfast every day, I love fruits and vegetables of most kinds, and I make sure to get a regular dose of dark chocolate too.
Do you have anything you don’t like to (eat, drink … etc)? If so, what is it?
Is there any reason? You might also guess from the ‘sandwich’ episode of the comic that I don’t like mayonnaise or other extras in sandwiches, and this is very true. I also really dislike bananas, and I hate fizzy drinks because they hurt my mouth.
In fact… I had a summer job once where I couldn’t work the coffee machine, so I was reduced to drinking Diet Coke instead. In order for it to be flat enough to drink I had to open a can in the morning and wait until all the fizz had gone out of it in the afternoon. You would think it would have been easier just to ask someone how the coffee machine worked, but not for an Aspie dinosaur! (I should really make a comic about that sometime.)
When do you draw your work?
I tend to draw the comics in a single sitting, first drawing the outline in black and then colouring them in with paints. That means I usually draw in the evenings, because then I am at home and will not be interrupted (except perhaps by a cat or two).
Do you yourself love cats?
I do! I really love cats and they seem to love me too — quite often I find that I can communicate with cats better than I can with humans.
I had cats at home growing up ever since I was about 10 years old and, although I’m not allowed cats in my student accommodation, I love visiting my mum’s two cats whenever I go home.
Dinah’s faithful ginger cat friend Buster is actually modelled on one of those — I have known him for 13 years and he has been a wonderful and comforting companion to me through good times and bad. He also tries to help me when I am drawing Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur by sitting on my paper, and often looks rather confused when I try to move him. I do think that sometimes a cat’s purr can say much more than many people’s words can.
How do you come up with ideas for episodes?
All of the episodes are based on things that have happened to me or to close (Aspie) friends in real life.
In fact, the very first episode I drew was ‘Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur and the Waiting Room’, on a day when I was in the waiting room at the doctor’s surgery and saw one of the IT staff from work there as well. For some reason the idea for the comic just occurred to me and I went home and drew it, purely for my own amusement, because I thought it was funny. I didn’t expect to end up posting the comics on the Internet or for other people to like them as much as they seem to.
That was only a few weeks after my ASD was first diagnosed. After that, I kept remembering weird or embarrassing things that have happened to me in the past and could be explained by my ASD, and I found that drawing comics about them was a good way of making sense of them and being able to move on with my life.
Nowadays, every time I am out and about and something funny happens to me related to being an Aspie, I don’t mind because I think “there’s a comic in that!” There is a saying that “laughter is the best medicine”, and I think that this is very true.
Is there anybody with ASD or ADHD around you, includes yourself?
Yes, I was diagnosed with ASD last year, in 2014.
I had been suffering from mystery anxiety and depression for many months and despite going to lots of doctors and counsellors no one was sure what the cause was. My doctor tried to get me to see a counsellor, but I was too scared (see ‘Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur and the Doctor Appointment’) for a long time. When I finally went, the counsellor asked me, “What do you know about Asperger’s syndrome?” and I said, “only what you read in the newspapers”. I didn’t think I could possibly be autistic because of the myths I had heard like “people with ASD don’t care about other people”, “people with ASD have no sense of humour”, and so on, which don’t apply to me at all — I am a very kind, caring person and my sense of humour is one of my strongest personality traits.
However, doing a bit of research I found that these things were not true, and suddenly my whole life and all my experiences made sense. My life has become a lot easier since I was diagnosed just because I understand myself better. Instead of wondering why some things are so much harder for me than for other people and just trying to force myself to do them, I can make adaptations and take steps to make things better for myself (like wearing sunglasses to block bright lights, or accepting that social activities wear me out more than other people so feeling more able to say ‘no’ to invitations just because I don’t have enough energy).
Since being diagnosed myself I have also been lucky enough to ‘meet’ many others like myself on the Internet, and come across a whole lot of people all over the world who think in the same way I do and understand what it is like to be an Aspie dinosaur. I love all my ASD friends — they form a group of such kind, loving, funny, sensitive, bright, diverse group of interesting people that I am incredibly happy to know and to be a part of.
Why did you pick up dinosaurs as your theme?
Dinosaurs were one of my very earliest interests. I went on a trip to the Natural History Museum in London with my parents when I was about three years old, and got a book in the bookshop there with all the different dinosaurs, their names and pictures and information, which I loved.
The fact that Dinah is a dinosaur is also a bit of a joke with myself, because I am a few years older than most of the students on my current university course, even though I look a lot younger than I am, and hence a ‘dinosaur’ in comparison to the younger students.
I know dinah the aspie dinosaur likes to watch movie(c.f. episode 9 of Dinah). Is there any reason for her hobby?
I think that movies, particularly children’s movies and animation, are a wonderful way of escaping into a different world and getting involved with other characters and places when sometimes interaction is hard and travelling is exhausting and stressful.
It’s true that the same can be said about reading books, but I have visual processing problems that have tended to make reading quite tiring and difficult for me, so watching a movie can achieve the same thing without being quite so tiring. That said, my attention span is often not long enough to be able to sit through an entire movie, so I like to watch them at home where I can take a break whenever I want!
How about the reflections about comics, from your aspie friend ?
I have been really surprised by how much other people like the comics, including requests for ‘Dinah’ merchandise such as mugs and stickers! That was a big surprise to me, but it makes me really happy that other people connect with my work and that I am able to bring comfort to other Aspies all over the world. Lots of people have said that the Dinah comics make them feel less alone, and knowing this I think the Dinah comics have achieved more than I ever hoped they would.
I think that one of the nicest things that someone wrote about the comics was that “they point out the ridiculous, without being horrible”, which is exactly what I would hope — I do believe that the best way to deal with a difficult situation is often to laugh at it, but a lot of humour in general tends to be at the expense of others.
It’s true that it’s difficult being an Aspie dinosaur, but some material on the subject seems to blame the rest of the world or try to imply that other people are somehow bad or inferior. I don’t want to do that; I hope that people laugh *with* Dinah rather than *at* her, but also *with* the others around her instead of *at* them.
You published the paper book of “Dinah”. How about reflection from your readers, on the internet or your real life?
The few people around me in real life who know that I have ASD have wanted to tell everyone they know about the book and give out copies, which is lovely but a bit awkward!
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about ASD (such as ‘people with ASD don’t care about others’, as I mentioned earlier) and I am concerned that if people I don’t know well find out that I’m an Aspie, they will use their preconceptions about autism to change their judgements of me, rather than using their knowledge of me to change their perception of autism and dispel the myths. People say that we should be proud of who we are and that we should be open about our autism, and in an ideal world that would be true, but the world is not ideal and sometimes it is necessary to try to blend in just to avoid prejudice and discrimination.
I have had to say that I am more than happy for people to distribute my book and tell others about it, but I would rather that they didn’t explicitly point out that I am the author! The Amazon reviews of the book have been truly heartwarming, including one that said “These cartoons changed my life.” That means so much to me, to be able to reach out and help others like me in that way. If I have helped only one person, I have done more than I ever hoped for, so I have been really thrilled by the feedback on the book. (Please, if you have bought the paper book and enjoyed it, do write an Amazon review!)
Is there any strict ritual or (table)manners in daily life, in England ? If so, how do you think about such manners?
I think there used to be in the last century; not so much nowadays. I often think that it might be easier if there were still very strict etiquette and social rules, clearly spelled out, because I have a lot of trouble working out the ‘hidden’ rules that are obvious to most people, they are not at all clear to me! When I must socialise, I do actually feel more comfortable in a formal environment with a strict code of behavior than in an informal one, because usually then there are strict rules that I know how to follow, rather than unwritten ones that I can easily break by mistake and send the wrong social signals, leading to people making mistaken assumptions about me. It is also easier to predict other people’s behaviour when you know they will be following the rules.
We TENTONTO works for the promotion of “sensory design”, the way which aims to achieve the products, considering the differences of each person’s “difference of the sense”. How do you think about the way of “sensory design”?
Oh yes, I am hypersensitive in many ways, to light, to sound, to temperature… That has caused me a lot of problems.
For example, Dinah wears sunglasses a lot because bright environments hurt her eyes and cause her to get overloaded. That did actually result in someone telling me that I looked like “a spy”, which made me laugh because I’m not a spy, but Aspie. I don’t think people realise how exhausting it can be to be out and about in the world with a constant barrage of sensory input and not being able to filter it properly due to differences in the brain.
Sometimes people think that the way we behave is due to being nasty or antisocial or lazy, but I personally think that a lot of ‘autistic’ behaviour is down to being overwhelmed by sensory input and that if more attention were paid to that problem instead of the connected social and/or behavioural effects, things would be a lot easier both for the autistic individuals and for those trying to support them.
So, yes, I get sensory overload very easily and the worst kind of place for me is one with a lot of visual distraction, bright lights, constant and unpredictable noise… supermarkets are a nightmare, as are coffee shops because the lighting is often much too bright and there is far too much noise! It just wears me out. On the other hand, things I really love include stroking my cats’ soft fur, and a lovely cashmere blanket that I have. When I am stressed, it is very calming just to wrap myself up in that and feel the soft wool.
It would be nice if there were ways to achieve a similar effect when out and about without looking conspicuous — I would really like some of those weighted clothing items that people buy for their autistic children, but as far as I know there are not such things made for adults that are not extremely obvious and might draw unwanted attention.
Do you have favorite(in that you can chill) place? As in our project name, in our opinion, TENT will be a pleasant place for autistic people. How do you think about that ?
(looking at photos of our latest “sensory tent”)The photos look as though the tent would be a peaceful and relaxing place to go to hide away and recharge, I think it is a great idea.
Please give a message to aspies in Japan!
I am really happy to be able to reach other Aspies internationally and I send special dino hugs to my Japanese fans!
It isn’t easy being an Aspie dinosaur, but if you know yourself and listen to your own needs, you can work with your differences rather than fighting against them, to make life easier. And, while it can feel very lonely, there are many Aspie dinosaurs out here all around the world, just like you, and together we make up a secret au-some dino tribe.
–In this interview, Ms.Chloë told me various kinds of story about “Dinah” and herself. She gave me answers to my questions in detail, and sincerely. Her way of thinking is so positive and interesting, that I felt like if I was actually talking with Dinah in the cartoon. Now I translate her comics and introduce it in web article every week. Through the articles, I want to tell the Chloë‘s thoughts and wishes, continuously. (Yutani)