An interview with Ben Winters

Ben has recently started attending the Devonport hub’s music program during his individual support hours. He and Maxine, one of his support workers, took some time to sit down with Meg, our Marketing and Communications Officer to give some insight into his interests and goals. From a good, long conversation, here are some extracts of interest.

Communication and interactions

Ben: She (Maxine) lets me ramble and waits until I pick up on the fact that I’ve started rambling and that it’s getting a bit tedious for Maxine.

As tiring as it might be for Maxine, it is actually good for me to be able to pick up on that myself as it helps me notice and be more aware of others when I’m speaking as well.

Meg: Yeah, that’s a skill we all need to learn.

Ben: Most people pick up those skills when they are young. You know, when they’re basically learning to talk, but because of the way autism works, I learn differently and needed to be taught differently but we didn’t know that when I was at the stage of developing those skills so those skills had to be developed later in life when the... basically at the point where the intellectual aspect has outpaced the intuitive aspect. I made a comparison at one point to a character from the Star Trek universe, Data. How he’s very logical, understands in theory virtually everything, but he cannot comprehend human nature. And I made the comparison to that character and social interactions that I typically undertake it’s predominantly a mental exercise rather than an emotional and social exercise for me.

"There are things in life that we
have to do that we don’t like."

There are things in life that we have to do that we don’t like. I know that. One of the things that we have to do is communicate with people. I don’t really like doing that; particularly large groups of people or people that I’m unfamiliar with. So getting me not necessarily comfortable but at least familiar enough with large groups to the point where I be functional enough to perform whatever task I have to do in those places. And that’s important. Especially as I get older, I am going to have to look after myself more and more directly and handling things such as going to the bank and down to the shops and being comfortable enough in those situations to not stress out and overwhelmed.

Meg: So you would say most of your goals surround…

Ben: Most of my goals surround basically self-motivation and social interactions. Some of my other goals which are predominantly self-directed are basically

I tend to have variable interests but the things that are consistent tend to be music and art.

To somebody who isn’t really paying attention, it does seem like we are just going out, just chilling and not really doing much. But while we may not be doing much practically, what’s going on is more in regard to my neurology and my brain adapting as well as me getting familiar with some of the more subtle aspects of social communication. And because I didn’t learn these intuitively, I’m learning them executively which means I’m essentially following a play script when I’m socialising. And I have to know a situation to have a script for that. I cannot simply intuitively adapt to a situation.

Maxine: [Maxine laughing]

Meg: Why are you laughing?

Maxine: That’s why he’s got me.

Ben: Maxine’s basically the script writer if you will. She instructs me on the correct way to do things and where I’ve gone wrong – where necessary. It’s a gradual refinement.

Meg: Is there anything that has become intuitive just through the habitual script following?

Ben: I wouldn’t be able to say simply because of the I don’t notice the change as it’s so gradual, any change becomes the new norm. One thing I have noticed is that I am more animated than I was before.

I would say a lot of my core anxieties about social interactions for example introductions, I’m not as anxious about. I am still uneasy about things but I am not anxious about it. And that’s one of the things by gradual chipping away tiny little pieces… It’s like trying to make a sculpture out of granite with a pin. It can happen, it’s just very slow and gradual.

"It’s like trying to make a sculpture
out of granite with a pin"

Meg: But you have a goal, you know where the pin needs to go.

Ben: Well Maxine is the one wielding the pin.

Maxine: It’s funny, when I first started working with Ben, he only ever saw himself when everyone else was [scoff], whatever. Well, here, towards the end of last year, he was telling his dad that he had to get up and he had to get his sister to work, and because his mum was away, he had to go pick her back up and he was actually thinking about what else what happening in the household. He hadn’t been doing that.

Ben: I didn’t notice that.

Maxine: The other thing was – we were talking about sarcasm earlier – banter. Well when I first met Ben had no idea what that was.

Ben: I had a rudimentary concept, but it was like the equivalent of identifying a rock versus identifying what type of rock it is. I could say “That was sarcasm… right?” but I wouldn’t understand it.

Meg: I love your metaphors.

Ben: It’s how I archive and learn the world. Look, I might not intuitively understand sarcasm or other social interactions but metaphors and analogies I get very well. Especially for someone who in theory shouldn’t grasp those concepts. It’s my strong point. My brain works on such a different level that I need to use those analogies to simplify things.

Maxine: It’s just this little stuff that’s changed Ben over the time. You couldn’t just go out and teach these things to Ben in a day.

Ben: Well it’s taken a year to ingrain some of these social nuances in my scripts.

Meg: It’s a lot like programming.

Ben: Yes, and that’s honestly from a metaphorical standpoint exactly how it has to be looked at. Because there isn’t a way of teaching someone easily these things especially after the brain starts to lock into position. While it’s never completely static, it’s a lot more adaptable and malleable to learning when you’re younger and when you get older the brain gets more resistant to changes. And because my brain is much more difficult it takes a lot longer. Especially as often I need to find alternate approaches to things. It makes social interactions quite exhausting for me. A day out like this could be as exhausting to me as a 9 to 5 week would be for a socially adept, stereotypical average Joe.

 

Interests

PC games

Ben: I tend to prefer survival and skill-based games as opposed to those copy and paste first person shooters. But while I do have a specific niche of games that I enjoy, if a game looks interesting to me, I will more than likely give it a go.

Doctor Who

Ben: I don’t really have a favourite doctor. Each of them including the classics have their own quirk. William Hartnell, the original doctor, I mean he set the standard. He set the bar and standard and the second doctor, well specifically the transition between them, the concept of regeneration – that was something that was thrown in last minute just to keep the series going. But it built a standard, a trope… and the innovativeness of the special effects throughout the entirety of the classic series… It’s so cringy by today’s standards but at the same time you’ve got to love the creativity and ingenuity that is demonstrated by the special effects team. Making use of what they had. And that sort of trend continued throughout the entire classic series. It sort of died off with the special effects era… A lot of the ingenuity was lost when the special effects became more viable but at the same time the ability to utilise those special effects had a positive impact on the aesthetic of the show as well as on the story telling. I mean, even as a classic Dr Who fan, who wasn’t blown away by the first shot of looking into the TARDIS from the outside?

But for a long time I’ve wanted to do special effects and I did it. I actually made the TARDIS bigger on the inside. I mean not truly bigger on the inside. It’s as much of an illusion as it is on the show.

The way that I did the effect in Blender – which is the graphics program I use – is exactly the same way as it’s done in principle in the show. I did the exterior environment and I did the interior environment in a separate dimension or another layer on the program’s hierarchy. The trick is, you can easily have the exterior and interior and have them separate; the trick is to have them visible properly from one side and the other. I did that.

 ...

"Where else do you get
inspiration for do-dads,
nick knacks and thingamabobs?"

Ben: The thing that I need most and that is being provided for is community access and social skills development. So while we don’t have a set program at this point in time, even just simply getting out of the house and interacting in society and occasionally going to new places. For instance, this week Eric (support worker) and I went to Burnie for the first time. We went to a music store there and I got a violin.

Maxine: Tell her where we went the other day.

Ben: Ah yes, the Tip Shop.

Meg: And why did you go there?

Ben: Where else do you get inspiration for do-dads, nick, knacks and thingamabobs?

Maxine: And you know what he uses all that inspiration for?

Ben: TARDIS console

TARDIS interior top demo
Vortex demo

 Take a look at Ben’s work on his YouTube channel AlienXtream.

 

Music program

Meg: What is your opinion from your experience of the music program here at the Devonport hub?

Ben: It’s very casual. Undirected in regards to goals and objectives. But that is a good thing especially given the circumstances and the intention. It seems to be less about teaching music and more about just collaborating and communicating together and being familiar with other people with common interests. Music is one of those things. I am sure it would be much the same as the other programs. That they would have a very similar atmosphere about them. It’s less about the subject of the program, it’s more about the inclusiveness. In the same way as me getting out into social environments such as shops, restaurants, banks, malls… It gets me familiar with those things and I assume that it would serve the same functionality for others with lower functionality and less self-directed.

"...it’s all about expressing your own
creativity amongst others without
fear of judgment or critique."

The music group is a perfect example of something that works well for that thing. It’s a comforting, soothing atmosphere. Not necessarily quiet but… the saying music tames the savage beast, that music is relaxing and calming. And that creates a sort of – no pun intended – harmony among the people involved and that would certainly facilitate more comfortable associations between social interactions and the individual themselves. And likewise, art is another thing. It’s a very quiet activity often. It can be a very messy and involved activity depending on the medium. But the fact its all about expressing your own creativity amongst others without fear of judgement or critique.

Meg: Is there anything that you would like to share with people who may want to join something like the music program?

Ben: If you are feeling uncomfortable or uneasy about it then just pop in and sit back. Become familiar with what they do and who’s involved, and you may find yourself wanting to jump in and participate after a while. Don’t feel obligated to join in straight away. Feel free to sit back and acclimate to your surroundings.

"Feel free to sit back and acclimate
to your surroundings."

Images featured include Rod playing guitar and Fintan leading a music session at the Devonport hub.

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