Broken Records: On Obsessive Repetition

Image(Photo from Google Images)

Those of you who live with aspies know that we sometimes get stuck in a rut.  We fixate on a subject or topic and can’t let go of it.  We bring it up in conversation over and over again, or ask the same question, or variations on a theme of questions, that seem never-ending.  If you’ve ever wondered about the reason behind this irritating trait, I have the explanation for its occurrence, and what you can do about it.

Essentially, it is all about anxiety or frustration.  We feel unsettled or bothered by the subject we’re discussing, and it feels bad to keep it inside, like teetering on a knife-edge waiting to slip off, or like there’s a tiger inside trying to claw its way out.  It’s the same feeling NTs get when they feel the need to tell a friend about something that happened, except with us, the feeling doesn’t go away after we’ve said it.  We have to say it over and over again, hoping that the feeling will dissipate, but it doesn’t.

My father and I are both prime examples of this trait.  This morning for instance, I had an appointment that I was nervous about being late for, since I had had to reschedule it once already.  My mother was cavalier about it, and confident in her knowledge that she could get me there on time.  I however, had no such knowledge, but she, in her confidence, did not see why it was necessary to give me the exact time of our departure, so I became insistent.  I reported on the time every ten minutes, worried that, because we hadn’t set a specific time to leave, we would run late.  After my third or fourth repetition of, “Do you know what time we’re leaving?” her husband insisted, “Rabbit, I promise we won’t be late.”  That however, did not help, as it did not answer my question.  Fortunately we left soon after, before the repetition could continue.

As mentioned, my strongly-suspected-aspie father also has a tendency to exhibit this trait, though with less frequency than me.  Two nights ago, he brought home fast food, but got his girlfriend’s order mixed up.  Upon discovering his mistake, he became agitated, apologising profusely and insisting he go back to the restaurant to fix it.  She claimed it was not a big problem, but it was for him.  The frustration he felt at having failed in his task, making someone he cared about potentially unhappy, was, if our experiences are anything alike, like fire, or needles, like running on a treadmill that’s going too fast, unable to keep up, feeling like you’re going to slip off and lose control.  It is a horrible, persistent, nagging feeling that won’t go away, no matter how many times the person you’ve “hurt” tells you to let it go and that they’re not upset.  The only things in my experience that cure it, are distraction, the ability to rectify whatever went wrong, or a calming stimulus, such as a pleasing sensory experience.  When I feel like that and have talked the subject to death, the next step is to bury myself under my weighted blanket, to squash the emotion out of me until it goes away.  Finding some way of getting rid of it is important, because, especially in the case of frustration, if you don’t, it can increase and lead to meltdowns, which are stress and frustration-inducers in themselves.  The only times I ever hate having Asperger’s and being the way I am are after meltdowns, but that is a post for another day.

This post is in and of itself an example of me exercising my need for repetitive action.  My aforementioned rescheduled appointment was rescheduled again, and it wasn’t until this evening that I realised the reason for the reschedule was my fault; I had thought I had confirmed the time and date with the person I was going to see, but I only acknowledged the date, so she assumed I wasn’t coming.  The tiger is loose again and clawing at my ribcage, but somehow, sending acknowledgement of my idiocy out into cyberspace helps to sedate it, which is just as well, as June is far too hot for a weighted blanket.

So, to the NTs out there who take care of us; now you know the reason for our repetitive questioning and obsessive thought processes.  When we get that way, the best thing to do is to acknowledge it; say, “I understand that X must be very frustrating, I’d be frustrated too.  What do you think we could do to make it better?”  If we can’t come up with anything, offer suggestions; “We could go back and fix it,” “We could talk to that person,” “We could reschedule for another day.”  Do not try to change the subject, as we will feel unheard, and the frustration or anxiety will only increase.  If our repetition is due to anxiety over a specific event, but you don’t have the information we want, give us your best estimate, and an alternative or two if your estimate turns out to be wrong.  For instance, “I don’t know what time we’re leaving because we have to wait for our friends.  They should be here in fifteen minutes, but if they’re not, we’re going to leave without them/call them/call our destination and inform them of the delay.”  Information makes us secure, because possibilities are too great, too abstract and intangible, and too subject to rapid change.  This is the reason many of us hate surprises as well; they’re too uncertain and nonspecific.  However, that too is a post for another day.

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Take a Look Through my Eyes: On Taking the Aspie Perspective

Image(Photo fro Google Images)

One complaint I hear frequently from my fellow autistics is that NTs don’t understand them; they dismiss their problems out of hand with phrases like, “Stop making it out to be worse than it is,” or, my least-favourite, “Everyone’s a little autistic.” No. If everyone were a little autistic, there would be no such thing as a diagnosis of autism. With that in mind, my goal is to take you objectively through a standard school day that I experience as a person on the spectrum.

Your alarm goes off at 6:40 A.M. Your mom got you the extra-loud kind so you wouldn’t keep sleeping through it like you did with your last one, and it screeches, jolting you awake and electrifying your senses before you’re even fully conscious. You slap at the snooze button to quell the anxiety and discomfort you already feel starting to build as the intrusive noise increases its volume. The alarm stops, and you have four minutes to lull back to a state of unconsciousness before it starts blaring again. You go through this process almost three times, before finally turning it off at seven A.M.

As you proceed to get up and make your bed, you realise that your voice is stuck again. The prospect of opening your mouth and letting all that cold air in, of feeling your voice vibrate across your vocal cords, of hearing it in your ears, is a sensory nightmare, like the idea of hearing nails on a chalkboard. You know you only have until you go downstairs before you’ll be forced to shatter the silence and deal with the nails, because your family is down there, and they like it when you say good morning to them. Even if you didn’t, the tension and discomfort you would feel at knowingly ignoring social rules would be enough to push you to talk, nails on chalkboard and all.

Bed made, you move toward the clothes you’ve laid out and get dressed. T-shirt, jeans or sweatpants, high socks and converse sneakers. That has made up your wardrobe for as long as you can remember. It’s unoriginal and not flattering to your otherwise thin and marginally attractive figure, but it’s all you can deal with. Other fabrics such as nylon, netting, silk, wool, even cashmere, are all intolerable to your skin. They scratch, prickle, or they contain temperature in all the wrong ways. Even the way clothes are cut; scoop-necks, ankle socks, skinny jeans or clinging shirts, pants that stop at the hips, are all intolerable and simply cannot be abided. Much to your mother’s chagrin, even the majority of bras are too tight, too itchy, or some combination thereof, and so you’ve gone without, except during those rare, dreaded events that require you to “dress up,” in which case all of the above mentioned affronts to your tactile senses emerge from the closet and proceed to torture you for the duration of the event.

Dressed, you go down for breakfast, and the first sharp “good morning”s grate your ears. You smile and force the words out, feeling as if they’re dragging barbs along the inside of your throat as they emerge. Your late awakening means there is little time for more conversation, so you are mercifully spared saying much else.

You take your scooter down to the bus stop, the cold morning air hitting you so suddenly, you feel as if you’ve been dropped in the Atlantic ocean, and that overwhelmed, anxious, submerged feeling you experienced with the alarm clock that morning returns.

Eventually the bus arrives, its diesel engine roaring. It stops in front of you, and the brakes squeal, high-pitched, sharp and agonising. You cover your ears, but look around and see that your fellow passengers don’t seem to notice or care about the noise at all. You catch one of them looking at you curiously as you take your hands off your ears and board the bus.

Mornings are crowded because everyone is trying to get to work, so you’re forced to sit next to other people. Some of them are overweight and take up part of your seat, squashing you. Some of them are smokers or homeless, and their smell makes you nauseous. Some of them are bike-riders, and the tires of the bikes they hold in front of them repeatedly smack you in the knees, leaving bruises you can see later. Some of them have babies or small children with them, who talk too loudly, or worse, scream in that primal, soul-shredding way that only little kids can do. Biologically speaking, all humans are made uncomfortable by the sound of a baby crying, an adaptation designed to prompt a caring response in order to quiet them. You get the same biological feeling, but instead of wanting to provide care, the sound lights a fire in you, and you can feel fear and rage bubbling just below the surface, making you hate the source of the noise, though you know it’s just a helpless child. You pull out your earplugs and turn on your iPod in an effort to drown them out. Sometimes pulling your sweater hood up blocks out the extra visual stimuli, making you feel safer, like you’re in a cave, watching the world from within. People say it makes you look like a criminal, but its the only thing that works. Summers that are too hot for hoods make crowds a challenge.

You arrive at school, and have to begin the daily onslaught of weaving your way around other people. It’s worst when they bump into you; it sends shockwaves of irritation spiking through you, even when you know it was an accident. You approach your first class, half hoping that girl you sometimes talk to isn’t there this morning. She’s nice, and you like her, but making small-talk, pretending to laugh and smile, pretending to understand when she makes jokes, all while trying to block out the cacophony of the hundred other students around you, are all exhausting.

She is there this morning, but after the perfunctory hellos, it gets better because she comments on the dinosaur on your sweater. You jump at the chance to discuss something more than homework and the weather, and tell her it’s a parasaurolophus, a herbivore who is part of the hadrosaur, or duck-billed family. You tell her about the fact that it’s one of the only dinosaurs that chews its food before swallowing, and that it has over a thousand teeth in its mouth to accommodate the process. You stop, remembering not to ramble, but hoping she asks more; you love talking about dinosaurs; it’s one of the few things that can make you really interested and invested in a conversation. She doesn’t, and you’re back to discussing teachers and other friends. You smile and nod, all while wondering what on earth people find so interesting about talking about other people.

Class begins, and your teacher starts talking. Actually, yelling would be a more correct term. The class size requires this, but because you sit in the front row, it’s loud and overwhelming, and every time she walks past you, it gets even louder and you feel yourself getting anxious again. You also feel a curious fuzziness around your ears and in your mind, as if something were trying to psychosomatically put up a block between you and the noise. It doesn’t help though, and you can’t cover your ears because you have to take notes, plus, people would think you were being rude. If you don’t sit in the front where all the noise is, you’re forced to sit next to other people, who invade your space, and you wouldn’t be able to see over other students’ heads, because you’re less than five feet tall.

Your next class goes very much the same way as the first, except you get to avoid small-talk because you don’t know any of the other students in this class. Fifty minutes later, you get a few hours to yourself, and if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, one of the days on which your only friend doesn’t have class, you get to go down to the library basement and tuck yourself away in the corner of the alcove where the elevator stands. The basement is a study space, so it’s completely silent, so quiet you can hear it, and that makes you happy. All your muscles relax, any tension and anxiety you were feeling begins to melt away. You pull out your lunch box and nestle yourself into your mind, picking up where you left off in the mental story you’d been conjuring up.

Your lunches are rarely healthy, because your tactile, taste and smell sensitivities make eating fruits and vegetables a big challenge. Thanks to that, you mostly stick to canned foods, cookies, cheese, and, on occasion when they’re available, blueberries. They make you feel less guilty about all the other junk you eat, and you can tolerate them; put them in your mouth, chew and swallow without gagging, grimacing or shuddering, but you still wouldn’t say you “enjoy” them.

Your last class of the day approaches, and you have a big test. In spite of not studying much, you’re not worried about your performance; psychology is one of your special interests, and as such, is something you know all about. Even the things you don’t know that are specific to this class, you can often accurately guess on based on your knowledge of outside but related areas of information.

You know all the answers, but in spite of that, your slow processing speed makes comprehending the question and writing out your answers take longer for you than it does for everyone else. Because of that, you are one of the last to finish. All around you, students are getting up from their desks, which flip up with a painful, unoiled squeak which stabs you in the ears and makes you feel like your teeth are being pulled. By the end of the test, you’ve suffered a hundred or more of these tooth-pulling squeaks, and every muscle in your body is taut. You’re shaking and rocking in your chair, both hands over your ears. This position makes writing impossible, so you stare at the questions, knowing the answers, but unable to write them down. When you think it’s safe, you take your hands away and write a few words, only to be shot again with another squeak, which frays your nerves even more and makes you even more wary of uncovering your ears. Finally you hand in your test, flapping both hands furiously, oblivious to how odd you must look to others. You really just want to get out of there, but first you have to tell your teacher about the mistake you noticed in the email she sent the class that morning: she made note of the importance of the date Thursday the 15th. Thursday isn’t the 15th, it’s the 16th, and she needs to know so she can fix it, lest anyone get confused. You are compelled to correct the error, because details are your forte, and when they are wrong, they suddenly become huge, insurmountable until they are fixed. Leaving that date uncorrected would mean you were left thinking about it for the rest of the day, perhaps the rest of the two days until you and your teacher saw each other again. So, in spite of the fact that all you want to do is run as far and as fast as you can, you stay behind.

Your professor, who knows of your condition, notes the agitated way in which you tap your pencil rapidly against your hand and shift uneasily from foot to foot. She attempts to be congenial and understanding, saying, “Those squeaking desks drive me crazy too.” She doesn’t know the half of it. If she felt what you are feeling now, she would be panicking, thinking she were on the verge of a heart attack. The desks may drive her crazy, but she has no idea what crazy really means. You quickly tell her about the dates, and she thanks you, saying she’ll fix them. You turn tail and power-walk until you are out of view, then book it as fast as you can down the hall and out the door. You sprint across campus until your heart is pounding and your lungs are about to explode, but it’s still not enough. You’re still surrounded by people, the very sight of whom overwhelms you even more. You get to the library and down to the basement, wrapping both arms around your torso in an attempt to provide your own pressure, or proprioceptive input. It’s the only thing that can contain your sparking, fizzing energy, like collapsing it into a black hole rather than allowing it to explode into a supernova. You sit rocking in the corner, your hood over your head, until you run out of time and have to catch the bus home. You still don’t feel completely calm, but you’re better than you were, and you have no choice but to leave if you want to get home tonight. The bus, crowded with people who are coming home from work, doesn’t help matters, and every stimulus, such as a person laughing or a bump in the road, feels infuriating, like a personal attack deliberately designed to annoy you. You finally get home and promptly head to your room, where you shut off all the lights and bury yourself under your weighted blanket, allowing the pressure to dampen your energy and emotion. You stay that way for half an hour or more, until you become human again, and can finally start your homework.

At dinner, you’re forced into more benign small-talk, answering the ever-pointless question, “How was your day?” You’ve told your family repeatedly that you dislike that question, because you rarely have a unique answer, given that you do the same thing day after day. They however, seemed inexplicably insulted that you didn’t want them to ask how your day went, and so you permit it, giving the same dry answer night after night, “Relatively uneventful,” a phrase you are almost certain your diagnosing psychologist would have labelled a “use of odd words or phrases” as per the ADOS-2 checklist, the “gold standard” of autism tests. You don’t mention the borderline meltdown; there are just some things that don’t need discussing. Having given your predictable response, you are then required to repeat the question back to your family members, in spite of the fact that you can guess almost verbatim what their answers will be. NTs claim to dislike echolalia, or the repetition of others’ words and phrases, that some autistics engage in, and yet despite that claim, they do an awful lot of it themselves. “How are you?” “Good, how are you?” “Good.” “How was your day?” “Fine, how was your day?” “Fine.” It is one of those double standards you don’t understand.

Finally, after dinner, comes your favourite part of the day; evening. Everyone scatters, and you are left to yourself in your room, a world of information at your fingertips via the internet. You disappear into the facts and stories, accumulating them in the vast storage bank in your head. You are alone with knowledge, as much as you could ever want, with no distractions, no social demands, no sensory overload, no incomprehensible expectations. You spend much of the night there, often til midnight, even on a school night, and it is only the knowledge of your early awakening tomorrow that eventually pulls you to bed, prepared to repeat the whole performance the next day.

Alphabet Soup: On Language and Speaking

Image

(Photo from Google Images)

I have a documented verbal IQ of 134, and a vocabulary in the 99th percentile.  My phonics decoding skill is in the 96th percentile, and my oral language is in the 94th.  I am, for all intents and purposes, a gifted speaker, a master of language.  Why then, under the right circumstances, does my speech fail me, my IQ get cut in half?  Why, for all my strengths, do I get left a stammering monkey, unable to form an intelligible sentence or even a word, when faced with anger, frustration, fear, rage?

In situations like that, I am reminded all too clearly that autism is, at its core, a communication disability.  It has been documented that in general, high functioning autistics have a higher verbal than nonverbal IQ, with the opposite being true for those on the lower end of the spectrum (this is certainly true for me: at 94, my nonverbal IQ is a full 40 points below my verbal IQ.)  Because of this fact, and because of the intelligence and verbosity that many on the spectrum demonstrate, it can be easy to forget that, even for the high-functioning individuals, autism is still a disability of social communication, of which speech is a vital part.

What that means, is that even the most well-spoken of us can have a hard time saying what we want to when our minds are overloaded with more pressing stimuli.  It is as if the emotions completely scramble the wiring of our speech centres, making speaking a challenge, even when we know exactly what we want to say.  It is for this reason that we can become violent, lashing out physically at the people and objects around us, or simply screaming unintelligibly.  It is extremely disconcerting to suddenly lose your powers of speech, to discover that one of your greatest strengths has instantaneously deserted you.  It is also highly frustrating to have this happen at the most inopportune moments, such as when we are attempting to explain ourselves, or defend our position, or get something we urgently need to return to a state of mental normalcy.  You would get violent too if your speech were suddenly and inexplicably robbed from you, especially if you were left stuttering and repeating the same word over and over like a stuck record, with no one to lift the needle from the groove.  It is alarming to hear yourself saying the same thing over and over again, not knowing if or when it will stop, allowing you to move on to the next word, and not knowing how long your audience is going to wait you out and try to listen.  Time is of the essence in situations such as that, and its the one thing you can feel physically trickling away as you try to untangle your tongue and your brain.

It is important when we get like this, that we be given time, patience, and understanding.  Do not try to rush us, or shout over the top of us.  Do not make fun of us by repeating the syllables we manage to get out.  If you are fighting with us, step back and wait until we can speak again; do not walk away, as we may panic or become enraged, thinking you are leaving without having heard our side.  Do not use our loss of language to your advantage, treating our lack of intelligible speech as a silence into which you can continue to insert your own thoughts; that will only confuse us as we try to process both our speech and yours, and will only make everything worse.  Be patient, wait with us until we can speak again; speech often returns with calm, which will be advantageous if you are arguing with us; it gives everyone time to pause and think.  If our silence lasts a long time, or does not appear to be returning, offer alternate methods of communication: texting, writing, sign language; do not stop communicating with us just because we cannot currently do so in a normal fashion.  Trying to talk to someone who has suddenly had their language drop out on them is hard, but it’s not as hard as trying to be that someone.

 

Xavier’s X-Men: On the Fallacy of Aspie Supremacy

Image(Photo from Google images)

There is a curious notion that has taken hold in the past few years, born of frustration and anger at the discrimination and misunderstanding autistics have been met with for decades.  It is the idea that autistics are somehow superior to normal humans, that we are the next stage in evolution.

There are those who believe that aspie logic, blatant honesty, ability to hyper-focus, sensory sensitivity, and the occasional savantism we are given are, if you will, “super powers” similar to those held by Stan Lee’s comic book heroes, the X-Men.  The X-Men analogy is in fact quite appropriate, given how it parallels the current situation.  Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men are mutants, humans with super powers that make them different, and feared by normal “homo sapiens”.  This fear has led humans to discriminate against and oppress mutants, treating them as lesser people.  In response some of the mutants, such as Magneto and his “brotherhood of evil mutants”, have banded together in an effort to overthrow humanity and regain control of the world for mutant kind, to be ruled by these “homo superior”.

Being the good guys of course, Professor X and his X-Men cannot stand by and let such attacks occur, in spite of the oppression they are still experiencing at the hands of humans.  It is Xavier’s dream that one day humans and mutants can live together as equals, without fear or hatred.

My point of course is not that autistics are super-human, or that we all have super powers.  The point is that I want those who believe in autistic supremacy to understand that the things that make us different from NTs do not inherently make us better than them.  At the same time, I say to the NTs who contribute to our 90% unemployment rate because they see us as odd or mentally disabled, to the parents in the news who murder their autistic children, to the rehabilitative schools who try to correct our autistic behaviour through abuse and electric shock treatment, you are not better than us either.  We are not mutants to be feared, degraded, abused, or misunderstood.  We are human beings, just like you are.  We all deserve to live in a world where NTs and autistics can live together as equals, without fear on either side.  I want to see Xavier’s dream come true.

A Very Aspie Easter: On Holidays (Part 1)

Image  This post is rather late, given that Easter was five days ago, however, I hope that it will be useful for next year’s celebration, and/or clear up some confusion if anything unexpected went wrong this holiday.  Here is my take on Easter; hopefully it will give aspies, and their parents, a better understanding of what this holiday is like for us.  The “Part 1” in my title indicates that I will be covering other holidays as they approach (and hopefully not after they have passed!)

Image1.  Easter Egg Hunts

Most neurotypical kids love running around outside finding bright plastic eggs full of candy, however, such a seemingly simple activity can be fraught with difficulty for kids on the spectrum.  Problem one is the crowd and the noise: shrieking children are painful, and being surrounded by groups of fast-moving, unpredictable people — even if you know them all — can be very confusing and anxiety provoking.  When I was young, I used the behaviour of all the children around me at school and at gatherings to determine what I was supposed to be doing, because I was slow on the uptake with regard to instructions, and didn’t always understand them or the way they were phrased.  When all the other kids were running around and doing seemingly aimless things, there was no structure for me to follow, and I became anxious, afraid I would get in trouble for not following directions, or miss out on something important.

Searching for eggs can be tricky too, when you have a one-track mind.  An aspie can spend so much energy and focus looking in specific areas that he misses everything around him, and is subsequently an ineffective egg-hunter.  It is incredibly irritating when someone else comes along and swipes an egg that was only feet from you, but you missed it because your radar scanner does not have a “wide-beam” setting that allows you to search large areas of space in one go.

The Solution: Avoid the large kid-friendly Easter parties if possible.  If you have more than one child, have one parent or a friend take the NT to the event, and have your own mini-party at home.  Hold a one-man egg hunt in your yard, where your aspie won’t have to compete with louder, faster kids who are better at generalized searching than they are.  If you involve the siblings, have an equal number of eggs and mark them with initials; each kid can only pick up the eggs with her initials on them.

If your aspie insists on attending the aforementioned large kid-friendly party, come prepared with sensory provisions; earplugs, sunglasses, etc. as needed.  Also, don’t be afraid to help your aspie in his search; if other parents take issue, advocate on your child’s behalf; his egg-hunting ability, or lack thereof, should not preclude him from having as good a time as everyone else.

Image2.  The Easter Bunny

It is not uncommon for children, aspie and NT alike, to be considerably disturbed by out-of-the-ordinary characters and figures; ever wonder why in all of your kid’s photos with Santa up until age three or four, she’s screaming?  Santa is a strange man with a giant fluffy beard who has abducted your child and is holding her hostage on his knee.  That’s disturbing for any child.  Moral of the story; if your kid is creeped out by the Easter bunny (and who could blame him; some of those rabbit costumes are scarier than clowns!), don’t make a big deal out of it, get a nice picture of him with his Easter basket instead; it’ll look nicer than a picture of a screaming child and a terrifying rabbit-humanoid anyway.

As many parents are aware, aspies are quite logical in their approach to the world; they are less gullible than normal children with regard to believing in the unprovable.  As such, don’t be surprised if your aspie has figured out the truth behind the Easter bunny far faster than you anticipated, and don’t be surprised if he starts explaining that truth to any child he comes in contact with who mentions the giant rabbit.  Tact is something that all children must be taught, aspies in particular.  You may have to explain in rational terms he can understand, why you would rather he not tell his older cousins that the Easter bunny is in fact a guy in a suit.  The rational piece is important; aspies do not respond as effectively to socially motivated explanations as NTs do.  Instead of, “It’s not nice,” try, “It will make him sad, and that’s a bad thing because….”

Image3.  Easter Clothes

Yes, I know you want your aspie to look nice for church/the family gathering/the photographs, and yes, I’m sure Aunt Martha did spend a lot of time/money/effort finding that shirt and tie for him, and yes, I’m sure all his siblings are cooperating nicely with regard to their clothing.  All of that is irrelevant where the autistic sensory system is concerned.  Those of you whose kids have tactile defensiveness are well aware of the battle that getting dressed can be.  For some reason unknown to the universe, it was decreed that all dress clothes must be made uncomfortable and intolerable, with plenty of lace and awkwardly cut fabric and labels that you can’t cut out without cutting a hole in the back of the shirt and that only go with stiff shoes that no one can balance in or that rub your heels raw.  Mix that with a kid who freaks out when his socks aren’t pulled up high enough or his shirts aren’t tucked in precisely, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The Solution: Decide just how vital those nice clothes are.  If you’re not one to recognize the religious aspects of the holiday and aren’t going to church, does he really have to look fancy?  Will his relatives really care that he’s not in a coat and tie?  If the answer is yes, or you just want some pictures of your aspie where he’s not wearing the same thing he wears the remaining 364 days of the year, you can improvise.  Set a timer for how long he has to wear them (I recommend no more than ten minutes) or put more tolerable clothes on underneath, such as cotton shirts or long underwear (only do this if you’re going to remain indoors or another relatively cool area; long underwear in April sucks.)  Maybe you can take closeup photos that only show your aspie from the waist up, thereby eliminating the necessity for nice trousers to go with his fancy button-down shirt, or bring some spare clothes for him to change into once everyone at the gathering has seen how charming he looks in his Easter outfit.  The one thing you don’t want to do is ruin his holiday by forcing him to remain in clothes that feel like sandpaper and fibreglass for the entire day.

Image4.  Candy

Many aspies on specialized diets are unable to eat the same types of food that their NT siblings eat.  This poses a problem on holidays that involve mass-produced wholesale candy.

The Solution:  Get inventive with your Easter treats: instead of hiding candy in those eggs, try small toys like bubbles, stickers, fun-shaped erasers (especially effective if you can find some in the shape of an “aspie interest-focused” figure), marbles, mini slinkys, coins, etc.  Alternatives to this include making your own diet-friendly candy such as honey-covered pecans or gluten-free caramel (more tricky if you are attempting to abstain from sugar.)  Find ways of making the non-workable aspects of the holiday work as best you can, so everyone can have a good time!

Image5.  Family Gatherings and Other Crowded Settings

In general, aspies and crowds do not mix.  There is a lot of noise, a lot of visual stimulation, a lot of novel social expectations and an overall level of general chaos.  Be aware of your aspie’s “people-meter” and watch for signs of trouble.  If you see him withdrawing, getting irritable, or stimming more than usual, these are all signs that he needs to leave where he is and what he’s doing to get some time alone or with one other person who won’t overwhelm him.  Depending on your aspie’s age and awareness of his internal states, you may be able to set up a signal for him to use, to indicate to you when he needs to go upstairs, take a walk, play with the dog in the basement, or sit in the car for a while.  It’s important that he be able to do these things when he needs to, otherwise his social, emotional and physiological stress levels will overload, and you will wind up with a meltdown on your hands, which will put a damper on everyone’s holiday.  If your aspie is unable to communicate to you when things are getting too much, keep an eye on him; ask every half hour or so if he’d like to take a break.  If he’s unaware he needs one and doesn’t want to leave, ask him to keep you company while you go upstairs/for a walk/to the basement, etc. or ask if he’ll help you with something that needs passing out or setting up, activities that allow him to remain engaged with the family without forcing direct social contact.

For aspies who have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time, consider letting him skip the church sermon by staying with a friend/relative, or, if he must come, bring things that will occupy him; books, small toys, drawing paper, etc.  Don’t be afraid to get up and leave if need be; it will be less embarrassing than the things that might occur if you stay.

 

Late as it is, I hope some of these tips prove useful to those of you with kids on the spectrum; you may find you can adapt some of them to other holidays as well.  Happy Easter!

Dinotopia: On Special Interests

Special interests, or “obsessions” as laymen like to call them, are definitely one of the fun parts of having autism.  There is no greater feeling than immersing yourself in the thing you love more than anything.  Special interests make conversations exciting, they make school projects and papers enjoyable, and if you’re lucky, they can turn into college majors and careers.  Nothing excites me more than knowing I’m going to love my job more than anything for the majority of the rest of my life, because my brain can focus so intensely and so passionately on one specific thing for years at a time.  Even when the interest wanes, the love is never lost.

Image

This is a parasaurolophus, a hadrosaur, or “duck billed” dinosaur.  Due to a long-standing childhood affection for the Land Before Time series, he is my favourite dinosaur.  I can go on for ages about him and his “terrible lizard” brethren; my knowledge of these creatures spans pages, hours.  I know because I’ve engaged my long-suffering family in one-sided conversations about them that turned quickly into long-winded lectures.  High functioning as I am, I ought to know better than to drone on for ages about things no one else is interested in, so why do I?  Because I can’t help myself.  Talking about the things that interest me on this level is a compulsion, an internal need that needs fulfilling.  I don’t bore people because I want to, I do it because I need to; there is so much fascinating knowledge that needs to be spread, so many minute details that need sharing.  It’s as if my brain, once turned on, broke its switch and now cannot be turned off; the only way to stop it is to derail it and cause a potential collision.

I will admit that I’ve often considered what it would be like not to have such intense and passionate interests, and have come to the conclusion that I would probably develop some form of depression if I didn’t.  The idea of drifting vaguely from minor interest to minor interest, with nothing capturing my attention or excitement for more than a few days or months at most, is very disheartening.  I live for my interests; my life literally revolves around them.  They are the first thing I think about when I wake, and the last thing I think about before bed.  I strategise ways of postponing my homework so that I can spend more time studying, researching, collecting and filing away facts in the information storehouse that is my brain.  Every opportunity I get, I find ways of incorporating them into class projects or discussions.  I skip my own lessons at university so I can go and teach my interests to people at other schools.  Without my obsessions, my life would lack focus, drive, meaning.  I’d be a shell of a person, drifting, without any idea of her true purpose in life.

So, the next time you get cornered by an aspie rattling on about trains, or dinosaurs, or the French Revolution, or dishwashers, smile patiently and wait it out; he’ll be glad to have someone take a real interest in his information, and you will undoubtedly learn some very useful things in the process.

Squeaky Doors: On Sensory Issues

It is most peoples’ assumption that the worst part about being on the spectrum is the inability to effectively communicate with people, and yes, that can suck, but it has been my experience that the worst part of autism is the sensory issues.  There is nothing worse than wanting to enjoy the film at the cinema, but you can’t because the audio track hurts.  Nothing worse than wanting to be able to eat healthy foods so you’ll stay alive longer, but you can’t because they make you gag, or they smell so awful you can’t be in the same room with them.  Nothing worse than wanting to have fun on that day out, but not being able to because the sight, the sound, the smell, the proximity, of all the other humans bustling about, encroaching on your space with their noxious perfumes and shouting down their cellphones or at their screaming kids, is hell on earth for you.

That’s my life every day.

As I grew up and experienced the world, it became more and more apparent that it was built without my species in mind.  This point is epitomized by my library door.

On my college campus, as you might expect, there is a library, with four standard issue stainless-steel doors that permit entry and exit.  One of those doors however, needs lubricating, or replacing, or welding shut, or something, because every time it is opened, it emits an earth-shattering, nails-on-chalkboard squeal.  And nobody notices.  Nobody, that is, but me.  Day after day, I walk up to those doors, carefully avoiding the defective one, but always keeping an eye on it, because I know someone is going to approach and open it.  They do, and it squeaks, and sends horrible shockwaves down my spine, and they walk right through, as if hearing nothing.  They don’t notice the door because they are attuned to a much louder, busier world than I am.  What they do notice though, is my pain; they watch me as I cover my ears and push open the door with my elbows; I can feel them.

I was not designed for a world like theirs; the dampeners on my internal sensors were defective, or broken when they were installed.  There has been one upside to my damaged circuitry though: it has allowed me to develop an intuition for the sensory systems of others, that those around me do not have.  I know when my sister’s flute-playing is hurting the dog by the way he flicks his ears; whenever the cat follows me into the bathroom, I always let him out before I flush, because I know it’s worse for him than it is for me.  I feel empathy for infants in crowded, noisy places in a way I rarely feel for other people, because they are defenceless, and their parents are completely unaware of how comparatively sensitive the undeveloped sensory system can be.

So, the next time you see an aspie in a crowd, do not make your first thought, “How can I include him in the conversation?” make it, “How do I think he’s handling the sensory environment?”  Being NT, you have the benefit of being able to read his body language and differentiate loneliness from pain in a way that is hard for us; use it to your advantage, and make a new friend in the process.

On Weird Things NTs Say

For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘NT’ it means ‘neurotypical’, and refers to “normal” people, people not on the spectrum.  As a consistent observer of daily NT behaviour, I have come to the conclusion that NTs can say some pretty odd things, things that rival even the weird stuff aspies come up with.  These are the top five that I’ve taken note of.

1.  “You take things way too literally.”

No I don’t, has it ever occurred to you that you take things way too figuratively?  How do people manage to make the huge cognitive leap from hearing, “they were thick as thieves” to understanding, “they spent a lot of time together”?  It’s not even a matter of rote memorisation, because NTs seem to instinctively know the meaning of idioms they’ve never heard before without having to ask about them.  I find this a fascinating trait.

2.  “How are you?”

I’m fine.  Exactly the same as when you asked me yesterday… or this morning… or twenty minutes ago.  The NT fascination with knowing precisely how someone is doing at any given moment is quite curious, though not as curious as the NT fascination with asking how people are, and then expecting that they receive a rote non-answer such as, “Fine.”  It doesn’t matter if a meteor crashed through your roof last night, when people ask how you are, they expect you to say you’re fine, even if they happen to know that said meteor crashed through your roof, and that logically speaking, you should not be fine.  I’ve learned to blend in and give the expected response, though the ritualistic requirements of this repeated nonsensical social exchange border on autistic repetitiveness and obsession with asking the same question over and over and over, if you want to know the truth.  Similarly redundant statements include, “How was your day?”, “What’s new?” and “It’s nice to meet you.”  (Even if it wasn’t, I have to say it was, thereby making the statement meaningless.)

3.  “I like you” when I don’t

I have recently learned from my sophomore-in-high-school sister that there are social protocols whereby you pretend to like people you hate so they don’t get mad at you and back-stab you for threatening their popularity.  I went through four years at two different high schools, and was never once aware of this protocol.  I find it intriguing to watch my sister approach someone she knows from school with a big smile and a, “How are you?” only to turn around as soon as the person leaves and say, “I really don’t like her.”  Apparently if she were to ignore the person, this would be an even bigger threat to said person’s popularity, and could, I understand, incite a war.

This is not just an adolescent phenomenon.  I have been around many people who pretend to be nice to someone right up until they leave, or, equally strangely, say things about their friends they would never say to their faces.  This practise makes me very wary of the sorts of things my friends say about me when I’m not around.

4.  Anything but “I like you” when I do

This occurrence is equally curious; people have elaborate “mating rituals” whereby they do and say things that express their affection, in the hope that the object of those affections notices their display.  My sister says it’s because just saying, “I like you” is too blunt, and frankly, uncool.  Unfortunately for the socially impaired, and those who want to court them, such abstract roundabout advances often go unnoticed, or unrecognised for what they are.  Case in point: I have recently been informed that my friend, my friend’s mother, and my friend’s friend were all blatantly aware of a boy who had been sending “peacock vibes” my way for a considerable period.  Guess who was the only person who missed it?  Yeah….  So, long story short, sometimes to get what you want, you have to be a little more bat-to-the-head about it, especially when dealing with your average aspie.

5.  “Oh, autism, yeah I’ve heard of that, so what are you, like, Rainman or something?”

Um, no.  Just… no.  First off, Rainman was based on an intellectually disabled savant who didn’t even have autism, second, the majority of autistics are way higher functioning than that.  Third, I just told you, with my own words, that I’m autistic, ergo I am not like the virtually nonverbal Rainman, thank you.  For the sake of the autistic community, that film needs to just go away.  That is all.

So, a few things worth pondering; turns out straight-forward language isn’t so straight-forward after all.

 

*Thanks to my dad for helping me come up with this topic 🙂

Introductions

Hello everyone, my name is AspieRabbit, but you can just call me Rabbit.  This blog, if you had not deduced from the title, is another “day in the life of an aspie” type blog, wherein I describe various social, emotional and cultural experiences through the lens of an aspie — a person with Asperger syndrome, or high functioning autism; me.

As a full-time college student, I will have some interesting stories to tell that revolve around today’s youth, and the general higher education system.  As a self-ascribed expert on autism spectrum disorders, I will occasionally provide “advice” posts for friends, family, teachers and significant others of aspies wherein I attempt to bridge the social and emotional gap by offering suggestions on how best to support those in your life who are on the spectrum.  Fellow aspies, I will attempt to impart the knowledge I collect as I go about life regarding everything from social encounters, dating (you may be waiting a while on this one), how to handle sensory issues, and how to both self-and professionally diagnose, among many others.  I myself was self-diagnosed for the better part of two years, and, when done correctly, it is a perfectly valid claim to make from a social standpoint.  Clinical help, accommodations and government assistance however, all require the piece of paper.

At any rate, I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I will enjoy writing it.  Welcome to the oddball sanctuary.

 

P.S. if readers ever have topics they would like to see addressed, leave them in the comments and I will try to get to them 🙂