When I like something, I go way, way, overboard. When I don’t, it wouldn’t bother me in the least to not see that something for the rest of my days. Obsessions is one of the slices of my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) pie. Compared to the ASD meltdown slice, it is easier to digest.
Fifteen years ago, more or less, I had a base case of VAC-itis. Some see a vacuum as a household tool; I saw it as a toy. At the height of my VAC-itis, my then-apartment resembled a used vac store. When asked why I had so many, I could only think to say “I don’t rightly know.” This was years before I knew about my ASD and the true reason behind my vac obsession as well as other obsessions.
My VAC-itis started when I bought one after moving into a new apartment in 2005. The apartment building was only a few years old and the apartment was the nicest-looking one I had ever lived in. I wanted to keep the apartment “spic and span”. When I went shopping for a vac, I was in awe of the various kinds in the vacs. They had come a long way since I had been down the vac aisle. I didn’t buy a regular run-of-the-mill one but one that had the feel and look of something out of this world. Its accessories in my eyes were tools to play with. I know it sounds strange and I promise I’m not making this up.
It wasn’t long before I added a hand vac, a stick vac, and mini-vacs that ate crumbs off of desk tops. I went big and acquired a heavy-duty vac that also sipped up water from off the floor. This really came in handy when the toilet overflowed. I didn’t forget a vac for my car. I graduated to the carpet steam cleaner. I didn’t much care for the steamer after it burned my hand giving me third degree burns.
On hindsight, my VAC-itis was an offspring of my gadget-itis. My obsession with gadgets that come with batteries or a power cord go back so far that I don’t know when gadget-itis started. In the past few years, my gadget-itis has broadened to electric scooters and video game and virtual reality consoles.
My obsessions isn’t limited to things I work or play with. It extends to what I eat. My bedroom closet is proof of that. I would keep my food items in the kitchen but I don’t live in a place all my own. I share the kitchen space but I don’t share my bedroom. Cereals, snacks, sodas, etc. reside in my closet along with my clothes. I maintain the supply of my favorite foods in bulk! I grieve as if I lost my best friend when one of my favorite brands is banished from every food store in the neighborhood.
Obsessions come and stay for the long haul; some are short-term; and some come and return. I should know. My latest addition: a broom and vac in one!
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I’ve been in retirement ville for almost two years at this writing. What do I like most about retirement? I have fewer events to dread beforehand, to endure, and to recover from.
A good week is the one on my calendar that is blank! No events. No appointments. Most weeks, thanks to being among the truly retired of the AARP membership, I can get by with more blank weeks.
Although there are fewer of them, I still have events to attend to. It is a well-known fact that the more birthdays you have, the more likelihood of doctor visits, lab tests, therapy sessions, hospital stays, and so on. I have been so fortunate that at the age of 62, I have only been a hospital patient once and I was way too young to remember it since it was at birth. But it seems that since I hit the 50 mark, I am having to make multiple visits in a year’s time to a doctor for this check-up and a doctor for something else. Gone are the days when I got away with not going to the doctor except when I was hurting so bad that I gave in.
Each appointment is an “event” that I am looking forward to being OVER! I will not relax about it until I walk out of the doctor’s office. I have nightmares before the event. I take my anxiety pill that I only take for “as needed” the night before. I rehearse beforehand of what I will say to the doctor as if I have a crystal ball forecasting his questions. Even though I can’t recall a time when what I rehearsed did in fact occur, I still rehearse anyway. I cannot help it!
There are other events I must attend to as well. My car has health exams, too, every six months or so. Then, there are the unexpected repair appointments that carry with them extra anxiety since they were unplanned. I dread the car appointments as much as my own. It’s not unusual for my car to be held up in the examining room longer than myself.
Thanks to retirement, I have no work parties or lunch invites. Some of my former colleagues go to retirement luncheons on a monthly or semi-monthly basis. It is nothing against them, but I wouldn’t go to one unless a gun was at my back. That’s an exaggeration but I kid you not, not by much. When I was a member of the work force, I couldn’t get out of parties but I didn’t have to fear being invited to go to lunch with one or more. I suspect it was because my excuses not to join them for lunch got pretty lame.
Another event is family gatherings. I truly wish I could enjoy such events as my family members do, but I haven’t found a way to make that wish come true. Before I learned I had Autism, I didn’t understand why the gatherings, usually on major holidays, did not live up to my expectations. I did like the food though and watching the kids play. If the kids let me join them, I would! It was more fun playing with them than being at the grown-up table where my mute button was on. The year of 2020, I got out of these events for the entire year because of a pandemic. I was not glad at all about the pandemic. Absolutely awful! Something I hope I never live through again. I knew of those who died and those who survived it. Even as bad as it was, there were a few silver linings and that was one of them.
I don’t wish for no events for the year! I’m not that much a hermit. But I am grateful for retirement where I have fewer events and have more choice in making or avoiding them.
“Billy” is my nickname for my Autism. I have a nickname for my car, a nickname for each of my scooters, and it seemed like a good idea to have a nickname for something I live with around the clock.
Alex Durig, a Ph.D., author of numerous books about autism, wrote that people with Autism will often enjoy doing puzzles. I totally agree with Durig. Working on puzzles is on my daily routine list. If there is a day that I don’t touch a puzzle, it is a day that I’m on my backside in utter misery. I mean UTTER misery! It has happened so seldom that I can’t recall offhand when I had a puzzle-less day.
As for how good I am, it depends on the puzzle. Easy Crossword – a champ! Hard -not so much. I don’t want to waste my puzzle books. They are expensive enough that I don’t want to throw one away that has more unsolved than solved puzzles. My method is to look up some of the answers to the hard puzzles to downgrade them to “medium, or “easy”, so I can solve them and make more use of the puzzle book.
The type of word puzzles that are solved and those that are blank when I toss the puzzle book says something about Billy and me. Back when I was a library cataloger, the computer technician and I worked closely since I was the “mother” of the library on-line catalog. She thought I was good at feeding the catalog healthy data vs. bad. She shared with me her observation that I enjoyed playing with words. I don’t take every compliment I receive to the bank, but this one I did. It explains why I like playing word games: crosswords, word searches, cryptograms, quota-grams, and other assorted word puzzles.
The puzzles I don’t touch are logic problems. A typical logic problem goes something like this: Who won the $100, $200, $500, and $1,000 games? Person A wasn’t the winner of the $1,000 game; Person B didn’t win the $500; Person D won more than at least one other player; Person C won half of what another person won, etc. Billy cannot compute that much verbage at once! It reminds me of my difficulty in decoding a long string of verbal instructions such as the box is in the door closet in the bedroom where the plants are, on the second shelf to the right inside the door, towards the back of the shelf, under some pairs of shoes. Got that? NOPE! Draw me a map please!
Durig also wrote that research indicates that people with autism tend to excel at, or favor, tasks requiring deductive reasoning. WOW! That just may explain why puzzles, like Sudoku, are ones I can enjoy doing because they don’t leave me stumped. To play this popular mathematics game, I deduce what number goes in a square by the rules of the game and the numbers I am given. Unlike logic games, Sudoku has no verbage.
I play games on video consoles too. I would have never thought I would become a video-gamer. Not in a million years. You see I have never wanted to play games with others. I didn’t as a kid and that has not changed with my aging. I was tickled pink when I discovered that there were “single-player” games on these consoles.
The games on my account reflect Billy. There are no role-playing games where I play a super-hero and put mobsters in their place, no strategy games like building a town from scratch, and no games where I have to think outside the box.
A game I consider to be therapeutic as well as entertaining is a Disney game. Mostly children play this game but Billy is 62 going on 12. I lose more than I win. Besides humbling me, it is a calming exercise. The game opens up with a screen diagram, similar to a crossword diagram, with a shape in each block. The shapes may be that of a square, triangle, circle etc. I play the game by moving one block up, down, right, or left so that it is adjacent to two identical shapes. The three in a row, across or down, will knock down a row. The goal of the game is to move the block containing a “special” object, unlike any of the other shapes, to the bottom of the diagram. The reason I seldom win is the same reason I don’t play logic word puzzles. There is a logical way to select which set of threesome, step-by-step, to move the “special” block to the bottom of the deck before the “Too Bad!” appears on the screen. Even though I seldom win, it is a favorite because I like detecting patterns and that’s a common trait of those living on the Spectrum.
I’m also a virtual-reality (VR) gamer too. In my bedroom, I can be caught playing with goggles on my head making all kinds of arm and leg motions. It’s not as strange for me to do as it maybe other folks my age. Because of Billy, I stem with pacing and running in place in any room of the house.
My favorite game includes several songs with up to five levels of difficulty, starting from Easy all the way to Expert+. My VR motion controllers turn into a pair of glowing swords, with one on the left hand being red in most songs, and my right hand being blue. In each song, a stream of blocks come at me, each block being either blue or red. I use my swords to slash the blocks, red blocks with my left hand, and blues with my right. When a block is slashed, it is destroyed and a score is awarded.
Why does Billy like this game? Each of the songs have a pattern. Such as a repetitive of three blue blocks in a row, followed by a single red, etc. The more I play the song, the more familiar I become with a song’s pattern and my score improves. I have upgraded from the “easy” to “normal”, and on a few songs, the “hard”. No expectation of reaching Expert and Expert+. Why? Billy and I are not quick on the feet. The higher levels are too many red and blue blocks coming at me at once. I can’t switch from blue to red, right and left hands, in fast motion. I have this annoying problem about having to “think” when I’m having to choose between my left and right or push or pull. But no matter. I’m content playing to the beat and pattern at a speed that Billy and I can master.
Therefore, Billy has a big say in what games or puzzles I like to play and what I don’t. What comes natural to me and what doesn’t. If someone were to ask me what is a bright side to Billy, I can answer that in various ways. One is to show them my almost finished puzzle book.
Huh? There’s more than one way to cut a ham. Really? What other ways are there? How many ways are there?
The deli clerk is standing next to the slicer waiting for my answer. I’m at a loss for an answer! Embarrassed totally! After a long pause, she points me to a chart on the counter glass.
Aha! A visual aide! Just what this autistic person needed! Upon seeing the chart, I saw what she meant.
If she had only asked, “How thick or thin do you want your ham sliced?”, I’d have been on board with her.
At least I didn’t go ahead and answer her question with “cut it with that slicer you’re standing next to”.
I was only at the deli as an errand for a family member. I avoid as much as possible in-person service at a bakery, deli, or meat counter. I avoid it to avoid such situations. If I need help while shopping, it has to be really important, I mean really important, before I ask for it.
I take what is said or asked literally. It’s just a slice of my Autism pie of traits. Some slices of this pie are delicious, and some are tough to swallow. But I do have to enjoy or cope with every slice.
Another example of walking into a verbal instruction “minefield” was a moment when someone simply asked me to “get the phone”. I interpreted that to mean to go over to the landline phone across the room and answer it. I did this even though I was bewildered since I hadn’t heard the phone ring. Hindsight is 20/20 vision and it still boggles my mind that I did do that instead of saying “I didn’t hear it ring” or something like that.
I looked back at the lady who wasn’t laughing at that point. She pointed at her cell phone. What did I do? Despite being puzzled since it wasn’t ringing either, I picked it up too and held it to my ear. I should have asked for clarity, but I was in panic mode!
That’s when she literally instructed me to “hand the cellphone to her”. Now if she had literally said that to begin with, I would have been on board with her.
Because I have a tendency to take what someone says literally, I obviously miss their true message. Sometimes they finally give up and give me the literal interpretation. Such as when my Mom says “we need to ….”. She really means “ME” instead of “we”. It took me a while to learn that when I moved in with my Mom a few years ago. Life got easier, though, when I did.
There are phone calls to friends I seldom or won’t make at all. There are visits too. There are invitations I will not give or receive. One reason besides just being a natural loner is I can’t think of a topic to chat with whoever about. The weather, after all, can only hold a conversation so far.
I admit it is strange for a grown adult, much less a 60+ person, to hide from someone one knows in the store aisle. Yes, I am guilty of that! I don’t avoid every person I know. It depends less on the person and more on whether we have a mutual topic of interest or if I can rely on the person for keeping the conversation going without boring me to tears.
I have few topics of interest and that’s a common trait among us who live on the Spectrum. I can talk a monologue worth on what I live with – Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism). I will talk with utter delight about my obsessions with electronic technology. I enjoy doing a “show and tell” of my bikes and scooters. The problem is I don’t know any of my peers who ride scooters except for my grandnephew and niece. I don’t know anyone, and I do mean anyone, who has anywhere close to the number of electronic gadgets that I do. The only reason someone has even brought up the topic with me is to see if I have a recommendation on a product or if I can diagnose one of their gadgets that is in a coma.
My topics of interest are politics, religion, and history. Two of those topics can get me into hot water! The other can be boring to those who hated history class. I don’t live in a state where my political views are popular. I have to call a friend halfway across the country if I have an urge to discuss politics.
It isn’t the case with all my acquaintances, the few that there are. There is a sweet lady my age that I don’t hide from when we cross paths, usually in the local grocery store. She and I are opposites when it comes to chit-chatting. She chats up a storm and I hang on her every word. I don’t have to worry about there being any dreaded silence with her. She is one who lightens up the room, is a natural at being the center of attention, and, quite frankly, acts plum silly sometimes. My not knowing what she’ll do, what she’ll say, or what she’ll dress up in next is what attracts me to her like a magnet.
On those occasions when someone spots me before I can go into hiding, I am masked for the occasion. I smile and pretend to be engaged. I don’t hinge on their every word because I’m in an internal panic of what should I say and not say, what topic is on or off limits, what to ask and what not to, and above all, how do I gracefully exit.
Finally, truth is I do like people but I don’t like being around them much. Or, to put it another way, I’m real picky!
I took up scooter riding during the spring of 2018. I can understand someone thinking it is an odd sport for someone over 60. It is just an addition to my long-held obsession with most any gadget that is electric or battery-operated. An inventory of my bedroom is visible proof of my obsession: multiple computers, TVs, vacuum cleaners, etc. When I like something, I go way, way overboard. It just took about six months after my scooter obsession began that I owned multiple scooters and bikes of various brands and sizes.
It is two years later and my herd of wheels still see plenty of action. It is winter at this writing and so it is hit and miss when I can go for a ride. I’m cold-natured and am allergic to cold wind blowing in my face even with a cap and full sweatsuit of armor. I live in an area where highs in the 70’s isn’t unusual in December. But highs in the 30’s isn’t either.
I used to ride down neighborhood streets. I didn’t realize how cracked up my hometown sidewalks were until I started riding. I am still not sure if it is safer riding on the streets to steer clear of the cracks. Most drivers generously give me the right of way when crossing the street. But a couple of exceptions did give me quite a scare when I thought the driver had given me the go-ahead.
My favorite place to ride was the parks. More space to roam. Fewer cracks and no auto traffic on the trail.
It used to be but now I ride or scoot in the backyard. I know how many laps around the yard equals a mile. That’s my goal is to ride at least a mile before putting my bike back to bed. It’s not as much fun at the park or even the neighborhood. But it is SAFE. Sure it is safe from sidewalk cracks, potholes, and traffic. But that’s not what I retreated from. It is safe from people. It’s not that I don’t like people. I just don’t like being around them much.
It got to the point where I just had enough of unwanted and unsolicited attention and comments. I didn’t know my gray hair and wrinkles could get so much attention when I’m riding on two wheels.
For instance, on an early fall day, I was riding one of my bikes down a neighborhood street past the elementary school I attended back in the day. I passed by a young man getting out of his pick-up. He saw me and said, “Way to go, Grandma!” It stung. I didn’t dare cut my bike trip short because of him. Yet it took the air out of the sheer pleasure bike riding gives me.
A slice of the Autism pie is over sensitivity. I wish it wasn’t in the pie like the slice of meltdowns. A slight bit of criticism or someone’s cutting remark can throw me into a tailspin. I will remember it years later, usually in the shower or when I lay my head down to sleep and my brain wakes up and uploads files of such memories as that bike ride.
I do wonder still if I had been a 60-something male, would the man have said such substituting “Grandpa”? Maybe and maybe not. Probably if he was hitting 90, maybe.
Just because a woman has gray hair doesn’t disqualify her from riding a bike, scooter, or motorcycle. This wasn’t the first time I got comments or looks on peoples’ faces as if what in the world is that old lady thinking. Such as when I was getting out my scooter from my car and a passer-by said, “Are you going to ride that thing, Ma’am?” I just nodded but afterwards I wished I had said, “No, I’m taking it for a walk.”
It is far from ideal to ride behind the fence but it has one thing going for it – it is SAFE! I am safe from the outside world of people who might make comments that crush my spirit.
I just wish to be left alone to do my thing. Curiosity about my scooters is one thing. That’s okay. I can appreciate someone giving me a thumbs up or waving hello at me. I’m not hiding from them.
A lady with gray hair and wrinkles isn’t always someone’s grandmother. She may be a wanna-be grandmother for whom motherhood, as well as marriage, eluded her.
A family member set up a social media account for her two children. This application was made for children and designed so that parents can monitor their child’s contacts and activities. She added me as a contact and I considered that an honor.
I was deeply touched when one of them messaged me the first time. I’ve chatted with her longer online than I think I ever have in person when she’s been come over to visit. Well, one reason for that is when she has been over, she’s occupied with a member of one of my scooters or video game consoles.
In one of our half-hour chat session. I brought up the word “Autism” to her. It wasn’t a word familiar to her yet. I kept the conversation light on this serious topic.
I told her some of my traits and she lit up like a firecracker and said, “So that’s why you run in place. I thought you were just getting exercise”. Now that cracked me up! Well, exercise is one reason but when I’m excited, one of the things I often do is run in place. Stemming in a nutshell is repetitive movement.
Oh, how I stem! Let me count the ways. Rock, pace, jog, nail biting, leg bobbling, swaying my “bod”, etc.
I told her that’s why I have all my various gadgets. “IS THAT WHY!!!!” she exclaimed! It had not escaped her notice of my three TVs, three computers, five voice-speakers, e-bikes, etc.
I don’t know how much of what I told her sunk in. I kept the chat simple and light. I want her to know why I am the way that I am. Of why I am different from other family members.
And, when she inevitably will cross paths with someone who has Autism, she will respond to the person with acceptance partly because of me.
The Christmas season is my favorite time of year. That is not a profound statement. It is a common sentiment among those who celebrate Christ’s birth. I being one of them.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism, that impacts every aspect of my day-to-day life. Holidays included.
I was the kid who never made it to Santa’s lap. Although I wouldn’t go near him, I believed in him. My strong imagination kept him alive longer than most kids my age. A half a century later, the sight of a man in a red suit, black belt and boots, and white beard with a child on his lap remind me I was a child once.
I was the kid who didn’t like clothes. When opening presents, if it wasn’t a toy, it got put to the side. I haven’t outgrown that either. I buy my own presents every Christmas and clothes is never on my list. I do occasionally buy clothes but it isn’t near as fun to me as items that have an attached power cord or battery. What is on my list are additions to my obsession with electronic gadgets. Best Buy is to me what Toys R Us is to my grandniece and nephews.
I was the kid who could be trusted not to even try to peek inside my presents. I enjoyed the anticipation as much as I did opening the anticipated. I haven’t outgrown that either. Even with the presents I buy for myself, I keep them in the boxes they arrived in until the big day.
I was the kid who would turn sad after trees lights turned off, ornaments put away, and tree taken down. All that anticipation and what now … I would think. Back to school would be around the corner and how I would dread that so. The next Christmas I thought would be far, far away. Now in my early 60s, it seems Christmas comes around sooner. I often wonder where does time go. But I still feel so sad when another Christmas is history.
I was the kid who would pretend to drum with her hands while listening to the “Little Drummer Boy”. I would pretend to play a piano when listening to Christmas piano carols. I was the kid who would pace the floor by myself, pretending to be someone else and somewhere else, while playing my Christmas present of a record player with my favorite Christmas albums.
My favorite Christmas movie as a child was Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. A smile still comes over my face when I hear once again Burl Ives belt out the reindeer song. Back in my youth, I didn’t know I had Asperger’s Syndrome, but I knew I was different just like Rudolph and his red nose.
Routine in my world goes beyond my daily to-do list. It is more granular than that.
Routine is how I slice a sandwich and it isn’t the typical slice down the middle or crossways. My routine for washing dishes isn’t only after meals but whenever there’s even just a single dish in the sink. Routine is not only sending a weekly e-mail to a few of my relatives/friends. Routine is sending that e-mail every Sunday at around the noon hour.
Routine is not only what days I do laundry, but how. There’s a laundry basket. When my Mom does laundry, she carries the basket of laundry to the washing machine. Not me! I leave the basket in the closet. I carry the laundry on my way to do the laundry. My Mom has told me more than once how easier it would be to use the laundry basket to carry the laundry. Logically, I agree wit her. But the autistic in me refuses to give in! I carry the laundry to the washer and to the dryer. If it is a heavy load, I’ll get extra exercise making double trips. If I choose once in a blue moon to use the basket to tote, it will be my decision alone to tote!
Routine is not only eating meals at the same time every day. Routine is some of those food items are on my menu every day with rare exceptions. Routine is the order I eat what I eat. Routine is never mixing two items together. Such as soup and crackers. The soup first; then, the crackers.
I know this all sounds odd for lack of a better word. It was being with school children on the Autism Spectrum that I first learned what was behind these rituals of mine four years ago. My first clue was observing a 12-year-old girl in her class leave her class without leaving it. Her behavior of pacing the floor in her own imaginary world was strange to her teacher even though she had seen her student do it many times. It wasn’t bizarre to me. I was a pro! I just don’t do it in front of witnesses; although, sometimes I get caught in the act.
One day when I was sitting by this same student in the cafeteria watching her eat a hamburger, I realized we had a mutual routine. She uses the same three-step method that I do: eat the bottom bun first, then the top bun, and save the best part, the beef, for last.
If you ever feel a sense of panic when given verbal instructions, you’re not alone! Whenever I’m asked to “will you please get whatever from the closet on the middle shelf to the right of whatever”, I picture in my mind a grown-sized robot twirling around, waving its arms, yelling “Panic Alert!”
This struggle is not uncommon with those like myself who live on the Autism Spectrum. Frustrating is an understatement!
Since I retired, I am relieved of this struggle in the workplace. However, there is the home front and I am not the sole occupant. Even with people I have known pretty much all my life, I don’t always get their commands or requests at the first try.
Just recently I was asked to get a piece made out of styrofoam from the backyard shed. Simple, right? I had no reason to think it wouldn’t be when I walked out to the shed. I looked up and down, right and left, for anything made out of such. I retreated and reported I couldn’t find it. This time I asked the color which was gray. Her further description led me to think it was in a small wood shed next to the big shed. Well, my thinking was off. There were only a few items in in this small shed and none of them were made out of styrofoam. I was thinking maybe she didn’t remember where she put the elusive piece.
I hated going back emptyhanded. I explained and she said it wasn’t in the little shed. Okay, back to the main shed. Before going back the third time, I asked where in the main shed was it. She said it would be on my left as I first walked in.
I should mention this person wasn’t someone I wasn’t used to getting instruction from. I’ve received more instructions from her than anyone else on this planet. She is someone I’ve known for 62 years since that’s how long she’s been my MOTHER.
I go with trepidation on my third trip. I would have told her to go get it herself but you don’t say that to your mother who doesn’t charge you rent.
I looked to my left when I walked in just like she said. I didn’t see a thing that fit my Mom’s description. At this point, I said a short prayer of asking the Lord, “I sure could use some help here.”
I kid you not. At that vert moment my eyes caught sight of a gray styrofoam tube along with some other tools. It did make me feel just a tad better that it wasn’t out in the open that if it had been a snake it would have bit me. (That phrase is one of my Mom’s often-used phrases) I was so thankful and relieved that the third time was the charm.
Looking back at this odyssey, I should have asked more questions before looking for it the first time. If she had said the shape of it, a tube, I might have gotten it on the 2nd try. Maybe.
I don’t always know when what is asked of me will be a snap or an obstacle to fulfill. I’ll continue to struggle with verbal instruction as I always have for as long as I can remember. It’s just a slice of my Spectrum pie. I cope by having a sense of humor about it after the frustration and embarrassment have worn off.