Social Anxiety on the Spectrum – My I’d Rathers

I’d rather someone else answer the door.

I’d rather someone else call the plumber.

I’d rather not go up to a store customer counter to interact with a clerk about my defective or unwanted piece of merchandise.

I’d rather not go to my favorite kid in the world’s family birthday party.

I’d rather not go to a movie theatre even with my best friend with free movie tickets.

I’d rather not change my routine unless I am the one changing it.

I’d rather go for a walk and talk to myself on a daily basis.

I’d rather take a detour when walking/riding a bike at the park to avoid passing a person(s) on the trail.

I’d rather take off than having to listen to music that gives me so much pain than to tell the person to please turn it off. I’d rather find a place to be alone, curl up and rock myself until the music is off.

There are more I’d rather’s. I think the above list shows how autism does impact my day-to-day life. It doesn’t take a vacation from me.

Sometimes my “I’d rather” doesn’t happen and when so, I just cope as best I can.

Advertisements

Two Traits at War

According to Interactive Autism Network’s website, although poor motor skills and clumsiness are not currently part of official DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, such deficits figure heavily in clinical accounts and assessments.  Individuals with Asperger’s often display an odd or uneven gait when walking or running, trouble with ball skills, difficulty with balance, poor handwriting skills, and difficulty imitating or mirroring others’ postures, gestures, or movements. 

Poor motor skills and clumsiness are two of my challenges of living on the Spectrum. When I started writing this blog, I was nursing the left side of my face with an ice pack. When one’s face goes head-to-head with a brick wall, it is never the wall that cracks up.

Another common trait is restricted interests (obsessions) which are for me calming and assist in reducing my anxiety. One of my interests is electric scooters/bikes. As you might imagine, this “motor” interest can collide with my not being so fine with fine motor skills.

My newest bike at this writing was a Swagtron EB-5. It arrived on a Sunday and was almost fully assembled except for the seat.  And, wouldn’t you know, it was the seat that would be the thorn in my side, a burr in my saddle, and a pain in my neck.  My problem was the clamp that was not doing its job of adjusting/tightening the bike seat.  Seats are pretty important in order to have a safe, and comfy ride; well, not big on comfy since I haven’t yet ridden on a bike seat that was rear-friendly.  

I did try riding Swagtron inspite of riding it with its seat all the way DOWN.  The e-bike ZOOMED off like a rocket when I pedaled.  My reaction time is much less than the bike’s. “Swag” and I took a tumble.  I was relieved my new bike wasn’t hurt but “Swag” fell on my left foot.  No broken foot but I had a swollen one within an hour or so.  


My grand-nephew claims his Grandpa and my brother can repair anything.  Well, it didn’t take Grandpa long to put “Swag’s” seat in its place.  I was amazed watching my brother’s fix-it work.  He didn’t even need to glance at the instructions.  Repair and assembly work is not under my list of talents; although, I give it a good try when it is one amidst my herd of half-dozen bikes/scooters. I lack in fine motor skills as well as gross motor skills. In other words, my brother can handle screws, nuts, and bolts for better than I can.

When a bike and a brick wall meet head-on, it isn’t the wall that is worse for wear.   The same bike, Swagtron, that I fell off of a week prior hurting my foot was the bike I ran into a wall the following Friday.  At least, my foot had healed by then.


I was riding on the local city bike/walking trail.  All was well until I approached the area where there is a water fountain pit stop.  It’s a shaded area where there are places to sit and a  narrow, round sidewalk with four or so brick wall posts.  I should have stayed on the main trail where the sidewalk is wide, but I ventured off on the narrow sidewalk going in a circle.  Unlike my two other bikes, “Swag” only goes one speed, 15 mph, when I’m pedaling.  It will go slower if I just use the throttle and forget all about the pedals. I lost balance as I was going around the circle.  I could see for a few seconds I was running into the brick wall but I wasn’t quick enough to turn my handlebar or use the handbrake.


I put the blame squarely on Billy (my nickname for Asperger’s/Autism).  One of Billy’s traits is lack of motor skills and balanced.  I’m both socially and physically awkward.   Or, as I often say, I’m not quick on my feet with communicating with my fellow man, driving behind the wheel, and with my bikes’ handlebars.  Thus, bruises and scratches are almost as common to me as moles .


My balance and motor skills have not improved with almost 2 years of riding practice.  I’m not so bruised that I am putting my two-wheelers to rest though.  Just the cost of them alone is persuasive enough to keep pedaling.  The best I can do is to learn from each accident.  Hours after I had medicated and bandaged the scratches on the left side of my face, I took “Swag” for another ride.  This time at another place where I stayed riding on a BROAD sidewalk that didn’t go in a circle.  How did it go? Billy and I had a blast!

Some Hurdles for me to Jump on the Spectrum

Aspergers

Someone is telling me about one of their most memorable experiences. I understand they are proud as a peacock of their loved one’s accomplishment. Their loved one is one of mine too and I’m proud, too, but the someone isn’t a “cut to the chase” type storyteller. I am thinking while pretending to be hanging on every word that “Please, Lord, give me patience.”

Asperger's Issues                                                                                                                                                      More

I have heard and do buy into the fact that constructive criticism is a helpful thing if taken with the right attitude. However, I’m like some others with Asperger’s that criticism, justified or not, is an upper cut to my heart. It is as much as sting on me emotionally as a bee sting would be to me physically. I may take that criticism in and avoid doing whatever again, but I won’t get over it any time soon, if ever.

It happens to most people. A person gets your attention and asks, “Do you know where….?” It is difficult for me to answer questions on the spot. My brain needs a tad more processing time. I can give a good answer of where some place is if the person asking is willing to wait around for 2-3 minutes. It doesn’t matter if the directions are to a place like I know the back of my head. I’ll give an answer of “I don’t know” or I will take a shot at it. One too many times my “shot at it” was way off the mark and wondered if the person was able to figure out how to get back to where they were when they asked the wrong person for directions.

Did I say the wrong thing? Did I say too much in the phone call? Or, did I say too little? How do I get out of going to the party in honor of a dear friend when I can’t even consider the possibility of going? How long must I stay seated amidst those visiting our house before I can retreat to my room without insulting the guests? Should I bring up one of my favorite topics with this person or not? How do I shut it off when I detect boredom on their part? I need to get by in the store aisle, should I say “excuse me”, pretend I’m looking at something else until they move on, or come back later?

Despite the hurdles, the bright side of Autism outshines the dark.

Some Overthinking of a Sixty Year Old Aspie

A common autistic trait is overthinking.  This explains why driving on Oklahoma State Highway 1, a stretch of highway I frequently take to the city of Ada, a pair of shoes hanging from the wire over the highway.  I notice the pair every time I’ve driven under them.  I’ve wondered each time how strong wind would have to be to knock ’em down.  The high winds that knocked trees off their roots in the summer storms have not been able to knock them shoes off the wire.  If someone down the road decides to take ’em down, what time of day or night would one do it since the highway is a frequently traveled two-way?  And, I wonder how someone would do it; maybe a ladder on a fire truck.  Maybe they don’t think the shoes are worth bothering with.  I’d like to see the pair come down since I’m tired of analyzing about it every time I see ’em hangin’ by their laces.

I know I should have learned it by now, but better late than never.  When sitting for my brother and sister-in-law’s dogs, I should open the door with me behind it and let the dogs go out first.  Why?  Better that than being knocked down on my rump by ’em.  Walking behind the older dog, Bleu, going up the hallway is like being behind a semi-truck on Interstate Highway 75 that runs through Oklahoma and Texas (my neck of the woods).  Bleu switches gears when reminding the donkeys or cows they are getting too close to his turf.

It isn’t suburbia…


My hometown is a Dallas suburb. Keeping that in mind, while standing in line at one of Oklahoma’s small towns, Coalgate, at a Dollar General store, the lady in front of me asked the lady behind me, “Hey, sista’, what were you doing yesterday?”  Her sista’ says, “I canned “x” number of squash.”  The lady in front said, “Wow!”  Her sista’ said, “Yelp, Ed and I were up until 3 a.m. canning.”  

In its sister store up the road, I was again in the check-out line.  The topic of conversation was a young female cashier asking her co-cashier, an older woman who could pass for her grandmother, for advice about mothers-in-law.  She didn’t look like she was out of her teens but that doesn’t mean anything since teen marriage isn’t like a rare bird.  I don’t know if she was asking out of sheer curiosity or if she was about to get one.  The older cashier described her own mother-in-law as being as friendly as a grizzly.  There were two other female customers, one my age and the other younger, who chimed in with how they dealt with their mutual mothers-in-law.  Chatter is something I like as little as buttermilk but I wasn’t in the check-out line that long to bring on a meltdown or shutdown.  I didn’t tell the young lady to follow my example and not have one.

It took a few dog sitting tours in the Oklahoma countryside to learn when passing a motorist on a gravel road, I should expect to be waved at and be obliged to wave back. If I’m traveling on the Interstate, I am not obliged.

I Don’t Let the Grass Grow Under my Feet

This is one of my funny ordinary illustrations from my daily life of “what’s it like to have Asperger’s as 60”.


When my 83-year-old Mom says, “I was thinking we needed…”, I know there’s a better than 50% chance I’m not gonna like it.  Her “thinking” likely means labor is in my near future.  Just how much labor depends on what task popped up in Mom’s head.  


This time she was thinking about the section of fence that had been leaning against the backyard fence.  It had been there for almost a year since a side of our fence was replaced by our adjoining neighbors when they first moved in.  Since we are getting a new fence in the back next to the alley, she wondered if we could unscrew each piece of the fence and carry the pieces out to the front curb where we put the trash can.  Maybe someone, like our other neighbors who have a junkyard for a backyard, would take the wood off our hands.  

A common autistic trait is to take words in conversation things literally which puts me in danger of missing the point of what someone is saying.  My Mom confuses me all the time or I confuse her.  Such as I figured out not long after moving in with Mom that when she says “WE”, nine times out of ten she means ME”.


After weed-eating some, I went over to the section of the fence and saw the screws might come out with one of my gadgets, a battery-charged screwdriver.  (One of my obsessions/collection is gadgets attached to power cords or run on battery juice.) I tried the tool out and it worked!  There were like a dozen or more posts, each having 6 screws to unscrew.  That’s like 72 or so screws. 

It wasn’t a cool time of the day that I picked to tackle this thing that kept my Mom up the night before.  I could have asked for help, like from my 50-year-old something brother, but I didn’t.  I could have taken a break, but I didn’t.  I could have stretched it out, a little each day since the new fence won’t be put in until a little over a week, but I didn’t.  Why?  It’s my autistic brain!  Once I start a task, the pressure is in my mind to finish and to do it by MYSELF!  My brain won’t let me stop!  I thought about leaving it to my brother to at least carry out the wooden fence pieces to the front yard, but since they weren’t too heavy for me, I did that by myself too. 

Once the section of the fence was out of the backyard and piled on the curb, I raised my arms and cheered over my VICTORY!  Like someone might do if they climbed to the top of a mountain.  These are the kind of moments my autism brain is immensely gratified!

An Autistic, a Scooter, and Two Dogs

When I opened the door after arriving on Thursday afternoon for another dog-sitting tour of duty for my brother and sister-in-law’s dogs, I expected to see the dogs, or at least one of ’em, right behind the door.  NOPE!  They both showed up but they were in no hurry like they would be if I was one of my brother and sister-in-law’s three donkeys that broke in. 

During the afternoon, Bleu was at my feet but Bailey took up residence in Mama and Daddy’s bed.  Bless her heart!  I’d visit her now and then to give her some lovin’ attention.  I went for a walk to the mailbox and back.  Bleu was my only escort.  Bailey didn’t leave the house.  I was confident, though, that Bailey’s depression would pass as it had before on previous dog-sitting visits.

A DOUBLE PORTION

After letting them out, I filled the dog’s bowls and then went to the restroom.  MISTAKE! When I got back to the kitchen, Bleu had eaten his and was working on Bailey’s bowl.  Bailey was still conducting his business outside.  I attempted to stop Bleu but I didn’t try too hard.  He growled and I thought a BITE wasn’t worth it.  One should carefully pick their battles and I chose not to fight for Bailey’s rights.

I scolded Bleu and he knew what I was saying but I didn’t get the “guilty” look I had seen on dog videos on Facebook.  I might as well been talking to a fence post.  Now whenever I’ve been scolded, justified or not, I will be in a funk for months.

Bleu is more touchy about things that he considers are HIS and nobody else’s! I relate to being protective of my possessions. Okay, overprotective! I am protective of my stuff like a mother bear is over her cubs. My younger brothers could attest to that since they knew stepping into my bedroom would tick me off back in our childhood days. So, of course, they repeatedly did it tossing me into meltdown country.

My dog sitting routine has been firmly established after my first dog sitting tour. I routinely go for a walk on the gravel road leading to the mailbox mid-morning.  A half of a mile’s worth of exercise. The dogs will not let me walk alone!  I could lock them in the house but that would be too unkind.

My Scooter

Many autistics keep collections of their interests such as stamps, calendars, toy cars, etc. One of mine is electric scooters/bikes. I have seven. I don’t go dog-sitting without taking at least two of them. While dog sitting, I went to a big city lake parks located in the historical section of Ada, Oklahoma to go scooter riding. I was enjoying it until I got lost.  There were a lot of trails, plenty enough for me to get lost; although, it doesn’t take much area for me to lose my way when I wander off into my own world.  At least, I was lost on the scooter instead of on foot. I once got lost in a park a few years ago and I was on foot. It took two whole weeks for the foot blisters to heal.

The city park wasn’t scooter or bike friendly because the walks through the park were too narrow for pedestrians and riders both. Since I try to avoid passing people on the trail, not knowing whether to speak or not, I decided not to return to that park.

A day later, I went to a park with a trail in another town to take my electric scooter for a ride.  The walkway around the lake was wider than the one at the city lake park.  That was a good idea I had but it’ll have to happen another time.  Why?  I forgot to put the scooter in the car.

Me and My Sensitivities

Many of us on the autism spectrum have difficulty taking in everyday sensory information. Any of our senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times.

The following are effects of visual hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity:

SIGHT

UNDER-SENSITIVE

Objects appear quite dark, or lose some of their features.

Central vision is blurred but peripheral vision quite sharp.

A central object is magnified but things on the periphery are blurred.

Poor depth perception, problems with throwing and catching, clumsiness.

Ways you might help include the use of visual supports or coloured lenses, although there is only very limited research evidence for such lenses.

OVER-SENSITIVE

Distorted vision – objects and bright lights can appear to jump around.

Images may fragment.

Easier and more pleasurable to focus on a detail rather than the whole object.

Has difficulty getting to sleep as sensitive to the light.

Things one can do to help cope with visual sensitivity is to make changes to the environment such reducing fluorescent lighting, wearing sunglasses, using blackout curtains. I work as a substitute aide and my assignments include autism units. I have noticed that these classrooms use dim lighting to block out visual distractions. Some use blackout curtains.

I personally struggled with visual sensitivity well before I learned I was on the Spectrum. One of the apartments I lived in was downstairs and the window was facing the parking lot. Those arriving home after the Sun went to bed took their sweet time turning off their headlights that penetrated through my window. It was so hard on me that I had meltdowns. I found a solution when I bought an eyemask to wear at night. Since then, I don’t go to bed without the mask!

Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses consciousness on a subject, topic, or task. In some individuals, various subjects or topics may also include daydreams, concepts, fiction, the imagination, and other objects of the mind. Hyperfocus on a certain subject can cause side-tracking away from assigned or important tasks.

I daydream on a daily basis. When I’m on the job working in a classroom or gym where chaos reigns, I’m more inclined to drift into daydream land. Or, I’m in a group meeting, family gathering, a friend’s party, and the social chatter is just static noise. I sometimes get carried away with my writing or fiddling with my obsession with my collection of gadgets that I lose all track of time.

Although hyperfocus can have a negative effect on a person’s life by distracting them from important tasks, it can also be used positively, as evidenced by many scientists, artists, and writers.

Others, however, are less lucky — the object of their hyperfocus may be playing video games, building with Legos, or online shopping. Unrestrained focus on unproductive tasks can lead to setbacks in school, lost productivity at work, or failed relationships.

I confess right up front I have to work on cutting back on my online shopping! I’m visiting Amazon way too much!

Does Everyone Have Asperger Traits?

I first answered this question with another question: Does everyone have pregnancy symptoms? Well, I hear one of those symptoms is backache and I’ve had that complaint a few times. Of course, such did not mean I was with child.

Fidgeting is a common Asperger trait. It is also a common trait among mankind. Fidgeting alone doesn’t mean one has Asperger’s any more than a backache means one is pregnant.

One of my Asperger traits is routine. I am sure there are neurotypicals who also like having a routine as opposed to not having one. However, for me, a routine is almost as essential as breathing. If my routine is abrupted, I am in a state of anxiety. I may not show it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it in spades!

It isn’t just any of my Asperger traits themselves, but the frequency and depth of them. There’s not a single day I don’t do the self-talk while retreating into my imaginary world and I have no choice about it. It is essential to my getting through my daily business of living in a world I don’t quite understand.

God Has My Back

Ever have one of those moments where you say “I’ve had enough! I’m done!” If you haven’t, you are a rare bird!

Maybe it’s the evil that’s captured in headlines and pictures around the world or in your own backyard. A world that you believe is just getting worse. Maybe it’s all the political infighting going on in the nation’s capitol where the government of the people, by the people, and for the people isn’t getting done no how and no way. Maybe your fears are more local as to how how you’re going feed that family of yours after being laid off or a lay off looming in the wind. Maybe it’s a job it takes all you have to show up for work. Maybe a marriage gone sour or an illness with no relief.

In my case, a blessing and thorn – living on the Autism Spectrum. Some days I’m thankful for my positive Autism traits, just some days more than others. There’s the dark side, too, of living on the Spectrum. The meltdowns, shutdowns, and misunderstandings. I have moments of having had enough.

If you ever felt like throwing in the towel, take some comfort in knowing you are not alone. I’ve been there and so have most of the human race. There’s even a story of it happening to one of God’s prophets. His “time-out” is told in the 19th chapter of I Kings.

A prophet’s job could be a dangerous one. One of his duties was to relay a message from God to the person(s) on the receiving end. Sometimes God’s message was something to the effect of “Get your act together or you’re going to regret it.” You may have heard someone say “Don’t kill the messenger!” Well, sometimes that’s what some one would try to do to one of God’s prophet because God’s message was not pleasing to their ears.

Elijah served during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Even to this day, the name Jezebel conjures up the word “evil” and other bad words. I’ve not yet met anyone who was given the name “Jezebel” to wear for life. She was without a doubt a “Queen of MEAN!” Jezebel’s thorn in her side was Elijah and she was his. She sent a threatening message to Elijah, ““You can be sure that I will kill you, just as I killed the other prophets. I’ll do it by this time tomorrow. If I don’t, may the gods punish me greatly.”

Understandably Elijah feared for his life and he took off to the desert. He literally prayed that he would die. It was his “I’m done” moment. The scripture tell us that Elijah said, “Lord, I’ve had enough. Take my life. I’m no better than my people of long ago.”  Then he laid down under the bush and took a nap.

I can’t blame Elijah for running off from the arena. He was scared, frustrated, angry, and just maybe depressed isn’t too strong enough a word. The outlook for himself and Israel looked dire! He was the only prophet left and many of the children of Israel had rebelled against God despite all of his efforts to turn his own nation back to God. I can relate because sometimes I get down and out about what’s going on in my own nation. I tell myself not to care and don’t bother to vote. It just won’t matter.

Elijah’s break from work had God’s attention. The first thing God did wasn’t to scold Elijah but to send one of his angels to tend to his physical needs. An angel touched him and told him to get up and eat. There was some hot bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water for him to drink. The angel came back later and gave him another round of food and water. After having been nourished, he traveled for 40 days and 40 nights. He kept going until he arrived at Mount Horeb known as the mountain of God. The prophet found a cave where he took up temporary residence.

Now this is the time in the story that reminds me of a situation such as the boss asking the employee, “Why aren’t you at work?” Or, the spouse asking “Why are you still in bed with a yard that is aching to be mowed?” A message from God to Elijah was simply this question, “What are you doing here?”

Elijah’s response was first of all to say he knew that the world was under God’s rule and that he, for one, was committed to Him. Then spoke of the Israelites who had turned their backs on God. He had ran away for dear life since God’s altars had been torn down, backs of God’s people had turned on His covenant, and prophets had been put to death and he was the only one left standing.

 The Lord said, “Go out. Stand on the mountain in front of me. I am going to pass by.”

The Lord then demonstrates His power. First, a powerful wind strong enough tearing the mountains apart and breaking up rocks. Then, an earthquake followed by a fire. After the fire there was only a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his coat over his face. He went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

Elijah gave pretty much the same answer. Now it appears to me that God was telling Elijah not to be afraid of anyone or anything; that He had Elijah’s back. If God so chose, he could plow his and Elijah’s enemies down with wind, or knock them down with an earthquake, or burn them with fire. No matter how grim things looked, God was still in control. Even if someone took the prophet’s life, well, to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord.

This powerful demonstration of God’s mighty power was followed by God giving Elijah a “to-do” list which included appointing his successor. His naming someone to succeed him may have been the task Elijah might have looked forward to completing the most. Thus, Elijah went back to work and finished his term.

It wasn’t as grim as Elijah had thought. There were still 7,000 people in Israel who had stayed loyal to God and had not bowed down to Baal. Just as it may look to me sometimes that my country is on the skids. I should remind myself I can’t see what God sees. I don’t know all the acts of kindness that are done on any given day as I do the most evil, heinous acts. There are still good people on this earth because God is still at work in the hearts of His children who respond to His call.

Ultimately, Jezebel didn’t get her way of doing in Elijah. No one took Elijah’s life. God had him carried away in a chariot of fire while Elijah’s successor, Elisha, witnessed the prophet’s departure. As for Jezebel, she met a very bad end. You can read about her final scene in the Bible but don’t do it on a full stomach. It’s a rather bloody one.

The Spectrum Can Be a Lonely Road

After learning I had been living on the Spectrum at the age of 58, I finally had an explanation for why I like people but I don’t like being around them much. Why I’d like to make friends with someone who doesn’t like making new friends. Weird, I know.

When a social function is canceled, I respond with “That’s too bad!” and then I CELEBRATE!! So if not “having a life” is misery, then I’m all for misery.

I am a substitute for teacher’s aides and so I sometimes work with kids who are on the Spectrum too and those who have other challenges. I do see their loneliness. I was once asked by a young girl if she was bad for not wanting to be friends with a boy who had Autism. His quirky behavior was as she put it, “driving her bonkers”. He’d get in her face, follow her around, and spin in circles on the floor.

I answered with first stating I didn’t think she was a bad person. I advised her not to abandon him completely. She didn’t have to be his best buddy but if she could manage, she shouldn’t ignore him completely. I asked her if she knew what it is to be ignored and she admitted it did hurt like heck.

I gave her a few examples of those children, (how shall I put this nicely), put my patience to task.

I told her about a boy on the Spectrum who does not give his voice a break. I often wonder what keeps him from getting laryngitis. My best coping mechanism is a sense of humor about it. I don’t mean laughing at him; just keeping my sense of humor to ease his chatter on my nerves.

The girl with the question was amused at my stories and I told her that I laugh at my own quirky behavior all the time. It beats crying about it. I think I gave her some food for thought. I hope she decided not to abandon the boy. After all, Autism can be a lonely road for some.