Topics of Interest

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!

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Behind the Fence

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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.

So That’s Why!

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.

AN ASPERGER’S CHRISTMAS PAST AND PRESENT

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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 on the Spectrum

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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.

The Third Time was the Charm

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.

There’s a Reason for my Interest

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When anxiety flashes like lightning, my most successful strategy to turning down the anxiety is to pursue my special interests. There is a limited number of them but that’s okay.

When needed, I’ll go play with one of my yard gadgets. Trim the hedge with my battery clippers, whack the weeds with my weed eater, or munch leaves with my lawn mower. If the flash comes after the Sun has gone to bed, or the weather is frightening outside, I’ll wake up my obsessive toy gadgets like my Nintendo Switch Lite to game, launch my Oculus Quest to game in virtual reality, or launch my FireTV for gaming on TV. (Did I mention I’m 62 going on 12?)

A special interest that has been with me since childhood is writing. It is a hobby. It is rehabilitative therapy after high-anxiety or even a melt-or-shutdown. If I can write about whatever brought in the lightning strikes, I’ll be okay. If I can sweeten the story with a dash of humor here and there, even better. Writing is how I best communicate with people far and near. A blog, e-mail, or tweet — this I can do. Conversation does not come easy unless someone wants to talk to me about any of my special interests. Group discussions? I’m totally allergic to them.

There’s a reason for my special interests. They help me live with my “Billy” (nickname for my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)).

Sometimes I make a slip of the tongue and called it Autusm STRESS Disorder. Same initials. Just saying.

THE CONS OF MY PASSIONS

A common term in Autismland is “special interests.” People on and off the Autism Spectrum have a passion for, or a hobby. My fellow Spectrum travelers and I are no different. For us, that passion is intensified.

I reckon there are pros and cons to any passion. Such as the con to my writing passion is typos. I am beholden to my grammar/spell check computer app but it isn’t full-proof in catching all my goofs.

I have a way with computers. One of the memorable compliments I received was from a colleague several years ago who told me that whenever her computer goes to a blank screen, the first thing she did was to call the computer tech office.  But she noticed I only called for help at last resort. I would first try to revive it on my own and had a good track record of self-resolution. I welcome compliments even though I seldom believe compliments about me.

Thus, I am the computer master in my household. The con is that often when I’m in the middle of doing my own thing that I am interrupted by a SOS call from a family member whose computer is having a hick-up or they need guidance on how to do whatever on their computer. This tests my patience and I confess I’m lacking in that but working on it. My know-how on simple everyday things I come up short, but my computer know-how is compensation.  After all, I can always search on Google on how to boil water.

Another passion is electronic gadgetry. I call them my toys. My small circle of friends chuckle at what I deem a toy to be. My robotic vac is as much a toy as my Xbox. I have car toys too. One that responds to “Alexa” and another that shows me where I am on the map. My weed edger and leaf blower are in my toy collection too. I have riding toys which I went overboard on. One electric scooter/bike is sufficient, but I have four at last count.

The con of my electronic gadgets is illness and death. Some of my gadgets of the past have died on me. After all, they didn’t come with an unlimited life span. Some had a shorter life span than others. I am sooooooooooo angry when a gadget breaks down that I got little to no use out of. I am soooooooooo sad when a gadget I played with for years goes comatose. It takes me longer than most folks to give up on a gadget that shows no sign of life. But when I come to acceptance about it, my heart takes a hit when I toss it away. If it is a gadget I don’t have a spare one for, I will more likely replace it than not. It doesn’t depend on price, but how deeply obsessed I am with the gadget.

As for gadgets that show some trace of life, I will try this, try that, etc. until I am convinced it has passed and then reluctantly toss it away. Then there are gadgets that don’t perform all its functions. Such as my eldest voice-gadget, the original Echo dot, is seemingly losing some of its hearing like its owner. So for those that are sickly, I will pardon them from the trash bin and use them sparingly or leave them be.

The bottom line: I’ve been fortunate with the good health of most of my gadgets, but I run into a “lemon” every now and then.

The Torture of the Wait

Many of my Autism traits are common, too, among those who are NOT autistic.  But the difference is the FREQUENCY and INTENSITY.  An example is when I get a bill in the mail.  Everything stops!  Even if I have a natural call, I will put it off until I get that bill taken care of.  If it can be paid on-line, I will do that PRONTO!  If by snail mail, I will write the check and stuff it in the envelope.  I will take it to the post office probably the same day! 

It is even worse when what needs doing involves social interaction in person or over the phone.  And waiting in line with my fellow man is a high anxiety task for me.  I won’t wait to get it over with unless I have NO choice in the matter!  

Once upon a time, my Mom had officially divorced from her cable company.  There was one task left to do which was to return the equipment.  A no-choice task for me since a mail store was the ONLY place in town that took this cable company’s returns.  Although we had until the middle of the following month to return the equipment, it didn’t matter.  Billy (my nickname for my Autism) was reminding me every half-hour.  I knew from previous visits that Monday was usually the busiest day of the week. Even though I knew that, I went by the place on a Monday while on my way to another store.  The line was out the door, longer than my previous visit.   I decided to not stop and went on my UNsatisfied way.

Billy kept on bugging me though.  I kept thinking “I’ll go tomorrow” but Billy was relentless.  With pressure mounting on me, I looked up the closing time and there was still an hour and a half before closing time. So I went by on my way to a scooter ride in the park. The line was the same as earlier in the day – out the door.  But this time I STAYED!  I didn’t want to go to bed that night with Billy haunting me with the picture of people standing in line out the door.

Now it was over 100 degrees at the time.  High on heat and humidity with little shade.  Miserable standing-in-line conditions!  A few people ahead of me was an older lady with a cane.  No doubt she had trouble standing in line that was going nowhere fast.  Her escort had a big umbrella holding it over them.  I just had this bad feeling that whatever she needed from the mail store would require a long session over the counter.  My hunch was right. Her escort took off after she got inside the store.  He probably went off shopping knowing she wouldn’t be out any time soon.  She had a booklet photocopied.  She was really particular on the copies’ appearance.  I could tell that since the clerk had to do some pages more than once to satisfy her.  

By the way, terminal 3 was unmanned.  Just two clerks with more customers outside the store than inside.  Terminal 2 was manned by a young woman who was helping a lady with a SINGLE, SMALL package.  I don’t know why it was taking so long.  For the longest, the clerk was just staring at the computer screen while the customer was staring at her phone.  

So the line was stalled with these two customers.  How was I holding up?  Me?  I’ll just say prayer is helpful in such situations.  I quickly glanced at the other customers behind me and their faces were stoic.  But I just bet they were thinking along the lines of myself such as…


If the two clerks were any slower, I would hope one of us would know how to do CPR.

I consoled myself in thinking I could be those near or at the end of the line not knowing if they would get inside before the torture chamber’s closing time which was within the half-hour.  

The young lady in front of me had the right idea!  Until she got up to the counter, she had her head down, pecking away on her cellphone.  She didn’t look up, not once, until she was face-to-face with the terminal 1 clerk.  I would have done the same but my cellphone was resting comfortably in my car’s front seat.

FINALLY, I got to terminal 2 and told the young woman I was returning AT&T equipment.  She pecked at her computer keyboard; then went to register 3 and pecked some more; then went back to 2 and pecked again.  Then, she finally asked the male teenage clerk on terminal 1 if he had access to the cable company.  The good news was he did.  The bad news was his computer was the ONLY one that did. 

I had to step back and wait for the clerk on 1 to finish with his customer who also had a long wait. How long did I have to wait?  GET THIS!  The clerk on 2 finished in record speed with three customers before I got my turn on 1.

But I didn’t blow my top!  I managed to taper off the volcano rumbling inside of me. I was not rude!  I kept my tact!  After all, it isn’t in my autistic nature to attack store personnel since generally speaking, I avoid them if I can.

Besides, I knew the clerk had the upper hand.  He was the only thing standing between me and my ultimate goal – the equipment receipt!  Once I got the receipt, I did a calm-down by pursuing one of Billy’s passions – a scooter ride.

In defense of the mail store staff, I know…I know…the computers may have been running slow.  Maybe the store was low in staff and/or the two clerks were new at the job.  Maybe the lady with the cane had a very important reason for wanting a photocopy of her booklet.  It is easier to think of these possibilities in hindsight instead of during the actual torture of the wait!

Pop-Up Questions

Been there. I try to do my best and plan better next time!

One of my fears back in my school days was a “pop test”. It was different than the run-of-the-mill test in that we didn’t know when a “pop test” would pop up. The test was given at the teacher’s whim at the beginning, middle or near the end of class or the school week. I shuddered when the teacher would issue a possibility of such a test coming sooner or later. It sure didn’t help my anxiety! A “pop” meant I had to be studied up on the lesson on any given day or face the possibility of flunking the “pop”.

Conversations sometimes remind me of the school “pop test”. Someone popping out a question I couldn’t have seen coming. My brain not popping out a good answer. This is one reason among others I find conversation a mine field of pop questions.

I am also reminded of “pop tests” when amidst a group of people. I’m allergic to groups. I don’t like them. During such things, I want to stem like crazy. Most of all, I want to ESCAPE! While sitting and taking it in stride, questions pop up in my mind. Such as:

Does the speaker know he is in overtime?

Will the meeting moderator please stop with the “any more questions?”

Will the speaker ever get off the detour route and cut to the chase?

Is the person who keeps raising their hand to ask a question ever going to knock it off?

What was I thinking when I agreed to go to this party that’s dragging past my bedtime?

I wonder if I could get by playing Sudoku on my cell without getting ugly stares?

Why is everyone else laughing? Where was the punchline?

Why did they miss my punchline?

Will someone else please say “We better get going” so I can follow right on their heels?

In such situations, I am reminded there’s no space like my space back at homebase bathing in solitude!