Growing Up on the Spectrum

As soon as he gets to class, he commences to taking off shoes and socks.  His vocabulary is limited to a few words such as fish (aka Gold Fish crackers).  He isn’t able to sit still in one spot for no more than let say … five minutes.  His favorite activity is hanging out with PBS Kids on the I-Pad.  Like most kids on the spectrum, he covets repetition.  He will play the same PBS cartoon over and over again.  Unfortunately for the ears of everyone else in the room, the cartoon includes a baby crying and he just loves to hear that.  He sat next to me and handed me the tablet as if he was giving me the baby to hold.  He’d let me hold it for a few seconds and take it back.  He’d pat his stomach and say “baby”.  He’s got the word “baby” down pat.

She is one of the 6th graders in her class. Her least favorite subject is math because her memory plays a cruel trick on her.  Her brain’s wiring is such that no sooner than a light bulb lights up, the bulb goes quickly out.  This cruel hoax leaves her back at square one.  It’s as if she was looking at the math problem for the first time.  She is encouraged to keep trying because just maybe there’ll be a time when the bulb doesn’t go out.

In most classes I have subbed for as an aide, the top of the morning is circle time.  You could call them a pow-wow.  Subjects on the table are usually what day of the month, what month, what year, etc.  The class whose circle time stands out in my mind was one that had a choir boy.  Sometimes he was a soloist because the rest of his troop weren’t inclined to sing as much as him.  He is limited when it comes to conversation, but not when the music is on.  He knows the words to the ABC’s and calendar songs.  He has a beautiful voice and a personality to match.  Over the last few years, I have subbed in his class several times.   In all those times, I never saw him make a frown.  He probably loves to sing happy songs because he is – happy.





The Finicky Eater

I assume “finicky eating” applies to most people at some time in their life, usually in the formative years from what I hear parents say.  I did a Google search on “finicky eating” and the results were mostly about parental warfare with their finicky eater.  I gather many outgrow their finickiness, but I for one did not.  My selective appetite only got worse as I got older as my mother could attest to.

I suspect living on the autism spectrum has much to do with my peculiar eating habits.  There is research that shows individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be finicky eaters.  For instance, some feel compelled to have certain foods in the same place on the plate or to use the same plate at each meal.  Of course, most people, on and off the spectrum, find food comforting. However, my tendencies of what I eat, when I eat, and how I eat is something I take quite seriously.  My diet is not up for debate.  The times I eat and what I eat are not changeable except by me; otherwise, I will be upset.  I do mean UPSET!

I’ve noticed when subbing as an aide in special ed classes, many of the students have peculiar eating habits too.  Such as a student who leaves most of what is on his cafeteria tray except for the ketchup which he eats with a spoon.  Another brings his lunch every school day with the same two items and they are laid out the same way:  one plain bagel on one side and slices of turkey on the other.  He eats the turkey first; then, the bagel.  Now I can relate to that child.

Another student is very fond of McDonald’s version of chicken nuggets.  To reduce the number of visits through the McDonald’s drive-thru, his Mom cooked her own batch of nuggets and put them in an empty McDonald’s box.  It just took one nugget bite for her child to know it wasn’t the real McDonald and he wouldn’t eat another bite.  Her alternative plan crumbled.

The need for sameness that is common in ASD makes it difficult for me to swallow new foods. It’s okay if I see some new food item on the store shelf and decide to try it. As long as it is ME who decides to alter my diet, it’s okay.  The problem with liking something new is I will go overboard and buy a stockpile of it.  I’m not just finicky about food but obsessive too.  Logic has nothing to do with it.






Mine and Hers

I ran into a friend I usually see three or four times a year.  I confided in her about how I learned about my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) back in December of 2016.  I couldn’t have asked for a better response.  She has years of education and work experience with those on the spectrum as well as other disorders. I related a few past life experiences that were examples of typical ASD traits.  She knew it so well she could have finished my sentences.

My friend knows what it is to live with a constant companion.  Hers is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Knowing this about her, I knew if I had her attention for five minutes worth of conversation, I was pushing it.  I could have given her a long monolog of my ASD, but that’s too much for my friend.  She is easily distracted and so I knew that any story I told her had to be “short and sweet”.

In the midst of our time together, she was on her cell phone while another friend was talking.  She wasn’t ignoring the person; in fact, the other person is used to talking to our friend with or without our friend’s undivided attention.  Suddenly she was in a dither.  She couldn’t remember what she needed to text a friend and knew it was important but couldn’t recall what it was.  She asked if that ever happened to me.  I told her that I couldn’t recall it happening.  Since she was in a frenzy, I didn’t bother telling her that if no one ever texted me again, I wouldn’t mind one bit.  Since one of my challenges with ASD is struggling with social interaction, I don’t seek friends to text with.

We share having a constant companion, but it is two different companions.  My ASD tendency is to focus on one thing at a time.  My friend’s ADHD tendency is to focus on many things at once.  If the two of us could be one, we might have this focusing thing down pat.

My friend is always on the go.  I don’t mean just coming and going in and out the door.  Even when I’m sitting with her in her living room, she’ll get up mid-air in a conversation to look for something or tend to a task that needs finishing.  Although I have a hard time sitting still myself, she could run circles around me.

I don’t have to worry about a lull in conversation because there isn’t one with my friend.  She does most of the talking which is fine by me whether she is sitting down or moving.

She asked me to help with a task she had been putting off for weeks.  That’s another difference.  She can walk away from something unfinished because she’ll think of something else that needs doing.  But I’ll get a guilt complex if I don’t finish something I started.  If I try to do more than one task at a time, well, it isn’t pretty.  I was glad to do the task because it was organizing files and such activity was right up my ASD alley.

My ADHD friend is fun to be around with a healthy sense of humor.  I’m more a live-by-the-rules kind of person, but being around her helps loosen me up.  We share having a passion.  She sews and I write.

When I told her about my ASD, she didn’t show any surprise.  I don’t think she was.  Any more than I was when she told me she had ADHD.  There are some traits that ASD’s and ADHD’s have in common such as creativity.  Some folks live with both ASD and ADHD.  As for the differences, we appreciate them and work around them.  That’s just what friends do.





Challenges of Living with my Constant Companion – Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

People in my personal space feels like someone poking a needle in my back.

I wish people would ask me about my interests; on the other hand, I don’t because I’ll be a like a wound-up toy that everyone in the room wants to turn off.

I keep getting distracted with thoughts I am distracted while trying to read three sentences’ worth.

My routine is not up for debate!

I’m protective as a mother hen over my stuff!  Sometimes I take the high road and share, but it doesn’t come easy.

I preferred the company of grown-ups when I was a kid; now I prefer the company of those under ten.

Being alone is as comfortable to me as wearing my favorite pair of sweats.

Knowing when to end a conversation is harder for me to pick up on than starting one.

Gripping the steering wheel on my way to a social gathering.

Sometimes I just need to stare out the window.

Keeping under control when someone interrupts me from pursuing my passion.

Communicating via e-mail is my strength; face-to-face is my weakness.

Losing all sense of direction when someone asks me on the spot for directions.

I call my constant companion “Autie” for short.  Autie never sleeps.

I can be quite social with one person I feel comfortable with.  At the max, two.  But add another person, I go silent.  Being with a group of people can be overwhelming.

I rehearse what I should have said in a situation that happened yesterday or decades ago.

Intense anxiety when my routine is interrupted.

I am far better at remembering my failures than my achievements; criticism than praise; awkward instead of my graceful moments.

I’m not fond of talking on the phone but I prefer it over talking to an answering machine.  The machine isn’t accepting of my monologs and it doesn’t let me erase what didn’t come out right which is most of what I said.










Taking Jesus’s Word For It

In the fourth chapter of the book of John, Jesus was visiting Cana in Galilee. This was the same place where he turned the water into wine. Besides the usual crowd of common folk, there was a royal official. He was perhaps an officer in King Herod’s service. He was not the typical Jesus follower. But he was someone’s dad and that someone lay sick at death’s door in Capernaum.

He had perhaps seen or heard, like many had in Galilee, of the miracles Jesus had done.  Many of those Galileans welcomed Jesus only because of the miracles and wanted to see more.  It was like in our day of wanting to see a brilliant magic show.  They were far more interested in Jesus’s miracles than His message.  But this royal official didn’t come from Capernaum to watch a show.  He didn’t just want to see any miracle.  He wanted one of his own for his dying son.

Jesus told the crowd who had gathered that unless they saw miraculous signs and wonders, they would never believe.  In the midst of the crowd, the desperate father spoke up and asked Jesus to please heal his son before he dies.  Jesus didn’t ignore this officer who perhaps was one of Herod’s men.  He treated him no different as he would someone with no position of authority.  He replied by telling the officer he may leave now.  His son would live.  Jesus made the man a promise and the scripture states the man took Jesus at his word.

Before the man got home the next day, his servants met him with the wonderful news that his boy was living.  He asked what time did his son get better and it was the same time the day before when Jesus had given his word that his son would live.  This official must have shared his story with his house for the scripture states that he and all his household believed.  I’m assuming that included his son who might have died if his father had not sought Jesus and if Jesus hadn’t kept his word.

You probably heard an old saying, “My word is my bond.”  One who says such is claiming they’ll keep their word.  If they say they are going to do whatever, one can take it to the bank that whatever will be done.  Perhaps you know of people who if they say their word is their bond, you roll up your eyes.  You’re thinking, “I’ll believe it when I see it and not a moment before then.”  You love the person dearly, but they are more or less a dreamer.  They may mean to, but they just don’t get around to fulfilling their dream.

So there are times when one should take it with a grain of salt when coming from someone who has proven themselves unreliable with word-keeping.  We should also look at own selves’ track record of keeping our word.

Has Jesus ever broken his word to you?  Sure we have storms in our lives.  Sometimes short one; and sometimes long ones.  They can be so long that we may think we will never see daylight again.  But I haven’t seen a storm in my life end without daylight.  Not yet.  The ending might be far more than I ever expected.  It also may not have ended the way I hoped or dreamed, but it did end and I took Jesus’s word for it by faith that it ended for the best.




Keep off the Grass!

It was a gorgeous day and the coach decided to take all the classes outside for P.E. class.  I was the coach’s sidekick for the afternoon since the regular assistant had the day off.  The coach told the students they could NOT play on the grass.  It had rained hard the night before and the ground was still muddy.  She emphatically repeated her instruction to “keep off the grass!”

She had me take a couple of the classes out and stayed behind with some students.  No sooner had we arrived at the play area that some kids were in violation of the grass rule.  I yelled for them to get off the grass and they obliged.  I would continue repeating “keep off the grass” since one student after another opted for the grass instead of the sidewalk.

The coach and the rest of the kids joined us.  I welcomed having the coach to help me enforce the grass rule.  But I was disheartened instead.  The kids walking out with the coach sidestepped the sidewalk too.  I didn’t say a word!  Why?  Because the coach violated her own “Keep off the Grass” rule.

I thought of raising my hands in the air and yelling, “I give!”  Just a thought in my head.  I didn’t act it out.  HA!

I think this was another case of my taking instructions LITERALLY!  Shortly thereafter, a basketball went down the hill to where water was still standing on the grass.  The coach only allowed one to go down and rescue the ball and she told the others who were aiming to head down the hill to stay back.  Maybe the coach’s “keep off the grass” was keep off the grass where it was muddy.  That’s just a guess, though.

Org Enough!

It was mid-March and that meant Spring break for all the school kids and staff.  Since substitutes aides weren’t needed, I was on break too for a week.  I had a heap more idle time and that can be a problem for someone living on the spectrum.  It threw off my routine, no fit schedule, and sitting idle is so hard to do.

Part of my strategic plan to fill up my idle time was tennis dates with just me, my racket and ball against the practice wall on a college campus.  I’d walk some laps too.  These “solo” activities satisfied my craving for “alone” time but I had to come up with other tasks since I could only hit the wall for so long.  I like tennis but not hours worth.

What else I found to do borders on obsession but oh, well.  It was organizing my stuff and I went overboard again.

I bought a few space saving items at the “Everything is a $1.00” store.  Some of those items I bought, well, I’d go back to the store to get another one or something similar.  Thus, I ended up with more space saving items than I had to fill them with.  That’s my autism talking.  If I like something, no matter what it is, I’ll go overboard with it.  For instance, the store also sells eight packs of pretzels in one bag.  I  bought six bags before the end of Spring break when two would have sufficed.

After having one too many space saving items, I was willing to call it a day on my “org” activities.  I missed organizing because I find it a calming activity.  I wanted to “org” someone else’s stuff but no one in the house took my bait.

If memory serves me right, I “org” my room’s furniture and stuff half a dozen times before I was satisfied.  I don’t think I could re-construct my room’s stuff back to what it was before I came down with the “org” bug.  My stuff should be “org” enough until at least maybe come summer vacation in June.



My 6000 Step Obsession

An obsession I have had for well over a decade is my collection of electronic devices.  I call them my toys and my toy store is Best Buy.  If most people shared this obsession, Best Buy profits would hit the roof.  Unlike Sears or JCPenny, they’d be opening stores instead of closing some store shutters.

When Uncle Sam’s tax refund recently arrived, I had an excuse to go to my toy store and buy what I had my eyes on and researched for weeks on the web: the Samsung GS-3 smart watch.  I was so excited when I brought it home!  Since it was a watch, this was one gadget I could keep with me around the clock.  I’m not a kid at heart.  No, I’m an “overboard” kid at heart.

The application (app) that perhaps is one of the most popular is the health one.  It displays a daily record of the steps I take.  I didn’t ask it to but it set a goal of 6000 steps per day. When I bought it, I didn’t think the number of steps I took each day would matter to me at all.  I forgot to consider the effect it might have on my constant companion – autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Since it is hard for me to sit still, another common ASD trait, I don’t struggle as much as perhaps other people in meeting that goal.  If during the week I am working a school P.E. substitute assignment, I don’t have to worry about hitting 6000.  But if it is more of a sit-down assignment of watching and working with youngsters in the classroom, I’ll have to step up to the plate before or after school to make up for lost time.

My “smart watch” is sometimes too smart for my liking.  If I have been sitting for an hour or so, it will vibrate displaying a message: “NEED TO MOVE” with a shoe icon underneath.  I may be at a place and time where I can’t do that, but if I can without breaking any social rules, I better get off my rear or my ASD guilt complex will kick in.

This isn’t a bad obsession as far as I can tell.  Exercise is good for my body and mind.  It is one of my best ways of avoiding or coping with ASD meltdowns.  It’s a rare day so far that my watch does not vibrate displaying the rewarding message of 6000 steps reached. The positive feedback from my know-it-all watch motivates me to step up to the challenge of 6000+.

It has been a couple of weeks since my GS-3 has been tied to my wrist (except when I have to give it juice for recharging).  I am going overboard but nothing new about my tendency to do that. I am jogging in place after I get up in the morning which is something I didn’t even think of doing pre-GS-3.  I even run in place while I’m waiting for the microwave to go off.  I now rack up around 13,000 steps per day.

I don’t dare change the default from 6000.  If I double that in a day’s time, that’s great.   But my motivation of reaching at least 6000 isn’t just desire or exercise.  My ASD won’t give me a break unless I walk 6000 steps by bedtime!  HA!


Putting the Books Back in Their Place

About a dozen years of my time spent in the workforce was at a library in one of the government agencies in the nation’s capital.  Now I didn’t move halfway across the country to work for Uncle Sam in a library.  That wasn’t the plan but it was okay.  Some of my best life experiences were those that weren’t planned.

I joined the library around 7 years after my arrival in the agency.  My first library job was a junior catalog officer.  I took to cataloging books like a duck to water.  The senior catalog officer who taught me the art of cataloging gave me the finest compliment, “You are a natural born cataloger.”  Since the compliment was from my trainer, she would know of all people.  If I could speak to her now, I would tell her why it was natural.  In one word, “autism”.  I had the common autistic trait of being detail-oriented.  I was oblivious to the big picture but saw so clearly the little details.

One job that isn’t popular among library staff is shelving books.  Much of library work has been affected by technology.  One can argue for the better or worse.  But back in my library days, shelving was still done the old-fashioned way.   There are libraries where the entire collection is available on-line only.  But if there are actual books and shelves to put them on, old-fashioned manual shelving is probably required.

I won’t say I was thrilled to shelve, but I didn’t mind it much.  I found it relaxing in an odd sort of way.  Shelving books gave me a break from cataloging them.  I possess the natural tendency to want to put things in numerical order.  An attraction to numbers, after all, is a common autism trait.  If I saw a book out of place, I usually put it back in its correct address.  As the cataloger, I was probably the one who assigned it its address. I didn’t know it then, but I know now, it was an “autie” thing of wanting to put books back in their place.

I may be biased, but I think a person on the autism spectrum makes an ideal caretaker of a library’s catalog.





Out of the Mouths of Babes

I had the privilege of spending time with first graders while subbing as their P.E. coach’s sidekick.  They were a good group and I wish I could have been with them longer.  I couldn’t say that about the 3-6th grades.  HA!

It is a good thing I have gotten over my “age sensitivity” when it comes to what comes out of children’s mouths.  The first graders had a different perspective than mine of what “old” is.  I have no doubt I had the same perspective when I was their age.  Just like I did, they’ll change their perspective when they get older.  If memory serves me right, my perspective changed around the time when I started saying to folks I had reached middle age and no one blinked.

I was exercising with the 1st graders doing jumping jacks, jogging in place, etc.  One of them said to me, “I didn’t know Grandmas could walk fast.”  Instead of informing him that I wasn’t anybody’s grandma, I just told him a fact of life:  Grandmas can walk fast!  I have been an eyewitness such as way back when my Grandma chased after me when I was on the loose.

When we took the 1st graders outside to walk laps around the field, one of them asked me how old I was and I told him “30”.  He didn’t fall for it.  He told me his father is 42 and I sure looked older than his Dad.  I finally confessed my age of 58 and he said, “You are old!”  I wonder what he would think if he met my Aunt who is 88.  Ancient, I guess.

This child did not leave my side as we walked outside with his class.  I didn’t know at the time he and I had something in common:  autism.  I wasn’t surprised, though, because he showed some familiar traits.  He preferred spending time with me, the adult, rather than kids his own age.  I was the same way at his age.  If I could find an adult who would give me the time of day, I’d stick to them like glue.

In the course of thirty minutes, I got a synopsis of his life story.  He would be seven come June 6th.  He had an older brother whose height he described as being almost as high as the ceiling.  I learned he was afraid of lightning and mosquitoes.  He repeated that multiple times.  He’d jump whenever he saw a mosquito.  Well, either it was his imagination or my eyesight because I didn’t see one flying around.

I don’t know if he’ll remember our walk together.  I doubt it, but then again, I have childhood memories of folks who probably thought I’d have no memory of them.  I do know I’ll not soon forget the boy who feared a lightning strike and a mosquito bite.