An Easy Target

Many of those who live on the Autism Spectrum have heart-breaking stories of being taken advantage of by those they know and those they don’t.

A survey carried out by the National Autistic Society (NAS) revealed that 44% of those questioned admitted they stayed indoors as much as possible for fear of being harassed. Almost a third reported having had money or possessions stolen, while 37% had been forced or manipulated into doing something they didn’t want to do by someone they thought of as a friend. Almost half (49%) of the 1,300 people surveyed reported having been abused by someone they thought of as a friend.

People with autism can find it difficult to interpret someone else’ motivations, misjudge relationships, and sadly many are taken advantage of.

Many of us on the Spectrum tend to be very literal in our interpretations of what we are being told, or asked; in other words, complying with what someone imposes upon one simply because someone said so. In fact, a number of young men on the autism spectrum have confessed to crimes they didn’t commit because they were coerced, intimidated, or motivated by the desire to cooperate and please. Compounding these circumstances is that estimates suggest anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of those with classic autism are also mute—making them the “perfect” victims.

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My Friday the 13th Meltdown

My living on the Spectrum includes hearing some things more loudly, tasting some things differently, smelling some things more strongly, and feeling some things more strongly.

It was supposed to be an ordinary afternoon assignment subbing for a teacher’s aide in a special education pre-school class. It turned into an unordinary day with a few sentences. It is easy to remember the date because it was Friday, the 13th. I’m not superstitious or anything, but that Friday, the 13th, will go down as memorable because I spent the afternoon in meltdown country while trying to pretend I wasn’t in one.

While I was watching three of the seven students in the play section, I was told to put something away. I wasn’t yelled at, but it took me back in my mind to 1st grade when the teacher had me stand in a corner.  I imagine to a neurotypical, it would have been no big deal. Something that fell off one’s back.  I so wish it could have been that way for me, but living on the Spectrum includes feeling things strongly.

I felt a thrust of panic shoot through me landing in the pit of my stomach.  I can’t begin to guess how many times I’ve lived through similar experiences and it’s just as painful as it was when I was a child. I immediately responded in a socially acceptable way without showing any sign of my panic button going off. I didn’t want anyone to know I was falling in meltdown country.  I had a job to do and had to keep what was going on in my inner being a secret somehow.

Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to assist one of the students who was severely autistic. Try to imagine this picture: A 58-year-old woman with autism trying to calm down a 5-year-old child with autism while she is fighting back tears as she is melting down inside. It is sort of like the blind helping the blind.

The thinking part of my brain was telling me, “All you need to do from now on is…  It is no big deal, stop thinking about it, etc.”  That was logic talking and there’s nothing logical about my hypersensitivity.  There were no shortcuts. I had to weather through all the stages of fear, shame, guilt, and anger before I would ever feel any peace about it.

Then, it came time for gym class. The activity was video dances and the lights were out while the kids danced. Thanks to the lights being out, I was relieved of having to fight back the tears. I let them stream down my face. I wanted so much to retreat to a corner, rock myself silly, and cry my heart out.

One thing that replayed over in my mind was the school day would end and I could make my escape back to my safe place at home.  I had been looking forward to the weekend but I knew a cloud would hang over it by reliving the afternoon episode of my Friday, the 13th.

The tears had dried up by the next morning but there was anger brewing. I went to the tennis range and hit the ball against the wall. My game of tennis was off because I took my frustration out on the ball. I was whacking that ball as if I was hitting what brought on my meltdown. If the ball could have talked, it might have said, “Hey, I didn’t do anything!!!”

Prayer without ceasing was a constant as I weathered the turbulence. The Lord’s Spirit spoke to my heart that it will pass and I knew it would. A verse that came to mind was:

2 Samuel 22:29
You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.

I didn’t lose my sense of humor. No meltdown has ever taken that; at least, not yet. I chuckled at my thought that come the next Friday the 13th, I should spend it in hibernation.

I’m one of those on the Spectrum who takes a long time to get over even a small slight. I predict I will have a conversation a decade from now if I should live so long in the shower about what I might have done or said differently on that Friday the 13th.

On My Schedule

While filling in for a teacher’s aide, I was given her schedule for the entire school day.  The assignment called for going to different classes for approximately 20-30 minutes each working with students who need “support facilitation”.  These type assignments seem to make the day go by faster because I am moving from room to room instead of being in one room all day.  I like having a written schedule I can mark off as I complete each session.  To put it plain and simple:  I dig schedules!  They are to my work day what a map is to my car route.

The other morning when I had idle time, I looked up the Asperger’s Test website.  I occasionally go there to take a test to see if there’s a change in my scores.  One of them is the Systemizing Quotient (SQ).  The SQ attempts to measure systemizing in daily life, asking questions about how organized you are when it comes to your financial records, collections or favorite books/music. While the test creators have made an effort to avoid bias in terms of subject matter, the test is still vulnerable to this. For example, I want to know the specs of my new computer because that’s a topic I’m fairly familiar.  I am less interested in the specs of my car’s engine because as long as my car gets me to and from, that’s all I care about.

On a holiday, no less, I “got” to sort the laundry after the dryer went off.  I go to organizing which is one of my favorite words.  The bath towels go in one pile, kitchen towels in another, etc.  My Mom arrives home with bags of groceries.  GREAT!  Another organizing task laid at my doorstep. I enjoy putting up groceries!  I can hear my Grandma saying, “You need to get a life.”

A systemizer may or may not be one has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  It is a common trait for those with ASD but it isn’t true for all who live on the Spectrum.  The average score of a female with ASD is in the mid-70’s.  My score?  83.  The score didn’t come as a shock.  Some have the belief it is a survival mechanism. Without systems and routines, I’d be constantly getting lost in the details.

 

Taking the Systemizing Quotient Test:  https://www.aspietests.org/

 

The Mystery of Compassion on the Spectrum

Someone on the Autism Spectrum asked me: Can people with Asperger ‘s feel compassion? I have the impression that I can’t.

This was a question I had been dwelling on pretty much since I learned I had Asperger’s Syndrome a year ago. I responded to the question saying to my fellow “Aspie” that it is a mystery to me as to the moments I feel compassion and those I don’t.

There are times I hear a story or see one on the news or witness one in person that pulls at my heartstrings. But yet, when one would expect me to shed a bucket of tears I do not. If I could turn on the tears at will, they would be fake.

Years before I learned I was living on the Spectrum, I worked with a colleague who had a son diagnosed with Autism. When my co-worker’s Dad passed away, his son, who I believe was around 10 at the time, told his Grandmother he just couldn’t feel sad, or cry, about his Grandfather.  The Grandmother, knowing of her grandson’s autism, knew the child was being blatantly honest, but it still took a swipe at her heart.

I remember feeling stunned and sad at the time that this boy did not experience grief. However, if I had taken an in-depth look at my own past experiences with death, such as my own grandparents, I would have had a clue then that maybe I was autistic myself. If I had known then what I know now, I could have told my colleague I understood where his son was coming from.

I have a friend who lost her husband years ago. I cannot understand her going to visit his grave as often as she does. I don’t judge her. She’s not doing anything wrong. I haven’t ever married and so how could I understand losing a spouse. I care about my friend but I just can’t feel as her family and other friends do as far as having compassion and understanding for her ongoing grieving.

It seems I have more compassion for those in my outer circle than in my inner circle. I have gotten more teary-eyed over the death of someone’s pet than a relative or family friend. I don’t have an answer as to why I shed tears or why I don’t. I just have to accept it as something I can’t change. I am capable of caring; of compassion; it’s just in some situations I can and others it just isn’t there. I wish I had a sincere “compassion button”.  Then I could just turn it on and off, but there’s no such button.

 

Getting There

A special education instructor who works with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), who is a parent of one with ASD, and a sibling to another, gave me a wonderful gift — understanding. She stated: “You have a bigger perspective of ASD than I do because it’s your life.” I don’t think I could count the ways ASD impacts my business of everyday living.

Such as if I like something, I go overboard with it. It’s just that simple. Some of my gadgets are toy gadgets that I doubt many 59-year-olds have. Such as a robotic sphere ball operated by a smartphone app. My grandniece and nephew like to visit their Great Aunt. Besides my charming personality, they are attracted to my gadget family. When they are older and can understand what ASD is, they’ll have the explanation of why their Great Aunt’s bedroom was their playground away from home.

I have since taken my “gadgetitis” to the yard. I recently acquired an electric blower/vac/mulcher. I was so excited when it arrived via UPS that I took it out for a ride in the backyard immediately. I spent more time figuring out how to attach the attachments than I did blowing, vacuuming, and mulching leaves. My lack of fine motor skills gets in the way of putting something together in a jiffy. In fact, some mornings it is a piece of work putting me together (such as battling pierced earrings).

When I turned it on and started going over the yard vacuuming up leaves, it would be light to carry. I noticed it wouldn’t be long before it was heavy to tote around. Common sense would have dictated it was because the bag was filling up with leaves. It took at least a month before I figured that out. I was under the illusion I could vac until the yard wasn’t covered in leaves without emptying the bag. It was a good thing I finally figured that out before the bag busted from being overfed.

After every session, it was a pain to separate the bag from the tool’s main body. How bad was it? I didn’t care if I ever saw my yard gadget again. Then, one night a light bulb went off in my mind. I didn’t need to take the bag off to unload the mulch. All I needed to do was to unzip the bag and unload where I wanted the mulch to fall. Then, zip the bag up and keep going or put the tool away.

I wish I had figured this all out from day one of using this yard gadget, but the wires in my brain don’t operate that way. It is a zig-zag train track I have in my brain. Getting to know my yard tool, like so many things, is not a straight shot from point A to B. I do get there but it takes me a while.