Noise on the Spectrum? Depends on Who Turned It On

When I was growing up, some five decades ago, I drove family members crazy with my record player. If you don’t know what a record player or phonograph is, you probably don’t know what 45 rpm’s either.  I imagine my Mom wondered what in the world was she thinking giving me  a record player for Christmas one year. The music actually went along with my autism trait of talking to myself, of retreating into my imaginary world, of pacing back and forth while playing records of what are now “oldies”.

I don’t mind loud music, BUT! Oh, a very important BUT! I don’t mind if it is music I chose and turned on.  If someone else is playing music that I am within earshot of, a storm brews up inside of me with claps of thunder, streaks of lightning, and pounding rain.  I know it is not socially acceptable to tell someone, especially if you are related by blood or marriage,  to stop playing or turn down the Facebook video such as that of a church choir singing.  It’s not the hymn, it’s not the choir or the soloist, it’s something I cannot explain.  I have to walk away from it until the music stops.  Once it stops, I am back in my happy place.

An example of this was an evening when  I was riding in the car with three other people.  The driver, his son in the front seat, and another sitting across from me in the back seat.  Someone put on a CD of their favorite music.  I knew I was headed for meltdown country.  It didn’t help when the person had the driver turn the music up.  I was trapped!  Jumping out of the car was not an option.

I tried every coping mechanism I could think of.  Prayer included.  I played Sudoku on my smart phone but it couldn’t take my mind off the pain shooting through me.  Tears were streaming down my face.  The traffic was bad and only prolonging us getting to our destination.

The person sharing the backseat with me  must have noticed the tears and asked me “Do you need a kleenix?”  That gave me the opportunity to show someone who was skeptical about my autism of  what an autism meltdown looks like.  Autism was an alien word to my friend.  With my eyes filled with tears, I told her it was the music.  She had the driver turn it off.  I then whispered to her that sometimes music bothered me and it is my Autism.  This time I think she just might have believed me.

After the music stopped, it was as if I had been drowning and I was able to come back up for air.  It took me longer to recover because I had been suffering for nearly a half and a hour with the music blaring.  I am glad my friend witnessed it though.  I have tried so hard to hide my worse symptoms from people around me.  That night was so bad that I wasn’t able to do so and it turned out to be a good thing.  Come to think of it, my prayer was answered.  Just not that way I expected.

I came across a quote about autism that I believes is true.  One who doesn’t have autism cannot possibly understand it; those who have it cannot explain it.  I cannot explain why I enjoy my music but go into a tailspin to music I didn’t turn on.

Growing Up on the Spectrum

I met Angel shortly after I started subbing as a teacher’s aide.  He was three then and one of a half-dozen students in a pre-school special education class.  His dark, black eyes with matching dark curly hair were the first thing that captured my eyes.  His first name would do to describe him in one word.  His smile melted my heart.  He couldn’t  utter a word, but he could yell as loud as any other toddler.

I was recently reunited with him who is now a grown boy.  He still can’t talk and only the Lord knows if he ever will.  When I had last seen him at 6 years of age, he was still being weaned off the bottle.  He is now off the bottle and now engaged in a battle over the fork and spoon.  The adults in his life want him to utilize the utensils, but he sees no need for them.  His hands will suffice and is still quite stubborn about that.

I asked his teacher if he was still an angel.  She smiled and said, “Sometimes.”  Well, it would be too much to ask for any of us to be angelic around the clock.  In the classroom, he seemed content in his own world turning around in the aide’s rolling chair.  I noticed he stims with four of his fingers, two on each hand, pointed near his ears.  He isn’t putting the fingers in his ears; it just appears he’s doing so.

He had a tendency to get in my face and that of others.  He reminded me of my eye doctor examining my eyes.  This tendency of his sometimes gets him in trouble with his classmates who have no understanding of why he does such.  On that day I was with him, he got a knock on his noggin when he got too close to another student.

Just because he’s nonverbal with learning challenges doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some tricks up his sleeve.  Hardly!  A sure sign that he wants something or wants to get out of doing something is his turning on the charm.  He comes up to me with a hug looking up at me with those adoring dark eyes of his.  His teacher and aides have since figured out what he’s up to with the charm.  It doesn’t work most of the time but he hasn’t given up on this charming approach.

A child saying their first word is a monumental achievement.  For Angel and those like him on the spectrum who are nonverbal, no one can say for sure if,  let alone when.  But just because they can’t utter a word doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to contribute.  Angel had enough impact on me to write this blog.



ASD and Sensitivity

On a question and answer website, a man posed the question:

Can being overly sensitive to criticism be related to autism? (Crying even though I’m a grown man.)

Sensitive to criticism? Well, if being crushed when someone so much as corrects me ever so slightly, then I plead guilty.  What critique might roll over someone’s back, it will stay on my back and it will feel like a ton of bricks on my backside.

Sensitivity to criticism is one of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) traits. Not everyone with ASD has that trait, but many of us do and have to contend with it.  There’s just no getting around it.

I am a substitute teacher’s aide and often work in ASD units. In addition to my own struggles with oversensitivity, I’ve seen it so often with ASD students.

One of the many students I have met is an elementary school student who is the least talkative in his class of half a dozen students. In the few times I have subbed for the aide in the class, I’ve not seen him become upset or angry. I have seldom, though, seen a smile on his face or heard him laugh.

The challenge for the teacher and aides is getting him to “talk”. He will not speak up if he needs something such as a piece of paper, or crayons, or even permission to go to the bathroom. I recall his teacher telling me that if he feels he is being scolded for anything, no matter how slight it might be, he will shut down.

I understood all too well. I was so much like that myself when I was his age. To this day, I still remember the one and only time I was ordered to stand in the corner in my first grade class.  This was over a half century ago and I still remember it as happening yesterday.  My crime was letting out a chuckle about something.  The problem was I did it after the teacher ordered complete silence.  I still remember peeking out of one eye looking down towards the hallway and having this strange but genuine fear my Mom might show up.

Since I was formally introduced to my never-sleeping constant companion, ASD, shortly after I turned 58-years-old, I have researched it as if I was studying for a final exam. Sometimes I think because I could give a long lecture on the subject, I should be able to control my emotions, symptoms, deficits. I should know by now that’s wishful thinking on my part.

Manning the Homefront

Over the summer of 2018, I had a couple of housesitting gigs for family members.  I call it “manning the homefront” while the members of the home go on vacations for some rest and relaxation (R&R for short).  My having a home to myself with a pet or two operating on my own schedule with a teeny-tiny amount of social interaction is my R&R.
My latest gig was enjoying the companionship of a white shaggy-haired pup named Bear.  His guardians, my grand-niece and her grandmother, and their clan were cruising the Caribbean.  They came back saying they had a good time.  Maybe, just maybe, as good a time as I had.
Bear maintained a grade of “A” for conduct until the last night.  He blew it barking his head off just after I climbed into bed.  I am sensitive to certain noises and barking or any critter sound is on my “meltdown” list.  He had barking spells before but they were brief and not just after I climbed into bed.  I got up and was going to put him away in his cage, but instead, he made a beeline to the backyard door and so I let him out.  He shot off running at whatever he was barking at.  I tossed a coin as to whether or not to let him back in.  He won the toss and fortunately for my sensitive ears, he proceeded straight to dreamland.
He’s the only dog I’ve met who barks at commercials.  I guess Bear thinks the dog on the TV screen can hear him.  Just like adults who yell at the umpire or referee.
One night, I took Bear out for a short walk.  We usually go before the Sun goes to bed but the Sun had already gone to bed.  It was a good thing I did since Bear did have a nature call.  Unlike previous walks with Bear, I was on my Segway scooter.  Scooter riding is one of my special interests, or in other words, obsession.  Bear walked and I rode.  I didn’t think that was fair.  So I stopped, picked Bear up in my arms with his leash, and together we rode on my electric scooter up and down the driveway in front of the house a few times.  I’m sure we were quite a pair to behold.  I wouldn’t have dare done such a thing in the light of day fearing what the owners’ neighbors might think.  After a little bit, Bear started squirming like crazy.  I got the impression that he preferred his own four legs.
Many folks like me who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) do NOT ask for help unless they are DESPERATE.
An example of this happened during this gig when I went to check on my niece’s cat, Rubicon,  which was able to stay by herself; she just needed her bowl replenished.  Cats are more independent than dogs, generally speaking.  I was leaving the house and pushed the button on the GENIE (garage door remote).  The garage door did not respond.  I immediately thought of the battery and I managed to find one that matched.  Whatever GENIE’s problem, it wasn’t a lack of juice.  At least, thank the Lord, the garage door control panel on the wall did get the garage doors attention to raise and lower.  But that wouldn’t help me open the garage door on the outside.  In other words, I could only operate the garage doors from the inside.  I didn’t have a house key which wouldn’t have helped much since the door was really hard, and I mean REALLY hard to open.  Since the GENIE was my entrance in and out of the house, trapped is the word that came to mind.
After much analyzing over the situation, I found my path to freedom through the side UNLOCKED gate.  I moved my car out of the garage, went through the gate to get back in the house, closed the garage door, and then went back out through the gate.  If you can follow that, your brain is operating well.
Now I was on my way to my niece’s house ten miles away.  As I came close to a light intersection, a big semi-truck was in the middle of the intersection.  It wasn’t a case of it slowly making a turn.  Nope!  It wasn’t moving because a car was underneath it.  (I am not making this up!)  I didn’t make it across before the ambulance, fire trucks etc. showed up.
Two cars ahead of me turned down a street to the left.  I took their lead and did the same.  They took a right down another road.  I had my GPS on and it was confused about my going off the main highway  but it adjusted and led me down this road which led me to my destination.
My niece’s cat reminds me so much of myself and my ASD.  I had to go find her since she didn’t make an appearance.  I’m that way when my Mom gets visitors.  I live with her and if someone I don’t know shows up, I stay in my bedroom or escape if I have sufficient warning.  Since she didn’t come when I called her, I had to play along with her hide-and-seek.  I kind’a figured that part of my job as a pet-sitter was not to leave before I saw the pet in person to be sure she was alive and well.  I found her hiding upstairs by my grandnephew’s door.  She let me pet her but forget all about any notion of picking her up!  I understood though.  I’m not big on hugging myself.
Despite the hurdles,  I had a terrific time!  Housesitting is the ideal job for someone like me with an ASD.  My having lone time recharged my batteries while cruising on a cruise ship surrounded by people recharged Bear and Rubicon’s guardians.