A Square Peg

Unless one has Autism, one can’t understand it. Those of us who do can’t fully explain it. I can only give one a glimpse of what it is for me.

I am more comfortable in an environment where there are rules laid out and aren’t assumed that everyone knows them. I am aggravated by those who act as if rules are mere suggestions. I welcome and need rules. In an unstructured environment, I feel as uneasy as my dog would feel in a bird cage.

If a rule doesn’t make sense to me, well, that’s another story. I’m not usually defiant, but I have had my moments.

Routine is essential! It has to do with feeling safe and secure in the world. If someone else changes it, I am traumatized. If I change my routine as I occasionally do, no problem.

Sometimes the source of my meltdowns is background music. I don’t dare complain to the one playing the music, much less scream or cry because it would draw unwanted attention. The best option is to go some place beyond earshot. If not, I will be boiling inside like a tea kettle.

Conversation can be a struggle. That’s one reason I am most comfortable when I am by my self. It takes me seconds longer to respond to someone’s question. That’s why I often ask for someone to repeat what they said to give me a few more seconds even though I may have heard them the first time.

I enjoy one-on-one conversations with one I share a mutual interest. I wish such would happen more often than it does. I guess having limited interests has something to do with that. Such as politics being one of my interests but I am surrounded by those who are on the opposite side.

I dread being amidst a social chit-chat with no escape route. If there is no graceful exit, I drift into daydream land.

I prefer having a schedule as I go about my business of living each day. I thrive with a schedule with the consistent rhythm of one thing after another instead of things happening all at once or nothing happening at all.

I despise being pointed out in a group as the quiet one. I do not have to be told I am a quiet person. I’m over a half-century old and so it isn’t headlining news to me.

I have this thing about time literally speaking. If someone tells me they’ll arrive at noon, I expect to see them at noon or early; not at 12:55. I’d rather they say “noon-ish” if that’s what they really mean.

Highly sensitive! Just even a slight bit of criticism or correction will take me so long to get over if I ever do.

I lack empathy. I shy away from emotional scenarios. It is easier for me to show my affection with actions instead of words. Helping someone with doing tasks helps them and gives me something rewarding to do.

A word that is on my hate list is “group”. It doesn’t matter whether it is a group meeting or group outing. It doesn’t matter whether it is held at the workplace or home base. When more than two are gathered, my mute button comes on.

I am the square peg in a group of round pegs.

Company Anxiety

I call my autism “Billy”. I gave it a nickname like I gave my car since wherever I go, they go with me. I can park my car outside, but I can’t do the same to Billy.

One of a number of things that Billy gets all up in arms about is when the unexpected happens. Such as company arriving at the door. If it’s expected company, Billy has at least some time to adjust and plan accordingly. It is another story when it is unexpected company. Billy will respond with a heavy dose of anxiety. The level will not lessen until the company has finished their visit.

Once upon a time, a close relative gave me a few hours notice of joining me while I was out of town on vacation.  This was better than the relative showing up at the door unannounced, but even though I had some notice, it gave me a jolt! I had a little time to alter my plans of being all by myself. I tried to focus as much as I could on the positive of hanging out with someone I am particularly fond of. I feared the relative might bring a friend and that was a worrisome prospect for Billy. When company comes calling and it is more than one person, Billy wants me to hide until the coast is clear. If it is someone I don’t feel comfortable with, I speak as little as I can get by with.

Now when I went to bed before he was scheduled to arrive, I didn’t know if he would show or not.  There had been really bad weather in his neck of the woods. Just to show how my Billy works in my sleep, too, I had a nightmare.  So “real” that I still remember it months later. 

In my nightmare, not only did my company show up, but so did a friend and two dogs.  Then, friends of theirs showed up.  One after another!  I remember in my dream looking for a closet or something to escape from the people because I was a basket case of nerves and tears.  Their host of friends brought food along with their big appetites.  I took it all in from a corner in the room wishing they’d all go back to where they came from and return me and the dogs I was caring to back to solitude. 

The nightmare did not come true. The bad weather kept my company away. Even though I was in the clear as far as having the house to myself, I felt a little sad that my company didn’t make it. Why? The person is okay with me talking on and on about Billy and well, a listening ear is a blessing. I need to remember this myself when someone is talking on and on about their “Billy.

Recharging Tasks

I have different assignments to select from on my part-time job as a substitute teacher’s aide.  Most of the time one would find me in a P.E. gym or a Special Education class. On the other hand, I seldom volunteer for kindergarten duty. Even my friends who are kindergarten teachers or aides are understanding of that. But on occasion I work up the nerve to take on kinders but for half day assignments only.

Since I started subbing five years ago, I’m in the habit of keeping a journal and rating all my assignments so that I have a record of assignments that recharged me or depleted me. One week I had three assignments and I was pleasantly surprised when it was the half-day kinder assignment I gave four stars. The reason had everything to do with my “Billy” (my nickname for my Autism).

Billy isn’t entirely a thorn in my side.  Sometimes he is my strongest ally.  I credit Billy with my attention to detail and my delight in organizing things.  Just give me something to put in order alphabetically, numerically, or some other system and I am content as a kitten with a bowl of warm milk. 

On this particular kinder assignment, I was tasked with checking with the three kinder teachers to carry out whatever tasks they needed me to do.  In most cases, it wasn’t to watch the kids unless the teacher needed to answer a nature call.  I was mostly given paperwork tasks such as stuffing kids’ folders or cutting out pictures.  This is the kind of work that gives my Billy a smile as big as the state of Texas.

Not that I was instructed, I finished the folders with putting them in numerical order. I did this with full knowledge they wouldn’t stay that way.  But as long as the folders were under my control, they would be in ORDER! 

One of the teachers warned me, as if she was apologizing, that she was giving me a boring paperwork task to do. BORING? I didn’t tell her this but I was on cloud nine tending to boring stuff. The time went by so fast because Billy and I were in our recharging mode.

If I had been given the lone task of social interacting with the kids, joining them in their rotation centers, keeping them on task, etc. I would have given the assignment a lone star. Exhaustion would have set in long before the fourth and last hour.


It’s Not Just Me

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I wish I had seen this poster back in my younger days five decades ago. They didn’t have video games back then, but there were soap operas. Watching them was what I did in the summertime. My Mom watched one or two of my half-a-dozen soap operas and one of the first things I asked her when I got home from school was, “What happened on…?” By the time VCRs were invented, I had outgrown soap operas and switched to some other obsession. Rotten timing!

I don’t listen to music much anymore but I did as a teenager. They had record players back then and something call 78 rpms, etc. I would play the same song over and over in my bedroom, pacing the floor, pretending I was somewhere else being somebody else. Sometimes the person I was pretending to be was the one whose picture was on front of the record album cover.

I had a wild imagination as a kid. I often used the stories from soap operas as my platform. I know I’m biased, but I think I may have come up with better scenarios than the soap opera writers. I have never lost that wild imagination. I still at the ripe age of 60 retreat into my wild imaginary world in situations that will probably never occur.

All this probably sound strange to those who don’t live with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Maybe it sounds strange, too, to some who do. All ASD folks are unique, after all. My only response I can come up with is: It is what it is and it isn’t just me.