Solving is a Pleasure on the Spectrum

I am on the Autism Spectrum and I’ll just say I like working on puzzles. As for how good I am, it depends on the puzzle. Easy Sudoku – a champ! Hard Sudoku -not so much. I look up some of the answers to the hard ones to downgrade them to “easy” so I can solve them instead of leaving them unsolved.

I read an article by Alex Durig, a Ph.D., author of numerous books about autism, who wrote that people with autism will often enjoy doing puzzles. Our love of puzzles may take many different forms. In fact, the autistic love of puzzles may offer a clue to understanding autism.

Now just because a person has been diagnosed with autism does not mean they will automatically love doing crossword puzzles. However, if you know someone with autism, then there is a good chance that you might be able to strengthen your bond with them by finding out what kinds of puzzles they might enjoy doing. In some larger sense, the act of playing video games may be considered as a form of puzzle solving. I know from working as a substitute aide in autism classes, video games is popular with many children with autism.

Durig writes that everything about video gaming requires one to find the best path of action, solve relevant clues, and pursue the challenge with focus. People with autism may often have the ability to go into hyper-focus. If a child with autism goes into hyper-focus to ‘solve’ a video game, a fire truck could ride right by them and they would not notice. Thus, hyper-focus is a common trait among people with autism that lends a great advantage to being able to solve even the most difficult puzzles.

If autism is a puzzle for social people, it may also be said that social life is a puzzle for us with autism. For example, in the movie “Rain Man”, Dustin Hoffman played Kim Peek, an autistic savant who was able to multiply numbers as fast as a computer and give the correct answer, no matter how large the numbers were. However, he was unable to make change on a dollar. Why could he do one and not the other?

Making change on a dollar is a more complex social transaction that requires more than mathematical computation. It also requires the ability to perform on command, and that kind of social expectation may elude the person with autism. Even before I knew I was on the Spectrum, I realized I could not think fast on my feet. In middle school, I had the job of selling milk in the cafeteria. I was hampered by having to figure out the change to give back right there on the spot. I made “A’s” in math but struggled with making change.

Durig also wrote that research indicates that people with autism tend to excel at, or favor, tasks requiring deductive reasoning. Indeed, their talent for deductive reasoning might be what underlies the phenomenal ability among people with autism to work puzzles. This penchant for deductive thinking may make people with autism seem more like computers than people sometimes. Indeed, an autistic person with super-computer thinking might just be the biggest puzzle master in a parent or teacher’s life. And that’s why puzzles may offer a clue to understanding autism.

Coping after the Party

The No. 1 rule I have with getting out of social events is to select from my list of excuses.

My No. 2 rule is not to overuse any of those on that list.

British author Alis Rowe, who writes about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), stated “I’m just not really that fond of ‘socializing’. I’m not saying that I can never have fun being with other people but I just tend to have more fun when I’m on my own!”

Same with me!

I have oodles of fun by myself. I confess when I have the house to myself, it is like being on a vacation without going on one. Or, if I housesit when I have an entire house to myself, I am in luxury! It has nothing to do with those around me that I prefer my own company. It’s just the way I’m wired.

Parties are hard for me to both attend and enjoy, but not impossible. A coping skill for me is eyeing a party outsider too and striking up a conversation. It has worked but it isn’t full-proof since it won’t work if I am the only party outsider. And, it won’t work either if the other one sitting alone does not engage in chatting with me.

The part of the party I look forward to is when the first party guest leaves. I don’t volunteer to be the first but I’ll not be far behind the first out the door. After the social event, I cope by being with only me, myself, and I! I go for a walk in the park if there’s daylight left. If not, I find something I enjoy doing to keep me busy such as a word puzzle, catching up on my e-mails, or writing a blog like this one.

I have a few memories of having honest-to-goodness fun with others. It’s just I don’t have as many of those memories as I have of “me and my shadow”.

My Robotic Friends

I’ve heard some say that normal people have ‘interests’; autistics people have ‘obsessions’.

It’s not unusual for anyone, on the spectrum or not, to have a strong interest to the point of possible obsession about something. I have a neurotypical friend who has a train track collection. One of the rooms in his house houses his collection. Visiting him is like sitting at a train depot. Only he has a railroad track that hangs from his ceiling. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t display any other Asperger symptoms.

Years before I knew I had Asperger’s, just for the heck of it, I ventured into the toy department at a department store. Since it had been more years than I could remember of being in a toy aisle, much of what I saw I had never laid eyes on. I was immediately attracted to the robotic section. It was a small section since robotic toys was not the norm at the time. To be honest, I didn’t know such toys existed. The “gotta have that” feeling came over me and I gave in.

I should mention that I was in my 40’s when I purchased my first toy robot. No such thing existed back in the 1960s when I was that age where the toy section was the “only” section. It was a bright red human-like robot attached to a remote control. It reminded me of the robot on a TV show, Lost in Space, which was a big hit back in the 1960s. It was easy to figure out how to operate and provided loads of fun for a 40-year-old going on 10.

This purchase was the seed of what would become a robotic clan residing in my bedroom. I fell head over heels with “Red” and immediately started shopping for it a companion, and then another, etc. I’m still in the market to this day. Last Christmas, two months after turning 60, I added “Cozmo” to my collection.

That’s how it is with my Autism. When I try something and don’t like it, I never want to have anything to do with it again. But if I like something, I will go totally and absolutely and positively OVERBOARD!

I didn’t just stick with toy robots. I went practical, too, by adding a robotic vacuum to eat the carpet dirt and dust. I added a robotic mop to digest the dirt off the kitchen floor. The practical robots do what they are made to do but are often interrupted when they invariably get stuck such as under the recliner or in a corner. The drawback to having them is having to rescue them.

A neurotypical may have a vast collection of items such as trains, dolls, baseball cards, etc. because they have a genuine healthy interest. There’s nothing unusual about that. In my case, my obsessions are things I really like but I go overboard with. As far as I can tell, they aren’t interfering in my day-to-day life. In between playing with my robots, I do get my chores done. After all, someone has to turn on the vac and mop robots.

The Quiet Observer

Image may contain: text that says ''I am quite quiet and withdrawn. I watch, read, listen, hear, observe things, but don' generally want 9 or feel the need to participate. Or sometimes I just don't really know how to respond to things." Alis Rowe'

The girl with the curly hair’s posting reminded me of ME! That’s me — quite quiet! If I was asked to describe myself in a phrase, it would be “the quiet observer”.

This posting popped up a memory occurring on a Sunday morning in a church on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. where I was a member back in the last 1990s. I was NOTORIOUS in my church class for being the “quite quiet” one. They might have thought I was in daydream land and sometimes I was. But most times, I was taking in all of what was said by each making note of their expression and tone. I went over those mental notes when I did the self-talk at home alone. I had a lot to say but my fellow class members never heard a word of it.

One reason I kept my thoughts to myself during class was a fear of debate. This class included some members who were not shy about speaking out if they disagreed with someone. I shy away from debates like I do parties or any sort of social gathering of two or more. I feared that if I spoke, I would be met with opposition. Such could traumatize me and remain etched in my memory for years to come.

Well, the moment that was saved like a comuter file to this day was when a class member remarked out of the blue that he’d fall out of his chair if I were to speak. I put on my “smiling” mask and said NOTHING. I said a heap afterwards but it was one of those rants that only I gave and heard.

I’ll conclude with this: the member never fell out of his chair over me.

DO PEOPLE WITH ASPERGER’S LAUGH?

The short answer “YES!”

This was a question I came across on the “Quora” website. The question itself prompted this Aspie to laugh. I was compelled to answer it giving my 2 cents worth.

Someone told me long ago that if you can laugh at it, it hasn’t defeated you. I have kept that thought in the back of my mind ever since and I added another: if I can write about it, it hasn’t defeated me either. So that’s one reason since learning I had Asperger’s at the end of 2016 that I write about it. So with that in mind, writing about it with a dash of humor that might make you laugh with me, here’s some of the cast of characters I live within Aspieland for better or worse.

Ms. Stimfield

She is definitely a daily character in Aspieland. She is a quick change artist – a leg shaker, a rocker, floor pacer, jogger, etc. Good medicine for my anxiety. One of the friendliest characters in my Aspie world.

The Meltdowner

The “grinch” of Aspieland. The ogre arises sometimes over a small aggravation or for no apparent reason. It raises the tension in my body to where it feels like an erupting volcano. After its leaving, I am as drained as I would be after being caught in the midst of a noise-filled crowd with little elbow room.

The Escape Artist

This artist is the most mysterious member of the cast. If you came upon someone talking to their self, pacing the floor and/or performing gestures indicating they are off in another world, you might be leery of the person. I do this but I make every effort of doing it without witnesses. I know if I could see myself on the video camera, my escapism would look strange even to me. No matter, it is a necessity for me. It helps me cope in a world I don’t understand.

Ms. Solitaire

To put it simply, Aspieland is living alone surrounded by people. I’m most comfortable doing things on my own. I am the observer far more than the participant. Ms. Solitaire helps to keep The Meltdowner at bay, if possible. I thank Ms. Solitaire for recharging my batteries.

Ms. Perfection

This character makes me think of one word: annoyance. She is persistent in reminding me I have to finish whatever I start. Not only finish, but it is perfect enough that I can walk away from it with nothing left undone. She is exhausting, but without her, I might not have received as many “kudos” for doing a successfully completed job.

The Organizer

This is the most useful one of the cast. It prompts me to organize things by color, alphabet, age, genre, etc. It isn’t a chore to organize; it’s a TREAT! I am in a delightful place when the Organizer is at work. The other day I secretly organized my Mom’s kitchen pantry. I bet she had cans of food that she didn’t know she had on hand. Since she is neurotypical, I don’t think the pantry will stay in the order I put it in.

Ms. Sensitivity

Another annoying character but not to the degree as the Meltdowner. She is the reason I wear an eye mask at night to avoid the lights coming from my collection of digital lit-up gadgets. She is why I play white noise music to drown out my heartbeat or the snoring coming from another room. Ms. Sensitivity doesn’t kick up a storm when the music playing is my music. But when it is someone else’s music, she will bring on The Meltdowner!

There are characters wearing white hats and others wearing black. And, some are not entirely white or black just as Asperger’s itself. It isn’t entirely black or white either. Aspies do laugh and sometimes the source of the laughter is the characters in Aspieland.