My Magic Number

I have an allergic reaction to invitations that involve socializing.  They make me CRINGE!  Fortunately, my social circle is size “small” and so I don’t get many invites to cringe over.

A cringing moment came not long ago when I was with a relative and an acquaintance.  I was their driver to a small house party of approximately 4-5 guests.  The friend invited me to stay and join them.  He said, “After all, small is your magic number.”  I immediately knew he was referring to things he’s heard me say about living with my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

I immediately put on my “actress” hat and pretended to be cool, calm, and collected.  I didn’t show a hint of my inner reaction of lava spewing out of a lit-up volcano.  I kept my mouth shut.   I just smiled and kept driving.  Fortunately, my relative who didn’t have a clue changed the subject.

He may have thought my ASD was no excuse since their group, most of whom were people I also knew, would not give me any discomfort.  That is, that’s how he interpreted what I have said.  Well, I don’t communicate too well in person and so I may not have been clear as mud to him.  Writing is what comes naturally to me.  Here’s what I would say to him and anyone who wonders why I am a loner and likes it that way.

My magic number for living on the Spectrum, with all its traits and quirks, is ONE.  I prefer to work, play, eat, worship, and just about everything else with ONE – that being me!

An okay number is two.  If I am engaging in conversation with another person on a topic I can give input on, I’m an eager-beaver!  It’ll be a race as to which one of us dishes out more conversation than takes in.

Any number above two is above my comfort level.  I can be full steam ahead in conversation with another, but if just one person chimes in, I go mute.  It isn’t a decision by me to clam up.  It’s just how I’m wired.  Three or more people will usually prompt me to put on my “actress” hat and play the part of an engaged listener.

It’s hard, if even possible, to explain why I seemingly have a mute button attached to me when in a crowd of three or more.  A person not on the spectrum might say, “Well, just speak up!”  I’d say, “Please take my word for it.  I don’t have it in me.”

ASD is a neurological condition.  It’s not my imagination or my choice to be an observer more than a participant.  In the midst of three or more,  I turn restless.  I may bite my nails, chew gum, play with my hair, or fiddle with my fidget cube I keep in my pocket for such emergencies.  If you can imagine being in a straight jacket and struggling to get out of it, then that’s how I feel inside in a social setting of 3, 4, 5, etc.

If your magic number for socializing is a number above two, good for you.  I can only imagine what it is to be that way.  If your magic number is the same as mine, rest assured you are not the only ONE!


The Kids and Me

My room is filled with electronic gadgets.  Some of them are for entertainment and others are more practical such as a robotic vacuum.  No wonder I’m like a kid at Christmastime when I visit the neighborhood electronics store that I affectionately call my toy store.

It comes as no surprise to my family that I have taken to another category of electronics – video games.  My Christmas presents to myself the year I am writing this (2019) is an Xbox and a Nintendo switch lite.  The biggie is a combo of video games and virtual reality – Oculus Quest, a product of FACEBOOK.  Okay, I know this isn’t your typical Christmas wish list of a 61-year-old.  I had been practicing on cheaper video consoles.  My goal at present is to just score now and then. I’ve got a ways to go before I can contemplate winning a game.  Another trait I have is being awkward and slow in action. That trait doesn’t work well in video games. Trust me!

A few years ago my obsession was electric bikes and scooters.  At present, I own six of them.  One of them is a hoverboard whom I assume whoever invented it had in mind teenagers and not senior citizens.  I am slowly but surely improving my hoverboard performance. I ride it only in my backyard instead of out in a park where there would be witnesses. I shouldn’t care that people gawk at me, but it does. I admit it just might look odd for a gray-haired lady to be riding on a mobile board contraption standing up with no guard rail.

I had much less trouble learning to ride my Segway scooters which are popular with the tourist crowd. They are self-balancing which helps me who lacks balance. The hoverboard is supposed to be self-balancing, too, but it seems to have more of a mind of its own than the two Segway scooters. Two? Yes, I’ve got two. Explanation:  When I like something, I go way, way overboard.

When family members come over for Sunday dinner at my Mom’s house, I am in my bedroom interacting with my computer. I prefer doing things by myself and that includes meals. I’m not alone for long though. My grandnephew leaves the table first and heads straight to my room. His sister isn’t far behind him. My grandniece and nephew, my playmates, can back me up on my acting young for my age.  The kids think their Great Aunt has the best toys in town such as my robot “Cozmo” which can also respond to Alexa voice commands.  I have a special bond with them that I believe I wouldn’t have if I were neurotypical. Just one of the advantages of having Asperger’s!

On my job as a substitute teacher’s aide, I was once escorting an autistic student to gym class. I was glad when a couple of other kids wanted to play with him. One of them got a basketball knowing he enjoyed dribbling one.  The other kids let me play too. At the end of class, one of the kids came up to me and said, “You are a lot of fun!” I told her thanks and waved a big smile. That little girl just gave a high-five to a 61-year-old going on 11.

A Silent Singer

It happened on a day I was filling in for a Physical Education (P.E.) assistant in an elementary school. It was the first assignment at the start of my sixth year of subbing. The school is on the top of my favorite list of schools to hang out at. The simple reason is I am among friends there. I’ve been there so often that I am treated like an extended family member. As someone with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I like having such casual friends who I have no fear of them asking me out for lunch or any other type of social gathering.

I noticed one of the 5th-grade girls during their gym class. I didn’t remember her name but I sure remembered her face. Her fellow classmates’ describe her as “strange”, “weird”, “off-the-wall”, etc. I’ve asked aides about her who will just say the student is different. I don’t know if she has been diagnosed with ASD, or something else. I just suspect she might have an ASD because I see so much in her that is in me.

She doesn’t engage in conversation much with her peers, but she does seek out adults. Even though I was a substitute, she would come up to me and tell me more than I wanted to hear.  I didn’t discourage her, though, since I relished the attention of adults at her age too.   I suspect one reason her classmates avoid her is that she will talk about things that are not on their radar screen.  Well, her topics aren’t on mine either but I can empathize.  Most of my peers aren’t near as interested as I am in virtual reality gadgets, e-bikes/scooters, and voice-activated gadgets.

As the class was about to be dismissed from the gym, I thought I should go over and say goodbye or something like that.  I was tempted not to because I didn’t want to hear another one of her monologues.  I gave in and spoke to her knowing how hungry she is for adult attention.

She lit up like a firecracker!  She asked me if she wanted me to sing her a song.  I didn’t know she was into singing since she hadn’t mentioned it before.  How could I turn her down?  I couldn’t but that was beside the point since she didn’t wait for my answer.

I was pleasantly surprised she could carry a tune quite well.  It caught some weird looks from the other students but she seemed oblivious to them.  It was as if she and I were the only ones in the gym.  She kept on singing until it was time for her to go.  I watched her go out with a spring in her step that I didn’t see when she first came to the gym.  Maybe because for a little while she wasn’t the silent singer having an audience of one.  I was blessed that afternoon to be the one.




Pecan Pickin’ Therapy

There are all kinds of therapy.  Music, painting, puzzles, and spa.  One of mine isn’t one that I’ve seen mentioned in any of my autism social media groups.  It is pecan pickin’.  It is a repetitive movement of walking and bending over.  The more bending over, the more pecans.  This isn’t a strange phenomenon.  Picking pecans is a popular activity that comes in autumn for those who live on or off the Spectrum.  Pecans can be bought in a grocery store but at a pretty price.  The expensiveness is incentive enough for folks to find places to pick pecans where pecans trees are dropping pecans like flies.  

Everybody does a repetitive movement, or simply, fidget. It’s just with more frequency and deeper intensity that I and others with Autism do it. I don’t know if I could name off all the ways I stim but pecan fishing is one of them.   Many a time when I’m in meltdown country or bored to tears, I’ll go out for a walk and pick pecans.  It is a seasonal form of stimming instead of a year-round one.   Pecans have a limited life span with some arriving before autumn’s arrival and some gone before Ol’Man Winter even gets serious. Since there’s a pecan tree in the backyard, I don’t have to go far to work up a “stim”. 

In early autumn of 2019, an EF-1 tornado came through to the north of my neck of the woods. To say the wind was kicking up its heels that night was an UNDERstatement! The higher the wind, the more branches swing, and the more branches discard stuff. On the following morning, after the wind had taken a hike, I had a jam-packed worth of stim-pecan-pickin’ on my doorstep. PLUS, leaf-covered branches and oodles of twigs and branches. Two trash cans worth!

I wish I could get more out of pecan pickin’ than the only stimmin’. Truth be told, most of what I pick lands in the trash can. Far and few between are ones that have the “good” stuff inside. I kept a baggie of eatable pecans. By Thanksgiving, there was enough not to bake a pie, but a mini-tart.