A common term in Autismland is “special interests.” People on and off the Autism Spectrum have a passion for, or a hobby. My fellow Spectrum travelers and I are no different. For us, that passion is intensified.

I reckon there are pros and cons to any passion. Such as the con to my writing passion is typos. I am beholden to my grammar/spell check computer app but it isn’t full-proof in catching all my goofs.

I have a way with computers. One of the memorable compliments I received was from a colleague several years ago who told me that whenever her computer goes to a blank screen, the first thing she did was to call the computer tech office.  But she noticed I only called for help at last resort. I would first try to revive it on my own and had a good track record of self-resolution. I welcome compliments even though I seldom believe compliments about me.

Thus, I am the computer master in my household. The con is that often when I’m in the middle of doing my own thing that I am interrupted by a SOS call from a family member whose computer is having a hick-up or they need guidance on how to do whatever on their computer. This tests my patience and I confess I’m lacking in that but working on it. My know-how on simple everyday things I come up short, but my computer know-how is compensation.  After all, I can always search on Google on how to boil water.

Another passion is electronic gadgetry. I call them my toys. My small circle of friends chuckle at what I deem a toy to be. My robotic vac is as much a toy as my Xbox. I have car toys too. One that responds to “Alexa” and another that shows me where I am on the map. My weed edger and leaf blower are in my toy collection too. I have riding toys which I went overboard on. One electric scooter/bike is sufficient, but I have four at last count.

The con of my electronic gadgets is illness and death. Some of my gadgets of the past have died on me. After all, they didn’t come with an unlimited life span. Some had a shorter life span than others. I am sooooooooooo angry when a gadget breaks down that I got little to no use out of. I am soooooooooo sad when a gadget I played with for years goes comatose. It takes me longer than most folks to give up on a gadget that shows no sign of life. But when I come to acceptance about it, my heart takes a hit when I toss it away. If it is a gadget I don’t have a spare one for, I will more likely replace it than not. It doesn’t depend on price, but how deeply obsessed I am with the gadget.

As for gadgets that show some trace of life, I will try this, try that, etc. until I am convinced it has passed and then reluctantly toss it away. Then there are gadgets that don’t perform all its functions. Such as my eldest voice-gadget, the original Echo dot, is seemingly losing some of its hearing like its owner. So for those that are sickly, I will pardon them from the trash bin and use them sparingly or leave them be.

The bottom line: I’ve been fortunate with the good health of most of my gadgets, but I run into a “lemon” every now and then.

The Torture of the Wait

Many of my Autism traits are common, too, among those who are NOT autistic.  But the difference is the FREQUENCY and INTENSITY.  An example is when I get a bill in the mail.  Everything stops!  Even if I have a natural call, I will put it off until I get that bill taken care of.  If it can be paid on-line, I will do that PRONTO!  If by snail mail, I will write the check and stuff it in the envelope.  I will take it to the post office probably the same day! 

It is even worse when what needs doing involves social interaction in person or over the phone.  And waiting in line with my fellow man is a high anxiety task for me.  I won’t wait to get it over with unless I have NO choice in the matter!  

Once upon a time, my Mom had officially divorced from her cable company.  There was one task left to do which was to return the equipment.  A no-choice task for me since a mail store was the ONLY place in town that took this cable company’s returns.  Although we had until the middle of the following month to return the equipment, it didn’t matter.  Billy (my nickname for my Autism) was reminding me every half-hour.  I knew from previous visits that Monday was usually the busiest day of the week. Even though I knew that, I went by the place on a Monday while on my way to another store.  The line was out the door, longer than my previous visit.   I decided to not stop and went on my UNsatisfied way.

Billy kept on bugging me though.  I kept thinking “I’ll go tomorrow” but Billy was relentless.  With pressure mounting on me, I looked up the closing time and there was still an hour and a half before closing time. So I went by on my way to a scooter ride in the park. The line was the same as earlier in the day – out the door.  But this time I STAYED!  I didn’t want to go to bed that night with Billy haunting me with the picture of people standing in line out the door.

Now it was over 100 degrees at the time.  High on heat and humidity with little shade.  Miserable standing-in-line conditions!  A few people ahead of me was an older lady with a cane.  No doubt she had trouble standing in line that was going nowhere fast.  Her escort had a big umbrella holding it over them.  I just had this bad feeling that whatever she needed from the mail store would require a long session over the counter.  My hunch was right. Her escort took off after she got inside the store.  He probably went off shopping knowing she wouldn’t be out any time soon.  She had a booklet photocopied.  She was really particular on the copies’ appearance.  I could tell that since the clerk had to do some pages more than once to satisfy her.  

By the way, terminal 3 was unmanned.  Just two clerks with more customers outside the store than inside.  Terminal 2 was manned by a young woman who was helping a lady with a SINGLE, SMALL package.  I don’t know why it was taking so long.  For the longest, the clerk was just staring at the computer screen while the customer was staring at her phone.  

So the line was stalled with these two customers.  How was I holding up?  Me?  I’ll just say prayer is helpful in such situations.  I quickly glanced at the other customers behind me and their faces were stoic.  But I just bet they were thinking along the lines of myself such as…

If the two clerks were any slower, I would hope one of us would know how to do CPR.

I consoled myself in thinking I could be those near or at the end of the line not knowing if they would get inside before the torture chamber’s closing time which was within the half-hour.  

The young lady in front of me had the right idea!  Until she got up to the counter, she had her head down, pecking away on her cellphone.  She didn’t look up, not once, until she was face-to-face with the terminal 1 clerk.  I would have done the same but my cellphone was resting comfortably in my car’s front seat.

FINALLY, I got to terminal 2 and told the young woman I was returning AT&T equipment.  She pecked at her computer keyboard; then went to register 3 and pecked some more; then went back to 2 and pecked again.  Then, she finally asked the male teenage clerk on terminal 1 if he had access to the cable company.  The good news was he did.  The bad news was his computer was the ONLY one that did. 

I had to step back and wait for the clerk on 1 to finish with his customer who also had a long wait. How long did I have to wait?  GET THIS!  The clerk on 2 finished in record speed with three customers before I got my turn on 1.

But I didn’t blow my top!  I managed to taper off the volcano rumbling inside of me. I was not rude!  I kept my tact!  After all, it isn’t in my autistic nature to attack store personnel since generally speaking, I avoid them if I can.

Besides, I knew the clerk had the upper hand.  He was the only thing standing between me and my ultimate goal – the equipment receipt!  Once I got the receipt, I did a calm-down by pursuing one of Billy’s passions – a scooter ride.

In defense of the mail store staff, I know…I know…the computers may have been running slow.  Maybe the store was low in staff and/or the two clerks were new at the job.  Maybe the lady with the cane had a very important reason for wanting a photocopy of her booklet.  It is easier to think of these possibilities in hindsight instead of during the actual torture of the wait!

Pop-Up Questions

Been there. I try to do my best and plan better next time!

One of my fears back in my school days was a “pop test”. It was different than the run-of-the-mill test in that we didn’t know when a “pop test” would pop up. The test was given at the teacher’s whim at the beginning, middle or near the end of class or the school week. I shuddered when the teacher would issue a possibility of such a test coming sooner or later. It sure didn’t help my anxiety! A “pop” meant I had to be studied up on the lesson on any given day or face the possibility of flunking the “pop”.

Conversations sometimes remind me of the school “pop test”. Someone popping out a question I couldn’t have seen coming. My brain not popping out a good answer. This is one reason among others I find conversation a mine field of pop questions.

I am also reminded of “pop tests” when amidst a group of people. I’m allergic to groups. I don’t like them. During such things, I want to stem like crazy. Most of all, I want to ESCAPE! While sitting and taking it in stride, questions pop up in my mind. Such as:

Does the speaker know he is in overtime?

Will the meeting moderator please stop with the “any more questions?”

Will the speaker ever get off the detour route and cut to the chase?

Is the person who keeps raising their hand to ask a question ever going to knock it off?

What was I thinking when I agreed to go to this party that’s dragging past my bedtime?

I wonder if I could get by playing Sudoku on my cell without getting ugly stares?

Why is everyone else laughing? Where was the punchline?

Why did they miss my punchline?

Will someone else please say “We better get going” so I can follow right on their heels?

In such situations, I am reminded there’s no space like my space back at homebase bathing in solitude!

That’s Just Billy

It is quite common for those who are on the Spectrum to have anxiety issues. In my humble opinion, just living on the Spectrum is an anxiety-raiser! I started taking an anxiety medication at around the same time I learned I was on the Spectrum almost 4 years ago. My immediate reaction to the medication was like a light switch turned on. I was in a much better place than I had been for years. At the very least, I wasn’t crying at the drop of a hat for a change.

The biggest help, though, was finding out why I was different and that I was not alone in that difference. I call my autism, “Billy”, and when I am being my quirky self, I just say “That’s just Billy!”

Image result for self-checkout register

I like to share stories of my everyday life experience to show how Billy goes with me wherever I go and is involved in whatever I do. I want others who have a Billy know they aren’t alone. For those who don’t, maybe my stories help you understand better those who have a Billy.

For instance, Billy showed up at a trip to the drugstore where I went to purchase food items that I am totally obsessed with. If I like something, edible or not, I go way, way overboard. I always keep an extra supply on hand. Anyway, I had a $4.00 paper coupon. I purchased the items at the self-checkout because it didn’t have a line like the human-operated one. I typically use self-checkout since it usually doesn’t involve human contact.

The “voice” instructed me to put the coupon I had just scanned into the slot near the blinking light. I saw the blinking light to my left but I didn’t see any slot BESIDE it. The register self-voided my coupon and instructed me to scan the coupon again. I did so and still couldn’t find anything resembling a slot near the blinking light.

I noticed to my right, across from the blinking light, there was a lit-up light blue slot. The instructions stated the slot being NEXT to the blinking light; not on the opposite side. Oh, well, I put the coupon in the slot and it was the slot all right. But my realizing what the voice “meant” was too late. The self-check-out register had self-voided the coupon. Since the coupon was tucked away in the slot, I couldn’t re-scan it to make things right.

There was a button to touch labeled “Request Help”. I seldom EVER ask for help from a clerk. I don’t know how much money I would have to lose before I would ask for help but $4.00 wasn’t high enough. I consoled myself with the items all being on sale. I accepted the loss, took it in stride, said to myself as I walked out of the drustore with a frown, “Thanks a lot Billy.”

Billy never sleeps and reminds me every day AND night that his suitcases are unpacked in my brain to stay.

STOP! Easier Said Than Done

I recall it was a bitter cold morning that day. The day before Old Man Winter had dumped several inches of his specialty of white stuff with some ice mixed in. It was the fifteenth day of March in the year of 1993 that I experienced my first blizzard. At this writing, it was over 27 years ago and notice I still remember the month, day, as well as year.

Hurricanes have names -- now blizzards will, too

Two years earlier I had left my hometown where if one had a snow shovel, it did not get out of the garage much. I was not prepared for this blizzard since all I had was a shovel that was great for shoveling in a fireplace but not for Old Man Winter’s terrorist attacks. I used it though since using my hands was out of the question.

I lived at the time in a high-rise apartment building. I didn’t have to worry about shoveling the driveway and sidewalk. It was a good thing I remembered where I parked because all the cars were covered from front to rear bumper in the white stuff. With ice underneath, I felt like the odds were stacked against me in rescuing my car. I couldn’t wait for a melt-down since such wasn’t in the immediate forecast and even more so, I had a sore throat and thought I better get it seen to.

I did not stop that morning. I kept chipping away with my small thin black shovel. Each time I removed a block of ice, it only encouraged me to keep going at it despite my limbs telling me otherwise. I had heard the warnings to take breaks when shoveling but logic didn’t win this argument. Once I drove my car out of the icy patch. I felt like I had climbed to the mountaintop.

The doctor sent me home with a diagnosis of a strep throat. The morning after? With the aches and pains of an hour or two of a no-break shoveling session, I felt like I had the flu on top of the strep.

Why did I take a break or two? My Irish stubborness would be a simple answer but it is more complicated than that. Autism plays a major role in all that I do. One of my autistic traits is a tendency of don’t-stop-’til-finished. Once I start something, I am determined to finish! I mean I really, really, really am obsessed with making a straight line to the finish line!

This obsessiveness to finish what I start does come in handy in getting things done and off my plate. However, I admit it is best for one’s limbs and ticker to take a rest break when snow shoveling.

There would be more winters of snow shoveling. I kid ya not! My tendency to finish without pausing usually won out. However, the first thing I bought after that 15th day of March was a snow shovel. I kept it under lock and key too! I still have it to this day but it doesn’t see much action since I moved back to my home state six years ago where seldom a snowflake is seen.

Three Dogs, Three Donkeys, and an Old Mule

Retirement has helped make living with my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) more manageable. I have more control over my daily routine. I don’t have to socialize as much. I spend my days mostly at home in my own space. Since I am my Mom’s sidekick, there are times she interrupts my schedule but hey, that’s fair since she has to put up with me and my ASD.

A welcome break in my routine is when I dog sit for my brother and sister-in-law’s three dogs in the remote hills of Oklahoma. Some people ask me how can I stand being all by my lonesome out in the country. They don’t understand that being by myself with some dogs, along with my scooter toys, is pretty close to paradise.

The three dogs I sit for are Bleu, Bailey, and Luna. Bleu is like the old mule. He is 14 years old, dog years that is. He is an Australian Blue Heeler and I’ve heard some say this breed is the “methusaleh” of dogs. Bailey is somewhere between a mule and a bull. She is the one who will cuddle with me at night. Luna is the bronco bull! She is the young pup who doesn’t know she is a pup. She is the leader of the pack on our walks. She’ll at least stop and look behind to see if we are still coming up the rear or have made a u-turn.

On one of my dogsitting tours, I went for a ride in one of my brother’s herd of four-wheelers.  My brother calls this one his “old mule”. I drove pretty far into the pasture. Bleu had been ailing and on antibiotics. This did not deter him from joining us. Bleu refused to get up in the four-wheeler with me.  Okay, I figured if he wanted to walk it, that was his business.  Bailey rode with me until she couldn’t take it anymore watching Luna doing “sniffs”.  

I was thinking as I was driving back that I didn’t close the gate.  Ought oh!  I had given my brother’s three donkeys an open-door invitation into the yard around the house.  

Sure enough!  The trio asses were loitering in the yard.  I was still sitting in the old mule.  I yelled at Bailey, the only one of the three around at the time, to go after the donkeys but she was too busy sniffing.  Luna had taken her sweet time in coming back.  When she did show up, I stood up in the four-wheeler and pointed at the donkeys telling Luna to go “sic ’em”. I might as well had been talking to the fence post. 

I look behind from the old mule and seen Bleu on the trail heading back up to the house.  It is in Bleu’s DNA to corral donkeys, cows, and sheep going after their hoofs. Although Bleu was ailing, he still took his role as ringleader in putting the donkeys back in their place.  After Bleu arrived and started off for the donkeys, his sisters followed his lead. I drove up behind helping to corral with old mule.  My goodness! I hadn’t seen the donkeys go that fast before!  They galloped beyond the fence to where the cows were grazing from afar. 

It dawned on me later that I and the old mule could have taken care of putting the donkeys back to their grazing headquarters. That’s probably how my brother would have handled it. I’m not as quick on my feet as he is. My first response to a situation where I don’t have the luxury of time to analyze is one which usually prompts laughter from my neurotypical acquaintances.

I’m glad that it turned out the way it did though. I didn’t like to think about it, but I knew Bleu probably wouldn’t be around much longer. He still had it in him, though, that day to come to the rescue one more time.

Image may contain: dog and outdoor

A few weeks after the dogsitting trip, Bleu passed away from cancer. He lived a full and happy dog’s life thanks to his Dad, Mom, and dogsitter.

The “WHY” Question

A post on Facebook by “the girl with the curly hair” (Alias Rowe):

‘There is always that feeling of “Why can’t I be normal?” It’s so extremely difficult for me to make and have friends and to act like and do the things everyone else does.’

I’ve asked this question too. I’ll probably ask it again. Most days I have a serenity about it. But I do have my moments when I am alone in the midst of others who are having a really good time socializing with one another. It’s like I’m an alien being watching earthlings and wondering what is is like to be like them. One reason I prefer to be alone doing my own thing is so that I seldom have such moments.

Thus, I’m isolated in a group. However, it isn’t all bad. It is a real treat when I have a cup of conversation with a person on a mutual-interesting topic. I enjoy contentment when I’m alone. I enjoy laughter because I can laugh at my own quirky behavior. It beats crying about it.

I have never walked down the aisle in a wedding dress, heard someone call me “Mom”, or receive a valentine card from a grandchild.  There’s no doubt in my own mind that my Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) had a lot to do with that. Marriage and parenthood require social interaction and well, it probably worked out for the best. I know those with AS who did marry and those who had a family, too, but it just wasn’t meant for me.

I try to dwell more on the compensation of having AS.  My skills of attention to detail, organization, analysis, and writing.   These are things I don’t have to struggle with doing just as those who don’t struggle with interacting with their family, friends, colleagues, etc.

If there was some magic bottle that could take AS away, I don’t think I’d take it.  Not if I had to give up my compensation.

The Third Wheel

Alias Rowe, who has written about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), posted the following on social media:

“I don’t think most people ever see the amazing, most interesting aspects of my personality. Most of my personality is held in things that others don’t really care much about or even notice. I shine most when I talk about my interests, when I showcase my skills, highlight my attention to detail, and in more unusual discussions. Most conversations I have never reach this level.” with the curly hair

This posting, like so many of Rowe’s, is one I totally relate to. One reason I avoid a gathering if I can is to avoid playing the role of a third wheel. I don’t aspire to fill that role. I will reluctantly play that role or if I can, walk off gracefully. I’d like to be engaged in family or group conversation but my topics of interest are not on the menu.

I used to have a next-door neighbor I would visit once a week or every other week. I would have visited more but I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. She and I shared mutual views on one of my favorite topics – politics. I would dish out some history stories too with history having been my favorite subject back in my school days. I could even talk about religion with her too. In her company, my mask came off and she got a bigger glimpse than most others in my social circle have of my personality. My neighbor visits came to a halt when she moved half-way across the U.S. Now she gets an earful on the phone but once a month or every other month. I would call more but I don’t like talking on the phone even with an friendly pair of ears.

It’s so pleasant to talk to someone like my former neighbor who I count as a dear friend. Distance doesn’t matter since an added bonus of “virtual online” conversation with someone at long-distance is there is no fear of them inviting me to a social outing.

It does nothing for my anxiety level to be in the midst of a gathering where folks are chatting away with no lack of laughter. I’ll speak if I can think of something to add to the conversation but that’s a BIG if. I’ll speak if someone asks me something like “What do you think” but I can’t think of the last time that happened. In such entrapments, I feel more or less the “third wheel”.

In such situations, I ask myself that unanswerable question: Why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I enjoy a party? Why can’t I stay engaged instead of tune-out? Why do I always ache to go be by my lonesome?

I haven’t gotten an answer other than I am what I am. If I could be separated from my Autism, I would still be somebody but it wouldn’t be me. On my good days, and I do have them, I see the bright side to living on the Spectrum. I do have moments where someone gives me the welcome mat and we have a full cup of conversation. I have my online pals I communicate with who think I’m have some talent for writing. Then, there is my lone time. I can enjoying going off by myself, do some stimming, and recharge my batteries, especially after a bout of playing the “third wheel”.

The Old Goes on Top

A bright side to my living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is my obsessive need to organize. I can’t think of any negative consequences to being hip on organization unless I go overboard and organize a family member’s clothes closet or dresser drawers behind their backs.

It is a personal asset as far as I’m concerned. With this trait, I don’t have to comb through my closet to find a shirt to wear. I would not knowingly leave a single shirt hanging in the pants section. I do run into interference with my “senior moments” though. Senior citizens know what I am talking about. Such as accidently laying my glasses, purse, keys, etc. down where I don’t normally put them. I hate playing hide and seek!

One of my strongly held organizing rituals is the “old goes on top”.

For instance, I have been doing all the grocery shopping since COVID-19 turned my elderly Mom’s house into her cellblock. One day I brought in the groceries that included a ten pound bag of potatoes. Before unloading the ten pounds into the potato bin, there were two older potatoes I took out. Then, I put the two on top of the ten pounds worth. I shouted to my Mom that her bin could not take any more taters.

She came into the kitchen and asked, “Were there just two left before you filled it?” I verified that and she said, “Did you put them on top?” I verified that and she was happily surprised that I did it without her telling me to. Since I’m not a homemaker like her, I do understand why she would be surprised that I thought of it.

I told her that I put the “old on top” with most anything, perishable or not. I cited toilet paper as an example. I could have picked a better example but it was the first to come to mind. She buys such in bulk and when I put the toilet paper away, I put whatever toilet paper is already there on top so it gets utilized first. In my brain, I’m thinking the oldest purchased toilet paper would never get used if it is always sitting at the bottom of the pack.

My Mom’s reaction? She muttered, “Well, I don’t worry with the toilet paper.”

I took no offense and laughed to myself. ASD affects me in countless ways in the business of everyday living. I understand, believe me, that toilet paper isn’t the same as potatoes, bananas, apples, etc. But still I will put the old on top, perishable or not. If I don’t do it, it will bug me until I go back and do it. Why? Because that’s just part of living on the Spectrum. ASD is what it is and I delight in its sweet traits and “stim” with the sour.

How I Beat the Boredom Blues

The combo, “Rest and Relaxation”, more commonly known as R & R, has a nice ring to it.  It is a prime motivator for folks to flock to the beach, embark on a cruise, visit an amusement park, etc.  R & R can be done without leaving home on a daily basis if one has the desire for R & R or has the time.  Me?  Retirement has given me more time for it, but I don’t go about it the way anyone I know does.

During my waking hours, I need to be doing something.  Boredom is not good for my anxiety.  Even when doing something relaxing, such as watching a movie, my hands are not idle.  They are instead on a computer keyboard, or operating my hand-held video game gadget, or even dusting furniture.  In fact, I can get a lot done while watching a movie.  Sure I miss some of the flick but most flicks don’t hardly require catching every word to follow along.

I don’t know anyone offhand beside myself who fights boredom in the autumn by picking up pecans.  I can retreat to my lovely backyard that comes complete with a pecan tree with far reaching limbs that almost take up the entire yard.  A bonus is getting walking and bending exercise while roaming the yard with a bucket in hand.

In the summertime, I pull weeds as an option of having something to do to keep boredom away.  Once I get started pulling, it is hard to stop.  I tend to go overboard though.  How overboard?  Well, the evidence of my weed-pulling obsession are patches of dirt in my yard where nothing is growing and it isn’t from a lack of rain.