At the Crosswalk

One of the questions on an autism test I took several months ago was if I found it easy to do more than one thing at once. That didn’t require more than a second to answer. I am usually cool, calm, and collected when I am performing ONE task at a time. If I have to do more than one, my chances of making a goof go up tremendously.

On my job as a substitute teacher’s aide, I once had morning crosswalk duty directing pedestrian and car traffic. How did it go? There was a famous baseball player called “Dizzy Dean”. Well, that nickname would have fit me that morning.

I had done crosswalk duty at other schools, but it wasn’t something I had a heap of practice at. I always have a problem doing something I only do once in a blue moon. After all, practice makes perfect or almost. No job training or helpful hints were given by the sixth-grader who gave me the school-issued “STOP” sign. If it was only the incoming traffic I had to focus on and direct, it would have been a breeze. But it doesn’t work that way with crosswalk duty since a crosswalk exists for on-foot traffic.

Pedestrians were coming from two different directions with parents bringing their kids up to the front door and then crossing back to their awaiting cars. I had to watch the cars coming towards me and the foot soldiers to my right and left.  Needless to say, my neck got a workout.  Then there was the challenge of correctly holding the stop sign in front of cars or pedestrians depending on which one I wanted to stop. Sometimes I got confused and fortunately, the drivers figured it out themselves.

There was the added challenge of having to make decisions on the spot as to when I would stop pedestrian traffic to keep car traffic from backing up too far and vice versa.  I must have done okay and didn’t want to wait too long since I didn’t get angry stares from either drivers/pedestrians and above all, no honking horns.

Although my brain isn’t wired to keep up with all these multiple tasks, I survived crosswalk duty without any fatalities or near misses. Crosswalk duty is a lot harder than it looks.  I imagine it is challenging even for those who can juggle multiple tasks at once without blinking an eye.  Me?  I just aim for survival at the crosswalk.

 

 

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Deciphering The Rules

Whether it is a first-grade teacher or an Ivy League professor, the beginning of the school year or semester is spent introducing students to rules and expectations. When I was growing up, rules were written in chalk on a blackboard. Now in some schools, rules are displayed on interactive whiteboards and typed out using a computer keyboard. The tools have changed, but the rules haven’t changed that much. Such as there’s still the rule that one can’t talk when the teacher is talking and that rule is still a popular one that students break.

I am a retired government employee and my post-retirement job is being a substitute teacher’s aide. I started my fourth school year in a gym class for two days. I heard the P.E. coach’s list of rules 14 times in those two days. It reminded me of playing my favorite song over and over again on my record player back when I was growing up.

The coach didn’t just read the rules out loud; she deciphered them.  That was particularly helpful for those who take verbal instructions literally — word for word — a common trait for those of us on the Autism Spectrum.  If she hadn’t explained them, some students might be trying to live up to something that wasn’t realistic and/or totally confused when the class was playing tag.

For instance, one of the top five was to do your BEST at ALL times. The teacher admitted that the literal meaning wasn’t realistic. She explained she wanted the kids to do their best with what they had that day. If they were in a fantastic mood with energy to match, they should be at the top of their game. If they were not up to speed, she asked they just do the best they could with whatever energy they had to give. I was glad she explained that because I wasn’t as much an eager beaver on my second day as the first day of being her sidekick.

Another one of the top five school district-wide rules was “Keep hands and objects to yourself at all times.” If taken literally, one would think it was NEVER appropriate to touch someone. That’s a good rule when students are standing in line or sitting side-by-side on the gym floor, but not when playing a game like tag where tagging is, more or less, touching someone.  The coach gave examples as to when the rule applies and when it doesn’t.  It’s a good rule, but the “at all times” phrase just needed deciphering.

The coach had her own dozen or so rules in a computer document that she read out loud. One of them was one that took me by surprise.  I never heard of a coach having the rule of “no jackets in the gym!” The students could wear jackets to school but were not to enter the gym wearing one.  Her reasoning behind this rule was that kids might get sick from getting too hot wearing a jacket while doing their exercises and playing games.

This rule gave me an uncomfortable feeling since I was in violation of it.  She didn’t ask me to take it off and I didn’t volunteer to do so. I was not working in a hot-boiling gym or even a warm toasty one. It was so cold in the gym that I felt my knees shivering. I mean that LITERALLY! I assume I was given a pass since I was a substitute or maybe the 20-something old coach wouldn’t ask a thin gray-haired lady to take off her jacket.

 

shivering

Within Boundaries

A British writer who writes about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Alis Rowe, wrote “I gain a lot of comfort from people who do not expect more time/interaction/activity from me than I can give, i.e. they are able to understand and appreciate that there will be ‘boundaries’ in our relationship and are flexible to be OK with that.'” Those of us who have ASD and have such a flexible friend(s) are blessed indeed!

I was once asked in a psychological test what I picture myself as being in one word. I didn’t have to ponder long on that question. The word “observer” instantly popped up. I see myself looking out the window and just doing that — observing. Sometimes I do that at the shopping mall. Sit down to get a load off and to observe the passersby. Come to think of it, with what I see at the mall, it’s sort of like watching a reality TV show parade.

As an observer, I am mystified by those who socialize and enjoy it. The “enjoying” part is the mystery.  I wonder what’s so fun about it when I want to go off by myself and solve a jigsaw puzzle or something. I hear of planning get-together events and I shudder at the thought of an invitation. I know to a neurotypical (NT) that sounds so … what’s the word … I don’t know. But whatever the word, it’s not flattering.

Don’t get me wrong! I don’t secretly desire to live on a deserted island even though I may appear to behave like I do. Even I admit to a need to interact with people. I actually enjoy conversations ever now and then. But like Alis’s quote, on a limited scale. Such as I have a weekly conversation with someone who shares my interest in politics. With all that’s going on in Washington, we haven’t run out of gas yet on that topic. I get rather loud at times on my soapbox and repeat myself but the person doesn’t complain, not yet anyway.

My best way of interacting with my fellow man was, is, and will continue to be writing. I can write down my thoughts, edit them with countless drafts, and when ready to ship, I hit the SEND button. I can’t edit or delete what I say on the phone or in person. It is so frustrating and beyond my ability to stop replaying conversations of yesterday or 30 years ago with words I wish I had said or had not said at all.

Another Alis Rowe quote: What people don’t get is that, even if it doesn’t show, autism is a massive, massive part of me and it leaves me with a lot of reasons (not excuses) for almost everything I do, or do not experience.  Autism is the reason I am mostly content doing things that don’t involve other people. It’s not an excuse; it’s just an explanation.

Even within my boundaries, I still want to have a part in having an impact beyond my boundaries.  That’s why I blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Motor City

An item on the list of female Asperger Syndrome traits is “youthful for her age in behavior…” That item I could put a checkmark beside. A big check mark made with a red marks-a-lot marker!  As I am approaching my 59th birthday, the telltale signs of aging are there. It really hit me when I stopped using hair coloring this past year. Well, I suspect thanks to my living on the Spectrum, I am getting younger by the day.

The above picture is my new toy — Magic Track. Yes, it is mine even though it says on the box it is for 3-50 year-olds. I take things literally, spoken or written, and chose to disregard the maximum age of 50 since it doesn’t make any sense that 51 and above are too old to possess one.

Magic Track is one of those As Seen on TV products which I never saw advertised on TV. I saw it in an e-mail attachment from a neighborhood store. I was hooked at first sight. My Autism brain was sending me a wire message: “That’s got your name written all over it!” I went to the store a few hours later and was so disappointed that no such item was on their shelves. Their sister-store 40 miles away had it but I wasn’t that desperate. So I ordered it online on Amazon Prime and waited 2 days for it like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.

I wasn’t attracted to the racing part. It was the creative possibilities. The track can bend, flex, and curve in any direction. I can change the track into any SHAPE or PATTERN! That’s right up my alley because I enjoy working with shapes and patterns which is a trait I share with others on the spectrum.  With my new toy, I am putting my imagination to use to build various shapes of highway and to add homemade pieces such as making a tunnel from a shoebox.

Since an 11 ft. track is a hard thing to hide, I didn’t bother trying.  The drawback to my having this magic track was the trick of answering the adults in the room as to why someone my age would buy a toy track and car.  I just wore my autism shirt with the words “awareness, understanding, and acceptance” and pointed to it when asked.

I had another reason besides it being one of the female autism traits.  I thought my grandniece and nephew would enjoy playing with it when they were over at our house. I had every intention of letting them play with it if they wanted. I am capable of sharing; although, I didn’t do much of that sharing with their grandpa when we were their age.

So the bottom line is I act “YOUNG” for my age. My grandniece and nephew, my playmates, can back me up on that.

Oh, since 11 ft. did not satisfy my obsessive crave, I got another Magic Track.  Hopefully, that’ll do and I won’t order more before turning my bedroom floor into a Motor City.

 

A Lonely Road

I was asked by a young girl if she was bad for not wanting to be friends with a boy who had Autism.  His quirky behavior was as she put it, “driving her bonkers”.  He’d get in her face, follow her around, and spin in circles on the floor.

I was coming at this question from two perspectives.  One is I am on the spectrum myself and empathize with the boy.  On the other hand, I was a substitute teacher’s assistant and although I love the students, some do test my patience and so I could empathize with where she was coming from.

I answered with first stating I didn’t think she was a bad person. Just the fact that she was asking the question suggests to me she’s nicer than she thinks.  I advised her not to abandon him completely.  She didn’t have to be his best buddy but I advised her not to ignore him completely. I know all too well what it is to be ignored and it hurts like heck.

I gave her a few examples of those, (how shall I put this nicely), put my patience to task.

One was a boy on the Spectrum who does not give his voice a break.  I often wonder what keeps him from getting laryngitis.  My best coping mechanism is a sense of humor about it.  I don’t mean laughing at him; just keeping my sense of humor to ease the chatter on my nerves.

Another example was an autistic boy whose behavior for whatever reason changed for the worse when he changed schools.  He had been such a gentle soul but the change in schools took a toll on him.  He was physically disruptive and the other kids were a bit frightened of him.  I did my best to remain calm around him.  I knew he couldn’t help it.  He even knew that.  His teacher told me that one day he had given her a hard time.  He came over, gave her a hug, and said, “I don’t know why I do it.”

Then, I told her about the gentle giant who loves to give hugs and kisses. She has the autism trait of being repetitive in saying or asking things over and over again. That can get annoying! But I try to be patient because I know her story. You see she’s the new kid on the block in her class as well as neighborhood. Her world was rocked when her Mom died in another state and she now lives with Grandma. She talks about her Mom being in Heaven as if her Mom just moved away to some far-away location. She freely talks about joining her someday as if death is an everyday topic. Her teacher gently tries to change the subject, but rest assured, the gentle giant will bring it up again.

Last example, but not least, is a 7 years old who is the youngest in his autism unit. He’s also the only one who has yet to utter his first word. He does understand some of what he hears for he will do what he is told for maybe 2 minutes at most. He’ll flap with one arm, stop, hit his teeth with one hand, stop, give the top of his head two slaps, and start over again. The teacher will tell him to put his arms down and that works for maybe 10 seconds. He was climbing over me and I gave him a hug. While trying to put him back in his chair, what did he have in his hand? My billfold! I got pickpocketed! I showed his teacher and she wasn’t the least bit surprised. I wasn’t his first victim and I surely won’t be the last.

The girl with the question was amused at my stories and I told her that I laugh at my own quirky behavior all the time.  It beats crying about it.  I think I gave her some food for thought.  I hope she decided not to abandon the boy.  After all, Autism can be a lonely road.

The Greatest Invitation

A party is not a bad thing if you like such things.  Not that I would know but I assume those who are the life of a party welcome party invitations unless it’s an invite with people that they if they had a choice, they’d see an orthodontist instead.  I don’t get many invitations and that doesn’t keep me up at night.  Coming up with a plausible excuse to get out of an invitation or dreading going to one does.  I have learned from observation that a simple “no” to a party invite with no excuse or a lame one is a social no-no.  Social interaction just doesn’t come easy for me and others on the autism spectrum.

One of Jesus’s parables was about an invitation to a great banquet.  You can read all about it in Luke 14:16-24.  The banquet was hosted by a certain man who I am speculating had a fair amount of wealth.  I assume that since the banquet was for many guests.  I have never hosted a party, but it just makes sense that the bigger the guest list, the bigger the price tag.

At the time of the banquet, the host sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  The servant went around giving the invitation and was turned down by invitees, one by one, who asked to be excused.  They all had their excuses and some of them were so lame that the servant might have scratched his head wondering why they couldn’t have come up with a better excuse.

Jesus gave three examples of those who asked to be excused from coming.  One said he had just bought a field and must go and see it.  Hm?  Who would buy a field before seeing it?  

Another claimed he had just bought five yoke of oxen and was on his way to try them out.  Hm?  Who would buy five oxen before trying them out?  That’s like me buying a car without a test drive.  

And a third said he had just got married and couldn’t come.  Hm?  He couldn’t bring his bride along?  Or, she laid down the law to him that his partying days were over?  

The servant came back and reported the bad news of repeated “please excuse me” responses.  The house owner was livid.  Now why all his invited guests did not want to attend a banquet given by the host isn’t told in the parable.  I gather that wasn’t the point Jesus was getting at in this parable.  The meaning of the parable wasn’t about how to get out of a party given by someone you’d rather not break bread with.

The owner of the house ordered his servant to go out into the town streets and alleys and bring in the poor, crippled, blind and the lame.  After the servant had completed the task, he reported to his master what had been done and that there was still room for more.  The master told his servant to go out to the roads and country lanes and invite the folks to come in so that his house would be full.  Instead of his banquet attended by those he had invited in the first place, it was full of strangers.  The master said he did not want one of those who asked to be excused to even get so much as a taste of his banquet feast.

Every parable was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  This one was no exception.  Jesus was like the banquet host in extending an invitation.  The Gospel was first given to the Jews.  Some believed but there were those Jews who did not.  Some of those unbelievers were Jewish priests, elders, and scribes among others.  On the other hand, there were believers who were the outcasts.  Like the Samaritan woman at the well, a short-in-stature chief tax collector named Zaccheus, and a woman who lived a sinful life whom Jesus allowed to anoint his feet with perfume.

Jesus gave His life to give the greatest invitation to all who will accept it.  The gift of salvation isn’t limited to a particular group of people.  My own personal favorite scripture of invitation is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  I’m so thankful for that “whosoever”.

I’m thankful, too, more than words can say, that Jesus’s invitation was one I did accept!

Me and My Shadow

British author Alis Rowe, who writes about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is quoted as saying “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!”

I echo that quote.  I have oodles of fun by myself. Since I don’t live alone now, I am not lacking in human interaction as I was when I was living by myself.  I confess when I have the house to myself, it is like being in Disneyland without being at Disneyland.  It has nothing to do with those around me that I prefer my own company.  It’s just the way it is with my ASD.

Parties are hard for me to have a good time at, but not impossible. The more people I know, the better the odds of enjoyment. I once had fun at a party get-together with mostly total strangers but I can only recall one of those. I managed by eyeing an introvert who perhaps was just as or maybe more introverted than myself.  One of my party coping mechanisms is looking for an introvert at the same party too.  If I’m the only one, it’s going to be a long night.  I can’t recall feeling sad when the party guests started leaving. That’s usually the best part.

Dating and fun? There are folks who admit to having had both at the same time. I just have to take their word for it.

I confess I have the capacity to chat for an hour or longer with someone where the topic is one that sustains my attention. If the topic ventures to something I know little to nothing about, the fun is over. It’s nap time. I will not nod off, though, because if someone gives me an inch and lets me talk, I should do likewise when the person is on their soap box. That is only fair!  I may not hear every word, but I’ll try to keep up the pretense that what is going in one ear isn’t coming out the other.  The least I could do for someone who listens to me.

I have another confession. I have actual 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”.

 

 

 

The Rulebook

A challenge for me to deal with living on the Spectrum is dealing with those around me who are lax when it comes to rules.  I am a firm believer in holding fast to rules instead of breaking them.  Thus, I sometimes run smack dab into meltdown country when engaged with those of my fellow kindred who think of rules as guidelines.

An example is if I ever have to give a briefing and it is only to be 15 minutes long.  I will not run over 15 minutes if that long.  If I am having to listen to someone speaking and their speech is supposed to be over at a certain time and that time has passed, I will feel like I have ants in my pants.

Librarians can relate to this story about borrowers who don’t observe the rule of “date due”. Years ago, I had a library job where I was in charge of borrowing and returning books received on loan from other libraries around the country. I hated this job with a passion! In retrospect after my diagnosis late last year, I can clearly see how my autism spectrum disorder (ASD) had a lot to do with the job being a bad fit.  It required more social interaction than my previous library catalog officer position which fit me as comfortable as an old shoe. The other drawback was I couldn’t return a book until the borrower returned it to the library.

Most borrowers did abide by the due date, but there were a few who consistently returned books late. I wonder if late borrowers look upon “due dates” as mere suggestions. Every episode of having to wait for an overdue book to be returned was emotionally draining. I could not relate because the only reason I wouldn’t return something before its due date would be if I was in a coma. Okay, I’m exaggerating but not by much.

My rule-thinking does not turn off when I go shopping. For instance, I take a sign on an express lane, such as “15 items or less”, LITERALLY! I am a frequent express lane shopper since it is my routine not to shop with a need of a cart.  If I were a full-cart shopper, one wouldn’t catch me in an express line unless I genuinely didn’t realize I was in one. I am not a happy camper standing in a line behind the person(s) who can’t count or doesn’t take 15 literally (16, 17, 18, items are okay).

Behind the wheel, I can’t say I’m always at or under the speed limit. I just can’t watch the speedometer like a hawk. My ASD doesn’t help make me a prime candidate for best driver on the road either.  It’s always a challenge having to do multiple tasks at a time and to be quick on my feet as you sometimes have to be for road survival.  But most rules on the road I follow. Such as I move over well in advance to make my exit off the highway.  Even if I have to sit in a long line waiting to exit, I will take my place and wait it out too. If I am in the other lane where traffic is backed up because there is a driver(s) trying to merge over at the last minute instead of taking their turn in the long line of traffic waiting to exit, I am in meltdown country taking it out on my steering wheel and floorboard!

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to take rules less literally. I don’t mean turning into an anarchist, but to not be a stickler on every rule I cross paths with.  Such as turning a library book in one day late and see if anything horrific happens.  Or clocking in at work, on purpose, one minute late to see if I turn into a pumpkin or not.  I’m being sarcastic.  The truth is I can only wonder since it just isn’t in my brain’s wiring to thumb my nose at the rulebook.

My Collection Pic

As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  The above picture is a show and tell of my autistic trait of collecting items that I’m consumed with.  In this case, items connected to a power cord or run on batteries.

Maybe I should keep this picture saved on my smart phone to show someone who questions my being on the Autism Spectrum.  The picture could be my “Exhibit A” in a court of neurotypical opinion.  Maybe I should also add a picture of my half-dozen bags of my favorite brand of pretzels as “Exhibit B”.

One of my two TV’s is cut off at the top of the pic.  The items residing on my desk are a computer, tablet, Amazon Alexa (the tiny brown one that looks like a hockey putt), Amazon Echo Show (the one that looks like a desk clock), and my Google Home Assistant (the one that looks like a room deodorizer), and a mini-sized white vacuum that inhales the dust.  That’s only the part of the collection on my desk!  My additional big screen TV, desk clock, diffuser, air purifier, fan, stick vac, and power-operated recliner are not in the picture.

Sometimes I feel like a kid who has so many toys that I don’t know which to play with.  For instance, whenever I want to turn the desk light on/off, I can command any of these three to do it:  Alexa, Echo, or Google.  I try to switch and not pick the same one each time since that’s only fair.  One shouldn’t have to do all the work.

My Mom is bewildered at my four remote controls and five power strips.  I’d probably get a high-five from Amazon and Google’s CEOs though.

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Having Asperger Syndrome Like?

Someone asked me what was it like having Asperger’s. I didn’t mind the question. Quite the contrary! I welcomed the question or any question related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  That’s one reason I write about living on the Spectrum. I can’t speak for my fellow ASD travelers since each one of us on the Spectrum is unique. I can describe my own life on the Spectrum, but don’t ask me to explain it.  Those who don’t have ASD can’t understand it and those of us who do can’t explain it.

PLEASE ….

My anxiety goes up a notch or two when I am given the “PLEASE go get the…, find the…, bring me …, it’s in the…next to the…on the right…”.   The longer the instruction string, the least likely the instructor will get positive results from me.

I was helping a friend the other day with an outdoor project and she gave me a few of those type requests in one sitting. The pressure to find what she wanted in record speed put me on panic alert. I did find them but not with record speed and not without my friend repeating or rephrasing the directions. If I were quick on my feet, I would have asked, “Am I getting warmer?” meaning am I getting closer or further from the target of the safari hunt. The items were within a short, I do mean SHORT, distance from me. EMBARRASSING! If there had been a hole, I would have climbed in it until my friend talked me out of it.

BED NECESSITIES

Sleeping with five pillows instead of one. A miserable night if I was reduced to sleeping with the standard number of 1 or even 2. It is just one of my long held rituals to be surrounded by pillows at bedtime. I call it, for lack of a better explanation, my comfort food at bedtime.

DIET ROUTINE – WRITTEN IN STONE

My list of what I eat on a regular basis could be counted on two hands. Most of those items are high in starches. Thus, I am a big fan of bread, bagels, dry cereals, crackers, chips, and popcorn. No salt shaker but what I eat has plenty in it. When I eat my meals is beyond my understanding but I stick to my peculiar eating routine like SUPER glue.

GOOGLE IMAGES WITHOUT WORDS

I am in a conversation and have the floor.  I am telling a story and come to a point where for the life of me I can’t think of the name of the image in my head.  I describe it in a haphazard way where I stutter all over myself. This is the part that frustrates me. A few minutes later, my brain pops the word up. Granted, this surely happens to most people, but in my life on the spectrum, it is the “norm” instead of the exception.

OH CLUMSY ME!

If there is something to trip over, stumble on, tumble over, then one of my toes, feet, or knees will find it. I don’t take daily inventory, but I don’t think I’ve lived a day that I didn’t have a bruise on my person. I’ll only remember how I got a bruise if it hurt so much that I saw lights flashing. It is frustrating to no end when I bump, fall, and trip but I try to take ’em as they come and keep going with bruises galore.

NOT SO FINE ON MOTOR!

Fine motor skills have to do with the small stuff when it comes to movement. This is why my handwriting bears a strong resemblance to chicken scratch. It is why picking up objects between my thumb and finger is no small feat. Such as putting on or off pierced earrings. As hard as I try to hang on to the earring or “back”, it happens without fail of one dropping. The earring is easier to find than the “back” to it. The backs are so small and blend in into the floor that finding one is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I have come so close at times to give up earrings entirely and forget about my two tiny ear holes.  I give in against my better judgment and buy a pack of cheap earrings at the dollar store just to replace the missing “backs”.

WHY DID I SAY ALL THAT?

I meet a total stranger who gives me an inch. I’ll tell the stranger way more than I want to about myself. It was as if I had provided a total perfect stranger a chapter or two of my audiobook autobiography.  Shortly thereafter, I’m kicking myself as to what in the world was I thinking telling a stranger my life story.

 

Those are just some examples of what it is like to have Asperger’s Syndrome.  Sometimes I have a no-meltdown kind of day.  Other times my autism slaps me in the face and lets me know it’s around and is here to stay.