I think of my Autism traits as that of a pie chart. Some traits make up smaller slices of the pie than others.
One such piece is abnormal/poor posture. I relate to “poor” myself. My Mom often said “Sit up” but I never got the hang of that.
Another autism trait that there isn’t as much chatter about is trouble with left/right/directions. Now I know my left and right but I have to THINK about it when I am prompted to turn L or R. I’m guessing my accuracy rate is in the 50% range.
I’m not quick on my feet. So I go right when I meant left, I pull the door instead of push, I turn counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. It is worse when I get a bruise or more when I accelerate instead of using the brake when riding my electric bike.
Then, there are the strange rituals. Strange being what my neurotypical friends would call strange. One that comes to mind is my ritual of when I eat my meals, of what I eat, and how I eat (like how I cut my sandwich) is far from the typical way most people do it. Another is the odd sayings I’ll repeat to myself every day. I know they are silly, but they pop out of my mouth anyway.
One of my favorite of the less talked about traits is a connection to animals. I have a memorable picture in my mind of when I was a child in tears about whatever and sitting in the backyard being comforted by the family dog. Since I had very few friends, the family dog was my no. 1 playmate. I was awkward at being a friend to humans, but not to dogs.
Dogs are notorious for knowing when their human family member needs comfort. I didn’t outgrow that connection. My favorite post-retirement job is dog-sitting for my brother and sister-in-law at their farm in the remote hills of Oklahoma. I can freely talk to Bleu, Bailey, and Luna. I can say those silliest things without fear of being overheard. Although they can’t talk back, there’s no fear of them leaving me behind.
Alis Rowe, a well-known writer about Autism, “the girl with the curly hair”, posted the following statement:
‘Because I do not speak much and because I just get on with things quietly and independently, people can underestimate my abilities and not recognize my potential.’
I relate to many of her postings and this one took me back to a memory of over 40 years ago. At the time, I was on my very first job working at a Sears catalog department in downtown Dallas. It was part of my Vocation Education training in my senior high school year. I went to school half a day and then to work the other half. The supervisor’s first performance rating was the worst that I would ever receive for the next 40 years. She gave me the lowest rating that could be given for behavior and productivity. The worst, mind ya, to a student who was at school an honors student. My high school vocational teacher was surprised too! She did say this supervisor was notorious for giving low ratings to vocational students. She instructed me to ask the supervisor the reason behind these low ratings.
This was the last thing I wanted to do – confront the person who hurt me terribly. I still remember crying my heart out in my car after work on the day I received the grading. But I was put on the spot by my teacher and I knew she’d ask me what the supervisor said.
I met with the supervisor and told her that my teacher instructed me to ask. In other words, this was not my idea! She said I was slower than she liked me to be with checking catalog orders which back then were done on microfiche. As far as behavior, I was too quiet! You’d think someone who got the WORST rating on behavior would be someone close to being tossed out of their job for rudeness, vulgarity, idleness, or other excessive bad behaviors.
I wouldn’t know until some 40 years later that I had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I understand looking back with my ASD pair of lenses as to why it was that I was quiet and still am. I understand why my speed wasn’t top-notch but my accuracy, I was the TOP person on the catalog team. I still to this day don’t think I was slow as molasses and deserved the worst rating for such. One of the bright sides of my ASD is I have a strong eye for the small details. This explains why even back then on my first job, my accuracy rate was such that my working supervisor commented that she wished that the speediest person on the team had the same accuracy rate as I did.
Ya know, as a customer, as much as I like my order to be filled sooner rather than later, it’s far more trouble if the speedy order isn’t what I ordered, not the right color, and above all, the size doesn’t fit. But, oh, well, accuracy wasn’t one of the things I was graded on at the time.
This life episode as sour as it was ended on a fine note. When my senior year ended, so did my employment with Sears. I did have a choice in staying. The supervisor, who was hard on ratings, asked me to stay. I give her credit for that. She came to see potential in the quiet one.
An invitation to a gathering of any kind is a threat. A cancellation, last minute or not, is a relief like Tums is to my stomach.
It is difficult for me to talk even to just one person unless it is on a topic I can gab about. I am more confident talking about things I know my way around. In fact, anyone who asks me a question about something I have a heap on my mind about is in danger of receiving a monologue from someone they thought was so QUIET!
On a topic I am knowledgeable about, I don’t have to work so hard on when what the other person is saying because I can relate to their ideas. A panic alert is when the topic is switched and it is out of my topic interest or knowledge zone. It takes only a tiny bit to confuse or disinterest me when the topic is, more or less, Greek to me.
I prefer to chat with one person at a time. If another joins us, I go pretty much mute. I surprise folks turning into a chatterbox. Just give me an inch, I’ll go 90 to nothing while thinking in the back of my mind, “I better stop before I lose this friendly ear”. Delivering a monologue on a subject dear to my heart doesn’t happen often since I don’t know many people who share my interests and viewpoints. For the two or three I do, I am truly grateful for their interest and above all, patience.
My diet regimen is bizarre, I admit that. In living with my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I am a picky eater. I know from working in elementary school Autism units as a substitute teacher’s assistant, I am NOT alone in the Autism community of being picky with my food.
Sensory issues play a part in my pickiness. I could do without fruit and not shed a tear. But bread, rolls, cereal, crackers, etc.? Perish the thought! I will give in and eat cantaloupe if it is hard and crunchy; if soft, no way, no how! The same with apples. Although I like the taste of a banana’s flavor, I will not eat one because of its texture. Too soft for my taste buds.
One of my favorite “picky eater” school stories was told to me by the mother of a boy with Autism. Her son had a passion for chicken nuggets. But not just any nuggets. It had to be the McDonald’s brand! His mother made the mistake of thinking he would not know the difference between McDonald’s version vs. another. One day Mom decided she didn’t want to go to the trouble of a drive-thru every time her son had a nugget craving. She cooked a bag of them herself and disguised them in a McDonald’s bag. Her son took a bite of one and that’s all he took. Mom never tried that trick again!
My first inkling that I was on the Spectrum was observing a 12-year-old girl in her class leave her class without leaving it. Her behavior of pacing the floor in her own imaginary world was strange to her teacher even though she had seen her student do it many times. It wasn’t bizarre to me. I was a pro! I just don’t do it in front of witnesses; although, sometimes I get caught in the act. When I was sitting by this same student in the cafeteria watching her eat a hamburger, I realized we had more in common than I thought. She uses the same three-step method that I do: eat the bottom bun first, then the top bun, and save the best part, the beef, for last.
My Mom to this day still will try to get me to try this or try and it is on a rare occasion that I will take her up on her offer. It may be years before I add or delete to my list of daily must-have items. My meals are the same every day except for the main course. The main entree of the day is usually the same day of the week such as Cici’s pizza every Sunday evening.
I maintain the supply of my favorite foods in bulk! I grieve as if I lost my best friend when one of my favorite brands is banished from every food store in the neighborhood.
When I was a kid a half-century ago, more or less, there was no lock on my bedroom door. But my two younger brothers knew there was a “line” and they delighted in crossing it. I didn’t care if they crossed that line and entered my precious bedroom “SPACE”. On one condition though: that I was totally in the dark about it. They would usually tell me though as if their crossing the line wouldn’t count as a victory if they didn’t tell me. If I caught them in my space, it was sheer bedlam. My brothers seem to delight in my agony; that is if I didn’t have one on the floor, with me on top, asking for my mercy.
A common autism trait is being protective of one’s space I saw this trait played out many a time while subbing as a teacher’s aide in autism units. A child’s meltdown over another child merely touching their desk, chair, pencil, and dare I say, toy, reminded me of my reaction to my brothers’ trespassing of long ago.
Since moving in with my mother after retirement, my space has cramped considerably. I doubt you’d find many bedrooms like mine. I don’t mean lacking in open floor space; although, it certainly does. It is unusual by what resides in my space. I’d only have to take a picture of my space for one to know if more people were like me, the Best Buy electronic store chain would never go in the red.
I confess of having three desktop computers, one sitting pretty on my desk in front of me, one to the left of me roosting on a wooden stand, and another one behind me. I’m almost closed in! If this wasn’t enough, I have three voice-activated gadgets on my desk and another one across the room. They are a combination of Amazon Echo and Google Home products. I have three TV’s with one of them situated on a bedroom wall. Logically, I know I could get by with one computer, one Echo or one Google, and one TV. I know how this looks, but it’s MY tech-cramped space and that’s all there is to it!
I’m as protective of my space as I was when I was living in this bedroom as a child. My brother who is now in his mid-50s lives with us and is much better at not trespassing into my space. I have had close “meltdown” calls when my dear, sweet Mom comes in to log on her computer. She has more right than I have to go anywhere in the house since she owns it, including MY space. But those moments when she comes in while I am fully entrenched into whatever passion of mine I am pursuing, I fill anxiety running through my veins. Sometimes I just have to give up my space to her and find a place to stim to calm me down. There’s no space like my space. And sharing it doesn’t come easy to me.
My space is like a photograph of my ASD. The multiple items that are powered by a half a dozen power strips reflect my obsessive with technology. Recently, my 6-year-old grandnephew and 11-year-old grandniece came over to visit and immediately noticed my new computer…one of three in my space. Whenever they learn their great aunt has ASD and what ASD is, I imagine them thinking, “Now we know why she has all those computers.”
The words running through my mind are clearer than the words that actually come out of my mouth. It’s so frustrating, to say the least.
In-person, sometimes the more I say, the more I dig myself in a hole.
I have success in sharing my thoughts when I write them before sharing them in an e-mail or post on social media. I can draft my words, edit my words, and then spread my word to the receiver(s).
I am not comfortable in the slightest to be the one to initiate a conversation or bring up a topic. It’s a gamble and I have often been on the losing end. For example, a moment where I dug myself in a hole after bringing up a topic happened around 30 years ago. Yes, I still remember it like it was yesterday. It is one of the many memories I wish I could delete forever.
I was working for Uncle Sam in the Washington, D.C. area in one of Sam’s libraries. There were a few “walking encyclopedia” type folks who worked in the library. I admired their wealth of IQ, but my conversation with them was limited to library business.
My work desk neighbor was one of those who I thought looked more at home in a college classroom than a library with his long bear and wire-framed glasses. He was an avid book reader. How much so? When he proposed to his wife, he told her he would adopt her son if she took in his huge book collection. As well as being an academic, he could carry a tune. He was a member of one of Washington’s well-known and Emmy-winning choirs. As for our relationship other than being office desk neighbors, we seldom conversed beyond that of work conversation.
I don’t know what possessed me to converse with him about a band that had “Orchestra” its name. When I asked him if he had ever heard of them, he had not. I should have stopped then and there! But I continued talking about this group. At that time, I had bought one of this group’s Christmas music CD. I knew even while I was talking to him that I was like a player at bat who had struck out three times and was still on the plate not willing to go back to the dugout.
After the conversation, I whispered to a co-worker who was within earshot of the conversation, “I should have quit at the start.” She nodded with an empathetic glance and said, “Yeah!”
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is one of my favorite bands. They are terrific but I got the impression from my co-worker that they are not in the same league as his beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra.