Conversation Popper

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I am in the midst of family or friends who are having such a wonderful time of conversation on a topic(s) they are excited about.  The problem for me is I have no input on it.  My mind goes blank.  If by chance someone in the group brings up a topic right up my alley, I’ll come to life until the topic drops.

If this get-together is being held at home where I live with other family members, my bedroom is where they’ll find me if I cross their minds.  During their visit, I turn into a “popper”.  I’ll pop in if I think of something to say that might attract their attention.  Once I have my input, I retreat to my space.

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I  am not a total “no show” to houseguests.  I can even pretend to be engaged.  But enjoy it?  No.  I can’t make my inner self enjoy anything.  Either I do or don’t.

I’m not this way because I want to be the “mute” one in a group or the one who doesn’t join the others at the dinner table with the family.  I can’t make someone understand who wonders “why don’t you just do it?”  One would have to dwell in my brain and even if that were possible, I doubt I’d have any takers.

I wouldn’t ask someone with asthma “why don’t you just breathe normal-like?”  All I could give an asthmatic is empathy.  That’s all I ask too.

What might surprise folks around me is it does bring tears to my eyes sometimes when I’m amidst such joy and excitement and can only pretend that I feel it too.

My Friend in Cyberspace



WARNING:  Don’t get too close to me!

If there are words to explain how Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects my communicating with my fellow man, I don’t know them. It’s a mystery to me and I can only hold up my hands and say to myself, “it is what it is”. I relate to the above posting by Alis Rowe, author of “The Girl with the Curly Hair – Asperger’s and Me”.

I have a friend who knows more about me than those who’ve known me for most of my 61 years of living. The odd thing is we have never met in person. Our friendship is proof that one-on-one contact isn’t required.  An exchange of on-line messaging has been sufficient.  It works well for me since writing is my passion and social interaction is not!

My friend, who is long-distance, gets an e-mail update on “what’s going on with me” every Sunday without fail.  I do mean every Sunday; not Monday, or any other day of the week.  It is the “routine” thing that’s a common ASD trait.   If she didn’t get a message from me on Sunday, she’d know that I must be in utter misery on my backside or in a coma.  

Once upon a time, my friend and her best friend were on vacation and within driving distance.  She messaged me and invited me for dinner at a restaurant about halfway between my house and her hotel.  One would think I would want to lay eyes on someone who knew me better than most.  But instead of excitement, I felt utter panic.  It was as if she issued a threat instead of an invitation.  It was unexpected and threw me for a loop.  I racked my brain and came up with an excuse which is typically the way I respond to invitations. 

Why I didn’t just do it?  As I stated earlier, “it is what it is.”

I admit I don’t make a good friend in person.  I’m not a good choice to chat with, dine with, or take in a movie with.  But I make a good casual friend and cater to having relationships of those whom I am fairly sure won’t invite me over for whatever.  Most especially, the few in my life who get updates from me on a routine basis and above all, want them.

 

 

 

 

GROPING FOR WORDS

I have moments when socializing I think to myself, “I wish someone would give me a script!”  With living on the Autism Spectrum, I could use one when undertaking the challenge of a conversation.  (I gave my Autism a nickname of Billy).

I recently was visited by a couple of family members.  As I typically do, I retreated to my bedroom where I continued hanging out on my computer.  I heard the chatter in the living room between my relatives and had no urge whatsoever to join them. Their conversation covered topics I had “0” input or interest in.  Billy isn’t a secret to them and they’ve come to expect me to stay in my room when they come over.

One of my nephews will pop into my room to say hello.  He’s one of my top favorite fellas in my life and that’s saying a lot coming from me who has had few males in my life. However, we don’t have many mutual topics of interest. Such as I am interested in politics and he’s sworn off voting ever again. I can understand why he feels that way though.

We do talk about my electronic gadget collection since he does seem infatuated by it or maybe he’s just infatuated with how many gadgets his eccentric Aunt has.  His visits are usually months apart and so by the time he visits, I’ve add another gadget or more to my ever-growing collection.  This keeps the conversation going for a while depending on what I am showing off and his interest in it. After the demo, I am GROPING for something to say to disrupt the deafening silence. If he isn’t wishing for an escape hatch, I know I am.

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On a shopping trip with my Mom, we ran into a lady we’ve known for around 40 years and hadn’t seen in like a decade.  I was glad to see her and even exchanged two hugs worth.  Her idea, not mine.  HA!  My Mom got more hugs but two was my limit.  My Mom and the family friend were more engaged in conversation than I was.  I felt more or less like a standing statue watching the other customers maneuver around us.  I would pop in the conversation if a topic came up I could contribute to.  I wish I could have enjoyed it as much as they did but it just doesn’t work that way in my brain where my Billy resides.  Billy is what he is.

 

I’d Rather

I’d rather someone else take care of returning or exchanging at the store counter.

I’d rather someone else call the cable company.  

I’d rather not join others to dine at a restaurant.

I’d rather prepare and eat my meals at my own routine time and place without witnesses.

I’d rather no one touch any of my collection of electronic gadgets without getting a nod from me.

I’d rather someone else in the house shop at the neighbor’s yard sale.

I’d rather not go to a movie theatre even with my best friend with free movie tickets. 

I’d rather go for a walk at the park and talk to myself than go on a picnic with a group no matter how well I know them.

I’d rather take a detour when walking/riding a bike at the park to avoid passing a person(s) on the trail.

I’d rather take off than having to hear music that is making my blood boil.

I’d rather not go to bed anywhere without my favorite pillow, eye mask and white noise computer app.

I’d rather not drive downtown or anywhere else where there are lots of people, traffic, and one-way streets to maneuver through.

I’d rather not attend a meeting of any kind.

I’d rather not sit at the adult table but the kid’s table when the family gathers for the holiday feast.

I’d rather not stop a task until the task is complete.  This is a good thing for me as far as getting things done, but not a good thing if I am shoveling through several inches or a foot of snow.

I’d rather go about my day with a schedule printed out or tucked away in my thinking cap.

There are times when “I’d rather” is “I must” instead and when so, I just cope as best I can.  I don’t get a day off from living on the autism spectrum.

 

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 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.

A Square Peg

Unless one has Autism, one can’t understand it. Those of us who do can’t fully explain it. I can only give one a glimpse of what it is for me.

I am more comfortable in an environment where there are rules laid out and aren’t assumed that everyone knows them. I am aggravated by those who act as if rules are mere suggestions. I welcome and need rules. In an unstructured environment, I feel as uneasy as my dog would feel in a bird cage.

If a rule doesn’t make sense to me, well, that’s another story. I’m not usually defiant, but I have had my moments.

Routine is essential! It has to do with feeling safe and secure in the world. If someone else changes it, I am traumatized. If I change my routine as I occasionally do, no problem.

Sometimes the source of my meltdowns is background music. I don’t dare complain to the one playing the music, much less scream or cry because it would draw unwanted attention. The best option is to go some place beyond earshot. If not, I will be boiling inside like a tea kettle.

Conversation can be a struggle. That’s one reason I am most comfortable when I am by my self. It takes me seconds longer to respond to someone’s question. That’s why I often ask for someone to repeat what they said to give me a few more seconds even though I may have heard them the first time.

I enjoy one-on-one conversations with one I share a mutual interest. I wish such would happen more often than it does. I guess having limited interests has something to do with that. Such as politics being one of my interests but I am surrounded by those who are on the opposite side.

I dread being amidst a social chit-chat with no escape route. If there is no graceful exit, I drift into daydream land.

I prefer having a schedule as I go about my business of living each day. I thrive with a schedule with the consistent rhythm of one thing after another instead of things happening all at once or nothing happening at all.

I despise being pointed out in a group as the quiet one. I do not have to be told I am a quiet person. I’m over a half-century old and so it isn’t headlining news to me.

I have this thing about time literally speaking. If someone tells me they’ll arrive at noon, I expect to see them at noon or early; not at 12:55. I’d rather they say “noon-ish” if that’s what they really mean.

Highly sensitive! Just even a slight bit of criticism or correction will take me so long to get over if I ever do.

I lack empathy. I shy away from emotional scenarios. It is easier for me to show my affection with actions instead of words. Helping someone with doing tasks helps them and gives me something rewarding to do.

A word that is on my hate list is “group”. It doesn’t matter whether it is a group meeting or group outing. It doesn’t matter whether it is held at the workplace or home base. When more than two are gathered, my mute button comes on.

I am the square peg in a group of round pegs.

Autism and Conversation

Below is a list of signs that I live with. They don’t apply to all with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because we are all unique who travel on the Spectrum.

Instructions: “It’s on the third shelf from the top on the left side of the closet next to the package of red, yellow, and green folders. You can’t miss it.” You wanna bet? Just watch me!

I love hardball conversations about any one of my limited interests. I can talk a monologue’s worth.

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On the other hand, chit-chat is hard for me to sit through. If I can’t make a graceful exit, I retreat into my imaginary world.

Most of the conversations I have are planned out in my head and they never take place.

The best part of a party or get-together of three or more is when someone says, “We best be going.” That spells R-E-L-I-E-F.

I can be chatting away with one person I feel at home with, but if another person or more join in, it is like a mute button is attached to me and it comes on.

In the course of a conversation, I may be asked questions that I don’t have time to process. If have to give an answer right there on the spot, it probably won’t come out right and won’t be my best answer. I will for days, weeks, or even years later think of what I would have said if I had the chance to do it over again.

I came across something someone wrote: The older I get, the more I understand it’s okay to live a life others don’t understand. I relate to that quote. I’m working on being content with my companion that never sleeps — ASD. I might as well since it is here to stay.

I Don’t Let the Grass Grow Under my Feet

This is one of my funny ordinary illustrations from my daily life of “what’s it like to have Asperger’s as 60”.


When my 83-year-old Mom says, “I was thinking we needed…”, I know there’s a better than 50% chance I’m not gonna like it.  Her “thinking” likely means labor is in my near future.  Just how much labor depends on what task popped up in Mom’s head.  


This time she was thinking about the section of fence that had been leaning against the backyard fence.  It had been there for almost a year since a side of our fence was replaced by our adjoining neighbors when they first moved in.  Since we are getting a new fence in the back next to the alley, she wondered if we could unscrew each piece of the fence and carry the pieces out to the front curb where we put the trash can.  Maybe someone, like our other neighbors who have a junkyard for a backyard, would take the wood off our hands.  

A common autistic trait is to take words in conversation things literally which puts me in danger of missing the point of what someone is saying.  My Mom confuses me all the time or I confuse her.  Such as I figured out not long after moving in with Mom that when she says “WE”, nine times out of ten she means ME”.


After weed-eating some, I went over to the section of the fence and saw the screws might come out with one of my gadgets, a battery-charged screwdriver.  (One of my obsessions/collection is gadgets attached to power cords or run on battery juice.) I tried the tool out and it worked!  There were like a dozen or more posts, each having 6 screws to unscrew.  That’s like 72 or so screws. 

It wasn’t a cool time of the day that I picked to tackle this thing that kept my Mom up the night before.  I could have asked for help, like from my 50-year-old something brother, but I didn’t.  I could have taken a break, but I didn’t.  I could have stretched it out, a little each day since the new fence won’t be put in until a little over a week, but I didn’t.  Why?  It’s my autistic brain!  Once I start a task, the pressure is in my mind to finish and to do it by MYSELF!  My brain won’t let me stop!  I thought about leaving it to my brother to at least carry out the wooden fence pieces to the front yard, but since they weren’t too heavy for me, I did that by myself too. 

Once the section of the fence was out of the backyard and piled on the curb, I raised my arms and cheered over my VICTORY!  Like someone might do if they climbed to the top of a mountain.  These are the kind of moments my autism brain is immensely gratified!

The Unstated



I open the front door on my way outside. My friend who is waiting for me to move my car from behind hers says “John is here.” Well, I could see that John was walking towards the porch. I thought it strange my friend was telling me that since I wasn’t blind. But I didn’t say something she might have been offended by such as “So????”.

After locking the door behind me, she said, “You didn’t have to lock the door!” Ooops! Just another time I didn’t get the “unsaid” part of the message. She wasn’t announcing his arrival but was telling me I didn’t need to lock the door since he was coming inside. If she had stated what she didn’t say, I would have gotten the memo, so to speak. Then, she asked in a teasing sort of way, “What’s wrong with your mind?”

Nothin’ except my brain isn’t wired like my neurotypical friends. I’m not angry with my friends since there are times I wonder what’s wrong with their “thinkers”.