When I began subbing as a teacher’s aide in my hometown school district, I thought that the last school I’d want to take an assignment at would be the elementary school I started attending when Lyndon Johnson was President. I have a heap of memories and not all of them are good ones. I tend to reflect more on the bad than the good. I didn’t know I had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when I was attending elementary school since I didn’t have an ASD diagnosis until after I turned 58. Since being formally introducted to my constant companion, I now reflect on those elementary school years with a different pair of lens.
After a couple of years of subbing, I did get up the nerve to take an assignment at my Alma Mater. The main part of the building and the cafeteria are still there. Of course, memories flooded back as I walked the hallways. I wondered if the classroom I was working in was one that I had spent one of my school years. My report cards had many “A”s and a few “B”s. If there was ever a “C”, I don’t recall it. I recall being the teacher’s pet in 5th grade and being such only made it a lonelier school year for me. I don’t recall any friends because I don’t recall having any.
I recently subbed for the school’s P.E. aide. It was a good day. The highlight of my visit to my alma mater was an encounter with a 6th-grade boy. The game of the day for his class was tag football. He wanted so much to play with his classmates but a brace on each leg was too much of an obstacle. He was given a football to play with by a kind classmate. He fell while trying to kick it and I walked over to help. I asked him if he wanted to play with me and he took me up on it. We played catch and then switch to kicking the ball back and forth. His braces didn’t get in the way of throwing a pass I could catch or kick a ball an honorable distance. He told me when he got tired. I could have played more but I didn’t tell him that. I hope he had as good a time playing with me as I did him.
The staff at my alma mater are so kind. So many of them are not shy about saying “hello” or “thanks for coming”. I ran into the Principal who thanked me for coming at the end of the school day. I told her that her school was my alma mater. She lit up and said, “Then, it must feel like coming home.” I nodded and told her that it is hard to believe that Lyndon Johnson was President when I started elementary school. I kind of wish I hadn’t said that. In other words, I walked right into that one. She said in a nice way, “Oh, that was a LONG time ago.” I said with a sigh, “Well, you didn’t have to put it quite that way.” This time my humor wasn’t way off. The principal of my alma mater wasn’t rolling on the floor but she wasn’t far from doing so.
I am a baby boomer. I can tell if I’m talking to a fellow baby boomer if I ask such questions as: “Does Gomer Pyle ring a bell with you?” and it rings a bell with them. I don’t mean the reruns on TV land, but the original TV series. The thing I remember most about Gomer was his exclamation: “SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!” It drove his commanding officer, Sergeant Carter, up the wall.
Life does have its surprises all right. Some good, and some not so much. One of my autism traits is my need for routine and so I don’t necessarily welcome surprises. Even good surprises can give me some anxiety until the surprise wears off.
One of those things I am surprised to be doing is working in the same school district I grew up in. I am a substitute teacher’s aide where I work in elementary schools. I’m often flooded with my own school memories as I go about my job from one school to another.
I recall the subject I dreaded most was a favorite of many of my peers – Physical Education (P.E.). With a weight problem and awkwardness, P.E. was a humbling experience. I scored high in the classroom but fell behind on the playground and ball field. Sometimes on my rump!
If someone had told me back when I was attending an elementary school that when I got to be 58, I would return to that same school to fill in as the P.E. coach’s sidekick, I would have told the person they had a wilder imagination than I did. That’s saying a lot because my imagination was and still is off the charts. It sure threw me a curveball to not only be working in a gym class but above all, to like it! I have become an avid walker, tennis player, and I even shoot baskets! Instead of at the age of 8, but at 58.
I did return to my old school recently to fill in for the P.E. aide while she was out for a day. I was escorting the 5th-grade girls out to the court to play volleyball. One of the girls came up to me and asked, “How old are you?” Now I’m on my 4th school year and if I had a quarter of every time I’ve been asked that, I could buy lunch at McDonald’s. Now I could have taken a serious tone and advised her not to ask older women their ages. Or, I could have given a cute answer such as “39 and holding”. She probably wouldn’t have believed the holding bit anyway. I could have pled ignorance or pled the 5th. But this was the last class of the day and I was tired. I just told her the truth.
She said, “My Mom is thirty-three.” I thought, “So what?”, but minding my manners, I only thought it. Sometimes I say too much and this was one of those times. I told the youngster I went to this school back when I was her age. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Really!” I nodded and said, “Yelp. No kidding.” I surprised her but she had a bigger surprise for me with her comeback answer: “My goodness, this school must be REALLY old.” She was quite empathic about the “really old” part as if she was referring way back to the “horse and buggy” days. My heart dropped knowing I walked right into that one.
The girls were learning to play volleyball. One of the few things I could do in P.E. that I had some success at was serving the ball in volleyball. I was far more confident on a volleyball court than let’s say a baseball diamond where I was terrified with fear that when the bat met ball, the ball would make a beeline towards me. Seeing that the girls were novices, I took the ball and served it. After a successful demonstration of what a volleyball serve looked like, I heard some “WOW”s from the girls. I surprised them all right! I sort of surprised myself since I couldn’t remember the last time I served a volleyball.
Although I am shy of surprises, I am thankful for them too. If the Lord gave us the blueprint of our entire life on this earth at the start of it, we’d be strangers to hope. If our lives were neatly planned and organized, no surprises, there’d be no reason for faith. I’d rather be thrown a curveball every now and then than live without any hope of something good happening around the corner.
Since I was formally introduced to my never-sleeping constant companion, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I have researched it as if I was studying for a final exam. My Google search history is full of terms related to ASD. A couple of autistic forums I’ve joined have also given me volumes of information. Sometimes I think because I could give a long lecture on the subject, I should be able to control my emotions, symptoms, deficits. I should know that’s wishful thinking on my part.
I’ve since given ASD a name: Billy. That may be silly, but I have a peculiar sense of humor. No offense against the “Billy’s” in this world. I chose it because I like the name and it rolls off my tongue easy-like. It is therapeutic in an odd sort of way to give my ASD a name. After all, he is my constant companion. He can be naughty; he can be nice. He shows up in my dreams. Since I don’t have a choice about living with Billy, I can give it a name for humor sake. When I fix a sandwich in my own peculiar way, eat items on my plate in a specific order, or pace the floor when excited, or become extremely agitated from a sound I’m sensitive too, I think to myself, “Well, that’s just Billy.”
I spent a lot this past summer while off from my school job tending to my Mom’s yard. I got in the habit of when feeling a meltdown from Billy coming on and if it wasn’t pitch dark outside or pouring rain, I’d grab the clippers and give the hedge a haircut. The hedge appears to have lost weight this summer since I didn’t lack for meltdowns this summer. The hedge is trimmer than I reckon it has ever been since it took root over a half-century ago. Thanks to Billy, I may have gone overboard with the clippers.
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.
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.
It isn’t always the big battles on the Spectrum; it’s the little ones too. The little ones are bigger at the time than they are in hindsight. It is in hindsight I can write about them and have a chuckle or two. If I can laugh about any battle, it hasn’t defeated me.
A little one started when my Mom interrupted my blog-writing asking me to open a can for her. I’m not complaining about that. It just throws me for a bit to pause when I’m creating a masterpiece. Arthur (arthritis) makes opening a can with a manual can opener a painful proposition. I figure I better have empathy since Arthur probably already has his eyes set on me in the near future. I come from a long family tree of Arthur’s victims.
This made me think of a battery-operated can opener I had seen at a store having a 20% off sale the very same day. Since I was planning on going anyway, barring a large crowd, I made note of it to look for one. With a small showing of customers at the time I entered the store, I went ahead and bought a red Handy-Dandy battery-operated can opener, one of those As See on TV products. Besides my Mom needing one, I am attracted to a battery or electric gadget like a coin is to a magnet.
I took it out of the package in my bedroom to get the gadget up and running without my Mom knowing a thing. I wanted to surprise her by doing a “show and tell”. That was a good plan but that’s not how it went down. After installing two “AA” batteries, I pushed the button and not a sound was heard. I tried placing it on a can in case the opener wouldn’t work without having something to spin on. That’ didn’t work. I was so frustrated! I don’t give in to defeat easily when it comes to gadgets. I am the “gadget queen” in my clan. After numerous efforts, this “queen” eventually came to the conclusion it was a “lemon” can opener.
I didn’t ask for this battle, but it fell in my lap and I saw it as having two choices. I could toss it and try to forget it; or, I could take it back to the store for an exchange/refund. My Mom would have taken it back to the store without any hesitation whatsoever. Me? Just the opposite. I have a phobia of customer service desks. My first inclination was to do to the malfunctioned opener what I do with party invitations: toss out!
The price receipt, though, kept staring at me. Guilt is another biggie of mine. I came up with an idea to ease my guilty conscience. I’d put it back in the store bag, go back to the store, and if there was a store clerk who seemed friendly enough, I would ask to exchange it. I didn’t want a refund because I wasn’t ready to give up on presenting my Mom with a can opener that would defy her nemesis, Arthur.
I’m proud to say I got up the nerve to approach the customer service desk and asked for an exchange. She took the lemon and dropped the exchange item in a bag with a “have a good day”. I could breathe easy now as I walked out the store after my victory of facing the exchange challenge. I know such transactions come easy for a lot of folks, but not for me.
It was back to the drawing board. The only difference was it was black instead of red. I wish I could say that after the battery installation, the handy-dandy opener came to life. But that’s not how it went down. It wasn’t making a sound either. After repeating what I did hours earlier with the red “lemon” one, I re-dressed it back into its package. I wasn’t sure if I was going to return to the store or not. Two customer service interactions in one day — there’s only so much I can take!
It was aggravating I couldn’t get a gadget to work. I can’t thread a needle, but I know my way around setting up a smart phone, smart watch, etc. I had to try one more time to save my reputation for gadget-fixing. I used a can of chili as my guinea pig. Just as I was about to take my finger off the start button and give in to defeat, the opener came to life. It started its journey around the can lid while I watched in amazement.
This was supposed to be the end of the story. Nope! A few weeks later, the black handy-dandy opener met its fate of a trash can after opening a can of green beans. It did a spin around the lid of the can. The problem was it wouldn’t let go of the lid. They were inseparable! I did manage to free the green beans but I had to toss the can opener with the can still in its mouth.
Now, most people would have given up by now. But I don’t give up easily. I wasn’t about to be outdone by any kind of gadget. I received a 20% off e-mail from a store and I saw this as a sign to go ahead and purchase No. 3. I’m thrilled to say the third one was the charm. As for what my Mom does when she needs a can opener, she still hollers for me and I do the honors.
My first inclination when I see someone in public that I know is to scurry for a hiding place.
I go berserk inside when someone is following behind me or I sense someone’s eyes are feasting on me.
A tiny noise such as someone chewing, sipping, or humming makes me cringe.
Although I despise talking on the phone, have anxiety when the phone rings or a message is left, I bought the newest of a brand of cell phones because I’m obsessed with Android apps.
When a social function is canceled, I respond with “That’s too bad!” and then I CELEBRATE!!
I don’t have to listen to talk radio to hear a conversation. I have plenty of pretend conversation going on in my head.
I owe a debt of gratitude to whoever came up with the idea of the store SELF check-out.
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 am obsessed with raking or picking up leaves. I have a hard time finding a stopping point UNLESS the neighbor comes outside.
Most of the conversations I plan out in my head never take place.
I was such a jerk for saying that forty-nine and three months ago.
Quadruple check alarm before going to bed.
I’d like to make friends with someone who doesn’t like making new friends. Weird, I know.