I confess right up front I am 61 going on 11.
Family members who come over to my Mom’s for Sunday dinner where I also live are used to my being a no-show at the dinner table. I am a solitary diner, in other words. My sweet grandniece and charming grandnephew rush to my room after dinner. To see me? Well, I am the key to getting entrance into my room where the toys are. I call them electronic gadgets but to the kids they are toys.
One of my gadgets/toys is a robot named Cozmo that resembles a big-sized mouse. The kids enjoy playing with it using a smartphone app as a remote control to control the robot’s movements. Cozmo can also sing on demand and make animal impersonations.
I’ve added another obsession to my list and it all started when my grandniece said she wanted a Nintendo Switch Lite for Christmas. I would like to pin the blame on her but that wouldn’t be fair. Her wish prompted me to do research on what she wanted and its relations (Xbox, PS-4, etc.). By the time I came to my senses and said ENOUGH to Amazon.com, I had bought an Xbox, Virtual Reality Quest, as well as a Nintendo Switch Lite. It wasn’t for my playmates; they were all for ME!
I am letting the kids play though when they are visiting. If there is one positive reason for adding video consoles and games to my collection, it would be the joy of watching the kids in my life play with them. I think it is a good safe bet that they’ll remember me as their Great Auntie Sashi having the neatest toys in town. Not a bad way to be remembered.
One of the delights when I sub for my friend, a special education teacher’s aide, is working with a now-third grader named Elijah. I’ve known him for a couple of years now. The aide brings him into the room where she is stationed and spends 15 minutes with him each school day to help him with social skills. I subbed for her recently on a Friday and the following Monday. Elijah, like myself, is on the Autism Spectrum and has a talent and special interest, or obsession. Mine is writing and fascination with gadgets; Elijah’s is drawing and fascination with superhero characters like Spiderman, etc.
I told him on Friday that I had recently taken up a new obsession with video gaming. He said, “You’re too old to play games!” Of course, I gave a strong rebuttal to that but I didn’t see any sign that I had persuaded him that I wasn’t too old for the gaming world. On the following Monday, I told one of the special ed instructors what Elijah had said about my being beyond the age of gaming.
Later, during our 15 minutes of time together, Elijah and I decided to play the board game Chutes and Ladders that was sitting on the table. Low and behold, I won the game! I told the instructor I had won, half-believing I had. She said within earshot of both myself and Elijah, “Well, I guess Ms. England you are NOT too old for games!” I looked over at Elijah’s face and I detected an honest-to-goodness chuckle. Like some autistic boys, it is NO SMALL task to get so much as a chuckle out of them.
I am not too old for playing video games. Winning? Well, I do win sometimes but I’m better at losing. Video gaming always reminds me of my autistic traits of lack of coordination, lack of being able to focus on more than one thing, and not being quick on my feet. However, my obsession has only grown and I’m persistently stubborn about playing no matter my scores. Since I play games by myself as I do so many things, I don’t have to contend with eyewitnesses.
I’ve heard some say that normal people have ‘interests’; autistics people have ‘obsessions’.
It’s not unusual for anyone, on the spectrum or not, to have a strong interest to the point of possible obsession about something. I have a neurotypical friend who has a train track collection. One of the rooms in his house houses his collection. Visiting him is like sitting at a train depot. Only he has a railroad track that hangs from his ceiling. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t display any other Asperger symptoms.
Years before I knew I had Asperger’s, just for the heck of it, I ventured into the toy department at a department store. Since it had been more years than I could remember of being in a toy aisle, much of what I saw I had never laid eyes on. I was immediately attracted to the robotic section. It was a small section since robotic toys was not the norm at the time. To be honest, I didn’t know such toys existed. The “gotta have that” feeling came over me and I gave in.
I should mention that I was in my 40’s when I purchased my first toy robot. No such thing existed back in the 1960s when I was that age where the toy section was the “only” section. It was a bright red human-like robot attached to a remote control. It reminded me of the robot on a TV show, Lost in Space, which was a big hit back in the 1960s. It was easy to figure out how to operate and provided loads of fun for a 40-year-old going on 10.
This purchase was the seed of what would become a robotic clan residing in my bedroom. I fell head over heels with “Red” and immediately started shopping for it a companion, and then another, etc. I’m still in the market to this day. Last Christmas, two months after turning 60, I added “Cozmo” to my collection.
That’s how it is with my Autism. When I try something and don’t like it, I never want to have anything to do with it again. But if I like something, I will go totally and absolutely and positively OVERBOARD!
I didn’t just stick with toy robots. I went practical, too, by adding a robotic vacuum to eat the carpet dirt and dust. I added a robotic mop to digest the dirt off the kitchen floor. The practical robots do what they are made to do but are often interrupted when they invariably get stuck such as under the recliner or in a corner. The drawback to having them is having to rescue them.
A neurotypical may have a vast collection of items such as trains, dolls, baseball cards, etc. because they have a genuine healthy interest. There’s nothing unusual about that. In my case, my obsessions are things I really like but I go overboard with. As far as I can tell, they aren’t interfering in my day-to-day life. In between playing with my robots, I do get my chores done. After all, someone has to turn on the vac and mop robots.
The short answer “YES!”
This was a question I came across on the “Quora” website. The question itself prompted this Aspie to laugh. I was compelled to answer it giving my 2 cents worth.
Someone told me long ago that if you can laugh at it, it hasn’t defeated you. I have kept that thought in the back of my mind ever since and I added another: if I can write about it, it hasn’t defeated me either. So that’s one reason since learning I had Asperger’s at the end of 2016 that I write about it. So with that in mind, writing about it with a dash of humor that might make you laugh with me, here’s some of the cast of characters I live within Aspieland for better or worse.
She is definitely a daily character in Aspieland. She is a quick change artist – a leg shaker, a rocker, floor pacer, jogger, etc. Good medicine for my anxiety. One of the friendliest characters in my Aspie world.
The “grinch” of Aspieland. The ogre arises sometimes over a small aggravation or for no apparent reason. It raises the tension in my body to where it feels like an erupting volcano. After its leaving, I am as drained as I would be after being caught in the midst of a noise-filled crowd with little elbow room.
The Escape Artist
This artist is the most mysterious member of the cast. If you came upon someone talking to their self, pacing the floor and/or performing gestures indicating they are off in another world, you might be leery of the person. I do this but I make every effort of doing it without witnesses. I know if I could see myself on the video camera, my escapism would look strange even to me. No matter, it is a necessity for me. It helps me cope in a world I don’t understand.
To put it simply, Aspieland is living alone surrounded by people. I’m most comfortable doing things on my own. I am the observer far more than the participant. Ms. Solitaire helps to keep The Meltdowner at bay, if possible. I thank Ms. Solitaire for recharging my batteries.
This character makes me think of one word: annoyance. She is persistent in reminding me I have to finish whatever I start. Not only finish, but it is perfect enough that I can walk away from it with nothing left undone. She is exhausting, but without her, I might not have received as many “kudos” for doing a successfully completed job.
This is the most useful one of the cast. It prompts me to organize things by color, alphabet, age, genre, etc. It isn’t a chore to organize; it’s a TREAT! I am in a delightful place when the Organizer is at work. The other day I secretly organized my Mom’s kitchen pantry. I bet she had cans of food that she didn’t know she had on hand. Since she is neurotypical, I don’t think the pantry will stay in the order I put it in.
Another annoying character but not to the degree as the Meltdowner. She is the reason I wear an eye mask at night to avoid the lights coming from my collection of digital lit-up gadgets. She is why I play white noise music to drown out my heartbeat or the snoring coming from another room. Ms. Sensitivity doesn’t kick up a storm when the music playing is my music. But when it is someone else’s music, she will bring on The Meltdowner!
There are characters wearing white hats and others wearing black. And, some are not entirely white or black just as Asperger’s itself. It isn’t entirely black or white either. Aspies do laugh and sometimes the source of the laughter is the characters in Aspieland.
One of my most precious assets is the ability to laugh at myself. I get in enough jams living on the Autism Spectrum where this asset comes in handy. It sure beats shedding tears.
For instance, my recent episode at this writing occurred at a McDonald’s drive-thru. I prefer the drive-thru since it limits my social contact to ONE!
I was in my own dream world when I started to drive off by-passing the window to pick up my order. I did realize it before I got too far off the beaten path. I veered my Toyota Prius next to the pick-up window as best I could. In facing the cashier, I put on my laughing mask and used the excuse I hadn’t woken up yet. Truth was I drifted off into my world which is something I am good at doing.
I had to open the car door to reach the bag. I could not for the life to me remember how to put my Prius in PARK! I have owned a half-dozen Priuses and goodness knows how many times I have put the car in park but in this moment of panic, with pairs of eyes watching me, my mind crumbled!
My first choice was REVERSE. Bad choice! Fortunately, I remembered the brake pedal before I backed into the customer’s car behind me. By then, the park button popped up in my memory to push.
Instead of McDonald’s telling me to have a good day, I was told “be careful!” Needless to say, I made a bee-line home to give my Mom her sausage biscuit. I pictured in my mind the cashier in hysterics after I was out of eyeshot. As for the driver behind me, he or she was probably catching their breath after a close call of a front end encounter of the worst kind.
How autistic are you?
Well there’s bronze level autism where you get a tour of my room that displays my obsessions with electronic gadgets and my food snacks; the silver will get you a demonstration on “stimming — let me count the ways”, featuring spinners, cubes, rubber bands, coins, pens, etc.; the gold will get you a one-hour worth briefing on living on the Spectrum accompanied with a white noise gadget, sleeping mask, weighted blanket, etc.
You don’t act autistic?
So? I know people with brains who don’t act like they have any.
How come you say you are autistic when you look completely normal?
I work hard at pretending to be “normal” until I can get to that people-free zone and take the mask off.
Do you miss having a social life?
I never had one to miss.
Why do you pace and talk to yourself?
I need the exercise and I am easy to talk to.
How come you bite your nails when anxious?
It beats biting my hand or someone else’s off.
A common autistic trait is overthinking. This explains why driving on Oklahoma State Highway 1, a stretch of highway I frequently take to the city of Ada, a pair of shoes hanging from the wire over the highway. I notice the pair every time I’ve driven under them. I’ve wondered each time how strong wind would have to be to knock ’em down. The high winds that knocked trees off their roots in the summer storms have not been able to knock them shoes off the wire. If someone down the road decides to take ’em down, what time of day or night would one do it since the highway is a frequently traveled two-way? And, I wonder how someone would do it; maybe a ladder on a fire truck. Maybe they don’t think the shoes are worth bothering with. I’d like to see the pair come down since I’m tired of analyzing about it every time I see ’em hangin’ by their laces.
I know I should have learned it by now, but better late than never. When sitting for my brother and sister-in-law’s dogs, I should open the door with me behind it and let the dogs go out first. Why? Better that than being knocked down on my rump by ’em. Walking behind the older dog, Bleu, going up the hallway is like being behind a semi-truck on Interstate Highway 75 that runs through Oklahoma and Texas (my neck of the woods). Bleu switches gears when reminding the donkeys or cows they are getting too close to his turf.
It isn’t suburbia…
My hometown is a Dallas suburb. Keeping that in mind, while standing in line at one of Oklahoma’s small towns, Coalgate, at a Dollar General store, the lady in front of me asked the lady behind me, “Hey, sista’, what were you doing yesterday?” Her sista’ says, “I canned “x” number of squash.” The lady in front said, “Wow!” Her sista’ said, “Yelp, Ed and I were up until 3 a.m. canning.”
In its sister store up the road, I was again in the check-out line. The topic of conversation was a young female cashier asking her co-cashier, an older woman who could pass for her grandmother, for advice about mothers-in-law. She didn’t look like she was out of her teens but that doesn’t mean anything since teen marriage isn’t like a rare bird. I don’t know if she was asking out of sheer curiosity or if she was about to get one. The older cashier described her own mother-in-law as being as friendly as a grizzly. There were two other female customers, one my age and the other younger, who chimed in with how they dealt with their mutual mothers-in-law. Chatter is something I like as little as buttermilk but I wasn’t in the check-out line that long to bring on a meltdown or shutdown. I didn’t tell the young lady to follow my example and not have one.
It took a few dog sitting tours in the Oklahoma countryside to learn when passing a motorist on a gravel road, I should expect to be waved at and be obliged to wave back. If I’m traveling on the Interstate, I am not obliged.
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 attached picture was my once-beautiful car I had bought only six months earlier than the date this picture was taken. As President Trump often adds to the end of his tweets, “It’s sad”!
This incident is one example, among many, of how I, living on the Spectrum, handles an anxiety hair-raising emergency of my own making.
This happened while I was dogsitting for my brother and sister-in-law. They moved to their retirement home which is located in a remote area out in the country. It may not be remote to them, but it is to me who has resided in suburbia all my life. Now I drove all the way from the big city on a major freeway, a major expressway, and an interstate highway, for three and half hours without a hitch. The same driving back. But my driving score dropped a few notches while attempting to cross my brother and sister-in-law’s backyard. I stumbled with my steering wheel and one of my car’s front shoes landed over the rocks.
I turned over some of the rocks that encircled around a patch of dirt. It used to hold a garden until my sister-in-law gave up since not much grew and what did died.
Did I immediately call for help? I dare say all those people I know, family and friend and acquaintance, would have been on their phone immediately calling their closest kin or neighbor or anyone who might come to their rescue. Not me! I don’t ask for help until it is a LAST resort! I didn’t want anybody to know. At least, not until I got my car off the rocks.
I racked my brain of what I could do to put my car’s tire back on firm ground. I won’t go into all the things I tried because some of my attempts would be downright embarrassing.
Finally, I called my brother since I couldn’t think of anything else and I was truly exhausted. I was resigned that I couldn’t get myself out of this one. My brother suggested a few more things that didn’t work. I asked him if he and my sister-in-law had any friends since they have many more of them than I do. Compared to them, I live in solitary confinement. HA! He called his pastor who promised to come over the next morning.
After calling my brother, I called my Mom and told her my stuck over the rocks predicament. She hollered, “WHAT???” I don’t get into ordinary jams. I often feel like my “oops!” episodes resemble “I Love Lucy” episodes.
Unknown to me, she immediately called her baby brother, my Uncle, who lived about an hour away from my brother. He’s more like a big brother to me since he and I are 5 years apart. When he got out of his car, he could NOT contain his laughter while my Aunt did, at least, in my presence. HA!
As my Uncle was coming up with a “free-Pree” (Prius) plan, he asked me where my brother’s septic tank was. He didn’t want to run over it. I answered truthfully and loudly, “How in the world would I know?” I wouldn’t know a septic tank if it bit me. I wasn’t raised where cows roam and hens lay eggs.
It took a backhoe, my Uncle’s big pick-up truck, my Aunt assisting with signal maneuvers, two long silver planks, and a chain to free Pree from off the rocks. My Uncle did need my assistance which considerably raised my anxiety because he was giving me verbal instructions. This is not something I do well. He said things like “Steer to the right just a tad”, well, just what is a tad? I just watched his facial expression knowing that would show if I steered his version of a tad or went over or under one.
Pree’s shoe that took the hit had a bulge in it. I’m glad my Uncle pointed it out because I would have been clueless about it. I know a lot about electric gadgets, such as computers, because that’s my passion. Auto mechanics is not! If he hadn’t told me the tire was sour, I probably would have needed rescuing again on the side of a road with a blown-out tire. I got it replaced easy enough at a tire place that knows my Uncle really well. All’s well that ends well.
My Uncle told me afterwards he had taken the damaging pictures and already e-mailed them to my Mom. I wasn’t surprised he did that since one of his joys in life is to tease the person who made him an Uncle for the first time. At least, my Mom only showed them to my other brother. My Uncle doesn’t do Facebook or Instagram and so I didn’t have to worry about these photos going out to the hinterlands.
I had taken pictures and texted them to my brother since he needed to see what was going on at the time. Although my brother does do social media, he promised not to post them for all to see. After all, a dog sitter for a home way out in the middle of nowhere is hard to come by.