Don’t Underestimate the Quiet Ones

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.

 

 

COMPETITIVE I AM NOT!

Competition is one of those things I see people do and wonder why. To be the BEST? Beats me why. Whatever I like to do, such as bicycling, I just want to enjoy it by MYSELF! I don’t care to be in a race on a bike or in a game with a deck of cards. I don’t like to play games with others. I am content as I can be solving puzzles in solitary confinement. 

Surprisingly, I fell head over heels with a new obsession last Christmas that affords myself many an opportunity to indulge in “competition”.  It’s an offshoot to my long-held obsession with electronic gadgets.  I have long held a strange attraction to items attached to power cords or have battery compartments.  Anyway, I ventured into the world of video-games.  After all, video consoles do have power cords attached to them.

My first bite into gaming was a cheap video game console.  A small investment before going full hog.  By Christmas, a few months later, I had purchased not one, not two, but three different video game consoles.  I can’t speak for others with Autism, but with me, if I like something, I go way OVERBOARD!   This explains, too, why I have so many boxes of Cheerios and packs of diet coke always on hand.

My favorite video games are one that provides “training sessions”.  I stay “in training” instead of engaging in an online competition!  Such as a ping-pong game in virtual reality where my opponent is an alien-like figure.  The figure always wins just as the wall always wins when I practice hitting a tennis ball against a wall.  My goal is to maintain a work-out of pinging back and forth rather than serving a ball that doesn’t make it over the net or lands off the table in out-of-boundary land.

My Autism has a part in just about everything I do.  That includes when I have a game controller in my hand.  My lack of balance, motor skills, and speed raise their ugly faces when I’m gaming.  Racing games, in particular, are not a good match for me.  I don’t know a lot about racing but I know enough to know that quick thinking on the fly is a valuable asset for a speedster.  One doesn’t have time to think on a racing track of whether to speed up, slow down, veer to the right or to the left, etc. if they want to finish in a decent place.  My goal isn’t to finish third, second, or first.  But just to get to the finish line with the racing care in one piece. 

There is always the option with many of the video games of playing them with others on-line.  I’d only do that if a pistol was pointing at my head.

 

 

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.

 

A CONTENT LONER

Life changed after that lightbulb moment when I first suspected that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), commonly called Asperger’s, wasn’t just a medical term for those students in a special education class where I often subbed for a teacher’s aide.  One of the positive changes was no longer worrying about being a loner.  I had an explanation as to why I preferred to do most anything by myself.

I never thought I would ever say I enjoyed being in a group.  Well, I don’t cater to one where I have to physically be with group members.  I found ASD groups on FACEBOOK (FB) where I could be among my own people, so to speak.  I could participate instead of only observe.  Since the groups were online, I didn’t have to worry about a fellow member inviting me out for coffee.

One of my absolute favorites is the daily postings on FB from Alis Rowe, from the U.K.,  who refers to herself as “the girl with the curly hair”.  The below posting is me in a nutshell when it comes to socialization.

 

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I’m isolated in a group. I’m delighted conversing with one person on a mutual-interesting topic. I’m most content alone.

 

Just Wondering

Back in my youth, long before I learned I was living on the Spectrum, I would have that familiar feeling of an “alien being” when I saw:

People…

…hanging out with their friends

…going to prom.

…going out with their friends to party.

…sitting, talking, laughing with their friends.

Although I occasionally did such things, except for the prom, I wondered what it‘s like to enjoy such things. After five decades, I still don’t have a clue.

The Mute Button

The British writer, Alis Rowe, frequently writes about autism. One of her quotes that hit close to my heart: “I can be talkative and expressive when with a single person, but the more people there are around me, the less interactive and more introverted I become. Inside a group of people, I can’t contribute/function, and tend to ‘shut down’ because I find it all too overwhelming.”

I lived that quote during a recent episode where I was in a group setting in a hospital waiting room.  I had been in hospital waiting rooms before but it was the first time since learning I had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One thing I did differently with the knowledge of my diagnosis was preparing for this gathering.  I had my fidget toys like my spinner and cube. I had my smart phone with its many apps. I had no idea how long I would be there and if it went longer than expected, I had my comfort toys with me.

The group consisted of mostly people I knew but there was a dozen of those I hadn’t met before. My typical role in gatherings of three or more is to be the “silent” one. It doesn’t matter if I have known them most of my life or it is my first time to meet them.  As soon as I arrived, there were almost a half a dozen people already there.  Although I knew them, I immediately went silent.  It is as if a mute button is attached to me and it always comes on by itself when I’m in a gathering of three or more.

As more came in, the social chatter and laughter picked up, but I wasn’t a happy camper. None of my topics of interests came up. Except for the one I came with, no one hardly spoke to me beyond the “hello, nice to meet you, or how you are doing, or nice to see you.” I guess maybe I send out “don’t speak to me” vibes without putting effort into it. On the other hand, I was fine with just the greetings. I secretly feared someone might ask me a question I couldn’t or didn’t want to answer.

That old lonely feeling of being an alien from another planet came back.  I wanted to “stim” to soothe and comfort myself since I felt like a tea kettle about to boil over.  I got out my smart phone and tuned into my favorite apps.  I was the only one with ear plugs in their ears.  I know it gave off the impression of aloofness but unknown to them, I was in survival mode.

The apps were not enough to soothe the “pain” I cannot describe.  I whispered to the one I came with that I was going to take a walk. I used the excuse I wanted to stretch and exercise. Well, that was partly true, but it was far less about exercise for my body and more for my mental state. When I walked outside, I took a deep breath. It was like I had been drowning and managed to come up for air.

I started off my walk with tears rolling down my eyes. If I had let myself, I could have cried like a baby. I didn’t know why at first. I just was overwhelmed with sadness. After a few laps, the tears dried up. My batteries were recharged as they always are after a walk by myself.

When I returned, I saw another person had joined the gathering. The person wasn’t someone I was close to, but he was a sight for sore eyes. I knew he had ASD too! I made a beeline to sit next to him. We exchanged few words and that was okay. It was just having someone else besides me on the Spectrum there. One in a crowd is tough, but two in a crowd is less so.

I think I know why the tears. My ASD is a constant companion and there are times when it slaps me right in the face. This was one of those times when it let me know it is there and it isn’t going to leave my side. There is no cure for ASD. I can’t be like the others. I can’t join in on their chatter and laughter and enjoy it as they do. For me, such gatherings are draining and that isn’t going to change. The mute button will always come on.

Not wanting to end on a sad note, there was a moment during the gathering of an example of how I copy others’ behavior in social gatherings.  It was an eye opener because I didn’t realize until after learning about my ASD and being in group settings that some social actions don’t come as natural to me as it does to others.

The room was big but low on chairs.  When others entered the room where we were, the one I came with stood up, shook hands, and offered her chair.  I first thought, “You mean I have to stand up?”  If I had been the only one there, I wouldn’t have stood up.  I would have thought, “Hello…” was sufficient.  Offer my chair?  I didn’t do that part at all.  It wasn’t until after I got back home that I thought maybe I goofed on that one.  You see, I was operating on the rule of “first come, first serve”.

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 Tip of the Iceberg

Long before I knew I was on the Spectrum I knew I was an introvert.  I took the Myers-Briggs multiple times and although the results would sometimes vary, the score always started with an I (Introversion); never an E (Extroversion).

I’ve heard some folks question whether Asperger’s is just being an introvert.  If someone asked me that, I’d have a hard time keeping a straight face.  I’d be hard pressed not to roll on the floor in hysterics.  Why?  Because there’s a heap more to my living on the Spectrum than my “I”.  I sometimes wish introversion was all there was to it but take my word for it, it’s not in my case.

I don’t think being introverted causes me to require wearing an eye mask to bed to block out the light that’s hard on my eyes.  I don’t think it has anything to do with needing to turn on some white noise device at night to block out sounds that can put me in a tailspin.  It isn’t shyness that’s behind me sitting on a bathroom floor with my hands over my ears trying to block out the sound from another room that’s driving me to tears.  My being an introvert doesn’t cause me to overreact to some pet peeve to the point where I feel like a rumbling volcano inside set to blow off.

Not all that long ago I was in a place where a music video came on.  The music was a solo being performed by a man who had a loud, strong bass voice.  Nothing against his singing, but his bass voice threw me into meltdown country.  I retreated as far as I could from it into a corner.  Tears rolling down my face.  I stimmed by moving my legs back and forth.  In my thoughts, I was begging for whoever to finish his song.  Once the singing stopped, I went back to where I was sitting.  I took some deep breaths.  The indescribable pain had vanished as quickly as it had come over me.  All was well again until next time.

I admit I am an introvert, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.