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.
According to Interactive Autism Network’s website, although poor motor skills and clumsiness are not currently part of official DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, such deficits figure heavily in clinical accounts and assessments. Individuals with Asperger’s often display an odd or uneven gait when walking or running, trouble with ball skills, difficulty with balance, poor handwriting skills, and difficulty imitating or mirroring others’ postures, gestures, or movements.
Poor motor skills and clumsiness are two of my challenges of living on the Spectrum. When I started writing this blog, I was nursing the left side of my face with an ice pack. When one’s face goes head-to-head with a brick wall, it is never the wall that cracks up.
Another common trait is restricted interests (obsessions) which are for me calming and assist in reducing my anxiety. One of my interests is electric scooters/bikes. As you might imagine, this “motor” interest can collide with my not being so fine with fine motor skills.
My newest bike at this writing was a Swagtron EB-5. It arrived on a Sunday and was almost fully assembled except for the seat. And, wouldn’t you know, it was the seat that would be the thorn in my side, a burr in my saddle, and a pain in my neck. My problem was the clamp that was not doing its job of adjusting/tightening the bike seat. Seats are pretty important in order to have a safe, and comfy ride; well, not big on comfy since I haven’t yet ridden on a bike seat that was rear-friendly.
I did try riding Swagtron inspite of riding it with its seat all the way DOWN. The e-bike ZOOMED off like a rocket when I pedaled. My reaction time is much less than the bike’s. “Swag” and I took a tumble. I was relieved my new bike wasn’t hurt but “Swag” fell on my left foot. No broken foot but I had a swollen one within an hour or so.
My grand-nephew claims his Grandpa and my brother can repair anything. Well, it didn’t take Grandpa long to put “Swag’s” seat in its place. I was amazed watching my brother’s fix-it work. He didn’t even need to glance at the instructions. Repair and assembly work is not under my list of talents; although, I give it a good try when it is one amidst my herd of half-dozen bikes/scooters. I lack in fine motor skills as well as gross motor skills. In other words, my brother can handle screws, nuts, and bolts for better than I can.
When a bike and a brick wall meet head-on, it isn’t the wall that is worse for wear. The same bike, Swagtron, that I fell off of a week prior hurting my foot was the bike I ran into a wall the following Friday. At least, my foot had healed by then.
I was riding on the local city bike/walking trail. All was well until I approached the area where there is a water fountain pit stop. It’s a shaded area where there are places to sit and a narrow, round sidewalk with four or so brick wall posts. I should have stayed on the main trail where the sidewalk is wide, but I ventured off on the narrow sidewalk going in a circle. Unlike my two other bikes, “Swag” only goes one speed, 15 mph, when I’m pedaling. It will go slower if I just use the throttle and forget all about the pedals. I lost balance as I was going around the circle. I could see for a few seconds I was running into the brick wall but I wasn’t quick enough to turn my handlebar or use the handbrake.
I put the blame squarely on Billy (my nickname for Asperger’s/Autism). One of Billy’s traits is lack of motor skills and balanced. I’m both socially and physically awkward. Or, as I often say, I’m not quick on my feet with communicating with my fellow man, driving behind the wheel, and with my bikes’ handlebars. Thus, bruises and scratches are almost as common to me as moles .
My balance and motor skills have not improved with almost 2 years of riding practice. I’m not so bruised that I am putting my two-wheelers to rest though. Just the cost of them alone is persuasive enough to keep pedaling. The best I can do is to learn from each accident. Hours after I had medicated and bandaged the scratches on the left side of my face, I took “Swag” for another ride. This time at another place where I stayed riding on a BROAD sidewalk that didn’t go in a circle. How did it go? Billy and I had a blast!
It was a Saturday morning and it was one with much anticipation in the household. My Mom, brother, and I all got up earlier than usual because my brother’s daughter was dropping in. It would have been nice if it had just been her, but her bringing my brother’s 8-month-old first grandchild made it FANTASTIC! My Mom and brother had seen him once, but it was a first time for me.
If it had just been a visit between myself and my niece, I would have talked her ear off. HA! Even with the addition of one, the baby, it would have been okay since he can’t talk yet. In a conversation where there is more than two, I don’t talk anybody’s ears off. I wish it wasn’t like that but my Autism is what it is.
During the visit, I could only take so much sitting there while the others socialized. I wanted to hold the baby but I didn’t have it in me to ask. If she had handed him to me, I would have gladly held him. Maybe my niece didn’t offer him to me because she noticed my cough. It probably was for the best since I was ailing with suspected allergies but just in case I was contagious, I wouldn’t have wished my crud on anybody, especially a baby.
I took as much as I could and then retreated to my bedroom and engaged my computer. It occurred to me that I could give my grandnephew one of my collection of gadgets. It was a remote car toy. I returned to the living room and gave it to my niece explaining he might like it when he gets older. My niece gladly received it and I was relieved about that. The sweet baby boy took a shine to it with his Mom handling the remote.
This made me feel so much better about their visit. It was awkward for me to enjoy the visit socially, but I could contribute a gift. Ironically, I wouldn’t have had such a gift along with my herd of gadgets if I wasn’t Autistic. I thought at the time, “Autism has both its thorns and blessings.”
Autism is a thorn in a group setting for me. It doesn’t matter how well I know or don’t know the people in the room. However, my Autism special interests/obsessions have helped me out as it did that day. I hope he will find out what his second cousins already know: their Great Aunt has the BEST toys in town!
When the usual family members come for Sunday dinner, I hide out in my room playing with one of my adult toys like a computer, laptop, or one of my robots to name a few. My grandniece and nephew leave the dinner table first and dart to MY room. I could say it is because they want so badly to see me, but truth is, it’s the objects of my autistic passions (electronic gadgetry) that draw them to their Aunt’s room. Oh, and they adore me too.
On a Sunday, my 9-year-old grandniece had a curious look on her face when she looked at what was residing in my closet. “You have a pantry in there?” Well, that’s true. A microwave and small oven with food items above on the shelf would qualify as being such. Isn’t that what a kitchen is for? The kitchen is my Mom’s territory. I eat in the bedroom and my meals are completely and totally a solo affair. It’s just easier to cook my meals in my own room.
What really had my grandniece curious than just a food pantry in a bedroom closet was why I just had boxes of cereal and oodles of sodas. I told her I had Autism. She didn’t know what that was and I figured as much. I told her when she learned what the word meant, then she’d understand why her Aunt Sashi was that way she was.
This is another bright side to my Autism. If I was a neurotypical, I dare say it would not be my room that my grandniece and nephew darted off to on Sunday afternoons.
I answered this question that someone asked on a website. The question brought all sorts of words to mind. Some I wouldn’t repeat. I settled on:
WARNING – be prepared for WWIII!
If someone tried to keep me from my special interest, for instance, my electric scooters, it would be, more or less, the equivalent of taking a pacifier from an infant, a favorite toy from a child, a cell phone from an outgoing teenager, and the remote control from a couch potato.
It is my special interests that are the bright side of living on the Autism Spectrum (AS). I call it compensation for AS’s dark side. If there was a bottle of pills that would take AS away, I would not take them if I had to give up my compensation. I’d give my bottle to those who have AS who are unable to live independently and take care of themselves.
There is an exception. If one is pursuing a special interest and it is a threat to themselves or others, then intervention is a must! For example, I gradually increased my exercising from 6000 to 30,000 steps. This occurred after I bought a Samsung Gear watch that counted my steps. Walking became another obsession and I went overboard. How much? My doctor told me to reduce my exercise because I was losing too much weight. I agreed to rack it down to 8 to 10,000. Most days I stick to that. Most days, that is.
A question was asked on a website: Is it possible for someone with Asperger’s to replace an obsession with another one? I took a shot at the answer since I have Asperger Syndrome (AS) and I know first hand about having obsessions. Some of mine have come and gone, but a few remain!
According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for AS, having an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus” is a core symptom of AS.
That’s a mouthful! In plain English, this criteria is having unusually strong interests/obsessions. Personally, they can sometimes be overwhelming, annoying, and fascinating.
I remember on my job as a substitute teacher’s aide working with a student with AS who was obsessed with monsters. During choice play time, he would bypass the games and I-pads for the crayons and paper to draw pictures of his favorite movie monsters. If there was a movie coming out featuring a monster, along with a superhero, he would tell me all about it. I’d listen knowing my attention was important to him, but I admit I didn’t follow his every word.
Many people have special interests. That’s nothing unusual about someone who is not on the spectrum having an obsession. What makes it a “special interest” in the autism criteria is the focus and intensity. When it affects every aspect of one’s life or is sought after with strong intensity to the exclusion of everything else, it is considered a “special interest”.
An obsession I long ago gave up but had when I was growing up was soap operas. I spent most of my winter, spring, and summer school breaks in soap opera land consuming hours of soap on my couch potato.
Overall I think most of us view them as a positive thing. An obsession I’ve had for decades and still have is with electronic gadgets, such as computers, tablets, voice-activated assistants, smartphones/watches, and virtual reality glasses. Shopping for and getting absorbed in my gadgets recharges my batteries. If I feel one of those awful meltdowns is coming on, sometimes spending quality time with one or more of my gadgets will help me avert one. Sometimes, that is.
Not all Autistic people have special interests but I think many do. Some people have one special interest while others have multiple. Some people have the same special interest(s) throughout their entire life while some people’s change over time.
While most special interests are “harmless,” if an interest involves behavior that is illegal, taboo or a threat to your or someone else’s health or well-being, it may be necessary to seek help in redirecting one’s attention to a safer alternative.
I have to curve one down for the sake of my health. My obsession with exercise began when I added to my gadget collection a Samsung Gear smartwatch that counts my steps among other things. Once I got into the routine of counting every step I take, I overdid it! Only by 30,000 steps per day. I take my doctor’s word for it that I’m the only patient in his many years of practice that he had to tell a patient to “cut down on the exercise”. This counting-my-steps obsession is gone. I’m down to 10,000.
I guess dog-sitting for family members does not sound like an ideal vacation, but that’s how I spent mine during the summer of ’18. I enjoyed sweet solitude on a farm in the hills of Oklahoma with just me, two dogs, three donkeys, a herd of cows, and other assorted country critters. Being alone out in the country was the ideal vacation for me whose constant companion is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The vacation covered two separate trips. One was a preview of about a week before the two-full week trip a few weeks later. I had a BLAST on both trips after I got over the initial ANXIETY of being in different surroundings and a change in routine. It took about 24 hours after my arrival for the arrival of calm. A change in routine, no matter how much preparation beforehand, even if the destination is a vacation spot, raises my anxiety level. There’s not much I can do about that other than telling myself it will pass. It always does.
As for the dogs, Blu and Bailey, they were jumping up and down, wiggling their tales; that is when their adult parents came home … or, maybe more so when I drove off. Just kidding.
I was asked more than once by inquiring and concerned folks before I left, “Aren’t you going to get LONELY in the country all by YOURSELF?” If you ask me, that’s one of those common neurotypicals (NT) questions. You see, for me, someone with ASD, being by myself on a vacation is equivalent to someone else’s ideal vacation of being on a cruise ship surrounded by others engaging in social activities. No, I have never been on a cruise, but the thought of being on the ocean with a host of strangers gives me the chills in a frightening sort of way. Perish the thought!
I didn’t think of myself as alone the entire time. I did venture into town and had interaction with store clerks. That was sufficient social interaction.
I had the dogs but they weren’t much company. I don’t want to give the impression I don’t like dogs. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have signed up for dog-sitting duty. I have wonderful childhood memories of having a dog as I was growing up. The pet was my playmate and comforter. I would have a dog of my own but I live with my Mom who likes dogs but not enough to own one. I got along just fine with the dogs, but I knew they missed my brother and sister-in-law.
I had for comfort in my change of environment and routine my electronic gadgets. I consider them my “comfort” necessities: my computer, my smartphone, my voice-activated gadget (Amazon Echo), my two Segway electronic scooters, and my hoverboard.
Scooter riding was one ingredient that added excitement during my dogsitting tour of duty. I had plenty of acres to scoot over. I could scoot to my utter delight without worry about pedestrians or traffic. Scooter riding is part of my daily routine and unless it is pouring down rain, lightning striking, thunder rolling, snow falling, or temps in the teens, I will go for a scooter ride.
Back in my suburban home, I ride my scooters at the parks. Along with the enjoyment I get from riding them, I get UNwanted attention. Sometimes the stops and stares are too much for my nerves. Well, even though I was out in the country, I got more stares than I ever had before while I was riding my Segway scooter on the gravel road to the mailbox. There were so many pairs of eyes that I didn’t bother to count. Maybe my being a stranger in the area was one reason, but I reckon, too, they had never seen a Seggie before. It didn’t bother me though. I just paid the cows no mind.
All in all, it was one of my BEST vacations. The main ingredient was time to myself. It recharged my batteries. Even if I had been dog-sitting at a beach house, mountain cabin, or a house in suburbia, it would still have been the ideal vacation for me and my ASD.
Now it wasn’t totally perfect but then what vacations are? In my case, there were a few things I didn’t care for during my time in the country. Namely flies, grasshoppers, and spurs. They were far more attached to me than I was to them.