The Grass Doesn’t Grow Under My Watch

The above picture is that of my backyard.  Although I have no fear of being cited by the City for the grass being too high, I also am in no danger of receiving glowing compliments of having the greenest lawn in my neck of the woods.

It actually is my Mom’s backyard.  She has relinquished custodial care of it to me; however, the front yard is under my younger brother’s care.  His idea of when a yard needs mowing is absolutely counter to mine.  My Mom has to “edge” my brother to mow when it has reached a height beyond her comfort level.  He uses a lawn mower to do the job.  I would, too, but I don’t have the arm strength to turn the mower on, but the weedeater has a push button and off it goes.

I have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) more commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).  My explanation for the backyard not having a chance to sprout its blades is an ASD obsession.  I’m obsessed with gadgets and my weedeater falls under that category.

I am writing this while on summer break from school while the kids are out.  I’m on vacation but my weedeater is not!  The backyard has gotten a daily haircut since school let out.  Even before school let out, I often had a weed-eating date to recharge my batteries after a school day.  Giving the weeds a whack is therapeutic in a very odd sort of way.  The above picture is proof of that.

There is also the alley behind our house.  It is under my jurisdiction too.  My weedeater and I visit the alley once a week.  My section of the alley way looks like a piece of desert in the midst of the Everglades.  I’m just saying some of my neighbors seem content with tall weeds behind their backyard fences.

 

 

 

 

 

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Special Interests

According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome (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, they are unusually strong interests. They’re obsessions. We think about them day and night. We can focus on them for hours, forgetting everything around us.  Personally, I really, really like mine!

A special interest can be anything from reading to a preoccupation with a whole host of things such as sharks, automobiles, vacuums (a former vac collection owner myself), etc.  I worked with a student whose special interest was calendars.  During choice time, he would bypass the games and I-pads for the box of calendars the teacher saved for him. 

It can be a broad focus such as dancing, or be narrowly focused on only one particular type of dancing.  They appear to be the same as people’s hobbies.  But 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”. 

My “special interest” 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 sitting on my couch potato.  I recall once having a meltdown because I had to miss a critical episode of my favorite soap.  We were to visit relatives and socializing was my least favorite thing to do.  You’d have thought the world was coming to an end with the way I was carrying on shedding buckets of tears.  

Overall I think most of us view them as a positive thing.  Electronic gadgets, such as computers, tablets, voice-activated assistants, smart phones/watches, and virtual reality glasses is one of my special interests I have long held.  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.

 

specialinterests

Another aspect of autism related to special interests is the monologue.  I am high as a kite when someone asks, for instance, about any of my latest gadget buys.  I dare say more thrilled than the one who asked me.  The person was NOT asking for a 60 minute commercial.  I may not notice that the person is disinterested. If I do, I will reluctantly end my monologue apologizing for overtaxing the person’s ears.

Special interests are specific to the autism spectrum. Not all Autistic people have them but I think most 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 wellbeing, it may be necessary to seek help in redirecting your attention to a safer alternative. 

I have to curve one of mine down myself!  My obsession with exercise began when I added to my gadget collection a smart watch that counts my steps among other things.  Once I got in the routine of stepping up my step count, I over did it!  So much so it has taken a toll on my health.  I’m the only patient my doctor has instructed to “let up on exercise”.  So I am making a good pitched effort to cut down on exercising which I know sounds strange.  Well, they don’t call it AS for nothing.  I am different from neurotypicals, no doubt, but not less.  

 

 

Motor City

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.

 

My Collection Pic

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Hangwire

It isn’t a chore for me to organize my stuff; it’s a TREAT! It’s not so much re-organizing the BIG stuff such as beds, recliners, etc. I’ll do that but on rare occasion. It’s more the small stuff such as the clothes in my closet or drawers. I want my space to be as predictable as my routine.  I intensely dislike playing hide and seek where I am the one seeking and seldom the finder.

I went overboard this last summer. With the kids out of school, I was on break since substitute teacher aides are on hiatus. Solo activities help to keep me in a good mood. On one afternoon, I took to organizing my bedroom closet for the upteenth time.  I like doing it so much that I stopped counting how many times I’ve given a closet a re-org.

After I finished tossin’, I needed to go garage shopping. Why? I had tossed more than half my clothes. The criteria for what to toss out was what I hadn’t worn in a year or so. It became abundantly clear to me that a limited amount of my clothes see the light of day. I tend to wear the same old things; a creature of habit.

I had worked so hard that I got sweaty and thus, cranky as a bear. Ought oh! As my energy level goes down, my tendency to have a meltdown goes UP!  I  felt a volcano rumbling within in.  I should have slowed down but once I start something, it is truly hard for me to put the brakes on it. How did I know I was hitting the boiling point? My clue was engaging in combat with the hangers.

I had a lot of hangers left over after discarding so much of what they had hung up. I was trying to put them away in a box but they didn’t want to go away quietly. One entangled with another one and separating them apart got on my nerves. Some flew on the floor. Well, okay, I gave them a little boost.

Fighting hangers was a sign I was heading for meltdown country.  I did what sometimes chases a meltdown away.  I walked away and went out to the backyard for a hanger break. Maybe I could walk off my crankiness. Since I like being productive, I picked up dead leaves and twigs. It may sound strange but it is an activity that sometimes will soothe down the rumbling.

After the lawn looked sufficiently leafless, I had calmed down by then and I returned to the hanger mess on my bedroom floor.  I put the hangers in the storage box without any more combat. After storing the left-over hangers and the clothing that didn’t make the final cut, I took a good look at my closet — my masterpiece. It had more empty space and was organized to the hilt. Just “perfect”.

It can be so exhausting living on the spectrum aiming for perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wired to the Hilt

If you are on the Spectrum, you probably met a skeptical look when you brought up the “Spectrum” talk.  I’ve long learned from just observing people that rolling eyes can be a sign of skepticism just as a yawn a sign of boredom. I’ve gotten both during my mere mention of the word “Autism”.

I admit I am guilty of being on the other end.  I have a friend who can talk a heap about her constant companion, Arthur (arthritis).  I can empathize more of the person’s need to talk about Arthur now that I know I’m on the Spectrum.  In comparison, Arthur is more noticeable than my Autism.  I sometimes smell the person’s “Arthur” cream and I don’t   mention it because that would be a social no-no.

We were talking the other day about my blogs and she thought she could identify with some of my Autism traits.  I told her neurotypicals (those not on the Spectrum) share some of the qualities, but it isn’t only the traits themselves, but the frequency and intensity too.

She got a good taste of what I meant when I gave her a show-and-tell of my bedroom.  I’m not sure what occupied my bedroom that convinced her the most.  My half-dozen small desk organizers and my basket of another half-dozen spare organizers that I have run out of a place to put them.  She said, “No wonder you volunteered to organize my pantry!”

Then, there was my herd of electronic gadgets.  It’s one thing to hear me talk about my gadgets and it’s another thing to meet the herd in person. The collection includes two TVs, one for cable TV and the other for streaming.  There are two computers but one of them belongs to my Mom.  There’s my home assistants:  Google Home, Alexa Echo Dot, and my newest addition to the family – Alexa Echo Show.  A smartphone, tablet, printer, and a TV receiver for each TV and a router.  My recliner is power operated with two power cords.  Then, other devices attached to a power cord: digital clock, aromatherapy diffuser, two lamps, and a fan.  I’m probably leaving something out but oh, well.

Actually, the convincing sight may have been the sight of five power strips that are all home to my power cords.   Since my Mom’s house is over 60 years old, I don’t have many options when it comes to where I can plug something in.  Power strips are necessary to power my collection.  My friend just shook her head and said, “You have more power cords than I have dresses.”

I don’t talk as much about my Autism with my friend.  Arthur is still a frequent topic and I empathize since he’s hard to ignore.  Since Arthur was a constant companion to those in my family tree, I suspect there’s a day coming when he will get attached to me too.  My friend does occasionally ask though, “How’s Google and Alexa doing?”

 

 

 

 

 

A Rainy Day

Boredom came after the clouds burst with rain and the thunder band in the sky started performing. It was a Saturday morning and my plans for an outdoor date with my tennis racket and ball had been canceled thanks to the weather. No walk in the park either since I don’t care for walking in the rain.

My Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) doesn’t make it easy for me to be in the indoors with nothing to do. I’m not a couch TV potato. I was when I was a kid but that was back when I was obsessed with soap operas. I am not in a good place when my fingers are idle.

I came up with a plan by nurturing my ASD line of obsessions/interests. I started with organizing! I love to do that. I overdo it, but no matter. The problem was I had run out of my own stuff to organize. I’d re-organize but I had already gone through multiple re-orgs. I spotted my Mom’s boxes of unorganized materials tucked away in her huge computer desk. Ah hah! These boxes were long overdue for an organization. By the time I got through, I discovered my Mom owned oodles of pens and marks-a-lots, half of which had long run out of ink. Days later, my Mom mentioned her re-org desk and said, “I can’t find a thing.”  I didn’t get my “org” gene from her. HA!

Then, I played with my electronic gadgets: my smartphone, my smart TV, my smart watch, and my equally smart Google and Alexa home assistants. As their owner being smart, that’s debatable. On that Saturday, I discovered more ways of how they can talk to one another. I was amazed at how much I learned to do with them!  I was like a kid in a room full of new toys. This kept me occupied until late in the afternoon and by then, the thunder band had finished its performance and the clouds had dried up.

Some of the Saturday was salvaged. I went outside and picked up the twigs and leaves the wind had knocked off from the trees. That’s another one of my ASD obsessions – picking up what the wind has blown down after a rainy day.

Reasons for my Madness

An acquaintance recently said to me, “I’m surprised about you being on the Autism Spectrum.  I wouldn’t have known anything was different about you.”  I get that a lot and so do a lot of my fellow travelers on the Spectrum.  I’m better at passing than I was in my childhood when I was forever getting caught acting differently.  I did, though, want him to know that although my Autism is invisible to him, it isn’t invisible to me!  I told him if he could see me on the video camera when I’m alone, the Autism would be more apparent to him.

I then pointed out to him my wrists.  One arm had a Samsung Gear S3 watch.  The other arm had a plain jane watch and a Fitbit.  He said, “Oh, my goodness. Isn’t that a bit much?”

I proceeded to give him an Autistic monolog’s worth of an explanation.  Since I bought my smart watch that counts my steps, I have become obsessed with stepping up to the plate and meeting the goal every single day.  The watch’s default was 6000 steps a day.  I have since upped it to 20,000.  When I like something, I go overboard!  It’s part of living on the spectrum.

Another common Autistic trait is an attachment to things over people.  I couldn’t bear to let “jane” go since she still kept time.  I had a sound reason to keep jane though.  I have to push a button or wave my wrist repeatedly to see the time on the smart watch.   With “jane”, I just have to glance at her when I only want to see the time.  No wrist waving or button pushing required.  Besides my smartwatch has a ton of other applications besides telling time.

I traded in one of my long-held laptops for a gift card.  That was a tough thing to do since even going to a customer service desk is a hard proposition for me.  But when I saw on the store’s website what I would get for the laptop, I instantly pictured in my mind of what else I could add to my obsessive electronic gadget collection.  So I gave up something I was attached to but added something new to get attached to it.  So that’s the story behind how the Fitbit ended up on one of my wrists.

Fitbit’s battery life lasts longer than my smart watch even though it is much cheaper.  I guess because Fitbit isn’t as busy as the smart one.  I have to turn my smart watch to power-saving mode at night and when I do that, it doesn’t keep an account of the steps I take.  And I do take some night steps.  I think the Fitbit may give me a more accurate count and that’s important since I want every step I take to count.

Believe it or not, the above is a much shorter version than the explanation I gave the acquaintance.  I don’t think he’ll ever ask me an Autism-related question again.  Or, ask me if I had made any recent trips to the Best Buy electronics store.

My Autismland Cast of Characters

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 was on the Autism Spectrum at the end of 2016 that I write about it. So with that in mind, writing about it with a dash of humor, here’s some of the cast of characters I live within Autismland for better or worse.

Ms. Stimfield

She is definitely a daily character in Autismland. She is a quick change artist – a leg shaker, a rocker, floor pacer, jogger, and fidgeter. This character is a soother for my sensory overload. Good medicine for my anxiety. A character of repetitive motion that helps me focus. Ms. Stimfield is a friendly character I am thankful to have around.

The Meltdowner

Not so thankful for “The Meltdowner”! The monster of the cast. The ogre may arise over some small aggravation or arrive for no reason at all. At least, the Meltdowner doesn’t come around every day. Its appearance 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

Another daily character that is the most mysterious member of the cast. If you came upon someone talking to themselves, 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. The escape artist has been around since childhood. It helps me cope in a world I don’t understand.

Ms. Chatterbox

Ms. Chatterbox is a delightful character. She shows up when I’m having a one-on-one conversation about one of my limited list of topics I am interested in. If someone asks me about one of my passions/obsessions, Ms. Chatterbox will deliver a monolog. Since I don’t have too many conversations on a daily basis where the topic is down my alley, Ms. Chatterbox isn’t always around in Autismland. However, I do enjoy her appearance. Unlike the Meltdowner who leaves me feeling drained, she leaves me with a bounce of energy after chatting with someone who shows genuine interest in whatever I’m going on and on about.

Ms. Solitaire

To put it simply, Autismland is living alone surrounded by people. I’m most comfortable doing things on my own. I picture myself in public more as an observer than a participant. A worse punishment would be to be amidst people around the clock than to be in solitary confinement. I truly need to have Ms. Solitaire in my daily life such as when I come home from my school classroom assistant job. I love working with the kids and staff but the challenges of social interaction are exhausting. I need Ms. Solitaire to help keep The Meltdowner at bay, if possible. It is Ms. Solitaire who recharges my batteries.

Ms. Perfection

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! On the other hand, I’ve gotten many kudos in various jobs I’ve held over my career thanks to being driven by Ms. Perfection.

The Organizer

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 did hers because all my stuff is organized and re-organized one too many times. Sometimes the Organizer goes overboard. Anyway, 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.

Ms. Sensitivity

Another annoying character but not to the degree as the Meltdowner.  Ms. Sensitivity shows up when there are certain noises and smells that raise my anxiety.  She is the reason I wear an eye mask at night to avoid the lights coming from my collection of electronic gadgets.  She is the reason I have one of those gadgets, my “Alexa” home assistant, to 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 kick and I will feel like a cat whose tail got caught on a chair leg.

The Distractor

This character heavily endows me on a daily basis with doses of “frustration”!  I can’t read a page without this character’s interference unless what I am reading is “spellbinding” to me.  That seldom happens.  Same with watching TV.  The Distractor doesn’t want me to watch a TV program on my recliner with my hands folded in my lap. I need to have something to do while watching such as a crossword puzzle or fidgeting with my fidget spinner.  Any TV program that can have my undivided attention without the Distractor … well, it seldom happens.  Thanks to the Distractor I haven’t been to the movie theater for a couple of years because it doesn’t make sense to pay no small price to sit in the theater drifting off in the Distractor’s la-la land.

 

I’m sure I left some characters out, but this posting is long enough.  There are characters wearing white hats and others wearing black.  And, some are not entirely white or black just as Autism itself.  It isn’t entirely black or white either.

Obsessive, Compulsive, and Autie too!

I wear a necklace around my neck most of the day.  The necklace is the “plain jane” variety.  It’s not for decoration sake.  I wear it under my shirt to discreetly hide why I wear it.  Its sole purpose is to carry my spare remote car key.   I wear it even though my main key is either in my purse or in my pocket.  It doesn’t make sense, logically speaking, to have two identical car keys on my person, but that’s obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for you.  I’m obsessed with losing my key to transportation.  If I were to somehow lose my main key, I’d have a spare one on me…literally speaking.

I am compulsive with the location of my remote key.  It’s a repetitive irresistible urge that is against my own “thinking” wishes.  I make a mental note of placing my keys in one of the compartments in my purse.  When I later go to hang up my purse, what do I do?  I check to see if the keys are in the compartment.  Logically speaking, I know they can’t jump out and walk off.  But to get rid of the urge, I check anyway.  That’s OCD for you.

When I got my first smart watch, I was so excited because electronic gadgetry is an obsessive interest.  Having such interest is a common Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) trait.  My gadget collection keeps growing thanks to my overattachment to its items and thus, having a hard time of letting go of the old while bringing in the new.  But what I couldn’t have seen coming is that one of the smart watch applications would add another item to my OCD list.

It was the health application that counts my steps per day.  The default goal was six thousand.  If I stayed idle for more than an hour, I’d feel a buzz on my wrist with my watch displaying a message to get moving.  And like an obedient child, I would.  My ASD tendency is to obey the rules and keep up the routine which was stepping up to the default.

Since I started jogging in place, I found it to be a way to “stim”.  Just like rocking in a chair or pacing the floor, it is repetitive movement.  Stimming is one of a number of my ASD traits.  It may sound strange, but jogging for me can be more “soothing” than tiring.  Within a week after my smart watch came into my life, I was doing far more steps than 6000.  At the time I am writing this, logically speaking, I don’t need to do 20,000+ steps per day, but tell my OCD that.

Woe is me!  I don’t really know where my ASD ends and OCD kicks in.  Since I know I have both, I don’t reckon it really matters.  I guess it is kind of like having a set of fraternal twins.  Double the trouble, but a double opportunity to rely on the Good Lord and keep a sense of humor about it all.