The Signs Were Always There

I don’t know if the signs for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are as numerous as the stars, but it seems that way.  ASD is such a broad umbrella and each of us on the Spectrum is as unique as those who aren’t.

MY SIGNS

I run in place or pace the floor when I’m excited and when I’m just the opposite.  I do it when I’m doing chores around the house.  I do it to help me think.  I do it to calm my anxiety.  I do it every day.  I used to do it “in the closet” so to speak outside the view of witnesses, but I have since come out of the closet at home with my stimming.  I don’t bother hiding it from the two family members I live with.  But beyond the house, I am on guard of where I stim and where I don’t.

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When people come to visit my Mom’s house where I live, they’ll usually find me in my bedroom pursuing one of my interests if they care to find me. I’ll pop in and out if I think of something to say. 

If I see someone I know at the store, I’ll go in the other direction because I can’t think of anything in common we have to talk about or fear they’ll ask questions I am not prepared or want to answer.

I am a “soloist”!  I prefer to eat alone, I prefer to watch TV alone, I prefer to play video games alone, I prefer to go walking or bike riding at the park alone, I prefer to worship in a quiet place alone, and I prefer to do chores and errands alone.  An exception would be shopping but only if someone would do the driving so I wouldn’t have to.  There is no one I live with who will volunteer though.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'love to be left alone to get on with things. It is important to me that there are clear instructions, a clear project outline and a clear goal from the start, because it makes the process of working alone so much more efficient.' Alis Rowe facebook.com/thegirlwiththecurlyhai &'

 

An in-person conversation can be a delight or a booby trap.  I treasure the few I know who I feel as comfortable with as my overworn faded jeans.  However, most times I feel trapped in a conversation.  Questions I didn’t see coming, for instance, can throw me for a loop.  I tell a joke and the person doesn’t get the punch line.  If the topic is about something I know little about or care nothing for, I am racking my brain for an excuse so I can get out of the trap.  

 

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Crnde Jolkes A good way to get out of a conversation is to take off one of your socks and hand it to the person talking. Dirty Crade'

 

My daily hobby is having a monologue with myself.  I don’t just hold one in my own space, my bedroom.  I’ll have a good talk with myself on a walk at the park or a ride on my bike.  Back when I was a kid, I would do it at the side of the house while pacing back and forth.  How often?  I actually made a trail in the grass.  When I retired and moved back in with my Mom, I am in the same backyard but instead of the side of the house, I take the whole backyard to walk and talk.

Autistic Axolotl meme: I monologue more frequently than characters in a Shakespearean tragedy.

 

I am quiet as a mouse in group settings.  My mind is a busy bee taking it all in.  I will dwell on the topics of discussion long after the group chat was over.  But on those rare occasions when I have the podium, my mask comes off and the extrovert in me takes over.  The best compliment I ever received after giving a presentation was “I didn’t want you to sit down.” 

I am a never-married.  I guess I fall under the category of asexual.  I admit the thought of homosexuality has crossed my mind.  I crossed off the possibility though.  I had a tremendous crush, on a male co-worker a decade or so ago.  I had it hard for like two to three years.  This was before I learned I had ASD.  In hindsight, with the knowledge of my ASD, my “crush” was obsessive behavior.  My attempts to get his attention were downright awkward.  Poor guy!  My not getting the hints that he didn’t have a crush on me was just one example of my being socially awkward.  I will say this:  It was as close as I ever came to this thing called love.

My signs are just mine.  Some of my fellow travelers on the Spectrum share some of my signs and some do not.  For instance, I have worked with ASD students who were quiet, like me, and I have met a few chatterboxes too. 

I suspect there are a lot of adults out there who are living on the spectrum who don’t know they are. This is just my opinion that those adults who know they are on the Spectrum, and those adults who are but don’t know, have this in common:  We know we are different.  And that difference was agony for me until I learned the explanation of what was behind that difference.  The agony of being different has eased tremendously since I have been in the “know” category. 

It took me 58 years, the right job as a special education aide, and a 12-year-old to introduce me to what was behind the signs that were always there.

The Quiet Observer

Image may contain: text that says ''I am quite quiet and withdrawn. I watch, read, listen, hear, observe things, but don' generally want 9 or feel the need to participate. Or sometimes I just don't really know how to respond to things." Alis Rowe'

The girl with the curly hair’s posting reminded me of ME! That’s me — quite quiet! If I was asked to describe myself in a phrase, it would be “the quiet observer”.

This posting popped up a memory occurring on a Sunday morning in a church on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. where I was a member back in the last 1990s. I was NOTORIOUS in my church class for being the “quite quiet” one. They might have thought I was in daydream land and sometimes I was. But most times, I was taking in all of what was said by each making note of their expression and tone. I went over those mental notes when I did the self-talk at home alone. I had a lot to say but my fellow class members never heard a word of it.

One reason I kept my thoughts to myself during class was a fear of debate. This class included some members who were not shy about speaking out if they disagreed with someone. I shy away from debates like I do parties or any sort of social gathering of two or more. I feared that if I spoke, I would be met with opposition. Such could traumatize me and remain etched in my memory for years to come.

Well, the moment that was saved like a comuter file to this day was when a class member remarked out of the blue that he’d fall out of his chair if I were to speak. I put on my “smiling” mask and said NOTHING. I said a heap afterwards but it was one of those rants that only I gave and heard.

I’ll conclude with this: the member never fell out of his chair over me.

My Ideal Vacation with my Constant Companion

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the difference between a pastor talking to God and a mentally ill person talking to oneself?

This was a question posted by someone on a website I frequently visit.  I felt compelled to answer it and below is my answer.

I am not a pastor but I do talk to myself and I talk to God too. There’s a difference. Just like there’s a difference between talking to my Mom vs. talking to my brother. I don’t address my brother as Mom when talking to him, for instance.  When I talk to God, I address Him as such.  When I talk to myself, I don’t feel it necessary to address myself.

In early December 2016, a 12-year-old girl caught my attention in an autism unit class where I was subbing for one of the aides. She was talking to herself in the middle of the classroom.  Observing her was the light bulb that led me to my own Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. The difference between me and the child is I know there are places and times that I should not talk to myself. I try not to do it in public but it wouldn’t be unusual, for instance, to be caught talking to myself while taking a walk in the park. I pray, too, in the park. If there were a video camera in my bedroom or whenever I am by myself, one would see a lot of me doing the self-talk. If I saw myself on camera, I would be “weird” to me too.

I can’t prove that my prayers get beyond the ceiling. When I’ve prayed, I’ve yet to hear a voice answer back. I recall one time praying for something unusual and later thinking maybe I was silly asking for it. But I didn’t take back my prayer. I was high as a kite when before the day was over, the “silly” prayer was answered. Some would say it was just luck. Just a chance occurrence.  I have no visible proof that my prayer was heard and answered from Heaven. Or, that there is even such a place to begin with. It’s a matter of faith. I suppose that’s why the word “faith” isn’t a hard word to find in the Bible.

The Self-Talk

In early December 2016, a 12-year-old girl caught my attention in an autism unit class where I was subbing for one of the aides. The student was doing the “self-talk” in the middle of the classroom. She paced the floor while doing it and a few times skipped across the room.  Although I couldn’t make out what she was saying to herself, I knew it was possibly a story with a cast of characters and dialogue was unfolding in her mind.

Watching the child that day was a life-changing moment. It was the light bulb that led me to my own Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis.  The difference between me and the child is I know there are places and times that I should not do the self-talk. I try not to do it in public but it wouldn’t be unusual, for instance, to be caught talking to myself while taking a walk in the park. If there were a video camera in my bedroom, one would see a lot of me doing the self-talk. I reckon if I saw myself on camera, I would be “weird” to me.

The following are some questions I’ve been asked and my answers.

Is talking to oneself stimming?

I don’t think talking to oneself is stimming since by definition stimming is repetitive movement. Sometimes when I am doing the self-talk, I am pacing back and forth. I especially did this as a child when I would go outside to the side of the house and pace; or do so in my bedroom. The pacing is repetitive movement or stimming. So I sometimes stim while doing the self-talk but not always.

How important is self-talk to me?

Well, to ask me to stop doing it would be like telling me not to breathe. It isn’t going to happen! Even if I made an effort to stop, I predict I would fail at every attempt. It’s not really a choice. It’s just something I do living on the Spectrum.

How do you deal with an autistic person who talks to themselves?

Respect what they do as being something they just do. If they are doing it in an unsafe place or situation, then that’s different. But if not, just leave them be. And above all, don’t think they are crazy. It is just what we do and more likely than not, it isn’t something we outgrow. If I should live to be 80 or more, I’ll still be a talker to myself. Some of my best conversations are with me, myself, and I.