Conversation Popper

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I am in the midst of family or friends who are having such a wonderful time of conversation on a topic(s) they are excited about.  The problem for me is I have no input on it.  My mind goes blank.  If by chance someone in the group brings up a topic right up my alley, I’ll come to life until the topic drops.

If this get-together is being held at home where I live with other family members, my bedroom is where they’ll find me if I cross their minds.  During their visit, I turn into a “popper”.  I’ll pop in if I think of something to say that might attract their attention.  Once I have my input, I retreat to my space.

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I  am not a total “no show” to houseguests.  I can even pretend to be engaged.  But enjoy it?  No.  I can’t make my inner self enjoy anything.  Either I do or don’t.

I’m not this way because I want to be the “mute” one in a group or the one who doesn’t join the others at the dinner table with the family.  I can’t make someone understand who wonders “why don’t you just do it?”  One would have to dwell in my brain and even if that were possible, I doubt I’d have any takers.

I wouldn’t ask someone with asthma “why don’t you just breathe normal-like?”  All I could give an asthmatic is empathy.  That’s all I ask too.

What might surprise folks around me is it does bring tears to my eyes sometimes when I’m amidst such joy and excitement and can only pretend that I feel it too.

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.

 

 

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.

 

My Magic Number

I have an allergic reaction to invitations that involve socializing.  They make me CRINGE!  Fortunately, my social circle is size “small” and so I don’t get many invites to cringe over.

A cringing moment came not long ago when I was with a relative and an acquaintance.  I was their driver to a small house party of approximately 4-5 guests.  The friend invited me to stay and join them.  He said, “After all, small is your magic number.”  I immediately knew he was referring to things he’s heard me say about living with my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

I immediately put on my “actress” hat and pretended to be cool, calm, and collected.  I didn’t show a hint of my inner reaction of lava spewing out of a lit-up volcano.  I kept my mouth shut.   I just smiled and kept driving.  Fortunately, my relative who didn’t have a clue changed the subject.

He may have thought my ASD was no excuse since their group, most of whom were people I also knew, would not give me any discomfort.  That is, that’s how he interpreted what I have said.  Well, I don’t communicate too well in person and so I may not have been clear as mud to him.  Writing is what comes naturally to me.  Here’s what I would say to him and anyone who wonders why I am a loner and likes it that way.

My magic number for living on the Spectrum, with all its traits and quirks, is ONE.  I prefer to work, play, eat, worship, and just about everything else with ONE – that being me!

An okay number is two.  If I am engaging in conversation with another person on a topic I can give input on, I’m an eager-beaver!  It’ll be a race as to which one of us dishes out more conversation than takes in.

Any number above two is above my comfort level.  I can be full steam ahead in conversation with another, but if just one person chimes in, I go mute.  It isn’t a decision by me to clam up.  It’s just how I’m wired.  Three or more people will usually prompt me to put on my “actress” hat and play the part of an engaged listener.

It’s hard, if even possible, to explain why I seemingly have a mute button attached to me when in a crowd of three or more.  A person not on the spectrum might say, “Well, just speak up!”  I’d say, “Please take my word for it.  I don’t have it in me.”

ASD is a neurological condition.  It’s not my imagination or my choice to be an observer more than a participant.  In the midst of three or more,  I turn restless.  I may bite my nails, chew gum, play with my hair, or fiddle with my fidget cube I keep in my pocket for such emergencies.  If you can imagine being in a straight jacket and struggling to get out of it, then that’s how I feel inside in a social setting of 3, 4, 5, etc.

If your magic number for socializing is a number above two, good for you.  I can only imagine what it is to be that way.  If your magic number is the same as mine, rest assured you are not the only ONE!

 

The Spectrum Can Be a Lonely Road

After learning I had been living on the Spectrum at the age of 58, I finally had an explanation for why I like people but I don’t like being around them much. Why I’d like to make friends with someone who doesn’t like making new friends. Weird, I know.

When a social function is canceled, I respond with “That’s too bad!” and then I CELEBRATE!! So if not “having a life” is misery, then I’m all for misery.

I am a substitute for teacher’s aides and so I sometimes work with kids who are on the Spectrum too and those who have other challenges. I do see their loneliness. I was once asked by a young girl if she was bad for not wanting to be friends with a boy who had Autism. His quirky behavior was as she put it, “driving her bonkers”. He’d get in her face, follow her around, and spin in circles on the floor.

I answered with first stating I didn’t think she was a bad person. I advised her not to abandon him completely. She didn’t have to be his best buddy but if she could manage, she shouldn’t ignore him completely. I asked her if she knew what it is to be ignored and she admitted it did hurt like heck.

I gave her a few examples of those children, (how shall I put this nicely), put my patience to task.

I told her about a boy on the Spectrum who does not give his voice a break. I often wonder what keeps him from getting laryngitis. My best coping mechanism is a sense of humor about it. I don’t mean laughing at him; just keeping my sense of humor to ease his chatter on my nerves.

The girl with the question was amused at my stories and I told her that I laugh at my own quirky behavior all the time. It beats crying about it. I think I gave her some food for thought. I hope she decided not to abandon the boy. After all, Autism can be a lonely road for some.

What’s It Like Having High-Functioning Autism

Unless one has Autism, one can’t understand it. Those of us who do can’t fully explain it. I can only give one a glimpse of what it is for me.

I am more comfortable in an environment where there are rules laid out and aren’t assumed that everyone knows them. I am aggravated by those who act as if rules are mere suggestions. I welcome and need rules. In an unstructured environment, I feel as uneasy as my dog would feel in a chicken coop.

If a rule doesn’t make sense to me, well, that’s another story. I’m not usually defiant, but I have had my moments.

Routine is essential! It has to do with feeling safe and secure in the world. If someone else changes it, I am traumatized. If I change my routine as I occasionally do, no problem.

I sleep with an eye mask to block out the light. I turn on “white noise” to block out the sounds at night I am sensitive to. I am sensitive to music that is pushing all my buttons. I don’t dare complain to the one playing the music, much less scream or cry because it would draw unwanted attention. I must, as I often have to do, pretend I’m just fine while boiling underneath.

Conversation can be a struggle. That’s one reason I am most comfortable when I am by my self. It takes me seconds longer to respond to someone’s question. That’s why I often ask for someone to repeat what they said to give me a few more seconds even though I may have heard them the first time.

I enjoy one-on-one conversations with one I share a mutual interest. I wish such would happen more often than it does. I guess having limited interests has something to do with that. Such as politics being one of my interests but I am surrounded by those who are on the opposite side.

I dread being amidst a social chit-chat with no escape route. If there is no graceful exit, I drift into daydream land.

I prefer having a schedule as I go about my business of living each day. I thrive with a schedule with the consistent rhythm of one thing after another instead of things happening all at once or nothing happening at all.

I despise being pointed out in a group as the quiet one. I do not have to be told I am a quiet person. I’m over a half-century old and so it isn’t headlining news to me.

I have this thing about time literally speaking. If someone tells me they’ll arrive at noon, I expect to see them at noon or early; not at 12:55. I’d rather they say “noon-ish” if that’s what they really mean.

Highly sensitive! Just even a slight bit of criticism or correction will take me so long to get over if I ever do.

A word that is on my hate list is “group”. It doesn’t matter whether it is a group meeting or group outing. It doesn’t matter whether it is held at the workplace or home base. When more than two are gathered, my mute button comes on. I always see myself as the square peg in the group of round pegs.

Manning the Homefront

Over the summer of 2018, I had a couple of housesitting gigs for family members.  I call it “manning the homefront” while the members of the home go on vacations for some rest and relaxation (R&R for short).  My having a home to myself with a pet or two operating on my own schedule with a teeny-tiny amount of social interaction is my R&R.
My latest gig was enjoying the companionship of a white shaggy-haired pup named Bear.  His guardians, my grand-niece and her grandmother, and their clan were cruising the Caribbean.  They came back saying they had a good time.  Maybe, just maybe, as good a time as I had.
Bear maintained a grade of “A” for conduct until the last night.  He blew it barking his head off just after I climbed into bed.  I am sensitive to certain noises and barking or any critter sound is on my “meltdown” list.  He had barking spells before but they were brief and not just after I climbed into bed.  I got up and was going to put him away in his cage, but instead, he made a beeline to the backyard door and so I let him out.  He shot off running at whatever he was barking at.  I tossed a coin as to whether or not to let him back in.  He won the toss and fortunately for my sensitive ears, he proceeded straight to dreamland.
He’s the only dog I’ve met who barks at commercials.  I guess Bear thinks the dog on the TV screen can hear him.  Just like adults who yell at the umpire or referee.
One night, I took Bear out for a short walk.  We usually go before the Sun goes to bed but the Sun had already gone to bed.  It was a good thing I did since Bear did have a nature call.  Unlike previous walks with Bear, I was on my Segway scooter.  Scooter riding is one of my special interests, or in other words, obsession.  Bear walked and I rode.  I didn’t think that was fair.  So I stopped, picked Bear up in my arms with his leash, and together we rode on my electric scooter up and down the driveway in front of the house a few times.  I’m sure we were quite a pair to behold.  I wouldn’t have dare done such a thing in the light of day fearing what the owners’ neighbors might think.  After a little bit, Bear started squirming like crazy.  I got the impression that he preferred his own four legs.
Many folks like me who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) do NOT ask for help unless they are DESPERATE.
An example of this happened during this gig when I went to check on my niece’s cat, Rubicon,  which was able to stay by herself; she just needed her bowl replenished.  Cats are more independent than dogs, generally speaking.  I was leaving the house and pushed the button on the GENIE (garage door remote).  The garage door did not respond.  I immediately thought of the battery and I managed to find one that matched.  Whatever GENIE’s problem, it wasn’t a lack of juice.  At least, thank the Lord, the garage door control panel on the wall did get the garage doors attention to raise and lower.  But that wouldn’t help me open the garage door on the outside.  In other words, I could only operate the garage doors from the inside.  I didn’t have a house key which wouldn’t have helped much since the door was really hard, and I mean REALLY hard to open.  Since the GENIE was my entrance in and out of the house, trapped is the word that came to mind.
After much analyzing over the situation, I found my path to freedom through the side UNLOCKED gate.  I moved my car out of the garage, went through the gate to get back in the house, closed the garage door, and then went back out through the gate.  If you can follow that, your brain is operating well.
Now I was on my way to my niece’s house ten miles away.  As I came close to a light intersection, a big semi-truck was in the middle of the intersection.  It wasn’t a case of it slowly making a turn.  Nope!  It wasn’t moving because a car was underneath it.  (I am not making this up!)  I didn’t make it across before the ambulance, fire trucks etc. showed up.
Two cars ahead of me turned down a street to the left.  I took their lead and did the same.  They took a right down another road.  I had my GPS on and it was confused about my going off the main highway  but it adjusted and led me down this road which led me to my destination.
My niece’s cat reminds me so much of myself and my ASD.  I had to go find her since she didn’t make an appearance.  I’m that way when my Mom gets visitors.  I live with her and if someone I don’t know shows up, I stay in my bedroom or escape if I have sufficient warning.  Since she didn’t come when I called her, I had to play along with her hide-and-seek.  I kind’a figured that part of my job as a pet-sitter was not to leave before I saw the pet in person to be sure she was alive and well.  I found her hiding upstairs by my grandnephew’s door.  She let me pet her but forget all about any notion of picking her up!  I understood though.  I’m not big on hugging myself.
Despite the hurdles,  I had a terrific time!  Housesitting is the ideal job for someone like me with an ASD.  My having lone time recharged my batteries while cruising on a cruise ship surrounded by people recharged Bear and Rubicon’s guardians.

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 is missing in an autistic person that a normal person has?

Someone asked this question on a website for asking/answering any number of questions on any number of topics.  I responded by first saying, “In my case, a social life.”

To put it simply, I have a social disability. Unlike those around me, family and friends, I don’t like to be around people much.  If I am with one person discussing a topic that’s right up my alley, I am talking that other person’s poor leg off.  But add another person or more to the conversation and I go into silent mode.

It is well-documented those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (my nickname for it is “Billy”) are not likely to be the social bufferflies in their community. I could manage better than those I know of going days in solitary confinement without going mad. Torture for me would be in the midst of people, strangers or not, around the clock with no break of lone time.

I shutter at the word “group”. It can be followed by the words “meeting” or “social” or “gathering” and I will have the same reaction of a frown. It is similar to the reaction I have at the smell of turnips cooking, or the bass sound of a loud stereo, or the glare of the bright lights. I’d rather be far away on another galaxy than sitting inside at a group session pretending to listen while hoping someone will volunteer to be the first to announce their departure.

Now if I am at the podium doing the speaking, it’s a whole different story.  Even better, if I am talking about one of my passions.  Now why I hate being in the audience but thrilled to be the speaker, well, I haven’t figured that one out yet.

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.”

My ASD is a constant companion and there are times when it slaps me right in the face. At family gatherings or other group settings, 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.  I can ask why I have to struggle with this but everybody has something to deal with.  It isn’t so much what it is but how we cope with it.  The Lord is the One whom I turn to.  He knows all about my Billy.

I take heart in the bright side of living on the Spectrum. My passion for writing helps me to communicate with people in my own special way. It isn’t all dark on the Spectrum. Not at all. No one has it all after all. I try to remember that and appreciate what I do have going for me with Billy around.

In The Garden

Linda Jones, an Autism advocate, once stated: “Whereas other people seem to be looking FORWARD to ‘the event’ – they don’t seem to realize that we’re looking PAST the event, trying to assure ourselves that it will be over soon and the routine-day after will be a relief.”

That sounds all too familiar. I remember several years ago driving to a holiday party at a friend’s house. If my steering wheel could have talked, it would have yelled: “Get a grip and loosen the grip on me!” It didn’t matter it was a friend I had known for years. It didn’t matter there were others at the party I knew. It didn’t matter that I had been to my friend’s house a number of times. This was contrary to my routine going to a party and I was eager for its ending instead of the beginning.

Any type of gathering type event is a jolt.  A threesome having lunch, a holiday gathering, a meeting, etc.  The gathering is a storm cloud on an otherwise sunny day. Once I can go back to my solitary corner, I’m back on the track of normalcy which is where I ache to live on.

I reckon I could survive solitary confinement longer than others I know who relish the thought of get-together type events.  There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with friends but I just don’t have the desire to and it’s beyond my understanding watching people enjoying doing it. It’s like observing, from a distance, life on another planet.

In the Bible’s four Gospels that give us the story of Jesus’s walk on this Earth, He had to interact with large and small groups to go about His Father’s business.  He attended events such as a marriage ceremony at Cana where he turned the water into wine.  He taught multitudes of people such as the 5000 men, plus women and children, whom he fed with His miracle of the loaves and fishes.  He had dinner with a group of people at the home of a Pharisee named Simon where Jesus allowed a woman who lived a sinful life to pour perfume on His feet.  But it wasn’t unusual for Jesus to go off alone by Himself, such as to a mountainside or a garden. It is of comfort to me that even Jesus needed to take a break from people and gatherings and go off by Himself at times.  Just maybe not every day like I do.

Jesus was unlike any other human being who ever has or will walk upon this Earth. Even those closest to him, such as His disciples, could not entirely know what Jesus was going through. It’s understandable that He needed time alone with the only one who could — the Father.

One of the times Jesus had lone time with His Father was His visit to the Garden of Gethsemane before He was betrayed by Judas. His disciples went with Him but they couldn’t keep their eyes open and fell asleep. Jesus was in agony with drops of sweat like blood.  That time alone in the Garden having a talk with His Father about what no one else could have understood helped prepare Him to ultimately do his Father’s will.

There are things about my ASD that I can’t talk to anyone about. Too embarrassing or beyond my understanding. But I can talk to the Lord about those things and so I do. Sometimes I do it when I take a walk in the park. It’s not a garden but it will do.