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.

An Old Testament Contest

One of the constants in our unpredictable world is contests.  In small towns and big cities, throughout the world, there are ordinary scenes of kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, teens playing games on the school fields, and senior citizens playing dominoes in community centers.  Contests are something most all of us can relate to.  My own personal favorite is a contest with my tennis ball and racket against a tennis practice wall.  The wall always wins though.

In the Bible, there was a big contest that took place in I Kings, chapter 18.  It was one of the most remarkable Bible stories where there was an actual contest between God and Baal.  Talk about a showdown!  The winner of this contest was determined by which of the two proved to be the true God.

In 1 Kings 18:19 the prophet Elijah asked King Ahab to gather all of Israel to meet him at Mount Carmel.  The King was a Baal fan and didn’t much care for Elijah’s God or for that matter, Elijah.  The Israelites would be the spectators in this contest.  Elijah also asked the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah to make an appearance as well.

Elijah issued the contest rules.  He and the pagan prophets would each have a slain bull as a burnt offering.  The objective of the contest was for Elijah to call out to God and the pagan prophets call out to Bael to sent fire down to burn up the sacrifice.  The contest winner would be which of the two, God or Baal, who would respond with fire consuming the burnt offering.

The pagan priests did their level best to get Baal’s attention.  They did their chanting and dancing around their bull from morning until noon but to no avail.  They might as well had been dancing to a fence post.  Elijah couldn’t resist making fun of their efforts to get Baal’s attention.  He suggested that maybe Baal was deep in thought, or maybe was away on a trip, or perhaps taking a nap. (1 King 18:27)

Then it was Elijah’s turn up to bat, so to speak.  He requested that they first fill four jars with water and pour it on his burnt offering and on the wood.  Elijah was raising the stakes because water-logged wood is harder to burn. He even said to do it again a second time and then a third.  Thus, water was running around the altar and the trench was also filled with water. (1 King 18:34-35)  Elijah wanted the spectators to know he was not playing any dirty tricks on them.

After Elijah prayed, fire consumed the slain bull, the wood, stones, and dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.  (1 King 18:38).  I try to imagine the looks on the faces of the 450 Baal prophets.  Surely there wasn’t a smiling face among them.  They might have wished they had been on Elijah’s side.

This contest was not Elijah’s idea.  I believe it was God who orchestrated this showdown with Baal in front of His chosen people.  Elijah played an important part, but it was God who directed it.  God still works through His children today.  His Spirit nudges at our hearts and it is up to us to listen and follow as Elijah did so long ago.

The pagan prophets were acting on faith too, but their faith was in one that only existed in their minds.  Something that couldn’t have moved a stone or a stick of wood, much less burned anything up.

The spectators witnessed proof that God both heard Elijah’s prayer and responded.  They were so inspired by what they saw that they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”  Elijah’s act of obedience had an impact on others besides himself.  He helped to bring about a people’s return to their one and only true God.

Elijah’s prayer proved that sincere prayers from the heart make it to the Creator of all mankind.

 

The Boy and His Pencil Magic

He can’t hold a conversation but he does understand instructions.  When he started spinning in circles as if he was on a dance floor, I asked him to sit down at the lunch table.  I’ll give him credit for sitting down ten seconds worth.

He is a hand flapper.  I am a knee bobbler myself.  I know all about the need to do repetitive movements since I’m on the same spectrum as this boy.  I understand that hand flapping comes naturally to him.  It’s just what he does.  That’s the only explanation I know to give for my quirky autism habits.

In addition to hand flapping, drawing is natural to him.  His drawings are off the charts for someone his age.  The activity calms him down and helps him focus too.  In between class assignments, he’ll draw a picture.  When the teacher is talking to the class, he must put his pencil down.  I wonder if he doesn’t just drift off to “la-la land.”  He might listen better with a pencil in hand.

He reminded me of myself when I was his age and did my homework with the TV on.  Instead of the TV set being interference, it helped me focus having it on.  Dead silence would have been the bigger distraction.  To this day, I do word puzzles with the tube on.

His drawings show amazing creativity.  It was heart-touching watching him draw and looking at some of his drawing samples.  He is a boy who can say only a few words but can draw a picture worth many words with his pencil magic.

 

 

 

 

Golden Solitude

I looked up the definition of “solitude” and came across this definition: the state or art of being alone or remote from others.   I never thought of it as an art, but if so, I mastered it at an early age.  I’m still quite good at it too!

I don’t lump solitude with loneliness.  Loneliness usually pays me a visit when I’m in the midst of a handful of people or a full house.  On the other hand, my visit with solitude is my being alone by choice.  It is a golden opportunity to recharge my batteries.  Without solitude, I fear I would be in meltdown country around the clock.

Yearning for lone time isn’t limited to those like myself who live on the autism spectrum. It is just that being on the spectrum, lone time is more a necessity than a choice.  I need it for my mental well-being as I need to eat and breathe for my physical health.  As honest as I know how to be, I am most content when I am doing my own thing by myself.

Solitude reminds me of Jesus Christ.  It is told in the Gospels of times when Jesus would go off by Himself to a mountainside or a garden to have prayer time with His Father.  Jesus spent much time in small groups with his disciples; while other times, he was followed by a multitude of people in the thousands.  He did take time, though, to have alone time with the Father.

Time by myself is a break away from the challenges of social interaction.  There are no verbal instructions to process.  I can escape into my own world.  I can hear and utter my thoughts to myself.  When I go to the park for solitude, I go to worship too.  I can pray to God or sound out my thoughts in the midst of God’s wonders of nature:- the tree limbs bending down to the wind, the beauty of the flowers, watching the ducks go about their business, and the rhythm of the waves on the lake.  Many of my blog postings were born on that trail in the park of golden solitude.

 

 

 

 

 

My Eye on the Ball

One of the common autism traits I both possess and enjoy immensely is “unsociable” hobbies.  It’s not that I don’t like people; I just don’t like to be around them much.  I can’t recall ever liking to play games unless I could compete with one person – myself.

My favorite one is going on a date with my tennis ball and racket at a nearby college campus. The campus has the tennis cages where there is a practice wall.  I confess it is a big treat if all the cages are empty or at least all the ones on one side of the wall.  I’ll usually play less time if there are others around, especially if accompanied by blasting I-pods.  This may sound like a boring way to play since the wall always wins every match, but I’m not out there to win.  Just play that’s all.

I don’t remember all the tips my tennis coach gave me in high school but I imagine “keeping my eye on the ball” was one of them  I know if my eye is on the ball, I improve the odds of the matches against the wall being longer.  In other words, I’ll spend more time hitting the ball and less time fetching it.

It occurred to me this is true in my daily walk with my Lord and Savior.  Just as I need to keep my eye on the ball, I need to keep my eye on Jesus.  This is easier said than done because there is the constant temptation to take my eyes off of Him and look at whatever is on my plate.  Sometimes what is on my plate has the visual appearance of a dark night without a star in the sky.

If my focus is on the darkness, I will drown in that darkness.  The depths of despair will overwhelm me.  Such as when I’m having a meltdown.  A meltdown is common to those of us on the Autism Spectrum.  There is no more such thing as a “good” meltdown as there is a good tornado.  When one comes, if my focus is on the overwhelming tension rising in my body, it just aggravates it.

A meltdown is tough but I don’t have the words to say how much it helps to feel the Lord’s presence.  I can’t explain it better than that.  His Spirit is comforting me as if He is literally holding my hand.  He directs me during the meltdown such as where I could go or what I could do to help until the storm passes.  The reassuring voice tells me to hold on; it will pass.  If I keep my eye, or focus, on Him, I will not drown in the pit of self-pity and despair.

If I keep my eye on the tennis ball, I have longer matches and more fun playing against a wall.  If I keep my eye on Jesus, life is far more enjoyable and calmer than it would otherwise be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Aspie Quirks

My first inclination when I see someone in public that I know is to scurry for a hiding place.

I go berserk inside when someone is following behind me or I sense someone’s eyes are feasting on me.

A tiny noise such as someone chewing, sipping, or humming makes me cringe.

Although I despise talking on the phone, have anxiety when the phone rings or a message is left, I bought the newest of a brand of cell phones because I’m obsessed with Android apps.

When a social function is canceled, I respond with “That’s too bad!” and then I CELEBRATE!!

I don’t have to listen to talk radio to hear a conversation.  I have plenty of pretend conversation going on in my head.

I owe a debt of gratitude to whoever came up with the idea of the store SELF check-out.

Instructions: “It’s on the third shelf from the top on the left side of the closet next to the package of red, yellow, and green folders.  You can’t miss it.”  You wanna bet?  Just watch me!

I am obsessed with raking or picking up leaves.  I have a hard time finding a stopping point UNLESS the neighbor comes outside.

Most of the conversations I plan out in my head never take place.

I was such a jerk for saying that forty-nine and three months ago.

Quadruple check alarm before going to bed.

I’d like to make friends with someone who doesn’t like making new friends.  Weird, I know.

 

 

 

 

 

Splashing and Laughing

She’s a dark-haired girl with dark eyes to match.  Her energy seems boundless as her parents, teacher, and classroom aides can attest too.  On a good day, she can be the ray of sunshine in her classroom.  On a bad day, she is trouble with a capital “T”.

She was born with some strikes against her.  Just one of these strikes would be a tall order for anyone to overcome.  Her beautiful eyes are blind.  She lives on the autism spectrum as I do, but it’s on the lower end.  She can let out a good strong scream, but she has yet to utter her first word.

I was subbing at her school, helping out the coach, on the day they had play day for all the students.  It was a day of games, food, and fun.  A break from classwork near the end of the school year.  Her class took part and according to teacher and aides, they all had a blast.  I write this to say that children with physical or mental challenges are not immune to having a good time.

The most popular play day attraction for the autism unit class was the water slide.  I happened to be passing by it when the teacher and her aides were monitoring their kids on the slide.  The kids were getting wet and enjoying it.  They were acting as if they were at Disneyland instead of just a water slide at the back of a school parking lot.  The games on the other side of the school were too much for some of them, but the inflatables were right up their alley to climb, jump on, and splash on with utter delight.

At the end of the play day, I went to their classroom before leaving school.  The teacher showed her aides, the coach, and myself a video of the girl on the water slide.  It was a precious moment I won’t soon forget.  She was splashing and laughing up a storm like the others.  Her laughter has a unique sound that’s easy to distinguish from the laughter of her classmates.  I hadn’t heard her laugh so hard as she did in the video.

I didn’t want to think about the bumpy ride ahead of her and her classmates.  Instead, I just concentrated on the moment where fear, frustration, or anger was not around.  Just utter joy and laughter.

This little girl who can’t see or say “Mom” or Dad” was laughing as if she didn’t have a care in the world.  I don’t know if in the future she’ll ever see.  I don’t know if she’ll ever say a word or a complete sentence.  I do know that at least on that day, her laughter was glorious music to all those who were blessed to hear it.

The Thorn

A thorn sticking into one’s flesh is a might uncomfortable.  I just imagine in my childhood exploring days on my Grandparent’s farm that I encountered enough thorns that I learned to be wary of thornbushes.  There are thorns on bushes and then there are thorns we encounter in our lives.  Apostle Paul knew a lot about thorns.  He had one according to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul didn’t say what the thorn was and so no one knows for sure the name of it.  The important thing isn’t what it was but how Paul chose to cope with it.  First off, he prayed about it.  Then, he continued praying about that thorn until an answer came.  The answer wasn’t what he had hoped himself.  The Lord did not remove it.  Paul accepted the answer without throwing a tantrum or cutting back on his mission trips to spread the Gospel.

Instead of removing whatever the thorn was, the Lord granted Paul the grace and strength to live with it.  Paul has a positive attitude by seeing this thorn in a different light.  Instead of seeing it as a roadblock; he saw it as something that humbled him and helped to make him a better Apostle than he might otherwise be.  In other words, it helped him from getting a swelled head over the talents the Lord did bless him with.

This thought of a thorn being a humbler makes me think of one of my country’s presidents. He wasn’t one of those born in a log cabin.  Quite the contrary!  He was born into wealth and privilege.  Even early in his career, he had his eyes on the presidency.  But on his road to the White House, he encountered a thorn in his flesh that would remain with him for the remainder of his life.  Its name was polio.

An unforgettable day for Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was when he couldn’t get out of bed on his own two feet. From then on, his legs would be useless to him.  I don’t think FDR would have been the president he was if he hadn’t been humbled by this thorn in his flesh.  I think his battle with polio inspired him to say one of his most familiar and quoted lines:  There is nothing to fear but fear itself.  FDR knew about fear; he knew about thorns.

He led a country through a depression and a world war.  He served in the Oval Office longer than his president before or after him.  But although the leader of the free world, he still had to have someone to put him to bed every night and help him up the next morning.

We all have thorns to deal with on any given day.  I discovered near the end of 2016, at the age of 58, the name of the thorn I had unknowingly lived with all my life: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Some call it Autism, others call it mild Autism, or highly functional Autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome.   My trying to figure out which of the names suits me best is as useful as trying to figure out what Paul’s thorn was.

I perceive the negatives of ASD are the actual thorns.  I say that because there are positives to my constant companion.  I source my passion for writing as an ASD trait.  I appreciate the compliments I received from my God-given talent of writing.  But I know that if I ever were to leave the Lord out of my writing, my words would fall on deaf ears.  I often think of myself as merely taking dictation.  The Lord gives me the words.

I don’t pray for the Lord to remove my thorn.  I’m thankful that at the right time, place, and way I received the knowledge of what this thorn was called.  I cope with it better now that I am no longer in the dark about it.  My thorn gives me empathy on my job as a substitute teacher’s assistant working with children who have similar thorns.

If it wasn’t for my thorns, I reckon I’d need many servings of humble pie.

 

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.

 

The Grateful One of Ten

It can be a tough road when one doesn’t follow along with one’s peers.  Even if one is on solid ground, it can be a daunting task to be the one and only left standing.  In one of the stories in the Gospel of Luke, there was such a man, a Samaritan leper.

His story is told in Luke 17:11-19.  Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee, on His way to Jerusalem. He entered a village and was approached by ten lepers.  Leprosy robbed these ten of their quality of life as well as threatened their life.  It was an isolating illness separating them from their loved ones, their home, and society.

The ten must have been an eyesore to behold, but Jesus did not look away from them.  While keeping their distance, in unison, they pleaded to Jesus for mercy.  He did not turn a deaf ear to their cries.  Jesus instructed them to show themselves to the priests and like obedient children, they did as they were told.  As they went their way, the horrid disease left their bodies.  The leper spots were gone.

They continued on their way without looking back except for one.  The Samarian in the group turned back to where Jesus was and fell at Jesus’s feet. He thanked Jesus for healing his body.  Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean?  But the other nine, where are they?  Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this STRANGER?”

It’s music to my ears to hear a “thank you”. Since I should treat people the way I want to be treated, these two words should be words I use frequently instead of rarely.

Jesus told the healed man to go on his way; that his faith had made him well.  By faith, the stranger called out to Jesus for mercy.  By faith, he turned back from the other nine and thanked the One who took away his leper spots.  By faith, he did the right thing.  Although he was the stranger among them, he was the grateful one of the ten.