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.
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How can I explain what it means to be a high functioning autistic to those who do not have autism?

Well, first, I’ll give you the Wikipedia definition:

Highfunctioning autism (HFA) is a term applied to people with autism who are deemed to be cognitively “higher functioning” (with an IQ of 70 or greater) than other people with autism.

Asperger Syndrome and HFA are often referred to as the same diagnosis. While they currently exist as two separate diagnoses, there is an ongoing debate about whether that is necessary. It is possible that, in the future, they may be combined into one category. In my opinion, I wouldn’t mind one bit if they were combined.

There is disagreement about how many people on the autism spectrum are on the high or low end of the spectrum. I tend to agree with the view that most people with autism are “somewhere in the middle”. That’s how I see myself anyway. Unfortunately, what media attention there is to autism goes to folks at the high and the low ends of the spectrum. Those who are unable to take care of themselves and the high functioning geniuses.

From working with special education students, some of whom have severe autism, I have seen first hand how it is extraordinarily difficult living on the lower end of the spectrum. Logic would suggest that people on the high end of the spectrum have it easy. After all, many of those with HFA are bright and may have impressive talents. But the reality is quite different.

For example, it wasn’t uncommon for my name to be on the honor roll. I graduated with honors. However, if I had been graded on social interaction, I would have flunked more than passed. I could count on one hand how many friends I had and I didn’t need all the five fingers to count. I wanted to be in the circle but yet I didn’t know how. It was easier to be the loner, doing the self-talk, and entertaining myself in my imaginary world. It still is and I just turned 60-years-old.

Here are just a few of the issues that get between people on the high end of the autism spectrum:

Those on the higher end have sensory dysfunctions as people in the middle or lower. An example a mild, moderate, or extreme sensitivity to noise, crowds, bright lights, strong tastes, smells, and touch. This is why I won’t walk into a crowded store unless I am needing to buy something really BAD! I mean really BAD! It partly explains why I avoid movie theatres. I don’t like crowds and it’s hard for me to sit still through a movie at home let alone in a public place. The other reason I avoid movie theatres is the movie prices.

What’s the difference between a simple greeting from someone from the opposite sex and a signal of romantic interest? How loud is too loud? When is okay to talk about your personal issues or interests? When is it important to stop doing what you enjoy in order to attend to another person’s needs? These are tough questions for anyone, but for those of us on the spectrum, it’s is overwhelming! I am a never-married woman who can’t even claim to having been a bridesmaid. Since learning I was on the spectrum two years ago, I have come to embrace my singleness now that I have an explanation as to why I am socially disabled.

Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are more common among people with HFA than they are among the general population. It isn’t known whether autism causes mood disorders, or whether the disorders are the result of social rejection and frustration—but whatever their causes, mood disorders can be disabling in themselves. I know this all too well. Since being put on antidepressant medication, I am doing much better. The medication isn’t a cure, but I have experienced relief in my mood swings.

Take it from someone who lives on the spectrum, people with autism have plenty of emotions. In fact, I can be far too emotional in the wrong situations. I am like a cat with its tail caught because of a change in plans. I react like  a robot up in arms going in circles screaming “panic alert” when my electric scooter’s tire goes flat. I can do a good many things that don’t come easy to others but ONLY when the situation is predictable.

Then, there is the awesome task of following verbal instructions. I deal with this at home and school. A teacher once asked me, “Get the phone.” I went to her landline phone even though I was scratching my head since I hadn’t heard it ring. Actually, she wanted me to get her cell phone and hand it to her. As you can imagine, this can cause any number of issues, ranging from serious problems with the police to inadvertent mistakes at work.

HFA is what it says. It is not an easy or simple thing to live with. For those caring for, employing, teaching, or working with people on the higher end of the spectrum, it’s important to remember that autism is autism.

Socializing on the Spectrum is not the Only Challenge

I am having a conversation where I am telling a story. I have an image in my head but for the life of me, I can’t think of what the image is called. The word doesn’t pull up. I describe the image I see so clearly in my mind. It only adds to my frustration level when my brain pops the word up long after the conversation. Granted, this surely happens to most people, but in my life on the spectrum, it is the “norm” instead of the exception.

Asperger’s affects every aspect of my life. It goes beyond the challenge of socializing with my fellow man.  Such as when, where, and how I eat. I dine alone in my bedroom. My meal schedule is way off the charts from a typical schedule of like 7 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. I even fix a sandwich or slice a pizza in my own peculiar way and eat items on my plate in a specific order.

Repetitive movement is as essential as water and air. I pace the floor when agitated and I do the same when excited. I rock in a chair that isn’t a rocking chair. I bobble my knees without thinking about it. I have some of my best conversations doing the “self-talk”.

Fine motor skills have to do with the small stuff when it comes to movement. My handwriting bears a strong resemblance to chicken scratch. I dread chores where I have to pick up objects between my thumb and finger. Such as pierced earrings. As hard as I try to hang on to the earring or “back”, it happens without fail of one landing on the floor. Trying to find a tiny earring or the backs to them, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. To compensate, I buy a pack of cheap earrings at a dollar store just to replace the missing “backs” in hiding.

Of all the symptoms I deal with living on the Spectrum, the meltdowns are the toughest. They are the volcanoes. Sometimes they come upon me without any warning. I may or may not know what the trigger was. A trigger can be a sound or smell that raises tension in my body. It may be a pet peeve and I overreact to it. If I can walk away from the trigger, the odds improve of meltdown relief. If I can’t, I will erupt with rocking and tears.

Single-Tasked

I was recently reminded of my not being a multi-tasked person.  I was hanging out at an elementary school gym subbing for a coach’s sidekick.  I had been with this coach one time before over a year ago.  She remembered me which was a nice surprise.  After that day, I know she will NOT forget me even if we don’t see each other for 2 or more years.  I am probably the one and only sub who blew up a soccer ball.
At least I give myself credit for putting air in her hundred or so other balls without blowing any of them up.  But it only takes blowing up ONE for one not to live that one down no matter how many balls one aired up correctly.
Okay, here was how I did it.  If you ever use an air pump for airing balls or tires, you might want to take notes.
After I stuck the pin in the soccer ball and the pump was blowing air into it, I got a phone call from an aide at another school.  This call was too important to ignore it.  An aide might be needing a sub and that’s how I earn money.  So I stopped everything to take the call. I was so focused on the call that it didn’t occur to me to turn the air pump off.
It is not uncommon for those who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to prefer one task at a time.  Two or more is too many.  A juggler I am not.  Sometimes I am in a situation that calls for tending to more than one thing and when I am, I feel like I am under the gun, far from the comfort zone.
After the call, I returned to my seat and without a moment’s hesitation, I pulled the pin out.

BOOM

 
I didn’t hit the floor, but some of the students did.  They thought they were under the gun, literally!  Instead of having a panic attack, I was cool, calm, and still collected.  My first thought was, “Ooops! I did it again.”  Common sense often alludes me.
The soccer ball will never see a soccer field again.  I sealed its fate of the dumpster.
I thank the Lord that the shrapnel did not hit me in the face.  I really dodged the bullet.  It did take a while for my ears to stop ringing though.  The coach reassured the children we were not under attack.  I was also thankful the coach was understanding about it.  She said the main thing was that I was okay.  Well, except for my ears ringing and my utter embarrassment, I was okay.

Can autism make you appear less intelligent?

I ask you to picture a long drawn line representing the Autism Spectrum (AS). On one end are those who have yet to say their first word, whether they be 6 years old or 46. Those who can’t take care of themselves. They have learning disabilities as well as social challenges.

My day job is subbing as a teacher’s aide. I’m familiar with autism units. One of the students I’ve known since he was in Pre-K and he is now 7 years old. He is on the lower end of the AS long line. He has never uttered a single word. He constantly flaps with his hands, chews on his fingers, and can’t sit still for more than three minutes at max. But he is quite skilled in outsmarting the adults in the room when one is chasing after him in the classroom.

On the other end of this long line are like another one of the AS school students I’ve met. This student can tell me what day of the week Christmas of 2025 will be on. Some subjects are a challenge to him, but he is proficient beyond his peers in his areas of expertise.

If you met one person with Autism, you’ve met just one person.

Is Aspergers in females seriously undetectable?

Since I have Asperger’s and I am a female, I know firsthand how easy it was for me to be in the dark about it for most of my life.  Even if I were growing up in the 2010’s when Asperger’s and Autism aren’t as foreign words as they were back in the 1960s, I still think I would fall under the radar.

Asperger’s in females is not undetectable, but it can be easily undetected. My opinion from being a female with Asperger’s and working in elementary school Autism units, females who have Asperger’s are more likely not to be detected as their male counterparts.

When I started working as a substitute teacher’s aide, it didn’t take me long to realize that the overwhelming majority of students in these classes are male. Their behaviors are usually more visible than the few female students there are.

As to the question of why are men more likely than women to have autistic traits, or receive a diagnosis of autism, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre who, along with PhD student Emily Ruzich, led the Cambridge/Channel 4 study. They found there’s a lot of research showing that testosterone changes brain development.

Males on average produce more testosterone than females, even when in the womb, and the data shows that children with autism on average have higher levels of the hormone than typically developing kids.

This backs up a 2009 study that looked into the prenatal testosterone levels of typical four-year-olds. “The higher the child’s prenatal testosterone, the more autistic traits they had,” says Professor Baron-Cohen.

These findings suggest the critical factor may be hormone levels rather than gender and could be pivotal to further understand the higher rates of autism diagnosis in men. But, as Professor Baron-Cohen points out, “It’s only one piece of the puzzle.” He adds: “The nature of science means one new finding opens up a hundred new questions.”

Wendy Lawson, author of “Build Your Own Life: A Self-Help Guide For Individuals With Asperger Syndrome” and a self-described autistic woman, believes girls on the spectrum may be underdiagnosed because if they have obsessive interests (often a feature of spectrum disorders), these are more likely to be socially acceptable than the obsessions of boys with autism. Girls, she says, might get into reading or animals, which seem normal, “so people don’t pick up on our social difficulties.”

Jennifer McIlwee Myers, who has Asperger’s and is the author of “How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger’s,” concurs. She says boys on the spectrum are more likely to respond to their difficulties with anger and aggression, while girls are more likely to “deal with issues quietly,” cultivating extreme “niceness” and imitating other girls’ behavior. Boys who have the vision problems that sometimes go with Autism Spectrum Disorders may hit other boys, she explains, while girls might instead cling to other girls. And a boy who attacks other kids is going to get intervention a lot faster than a girl who cries quietly every day. Myers says there are “a lot of invisible girls” who are Autistic but never get help because nobody notices.

I personally didn’t realize how I try to act like other people until I learned I was on the Spectrum. I act “normal” to avoid making people mad and not being singled out as different. When I have been caught in my quirky behavior, the odd stares peeled at me are immensely painful.  Females on the Autism Spectrum may just be better at imitating neurotypicals than our male counterparts. And that imitation makes us invisible.

What You Should Not Say to Someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Someone asked this question on a question/answer website.  The following are ones that came to mind…

 

Autism? Really? Well, you should fix your brain.

Get Real! You don’t walk around in circles like my neighbor’s kid.

You look so normal to me.

 Could you just be a tad introverted?

Everybody’s got something on their plate.  (That’s true but telling me that is like giving me a lukewarm, instead of a cold rag for my raging fever.  It’s lame on comfort.)

BUT you can talk!  My brother’s wife’s cousin’s sister’s kid who has autism can’t say a word.

Quite frankly, I think you use autism as an excuse to get out of getting out.

Stop being so sensitive!  (that statement will triple my sensitivity)

Why don’t you just call instead of e-mail them?

Autism is so over-diagnosed these days, don’t you think?

How can you be so sure that you are on the Spectrum?  So you are a routine stickler, rock some, talk to yourself, like to be left alone, so what?  Everyone does stuff like that.

I hope it isn’t contagious.

Scoot Like No One Is Watching

I took up scooter riding during the spring of 2018.  I can understand someone thinking it is an odd sport for someone approaching 60.  It is just an addition to my long-held obsession with most any gadget that is electric or battery-operated.  I call this obsession “gadgetitis”.  I am into “nicknames” too.  I gave the nickname “Billy” to my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  An inventory of my bedroom is visible proof of my gadgetitis:  multiple computers, TVs, vacuum cleaners, etc.  Within a month or two after my scooter obsession began, I owned not one, not two, not three, not four, but five.
Scooters first came into my life on a school day subbing for a P.E. aide.  The coach put out some scooters which are, by the way, a highly popular piece of equipment with the students.  I don’t recall them being around when I was growing up back in the 1960’s.  There were roller skates back then that I fell for back in my younger days.  I mean “fell” as in landing on the floor in a painful sort of way.  A lack of gross motor skills, a common ASD trait, explained a lot of what activities I didn’t pursue as a kid.  Back to the present, since the kids were not in the gym yet, and thus no witnesses besides the coach who was really busy at the time, I plopped down on a scooter like the two pictured below.  I liked the feel of it!  And when I like something, I go way, way overboard.  There’s no middle ground for me living with my Billy.
I am having so much fun with these scooters.  The downside is in a city of 143,000 people, I haven’t seen any other folks in my age group riding a scooter.  Only a handful of young folks.  I’ve seen just a few my age riding a bicycle.  I suspect it has more to do with the sidewalk conditions of my neck of the woods.  I didn’t realize how “cracked up” my neighborhood was until I took up scooter riding.
One of my experiences worth mentioning was when I was approaching a bridge at a school park.  There was a young Mom with her two little girls.  The children were on the opposite side of the bridge from their Mom.  The youngest girl, probably two or three, heard me coming and she hurriedly scooted over to the other side of the bridge to literally hide behind her Mom’s skirt.  Her Mom smiled as I scooted by.  A wise little girl!  If her Mom had known my motor skill history, she would have skedaddled with girls in hand.
Another time when I was out with Seggie (the Segway Mini-Pro) at a park, a guy walking by saw me taking Seggie out of the back of my car.  He asked, “Are you going to ride that thing?”  Since I’m not quick on my feet with a good comeback answer, I just said with my Texas accent “Yeah.”  But thinking about it later, I could have come up with another answer such as “No, I’m going to take it for a walk.”
Scooting is a sport in itself.  There are do’s and don’t and one too many of them I have learned the hard way.  Just when I am overconfident, I take a fall and get a good dose of humility.
Once after a fall, I went out with my pink scooter I affectionately call “Pinkie”.  There weren’t any kids around but a few adults taking a walk.  They were so gracious to give me the right of way when I passed by.  Maybe they were nervous at seeing a gray-haired woman on a scooter with an arm brace.  If they had noticed the word in bold letters on my blue t-shirt, they would have had a hint as to why I was on a scooter that is made with “millennials” in mind.  The word:  AUTISM.  Below: “AWARENESS.”
When I got home, I told my Mom the story.  She said, “You’re something else.”  I’ll agree with her on that.  Not only me but all my fellow travelers on the Spectrum.  My main reason for writing this blog is to say that those of us with ASD are not exempt from having fun.
Finally, my best advice for my fellow scooters is when you feel an itch, like on your face, it is best to stop and take care of the itch instead of itching while on the scooter with the motor running.

Pros and Cons of ASD

My personal list of what’s good and not so good of having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Disadvantages

  • Hearing someone say “But you seem so normal to me.”
  • Sitting in an audience with no graceful exit out
  • Can’t focus long enough to read a page without my mind drifting off thinking about anything and everything other than what is on the page
  • The frustration and panic of being given a string of verbal instructions — “draw me a picture, will ya?”
  • Desperately wanting time alone but not getting it soon enough to avert a meltdown.
  • Boredom
  • Social misfit

 

But don’t forget those awesome advantages:

  • Finding THE skill that I can master as if I was born to do it
  • Creative and open-minded
  • Detail-oriented
  • Dependable (a clear list of written instructions, rules, schedules are welcomed)
  • Organized to a tee

An engineer gave his pro and con of ASD in a nutshell:  High IQ and social ineptness.  It is a trade-off. Being an engineer is not too bad… 🙂

Well, being a substitute teacher’s aide where I get to hang out with many like myself is not too bad either.

Scooteritis

My obsession with electronics has recently broadened to electric scooters.  I used to have a thing for “vacuums” to the point that my apartment resembled a used vac store.  Well, now it is scooters.  Within a couple of months after coming down with this obsession, I have five scooters.  Just call me a scooter-bug. 

The first member of my scooter herd was a Segway mini-transporter that I nicknamed “Seggie”. 

My second was a different breed than my Seggie.  It belonged to the “glider” branch of electric scooters (a pink GoTrax scooter) that I appropriately nicknamed “Pinkie”.  I wanted to have two that were different breeds.

My Pinkie broke down shortly after I bought her and the company was kind to send me a replacement.  In the meantime, not knowing Pinkie would be replaced, I got a Razor scooter nicknamed “Raz”.  So I didn’t intend to have three, but I quickly got used to the idea. 

Then, Raz’s chain stopped me in my tracks.  While it lay in the garage going nowhere, not knowing if it could be repaired, I went ahead and got Seggie’s little brother, a mini-Seggie, that I nicknamed “Lil’ Seggie”. 

Image result for segway minilite

Then, Amazon Inc. had its annual BIG sale for its prime members.  The sale was almost a full two days worth.  I succumbed on the second day purchasing a hoverboard at a sale price I didn’t think I would see again until maybe next year.

Image result for hoverboard

The hoverboard (nicknamed Hovert) is the most challenging of them all to tame.   On my first ride, I fell off of it within 60 seconds.  Well, twice.  I wondered at times if it would be UNtameable.  My playmates, grandniece and nephew, avoided Hovert like the plague.  I saw on Amazon it had an accessory that could turn Hovert into a go-cart.  Although, I was slowly but surely taming Hovert, I purchased the accessory thinking I could get more use of Hovert by it being a go-cart instead of hoverboard only.

 

 

My riding around on a scooter grants me far more attention than I want.  Most especially with Seggie and Lil’ Seggie since in a town of 43,000 people, I may be the only owner of one.  If I traveled downtown, I’d probably run into a fellow Segway scooter at a tourist spot.  If I do cross paths with a fellow scooter, it is someone far younger than me.  Hey, I never acted my age anyway.  When I was 10, I was going on 40.  Now I’m near 60 and I’m heading back to 10.

Maybe it is wishful thinking but I think these scooters are helping to improve my balance skills.  A lack of fine or gross motor skills is one of those ASD traits.  I’m not absolutely sure about that.  It took weeks before my swollen big toe looked like it did before Pinkie fell on it.   One of my thumbs hasn’t been pain-free since Seggie fell for a curb and took me with him.

They have given my pride and joy, my four-set of wheels, “Toyota Prius”, some cosmetic changes (scratches in loading and unloading the scooters).  So why in tarnation do I keep at scooting?  There’s no middle ground with my ASD.  When I become obsessed with something, the intensity can be stronger than even my long-held fear of the sensation of feeling the earth move under my feet.

I think I’ve completed my scooter family and plan no more family additions until…well, they start playing Christmas songs on the radio.  But I wouldn’t place any bets on that.