“This Better Be Important!”

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The girl with the curly hair and I have a lot in common.  The above posting hits me where I live on a daily basis.  Compromise and adjustment are necessary pains.  A vacation day without taking one is when my day’s routine is not broken and filled with activities related to my special interests.  If I have to compromise or adjust my plans for the day, it’s like taking a dose of castor oil.

I have been living with a few family members since I retired from working for Uncle Sam (U.S. gov.) six years ago.  It was a big adjustment since I had lived by myself for a quarter of a century.  After moving in, I created a new routine as I would after any move, temporary or long-term.

One of the daily hurdles to jump over is handling interruptions to my routine.  Since sticking in my room most of the day is a necessary part of my daily routine, I get interrupted when someone needs my assistance or has a question or has some news to share.  It’s not a hurdle when one calls my name when I’m not doing much of anything.  However, it is when I’m in the middle of one of my interests such as writing a blog like this one or playing video games or eating at my desk.  It is a higher hurdle when my name is called multiple times within the same hour.  I am not proud to say I throw a good imitation of a childhood tantrum for someone in their early 60s.  I usually manage to remember to put on my mask by the time I get to whoever with a smile on my face and a polite-sounding voice as if I didn’t mind the interruption at all.

After all, it isn’t their fault.  It would be worst if my name was never called and so no one needed me or wanted to converse with me.  Yet, I confess, if I had a mirror to my face, I suspect sometimes my discontent when interrupted shows on my face like a neon sign.






Company Anxiety

I call my autism “Billy”. I gave it a nickname like I gave my car since wherever I go, they go with me. I can park my car outside, but I can’t do the same to Billy.

One of a number of things that Billy gets all up in arms about is when the unexpected happens. Such as company arriving at the door. If it’s expected company, Billy has at least some time to adjust and plan accordingly. It is another story when it is unexpected company. Billy will respond with a heavy dose of anxiety. The level will not lessen until the company has finished their visit.

Once upon a time, a close relative gave me a few hours notice of joining me while I was out of town on vacation.  This was better than the relative showing up at the door unannounced, but even though I had some notice, it gave me a jolt! I had a little time to alter my plans of being all by myself. I tried to focus as much as I could on the positive of hanging out with someone I am particularly fond of. I feared the relative might bring a friend and that was a worrisome prospect for Billy. When company comes calling and it is more than one person, Billy wants me to hide until the coast is clear. If it is someone I don’t feel comfortable with, I speak as little as I can get by with.

Now when I went to bed before he was scheduled to arrive, I didn’t know if he would show or not.  There had been really bad weather in his neck of the woods. Just to show how my Billy works in my sleep, too, I had a nightmare.  So “real” that I still remember it months later. 

In my nightmare, not only did my company show up, but so did a friend and two dogs.  Then, friends of theirs showed up.  One after another!  I remember in my dream looking for a closet or something to escape from the people because I was a basket case of nerves and tears.  Their host of friends brought food along with their big appetites.  I took it all in from a corner in the room wishing they’d all go back to where they came from and return me and the dogs I was caring to back to solitude. 

The nightmare did not come true. The bad weather kept my company away. Even though I was in the clear as far as having the house to myself, I felt a little sad that my company didn’t make it. Why? The person is okay with me talking on and on about Billy and well, a listening ear is a blessing. I need to remember this myself when someone is talking on and on about their “Billy.

Life and its Curveballs

I am a baby boomer. I can tell if I’m talking to a fellow baby boomer if I ask such questions as: “Does Gomer Pyle ring a bell with you?” and it rings a bell with them. I don’t mean the reruns on TV land, but the original TV series. The thing I remember most about Gomer was his exclamation: “SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!” It drove his commanding officer, Sergeant Carter, up the wall.

Life does have its surprises all right. Some good, and some not so much. One of my autism traits is my need for routine and so I don’t necessarily welcome surprises. Even good surprises can give me some anxiety until the surprise wears off.

One of those things I am surprised to be doing is working in the same school district I grew up in.  I am a substitute teacher’s aide where I work in elementary schools.  I’m often flooded with my own school memories as I go about my job from one school to another.

I recall the subject I dreaded most was a favorite of many of my peers – Physical Education (P.E.). With a weight problem and awkwardness, P.E. was a humbling experience. I scored high in the classroom but fell behind on the playground and ball field.  Sometimes on my rump!

If someone had told me back when I was attending an elementary school that when I got to be 58, I would return to that same school to fill in as the P.E. coach’s sidekick, I would have told the person they had a wilder imagination than I did. That’s saying a lot because my imagination was and still is off the charts.  It sure threw me a curveball to not only be working in a gym class but above all, to like it!  I have become an avid walker, tennis player, and I even shoot baskets!  Instead of at the age of 8, but at 58.

I did return to my old school recently to fill in for the P.E. aide while she was out for a day. I was escorting the 5th-grade girls out to the court to play volleyball. One of the girls came up to me and asked, “How old are you?” Now I’m on my 4th school year and if I had a quarter of every time I’ve been asked that, I could buy lunch at McDonald’s. Now I could have taken a serious tone and advised her not to ask older women their ages. Or, I could have given a cute answer such as “39 and holding”. She probably wouldn’t have believed the holding bit anyway. I could have pled ignorance or pled the 5th. But this was the last class of the day and I was tired. I just told her the truth.

She said, “My Mom is thirty-three.”  I thought, “So what?”, but minding my manners, I only thought it.  Sometimes I say too much and this was one of those times. I told the youngster I went to this school back when I was her age. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Really!” I nodded and said, “Yelp. No kidding.” I surprised her but she had a bigger surprise for me with her comeback answer: “My goodness, this school must be REALLY old.” She was quite empathic about the “really old” part as if she was referring way back to the “horse and buggy” days. My heart dropped knowing I walked right into that one.

The girls were learning to play volleyball. One of the few things I could do in P.E. that I had some success at was serving the ball in volleyball.  I was far more confident on a volleyball court than let’s say a baseball diamond where I was terrified with fear that when the bat met ball, the ball would make a beeline towards me.  Seeing that the girls were novices, I took the ball and served it.  After a successful demonstration of what a volleyball serve looked like, I heard some “WOW”s from the girls. I surprised them all right! I sort of surprised myself since I couldn’t remember the last time I served a volleyball.

Although I am shy of surprises, I am thankful for them too. If the Lord gave us the blueprint of our entire life on this earth at the start of it, we’d be strangers to hope. If our lives were neatly planned and organized, no surprises, there’d be no reason for faith.  I’d rather be thrown a curveball every now and then than live without any hope of something good happening around the corner.

My To-Do

I am a stickler for routine as many are on the Spectrum. But I can make adjustments without shutdowns or meltdowns BUT … there is a but. An essential “but”. I have to be the person making the adjustment.

I have not been one to rely on to-do lists. My memory was reliable; just the rest of me was in doubt. Not one hundred percent, but sufficient enough that I didn’t have yellow stick-em notes decorating my desk. Well, my memory is aging with the rest of me. Its reliability isn’t as reliable as my memory was when it was 20-, 30- or 40-something.

I came across something to help me avoid the sticky reminder route.  It is a computer application version of a to-do list.  It’s the “computerized” part that had me hooked since I am a computer addict.  Instead of writing down my to-do’s in my hard to read chicken scratch, I key them in on my keyboard. A mouse click takes care of deleting a to-do after completed. When my to-do’s for the day is done, I get a note on my computer screen of “well done and good night”.

This application has done wonders! I have put items on this list that I never got in the habit of doing until now. One example is putting on makeup. Those who know me can appreciate the wonder of this. I’m the type who doesn’t want to give much time in the morning to grooming.  The reason behind my short hairstyle is the less hair there is, the less there is to brush or wash. So for me to add putting on makeup to my morning routine is headline news.

If I put an item on the to-do list for a particular day or for every day, I will do it unless I have a sufficient reason that I won’t feel guilty about not doing it.  I read somewhere in my Autism research that a guilt complex is not uncommon for those on the Spectrum.  I tend to agree since I sure got one that gives me a hard time if I don’t finish my to-do’s.

The Finicky Eater

I assume “finicky eating” applies to most people at some time in their life, usually in the formative years from what I hear parents say.  I did a Google search on “finicky eating” and the results were mostly about parental warfare with their finicky eater.  I gather many outgrow their finickiness, but I for one did not.  My selective appetite only got worse as I got older as my mother could attest to.

I suspect living on the autism spectrum has much to do with my peculiar eating habits.  There is research that shows individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be finicky eaters.  For instance, some feel compelled to have certain foods in the same place on the plate or to use the same plate at each meal.  Of course, most people, on and off the spectrum, find food comforting. However, my tendencies of what I eat, when I eat, and how I eat is something I take quite seriously.  My diet is not up for debate.  The times I eat and what I eat are not changeable except by me; otherwise, I will be upset.  I do mean UPSET!

I’ve noticed when subbing as an aide in special ed classes, many of the students have peculiar eating habits too.  Such as a student who leaves most of what is on his cafeteria tray except for the ketchup which he eats with a spoon.  Another brings his lunch every school day with the same two items and they are laid out the same way:  one plain bagel on one side and slices of turkey on the other.  He eats the turkey first; then, the bagel.  Now I can relate to that child.

Another student is very fond of McDonald’s version of chicken nuggets.  To reduce the number of visits through the McDonald’s drive-thru, his Mom cooked her own batch of nuggets and put them in an empty McDonald’s box.  It just took one nugget bite for her child to know it wasn’t the real McDonald and he wouldn’t eat another bite.  Her alternative plan crumbled.

The need for sameness that is common in ASD makes it difficult for me to swallow new foods. It’s okay if I see some new food item on the store shelf and decide to try it. As long as it is ME who decides to alter my diet, it’s okay.  The problem with liking something new is I will go overboard and buy a stockpile of it.  I’m not just finicky about food but obsessive too.  Logic has nothing to do with it.