Monthly Archives: October 2011

Hell in a Hallway

Oh God, you don’t even know the stress that goes on in my brain during the simplest moments – like walking down a hallway, for instance.

Talking to my wife about this, she assumed that the most uncomfortable situation for me as an Aspie would be walking down a hallway filled with people. Not so. In fact, walking down a crowded hallway is better than walking alone, and you will understand why soon enough. When walking in a crowd, I can blend in and not be the focus of anyone’s attention. The less people there are, the higher chance that someone else will catch my eye and I will feel obligated to interact. Walking by myself is cool, but there is always a chance that a passerby is just around the corner.

The absolute worst situation for me is walking down a long stretch of hallway and having ONE person walking towards me in the opposite direction. To me, this is an intimate social interaction. Am I supposed to acknowledge the other person’s presence? Would making eye contact with a stranger be creepy? Or would ignoring them be rude? I usually end up fidgeting around or pretending to look for something in my pocket until they pass and the coast is clear.

It’s even worse if the approaching person is someone I know. Is there any way I can pretend that I don’t see them? Have they seen me yet? Should I wave to them? Will they want to come down the hall and talk to me? Should I say hi? How long should I wait to say hi? Is shouting down the hallway appropriate behavior? WHAT DO I DO??????

Maybe I should start walking around without my glasses on. Then I can always claim that I didn’t recognize them from so far away because my vision is so bad. Or maybe I should just stay out of long hallways.

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The internet is truly a wondeful place for Aspies to be able to converse with other people. It allows for social interation and eliminates all of the difficulties with having to deal with people. It’s almost as if they invented the internet for Aspies.

Think about it: you can spend all the time you want crafting what you want to say. You don’t have to make eye contact. There is no way to create social inflection such as sarcasm. The internet creates a level playing field where Aspies and neurotypicals can communicate without barriers.

It’s not surprising to me to find out that Aspies often find deep, meaningful relationships with people they “met” online. I find message boards to be extremely liberating. I’ve joined message boards on multiple subjects and I absolutely love the opportunity to be in a social exchange. And, in the most extreme example, I met my wife online. I doubt I could have convinced her to spend time with me if I had to talk to her in person.

These types of thoughts make me wonder: could an Aspergers social movement be responsible for the increase in traffic at social networking sites like Facebook, as well as online dating sites? Are Aspies in the middle of a cultural revolution? We shall rise as one!!!

Or maybe we’ll just continue having fun posting dumb shit on Twitter.

Wanna Fight About It?

You people argue over the strangest things.

I will freely admit that I obsess over certain things. My passion for video games and fantasy football outweighs the capacity of interest of any normal man on this planet. But some of you people are passionate about subjects that are equally as strange, to the point that you are willing to start fights over them.

I know two people who got into a screaming match because one person was planning on buying the same car that the other one had just bought a month earlier. I’ve seen a couple argue over the correct way to stir a drink in a restaurant. I’ve been a witness to heated discussions attempting to assign blame over a lost game of Pictionary.

And I’m the one who is supposed to have the social skills of a child?

Two of my coworkers who were once good friends are no longer speaking to each other because one of them used the other’s favorite name for their newborn baby. If these people were related, I understand why this could be a source of contention – it would make things a little strange at family events and stuff. This has happened a few times in my family. I get it.

But theses two people are not related. These kids (one of which is still only a hypothetical kid) will never meet each other at a family reunion or wedding or anything like that. They will most likely never have to deal with each other. So what’s the big freaking deal? It’s almost as if these two women saw that episode of Seinfeld with the name Seven and figured that real life must be like that. Sounds very Asperger-ish to me.

Anxiously Sharing the Peace

The church I go to has a custom of “sharing the peace” at the beginning of each ceremony – the people in the congregation walk around the church, shaking hands with each other and sharing a friendly hello.

For a person with Aspergers like me, it’s torture.

I thought church was about trying to avoid hell, not putting people in it.

The smallest social interactions can be so uncomfortable for Aspies:
– calling a doctor’s office to make an appointment
– listening to a coworker’s story about their weekend
– being alone in a room with a friend of a friend
– having to explain an idea to someone who may not be interested

All of these exchanges may seem simple to a neurotypical person. To Aspies, these are great challenges that we must overcome. And we shall overcome… if you force us to.

Aspie Kryptonite

My wife likes to refer to my daughter and I as “super heroes” because our senses tend to work at a higher intensity than most people. For example, we are the first ones to hear a faint sound coming from outside, or a change in temperature in our house. I’m not so quick to claim super hero status – it’s more likely that my daughter and I lack the ability to filter out the stimuli that normal people dismiss as background noise. However, I do agree that people with Aspergers – and people with Autism in general – are more sensitive to their environment. Their brains take in the stimuli and process it in different ways than a neurotypical person does, and these differences show in how they react to their environment.

I’ve found that, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to use the differences in the way I perceive my world in positive ways. I use the fact that I lack a sensory filter as an advantage to take in more info about my surroundings than a neurotypical person would. I have had to train myself to not be overwhelmed by the incoming stimuli, and that takes focus (something children with Autism very often lack). However, when my ability to focus is impaired, these skills lose their positive value very quickly.

During this week, I’ve had to shift my hours back and forth between evening shift and midnights, losing significant sleep in the process. Because of this, I find myself turning almost dyslexic at times, transposing numbers and/or letters while filling out paperwork (My daughter does something similar when she gets tired: she reads and writes letters backwards – d’s become b’s, p’s become q’s, and so on). I’ve had to fix about 15 typos while typing this up… I probably shoudl have left them in for effect. The worst part is that my alck of focus ends up muting the positive aspects of my Aspie traits (thinking speed, memory, multitasking) and increases the negatiove ones (irritability, social withdrawal, stimming).

So, contrary to what my wife says, I’m no super hero. I just experience the world differently and react to it in a different way. I’m vulnerable to the same mental breakdowns as she and every other “normal person” is… perhaps even more so.

The Social Exchange

You normal people take a lot of things for granted. For example: the ability to have a normal conversation with a waiter in a restaurant without feeling like a complete idiot.

My family went out to dinner last night, and we had a great time. The food was good, we had fun, and service was very nice. The only problem I had was the waiter kept going “off script.”

You see, ever since i was a kid I’ve been watching the interaction between my parents and the waiters of the restaurants we went to. During all of these visits, my Aspie brain crafted a specific “script” that I usually try to stick to when conversing with the waiter. I expect certain questions and I can have the answers ready in advance in order to make everything run smoothly through dinner. But when a question comes from off script, I don’t know what to say.

It’s usually when a waiter makes a friendly remark about something other than the meal, or when he or she asks a vague question. Last night, the waiter asked “Should I leave that, or are you finished?” My brain immediately sees the following problems with the question:

1) I’m not 100% sure who he is talking to. Is he talking to my wife, in which case if I answer I will be interrupting? Or is he talking to me, in which case if I don’t answer I look like I’m not paying attention?

2) I’m not sure which plate he’s talking about. We had salad and appetizer plates in front of us. I was done with the salad but not the appetizer. How am I supposed to answer for him to take one plate but leave the other?

3) It’s a double question. Does “Yes” mean I’m still eating, or that he should take the plate? I don’t even know how to answer this question!

So you see, my brain is stuck figuring out how to answer the question in order to get the result I want, rather than just answering the question. My wife, of course, jumps in and answers right away because she’s normal. She doesn’t have to do all of these calculations in her brain before coming to a conclusion. It’s just natural for her.

So next time you are ordering from the drive-thru and need to make a last second change to your order, or a customer assistance operator asks you for an unexpected piece of information, take a moment to enjoy the fact that you don’t have to go through the work that my brain does in order to come up with the “correct” answer.

To Each His Own Stim

Of all of the behaviors that encompass Autistic behavior, there seems to be one common thread – stimming. Stimming is short for “self stimulation” and usually involves repetitive movement that stimulates one or more of the senses. In Autism, it is usually seen as a response to intense stimuli. Not much is known about the reason for stimming; it could be a stress response, a way to burn off unfocused energy, or a kind of self-comforting mechanism.

Stimming is very common in Spectrumites, however the specific stim can vary greatly. My daughter’s main stim behavior is chewing/mouthing on objects. Other common stims include rocking back and forth, head bobbing, or skin pinching. Mine is picking and biting at the skin on my fingers. Sometimes the compulsion is so strong, I pick at my fingers to the point of drawing blood. Yeah, it’s that bad.

There has been a debate about how to handle stim behaviors. Should all stim behaviors be stopped in an attempt to make the person more “normal?” Or should the stim behaviors be allowed to continue, for the comfort of the Spectrumite? I’m very waffley on this issue – I think the best approach is a little bit of both. I think allowing harmless stim behavior is a good idea if there is no potential for harm or injury to the person.

For example: in order to help our daughter feel more comfortable, we got her a chewable necklace so she could chew and mouth appropriately when needed. On the other hand, I have been trying REALLY hard to stop my finger picking, because it’s obviously not good for my hands.

So I would be in favor of allowing something benign like hand flapping to continue, but I would certainly be trying to keep something like banging one’s head against the wall to a minimum. The goal is to try to keep the person safe, but avoid depriving them of the behaviors they feel they need.

IMHO

Just a little bit about me, and this blog, FYI.

I write this blog from a number of viewpoints. First, I write as a parent of a child with Aspergers. I have a 6 year old daughter who also happens to be the cutest little girl in the world (sorry to all of you people out there who also have daughters, but it’s true). She inspires a lot of what I write here.

Second, I write as a “medically informed person.” Notice I did not claim to be a doctor, nor did I claim to have all of the correct answers when it comes to medical problems. This blog is not meant to diagnose, treat, cause, cure, or worsen any disease or mental health state.

Third, I write this blog form the viewpoint of a person with Aspergers… presumably. You see, I was never formally diagnosed with Aspergers, but while getting my daughter diagnosed I began sensing a lot of… shall we say “odd, unexplainable behaviors” on my part. I came to learn that Autism tends to run in families, and things began to clear up a bit. After months of soul searching, I finally became comfortable with the fact that I have Aspergers. A diagnosis now would be redundant. A lot of what I write will end up sounding strange and unbelievable, but it comes from my inner feelings as an Aspie myself.

So I wear many hats when I type these posts up. First and foremost, I write these posts because I expect NOBODY to read them. That’s right. I don’t have delusions of grandeur; I don’t expect to be this massive blogger reaching thousands of people, spreading Autism awareness, and making the world a much better place to live in. I’m just using this blog to help express myself, figure out my feelings, and hopefully connect to the world a little better.

Now, if someone other than me happens to be reading this… awesome! Welcome! Don’t be afraid to comment or e-mail me at aspieblogger@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter (@mindofanaspie).

I just ask one thing of you readers – please don’t take what I say as the gold standard of facts about Autism. My posts contain my opinions based on the many aforementioned hats I wear. I may be commenting on something my daughter did, or something I read while reading about Autism research. I may be talking about some private feelings I have about how hard it is to try to fit in with you normal people. But please remember that all Sprectrumites are different. We are all unique. In fact, I fully expect other Aspies to read this blog and claim I’m full of crap. Just try to keep an open mind, and we all might learn something from this.

A Mighty Roar

It can be very difficult for parents of Autistic children to deal with, but this is a fact: tantrums are unstoppable. And in the case of children with Autism, the tantrums are SO MUCH MORE INTENSE.

If you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, I am about to tell you something you won’t want to hear: the tantrums don’t go away with age. I’m a full grown adult (sort of), and I still throw tantrums when I lose my keys.

The good news is that it’s not your fault. You may feel like you are causing the tantrums by either using discipline or holding firm to boundaries, but it’s not that. Sometimes it can be the smallest thing that sparks a tantrum. For me, it’s losing something. For someone else, it can be an uncomfortable setting (too warm/too cold/too loud/too quiet/etc.). Some kids can throw a tantrum over a broken toy. Some can go off because they didn’t get the right amount of chocolate chips on their cookie. It’s different with every Spectrumite.

So, how to deal with the tantruming child? Well, let’s start with what not to do. First, don’t tell the child to be quiet or to not be upset – this will only make the child feel alienated and “wrong” for being upset. Second – and trust me on this – do NOT let them “cry it out.” Tantruming Spectrumites very often get physical during tantrums and can cause harm to objects and themselves. If you just let them get it all out, you may end up with a broken lamp or a broken body part.

The best course of action is to hold the child tight and let them know everything is going to be okay. This is where wrestling skills come in handy. Your youngster is going to fight back; don’t take it personally. But, BE CAREFUL!!! Remember, you are trying to prevent harm, not cause it. So make sure your child can breathe and nothing is bending at any weird angles. Also, do your best to soothe. Speak in a soft voice; tell him you love him, that it’s going to be okay, or sing a lullaby she likes. Don’t expect an immediate response, but it will sink in and they will feel more confident in their bond with you. When your child (FINALLY!!!!!!) begins to calm down (AFTER 19 HOURS OF SCREAMING!!!!!), reinforce the fact that everything is okay, and s/he shouldn’t feel bad about going off.

Tantrums can be scary, especially for parents of Autistic children. But when you know how to handle them, you can get through them with at least some of your sanity intact.

You Know What I’m Talking About

I just don’t get it.

I understand when I do something weird, like starting a conversation with someone in the middle of an idea. I know that’s strange, but sometimes I just can’t help it. It happens. I get that – you don’t know what I’ve been thinking of for the past 5 minutes, and you need a recap. It’s just hard for me to waste the time catching you up on what’s been flying around inside my brain.

But that’s not it. Here’s the thing.

The other day, my wife is talking about something that she and her mom were talking about. This triggers a thought in my brain about something my mom has been dealing with recently (which my wife knows about). So I ask her if she has heard anything about it. Her response:

“You know, you started that conversation in the middle again. I mean, I know what you mean, but do you realize that you did that?”

So, if my wife admits to knowing what I’m talking about when I start talking in mid-conversation…

WHERE IS THE PROBLEM????

If she gets confused thinking that I’m talking about her mom, then I apologize and start from the beginning. But I know that she will catch on, and I’d rather not waste my time with the other stuff. She should actually be happy that I think she’ll be quick enough to get what I’m talking about.

I deal with these things all the time.

Why don’t you understand?
What was that noise? You can’t hear that?
How was that supposed to help?
Why are you wasting time?
There isn’t a way to do this easier?
Doesn’t it bother you that you are wrong?

And, apparently, I am the weird one.