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Offbeat Circadium

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Think about this for a second: when you are pulling yourself out of bed, trying to jumpstart your morning with a gallon of coffee before you drive off to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I’m tucked into bed sleeping s nice and comfortable bed.

It sucks.

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Sacrilege!

See, I work midnights. So, while it’s true that I’m sleeping while you are headed to work, I’ve been working all night long while you have been sleeping. So we are even. Plus, I have to now try to sleep with a huge bright ball of fire in the sky shining light through my window directly onto my eyelids. And how did you sleep last night?

Working midnights isn’t easy. It feels like my whole day disappears before it even happens. I get home in the morning, and my family is already awake. When it’s my turn to go to sleep, I have no idea what to say – Goodnight? Good morning? Good sleep period for me but not you? So I go to sleep, and I wake up mid-afternoon, when it’s pretty much too late to do anything important. At least that’s what my lazy overworked brain tells me when I get up.

Being an Aspie probably doesn’t make things any easier. I’m acutely aware that my body doesn’t want to be awake at 3:25 am, but it’s my job… literally. Staying on my schedule helps a little, but on my days off am I supposed to stay up all night by myself while the rest of my family sleeps?

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Then again…

I may like being alone, but I also like spending time with my family. I know… weird, right?

And the worst part about this week is that work has been so busy, I feel like I’ve been beat up when I get home. So freakin’ tired, I swear. And then I see everyone else – fresh out of bed, relaxed and refreshed, ready to take on the world. And I can’t help but think to myself…

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Aspie Halloween!!

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Halloween was probably my least favorite holiday as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, getting the tons and tons of candy was great. I was strung out on sugar just as much as the next kid when I was in grade school. The problem I had with Halloween was not the treats, but the tricks you had to pull and the hoops you had to jump through in order to get them.

Hoop 1 – Strength in numbers: Getting a group of kids together to wander through the neighboorhood wasn’t that big of a problem when I was very young, but it got more difficult as time went by and my aspie tendencies started to thin out my herd of friends. And trust me, nobody wants to see a kid trick-or-treating by himself. It’s lame, it’s sad, and all the kid ends up with is pity candy.

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Doesn’t really work when you’re 8 years old.

Hoop 2 – Diversifying your palette: The Mount Rushmore of Halloween Candy is as follows: Tootsie Rolls, Twizzlers, Snickers, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. These are the candies you fight your brother for or steal right out of your sister’s hand. But Halloween isn’t as simple as gorging on chocolate, peanut butter, nougat, and plastic strawberry goodness until you pass out from sugar overload. There are some seriously disgusting candies out there, and eventually you have no choice but to choke them suckers down.

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What did we ever do as a human race to deserve those pink and white pieces of poison?

Hoop 3 – Privacy Invasion: Only on Halloween is it acceptable to ring someone’s doorbell at odd hours of the night unnanounced and demand something from the resident and offer absolutely nothing in return. Is this strange to nobody else but me? If I knocked on your door on August 18th and asked for a bag of Doritos, you’d think I was completely insane. Yet on October 31st, this behavior is not only normal, but it is encouraged. Needless to say, I was extremely uncomfortable as a child, intruding on someone’s life and confronting them in that situation.

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“He’s back again, Mary! Hide the Cool Ranch!”

Halloween hasn’t gotten any better for me as an adult, either. Now I feel like a complete asshole, sending my kids up to some stranger’s door to get candy. They look down their driveways at me, and I can tell they think that all I want to do is hog my kids’ stash and eat the whole thing for myself. Just because they happen to be correct doesn’t give them the right to prejudge me.

It’s even worse when I stay home. Every year I tell myself I’m going to handle the trick-or-treaters with smoothness and grace. And every year I end up running around the house, cowering in fear, hiding from the windows when the doorbell rings. It’s pure torture.

If I can just go to Wal-Mart and buy a bag of candy and eat the whole thing myself, why can’t everyone else just do the same thing?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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Making friends is a lot harder than they led us to believe. It should be pretty easy – just find someone that you have something in common with, and figure out a way to bond over that subject. But what happens when the very thing you have in common with some people that you meet is the thing that makes it difficult to form friendship bonds with them?

My wife had a homeschooling friend come over to the house the other day, and this woman has two boys with Aspergers who are very close in age to my Aspie daughter. “They will get along great,” everyone said. Although it wasn’t a disaster, the kids didn’t mesh well together. The boys were actually more interested in spending time with my son who is a couple of years younger. My daughter, in her typical aspie way, takes this as a personal insult. She doesn’t take into account that:

a) children on the spectrum are usually drawn to children who are either slightly younger or slightly older, and

b) they are dudes who want to do dude things.

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Dude things – the most efficient way to make mom completely lose her shit.

You can’t really fault the moms in this situation. People who like to read make friends in book clubs. Kids who play the same sport get along really well. Children on the spectrum should understand each other enough to bond with each other, right?

Right?

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Judges?

In reality, having autism in common provides absolutely ZERO opportunities to bond over. In some cases, it may even hinder the friend-making process. Consider this situation – two spectrum children with OCD-like tendencies are attempting to build a tower out of blocks with each other. One wants to build a round tower, while the other wants to build a square house. Are these kids going to bond over their intense desire to have things exactly the way they want it, without compromise? Yeah, I didn’t think so. It’s like the one thing that the children have in common is also the thing that makes them completely different from one another.

Aspergers not only gives aspies a shaky common ground, the nature of Aspergers itself drives us away from making bonds. It’s simply easier to isolate. I remember once looking for an online Aspergers discussion board, but I couldn’t find a decent one anywhere on the internet. I chalk part of that up to my Aspergers itself, and that I couldn’t find one that I wasn’t comfortable with because none of them were “perfect.” But I believe another reason is that there aren’t a whole lot of discussion boards out there; we’re just not that into reaching out. To show just how bad the situation is, I did a little web search and found five Aspergers message boards. Then I found fifteen message boards for irritable bowel syndrome. It’s apparently three times as easy to find a friend if you periodically shit your pants that if you have Aspergers.

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As you can clearly see, illustrated above.

One of the few places I’ve been able to form “friendships” with other Aspies is on Twitter. But in all honesty, how deep of a friendship can one develop at only 140 characters at a time? Then again, that could be exactly why I enjoy Twitter so much – I can build my friendships on my own terms, at my own pace. No rush, no pressure. Bite-sized bonding, if you will. It’s tailor made for us Aspies.

This Is My Aspergers

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I have written in previous posts a little bit about the history of my Aspergers and what it was like for me growing up, but I haven’t really gotten into it in great detail yet. Every aspie is different, comes from a different background, and has a different story to tell.

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This is my Aspergers. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I only became aware of my Asperger-ish tendencies a few years ago when my daughter was diagnosed, but the roots go back to when I was very young. When I was in preschool, I remember bouncing back and forth between friends, trying my best to connect with whoever was within proximity of me at the moment. I tried my best to mimic in order to be accepted; this works pretty well as a child, however I can remember not really having a sense of who I was. I would absorb the traits of those around me in order to blend in.

The defining moment in my young childhood came at age 6 when I was hospitalized for a severe kidney condition. I got sick on the first day of school, was rushed to the hospital, and nearly died. I was in the hospital for 6 weeks, subjected to blood draws and regular dialysis treatments. My family was devastated that I was so sick and scared of losing me.

The thing I remember most vividly is all the cool toys I had in my hospital room.

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Coming up next on Pimp My Pediatric ICU…

Granted, I was only six, so my memory of the experience shouldn’t really be picture perfect. But don’t you think it’s a little strange that I have absolutely NO memory of the horrible medical procedures that my mother tells me I had to endure, yet I can remember with great clarity the Lego kits my dad and I worked on and the inflatable Superman doll that hung in the corner during my entire stay? I think my brain decided that it wasn’t going to connect itself to what was going on, and I must have checked out and gone somewhere else mentally during the rough parts. I still use this skill to my advantage from time to time. I don’t know if the stress caused my brain to adopt an overall emotional disconnectedness – virtually “causing” my Aspergers – or if it was my aspie brain that allowed me to get through it. All I know is that the experience had a profound effect on me and my mental processes. It’s like my super hero origin story.

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Able to create soul-crushing social awkwardness in a single sentence! 

As I got older, I began to show more of what I realize now were classic autism/Aspergers traits. I memorized the bus route home from school, including street names; I even helped a substitute bus driver find the correct route on one occasion. I had a very rigid tv routine, watching my favorite cartoons every single day; I knew by heart when each was on and in which order. I would spend hours “racing” my Hotwheels cars, which actually meant lining up 30-40 of them one behind the other and moving them one at a time for a few seconds each. I would throw tantrums if I didn’t win while playing board games with my sisters. I would play ball in the living room by using a mini-bat to hit a foam ball aroud the house, completely oblvious to the risk of breaking things. I often played 2-player sports games by myself, switching between controllers to play both teams; I even kept stats and charted out seasons that I scheduled myself, long before games like Madden featured their own season modes.

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The list goes on…

I actually hid the social aspects of my Aspergers pretty well during school. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the cracks begin to show. Bullies were constantly trying to get to me, only I was so socially clueless that I didn’t even notice. Eventually, thye pretty much gave up and moved on. One of my best friends (even to this day) was with a group of kids who would brutally make fun of me on the bus. One day the other kids weren’t there, so he invited me to his house to hang out. Oblivious Aspie Me said, “Sure!” I continued with my “blending in” strategy, getting along with many types of people but never really connecting to any of them. I had a small group of close friends, but even they were distanced from me; I very rarely hung out with any of them one-on-one.

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“Thank God you guys are all here! I’m terrified of each of you individually!”

When I went to college, my isolation became official – I’m not exaggerating when I say I did not make one new friend during my four years in college. I tried a few times early on, but I just couldn’t make it work. In my mind, I had nothing in common with anybody at all. I had already figured myself as an outcast. Most of my social interaction came via the internet – where I could be whatever I wanted to be, take my time to measure my responses, and avoid the intensity of face-to-face contact. I actually met my wife over the internet during this time, and somehow she wasn’t completely turned off by my behavior when we met for the first time.

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It was slightly less awkward than this was.

At the time, it wasn’t so obvious to my parents that something was up with their son. Autism spectrum disorders weren’t featured as prominently in the news as they are nowadays. But looking back now, and with the benefit of the knowledge I gained while working to get my daughter diagnosed… it’s pretty clear. My childhood is no doubt different from the stories of other spectrum children, but I’m sure it also runs parallel to them in many ways. I worry about my daughter a lot – will she have friends? Will she be happ? Will she be successful? Looking back on my story gives me a sense of peace. If I made it this far in the face of this challenge, then the potential of my daughter is limitless.

What Does Aspergers Feel Like?

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It’s a phrase I hear from often at home. It’s a phrase I’ve used myself from time to time. When you hear it, you know exactly what it means.

“I’m feeling a bit aspie today.”

Yeah, totally. We all have days like that. But what does that really mean? What does Aspergers feel like?

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“I LOVE it when he uses the title of the post in the post!!!”

Aspergers is a unique condition due to the fact that no two people who have Aspergers are the same; there are very few unifying symptoms. What one Aspie experiences will not be felt by another, and vice versa. So it may seem pretentious of me to write a blog post about how Aspergers feels. To avoid coming off sounding like a complete asshole, I’ll make this post about how Aspergers feels to me.

To me, Aspergers feels:

Awkward – this is pretty much the default, base line feeling of Aspergers. It always seems like everyone else understands what’s going on except for me. I’m doing my best to keep up, but I seem to do everything the wrong way. And everyone’s looking at me because of it.

Stressful – I’m often very aware of the fact that I’m not quite with it, that I’m a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit into its space. I want to be able to follow along, to get with the beat, to approach some sort of normalcy. But it’s not easy. It takes effort. And when that effort fails, I get stressed that I’ll never be what I want to be.

Carefree – Then again, Aspergers gives me the ability to be blissfully ignorant of the annoyance I’m causing other people in some situations. As long as I’m feeling good and having fun, I can completely block out everyone and not even give a shit about being the weirdest person in the room. It’s these times when Aspergers becomes – dare I say it – fun!

Powerful – Aspergers gives me the ability to do things that most neurotypical people are not capable of. I’m able to think through most situations rationally, setting aside any emotions I may have and avoiding the biases that come with them. I’m able to process information faster than most people, which gives me the illusion of looking smarter – when in reality, my brain is simply more efficient at learning. I also have the ability to burden myself with painful situations and push through without falling apart mentally.

Weak – On the other hand, sometimes the smallest annoyance can seem like the biggest pain I could ever experience. A fold in my sock becomes an immediate emergency. I can’t cope with simple everyday situations that almost everybody else shrugs their shoulders at and moves on. I end up melting down over the smallest thing that doesn’t go my way.

Alone – I haven’t made any new friends since I graduated from high school. I don’t know how. The sad truth is this: I really DO want friends. People with Aspergers (and autism as well) may seem antisocial, but it’s not because we don’t want to be social. It’s because we have no fucking clue how to be social, so we’d rather just avoid the situation instead of failing miserably.

Loved – I can be such a pain to deal with, I know for sure that the people in my life truly do love me and care about me. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother putting them through the shit they go through to be connected to me. It’s not an easy thing to love an Aspie, or even to be good friends with one. There’s a lot of take and sometimes not that much give. But when someone gets to know me and understands that there’s a person inside who wants to care about people, soemthing magical happens… they actually like me.

Passionate – The things I’m interested in, I jump in full force. I want to know everything about it. I’m competitive, high spirited, I love knowing things, and I love being right. There’s no better feeling than being completely engrossed in a subject to the point where every new detail is a gift.

Bored – The things I’m not interested in, I couldn’t give less of the square root of a shit about. God help you if you want to have a conversation with me about something that bores me, because I’ll tune out faster than you even realize it and two days later I’ll insist that the conversation never happened. And to me, it didn’t… because I was off in my imagination doing something else that I care infinitely more about than your stupid thing.

And lastly…

To me, Aspergers feels like life. This is my life, and these are the difficulties that come with it. Everyone has things they deal with in their life, whether you are on the spectrum or neurotypical or whatever you want to call yourself. We learn to live the way we are.

My Aspergers doesn’t make me any less or any more human than anybody else. It just makes me who I am.

Aspie Evolution

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I think of a lot of strange things. It comes with the territory of having Aspergers. My mind gets bored and begins to explore ideas that I find interesting . Sometimes inspiration can come from my environment, however most of the time my idea-selection process is fairly random. I fall back on an idea I’ve explored before and found to be thought provoking and think about it in different ways.

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For example: Where in my neighborhood would I hide a body if I needed to?

One subject I find myself returning to is the concept of evolution, and where the human race is headed. I look at it from many different angles. My favorite is looking at the types of traits and behaviors that humans have not grown past in evolutionary terms – the human race seems to be falling behind the changing world. Human bodies are still built to function in a herd society, both metabolically and socially. As a species, we are still adapting to a world where the gathering of food is as easy as a trip to you local supermarket. Events happen so fast that we often don’t have enough time to react before the next event. The world is moving ahead while the human race is falling behind.

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Hey, wait up! I’m still working on opposable thumbs!

Or is it?

The more I think about it, the more I start to believe that Aspergers could very well be a part of the natural evolutionary progression of the human race. Think about what life was like for humans back in caveman times. Social skills were a survival necessity; if you ended up as an outcase, you would either die of starvation or exposure. Those humans that were able to get along together and pool their resources thrived in this society. Aspergers would have been a death sentence back then.

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Ok, guys, I guess I’ll just be over here dodging lion attacks.

In the modern world, things have changed dramatically. Smartphones allow interaction without face-to-face contact; with the growing use of texting, the basic concept of speaking is starting to become unnecessary. Almost anything can be purchased over the internet and delivered to your doorstep, even groceries (thanks to services such as Peapod). The value of physical and social skills has shrunk compared to science and math skills, fields that often require intense concentration and dedication. This is a world where Aspies not only survive, but they have the opportunity to thrive.

Perhaps we shouldn’t look at Aspergers as a disability, and instead consider it a victory for Darwinism.

Flippin’ Out

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My wife and I know that we can usually expect an aspie explosion from our daughter on days when she has a social-heavy event. So why can’t I ever see the same thing happening with me?

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Hi there! We’re the people who will ruin your day long after you’ve dealt with us!

Today the family went on a hike through the woods with my daughter’s nature club. We had a good time, although near the end my son started getting a little tired. I honestly didn’t feel too stressed about the whole thing, but I’ll admit I didn’t feel quite “settled” during the afternoon. During the rest of the night, I felt myself getting easily irritated by every little thing – I threw a fit because I couldn’t find the correct pan to cook brownies in! I had just about had it. For lack of a better way to explain it, I was just pissed off. So I did what we often tell our daughter to do when she needs to de-stress.

I went up to my room.

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Leave me alone; tantrum in progress…

This must be what it felt like for my daughter to go to school. She’d be completely fine at school… well not completely fine, but you get the idea. She’d get through the day, get home, and have a flippin’ fit on us until we had to send her to her room before she went completely ballistic. Then the teachers would be like “We don’t see any social issues with her, she’s perfectly fine.” Yeah, tell that to the smashed broken toys that are littered around the house because my daughter couldn’t get them lined up in just the right way. I’m an adult, so I don’t end up smashing my stuff, but I can still throw tantrums. Maybe I need the same thing she does: a little time after a social gathering to decompress myself, at the very least to avoid acting like a jerk and getting everyone in my family pissed off at me.

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Yeah, I’ll be upstairs until the urge to stab me has died down.

I Can’t Win

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I’m often seriously misunderstood. I’m not antisocial, it just seems like I am because I have Aspergers. I want to talk to people and be liked, but I’m deathly afraid of doing something weird and screwing up. So I avoid talking to people, but I hate the awkward silence that comes with it. And when I just can’t take the silence anymore, when I swallow my fear and reach out, I feel completely foolish.

I take my son to preschool almost every morning. Whenever I’m there, it seems like all the other parents are friendly, making small talk and what not. They’re doing basically all of the stuff I can’t do, which of course makes me feel inadequate and stupid. So I usually get him ready to go into class and rush out of there as soon as I can, which then makes me look antisocial and unfriendly. Which is wonderful, because the one thing I want above all else is to look like a total and complete dick to these people.

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Today I tried something different. I was the first one there with my son today, and one of the other dad’s came in behind me with his daughter. The awkward silence was PAINFUL. So I started chatting. Yes, me. CHATTING. And it was as bad as you’d expect. I don’t even remember what I was talking about, but I kept getting those half-hearted laughs you give someone when you don’t want to hurt their feelings but you just want them to shut the fuck up so you can get back to living your life uninterrupted by the weirdo who won’t stop talking to you.

It sucks. I’m sure a lot of us Aspies are like this: desperate to reach out, yet unable to do so in a “normal” way. So we wall off. We hide. Until we find out that you’re interested in something – ANYTHING! – that we can talk about. That’s why Aspies will talk your head off; we don’t want to lose the feeling of connecting with people.