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Funeral Footwork

View of a group of people's feet standing in an office

Now that things have settled down just a bit, perhaps I can get back to blogging.

 My family and I traveled out of state to my father-in-law’s funeral during my last hiatus. I have posted before about the experience of attending a funeral from an aspie standpoint before, so I already knew I was in for a slightly uncomfortable time. However, I was also very aware that I was going to have a very important job at this funeral – my FIL’s death hit my wife pretty hard. She handled it surprisingly well, but she was still emotional. I was there to support her, because aspies are superheroes when it comes to lending support during emotional times.

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Able to not understand what the big deal is in a single shrug.

There were times where I found myself standing around with nothing to do, so I started doing what I enjoy doing in these types of situations: I began to observe human behavior for interesting patterns. It didn’t take me too long to find one. I started noticing how people were standing and talking together. I noticed that when two people stood together, they almost never faced each other. They stood with their feet at an angle to the other person, like a conversation deflection of sorts – I’m not really interested in talking to you, but I don’t want to seem rude and ignore you, so I’ll meet you halfway. It was pretty consistent no matter the age or gender.

I decided that I needed to learn this move, post haste.

Even more interesting was how this dynamic applied when there were more than two people standing together. The “angled feet” behavior was still present, with each person angling themselves to avoid directly facing either of the other people. And as the group grew, the people adjusted their angles to fit the group’s size, often positioning themselves to form a social semicircle.

It was fascinating. Seriously. I felt like Pavlov, only my subjects weren’t drooling dogs.

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And my beard wasn’t quite as bitchin’.

The most interesting thing happened when…

Wait a minute…

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That’s totally Robert Duvall with a humongous beard!

Ok, where was I? Oh yeah…

The most interesting thing happened when two groups came together to form a large “supergroup” of sorts. Each group would open up slightly to accept the merging group, and after a moment or two of jostling, the people would fall perfectly into the angled feet position! The supergroup would often be a fairly large circle at this point, with nobody talking or looking directly at anyone else, yet they were all having a conversation with everyone at the same time.

Amazing!

From here, the supergroup would break up and the participants would float around the room until they joined up with others to form smaller group chains. And this dynamic happened over and over again. It was like watching so weird social cellular cosmos, with people aimlessly colliding with one another over and over again. It was cool to watch. It was even cooler not to join in. Instead, in between consoling hugs for my wife, I was able to let my mind wander onto other meaningless things. Such as….

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See? Didn’t I tell you?

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Family Business

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Today I found myself wondering about my parents. Specifically, I was considering the possibility of either one of my parents having Aspergers. It’s common knowledge that Aspergers and autism seems to run in families. Could either of my parents have been an aspie?

When measuring the possibility of mental disorder, my mother comes to mind first. I love her to death, but I’m not going to deny that she is kinda nutty. She does possess some aspie-like traits: she is ritualistic, slow to adapt to change, and fairly antisocial. One thing that doesn’t fit, however, is her expression of emotions – if anything, she is OVERexpressive. Last time I visited, she got upset and tried to console me when I dropped an egg on the kitchen floor.

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The funeral procession for the embryo was not at all necessary.

She might have OCD tendencies, she might not be a social butterfly, but I don’t think she has Aspergers. My father, on the other hand…

I’ve brought up the possibility of my dad having Aspergers to my wife before, and she has easily dismissed the idea in the past. “He had a good sense of humor, he was very sarcastic,” she says. “Aspies aren’t usually good with sarcasm.”

First off: Aspies can be good using sarcasm. I use it all the time. The problem aspies have with sarcasm is detecting it in others, not using it themselves.

Second: I don’t think she quite understands what made my dad so funny. The reason he was hilarious was because he would “act” serious when doing something completely crazy that nobody would ever expect. One example I always love to use is how he used to openly discuss his tipping plans with the waiter while the meal was still underway. My family thought it was so funny, how he would joke around like that.

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The waiters found it hilarious.

What if he wasn’t joking? What if he just had no clue that that’s something that you aren’t supposed to do? Social awkwardness – check.

Another thing about my dad – I only remember seeing him cry once, when my mom was very sick and was hospitalized. Other than that? I don’t recall him showing many emotions at all. Home movies of us show him basically being there, every once in a while telling us kids to quit doing annoying things. I know he loved me, but do I have any concrete evidence showing an emotional bond between the two of us? Inability to outwardly express emotions – check.

There are other reasons that I won’t get into here, but what it boils down to is that there is a decent chance that my dad has Aspergers. Then, of course, I got to thinking…

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What in God’s holy name were they thinking when they came up with this?

Then I got to thinking…

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Hey, wait a minute… what DOES the fox say???

But then I started thinking…

I have some unresolved issues with my dad (I was not aware of them until after he died). Do I really want my son to have those same issues with me when he gets older? Of course not. So I make sure that he knows I love him, every single day. I do more than tell him – I show him. I show him by being there for him when he needs me, by being there when he doesn’t, by being engaged with him even when he tells stories that take ten minutes and six run on sentences to complete. I don’t want him to have to question whether or not his father loved him. I’m going to make that answer obvious for him.

And you know what? It’s EASY. My kids are part of a very small group of people in this world who I feel completely comfortable being real around, and connecting truly with. He may realize when he grows up that Daddy was a little strange, but he’ll never feel disconnected from me. I won’t let that happen.

Bad News is Bad

 

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Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than hearing about someone else’s bad news. Most normal people have trouble with this also, but my reasons are particularly aspie-ish. It’s not the bad news itself that bothers me, it’s the fact that I have no idea how I’m supposed to react.

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Probably not the best reaction.

I really don’t know what to say. I don’t want to brush the bombshell off like it’s nothing, but I also don’t want to dwell on the negatives and reinforce just how bad everything sucks for this person. So most of the time I just get socially paralyzed and try not to react at all, which makes me look wooden and heartless. The best case scenario is when someone else besides me is involved in the conversation, because then I can pretend I wasn’t listening and didn’t hear what’s going on.

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Being oblivious comes off better than being rude.

Then, sometimes my Aspergers kicks in and I just don’t seem to care. It’s horrible to say, but it’s true – often, my first reaction is to figure out if and how the news will affect me. I may be self centered, but that comes with the Aspie territory.

A coworker of mine is currently going through some health problems. As he was explaining the situation to the rest of the staff on the shift, I found myself desperately trying to avoid eye contact, pretending to be heavily involved in my work. What am I supposed to say? I can’t console anybody. I’ll do more harm than good. The situation may involve him missing some time. My thoughts? “Man, this is going to make us short handed. We are going to have to bust some ass to get the work done.” I’m not joking; this guy is gravely ill, and I’m worried about how my work flow is going to change.

What the hell? What is wrong with me?

It gets worse – when he actually started to miss time, I started to get a little pissed off because work was so busy. I was resenting the guy because he had the nerve to get cancer and require chemotherapy sessions.

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“My bad. I’ll be back to work on Monday.”

At least I’m self-aware enough to realize how disturbed and callous this is. That’s why I figure it’s better to keep my mouth shut than to tell him what’s on my mind. Still, I can’t deny that my first thoughts are how the situation affects me, as if that is the most important thing. But that’s the reality of having Aspergers – the whole world revolves around you, even when it doesn’t.

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.

Light It Up Blue!

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April is Autism Awareness Month – today being World Autism Awareness Day specifically – so it’s a very special day for me and my family. I’ve decided to tweet out autism facts for the entire month because not many people are aware of exactly how strongly autism permeates our society today. Autism affects so many people that it’s hard to find someone who’s life is not touched by autism in some way.

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The signs aren’t always this obvious.

Most people choose to spread awareness through the “Light It Up Blue” movement. Support has been outstanding and overwhelming. Over 40,000 people have committed to raising awareness for autism by joining in. Many landmarks around the world have been bathed in blue light to bring attention to the cause. My wife is doing her best by turning just about any part of her body blue that will cooperate – her hair, her nails, even her toes (you can thank Raynauds for that). Not sure how blue became the color of choice, but my wife sure is happy about it.

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Some of the best things in the universe come in blue.

So I encourage you to join in and Light It Up Blue for the month of April! Let the world know that Autism is something to be embraced, not to fear or run from. Awareness is the first step towards acceptance; let’s take that first step together.

More Than an Aspie

I’m very much Aspie. I’m interested in Aspergers and Autism awareness. I’m up for the cause. That’s what this blog is all about. But that’s not what I’m all about.

I have many other interests. I love sports, football and baseball especially. I follow politics – just not so much, in order to avoid getting angry. And I love to play video games.

(And no, this is not just a shameless segue to promote my other blog… ok, maybe a little bit.)

But seriously, though… I think it’s important to not let Aspergers define me. I may be an Aspie, but I am also a host of other things that have nothing to do with my Spectrum status.

We can only fight the prejudices of others when we decide to stop living up to them.

(Ok, now go check out my other blog)

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.