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Vacation Anxiety

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So last week, my family and I went on vacation to Disney World. We drove all the way to Florida from upstate NY, which wasn’t a major deal considering I work midnights and I’m usually awake at night anyway. Then again, it was a near-24 hour drive, so yeah it kinda sucked. Sleeping in the car was no picnic with my kids singing “Let It Go” over and over again for thirteen hundred miles.

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Yes, I am fully aware that you are one with the wind and sky.

Considering my aspieness, you would think that being on vacation and messing up my normal routines would put me in a bad mood. And yes, I will admit that I end up missing my video games so much that by the end of every vacation I consider bringing my Xbox along on the next one. But it’s actually not that bad for me. I don’t mind being in a weird place because I know that the point of the trip is to experience somewhere new.

The one thing I do really need when I’m on vacation, though, is a “nothing day.” I’m fine with having lots to do on vacation; I just can’t have every moment of every day filled up with activities. If I don’t get any time to relax, then it just feels like work. And when I’m on vaca, bumming around in a cramped hotel room watching non-HD local sports and eating vending machine food is relaxing for me.

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I am so there.

So, as I said, the family and I went to Disneyworld. I don’t know if you know this, but it seems to be a very popular place to visit. My GOD was it crowded. And it was in the middle of the school year! What terrible parents these people must be, pulling their kids out of school to go to an amusement park! Excluding us, of course.  🙂

Anyway, yeah, LOTS of people. But you know what? I handled it fine. My daughter handled it fine. See, it’s not really people themselves that freak us aspies out, it’s the social interaction that goes with being around people. Most aspies are perfectly fine if they can blend in anonymously with a crowd. That’s what Disney felt like;  it felt like walking through Times Square in New York City – tons of people around, but nobody paying attention to anybody else around them. It was great! We had a great time. The kids really enjoyed the rides and stuff, and my wife and I enjoyed being able to act like kids without looking creepy.

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Shit like this don’t fly anywhere else.

The vacation was practically stress free, except for the Disney germs we all came down with when we got back home. I didn’t expect the most stressful part of my trip would be going back to work and having to talk abou my vacation with my coworkers. But that’s another post entirely.  🙂

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Funeral Footwork

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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?

Picturing Aspergers

(It only took me to March to get posting again… not bad, right?)

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There’s nothing I hate more than having my picture taken. It’s not bad enough that I think I look terrible in about 96.318% of the photos I’m in – my wife will argue that it’s way less than that… okay fine, 95.279%, better? Everyone seems to have that problem. My problem is the actual taking of the picture. I can never have my picture taken without standing there and feeling like a complete ass.

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“When you said ‘cheese’ I thought you meant the camera was made of cheese.”

Think about the whole process for a second. I am extremely uncomfortable making eye contact with other people. Now, I have someone pointing a camera at me, most likely zooming in close on my face. It’s very intimidating. At least in regular situations I know when people are looking at me so I can avoid eye contact. With the camera in the way, I’m flying blind. My defenses are down! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!!!!

Hence problem number 1: I always end up looking away from the camera when my picture is taken.

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I call it the “terrified of something just out of frame” look.

Next comes the “direction” phase. Ah yes, how I hate this part with an immeasurable passion. This is the part where the photographer tries to get everything to get everything in the picture to look just right. For most people, this consists mainly of the person taking the photo saying “smile!” and then taking the picture. For me, not so simple. Instead, I get “okay smile… come on, bigger! Whoa, okay, not THAT big. Why are you tilting your head to the side like that? Straighten up a little. No, now you’re tilting farther, the other way. Okay, hold still. And smile… look at me now, and… head up just a bit… okay, you’re smiling too big again… you know what? Fine,” and they take the picture.

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It’s the “whatever is out of frame should be terrified of me” look.

How am I supposed to look normal in a picture when I can’t even make myself normal in real life?

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.

Fancy NOT Meeting You Here

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A good rule of thumb concerning my social interactions is to assume that everything is extremely awkward unless otherwise specified. Today is no different.

Today I nearly ran into a co-worker of mine in the supemarket. I say “nearly” because he was literally two feet away from me at one point, only I didn’t notice him because I was busy trying to corral my crazy children and prevent them from running around and making a total mess of the place.

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Cleanup in aisle 4.

I honestly don’t know if he noticed me or not; I only realized it was him when he was walking away and facing the opposite direction. I considered myself lucky, though. I didn’t want to say hi anyway.

I hate that situation. I hate meeting someone that you know well from a certain setting, but meeting them in a completely different environment. It’s like running into someone from your church at the porno shop – it’s awkward, it’s strange, it doesn’t make any sense. For me, it’s escpecially difficult. As an Aspie, I find comfort in routines. This includes social interaction – I know what subjects I can talk about with certain people without seeming weird. When I’m at work with work people I can talk work things. But what do I talk about when I meet work people in the supermarket? Supermarket things?

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“Did you see the endcap between aisles 6 and 7? Crazy deals, man.”

This gets even more difficult when I run into someone and I cannot remember where I know them from, even if my life depended on it. I end up trying to coax information out of them to figure out why the hell I know them. Meanwhile, they have a certain expectation of the conversation, which I am obviously and painfully failing to fill. Now you know why I consider myself lucky that I ducked my coworker.

I spent the rest of the shopping trip looking around nervously, hoping to avoid him. I didn’t want to bump into him without warning, but I also didn’t want to make accidental eye contact while trying to locate him. Thankfully, I was able to avoid him for the rest of the shopping trip.

Now, all I need to do is come up with some excuse why I didn’t say hi when I see him at work tomorrow.

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Works for me.

Zero Tolerance

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The funny thing about my Aspergers is that it blesses (curses?) me with extreme polarity. I can remember the tiniest minutiae of information, yet I can’t remember where I put my keys. I can deal with major levels of discomfort, but I can’t handle having an itchy tag on the collar of my shirt. And while it gives me the ability to tune out things that drive me crazy, it also makes me lose my shit at the smallest provocation.

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So that’s where my keys were.

My tolerance level is practically nil for certain EXTREMELY annoying things. Recently, my daughter has begun making this really strange noise with her mouth/throat that makes me nauseous. It sounds like a pig trying to stop itself from vomiting. In fact, you know what? I can’t even describe how gross it is, so I’m going to let you experience it for yourself:

My daughter’s disgusting throat noise.

I told you so.

Now, I don’t know if this is some sort of new stim/nervous tic she has developed, but I have told her over and over again to STOP MAKING THAT GOD DAMN NOISE. But she doesn’t stop. Most likely can’t stop, but that makes no difference to me. Last night she made the noise at least ten times while we were playing Life, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I told her if she kept doing it, I’d make sure she wouldn’t be able to play at Life anymore. And I wasn’t talking about the board game.

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She didn’t think it was funny, either.

And it’s even funnier that as I’m writing a blog post about not having any tolerance for anything, I have a difficult time making the post exactly how I want it to be and end up throwing a tantrum over it. I can usually problem solve pretty effectively, but sometimes the problem is just so frustrating that it makes me just up and say “fuck this shit” and give up. I had some other things to talk about in this post, but I’ve kinda lost the groove after my energy-draining frustration explosion.

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.

Feeling Stupid

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It really is a no-win situation.

There were some issues with the bank that needed to get taken care of this morning… ok, fine, I’ll admit it. I forgot my PIN number for my bank card. As if I wasn’t already feeling stupid for the other stuff that I’m about to talk about. Thanks a lot, dickwad.

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Yes. Yes it did.

But I digress.

In order to get my PIN number reset, I had to call the bank and deal with (errrrg) customer service. This is not one of my many talents. In fact, I usually come off sounding more awkward than that friend of yours who asks you to be the best man at his wedding after his fiancee has already cheated on him with you. We’ve all been there, right?

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“So how are things going with the florist?”

So, this situation leaves me with only the following options:

A) Call the bank myself, and make a complete and utter ass of myself in the process

B) Ask my wife to do it.

Now many of you are saying, “Well, duh. If you can’t do it yourself, let you wife do it.” However, option B comes with a whole new set of problems. See, the customer service guy ALWAYS needs to confirm my identity before anything can be done. In order to do that, he needs to ask me to verify personal information. So my wife has to hand me the phone so I can talk to the customer service guy. There’s no escape for me, and now even the guy on the phone knows how big a douche I am.

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“Hey Bill! Check it out, it’s another lame ass guy who needs his wife to use the phone for him!”

Now, bless my wife, she tries to make things better by softening the blow and telling the customer service rep flat out that I “don’t like to use the phone.” It means a lot to me that she tries, but I don’t think for one second that it makes me look any more normal in the eyes of the person on the other end of the phone. They know the deal, they know what’s up.

So, inevitably, I threw a tantrum later, because I HATE feeling stupid. I only felt better after playing a car racing game with my kids and showcasing my mad skills.

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Because video games.

It is still nice to know that I have a family who cares for me – a wife who loves me enough to do the things for me that I can’t do myself, and children who will gladly have their asses handed to them on a platter so I can feel better about myself.

An Aspie and a Funeral

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There was a death in my family last week and the services were this past weekend. It felt weird being at the funeral. It was my aunt who died, and I was very close with her for quite some time, until she started to have some mental health issues. Then things kinda sorta just… went. In all honesty, it was probably for the best that she went.

So the funeral was an experience, I’ll tell you that. I’m not quite sure exactly how funerals feel for neurotypical people, but for me it just felt kinda strange. The rest of my family was really shook up, my mom in particular. She was really upset, which I completely understand. I just had none of that going on in my head at all.

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And there were Tootsie Rolls. I am not kidding.

It sucks to admit this, but I didn’t want to be there because I didn’t really understand what I was supposed to do. Mourn? How? The aspie side of my brain doesn’t really get it. Yes, she’s gone. Yes, she will be missed. But why am I sitting in a room for six hours with her dead body? Can’t we do this somewhere else? And what exactly is the “this” that we are doing?

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I’ll just stand here and count to fifteen, then I’ll go sit back down.

I wasn’t all that saddened by her death. I looked at this as a positive – I was able to comfort my mother and relatives in their fragile states. With my detached emotional state comes a pseudo-strength that others can lean on. Until I start to get tired and want to go home, because I still don’t understand what I’m doing there.

But yeah, it was very interesting. In this situation, Aspergers was my ally. I always try to look at my aspie-ness as a blessing, but it was almost impossible not to when I saw the pain everyone else was in.

And there I go, making it all about me again.

I Don’t Get It

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Decided to splurge a little on myself tonight and went to Dunkin Donuts for a mid-shift snack. I know the guy who works there and he’s very nice. This sounds like a good thing, however many people with Aspergers like me would actually prefer a stranger to a familiar face. Familiar faces tend to try to be friendly and joke around, which doesn’t go over well when you can’t figure out sarcasm.

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Professor Frink could have made millions off of the aspie community.

I step up to the counter and begin to order myself a coffee cake muffin and as I continue my list of fattening treats, the guy behind the counter tells me that I can’t have any of those. I know from previous trips to this DD that this guy likes to joke around so at first I kinda laugh it off, but he’s still telling me I can’t have them. Now I start thinking… maybe he’s serious? Don’t normal people end the joke when everybody laughs? He’s not getting my muffin. I think he’s serious. Something is wrong with those muffins.

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Um, on second thought I’ll just have a french cruller…

 So I ask him, “Is there something wrong with the muffins?” And he laughs, “Nah, man, I’m just messing with ya.” Now I know he’s just trying to be funny. But I’m an aspie, so um, yeah… no. Didn’t get it. Never will. 

This happens to me all the time. At least once or twice every single day, someone tells me a story that ends in a joke, or at least I interpret it as a joke from the way they are talking. However, to me, it’s not a joke because it’s simply not funny. But I figure that because I’m the aspie, I must have missed the joke, so I laugh anyway. Most of the time I’m right on, but it has led to some awkward moments.

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When you said your mom was in a better place now, I thought you meant Hawaii or something.

UPDATE: One of the comments below is just so WTF, I can’t even believe it’s serious. In no way do I condone the ideas in the comment. I approved it simply because it’s just too crazy for me to be the only person to ever read it.