Warning: Very long post!
Once again, I seem to be writing something other than I meant to because of a response I started writing to one of The Third Glance‘s posts. This one is on my own ASD behaviours as a child and teen – what I know of them, at least. I have vague memories of my childhood, somewhat better ones of my adolescence, but most of what I remember is generic things that repeated, and specific events that stood out in my memory for some reason or another (some good, some bad). I may easily miss some – I’m still learning what is “normal” for ASD and what might have been something else, but these are the ones that my mother and I remember (or I experienced). Not in any particular order, except that of how they occurred to me while writing.
Clumsiness / Proprioceptive Issues:
- If toe-walking means what I think it does (putting your toes down first when you’re walking, rather than your heels) – oh, yes, I toe-walked. Or put my feet down flat. I only learned to walk with my heels down first 4-1/2 years ago now, when I got a pair of MBT shoes, which have bottoms that are engineered to help people walk properly. Even now, when I’ve had a lot of practice walking properly when not in the shoes, I still sometimes have to pay attention to what I’m doing in order to make sure I’m “heel-walking”.
- I could never catch balls (tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey, volleyball, scrunched-up paper) or Frisbees – or pens! – thrown to me. Even if I managed to move my hands (or feet, or stick) to where it would be – which was never guaranteed – I would fumble it. My hands would be too closed, or too open, or I’d get it on an angle, and it would shoot off somewhere unexpected. Even now I can’t catch.
- (This might or might not be proprioceptive….) I could never learn to touch-type. I just couldn’t. I always had to look down to know where the keys were and where my fingers were going, in order to make sure they matched. The reason I can type as quickly as I can now is in part because I’ve learned to take quick glances at the keyboard if I’m uncertain where my fingers are in comparison to the keys I need, and I’ve basically memorized the keyboard and usually get my guesses right.
- [edited: Jan. 19/13 @ 12:02] Okay, what I had here before was incorrect. I crawled, but only on my hands and one leg, with the other leg pulled behind me. Then I started walking. Once I was walking by myself, I started crawling properly. The doctor my mother took me to (who apparently wasn’t her gynecologist – I was conflating them) said it was probably just as well that I started crawling again properly.
General Personality and Traits:
- Even as I grew up, I was a quiet kid (though that might have been partly my introverted nature). My mom never had to worry about needing to take care of my younger sister, because I’d be quite happy to just sit by myself and play, or “read”. (Apparently I would “read” the Disney books out loud to my sister; I’d have memorized the record, and so knew when to turn the pages and everything, even if I wasn’t reading the words themselves.)
- I had learning plateaus and spikes – in particular with my reading and riding a bike. I would tell my mom that I wanted to learn, then after a short while I’d pull back. A few months would go by, then I’d repeat that. I finally started actually reading when the daughter of a friend of my mom – who was a few months younger than I was – learned to read, and I got terribly insulted that she could read and I couldn’t, since I was older. The first book I remember reading by myself was a Bobbsey Twins book. And when I finally decided that I would learn to ride a bike, I was riding it myself by the end of that afternoon.
- My mother also seems to remember that I went from speaking a few words (“cookie”, “milk”, “please”, “mommy”, “daddy”) to full, complete sentences with good grammar like a switch was flipped, though my dad did remind us that memories over 30 years old can be inaccurate (hells, memories over 5 minutes old can be inaccurate!). This is the one major trait that has separated Asperger’s Syndrome from Classic / Clinical Autism – the lack of language delay – and was one reason why no one considered that I might be autistic until AS became re-discovered.
- My vocabulary has been advanced / above grade level since I was young, and I typically sounded several years older than I was (until high school) because of my word choice. I needed to be as specific as possible as to the meaning of the words I chose, in order to get across the meaning I wanted to. (Or maybe that last has only been since I started writing, in Gr. 3.)
- My best friend for quite a while was our neighbour; she was older than Mom, with teenage kids, but she was quite willing to take me for walks and stuff by the time I was 4 or 5. I remember she was willing to talk to me as though I were a young adult (within my comprehension level, which was reasonably high for my age), and I adored her for that. I was quite sad when she moved away when I was in my teens, and I made sure that we went to the funeral for her husband when I found out about it. (It’s fairly consistent across the spectrum that “AS / HFA / MFA” people tend to prefer having friends who are older or younger than they are, but have issues with friends who are the same age.)
- I isolated myself. A lot.
- I was bullied in school as a young child – once, in Gr. 1, a group of older girls even made me strip (after which I refused to wear skirts for over 3 years, though I ignored the memory of the actual situation – although Mom says that when I was in Gr. 5 or 6, one day when we were driving near the school I pointed to a bunch of girls and mentioned that they were the ones who made me strip in Gr. 1 – even now, I can’t consciously remember what happened).
- I was also bullied at home by my younger sister. (She had her own issues to deal with, and both our personalities and our conditions are pretty much diametrically opposed, which may have had something – or even a great deal – to do with it.)
- All of that made me retreat even more, like a crab into its shell. A lot like E (The Third Glance), I would read books at recess and at lunch. Sometimes I would play with a couple of my younger sister’s classmates – they were two years younger than I was, and I could relate to them better than my peers – but most often I would try to find a place on the playground where I could be alone. Even in high school, where I could relate better to my peers because we were on a fairly even playing ground, intellectually speaking, I would sit and read a book between classes, rather than get involved in conversations.
- E, and I think Aspects of Aspergers, have mentioned being thought of as walking encyclopedias (or dictionaries). That was me too. I knew stuff, and I wanted to share it, because I thought everyone would want to know about it as well. I generally tended to be wrong about that….
- Other than Wendy (the woman mentioned above), I generally only had one friend at a time until the middle of high school. The one time during that period where I had more than one friend was in a transition period where I was losing one friend who was in a different school than I was, and was trying to make another friend, when I was in Gr. 3.
- I was about 14 / 15 before I was able to have more than one friend at once (and then it only expanded to two – with a close acquaintance in the grade below us because my new friend considered her a friend).
- I had acquaintances, who I would talk to occasionally (most of whom were in high school, where I wasn’t as weird as I was in elementary school, because all of us were in the highly intelligent percentiles), but no other real friends.
- It was only as I moved into adulthood and the internet came into prominence that I was able to develop more friends. Including a few who I could talk to about anything. (I’m a lot more confident about posting responses to certain articles and setting up this blog than I would have been before I learned to share with them.) It was the first time I had people around about my own age (not hugely older or a few years younger) that I could be friends with.
- And that let me build up a circle of friends “In Real Life” that I had things in common with. I still had trouble talking to the IRL friends about things that weren’t our shared interests, and when we went to dinner, if there was more than three of us, I’d mostly stay out of conversation because I would have trouble following and my responses would have come at odd times due to reduced processing speed… but they were (and are) friends. It meant a huge amount to me, and still does.
Obsessiveness / Fixations / Special Interests:
- I don’t remember what I got fixated on as a young child, but in grade school, first it was the mystery books Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys.
- Then, in Gr. 2, I got fixated on genetics; my mother gave me her first year university genetics textbook, and I read (and understood) it up to and including the details about how sickle cell anemia carriers are more resistant to malaria, and that’s why the sickle cell trait has lasted for so long – because of environmental pressures. Then it got into details of how genes work, and the more complicated stuff of multiple genes interacting, which I didn’t understand at the time.
- In Gr. 3, it was the legends and myths of Ireland, investigating my Irish ancestry (which, come to think of it, is somewhat linked to genetics…).
- That was also the year that I decided for certain I was going to be a writer when I grew up.
- The next year, the myths of Ireland led into Greco-Roman myths, partly because we did some basic exploration of Greek myths in Gr. 4. That led me in turn to fantasy, and that led me to science-fiction, which led to Star Trek, which led to Babylon 5, and so on and so forth.
- Also in Gr. 4, I got back to that university genetics textbook, and this time read it cover to cover, and understood the whole thing. (And I was disappointed that it would be hugely difficult to trace the genetic causes of both my older cousin and I having almond-shaped, almost slanted eyes, despite our purely Caucasian / Celtic genetic background.)
- In high school, partly because of my interest in SF, it was science. Physics, Biology, Chemistry – I didn’t care. It was fascinating. (The fact that I didn’t do too badly in those classes while still rarely handing in the homework didn’t hurt.)
- And languages. My parents put us in French Immersion from kindergarten to Gr. 6 (I would have been so much more screwed up if I’d continued on to the French Immersion Junior High), and I continued in “Special” French (for those of us from Immersion and French families) all the way to Gr. 12, the Ontario Academic Credits year for French, Latin, and… one other class that our school did. Latin was compulsory for our second year (it wouldn’t surprise me if we were the only school in Toronto, let alone Ontario, that had that as a requirement), and since I already loved languages and etymology – from my writing – I loved Latin as well. And I started German in Gr. 11, because I didn’t want to take Spanish – it was too similar to French, and I wanted a broad base of languages, as well as proto-Germanic / Teutonic being the base language for Saxon, which was one of the base languages for English (along with Latin, through the Church, and through Norman French).
- Yeah, I was an information and knowledge nut. I still am.
- More recently, certain manga and anime has led me to an interest in Japanese history, which is in turn leading me towards the greater history of Asia (though I’m not quite there yet).
- Oh, and we can’t forget about the swords. And daggers. I don’t know entirely why – I blame it on my fantasy interests – but I love edged weaponry. Absolutely love it. Not that I’d think of using it on people (including myself) – I’m not a violent person by nature – but just the weaponry itself. *shrugs* To me, it’s just the way I am.
- Note that I am still interested (to a greater or lesser degree) in everything I’ve been interested in since the middle of elementary school (starting from Irish myths and legends) – I do still have something of an interest in mysteries and espionage thrillers, but I basically outgrew even Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys by the time I hit age 10.
Sensory Issues, Overloads, and Stimming: (no particular order)
- I would need to retreat to my safe space – usually my bedroom, especially as I hit pre-adolescence and my father built some bedrooms in the basement, the far corner one of which was mine. My parents had separated my younger sister and myself as soon as they could, in terms of bedrooms, so for a few years until my father built those bedrooms, his study was turned into my bedroom. (My younger brother – the 3rd in the family – already had the third bedroom in our 3-bedroom house.) When I retreated, I would usually have a cat with me; one of the original three (who we had before I was born) to start with, then Brightspot after we got her. I would curl up on my bed and read, or just let my imagination flow free, and pet the cat and / or talk to him / her (of the original ones, sometimes it was the younger of the white males, Tikky, and sometimes it was the “little” black female, Kroz).
- Unfortunately, at the time, my parents didn’t understand that need to retreat when I was near overload, and I had no way to tell them because I didn’t know why I needed to get away, just that I did. So during family get-togethers (which most people would say weren’t that bad, because generally they only had four other people in addition to the six of us), my mother – and later on my sisters – would nag me to get out and come spend time with the family. Our grandmother never came out of her apartment except during these get-togethers in the later years of her life – i.e. since the time I was about 10 to 12 – so that was pretty much the only time we saw her. But again, none of us knew what was going on with me, including me.
- (And gods, that used to be so hard on me…. I could never articulate why my nerves felt raw and soaked in acid after the family gatherings, much less the fact that they did, but that’s how it felt.)
- During the spring, summer and fall, I would spend literally hours walking around our block. Just our block, never past it, and always going west up from our house, rather than east (whose corner was closer). During that time, I would let my imagination roam free, and pretend that I was a character in a story, or – later on – developing the plotlines for my stories.
- I loved swinging on swings – I used to do it for hours, and one of my earliest (and best) memories is of the day before my fifth birthday, swinging on the swing in the backyard and playing the game I’d made up for doing that – and even now if I get the chance (there’s a swingset in the parkette near our house here), I’ll sit down and swing for a bit.
- I need to move my hands, feeling things – but not to the extent of flapping or running my hands over everything – just touching my skin, or feeling the texture of my clothes. I love the feeling of velour, velvet, corduroy, silk (as long as it’s not raw – that’s interesting, but it’s not one of my favourite textures), and satin. And changing textures. I find those fascinating, and if I’m wearing any clothes with that, I will quite often run my hands over the different textures.
- I don’t know how much of the three just above are stimming, but I suspect they all might be. Or my wandering might be partly finding a “safe space” outside (I know I would sometimes feel as though the walls were crowding in on me, and that was my main solution).
- As a child, I’m told that my hands were never allowed to be dirty. If they got dirty, I had to wash them immediately. (A great contrast to my younger sister who, like most other children I’ve known, loved to play in the mud.) Even nowadays, I cannot bear for my hands to be sticky. Not to the extent that I’d shove away anyone between me and water… but I get to the nearest sink as soon as I can to wash the stickiness off.
- Light hurts. I don’t know if neurotypicals can understand this. It’s not a sensation like, “I’ve scraped my arm”, or “I’ve sprained my ankle”, or “I’ve dislocated my kneecap” (yes, I’ve done all three – the kneecap thing is a weakness in my maternal family). It’s… I don’t know exactly how to describe it. It’s like high-pitched noise to a migraine sufferer. Or… actually, I think I have it – it’s almost like nails on a chalkboard – or claws on a chalkboard, even. That sensation that goes right past the physical body into your mind. Well, “claws on a chalkboard” pretty much describes how normal, everyday light – like, oh, the light of the sun, or of those energy saving bulbs – feels. Now, imagine that contrasted to the silence of a library, and you might have some idea of how I feel outside at night. Car headlights, street lights, traffic lights – all of them so much brighter than they are during the day, because of the contrast of darkness, and all shoving their way into my brain past my holed filters. Not Fun.
- If I spend too much time in the presence of lights / bright lights / blinking lights (the latter two of which reduce the length of time of my tolerance) I have to get out of there and to someplace dark. Most of the time, that’s my room. When I worked last year at the call centre, it was the sick room.
- Sound hurts. Not as badly as light does – unless I’m already partly in sensory overload due to light or some other reason – but it hurts. Pretty much “nails on a chalkboard” rather than “claws”. Especially loud or high-pitched sounds. (Unfortunately, children – around the age of my younger niece and nephew, say – tend to squeal when excited. It’s not their fault; it’s natural for them. But it means that it hurts, and if I don’t want to leave the room, I have to protect my ears. Which has led to my siblings telling me not to be so “overdramatic”. There are more reasons than my lack of patience and my solitary nature as to why I decided to never have kids back when I was 10-11.)
- As a corollary to “sound hurts”, opera makes me nauseous. As in, literally, physically queasy. (It was really hard when I was trying to hide in my room downstairs, and Dad was trying to get some renovation work done down there, and the classical radio station he’d like to listen to would start playing opera.) I don’t know why – it might have to do with the pitches – but I just cannot tolerate it without getting sick.
- As another corollary to “sounds hurts”, I can’t tolerate heavy metal or any rock “heavier” than that. The “heaviest” I can tolerate is Queen. Nor can I tolerate rap – that’s not music. Soft rock (50s, 60s, some 70s), “pop” rock, classical (yes, even with the huge volume ranges – I love the 1812 Overture [and the William Tell Overture – The Lone Ranger’s theme, but if you tell my dad I called it that, I’ll be in trou-ble…]), folk (Celtic – Irish, Scottish, Atlantic Canadian – and some general Canadian), blues / jazz, and filk (folk based on SF and Fantasy media) – those are the musics I can tolerate and generally enjoy.
- If I’m in a semi-noisy restaurant, forget about my being able to respond. It takes a huge effort to block noise out, and then there’s the effort to understand what’s being said to me (translate the verbal noises to words the way my brain “sees” them). It’s easier if I’m with family – I know them, know how they’ll act, know their voices – and I can order… but in a group of friends? Going to Swiss Chalet for an hour, hour and a half? I’m exhausted by the time I get home – again, I need to go to my “safe room”.
- Even in a quiet room, if there are two different conversations going on around me, I often can’t distinguish one from the other. Sometimes I can manage to focus on just one… but like I said above, it takes effort. So in that sort of situation, I tend to stay on the outside of the conversation, and nod and “hmm…” when it seems appropriate.
- And, of course, call centres are pure hell. Not only are you trying to concentrate on the voice coming in your ear from the phone (which may be scratchy, or have delays that mean you get an echo, or be from someone with a heavy accent you haven’t heard before), but you’re also trying to ignore everyone else around you, who are also talking on their phones, while at the same time, you’re trying to understand what the person on the phone is saying – and what they really mean and want (which doesn’t necessarily match up with the words coming in your ear). No surprise I couldn’t last more than a month on the phones without having a minor breakdown, and more than two months without having to quit.
- I can’t eat “hot” food. Even the mildest “hot” spice is intolerable. Curry – forget it. (Strangely, mild, mayonnaisey horseradish isn’t too bad, as long as it’s thinly spread on properly red roast beef. But that’s all.) Wasabi? No way, despite the fact that I love sushi and sashimi. Mustard? *shakes head* Jalapeños – uh uh, get that away from me! I need my food to be reasonably tasty (though my youngest sister would inform you that also includes “bland”), but not spicy.
- I can’t stand the taste of alcohol. (Yes, people, alcohol does have a taste. I’ve tasted vodka. And beer. And wine. And champagne. And creme de menthe – on one memorable occasion when my grandmother was trying to treat my stuffed-up sinuses. And medicine made with alcohol. And stevia in an alcohol base. It all tastes the same.) This we found out fairly early on, same as the spices – my parents (quite wisely, in my opinion, removing the lure of the “forbidden fruit”) were quite willing to let us have a sip or two of their wine or beer at dinner if we asked. After the first couple of tries, I just didn’t ask.
- Cigarette smoke, artificial scents, perfumes, colognes, paint for houses… none of those smells are things I can tolerate without headaches. Whether it’s the sensory perception disorder part of ASD, or it’s Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (or MCS is a part of SPD and ASD), I don’t know; I just know that they cause pain. Indirectly, but they do cause pain. (Headaches are the most… obvious signs I have of sensory overloads.) So if I smell cigarette smoke? I have to wave my hand in front of my nose. I cannot handle the smell. (No one has overtly told me it’s rude, but I do get stared at.)
Judgement, Prioritization, and Executive Function:
- I could never keep my space tidy. Even as a kid, I was always being told, “Clean up your room! It’s a mess in here; I don’t understand how you can tolerate it! This is a fire hazard!” and so on and so forth. (And yet at work, I’m anal about keeping my workspace neat.) The thing was, I was always taking books or toys (mostly books as I got to ages 9 and 10) down to read or play with, and I would put them down next to me when I finished (and generally pick up another one). Next to me could mean putting it horizontally on the bookshelf, or it could mean putting it on the floor next to my bed, or in the storage areas of my night-table, and so on. And then I would just forget about them – well, I could see that they were there, and some part of my mind would tell me that I really needed to put them away – but what if I wanted to re-read them soon? (And that would often happen when I tried to tidy. I’d pick up a book, and realize that I wanted to read it. And start reading, and forget about the tidying up.) Unless I didn’t like a book at all, I always read it a minimum of twice. Quite often uncountable times. And every time I re-read it, I would get more of the nuances.
- Anyway, back to tidying. When I moved out on my own, this became not just something that my parents and I would battle (if politely) over; it became a real problem (it wasn’t just restricted to my bedroom and study anymore). My dad wasn’t kidding when he called it a fire hazard. (Not that I ever saw direct evidence of it; but because of my writing, and my need to edit on hardcopy, I quite often had papers scattered all over the place – along with books, which are, of course, made of paper.) My apartment was a mess of books and papers and plates and cups and boxes and clothes… nobody but myself and my cats could navigate through it! (Twice, my dad and sister had to come in and clean it up, and both times it took them about 3 days.)
- Then when I moved out of that apartment (after 8 years) and into a new one, most of my stuff was left in the boxes I had packed it in… and the boxes were piled up almost ceiling-high in my living room and part of my bedroom. The rest of my bedroom was covered in clothes and books and papers, etc. The living room had books everywhere. The kitchen was covered in boxes of microwavable dinners that I kept meaning to put in recycling. I’m sure you get at least a general picture.
- I can’t make decisions in a hurry, much less under pressure. I won’t go into detail here, since that’s covered in my previous post, Making Decisions and Prioritization.
- If I’m given a task and told to do it in order of priority – I can’t. Not unless I’m also told what is the order of priority, because I can’t figure it out for myself. Unless it’s in a hierarchy format – i.e. in order to do one part of the task, another part of the task has to be done first, and that’s obvious from what I’ve been given.
- If I’m bored with something, I’ll ignore it. I won’t do the work. To me, it has no relevance or importance. This got me into so much trouble in high school, and was part of the reason I didn’t last in university or community college. (Not the only reason, by any means, but a large part of it.)
- No deadline? I won’t do it. Not necessarily because I believe it’s unimportant… but because there are more things to do, and I want to do them first, and if there’s no deadline, there’s no rush to get it done. And it will get forgotten.
- I don’t really know where this falls, so I’m sticking it in here, because it’s as likely to be linked to executive function (or dysfunction, really) as anything else: It’s quite common, apparently, for people with ASD to suffer psychosomatic complaints. Meaning, the mind stresses out, and it shows up in the form of a physical ailment. Tension headaches are a form of psychosomatic complaint. But ASD people get more than just that. For years – at least from Gr. 1 to Gr. 6 inclusive – I would often tell Mom in the morning that I had a headache, or I felt sick. I had no real way to communicate to her that it was because the thought of going to school – of having to deal with all the stress of bullies and crowds that I couldn’t understand, and sensory input gone wild – threw my mind into defensive status, and my subconscious understood that if I was sick, I could miss school. So I got sick. The problem was, I was always well by the afternoon – well enough to go outside and play. So I kind of ended up with the reputation of being a hypochondriac.
- Note that when I was in Gr. 6, my parents were concerned enough about my constant complaints of headaches that they took me to a specialist, who arranged for me to get an EEG. The result? All they got were signs of muscle tension. None of my brainwaves came through. (Apparently equipment today is more sensitive; I had an EEG when I was being tested to see about my diagnosis, and they were able to get my brainwaves then.)
- I believe the psychosomatic complaints lessened in frequency when I got into high school. I was still being bombarded by sensory input and body language that I didn’t understand, but there were less people, we were all more mature, and I wasn’t bullied for my intelligence any longer. I still had headaches, but they seemed to be a bit more under control. (When what I suspect was really happening is that my pain tolerance was going up.)
- The complaints still happened as I entered the working world, but reduced even further. (Although I started to get terrible headaches in April of 2001, it turned out – finally, in August – that I had TMJ, and that was the cause of those headaches, not psychosomatic complaints.) And then, in 2007, shortly after what I refer to as my “2007 breakdown” or “2007 meltdown” (the latter of which is actually more accurate), I got terribly dizzy for a while – I had to be hospitalized – which turned out to be a virus. When the virus left my system, it left me a little gift as well; it stripped the myelin from the nerves in my legs, making my legs seriously weak and shaky, because the signals from the brain weren’t getting there. For a while, we were afraid that I had Multiple Sclerosis (because my mom’s family has a history of auto-immune diseases, and my aunt has MS); but a nerve conduction test showed what had really happened. I was off work for three months (the dizziness plus the time it took my legs to build back the myelin) – you can’t have a security officer (especially overnight, when I was alone) who can’t walk.
- So, all’s good, right? Not quite. In the middle of June of 2008, in the middle of a patrol, no less – my legs suddenly stopped working again. It was just like the previous summer. So we thought it had happened again. Nope. Turns out, it’s psychosomatic. And because it was so long-lasting (it took me over thirteen months to work out the underlying cause – and two days after that I was walking just fine), I had to call and fight with Short-Term Disability, and then Long-Term Disability, and it was a huge mess.
- I still have to fight off psychosomatic issues, and I suspect I always will. It’s not easy. Your brain is telling you: There’s a very good reason you don’t want to do this, so I’ll make sure that you don’t have to do this. *sighs*
Communication (Words, Body Language, Tone, etc.):
- Part of how my sister bullied me was verbally. And it’s quite possible that she even saw it as trying to teach me to fight back against bullying (sometimes) – I’m not at an emotional state where I can ask her about that just yet (though I’m a lot better than I was even 5 years ago). But being both introverted (introverts can take as much as a minute more to process audial information than extroverts, because the pathways it takes through their brains are actually different: extroverts hear it in through their ears, it goes into short-term memory, and the response comes out the mouth; introverts hear it through their ears, it goes into short-term memory, it’s moved into long-term memory, it comes back into short-term memory, and a response comes out), and ASD, which means problems with words when emotions get into the picture – I could never respond in time. Which always made me feel stupid. Which made me retreat to my room, and shove the anger, embarrassment, frustration and shame down. Which would lead to meltdowns further down the road, as those emotions would build into a volcano and explode when I least expected.
- When my mother told me, back in 2006 / 2007 (one of the two!), that she never knew what I was feeling, I was stunned. I mean, I couldn’t talk to her about my feelings, except edging around them, but… I thought I communicated them quite well. However, she pointed out that my body language – in particular, my facial expression – never changed, no matter what I was feeling. Unless I consciously put a smile on. (And she’s right, if my expression is going to change, it has to be a conscious change – unless I find something so funny that I start laughing. My general expression is neutral, with the corners of my mouth turned down – I can’t make them turn up.)
- Unless I’m told to remember something that’s mentioned verbally to me (like if my mother asks me to memorize a phone number or something for her), it’ll slip my mind. Easily. Which may be part of the reason that things back in my youth are so vague. (Maybe. I know I have a number of repressed memories.) If I see it written down, I’ll have a much better chance of remembering. (Or if I write it down.)
- I can’t get emotion out of spoken words, unless it’s really obvious. It just doesn’t happen. It makes phone conversations an absolute trial, so much so that I hate using the phone if I don’t have to. With people I know, it’s not too bad… but other than that, I hate it. I might even say I have a phobia of it. Trying to get me to call up a company (insurance, or job searching, or a bank, or whatever) or someone I don’t know well is misery for my parents. Unfortunately, it’s not something I can help, which makes everything worse for all of us.
- If I’m with just one or two other people, I can get the gist of what their body language is saying – because I can analyze it intellectually. I’ve lived more than 30 years. I’ve read at least some about body language. And people are taught in school and at home that smiles mean you’re happy and frowns mean you’re sad (which is not always true, but that’s mentioned in the novels I’ve read, so I’ve still learned those rules). It’s easier if they’re people I know well, because then I have a better idea of their individual body language, as opposed to having to draw parallels to “generic” body language that I remember understanding (sort of) means.
- If it’s more than two people… I can’t do it. It’s impossible. I just don’t have the energy to split my concentration that many ways. For any NTs reading (and I hope some are!): Analyzing something is hard work for your brain. The way NT brains work, you have body language wired into you at an instinctive (or almost instinctive) level. (The cultural at “almost instinctive”, the “universal” human body language at “instinctive”.) For you, it’s as easy as breathing, or taking a step (assuming that you don’t have a disability that causes problems with either of those – in that case, another analogy will have to do). You don’t have to think about it. I, and any ASDer, has to actually think about it. That takes concentration, which takes energy, and it takes time. Even if I could split my attention three ways… I suspect by the time I managed to decipher what the third person’s body language had meant at the start of the conversation, I would be totally lost to the conversation itself, let alone how everyone’s body language had changed in the interim.
- Books… books were wonderful. Books I could understand. Books explained things, told you what the characters were feeling. Let you look inside the head of characters to see what they were thinking. (There’s a reason that I prefer third-person limited when it comes to stories.) And they were full of stories. Stories that let me use my imagination. Stories that fed my imagination. Stories that took me far away from all the sensory input that I couldn’t handle, all the emotions that I couldn’t handle, and all the situations that frustrated me because I couldn’t understand them. Books were a treasure.
- My psychologist says that I handle social situations very well compared to some other Aspies she’s known. I think, now that I’m writing this out, that it’s because of all the books I read. Books that helped me work out some of those unspoken rules of social interaction – one type of book I’ve always liked, and possibly one reason I was so attracted to SF, is that of two different peoples or cultures meeting. That’s very much like an ASDer and an NT meeting. There’s so much room for confusion, frustration and misunderstanding. It gave me hope to read all these stories of peaceful (or mostly peaceful) human interaction with the stars. And by the time I got into the books that looked at more violent options, I had a better understanding of humans as a whole.
- Partly as a result of all that, I’ve found that I can understand emotions in things like emails (and blog posts), even if they’re not explicitly stated. It helps if I know the person (even if just over the internet), but that’s not necessary for the understanding to be there. Even my dad (who is likely on the edges of the spectrum himself) doesn’t get how I can see emotions in emails and chats, even with the uses of emoticons and “LOL”, “ROTFLMHO”, and others. *shrugs* All I can tell him – or my mom, who doesn’t understand either – is that I can.
Emotions and Meltdowns:
- Emotions are a difficult issue for me to discuss. Partly because those of us with ASD often have the same type of defenses against intense emotions as we do against sensory input – that is to say, holey and broken. It’s not just sensory input that can cause overloads and meltdowns; it’s also emotions that are intense enough we have no idea how to handle them.
- My psychologist back in Toronto, after doing some research and listening to me talk for two years about my life, described Aspie (and ASD) emotions the following way: “They’re like the pastel colours of the rainbow. You still have just as many different emotions – the same range – as neurotypicals; it’s simply that you don’t tend to have the intensity of emotions – the brightness of colour – that neurotypicals do.” And when we get an intense emotion – usually a destructive one, like rage, or frustration, or shame, or humiliation, because of something we don’t get, or we can’t communicate about – our brains simply aren’t equipped to handle it. Which means:
- Meltdown. There are various types of meltdowns. The most common stereotype of autistics is the thrashing, raging, violent kid. And while yes, that type of meltdown does occur – the meltdowns of one of my friends are rage-caused, though without the thrashing, as far as I know – there are other types.
- I have crying jags that I’m unable to stop, generally frustration-induced, and I lose my words – I can’t say anything until I calm down. Not because I don’t want to say anything – because usually I do, if only to say that “I have no idea why I just burst into tears”, or “can I have a hug”, or “make it stop!” – but because the words just are not there. My youngest sister, who is a Speech Language Pathologist (aka SLP), says that it’s because the part of my brain that is able to communicate – express itself – verbally, actually shuts down. Sometimes both that part of the brain and the part that understands verbal communication shut down, in which case there is nothing that can be done except try touch – if they can tolerate touch – or wait it out. Because no matter what is tried, it won’t get through. Not matter how articulate or how well they can comprehend you normally… right now, that part of their brains effectively does not exist. I can understand in the middle of a meltdown – I’ve never gone all the way to losing comprehension as well – but I can’t speak. And unfortunately, that just adds to the frustration that is already boiling over and causing this meltdown in the first place – which explains why it’s so hard for me to calm down and stop crying.
- These “pastel emotions” is also why some people may think ASDers are emotionless. I felt more grief at the death of my cat Brightspot than I did at the death of my grandfather and grandmothers. I loved all three of them (my maternal grandfather died when I was 2), but… I wasn’t close to them. Not really. My paternal grandmother isolated herself (most likely from depressive tendencies, if not actual clinical depression, considering the family history); my paternal grandfather lived in Massachusetts (which we visited sometimes, but not often); and my maternal grandmother lived in St. John’s (which we visited once a year at most while I was a kid and a teen, and then I hadn’t visited after 1994 until she died 10-1/2 years later in 2005). Quite frankly, I knew them more from stories my parents told us than I did personally. *shrugs* (Mom, Dad: I don’t mean to hurt either of you by this. It’s just… Brightspot was with me almost every day of my life from when Dad brought her home. Grampers, Grandma and Granny weren’t.)
- And I think this is also one of the reasons why unless we make an effort, if someone moves away, or changes schools, or whatever – we lose track of them and don’t connect to them any longer. They’re out of sight, out of mind….
And now, I think, the last of the categories I’m going to cover (tonight). It might surprise some of you (though not my fellow ASDers).
Creativity: (yes, this is an ASD trait, I would say; every single person with ASD I have met or heard of has some creative outlet or another – and while, “meeting one autistic means that you have met one autistic”, I think I can generalize at least a bit here)
- From as far back as I remember, I would make up stories and adventures to entertain myself. I’d act them out with my dolls, or stuffed animals, or I’d encourage my friend (or my cousins, those summers we came to St. John’s) to act them out with me.
- I’d have to make up an adventure to get to sleep each night. The only nights I could get to sleep without doing that were the nights where I would lie on my back in my bed and get dizzy, then the bed would seem to tilt back and forth – almost as though it were rocking me – and then slowly the bed would lower itself (and me) into a void filled with stars. I’d just keep enjoying the rocking sensation and the stars as I drifted downwards, and before I would ever reach the bottom, I would be asleep. Those were actually usually the nights I got my best sleep. And I still, over 30 years later, need to make up adventures to get to sleep. Not every single night – but it’s a rare night that I can fall asleep without doing so. (Though I haven’t had the void experience in about 5-6 years now, since before I left my first apartment….)
- The game I mentioned above, dealing with the swinging? I’d sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (softly – my voice loses pitch when it gets louder), and pretend that as I swung, I was climbing up a rainbow. Then there’d be a door I would go through, and I’d have my choice of what type of adventure I wanted to play (a set of doors, I’d go through one), what character I wanted to play (again, I’d go through one of a set of doors), and then I’d mentally play out the adventure, all the while swinging on the swing. If I got interrupted in the middle of an adventure, I’d back out through the doors and come back the next day and make the same choices in order to continue it. (This was really my first experience with fanfic, because it was the TV shows that I would watch at the time that would make up the different types of adventures.)
- In Gr. 3, when I was 8, I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I started writing stories, basing them on legends and myths (or what I understood of them at the time – which was quite a lot; I was already in the young adult sections of the library).
- In Gr. 4 and 5 (I think – Gr. 5 is the one year of school that I pretty much have no memories of, except that I was the teacher’s pet that year, so never needed to do homework – which did not help me or my situation with respect to school; she made a much better asst. principal than a teacher), I got hooked into fantasy, as mentioned in the fixations section above, and I fell in love with the genre. Science fiction was rapidly added to that after my first experience with Star Trek: The Original Series. (TNG started when I was in Gr. 6, I’m pretty sure.)
- After I graduated high school (and failed out of university), I discovered the internet in Jan. 1995. And more than that, I discovered fanfiction. (Specifically Babylon 5 fanfiction, if anyone’s that interested.) “Hey, I could do that!” So I sat down and started writing. And people liked my stories. They told me that they could hear the characters saying the dialogue I had written, in their heads. This was a revelation to me, because in all the original stories I’d tried to write before, I’d failed miserably at dialogue. And at 3-dimensional characterization. But fanfic worked with already established characters, and using my understanding of them from the media I saw or read them in, I was able to create believable versions of them for my own stories. And people continued (and continue!) to enjoy them.
- Original writing went on a backburner – I had fanfiction. And my stories were getting read. And people liked them. When my family would ask when I’d get around to writing stuff I could get paid for, I’d wave them off with, “Later.” I did still intend to write original stuff – I’ve got tons of stories just waiting to be told – but I was getting responses, and actual, real friends, out of fanfic, and for once, something in my life was going very, very well. Then 2008 happened, and my legs went kablooie for the second time, and I was left alone at home with my cats and nothing to do. So after talking to my psychologist about it, I “girded my loins”, so to speak, and took a step I’d been thinking about on and off for a few years: I joined NaNoWriMo.
- For those who haven’t heard of it, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is something of an internet phenomenon. Essentially, during the month of November, people all over the world – hundreds of thousands of them – try to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the 30 days of the month. The idea is quantity, not quality – quality comes during the editing stage. And I was going to try this – and with an original fic. I figured I had enough fanfic and fanfic ideas; if I was going to join in the madness, it would be to produce something that would be worth it. So began Search and Rescue (which is currently in the middle of a major re-write to create the second, more readable draft – I’m on Chapter 8 of 14. Which is better than I was 8 months ago, when I’d been on Chp. 5 of 14 for 3 years). By the end of November, I had written 104,000+ words, and had finished the first non-fanfic novel I’d written that actually had a chance of becoming publishable, with enough editing and re-writing. (Before this, I’d finished one original novel that made me cringe two days later, and one fanfic novel that is part of a still unfinished series.) And the social aspect was a revelation to me. Here were more people I could talk to, who would be happy enough to talk writing as much as I wanted. (And most of them were SF or Fantasy fans as well!)
- (Note: I firmly, honestly believe that writing fanfiction has given me the ability to write believable original fiction. It has taught me how to handle 3-dimensional characters, how to write dialogue that really works, how to pace a story, and how to let the characters tell you what to write. So it has definitely been very important in my development as a writer.)
- I have since won NaNoWriMo in 2009 (1-1/8 novels, 87,000+ words) and 2010 (unfinished sequel to S&R – 90,000+ words) as well; 2011 and last year (2012) I participated, but didn’t win – most likely because my life has been so busy and I’ve been under a hell of a lot of stress at the time (call centre job just before my breakdown in 2011; for last year, read the post that will be coming at some point about Effexor). I’m not going to stop trying, though.
- I also do 3-D graphics (using a program called DAZ|Studio, for the most part), and photography, both of which I greatly enjoy and have been told I’m okay to good at. (Good eye for photography; still a bit of a beginner when it comes to 3-D art, but getting there.)
So, a listing of most of my ASD behaviours and traits (there are more) has somehow also become something of an analysis of said B&T, and also a bit of an information platform on slightly more general stuff. Not bad for a day’s work.
Sorry for the length of the post! 😉 (And note: If anyone is interested in reading or looking at my creative stuff, feel free to ask me about links to it.)