Friday, April 20, 2012

Me Times One Thousand

We are all autistic.

Bear with me, I can explain.

Sometimes I have this feeling that Autism is just the far end of the pendulum that is humanity. That "the spectrum" encompasses us all. We all have little parts of this and that. A little obsession, a little compulsion, a little ADHD, a little paranoia, all of it. And people with these diagnoses, these...labels, they just have it in spades. Whatever "it" they may have. I have many of the same "quirks" as Boo, just not to the same extreme. I have often said that Boo is me, times one thousand. Consider the following list of my own idiosyncrasies, and see if any of them feel familiar to you autism moms and dads:

1. I can't stand it when the TV is too loud.
Especially when someone is trying to talk to me. I find it nearly impossible to filter out the sound of the TV amid conversation. Sometimes when my husband is watching TV and my son is in the next room playing games or watching videos on the computer, I can't take it. I have to go down the hall to my room.

2. Everything has to be done my way.
This one is tough. Certain things just have to be done the way I do them. If I open the washing machine and find that someone has washed jeans and shirts together it irks me. If you wash the cups or the silverware before the plates, I can't watch. If someone else is behind the wheel and they take a different route than I would, I feel a little twitchy.

3. Some foods are unbearable because of the texture.
Tapioca. Lima beans. Water chestnuts. Peas. Cooked spinach. Enough said.

4. I hate shoes and socks.
The minute I am home, or sometimes even in the car on the way home, they are OFF. They annoy me all day. I fidget with them. I love summer because I love flip flops. You slide them on, you kick them off. Easy peasy. And a wrinkle in the sock? Or a bunched up tongue of a tennis shoe? Fuggetaboutit!

5. Clothing issues.
Shirts must be very loose. Pants must be tight. (though the latter rule has been greatly relaxed since my body image issues arose regarding my weight) My mother and I went round and round about it as a child/teenager. I wore my jeans skin tight, not for any sort of fashion reason but because I couldn't stand the feeling of them otherwise. Tags almost always get cut out. And I have a few shirts that I love because they look so awesome, but I never wear them because the fabric feels odd, or the stitching irritates me.

6. It's hard to function in an unfamiliar situation/circumstance/environment.
This has always been a big one for me, and I have always worked very hard to hide it. In fact, this may be the first time I've ever admitted it to anyone but myself. I find it hard to proceed if I can't reasonably predict the outcome. Once as a child I nearly had an anxiety attack when my mother asked me to call the library and ask for a resource librarian to help me find some information I needed. I was somewhere between 12 and 14 at the time. I was terrified because I didn't know what to expect. I grilled my mom, what should I say? Then what will they say back? What happens next? I wanted a script to follow. On the first day of middle school I refused to get out of the car. I was in a state of panic. I didn't know what was going to happen when I walked in the door. I wasn't familiar with the layout of the school, I didn't know where to go, or how to find out. My mom offered to take me in, but my fear of looking uncool by walking in with my mom was paramount. But I froze. I would not get out of the car. And I couldn't find any words to explain to my mom WHY I felt so incapacitated. She eventually had to leave the driveway and allow other cars behind her to go through and drop off their kids, then go around and drive through again. We repeated this scene probably half a dozen times before a friend emerged from the building who was two years older than me and I clung to her like a life-raft. Mom and I have often joked that if not for that friend, we might still be driving in circles through that school driveway!

7. Sensory peculiarities
I hate the feeling of water in my face. It took me a long time to learn to tolerate flip flops with that thing in between the toes. As a child, I was compelled to pick every speck of sock fuzz from between all my toes and could not sleep till my feet were thoroughly inspected. I count my footsteps. As a child I had to ensure an even number of steps on each type of surface, lest the right foot step on the concrete more times than the left before entering the store, etc. Foods on my plate must not touch each other, and should be eaten one at a time. I don't take a bite of meat, a bite of potatoes, a bite of veggies. I eat all the veggies, then all the potatoes, then all the meat. Unless of course it's a food that must be mixed (goulosh and corn, roast and potatoes and carrots, chicken noodles and mashed potatoes) and then I take time to ensure it is thoroughly mixed and that each bite will be consistently proportioned.

None of these things are so far out of the ordinary. But if you take them and multiply them in intensity and scope to the point that they interfere with the ability to function, you get Boo. He is me times one thousand. And I have seen it in everyone. My mom's skin will crawl if she puts an odd number of M&M's in her mouth, or if she sees someone rub their eyebrows the wrong way. My dad sometimes seems to shut down in a crowd and organizes his belongings with Monk-like precision. My husband begins his stories with detailed descriptions of time/place/circumstance that are irrelevant to the story, but he can't seem to get his point across without the unnecessary preamble. That's what I mean when I say we are all autistic. I think we all have things we think of as "quirks" that are kind of the seeds of the symptoms we see in people who are classified as being "on the spectrum." For whatever reason, whatever cause, some people's seeds have germinated and grown to the point that they get in the way of life. But I think if we all recognize the seeds within ourselves and really examine them, we can begin to grasp the reality of autism. Think about your own small obsessions, compulsions, peculiarities, and quirks. Imagine them multiplied by one thousand, so inescapable that they take over your life on occasion, when you are overwhelmed, tired, hungry, or trying to navigate something unknown. Then you can approach people with autism, their parents, caregivers and teachers with the empathy and respect that all humans need.

1 comment:

  1. Yep. Absolutely. As someone said to me once, "Cats don't have dogs." Apples have to fall from somewhere, right?

    I think it gives us an ability to at least partly understand what our kiddos are going through.