Who sees more? The curious observer peering through the front of a telescope or the indifferent passerby falling into a puddle of mud?
Symptoms-Traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder
One thing I must stress is that not all folks on the autism spectrum exhibit the same behavior or deficiency. Keep in-mind that Autism Spectrum Disorder is, in fact, a SPECTRUM. Everything is based on 1) the degree and 2) the frequency. Everyone experiences at least one or more of the below items. What distinguishes a disorder from normality is how much it impacts one’s quality of life and how often. Below, are simply MY symptoms that happen to fall at Level One according to the DSM V.
Hopefully, after reading some of these examples, you can understand a bit more clearly as to WHY and HOW social interaction with someone “on the spectrum” can be a constant struggle. There are reasons why there are uncomfortable pauses/delays in responses.. there are reasons why eyes do not make contact.. there are reasons why SPECIFICITY is nearly a requirement when asking questions/giving direction to someone on the spectrum.
Empathy – …or the lack of it? I believe (as do many others) ASD gets a bad rapport when it comes to lack of empathy (not being able to relate to/empathize with others for any reason whatsoever). If we’re talking about SPD (Schizoid Personality Disorder), then, sure, there probably is no empathy. When it comes to ASD, however, I believe it’s simply that we have a hella’ time SHOWING it.. displaying it.. expressing it—this includes SELF-EMPATHY. There is a marked deficiency there. If someone asks me my opinion, I WILL give it with open and honest effort. I rarely “pull punches.” I do try to have professional tact, however. When it comes to sharing a tearful cry with someone else in pain, that’s something I rarely can accomplish without GREAT effort. I’m an EXCELLENT listener, but I’m a POOR comforter. It isn’t because I don’t care; it’s because I don’t know how to show I care. Another thing to be aware of is that empathy also refers to the SELF—a lack of self-empathy (e.g. not feeling or responding to pain or being self-aware of one’s own actions or verbal responses or range or coordination or..).
There is the difference.
Others’ feelings: if someone asks my opinion I give it as-is.. I don’t consider how they will react before answering.. if they DO react.. I replay the event in my head like watching video, repeatedly, to understand the reaction… It sometimes takes me an entire day to comprehend their reaction – by then, it’s typically too late.
I tend to not react/emote even during ordinarily-stressful circumstances:
There were many occasions I would discover bruises or cuts mainly from Work.. but never pay attention when they occur.. or extreme delayed response..
I rarely have a facial reaction when I tell jokes or make off-the-wall comments (have to remember to smile otherwise no one knows I’m joking).. some friends comment on this, often.
I tend to not say “hello” or “goodbye”.. just walk in and start working on the task at-hand.. tend to unintentionally scare people because I’m silent while I walk from start to destination.. try to avoid interruptions if possible..
I used to often (still do) walk with groups of people—random strangers I’d never spoken to before—just to make it look like I wasn’t alone in public.
Speaking out loud – I do this FAR MORE than I realize and often talk directly to a computer or server or software like a person “will you stop doing that… no.. I’m not talking to YOU.. I’m talking to the server..”
I tend to not use “filler” words like “ok” or “ummm” or “just a second.” I stay silent before answering.. while searching for a response.. Even in email, I typically don’t reply back with something like “one moment.. I’ll check on this for you and get back with you” because it’s an emotional confirmation for the other person—it isn’t necessary for me, though. If I’m asked to do something or answer a question, of course, I will be working on it immediately—it’s part of how I am. <– still something I’m trying to improve upon—especially in the workplace.
I no longer give physical compliments to others. I have decided I will never compliment someone if they look good or have a nice hair cut or.. I’m convinced (through trial-and-error) that I come across as being somewhat “creepy.”
Lack of eye contact – a common trait. Eye contact is a primary form of communication among all creatures in nature. Aggression or passivity are instantly interpreted due to intense eye contact or immediate break of eye contact. I, too, struggle immensely with this. I often STARE at other people (faces, mainly, because I have extreme difficulty remembering faces – ref. prosopagnosia) until it’s time to look them in the eyes. Mine “flash” up then immediately away. It’s a very quick thing. Why? I do not know. One theory is that is has to do with previously-abusive situations/environments (e.g. the hell I went through in school as a kid), and I perceive most people as a threat of some kind; another theory is that eye contact is too intense (not unlike a sensory overload.. like a bright light) and intrusive. There are far too many instances of me doing this on a regular basis for me to bother listing.
My facial expressions are mostly “stone” like or statue like and rarely change unless I’m consciously forcing myself to think about it—forcing myself to emote or it’s a highly reactive situation. One thing I’ve improved on, greatly, is remembering to actually SMILE after telling a joke or saying a funny one-liner because that was something I did for my entire life.. I would say something intentionally wacky or funny, but I wouldn’t let anyone else know that I wasn’t being serious. Most folks probably thought I was a dumb ass. One of the most challenging aspects of this is not being able to show empathy (show compassion or sadness or..) when someone else is in pain or happy or.. It’s an actual “heavy lift” or extreme effort to do so. No one understands this.
There was a time in Middle School that my facial expression was in a constant scowl, apparently. I even overheard one kid say: “he looks like he’s always CUSSING inside his head.” <– lol this is pretty funny
Smiling for photos – this is something I have to manually/intentionally do. I have to remind myself to SMILE before the picture is taken; otherwise, I have a blank look on my face the entire time, yet I honestly believe I was smiling. I’ve made a joke of it among friends and social media and even made a collage of me NOT smiling.
I tend to only very briefly look or face in the direction of those I’m speaking to. I will stare intently if they’re telling me something of great interest. Also, I have to manually force myself to look away from my screen if someone enters my office to speak to me (at Work) or force myself to look away from my clipboard or phone or… whatever has my hyper-focus at the time. It’s another “heavy lift” effort.
During school, in particular, my teachers thought I wasn’t paying attention to them while they were talking—simply because I wasn’t looking up at them at the time. They didn’t understand that I was paying CLOSE attention to what they were saying. Looking at them did not help me understand them any better than I already did! Often, during seminars or lectures, I draw WHILE taking COPIOUS notes, and no one realizes that is my way of focusing fully on what is being said.
Some friends and relatives have accused me of not paying attention to or caring about what they were saying.. what they were going-through, emotionally, at the time while trying to tell me about it. <– girlfriends are NOTORIOUS for doing this to NORMAL guys much less AUTISTIC guys.
It is so much easier to communicate inner thoughts and feelings on Social Media than face to face or phone. I need to SEE what people are saying because it’s much easier for me to refer to a note or an email or a chat message than to attempt to recall what they said—more so, HOW they said it—having to interpret implied meaning, verbally, is FAR more difficult than seeing it. I find that most people are more direct in written/typed format than they are in verbal/audial format.
I often felt like an alien.. or a robot.. isolated from others.. like walking around with binoculars on.. or microscope.. always looking… studying… even to this day. I find the more I force myself to socialize, the less this self-perception materializes.
Social Decorum Difficulties – I’m often reminded about “social decorum” and things like “dude.. that’s not good etiquette.. most people don’t dress that way for a social occasion like we’re going to..” or “dude.. take your sunglasses off.. this is a funeral..”
As a child, I was almost always mute at school or in public.. never reacted.. was called “an alien” several times in middle school for some reason.
When walking into a public establishment of any kind.. feel eyes on me.. staring.. “pull in my feelings to make myself numb” while walking through. When with a group, I feel far less paranoid about it. When alone, it’s FAR more agitating to me.
Very uncomfortable with invasion of personal body space at certain times.. not as bad as I used to be.. require a lot of body space typically. No one will know when I am uncomfortable because I hardly ever express it.
Effort to hug almost anyone.. have to wait until someone initiates..I always pause first then robotically reciprocate.. no real feeling to it..
Always find a corner or wall or object to stand near, lean on. Never approach others.. always wait for them to approach me.
Friendships – as a child, I rarely associated with my peers. I wasn’t stuck-up. I simply did not know how to interact with other kids. My interests were quite specialized—in that, it was unlikely other kids were watching what I was watching or listening to what I listened to. I grew up thinking my parents’ music was CURRENT. I was watching re-runs of shows at least a decade before I was born, never realizing they were unrelateable shows in regards to my peers. A few years later, I would have that ONE friend that I would hang-out with.. later just cling to (emotionally). Large groups of friends? Not an option for me.
As a child, I related to ADULTS and not kids. In church, I would sit out front with the other adults and felt uncomfortable in the kids’ bible study classes. It didn’t take me long to learn to despise Church. Every interaction was uncomfortable..
I never dated.. anyone.. until a few years after high school. There was NO PROM. This was a major source of emotional pain for me during these years. I couldn’t tell when I was being “hit on” VS being teased or made fun of. I couldn’t read the girls’ intentions or nonverbal communication.
It has taken me YEARS to learn how to socialize properly. Work interaction is actually quite easy for me. It’s in a professional, formal, structured environment.. so interacting with others at Work is not difficult. Once it turns social, informal, and non-Work-related, that’s where I struggle. My exchanges are fact-based and as relevant as possible, but it’s usually me pulling some relevant fact from memory to attempt to interject into a conversation.
Small Talk – this is a near impossible task for me. In fact, there is no science involved in small talk. It’s an ART. I’m creative, visually, yes; but, I’m not creative, conversationally. Small talk—to this day—makes little sense to me. The likelihood of encountering someone I’ve just met at, say, a party.. and meeting him/her again, much less maintaining a continuous interaction over a course of time.. is unlikely. What is the point of sharing observations of something that 1) cannot be controlled and 2) is experienced by everyone in the same vicinity—I’m referring to small talk about weather. Ask me about, say, Marvel Comics or Catch Wrestling or Game of Thrones or Adobe Photoshop.. and, I will talk INCESSANTLY until the other person breaks-off.
I keep my social circle small. That is, until 2009. I found myself becoming gradually immersed in more social interaction than I had ever experienced in my entire life. The more I interacted, the more psychosomatic pain I felt—anxiety—the more frustrated I would get because I was much slower at picking things up than everyone else, conversationally-speaking.. and nonverbally-speaking.
Intimacy – nope. I’m not going there. I will say that being 1) hyper and hypo-sensitive to touch, 2) horribly deficient in showing/sharing affection, 3) deficient in reading/sensing/reciprocating feelings of any kind, and 4) having to THINK FIRST.. act SECOND.. greatly interferes with natural physical and emotional expression that normal people take for granted.
There is safety in repetition.. safety in routine. There is also a sense of stimulation (e.g. raising you from a sense of boredom or calming you down from a sense of stress). In the world of autism, having a safe, limited repertoire of choices to select from makes adaptation that much easier in an otherwise non-adaptive situation.
Repetitive Words – I tend to repeat the same words.. often… very difficult to come up with new/alternate words in specific/general conversations. Rely on visuals to compensate (ref. “Go to” or “safe”words). As a kid up until just a few years ago, I habitually replied to comments with movie/TV quotes instead of giving a regular response.
Cool Just Fine How are you? That's Funny Yes Kick ass Fascinating No Awesome Interesting
Motor Motions: a stimulating coping mechanism – since earliest childhood and all the way into adulthood/current, I exhibit the following “stimming” repetitive motor motions. Rarely, am I conscientiously doing it. It’s almost always unintentional and is a reflexive coping mechanism. It’s used by the brain to raise/stimulate when bored or when approaching a stressful situation (understimulated); it’s also used to calm/self-soothe while already in a state of excitement or when in a stressful situation (overstimulated).
As a child, they (repetitive movements) are FAR more apparent. As an autistic child grows up, the adult has learned how to mask the behaviour or dull it down a bit. Examples: hand or finger “flapping”; finger tapping; finger snapping; digging under fingernails; rocking back-and-forth; rubbing of face or facial features; hand wringing; rocking side-to-side; shaking of foot or leg; among so many others. Keep in-mind that most people do any of the above at various times (particularly, when nervous), but these motor motions in autistic people are REGULARLY REPETITIVE. Where a “normal” person does it sporadically, an autistic person does it regularly or far more consistently.
Compulsiveness – this is where the stereotypical “OCD” tends to be confused. I find most people overuse and misuse the term “OCD” or Obsessive and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in any combination. Click here for the official psychological definition and difference between OBSESSION and COMPULSION.
The following items require the exact route, exact time/timing, or specific “mode” and cannot be broken. If there is a sudden deviation, my schedule and timing are essentially “screwed up” for at least one hour and require a bit of calibrating to get everything back in-sync. There are specific rituals I go through with each routine. As a child, it was an emotionally-evoking incident should anyone interrupt me or try to hurry me during any of these items.
Getting Ready and Morning Routine
Music Repetition and Routine
Music is ALWAYS playing near me. It’s always been this way since I was a small child. Part of it is “white noise” to drown-out any unusual sound I may zero-in on, but the other part is that it’s simply one of my special interests, and I’m quite compulsive about my listening routine.
I listened to this song every day, all day, for 1 full week – repeatedly – no other song. I’m entranced by specific vocalists’ voices (style, range, projection, pitch, timing, and especially VIBRATO). Russ Taff is one of those vocalists that I am absolutely mesmerized by.
Greg X Volz Steve Perry Chris Cornel Ray LaMontagne David Bowie Jo Stafford Danny Elfman B0rns Layne Stayley Joey Nash Russ Taff Mylon LeFevre
2011 – reminded of listening to Ray Lamontagne and the Prairie league… same song… “For the Summer”.. 3 days straight.. my employee frustrated.. told me: “you know, he DOES have OTHER songs!”
I can’t listen to a song in progress.. have to start it from the beginning each time.. no matter how many times I’ve listened to it before. When it comes to music, I listen to it “modes” or specific genres/sub-genres. While I’m in a mode, I have to ONLY listen to music within that genre until it’s time not to.
I created a table based off of my listening habits (my source was Amazon.com). As a result, I was able to capture my music listening routine and calculate my actual threshold (e.g. how long it takes me to switch genres). Why did I bother to do such an unusual thing as calculating my listening routine? I knew (from memory) that I was THIS compulsive about music, and I knew roughly what my routine was regarding it. I wanted actual PROOF.
Driving and Same Routes – most people have their favourite routes and parking spots. Most people even have habits. The difference is the impact of BREAKING the routine for autistic folks. For me, if I break a driving routine, I may end up across a bridge in another state or missing exits or missing road signs or even stop signs/lights. In order to deal with roadblocks, weather-related detours, traffic accidents, and anything else that could interrupt a routine, it’s important to always have a secondary—and even tertiary—route.
I stand in specific spots at specific locations every time (unless someone or something is blocking the spot
Same clothes – limited wardrobe – I wear my clothes out because I rarely replace what I’m comfortable with. I have most of the same shirts and jeans from YEARS back; my boots look pathetic (holes in the soles/worn-out edges) because I LOVE them and don’t want to replace them. The example on the left is a picture of my boot soles. This is a typical site as I wear boots out very VERY quickly and go through a pair-per-year (has to do with how hard I walk – loud “teacher’ walk). I will wear them as long as I possibly can before replacing them with the SAME brand.
Always ON TIME – I always plan trips/routes ahead of time with little margin for error; always time my ETA to be ON time (this also includes meetings at Work).. unless, of course, there is a mitigating circumstance that impedes my timing (e.g. car accident or more urgent interruption).
– Left side of bed even hotels
– Left side of couch even in hotels
– Left back of class room
– I don’t freak out if put socks on right to left or left to right.. but do manually force myself to reverse the routine
– Put certain people on my left when walking or speaking in some cases
– Must put things exactly back where they were—exactly how I found them.. as a rule.
– Must group things together. Calendars very important. Very. Social events in calendars. Always.. otherwise WILL forget.
– Can’t join a movie or TV show while in progress.. have to start it over.. no matter how many times I’ve seen it before
– must have exactly 7 hours of sleep.. calculate start sleep time against wakeup time to equal exactly 7 hours.. insistent about this.. very much habitual
– I keep a mop in my shower – in the corner – every time I need to mop the bathroom floor, it’s perfectly handy. I’m told that’s “very weird.” It makes perfect sense to me.
breaking routine – When I was a kid/teens, it was far more difficult to “break out” of a routine or deviate, and I would have a mild meltdown or flat-out ignore whomever was attempting to alter my pattern (no matter how small). Something as simple as the drive-thru at KFC – they aren’t responding for some reason at the speaker or drive-thru window – have to change plans/alter route and timing and go to a different place for lunch.. throws timing off, causes mild anxiety
Typically, special interests have a time limit/expiration date. What makes them different from a regular hobby is the intense focus/attention an interest invokes. Just think: hyper-focus.
Autistic people tend to “zoom” in on specific things. Mine are mostly visual-based, but there are those who are audial-based or physical or..
I would be lost for hours to days reading the same children’s books over- and-over. I was far less interested in the words or the stories. I was interested in the colors on the pages. The artwork. These things invoked an emotional response each time. One of the most important books was Sam and the Firefly. I didn’t care about the story at all. I was ENTRANCED by the dark colors the artist used. It was dark blue and heavy use of shading. The fact that I couldn’t identify the period in which it had been created (1950’s) intrigued me, too. I simply couldn’t put the book down because my eyes would “zoom” in on specific pieces of the artwork on each page. I would stare at a single page for several minutes at-a-time. There was a sense of euphoria or peace as a result. Since I was born with a highly visual mentality, it’s no wonder I was so intrigued by this book. I’ve since purchased it (as an adult) just to make sure I’ll always have it.
Hyper-Focus – for me, it varies but is sequential. Rarely, is there shared interest in more than one thing at-a-time. I could do a separate page on this, all by itself. Here is a log I kept to capture how hyperfocus affects me and my sense of time. Once I start a thing, I DO NOT want to stop or break-off unless I absolutely have to:
8:45 AM resumed working on history list started Stat page 12:37 PM didn't check time until now - breaking-off to eat/drink - can't believe nearly 4 hours went by! 2:00 PM must take nap now 4:00 PM awake - resume document 7:30 PM text from (friend) earlier - forcing myself to look at it now - invite to join him and (another friend) at (restaurant) 11:30 PM back home and happy to be home - draining experience but not unpleasant 11:35 PM resume work on document 2:09 AM going to bed
Another odd thing that happens—and I don’t know how often it’s hyper-focus VS empathy deficiency, really—often I have other people point out to me that I have bruises or cuts or am bleeding. Rarely, do I notice (much less care, for that matter); but, it is a frequent thing that has been a part of me since early childhood.
Another problem with intense focus in public is I don’t pay attention to cost on registers.. just make sure I go through the motions correctly.. I wonder how many times I’ve been charged incorrectly?
Time Lapse Through Hyper-Focus – now, imagine years feeling like months.. months feeling like weeks.. weeks feeling like days.. days feeling like hours.. hours feeling like minutes. That’s what it’s like for me. It isn’t procrastination—it is hyper-focus. I cope by living by calendar entries. I manage Work projects, meetings, and requests implicitly by use of calendar entries. I manage social activities through calendar entries. Without them, I would be missing appointments and important engagements on a constant basis.
Special Interests – as mentioned in other sections, once I’m focused on a task, I’m “locked” onto it and struggle to break off from it. Time goes by (for me) at an incredibly-fast pace. There are some things that never leave my interests. One of these is analytics. I love data, and I love data analytics. I wouldn’t be creating this site without either. I will analyze pretty much anything. If there is a trace of data on a subject, I will extract it, analyze it, present it.. then make decisions from it. This approach has served me well in current/previous jobs. As much as I love analytics, I love designing flowcharts, layout diagrams, network diagrams, data diagrams, technical documentation, etc..
SIGHT/VISUAL – I avoid bright lights (especially sunlight) however possible; will wear sunglasses most of the time during the day and often indoors, during rock concerts (because of the damned spotlights)
– avoid bright lights (especially sunlight) however possible; will wear indoors, often, and even during concerts (to avoid those damned spotlights they shine into the audience; some direct laser lights suck, too). In most photographs, I’m wearing sunglasses—not to look cool but to control my sight sensitivity.
– as a child, I had a very difficult time at night because of street lights, street lamps, and headlights. Every time I would blink, I would still see the lingering light pattern—not unlike a white road stripe—but from my eyes to the light; the sensation would be very quick but very noticeable and VERY aggravating. I would often keep my eyes closed while riding in the car with someone else driving.
– avoid most colors on clothes and wear black and grey nearly all of the time.. occasionally, white. I actually despise color with a few exceptions. I will force myself to sometimes wear a red t-shirt or blue denim. For some jobs in the past—where I had to wear a damned uniform—-it was quite miserable for me (kaki.. why do they insist on kaki..)
– I tend to “zoom” in on certain things in my environment. I don’t look at a whole tree, I look at a specific branch or leaf; I don’t look at a fence, I look at a specific rung or wood texture; I don’t look at a window, I look at its edges. See, I look for SHAPES in everything and am entranced by triangles, rectangles, circles, and intersecting lines.
SOUND/AUDIAL – I will tune-into the slightest noise (especially high pitched)
– playing music.. ALWAYS.. rarely is music NOT playing (at my office, at Home, driving) – I use music to drown-out all other sounds so that I don’t continuously listen to every single odd creak or siren or traffic or wining sounds from a vent or..
– purposely tuning myself toward other people’s conversations (across the room in a restaurant, through walls in a waiting room, from table-to-table in a bar/club)
TOUCH – as a child, I used to seek out intense pressure – I liked having my hand under the rocking chair or caught in a window being rolled-up
– often tune-out external pain of any kind but am extremely sensitive to internal pains of any kind; never take pain medication after the dentist or operations of any kind.
– as a child, I was hyper-sensitive to the textures of certain foods (sweet potatoes, raisins, and tomatoes, in particular). I didn’t notice the taste; I simply despised the feel of certain foods.
– as a child, I couldn’t handle opening milk cartons or holding chalk
– I still tear tags off of shirts and pants, but manufacturers have learned to start embroidering their tags in their shirts or use soft tags that don’t drive people like me crazy
– I still cannot wear anything close to my neck/throat: ties must be very loose; avoid collared shirts whenever possible; avoid turtle necks. Note: in Jiu-Jitsu, I learned how to prevent chokes so that I didn’t tap immediately once they were put on me; buy v-neck shirts instead of ring collar shirts.
– NO ONE cuts my hair but me: since 2003, I have been cutting my own hair and wish I’d have done it sooner than that. I use a handheld mirror, mechanical clippers, a vent brush, and a hair dryer to do my cutting/styling.
– I avoid the wind at all costs (which is damned near impossible). If the wind blows my hair, if airconditioning/heating vents are turned toward me, I do what I can to stay indoors and turn vents away from me.
– I can’t wear jewelry around my fingers or wrists (they hurt and feel like weights chained to my appendages); I can wear loose necklaces, however.
– I tend to “lock-up” or stiffen anytime someone brushes against me in a crowd or dance floor.
– hypo-sensitivity to touch – will often be numb to someone else’s touch (believe this is a subconscious coping mechanism/defense measure).
– I use copious amounts of hairspray on my hair so that it barely moves when I DO have to suffer the wind.
TASTE – no real issues here; I’m pretty much indifferent about taste, for good or for ill. My bigger related issue was TOUCH not TASTE, so I would avoid numerous foods because of their TEXTURE against my tongue.
SMELL – in 1990, I came down with Valley Fever while living in Phoenix, Arizona, and I “lost” my sense of smell. In 2009, my sense of smell came back, and I was very sensitive to smells of any kind, but I was not disturbed nor sought out smells (it became highly sensitive, however). Essentially, I have little use for smell.
Most of these are associated diagnoses or are individually unique to specific personality traits cojoined with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Echolalia – not all autistics display this trait, but imitating accents—especially of those you’re with/conversing with—is quite common. I do this with anyone who has an accent (especially British and Eastern Europe accents). Most of the time I’m not aware I’m doing it. I was once told to “shut up!” by some fellow British gamers because I started imitating their accents unintentionally. As a child, I repeated words and phrases quite often.. and song lyrics.. more often without any common frame of reference. I was also quite good at imitating vocalists’ pitch/cadence in songs. My biggest use of this trait was in repeating movie quotes and using THEM to answer questions or bring up topics.. just to have something to bridge the gap in a conversation.
Selective Mutism – as a child, I was predominantly MUTE during school but spoke a great deal to my parents/grandparents at Home. On those rare occasions that I actually did speak in school, my voice was barely audible.. very soft.. This became a source of confusion for recipients during phone calls and while at drive-thrus (fast food) as most thought I was female—I was called “ma’am” many times. Most of the time, I speak in a monotone, flat, even tone/pace.
Meltdowns/eruptions – these occur rather rapidly with considerable, excessive emotional buildup.. followed by a volcano-like emotional “eruption” that always involves screaming. For me, it’s a sense of feeling overwhelmed. For some others, sensory overload can cause a meltdown. For me, it’s social overload and being interrupted when I’m trying to get an important point across or sharing a personal experience. The moment it’s over, I’m perfectly calm and barely aware of the extent (volume) it reached. The recipient(s), on the other hand, act as though they’ve just witnessed a volcanic eruption right in front of their faces and rarely get over it. I have numerous examples of me doing this—and it baffles me that it even happens because I’m a very mellow, laid-back individual, otherwise.
Thankfully, I’m not a violent person and now understand what the real cause is and how to contain it. As a child, it was an emotion-invoking incident should anyone interrupt me while I was focused on a special interest at the time. This picture of me is a typical ME time—do NOT interrupt!!! I recall one time, in particular, where Mom was yelling from the first floor (Home) to come downstairs and help her with something, and I “erupted” instantly, opened the upstairs door, and shouted at the top of my lungs: “WHAT!!!???” Silence. I was so focused on playing with my toys that I simply couldn’t handle the interruption. Mom was noticeably (even to me) upset. I was perfectly CALM by that point and had NO idea why she was mad at me.
Driving – I never realized that driving could be a social interaction until recently. And, if you think about it, it is no different than intermingling with crowds at, say, a mall or concert. You have people cutting you off, seeing you as an obstacle, breaking the rules, etc. Because I’m the way that I am, I follow rules quite intently. If there is a speed limit, it should be followed; if there are rules for using turn signals, they should be followed.
The Rules I Follow:
- never parallel another car (most people aren't methodical and simply react and will collide into you) - never switch lanes across from a parallel car (avoid side collisions) - keep a full car length distance behind the other cars (beware heavy traffic) - avoid heavy traffic whenever possible - follow proper lane merging rules (alternating cars) - go 5 MPH above the speed limit---just to survive! I'm seeing an increase in speeders, lately, and the only way to survive is to go a little faster than what should be, else one will be honked at and run off the road in some cases - keep right except to pass if 65 MPH or higher (state law); otherwise, any lane is "fair game" - strict turn signal user (even if no one else is around) - always go the same routes to the same destinations (repetition/sameness) - always use bluetooth speakers/radio when talking on the phone (when I DO have to talk on the phone) - keep talking on the phone as minimal as possible (I can really only focus on one thing at-a-time, so I've ended up across the river/bridges in a nearby state because I could only focus on the phone conversation and not my directions) - park in the same parking spot(s) whenever possible (repetition/sameness) - always follow the LINES in the road and NOT what the other drivers are doing - yes - I WILL correct you/remind you each time you're not obeying traffic laws if I'm riding with you
Stressers: – I truly despise driving. I might as well be walking into a crowd of one thousand people. There is no difference. If I lived in big city, like New York or Chicago, I would NOT own a vehicle and would use public transportation. I realize that, too, has numerous stressers, but I would take less as opposed to more, in this case. I’m also looking forward to automated vehicles so that I don’t have to drive ever again.
– drivers who go too fast in speed limit zones
– drivers who “ride” my bumper in ANY lane because I’m not going fast enough for them
– drivers who cross over striped lines too soon
– drivers who don’t use turn signals
– drivers who don’t obey 4-way stop rules
– cars that encroach space (on ANY side)
– two or more cars on the road (unrealistic, I know, but it’s a crowd thing to me)
– drivers who cut in front of me/impede my progress
– drivers who have no real plan to get to where their going (I always plan my route out ahead-of-time and pick the lane[s] I need to stay on the entire way) and randomly switch lanes
– drivers who THINK they’re going to reach their next route point (traffic light, etc.) sooner by driving FASTER than everyone else.. often, we all end up reaching the same route point anyway (faster drivers just have to sit at the light longer, as a result!)
– drivers/obstacles that force an unplanned/sudden detour (e.g. they’ve forced me to get off my routine and take an unknown detour – breaking a routine is quite punishing for me and can throw my timing off for up to an hour)
– rough/bouncy terrain (touch)
– storm conditions (sight/sound – only while driving)
– air vents in a car (touch)
– bright headlights (sight – especially halogen lights)
– loud honking (sound)
– loud motorcycle pipes (sound)
– maintenance/repair (off-routine/unplanned)
– slight off-pattern noises in a vehicle (sound/pattern disruption – must keep music on always as a result; note: if there is an engine or tire issue, the music drowns it out – which is a potential maintenance problem!) passengers (various issues – mostly, it causes me to tense up even harder while driving)
– rarely pay attention to scenery (I don’t get to enjoy what’s around me) HIGHLY dependent on GPS (I get turned-around EASILY; I have a poor sense of direction)
– long distance driving (over 1 hour; it simply prolongs the above tortures)
Traveling – I do enjoy seeing different places and experiences (particularly, the terrain and architecture), but I absolutely DESPISE getting there. I hate long distance driving. I hate flying (the process, I mean – airport security, baggage claim, delayed flights, etc.). I hate the need for quick adaptation VS detailed planning. I hate schedule changes and the unpredictable nature of traveling, altogether.
I do enjoy seeing different places and experiences (particularly, the terrain and architecture), but I absolutely DESPISE getting there. I hate long distance driving. I hate flying (the process, I mean – airport security, baggage claim, delayed flights, etc.). I hate the need for quick adaptation VS detailed planning. I hate schedule changes and the unpredictable nature of traveling, altogether.
Why is traveling such a big deal.. to someone like me? Well, someone like me requires significant planning and relies heavily on safe routines/sameness. Upsetting all of that causes instant anxiety and requires faster-than-normal adaptation. Also, I can’t find a better encompassing example of what it’s like than this article.
Likes – I do enjoy the camaraderie of traveling companions (I tend to rely on them to do the navigating and most of the planning, however, so I don’t pull my fair share of the workload)
– seeing specifics of places I normally would never see. Examples:
– Washington, DC (Abraham Lincoln statue; FDR statue; space museum; Potomic River/waterfalls; Dupont)
– Key West (wild chickens; home architecture; palm trees; warm/humid air; boat dock areas)
– Las Vegas (building architecture; lights; dinging of slot machines)
– San Diego (palm trees; warm air; green “smell;” vegetation/vines)
– Chicago (lakeside streets; downtown architecture; main park area)
– cruise ships (architecture; vegetation; pools/hot tubs; lights; itineraries/schedules)
Stressers (since childhood) – sudden changes in schedules
– having to create new routines (takes an average of 2 days)
– airports (security; chaotic/rushed pace; digital boarding passes VS printed boarding passes; random seats VS assigned seats; no sleep on a plane; unpredictable baggage claim area; rushing to get luggage from overhead bin; being interrupted while drawing (coping) on a flight for beverages (or those throat-drying peanuts!)
– sudden/unexpected/unpredictable changes in environment/scenery (this helps contribute to crowds (small or large – touching, mostly). I was taught two techniques to HELP cope with this and preventing a mild meltdown/overload: 1) deep breathing techniques PRIOR to entering the public place; and 2) purposeful stimming techniques (instead of doing it reactionarily, I intently start tapping my fingers behind my back so that my focus shifts to that calming act and not on the stressful environment; I also DRAW a LOT when I’m in public – on napkins, receipts, to-go boxes, and actual paper if I had the presence of mind to bring it with me at the time). Here is a muscle pains caused from the anxiety of it all – aspirin, advil sort-of help, but I will use alcohol as a self-medicating/coping mechanism.. ONLY in social interactions. I don’t drink alcohol, otherwise (never at Home). There is a risk of becoming addicted to self-medicating solutions (e.g. becoming an alcoholic), but if you’re simply using it while at parties or clubs/etc., I think the risk is quite LOW of this happening. I also find require considerable “recharging” and downtime on trips of any kind (will cause me to change my regular 7-hour sleep cycle to 10-hour sleep cycle and ruin most mornings). This is a big one for someone like me. We have a limited capacity for it all and must depart a hectic area (perfectly normal area for normal people) and find a quiet/darker place (which may even be the hotel room/cabin) to recharge for the next round.
– unpredictable weather/physical environments (the damned wind; breezes while on a boat; rain; bugs; bright sunlight)
– rarely going out of the house – once Home (not agoraphobia but close; I take the trash out, go to the jeep, begrudgingly mow the lawn; but, I spend most of my off-work time in the house). I believe much of it has to do with hyper-sensitivity (sunlight, nature touching my skin, sounds, etc.), and I cope by avoiding it as much as possible.
Alexithymia: difficulty reading other people’s emotions, facial expressions, subtleties, implied meanings. This is a core aspect of ASD and contributes greatly to my impaired social interactions. This is often associated with the notorious deficit in understanding sarcasm and irony. The other side to this is within the self and not being able to explain one’s own feelings or not being able to express one’s own feelings towards others. In my case, I have an extreme difficulty in telling someone whether I’m feeling.. anything.. I can’t tell unless it’s an extreme emotion (anger or elation).
Prosopagnosia: difficulty recognizing faces. This is the other core aspect of my social deficit. Imagine not recognizing someone you’ve spent hours with the previous day at a party or while at dinner or at the gym or at school? They come up to you, recognizing YOU just fine (even remembering your name, sometimes), and you have NO idea who this person is until several awkward minutes into the conversation. I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened to me. As you can imagine, it would make relationships of any kind incredibly difficult.
Various – have had several people come up to me at random places (State Fair and a music festival, for example) and ask me how I was doing, etc.. and I carry-on as best as I can.. but I have NO idea who they are until WELL into the conversation when they make a cross-reference back to a different event we were all at. From that point, I realize I had spent hours talking to this/these person(s) but forgot their faces fairly quickly afterwards.
Taking things literally – not understanding/blindness to implied/inferred meanings in conversations and (especially) body language. There is a true deficit, here. I’ve taken interpersonal communication and interviewing and other sociology/social psychology courses while in college, and the techniques I’ve learned barely get me by. Imagine what a struggle like this is for a child? Nowadays, there are training programs for kids (who are identified with this impairment), but when I was growing up, there was no such thing.
Sarcasm, Irony, and Implied Humour – I believe the above item is the cause of this particular deficiency. It isn’t that people like me lack a sense of humour at all, it’s just that certain types of humour are damned difficult to comprehend for a mind that’s wired toward 1) analyzing things first then 2) attempting to decode the implied inference/meaning. I believe I’ve successfully overcome this nuisance by rote learning from the very source of sarcasm and ironic humour: The Brits. In my opinion, British humour IS sarcasm and dry irony.
We tend to focus so much on the NEGATIVE IMPACTS a disorder can have on a person that we rarely acknowledge—much less embrace—the POSITIVE IMPACTS a disorder can have on a person. There are, in fact, STRENGTHS that come with this disorder, in particular:
I have a highly analytical mind. I analyze.. EVERYTHING. This slows me down on response time and reactions.. OFTEN, but it serves me well when I need it (at Work or while designing something or troubleshooting something). I’ve been fortunate to discover the below strengths and use them to compensate for my challenges—so much so, that it’s difficult for anyone to even notice I’m doing it nearly constantly:
Thanks to my Criminal Justice education, I learned important logical concepts such as Root-Cause Analysis, “But-For” testing, and If-Then Logic. Thanks to me being as visual as I am, I can see descriptions, visualize probable routes, detect changes in patterns, and illustrate what is in my mind or what is being deciphered in my mind. Finally, thanks to being analytical, I can take complex concepts or patterns and break them down to simplistic ones.
These strengths serve me very well in Information Technology (my primary profession) and in Illustration (my side profession), in particular.