Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Asperger's Syndrome: It's an order

Oxford American Dictionary definition of “disorder”

disorder |disˈôrdər|
a state of confusion : tiresome days of mess and disorder.
• the disruption of peaceful and law-abiding behavior
• Medicine a disruption of normal physical or mental functions; a disease or abnormal condition : eating disorders | an improved understanding of mental disorder.

Word has it that Asperger’s is an Autism Spectrum disorder.  I’m not so sure I believe that 100 percent. Now Autism Spectrum, I get, as there is a vast spectrum of characteristics within the diagnosis of Autism. But disorder?

I’ve put together a list of words I’ve heard used to describe those with Asperger’s, and those traits are as follows:

March to the beat of their own drum. Unique. Genius. Odd. Focused. Different. Innovative. Logical. Organized. Knowledgeable. Loyal. Practical. Honest. Literal. Utilitarian. Visual. Hyperlexic. Dedicated. Detail oriented. Direct. Zealous. Orderly.

Here is a list of opposites for those words:

Following the herd. Common. Dunce. Conventional. Unfocused. Similar. Unoriginal. Illogical. Disorganized. Ignorant. Disloyal. Impractical. Dishonest. False. Decorated. Non-visual. Dyslexic. Indifferent. Careless. Indirect. Unenthusiastic. Disorderly.

Just where exactly does the “disorder” lie?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Do You Like Me? Yes or No (Please Check One)

“Twirl my hair? That’s absurd.”

“EYE CONTACT?! Forget about it.”

In my teen years I read all the 17 Magazine articles on How to Let Him Know He’s The One, Flirting: 101, and How to Catch His Eye - to no avail. No matter how hard I’d try to make that initial eye contact, smile, or toss my head back when laughing – it was an epic failure every time.

The day after I had put my toys away and ceased barking like a dog at school (see previous blog, Unleash the Hounds), my life changed. Like canines, dinosaurs, The USS Kitty Hawk naval aircraft carrier, and any other special interests I had conjured up in my young life, a new special interest appeared and in human form. He was tall, thin with dark hair and dark eyes. He was in my Homeroom class. His name was Bobby.

I’m learning that “special interests” are an integral part of the Aspergian nature. Some might define them as obsessions, some hobbies, but whatever the definition is for others, I see them as a means for expertise and mastery. I can only speak for myself, and my pattern is as follows:

  • Find something that strikes my interest.
  • Research online all I can find on the subject (Wikipedia is a good place to start).
  • Buy or borrow every book I can find on the subject.
  • Do nothing but read those books (anything or anyone else gets in the way, unless they too want to discuss the subject).
  • Bring this subject up in just about every conversation I have with others (which others love . . . not).
  • Visit locations where I am able to gather more data.
  • Find something else that strikes my interest.
  • Repeat the cycle.

I found an insightful blog which goes into detail on the special interests of those with Asperger’s, and you can find it here: Life with Asperger's: The Dreaded Special Interest

“Where was he born?” “What is his birth date?” “What is his astrological sign?” “Are our signs compatible?” “What is his nationality?” “What type of music does he like?” “What are his hobbies?” “Where does he live?”

The questions multiplied. There were so many questions that I began to list them on paper, hoping one day I’d have the courage to ask. Day after day I would walk into class and see him sitting at his desk, three rows up and to my right. I would turn a deep red, feel heat pour over my body, and was sure my forehead displayed in blinking neon the word “crush”. I thought I could hide under my long, blond bangs, doodle on my “Pee Chee” folder, or pretend to read and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t notice.

One day he started laughing, and took his school book up to our teacher, Ms. Juarez, pointing at something in the book.  They then both started giggling. He then pointed to me and said “this picture looks just like you!” Kids began jumping out of their chairs to look as I sat frozen, mute, and blushing.  I felt like I was going to melt into a puddle of lava. I was wishing I WOULD melt into a puddle of lava and just be done with it all. I’d rather face a horrible, grueling death than to look this boy in the eyes, much less bat my eyelashes at him like the articles said. The bell rang, and I ran my sweaty little armpits out of there.

At some point I ended up with Bobby’s phone number. I’m sure a friend gave it to me, for other girls seemed to have no problem speaking to him in person. So I would call. And we’d talk. And I’d ask my questions. And I’d see him at school - and would avoid him like the plague, behaving as if he didn’t exist. I did this for years. Now that I am aware of the characteristics of Asperger’s, I believe I was perfectly satisfied knowing the information of Bobby, not Bobby the human, not Bobby the soul, not Bobby - the clueless teenaged skater boy in physical form. I had become an expert . . . , which eventually gave me the space to discover another special interest: theology.

I never did learn to flirt and still don’t understand the concept. I’ve learned that if you are interested in someone, just say it – no games. In my adult life, I’ve only had two serious relationships, but my method seems successful as I am now engaged to be married to the most amazing human being I’ve ever met, and maintain a great friendship with my previous beau.

I did learn, as I grew older, that seeking a person’s “data” is not nearly as satisfying as actually having a relationship with them. Though it may be difficult at times, it sure is comforting to know someone is in your corner and on your team.

Years later: While visiting London in 2003, out of the blue I received an email from Bobby. He had tracked me down through the high school reunion website. Though I admit the eye contact was minimal, together as friends, we attended our ten-year high school reunion. Isn’t life amazing? Not bad for a timid, Aspergian girl. ;0) 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hit the Road, Toad

There are tiny black and grey pebbles embedded in the palm of my right hand and I hope a car doesn’t come soon.  
"Why am I doing this? There must be some scientific reason behind this—it must be something all ‘grown-ups’ have done at some point in their lives."   
She told me to 'hit the road', so I did.  I was four. 
This is literal thinking. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

*Unleash the Hounds

I remember very clearly the first day it began, as if it were yesterday.  My young, hip mother had a few girlfriends over. They were laughing, drinking, and generally being obnoxious (to my taste), talking over each other and carrying on the way I see many women do when they're traveling in packs.  I wanted them to leave, so, my four-year-old brain’s solution: I became a Doberman Pinscher and ran out into the living room barking at them fiercely, as if guarding my domain with all my might. 

They laughed. They mistook me for a “monster”.

“What are you, a werewolf? Dracula? What kind of little monster are you?” they asked, with that “cutesy” tone of voice some use when speaking to children.

I have always despised that aspect of people, when they change their voice to sound cute or . . . I don’t know, just different than how they normally sound when speaking of folding their laundry, creating an excel spreadsheet, or re-fueling their cars.  When I hear that high-pitched type vocalization, I feel as if someone is pouring boiling water over my body and sticking knitting needles through my eardrums, full force.

I yelped louder and clearer, then started biting at my mother’s orange vinyl barstools (I had seen dogs do this when they couldn't get to their target, sinking their teeth into whatever was near to rid themselves of pent-up frustration). It made me feel powerful, and expressed something I didn't feel I could express with mere words.  Without barking, I was a timid little girl, sitting in a corner somewhere, coloring, doing puzzles, reading about animals, or having tea with Steve Martin (my trusty invisible friend).

The cackling hens finally exited (after insisting I was a “cute little puppy”, grrrrrrrr). I accomplished my mission, served a good duty.  I rid our home of chaos.

This barking continued, and became my way of keeping people at a distance and keeping me safe inside myself. I became an expert on dogs: training techniques, breeds (standards, groups, temperaments, origins, and vocalizations), and physical/psychological reactions. By the time I was eight, you could name any breed of dog and I could mimic its bark. 

This didn’t bode well on the playground, as I'm sure you've guessed. Kids started calling me “Sparky,” pretended to throw bones for me, then would giggle along with their friends behind my back (although, with Asperger’s Syndrome comes major sensory sensitivities—I could hear EVERYTHING on the playground).  I learned that if I could get out of class fast enough for recess and grab a swing, I could stay on that swing the entire recess period and never have to deal with other kids at all.  The sensation of the swings relaxed me, made me feel a sort of high, and I was safe. You don't have to talk on swings. If there were no swings, well, it was “Sparky” time and I was lucky enough to find one friend who didn’t mind occasionally playing “animals” with me. She was a tiger.

I had no idea this had anything to do with Asperger’s until I began researching Online Forums belonging to parents of children with AS. Days ago I began uncovering post after post regarding Aspergian children who choose to emulate certain animals rather than engage in socially acceptable, age appropriate games such as dodge ball (ouch!), jumping rope, sports, and the like. With my new found diagnosis, it makes sense to me now why I desired solitude—the loud screams of the children made my head hurt, the bright Southern California sun burned my eyes and skin, and constant buzzing and brightness of those terrible fluorescent light bulbs in the classroom made me feel like my head was going to explode. How can anyone learn with those bloody buzzing lights?!

The last day I barked was my first day of sixth grade.  We had a long summer break and I was changing schools from elementary (with a playground and swings) to a high school type setting (square buildings, some temporary modular classrooms, a basketball court, a gym, and a track). No one prepared me for this change. I was shocked. 

“No swings! What do I do? What if I get lost?!” 

We broke for lunch that brisk September day and I saw my old trusty "tiger" pal, ran up to her yelping (as this is how I'd initiate play in elementary school), and she completely ignored me, walking passed with her new group of friends, giving me that signature look of disdain teenage girls are so privy to.

“Oh my GAWD, what was THAT?! Hahahaha,” I heard one of her friends exclaim as they all three laughed and trotted by.

I then realized I couldn't swing, couldn't bark, and I had better find a new identity—and quick.  So I went home that afternoon, cried into my pillow, then put all my toys and dog books away in a box, sealed it up, and then began a life of watching and attempting to “copy” others in order to be seen, in order to be loved, in order to be accepted, in order to survive.

Excerpt from chapter eighteen | hey bulldog | Everything's Hunky Dory: A Memoir

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Diagnosis

Asperger's Syndrome. That's my diagnosis. November 9th, 2010 is the day I will always remember as being enlightened, seeing clearly, having that 'a-ha!' moment, and for the first time, feeling 'right' inside my own body. I'm an Aspie.

What is Asperger's, you ask (after giggling at the name as I did when I first heard it . . . go ahead . . .say it out loud!)? Let me introduce you to one of my best friends, Wikipedia (we spend A LOT of time together): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger's. (In future blogs, I will reference a variety of resources in which you may use to familiarize yourself, your loved ones, your pets—although they could care less, and your employers with Asperger's syndrome and all it entails. I am forever a student and am excited to share with you what I have and am learning each day.)

I've always been different, never feeling like I belonged in any group, job, or social setting. Even in friendships I've had the past 35 years of my life, I have never experienced that deep, emotional connection I would see people share in movies or as described in books and magazines. As a child, I was more interested in reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica than bonding with other children. And while other children were saying things like "rad" and "awesome," I was responding with words such as "interesting concept" and "that's fascinating.” By the time I was eight, I had read every dog book my elementary school library contained and was training every dog I could get my hands on. I was an expert on breeds and could tell you in a millisecond what breed of dog you had, and if mixed, what various breeds your canine had in his genes (special interest, much?). I had no interest in wearing a bra, deodorant, nor going through puberty, period (oh, and that too . . . period . . . gross!), which caused a lot of problems in the friendship department, especially with little girls who wanted to wear red lipstick and kiss cute boys and wear baby blue jelly shoes and paint their nails with Hello Kitty designs and FLIRT (still haven't managed to grasp that last one).

"What's WRONG with you?" was a question addressed to me a million times over while growing up and even as an adult. And in my teenage years—those awful, painful, anxiety ridden, insecurity filled, teenage years (oh, the misery!)—I began to ask myself the same question . . . which lead me to an adulthood obsessed with psychology, spirituality, self-help books, gurus, stand-up comedy, meditation, and ultimately, self-realization. And through that experience, with the obsessions being my key, I've been able to unlock the door to semi-normalcy, masking the social anguish with an Oscar worthy, exhausting act.

Today, I have the answer to that life-long question, and I can honestly respond by saying, "here's what's RIGHT with me" instead. The label, the diagnosis—the FREEDOM—I can laugh about it and share it with you, in hopes that my authenticity reaches those souls out there who feel misunderstood, and also for those of you sharing your lives with people like me. So join me on my journey . . . and experience the misadventures of Aspie Girl!