Thursday, 28 February 2013

Autistic Females

Females with ASDs often develop ‘coping mechanisms’ that can cover up the intrinsic difficulties they experience. They may mimic their peers, watch from the sidelines, use their intellect to figure out the best ways to remain undetected, and they will study, practice, and learn appropriate approaches to social situations. Sounds easy enough, but in fact these strategies take a lot of work and can more often than not lead to exhaustion, withdrawal, anxiety, selective mutism, and depression.
Dr. Shana Nichols

Honestly, every time someone with a PhD tells me something about autism, I cringe a little bit.  It's a reflex.  It's not to say that there are no experts in the field of autism.  It's just that, as an autistic person, it's sometimes hard to believe that there is anyone in the world who can understand my brain better than I can.  I know from experience that every autistic brain is unique, and I'm certain that I would not be an expert in anyone else's brain but my own.  So sometimes, it takes me aback when people - despite high education - make generalized statements like this about autistics.  Because it's so important that we remember that all autistics are unique.   

However, I'll admit, this quotation describes me perfectly.  I have done - and continue to do - every one of the activities Dr. Nichols mentions.  I mimic, I watch, I camouflage.  I study, I practice, I learn.  It is a constant struggle, it requires constant analysis, and it means that my brain is always "on."  For years, I was exhausted from analyzing everything and trying to make sense of the world.  I was anxious any time I had to be around people, because it became a job to try to understand them.  When I am very frustrated, I communicate only in sign language or by writing.  I have experienced depression for years.  

Television is my (Secondary) Superpower

I like watching television.
I know that's not an autistic thing.  I know that's a human thing.
But sometimes, I like watching TV so much that I get absorbed into the fictional world on the screen.  Sometimes, the characters on screen become more realistic-seeming than the people around me.
In fact, despite years of cognitive behavior therapy, most of the ways I know how to interact with people and most responses to difficult situations I learned by watching television.  TV characters regularly teach me about friendship, ambition, joy, pain, and loss.  TV characters are like my own personal mentors.
Apparently, that's an autistic thing.  Or maybe it's just a me thing.  I'll leave that for the world to ponder.

I could write for hours about television.  I could tell you about every episode of every show I love (and trust me, there are many).  I could tell you anything about any character on any show I've seen.  I could tell you episode titles and a quick synopsis for each episode of every season of the shows I follow.  My friend once told me that television was my "superpower," and while I'd argue that television is more of a "secondary superpower," I always kept that phrase close to my heart.  I just like it.  I like the idea of having a superpower.  I like that, despite so many perceived negatives about autism in the world today, Asperger's Syndrome gives me something that nobody else has: I have superpowers.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Advice?

Every person is unique.
Every autistic person is unique.
And every neurotypical person is unique.
As much as I find solace and comfort in the autism community, I'll preface this by saying that I know that my autism might not be exactly the same as your autism and we all have different quirks and challenges and superpowers.  Sometimes, autistics relate better to neurotypicals on some matters.  And sometimes, we just  need the advice of an older, wiser, more experienced autistic.  
So I'm here asking for advice.  Advice about people.  Advice about relationships.  Advice about interacting with people and building healthy relationships.  I'm looking to learn from anybody and everybody on the autism spectrum or identifying as having Asperger's Syndrome or autism.  I find myself metaphorically torn at the moment and I'm having a lot of difficulty being myself and loving myself when I am being pulled   metaphorically in so many directions.  I want more than anything to be a self-sufficient grown-up, but I'm really having difficulty fulfilling my obligations to myself when I'm being tempted by friendship and romance.  Trying to satisfy all the people around me is particularly difficult when I just don't know how to speak to them comfortably.  
I am 20 years old and I have many skills and abilities, but social skills have never been my forte.  Comment or email me, please, if you'd be willing to share some wisdom.
I'd really appreciate it.

Monday, 18 February 2013

There Is Nothing Wrong With You

Every once in a while, I hear an ignorant person say something about autism that makes me, as an autistic, angry.
Every time, I remind myself of this: There is nothing wrong with me.
If you are autistic, I'll remind you, too: There is nothing wrong with you.
If your child or someone else you love is autistic, I'll remind you as well: There is nothing wrong with him/her.

And for any other readers, perhaps you never met anyone on the autism spectrum.  The whole concept of autism might be completely foreign to you.  That's OK.  But if I could share one piece of information with you, it would be this: There is nothing wrong with autistic people.

We have all heard the different ways of classifying autism.  Some professionals consider it a disease.  To others, it's a disability.  And still others say it's a difference.  I am not a neuroscientist and I don't know which of those "D" words is the right one to use - medically or scientifically - or perhaps if autismym is a combination of the three or something entirely different.  All I know is that, being autistic myself, autism is not a negative thing.  Autism should never have a negative connotation.  Autism should not be something that needs to be "cured."
Being autistic is not easy, I'll admit that.  But honestly, I can't imagine that being neurotypical is all that easy either.  Everybody has his or her challenges.  And just as every neurotypical person has different challenges, so are each autistic person's challenges unique.
When I was young, I used to tell people that autism was my superpower.  My excellent memory?  My love of science?  My thirst for knowledge?  My interest in patterns?  My obsession with languages and names?  All those things are traits I wouldn't have without autism.
Sure, autism makes some things harder for me.  I really have difficulty paying attention to things I'm not interested in.  It's always been a struggle for me to make friends and acquaintances.  Stimming in public has always brought negative attention.  Independent living is still something I'm working on gaining the skills for.

But I wouldn't trade in autism to be neurotypical.  I wouldn't want to be.  Autism is such a key component of who I am.

So how can it possibly be a negative thing?

There is NOTHING wrong with autism.

:)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Meltdown Recovery

It is hard to recover from a bad brain day.  It is hard to hold your head up high when you still feel constricted in your chest, a throbbing and pounding pain in your head, and too many thoughts that you just can't control. It's hard to be calm, cool, and collected when your arms and hands are flapping and shaking in a way that draws everyone's negative attention toward you.  
Bad brain days are terrifying.  The physical pain associated with them is absolutely unbearable.  And when my brain gets cluttered, I can't think straight.  It is so scary to be unable to think. I know there are thoughts in my head and they're clawing to get out, but it's impossible to separate them from one another, as if they're all tangled awkwardly together.
When I am having a bad brain day, I become both physically and emotionally stressed.  I get anxious.  I get angry.  I lose myself in my brain.  I know I'm having thoughts - I can feel them - but I cannot decipher the things that I am thinking.  I can physically feel my blood pressure increasing.  I can feel thoughts bouncing around  chaotically in the entropy of my skull.
I don't really have any motivation for writing this.  I guess I just wanted to say that while melting down is an unfortunate consequence of autism for many people, it's something that we deal with and it's something that we experience regardless of our best efforts.  I guess I just wanted to say that, even though a meltdown itself might be more obvious, recovering from a meltdown or that awkward energy required to try to stave off another one is nearly impossible and takes a lot of effort.
I know my brain is different.  And frankly, I like my brain a lot.  If I did not have autism, I wouldn't be me, so I am not complaining.  I'm just saying that sometimes, autism interferes with my life.  And sometimes, people don't understand how taxing it can be when thing in my brain get swirled around until they're unrecognizable. Sometimes, people are angry with me when I don't act "normal."
That's what's frustrating for me: feeling uncomfortable and being misunderstood.  

Friday, 8 February 2013

Autism & Solitude

I used to hate being around people.  I preferred to sit home by myself and spend time doing simple things that I enjoyed.  Socializing was so anxiety-producing.  I loathed every single moment of elementary school.  I lived in fear of recess.  I went to a segregated middle school for kids on the autism spectrum; I enjoyed not being social with them, and they enjoyed the same about me.  And then high school happened.  Now, university.  I am expected to be social now.  And I'm not as afraid of it as I used to be.  
Some days, I enjoy being social.
Some days, I’m bored so I socialize to distract myself.
Some days, I just want to sit at my desk and watch youtube and read and not text anybody or talk to anybody or see anybody.  
It has been over 24 hours since I have spoken to or seen anybody.  And I LOVE it.  My brain is so peaceful right now.  
There is a part of me that wishes this is how I always feel.
It feels like my brain can breathe.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Meltdowns Happen, People

Had a meltdown in class today.
Not the first time it’s happened.  But it’s pretty rare for me.
I started crying and stimming, but I suppose I didn’t fully “breakdown” until afterward, walking down the hallway, leaving the building, and sitting in the car.  
It sucked.  
It sucked because, despite whatever anybody wants to think, it’s not my fault.  I’ve been in segregated education (middle school) and integrated education (high school).  I’ve melted down in both.  And both were equally awkward.
I don’t want to cry and stim and wave my arms around and scream uncontrollably.  I don’t ever want to feel so angry and so frustrated and so terrified but not know why.  
I don’t know why I melt down.  I just know that sometimes I do.  And every time, I feel like I lose another friend.  And every time, I struggle to explain my neurochemistry.  And every time, I feel the need to defend my brain.
Meltdowns aren’t fun.

Friday, 1 February 2013

In Which I See A Doctor

When I meet new people -- especially older people, professional people, and especially people in offices -- I get stressed.  I cannot make eye contact.  It's not like how I normally prefer not to make eye contact or how often forget to.  When I'm in an office with someone I'm not comfortable with, my whole head and neck swing violently in the other direction.  And my hands shake and my fingers twist together into painful knots.  I tend to lift my legs at the knees and slam them back down into the floor, not fully rocking but very clearly on that path.  When I get stressed, I cannot communicate clearly.  In my brain, I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to be heard, but suddenly I find myself fishing for words in spite of my once-astounding vocabulary.  I speak with a new cadence when confronted with strangers in these intensely one-on-one situations.  My voice is higher and my words are emphasized differently.  It's so hard to explain, but the best description I have is to say that normally, I speak kind of like Niles on the classic American sitcom Frasier (one of my favorite television comedies), but when I am in a doctor's office or similar scenario, I speak like an over-stimulated four-year-old trying to explain something very passionately but without the sensible diction and in a manner that is so strewn and disorganized that it's impossible to decipher his or her true meaning.
I had an appointment with a doctor yesterday.  I had never met this doctor before and I was not thrilled to meet him because doctors tend not to understand me.  But I needed some prescription renewals and Wal-Mart wouldn't authorize any more refills until I had another scrip from a physician.  So I phoned the physician's office and made an appointment.
When he walked in, he asked what I wanted.
I said that I just needed the prescriptions.
And then came the part I dread the most: the "small talk."
I started crying during small talk.  I started crying because I didn't understand.  It is uncomfortable for me when I do not know what is happening, and maybe I should know what's happening when a new doctor asks me seemingly unimportant questions, but for whatever reason, it is incredibly stressful for me.  I pulled my feet up on the chair, hugged my knees, banged my head back and forth violently, and flapped my hands into my arms so hard that actually have a bruise forming today, between my elbow and my shoulder, on my left arm.
I think the doctor was uncomfortable.  I only say that in retrospect because, as I recreate my body postures in order to explain them correctly, I'm noticing that these actions are not necessarily "normal" or acceptable in the complex social word we live in.
The doctor moved on.  He talked about my prescriptions.  Usually, I don't have questions, but one of my medications has recently changed and I wanted to talk about it.  However, I clearly did not articulate this well enough to him because even though I thought I had relayed it clearly, he simply handed me a scrip and told me that he could see I was done.
This made me cry harder.  Miscommunication scares me.  This is a simple statement but one that I am only now starting to realize.  I am afraid of being misunderstood.  I am afraid that even when I explain something perfectly, the listener still has the opportunity to interpret what I have said in his or her own way.  I am terrified that someone will hear me speak but not understand my meaning.
So I cried.  I cried and I shook my neck hard to the left as I tend to when I'm worried.
In all, what should have been a five-minute appointment became a forty-minute emotional rollercoaster which didn't even answer the questions I had about my new prescription.
But now I'm afraid to go back.
I hate losing control, and in situations like that, I don't feel like myself.  When there are so many triggers and so many scary things all in the same vicinity, it's frightening to me.  And now I'm home, looking at my bottle of new pills, wondering when I'll get the courage to go back to the doctor and ask the questions I need to ask.