Friday, November 27, 2009

Autistic License

I've had more than one person determined that I'm autistic. People that are autistic are socially awkward and unable to relate to others or have empathy. Autistic people often seek repetitive tactile sensations and become insatiably curious about a narrow focus of topics. A third common symptom is extreme sensitivity to sensory input--loud sounds, pungent smells, bright lights, etc.

I used to have a really twisted idea of how people thought. For instance, I used to think that if people offered you food, that they didn't really want you to take their food. Why would you *want* someone to take things from you? I mean, I was a kid at the time and I used to think a lot of weird things. But even into my teen years, I was so incredibly out of touch with what people thought, that I became obsessed with trying to figure it out. I used to go to the public library to read psychology books. Unfortunately, I studied B. F. Skinner too much not knowing at the time how wildly disproved he was. The Brits figured psychology out while us dumb Americans had our hands tied with backwards Lamarkian thinking from otherwise smart people like Franz Boas. More anti-Darwin, religious, rejectionist thinking that wrapped up American psychology into punishment and reward learning rather than through environmental coping. To put simply, how do you learn how to speak a language using only reward and punishment? That was thing big point Noam Chomsky used to break down the entire American psychology paradigm in the early 1900s. But that started my curiosity in people.

By the time I was out of high school, I used music to communicate and express myself. I avoided talking to people if I could. I still do that, and I don't really understand why I do. But it was worse in my 20s. I had a learning disability that made it difficult for me to decipher human speech. But I eventually over came that around my early 20s and now I do fine. Am I still afraid people will talk to me and I won't understand them? I don't think that's it. For some reason, it just really bothers me thinking that people will talk to me. I'm ok talking to people if there's a function to it. But "How are you? Good to see you," conversations, I really try and avoid even to the point of hiding from people in hallways that I think might spark up such a conversation. I like chatting on the internet though, since I don't have to use my ears.

I've heard that some think Albert Einstein couldn't have been autistic because he was noted as having a great sense of humor. But was that natural or learned? I'm pretty good at making people laugh. In fact, I actually love giving class presentations or teaching in general. When I taught computers at Twin Oaks elementary school to 4-6th graders, one of the other teachers told me she could always tell when I was teaching because the kids laughed a lot. I used to go out to dance clubs a lot with friends, and I would do really silly dances not at all afraid to embarrass myself for a laugh from my friends. But I'd avoid talking whenever I could. It was so relaxing for me, not to have to concentrate hard enough to be able to understand people. People around me used to act like I was deaf and ask my friends about me as if I couldn't hear them. That's pretty weird to think about that. For my foreign language requirements in college, of course I took American Sign Language and enjoyed it.

Whatever social skills I have, isn't natural for me, but are a result of a lot of study and effort. I think about this sometimes as I watch The Big Bang Theory. It's the funniest sit com I've ever seen. The command Jim Parsons has over his facial expressions, timing, and control is amazing. His character, Sheldon, really doesn't seem strange to me. I identify with that character a lot.

As for repetitive motions, I'm not going to admit to what it is exactly I do, other than I've poured over tons of abnormal psychology journals and texts, and never found any other example of it. It's probably just a strange OCD thing I have. No one has ever caught me doing it, so it's obviously pretty slight. It makes no sense to me, but does make me feel better to keep doing it. It's not really a routine exactly, more of a reaction. I do have routines, but probably nothing more unusual than what most people have. Everyone has something weird that they do. The only really common one I have is hand washing, though it's not obsessive. When I used to be a brick layer, I used to keep a bucket of water by me so I could wash mortar off my hands about every 20 seconds, but that's an extreme example. Otherwise, I only wash my hands if there's dirt on them or I'm about to eat--probably only 10 times a day on average.

Sensitivity to sensations is a big thing for me. Even if I have my windows rolled up in my car, I just about always have to cover my ears if an emergency vehicle passes baring a siren. If someone close to me yells unexpectedly, it can hurt my ears. Certain frequencies of power tools bother me. When I worked construction, I refused to use a skillsaw. I'd either cut steel rebar with a hacksaw or ask someone else to do it. And if someone else used a skillsaw to do it, I'd cover my ears and move away. I still really hate that sound. When I go to the dentist, I had to ask the dentist to stop using a certain drill attachment because the sound frequency of it drove me crazy.

It's not just sounds. Bright lights bother me. I hate going outside during the day. If I wasn't part native american, I'd probably be really pale. Sunlight rarely touches my skin, and if it does, it doesn't for long.

Some smells really bother me. I don't mean because they smell bad. But I'm really sensitive to some perfumes or scented candles. Flowery smells can make me feel like my air pipe is swelling up and I can't breathe.

Put these things together, and I do fit the category of a high functioning autistic. But there's a few reasons why I believe I'm not one. For one, autistics are very detail oriented and have trouble seeing the big picture. I'm the opposite there. I'm really good at figuring out how large groups of systems fit together for an over arching concept, but I can easily get lost in details. Also, I sometimes have difficulty focusing on things unless I'm really interested in them. Although not all autistics show signs at childhood. I certainly didn't. But when they do, they're generally difficult for parents to deal with. I heard a story of one parent that used to threaten to sing to her autistic child unless he started behaving. For the child, the sound of women singing was deeply upsetting, so it was a threat that worked. I didn't have any kind of symptom like that as a child. I was the exact opposite. According to my mom, she forgot about me a lot because I always played with blocks and cars without making a sound. In fact, even to this day, I can sit in complete silence for hours at a time. That's pretty creepy, actually. Solitary confinement probably wouldn't bother me at all. In fact, if I was ever falsely convicted of something horrible and went to jail, I'd keep breaking rules so I could go there instead of a cell with others.

But if I was autistic, it might explain why everyone in the world seems so weird to me. And why I so very, very rarely find people I can remotely relate to. When I was really young, my father taught me the principles of Buddhism. Concepts like honor, honesty, justice... they made a lot of sense to me. These are not buddhist concepts exactly, but they work nicely with it. They seemed like universal truths to me, and I had a deep sense of the world, thinking that everyone must feel the same because it was manifest. As I got older, and better able to understand others around me, I grew horrified when I'd see people lie or cheat. It still really bothers me. And my father who taught me these values? Turns out they're not any more important to him than most people. Growing up, he used to tell me to lie for him and I refused to. This might seem silly, but I dated this woman, and it really bothered me that she cheated on her taxes. I didn't say anything to her about it, but it really did.

I make mistakes. I believe in honesty, but sometimes I slip up and say things that aren't true. I sometimes do it when I feel insecure and exaggerate something about me to try and make people like me. It's futile. I mean, if I say something superficial in hopes of getting someone to like me for a superficial reason, then they don't really like me for me, and thus, it brings me no comfort.

Ok, enough stalling. I'm still on Chap 1 of my novel. Getting the setting right is hard. Once I have that, the rest should go fast.

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