An Aspie In Iowa

An Aspie In Iowa: ASMR Freaks Me Out!

So tonight I watched a few ASMR videos on YouTube. I don’t really want to go into what these are so I’ll leave the explanation here. I’ll also post a couple of example videos so that you have a good idea what these are.

and…

Now what you are supposed to get from these videos is a pleasurable tingling sensation in your spine that makes you feel tranquil. These videos are immensely popular and I have seen numerous testimonials speaking of their usefulness. Well….that was not my experience at all.

Let me tell you, I get a tingling sensation….well tingling isn’t really the proper word for it, I feel like someone is trying to rip my spine out of my back and beat me over the head with it. The feeling that I get from these videos is about the worst feeling that anyone could get without setting yourself on fire.  We watched a video of a woman clicking her fingernails on various items and I literally had tears in my eyes and wanted to run from the room.

At first I would think that this has to do with my autism but my wife who is also an aspie gets the pleasurable response that everyone else raves about. A quick google search found other autistic blogs and websites proclaiming the positives of ASMR and so I’m guessing it’s more or less just me. No real big deal, I’m used to being the odd man out.

I think though that perhaps this does have a lot to do with my aversion to touch and since these videos supposedly stimulate the same nerves that respond to light touch then it is no wonder why I had such a bad reaction to them. I would rather be stabbed than to have someone lightly touch me, I don’t want to sound hyperbolic but to be lightly touched feels, to me, like I am being violated in some horrific fashion.

I guess it only makes sense because I like strong touches. I also like strong sounds, preferring a bit louder than normal speech over any type of whisper. Whispering drives me absolutely insane and makes me sick to my stomach when I hear it. Perhaps this is due to the deceptive nature that whispering is meant to convey much of the time and the amount of times in my past that I knew, or at least assumed, that people were whispering about me.

Anyway, I’d like to send this on over to you folks, my readers. Does ASMR elicit the feel good pleasurable sensation in your mind or are you as turned off as I am by this invasion of obnoxious noise upon your mind? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

An Aspie In Iowa

An Aspie In Iowa: Trumpets and Screeching

Tonight we went to my daughters middle school band concert which included a choir and string orchestra performance. I’m under the weather as well so it was bound to be an interesting experience.

First off, being a middle school concert it wasn’t quite as bad as an elementary school concert. There was little to no screeching from the children who sang but it still wasn’t a great musical experience. The band was amazing, really surprised by just how good they were and I was very proud of my daughters performance. She played her trumpet great and it reminded me of when I was a young kid playing the trombone in the same type of concert. I loved playing the trombone and unfortunately due to a bad decision on my part in my early 20’s I no longer have my instrument.

School concerts are hard on me because there is so much about them that I do not enjoy. Having to sit uncomfortably for over an hour, very close to other people I don’t know, who smell funny….seriously it might sound weird but people that I don’t know smell strange to me. I think it is a heightened sense of smell that comes from my Autism. Anyway I hate going to these concerts but I know that my children love having me there and so I go…I’m exhausted afterwards but I go.

So now I’m sitting watching Star Trek and trying to decompress from the social activity that I just put myself through. Star Trek has the ability to almost instantly calm me regardless of the situation. It’s always been that way for as long as I can remember.

Does anyone else experience this with their focused interests? I think it’s healthy that I put myself through these situations from time to time but afterwards I feel as if I ran a marathon. Is that just me or do some of my readers have the same experiences?

An Aspie In Iowa

An Aspies Guide To The Holidays

A few weeks back I wrote a few tips from the atheist side of things and I thought that I might come back to this topic from another important aspect of my life, Autism. The holidays are both wonderful and horrifying to many of us on the spectrum. We love to give, to receive, to spend time with family but at the same time all of these things can cause us a lot of stress and anxiety. So without further ado, here are some tips for Aspies during the holidays.

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1.) Know your exits

With the holidays come social gatherings and in any social gathering it is important to know your exits. If things get a bit to stressful, or you find yourself headed towards an overload head towards that exit. An exit isn’t meant to imply you are leaving but that you are heading off for a moment to regroup. If it’s warm enough I will step outside for a few minutes and if I can’t do that I’ll head to the bathroom. Anything that you can do to get yourself back under control can be very helpful.

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2.) You don’t have to eat that

Another thing that comes with the holidays is food, some of which is probably fairly disgusting to you. Forcing yourself to eat things that you don’t like can add a layer of stress to the holidays that I don’t believe a neurotypical could understand. Eat what you like, pass on what you don’t. If someone offers you something that looks unappealing, thank them for the offer but pass on their offer. If the need arises, and it might, you can always pretend to have a food allergy which prevents you from eating whatever is being offered.

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3.) Remember people don’t like the truth when it comes to gift giving.

If you get something that you don’t like…the answer is not to say you don’t like it…no matter how correct that answer might seem to be. Just smile and thank the person for the gift and then if it is something you truly hate you can always attempt to sell it or take it back after the holidays. A person giving you a gift is more about the idea that they thought of you than about what is actually given, at least that is what I am told…however I’ve had people give me gifts that were so foreign to who I am that it almost offended me that they would give me that type of gift….even so the best option is to pretend you like it and move on.

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4.) Steer Clear of Truth Serum

If one thing leads me to make inappropriate comments it is alcohol. If I’ve had a few then I am likely to tell people exactly what I think of them and so during the holidays I avoid any type of drinking. You probably know yourself fairly well and maybe one or two will help calm your nerves and allow you to enjoy the festivities more fully. However, know your limits.

 

5.) If you are unsure about what to get someone ask

Sure, I might think getting Star Trek stuff for Christmas is the ideal gift. However, this might not be the case for others around you. If you are unsure then the best option is to ask. One of the big problems that I have faced in life is how neurotypical people seem to pick up on what other people like and are easily able to get them something that they might enjoy. I’ve never been very good at picking out gifts for people and before I started asking I had several awkward experiences…Note…it is never ok to buy a loved one a vacuum for Christmas…you live and you learn…

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6.) Look for others who might also be on the spectrum

I have a cousin who is also on the spectrum. At thanksgiving he was sitting all by himself and not talking to anyone. I noticed this and asked him what his interests were. At first he didn’t say much but the second we got onto the topic of “Star Wars” he was as happy as could be. His mother told me after the dinner that it was the happiest she has seen him in a long time and that he had told her that he had never enjoyed a holiday gathering more than that day. Life is confusing, being on the spectrum can suck at times, and so sticking together and having a good time is important.

7.) Have Fun!

Try to have fun. Get through the holidays and then unwind with your favorite activity, tv show, or movie series. One of the best parts about the holidays is that they only come once per year. Try not to stress too much about them and yet at the same time realize that the holidays are stressful for everyone. Love your family, enjoy your friends, but always keep your mental well-being in mind.

Have a safe and happy holidays!

An Aspie In Iowa

An Aspie In Iowa #2: Stimming and Eye Contact

For last weeks article, click here.

1.) Stimming

This weeks article will address stimming but not specifically what it is. If you are interested in finding out more you can find information on stimming here.

So as a brief synopsis of what Stimming is, it’s repetitive motions or sounds that folks on the spectrum do that can appear as odd or annoying to the outside world. However to people like myself, they are therapeutic, calming, they can also help us focus on and process the information that we are taking in.

When i was a child I would constantly tap on my desk, stand up and spin, rock back and forth as well as flap my hands. All of these things were considered distractions and incredibly frowned on when I was in school. I can remember several times when a teacher might say something along the lines of, “We will continue with the lesson once Matthew sits down and is quiet.” Not being able to continue the lesson meant that recess might be delayed or eliminated altogether. This led to mob justice in the form of my peers and even more bullying than I already experienced.

So through time I forced myself to stop stimming outside of wiggling my toes in my shoes. I would learn later in life that this wasn’t enough and I was actually causing myself a lot of mental harm by not calming and processing in the way that my mind wanted me to. Nothing was more apparent than my hands.

For as long as I can remember my hands have shaken horribly. I’ve actually been checked for Parkinson’s in the past and it was one of the first things that people would point out and question when they met me. The more stressed I would become the worse my hands would shake. It was horribly annoying to me because as the shaking would worsen my ability to type would become nearly impossible, being an accountant, typing is something I have to be able to do.

When I began researching Autism, I came across an article dealing with stimming. It reminded me of all the things I did as a child to calm myself down. So I decided to  do a simple experiment. The next time I noticed the shaking in my hands begin to worsen, I got up from my desk at work, walked to the bathroom, locked the door and flapped them to my heart’s content. The result was immediate. The second I began flapping the shaking began to subside. After a few moments, my hands were as still as anyone else’s. Stimming fixed an issue that I had just lived with and had accepted as incurable for nearly 25 years. Now, anytime they begin to shake a bit, I stim and the shaking goes away.

Some of the other ways that I stim is through certain words. I really don’t know how this works so if someone in the comments could explain it, I would be greatly appreciative. Saying certain words or making certain sounds has a great calming effect on me. One such word is “panda.” I’m a large, 6 foot 2 inch man, with a beard, but if I get stressed and you get close to me, you might hear me repeating the word panda under my breath. I also sometimes get this feeling that I have to say a word or make a noise, when I explained it to my psychiatrist she thought I might be talking about tourettes but eventually that was not a part of my diagnosis.  One of the main noises that i make is a slight clicking noise in the back of my throat. I do this when I am really interested or focused on something.

Other ways I stim is through sensory information. When I am stressed, I love the feel of metal on my face. I have a metal stapler at work that I will press to my cheek if I am really stressed out. I also constantly crack my knuckles, run my fingers through my hair and tap on stuff. Each one of these things helps me in a certain way.

So to parents, please don’t force your children to not stim. If their stimming is something dangerous, such as self biting or hitting, or is interfering with their ability to focus on school work or anything like that, maybe suggest some alternate forms of stimming. Please don’t force them to stop stimming altogether. If they are like me and high enough functioning to do that, it can lead to even more issues with their mental health and even physical symptoms.

2.) Eye Contact

Eye Contact for me is incredibly difficult. I describe it as if I am having the noise of fingernails on chalkboard going through my brain when I am making eye contact. Over time I’ve learned to look at foreheads and teeth in an effort to avoid eye contact and this works for the most part.

However eye contact still bothers me and it’s more in the way that it is seen as normal for the rest of the world. Why is eye contact even seen as a good thing. Look at our primate cousins, eye contact is a sign of agression and something that you avoid unless you are attempting to challenge someone in the group for a higher position. Watch some chimpanzees or gorillas interact and one will be looking down while the more powerful one is standing over. They don’t like eye contact yet we do.

The second thing that makes this so strange is that we are taught not to stare from the earliest age. Staring is considered rude and invasive, but When in a conversation you are supposed to stare at the person directly in the eyes. How does that make any fucking sense?

Here’s the deal, if you are having a conversation with me and you force me to make eye contact, then I won’t be paying attention to anything that is coming out of your mouth. The only thought that will be running through my mind will be, “When is this going to be over, I’m uncomfortable, I want to look away, I hate this!” If you want me to do something correctly, allow me to look away while you speak. I will hear you far better, process what you are saying far better, and get the task done far better if I am just allowed to be myself.

Anyway, i hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Thank you for reading.

An Aspie In Iowa

An Aspie In Iowa #1: Small Talk, Gossip, and Directions

First off, I want to say that my experience with Autism is going to be different from another person’s experience. It has been said, “If you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism. Due to being a spectrum disorder, people with autism can display many different traits.

I have been diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism, what used to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome. What this means is that most of my autistic traits are unseen, at least for the most part, having more to do with the way I think and perceive the world. So while this is the story of my own experience, I won’t be able to give much information on other forms of Autism, such at low or mid functioning. My nephew is mid-functioning and while we share certain traits, much of our own personal experiences will be different throughout life.

Anyway….

I wanted to start this series out right with something that has caused me a huge amount of stress and exhaustion over the years. Small Talk is something that makes absolutely no sense to me and so I am absolutely awful at it. It has always seemed that small talk is simply a means to eliminate silence and in that it seems really weird. Is silence horrific to neurotypical people?

If you were to engage me in small talk I will spend the majority of the time trying to get out of the conversation. This is for multiple reasons but mainly the following three points:

1.) It annoys me
2.) I see no point in it
3.) I fear saying the wrong thing in these moments.

This might come as a shock but I could not care less about the weather, that new recipe for chicken tacos, or the pro’s and con’s of the various types of butter you can use to make cookies. Part of this comes from the fact that I have no idea where this style of conversation is supposed to go. Usually my response will be something along the lines of, “yep…”

Seriously though, think about it. You’re sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for your appointment. Someone walks in and sees you sitting there. They sit down and you both are silent. Then after a few minutes they speak up and say, “Boy it’s hot out there isn’t it?”

My response…”Yep…”

Is this conversation supposed to go somewhere? Am I supposed to then tell you that I’m there to have an infected toenail looked at? Should I show you the toenail? Do I ask you if you are there to be checked into psychiatric care due to fearing silence so badly that you engaged me in this conversation?

Chris Pratt

I have found that my initial response almost always leads to them looking at me like I am supposed to continue and ask them something back but who the fuck knows what. The only thing going on in my mind is this…

“Please shut up, please shut up, please shut up….I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to talk to you…”

Another horrible experience for me is when checking out at a store. When I go to the store, I get what I need and I try to get out as quickly as possible. Over time I learn which cashiers are the fastest and I attempt to go through their aisles. Sometimes though this option is not available and I am placed in a checkout with someone who wants to make comments about everything I am trying to purchase.

“Oh, is this butter good?” They might ask.

“It’s butter.” I would reply

“I usually use this brand, have you tried it?” They ask.

“No, this is cheaper and it’s the same butter I have bought for the last 10 years.”

“You ought to try this brand.” They reply

“I’m good.” I say

“Ok….OH! Is this brand of bread good?”

By the end of experiences like this my brain is swimming in stress and I am completely exhausted. The reason being is that my mind is pushing me to an outburst. As the stress level rises, the lights around me get brighter, the noises become louder, and the voices around me become less distinct. My skin might begin to itch and I often break out in hives simply from the fact that I am stressed out. I will begin to notice the temperature in the room as it seems to rise and I feel a need to scream build up in my body.

At one point in life I would have just blown up. Emotional outbursts were a regular occurrence for me growing up and even though they might initially make me feel better, I would do or say things that I would regret later. During sensory overload I can say some of the most wicked and awful things without ever realizing that they have exited my mouth. So holding back these urges is absolutely exhausting.

By the time I get home from the store I sit down and often times don’t move for several hours after that. Letting my mind calm and slow down the sensory information that I am receiving. It should come as no surprise then that I attempt to the best of my ability to keep away from small talk.

Gossip on the other hand is both interesting and annoying. When I was younger I would have people tell me things about other people and then moments later I’d watch as those people acted as if they were the best of friends. You would never see me do anything like this. In fact I got in a lot of trouble as a kid for saying things like, “I thought you just said she was a bitch?”

Gossip is interesting because people seem to think that since I am quiet they can just come up to me and tell me anything and no one will ever hear about it. The problem is my perception of people is often times shaped by how other people speak about them. My mind is incredibly literal and so if I am told that someone is  crook, I will think, “oh, this person might try to rob me, and act strangely around that person.

The other thing about gossip is that it is almost never actually true. Many times throughout life I have had person A come up to me and say one thing about person B , then have person B come up and say the exact same thing about person A. Now obviously they both can’t be right but why does this type of accusatory talk feel so good to neurotypical people? It makes no sense to me.

The last thing that I want to talk about today is directions. If you are ever told to get directions from me, or to give directions to me, we are both going to end up confused. The way I plan things out is totally different from the way that others plan things out. Both of us might be headed toward the same goal but my mind often times goes about it in a very different way.

Example of giving me instructions:

When I was in high school the teacher gave us a writing assignment. She stated that the essay was to be 10 pages long, double spaced. I had absolutely no idea what double spaced meant at the time yet my brain interpreted this to mean a 10 page paper with two spaces in between each word. I remember turning in my paper thinking I had done a decent job only to have the teacher laugh at me. When you think about it though, I had probably written about twice as much as any other student there but instead I was ridiculed and made to feel inferior for the simple mistake I had made.

Directions

Example of me giving someone else instructions:

So in my job I used a lot of computer programs. I am able to use this with a lot of speed and navigate through the menus without any difficulty. So when I am told to explain to another person how to do something, I often leave out a lot of information that the person might need to know.

Say I am told to explain how to make certain reports. I might explain it by saying, click reports, enter in dates, and pull the report you want it to create. When they come back to me and wonder why they can’t pull a certain report, I realize there are maybe 5-10 steps that you have to do before being able to even access the reports. By that time they are upset because they think I think they are stupid, or that I am trying to make them fail by explaining it badly. Nothing could be further from the truth, I literally just don’t consider those small steps that must be done since I am so used to just doing those, its second nature to me and in my mind it should be to them as well.

Anyway, I hope I have done these things justice and maybe you understand a bit more about me than you did before. There is much more topics that I will go into during coming weeks, months and years. Thank you for reading!

 

An Aspie In Iowa

An Aspie In Iowa #0: Overview

If you read the Epilogue to my journey, you will know that I have been diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism. This series of articles will be based around some of the issues, challenges, and triumphs that I have had throughout my life. I am still adjusting to the fact that I have autism, having suspected it for quite some time, getting the diagnosis was a pretty major experience in my life.

So these articles will take a step away from the main theme of the blog and talk about other aspects of my life that I find important. I hope you will enjoy them.