Tag Archives: issue

Perseveration

Upon getting my diagnosis of Asperger’s, one of the very first things I learned about was something called perseveration. In fact, I learned about it during the actual assessment. The person who was doing it was able to give a name to something Nee had been describing about me, and helped us get some perspective.

See, I obsess a lot. My brain just seems to like doing that. In some ways I view that as a good thing, such as my defense of obsessions from a while back. However, this tendency is not always good. Sometimes it’s just amusing or neutral, like when a word or phrase gets stuck in my head and I wind up repeating it over and over and over again for several minutes straight. Other times a conversation or event will get stuck in my head for some reason, and I’ll wind up going over it repeatedly.

That last one is what I want to talk about. When something gets stuck and it’s like it’s on instant replay for days, weeks, and sometimes even months on end. Even this is not always bad. I mean, I usually wind up replaying things in my head several times over. It helps me process and it’s part of how I think through things and come up with solutions if there’s a problem.

Sometimes, though, it’s just torment. I’ll be stuck going in these little mental circles going nowhere at all. No processing is happening, I’m not progressing through a thought pattern, I’m not coming up with solutions (sometimes I already have a solution but I still can’t stop thinking about whatever it is). I’m just stuck. That, I have been told, is perseveration.

Learning that there was a word for this and learning what it is actually helped clear up some friction in my relationship with Nee. He would see me go over the same thing again and again and again, he would see that there was nothing to be gained by it, and he would see that it was causing me unhappiness. What he did not see was that I couldn’t help it. He thought that I should just be able to stop thinking about those things and that I was willfully going in circles. So learning what it was also meant learning that it was not a choice on my part, which helped him to adjust to me.

As for me, when I am able to put a label on something, I often feel like I have a better handle on it. This allowed me to identify the behavior pattern much earlier and much more easily than I had been before. It gave me a context to help me understand some of how I worked that I had not understood before. I still needed to sort out when my going over things repeatedly was working for me and when it wasn’t, but now I had a box to use for When It’s Not Working. For me, that is a very good and useful thing to have.

Apparently perseveration is a thing with the autism spectrum. I’m not alone in this, and I wonder how it impacts other people’s lives and relationships, and how different people deal with it. For me, I write. I write both to help me process, and I’ve taken to writing when I’ve noticed that I’m perseverating and not getting anywhere. It actually helps me quite a bit. I’m able to turn it into words and put the words somewhere I can see and read them, and it seems to calm my brain down. Sometimes it means that I can make progress in whatever I’m thinking about, and sometimes it means I actually get to think about something else after days of nothing but the same thing on repeat.

At this point I look at perseveration as one manifestation of an overall tendency to obsess. Obsessing can happen in a number of different ways, and I honestly view many of them as beneficial. Sometimes, though, even a beneficial trait can go sideways and then I need to find some way to handle that.

Do you perseverate? What ways have you found to cope with it?

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Finding the Boundaries

creative commons image by ank0ku on flickr

Explicit boundary markers are fabulous.

This is yet another hugemassive topic that goes far beyond anything I’m capable of fitting into a single blog post. So, yet again, I’m going to be going for a more general overview, with the idea that I can do more specific blog posts in the future.

In my post about politeness, I briefly listed a few areas of polite behavior, including finding and respecting people’s boundaries. As a matter of fact, most of what I listed could be considered a form of knowing/respecting boundaries, as this is a really huge deal. In some cases, it could be considered about being polite or otherwise, and in other cases it’s about a whole lot more. There are all sorts of types of boundaries.

When I first started thinking about this blog topic, I was thinking about a version of boundaries that fits rather neatly as a politeness thing – that is, knowing when to talk to people and when not to. Knowing how often to talk to or contact people. How much is too much, how much is not enough, that sort of thing. I am terrible at finding a balance on this one, and after many failures in relationships I’ve become somewhat obsessive and stressed about it all. Too little contact with a person and I find myself unable to continue to feel a connection with them. Too much contact with a person and they tend to run away. Trying to balance what I need and want with what the other person needs and wants is something I find terribly complicated and difficult, and I only occasionally bother to try. On this one, if anyone has any magical secrets on how to figure this out, I’d certainly love it hear them. ^_^

There are also other sorts of boundaries. Many of them are very serious sorts of boundaries, with serious consequences for getting them wrong. One of those areas is sexual boundaries. Interestingly, I don’t find sexual boundaries to be all that difficult to navigate. The big thing is that for it to work as easy as possible, there are two things each person needs to bring to the table.

1. a willingness to talk about where your boundaries are. It can be hard to directly talk about sexual things, especially since we have a lot of learned shame around it all, but it’s honestly fairly important to be able to do so. That said, it’s ok if it’s uncomfortable or challenging or embarrassing. It’s just important to do it.
2. Practice explicit consent. I am a huge proponent of explicit consent just in general for everyone (unless you have an established relationship and have worked out other ways to do it), but ESPECIALLY LOTS for anyone on the spectrum. Where it goes beyond “no means no” and into “yes means yes.” Do not assume that things are ok – ask first. It does not have to be terribly awkward and robotic, either. Enthusiastic consent is pretty hot. ^_^

Then there are more general boundaries. Some are fairly obvious (don’t punch people except in certain, very limited, contexts), and others are more about any given individual’s lines (like how I don’t want people to touch my upper arms). In the case of the latter, I strongly prefer (and very much appreciate) people who are willing to be explicit. I have a very hard time with non-verbal communication, and I miss boundaries all too often when they are expressed with gestures or facial expressions rather than with words. This is a difficult area for me – technically speaking, socially speaking, it’s up to me to detect where everyone’s boundaries are. Realistically speaking, while I do try very hard, sometimes I just can’t. I need words. So I tend to be more drawn to people who use words, or who are at least willing to use words with me. Which also means that when I person does use words to express a boundary, I make a point to respect it without making them work or fight for it.

Sometimes I find when I express boundaries to other people, their response is to immediately ask me why I need that boundary, or couldn’t I use this other boundary instead, etc. This both bothers me on a personal level and is a behavior that I find generally problematic, so I make a point to not do it (with the possible exception of if respecting that person’s boundary carries a risk of crossing a boundary of mine. then negotiation needs to happen). If, for whatever reason, I want more information I make a point to agree to the boundary first, and then express my desire for said information.

Overall, I find boundaries are things worth a lot of my energy and attention. I know I sometimes have trouble, but I really do care about getting it right, so I try. I try a lot. And I love it when people are explicit about their own boundaries. It’s fantastic.

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Touching

I posted before about things people can say that Aren’t Helpful. Getting a touch more specific, one of those pieces of not-so-welcome advice I’ve gotten is “let people touch you.”

Ok, I sort of get it. I know that most people like to have those little forms of social touch like shaking hands and whatnot, and it makes them feel more comfortable around strangers and such. It gives a sense of connection. I do know all that. I know that it’s expected in social situations, and I know that a refusal on my part can seem weird or rude.

All that said, NO. Even if I was totally ok with random strangers grabbing me, I have sensory issues. There are ways that are ok to touch me and ways that aren’t. The ways that are not ok to touch me are rather odd and not the sort of thing people can be reasonably expected to guess. This means that people generally need to be trained on how to touch me, and they need to accept my boundaries. If I don’t get those things then touching isn’t cool.

On top of that, I am VERY possessive of my body. It’s mine, dammit, and I get to say what happens to it. For the record, I am also against forcing children to hug people they may not want to hug, because all it does is teach them that they don’t have the right to say who gets to touch them and how. That is one messed up message. I say that I DO get to say who gets to touch me and who doesn’t, and if I’m restrictive about it, that’s my right.

Some of the problem is phrasing. If someone were to say “socializing goes more smoothly if you can or will let people touch you,” that would be unnecessary and a tad condescending (I know that already), but not horrendously bad. But when people simply say “let people touch you,” they are essentially giving me an order without taking into account the various reasons I may have to not let people touch me. They are, intentionally or not, taking steps to remove my body autonomy from me, and that is Not Ok.

It’s great if you want to be helpful, but please think about what you’re really saying and how your words might come across.

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Sensory Solutions

I hate showering.

Well, not really the shower itself.  That part is rather pleasant.  And I don’t particularly like being sweaty or dirty, so I like that I wind up clean.  I even like that it’s an efficient way to warm up or cool down if I need to.  What I don’t like is that I also get itchy.

Very itchy.

Want-to-tear-my-skin-off itchy.

It’s awful.

I finally decided that I wanted to (again) figure out what was going on and find a way to fix it.  I’ve tried a number of things already, all of them assuming that the itchiness was caused by dry skin.  I use very good soaps, I moisturize, I use soft washcloths, etc.  All that might help a little bit, but ultimately the problem remains.  Besides, when I think about it the problem is not dry skin.  Dry skin itchies have a specific feel.  Post-shower itchies have more of a crawling-beneath-my-skin feel.

So I started paying attention more.  As far as I can tell, it’s linked to scrubbing actions – scrubbing myself when I wash, and then scrubbing myself again when I dry.  My new best guess is that showering makes my nervous system go hyperactive, which means the best solution is to find some way to calm it down.

Then I remembered something I had read a while back.  Someone had written about wanting long hair, but having problems because long hair triggered sensory problems.  Someone else had suggested hair brushing as a solution.  Specifically, really firm brushing that scraped at the scalp.  I didn’t pay much attention because I already comb my hair that way, and my long hair doesn’t bother me.  But then I thought – maybe combing my skin could help the itchies!

So I tried it.

IT WORKS.

It still isn’t a perfect solution, but it makes things so very much better.  I started with the same comb I use on my hair – just drawing it down my arms and legs in a smooth, even motion.  A few minutes of that fixed my arms entirely.  My legs are more challenging – once I stopped combing the itchies came back within a few minutes.  However, even that few minutes reprieve tells me that I am probably on to something.  I invested in a boar’s bristle brush to see if that would work better, but I honestly think my comb is working best so far.  It’s also better if I start before the itchies get a chance to really build up – an ounce of prevention and all that.

All of which means I am definitely in favor of brushing or combing skin as one method to deal with sensory issues in the skin.  It seems to be working pretty well for me.

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Touching

I’ve been reading Temple Grandin’s book “Thinking in Pictures.”  As with most books on autism or Asperger’s, there are things I can relate to and things I can’t, things I like and things I don’t like.  There are a few things I’ve come across in the book, but right now I want to talk about a sentence that really pissed me off.

In the book there is a chapter on sensory difficulties that people on the autism spectrum tend to face.  For the record, I actually rather enjoyed the majority of what she said in this section, and there were a number of things I could relate to, like a childhood fear of escalators.  Unfortunately, at one point she said this: “Helping autistic children fulfill that most basic human need, the comfort of touch, is like taming an animal. At first they pull away, but then they learn that touching feels good.”

First of all, that was an incredibly dehumanizing thing to say.  I rarely mind animal analogies, and I frequently compare myself to cats.  This one, however, really bothered me.  Plus, it does not seem accurate to me.  In that section, she was talking about her squeeze machine and how it prevents her from being able to suddenly pull away from the pressure.  Apparently this works for her, and that’s fantastic.  However, in this case it seems that she generalized her experiences to everyone on the autism spectrum.  For me personally, I do very poorly with feeling trapped, and I am likely to panic if I try to suddenly pull away and can’t.

Also, here’s another animal analogy.  I have taught my cats to be very tolerant to touch and to being held and other such things.  One of my primary tools was to respect it if they needed to get away.  Since they know I’m not going to push them past what they can handle, they are comfortable with (or at least tolerate) a lot more contact.  That said, getting them to accept being touched by me (or by the vet, or whoever else needs to handle them) was NOT liking “taming” them.  They are domestic cats, they were already tame.

Ok, now I want to address her second sentence specifically.  “Then they learn that touching feels good.”  Now, I will admit it, that type of statement is triggery for me.  The last thing I need is for people to teach me that blah-de-blah-thing actually feels good, even if I think it feels bad, just because they think it should.  If a person has touch issues such that touch feels bad, you’re not going to get them to learn that touching actually feels good just by forcing them to experience it.  Maybe you can desensitize them to their problems with touch.  Maybe you can figure out a specific type of touch that feels good.  Maybe there is something about being touched that is oogy to them, and it can be identified and avoided.  Or maybe you can just teach them to suppress their issues and lie about how touching makes them feel.  But taking a person who doesn’t like touch and teaching them to like it via restraint?  No way.  Not ever, and I find it horrifying that people might contemplate that.

I admit I might be overreacting, but that statement of hers really got to me.  I think I’m going to aim for writing about one of the things I really liked in the book for my next post.

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