Tag Archives: personal

The Gruen Effect

I just recently read something about the Gruen Effect (or Gruen Transfer) that got me thinking about how I seem to work, and wondering if the Gruen Effect operates differently with autistic people.

So before I go any further, I want to ask you – what is it like when you go shopping? How well do you stick to your plan?

Ok, onwards to the post. First of all, let’s talk about this Gruen Effect thing. I actually remember learning about it (or, well, an aspect of it) in school back in the 90’s, but I guess until I was reminded of it I didn’t really think about it since. Basically, apparently when shopping, a fairly common thing to happen is to lose track of what one is shopping for, and grabbing extra things that one sees around. Stores now are often designed to encourage this and take advantage of it. When in school, the thing that my teachers talked about was specifically grocery stores – how they are designed in many different ways to manipulate your shopping experience and encourage impulse purchases. I don’t actually know how common it is for people to grab lots of extra things, but various things I’ve read seem to indicate that it happens a lot.

What I do know, though, is how I shop. And this Gruen thing does not seem to apply to me at all. AT ALL. When I go grocery shopping, I do need to bring a written list with me. However, this is because if I don’t, I just won’t get anything, or I’ll only get a very small number of things that I can remember we need, but anything I don’t remember I don’t get. And I don’t get extras.

When I do go in with a list, I ONLY get what’s on that list. I will, maybe, get some things not written that I simply know need to be gotten every week, so I feel less need to rely on the written list to get it. But otherwise, if we need something and I didn’t write it down, I don’t get it. This has actually happened to a fair extreme a few times. Sometimes we need milk, but I forgot to write it down. When going into the store, I might remember that I need to get milk, and make a mental note to get it. If I don’t write it down immediately, though, I ultimately won’t get milk. I will walk right past the huge, impossible to miss dairy display because I am so focused on my written list that I can’t remember anything else that I might need.

What’s really telling to me, though, is what happens when Nee and I go grocery shopping together, as opposed to me going on my own. When we go together, we wind up getting a LOT more than what was on the list. Nee will see things and go “hey, that looks good!” or “we could use this!” or “hey, let’s make a dinner out of that” or whatever else. Also of note, when I am alone I never, ever, grab myself impulse candy in the checkout aisle. When Nee is with me, I sometimes will, but generally only after Nee suggests it, or I watch Nee grab candy for themself.

Oh, and we do this in defiance of typical stereotypes, as I am female and Nee is male.

So that got me wondering if there’s something about me that means I operate differently. Maybe it’s an autistic thing. I couldn’t actually find anything in my initial googling, so I’m left to wonder. Which is why I’m asking you – how does shopping work for you?

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How functional am I?

I’m told I’m high functioning.

As far as I can tell, mostly this means that for short periods of time I pass for normal. When I’ve saved up my spoons and I’m not overloaded, if a random stranger glances at me they don’t see anything unusual. So, to the people who use phrases like “high functioning” and “low functioning,” I’m high functioning.

Now, intellectually, I know that’s full of bunk. I know that “high functioning” means “we’ll ignore any help you need” and “low functioning” means “we’ll ignore any strengths you have.” I’ve seen it in practice many times, and I’ve had people deny my difficulties or insist that I’m just “quirky” based on nothing more than their idea that I’m “high functioning.”

But turns out that as much as I know this way of thinking is incorrect, as much as I understand that functioning is not linear, it turns out that it has burrowed into my brain deeper than I ever realized. It pops out at me and leaves me struggling with… I’m not even sure what.

A little backstory – I was diagnosed as an adult. People can make some very inaccurate assumptions about my childhood when they hear that, though. Basically, by the time I got into kindergarten, it was unmistakable that something was wrong with me. However, no one knew what. Long story short, things tended to jump between trying to figure out what was going on, and just treating me as though my failings were my fault and I’m just weak. I know now what was going on and why, but those messages don’t go away so easily.

Now, a little while back, after a lot of work and many incremental steps, I reached the point of being able to go grocery shopping on my own. It was a huge accomplishment for me and I’m glad I’m able to do it. This involved a lot of working both on driving independently (very difficult both in terms of sensory input and real-time processing) and on being able to handle the intensity of the grocery store on my own long enough to get the groceries.

This is where it gets rather shameful. Where my rather treacherous brain betrays me. The grocery store I go to employs some people who seem to have intellectual disabilities. They are definitely not the kind of people who can pass for normal the way I can. If someone who rates people by functioning came on by, they would surely say that I am higher functioning than some of those employees.

Yet those “lower functioning” employees are holding down jobs that would send me into screaming meltdowns within a matter of days if I tried to do them. And sometimes, when my brain is being uncooperative, when all that inspiration porn I’ve been exposed to and all those messages of moral weakness I grew up with are echoing loudly in my ears, I wonder why they can do it and I can’t. I think I must just be weak or lazy the way people insist people like me must be. I’m failing to “overcome” my disability the way we’re supposed to in order to be worthwhile.

I know that this is wrong. I know that there are many, MANY errors in my thinking. I know that functioning is neither linear nor one dimensional. I know it’s only reasonable for people who are weak in ways that I am strong, to also be strong in ways that I am weak. I know that this is how it works. But sometimes, on a gut level, it seems I forget.

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There is no wind in my sails

It’s about the Franklin Institute again.

As a quick refresher, a while back I went to the Franklin Institute on their Sensory Friendly Day. Long story short, it went badly. VERY badly. So I wrote about my bad experience and went on with my life.

Until, that is, Adrienne Kimball, listed on the website, emailed me about my blog post. You can read about that email over here. Basically, she addressed some points about the day, and invited me to go back to meet with her and talk about ways to improve the exhibits and better warn people about sensory-unfriendly areas. I thought this was pretty awesome, and decided to take her up on it.

But then… she ignored me. I tried to email her and set things up, and got absolutely nothing in reply. Since then I’ve felt… embarrassed, honestly. Like she lied to me and I was naive enough to believe the lies. I got my hopes up and thought that maybe, FINALLY, someone actually wanted to listen to autistic adults and hear what we have to say, but then it all turned to dust.

Now I feel like I’ve run out of gas. I’m just a foolish, naive aspie who has delusions of actually Doing Something Good. I’ve been trying to remind myself of the times when y’all have told me about how my writing has helped you, which is honestly WONDERFUL to hear, but I still feel really foolish about this whole museum thing. I’m trying to take a deep breath and keep going, but this feeling of being stalled isn’t going away. So I am doing what I do best, and writing about it.

What do you do when you hit something like this?

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect

So I do a lot of thinking about my social skills. I think about where they are now, I think about where they were in the past, I think about what I want to learn and where I hope I’ll be in the future.

One thing I notice when I look back is that I seem to have been subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect rather a lot.

So before I go further, let’s talk a little bit about what that actually is. Basically, it’s a form of cognitive bias where a person is both really terrible at something, while simultaneously being unaware of how terrible they are at that thing, even to the point of thinking they are good at it.

Apparently there are four main points in play here. Basically, someone who is really incompetent at something will often:

  1. fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill, IF they have been exposed to training for that skill

And… yep. That’s me in a nutshell, at least when it comes to social skills. In the past, I honestly had no idea I was so clueless in my ability to socialize, related to others, make conversation, etc. I even, at times, thought I was good at it (I wasn’t. oh gods, I really really wasn’t). I am increasingly finding that the more I learn, the more aware I become of being so utterly clueless, at least of anything beyond the basics.

I am sufficiently clueless that I don’t even know what good social skills actually look like. I mean, I can see some people are obviously socially successful, but I don’t know how to learn from their example or apply whatever they are doing to my own life. I cannot differentiate between good advice and bad advice. Socially speaking, I am extremely vulnerable and I always have been, just because of how much I don’t know. Sometimes I worry about being taken advantage of, because as soon as I am criticized in a social arena I will back off and apologize, no matter what. Because often, I did fuck up somehow and I just don’t know how. But it means that there could be times where I don’t fuck up, where someone else fucked up, and they can blame me anyways because I don’t know the difference. This is something that worries me, because I cannot make myself any less vulnerable than I am.

That it is so possible, so probable, so be so clueless of my own lack of skill really does worry me. So now I try to offset this effect by being as aware as possible of my own incompetence. It’s a lot easier to learn when I know I have a lot to learn and can remain open to said learning.

I’m honestly hoping at least a few of you will be able to relate to all this. And if you can’t, remember that this Dunning-Kruger effect is actually a thing. Which is to say, try to be patient with me, and maybe with others who are like me. I am trying, but it’s super hard.

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All About Me, Part III

Me, very young.

Ok, final set of 12! Overall I would say these were the most difficult to answer. In fact, a few of them required some honest soul-searching before I could come up with the right words. I am so glad I was able to do this in my own time, instead of in person with lots of pressure to answer things right away.

  1. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “

Ok, all my readers are my partner for this one. You can make your own “we” statements in the comments (and that would be awesome!).

We are all reading this blog right now.
We care about autism, mental illness, or disability enough to read or write about it.
We are mammals.

  1. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

I wish I had someone with whom I could share crafting knowledge. I could teach what I know, and they would teach what they know, and we would both come out with more crafting power!

Actually, I kinda already do, but more would always be nice.

  1. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

Much of this is on my blog already, but here goes. Anyone who is going to be a close friend of mine should know any number of things about me:

I struggle with depression and anxiety, and am much better with them medicated.
I always have cat hair on me. ALWAYS.
I am on the autism spectrum.
I am pagan.
I am androgynous.

  1. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

This is a tough one. My “partner” in this is all of you, and we’re not actually interacting as I’m writing this. Though really, how would you do this with a stranger, either? I guess you could reference the answers they gave to the various previous questions.

  1. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

Just for the record, I am really glad I am writing these ahead of time instead of trying to answer them with a partner right on the spur of the moment. I do my best to forget my embarrassing moments, it’s not super easy to deliberately remember one.

Going with my usual thing of answering conceptually rather than specifically – I am very clumsy. *Very* clumsy. I am forever damaging myself by walking into walls, clunking my arms, legs, elbows, toes, hands, etc into anything that happens to be around.

I recently had a fairly embarrassing injury that involved walking into a wall (I was trying to go through a door, but I missed) while I was rubbing my hand through my hair, and my elbow went BANG! It took over a week before I could do things without pain again. All because I missed a doorway.

  1. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

I last cried by myself the night Genzi died. I was alone in my room, with only my thoughts and feelings to accompany me and nothing to occupy myself with. I cried for nearly an hour, getting my pillow all wet.

I recently cried in front of another person one night, when I was feeling the loss of a previous connection particularly acutely.

  1. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

Wait, wasn’t this question 28? What’s going on?!

  1. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

Rape. Ok, this is a little bit tricky (but not really). It’s ok to make jokes intending to laugh at rape culture, or the way people defend rapists or blame victims, and things like that. It is never ok for rape to be the punchline of a joke, or for rape to be treated like something funny.

The same can be said for any number of other things. You can joke about the surrounding culture, but don’t act like the thing itself is funny. Because it isn’t.

  1. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

I’ve been thinking about this for days and I’m having trouble coming up with much. I don’t have any secret loves that I have yet to confess or anything like that.

Part of me thinks I might regret not telling my dad about how I was in the hospital last year. He believes that poor people should not have/do not need health insurance, and when I – a poor person who lacks health insurance – wound up in the hospital, I just could not deal with him anymore. Especially given the financial aftermath involved and how utterly awful that was – I just cannot get past his politics of “no, let’s totally NOT insure all Americans” nor can I just “agree to disagree” because my own life and health are at stake here. I don’t tell him because I know it would wind up being more about my own anger and feelings of betrayal than any sort of reconciling, and I just can’t imagine any good coming from it. I don’t think he’ll change his mind, I am entirely uninterested in being the special exception among poor Americans, I am certainly not going to change *my* mind, and I’m pretty sure I would just end up even more hurt and angry than I already am. But if I died, and were capable of feeling regret after death, it’s possible I might regret not trying. I’m not sure.

  1. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

Hmm. My important documents are in a fire-proof safe, so I guess I won’t worry about those. We’ll say that my wallet is on me at the time, so I won’t worry about that either. In which case, I think that I would save my computer. It is hugely important in my life, is one of my primary vectors for communicating with the world at large, and contains many pictures and other things that I would not want to use. My back-ups are also in the house, so they would get burned up too, so it’s definitely worth saving the computer.

  1. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

My mom or my brother. Both are people I’ve been slowly reconnecting with, mostly via phone calls which is not the best way for me to do things like that. They are both very far away from me which further complicates matters. I would be really sad that we never really managed to be closer.

  1. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Ok.  A personal problem that is not completely private that I am open to advice on. This is a toughie. Let me think about this…

Actually, I’ve been talking a lot in this series of posts about my crummy relationship with my dad. Now, there is a lot more backstory involved than I’ve gotten into, but I am quite interested in outside perspective and “what would you do” feedback specifically about the hospitalization and insurance thing that lead to my refusing to speak to him anymore.

And there you have it. All 36 questions, so hopefully now you know (and like?) me better than you did before. Once again, I would super love it if you answered any of these yourself. Or even left your own problem that you would like my, or other commenters, perspective on.

Part I

Part II

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Conversation via templates

Something I hear sometimes from people on the autism spectrum is the idea that conversation is difficult. It isn’t universal or anything, but there does seem to be a bit of a trend that even those of us who are verbal and can express ourselves with words may not have an easy time with conversation (or in some instances, may not be able to converse at all).

I am one who has difficulty with conversation. It isn’t impossible for me or anything, but it took me a while and I’ve gone through a number of tools to try to help make it easier, some of which have worked better than others.

When I was younger I used scripts a lot. Not in the conventional autistic sense of having certain scripts that we like to use over and over and over again, but in that I would try to write out my conversations ahead of time so that I would be able to know what to say. This worked very poorly because no one ever followed their lines. Of course, I also did not tell people what their lines were, but I was pretty much always surprised when the conversation did not go the direction I had planned. Then I tended to wind up confused and caught off-guard, and didn’t know how to proceed. Sometimes my various thoughts would get all scattered, as though my script was the framework holding them in logical order and when the script failed, so did the logical order. How can I say the things I want to say when they aren’t in order anymore?

Clearly, I needed to find a better way to do conversations. Especially conversations that I was going into with Things I Wanted to Say. People often liked to tell me to just “go with the flow” which was very not helpful for me. Just winging conversations might work, sometimes, but it could just as easily (if not more so) leave me panicky and floundering in confusion. So what else to do?

I wound up settling on templates, which for me are distinct from scripts and do not have the particular pitfalls that trying to script my conversations beforehand do. One of my most basic, foundational templates is the ‘taking turns’ template. I say something, then you say something, then I say something, then you say something, etc. Ideally, we each listen to what the other person said respond to it or build on it in some way. This can be a good baseline for one-on-one conversations, but it does not translate to groups at all, and is no good for people who do not follow that basic, turn-taking formula. And in those situations, I am still stumped. It is yet another reason why groups leave me bewildered, and I cannot handle conversing with people who do things like regularly interrupt.

I have other, more specific, templates as well. For instance, the “small talk” template. Small talk is one of those things that I do not understand the importance of, but recognize that interaction goes better if I play the small talk game at least a little. I don’t need to have some deep understanding of it in order to participate.

When I need to make a phone call or talk to someone when I know I need to communicate certain things, I will often create a template for that conversation. Scripting was a way for me to order the things I had to say, and give myself a way to say them. Now, I do something kind of similar, but with flexibility built in. My usual solution is to take out a notebook and jot down all the things I know I want to say or ask about, as well as my answers to questions they are likely to ask. Even to the point of writing down my phone number so I can reference it if it’s asked for, just to make sure I don’t freeze or have a long, awkward pause while I try to grab that information. Because when it comes down to it, I have a really hard time accessing information in my memory while I am trying to navigate interacting with a person I don’t know. So to deal with that, I try to make sure there isn’t much I need to remember – instead, it’s all on the paper in front of me.

Then I can reference what I wrote, mark off what I’ve gotten to, and make sure I don’t leave things out. When things don’t go in order (and they never, ever do) I don’t risk forgetting something important, nor do I wind up so flustered that I can’t go forward.

Overall, using templates to help me talk to people has been immensely helpful. While it isn’t a perfect solution by any means, it’s the best idea I’ve had so far and it does what I need it to do.

Do you have difficulty with conversations or phone calls or such things? If so, what tools do you use to manage them?

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How empathy works for me

Picture by geofones on flickr

Empathy seems to be a fairly popular topic amongst autism bloggers, for reasons which include certain autism “experts” and their opinions on the matter, and certain unfriendly ways that autism is depicted in the media. I’ve written once before about problems in how we use the word and all the things it can mean, but I have yet to opine on autism and empathy directly. I am still solidly in the stage of thinking through how it all works for me and am not prepared to make broader statements about empathy and autism, but I can certainly blog about myself easily enough.

So I pose the question to myself: just how does empathy work for me? Rather predictably, the answer is not short and simple simply because empathy seems to mean so very many different things.

The simplest version is the ability to read facial expressions. I’ll be honest, I’m not so great at that. I can determine basic expressions, like smiles and frowns and furrowed brows, but I often seem to miss subtleties. The way I once put it is that when seeing cues and such from other people, I will often see 2+2=4. Unfortunately, it may have actually been 2.3+2.7=5 and I simply could not see that .3 and .7, so my conclusion was off. So this is definitely an area where it could be said that I struggle with empathy.

If empathy is about caring about the feelings of others, than I have no real problems. I care about people a lot. A whole lot. I am not always particularly good at expressing it (actually, I am often quite poor at it, sadly) and I rarely know what to do in response, but I do care. If empathy means caring, then I am quite empathic. On the other hand, if empathy means knowing what to do, then I am not particularly empathic at all.

If empathy means feeling what other people feel then… actually, this one is tricky. I’m not sure. I do not seem to automatically feel what people around me are feeling; at least not all the time. I can and do, however, imagine myself in the place of someone else, and imagine what I would feel were I in their position. This is not an infallible method, though, as what I feel is not always going to be what other people will feel. Of course, it’s not infallible for other people either, and I have had multiple unfortunate encounters with neurotypical people who seem to use this method, but got tripped up when I turned out to be different from them. It does not appear to be only autistic people who struggle with empathy in that way, it’s just that neurotypical people have the privilege of knowing that most people will respond to input similarly to themselves, while autistic people tend to be very much different. That said, I am able to see the world from the perspective of other people; I just have to work at it a bit. So I guess my answer to this one is “sort of” but I am more aware of it’s shortcomings than many neurotypical people.

There is another area that is rather more woo-like, so I’m a little bit hesitant to write about it. That being – that I feel the presence of other people as pressure. Attention of a person is even more pressure, like standing in a stream of water. When I’m in public, I feel all the people around me as though they are pushing on me. This was actually a significant problem when I was younger, and I spent years trying to figure out how to build walls around me to keep that pressure at bay, with mixed success. That feeling of pressure from people around may or may not actually convey useful information to me, and the amount and type of pressure can vary wildly from person to person and situation to situation. If I’m not careful, it can be overwhelming (and sometimes is even if I am careful). I have no idea if this would qualify as a form of empathy or not, or even if many people would be inclined to believe me. Nonetheless, there it is, and it is definitely one of the reasons I pull away from groups and crowds, and sometimes even individuals. It can get intense.

So if a person were to ask me if I experience empathy, the simplest answer would be yes, but after that I would need to ask them precisely what they mean by empathy. It is not actually a simple word.

To anyone who feels like answering a question: how would you say that empathy works for you?

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Social Face

A few weeks ago when I posted about having gotten frustrated, I mentioned that interacting with people generally requires two days of recovery, very roughly speaking. A commenter asked if this was true of my Significant Other, Nee. The answer to this is, happily, no. He does not drain me nearly so much as most people. That got me to wondering precisely why this is – what’s different about him?

I suspect there are several contributing factor to this, and generally to why different people drain me to different degrees. One of them is the touching thing, which also posted about a few weeks ago. If I don’t want to touch a person, than dealing with something like a handshake is challenging and unpleasant, whereas people I like and am comfortable with, like Nee, I actively enjoy touching.

Another factor is the Social Face, and that’s what I want to talk about today. When I am going out and interacting on a social level, I wear what I call my Social Face. It isn’t just about being in public, as I do very little with my Social Face in situations like the grocery store. It’s largely about interacting with people on a personal level. Now, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that everyone has some form of Social Face, and I suspect that everyone’s Social Face is different. I want to say I suspect that everyone’s social face is draining, but then I remember about extroverts and people who are energized by socializing. That doesn’t quite mesh with my idea that a Social Face is draining for everyone, so I’ll simply assume that the highly extroverted work ENTIRELY differently from me and just leave it at that.

Before I go any further, I’m going to give a brief rundown on what my Social Face is/what I’m doing when I’m wearing it:
*cutting down on the stimming
*instituting correct/appropriate facial expressions
*remembering to reciprocate social questions
*working to look directly at people/make eye contact
*making sure I keep a friendly tone of voice
*dedicating a rather large portion of my internal resources on social awareness and rapid processing

Some of these items I am slowly dropping, or at least putting less and less energy into. I constructed my social face over the course of years of trying to Be Like Everyone Else, well before I ever knew why it was so challenging for me. Which basically means much of my Social Face is deeply ingrained at this point, and taking it off in social situations is actually quite challenging. I tried to do it for a few minutes a few weeks ago, after feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed and wanting a brief break before going back to Being Sociable. I was only able to do it by requesting that the person I was with ignore me entirely for a few minutes, and even then most of it stuck around. Like tar.

The hard part is that dropping bits, even bits that I think shouldn’t be important, carry consequences. As I allow myself to stim in public more and more, I face the fact that people are going to judge me and draw perhaps unjust conclusions from it when they see it. Even people who mean well can be derisive and condescending (possibly without meaning to) about stimming, and it can be hard to deal with sometimes. And sometimes, if I’m just too tired or too stressed to keep it on, my Social Face slips. Once while socializing I didn’t look at a friend of mine the entire time we were together. I actually had no idea I was doing that, but she felt hurt by it anyway. So I have to make sure it stays on, even during the times when it’s falling off on its own due to my own limitations.

A big thing is that my Social Face is draining. VERY draining. Downright exhausting. As I am realizing this I am starting to resent the Social Face and my partly self- and partly externally-imposed need to keep it on.

So I’ve slowly started to dissect my Social Face, in order to figure out what all it’s made of (I imagine there’s more to it than what I’ve listed so far), figure out why I do those things, and figure out what is important and what I put there simply out of a desire to Be Like Everyone Else. I’m pretty sure the no stimming thing was out of a desire to be normal. Reciprocating social questions, on the other hand, is something I actually care about and want to do more of, as well as remembering to spontaneously ask social questions. Other things are iffier, like eye contact and the dedication of resources to processing. I’d like to tone those down, but I worry that the social consequences of doing so will be greater than the personal consequences of wearing the Social Face. I’m honestly not sure what the right answer is.

Cycling back to the beginning – a huge reason why Nee drains me so much more slowly is that I do not wear my Social Face around him. I can stim and he doesn’t care. My facial expressions can be all over the place and it doesn’t phase him. Our social questions are minimal, I can go for days or weeks without looking directly at him, and he does not seem to mind when it takes me an oddly long time to process it when he randomly says something at me. So at home my Social Face stays in its box (or wherever it goes when I’m not wearing it. may as well be a box, right?) and I stay much more fresh and comfortable.

Maybe someday I’ll minimize my Social Face and it won’t be so stressful or exhausting to wear, and maybe someday it will be ok to be different in public.

I’m curious – to anyone who feels like answering, do you have a Social Face? If so, what does it look like?

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I got frustrated

Photo by Amy McTigue

This post is going to be significantly more personal than many of my posts have been.

I am not employed. This is not something I am happy with, but it is something that is challenging to change. I do not have a college degree, as my undiagnosed aspergers made college extremely challenging, and in the end the college I was going to kicked me out. Not for grades, as my grades were very good until the administration started threatening me, but because of just how difficult I found it to cope with the environment and the methods I used to handle it. I have never recovered from that.

In my early 20’s I spent a couple of years working retail. I don’t know of anyone who likes to work retail, and everyone I worked with described it as it’s own brand of hell. That’s just the way it is. But for me, it was so much worse. At the time I still did not know that I was an aspie, and only had the vaguest of inklings that I might be. I did not have a way to conceptualize or verbalize how it was challenging and what it was doing to me. In retrospect – I lived in a constant, and I mean CONSTANT, state of burnout. My nerves were always fried, my emotions always on edge, my ability to handle myself always dangerously near a breaking point. I am not willing to do that to myself again.

I have a much better handle on why things were like that at this point. In general, for every day that I spend interacting with people (beyond brief, two-minute interactions with sales clerks or something) I require two days to recover. This is not a hard and fast rule and it does vary, but it works as a generalization. If I don’t get that I burn out, and I burn out fast. Not every aspie is like me as autism is different for everyone, but it’s how I work.

So, once in a while I peruse job postings to see if there’s anything that fits me, that I can get to, that maybe I could do. This time I decided to look for jobs assembling furniture, since I am quite good at that. I was rather pleased to see that they exist. Until, that is, I looked at the requirements. Right there, in all it’s textual glory, was the phrase “good relationship building skills.” Not as a preferred thing (they had those too) but as a requirement.

I do not have good relationship building skills. I’d like to, but I don’t. Without significant help it takes me a very long time to build even the simplest of relationships with people (1.5 years before I felt friendly and comfortable with my retail co-workers, over two years to begin to achieve that with many of the people I ride with in my horseback riding lessons). So while it maybe was not entirely fair of me, when I read that all I saw was a big, glaring sign saying “Aspies Not Welcome Here.” I’m sure whoever posted the job wasn’t thinking that. There’s a good chance it was just BS they put in just to have something to put in. Nonetheless, it was hurtful to me.

Here’s where it gets personal. Reading that wound up starting a chain reaction; it was the one snowball that starts the avalanche that was just waiting to happen. It cascaded into the utter hopelessness I so often feel at living in a world that feels like it doesn’t want me. I imagine all introverts know the frustration of living in an extroverted world; I have the frustration of living in a neurotypical world. A world that thinks it’s better to get rid of me (“cure” autism) than to make room for me. A world where my strengths just don’t matter, because it’s my weaknesses that keep getting hammered at, and it seems my weaknesses are all that the world at large cares about.

So I sat in my living room and cried at just how hopeless I felt. At how hard it is to feel like I’m worth anything, to keep from internalizing the messages that I am Less Than, to feel strength in who I am.

I want to change the world. I want people to stop thinking autism needs to be fought or cured, and start thinking that people on the autism spectrum have their own special strengths. Yeah, sometimes we do need some accommodation, but I think I should get to expect accessibility, rather than viewing it as a special favor when it happens. If I were to work, I would need to be able to spend the vast majority of my time entirely alone, or at least, not interacting at all. It would be nice if, instead of viewing that as some sort of fault, it could be viewed as “self motivation” or “independent work” or something.

Instead I’m told that if I want to assemble furniture, I have to be good at building relationships too. Thanks, world. I feel really welcome now.

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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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