Having AS Is Like Being a Jedi Knight


“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” ~Yoda, Star Wars, Episode II

I sense a great disturbance in the Bug Zapper...

 

You know what? Today, I should be looking for more work, and I should be freelancing to try and submit to magazines, and God knows I should be working out, but just for today, I feel this is more important. I’m just telling all those shoulds to just pack it up and go back to Paterson, N.J. (or didn’t you know that’s where they live?)

I’m taking the time to write a blog entry, because this is part of my journey to healing and acceptance. As I walk along, I’m letting God guide me for a change instead of my own head. So, if you’re reading this, at least in part, God made me do it.

Today I thought I’d try something different. For me, newly diagnosed on the autism spectrum, life is confusing. It was always confusing enough because there were many things I never understood, like why we drive on parkways and park on driveways, or why people queue up to see Justin Beaverbrain sing, or how Food Lion stays in business. One thing I was always told to do was “put myself in someone else’s shoes.” This was never easy because a) I prefer Converse hi-tops and hardly anyone my size wears them, and b) most of said shoes are either ugly or uncomfortable-looking. I do know, of course, that this is a metaphor for seeing things from someone else’s perspective. Having empathy.

The *only* shoe for me!

This can be difficult for someone with AS. It’s akin to telling a cat to see things from a dog’s point of view, or the other way around.

So, I thought to myself, why not try and put an NT (neurotypical, or, if you want to be un-PC, “normal”) into an Aspie’s shoes for a day? Get out your imagination cap; let’s see where it goes!

You open your eyes. It’s 6:30 AM. It’s always so bright, even at this time of day. Bright lights, especially the sun, are a killer. Your eyes have always been sensitive to light, and you may have to wear tinted lenses or leave the lights off at work or school. People whisper about you being a vampire or some kind of sun-hating freak. You wonder what’s wrong with having alabaster skin in the first place.

There’s a white noise machine on your nightstand. You turn it off. It helps you sleep; it’s a comforting sound. Your routine is established: eat breakfast, usually the same thing day after day, color-coordinated by food type and day. If you’re lucky, you know the benefits of a gluten- and casein-free diet. You never have to ask yourself what you’re hungry for. You just know. Same thing for clothes: so few Aspies look in their closets and ask what they’re going to wear that day.

If it's Tuesday, must be a "black" day

Then, time for the scary part. The Outside World. Outside the doors, anything could happen: a school bus rumbles suddenly past and gives you a fright, a squirrel darts across the path, a neighbor’s diesel engine is idling and there’s a bad smell in the air. Like a highly-tuned measuring instrument, you take it all in and it registers tiny peaks and valleys on your psyche.

Driving usually isn’t too bad. It’s a little Cone of Silence. You control the temperature of the air, the scents or lack thereof, whatever music. It’s the other maniacs on the road that are the problem. A truck snorts. A soccer mom with three kids in back blares her horn. A subwoofer drives by like a portable earthquake. In the span of a thirty-minute commute, your senses are assaulted. By the time you park at work, you’re asking yourself Why do they hate me so much? Why are they so inconsiderate?

By the time you get out of the car, your nerves are strung like a cat that’s been drinking Red Bull. Anything can happen in that building. It might be a customer who’s angry, telephone lines ringing nonstop, a visit by the overbearing, self-absorbed regional manager everyone dislikes. You’re only thinking of the possibilities of what could happen. You’re mentally preparing yourself for flight…or fight.

You’re asking yourself how all your NT colleagues can tolerate all this. To them, it seems natural to greet one another by name, talk about a weekend football game or barbecue, complement one another on their earrings or hairstyles. To you, it seems phony and unnecessary. You’re here to work, dammit. If you wanted to chat, you’d go to a Junior League meeting.

And he's memorized all our passwords...

You make your way to your tiny cubicle (you’re not important enough to have an office.) It’s at least partial shelter from the bombardment of chatter, office noises, perfume scents, and fluorescent lights. You turn on your computer, start to get to work. Your mind wanders like a ship on the open sea, as you manage to do most of the work by rote or “auto-pilot.” Your senses notice everything.

By lunchtime, you’re exhausted. There’s still more work to be done. You have a limited “social battery” and it drains quickly.

The boss calls you into her office. Alarm bells go off like an arsonist at a fireworks factory. Did I do something wrong? Am I going to get fired? Turns out she only wanted to ask you whether you’d seen the new training video. You did, so you say so. She asks anyway: Are you doing OK? Adjusting? Is there anything I can do? You shake your head. Would she really understand anyway? She’s an NT. How would she possibly understand?

By 3 or so, you’re drained. You want a nap or a sensory break, but this isn’t preschool and you can’t have one. You don’t want others to see you as weak, or worse, deficient. So you plug away and just imagine yourself on a beach or in the space shuttle or at an archaeological dig site. Anywhere to get away from this hell of grey linoleum and bright lights and too many sounds.

I’m not sure if any of this makes sense to an NT. Maybe it does. To an Aspie, even small things can make us upset. A co-worker’s bright yellow sweater. Rap music coming from a car three stories below. A perfume that makes us nauseous. To use a pop culture metaphor, we are highly attuned to the Force and sense small ups and downs in it that “normals” may not. We’re not deliberately trying to be weird or to freak you out. Our senses are just SO highly tuned that we notice everything. And we have photographic memories for everything except people’s names and faces. (Why that is, I don’t know.)

What we need is constancy, and a supervisor who understands our unique needs. We can be productive and highly loyal workers (in fact, once we become loyal, we stick with something to the bitter end.) We need to know our work means something, and not just the pursuit of profits. We need to have something to believe in. Maybe it isn’t saving the universe, but it might just be helping a child learn to read or a special-needs pet find a loving home.

Maybe we don’t have a lot of empathy for the “small stuff.” But we have feelings and we do want to make the world a better place.

Fired, you are!

May the Force be with all of you! I hope to write more in this series. Any questions or comments? Drop me a line at wikusandmurdock@yahoo.com!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on September 7, 2010.

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