Friday, February 27, 2009

Reading Body Language: Cosmo

I know this may sound a bit cliche, but the Cosmopolitan website is the best thing that ever happened to me. A large portion of the articles (endless number, by the way!) are targeted at reading body language and the rules of appropriate conversation in various situations, which is great for anybody who needs a little help in those areas. It presents a lot of those rules which are common sense to most people, but I think it could help Aspies as well - even those who don't fit into the magazine's demographic.

Though it is biased towards western culture, the rules aren't too specific, so I'm sure many people can get something out of these articles.

I thought I'd point it out here, because since a friend pointed it out to me, I've been picking up on so many new social cues that I had previously been blind to. There's still so much more to learn, but this is a nice start. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Social Experience

Since I feel like grade school is far enough in the past, I think now is an appropriate time to reflect upon my experience socializing in an NT world. I've gotten decent at it over the years, to the point where I can hold healthy friendships, but there's still a lot to be learned.

Before kindergarten, I don't remember much - I've been told I was the type of child who would play in the corner by herself. I could draw basic human anatomy (five fingers on each hand, two eyes in the right place, etc - none of it was very good in general, but for a toddler I guess I was a pretty good artist!) before I could even speak - my parents sent me to an occupational therapist when I was around two or three. The words came out eventually, but I still wasn't using them, at least not correctly. I did learn eventually but it took years. I'd sit in the corner with my Barbies, not uttering a peep - even when I had friends over. 

I remember I enjoyed very directed activities, like dress-up and make believe games. I spent so much time in fantasy worlds that it detatched me from my surroundings - I would be perfectly content with sitting under a table, lost in my thoughts without a care in the world. In kindergarten my parents would let me have playdates with other girls, but even then my mind would go elsewhere - until first grade.

The next year, I met two of my best friends, whom I have remained close with to this day. We'll call the girl Caroline, and she was nearly as quirky and silly as me. We became friends with a boy, Kevin, and would all go on adventures together in the playground - on the swingset, mostly. We created a fantasy world for just the three of us, and we even had an initiation process for entering this world. Now, I knew we were oddballs, but we didn't care at all what other people thought. 

With the outside world, however, I couldn't socialize at all. I got fixated with doing a lot of strange Aspie-like behavior, like repeatedly making weird animal noises, and the other children would tease me. It didn't really affect me though - as long as I had my friends and our fantasy world everything was good. I do remember being embarassed for being the only person in the class who had an aide, but that wasn't so bad at the time. 

In third grade, I finally became aware of little social nuances here and there that signified popularity - the clothes, the toys, the flashy sneakers, the gel pens that came in 40 different colors and you weren't cool unless you had every single one. Every girl in my class that was well-liked had all of these things and more, and it was around this time when I began to notice that I wasn't like them. I then realized there was something beyond material possessions that these girls had that I didn't, and though I couldn't place my finger on it, I wanted desperately to be like them. 

At the beginning of middle school I moved to a new town. This place wasn't so bad - I was still strange, but I had a good number of friends, a few of which I've stayed close with over the years, and even though I made a lot of social faux pas, I think it was around this time where I began to take notice of what behavior did and didn't get me into trouble. I developed my own unique sense of style and enjoyed video games, ice skating and art activities. I was OBSESSED with Pokemon as well, but then again, so was everybody else, so my eccentricities were masked by a universal fad. I was extremely immature and socially behind, but I didn't appear that different from my peers - that is, until high school.

Before high school I moved again, this time to a small town where the kids there were drastically different from me - my eccentricities stood out a lot more in this new, strange town. I didn't know how to initiate friendships in a normal sense and became an outcast. I couldn't hold a conversation with anybody because my insecurities took over, and the condescending attitude my classmates responded with made my self-esteem plummet even further; I couldn't win. The harder I tried to make friends, the more this reputation stuck. Despite what these kids claimed, I knew I was worth it and tried to change everything that made me different. I openly rebelled against any special education services that I was required to take and kept to myself, while still paying attention to how the other girls acted and presented themselves. I was at my worst during this time - my vulnerability was at its highest during these four years.

I tried to distract myself from this reality - I became heavily involved in extracurricular activities and my schoolwork; I desperately wanted to prove that I was intelligent, contrary to what my peers believed. Though they weren't exemplary, I ended up getting decent grades and surprised some people when I got into a few higher-level classes. My ed plan was terminated around my junior year of high school, and though I realize I probably could have still used some help from them, it was nice to know that I, who had been initially diagnosed with pretty low-functioning Asperger's, had surpassed what was expected of me. 

During this time, I made some friends in different towns, which was nice. I experienced plenty of social mishaps, but by this point I was able to learn from my experiences and benefit from them.

College has come a lot easier - the experience I gained in high school has helped me loads. I'm also fortunate to go to a relaxed school where my peers are accepting of uniqueness. I still experience a barrier in a lot of my relationships, apart from my closest friends, but it is still nice to bask in a pleasant atmosphere filled with smiling faces. Though I'm still socially behind in some ways, I'm finally okay with this - I'll get there with time.  Life will offer endless experiences to gain something from, and I can't even begin to explain how excited I am to see how things move along.

So, if you pay attention to other people around you and get some input from a more objective source, then I think it's possible to learn how to be more socially adept. I know my instance has been more personal, but I'm hoping somebody out there is able to connect with my experience!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The direction of society.

I had a really odd experience a few days ago, where a friend tried to get me to join a cult.

I know it's a bit harsh to call it a cult (apart from the fact that it actually is one), but this organization works just like Scientology: it's a self-help program geared towards "helping you realize your full potential in life" and whatnot. You pay $500 or so for a weekend-long retreat where inspirational (common sense, really) messages are drilled into your head.

One of my good friends is buying all of this bullshit. He's a good kid with good values, but he's sucking it all in for some reason - he's already been to a few introductory meetings and is signed up for the retreat in a few weeks. I'm scared he won't be the same.

He tried to get me to go to one of the meetings recently, but after some research I was afraid of what would happen to me. Being free-spirited and having the capacity to make my own opinions on things is one of my favorite traits about myself, and yes, the most Aspie-like thing about myself that's remained after years of adjusting to the real world. At the same time, I'm impressionable, extremely gullible, and I always fear that something is wrong with me that I MUST fix. At various times I've thought I've had high blood pressure, ADD, or various personality disorders, while I'm really just hypersensitive to my own faults and will expand their severity in my own mind. I'm a hypochondriac who will go to great lengths to try to fix myself when I probably just have little issues that everybody has to deal with. I don't like having my faults, even imaginary ones, exposed, and then being told I need to fix them (as you can imagine, social skills training didn't sit well with me, haha).

I can't understand why anybody would subject themselves to brainwashing, furthermore PAY to be brainwashed. Freedom of expression is one of the greatest things humanity has to offer, and when you water that down, then there's very little left to appreciate. If we can't be fully ourselves then what do we do?! 

Furthermore, I feel like Aspies are susceptible to being brainwashed. We are outsiders who must conform to a given set of social rules so we don't stand out so much. We have to learn proper motor skills, learn to withstand wearing uncomfortable fabrics, and put up with small talk and appropriate conversation, among many other things. 

Having Asperger's often means we have enhanced abilities in other areas as well, and when we try to compensate for those areas in which we are lacking, aren't we losing something of our original talents? If a blind man suddenly gains back his vision, will his other senses start to deteriorate?

Though adjusting to NT society may mean good things in the long run, if we change too much, will we end up losing a bit of ourselves? 

This scares me. Please try to hold onto your skills and viewpoints which make you an individual. I don't want to see George Orwell's fantasy happen anytime soon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sensory Issues

Inspired by a post written by a new blogger, A, I've decided to touch upon what the experience of Asperger's is for me. I rant and rave so much about the subject that a lot of you probably don't know where I'm coming from... Therefore, I'm going to discuss how many of the issues associated with Asperger's Syndrome affects me. Maybe someone will gain some insight on this, from their own experiences? I hope!

So, about sensory problems. I've had a ton of these growing up. I remember I used to hate tags on clothing, and will usually wear soft cottons. I don't like wearing wool - I have a wool sweater that itches mercilessly through any long-sleeve shirt I put underneath and, hence, never wear. I don't like stiff pants or dress pants - I usually only wear soft, broken in jeans or dresses. I ADORE sweatpants but I still try to look put-together if I wear them. I love the way dress pants look though, so maybe this will change. 

I remember violently protesting when my mom trained me to shower instead of taking a bath. I believe I was about six or seven, and the water getting in my face, shampoo falling in my eyes was too much to handle. I would scream my lungs off whenever she made me shower, and would refuse to for days at a time. I've since learned to shower everyday, but it is still an uncomfortable experience in ways. The water hitting me overhead is so overwhelming that my actions in the shower are usually dragged out... They're never longer than 20 minutes, but I'm still finding ways to adjust.

One big problem I've always had has to do with loud empty noises: I can't STAND them. These include things like the vacuum, which I have to operate myself to be able to tolerate, the sound of traffic outside, grasshoppers chirping in the summer while I'm trying to sleep (hence, I can't sleep with the window open), TV static, the microwave, even the soft fuzzy noise my computer is giving off right now.... you get what I'm saying. If the sound is directed in any way, like music or television, then it's fine (even live music is perfectly fine), but those sounds that aren't meant to be made really bother me. It just feels like giant obstructions are filling my ears and jumbling around my thoughts. If one of these sounds are going, I can't function, to put it bluntly. This is one of my biggest sensory problems.

Another problem I have extends into the social realm of things: I'm very tacitly sensitive, so I can't handle being tickled. Even the slightest of human contact gives off a tickle. I'm fine with hugs and all that, but if someone touches a certain part of my arm, or tries to pat my shoulder, I can't help but giggle a little, and I'll get furious at my friends if they intentionally try to tickle me.  I'm tickled even if somebody shifts around where my shirt lies on my back... Also, being intimate with someone is usually a pleasant experience (granted, if he's a good kisser), but in my brain, intimate touching reads as tickling, and it can get frustrating for the other person involved. It's obviously something I need to get used to, so I hope I'm able to over time.

Also, my own personal well-being can cause sensory problems. Headaches and exhaustion feel like the end of the world. If I've had five hours of sleep, it will feel like I haven't had any, and I'll need plenty of caffeine and vitamins in order to function. I guess my body shows more easily when I'm not at the peak of my health. I don't know how much this reaches into the realm of sensory issues but I thought it was relevant nonetheless, and I'm wondering if anyone else experiences the same thing?

On another note, I love heavy-feeling things. I enjoy wearing many layers of clothing and giant, thick blankets when I sleep. I've read that this has to do with Asperger's in that some of those who have it like to apply pressure in order to relax. Part of this is why weighted blankets are so successful for many people (you can read more about this here). If you're interested in buying a weighted blanket, then there are many places available online.

I hope this post has helped some people gain insight on either themselves or their loved ones. As always, please share your own sensory experiences, or anything you'd like to say at all. Peace!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Random Act of Kindness

Today I was doing some laundry, and after eyeing a nearby vending machine, I decided I wanted to get a bag of chips. I inserted my money and punched in the numbers for a bag of Lay's.

You can only imagine my frustration when the chips got stuck!

I started slamming the machine in fury with my palms - unfortunately, due to my nonexistant upper body strength, they remained stuck.

A random woman whom I had never seen before was walking past, saying nothing more than "it got stuck?" Ignoring my response, she tipped back the machine so the chips fell, and continued on her way. I barely had any time to thank her. 

Though it was a small action, I was reminded of how wonderful people can be. Such actions can really create a distinction between a potentially bad day and a very good one. I'm going to try doing more of these sorts of things  for others, and no matter how your brain functions, I think everybody could afford to bring a few smiles here and there. 
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