Is there an #autistic way of being friends?

four groups of four people, with one person in front
Friendship means different things to different people

I want to take a step back and reconsider something that comes up a lot in discussions about Autism / Aspergers – the concept of friendship. I’m not sure we’re thinking about this clearly. It could be that we’re applying neurotypical measures and values to the criteria for who’s a friend and what friendship constitutes. And I’m not sure it’s serving us. I think it may be causing a lot of us to think we’re lonelier (and more alone) than we really are.

I am beginning to suspect that Autism / Aspergers comes with its own unique brand of friendship. And that distinct “friendotype” is no less valid than the neurotypical type — it can be every bit as fulfilling, and it might just help to make the world a better place.

The sooner we stop measuring our friendships by neurotypical measures — and we quit feeling badly about who we are because we “don’t measure up” to non-autistic standards — the happier we’ll be.

At least that’s what I think.

Let me speak for myself. I suspect others will agree. Hear me out.

Let’s look at the dictionary to see how “friend” is defined:

a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

Most people would not say they “know” someone until they’ve spent a great deal of time with them, been through a number of good and bad experiences with them, and have “gotten to know” them. But most people aren’t autistic. Most people aren’t empathic. Most people aren’t so highly sensitive to others, that they can “pick up” on what’s going on with that other person in an instant.

As for the bond of mutual affection, most people (in the neurotypical model) spend a lot of time withholding their affection. They’re stuck in the idea that they’re separate and apart from everyone and everything around them. And crossing the chasm of interpersonal differences is a monumental effort for many. So, bonds of mutual affection don’t get created for quite some time, until certain criteria are met.

Exclusive of sexual or family relations — that’s actually easily dispatched with many autistic folks, as we don’t automatically interact with others in a sexual way. Unless we’re hypersexual autistics (it happens — I used to be that way, years ago)… then things get trickier. But nowadays, I have no more interest in having sex with random people I meet and connect with, than I have in having surgery. The two seem equally intricate and intimate to me, as well as potentially painful and … fraught.

So, on those three official criteria strike me as particularly neurotypical in nature. And they don’t allow for any autism (or empathy, for you non-autistic empaths in the audience) in the definition. Again, it’s a case of mob-rule assumptions about how people are, how they behave, and what “should” happen as a result.

Now, let’s talk about the “folk” definition of friendship. Friends are people whom you feel you can talk to about anything, who can — and will — step up and support you in your hour of need, thanks to the personal bond you have with them. They’ll come to your assistance, no matter what. And they’ll put up with your sh*t with long-suffering grace, because, well, they’re you’re friend.

And you’d do the same for them.

Here’s my issue with this model:

First, not everyone is completely unable to connect with others, except under select circumstances, after years of history with them.

Some of us can actually connect with others on a deep personal level, regardless of how well we know them or how long we’ve known them. It can happen very quickly. It does happen very quickly for many autistic folks. We can be highly empathic. We can sense our similarities and connections with others. We can co-experience others’ moods and state of mind/body/spirit. And we can establish a really close bond with those others almost instantly. (It’s a lot less wonderful than it sounds, by the way. It can be pretty confusing, frustrating and tiring.)

Because we can empathically connect with others, we actually meet the first official criterion for friendship — we know (yes, literally know) other people on a deeply personal level. And it can happen much, much more deeply than in neurotypical cases.

Second, we actually can have “a bond of mutual affection” with the people to whom we connect instantly.

Not only can we feel a bond with them, but they can feel a bond with us. We see them. We know them. We can co-experience their lives and widen our own in the process. And others may really respond to that sense of connection. People crave understanding. They crave feeling known and recognized. They hunger for the type of acceptance some of us can offer them, and they thirst for that sense of being “seen” as who they are. They get what they need from us, when we’re empathically connected with them. And that can form a close, almost uncanny bond that’s a welcome change from your standard-issue alienation that most folks marinate in, socially speaking.

For the record, this is not a “faux” connection. It’s real. It’s genuine. It’s unique. And for some of us on the spectrum, it can be a way of life. Everyday autistic life.

Of course, empathicness doesn’t necessarily pick and choose between fun people to connect with and the miserable people who cross our paths. So, we can end up inadvertently connecting with and forming a bond with toxic people we should run from — but who feel a deep connection with us, because we’re co-experiencing (and hence supposedly validating) their experience.

And then we come to the absence of family / sexual relations.

This may actually be the crux of why autistic friendship patterns can be so different from non-autistic friendotypes. It seems to me that non-autistic people are much more closely aligned with people who are related to them by blood, or who have had sex with them. In fact, it seems at times as though some allistic folks use blood ties and sexual relations as a way to build their social circle.

If you’re related, somehow that overrides countless other considerations (is someone an a**hole? are they a predator? a moocher? a problem?) Apparently, there’s some inborn obligation to put up with them, to interact with them, to keep them in your social circle… as long as you’ve got a blood connection with you. Likewise, if you have adopted siblings, others may treat them like they’re not really part of the family. Or if you’ve got a “step-parent”, according to some, they’re not really your parent. It seems arbitrary to me. And it’s based on something you cannot control, you haven’t chosen, something that fate’s pretty much foisted upon you. Maybe you get lucky, maybe you don’t. But according to non-autistic guidelines of who matters and who doesn’t, if you’re connected by blood/marriage, that counts for more than personality and/or what you bring to the dynamic.

And then you have “sexual relations” which are not just just having sex with someone, exchanging fluids, making babies, etc. It’s also about interacting with others in a sexualized way: flirting, innuendo, all those little hints and wink-wink-nudge-nudge vagaries that tend to frustrate and confound autistic folks. It seems sometimes like non-autistic people are constantly “on the make” — always looking for sexual partners, constantly talking about sex, joking and hinting and whatnot. It’s like they use sex as a shortcut to connect with other people… maybe because they can’t (or don’t want to) connect in other ways?

Am I onto something here? Autistic folks connect above the neck… Non-autistics connect below the waist…? Or am I just stereotyping and being unfair? There’s always that chance.

Or perhaps autistic ways of connecting are more… pervasive than non-autistics? We can definitely be more sensitive, more empathic, more connected to our surroundings, and that both facilitates and complicates the relationships we have with people around us… to the point where culturally driven, somewhat chance-driven designations like blood connections and who’s available for mating are eclipsed by the swirling flow of sensory input that override our attention for those social conventions.

Anyway, all this being said, I’m more convinced than ever that autistic folks have different friendship patterns which are not less effective or less desirable than non-autistic friendship patterns. They’re just different from the ways the majority of folks build and sustain friendships.

If we struggle with friendships, it’s not because we’re doing it wrong. It’s because we have different patterns, different priorities, and others can’t accommodate / match us. The problem — again, there’s the social model — is that the relationships we form can become one-sided, lopsided in who’s doing how much work, and who’s actually benefit. An autistic person being drawn to a non-autistic person can be put at some kind of risk if that non-autistic person is incapable of understanding or reciprocating in a decent, humane way. Worst of all, is when the non-autistic person takes advantage of the autistic person, and the autistic person never realizes, because they can’t imagine why someone would do such a thing.

In any case, I’m continuously revising my understandings of things, and friendship patterns are just my latest fascination du jour.

Tomorrow, it might be something else.

I’m sure it will.

But for now, just for today… this is my revised understanding of friendships, on the rebound from my somewhat dismal declarations yesterday.

It’s a process. I never stop questioning, never stop learning. So it goes.

Very friendly… very few friends

person standing along a fencerow with a sunset in the distanceI caught sight of something on Twitter, this morning: A mention of knowing lots of people, but not having many actual friends.

I’m the same way. I know countless people. And even folks I don’t actually know — well I tend to get along with even them. Other people apparently love me, from what I can tell. I’m open, accepting, tolerant, I let them be who they are, and I can find common ground with them, no matter what our differences.

That’s great for the dynamic, but it doesn’t really do much for the actual relationship. I don’t know many people who actually know how and what I think about things, because it’s hard for me to put into words what exactly is going on with me. Writing is easier, but not everybody likes to read, these days, and anyway, social interactions are largely verbal, so…

The long and short of it all is that I have a lot of people who want to be my friends, but I have no interest in reciprocating. My friendliness is the extent of my interest in them. It’s not even necessarily interest in them, rather keeping the social interaction going. The vast majority of people I know would probably be pretty uncomfortable if they knew the truth about me and my challenges, which would end up isolating me a lot more than now. It’s just easier to mask and camouflage and simulate interest in interactions, rather than being authentically myself 100%.

Yeah, I know I should be past that. But seriously, I have a lot on my plate every day, and I just don’t have the energy or the interest in going that proverbial extra mile for the sake of authenticity.

Just get the interaction over without pain and bloodshed. That’s all I really want. I have no interest in being stigmatized, in being pushed aside, in being seen as less-than or disabled (even if I am really struggling, much of the time). And I’m a terrible activist. I lived in that world as a kid, and I’m done with it.

I really just want to get on with my life and do my thing, without having to worry about the fallout from my surroundings.

So, I continue on my way — very friendly, almost no friends. I’m very comfortable talking to strangers and striking up conversations… “connecting” with others in an impersonally personal way. But telling people what’s really going on with me? I’m not there… and I may never be.

So it goes. So it goes.


Is #autism a purely cultural construct?

A few months back, I watched this video, and I found it very thought-provoking.

Essentially, what I hear Dr. Grinker saying, is that the concept of “autism” is a cultural creation, laden with all the criteria and aspects which the dominant culture deems important.

As someone with a cultural anthropology background, this idea intrigues me. I was a German-Anthropology double-major at uni, studying for 2 years in the US and 2 years in Germany at the University of Tuebingen (which — I discovered years after I left –has a pretty solid reputation in terms of anthropology). So, cultural context and the ways that the dominant mindset interplays with and fosters phenomena in people’s minds and lives is always in the back of my mind.

Heck, I’m an autistic woman, so of course I’m going to be intrigued by this stuff. If you want to get stereotypical, autistic boys are “little professors” and autistic girls are “little psychologists”. Of course, there’s bound to be overlap — you can cross that gender divide any ol’ way you like, and it’s perfectly fine by me.

Anyway, the more I think about this concept that “autism is a cultural construct”, the less I agree with it. I’ve long been convinced that we autistic folks have our own culture, our own ways of being, and the things we find compelling and meaningful are likely to appeal to us because we are autistic. We aren’t autistic due to the neurotypical identification of our “condition”, any more than species in the Galapagos Islands were invented by Darwin when he first documented their existence.

Let’s not get confused about this, people. Just because you identify and name something, doesn’t mean you have rights to it, or you own it, or you get to define it. All you’ve done is identified it, placed a label on it, and granted it (dubious and frankly unneeded) permission to occupy your thoughts in a systematic way.

Autism isn’t something that was invented by Asperger or Kanner, or even the other guy (Eugen Bleuler) who apparently coined the term “autistic” in … what?… 1911. No, Kanner wasn’t even the inventor of the term, nor was he the discoverer of autism. He was some dude who had a knack for recognizing the value in obscure but useful concepts, and turned that raw material into his own gold. ’nuff said ’bout that guy.

Autism wasn’t invented by anyone. Nor is it the domain of anyone who thinks they can (or should) cure it or fix it or do whatever with it. Autism has always been. It just hasn’t always been recognized. Just ’cause a bunch of people have been staring at their shoes for aeons, then suddenly they look up and notice the beautiful sunset, doesn’t mean they get to decide what the sunset means, what to do about it, or who has access to it.

Likewise, the idea of anyone declaring autism a cultural construct is telling. It’s telling that it comes from a straight, white, neurotypical male in academia. How presumptuous. And how clueless. He may have an autistic daughter, and he may have written some book(s) about the subject and studied autism in different contexts, but seriously… calling a distinct neurotype a veritable invention of the dominant milieu… yah. No.

I am especially convinced of this, as I did a couple of family visits with my autistic parents in a very autistic part of the United States, where they’re just starting to understand autism as something other than an extreme, mentally debilitating condition. My father is ill with a still-to-be-diagnosed condition, and both of my parents (being under duress) have become increasingly autistic along the way. But to them — and their friends — they are wholly and entirely normal. They behave “the way people are supposed to behave” and that’s that, as far as they’re concerned.

I spent a fair amount of time, on one of my visits, discussing an article about autism which my parents read and discussed with their (ultra spectrum-y) book group. In no conversation, other than one about my aunt, did the idea of anyone in our family being autistic come up. I haven’t discussed it with them. They hew to the classic, post-WWII understanding of autism. Frankly, they’ve got enough on their minds that needs processing.

Knowing what I know, seeing what I’ve seen, I firmly believe that autism is a specific neurotype. It is, in itself, not necessarily disabling. Now, what the dominant paradigm considers “autism” is actually the symptoms of the condition, exacerbated by a number of factors (genetic, environmental, social, cultural, interpersonal, etc). I also believe, having grown up in an area where autistic behavior and traits were/are the norm, rather than the pathologized exception, that even in the face of acceptance, the autistic neurotype still retains its distinguishing characteristics. It still lays the foundation for the classic issues that arise (and are pointed out in the DSM-V). However, in an environment where autism is the norm, there are specific cultural supports and accommodations which are naturally extended to individuals. Those supports are every bit as remedial as are found outside the community, but they’re not extended as part of a specialized response to a pathological disorder, rather just something you do for someone to help them out.

In the area where I grew up, in my extended family, as well as our immediate rural community, autism is simply another way of being. And there are specific supports and responses to its challenges, which are woven into the fabric of the subculture as part-and-parcel of that way of life. It’s not pathological, it’s not embarrassing. It’s just how people are with each other and the world around them.

But if you view it from a distance, the characteristics are every bit as autistic as any you’d find identified outside the normalizing context.

Based on my upbringing and the last 20 years of actively exploring the nature of autism in my own life, I believe that autism is actually very much “a thing” in itself. When it’s accepted as simply another way of being, autism retains its nature and characteristics (and challenges) — but the community incorporating it is transformed.

So, it’s not a question of a culture inventing autism. Rather it’s a culture learning to recognize a part of itself that it may have never noticed before… putting a name to it, trying to understand it, and figuring out how to incorporate it (or, sadly, in some cases, eradicate it). It’s a question of culture creating a disorder — which should never be confused with the autism, itself.

Is autism a cultural construct?

Nah. But autism does a great job of constructing culture.

Ouch! Oh, well :)

smiley face in frowning crowd
I probably shouldn’t be smiling… but I am, anyway 🙂

This is gonna be “one of those days”. I worked out extra, yesterday, and now I can’t move without some sort of pain. But this is nothing new. I’ve been in pain for about 10 days, now. I pulled my “problem shoulder” two weekends ago, when we had all that snow and I was wrangling the snowblower. The muscles I pulled are pretty much only used when I wrestle with the snowblower — there’s a certain movement I do to pull it backwards and up out of a stuck place, and I did that a lot in the slush, a few weekends ago.

So, exercising that small subset of muscles in exactly that way is extraordinarily difficult. Next to impossible. So, I have to find ways around it.

Stretching helps. Not just stretching those injured muscles, but all the muscles around them. Main thing for me is to remember that the whole of my shoulder was pulled and pushed and tested, which means I’ve got a whole bunch of muscles that are shortening up, healing up, settling back into slightly different configurations after their whole woo-hoo!  workout on the first of April.

Yeah. Pain. And on top of that, I’m not able to sleep properly, these days, when the pain wakes me up in the middle of the night, or it gets me up early… or it won’t even let me relax into it and get to sleep. Ugh. Sleep. What to do?

What to do, indeed? I’m not the kind of person who can sit and wallow in my misery indefinitely. Especially if I’m capable of finding a way through — which I am. No matter what, no matter how clunky, no matter how imprecise, I can always find a way through, if I look for it. And look for it, I must. Because I’m a grown-up. I’m a full-fledged adult with adult responsibilities, and I can’t just comfort myself with self-pity. That’s a drain for me, in and of itself.

So, what to do?

Problem #1: I can’t get to sleep, and I can’t stay asleep.

What might fix it: Completely physically exhausting myself, so I can’t help but sleep. I need to wear out my body, so it can’t help collapsing in exhaustion. One of my major conundrums is that I get mentally exhausted, and then I can’t sleep. But physical exhaustion? I’m rarely there.

Solution #1: Exercise extra, wear myself out, push my physical limits… and collapse at the end of the day.

Result #1: It worked. I went to bed before 10:00 pm last night, and I woke up at 6:00 am, for a whopping 8.25 hours! Woot.

Problem #2: I’m in discomfort and pain anytime I move.

What might fix it: Rest and recuperation. This stuff isn’t going to sort itself out without adequate support for healing. Also, focus on other things besides the pain. There’s plenty more in life to focus on, other than discomfort, so do that.

Solution #2: Eat right, drink plenty of water, get some light (light!) exercise today, and give it a few days for my muscles to heal up. Also, stretch regularly, more times during the day, to remind my body to loosen up. Literally. I also need to keep my mind engaged in things that uplift me, not allowing myself to drift into self-pity and dwelling on my discomfort. And I need to get to bed at a decent hour again, tonight.

Result #2: The proverbial jury is still out. Too soon to tell. But I’m hopeful.

It’s a process, of course, and it takes time to see if these things will really work for me. The first one did. This time, anyway. Sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s just a part of how things go with me. I can’t get twisted up over the whole thing.

I truly can’t.

It’s a beautiful day. Just gorgeous. And I’m going to make the best of it — all of it, whatever life may send my way.

#AutismAwareness Month – What others think of me, is none of my business

Herakles and the Hydra Water Jar (Etruscan, c. 525 BC) - Herakles clubs the Hydra, while a crab assists it by attacking Herakles
It’s much easier to not even engage. Or is it?

It’s April. There’s a ton of mixed information about Autism churning through the aethers.

Lord help us.

I was getting all spun up about it, over the weeks leading up to April. Bracing for the onslaught. Girding my loins for war. Bristling at the thought of how often I’ve been told I can’t be autistic, frustrated at the lack of information — and the disinformation that’s being spread by ve$ted intere$t$ out to make a buck. Getting tweaked about what others think of me, or would think of me, or how they’d respond to me.

I have to say, I would love to rectify a lot of this, myself — inject some elightenment and enhanced autism awareness in the general populace. Even in my own family.

The thing is, a lot of what I think other people think / feel / assume about me, is inaccurate. Let’s face it — autism, in my case, is accompanied by social cluelessness and a really compromised ability to interpret what others are saying / thinking / feeling on the surface. Plus, I’ve got a supremely heightened awareness of what people are saying / thinking / feeling beneath the surface.  So, in some cases, I know more about them than they do. And that just leads to more confusion and “crossed wires”, when I try to engage with them.

People generally aren’t in touch with whats’ really going on inside of them, and when you interact with them on a deeper, more authentic level, it scares them. Because they can invest a whole lot of time in overlooking, denying, avoiding what’s really going on inside of them.

And it occurs to me, maybe this is really the crux of “social disconnects” between autistics and non-autistics — we autistics relate to how people really are, on the inside, while non-autistics expend huge amounts of energy avoiding how and what they truly are, deep down inside. And autistically authentic interactions scare the crap outa them.

Hmmm… maybe I’m onto something here… Well (shrug)… whatever.

Anyway, here’s the thing — I’m not getting spun up over all the ignorance and discrimination towards me, this month. Yes, it bothers me tremendously that there is still so much ignorance and lack of acceptance. Yes, I know it causes pain. The thing is, I’m not going to let it cause me more pain than it really does.

As in, I’m not going to fret over the rest of the world not “getting” me, not accepting me, not recognizing me for who I am. The rest of the non-autistic world frankly has no clue, and they have no reason to get a clue. They’re wrapped up in their own self-centered worlds, their own limited visions, their own officially sanctioned versions of reality. I have no control over that. And I’m not going to make myself miserable, living in constant reaction to that.

I have to advocate for myself.

I have to make it plain what I need from life.

I have to take responsibility for caring for myself, managing my environment and situations so that they don’t make me miserable.

I have to do my part to minimize my misery, to tell others what I need from them on a case-by-case basis, to not expect them to read my mind and anticipate what I need — because that’s so very different from what they expect and assume.

I have to put my “big girl pants” on , and deal with it. Because no one else will do it for me. Sorry. No government agency, no charity, no organization, no support group, no team of helpers is going to come to my rescue. They’re just not.

And that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

When it comes to the whole autism awareness / acceptance thing, it seems to me that people assume certain things are going to result from an up-tick in both those things. That people will be more considerate. That they’ll understand more. That they’ll be more accommodating. That they’ll be more open and receptive.

I must be living in a very different world, because I expect none of those things to happen. People are self-centered — especially non-autistic people. They feel overwhelmed and put-upon in general, and they (from what I’ve observed) make every effort to surround themselves with like-minded people with similar characteristics and personality profiles.

And that doesn’t include autistic people, for the most part. Unless they have no clue that you’re autistic. Then you can be their friend.

Maybe that’s a Terrible Thing. Maybe it’s not.

Anyway, where that leaves me is with a divine indifference to the opinions of the general populace, when it comes to me and people like me. That also extends to opinions of the autistic “community” (such as it is), who may or may not agree with my point of view. I’ve been attacked. I’ve been blocked. I’ve been criticized and called “irritating”. Okay, fine. People are free to believe what they like. In then end, we all find out if what we think actually works. If others want to devote their lives to anger and outrage, that’s their lot. Not mine. I’m certainly not devoting my life to their anger and outrage.

It’s quite freeing, really, to let it go — to not get spun up over what others thing (good or ill). Not worrying about the drastic dip in my blog stats (“Augh! Nobody’s reading my stuff! Boo hoo!”) or the lack of follow and likes on Twitter and Facebook (“Oh no! Nobody’s noticing me! I’m so alone!”) … letting go of those standards lets me really, truly concentrate on the work itself, the writing in and of itself, the projects I’ve got going that add so much to my life and help me live the best way possible — for me.

I’m considering going for a whole week without checking my stats… not sure I can do it, but my stoic practice my require it. We’ll see how that shakes out.

Anyway, when it comes down to it, getting twisted up over what others think of me, is a recipe for despair. I have no control over it. I have no influence over strangers’ opinions. Everybody believes what they believe for very, very good reasons, very few of which I can discern. So, it’s best to let that go. Live my life. Write my words. Put them out there for others to read (and hopefully benefit from)… without getting too invested in a specific outcome.

It sounds a bit zen-like, and maybe it is.

At the core, however, it’s logic. Just reasonable logic. And I like that. Logic works for me.

When all else fails — including my estimation of others’ states of mind.

#Autism always existed. It’s the world that’s changed.

construction workers hanging on rebar
I’d rather be doing this, than sitting at a desk all day. Alas, such is not my lot at this time.

Once upon a time, the world I inhabited was regulated. Regimented. You got up at a certain time, you had your shower and your breakfast, and you went to work. Everybody did, in fact. And you went to work at a manual job — factory work, making things, repairs, farming. Or you had a service job — nursing, teaching, ministering, feeding people at the local restaurant. There were other “professional” jobs, of course, but those were few and far between, and you didn’t actually have to do accounting or web development or data science or some other sort of advanced science to A) make a living, or B) hold your head up in the world.

You worked your regular job according to pre-ordained principles. If you had a manual job, you could see how well you were doing, each day — how much you produced, how well your product turned out, how much hay you baled or how many gallons of milk you poured into the bulk thank. And when you were done with everything that needed to be done, each and every day — the machines were shut down, the tools were put up, the bulk tank was cleaned out, the lights were turned off and the door locked behind you — you went home to your supper, your evening routine, and sleep.

Then you got up and did it all over again.

Part of me longs for those days. Especially for the jobs that involve a lot of heavy manual labor, as well as clear parameters of what needs to be done, and what constitutes success. For this Aspie, those are the magic ingredients for a happy life — hard, hard work that makes you sweat, routine that doesn’t change, measurable results, and the knowledge that you’ve done something tangible to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

Now, things are very different, and I’m left to my own devices, to provide the kinds of supports and structure that really works for me. It takes work. It takes a different orientation. And my own needs don’t always make sense to others. They don’t translate well to neurotypical folks, who seem to think that structure and hard work are optional… or should even be avoided. It’s hard to function seamlessly in this world, to have the kind of flow I need to have in my days. Stuff is always coming up to throw off my cadence, my routine. My workdays are punctuated with non-stop interruptions and changing priorities, to the point where it’s pointless for me to plan on anything, depend on anything, or even expect to get into a flow state while I’m at work.

I’m not the only autistic one who feels this way, I’m sure. And I wonder if maybe part of the reason we’ve seen such a “rise” in autism, is due to the changes in society and culture, which have erased the once-hard-and-fast features of everyday life that used to stabilize and orient folks on the spectrum.

Thing Then Now
 Exercise Part of everyday life, part of doing your job You have to make your own, on your own time. No exercise built into our everyday lives – in fact, quite the opposite.
 Routine  Part of everyday life, part of living your life. Everybody did it, and that was that.  Everybody just do whatever they danged well please! It’s all personalized and customized and spontaneous. Woo hoo!
 Tangible results  Hay bales, head of cattle, pieces produced on the line, a repaired car that starts up, etc.  It’s all intangible, now. Hard to know, from one day to the next, if what you’re doing even matters to anyone.
 Roles and Responsibilities  Hard and fast. Everybody expected to adhere. Not always a great thing, but still existed. You knew where you stood.  Who can tell? I mean, it’s great to have self-expression and not be driven to suicide over not fitting the mold – that’s a big improvement. But it’s still more disorientating than it used to be.

See what I mean?

I’m not saying I want to go back to the days when “men were men, and women were women”, or when racism was the order of the day, pretty much universally. But I am saying that this modern-ish world is fairly well devoid of the things that really stabilized me as a kid and helped me manage my autistic issues.

And I wonder if autistic folks growing up after 1980 actually struggle with their autism more, because they never had those kinds of structures and elements in place. I wonder if this doesn’t make autism all the more obvious, because society has stripped away the very things that used to help us find and preserve our place in a regularly functioning world?

Of course, things are always changing, and so many of the changes that have taken place are actually really, really good.  Perhaps the answer is not so much going back to how things were, but rather understanding the benefits and purposes those elements served, and making sure that modern-day autistic folks (especially kids growing up) have those kinds of supports in place.

  • Exercise
  • Routine
  • Tangible results
  • Roles and responsibilities

I know it’s not fashionable to enforce those things on growing kids, these days. It’s not common practice, anymore, to enforce much of anything on kids growing up — and that’s a shame. Because a lot of us autistic people really need them.

We need them a lot.

Up early, and making the best of it

superhero with cape flying in fireworksI’m up early today. I got to bed at a decent hour, last night, but the pain caught up with me. I shoveled and snow-blowed (or is it snow-blew?) and raked my roof for three hours on Saturday, trying to get the packed slush and heavy snow out of the way, so cars can get up and down the driveway, and my roof doesn’t leak in the places it developed “issues”, a few years back when we got hit with a blizzard, and I had massive ice dams along much of the edge of my roof.

For the ice-dam-uninitiated, don’t ask. You can Google it. Even thinking about them makes me twitch. Trigger alert: Ice dams 😉

Anyway, it’s no good, leaving 4 inches of packed slush, topped with three inches of heavy wet snow blocking the driveway. What if I need oil for my furnace? What if there’s an emergency? What if there’s a fire? I have to clear a path for vehicles to reach me, just in case.  So, I fired up the snowblower and set about at least trying to move the stuff towards the woodlot beside my driveway. Not an easy task at all. There was such a layer of slush, I couldn’t get good traction with the snowblower, and it kept skidding and getting stuck, which meant I needed to heave at the heavy *&$^#%, using every last muscle in my relatively in-shape frame.

Couldn’t get it all up, though, even after nearly 2 hours of wrangling with it, so I had to push a lot of slush with my shovel. Again — it took work. I can’t believe how much work. Js F*****g Cht, it was a … challenge. And then clear enough of the stairs and the back deck to get in the house. And then rake the roof, so the slush didn’t turn to ice, lift up the shingles, and seep through in that hair-raising drip pattern that starts in the eves and manages to trickle down the line of the rafter, to finally drip from a spot roughly 6 feet away from the wall. If you’re not traumatized by the memory of it, the physics of ice dams are fascinating. And the physics indicate that my roof definitely needs to get raked as soon as humanly possible — especially during the day, so the melt doesn’t have a chance to freeze under the shingles when it gets cold at night.

That’s no good.

Anyway, on Saturday I spent about three hours moving heavy, wet snow, and while I didn’t wreck my back, it would seem that I exerted every single muscle in my body. Every single joint. Every single sinew and tendon and bit of connective tissue. The result? Pain. Universal, inescapable, aching, burning pain — the kind that isn’t solved by Advil and a hot shower or even a long nap. Only time and healing rest will fix this, meaning I need to eat properly (and a little more than usual) for the rest of this week, so my body can rebuild. That’s the one part of this I like — eating more food, which I can’t often do, because it makes me feel sluggish and not-great.

Anyway, the pain woke me up at 4 a.m. I lay there for a while, trying to get comfortable, then decided to just forget it and make the best of it. I can use the extra time, to be honest. I feel like my days have gotten away from me, so to speak, with the business travel from a couple weeks ago wreaking havoc with my schedule and my ability to function at the level I want. I’m not that comfortable with mediocrity, so when I’m on reduced resources and barely scraping by, I’m not a happy camper. At all.

So, I got up, I rode my exercise bike and lifted my weights. I listened to music and made my breakfast. Today I get to sit down to read and write, which I never feel like I have enough time to do. That’s an illusion, of course. I have the same 24 hours that others have, and others do far more (and far less) with their time than I — it’s a management issue, really. Still, it’s nice to have a block of 3 hours to just do as I like, without watching the clock, without feeling pressured to Do Something Else Right Now (as I often do).

I’m in a lot of pain, but it’s not difficult to get my mind off it and laser in on other things that are far more interesting and edifying than physical discomfort. I have a couple of books I need to finish. I have some blog posts I need to write. And with the extra time (even if I am dragging, later today), I can do it all at my own pace.

Which is nice.

I don’t care to make a habit of this, but if I have to be up so early, I might as well use the opportunity for what it’s good for.

Happy Monday, everybody.