Without a diagnosis…

I will not hide that, at this time, I do not have an official Asperger’s Diagnosis. This came up while meeting with my therapist today (hey, we all need therapists at some point!). The argument is whether there’s a point to getting a diagnosis, and whether I even have AS. I strike her as being too empathetic toward other people’s feelings, and that people with ADHD have social interaction issues, sensory issues, and other similar things to AS.

Let me be clear: I respect and like my therapist. It’s not an easy profession. However, I have to disagree on this one. No, I’m not the expert, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading on AS, and I feel like it’s describing me in many ways. I am also learning that there are some fundamental differences between boys/men with AS and girls/women with AS. I am very interested in researching the extent of these differences, and to examine the nature vs. nurture aspect. For all of society’s advances, boys and girls continue to be raised with different social expectations. Girls are supposed to be “little mommies”–the caregivers. Boys are supposed to “man up” and be strong.

I’ve been examining my perspective lately. I’m responsive to people’s emotions, but is it through training and practice, or is it natural? I’m inclined to think that it’s a learned thing for me. It’s more natural nowadays, but only after years of it going over my head. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

Whether I get diagnosed with AS or not, my experiences are valid. I am not “normal” by a long shot. I have a hard time with ADHD being the only explanation. My therapist and the doctor who works with her insist it’s depression and ADHD, nothing more. I have to say that I don’t know many ADD/ADHD people who are my level of “strange.” There is a lot of AS/autism/ADHD in my family. There is no bipolar or other disorders, and we know I do not suffer from these.

Maybe I’m going about this all wrong, and I should focus on my daughter instead. Her future is still in flux. Then again, maybe one way to truly help her is to help myself. True?

I might get a job… IF I can get past the interview!

It surprises people I know when I tell them I am socially inept. They point out that I am outgoing and willing to speak with anyone. Well, that’s the problem. I can and will talk with just about anyone. And talk, and talk, and talk. I can usually cover the ineptitude with my quirky sense of humor. This works in most social settings, but job interviews aren’t “most” situations.

I blew one interview for a well-paying job by getting diarrhea of the mouth. It seemed to be going well, and I got excited. I was interviewing to be an admissions counselor for an online university, something I felt good about. When it was my turn to ask some questions, I let my enthusiasm get the better of me. The online university had programs that I found interesting, so I asked about taking classes while working with them. Then I inserted my foot by saying that I wanted to take web design classes and eventually move on to working with their website.

Oops. Wrong answer.

“You don’t want to advance through the admissions department?” Meaning, “We’re not good enough for you?”

I don’t remember what I said, but it wasn’t good enough. I did not get the job. I knew it as soon as his smile froze and posture changed. I was no longer in consideration, all because of my big mouth.

I’m going to go on a tangent here…

When I say I recognize this from his body language, you need to understand that I don’t read it on an intuitive level. Somewhere in my mind, there’s a dictionary that says “____ set of the eyes means ____” or “That posture means he’s pissed.” It took me a long, long time to realize that I achieve similar social reads through a different means from other people. In other words, I don’t just do like most people. I have to focus on reading people and do it in a conscious manner. Until recently, it seemed normal. At least I don’t think the way I look at it is “normal.” Do “normal” people have to consciously think about reading people? They just kind of get it somehow, right?

</end tangent>

I blew another interview just before I got pregnant with the Munchie. At the time, I wanted to sell cars, and there was an opening at a Mercedes Benz dealership. I still don’t know for sure what ruined it, but I had a bad feeling about it by the time it was over. I felt like there was a trick question in the interview, but I wasn’t getting it. It probably didn’t help that it’s very hard for me to look like a professional. My hair is ridiculously fine and thin, I have a goofy-looking jaw, and I tower over many people. I don’t have the money to have clothes tailored to me, so business wear looks stupid on me, as well.

Somehow, I was able to get a couple decent positions by convincing them at the interviews that I was competent and enthusiastic. Neither one lasted. I felt like I was acting the role they wanted to hire, but when the time came to be good at the job, I wasn’t. I felt like the Pretender called in to surgery. This leads to a larger topic as far as work goes, but that will have to wait until later. In a nutshell, I am terrible at second-guessing myself. This undermines my performance, as my mind goes blank, and stuff doesn’t get done. It’s frustrating because I think I’m better than that–but I could be wrong. Very wrong.

Luckily, I have found what I am good at doing. Now it will be okay. The question is: Can I get past that all-important interview process? I don’t know anymore. The job I may get sounds like a good fit, right up my alley. I just hope I don’t throw it away by screwing up the interview.

*Don’t worry, I’ll have more upbeat posts before you know it!

“Deadliest Catch” – Here’s to the Harrises

This doesn’t have much to do with this blog, other than it’s really gotten to me. If readers are lucky, I’ll analyze this later. I do get caught up emotionally, which may seem odd for an Aspie. Or is it? Anyway, here’s what I posted on my Facebook status and in an ensuing comment:

Feeling sad for, yet proud of Josh and Jake Harris, sons of Phil Harris, Captain of the Cornelia Marie on “Deadliest Catch” on Discovery. Capt. Phil had a stroke and then passed away this past winter. The stroke happened less than a day after Jake told him he had a drug addiction. I found an update this week from older brother Josh…

Jake HAS been getting treatment for his addiction and is out salmon fishing right now. Josh works in business when not crabbing, and he’s been busy. The boys are going to keep the Cornelia Marie going, and they are also going to be trying to educate people that smoking kills. It killed their dad.

That’s the thing about reality shows. Sometimes reality hits home.

It seems strange that I should feel more emotion for people who don’t know I exist than for John Q. Public down the street who I only know by the dog who walks him. (Yes, I typed that right!)

That’s it for now. G’night, all!

Yes, I’m Picky. What’s your point?

Don’t expect me to get anywhere near coconut. If you cook onions in the house, give me fair warning. Keep those damn beets away from me! ::shudder::

It always drove my parents to distraction. Today, my long-suffering husband can’t make dinner without wondering if I’ll eat it. I am your classic picky eater. Some food literally make me feel sick to my stomach. And when I say “literally,” I mean it. As a young child, I would not put certain foods in my mouth, and if anyone tried to trick me, I would taste the offending stuff. I was the only one who noticed a faint trace of coconut when a popular cereal included it for a while. This pattern continued throughout my childhood and, to a large degree, it continues today. In fact, I believe there is something inherently evil about coconut…

“Selective eating” seems to be common among children on the autism spectrum. According to one article, “While most children outgrow their tendency to be picky about what they eat, children with ASD often carry the trait into adulthood.”1 As one might imagine, unchecked pickiness can lead to nutritional deficits. Studies cited in the same article suggest that levels of Vitamins A, C, and D, as well as zinc, calcium, and fiber are lower in these children. If the pickiness persists into adulthood, one might infer that these deficiencies will, too.

I can attest to the deficiencies, as I have to be conscious to get enough calcium and fiber. Low levels of calcium can result in muscle cramps in the short term, and osteoporosis in the long run. When I don’t consume enough milk or take calcium instead, my calves and feet start cramping. Fiber can be another issue, but I’m too nice to get into that in this setting.

One article suggests an interesting correlation between an ASD child’s pickiness and the family’s regular menu: “…their food selectivity may be due to restrictive familial diets rather than to the severity of their autism symptoms… findings indicate that children with ASDs eat a more narrow range of foods that includes high-energy dense foods. Eating a narrow range of foods with high energy density may put children with ASDs at increased risk for excessive weight gain and chronic diseases, as high energy dense diets are typically high in fat and low in fiber.”2

Is selective eating a nature or nurture issue? Taking from these two articles and my own experience, I say “both.” I still don’t like for certain things to touch on my plate, but at least I’ll eat many of those things. I’ve even learned to try new things–without making a face! One of the things my parents did do right was to insist I try foods I “didn’t like.” Most of the time, I truly didn’t, but I tried them. My keen sense of smell is generally on target, so I have a fair idea of whether I’ll like something or not. There are a few exceptions. I love the smell of gourmet coffee, for example, but I definitely do not like the taste. I know this because I have sipped these flavors even though I know I don’t like coffee in general. If I have to choke the stuff down, I’ll take it either black or a French vanilla cappuccino.

There are some things that I found out, many years later, that I don’t hate after all. These are the foods that had the misfortune to be improperly prepared by my parents. Iced tea, for example, should never, ever, ever be despoiled by sugar! I don’t mind some fruit flavoring, but sugar?!?! Considering my impossibly sweet tooth, this is remarkable. I love iced tea, but not sweet tea, and definitely not that Nestea crap my dad always mixed!

By now, you should get the idea: I’m picky. However, it could be worse. My parents did a good thing by refusing to indulge me. I ate what they made or went hungry. Of course, I learned to sneak food later–often white bread that I’d decrust and ball up to eat like a lump of Play-Doh (no, I didn’t eat Play-Doh, but I wanted to), or I’d sneak Nestle Quick and dunk 4-8 slices of bread in it like a donut in coffee. I digress.

From my perspective, I can tell you that there are degrees within the selectiveness. There’s the “I’m not familiar with this” type of pickiness. Then there’s the “I really, really hate this” kind of pickiness. If you are caring for someone with this issue, I encourage you to insist they try new foods, but don’t force it on them. Offer a payoff if they refuse: “You can have FoodA if you try one bite of FoodB.” And it has to be bigger than a sand grain. I tried that one frequently as a kid. At minimum, make it the size of a pea. A spoon- or forkful would be better. If your picky eater won’t do it still, they don’t get FoodA, or their sticker, token, whatever incentive. Plain and simple. Okay, not so plain and simple in some cases, but you’d be surprised what will happen with consistency. Muchie (my daughter) can usually be bribed in this manner. So can I. 😉

If you can get a handle on picky eating on your own, there are dietitians who can help. Don’t let the picky eater win, because, in the end, you both lose.


works cited

1 Reynolds, Denise. “Picky Eating Risks Autistic Kids.” Emax Health. eMax Health.com. 19 April 2010. Web: 21 June 2010. <http://www.emaxhealth.com/1506/picky-eating-common-autistic-children-may-be-nutritional-risk.html>

2 Evans, Erin Whitney. “Selective Eating and Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Behavioral Health Nutrition. BHNDPG. Web: 21 June 2010

Evaluation: Day One

There’s a highly-respected program in a Chicago suburb that provides evaluations and support for individuals with developmental delays and their families. I’ll be happy to profile this group after the evaluation process, because I have a feeling this is going to be a fantastic resource. Until then, I’m going to share some of the experience in a more general sense. This is out of respect for them as much as for my family. 8^)

day one

My husband, JD, and I met for the first time with the psychologist at the program. We got Princess Zee and the Little Stinker off to their respective schools then made the hour-long drive to an unfamiliar location. The people welcomed us with smiles and kindness. Good Sign Number One.

We proceeded to go through a lengthy questionnaire discussing Zee’s history. By the end, I had mixed feelings, not about the evaluation, but about me coming up short on answers. It’s good that JD was there to add his input. He remembered things I should have. How did I forget to mention this or that behavior? In fact, I’m humiliated to say I can’t even remember, right this minute, an example! What’s wrong with me?! is what I started thinking.

I don’t give JD enough credit. He pays more attention than I sometimes think. Without him… I don’t know.

End result for today: I liked the woman we met, and I think JD was okay with her, as well. She was patient and kind, and she explained the upcoming process.

The next stage will take place July 6th, when I take Zee to meet them in person the first time. I’m sure they’ll fall in love with her. This is Zee’s outstanding gift. She makes people smile and feel… happy. That’s my Princess!

Well THAT was inappropriate!

My family always taught us kids to be polite. Please and Thank You and all of that. Today, I teach my kids the same. In fact, my son says “No thanks” whenever he doesn’t want to do something. [“Thank you for being so polite, you little stinker, but you will do what you were told!”] Yet, good social skills aren’t always about your pleases and thank yous. Tact, heck, common sense, need to kick in once in a while.

Now that I’m an adult, I think I behave pretty well around other people. That’s not to say that I’m perfect, but I can’t think of any huge faux pas I’ve made lately. Small ones, sure, but nothing as embarrassing as a night at my Catholic Youth Group in high school. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m not broken, I’m just different. Or: Tap Shoes and Phones

I used to think I was broken. My mind has always worked in different ways from the people around me. Even now, I make connections that other people might not expect. Give me some random objects or concepts, and I am sure to find a way to bring them together. It doesn’t matter if there’s no inherent link, I can make them relate.

Example: I looked around my desk and chose two random things: a telephone and tap shoes in a photo. Shoes have nothing to do with phones (unless you need to go down a street with sharp stones to get to a pay phone), but tap shoes could be very cool if you’re on the phone. Say you have a child who does a little tapping, and you can’t get a photo to a grandparent. Lucky you! Have your prodigy stand on a smooth surface next to the phone and tap her/his heart out. Said grandparent knows what the kid looks like and can now imagine them tapping out that clattering beat (assuming there’s a discernible beat from a three-year-old).

Want to throw me some more random things? Go for it.

I digress. Often. Back to feeling broken. I’m not sure how to explain it in a way normals might understand. So let’s try it this way…

You’re in high school, and it’s your open study hall period. All your homework is done because you finished before class was over. The teacher’s lecture didn’t matter because they just regurgitated the material you already read in the book. This is true of most classes. So now you have nothing pressing and are bored. You wish you had someone to talk to, but the few people you count as friends are in class. The library is open, and you wander in. Mrs. S is behind the counter checking in books. You say “hi” and hope she’s in a mood to visit. You suspect that she finds you annoying, but you are craving interaction with someone. She’s nice enough.

Mrs. S sees you and lets you start talking. The words gush out even as you get the feeling she couldn’t care less. She’s not rude, but you can somehow tell she’d rather not be listening. You don’t know what gives you that impression, but it’s there. Now you want to disengage, but you don’t know how without being rude to her. Also, the words demand to be spoken. It’s a compulsion over which you have little control. You desperately hope for a natural break in your thoughts so you can break away. Finally, you find a pause in the stream and use that to say, “I’ll let you get back to it!” and then walk away.

The experience has left you feeling worse than you did when you wandered in. Now you feel angry at yourself, agitated that you screwed up again and mad that you did exactly what you told yourself you wouldn’t do. It’s almost lunch time, so you head down the hall in that direction. The agitation is building up and demanding a release. You duck into the bathroom and escape to a stall. You don’t think anyone is in there, but you lock the stall door, just in case. There, you let the agitation out by shivering, flapping your hands, and bouncing or jumping. You wish you could yell, but you at least have control over that. Right now, anyway.

You shake it out and take some deep breaths, ready to face the world again. Time for lunch, and you feel a little better. You leave the bathroom and go to the cafeteria. Once you’ve gone through the line, have filled your tray in the “right” order, paid, and sat down at your usual table, all is well.

This kind of thing still happens many years later, although much less frequently. I hardly every do the hand flapping, but I do tend to have some sort of motion going at any given time. I get fidgety if I don’t have something to do with my hands.

As far as the awkward talking, that still happens. Like the flapping, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but hey, it still happens. At least I can explain why to the people I know. The great thing is that I have found friends who accept me as I am and are used to it. A few have even gotten good at pulling me out of it without either party getting irritated. The key here is that I’ve learned to cut off the chatter a lot sooner and to recognize what I’m doing. I’ll probably never get completely past this behavior, but it’s a far cry from how I was fifteen years ago.

These are things that contributed to my sense that I was “broken.” Now I know I’m not broken at all. It’s how I am, and it’s how the world perceives me. I’m not “normal,” I’m different. But without “different,” the world would be a bland place. Hooray for the Differents!