Saturday, October 28, 2006

I'm a little bit Asperger's-ish. (Asperger's is at the high functioning end of the autism spectrum.)  I'm pretty sure if I were a preschooler now, I'd be identified as "on the spectrum."  I've been thinking about this for awhile. For one thing, I know my credit card numbers. :-) But it's not just that.  It started out with noticing ways that I am like my friend's son who is autistic. I don't like to be social. I'd rather be by myself most of the time. The thoughts going on in my brain are a lot more interesting than about 75% of the outside world. (I know what you're thinking, and just hush.) I find it exhausting to deal with other people. There are so many cues to keep track of, so much information coming in about their feelings and how they want you to respond. It's overwhelming. I'd so much rather read a good book, and the older I get, the more strongly I feel about that. I'm not sure if it's because I know more and now pick up on more cues, or if I'm just turning into an old witch. Could be a little of both.

Anyway, here are my exhibits A and B to prove my point. A: social scripting. I was reading a few weeks ago about the way to teach children with asperger's how to deal with social situations, and the way you do it is by teaching them "scripts." Which more or less means, you help the child learn to identify certain cues and what the appropriate responses are. The asperger's child is never going to spontaneously respond correctly in a social situation, but he/she can be taught what the "rules" are and they can actually become fairly adept at social skills as long as they know the script, they know what to expect and why and what's happening. It occurred to me that this is exactly why I'm comfortable socializing with people at work-- which I have to do quite a bit. It wears me out, but it doesn't freak me out, and I think the reason is because there is a definite script. I know my role, I know the other people's role, and I can pretty easily and comfortably manage the ways I need to respond. But if you put me in an unscripted social situation-- say a party where you stand around and make small talk-- I am pathetically, painfully shy. And I am ludicrously, flagrantly prone to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even at age 43, I still go hide in the bathroom at parties, sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes.

Exhibit B. Sensory integration. Another problem that Asperger's/autistic kids have is managing all the sensory input that bombards us all the time. At any given moment of the day, you feel: your clothes rubbing against your skin, the seam in your socks, the weight of your jewelry, the temperature of the surrounding air, the sounds of a clock ticking, the furnace running, the microwave going, the refrigerator humming, the radio's on, someone's talking to you. If you don't have sensory integration issues, you can ignore everything in that list and pick out the voice of the person talking to you. If you do have sensory integration issues, it all comes at you with the same value, so to speak-- you can't tell which things are unimportant and can be ignored and which things need your attention. So you tend to shut everything out, because you're so overwhelmed. I remember picking up my friend's son from school one time on a windy day. He stepped outside the door and the feel of the wind on his face stopped him cold. He couldn't screen it out. He just stood there outside the door with his eyes shut feeling the wind, hearing it, feeling the change in temperature, the change in the level of light (or at least that's what I guess he was feeling, he obviously couldn't articulate this).

I can relate to that. I'm not so severe. But I still have to cut the tags out of my clothes if they're stiff. When hiking, I sometimes will have to stop two or three times in the first hour before I get my socks arranged right in my boots, the seams drive me crazy. I can't sleep with my rings on, they rub on my fingers. I can't sleep with mascara on, my eyes don't quite close all the way.  If I go outside and it's cold or hot, I can't get busy with what I'm doing and forget about the temperature. I just stand there and feel overwhelmed that it's too hot. If I come home from running errands and my husband has the TV on, the stereo on, and he's playing his guitar, it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I can't talk on the phone with someone if the line is static-y, I can't screen out the static, it makes me frantic to get off the phone because that static is in my head.

So when I started reading about sensory integration, I had this moment of AHA! That is ME!  All of which brings me to my Wacky Theory of the Week. I was reading in Time magazine (or was it Discover?) about the enormous increase in the number of autistic kids in the state of California, which defies any type of statistical analysis they've been able to think of to explain it away. So I'm wondering, in the spirit of the old Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov SF stories about how the human race might evolve next, if autism is actually a sort of hyper-hyper sensitivity, a sensitivity that extends to the molecular level. A new skill that we are evolving and have no idea how to use or even identify. Just think if you had that much input. If pheromones floating around in the air felt like stones banging your head. If a two degree temperature change felt like a 40 degree change. You'd be nuts. And that's how some of these kids seem. It's just a thought, but it's an interesting one, isn't it?? See, I told you there was interesting stuff running around in my brain.

Aunty Bean

No comments:

Post a Comment