Thursday, December 12, 2013

Different, Not Less Part 2

I really debated on wether to say more on this topic or not. At first, I felt like maybe I was going to bore some you, the readers, with this. But then I thought, if people don't want to read it, they won't. I'm not charging, or promising anything (except honesty), and it's MY post. This is my blog about me. And about my life and walk with God.

So if I stop where I left off in the last post, I don't get to say some of the most profound (to me at least) things.

So, if you're interested, read on. If not, change the channel, and we'll see you next time.

My dear and very good friend Rebecca pointed out that I do not show the typical signs of social awkwardness and incompatibility with sarcasm that is common with those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder--Autism and Asperger's). Rebecca has spent years working with special needs children, so she is by no means an uninformed commenter, but there are a few things to consider.

First, MOST people who are recognized as having ASD are children, or they are adults with more severe cases.  In fact, a vast majority of adult autists only discovered that they WERE autists because  they had a child with ASD and realized as they went through the process of diagnosing their children that the "symptoms" were things that THEY had dealt with. The reason for this is largely because high functioning autists have generally just been labeled as "odd" in the past, and they have learned to adapt, cope, and deal with their differences.

Children's behaviors are more marked due to lack of experience in self regulating their emotions and responses, lack of a "real" understanding of social norms, and lack of emotional/social maturity. They think differently, reason differently, make cognitive connections differently, and HAVE NO CLUE that anyone else does it differently than they do. For the most part (and I speak generally and of the high functioning individuals) they think that people are being difficult, or they can't understand why people don't "get" them. Over the years, many autists have their differences hammered into them, and they figure out how to fit in, and what, generally, to expect from others.  This helps, but if you read the comments from the adult who HAVE realized their autism, you find that there is a marked sense of "relief" (not the best word, but it points in the right direction, emotionally) that there is a REASON for the differences, and that there are others who DO think in some of the same ways, who also struggle with the strange things that "other people" don't seem to have a problem with. . .

All that to say, the reason that I don't seem to have the social awkwardness is because I've learned how to "behave." The hard way.

I was the "nerd." I was the "dork." The WEIRDO. I had only a few friends through the years, and very few of them were CLOSE. Part of that was the fact that my family moved every four years or so (my dad was in the Air Force), but it was also because I couldn't figure out how to connect with kids my age.

I did pretty well with adults, but I didn't talk like kids. I couldn't be "cool," couldn't quite understand the fads, the trends, couldn't understand why some things were funny, and other things weren't. I remember wanting to make kids laugh, and doing things that made me cringe inside my head, but I'd be caught up in some kind of emotional momentum, and do and say STUPID stuff, and not be able to back off or down even when I could see that it wasn't working the way I wanted it to. A lot of times I just made kids mad at me, and I didn't know why.

Looking back, I can see that I was just too much. I was trying too hard. And I did a LOT of things repetitively. I made noises with my mouth, just clicking, tapping, "musical" noises ( or so they seemed to me). I tapped on my desk compulsively. I wasn't nervous, as I was often assumed to be, I just had the rhythms in my head and they wanted out. I knew that the rhythms were "right." They matched the pattern in my head; they fit with the music in my mind.  I couldn't figure out why it sounded so good to me (quite soothing, peaceful) and yet it bothered others. Most of the time I just felt like they were looking for something to complain about. . . I did this sort of thing in conversations as well. I'd repeat a line that I thought was funny, or thought SHOULD be funny, sure that everyone would see how great it was any second now. . . Oh, well.

That pattern lasted well into my twenties. I'll get back to that.

Sarcasm has never been a problem for me. . . . . . . Well, let me rephrase that: I have never had a problem understanding sarcasm as humor.

Mockery, however, That I learned the hard way.

I have a very vivid memory of the first time I realized that the kids around me weren't being kind, but were mocking me.

I was playing basket ball with my classmates at recess. It was the fifth grade. I was terrible at it and knew it, but that's what we were playing, so I tried.

One of the kids tossed me the ball, and I took a long time to make the shot, but I actually made it! I was so excited! Another of my classmates said, "Ben can do pretty good as long as you give him plenty of time and just let him take the shot."

At first, I agreed. "Yeah, I thought. If you'd do that I could be a good team mate."
Then I noticed the laughter.
And I realized that he hadn't meant it as a nice thing. That somehow, while saying I could be good, he meant I was bad.
And I realized that I was the only one who hadn't known that's what he meant.

I didn't trust compliments for years after that. But I DID spend a LOT of time watching people to see what they meant when they said things, and to see if WHAT they said was the same as what they MEANT. I learned sarcasm/mockery because it hurt to much not to. I learned it, and got GOOD at it. And I used it. It took rather longer for me to realize that sarcasm didn't help with whole "making friends" thing.

I realize that this is not the happiest of topics, but there is a happy ending coming.

For example, learning to understand what people MEAN despite what they say, has helped me tremendously as a teacher, both in classrooms and in mentoring others in ministry.  I don't know how to explain it, but there are so many little clues in a person's body language, where they look with their eyes, their tone of voice, and things you know about them and more that all work together WITH a person's words to make up their meaning. Sometimes a person KNOWS that they are not saying what they mean, and if you listen to the PERSON and not just the words, you can sometimes catch that. . . At least, it has worked for me.

In fact, I can look back a nearly all of the things I've had to overcome and see where God has used those things to equip me rather than tear me down.

There has been a great deal of tearing down, but He has always been there to pick me up. He has even CAUGHT me on occasion.

God has brought me through this "adventure" and crafted success from the journey.

Going back to the social aspect.

When I graduated from HighSchool, I wanted nothing to do with school EVER AGAIN. So I asked God what he wanted me to do.  God's answer baffled everyone but me. (It didn't baffle me because he wasn't asking me to go to school.) The funny thing was, that it baffled EVERYONE else BECAUSE I wasn't going to school.  Like I said before, people thought of me as smart. They thought it was a waste for me not to go to school. God told me to go paint houses.

That seems strange at first, but I realized a few years later, and it is even cleared to me now, that he was teaching me how to work with and communicate with people.

I was working with carpenters, tile and flooring men, brick masons, and painters, and GOD TOLD ME TO. So I couldn't run away; this was where I was SUPPOSED to be.

Well, in case you don't realize this, these kinds of workers don't have a great deal of patience with social awkwardness, or insulting sarcasm. And many of them can be  . . . aggressively impatient about such things. So, I watched them too. And I learned to talk so that people understood me.  I learned that just because you know all the best words doesn't mean that those words will WORK best.  I had to learn to do the opposite of what I had done in the past. Instead of learning to understand what people meant despite what they said, I had to learn to speak in a way so that they would understand me (my intentions, WHO I was, that I was worth listening to, that I wasn't just some weirdo. . .)

It took a long time, but I learned.

And YES. I did deliberately set out to learn these things. I didn't know why it was so hard for me when it seemed to come so naturally for everyone else, but I HAD, HAD, HAD to figure it out. I HAD to make people understand me. I HAD to make them listen and get it.

While I was a painter, I also worked at a Christan radio station with my best friend. We also worked together painting.  God used that to get me more comfortable with public speaking. First the radio--and we did a wide variety of things, from requested music to skits and humorous "commercials" and more. From there, my aunt conned me into some dramas and plays at our church, and one thing led to another. I gradually got past my fear of public speaking ( a must for anyone with ministry goals).

We eventually sold the painting company and opened a coffee shop/eatery, where God started to work on my problem with crowds, but that is actually still a work in progress.

Anyway, there is obviously much, much more, but the point is this: I Am what I am. Just because I don't show all of the problems does not make me less autistic, nor does it make me "cured" (God forbid), it just means I've overcome. That God is Good. I'm still learning about how I work/think/ "tick." but since this discovery, I've made breakthroughs I can't begin to explain the significance of.

My post about joy was part of/a fruit of this discovery about me. I'm finding a freedom in my life that I've never known, and it's showing up in the strangest ways, but I can see how the ways are connected.

Here is a small example: For as long as I can remember, I don't eat or drink after others. At ALL. I will after my wife, but that's it. At the thought of eating after someone else, my mind immediately supplies vivid images of all the germs, bits of food, slobber, drool, backwash, etc. . . . . (ACK!) and "No. Thank. You." My kids are the worst. I will go VERY hungry before I'll put "dirty little CHILD-yuck-mouth-germy-my-God-do-you-know-what-they-put-in-those-mouths" food near my face.

After this revelation about the Joy of the LORD, I went on a field trip with my oldest son. While there, he had a root beer float. He drank about 1/3 of it.

I finished it.

I won't say I did it absently. I held it and thought about it. but when I came to the mental point where I would normally go into convulsions of revulsion at the thought of eating/drinking after someone else, it was like the issues came up, I could hear the objections in my head, but they had nowhere to land in me--nowhere to take hold.


I don't know how to explain how that is related to the autism. All I know is that I can see the connection.
I know who I am (mostly), and I know what I've been through, and the point is not to show "what's wrong with me" or to gain a label or an excuse. The point is that there is an answer. I'm not broken, I'm different.

I'd like to suggest that ASD, while it does encompass many individuals who's struggle is and has been FAR more than mine, I think that it should stand for Autistic Spectrum Distinction, NOT Disorder. Disorder means we don't do things "right." That there is something wrong with us, when in reality, we just do it differently. But because of that, we see things that others do not. MOST of the "DISORDER" comes from conditions that tend to compound WITH ASD, of from the misunderstanding of those around the individuals.

I'm no expert in this subject, so you could argue with me if you choose. But just remember: ASD is Different--NOT LESS.

And God is BIGGER and makes no mistakes.

1 comment:

  1. Upon reflection, I feel I have over generalized. Please note that what I have shared here is based on my own personal experiences and reflects on those I have read about and met. I DO realize that ASD is a SPECTRUM condition--meaning that there are varying degrees of difficulty experienced by different individuals, depending on how severe their particular divergence from the "normal" cognitive and sensory processing happens to be. I most CERTAINLY do NOT wish to sound like I'm making light of a condition that truly incapacitates some. I only wish to point out that the spectrum ranges as far into the functional as it does into the less functional.