Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Autism Awareness month

As you may or may not know, April has been chosen as Autism Awareness month, with the special 'World Autism Day' this year on April 2nd. Now, I'm not really for those months-in-name-of-good-causes thing, because there are so many things that deserve our attention and a year only has twelve months. But I have a special reason for joining this month's good cause and that is because I have Autism myself. More specifically, I have Asperger's Syndrome and it comes with its own set of pro's and con's.

First, let me show you my mani for Autism Awareness. I made a blue gradient and topped it off with two coats of Light It Up Blue, a beautiful glow-in-the-dark polish with holographic glitter that I bought a few months ago from Different Dimension. I believe she's just restocked them so you can go to her shop and check it out. My gradient didn't go so well at first because the last blue color had too harsh a line (like I made blue french tips, yuck!). But I fixed it by dabbing the lighter blue over the edge and now I'd say it's pretty damn near perfect. Definitely the best gradient I've ever done!

I would like to call World Autism Day 'the day you all bow down to the awesomeness that is me' but that just wouldn't be fair. Like I said, Asperger's isn't just the bad stuff, but it certainly isn't a walk in the park. I have problems that can't be seen on the outside, and can't easily be explained. People with autism are all very different, there's not a list of 'symptoms' you can check to see how to deal with autism. Every person has their own 'manual' and it takes a while to get the hang of it, and even then it's hard to really understand and act right.

Note: I'm not telling you all this to get your sympathy, I'm sharing my stories because that's what this month is about: educating people about a life with autism.

I used to be very open about my autism, I didn't mind telling people and explaining my situation. I joked about wearing a sign around my neck so my autism would be visible on the outside. Unfortunately, I have had so many stupid, downright hurtful comments that I'm now very careful about who I tell.

I'm 23 years old now and I was diagnosed at 14. My mom saw it waaaaay before that though, it was very clear when I was a baby. She was afraid that I'd be taken away because it happened a lot back then, so she just figured out how to raise me by trial and error. I hated physical contact, but she gently let me get used to being touched. I still don't look people in the eye when I talk to them and I miss social cues sometimes. I really try not too, but sometimes I talk when other people are talking, even though it annoys the hell out of me when that's done to me. That's just the stuff that everybody knows about and that's somewhat easier to explain.

What's not as easy is trying to tell people about how noise affects me. I had to study in a room with over a hundred students. Every single day. When I tell someone how I couldn't concentrate, how being there drained my energy, they say they have the same problem. It hurts me when people say that because it's not the same! But I can't explain how my situation is different, so I just keep my mouth shut.

Going somewhere, especially somewhere I've never been before, is very taxing on me. I'll come home after a few hours and be completely dead. Can't eat, having trouble finding words and I just need to go to bed. The 'unknown' factor is a big thing in my life. I like things that I know, things that are familiar. I'm not afraid of new movies or music, but mostly people and places. I have my own rituals, like before going to bed. It's always dinner at 6, then playing with the rats for an hour or more, then I go downstairs to watch TV until bedtime at 10. It may sound boring but it's what I need to sleep. Otherwise, my sleep pattern gets all wonky and I start waking up in the middle of the night, around 2:30, and this totally kills me. I just had a three-month period with very little sleep, just three hours a night, and I'm only just getting back on track. I'm very happy about that! My rituals keep changing as my life changes, and it's a challenge to find out what is working for me NOW. It used to be cookies and milk, but that magic is gone :-p

I don't make a very good first impression. When people take the time to get to know me, MOST of them like me, but that first contact is stressful to me and that's exactly why it gets screwed up. I get nervous and say dumb things, I switch prepositions around and I stumble over my words. I want people to like me but I don't know how to do that. All this makes it just the more hurtful when people don't understand me.

The outside world looks at me as if I'm different, but a pretty capable person. I often get called optimistic, intelligent, funny and driven and while all this is true, this is just one part of the person that I am. There's also the side of me that zones out when there's too much noise around me, or when I'm lost in thought. I'm deadly afraid of having to go to an unfamiliar place by myself, I always take someone with me. I have trouble with contact over the phone because it's hard enough face-to-face, but even harder without seeing the other person's expression and body language. And yes, I know autistic people aren't supposed to pick up on those things but I have learned a lot by connecting words and expressions to specific situations and my memory allows me to use those connections at other times. It's really hard to explain :-p

But there's also a very special side to me that I'm not sure would be there if not for my autism. I have a superb memory, especially for lyrics and poems (but not for faces). I even remember the words to foreign songs, even though the sound doesn't mean anything to me. Numbers are less my 'thing' and I suck at math, unless it's about money, then I'm awesome at it! I make connections where other people don't see them, so some of my jokes and fantasies are very original. I dream, like, EVERY night, and it's so cool to have adventures without going anywhere, worrying about anything or even getting tired from it. I don't even care about the dreams in which I die. Once I dreamed about disconnecting a bomb, but I was too late and I exploded. Pretty awesome, because I wasn't afraid somehow, and I felt my body being pushed and pulled and being ripped apart. When I woke up, I was like: hmm well that's interesting, I don't think I would otherwise have felt that and lived. Although I didn't like the dream so much in which I was beaten up and left for dead in the street... I think I need to dedicate a whole blog post to my dreams sometimes because I have so much to tell you!

Well, that's a part of me and my life with autism. I don't think I can tell you everything in one blog post. It keeps changing as I find solutions to problems, or new problems arise when my life changes. There's no medication and there's no cure. I think I do very well under the circumstances, although it might seem to some people like I'm a lazy bum, living with my parents and not even out looking for a job when I could do so much more. You can't see my problems on the outside, and that's the biggest problem of all. I read somewhere last week that when there are so many of us that are different, but still struggling to be 'normal', wouldn't it just be easier for everyone to be more understanding?

And with that thought, I leave you. Thanks for reading today's ramblings!

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