Hand on steering wheel while driving a car

My Autism: A Day in My Life

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The alarm goes off right when it’s supposed to. I hit the snooze one time, then it’s time to get up. I complete my morning routine. It’s the easiest part of my day. Always the same, never changes. It gives me comfort. Take care of my dog, then take care of myself. Check the weather first, then get ready. Meds. Don’t forget those. Double-check my backpack. Check the stove, check the locks, check the lights, check them again. I know they’re just obsessive thoughts, but I have to satisfy them. Finally time to go. Right on time.

The sensory onslaught starts as soon as I walk out the door. On this day, the wind whips, the rain pounds, and the thunder roars. I head to the car where I sit for a minute and gather my focus before I put the car in reverse. The nerves have already shown up for the day and I haven’t even left the parking lot. It takes every ounce of focus to get to Chick-fil-A. It is Friday, which means I treat myself to breakfast out. I spit out my order at the drive-through. My phone’s already buzzing for work. By the time I get to the window, I’ve lost my words. I fumble for my debit card. She asks how I am. I can’t respond. She asks if everything is OK. I nod my head. Inside, I’m apologizing profusely. It’s not unusual for me to lose my words. They get scrambled in my head and I can’t get them out of my mouth. It never gets any easier to get out of the situation despite how often it occurs. I finish my drive to work replaying what just happened.

By the time I get to work, I have to shut the door to my office for a few minutes. I grab a chew toy out of my fidget box and spin in my chair. I could do that all day. Instead, I check my to-do list and update it using my blue pen. It’s the last of its kind and won’t last much longer. What will I write with when it runs out? It’s an anxious thought. I’m learning about those in therapy. What am I supposed to do next? Look for evidence that supports it, then look for evidence against it and come up with a new thought. It’s loud in the office. The lights and the computer buzz. I try to push the noises aside and find my focus. It’s hard today. I don’t know why. Did I do something wrong? Another anxious thought. What’s first on my list? I get started preparing for an upcoming opponent (I get paid to watch basketball for a living.)

I have a question but I really don’t want to talk to anyone. What if I mess it up? I have to ask, though. I prepare the conversation in my head: what will I say, what might they say in return, what’s my response. Oh yeah. Don’t forget to look up. I don’t have to look at his eyes, just pretend. Try to focus on something behind his face. It will make him think I’m looking at him, which I’m supposed to do but just can’t. I can’t look and listen at the same time. It hurts. No unexpected behaviors when I leave my office. That means no snapping, no flapping, no rocking. Just walk down the hall, follow the script then walk back. Say a quick prayer that no one stops me. If they do, just say, “Good morning.”

I grab a bouncy ball and head down the hall. I make it unscathed, though my heart rate would tell you otherwise. The door’s closed. Do I open it, knock, or turn around? Which one is right? Nothing comes easy. I elect to knock and he motions for me to come in… I think. “Good morning… I’m good. How are you?… I have a question…” Come on E. Spit it out. You can do it. I manage to ask my question. He responds with a multi-step answer. Shoot. I can never remember multiple steps. He keeps going. Focus E. First, then, after. He’s finished. “Thanks.” I repeat it to myself as I walk back towards my office. I cross my fingers that no one says anything or needs anything as I walk down the hall. It doesn’t work.

“Hey E. Can you come here?” Uh oh. Unexpected event. “What’s up?” I respond. That seems to be a standard response illustrating my desire to listen. I use it often in the office. I think it’s safe. I guess I’m not really sure. She just has a quick question. I can help. It feels good to help. She likes to use smelly lotion. I guess she likes it. I don’t. Focus E. Fix it and leave. “You’re welcome.” I continue down the hall. I make it back to my office after what seems like an eternity. My heart is racing. It will slow down eventually. How did that go? I made it. I got the information I needed, although I’m not sure I remember all of it. The conversations replay in my head. Did I do it right? Did I make them uncomfortable? Did I rock or did I stand still? I’ll never know.

I’m exhausted. It’s not even lunchtime. I grab my chew toy and get back to work. It’s going to be a long day.

Follow this journey on Erinmmckinney.com.

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Image via Thinkstock

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The Line From 'NCIS' That Spoke to Me as an Autism Advocate

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There is a single scene at the very end of an episode of “NCIS,” which I have been thinking about a lot lately. The episode is called “Hit and Run.” When I saw the scene, I was in tears because of how much I could relate to the character of Abby, a forensic scientist on the show.

In this scene, Abby is sitting on the floor in the office, feeling pretty upset. Her colleague Gibbs comes over to her and asks what’s going on. She finally admits she’s trying to figure out how to be OK with not being enough good. Gibbs responds that she’s not counting the hit and runs — the good kind. This is when you do something nice for someone now, and you’re not always around to see the impact it has later.

He eventually ends the scene saying, “The things you do mean something to people.”

I feel like Abby so often, especially as an advocate on the autism spectrum. I constantly feel as though I’m not enough good. Like I just can’t keep up and do enough for others. And Gibbs’ response is so true.

This is why it’s so important to let people know when they’ve helped you. Just say, “Hey, remember when you did or said this? It really made a difference!” Maybe someone let you go ahead of them in line at the grocery store. Or perhaps they let you know you dropped something important. It could be a stranger, or it could be someone you know. Whoever it is, and however they helped, it matters.

Those kinds of stories I get from people every once in a while really keep me going. When I’m having a tough time, they let me know I’ve made an impact as an autism advocate. The stories remind me about those “hit and runs,” which can be really easy to forget about, if I’m even aware of them in the first place. They remind me that, like Gibbs said, the things I do mean something to people.

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How My 3 Autistic Daughters Demonstrate the Vastness of the Autism Spectrum

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How many times have I heard the phrase “She doesn’t look autistic to me”? Too many times to count, that’s how many.

But here’s the thing: No two autistic people are the same. So once you’ve met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person. The assumptions and generalizations some people make on a daily basis surrounding autism astound me; they’re not helpful to anyone, and they need to stop.

I’m constantly surprised at how vast the spectrum is. Three of my four daughters are diagnosed autistic. So that’s four autistic people in our family out of six, including my husband. And we see it all.

I have one child who shies away from new people, and another who constantly seeks new social connections.

I have one child who loves to make loud noise, and another who hates it to the point of tears.

I have one picky eater, and another child who eats anything and everything she can get her hands on.

I have one child whose loves imaginative play, and another who is more literal.

I have one child who loves to spin, and another who hates it.

I have one child who is constantly seeking things to touch, and another child who panics if she has things on her hands.

I have one child who loves baths, and another one who hates them.

I have one child who feels the cold acutely, and another child who doesn’t seem to feel it.

I have one child who finds screens relaxing, and another who gets hyperactive from them.

I have one child who gets super chilled-out from physical exertion, and another who gets stimulated from it.

I could go on and on. I’m sure you can appreciate just how delicate the balance is to keep everyone happy and not overloaded. It is constant, and I have to preempt everything, offering alternatives and providing soothing items for the child who is struggling while another may be in her element. Trying to teach a child to self-regulate is no mean feat, especially when everyone seems to have opposite triggers.

Oy.

My point is: Just as is the case with any human being — we are all unique, and it’s really important to keep this in mind when discussing autism. Because sure, there may be a diagnostic criteria — but everyone fits on it in a different place.

Appreciate the individual.

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