The Cast of Characters I Live With in 'Autismland'
Someone told me long ago that if you can laugh at it, it hasn’t defeated you. I have kept that thought in the back of my mind ever since and I added another: if I can write about it, it hasn’t defeated me either. So that’s one reason I write about it since learning I was on the autism spectrum at the end of 2016. So with that in mind, writing about it with a dash of humor, here’s some of the cast of characters I live with in Autismland, for better or worse.
She is definitely a daily character in Autismland. She is a quick change artist – a leg shaker, a rocker, floor pacer, jogger, and fidgeter. This character is a soother for my sensory overload. Good medicine for my anxiety. A character of repetitive motion that helps me focus. Ms. Stimfield is a friendly character I am thankful to have around.
I’m not so thankful for “The Meltdowner!” The monster of the cast. The ogre may arise over some small aggravation or arrive for no reason at all. At least the Meltdowner doesn’t come around every day. Its appearance raises the tension in my body to where it feels like an erupting volcano. After it leaves, I am as drained as I would be after being caught in the midst of a noise-filled crowd with little elbow room.
The Escape Artist
Another daily character who is the most mysterious member of the cast. If you came upon someone talking to themselves, pacing the floor and/or performing gestures indicating they are off in another world, you might be leery of the person. I do this but I make every effort of doing it without witnesses. I know if I could see myself on the video camera, my escapism would look strange even to me. No matter, it is a necessity for me. The escape artist has been around since childhood. It helps me cope in a world I don’t understand.
Ms. Chatterbox is a delightful character. She shows up when I’m having a one-on-one conversation about one of my limited list of topics I am interested in. If someone asks me about one of my passions/obsessions, Ms. Chatterbox will deliver a monologue. Since I don’t have too many conversations on a daily basis where the topic is down my alley, Ms. Chatterbox isn’t always around in Autismland. However, I do enjoy her appearance. Unlike the Meltdowner who leaves me feeling drained, she leaves me with a bounce of energy after chatting with someone who shows genuine interest in whatever I’m going on and on about.
To put it simply, Autismland is living alone surrounded by people. I’m most comfortable doing things on my own. I picture myself in public more as an observer than a participant. A worse punishment would be to be amidst people around the clock than to be in solitary confinement. I truly need to have Ms. Solitaire in my daily life such as when I come home from my school classroom assistant job. I love working with the kids and staff but the challenges of social interaction are exhausting. I need Ms. Solitaire to help keep The Meltdowner at bay, if possible. It is Ms. Solitaire who recharges my batteries.
This character makes me think of one word: annoyance. She is persistent in reminding me I have to finish whatever I start. Not only finish, but make sure it is perfect enough that I can walk away from it with nothing left undone. She is exhausting! On the other hand, I’ve gotten many kudos in various jobs I’ve held over my career thanks to being driven by Ms. Perfection.
This is the most useful one of the cast. It prompts me to organize things by color, alphabet, age, genre, etc. It isn’t a chore to organize; it’s a treat! I am in a delightful place when the Organizer is at work. The other day I secretly organized my Mom’s kitchen pantry. I did hers because all my stuff is organized and re-organized one too many times. Sometimes the Organizer goes overboard. Anyway, I bet she had cans of food she didn’t know she had on hand. Since she is neurotypical, I don’t think the pantry will stay in the order I put it in.
Another annoying character but not to the same degree as the Meltdowner. Ms. Sensitivity shows up when there are certain noises and smells that raise my anxiety. She is the reason I wear an eye mask at night to avoid the lights coming from my collection of electronic gadgets. She is the reason I have one of those gadgets, my “Alexa” home assistant, to play white noise music to drown out my heartbeat or the snoring coming from another room. Ms. Sensitivity doesn’t kick up a storm when the music playing is my music. But when it is someone else’s music, she will kick and I will feel like a cat whose tail got caught on a chair leg.
This character heavily endows me on a daily basis with doses of “frustration!” I can’t read a page without this character’s interference unless what I am reading is “spellbinding” to me. That seldom happens. Same with watching TV. The Distractor doesn’t want me to watch a TV program on my recliner with my hands folded in my lap. I need to have something to do while watching such as a crossword puzzle or fidgeting with my fidget spinner. Any TV program that can have my undivided attention without the Distractor… well, it seldom happens.
I’m sure I left some characters out, but this posting is long enough. There are characters wearing white hats and others wearing black. And, some are not entirely white or black just as autism itself. It isn’t entirely black or white either.
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Thinkstock photo by McIninch.