Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Sensory Overload

Okay, I figured it was time to tackle this one, since I've just returned from spending Thanksgiving with my family and my extended family is frequently the source of this problem for me. It's a tricky issue to discuss, since everyone experiences it differently, and therefore all of our problems vary somewhat.

My worst ones have always been physical contact and crowds, especially noisy crowds. (The exception of this is when I attend baseball games, because when I'm at a game I'm in a whole other world, one where I'm safe from everything.) Because of all of this, I, like many people on the spectrum, can only receive really tight hugs and don't like the feel of certain clothes. I also hate loud people - it rings in my ears.

Enter my paternal grandmother. She's one of the loudest people I know - you can always hear her over a crowd. She whistles a lot, yells at dinner instead of talks, and is generally pretty noisy. When we're having a holiday dinner, such as Thanksgiving, I usually have to remove myself from the table more than once.

This year, I actually knew why, and it made a huge difference for me. But knowing and understanding your own triggers for your sensory overloads doesn't mean they won't happen, and this is one I can't just avoid, since she's family. At most family holiday dinners, I get headaches and need space because of her and others - when she yells, everyone else starts yelling (hey, we're Italian). I invariably end up removing myself and finding a place where it's quieter just to relax and talk to family members one-on-one as they move about the house, which is a lot easier for me to handle. I still have to eat, though, so I do have to spend some time at the table. That time usually consists of me propping myself up on my hands and eating quickly, namely just because a) I'm hungry and b) too many people can be really overwhelming for me.

When we can't avoid our triggers, what should we do? My best options include bringing something comforting with me to the table, like a pad of paper to draw on, to keep me occupied. It also helps when the cats show up because we've got turkey - Mittens is omnipresent around the holidays because turkey's a favorite of hers. The cats are always something really comforting to me. You may be viewed as a little immature if you bring a comfort item to the table, but feel free to calmly explain what it's for - if it's your family, they should understand, and if they don't, then make sure you have a talk with them about that at some point.

Remember, the holidays are supposed to be fun, so make sure you can enjoy them, too!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Social failings and such...

I really hate not being understood.

Yesterday in class my phone randomly shut off. I always keep it on and set to vibrate just in case there's an emergency. I was fiddling with it whilst I was waiting for the rest of the class to finish up a quiz, trying to make sure it was still working, and I ended up being told off.

I hand-wrote the text of this post in my notes - I was sick to my stomach and almost tearing up, just because a professor thinks I was trying to disrespect him. It's things like that - little situations where I do something that is misconstrued - that make me really unsure of myself as a person.

I really have never been too good with making mistakes to begin with. When I was a kid, I would get so frustrated with myself that I would scream and cry. Much to my parents' dismay, I would even do this in school, which made things rough for me at Somerville Elementary. Naturally, this means I take social criticisms really hard, like this.

I never, ever intend to disrespect anybody. Things like this, however, are very hard for me to deal with, because I end up being perceived as a bad person, which I don't think I am. I just wish other people could see through my social mistakes and understand the person behind them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Reading: Aspergirls by Rudy Simone

I ordered Rudy Simone's book Aspergirls, and it got here last week. I can't wait to read it and see what it holds in store for me! I'd be reading it right now if I didn't have to read about the Confederacy's little-discussed use of African-American troops right now.

I've been skimming it a little bit here and there, though, because now when someone misunderstands me I can pull up a passage from the book and read it to them or have them read it, and suddenly I make more sense to people. It's been really useful in the few days I've owned it.

There are a few quotes that absolutely and completely define me in here that I've come across so far, especially this one:

"Being a goofy but intellectual tomboy is normal in our world."

That's me in a nutshell. That is exactly who I've been my entire life. It's so nice to see that somebody else has pointed that out and described it and put that feeling into words. I used to say to people that growing up, it was more like my younger brother had an older brother than an older sister, or that I was a straight female who acted like a stereotypical male. Now it finally feels normal and I'm not ashamed to be me. A lot of people thought I was weird because I wasn't 'girly' enough, and I never understood why they felt that way. It just made no sense whatsoever.

Thank you for this book, Rudy Simone. I can't wait to read it cover to cover.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Speak Up for Autism!

I think today is an appropriate day to stand up for autism. One side of the blogosphere is telling people to be silent: they think other people should stop social networking for the day to see what it's like to be us. As someone who relies on social networking to communicate, I'm not sure if denying access to the internet is the way to go when that's the easiest way for many autistic people to communicate. If you really wanted to get the point across, wouldn't you make real life interaction harder for yourself than online interaction to be more realistic in depicting our lives?

Therefore, I'm taking the opposite side of the movement and supporting Autism Shout Out today. We have voices - instead of silencing them to make a difference, let's use them! We're speaking - are you listening to us?

(I took a few seconds to draw today's doodle in class. I'm that determined for us to be heard!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


If you've been following my Twitter updates lately, you'll know that I went to Manhattan recently for a visit to a new middle school called Quest to Learn. The students there learn through games. Completely seriously. It was the first time I'd ever seen middle schoolers so excited to go to class and get to work. The thing that fascinated me, though, was the way they fostered acceptance and diversity in that school. It honestly almost made me cry.

This was something I doodled in my notes at the school as I visited that I thought was worth sharing. I had a conversation with a kid about COD (that's Call of Duty for you non-gamer people), Mario Kart 64, and Zelda. And honestly? He sounded just like me when I was his age. Since the kids at Q2L learn through a game format (their exam week is even called their 'Boss Levels'), the fact that I can speak gamer allowed me to actually get along well with the students and not be made fun of for once. When I was their age, my ability to speak serious gamer kind of ostracized me. Now, this kid and I were talking about how I entered a Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament in tenth grade. His only question: "Did you win?" I proudly told him that I (and Roy, the character I mentioned in my last post as being my first crush - sad, I know) did, in fact, win the whole thing. I've never been able to say that anywhere offline and be considered cool.

I also got the greatest reaction from a girl in a sixth grade history class when I told her I wanted to write historical graphic novels. She gave me the biggest smile and told me, "That is SO COOL!" I think maybe, just maybe, I'm going in the right direction with my life. I just...these kids inspired me beyond belief, and it really made me feel good about myself for a change. This school was a place where a kid like me would have thrived, and I wish I could've attended it growing up. There was something about it that just seemed like a perfect fit for a girl like me.

P.S. You really can't fault me for falling in love with a video game character if he's cute, okay?

Monday, October 11, 2010

...I don't get it.

Understanding the world around me can be really hard for me sometimes. Social rules, especially, really perplex me. Growing up, I didn't really fit in at all because I didn't understand why other girls did the things they did. I didn't even have a crush on a boy until seventh grade - and he was a video game character - so I couldn't even talk to them about that. They matured faster than I did.

I was definitely a tomboy as a kid (and still arguably am, if that term applies to adults these days). I grew up playing with boys because most of the girls around me didn't know why I liked dinosaurs and cars and astronomy and why I didn't want to play house with them or why I didn't want to pretend to be a mother to a doll. To be frank, I didn't need a doll - I had a kid brother to help take care of in real life, and I've never been in a state of cat-lessness before, so I had them to raise.

Middle school and I didn't get along too well. I was basically ostracized for being different, and a lot of kids teased me (and went so far as to call me ugly in some cases). That, forever, will be something I never understand. I was a nerd, definitely, and I was really smart and could memorize information after hearing it only once. But I couldn't fit in, so I was tossed aside and mocked for not being like the others.

I don't think I ever regained my confidence fully after middle school. I was made fun of in high school, too, but to a much lesser degree, but it got to the point where I started wearing my headphones in between classes just in case someone decided to try to be mean to me. I think the worst part was that no other students ever stood up for me.

I'm twenty-one years old now, and I'm a lot more confident than I was my first year here in college (I'm a senior now), but there's still some reservations I have about myself. I still don't think I'm the type of girl guys like to date, I still get closed off in public because I'm afraid of being automatically disliked for being myself, and I'm still reluctant to socialize with people who aren't really similar to me. It just...I don't feel comfortable with it because of all that teasing.

I've been thinking about this a lot more lately because Tyler Clementi was a graduate of my alma mater, Ridgewood High School. The more that poor, innocent boy crosses my mind, the more I wonder if that could have been me. Tyler was gay. I'm mildly autistic. We both were made fun of for things that weren't our fault - they were just part of who we were (and are).

I may not understand why people are so scared of people who are different from themselves, but what I do understand is that what makes us different is also what makes us individuals. If someone's making fun of you, make sure you let people know - nobody should be allowed to do that to you. It's not fair to you, and it shows how insecure they are as people, since if you have to boost your own self-esteem by knocking down someone else's, you must not be a confident person.

Nobody deserves that.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who are you?

Hey, there, people who I hope are reading this! I know I may seem sort of antisocial in real life (as you can probably tell by that face I'm making in the picture on the right), but I do like people. They just make me tired in person sometimes.

My name is Steph, and I'm a twenty-one year old college senior with Asperger's syndrome. I've realized recently that I'm in a pretty good position to help out other people like me. There are a lot of kids growing up on the autism spectrum and I want to help them realize that they can do anything they want to do, so I decided to start this blog! Basically, what I'm going to do is illustrate my life with Asperger's and share my experiences with all of you so you can see how I'm getting by and what my life is like as a young adult with the syndrome!

As you can probably tell by how I'm dressed in my first drawing, my 'special interest' is in baseball. I currently want to be a baseball historian, and I love the Red Sox and Mets and have a budding investment in the Orioles since they're the closest Major League team to my college. As I write this, actually, I'm watching the Rangers and the Rays playing in the ALDS at the Trop. Since I'm blessed with Asperger's, I'm sort of a walking baseball encyclopedia, and once I learn something about the game I don't forget it. My obsession with baseball occasionally confuses and frustrates other people trying to talk to me, which I'll definitely discuss on this blog at some point at length.

My other passions are writing and drawing (as this blog's existence is proof of), history (specifically military history and, of course, baseball history), manga/anime, driving my car, reading, and my four cats, Mittens, Gimli, Tony and Murphy. You'll get to know all of my cats soon enough on this blog, as I talk about them a lot - they're some of my best friends. I also have a great family and some really supportive friends, and they're what keep me going!

So I hope you enjoy this blog - my goal is to show you that we kids on the autism spectrum can do anything! I believe in all of you, and I hope you believe in yourselves, too!