From Joy of Autism

A collection of posts reflecting on the happy elements in my life.

Night of the Living Stim

Night of the Living Stim

No, I haven’t been bitten by a zombie, but rather this my state after suppressing stims!

“Stims,” autistic slang for “self-stimulating behavior,” is a misnomer.  I am not “stimulating” myself. Before I rock or spin or sing I am overstimulated to begin with!

“Self-stimulating behavior” is the sort of label scientists give behaviors they don’t fully understand. You could file it away next to “Refrigerator Mothers” or embrace its irony and make a night of it.

So here I am, two weeks late, celebrating the “Night of the Living Stim,” a delightful event where stims are celebrated by their owners. I hope sharing my experience opens your eyes and makes you smile. Perhaps you might try stimming yourself!

Stim-planeWhen I stim, I am an airplane.

I inhale deeply and stretch as if to embrace the world. Thus positioned, I am ready for flaps or perhaps a foray of wild spins.  Exaltations of “woo” complete my whirling celebration of toads, cookies, or wilderness walks. I stim most often when I am happy.

Stims represent many things to me.

My stims are a dance. I don’t need a beat or bass line to keep internal time. Emotion is the pulse that swells the tide inside my mind.  I am over-excitable and celebratory in a lively, visual way.

My stims are transcendent. I go where shamans go; to a self-generated euphoria of thought so intense it becomes movement. The divine is sublimated into circular motion and sinuous courses.

My stims are a weapon. At times, intense anxiety pushes my body to flee or fight, with no enemy in sight. I duck and dodge, rock and swing to placate primitive instinct. I battle ferociously when I sway like a boat.

What is stimming like?

Picture yourself at the edge of a cliff, breathing in the fear of a plummeting descent.  Whoosh! You have been pushed over and find yourself zinging toward the earth. Without thought, you flail your limbs and to your surprise, you are uplifted by wings you never knew you had. The rhythm of beating wings is your stim, your tool to save yourself from rocky chasms or to hoist yourself heavenwards.

Remember this when you see us soar.

Soar

Please visit the event follow-up for a summary of Night of the Living Stim articles by autistics and allies.

Night of the Living Stim developed by:

Monkey Pliers   @monkeypliers  
Renee Salas  @srsalas13
 
Ben Forshaw  @bjforshaw
 
Forgotten  @TwinsMa
 
Bridget Allen  @ItsBridgetsWord
 
lynnesoraya  @LynneSoraya

Bloggers supporting the event:

 Asperger’s / Autism Toolbox
S.R. Salas (blog) aka Renee Salas (on Facebook)
Snakedancing
Shaping Clay
Married, With Aspergers
Paleopix
One Quarter Mama

A Day of Equality, A Day of Pride

Victory Day

Today is a man-on-the-moon day—the sort of spectacular day my withered self will reflect back on with national pride and sweet nostalgia. This day of victory and progressive celebration brings to mind  my mother’s exaltation over the moon landing in 1969. She still tears up to speak of it.

As science celebrated its milestone then, let us celebrate this landmark of civil rights with equal joy and respect. Here’s to present and future tears!

In Praise of Fathers on the Autism Spectrum

Father's Day 2013

Today I spoke to my Dad for three minutes on the telephone to wish him a happy Father’s Day. Dad is notoriously uncomfortable on the phone, so we keep conversations short. It does not matter. Dad knows I love him. We can cram a world full of emotion into the tiniest sentence.

This brief exchange compelled me to examine fatherhood on the autism spectrum.

My Dad worked incredibly hard to support our family. Daily, he coped with anxiety and insomnia. To fit in with his co-workers he memorized jokes, stories and scripts.  He stuck to lists and written instructions for organization and daily living. Long before Asperger’s syndrome diagnoses reached our family, he handled life with aplomb.

fathers day 2
Dad, singing at a campfire.

I am deeply proud of my father.  Please permit me to generalize wonderful things about my dad to all fathers on the autism spectrum:

  1. They share with you. I once asked my Dad how to tie a knot. Heh. For the next three weeks we explored the history of knot making. Not only did dad personally show me how to tie dozens of fancy, complicated knots, but he gave their full background and a stack of illustrated books to study.
  2.  They will be honest with you. At six I asked my dad if Santa was real. A pained expression crossed his face. He said, “The spirit of Christmas is real.” I pressed, “So Santa’s not real?” He shook his head, “Santa is an idea. He represents the giving spirit of Christmas.”  Over thirty years have passed, but I remember the moment vividly. He respected me enough to tell the truth.
  3. Their enthusiasm is contagious. When my Dad talks about his favorite subjects, he glows. You not only see his incredible joy, but it washed over you. He loves spelunking and mineralogy. Ten minutes with him and you will dream about sparkling crystals and mysterious caves
  4. They are loyal.  Public school distressed me. Every four months or so, I crashed and missed three or four weeks straight. The school system so harassed my mother over absenteeism, that  a school administration meeting was scheduled so my father could attend. Wild-eyed and fearsome, Dad defended me so staunchly that the issue was resolved for the remainder of my school days.
  5. They will understand you. My Dad always had great compassion for my war with anxiety. When I was 25, I dropped out of college for the fifth time. Heartbroken, I felt like an utter failure. He took my hand and told me it would be okay. He promised me that as a family we would find a way to finish school and select an agreeable career.  In the ten years it took me to get my degree, he never begrudged my tuition. He accepted my struggles long before my Asperger’s diagnosis gave a name to my difficulties.

A Quiet Week Celebrates 1000 Ausome Things

1000 Ausome Things Title
Our progress as parents arises from positivity. We use words like “differences” and “strengths.” We look for coping skills and strategies. We tone it down, tune it up, and take life 15 minutes at a time. This makes our family strong.

But we are greedy.

We want to change the world.

So we join the flourishing tribes of allies, autists, and kin striving to eradicate outdated myths.

I would like to share autism positivity from three perspectives of the autism spectrum:

  • As the mother of an autistic child.
  • As the daughter of a father with Asperger’s syndrome.
  • As an autistic adult.

Here are some delightful slices of my life:
 
1000 Ausome Things 1

Tyoma

At six years old, Tyoma is a remarkable child. Most are struck by his intellect and vocabulary. Tyoma loves projects.  He embraces each one with unrelenting enthusiasm and meticulous design.  You can find him building LED displays or creating fonts on Fontstruct.  A language lover, Tyoma has taught himself Japanese hiragana and he can even read you  highlights from your Toyota manual. He is quirky in a charming, innocent fashion; endearing himself with unusual observations and out-of-the-box thinking.
 
1000 Ausome Things 2

Dad

Dad has always been a collector and an adventurer. Before marrying my Mom in the 60s, he split his time between working on his Ph.D.  (mathematics!) and collecting minerals. He even took a job in the Alaskan goldmines so he could add a few specific specimens to his treasury. After marrying mom, Dad became a collector of photographs. Their website hosts images from their trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos Islands, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and many other destinations.
 
1000 Ausome Things 3

Me

I blush to pat myself on the back, so I asked my husband to name my most positive characteristic.  Without hesitation, said “empathy.” I laughed. Empathy is a characteristic not often associated with autism.  He is correct, however. Autism boosts my empathy. Emotional regulation issues allow me to experience emotions intensely—I am a sensitive person. Processing the emotional states of others is hard work for me. Body language, facial expressions, and cues other than spoken words are continuously monitored.  This combination of effort and sensitivity opens my heart. I care how people feel and I long to nurture, soothe, and support.

Imaginary Friendships

Imaginary Friendships

The chimney sweepers are here to replace an unidentifiable rusting metal thing on our roof.

As they work, they sound as if they are clamoring in an enormous cabinet of bucket-sized baking pans. Chimneys must be flimsier than I realized.

The chimney trumpets out the workers every  word with tinny clarity. I can hear them across the house.

The younger of the two wonders why his girlfriend won’t text him back.  His partner grunts agreement and gives the young man advice he will not follow.  I suspect this scenario has played out before.

Although I met the duo before, I can’t recall their faces. Curiously, the young man is the tallest person I ever encountered. His bearded partner is on the short side. I imagine they are teased over the height disparity.

I like them. They arrived on time and did not ring the doorbell to chat with me (as my husband requested!). Their merry banter vibrates the walls, while a pudgy boom box tinkles out the sort of pop music my son loves.

I see myself bringing them coffee and treats. They entertain me with chimney sweeping stories and we decide to put up holiday lights with their tall ladder since they have time to kill. We enjoy a jolly afternoon.

This fleeting fantasy cheers me, even though I am actually hiding from them in my bedroom.

I have always created friendly little episodes with unknown people. This private pleasure may not be typical, but it fulfills me. I feel connected by observing people, not by interacting with them.

Notebooks detailing such fictional episodes line the walls of my art room.

I peep out the window as they leave. For such a huge stature, the young man is surprisingly agile and handles the ladders like glittery batons. His partner scribbles the invoice and consults electronic devices while tugging his ear.

I mentally wish them well, picturing how our October  Christmas lights would delight my family.