Tossed the Bra at the Stop Light

Hubby gets in the van and asks, “Hon…why is there a bra in here?”

Well I thought after all these years that the answer would be obvious.  I took it off and tossed it! What else would it be doing in there?

I have been becoming increasing more sensitive these days.  I am not sure if it is because of my increasing discomfort during the pregnancy, though I am sure that has something to do with it.  As I am expanding, all of my clothing,and yes undergarments, are getting tighter and more uncomfortable by the minute.

I grabbed a maternity outfit out of a bin that I had stored from my last pregnancy, quickly shoved it on and ran out the door–late to my doctor’s appointment again.  I had not worn this particular outfit very often during my last pregnancy and now I remembered why.  The shirt collar was itching, the arms hole were uncomfortable (they must have shrunk damn it!), and I was already wiggling around and tugging on it before I hopped in the car.

As I drove up the road I fidgeted some more. I was becoming increasingly cranky and began growling at the other drivers on the road.  I cursed at a woman who rudely cut me off and growled even more loudly this time.

“Mom, are you ok?” Aspie Teen asked from the passenger seat.

“No, I’m cranky.” I said.  The bra must have shrunk too because now the lace was scratching (I thought I had pulled that tag in the back off already, apparently not.) and for some reason I felt like I had something metal stabbing me in the back–and I was having trouble taking deep breaths.

“Arrrgghh, that’s it!” I yelled when I pulled up to a red light. I unhooked the back of the damn thing, pulled the straps out the sides of my sleeves, and wiggled it down over my basketball belly.  Then I signed in relief and tossed the bra into the back seat!

Aspie Teen shook his head.

It was like magic. I was free and my mood began to improve for the rest of the ride to the doctor’s.  The appointment went by without a hitch, but I am sure that I would have been irritable and agrumentative about everything had I left that thing on to scratch, stab and choke at me.

Victoria can keep her satin, lace, and metal tangs–I was done!

So back to the orginal conversation…

“Hon, why is there a bra in here?”

“What? Oh…I tossed it at the stop light.”

Hubby shakes his head and rubs his temples.

Lesson learned: When I am irritable for no reason that I can pinpoint do a clothing and comfort check, it usually reveals something that is causing my sensitivities to roar and my emotions to be overloaded.

The Autistic College Student and Executive Dysfunction

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

My first semester at John Jay College of Criminal Justice went as smoothly as I could expect. I had no problems with the academics and had straight A’s across the board—easy peasy. But what I did not have was any college friends. For the most part I didn’t mind, I was living back at home after joining another family didn’t work out, and I worked two jobs. Life was busy, and that hid the fact that I was alone.

A full course load at John Jay only took up two weekdays. The remaining three I spent working as a bank teller. On the weekends I worked at catering hall as a cocktail waitress.  I was determined to not have to live back home for very long.

I had trouble staying focused and interested. I majored in Forensic Science, but Chemistry didn’t hold my interest.  So I transferred to St. John’s University in Staten Island where I took several English and creative writing and psychology classes.

Girls all around me where pledging for sororities.  They walked in groups, ate lunch together, and basically kept away from me. I only attracted the attention of boys, this act I already had down pat. Despite the attention I focused on my studies, but St. John’s only outlasted John Jay by one semester.

St. John’s was also a bigger challenge than John Jay. Not because of the academics, because I found the coursework to be more difficult at John Jay, but because the campus was larger. I had a recurrence of my first experience with junior high school and place-blindness.  The additional stress from constantly being lost and late for class contributed to my dropping out of college after a total of three semesters. My brain was perpetually overloaded.

Although, I managed to keep straight A’s during these semesters, it took so much work on my part that I was completely and utterly burned out. The course load and my growing responsibilities overcame me. I could not keep two thoughts together in a row in my mind.

Part of what made college so exhausting was my proneness to get lost in the details. One detail of a lesson, lecture, assignment, or test question would grab my focus and I would lose sight of the whole picture. If one word was wrong in a sentence or oddly placed, I was so consumed by that one small detail that I completely lost sight of what the text said making me have to go back and re-read the entire thing. I could not stay focused.

I suspect that my autism bubbled up to the surface highlighting many of the core deficits that those with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) share. I clearly had severe deficits with Theory of Mind, but college life made my weak central coherence and executive dysfunction noticeable.

Central coherence is the ability to focus on both details as well as wholes. People with autism appear to have a heightened focus on details rather than wholes, a cognitive style termed ‘weak central coherence’. Compounding the problem was my inability to complete tasks, stick with a plan, and work towards a long term goal. I struggled with the sequencing needed to complete the more complex tasks that working your way through college required—an example of executive dysfunction.

Executive function pertains to the way in which people monitor and control their thoughts and actions, which includes processes like working memory, planning, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Executive function is responsible for your skills and ability to goal, plan, sequence, prioritize, organize, initiate, inhibit, pace, shift, self-monitor, emotional control, and completing.

When a person with autism is experience executive dysfunction, they experience impairment or deficits in the higher-order processes that enable us to plan, sequence, initiate, and sustain our behaviors towards some goal, incorporating feedback and making adjustments along the way.  My constant failure to complete was evident in everything I tried to accomplish.  It spilled over from my school life, to my personal life, and right into my adult working life.

I had tremendous difficulty trying to figure out what was wrong with me, why I could never seem to finish anything I started.  Shifting activities was a challenge, and I was terrible at pacing myself.  I had two speeds—full speed ahead, and stop; there was never anything in between—all or nothing.

My father thought my going to college was stupid; that I was wasting my time and his money only to learn nonsense. He said all I needed was street smarts of which I had none, and college was not going to teach me that. Maybe he saw the dysfunction that I did not, or maybe he saw something that he could not describe. But maybe he could have described me as something other than—stupid.

Going to college was stupid; I was stupid; all my ideas, thoughts, and dreams were stupid, and something to be mocked, something to be laughed at—a joke.   A joke that I did not think it was funny.

Financial aid didn’t cover the additional tuition expenses that transferring to St. John’s University brought, so in addition to my aid, and loans, I needed my father to sign for a parent’s loan. He did for the first semester, whining and complaining how it was a waste of time. But after that he refused and if I wanted to continue the finances were my problem.

He never repaid that parent loan, and a few years later the IRS confiscated his income tax return to repay the debt. Would you believe my mother brought it up again—21 years later? Remarking how I wasted money on something I never finished.

Being a college failure, and now a drop-out, I was thrust into the adult working world.  Surely, with my intelligence, and bubbly smile I would be successful there.

School was a Minefield

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

 

“She was the last one in school, and the last one out. She made the whole class wait for her every day.” ~ Mom

I was late every day because my alien leaders, the ones that dropped me off at my mother’s house when I was born, didn’t give her an instruction manual—and she was not a fast learner. We continued to struggle over what I would wear, and what I would eat, which was usually nothing. I didn’t sleep well either so I was hard to wake in the morning, but much easier to wake than her.

School nights didn’t mean much in my house; my parents liked to party. My brother and I stayed in their bedroom to go to sleep while aunts, uncles and friends played loud music, drank, smoked, and played cards.

I tried to sleep curled up in a ball under the covers cupping my hands over my ears trying desperately to drown out the noise. The smell of cigarette smoke and beer made mye stomach sick and my eyes tear.

In the morning, navigating the sea of sleeping bodies sprawled out across the living room carpet surrounded by empty beer bottles, and half spilled over ashtrays brought on the vomit. Vomit brought on the screaming.

My screaming was because even then I hated to vomit; although I should have been used to it, and my mother’s screaming because now there was a mess to clean up. Now? There was a mess to begin with! Vomit was hard to get out of mustard-colored shag carpet.

Mornings sucked, school sucked, and we were late. At least I no longer needed to go see Mr. Hiler for a late pass; he was liar.

I was never in a rush; that much is true, but I certainly did not intentionally make the whole class late coming out of school every day—not intentionally.

The end of the school day was always the same.

“Pack your things, and line-up.”

Line-up I had down. I was number three; Toni was number one, Laura was number two, then me, and Shayne was number four. Line-up: check. It was the pack your things part, the part that needed to be done before line-up that was the problem.

My desk was a wreck. The small space inside the metal-framed desk reserved for books was jam packed with my things. Papers were shoved inside, crumbled and torn. Pencils fell to the floor when I pulled on something I thought I needed to pack up, and was followed by an avalanche of debris that scattered across the floor making my head spin.

The mess, the chaos, and the lack of things having their own place made me feel sick. My brain ceased to work; I ceased to respond. I just stood there staring at the mess that I had no idea how to begin to clean up.

“We are not leaving until Jeannie cleans up this mess and packs her things.”

I froze. There is that word again—things.

I made several attempts throughout the year to pack-up my things. All of them were wrong. I never arrived home with any of my textbooks, and couldn’t do my homework. I spend the nights crying because my homework wasn’t done, and the morning being screamed at because my homework wasn’t done.

Going to school without my homework meant writing, I must do my homework, twenty times on the blackboard. I longed for the end of the day; longed to be out of the clutches of the classroom.

“Jeannie, pack up your things,” the dreaded words seemed to echo throughout the room.

The whole class grumbled while I stood there staring blankly at my desk. They knew we were not leaving until I got my things together. The mother’s waiting outside would be angry and grumbling that everyone always had to wait for me.

“If someone doesn’t help Jeannie pack her things, we are going to stay here all day.” Ms. Montouri said.

I didn’t know what to pack.

Shayne, number four, rushed over to help. He helped me shove everything into my book bag, and slung it over his shoulder. Shayne wanted to go home.

From that day on Shayne helped me pack, or rather he packed my things for me. Actually he packed everything, and carried it because then it was heavy and I couldn’t lift it. I had to drag the book bag along, slowly.

When Shayne packed my book bag, I was able to do my homework. He packed the textbooks; I never did. The teacher told me to pack my things. The textbooks did not belong to me; they were not mine. They could never be my things; they were their things.

School work was easy, but navigating the school day without stepping on a landmine was not.

The Princess, Her Socks, and Her Late Pass

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

 

“You tried on ten pairs of socks every morning before deciding which pair you would wear” ~ Mom

I hate socks. I hate the way they feel on my feet, the way they bunch up in my shoes, and how the seams rub against my toes when I walk. Socks make me hot. When I’m overheated the first thing I need to do is rip them off—now.

To make matter worse my mother liked to buy thin nylon socks trimmed with lace. Not many materials irritate me more than scratchy lace. The thin nylon socks made my feet sweaty. My feet slid around inside my hard patent leather school shoes. They were not good shoes for a clumsy kindergartener.

When I finally found a pair of socks that I could wear, they usually did not match. Mom insisted that I just didn’t like any of the socks, but if that was the case then why did I need to try each pair on? Why did I need to see how they felt on my feet? Wouldn’t I have just flat out refused to put them on because I didn’t like them?

By the time I was dressed, and my three year old brother was in the carriage, we were rushing to make it to school on time.

“You could not make Jeannie move fast.” ~ Mom

Every morning the three of us set out to walk the five blocks to school. We headed up the avenue in the opposite direction of Grandma’s fabric store. We walked past the pork store, my favorite candy store, which was still closed and covered with a steel shutter, past the bagel store, the Becker’s carpet shop, and across 61st street with the crossing guard waving us onward.

“Jeannie you’re going to be late,” mom said. I had stopped short in front of the side entrance to the school. My mother turned to the right heading toward the schoolyard where the kindergarteners entered, and I turned left.

“You can still go in through the schoolyard,” mom said.

I said nothing, stayed the path, and marched around the corner heading for the front entrance; Mom followed.

I stepped inside the door just when the bell rang.

“Good Morning, Jeannie.” The woman’s voice said from the small desk that sat just to the left side of the entrance. I kept walking.

Mother was still wrestling my brother out of his carriage when I started climbing the towering steps. When I reached the first landing I stopped and stooped down.

“Hurry up, Jeannie. Your late,” the woman’s voice came from below.

“I have to fix my shoes.”

When I was satisfied with my adjustments, I continued my assent to the first floor, and marched to the main office.

I walked straight passed the ladies behind the desk, around the counter, past the school secretary, and into the principal’s office.

Mr. Hiler was a huge man; he towered over me, his head reaching almost to the ceiling when he stood up.

“Hello Jeannie,” he said walking out from behind his desk. He handed me a small piece of paper all ready and waiting for me. I hopped up into the seat in front of his desk.

“She still won’t come in through the school yard,” mother said. She was slightly out of breath from toting my brother up the stairs on her hip.

Mr. Hiler smiled; mother did not.

“Why won’t you come in through the schoolyard?” he asked.

“She just wants to be late, “mother said.

“I have to see Mr. Hiler for my late pass.”

“You wouldn’t need a late pass if you went in the other way,” mom argued.

“I need to see Mr. Hiler for my late pass!” I said in a slightly louder voice than before to make my point clearer. Mom’s face turned red. Why does her face turn that color?

“It’s alright, Jeannie can come to see me whenever she likes,” Mr. Hiler said. “Now off to class, Mrs. Divine is waiting for you.”

I smiled, and walked out of his office scowling at my mother as I went by. Why didn’t she understand? She knows I have to get my late pass.

To my mother, I was just being difficult; I wanted to do things my own way. I had a mind of my own and no-one was going to change it—ever.

This scene played itself over and over again. The leaves dried up, snow fell, flowers bloomed, and days changed. My patent leather shoes changed into snow boots, and my boots to sandals, but the routine never changed. I marched to the front entrance, up the stairs to the landing, fixed my shoes, walked into the office, ignored the ladies, and drifted into Mr. Hiler’s office to retrieve my late pass. Then, and only then, did I go to see Mrs. Divine, my kindergarten teacher.

Mr. Hiler’s words, Jeannie can come to see me whenever she likes, proved troublesome for years to come.

Looking back I now know my morning sock routine was due to tactile sensitivities. I needed to find a pair I could tolerate. I know this because I am the same today about my socks. But what about the rest of my routine? Was my pause to fix my shoes on the landing born from the socks and shoes being irritating? Why did I only fix them on that landing—every single day without deviation for the entire school year?

I could not stray from that routine. I suspect that it was the routine I adopted on the first day of school, and that was how every day of school thereafter had to go. Yes—I was late on my first day of kindergarten because of the rocks in my socks that no-one could find.

As an adult I find myself adhering to very similar patterns of behavior. If I unpack boxes from a move and put something away it is very difficult for me to move it. That becomes its place, and it always lives there even if it is not where I want it. It is important for me to unpack and arrange my things thoughtfully the first time because wherever I place the toaster is where it is going to stay. That initial placing, the initial routine becomes set in stone.

The Little Encyclopedia and the Stinky Cheese

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

Consuming Information and Hyperlexia

Before 1994, Asperger’s Syndrome did not exist as a diagnosis in the United States. Autism would not have even been considered if a child was verbal, least of all very verbal, or if a child was not intellectually challenged.

I was verbal, too verbal. I was smart, too smart for my own good.

Baseball stats were not the only bits of data that I consumed and stored. I consumed books. I memorized them, and don’t you dare read the storybook to me and think you will skip over anything. If I had already heard the book, you were in trouble.

My father used to read to me, but many times tried to skip over things thinking I wouldn’t know any better. After all, I couldn’t read—or, could I?

I would promptly point out where he missed along with what page the text appeared on. Long before I entered kindergarten I didn’t need him to read to my any longer. I taught myself to read.

I honestly could not figure out why we were “learning” to read in school. I already knew how to read; therefore, all the kids around me knew also. We were just wasting time.

“We thought we had a little genius on our hands,” my mother said, “but you were just a little bitch.”

What is hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is an ability to read way above what is expected for the child’s age, and is accompanied by a below average ability to comprehend spoken language. The hyperlexic child usually learns to speak through rote memory and heavy repetition. This child appears (and is) very intelligent, but often fails to comprehend the context of her words, or fails to comprehend their meanings and social implications.

I was not a quiet withdrawn child; in fact, I never shut up—ever. I rattled off my newly learned facts to anyone who would listen, and to those who wouldn’t. The interesting part though is I would only talk to adults. Children had nothing to contribute to the conversation, they thought I was odd. Sometimes they ran from me, or they ran off to play.

Adults on the other hand thought I was brilliant. They laughed at my little speeches, and thought it was cute when I recited lines from TV shows and music lyrics to answer their questions. Well—most of the time.

There were times when my tendency to quote others to convey my feels landed me in a heap of trouble. As “grown-up” as I sounded at almost four years old, I still had my bottle. It was something I was absolutely unwilling to give up. The doctors were not concerned, and actually encouraged my parents to allow me to have it as long as I wanted since I ate next to nothing.

“Milk is food,” Grandma said.

So why would I need to eat anything else. My father didn’t share this view.

When he insisted that I eat the dinner my mother prepared, I, as always, refused. This time he persisted.

“You are going to eat it,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because I said so, now eat it!” I had somehow made him angry, but not as angry as he made me. Maybe he shouldn’t have played so much Billy Joel music around me; he should have seen this coming.

“You cannot tell me what to do. It’s my life!” I said. “Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!”

I ran up the stairs, clutching my bottle in my hand.

My grandparents lived upstairs. Grandma says milk is food. I don’t need to eat my mother’s food, I have my own.

This time Grandma was on their side. She wanted me to eat. I sniffed the pasta, I sniffed the meatballs, and I sniffed the cheese and then I wretched.

“No! I don’t want your stinky cheese; I don’t need your stinky cheese; I have my bottle. Milk is food.”

That was the last time I saw that bottle, or any other ones. So for the next year I lived on peanut butter.

There were times when my speech and comprehension appeared advanced. It may have appeared to my parents that I was being obstinate and difficult—that I only wanted my way. But the truth is I had no idea the real implications and meanings behind the words I recited from the song, My Life. It just appeared that I applied it correctly at the time.

Since I was already able to read, I often used “scripts” to speak to people. I recited passages from books that seemed appropriate at the time. I sang song lyrics, or in this case, screamed song lyrics at others. I also repeated what I heard adults saying applying to my situations haphazardly. Because I was smart, everyone assumed that the words were my own, my thoughts, and that I knew exactly what I was saying. I am sure I did not.