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Autism: sensitivities, behaviors

June 17, 2015

I never liked fluorescent lights, but in my 30s, I had a job in an office where the ceiling was lower than usual, and I noticed that I could see the lights flickering. It drove me nuts. Also, no one else could see it, which made me wonder if I was losing my mind. But it definitely stressed me out enough that there were days that I snapped at people who asked me questions [while I was covering the secretary’s lunch break]. And then I got reprimanded for being unfriendly.

Eventually, I got moved into a newly-constructed “office” that used to be a closet. It had a door, which I kept closed all the time (even though I was supposed to leave it ajar for some reason). I didn’t like that there were no windows (except on the door), but otherwise, it was wonderful — blessedly quiet. I could turn off one set of fluorescent lights, keeping it dim. If I wanted to listen to the radio, I didn’t even have to use headphones. I could just concentrate on my work. Heavenly.

And then some higher up noticed that Mea has an office to herself, but she’s way too low in rank for that to be allowed. So someone above me was moved into my office. It was supposed to be okay/not a big deal, because MA is an introvert! Like you! Somehow, MA was an introvert who talked nonstop. I had to get headphones, just to hear myself think [even though headphones weren’t actually allowed]. She wanted all the lights on at all times. She kept showing me photos of her kid, who was the only ugly baby I’ve ever seen.

I could be really impatient with MA, especially when she interfered with my concentration, which was a daily issue. She was not my boss or in my chain of command. We were not friendly; our jobs overlapped not at all. But since she outranked me, I got reprimanded again.

= = =

I eventually left that job, then returned after about 19 months.

They didn’t really have a job for me to do, and my old office was no longer available. So… I got put in a corner of the copy room. People were coming in and out all day, making copies. The machines were really loud.

And… the floor above the copy room was under construction, so there were often jackhammers, and then debris would fall on my head and my desk.

I kept complaining; nothing was ever done about it.

Actually not having set job duties was kind of cool because I taught myself how to build databases.

They turned out not to be useful to anyone but me, but they were fun to do. I learned a lot, in my usual self-directed way.

But that second stint, I wasn’t valued by my boss or anyone else. I quit after 8 very long months.


I’ve always fidgeted, constantly.

From my mother, I learned to “self-soothe” by chewing on my fingernails, and the nailbeds of my fingers and thumbs. And scratch myself. [She’d scratch herself until she bled. Then she’d scratch the scabs until they got infected. So she had scars.] I mostly managed to not scratch myself to that degree, but heaven help me if I got mosquito bites, or rashes, because the itching was almost impossible for me to resist making it worse. (The week I had chicken pox was torture.)

I chew the inside of my mouth, I pick at the skin on my lips, then pull it off. I pick at my ears. I rub my nose, my chin, my forehead. I fiddle with my eyeglasses.

I twirl my hair. I scratch my head a lot. I “comb” through my hair with my fingers, which has the effect of me shedding hairs constantly.

In school, I used to chew on pencils all the time. I sucked on my metal necklace chains.

Even when I was adult, I would buy multi-packs of gum, then chew each piece, one after the other, over the course of a day, or maybe a few hours.

When I’m sitting, my feet are generally always moving.

Standing, I learned from my father to rise up on the balls of my feet and bounce. (I don’t think anyone else in our family does it.)

I shift sitting or reclining positions a lot, unless I’m absorbed in reading or some other task where I’m concentrating hard (and then I don’t move at all, until after body parts start to hurt).

= = =

As an adult, I remember many instances of talking to a medically-savvy friend about health problems. She would ask something like, “Where does it hurt, exactly? How does it hurt?”, and not only would I usually not know, I couldn’t figure out how she thought I should know.

Talking to doctors is worse of course.

= = =

I read the stuff about how autistic people hate change, and love routines, but I had trouble thinking of examples from my own life until I remembered Dr. Mini.

As a young child, my mother started taking me to a pediatrician who was a college chum of my father’s. He was calm, and kind, and as I got older and it was age-appropriate, he would talk to me alone (insisting my mother wait outside, even though she wanted to invade my privacy all the time). I liked him so much that I kept going to him way past the time that everyone else starts seeing an internist. He finally made me stop seeing him when I turned 25.

Just now, I remembered, I liked the wallpaper in all of the exam rooms. I would just stare at it, finding new details every time. I didn’t get bored with it; it was soothing.

= = =

I have to re-evaluate, now, my mother not taking us kids to the dentist regularly. I think the first dentist I remember seeing regularly was when I was 7, maybe? And yeah, I hated going. I hated brushing my teeth, and did not do so every day until I was probably a teenager.

I don’t remember anyone even talking about flossing. I do remember my father saying, “I just have bad teeth. They run in our family.”

My mouth doesn’t open very wide, possibly because of my TMJ, so when I did try flossing as an adult, I couldn’t get my hand inside my mouth, so I couldn’t figure out how it could work. It took me years and years to come up with a technique that I can manage.

As much as I hated drilling for cavities and all that (and I got a lot of cavities, of course), the shot of Novocaine was actually the worst part, because it went on and on and on. Once, at the dentist as a tween, it went on so long that I grabbed the needle and tried to pull it out of my mouth. The dentist was upset with me. He yelled at me, then at my mother. She got upset, too, and screamed at me.

I’ve come up with all sorts of ways to endure dentist appointments.

= = =

I self-soothe by counting. When I went on walks as a kid, I would count steps. I would estimate how many steps would be required to reach my destination, then compute the percentage of steps remaining, as I went.

I did the same kind of thing with speed and mileage, once I began driving. Long drives to and from Purdue were livened up by calculating my average speed over the last 20 miles, the first 1/3 of the trip, between here and that landmark I can see in the distance. Anything to keep from dozing off at the monotony of central Indiana cornfields.

I count time, when I have to endure something painful. (I spent years counting during dentist appointments.) I estimate what the length will likely be, then I count the seconds going forward. But I vary the speed that I count, so that I can frequently take stock of what percentage of time should be left — except that it’s less! (Which is satisfying)

Also at the dentist, I count how many teeth they’ve cleaned. Not 1–32 because I don’t think I can feel all my teeth individually; I do it by eighths: top right front & top left front; top left back & top right back; bottom right front & bottom left front; bottom left back & bottom right back. But there’s procedures to count too: inspecting; scraping and flossing; polishing paste. Then the fluoride rinse, which I have to count for because not choking on it or swallowing it while I’m swishing for 1 minute (or is it 2?) is difficult.

I collect coins in jars. Counting them, especially pennies (because I put them in rolls before taking them to the bank), is very soothing. Also, I like looking at the different designs of penny backs. When I get the really old ones, then I look at the dates and think of things that happened that year. I have a few pennies I’ve had for years and years.

There were definitely aspects of working as a bank teller that I enjoyed: all those numbers! And actual money to handle! My accuracy on balancing out my drawer was extremely high. I also learned how to noodle around looking for stuff in the bank’s (rudimentary) databases, my first exposure to computers (CRTs in those days), in that first teller job. I had such an aptitude for it that my boss gave me his password so I could learn stuff and then teach it to him.

(Banking itself was boring. And bankers are generally the most boring people on earth. But, oh, the numbers!! The data!!)

= = =

I need silence and complete darkness to sleep. Spouse is disturbed by tiny noises in the apartment, so he has a white-noise machine, set to Ocean, that he listens to before sleeping. That just encourages me even more to go to bed at a different time than him. Also, he likes to read e-books to help him get in the mood for sleeping, and the ghostly light of the screen just drives me nuts.

{Oh look, I stayed up all night again. I didn’t intend it, but it does happen.}

In 2011, I started going for “midnight walks” during the summer because it was too hot during the day for me to go out much at all, and walks are my main form of exercise. I see lots more critters and hardly any humans at midnight (or 1 a.m. or 2:30, or whenever). It’s quiet. Since it’s dark, my senses don’t overwhelm. Cooler air carries smells and sounds (of critters) better, so I can practice identifying whose calls or rustles I hear. Walking helps me think. I often dance when I’m walking, as well as speak aloud to myself, and no humans around means no humans thinking maybe I’m crazy.

= = =

I’ll have to try this topic again, as I clearly have a lot to say on it.

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