The Aspie Stone: A Metaphor

Tub of WaterTake a large, round tub, say, the size of one of those Victoria’s Secret posters in the mall, and fill it with tap water. Take a small pebble of about 1″ in diameter and drop it in the middle of the tub. Some waves will be created but not so much that they careen off the edge of the tub. In fact, in this example, the waves only go about 1/4th to 1/3rd of the way towards the edge. Now, pick up the same sized stone, except this stone is the Aspie Stone. It pretty much looks the same and weighs the same as the first stone, the NT stone. However, when you drop the Aspie Stone into the tub, the waves created not only travels to the edge of the tub but some water even spills out. How can this happen? It’s what inside the Aspie Stone that makes his reaction to the normal environment, the water, so explosive. In other words, handle the Aspie Stone with great care. You don’t know what it’s capable of.

Asperger’s & the Overprotective Brain

Danger, Will Robinson!DSM-V removed the classification of Asperger’s and placed it at the “light” end of the Autism spectrum. There has been some talk, however, that Asperger’s and Autism are actually two distinct conditions supported also by MRIs and so on. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the “overprotective” nature of the Asperger’s brain and see that it does differ somewhat from the Autistic model. Where the Asperger’s brain is like a shield, the Autistic one almost seems to sabotage its owner. (For an in-depth, scholarly view of the amygdala and the relevance detection theory of autism: an evolutionary perspective, click this link: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00894/full

I liken a lot of Asperger’s behavior to stone age development. Some aspies don’t make eye contact. This makes sense because eye contact is often seen as a sign of aggression. Aspies tend to think in terms of black & white. This is helpful in figuring out who’s on your side and who means harm. There can be no grey area with this simplistic concept as it can mean life or death. Collecting and categorizing things really comes in handy during the winter months when foraging for food is difficult because of the ice and snow. No matter how much I try to “turn off” my extreme, scream-at-the-owner-till-he’s-shocked/spider sense fear of dogs, when I inadvertently encounter one on the street, that’s exactly what my instant reaction is while I quickly look for a tree to fly up in to. My survival instincts kick in with such brute force that I momentarily have no control, none zero zip. Paying particular attention to detail and patterns comes in handy when you’re staring at a familiar section of the forest and all seems okay to you because things are still and quiet. Any disturbance, however slight, could mean a snake in the grass or a predator in the bushes and it’ll suddenly be time to haul ass. Fight or flight. By comparison I’ve seen Autistic kids who come into supermarkets and stay in one fixed position. Deadly if they’re in the forest. Aspies are sometimes overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds in a market, a sign that it’s better to avoid this conflagration of sensations just in case it means you harm.

I wonder if our stone age ancestors were smaller than their social cousins? Given that we’re the ones who get bullied we were probably smaller and weaker back then. I wouldn’t be surprised. That would probably make us more like collectors than hunters. Makes sense. Aspies can be anxious and timid to the point that they think everyone is trying to hurt them; best, then, to avoid people just in case they’re carrying a big stick. And I suppose having extra-sensitive vision and hearing also comes in handy for sensing those relatively quiet predator claws on the forest floor as well as seeing enemies from a distance. Shoot, everything’s trying to eat you. No wonder our lizard brain/limbic system/amygdala is always in overdrive. It’s no wonder why one of the ways we try to calm ourselves is stimming (rocking back and forth, bouncing our legs, etc). The hyper vigilance is like the robot on the TV show “Lost In Space.” In almost every episode it warns, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” Can’t really socialize, or develop social skills, if you think everything’s trying to eat you, right? Danger, indeed.

It’s interesting to lie around now at my age looking back at my life . My behaviours are becoming crystal clear. Here are a few probabilities why: I stayed single all my life unlike my brothers, sister and cousins because I was “supposed” to. Maybe I separated from the ancient group because of a natural land formation or disaster, or my tribe was killed by another tribe and I was forced to learn to survive alone. If I had seen another tribe in the distance it was best to avoid them because chances are they wouldn’t be sympathetic to my plight and try to eat me. I wouldn’t have been able to talk my way out of it because they wouldn’t understand me anyway. Even though we looked the same (just with different pelts) and smelt the same I didn’t recognize their secret grunts, the main one being Og had laid a trap for me and was waiting patiently for me to fall into it.

I also spent some of my solitary time living  in the woods of a mountain., specifically, the Catskills. Personally, I don’t think my mountain man days are over given the huge amount of time I’ve been homeless and un-domiciled. My long drives from Rhode Island to Los Angeles, Nashville to Seattle, New York City to Montreal, New York to Iowa and other trips were “supposed” to happen. My great, great, great etc grandfather from 50,000 years ago was forced to become itinerant because of famine and the tribe had to eat the runt of the litter which would have been, of course, him.

My intense fascination with the grid layout of a city, it’s transportation routes, and it’s landmarks was of similar importance to grandpa because one direction had a cannibalistic tribe that tried to eat him six months before, one direction had a hidden cave in which to sleep because those neck of the woods were bereft of Neanderthal-eating tigers. In another direction laid an undiscovered mangrove of various edible fruit, hopefully, that was ,just waiting for grandpa to eat. He had to remember the circuitous routes back to areas that offered him great protection so a formation of trees, a stream, fallen logs, specific vines or flowers were important. He must’ve also stayed in the woods so long that he barely saw the sun, making him very sensitive to its light on those rare occasions he found himself in a clearing running from a black saber-tooth bear. I’m being allegorical, of course, but the sentiments remain the same.

I ate the same things, and only those things, for months on end. One month it’ll only be frozen pizza, another month just frozen Chinese food (where my blood pressure would, of course, spike to stroke levels). There were also months of just clam chowder and months of just Chef Boyardee’s spaghetti and meat balls. At one point I had 150 cans of them stacked in a corner of my living room. When I bought it the clerk from the supermarket asked me if I was preparing for a zombie holocaust. I said no, but really, that could actually happen given the destructiveness, violence, aggression and nuclear weapons of man.

Wearing the same thing every day, just like Neanderthal grandpa, just makes sense. What he could change into was of no consequence, especially with a cannibalistic tribe just a few clicks behind him. He thought Og’s fascination with his own multiple fur pelt was ridiculous and excessive even though it made him a hit in his tribe. Collecting and categorizing acorns and nuts was more fun anyway given the harshness of the winters and the various tastes of the nuts. Plus, grandpa had nothing else to occupy his time in the cave anyway because the wheel wasn’t invented yet.

Or maybe he was just garden variety crazy.

Information Overload

data_overloadOne of the curses, if you will, of autism is information, or sensory, overload. That’s when bright lights make your eyes water, multiple sounds from various sources at a mall can give you a splitting headache, or idle chatter in a moving vehicle can make the autistic driver crash. If I step into the dining room downstairs, and it’s crowded, I’ll back away and haul ass as quickly as possible. This “thing” where my brain is constantly surveying the area or analyzing people in order to understand them can lead to information overload. I don’t talk to people so much as unravel them leaf by life like they were lettuce and I’m trying to reach the core. It’d be nice to switch that curiosity off but it’s impossible. No wonder a lot of folks with Asperger’s isolate themselves. The world can be overwhelming and is probably best avoided.

I’ve been sober for about a year and a month now. For 35 years I drank like a fish. Not only did drinking allow me to socialize and relax, it also “turned down” the world. With my senses dull I can face situations I’d normally have difficulty approaching if I was sober. The lights, sounds and smells of a nursing home or hospital can wreck havoc with someone prone to information overload. No wonder that, as soon as I left work, I made a beeline to the liquor store. I’d unscrew the cold, sweltering bottle and gulp down as much as I can. The liquid courage now coursing through me worked wonders. It’s the best invention ever. Of course, it led to other damaging things, so there was some bad mixed in with the good. These days I wear sunglasses when I leave this room. People question why I wear them all the time. I simply remove them and show them my reddened eyes. They understand right away. Yesterday this guy got pissed at me because I reached over and grabbed his bowl of food to read what was written along the side. I didn’t know it was his because it was about two feet away from the cup of soup he was consuming at the time. Sorry, pal. My bad. I can’t turn my curiosity off. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s how I try to make sense of the world. I can’t help it.