Thursday, February 26, 2009

Working with Autism

How do you work with high-functioning autism? No, I’m not talking about working with people who have autism; I’m talking about being autistic and trying to work. Let me tell you, it’s not always easy to get the job done. Some days, it’s a breeze and you feel completely normal, like you’re no different from anyone else. Then there are all the other days. Those can range from wondering if you’re doing things the way a non-autistic would, to a complete disaster that has you in tears and incapable of a coherent thought.

So what do I do on the really bad days? Cry. Literally. Yes, I can fight the meltdown, and usually do. Who wants to sit around crying for seemingly no reason and suffer the completely draining emotional release a meltdown provides? Not me, that’s for sure. It’s hard to be a grown woman and cry like an upset toddler just because the stress of everyday life has piled up. But sometimes, there’s just no avoiding a meltdown.

To the uninitiated, a meltdown looks like a temper tantrum or a serious case of melodrama. Trust me, no one likes a meltdown. It’s emotionally taxing, physically exhausting, and just plain embarrassing to lose it like that. What causes a meltdown? An overloaded, stressed out nervous system. Sometimes, a meltdown can be avoided by getting out of the stressful situation, but not always. Sometimes, nothing can be done to avoid it.

What does all of this have to do with working? Well, in my case, when I reach the point of an impending meltdown, I can’t work at all. I can’t think; my mind goes to the “gray place,” a place where there are literally no thoughts. If I’m lucky enough to be able to think even a little, I still can’t talk. The words get stuck and just add to the stress I’m already feeling. The tiniest thing can push me over the edge.

Thankfully, I don’t reach that point often. If life’s been stressful, I may be distracted when I start working and have trouble concentrating, but I usually get absorbed in my work fairly quickly. And once I’m “in the zone,” I can work for hours without realizing that much time has passed. I do freelance work, which is perfect for me. Some days, I meet my daily goal. Other days, I can exceed that goal by two or three times.

Then there are the bad days. On those days, I’m lucky if I get any work done at all. Given my lack of brainpower when I’m either fighting off a meltdown or recovering from one, I usually just do my best to relax and get back to normal so I can work the next day. I’ve never missed a deadline, but I have been known to work at two in the morning because my sleep patterns can get pretty messed up when life gets wacky.

The moral of this post? Be patient with autistics, even those who may seem completely normal most of the time. We can be odd and don’t always react to things the way others think we should, but we can be very good at our jobs. As many people have pointed out, a lot of autistics have a great eye for tiny details, and we can be obsessive about getting things right. Yes, we sometimes have bad days and are completely useless when it comes to work, but the number of good days (for me, anyway) is much greater than the number of bad days.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Knitting and Learning

I’m so excited! I finally figured out how to knit something other than I-cord! My first official project is a sampler scarf that has five designs repeated for a total of ten pieces. I have one piece and most of another one done. It may be spring before I finish the scarf, but it’s such a great feeling to be able to understand and follow the instructions.

As I mentioned back in December, I learned to make I-cord. Last month, I learned how to make cables without a third needle. It involves slipping the stitches off the needle and holding them with my fingers while I do a little rearranging of stitches before I put them back on the needle. While it’s cool that I don’t need a third needle, I have a theory that for me, anyway, using the third needle might be easier.

Now I just need to get one, since all I have at the moment is a pair of single point needles. I didn’t see much point in investing in more than that, since I had no idea if I could figure out how to knit. But now that I’ve figured it out, I’d love to get some double pointed needles and a pair of circular needles. It’s amazing how many completely awesome free knitting patterns you can find on the internet.

There’s something about learning a new skill that still makes me as excited as when I finally mastered the multiplication table in school. Man, those nines were hard to learn! But I finally did it with a lot of practice. The same thing is true of knitting, cooking, writing, and countless other things. I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning, so hopefully I’ll still get to enjoy the thrill of learning something new when I’m ninety.

Keep on learning, no matter how old you are. It’s a great feeling and keeps your mind sharp.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

One Fish, Two Fish

Can you tell from the title of this post that I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks reading picture books? When my three-year-old niece brings me a book and asks me to read it to her, why, of course I have to do it.

I love Dr. Seuss, so having a young child around gives me a great excuse to read his work. Now, I'd like to read something other than The Cat in the Hat and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, but my niece loves those books. If I read them enough times, I just might end up having them memorized, the same way I memorized Green Eggs and Ham when her mama (one of my younger sisters) was little.

Last night, my niece wanted me to read a couple of books I hadn't read to her before. It was a relief to read something new, but I noticed a similarity between these two books and Dr. Seuss books: they rhyme. All the way through. My comment? "With all of these rhymes, I'm losing my minds." Lame, I know, but all the adults in the room cracked up because they've read the same books I have countless times. My niece also cracked up, but she had no idea what was so funny...which made the rest of us laugh harder.

I also learned that picture book authors can be a little warped, and the children the books are intended for never even realize it. One of the books I read had something to do with Farmer Brown and his birthday. All of the animals named something nice they could do for his birthday, and the turkey decided he could decorate Farmer Brown's Thanksgiving table. Reading that shortly after losing my mind due to rhyming books probably made it funnier than it actually was, but picture books can provide some great stress relief in the form of laughter.

One of the biggest things reading all of these picture books has done is give me a great appreciation for non-rhyming books written for people over the age of twelve.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kids and writing...

My three-year-old niece found me this morning wanting to watch "cah-doons." Of course, I had to oblige with some educational cartoons on PBS. She's positively adorable, and so is her three-week-old brother. I love the two of them, wouldn't trade time with them for anything, but having a preschooler and an infant in the house definitely make for some difficult writing.

Between giggles, cries, and a sweet little girl voice saying "love oo," it's a little hard to concentrate until after they're asleep. And then I have to visit with my sister and brother-in-law for a little while, so by the time I get to writing it's ten or eleven at night. Since I'm a night owl, it's not too big a problem, until eight in the morning when a little voice wants to "watch cah-doons."

As I write this, I'm being handed Legos while that sweet little voice tells me "You hep." She's not quite coordinated enough to put them together on her own yet, so I get to put them together for her under her instruction. In order to finish this post, I've made a deal with her. If she lets me finish typing this, I'll help her with the Legos.

The other fun part of all of this? The shih tzu I acquired several months ago. He gets along marvelously with my niece, licking fingers and toes and getting so excited when she giggles. He ignores my nephew, unless he's crying, and then the dog gives me a "fix it" look. No, the fun part is that my little shih tzu is getting clingy. He needs more hugs and attention than usual.

Of course, the dog is easy to write with. He lies beside me, I pet him between paragraphs, and we're both happy. Dogs are so easy to please.

Well, I'm off to put some Legos together. Have a great Tuesday, and for those of you getting snowed on like I am, enjoy the fluffy whiteness. It's beautiful.