Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Improving with age

Like good wine, I’m improving with age. For instance:

  • Mindfulness: Whenever I bend down or squat to retrieve something at or near ground level, I make a conscious sweep of the area to see what else I might be able to do while in that position.
  • Descending stairs: Once upon a time I used to descend stairs one step at a time. I’ve recently discovered bouncing down stairs one your behind is faster. I have to admit this skill is I don’t intentionally use due to the discomfort it causes, and I still start the descent with the intention of doing it one step at a time. But nevertheless, I often find I’m at the foot of the stairs earlier than expected.
  • Hearing: With my hearing aid turned on, I hear every sound. And I mean every sound, whether I want to or not. In particular the rustling of paper or plastic, and water from a tap or loo flushing sound like a jet airliner taking off.
  • Taste: I can now eat super spicy food that one I couldn’t tolerate. Now I can actually get to perspire profusely, turn bright read, and partially loose my voice and still enjoy a super hot Thai, Indonesian or Indian dish.
  • Forgetfulness: This is a skill that I have always been rather good at, especially with faces and names. But nowadays, I’m capable of forgetting almost anything.
  • Temperature sensitivity: when I was young, I was scarcely aware of changes in temperature. So much so that I more or less wore the same attire and footwear all year round. My improved sensitivity means that even a few degrees variance sees me looking to change my attire.
  • Awareness if pavement/footpath irregularity: Until I hit sixty, it was extremely unusual for me to notice uneven surfaces. I could even step over a curb and be almost unaware that I had. Now I notice almost every surface irregularity. The irregularity alarm (a sudden lurch forward to regain balance) is now triggered several time a day.
  • Understanding time: when I was young, I was under the mistaken impression that days were too short and years too long. Nowadays, I realise that days are much longer, and years are really very, very short.
  • Maturity: I used to associate growing up with growing old. Now I understand that they are unrelated. I wonder if I’ll ever truly grow up?
  • Wisdom: If only I had some of the wisdom I possess now when I was much younger…


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Aging and autism

Today the wife and I visited The Feilding Craft Market. I look forward to such events, but always with some trepidation. And as I age, the trepidation becomes more pronounced. I’ve always understood the risk of such events triggering a migraine – being indoors, they’re where:

  • it’s noisy –  the noises and voices of hundreds of people wafting in and out of range, swirling together, becoming single strands and then breaking apart into a myriad of sounds before disappearing again into the hubbub. Sort of like an audio fireworks display in close up. It takes a huge amount of concentration to identify one sound from another.

    Is that someone talking? To me? A stall holder starts a conversation with me and the words of a passing mother to her child become entangled into the sentences, rendering the stall holder’s message unintelligible. Which words belong to who? I force a smile and move on. Was I rude. I don’t look back.

  • the lighting is uncomfortable – at least at first. after a while it becomes unpleasant, and eventually almost unbearable. The colour of the artificial lighting is wrong. It’s too white. The shadows are wrong. Their edges too sharp. Objects project more than one shadow. Textures and surfaces become exaggerated in the light, more pronounced somehow and become unpleasant. Perhaps a bit like how some people react to fingernails being scraped across a chalkboard. I squint in a vain effort to lessen the effect of the assault.

  • the air is thick and stifling – I can feel it as I drag it in and out of my lungs. It’s heavy. The smells of human bodies mingle with soaps, aroma oils, leather, wood, salami, coffee, herbs and spices. One moment in pleasant combinations, the next in combination that induce sensations of nausea. A woman passes with perfume so sickly sweet, and the food products in the stall in front of me turn from appealing to disgusting in an instant. I move on quickly as knot forms in my stomach.

  • it’s full of chaos and movement – People in a constant state of movement, avoiding each other with apparent ease, except with me, where we both end up doing a semi synchronised dance before one or other of us manages to get sufficiently out of step to allow a passing maneuver. Even worse is trying to overtake someone moving in the same direction but at a slower pace. I swear overtaking on a busy highway is less stressful and can be accomplished quicker and with less effort.

    Each and every movement is a distraction. I keep loosing my place as I attempt to read an information poster. Movement in my peripheral vision constantly causes my eyes to turn towards it. I look back as the poster. Where was I? Half way down? Never mind, the distraction has caused me to forget not only where I was but what I have already read. Start from the beginning again. No idea why I wanted to read it anyway. I move on as the stall holder approaches.

  • I loose the wife – again and again. Some people might say the place is a sea of faces. To me it’s a sea of eyes and noses, mouths, chins and hair. Which combination belongs to the wife? She’s 35 cm (14 inches) shorter than I am, so can eliminate most, but of course she’s usually hidden behind someone else. I see a hand waving above the sea of hair. It’s attached to a sleeve of the right colour, so it’s probably her. United again – at least for a few stalls.

  • there’s no personal space – While I recognise that my personal space might be slightly considerably larger than most, it seems that everyone else is willing to forgo theirs at such events. I’m not. I stop to watch a demonstration. Someone moves in beside me. Their arm occasionally brushes against mine. Far too close. Then I sense someone close behind. Definitely closer than 60 cm (2 feet). Time for a quick escape.

I managed to hold it together. I even cracked a few jokes with the last stall holders as they packaged up the dozen craft beers the wife decided to buy on the way out. I’d practiced a few jokes specifically for circumstances that would likely occur at such an event, and apart for the one that I had to ad-lib slightly and ended by being tongue-tied, they appeared to have the intended effect.

One aspect of aging that is become more apparent is that stamina becomes less abundant. While I suspect events such as the craft market have always been just as stressful, my ability to endure them has become less. – particularly over the last few years. The almost two hours we spent there was absolutely exhausting, and I think if the wife had wanted to spend longer there, I would have had to leave her there by herself.

When we arrived home, the tremors began, my hands shaking violently as I struggled to pick up snack and a drink. I felt very light headed and it took an extreme conscious effort to complete the steps necessary make myself an espresso coffee. The coffee beans go into the grinder, not the cup. The machine won’t heat up unless it’s switched on. You get the picture.

Very quickly I felt very tired and decided to lie down for a short time while the bread maker kneaded the dough. I woke up almost six hours later and the dough had expanded to the limits of space available in the bread maker. What’s good is that the sleep aborted a pending migraine. What’s not so good is that it won’t do anything good for my sleep pattern, such as it is, nor for the quality of the bread that has just been baked.

For five decades I had assumed that everyone experienced crowded environments in much the same way as I do, but that for some reason other people were less affected by the experience. Somehow they managed to overlook or ignore the discomfort that I believed they too experienced.

Since my autism diagnosis, I have gradually come to the realisation, that most people experience such events very differently than I do. They don’t find crowded spaces disorienting. They enjoy the social interaction. The sights, sounds, smells and bustle are stimulating and enjoyable, not overwhelming and torturous. We might live in the same physical world, but the way I experience it in its entirety is very different. This is especially so when we consider the social environment that, as human beings, we all must share.

The medical profession consider autism a disorder, and perhaps it is, but I and a majority of autistics perceive it as a difference, and in time I hope we, in the neuro-diverse community, are proved right. After all, only fifty years ago, homosexuality was considered a disorder by the medical profession, and some sections of society still consider what comes naturally to most people is wrong for gays.

What is becoming clear to me is that many autistic traits that most neurotypical people perceive as deficits are perfectly normal in light of how autistic people experience the environment around us. In a social order designed by and specifically for the autistic community, a great many neurotypical traits would also appear to be deficits.

In societies such as that we have evolved in Aotearoa New Zealand, cultures have to some extent integrated, but more importantly they have become intermingled, retaining their distinctiveness, while becoming part of a larger whole. This provides a more vibrant, rich and diverse society where we learn to appreciate not only our similarities but also our differences.

It’s true that in order to make it work for all, the dominant Pākehā culture must make significant adjustments, and we are moving along that path, although not as fast as it should. Some find it very uncomfortable. Likewise I’m looking for adjustments within the dominant neurotypical culture to allow not only the neuro-divergent community to exist (and there are powerful influences trying to eliminate it), but to encourage it to prosper. In the end we’ll all be richer for it.


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Brain farts

I’m now at the age where very occasionally I have momentary lapses of memory. Whether one calls them senior moments or brain farts doesn’t really matter, but usually they are moments I can laugh at, even at the time they occur.

I haven’t got to the stage where I might end up (as in this clip) “I had hair growing out real thick but Lord it was too stiff to comb”, because I still have no need for either. You’ll have to watch the video clip to find out what Golf Brooks is referring to. But who knows what the future may hold…


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Aging sucks

“I didn’t mind getting old when I was young. It’s the being old now that’s getting to me.” – John Scalzi Old Man’s War, 2005

I agree with Scalzi. Well, in the mornings anyway. Once upon a time I could spring out of bed, but these days it’s a monumental effort to do anything but breathe, and even that takes some effort. My head pounds as though I had a great time imbibing to excess the night before, and when I finally get to my feet, the best I can do is shuffle, dragging my feet a few centimetres at a time across the floor. Every joint hurts when it is moved. I really do look like a very old man – much older than my actual chronological age.

No doubt this is due the the effect of aging, combined with being on the autism spectrum, suffering from chronic migraine, and the co-morbidity of these two conditions of numerous other ailments, ranging from Raynaud syndrome and restless legs syndrome to Neuroinflammation and other immune disorders. In the developed world, the life expectancy of people on the autism spectrum is around 20 years less than for neurotypicals, so I’m grateful to have exceeded that by around 10 years.

Some time late morning these symptoms start to disappear, most by themselves, and some, such as the migraine headache, by medication. And by early afternoon I feel as fit as I did at fifty. By early evening, I feel like a twenty year old (well, as best as I can recall being twenty), and come midnight, I find the world as amazing as I did as a child, although at that time of night, there’s no one to share it with.

That “reverse aging” during the day (along with and abnormal circadian rhythm) probably goes a long way to explain why I’m reluctant to go to bed at night, especially with the knowledge that when I do wake up, it will be as an old man again.

However as some unknown authors once quipped, “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many”, and “Growing old isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative”, I’ll suffer the mornings so long as I can enjoy the rest of the day.

If, what Gayla Reid wrote in All the Seas of the World is true –  “Old folks live on memory, young folk live on hope” – then I am still very young! It’s time to go and explore what’s left of 2018.