Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Curiosity and Routine in Autism

Although my mind never stops asking “what if”, “how”, and “why”, the one thing I’ve never asked myself is “why is my mind so active?”. Over on A Is For Aoife Not Autism, Aoife discusses the relationship between autism and curiosity. This post started as a comment on her blog, but it kind of grew until I realised it was no longer appropriate as a comment. Thank you Aoife for prompting me to add another (infrequent) post to my blog.

Since being diagnosed as an Aspie at the tender age of 60, I’ve often been asked what I collect, since this is supposedly a common autistic characteristic (I’m not so sure about that). Certainly as a child I was an avid stamp collector and I’ve had other intense short term interests over the years, but for a while I was stumped for an answer.

That was until I realised that I have been an avid collector of facts and interesting (often useless) information for as long as I can remember. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, but friends and family are always amazed at the depth of knowledge I possess about almost any topic. It’s probably why I was dubbed “the little professor” by many of my peers at primary school, and “the prof” in high school. Passionately curious marks me to a tee.

A recent example was when some friends dragged me along to view a restored steam locomotive going through its paces at the local railway yards. Although the restoration society’s premises were not open to the public on the day, we were invited on a tour of the site to see the work in progress. There were about a dozen locomotives in various stages of restoration, and in every case, I knew much more about the history of the locomotive class, and the purpose for which they were constructed than any of the thirty or so society members there. By the time we reached the third locomotive, I had taken over from our guide in relaying information about each locomotive, and a number of those on site, stopped what they were doing to follow what was now my guided tour, often asking questions that I would have otherwise assumed they knew. It’s rather nice to be able to “info dump” without being told to shut up!

This curiosity, in my case, masks much of what might otherwise become routine habit. Besides having absolutely no awareness of the passing of time, I’m always asking myself how, what, and why (but seldom when and almost never who).

Give_Way-128x128For example, whenever I’m driving somewhere, I seldom appear to take the same route twice. If I was given a dollar for every time I’ve been asked “Why are you going this way?”, I’d probably be a millionaire by now. So, why? Perhaps this way might be quicker, have less stop signs or give way  signs. Perhaps it might involve fewer right hand turns, or might have less traffic, or more roundabouts. Sometimes, it’s simply because I want to know what’s on that route. Until it’s tried, I’ll never know. And I really dislike not knowing.

No_Right_Turn-128x128And once I know, I’ll add it to my repertoire of routes, labelled with when and why that route is better and/or worse. And of course, routes can have sub-routes, each with  reasons why they might be more appropriate to use at certain times. Eventually, I’ll develop a complex set of rules as to why a particular route is best for a particular set of circumstances. To others, my variation in routes seems random, but I’m simply following the rules I have established, unless it’s to check whether those rules are still appropriate (and I have rules about how often to check), or whether there might yet be another route, or because I’m curious what I might find…

This applying of rules goes on in every walk of my life, but it’s through my insatiable curiosity that I have developed complex rules that others don’t see. They see only randomness instead. When I’m asked why I’ve taken a particular route, I could very easily say why, but it’s probably going to take some time to give the reason justice, and they’re likely to loose interest before I’ve finished, so instead I usually reply with “Why not?”

Strangely, my curiosity was mostly at the theoretical level, seldom at the practical level. Perhaps because I tended to be rather cautious, my curiosity seldom ended in “Oops!” moments, unlike my younger brother, who still today finds himself in the occasional one. Of course, many of his Oops moments in childhood, were the result of me posing a question I was unable to resolve in my head. Perhaps I might consider telling some of those stories some time in the future.

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