How a man on the Spectrum learns to live

Posts tagged ‘Senses’

The Rest is Still Unwritten

What will your story be?

What will your story be?

Let me ask you this: do you believe that each of us has the ability to write our own stories?  Does everyone deserve a chance to tell that story?  Well, based on my observations, some people have forgotten about this ability, or have never seen it in themselves.  Because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, I was so unsure about who I was or what my purpose was that I used to believe that what other people said about me was my entire story.  It took quite a while for me to learn that I was wrong.  The only person in control of my story is me; to believe that other people have it is to give my power away.

There’s a song that helped me remember this fact. It’s called “Unwritten”, sung by Natasha Bedingfield. I used to like it simply for its uplifting lyrics and melody, but the more I listened to it, the more I could hear a special message about the power of words. The chorus really drives home the meaning for me. “Feel the rain on your skin, no one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in. No one else, no one else can speak the words on your lips. Drench yourself in words unspoken, live your life with arms wide open! Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten“.

I never realized how much these words meant to me before. Let me put is this way: I have my own sensory interpretations of the outside world, and they’ve been affected in different ways by my Autism. It took me a long time to accept how sensitive I really am, but because of these abilities, I’ve learned to be more aware of the world around me and I’ve gained more control of my reactions to it. By gaining more awareness and control, I could develop the vocabulary I needed to create the story that only I knew how to write.

I’m learning to embrace the experiences that are positive, negative, and everything in between; whatever words that can be used to describe them will always come at lightning speed. I alone have the power to select the best words to go on the pages of my life story. Every day is a new chance to write a portion of that story; whatever will happen tomorrow, is unwritten. Until then, all I have is this one present moment.

I feel like we all have the power to determine what sort of destiny we’re aiming for in our stories. I am blessed to feel this way because I discovered that Autism is not a destiny, it’s a way of life that has been waiting to be written by someone with both talent and responsibility. I am quite grateful to have developed my talents in regular school, college, and in life, itself; this means that I have a responsibility to use them in a way that brings light to the Autism Community.

So, what kind of story do you want your life to be? Are you just learning to write it down, or is it second nature to you? You know, it doesn’t matter if you’re penmanship is the best (and believe me, as an Aspie, my penmanship leaves a lot to be desired); as long as you’ve got something to write about, you’ll find a way to make it real. All you can write about is now, the future is still unwritten.

Today’s musical inspiration is, of course, Natasha Bedingfield with “Unwritten”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7k0a5hYnSI

The Gift of Time

Every day is a gift.

Every day is a gift.

With many holidays approaching, I’m just like a lot of people wondering about what gifts they’re going to purchase for whom. Truthfully, I have a pretty short list of people I’m closest to, but I love feeling like it’s the quality of the relationships rather than quantity. Like many people, I’ve puzzled over what to purchase as gifts. However, thanks to my growing self-awareness and my advances in intuition and empathy, I’ve learned how to give something valuable to the people on my list. What I’ve learned to give them…is time. What do I mean? Well, I mean quality time and an opportunity to connect.

There’s no denying that today, we live in an age of distraction. Electronic devices, jobs, family, and friends all compete for our attention and drive so many of us to nervous insanity; this is nothing new to me. I believe that when I was very young, my heightened sensory perception, a common side-effect of Autism, led me to being more prone to distraction and subsequent frustration afterwards.

I could see the writing on the wall, and I knew something had to be done. I knew I was different before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at fifteen, and I wanted to explain myself, but I couldn’t. After my diagnosis, I chose not to believe that I was a “typical” case in any way. I was determined to overcome the challenges and find a way to use my gifts to embrace who I am at heart.

It hasn’t been easy or fast in coming. I had to learn a lot about patience and understanding before I gained the confidence to be present and happy with myself. Personally, I think multitasking is overrated and I couldn’t do it to save my life! By trusting the process, I learned that I was ahead of the curve when I gained a new coping skill for daily life and was better prepared when new technology and jobs made the world both more connected and more distracted. I trust such things as blogs and social media, but my life is not defined by them. For me, human connection is too precious to take for granted; I welcome all opportunities to test my ever-evolving social skills.

An added bonus I gained was an ability to be observant of people’s needs and desires and to take action with them when possible. This enabled me to buy gifts that were sincere and from my heart. I enjoy giving people a chance to reconnect and just be present with one another. Whatever the situation and relationship is, in my heart, I find a way to make it work. What matters most is that I made a difference in people’s lives and my greatest satisfaction is their gratitude and appreciation.

I’ve come a long way since my diagnosis. It’s not common for people on the Autism Spectrum to relate to “neuro-typicals” on a deep level. I have been blessed to be able to find a way to be socially competent while staying true to myself at the same time. To give something to a friend or family member that is from the heart is like being the vessel for a small blessing from God to reach the hands of someone in need. I’m blessed and grateful to give such precious gifts to those I love. For me, this is what the holiday spirit is all about.

“I Have Diverse Interests”

What is Autism?

To understand Autism, you must understand the diverse methods of approaching it.

If someone were to ask you “so what are your interests?” or “what are your hobbies?”, how would you respond?  If you had asked me the question years ago, I probably would have stumbled over my words and spoken in a half-hearted manner because I was still coming to terms with who I was after being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

It may come as no surprise that I would have responded that way.  It’s a pattern that occurs in people born on the Autism Spectrum; social skills are a very notable weakness, but the severity of such a handicap is different for every child.  Some people never evolve socially beyond a certain age.  There are others who perform adequately in a social environment and one would never know that the person had an Autism Spectrum Disorder unless they were told.  In the past few years, I would consider myself part of the latter.  I introduce myself to someone and if it feels right, I let them know that I have Asperger’s Syndrome.

If I was asked today what my hobbies and interests are, I would say with a certain confidence “well, I have diverse interests.”  Why?  Because for most of my life, I’ve found myself drifting between different hobbies, life paths and career choices.  Feeling like an outsider kept me from staying on one path for too long, but there have been different events that have enabled me to understand what brings me joy and satisfaction about positively contributing to the world.  To look at these events in retrospect is vindicating after what I’ve been through, and I’m grateful that I could find the wisdom to do so.  There are some “normal” people who never achieve that wisdom.

My core interest has always been music; I have spoken about this on two different occasions in the “Music” category.  I mentioned about first singing when I was four years old, and how I’ve been in different singing groups for most of my life.  I also love listening to music from different eras.  I’ve never been satisfied staying with one style, I always felt like I was missing out on something more.  That’s why my tastes are eclectic and why I enjoyed attending different music classes in college.

There was a time when I believed that I would be a famous singer who started out as a humble music librarian, but I steered away from that path and began pursuing my Literary degree.  I was no longer focused on a music career, but my creative, artistic spirit was as strong as ever.  At Cal State San Marcos, I remembered how much I enjoyed writing and when the time came for group projects I had no trouble finding partners.

I accepted the challenges of every class until I graduated.  When times became difficult, I only had to turn on my music collection and I would be taken out of worry and back into clarity.  I still hear a song in my head and I have to play it and sing along with my Ipod or on YouTube.  The rush of good vibes continues when I find another song with a similar feeling, rhythm, or key; all the music has to do is move me and I’m inspired.  The power of music fuels my creative energies and lives at the very core of my existence; it has saved my life and given me greater purpose.

I’ve also found strength and inspiration in different parts of geek-dom.  Yes, that’s right; I’m proud to admit that I am a convention-going, graphic novel-collecting fanboy.  Being a geek is a label I’ve learned to embrace as a trait I’m proud of.  It has also become an indelible part of me, just like my Asperger’s Syndrome.  In my post entitled “I Was Born This Way”, I spoke about the revelatory feeling I had when I went to San Diego Comic-Con for the first time.  I was so thrilled to feel like I belonged to something greater than myself that I experience a natural high every time I attend.

As I’ve expanded my awareness, I’ve discovered something interesting.  If you don’t know already, it’s common for people on the Autism Spectrum to have difficulty accepting changes in their environment and/or personal lives; I was no exception.  For all the love, support and understanding that I’ve received, I owe a debt of gratitude to my mother, all of my counselors, the understanding people in my family, and most recently, my father.  Their unwavering support is something I needed to deal with the changes in my life, and I couldn’t have done it without them.

What I discovered was that one of the best things I could do was visit other “geek” conventions to satisfy my tastes and put myself socially into the world.  The first time I branched out was in 2006, and it was more than just going to another convention.  I traveled to Phoenix, stayed in a hotel, and took care of my basic needs all on my own!  You’ve got to understand: I didn’t start driving ’til I was 21 and I always took trips with other people.  It may seem insignificant, but for me this was a big step in boosting my initiative and self-confidence.

I picked up on the feeling again back in 2011 when I discovered the San Diego Anime Convention.  On a whim, I bought a ticket and thoroughly enjoyed myself; so much so, that I attended the 3rd annual convention back in March of this year.  I’ve always enjoyed anime growing up; it taught me a lot of mature lessons at just the right time.

Back in May, I diversified my interests even further when I went to the 2nd Annual Gaslight Gathering Steampunk convention.  I had only begun taking an interest in Steampunk a few months ago, but I was so inspired that I went to Gaslight in May.  I am also exploring another Steampunk convention happening up in Long Beach in January; definitely will be something to write about.  I know that because I’ve gained more confidence and self-awareness I’m able to put myself in more social situations with the added assurance that my interests are shared by a group of people who are more than happy to accept me as one of their own.

All in all, my eclectic hobbies and interests are a reflection of the many ways I see the world.  Besides music and “geekdom”, I enjoy my blog, writing, and doing research for a novel.  I’m at a place right now where I’m aware and honest about all parts of me and I’m no longer afraid to live authentically.  Each of my interests is one piece of the puzzle that is me; I guess it’s no coincidence that the symbol of the Autism Awareness movement is a puzzle piece!

To Sense it All

Let me tell you about a practice I’ve done for several years now.  Even though it may seem mundane to some people, I take the time to remember how fortunate I am to have all five of my senses.  I’m grateful for the ability to possess them as well as perhaps a sixth sense that tunes me into the intangibles of life that can only be discerned by the human soul.

Now let me ask you; have you ever taken time to get in touch with your senses?  Have you ever wished you could forget something you sensed?  Could you endure being born with heightened senses bombarding your brain with massive sensory overload?

For me, the answers are all “yes”.  Dealing with differences in sensory perception is something constant for a person on the Autism Spectrum.  You may even be aware of the problems that parents of Aspie children have with their children being so sensitive to things like extreme temperatures and loud noises or bright lights.  My own problems were not as pronounced, but they did happen.

When I was very young, my most pronounced sensitivity was to loud sounds.  Most kids on the Spectrum have something that they are exclusively interested in; for me it was trains.  The only problem was that I was also afraid of the loud horn on a locomotive.  I would freak out when a train was leaving, but that’s not the only noise that used to upset me.

I’ve spoken to my parents about how their voices used to sound so loud when they got into discussions with each other or with me.  The truth is that most of the time, they were speaking in normal tones, even when they disagreed, but my hearing is hypersensitive and I perceived it as shouting.

I’ve also been told that I have a higher pain threshold.  I know my body best, and I feel that it boils down to an extra helping of willpower that I was born with.  I guess when you’re born with autism, you can learn to develop a thick skin somewhere in your life.  I’m not saying that I can control my nerve receptors, but when it comes right down to it, I can take the pain in certain situations.

As far as my sensory abilities today, I’ve learned to live with them after counseling.  By using different practices of prayer and meditation, I’ve been able control how I receive information in my brain and how I react to it.  I was also blessed to learn about several human interest stories involving loss of senses.

What I remember most is feeling sympathy for those who lost one or more of their senses in accidents; it made me look at them in a whole new way. The end result was a stronger gratitude for what I have, and a reconciliation with past traumatic events that were an assault on my senses.

Every so often I use a moment of calm to reflect and be grateful for the control and perception of my senses.  By doing so, I strengthen the links between information and memory.  What I know for sure is that this practice serves me well; I break it down this way.

To be able to have healthy, functioning eyes is a blessing.  I wear contact lenses daily; sometimes I choose to wear my wire-rim glasses.  Still, no matter what I use, I am grateful that I have sight, because there are those in this world who do not have it.  I am blessed to be a human who is visually capable.

When I smell something, it connects to my sense of well-being.  I recently learned that taste can be compromised when smell is affected.  Ah, the aromas of personal fragrances and food that I enjoy eating…I never stop counting this blessing.

To really taste, is something that may be forgotten in everyday life.  However, I’ve used my sense of taste to appreciate my food more as part of my lifelong mission to live a long life without health issues such as the ones that have plagued my family.  To really savor each individual flavor is what helps me to enjoy what I eat and consequently I need less of it to be nourished and satisfied.

Even though most of my sensory traumas were related to sound, hearing has proved to be the most integral part of my healing process.  To have great hearing, is a sense that I cannot live without.  Hearing has given me the ability to sing and listen to every note, every harmony, and every instrument in a song.  The sounds of music, and the way it moves me internally is something that has been a part of my life since I was born.  I am blessed to be able to use my hearing to listen to the music of the world, and I let the world know that I am listening.

I use my sense of touch to carefully measure out the textures of objects and discern what feelings they elicit from me.  It is a really complex system of nerves inside the human body, and the way it transmits those textures to the brain is always fascinating to me.  I put that feeling into practice every time I touch something out of need or curiosity.

I believe that a sixth sense really does exist.  To me, it’s almost like a combination of spirituality and my artistic feeling from having a background in the creative and performing arts.  I feel it every time I see what is created around me, and when I meet other artists in different fields.  A more recent example is the satisfaction I get every time I complete a blog post and publish it after careful editing.

To have the sensory abilities that I have today is a blessing.  The traumas of my past no longer have me wanting to forget what I witnessed or needing to numb myself with addictive behavior.  I recognize that every experience has meaning, even when it feels negative at first.  It has taken a long time for me to find this balance, but for someone on the Autism Spectrum, I believe that the feeling is worth the wait.