Holidays and families

I love my family. We’re a great big mess of extended people with all sorts of strange traditions. For a long time, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have great friends at school because I always had cousins and sisters that I could talk to and be weird with and not be lonely. And now that we’ve all moved out to college and don’t live within 2 hours of each other, Christmas is often the only time that we can actually all be together at once. 
But holidays are still loud and crowded and not always sensory-friendly. But they also have some other great things going for them. 
Tradition.

AKA mega-routines

I love holiday traditions and our family has buckets of holiday traditions. The same foods every year, the same seating, the same place. We have the same time frames for everything. 
And admittedly, sometimes they got a bit people-busy. There are always a few random relatives and you always have to hug them. (But luckily a lot of them were from different countries where they air-kiss you on the cheeks instead, which is much less space-invasive if you have to interact with strangers/people who have maybe met you when you were a small child but aren’t positive because there were a lot of us and babies are all pretty similar.) And remember their names. And remember their faces (now that’s the tricky part). And it can get loud. 
But there was also always so many food options that I didn’t have to eat the ones I didn’t want. (And then a couple hours later, there was an entire table of desserts!) There were people to talk to and play with that didn’t require much difficulty. With cousins you didn’t really have to worry about social rules. You could be as delightfully weird as you wanted and spend the whole night talking only in quotes and not be alone. Because they would be quoting right along.
And also there were always rooms or places outside that were quiet. You could sit and read (and there always new books to read at Christmas) or just sit somewhere alone if you needed to*. You could go away from the main crowd to have small conversations if large conversations were too big.

And even the conversations… Very very very little small talk. We talked about new laws and current events and discussions on the death penalty. They were all conversations about SOMETHING. Something logical.

(Or sometimes they were stories, but they were all interesting stories about my grandparents’ lives (they are very interesting people). And I love stories.)

(Or horses. We talk about horses a lot. I am good at talking about horses. So are several of our other cousins. Sometimes we would just name horse breeds at each other. Although, now we tend towards quoting LOTR at each other instead.)

And this is why I love my family and I love holidays so much.

So have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! (and all and any holidays, or if you don’t celebrate any in particular, I hope you are just having a generally lovely day.) (I hope you are happy and enjoying yourself wherever you are, whoever you are with (or enjoying the nice quietness of being by yourself), and eating delicious food.)

Be happy!

*and it really is perfectly normal. Like I said my family definitely has autistic tendencies so it actually took me a while to realize that taking a break somewhere delightfully quiet is not something that is acceptable in general society… For years and years I probably had read at least one book during any party I went to and didn’t understand why people thought it was unusual that I brought a book with me. (It was for when I took my break!)
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Clouds

I saw
Different types and colors and shades of clouds all pasted together in the sky like a poorly made collage
Fogs and swirls and cumulous
All different styles
Sketches and watercolors and magazine photographs
dramatic oil painting clouds at home in a windswept sea storm scape
And bits of blue sky torn out then glued on
With rough white ripped edges still there
Twisters of dust reaching up to the top
            Strings holding the clouds
to the mountains
to the brown grass ground
(the flambulated owl goes boo-boot)
If I could organize the sky
If I could legislate the clouds
I would make a rule for only one artist a day
            No halfdone collages
No last minute work
No blank spots where nothing peeks through
Perfect perfection and order and law
Wispy clouds on wispy days
Fluffy clouds on fluffy days
Thunder and lightning for dramatic effect
But I can’t
So on those unruly scattered cloud days
I just close my eyes
and don’t look at the sky

Roommate Rantings

Things I have only had moderate success with: getting along with roommates.

I’ve always lived with sisters, so I’m not quite sure the difference. I think because maybe you are allowed to yell at sisters and sometimes hit them and getting mad at them is okay. Because I certainly had problems with my sisters sometimes. But those were usually minor incidences. But this roommate issue isn’t because I am used to having my own room. Because I shared one for large portions of my life.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out well at all. Right now, it is ok. Not the worst roommate arrangement I have had, but not at all ideal.

I’ve lived with my best friend for a summer, and that worked out wonderfully. We each had our own rooms, and a nice big kitchen and baked lots of delicious things and watched a lot of cooking shows and House Hunters and Say Yes to The Dress together. She was an awesome roommate (I maybe not so much, admittedly, but we were still super good friends after, too.)

For one summer program, I lived in a quad in a dorm room with 3 other girls. My roommate was quiet and nice and very religious and gone a lot. That worked out pretty well. We sometimes hung out and she taught me how to make bread and nothing bad particularly happened. One of the other girls in the other room was especially awesome so I hung out with her more. (And then my friend who I lived with earlier was also on campus, so I spent a lot of time with her and that group of people.)

My freshman year of college roommate was also ok. We didn’t really talk much, because she had a long distance boyfriend, but we coexisted peacefully in the same space.

Sophomore and junior year roommate was bad. Same girl. I knew it would be bad and not work out but I couldn’t figure out how to say no because there wasn’t anyone else who would have lived with her probably. And junior year I had a high enough rank on the room-pick-list, I could have gotten a single, but she couldn’t have, so that would have also been mean. Sophomore year was ok, with drifting into bad. Like when she broke up with her boyfriend of less than a week and then ate all my birthday ice cream. And then it got absolutely horrible junior year. Part of it probably wasn’t her fault, admittedly. I think both of our lives were falling apart in different ways and two people who have lost control of their lives don’t really make good living partners.

Anyway, and now there is now.

Currently, I need to find a way to tell my roommate that sometimes I just want to not talk to anyone and it isn’t that I don’t like her, it is just that I am home and home is my quiet, not-talking-to-people place.

But I haven’t told her I’m autistic yet.
Because I’ve only told a handful of people.
Because it is sort of still a processing-thinking-secret.

And it’s tricky too, because she is one of my friends from college, I guess, so I think she wants to hang out. And her program is so much less aggressively social than mine is. Or really, social at all. So I get my social fill up at school and at work because everyone is very friendly and talks and chats a lot (about fun stuff, too! Like science and food! So I enjoy it.) And then I want home to be a quiet place. But she comes home from school lonely because the people in her program don’t really talk much and wants to talk and hang out.

And I don’t want to be mean but I just need to hide.
And also sometimes she is really annoying a lot but I feel mean and petty when I say that, but really yes basically it is true.

But sometimes I am fine.

But I also don’t want to be mean and tell her I don’t actually like hanging out with her because that is mean and what if my friends told me that and are actually only pretending to like me because they are being nice, so I should be nice also. (And also because this lease is through August.) Or tell her that she is boring and talks to her family too much and too loudly. Badbadbadbad.

As soon as this lease is up, I am getting a new apartment. One where it is just me.

So that I can go in the kitchen when I come home tired and hungry. Where I don’t have to hide in my room when I need to eat. But now, I hide until I know it is safe to leave. And I can’t make food that takes a long time, even though I like cooking, because the kitchen isn’t safe. I have no snacks because I can’t make any. So I’ve been making meals at 1:00 after she is asleep and baking things then, because that is when I know it is safe.

Because right now my room is the only safe place. Because people might talk to me everywhere else (And by people, I mean my single solitary roommate.)

And it is a bad day-week-time-period, so I am NOT okay with that. But you aren’t ALLOWED to yell at people to GO AWAY DON’T TALK TO ME when it is also their kitchen.

And she has an unpredictable schedule so I never know when I am coming home if she is going to be there or not. So when I plan my evening on my walk home based on the usual pattern of her being at home or not being at home, and then I walk in the door and she is there when I thought I would be alone, it breaks. I just sink and escape to my room as soon as I can and stay hidden as long as I can.

I can’t know until I have checked out the apartment and the rooms if it is safe to finally be sad if I am sad or tired if I am tired. Because that is only safe if I am alone (or with a very few specific people that absolutely does not include roommate).

Going home is stressful because I have to escape through the apartment to get to safety. 
Everything is bad.
Sometimes it is ok, but right now everything is bad.
Life is overwhelming right now.

My panic chart

So the reason I wrote this was because I have a panic flowchart taped to the inside of my closet door.  (My roommate saw it and was being stupid about it.) It is big and beautiful (and now it is a lot more complete, because boyfriend helped me come up with a lot more things to add to it).

I haven’t actually panicked yet since I’ve had it completed (which is a GOOD thing, but hopefully I will find it helpful then). It even has steps for how to do things (because, for example, sometimes I know I am tired and need to go to sleep and can’t figure out how to. So it tells me.) The only problem is that it is a really giant piece of paper (it came in a box wrapped up around something) so it isn’t the most portable coping device. But I have a picture, and also now that I have the steps, I can memorize them.
Anyway, I’m super proud of it, so I am going to share it for everyone here.
this is a panic flowchart. It has all the things I am supposed to do when I panic. In a flowchart so that I can understand it.

You look like a stick figure to me (when I think about you in my brain)

I’ve talked a lot about how absolutely horrible I am at facial recognition and people-recognition in general.

I was “meeting” someone today at work/in-class (AKA someone I have talked to before in class but didn’t really know). But after a conversation about 23 and me and genotyping ourselves and understanding risk alleles and genome information with two boys I hadn’t gotten around to recognizing, I realized I should probably figure out their names. (It also was week 7 of the not-particularly-large class we have together. So I asked for their names (and they thought I was named Georgia, so it was all good, because they didn’t know my name, other).

I gave them my general spiel about being horrible at faces, so that they wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t recognize their names. And then one of them made a joke about how that would be difficult, since they were both Asian.

To me, they looked very different, of course. One of them had glasses. One of them had flat hair and one of them had spiky hair. Both of them did have black hair, admittedly. So I pointed this out. And they were amused by me pointing out the difference. And I was amused by how they thought they looked similar because they clearly looked different to me.

See, they look nothing alike.

And then there was a brief discussion with other people about how annoying it is when people say people look the same just because they are Asian, which was one which I wasn’t really contributing to, because of stuff. And which also isn’t completely relevant anymore to what I am writing about. 
The relevant take-away from this conversation (besides I made some cool new friends), is that my conceptualization of faces and people is about as detailed as a stick figure can be. Which is exceptionally convenient for this post since that is about the same level as my drawing skills.
There are a few traits that I can pick up on and use to initially identify people.
Height, hair length, color and texture, if you wear glasses. As you can probably tell, most of this is based on your hair. Hair is very important to me. (Sometime I can pick up skin color, but to a much lesser extent than many people think seems reasonable.*)That is what I have to go on, unless you have some other striking physical characteristic, like a Harry Potter scar on your face. Sometimes, I can go with general body structure and build, but that is a lot more inconsistent and unreliable for me, so I tend not to worry about that too much.
And height is really only useful if you are on one end or the other of the spectrum. Otherwise, it isn’t something I really notice. And even then, I might not notice. I did ask one of my TAs if they were the tall one or the short one once (in my defense, it was very late at night and I was mostly asleep and sitting in this extremely comfortable chair.) but apparently there is a large height difference between 5’9 and 6’4 and I should be able to tell that when only one of the two people is there…
That is why I have so much trouble with boys. In general, boys have less variation in hair. Also, because their hair is often shorter than girls, it is a lot harder to tell the different textures from it. Colors also seem to be less distinct in shorter hair than in longer hair, so there seems to be less shades of color to choose from.  Also, depending on how frequently they cut their hair, the length can fluctuate a lot.
Although I suppose maybe I should say men, since some of these people are balding. Which is generally something that happens to adult men.

But, conveniently for me, sometimes there is also this convenient thing called facial hair**, which it is now possible for (some) of my peers to obtain. This can be both helpful and horrible in individual people determination. It definitely gives a lot more options for determining faces. BUT often, it quickly disappears (and sometimes, even quickly appears, now that people are getting older). And then you have a whole new face to learn, and that can be an issue.
I’ve always been better at identifying girls. [Although I will have to say there is one exception here. Girls with straight, extremely blond hair. I have never in my life been able to differentiate between them. They all look essentially identical to me, which has been problematic as I have encountered a lot of them who apparently do not all look the same and do like when you know who they are (especially when you are on a week-long school trip with two of them) and get upset when you get their names wrong.*** ] Generally, since girls have longer hair, there are more length variations. It is also possible to observe the different textures. There also seems to be more varieties of colors. (Also, I just find girls less threatening to talk to, although I am getting better at this one.)
Also, hairstyles are really tricky to differentiate on stick figures, but there are definitely more than I have shown here. It is also nice because it is a lot easier to tell curly from wavy from straight hair and such with long hair, and so that makes my life easier.
And then sometimes people dye their hair pink and blue, like my sister did once, and then it is extremely easy to recognize them.
As I get to know you over time, of course, I analyze you and your movement. I learn patterns and other ways to recognize you. The way you walk, the way your voice sounds. Common clothes that you wear. I may even be able to recognize you out of context, or figure you out if something about you changes. Not always, as I still will forget boyfriend or my mom or my sisters and things like that, but much less frequently.
But still, even when I picture boyfriend in my head, I have a stick figure’s worth of information about him. I know he has brown short hair and is tall. I have a lot of his movements and patterns and voices that go into my idea of people when I think of them. But when I think of people in my head, I do not think of their faces. 
It’s one of the reasons I love books so much. They name the characters. Sure, they give descriptions, but you can tag the characters as names with traits. You don’t need to remember the face, because they will give you the name. You can spend your time filling the character with ideas and thoughts and backstory and context instead. When I read, I see the story happening. But I don’t need to see the faces. I can just see the people and the landscape and the words, and it is beautiful.
~~~
* For me, skin color is a trait close to the usefulness of height. I will be able to pick up very broad sections, but nothing extremely specific. There are a few extremely broad categories that I can pick up on, but a lot of people are intermediate shades and so it is a lot less useful. It is also hard to find a good metaphor to describe it without slipping into possibly offensive wording, so I’ve hidden it down here in the footnotes. 
**Although I have personal aesthetic objections to a large portion of people who have facial hair, it really is none of my business what they look like and can be useful, so I really shouldn’t complain. And I probably wouldn’t if boyfriend didn’t occasionally attempt to also grow facial hair, which is an endeavor I am opposed to.
***Which I do understand. It is probably confusing when you spend a whole week with someone and they basically think two different people who haven’t really met before are the same person.

My family is echolalic

I read this post by Musings of An Aspie on echolalia.

But really, you should READ IT. Because it is so thorough and awesome.

And I came to the conclusion that my whole family is echolalic.

We quote.

And also, I am totally, completely, 100% echolalic also. Well, maybe not 100% because that implies I am only echolalic which is not quite accurate. I also speak not echolalically as well.

Here’s one quote from the post that explains how we talk.

Autistic people often develop their own collection of stock phrases–called neologisms. These have specific meaning for the speaker but may not mean much to anyone else.

So, this is me. Neologisms.

It has a word.

“Do you know the muffin man?”
“Your face is made of cheese.”

Now my family and close friends know these. They know that I don’t really care about the muffin man (or think that they have a face made of cheese–honestly I have no idea where that one even came from). So these just sort of fill the conversation.

Everyone does them, too. Different ones, sometimes. Not just me.

And reading signs. (That one is more me, admittedly. But I read signs I pass. All the time. Or boxes or things or everything possible with words just because. Because words. Because sometimes I want to talk but I can’t figure out exactly how or what, so I just start saying things. I read signs. I repeat things. I quote.)

And sometimes it is just because it fits. We are passing the school for above-average children. Must read the sign. It’s a rule.

Neologisms.

That’s how my family rolls.

We’ve had visitors before who have looked at us at the end of a conversation or a visit and explained that even though they knew all the words we were saying, they had absolutely no idea what we were talking about. (One of them described our family as a sort of friendly cult.)

My family is echolalic.

And it is beautiful.

They said they couldn’t tell…

They said they couldn’t tell if I was autistic
because I was raised in a good environment
and went to a small school
and no birthday parties
a handful of very carefully chosen friends

middle school is tough for everyone

So yes I am so so so infinitely glad that my parents are wonderful
and that they raised me so well
but I’m confused how I can be so autistic now

And I’m good at repressing
And secrets
And hiding

(I never told anyone things that were wrong)
(I knew they were wrong, so why did I need to tell them?)

And still–with no official paper
I feel like I can’t really tell
They have no reason to believe me

That I’m more than just an introvert

autistic autistic autistic

Now it is just an unofficial secret

I found a new world
Full of new people and vocabulary

stimming
echolalia
Selective mutism
executive dysfunction

Everytime I struggle
I wonder if there was a reason they couldn’t tell
and maybe I’m not trying hard enough

life is hard for everyone

How can they tell
that everyone isn’t autistic?