Power(less) of Observation

Photo by Chris Hunkeler via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.


Is it an Asperger’s thing to have very poor observation skills? Or is it just a me thing?

Among my friends and family, I am notoriously bad at observation. I don’t see things that are right in front of my face. I am a terrible housekeeper, because I simply do not see what needs to be done. I have certain tasks that I do as part of my routine, but if a problem develops outside of those areas, I probably won’t notice unless someone else points it out. Shower curtain coming off its rings? I’m oblivious. Cat’s shredded a hole in something? No clue. Junk mail piling up? What? Where?

Now if something’s starting to smell bad, I will be the first to be aware of it. I am extremely sensitive to odors. But visual observation? Forget it.

This is one reason I was often very unfashionable when I was younger (being poor also didn’t help, of course). I didn’t notice what other people were wearing, so I didn’t notice that what I was wearing was so different until other people told me. I remember circa 1988, my “frenemy” kneeling down on the floor in front of me, vertically folding and safety-pinning my uncool, too-wide jean bottoms so they could be stuffed into the slouch socks she was lending me. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have even known they were a problem. At least, not until I went out and someone else threatened to beat me up for looking like a freak, which did happen on occasion.

Now I deliberately seek out information online about what’s in fashion so I can try not to look like an idiot. Adults don’t beat up other adults for wearing the wrong clothes, thank goodness, but I’ve been criticized so much that I’ve learned to be concerned about such things. Still, if it were left to my own observation skills, I would be lost. I’m so glad the internet came along within my lifetime.

I’m still confused about some things though. For example, I’ve been reading things lately that seem to suggest you can now choose the cut of jeans/pants you prefer, whether skinny, straight, boot cut, or flared, without being considered unfashionable. Is this true? If so, wouldn’t this be the first time in the history of women’s jeans that this is the case? Surely there must currently still be a preferred cut? It’s not boot cut, is it? I look horrid in both boot cut and flared, so it would be just my luck if it were one of those again.

Oh well, I kind of hate jeans anyway. They’re so uncomfortable. To tell you the truth, when it comes to pants (“trousers” for any British readers) I would stick with leggings forever if I thought I could get away with it. Only thick, pants-quality leggings though, and only with a long top. I’m not into showing my business. For comfort, I really prefer wearing skirts and dresses to any kind of pants though, but they’re not suitable for the long, harsh winters here (it’s snowing like crazy as we speak — so much for spring). Yet another reason I wish we could move somewhere milder. But I digress.

Back to the topic of observation, I think there are two things that contribute to my problems in this area. Out in public, I am usually overstimulated and overwhelmed to the point where everything is a blur. And at home, I am usually living inside my head, thinking my own thoughts, so I don’t notice my surroundings.

I am barely even present in this world most of the time. I sometimes feel like I wasn’t made for it, I wasn’t physically ready for it when I came prematurely out of my mother’s womb, and I really just have no clue how to live in it. It’s all just too much for me.


The Skeleton in My Closet – Part 2

Photo made with Photofunia.

WARNING: This post may be triggering for those who have experienced sexual assault.

This is continued from my previous post.

When I was 14, after my dad left and things had gotten really awful at home, things were also turning ugly at school.

I was being threatened and bullied, in some cases by girls who had previously been my friends. They would send me notes telling me to watch my back (at the time, I took things literally and didn’t actually know what that term meant; I had to ask somebody), telling me they hated me, telling me they were going to kick my ass.

They would follow me down the hallways, yelling insults. One girl told me I was so weird and so ugly that no one would ever love me. Those words rang in my head for years afterwards.

Two of the bullies who had previously been my friends have since gotten in touch with me via Facebook and apologized. I asked one of them, “Can you tell me what I did that made everyone turn on me? I was going through a hard time so I know I probably did something, but I’ve never been able to figure out what.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” she replied. “I just wasn’t a very nice person back then.” I appreciate her taking full responsibility, but I still think it’s funny how it happened at the same time as all the awful stuff at home. Was it just that I was weak then, and they sensed it?

Meanwhile, I was sharing a locker with another girl who repeatedly stole my things and on one occasion, found the notebook I wrote poetry in and read it aloud to a group of kids who had gathered in the hallway, mostly boys. I approached as this was taking place, and I got mocked and ridiculed and taunted with my own emotionally penned words.

I had previously been an honour roll student, but because of things that were going on at home I wasn’t getting my homework done and I wasn’t able to concentrate in class, so when new concepts were introduced, especially in math class, they went right over my head. My math teacher said she was available for extra help at lunch time, but as I had previously gotten good grades and even been in the math club, she didn’t understand what my problem was. “Just keep practicing,” she said. “Practice makes perfect.” But I couldn’t practice, because I didn’t even know where to begin, and she wouldn’t give me the one-on-one instruction I needed to grasp it.

Outside of school, one Saturday while walking through a park, an older boy I recognized from school but had never spoken to before walked toward me, looking at me with a smile on his face. I was very needy for any kind of positive interaction at that point, so I stopped and waited for him as he approached, happy that someone friendly-looking was coming to talk to me. The problem is, I am not very observant, and it was only when he got right up to me that I saw that he had his penis out. He assumed I’d seen it all along and therefore wanted it. But I had not seen it, and I did not want it. Being much stronger than me, he grabbed me and pinned me to his body and forced me to touch it. He ejaculated up my arm and I cried and vomited onto the ground. He laughed and went on his way, and I became terrified of bumping into him at school after that. I never told anyone, because who would believe I had stood there as someone approached with his penis out, but that I did not actually want what had subsequently transpired? I wouldn’t even believe it if someone told me that story. Also, with how volatile my mom was at the time, I was terrified of her reaction. And I was so overwhelmed by everything that was going on that I just didn’t have the energy to put myself through any kind of reporting process. So I said nothing. I have wondered over the years if he’s ever victimized anyone else since then and I feel guilty for not reporting him. I keep my eye out for his name in the news, and so far it has not appeared.

That was my very first encounter with a penis. I know as far as sexual assault goes it could have been far, far worse. But sadly I am still nauseated by the sight of ejaculate to this day.

And then came the final straw. Compared to everything else, this is going to sound utterly trivial, but for whatever reason, this was the thing that pushed me over the edge.

In P.E. class, which had always been a nightmare for me, we were told to form groups and come up with a rhythmic gymnastics routine to be performed the following week. We were not given any real instruction on what rhythmic gymnastics was, we were only shown one example of a routine, demonstrated by a group of the popular girls. My parents had never been interested in sports of any kind, so at home we had never watched the Olympics or anything like that, and although I had briefly been enrolled in extracurricular gymnastics as a child there was nothing about rhythmic gymnastics in that class. Back then, there was no YouTube to consult, so I was utterly clueless, with little idea of what was expected and zero confidence that my flawed body would be able to perform anything of the sort without causing great embarrassment. The only two girls who were willing to be in a group with me were equally clueless. Then, to my horror, the teacher said that our routines would be videotaped, and the video would be shown to the entire school.

In retrospect, that sounds really far-fetched. Under what circumstances would such a video be shown, and why? But that is what she said, and that was my tipping point.

The next morning, I didn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t do it. And I just never went back.


Behind Frenemy Lines

Photo by Hartwig HKD, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Hartwig HKD, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I had a friend growing up whom I’d known since birth, as our mothers were close friends. She was a year older than me and she was always in my life until we became adults. I never had siblings (that I knew of at the time, that is), so she was the closest thing I had to a sister.

If we’d met in any other way, I don’t think we would have become friends, as we had very little in common. Unlike me, she was extremely outgoing and socially skilled, and I met many, many people through her. Every guy I dated in my teens, I either met through her or through someone else I’d previously met through her. I absolutely would have been a virgin until age 31 if it weren’t for her. I was incapable of finding anyone to date without her, at least until the internet came along.

For a while, she and I called ourselves best friends and we spent time together every day. When other kids were mean to me, she comforted me and talked to me as if she were on my side. I later found out, however, that she mocked me behind my back and even once conspired with my bullies to get me to a certain place so they could beat me up while she watched. At the time I didn’t know why she wasn’t doing anything to help. I assumed she was scared. The truth was, she was in on it. That was a tough truth to face. But even after I found out, I forgave her and we rekindled our friendship. The thing is, I didn’t even have the capacity to be angry or to hold a grudge. I liked everybody, I was willing to be friends with anybody, and I would have forgiven anybody for anything.

But back to that day I got beat up. I remember walking with her to the gathering she’d invited me to and getting a prickly feeling on the back of my neck. I blurted out, “I have a feeling something bad is going to happen.”

“Me too,” she replied.

Yes, I bet she did. She’d helped to plan and orchestrate the evil that was about to be done to me. And why? Because I was uncool. A geek. A loser. To maintain her own social status, she had to prove to the other kids that she was like them, not like me.

I should have turned around and gone home when I got that prickly feeling. Why did I always walk into trouble like that, even when I obviously knew better? I trusted my intuition enough to voice it but not enough to act on it.

If I truly am autistic, it sheds a new light on the whole incident.

Congratulations, “friend,” you threw a younger autistic kid who trusted you to the lions.

Congratulations, bullies, you beat the shit out of a younger, literally defenseless autistic kid.

Nice human-being-ing. Good job.

It’s been said that autistic people lack empathy. Do the neurotypical bullies who beat up autistic kids have empathy? Should autistic people be “fixed” to be more like them?

See, I might be autistic (or I might not be — does self-diagnosis count?), but I have never deliberately hurt anyone in my entire life. If everyone were like me, there would be no fighting, no crime, and no war.

Who needs to change?

Self-Defense, Verbal and Otherwise

Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo by Marg, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

For much of my life I had problems defending myself. Partly because I didn’t quite know how to and partly because when under pressure I would become paralyzed and/or mute. People just did whatever they wanted to me.

One incident happened when I was in grade one (just to clarify, I’m Canadian; we call it grade one, not first grade). I was outside the school during lunch hour and some teachers came hurrying towards me and firmly told me that I needed to come to the principal’s office.

Apparently, I was being accused of breaking a window. I didn’t know why. I was not aware of having broken any window. But adults were saying I did, and I was completely trusting of adults, so I believed them. I believed that I had somehow broken that window without realizing it. As if maybe I had been running along and accidentally kicked up rocks from my shoes with such force that a window was broken. That sounds really implausible now, but it was the only explanation I could think of at the time.

Not that I expressed such thoughts. I couldn’t make any words come out of my mouth. I sat there silent, bewildered, and waiting to see what would happen.

By some miracle, my name was cleared without me having to do or say anything. I don’t quite remember what happened, but I think the real culprit confessed. I was free to go.

Flash forward 10 years. A bully girl attacked me and proceeded to beat me up really badly. By then I had learned to use my words. I kept saying, “If you have a problem with me, can’t we talk about it? Let’s work this out.” But she just yelled, “Shut up, loser!” The beating continued until an elderly couple came out of a nearby house and yelled that they were going to call the police. She left and the couple took me into their house and talked to me. “Why didn’t you do anything?” the man asked. “Why did you just let her do that to you?” I had no answer.

The problem was, despite having been able to find my words, I was not able to bring myself to physically fight back. I thought about it. I tried to envision it. But my body wouldn’t move. Other kids were cheering on the fight but there was no fight. There was no struggle. It was just one person pounding the other to a pulp. I suppose I looked like a coward but I wasn’t really afraid, just confused, sad, overwhelmed, and inexplicably paralyzed. I didn’t know why, so I couldn’t explain it.

Fortunately, once I was an adult people stopped inflicting violence on me. But I continued to find myself in situations where I was taken advantage of, misunderstood, or falsely accused, and I continued to be really bad at doing anything about it. I did try, but was horribly ineffective. Many times I was told, “You need to learn to stand up for yourself!”

Finally in my thirties I went through a year of counseling, and my counselor and I talked about strategies for standing up for myself if the need arose.

Then when I was 40 years old, one day at work, someone made a false accusation against me which was brought to my attention by my angry boss. I managed to stay calm and I explained to him why I was not guilty. He remained skeptical, as the person who made the accusation was highly regarded. He ended the conversation with, “I just want to get to the bottom of this!”

I knew it would not be difficult to prove my innocence. I compiled documents and e-mail exchanges that did get to the very bottom of the situation and revealed exactly what had happened. Basically, the whole mess was the result of someone requesting to book the facility for a certain date, me rightfully denying the booking because the facility was unavailable on that date, and them showing up anyway, leading to a whole shitstorm of consequences. It was 100% not my fault and the documents I provided proved it.

The following week was my 6-month performance review. I was told that while my work was of a consistently high quality and while I had always demonstrated a conscientious attitude, a courteous demeanor, and a high ethical standard, I was too defensive and had an unhealthy need for vindication. I told my boss that if he was referring to the incident of the previous week, perhaps I had misunderstood, but he’d said he wanted to get to the bottom of the situation. Since I had in my possession everything that could show him exactly what had transpired and why, I thought he would want to be made aware of it. My words only proved his point that I was defensive and he told me this was an area where I needed personal growth. I then made the mistake of blurting out that for much of my life I’d never defended myself, but I’d gotten counseling to learn how, and the fact that I could do so now meant I had achieved personal growth. He just stared at me. Then he made up a reason why I was fired.

It seems that I can’t quite get it right. I’m supposed to stand up for myself, but I’m not supposed to be defensive. I don’t know where the line is, and I still don’t know what I did wrong in the work situation (other than the part where I admitted that I’d had past issues that had required counseling, but things had already gone terribly awry by that point anyway). I know I am socially awkward, but I can’t imagine anyone not defending themselves or providing documents that proved a false accusation false. I’ve observed that most other people in the workplace are not pushovers and do not take any crap. But it seems like when other people do it, it’s accepted, and when I do it, I get it slightly wrong somehow, and it’s not accepted. I would be willing to change, but I’m never sure exactly where I’m going wrong.