Self Awareness

self aware Autism awareness is such a funny notion to me.  One of the big perks of autism is not being self aware, at least until other people show you how you, too, can be a big bundle of nerves worrying about being stupid.  But I think it’s funny that April is Autism Awareness month, for a condition with limited self awareness.
I will never forget becoming self aware, oh so very slowly, over all the ages I have been.  I ‘wake up’ to little things about the world or myself in little tiny spurts.  I will never forget discovering a couple of years ago that there are other hand flappers in this world.  Oh, there are people who talk with their hands or guys who have ‘gay’ hand moves or people who freak and their hands get involved, but I never associated any of that with me.  But then I found out about Asperger’s and read other aspies making jokes about flapping around when they got flustered, and it sorta dawned on me… 
I was so surprised…  Hey, *I* do that.  Well, I don’t go around flapping like a chicken, but when I get the least bit excited or upset, my hands go up, and sometimes I do flippy things with them, and sometimes they almost define my ‘space’ for me.  I never noticed I do that, all my life.  My mom was always telling me to stop it, or don’t touch things, or be still, but she never defined it with specific details, so I had no idea what she was talking about.  All I knew was that I embarrassed the crap out of her in public.
So you can imagine how odd I felt when I asked my sister, both of us in our 40’s, if I’m a hand flapper, and she immediately grinned and had her hands up mimicking me.
That was a precious moment.  I talk about being very suppressed by my mother to the point of holding rock still all day in school so no one would make fun of me, but I was free to be me enough at home, apparently, that my automatic behaviors were so common that no one ever brought them up or discussed them.  No one had ever pointed out to me that I flap my hands, and no one had ever made fun of me for doing it.  That was the first moment in my life that I realized 1- my sister loved me just fine the way I was, 2- I never had a clue this whole time that everyone in my family saw me as different and never pointed it out, 3- she obviously thought it was cute, because the way she mimicked me was cute, and 4- maybe that means it’s ok not to have to hold rock still all the time out in public…
And you have to understand, when I don’t watch myself, I really do get carried away.  I flap my long sleeves around while I shop until Scott gives me The Look, and I instantly know that I’m getting so carried away that people can see me from halfway across the store.  Sometimes, even at 46, I’m walking behind him in Walmart or a grocery store, doing a little toe dance to some elevator music or music in my head, bumping my knuckles in a funny little rhythm, and zoned out so far that I’m not even aware I’m about to run into someone.  I actually once followed a guy I don’t know because out of the corner of my eye the back of his jacket looked like Scott, and I’m pretty sure I creeped him out, doing my little aspie thing behind him.    Scott was cracking up all over the place, waiting for me to ‘come to’, and when I did, boy, was I surprised.    Woopsie…
When I was younger and the kids were small, I was very tense all the time because I had to self monitor everywhere we went (but at the time, I didn’t realize THAT was the root of why I was so tense).  I could never let down my guard.  Now that they are grown and gone, I’m totally free to ‘aspie out’, as I call it, and I evidently really do embarrass whoever I’m with, or else they laugh so hard they about fall over.
A couple of years ago Scott wanted to stop into a Hallmark store to find a Christmas card for his sister or something, and I was so overwhelmed by all the candle smells and crowded fixtures and people milling around that I got a headache and totally zoned out.  I found The Trail of Painted Ponies display and was in my own bubble, no one else existed, so absorbed was I in all the details.  Scott found me and said, “Ready to go?”, and I nodded and nearly floated over to the doors, almost in a trance while I kept looking over the ponies in my head.  I felt a bump and stopped and very slowly came to enough to see a sign on the door, but it still took some time to focus before I realized it said “Use Other Door”.  And as I finally rejoined the world, I heard Scott behind me laughing so hard he was about to fall to the floor, and people were going around us with really strange looks on their faces.  I guess I had rebounded perfectly off the door, just like a doll, and stood there like a robot staring, and I can only imagine that the people going around us must have either thought Scott was awfully mean or that something was dreadfully wrong with me or both, because those really were some strange looks.  The funniest part for me was how Scott couldn’t stop laughing, no matter how hard he tried.  He smirked and giggled all the way to the car, even though he felt bad about it and kept giving me little hugs, but the truth was, none of it bothered me at all.  I can see it from all kinds of angles looking back, and it still doesn’t bother me.  It just tickles me to hear people laugh like that anyway, and that was so much more pleasant than possibly being married to someone who might have called me stupid and berated me for it all the way home.
I like it when someone laughs because I’m such a dork.  I don’t try to be a dork, I don’t even think about trying to make people laugh, but it tickles me that they laugh.  Before I found out I have Asperger’s and I was trying so hard all the time to hide being ‘stupid’, my feelings were more easily hurt, but I think it was because I didn’t understand exactly why.  Now that I know about the Asperger’s, I no longer care if people think I look ‘retarded’ (I’ve been called that).  I personally think it’s cute seeing other people zone out like I do, especially kids.
Don’t worry, I don’t do it in traffic.    And in spite of sounding so bubble headed with this story, I can sit through a two hour lecture or sermon and hear every word while others around me nod off or go to their happy places.  When Scott is looking for a bolt in Lowe’s, and if you’ve ever looked for one bolt in an aisle containing millions of bolts, you know what I’m talking about, I’m able to go right to exactly what he needs before he does.  I can do this with information, even if I’m completely unfamiliar with it.  I can sift out everything I don’t need in seconds, filter it down logically to a system, and find a set of numbers describing size or indicating placement, and voila, there it is.  I can sift through tens of thousands of words and tell you what a document is about in less than 30 seconds.  I just can’t make it through Walmart without spacing out by the pickles and doing a little aspie hand dance while I appreciate all the creative work that went into designing the labels…
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How “self-aware” are you?

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0 thoughts on “Self Awareness

  • August 3, 2009 at 12:43 pm
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    I know that feeling. I recently became aware of my autistic habits and now I catch myself doing all kinds of weird things that people stop and stare at me for. I mean, they are routine for me, so much a part from me that most of the time I don’t realize I’m doing it until people point it out…

    I never thought I did that hand flapping thing… Until last week. I caught myself doing it when I was very excited because my couch had finally been delivered. I also constantly have my legs moving, can’t ever keep my legs still. My mom used to bitch at me when I was younger cuz it irritated her. Another weird thing I do, is I yell “Aaaah” at random, mostly done when people touch my things or touch my head… I never knew I did that till one of my nieces pointed it out.

    Sometimes, I wish I weren’t aware of the things I do. I was less embarrassed and less concerned about it. But I am what I am…

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  • August 2, 2009 at 11:31 pm
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    LOL, that is soooo me too. My son too… but he has this horrible habbit of grabbing his little boy parts. I’m always asking him, “Josh, do you have to go to the bathroom?” His latest answer, “Nope, I’m just excited.” I’m not really sure what to do with that one. He’s done it since he was in diapers… now he’s ten… and I’m a bit afraid that he’s going to embarrass himself sooner or later.

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  • August 2, 2009 at 6:32 am
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    Thanks so much for sharing your story and your joy!
    I think I am a hand flapper too ^^
    Thanks for making me feel okay about being silly or a dork from time to time!
    Thanks for showing me a glimpse of how it is like to be you! ^^

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  • August 2, 2009 at 5:07 am
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    Oh Jackie, you have had fun! Thanks for sharing with us and helping us to become more ‘aware’.

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  • August 2, 2009 at 12:55 am
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    Very interesting, makes me wonder how “self-aware” my brother is.
    Also, it made me wonder about myself. Though I know I don’t have Asperger’s, I’m still pretty close to it. When I was younger, I wasn’t quick to catch on about the little things people do to indicate moods and the like. Where my brother just zoned out from it, this made me study it to the point now that I can understand most every little motion. So I suppose you could say I’m very self-aware.
    I think I got a little lost somewhere in that paragraph, and now I’m not quite sure where I was going with this. Funny how that happens sometimes, isn’t it?

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