Preschool memories of an Aspie

Yep, that’s right. I actually remember a couple of things from when I was in preschool, at which time I was 3-4 years old. Of course, my existing memories of preschool are extremely vague and few in number. Nonetheless, many of the experiences that I can recall seem to indicate my Asperger Syndrome pretty well, and they sort of set a benchmark for what life was going to be like for me throughout the years that followed.

One of the very first memories that comes to mind when I think of my preschool years is the time when one of the teachers got really impatient with me while trying to help me in the bathroom. You know how 3 or 4 years is usually the age where many kids start learning how to properly use the toilet? Well I guess that I may have been having a bit of trouble  in certain areas. I cannot remember what exactly I was doing wrong or why the teacher became so frustrated with me. All I know is that I was trying to use a toilet or urinal, while the rest of the class was watching a video I believe, and at one point she grabbed my pants and loudly whispered something along the lines of “Pull your pants down/up now! Or you’ll miss the rest the video!” My recollection is, again, tremendously vague and there are probably a lot of details that I’m missing. Regardless, that moment seemed to really stick with me for one reason or another, and I distinctly remember being very intimated and scared by the teacher. Consequently, whenever an adult angrily scolded me for my apparent misbehavior, I would often think back to this incident with the preschool teacher.

Another incident from preschool that frequently pops up in my memory is when I randomly hugged some boy in my class. We were all outside picking flowers and doing other stuff, and out of nowhere, for some reason that I have no recollection of, I gave one of the other kids this big hug from behind. As you might expect, the other boy didn’t enjoy this sudden physical display of affection and immediately told me to stop. Fortunately, I complied, and I believe not much else happened afterward. The best guess I can come up with as to why I did that is because I had been watching too much Sesame Street or Barney the Dinosaur (y’know, the shows that have unrealistic expectations of how young children behave). I can safely say that this was not the only time in preschool that I acted in ways that the other kids found weird or annoying. I think that in most cases I was imitating something I saw on television or a movie; completely lost in my own world and oblivious to what I was really doing (see “Imaginary Play” for a fuller discussion of this issue).

I can also hazily remember spending time with this one teacher, separately from the other kids, to engage in some special activities. Once again, I do not recall any of the specific things I did with this teacher, but I believe it was some sort of physical play therapy, designed to help me with my motor skills and coordination. I say this because I remember these sessions being heavily physical and focused entirely on my body – as if I were exercising. The fact that the teacher had me do these activities apart from the other kids also gives me a pretty good idea of what its purpose was. Whether or not this purpose was successfully fulfilled at the time, I could not tell you.

One last memory from preschool that I’d like to share is much more positive. In fact, it might be one the happiest experiences from my preschool years. At home I had this CD-ROM program that was a collection of kids games based on the Disney film, Aladdin. One of the games in it was a simple coloring book thing: where you have a pre-drawn image associated with the film, and you get to color it in however you please. One day, perhaps on the encouragement of one of my parents, I printed out a bunch colored-in pictures from the program and brought them to class to give out to the other kids. The teachers seemed pretty happy with what I had brought in, and made each of the children got a picture. I think we even got to watch some of the film itself, Aladdin, to celebrate. This was probably one of the very few times in preschool where it seemed that the teachers were pleased with me and the other students (sort of) respected me. I felt immensely proud for it!

I think that the reason why each of these moments really stick out in my memory is because they had something to do with the fact that I was “different”, or had difficulties that weren’t present in the other kids. I didn’t fully understand what was going on at the time, of course, but those incidents possibly gave me some sense that there was something “wrong” with me; something about me that was “special”. This would become increasingly clear to me in later years, from Kindergarten onwards. There are still times when I think back on those preschool memories, reminiscing how difficult it was for me even back then to be “normal” and fit in with everyone else. I believe that many others with Aspergers and other autism-related disorders might have similar memories of their early years.

Who cares about what others think?

I seriously wish I didn’t.

Ok, so by this point, it should be pretty clear to my readers that I tend to stress out much more easily than most others, and that I am very perfectionist in how I handle many of my day-to-day activities. Additionally, if you’ve read “My Aspie Obsessions over the years,” you may be aware that I have a bad habit of looking up comments on the web concerning political or socially divisive topics (read the blog post if you haven’t already). It’s only recently that I’ve started to fully realize that these problems are, to a significant degree, caused by my concern for how other people judge me and how they feel toward various social/political topics.

Some of you who have been following my blog might not be too surprised by this, especially considering how I’ve said several times that I’m regularly worried about “not being good enough” and that I’m always trying to do what other people think I should do. It makes sense to say that this is partially because I care a lot about what others think and assume they “know what’s best for me”. It also seems reasonable to suppose that I keep wasting so much time by reading online comments because I’m so deeply worried about the views of my peers – wanting to see if my views correspond well with theirs. In other words, I seem to put a bit too much weight in the judgments of others, and refusing to fully trust my own perceptions.

Unlike many of the issues I’ve discussed before, I can’t say that this is a common thing for people with Asperger Syndrome. I have found a couple of articles* online that indicate that I may not be the only Aspie with this particular problem. Nonetheless, it could still very well be that this is something that I’ve developed on my own, independent from my disorder. Besides, nearly all of us is concerned to some degree with how other individuals perceive us, and plenty of people are interested in the popular consensus of certain sociopolitical topics. Regardless, I just want to make it clear that I am not suggesting this is something that all or even most Aspies go through.

Anyway, I will now attempt to explain why I concern myself so much with the opinions or judgments of others. I believe that my childhood may provide some answers. As you might imagine, I wasn’t exactly a very popular kid in school, and my behavior was often a source of ridicule from my classmates, as well as a source of frustration for my parents and teachers. It didn’t take too long for me to notice that I was receiving a fair amount of negative judgments from those around me, because I was behaving weird or annoying to them. I did not like this one bit, though I often went out of my way to show that I wasn’t affected by this at all. As hard as I tried, however, I could not hide the fact that I desperately wanted to be respected and accepted by other kids as well as adults.

Over the years, I developed an increasing desire to please those around me, or at least prevent them from judging me negatively. Simply put, I tried my best to do what they thought I ought to do, or what would make me look “good” or “cool” in their eyes. This applied to my friends, to my relatives, to my peers at school, to my teachers, and especially to my parents. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful in doing this most of the time. Despite my attempts to avoid negative judgment, I kept on behaving in ways that constantly annoyed, frustrated, or invited chuckles from other people. If I wasn’t causing my friends to shake their hands and laugh at me behind my back, I was testing my parents’ patience and driving them nearly insane. So in other words, being myself while at the same time being presentable to other people just didn’t seem possible.

In spite of this, I kept on trying really hard to be the kind of person that would make everyone around me happy. My desire to be accepted became even stronger over time, and I got increasingly upset with the critical reactions that I often received. This eventually caused me to behave a bit more submissively and apologetically toward others, going out of my way to not offend, annoy, or turn off anyone. Meanwhile, starting in my late high school years I believe, I developed a profound curiosity in how my peers in school and elsewhere felt about certain political and social topics that I felt very passionate about (e.g. LGBT rights, the War in Iraq, women’s rights, bullying, gun laws, and gang-related violence). For a while, I would sometimes ask my friends and acquaintances for their opinions on these issues, or get into a long conversation with them if they brought it up. If their views substantially differed from mine, then I would often get into heated arguments with them and tried to present my case as forcefully as possible. As a result, I had my fair share of verbal fights with people throughout high school and college, one of which resulted in the loss of a good friend of mien. I also got into quite a few arguments with random people online, often being the victim of falling for a troll’s provocative comments.

Then at one point, I believe my desire to please other people and my obsession with their sociopolitical viewpoints came into conflict with one another. I soon realized that it wasn’t possible to avoid making others uncomfortable or unhappy so long as I kept arguing with them and expressed my disagreement with their views. At the same time, I began to worry that I may very well be wrong about certain subjects, and I was losing confidence in my ability to evaluate them logically. Consequently, I stopped getting myself into debates with people about sociopolitical issues, and instead started simply observing what they had to say about them. This is what eventually led to my current habit of going online to search for and look at comments that challenge my own beliefs. I suppose this is my way of trying to be more “in touch” with popular opinion, as if I can’t be trusted to form my own independent conclusions.

In addition to this, I’ve become even more sensitive to the judgments of other people and anxious of their disapproval. As I mentioned in “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough”, I keep assuming that others know better than I do about what I should be doing with my life. Whenever someone suggests that I do a certain activity in any context, I feel almost obliged to engage that activity, as if it were necessary for my health or happiness. Moreover, I continue to take whatever steps I can to make the people around me happy and respectful of me. This applies mainly to people who I know personally, such as my friends, professors, employers, relatives, and especially my parents. When it is clear that I’ve bothered them or they don’t agree with what I’m doing, I can get very upset. So I am always willing to make certain sacrifices in order to keep them from passing negative judgment on me; anything to win their full approval!

Having said all of this, I desperately wish I could be a little more independent and confident in myself. I hate wasting so much of my valuable time worrying about how my sociopolitical views differ from those of my peers, and I don’t like constantly sacrificing my own desires for the sake of making other people happy. Like many other individuals throughout the globe, I desperately want to be able to trust myself and not rely so heavily on the opinions of others. It would be nice if I could honestly say, “Y’know what, not everyone will approve of what I do and what I believe, and that is ok. What really matters is what I think.” I can guarantee you that I’d be a much happier and more productive person then!

*Articles on Asperger Syndrome and obsessing over other people’s opinions:
https://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/new-study-finds-that-individuals-with-aspergers-syndrome-dont-lack-empathy-in-fact-if-anything-they-empathize-too-much/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/05/11/a-radical-new-autism-theory.html

“If you want my help, then stop rejecting it!”

If you’ve already read my post, “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough,” then you should know that I tend to be somewhat perfectionist when it comes to my schoolwork, or just about anything. This has been the case since middle school, I believe, and it gradually got worse from then onward. I think it probably hit its peak when I was in my later high school years, and did not get any better afterwards. My academic fastidiousness was particularly noticeable in how I handled many of my homework assignments, and it would sometimes cause me to have nervous meltdowns.

To clarify, however, I actually did pretty well in terms of my schoolwork throughout most of high school and college. Although I struggled quite a bit with the workload and would habitually complain of having too much to worry about at once, I usually completed my assignments with commendable results and performed very nicely on exams for the most part. So I wasn’t exactly having troubles with learning the material or studying it.

Instead, I believe much of the ongoing anxiety came from my desire to do as well as I possibly could with each assignment for every class, combined with my constant lack of confidence in my ability to do so. I typically approached each piece of homework I was given, from minor daily assignments to big, long-term projects, with an intention to do a really good job and impress the instructor, as well as myself. In the majority of cases, I was able to complete my homework without getting too worked up about the outcome or how I was going to be graded. Naturally, it was the larger, more complex assignments that tended to bring me a lot of stress and make me worry that I wouldn’t be able to do well. Smaller projects could also make me anxious if I didn’t fully understand what I was supposed do.

Anyway, as I’m sure most kids would, I often asked my parents for help with my homework whenever I was having trouble. At least half of the time, my mom or dad (sometimes both of them) was successfully able to assist me with whatever I was struggling with, without a whole lot of drama. I must admit that in several cases, they may have done some of the work for me, particularly when it came to long-term writing assignments. I can’t blame them for doing this as I actually used to have some difficulties with writing, believe it or not; specifically with trying not to sound too awkward or vague.

Unfortunately, there were far too many instances where my anxiety and perfectionism got the better of me and led to usually brief, yet unpleasant conflicts with my parents. What I mean by this is that I would sometimes become a little fussy or upset when the help that they were giving me didn’t meet my expectations or went against what I wanted to do. This more often occurred with writing assignments, and nearly always involved my parents wanting to do something with the assignment that was very different from what I had in mind. The idea of completely abandoning my ideas or going with something that I didn’t think could work filled me with severe apprehension, and thus usually resulted in me having some kind of emotional outburst or temper tantrum. On occasion, the same thing could also happen if I simply didn’t think that what my parents were suggesting was “good enough” or wasn’t helping all that much.

Whatever the case, I would make quite a scene while my parents tried to give me the best help they could with the assignment. Being so overwhelmingly stressed out and confused, I would stubbornly reject their suggestions and shout at them angrily. I would moan or yell things like “This won’t work,” or “This isn’t what I’m supposed to do,” or “I still don’t know what to do,” or “No, that’s not how I wanna do it!” Eventually, seeing that I wasn’t listening to reason or willing to give their proposals a chance, my parents would throw up their arms and say, “Ok Tim, I give up! You’re on your own! We’re trying to help you, and you just aren’t letting us!” At this point, I would implore them to continue helping me and try my best to explain why I couldn’t go with their recommendations. Afterwards, I would usually either calm down gradually and let my parents assist me in the way they were suggesting, or I would stick with what I thought was best for the assignment, with or without my parents’ help. Most of the time, I believe the former was the ultimate outcome.

Looking back on these nervous meltdowns, although I definitely regret being so rude and stubborn with my parents when they were trying to help, I honestly do understand why I behaved the way I did. As I mentioned earlier, my perfectionist way of doing things was really problematic at this point in my life, and so I was very easily stressed out by my schoolwork. I cared a great deal about my academics and wanted to do as well as I could on all of my assignments. At same time, I didn’t like taking risks or trying things I wasn’t confident I could do successfully. I wanted to feel completely safe in what I was doing with my homework, to know that I was “doing what I should be doing.” Meanwhile, I always looked up to my parents and believed that they could give me the solution to any problem I was having, especially it if was school-related. So when my parents tried to help by suggesting something that I thought was risky or pushed me out of my comfort zone, I understandably became very nervous and conflicted. On one hand, I wanted them to help me and I knew that I couldn’t proceed confidently without them, but on the other hand, what they wanted me to do was at odds with what I thought I needed to do with the assignment. So I think you can see why this would lead me to get into intense arguments with my parents.

All the same, I still realize that I should have been much more appreciative of my parents’ assistance, and I wish I didn’t give them such a hard time when they were just trying to be helpful. Believe me when I say that my mom and dad had to put up with quite a lot on my part; they showed a remarkable amount of patience, tolerance, and understanding when most people would probably lose their cool and give up on me completely. For that, I am forever grateful to them! I still go to them for help with my schoolwork every now and then, and they never fail to make me feel much more confident in my ability to get it done successfully. I try to express my gratitude for their assistance by achieving the best academic results that I possibly can, letting them know that it is only thanks to them that I have been able to succeed so well. If it weren’t for their ongoing, unconditional support as well as their patience, I wouldn’t have come even close to accomplishing what I did in high school as well as in college.

C’mon let’s go, let’s go! Move dammit!

I wish to start this post by confessing that I may have been slightly off in my previous posts concerning Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Upon closer examination, I think that I might actually have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), instead of just ADD. I say this because, as I will soon explain in further detail, I not only have trouble paying attention and focusing on my current task, but also with being mentally and physically still when I need to. After doing a little bit of “research”, I’ve discovered that this tendency is often a symptom of ADHD, which makes sense to me since “hyperactivity” does indicate a sense of restlessness and impatience. Therefore I wish to apologize for not realizing this much earlier and constantly saying that I am diagnosed with ADD, not ADHD (I am unable to officially verify that I have either disorder, but I will assume that I have ADHD simply because it seems extremely likely).

With that out of the way, let’s discuss my problems with staying still and waiting placidly (probably caused by ADHD). Indeed, a lot of times I find it difficult to be calm and comfortable when I’m forced to wait for something to progress or when something is not proceeding as quickly as I’d like it to.  In other words, if things aren’t moving along at a nice, ongoing pace or if I have to deal with several delays, then I can easily become slightly irritated and “on edge”. This is especially the case when I have to remain seated in a chair or keep standing for a long time, and it’s almost unbearable when I have absolutely nothing to do. On some occasions, it will cause me to complain out loud to others or put me in a grumpy mood.

In my earlier years, this issue with hyperactivity and impatience was much more troublesome, and it led to quite a few temper tantrums and arguments with my parents. I would frequently become very upset if I was told to wait and be patient in a place that was extremely boring and uninteresting for me. I can remember a couple of instances where I made a bit of a scene in public, whining and yelling to parents that we leave a store or restaurant or museum right away. Yeah, my parents put up with a great deal of annoyance and frustration on my part, and I’m immensely grateful that they hardly ever lost their temper with me. They seriously deserve a lot of credit for how patient and understanding they were with me, even when I was driving them insane and would not shut up.

Like with many other problems related to my Aspergers, the issue has gotten much better over time, but has not gone away completely. There are plenty of instances in my current life where I get incredibly anxious because I have to wait for things to move along. A perfect example to point to would be when I’m driving. As you probably expect, I like to drive as fast as the speed limit allows (which I like to think is about 8-10 miles above the limit, depending on road conditions), and I take every opportunity to do so. I am very easily annoyed, therefore, when I am forced to drive slower than I’d like due to the speed of the car in front of me. I will say to myself “Oh, COME ON!” and let out a soft groan, begrudgingly staying behind the other driver and matching their speed. I might keep hoping that the car will eventually make a turn, and sometimes I will consider passing them if I have the chance. Unfortunately, I never feel confident enough to pass a car on a one-lane road, and I will usually have no choice but to just wait until I am able to drive at my preferred speed. Yes, I know that this sort of thing can annoy just about anyone, but I get particularly annoyed by the idea of being forced to wait and spend more time driving.

Now there may be some of you who are a little confused by all of this, after I mentioned in my earlier post “All the time in the world…” that I tend to take more time to complete certain tasks than others do. It may seem logical to assume that I would be perfectly ok with things going slowly so that I am able to keep up. The thing is, actually, that my sluggish, time-consuming pace also irritates me much of the time. I am regularly frustrated by my failure to accomplish tasks in a speedy fashion and to be more productive throughout the day. It’s one of the reasons why I often have  slightly low self-esteem, as I will frequently put myself down for not meeting my own desires for productivity.

Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I am gradually getting better at being patient and accepting the fact that things don’t always go as quickly as I’d like them to. At the very least, I don’t whine or complain as much as I did when I was a child, and I’ve learned that demanding that other people pick up the pace doesn’t resolve anything. I still have some progress to make, though, especially since I will eventually be living on my own and have to deal with situations that require a huge amount of patience. With the help of meditation, exercise, and other resources, it is my hope that I will be able to maintain good posture when it is needed the most (e.g. going to the DMV, talking to employers, getting loans from the bank, and attending special events for loved ones).