“I’ll have the usual… as always”

I have noticed that my last couple of posts touched upon issues that were more relevant to me as a person than to Asperger Syndrome as a whole. Therefore, I thought it was about time to discuss something that I know many people with Aspergers have to deal with, and that is sticking with things that we’re familiar with. To some, this topic may sound very similar to one that I’ve already talked about earlier, which is having singular interests. Yes, these two subjects are closely related in a lot of ways. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to give this topic of sticking with familiar things its own post since it significantly affects the daily lives of us Aspies.

To begin with, everyone has their own personal tastes in various areas of life, including food, entertainment, activities, aesthetics, etc. More simply put, we all have things that we prefer or fancy. For people like me, preferences go a little further than that. The things that I favor are, in several cases, the only things that I’ll choose to have, or in some cases, the only things that I will accept period. I frequently avoid experimenting with new things, and instead prefer to stick with the stuff that I currently like. Essentially, I’m just much more inclined to “have the usual” as opposed to trying something different.

This habit of mine applies to a lot of different things: food, drinks, literature, movie & TV franchises, personal activities, video games, among others. It’s probably been most prominent when it comes to food. When I was younger, I was extremely picky about what foods I’d eat and would often insist on having certain select meals. Consequently, I ended up having the same foods repeatedly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nowadays, I am slightly more open-minded and at least try to have some more variety in what I eat, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone a little. However, normally I choose to eat what I like and only try something different on occasion or when I have no choice. Plus, if I go to a restaurant or someplace similar, I will most likely order the meal that I typically have there or something that I am familiar with – as opposed to “exploring a bit” or having the daily special.

Another good example that demonstrates this pattern is the kinds of movies I watch or video games I play. On most days, I choose to stick with franchises, genres, series, and other (look up) that I’m already a fan of. For instance, it isn’t often that I will choose to see a new drama film, even if it’s receiving massive critical acclaim, over the next entry to the Star Wars or Planet of the Apes reboot series. Furthermore, I am more likely to replay an older game from my childhood or play the newest Mario or Sonic game than to something more new and popular like Minecraft, Counter Strike, or Overwatch (though my laptop probably couldn’t handle them very well anyway). Of course, I am not completely against watching or playing something different; it simply wouldn’t be my first choice.

As usual on this blog, it’s somewhat tricky to adequately explain why I do this. I think a partial reason for it is due to my abovementioned tendency to be obsessed with certain things and have very focused interests. It goes without saying that when you’re fixated on something, you rarely have an interest in anything different. However, I think the main reason for repetitive behavior is that often feel somewhat nervous and sometimes even scared about the prospect of trying something completely new. Sticking with things that I’m more familiar with helps me feel more secure and doesn’t “expose me to the threat of something I don’t like.”

Allow me to further illustrate: Let’s say, for instance, one of my friends offers me two choices for a game we could play: Mario Kart 8 or Battlefield 1. I am more than familiar with the Mario Kart series, having played nearly all the console versions (from Mario Kart 64 to 8), and consider myself to be a rather adept Mario Kart player. With Battlefield, on the other hand, I have not played any of the games in the series and therefore have no idea what the series is about.  I haven’t played that many popular FPS games to begin with, and the ones I have played I wasn’t particularly skilled at. So, the idea of trying out Battlefield 1 with my friend makes me a tiny bit uncomfortable because there is a chance that I will not enjoy the game and will perform horribly at it. Given my sensitivity to discomfort and general unwillingness to take huge risks, my most likely choice in this scenario would be Mario Kart 8.

I feel confident that some of Aspie readers can identify with me on this topic. I say that because many of the other Aspies that I’ve come across in my life demonstrated this kind of habit: clinging onto this that they are familiar with as opposed to wanting to try new things. In addition, I’ve read a couple of online articles that discuss this pattern among people with Asperger Syndrome.* I certainly do not wish to imply that every single Aspie has this issue, since Aspergers is a very broad condition that has many ranging symptoms. Nonetheless, my point stands that this habit is prevalent in a significant portion of us, so I know that I’m not the only one with Aspergers who does it.

I for one fully acknowledge disadvantages of being so inflexible, though I don’t think that I should feel ashamed of it. On the one hand, it’s easy to see why people say I should explore a lot more and “not be so close-minded” about what I choose to do, watch, eat, listen to, play, etc. In fact, a large part of me wishes that I could be more open to doing new things and wouldn’t be so scared of, say, trying coffee, watching Orange is the New Black, or reading Game of Thrones. At the same time, I don’t necessarily see any reason to feel guilty about it. What, in all honesty, is wrong with wanting to stick to routine and chose stuff that I’m familiar with over stuff that I’m unfamiliar with? I’m not saying that I’m necessarily proud of it, but I just don’t see anything immoral or disgusting in choosing to eat fruit every day for breakfast or playing Crash Bandicoot while everyone else is playing League of Legends.” In all honesty, I consider it part of who I am, and I genuinely appreciate who I am. I strongly believe all of us should.

*See: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-psychology/autism-aspergers/#.WFW4hFziMn0, http://wildsister.com/2014/03/im-coming-out-of-the-autism-closet/, http://dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com/p/adhd-aspergers-syndrome-teaching.html, https://www.quora.com/What-Does-It-Feel-Like-to-X/What-does-it-feel-like-to-have-Aspergers-Syndrome#!n=30

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Aspergers and Stimming: Hair-Pulling

I have a question for my Aspie readers: How many of you regularly engage in something called “stimming,” which means repetitive, self-stimulating activities? I’m talking about things such as foot-tapping, finger-biting, playing with pens, making noises with your mouth, bouncing up and down, messing with your hair – stuff that you find yourself doing impulsively, usually when you’re really bored or nervous.

Come on guys, be honest. I’m willing to bet that most of you with Asperger Syndrome do at least a little bit of stimming every once in a while. Don’t worry about though, it’s nothing to really be ashamed of. I confess that I engage those sorts of activities almost constantly, even to this very day. I am unwilling, however, to describe in full detail the kinds of things that I usually do. Yeah, I know that I said it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it can still be very embarrassing, and I think you understand why I’d prefer to keep it to myself.

I will, however, share a past instance of stimming that ultimately resulted in a pretty big change in my life. Starting in early middle school, I believe, I began impulsively pulling hair out of my head. This would usually occur during classes or when I was feeling particularly bored or anxious. I would either pluck individual strands of hair one by one, or I would twirl a bunch of strands at once and then pull them all out. Please do not ask why I did this. I honestly have no idea why I thought this was a good way to calm myself down or pass the time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I knew at the time that I shouldn’t pull my hair like that.

It didn’t take too long before a bald spot started forming somewhere on my scalp. To make matters worse: for some reason, I kept pulling more and more hair from that particular area. As soon as my mom noticed this, she got quite upset and went out of her way to stop me from making the bald spot worse. She attempted to make it hard for me to pull any more strands from that spot by applying lotion to the area every day. This solution didn’t work too well, as I took every single opportunity that I could to pluck more hair from that spot when the lotion wasn’t there.

Eventually my mom lost her patience and decided that the only way to resolve this issue was to cut my hair very short. So after a year or so of having this bald spot, she took me to a barber shop and had them give me a buzz cut. This was meant to be temporary, and I was supposed to let my hair grow back until it was about even all over. My mom probably thought this might teach me a lesson and convince me to find other ways to stim when I’m bored or nervous. Ironically, however, I actually grew to like this new hairstyle, and I insisted that I be allowed to keep it from now on. And that is essentially why I have short hair.

Of course, I do not want to suggest that it was a good thing that I pulled my hair to the point where my mom had it cut short. I certainly wasn’t happy having that bald spot, and I hated having to come up with a story about a barber “messing up my haircut” to explain it to other kids at school. Plus, I certainly do not recommend it to others who have Aspergers or similar mental disorders. I will say, however, that I can fully relate to people who find it extremely hard to avoid doing things like that on a regular basis.

Speaking from personal experience, the main problem with stimming as a whole is that it’s sort of like an addiction, a compulsive behavior that is extremely difficult to refrain from. For those who do not have this problem, the best way I can describe it is like this: imagine if you have a constant severe itch somewhere you probably shouldn’t scratch in public (e.g. feet, armpits, belly, butt). If the itch is REALLY bad, you might end up end up scratching anyway it even if it looks weird or rude to other people. Over time, it will come to a point where you don’t think about it when you scratch that spot – you just do it impulsively whenever the itch comes up. This may not be the very best illustration of why people on the autism spectrum stim, but I think it’s fairly accurate.