Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Such Is Life

For the past couple of weeks, I have been honored to do some freelance design work for Meadowstone Therapeutic Riding Center, a horse therapy facility here in my town that works with children with special needs.  Specifically, I've been working to create some visuals for their children with autism who would thrive more with a non-verbal horse therapy experience.

What a blessed assignment indeed.

Because here's what a lot of people don't know about me, and when they find out, they still wouldn't think it: I have what you might call high-functioning autism.  That is to say I have a select few very strong autistic traits in me.  And as I've been working with the Meadowstone family and part of my story has come out, a lady asked me if I thought I could ever put words to some of what I know by experience.  It is Autism Awareness Month, so I thought I might try.

The most autistic sensitivity I have is that to texture.  Growing up in the 90s, of course, we didn't have such a thing as autism, so we called it other things.  We called it, why you can't spray your sister with silly string and why Andi doesn't participate in art class.  Among other things.  I don't do goo.  Don't get things on me.  Don't make me touch things.  It took years of hanging around other families and the church nursery, then well over six months into having my first niece, for me to be able to touch a diaper wipe at all.  To this day, if there is someone else around to do it....not it.  As the years have gone by, I've gotten somewhat better.  I can handle it for awhile, maybe, if I'm really into what I'm doing because there are experiences that trump the trigger somehow, if you can understand that.  But then again, last spring, a tube of caulk exploded and I either had to catch it in my hands or let it ruin my carpet.  I made the wrong choice.

This texture sensitivity enables me to understand something of the autistic nature, I think.  It is this: if you touch something autistic in me (that is, if you rub against my texture sensitivity), I shut down.  I can feel myself shut down.  There is this quick, searing sensation (not painful, but more shock-like) that sort of runs through my body, head to toe, shutting down everything as it goes through me.  I will just stand there, stuck.  And just....stand there.  At the same time, my mind will still be going.  I will feel the sense of stuck.  I will know it's not the thing but I will not know how to get out of it.  My body needs time, and space, to recover from having hit that nerve.  And maybe a towel or someone to wipe my hands.  It's not OCD, which might be easy to confuse here.  It's not this sense that my hands must be clean.  It is texture and purely that.  It is a sensory, not a mental, experience.

Understanding the shut down, among other things, led me to come up with this illustration for the lady who so poignantly asked the question: what is it like?  Here it is, in all my writing glory:

It's like in my head, there's a train.  It runs on a circuit that enables me to function fairly normally, socially, regularly in this world.  But inside that train, there is a conductor and she's got her own little train running on its own little circuit.   

I always have this backdrop of inner dialogue, this understanding that is beyond experience, this running conversation with myself as I engage with my world without engaging with it.  And I think that is where the social aspects of autism come into play.

See, I am perfectly happy and have a completely fulfilling interactive experience with you....without you interrupting it by injecting yourself into my space.  I am spatially oriented, meaning that I experience things by the measure of space.  This makes me able to recall things specifically; I have an incredible memory.  I can go back to a book and tell you which section of a page, about how far through the book, a certain quote appears on (provided it meant anything to me).  I can tell you where everyone was sitting in church the day that...fill in the blank.  I can tell you in vivid detail just about anything because the way I remember things is by remembering what it felt like, spatially, to be there and finding myself back in that orientation.

Which means...I often feel like you and I have done a lot more together than maybe you feel like we've done.  Because to me, it's enough that you were in the space.  You don't have to go gunking it all up by getting personal about it.  We don't even have to have spoken at this place or that for me to remember you being there, or even to remember it fondly and feel like we share that memory.

It seems lonely if I sit down and really think about it, objectively.  To have experienced the world only to realize I've barely touched it.  But it doesn't feel lonely; not at all.  Even in school, when I didn't have many friends and ate most of my lunches alone and kind of hung out in corners keeping to myself, it didn't feel lonely.  There were all these other people there, and I felt them.  I experienced them.  And they were kind enough (because I was weird, another old-fangled word for somewhat autistic) to not go messing that up by trying to engage me.

Don't get me wrong; I love people, too.  I love ministry and talking with people and stories and all of that.  But in the grand scheme?  In small doses.

That's kind of tip of the iceberg, but maybe it gives you a better insight into what it's like behind the quiet curtain.  A little?  And the truth is, I never considered it anything but who I was.  Who I am.  This is who I am created to be.  It's not a curse; it is a creation.  I wouldn't be any good at what I do without it.

It has given me incredible intelligence, which is helpful but not as important as it was many years ago (to me).  I mean, college-level-calculus-in-seventh-grade intelligence.  It also defines, absolutely defines, the way I experience and interact with my world.  It's what enables me to do what I do - to write, to create, to understand, to relate.  Things you think autistic kids maybe don't do very well.  You'd be wrong.  We do these things deeper.  This ability I have, that I think autistic persons in general have, to experience and relate to our world in unique, non-traditional ways is the blood of creativity and the essence of an indescribable life.

Not that we would describe it for you if we could.  That would just gunk it up with language.  But we're painting a picture if you're paying attention.

Speaking of which...it's been so blessed to be able to share part of my understanding and pour it into my work for kids down at Meadowstone, and my graphics turned out well.  

Except...apparently and judging by ear shape alone...every one of my horses is a donkey.

Such is life.

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