02/22/23 Some Random Thoughts on Autism

I’ve got a bunch of stuff rattling around in my brain right now, and I keep thinking that maybe at some point they’ll behave themselves and come out in a coherent line, but this will be somewhat stream of consciousness, and that’s okay.

This morning, which is a snow day from work, I was watching TikTok and saw this video, which got me thinking about work.


Most of things were written off as personality traits. Maybe some of them ring a bell for you. #autismawareness #autisticadult #neurodivergent #adhd #autisticwomen #audhd #traits

♬ original sound – Kelsea Loo
Specifically, the part about eye contact got my brain thinking. Lately, I’ve noticed that I prefer lecturing when I’m looking at anything other than the class, but then I feel guilty, so I look at the class and realize how few of my students are paying attention to me, and this creates a cycle that feeds directly into RSD.

And I’ve been blaming the Zoom Year and whining about how that year, I felt so much like I was just talking into the aether, as if I didn’t enjoy that experience at all. (I had to have a squirrel moment because “aether” is apparently misspelled, according to the red squiggle underneath it, so I went to look it up to see if it’s a valid alternative spelling. Google says it isn’t. Too bad, I’m keeping it.)

Here’s a reality: Most of the time, I liked the Zoom Year. I liked seeing a grid of black rectangles with names, even knowing that any given moment, maybe nobody was listening to me, but at the same time knowing I had minimal stimulation, no need to make eye contact, and that I could just focus on what I was saying.

Not that I’m a bad teacher. I’m a good teacher in a room full of humans. But those humans can also be a significant distraction, and not just in the usual ways that teachers complain about. So the Zoom Year definitely had its advantages.

(Another pause, this time to preview the page because on the edit page that I’m typing on now, the TikTok formatting looks really weird. But it looks fine on the preview page, so away we go.)

One mitigation for this is for me to make educational videos in my free time, but then I get into my anxiety abyss about … well, about a lot, really. I guess it’s not that important that a lot of people watch them, because I write all this and I don’t know if anyone is ever going to read it. Just. I don’t even know. Lack of confidence, I suppose.

I feel like if I could just nudge myself, I’d really enjoy making videos. Maybe that’s my worry. As a child, I was routinely shamed for getting obsessed with things. The damage that Sheldon Cooper does as a representative of autistic tropes is that he’s being laughed at for the things that I’ve been laughed at for.

It’s been done a lot, but I’ll comment on it anyway: There’s a difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at”, and while lots of My Kind™ (yes, I had to pause to do a Unicode search for that symbol) laugh with Sheldon, I feel like the bulk of the viewers are laughing at him.

Especially when it’s hilarious that the other college students tape him to a wall. Abusive bullying, real knee-slapper there, folks.

Anyway, I had a site for a while where I categorized Sudoku-and-related puzzles. I tried to come up with a categorization scheme. I had hundreds of puzzles by the time I moved on from it. I enjoyed it quite a bit, without much of a care if anyone else was interested.

Eventually, other things got in the way, and by the time I tried to go back to it, my programming skills were rusty enough that I didn’t know how to update it. Plus the technology I’d built it on had become outdated, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

That wasn’t something I was shamed over. That was something I put a lot of work into, and it just sorted drifted away, and that’s fine. I could still rebuild it. I still have the files.

For goodness sake, I still have Amidox files from the 1990s.

So I don’t know why I brought that up, since I was talking about being shamed for my special interests. I did warn you that this would be stream of consciousness, though.

And maybe that’s where my subconsciousness is trying to push me: Was I really that shamed for it? I do get students marveling at my knowledge of mathematics history, but that’s usually not shame. Quite the opposite.

I was thinking about that the other day, how I have more knowledge about mathematics history than most of my high school teacher colleagues, and I soak it up like a sponge despite generally disliking history.

And I realized yesterday that it’s because mathematics is a special interest, and that means everything about it: The language of it, the history of it, the structure of it. I don’t like nonfiction in general, but I’ve read entire books on mathematics (as well as on social justice (as well as on social justice in mathematics)).

So it’s still true that I don’t like history. I love mathematics, and that includes knowing about its history.

I did get shamed for collecting Star Wars cards, both by my father and by my age cohort. And yes, for a time, both Star Wars and Star Trek was a special interest.

And reading. When I was a child, I read constantly. That was my autism on multiple levels: Hyperlexic, escapist, avoiding social i…

(Something interrupted me at this point, so I checked my email. There was a request there for a headshot of my son for a contest he’s in, so I went to go look for it. After some digging, we found his school pictures, but when I scanned it, I noticed the platen on the scanner (just had to Google to make sure that’s what it’s called) had specks on it, so I had to go find wipes, which led to a random argument with my spouse, and then after I cleaned the platen I had to crop the photo, and then when I saved it I had trouble finding it again. So now I’m feeling significantly more agitated than I was. And now I remember what interrupted me: I have a cold, and a bunch of phlegm settled in my throat, causing me to gag, which led me on a search for tissues, and when I got back I decided to just check my email to refocus for this. This is life with an AuDHD brain.)

…interaction. My parents bought me a set of Newberry Award winning books, but because reading at the time was something that girls did more than boys, there was a definite skew towards books on girl interests. Part of me wanted to read every book I owned, part of me didn’t care how I was seen*, but either way, I read all of those books. I particularly remember “Strawberry Girl” getting me jeers at school.

(A photo of the cover of Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski, featuring a colored-in line drawing of a girl carrying a basket of strawberries through a strawberry patch.)

I also got jeers for “Alice in Wonderland” and, probably, for “A Wrinkle in Time”, although when I was infatuated with the latter (reading it multiple times) I was mostly ignoring everyone else anyway, so I’m not sure I would have noticed.

I’m going to switch gears a little and talk about phones now, because that’s really been on my mind the last year. I have always resisted talking on the phone. I thought it was CPTSD related to trauma with my mother, or that it was social anxiety because of how hard it can be to engage in a phone conversation, especially at the beginning and the end. But I’ve been reading a lot lately about how common it is for Autistics and Kinetics (ADHD folks) to struggle with phone conversations, and the reasons are like my reasons.

This morning I had to make a phone call because my car’s tire inflation light was on. I could have made the appointment online, but because of the snow day I thought I’d try to get the car in before the ice storm they’re threatening.

It did take me a few minutes to work up the grr needed to make the call. (Another distraction: This use of “grr” comes from “The Strain” by The Fixx. The lyrics sites insist the line is “You’ve run out of verve”, but to me it absolutely sounds like “You’ve run out of grr”.)

But I made it. It was fine. And it was easier reminding myself, “You’re taking a moment because you’re Autistic. This is a perfectly natural behavior for you.”


So, some stuff that’s been on my mind. I’m mostly stopping now just because I’m tired of typing and I’m getting distracted by things. I’m not even sure why I’m making this public, but since so few people read this anyway, it’s all good.

* Footnote after I thought I was done: One long spooge-screed that will someday come out is how masculinity has affected me throughout my life. When I was writing for The Good Men Project, I was asked to write a memoir on my path through manhood, but at the time I knew my journey wasn’t done. My life journey isn’t done yet, so my relationship with manhood isn’t done, but I feel like my journey as a man is absolutely done, even as society keeps trying to drag me back into it. But that’s a longer article, so long that this footnote really will seem like a tiny afterthought, if it ever comes out.

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