Category: lists


Now it’s time for me to give you the ten summer Olympic events I can most easily imagine myself doing, whether that’s because I have some experience with them, because I think they fit my personality, or just because I think they might be fun.

 

10.  Sailing

I love to watch the sailing competitions.  Boy, do they look like fun.  Cutting through the water on a clear day, leaning out over the side of the small craft to steer it, using your weight to angle the sail and catch the wind just right.

Of course, I don’t know the first thing about operating a boat– it’s complex enough keeping track of where you are going in a motorboat, let alone a tiny sail craft that will capsize if you lean too far.  So I’m under no illusion that it would be easy to learn.

I’d have to start out by asking my girlfriend Megan to give me some lessons in how to pilot a boat– she at least has some experience in the area, even if it wasn’t as tiny a boat as the craft they race in the Olympics.  And that sounds like fun.  : )
Continue reading

We’re now into events that I have an easier time imagining myself competing in– at least in a dream.  🙂   In this part of the list, the event as a whole might seem fun, but there’s usually one or two things about it that give me pause.

20. Field events

Another big category lumped together. Basically, you have jumping (the long jump, triple jump, high jump, and pole vault) and throwing (the shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer).

I’ve never been terribly interested in these events, but I like the simplicity of just seeing who can jump the farthest or the highest. I used to try to see how far I could jump with a running start when I was a kid (and much more flexible). I liked the feeling of spinning around, too, so I was always entertained by the way athletes use centrifugal force to throw the discus and hammer.

Continue reading

Continuing up the list– now we’re into the realm of events I still can’t imagine myself doing, but at least I don’t picture them as pure torture– there’s maybe one thing intriguing about the idea of participating in them.

30.  Judo

I’ve enjoyed watching the judo competition, particularly the amazing dominance of American gold medalist Kayla Harrison in her weight class.  But the thought of being caught in one of her game-clinching pins makes me cringe.  Those big fuzzy blue and white robes the judoka wear in the competition look really comfortable, though, so I had to move judo up the list a few notches just for that.

Continue reading

Olympic dreams: Part 1

I love watching the Olympics.  Ever since I was little, I was fascinated by all of the countries and flags, the stats and record-keeping, and the amazing variety of events.  At a time when there’s a lot of negativity and stress in the news, it’s inspiring to see what people all over the world can do when they devote their time and energy to becoming the best at something they love.

It must be an amazing experience to win an Olympic gold medal and realize that all of your hard work has paid off.  Ordinarily I’d say that I have no idea what that’s like, because I’m not athletically gifted at all, but actually, I sort of do in a strange way.  When I was living alone working on my master’s degree in Texas, I watched a lot of the 2006 Torino winter Olympics, and I had an incredible dream one night.

I dreamed that I was being awarded a medal in the Olympics!  The ceremony was just like what I had seen on TV, outdoors in the snow near the Olympic torch.  Usually when I have a dream that’s clear enough to remember, it’s because I become aware that I’m dreaming (and that wakes me up).  But this dream felt real.  I woke up with a smile on my face, because I felt like I had actually experienced winning an Olympic medal.  Strange, I know.

One thing that was never clear in my dream was what event I had competed in.  I think that if I had tried to figure that out, I would have realized I was dreaming, because the impossibility of the scenario would have become too obvious.  😉

I still think of that dream every time the Olympics come around.  During this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, I’ve been changing channels like crazy, trying to see as many different events as possible.  The morning I started this post, I watched eight different events over the course of three hours.  It gave me the idea for a blog post.
Continue reading

Sensory overload is one of the most common struggles for people with autism or Asperger’s, but as with most things, it looks a little different for every individual.  My friend Megan had a really good post on her journal in which she listed the sensory inputs that she finds comforting and the things that lead to sensory overload.  I also like the point she makes about how being so sensitive is not all bad; it also means that we can find a lot of joy and comfort in simple things.

Anyway, I thought I’d use the same format she used to describe what sensory overload is like for me.

What sounds are comforting?

  • Rain on the roof.
  • A breeze rustling the trees.
  • The normal background noises of nature– frogs, insects, and birds.
  • An album of familiar songs that I know by heart.
  • An instrumental passage or guitar solo that rocks so much I have to turn the sound up, close my eyes, and nod my head (hopefully when no one is watching!)
  • A cat’s purr.
  • Silence.

What sights are comforting?

  • Maps.
  • Systems that use symbols and/or colors to organize things or convey information (especially if the color choices make sense).
  • Simple graphics using straight lines and bright colors.
  • Complete sets (of elements, constellations, countries, planets).

What textures are comforting?

  • Cold, smooth, clean surfaces.
  • A couch where I can stretch out and feel that it is there from my head to my toes.
  • A car or bus window when it is cold outside and I can press my head up against it.
  • A purring cat curled up on my chest/stomach.
  • Holding a smooth, hard game piece like a domino or a shogi tile, feeling the grooved patterns on it.

What spaces are comforting?

  • The edge of a room, with a sturdy wall I can lean against and feel that it is there.
  • The arc of a swing.
  • A hiding place.
  • A beautifully and logically designed game board.
  • The golden ratio.
  • A wide open place that is uncrowded and safe, where I have room to move and I know I am allowed to move.

What smells are comforting?

  • Waffles (or really any good food) cooking.
  • Approaching rain (ozone).
  • Autumn smells (fallen leaves, wood burning).

What tastes are comforting?

  • Pasta (texture as well as taste)
  • Cinnamon Life + Honey Nut Cheerios (the meal I have eaten more times than any other)
  • Mint Oreos in milk
  • Key lime pie with graham cracker crust

What are some of my favorite places?

  • Our cabin at Penn’s Creek, especially waking up in my bedroom feeling refreshed after my only lucid dream, when I decided to fly after I realized I was dreaming but didn’t wake up immediately.
  • On a cruise to Alaska, the quiet corner of the ship’s lounge my family found to talk, play games, enjoy hot tea, and watch the scenery pass outside.
  • Some parts of my football website (the few parts that are up to date!)
  • Places that aren’t real!  Red Brinstar in Super Metroid and the underwater glass tube, Snow Barrel Blast in Donkey Kong Country, the Tiger’s Claw (Wing Commander I), the Shire and Rivendell in Tolkien’s books.
  • The basement of our house when it is cool and quiet.
  • The tire swing at our house in Danville.
  • Being at home with the whole family around a warm fireplace while it rains or snows outside.

What things trigger sensory overload for me?

  • Having to navigate an unfamiliar place.
  • Multitasking (except for a few specific exceptions, like following multiple games in sports).
  • A lot of people talking at the same time, especially if some of them sound angry, frustrated, or upset.
  • Situations with a lot of rules that I don’t know or understand (or where I am expected to “just know” what to do).
  • A lot of bright lights from different directions in a dark area (especially driving through a city at night).
  • Signs, messages, and arresting images everywhere that don’t have any rhyme or reason (like a shelf of books or CDs in a bookstore; every cover is trying to get me to look at it by being the brightest, the most different, or the most shocking).
  • Portrayals of infinity.
  • Situations where I can’t find a place to stay out of the way and observe.
  • The feeling of chalk dust on my hands.
  • Being covered with dirt, mud, or sand.
  • A blaring television or radio that no one else is paying attention to.
  • Emotional overload.
  • Sometimes, I experience sensory overload after the fact– I’ve managed to negotiate a social situation or other challenge successfully, but as soon as I’m back home and able to relax, all of the stress comes crashing back in on me.

How can I tell if I’m approaching sensory overload?

  • My muscles tense up.
  • I find it hard to concentrate on work or fun activities.
  • I get a headache (sometimes a migraine)
  • I have an overwhelming urge to escape the situation I’m in, as soon as possible!

What happens when my senses are overloaded?

  • I try to get away, become (even more) quiet, and try to be inconspicuous.
  • My stimming behaviors, like toe-walking, rocking in place, swinging my legs, and biting my nails become more pronounced.
  • I appear to “zone out,” avoiding eye contact with everyone, instead focusing on something in the distance or on nothing at all, the “thousand-yard stare.”
  • My speech becomes very nervous; I speak faster, more quietly, and less clearly.
  • I have a harder time listening and retaining information.
  • With strangers, I may freeze or operate in slow motion, perhaps giving the impression that I am stupid or impaired.
  • With people close to me, I may become impatient and grumpy, snapping at them (apparent from my tone of voice; I may say “Okay, thanks,” but my tone of voice says “Stop talking to me and leave me alone!”

How can I prevent sensory overload?

  • Learn my capacity for sensory bombardment; accept the fact that it is less than most people’s and that I need to choose which things I participate in.
  • Give myself permission and allow time in my schedule to stay at home and rest.
  • If I’m in a situation that could lead to sensory overload, plan ways that I can take breaks, such as going for a walk by myself or sitting and reading during an optional activity.
  • Have others who know me well, that I can go to for help when I start to feel overloaded.

What’s in my sensory emergency kit?

  • Headphones and an MP3 player with all of my favorite music on it.
  • A puzzle book (especially cryptic crosswords).

How can I recover from sensory overload?

  • Time by myself, not talking to anyone.
  • After that, someone to talk to.  🙂
  • Taking a nap.
  • Taking a hot bath.

How do I know when I’ve recovered from sensory overload?

  • I no longer have a headache.
  • I am able to be around other people and enjoy their company.
  • I can get work done; I can be creative again.

What things cause you sensory overload, and how do you deal with it?

A lot of what you read about autistic and Asperger’s personalities tends to focus on their typical weaknesses, like social awkwardness and difficulty connecting with other people.  There’s a lot written about how traits like introversion can be a hurdle for autistics trying to fit in to a workplace or to form relationships.

But it’s a huge mistake to dwell only on the negatives.  Let’s ask a different question:  What are the strengths of an Aspie personality?  Can a person with Asperger’s or autism be a good coworker, a good friend?

I believe that the answer is yes, without a doubt!  People with autism, Aspies, shy people– have a lot to offer, especially if others are willing to listen and be patient with them.

I think that the character of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series is a great example of some of the strengths of an Aspie personality, and the way her friends accept her is a great example of how to treat others who may seem a bit different.

Speaking as an Aspie, it tends to be hard for us to talk about our strengths because we are so constantly aware of our weaknesses, but I think it’s a little easier to point out the strengths of a fictional character like Luna.

With that in mind, here are five positive character traits I see in Luna that I think she shares with a lot of Aspies:

1. The fruit of time spent alone in thought.

Aspies tend to need a lot of time alone to sort out our thoughts.  It’s not that we are smarter or deeper thinkers than anyone else, but we are more easily distracted by all of the sensory data bombarding us from every angle and the conscious effort it takes to participate in the give-and-take of interacting with other people.

In some ways, the magical world of Hogwarts seems like it could be a nightmare for someone who is prone to sensory overload.  It has all of the noise and busyness of a school, with people headed every direction all the time.  But I think the most annoying thing would be the pictures.

All of the paintings on the walls at Hogwarts are enchanted, so the people and things in them can move and talk.  So you can be walking down the hall by yourself, and one of the pictures might try to start a conversation with you.  If have a light on late at night, they’ll all start complaining that they’re trying to sleep.  Sure, sometimes it’s funny, but I think it would get annoying feeling like you’re always being watched.  (And then even if you get away from the pictures, you still have to deal with the ghosts!)

Luna grew up in this sort of magical world, so maybe it doesn’t bother her that much.  On the other hand, it’s not that different from having to contend with blaring advertisements in a crowded mall or airport in the real world.

But she does seem to appreciate time alone.  In Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter finds her in the forest feeding thestrals, the silent winged creatures that are invisible to most people.  When Harry asks why no one else seems to see them, Luna explains that she and Harry can see the thestrals because they have seen death– Luna lost her mother at the age of nine in an accident, and Harry was orphaned when he was just a baby.  Just months ago, Harry also witnessed a friend and classmate being murdered by the killer of his parents, the dark lord Voldemort.

At this point in the story, Harry is feeling isolated from his friends and ignored by his mentors.  He knows that Voldemort is about to strike openly and try to seize power, but the authorities are in denial.  They refuse to even speak Voldemort’s name and have published stories in the “respectable” papers portraying Harry as a liar.  Some of the people that Harry thought were his friends are avoiding him, and he has started to avoid them.

Luna quietly observes that perhaps Voldemort wants Harry to feel isolated.  “If I were You-Know-Who,” she says, “I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat.

This isn’t the sort of insight that occurs to someone without the benefit of a lot of time spent sorting out her thoughts.  Who would expect a shy little girl to have spent time considering the strategy of a ruthless enemy?  It’s an insight she has arrived at only after a great deal of thinking quietly by herself.  Luna, too, has felt isolated, because of the teasing of the other students and the fact that she has experienced a loss that most children her age can’t relate to.

It turns out to be the insight that Harry most needed at that point in his life.

Continue reading

Changing gears

Whew; I am glad to be done writing about my class trip!  I get so horribly stuck when I hit a writer’s block.  None of the things I write seem to sound right to me, and it takes me a week to write a sentence.  Eventually I end up avoiding the task as a reflex.  I’m still trying to figure out the best way to get out of a rut like that.

I want to get back to focusing a little more on life with Asperger’s and autism, as I have heard that people have found the material about that on this site to be more helpful.  I hadn’t realized until just recently that the Archives sidebar on the right side of the screen had vanished; I put it back over there. —->

You can click here to see just the posts marked with the “Asperger’s” category, or you can go all the way to the first post on the blog and use the “Next” buttons to read all the posts in order.  I’ve never liked the way that blogs display all the posts backwards; it seems like the most confusing way to read things.

And, if you want to make sure not to miss when I come out of a long period of not writing anything, you can subscribe to the blog, and you’ll receive an e-mail whenever I post something.

Anyway, I hope it’s not too long before my next post is up; thank you readers!

It’s interesting how some things stand out sharply in my memory, while other things are a complete blur.  For instance, the names of almost anyone who went on the trip with me.  (Sigh– I don’t know whether it’s faceblindness or self-centeredness or both.)  I really did have a great time with all of the classmates who went with me on the trip, and I’m so thankful for them– it’s just that, with a few exceptions, I cannot remember their names.  Isn’t that awful?  I even have a list of them, and I can’t remember who’s who.

Other things have blurred for me, such as what day things took place on.  I talked about getting caught in the downpour of rain on Saturday night, but based on what I wrote on the postcards I never got around to sending, that actually happened on Sunday night.  It’s strange that I seem to be able to remember things from early in life better than I can remember things from ten years ago.  There are several possible explanations for this, of course:

  • My memories from early in life consist of the most memorable events over a period of several years, while my memories of this trip come from a period of just two weeks.
  • My brain became overwhelmed by input by the time I was in college, and it dealt with this by not bothering to store things long-term.
  • My “hard drive” ran out of memory about when I turned 18.

Anyway, classmates with better memories are welcome to dispute the details of when we did what.
: )

Monday was mostly a “free” day; I think the only thing on our schedule was a visit to the British Library.  Among the items on display there were the Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th-century copy of the Old and New Testaments in Greek from before lowercase letters OR spaces were used!), the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and some of Shakespeare’s writing.  All of them much older than my entire country.  Pretty amazing!

Here’s an example of how awesome my classmates on this trip were.  When we were on the bus tour, they noticed that the Palace Theatre was advertising Broadway musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, at prices that you would never see in the U.S.  Several people in the class were interested in trying to go, though it didn’t seem likely we’d be able to get tickets during the short time we’d be in London.  But my classmates stopped by and got tickets to see Les Miserables on Monday evening, the night before we were to leave for Paris!

I was excited; I loved the story and had a CD with all the songs on it.  It’s one of the most powerful portrayals of Christ-like love and mercy I’ve encountered in art.  Our seats were up in the balcony, but the view was fine.  The seats cost only 10 pounds, which was about $15.  And the performance was terrific.

A few other random memories of London:

  • The pavement near the crosswalks had “LOOK RIGHT” written on it in big letters to keep people like me who are used to cars driving on the right from instinctively looking the wrong way and stepping out in front of traffic.  That was considerate.
  • I liked the simplicity of using the London Underground (the subway) to get around the city.  It kept me from ever getting totally lost.  I also liked the famous simplified underground map, which I would eventually study as an example of efficient technical communication.
  • The British one-pound coins were my favorite coins from the trip.  They have a nice thickness and weight that feels good to hold in your hand (appropriate for a coin worth more than a dollar).  Like all British coins, the “heads” side has the queen on it, but there were a lot of different designs for the “tails” side.  My favorite was a dragon– unfortunately, I don’t think I managed to hold on to that one, because I needed it for a bus ride back to the hotel.  It occurs to me that this was before the U.S. started making a quarter for every state in the union; the different designs may not have made as big an impression on me otherwise.
  • We walked through Harrods, a famous department store with all sorts of things much too expensive to buy.  I noticed a chess set there with an American Revolution theme, with Washington and his blue-clad colonials facing off against the British redcoats.  I remembered the old rule “white on the right, and queen on her color,” and looked closely at how the pieces were set up.  Sure enough, the red queen was on a white square, making the British the white pieces and thus the forces of good in this chess game.
    : )

I’ve been wanting to continue posting about what I was like growing up, hopefully to help people understand Asperger’s syndrome better.  But I’ve been a little nervous about writing this part, because it feels a bit like bragging.  It’s honestly not my purpose to boast, though, and I hope it will make sense once you’ve read the rest.

Hans Asperger described the children he studied during the 1940s as “little professors,” because they tended to study a specific interest in great detail, and then repeat the facts they had learned to anyone who would listen.  They would use formal language as if they were delivering a lecture, an effect that can seem comical coming from a young child.

I definitely had the “little professor” trait.  I learned to read when I was quite young– I honestly can’t remember not being able to.  My favorite sort of books to read were reference books that used pictures and symbols to communicate information along with words.  I would spend hours reading these books over and over again.

What sorts of things captured my interest?

  • Road maps.  A long while ago, I posted a funny story about how one year I said my favorite Christmas gift was a Philadelphia road map.  I was fascinated by the symbols used on maps for different types of roads and the names of the roads themselves.  I could watch for the road names on signs when I was riding in the car and figure out where all of the places we visited were.  At home, I would spread the map out on the floor and use highlighters to trace paths on it.  When my youngest brother Andrew was born, I told my grandparents how to get to the hospital when I went with them to visit my Mom for the first time.  I was four years old.
  • The states in the U.S.A. and the countries of the world.  I had an old atlas in my room that I turned through until the pages were falling out. I liked how each country was marked by a change in color and had its own flag.  Finding all of the countries on each map was like a game, especially in the case of tiny ones like Liechtenstein.  Before long, I could draw a map of state or country borders from memory.
  •  The bones and organs of the body.  Another of my favorite books was a human anatomy book; it was like a map of the inside of the body.  I liked learning all of the strange names for bones– vertebrae, phalanges, scapula, femur– and I could feel where they were inside me.  I read about the path that food takes through the body after you eat it.  I learned about the circulatory system (heart and blood vessels) and respiratory system (lungs).  I liked how I could ask my Dad, the doctor, any question, and he would know the answer to it.
  • Astronomy.  I loved learning facts about the planets.  Each one has its own day (Jupiter’s is 10 hours; Venus’s is 243 days) and its own year (Mercury’s is 88 days; Pluto’s is almost 250 years).  On some planets, I would weigh just a couple of pounds; on others, I would weigh a ton.  Then there were the constellations– 88 of them, just as many as there are keys on a piano.  I had a wonderful book by children’s author H.A. Rey that taught me how to recognize the brightest constellations in the sky, but I wanted to learn about all of them, even the ones without any bright stars, like Lacerta the lizard and Camelopardalis the giraffe.
  • Math.  Before I was old enough to start school, I did math workbooks for fun.  Really!  I enjoyed books that taught arithmetic by lining up rows of circles or squares so I could see what 9 + 5 or 3 x 10 looked like.  I would spend hours drawing squares so I could see what a hundred looked like– then a thousand.  (It didn’t occur to me until just now that I seem to have been a very visual learner.  Strange, because I’m actually diagnosed as having a non-verbal learning disability.  Are diagrams and maps considered verbal or non-verbal information?)

I’ve been thinking about why children with Asperger’s display the “little professor” behavior.  Some of the writing I’ve seen on the subject argues that these children are merely “parroting” information they’ve heard or read and don’t really understand the complicated subjects they are talking about.

Continue reading

A lot of video games are patterned after movies, with voice acting, cutscenes, and creative use of camera angles.  The goal is to make players feel as if they are controlling the events of the scene they are watching, or even to imagine themselves as a character within the game’s world.  One of the things I love about old video games is that the best of them accomplish this in creative ways, even in a very limited medium.

One of the oldest games on my top 80 list is Air Fortress for the original Nintendo.  The concept is simple, but it combines two different video game “genres” in a clever way and uses music to tell a suspenseful story.

The first thing you’ll see in the video is the poorly translated story of the planet FARMEL, which was having the GLORIEST DAYS before it was attacked by these mysterious AIR FORTRESSES.  In a plot development that gets used more often than you’d think in video games, the leaders decide that because this mission is so dangerous, the best course of action is to send one person to take on the fleet by himself.

That man is the intrepid HAL BAILMAN with his LIGHTBRASNER.  (Based on another version of the game with a better translation, they meant to say “LIGHT-BLASTER.”)

I love those cheesy stories for old video games– they can be hilarious!  Needless to say, this game does its best storytelling without using words.

There are eight levels in the game, one for each Air Fortress in the fleet.  The video shows you level 1, and believe me– the makers of the game were being kind to the player in this level.  Later levels get more difficult very quickly.  I don’t remember if I even made it halfway through this game back when I used to rent it as a kid.

Every level has three basic parts:

1. Approaching the Air Fortress by rocket sled.  This part of the game is a side-scrolling shooter, like Gradius, Defender, and other classic arcade games.  The screen scrolls by itself, and you have to pilot the sled to avoid the walls of the fortress and the enemies that fly around and try to shoot you down.  If you collide with any of these things, your rocket sled is destroyed, and you only have three of them.  It’s crucial at this stage to pick up the energy (E) and bomb (B) power-ups for you to use in the next section.

2. Inside the Air Fortress on foot.  Here, the game turns into more of a standard platforming game, in which you can explore in any direction.  The goal is to find the main power reactor of the Air Fortress and destroy it.  I like the way the energy meter doubles as fuel for your rocket boots in this part of the game.  This means that you have to be careful about how much you use the boots, because draining your energy puts you at more risk of being destroyed by an enemy.  It also places a limit on the amount of flying you can do; if you run low on energy, you will need to stay on the ground for a while as your energy recharges.

3. The escape.  This is where the game really draws you in to the story.  When you destroy the main power reactor, the whole fortress goes dark and quiet, unsettling music begins to play.  The Air Fortress is going to explode in a few minutes, and you need to find your rocket sled and escape before it does!  In the first level, the game designers were feeling generous, so they put the exit right behind the reactor.  But in most of the levels, you have to go searching for it.  You might pass the exit on your way in to the reactor, or it might be in a part of the fortress you haven’t seen yet.

The game doesn’t give you a timer, so you can’t know for sure how much time you have to find the exit. After a while, you start to hear a low rumble and the screen begins to shake.  The shaking gets gradually more severe and the rumble grows louder until it almost drowns out the music.  The screen begins to flash white just before the end until the entire screen is washed out, and — GAME OVER.

The game is great at building tension, and it’s here that you reap the benefits of collecting (E) capsules during the rocket sled section– the more energy you have, the more you can use your rocket boots to hurry through the air fortress.

 

Continue reading