Things I Did as a Child That Could Have Been Indicators of Autism

Choosing to wear outfits of mixed patterns (plaids with stripes, as an example), bright colors and patterns, etc, especially rainbows. I also really liked jungle prints, tropical floral prints, neon colors and anything iridescent or shiny.

Being obsessed with putting things in order by color (boxes of crayons, pens, other art supplies, toys, books on a shelf, CDs, etc.)

Actually, I would reorder my vast CD collection (and cassettes, before that) over and over, trying to find the perfect organizational system. Sometimes, it was by CD jacket color, or genre then alphabetical by artist, or year of release, or alpha by album title, or length (in number of tracks or run time), etc. I would reorganize for fun.

Listening to the top 100 song countdown on New Year’s Eve all day, writing down all the songs in order, and feeling like a failure if/when I missed a song. If I had to leave the house for any reason, I would designate a “radio sitter” who was rarely as invested in the project as I was and would be very upset to find gaps in the log when I returned.

Being obsessed with having complete sets of a thing. If something came in a set of X number, I needed to have the complete set. If one of the items in the set became broken or unusable, I would become distraught and would throw out the rest or would have to find a replacement for the one item. I had to keep getting the bigger boxed sets of crayons before I could even use the ones I already had. Something about the complete (perfect) set was a huge comfort to me.

I would consciously, but silently, count the number of bites/chews of food I did on each side of my mouth, reasoning that since I brushed my teeth for the same amount of time on each side, I should definitely be using each side of my mouth equally. There needed to be balance.

I rarely wanted to play with other kids unless there was an event (like my birthday) when I thought others expected that I would have a party. I wanted to receive invitations to parties other kids were having, but rarely wanted to attend said parties. Most of the time, I was not invited and, if I invited others to my party, few attended. I wanted to be included so I could give the impression of fitting in, but wanted to reserve the right to CHOOSE not to fit in, if I didn’t want to.

The truth was, I didn’t know how to relate to kids my age at all. I would have rather had conversations with adults from a very young age, like around 5. People my own age were just never all that interesting to me.

I would read the phone book for fun. In it, I would count how many listings there were for specific names, see how many ways a name could be spelled, look for patterns in the numbers and commit them to memory. I still know all of my favorite high school teachers’ phone numbers, if they were listed, or at least the phone numbers they had in the early 90s.

I spent a great deal of time (by middle school, high school and college) figuring out how to get at least a B in all my classes by doing the absolute least amount of work possible. This usually involved class “hacking” by looking at the syllabus and taking calculated risks based on how the classes’ final grade was determined. I ended high school with a 3.5 GPA (on a 4 point scale) and 3.2 for college, doing better in classes where the subject was something I was interested in, rather than a requirement. I would turn in all math assignments for a semester on the last day. I was a teacher’s nightmare.

Every time I got into wide open spaces (beaches, fields, etc) I would spin and spin around until I fell down. It made me so happy to feel the centrifugal force on my arms as I spun until I collapsed in giggles.

I started playing saxophone at age 8 because I had an ear and interest in music and had an elderly relative willing to gift me an old alto sax. I could play anything by ear and LOVED to play with the band, but hated and resented anytime I had to play by myself. I very rarely practiced or performed any solos that weren’t effectively forced and I grew to hate the band teachers who made me play outside of the ensemble.

I hated places that were geared toward kids. Once after my brother had a surgery, my parents treated the family to a trip to Chuck E Cheese and I could not stand it! It was raining outside and my parents wouldn’t let me sit in the car, so I stood outside the car in the parking lot, in the rain, until they were all done playing and eating pizza. I was 12 years old. In retrospect, I feel like had I been forced to join them inside, I probably would’ve had my first meltdown right then and there. Again, I really didn’t want to draw attention.

I’m sure there are more instances of early spectrum-y traits, but that’s a good list. I don’t think that anyone would have given me a diagnosis in the 80s because I was good at school (I tested well, at least, even though I didn’t really LEARN anything) and I wasn’t particularly antisocial. Mostly, I did everything I could to avoid drawing attention to myself. And my parents were very supportive. By the time I got to high school, I was allowed to make many decisions for myself, i.e. not showing up at school if I didn’t “feel well” due to anxiety about a performance or project.

In fact, I attribute the fact that I am a reasonably successful, professional adult today to my parents who worked hard to ensure my siblings and I had what we needed, learned to make good decisions and always had somewhere to crash, if we needed it. Compared to my friends, I got more empathy and understanding from my parents and I think that is there missing ingredient in a lot of kids’ upbringings now.

Respect your children. They are autonomous little beings who want to make (age appropriate) decisions. You can’t control them forever, and if you don’t realize that until they are in middle or high school, it’ll be too late.

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