Pet Peeves Associated with Autism

As you know, this month, my blog theme is pet peeves.  Having autism (actually Asperger’s Syndrome), I probably have some different types of pet peeves than other people.

One of the “biggies” on the list of symptoms of people with autism is that we are “exact word oriented.”  With a lot of autistic people (like both my children), this means that they might laugh at a joke because other people are laughing, and they’ve learned that’s what they should be doing, but they have no idea why.  They also may not get idioms such as if they hear that someone “has skeletons in their closet.”  That makes no sense.  Did they kill people, and the bodies decomposed in their closet?  How did this happen?

The autistic individuals who are exact word oriented might also not be able to gauge certain voice inflections.  They only hear words and apply the only meaning they know.  For example, if an autistic middle schooler wears his favorite Cookie Monster T-shirt to school and a group of older kids snicker and in a sarcastic tone say, “Nice shirt, kid!”  there’s a good chance that the autistic child will walk away smiling, thinking that the kids all just complimented him.

I, personally, am not affected that way with my exact word orientation.  But how it affects me is just as bad, if not worse.  With me, I read into the exact words far too much.  This used to give me quite a hang-up until I learned to ignore it for the most part.  For example if I went to the office with a different hairstyle and someone said, “You look nice today,” what I heard was, “Wow, you actually look good today.  Normally, I can’t think of a man that would spit on you if you were on fire.  Thanks for cleaning yourself up.”  And the reason I heard ALL that superfluous unspoken message was from the simple word “today.”  I think I was probably thirty before I realized that what the person was probably trying to say was, “Hi, Rachel.  You look nice.  I really like that different hair style.  It’s very flattering.”  {Note there was no “today” following the word “nice.”}

So I finally learned how to cope with a lot of what angered me by realizing that other people are not as conscientious of their words as I am (which I do NOT mean in a bad way at all!), and that my “special brain” is what makes me think this way.  Therefore, I now know how to exercise a conscious effort into just “going with the flow” when these types of things occur, and they don’t bother me (much) anymore.

However, a different type of exact words situation still bothers me.  There are times that people ask me something to the effect of “How’s it going?”  Now please note that I’m not talking about casual acquaintances or strangers; I’m talking about good friends.  So when they ask what’s going on, I tell them the truth.  Sometimes it’s not a good day or week.  (Let’s see, I raised two autistic kids all by myself with no child support and no moral support from my own so-called family, except for my sister Michelle.  My son’s school was constantly calling me because he was in trouble, so I missed a lot of work, and my boss actually threatened me at one point and suggested I send my kid to live in a group home.)

Needless to say, whenever I told the truth about my week, these friends always felt the need to “fix” my problem.  But I wasn’t complaining.  I wasn’t even venting.  As a matter of fact, I’ve been a very independent person since I was a teenager, and I dealt with the problems myself just like I always have.  I was merely stating the facts that they asked to hear.  As a matter of fact, as you’ve probably already surmised if you’ve read my blog for long, when stuff like that happened, I ended up making a joke about it as I told whatever story.  But so often, these people would say, “Aww,” and give me the pity eyes.  I hate that!  I haven’t acted like a victim since I was a teenage girl (and frankly I’ve never met a teenage girl that didn’t do that).  So that makes me feel like my friends have never listened to me at all, because they obviously don’t know me or what makes me tick.

Another one of my exact word pet peeves is when, for example, I have a planned trip coming up and someone asks if I’m looking forward to it.  (Now you may find this next part funny, because I absolutely LOVE to travel – except for the sleeping part.)  I probably reply that I’m excited, except for sleeping in the hotel.  When they ask why, I explain that with my autism, I generally can’t sleep anywhere but in my own bed, in my own room, in my own house.  Literally.  I can’t.  (This is a common complaint, but there are numerous other sleep disorders also associated with autism.)  I get irritated when the person does something such as suggest that I bring a pillow or blanket from home.

The reason I get so mad when that happens is that I’ve lived with this sleep disorder my entire life.  They’ve just heard about it, yet after 30 seconds, they think they’re equipped to solve my problem.  Gee, a pillow from home.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Autistic people are hyper-sensitive to all sorts of stimulants.  So when I sleep at a hotel, the sheets are scratchy, and they smell of laundry soap that I don’t use.  The room smells of other people.  The sounds are different. The light in the room is different.  The mattress is not as comfortable.  The pillows are awful. The bedspread is not warm, and God knows what kinds of germs are on it.  The air conditioning smells funny and makes a weird sound.  The people in the rooms on either side of mine make noise.  Whenever anyone walks down the hall, I can hear them.  There may be someone traveling with me who is in the next bed, and I can hear them breathe, or worse yet, snore.  Whenever anyone on my floor uses a toilet or takes a shower, I can likely hear the water in the pipes.  It’s never relaxing before bed to look at one of those hotel TVs that never get any good channels.  I could literally name at least 50 more specific reasons that I hate sleeping at hotels (and I’ve actually been to some very posh hotels in my lifetime).  But the bottom line it, it’s not home, and autistic people often don’t adapt well to certain changes or routines.  But by golly, at least my friend put enough thought into my problem to suggest the obvious:  “Why don’t you try bringing a pillow from home, Rachel?”

(That said I can often somewhat sleep in other people’s houses as opposed to hotels.  But even I see the humor in how weird it is that I would love traveling with this millstone around my neck.  In case you’re wondering, when I travel, I just usually “rest” while I’m gone, then sleep for a day or two when I get home to catch up.)

So not only did they not put any thought into their answer, but I guess I overthink it, and what I hear is, “Hey, you moron.  I know what’ll fix your problem:  Bring another pillow!  It’s obvious that you’re too stupid to have realized that’s all you needed to do.  You should be glad you have me to bounce your problems off of so that I can fix them for you.”  Logically, I know the person is probably only trying to be helpful, but, literally, it completely insults my intelligence when this happens.

So (before you suggest it), what I have learned is that I just need to lie and say, “Fine,” when someone asks how I am and, “Uneventful,” when they ask how my week was and, “Yes, I’m looking forward to it,” when they ask if I’m excited about an upcoming trip.  I do recognize that this is MY problem.  My friends don’t need to change the way they speak; I just need to learn how to process their words differently.

At any rate, I apologize for the long-winded post, and I hope you learned a little something new about autism today.  Tomorrow I’ll be back to general pet peeves.  The first Sunday of next month, I’ll post something else about autism.  Until then…


75 thoughts on “Pet Peeves Associated with Autism

  1. Hi Rachel,

    What you say it spot on! My son is autistic and has many of the characteristics you mention. To us, he is simply Jake and sees the world in his own, unique little way but to others he sometimes seems difficult or unusual.
    Prime example, he went to school on Friday and had to wear a sports kit for the World Cup. Upon arriving he was the only wearing it, but rather than be embarrassed that he looked the odd one out, he was off the opinion that he was right and everyone else was wrong because they were not wearing a sports kit and was perfectly content! I once made the mistake of saying to him “There is no one here but us chicken’s” and spent the next fifteen minutes trying to explain that we actually didn’t have chickens, had never had chickens and that it was a figure of speech!

    Still in this century, there is still so much misunderstanding and fear about such personality traits. At the hospital where I work, they will isolate someone with Aspergers or someone on the spectrum because they think they will ‘kick off’. I think it is a insult that despite all the advances in the world, ignorance in the NHS is still something we haven’t quite found a cure for.

    Love the article!!


    • Thank you, David,
      Jake sounds like such a cutie! I know a lot of parents of Aspies that feel like the world won’t cater to my child, so I have to make them change, but I’m so glad to hear that you encourage Jake to be who he is and be proud of it. I can tell you both from my own standpoint as well as both my children’s that it is stressful having this special brain, and there needs to be a place (ideally home) that’s a safe haven were we can be ourselves and not have to worry what other people think. Thanks for reading. 🙂

      • I just want to thank you for this insight! Not for just me but for my family and son as well who is Autistic (Asp. Spect.) I have been in the medical field for 16 + years, so when my son was born and growing I seen the warning signs that he was autistic, from the non meat eating to the not wanting to stay the night at a friends house, and every little thing in between! I knew as he got further in age, with more and more red flags that he was autistic, but it wasn’t until he was 8 that I had him tested, and that was only for a few reasons. 1 big reason was he had to change schools , up until then he had always been in the same school from day 1, but the new school pegged him as lazy and a trouble maker even after I tried to explain to them about how he is. And 2 because of the trouble the school was creating his father was coming down on him like it was his fault. I hated to, but I decided then that it was time to let the doctors say, ” you gotta listen to mom” (sort-of-speak). But my daughter, bless her, his older sister by almost 2 yrs, has been like a protector and body guard of his through all of his trails and diagnosis (many) and when she found it hard to understand that he doesn’t think or hear the same way as her and other people do or say, it was hard on her! It is hard for someone that doesn’t have to deal with this to understand it, especially when you are telling them that he can listen to his music or watch his videos to at bed time but you can’t. And I have researched literature for her to try to give her a better understanding of how his mind works, but I might as well as been speaking french to her. I sat down with her and we read your post together, and she understands now and even apologized to him and promised that she would try and be more understanding, and more open when/ if he needs to correct her about things pertaining to his understandings. WE have always tried to teach him that this doesn’t make him different it makes him special, and he should embrace it and not hid it, which he always has done. We also make sure that our home is always a “safe zone” for him, and with this blog you have helped make his safe zone more understanding. Thank you!!!

  2. i understand the getting mad and not sleeping forever.just last week the probably 100th person tells me lemon, honey and tea after 30 seconds,when i’ve had bronchitis for 14 years,15 drs,hospitals…wait, no this one is better i really get mad at my israeli pen pal when he tells me things i did in 1980 like valerian root & every other sleep herb known to mankind…i mean he has given me , for 20 years ,100’s of things to do,i’ve already done .that’s all he does,even blood transfusions & he won’t stop.

  3. Great post. Understanding from other people is all that’s needed, I think. I have my own sleep issues. When I was younger, I read that sleeping on my right side is better for my heart, because if I was on my left, there’d be extra weight. I don’t recall where I read that, but I’d gotten so used to sleeping on my right, that I have a hard time falling asleep on my left side now.

    • I’ve heard that before, too. Also a lot of sleep habits come from what we were taught as children, such as needing white noise or needing a glass of water handy. Thank you! 😀

    • I always start on the right side, because I heard the same thing. But I wonder if it might be something else. I found that when I almost fall asleep on the right side, I have what might be sleep apnea. I did find, however, that after I have fallen asleep on the right side, for some reason, I am able to toss and turn with no problem and often wake up sleeping on my left side. I keep thinking that if I lost weight, I could fall asleep on either side. Crazy how our minds work and what our bodies get used to.

      I had a severe problem with insomnia when I was in my mid 20s, and what finally worked for me might not work for others.

  4. I’m a bit of a literalist, myself, though I don’t have Autism. So I end up ruining a lot of sarcastic jokes because I just didn’t get it. It ends up being a riot at work! I’m probably the funniest person there, but it’s definitely not on purpose. I truly don’t mind.
    Thanks for posting more about Autism. I know so many people affected by it, and treat patients who have it (I’m a physical therapist, remember), so it’s helpful to know more about it.

  5. Very informative, and interesting too! I’ve known just the one person (that I know of) with Asperger’s Syndrome, and it makes so much sense having read your insights.

  6. As most have said so far, Rachel, this is informative and even understandable in both senses of that word. I know we all struggle with how we have understood someone else’s comment to us, but without autism added to it, we get a break in immediately getting the nuances behind them too.

    It makes me curious about how you are able to receive all the comments that you do. Are there days when it’s overwhelmingly peeve-inspiring or does the written form make a difference in any way? I find it especially hard to know how to take a tone in print a lot of the time, but does it do something different for you?

    On another note, knowing what you have managed to accomplish in life so far, especially with the drawbacks, only confirms for me, your utter brilliance and huge heartfelt soul.

    – Robyn ❤

    • It really depends of the person giving the questionable written comment. If it’s a stranger, and unless the comment is downright rude, I usually try to think the best of people and assume they mean it well, even if it’s not worded in the best way. However if it’s someone I know personally, then I gauge it on whether they have a positive or negative personality. I think that makes a huge difference. I’ve learned to listen for that when people speak as well. If I’m insulted, I’ll stop and ask myself if I think the person meant to insult me or if perhaps they would be surprised and maybe even have hurt feelings if they had a clue they insulted me. I don’t think most people mean to be hurtful.

      And as for the rest, thank you so much! That’s just another reason we are kindred souls! Because I admire your heart, soul and aura as well. ❤

      • This might sound a little weird, but really, there are a whole lot of people who could learn through your version(?) of Aspergers. Honestly, the fact that you have to put thought into how to react is really thought-provoking for those of us who take our initial reaction for granted. Too often it comes out as assumptions more than thoughtful reasoning. We all have something to learn from you, and I hope you don’t mind me saying that.

      • I don’t mind at all, thank you! I think I speak for more than just myself, when I say that we have to put a lot more thought into a lot of reactions, such as eye contact. I don’t know why it’s hard for us, but it is. I have a hard time with it, especially with people I don’t know. But I know that it’s appropriate to do. So I have to stay conscious to force myself to look at someone when we interact. Usually I just look “past” them so that they think I’m looking at them. Even looking at someone on TV, I don’t usually look at their eyes. I know it’s weird. 🙂

  7. It is really interesting and important to hear about autistic world and people from person like you. Thank you, for your article. I have grandson who is diagnosed with autism. He is small and your stories help me to understand him better.

  8. Good post, Rachel. Two of my children have high functioning autism, and there are many people throughout my extended family who are on the spectrum. As my kids were growing up, we had to explicitly teach them the meanings of some of the most common figures of speech, and we spent quite a bit of time on social niceties. I have learned to step back and consider whether someone meant what they say in a negative way or whether they were trying to be nice, or didn’t know what to say. My mother and my husband are “fixers.” After a while, I finally learned to take what was useful, and ignore the rest – especially with my mother.

    • It can be tricky, for sure. I find it easier with strangers, because before I get upset, I have learned to ask myself if I think the person was actually trying to insult me or just oblivious. With the people I know, a lot of them are actually the type to be insulting on purpose or to be funny, so it’s harder to gauge. 🙂 Best wishes!

    • Thank you so much, Ian! I post about my experiences with Autism on the first Sunday of each month, though sometimes Autism gets peppered into other posts throughout the month. Best wishes! 😀

  9. Hotels: I hate sleeping in them too. It’s not nearly as hard for me to go to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings as for you, though, but that’s probably partly because when I travel I’m normally worn out. For some reason, I can stay up late at home but when I travel I need my sleep. And it’s awkward when I realize that my friends want to stay up when I want to sleep. I had a minor breakdown on the trip we took as a Youth Group to D.C. this January because it was just too much coming at me, and I was tired, and hungry. (The other problem I had on the trip, though, was that I was planning ahead, and thinking ahead, and asking questions rather than keeping it to myself, and the coordinator didn’t like that, for some reason. He maybe saw it as me being impertinent or prying, I don’t know. But he didn’t like it much, and he still doesn’t like it when I ask questions about a plan.)
    I’d rather stay at people’s houses, too. But if their houses aren’t neat or feel crowded, I might get claustrophobia. Also, if it feels like a condo, then I likely won’t be comfortable. Whether that’s because I’m used to a moderately clean house with just enough space to practice ballet in the living room , or if it’s just because I’m what I guess I could describe as a slightly-neatness-obsessed middle-class American, I don’t know.
    (And I have this one friend whom I can instantly tell without seeing her because her clothes smell like one particular detergent; I can sometimes also tell places where she’s been just by the scent. Also, I can tell if someone’s been in a particular place–a school and gym–because it has a very pungent scent, and if you stay for a while it starts to cling to your clothes.)

    • The sounds and smells really get to me in a hotel and while I wouldn’t necessarily call myself germaphobic, I think other people probably would. So the thought of nasty viruses and stuff in there also weighs on my mind. In people’s houses, if they are relatively quiet, I can sometimes deal with it and force myself to sleep.

      • Ahhh… I normally find myself worrying more about allergens. I don’t get sick often unless I’m horribly stressed, but my allergies can make me miserable, sometimes even when I take my Zyrtec. (I wound up resistant to Claritin, but Zyrtec doesn’t even make me drowsy any more, and it normally takes care of the allergy symptoms.)

      • I have to take Claratin-D-12 hour (the regular doesn’t do anything at all), but I find if I take more than one in a day, it keeps me awake even more than I already am. 😦

  10. Yes, Rachel, I did learn something. Thank you. I have a number of acquaintances with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome and I am very grateful to people who are willing to share their experiences so that I can try to understand how I can help and when offering help is appropriate. For example, it can be very difficult to work out which is misbehavior and which is autism/Asperger’s Syndrome etc. Therefore, lessons like this one provide invaluable insights. Thank you.

  11. Great post, I just found it through someone else’s reblog.
    My best friends’ oldest son is autistic and it’s always helpful to learn a little bit more so I can understand him a little better. They gave me a book for Christmas (“The Reason I Jump”) which was also very illuminating.

    • Thank you. The book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon is also a wonderful book that will help you understand Autism. It’s a novel (not a textbook) and the main character is autistic, (though from the way he’s described, he seems more like asperger’s syndrome to me). I post something about my own (or my kids’) Autism on the first Sunday of each month, and often something creeps into my regular posts, if you care to follow. Thank you for stopping by to comment. 🙂

  12. I think the world is made up of people trying to help, guilty right here. I think the saying is, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” 🙂 Thanks for the follow.

      • Hi Rachel,
        This is the first I’ve read by you and it’s EXCELLENT; lots of info here that make a whole lot of things clearer. If there is a group for Insomniac’s United, I ought to be a member, because I always have been. I nap, and that works the best for “me”.

        Our son (grown) has one of the sleep apnea machines, and he says it’s loud as heck. He’s in Texas (job relocation thing), we’re in Connecticut, (cuz it’s home), and he flies out to visit us every now and then and won’t bring his machine with him. I’ve watched him stop breathing and it scares the daylights out of me, but he says, it’s too much to bring on the plane.

        I’m also the same as you, about hotels, motels, whatever. There are germs there – bad stuff and the bed isn’t right, either. I’ve brought sheets, pillows and blankets, to put on top of theirs (I know, that probably makes no sense), but it made me feel better.

        What do I do now? Stay home!

        I also have a huge problem with anything “not” fragrance-free. Tell me, why do people feel the need to take a bath in that stuff? I sneeze, wheeze and choke and it’s not just the women, it’s the guys, too, but I’m an aromatherapist, so I make all of our own stuff, so it’s all natural.

        Valerian sure does stink! It never made me sleepy, but it stunk up the whole house or apartment and right now, it’s an apartment and my husband wanted to try it – he got a sample, and even that stinks!

        Your son sounds wonderful. 🙂

      • Thank you so much! It sounds like you and I would get along well! 🙂 I post about Autism on the first Sunday of each month, and sometimes in my daily posts, it crops up as well. Thanks for the follow and I’m looking forward to reading yours as well! 😀

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