Rigidity

I will unabashedly admit that I’m quirky, though I do get defensive about some of my idiosyncrasies. For example, I feel embarrassed when people tease me about the clicking noise I make or my obsession with cataloging things with spreadsheets that I have no intention of using (in this latter category, for example, I have nearly one thousand different rocks and minerals specimens that I have organized, but I never look at the rocks, just the spreadsheet).

One silly quirk is that I will only use one spoon. I refuse all other utensils and will dig my little green spoon out of a pile of dirty dishes, hand wash it, and use it instead of taking a clean spoon out of the many viable ones in the silverware drawer. If a fork is a more appropriate utensil, I’ll still use my spoon and make it work instead. Part of the reliance on this one spoon is that it’s not metal; it’s a sturdy plastic. I can’t tolerate the sound or feeling of metal hitting my teeth. It clinks with a distinctive ring that makes me feel queasy. I also hate the cheap plastic generic spoons and forks. They have sharp edges that irritate the corners of my mouth at my lips and the inside of my mouth, not to mention that they aren’t environmentally-friendly or healthy. Those kind of low-quality plastics have all sorts of toxins so they shouldn’t be reused or heated through in piping hot food (for example, when eating soup).

The one I like is BPA-free, thick, and has been used for years. I’ve tried other equally-durable, high-quality plastic spoons, but it turns out my pickiness is even more specific, as these other models have not been the right shape. I’ll just be honest: the only spoon I’ll use is a wide-mouth toddler spoon that makes eating easier and I like the way it feels in my mouth (no hard edges, no noise, good size, etc.). I’m only belaboring something as trivial as flatware because I never noticed how particular (and peculiar) I am about all sorts of daily life things.

I think this is a common characteristic that many autistic people share, but it’s not necessarily one I’ve ever noticed. Different people in my life have pointed out specific examples of this type of behavior, but as individual discrete mannerisms, rather than a handful of similarly quirky or obsessive acts. Resultantly, I was never able to link the various examples and see the overall pattern, which may have helped identify more of a trait. In hindsight, there were many clues that could have lead me to an autism diagnosis earlier (this is just one tiny, rather inconsequential one). It’s almost always easier to identify behaviors and patterns (akin to evidence) once the answer (the diagnosis) is known.

I mention the inability to handle other utensils and my sole utilization of one toddler spoon this morning because my mom just sent me two new bamboo spoon and fork sets to try this weekend after I explained the hassle of strictly using one utensil. I’ve been trying to be more flexible and open my mind to the possibility that other utensils may work for me (profound ideas here this morning on big issues! (This is me correctly employing sarcasm!). I know that it’s such a trivial thing (the word “issue” seems to hold too much gravity), but for me at least, it often helps for me to change behaviors and the mindset that creates them by starting small and easy, with the low-hanging fruit.

The bigger picture goal here that I’m striving towards is to be less rigid and obsessive. Although I hate the word and don’t believe it’s necessarily always a positive thing, it’d be nice to be a bit more “normal.” There’s nothing wrong with being unique, especially when it means living with pure authenticity. In fact; I’d much rather be genuine in everything I do and the way I live, think, and feel, rather than forcing myself to fit some sort of more typical mold or expectation. I will never compromise my morals or integrity, for example; however, small behavioral changes like being more fluid and flexible with utensil options doesn’t infringe of any values or advantageous mindset. On the contrary, broadening my list of tolerable choices will make life a little easier (I won’t have to dig through a pile of dishes to find my one spoon, I won’t have to waste time searching for it when I can’t remember where it is, I can eat outside the home without bringing my spoon, etc.). In short, there’s nothing beneficial about only using one spoon that will be lost if I’m able to find others that work. On the contrary, it will behoove me to change this behavior. This means that I should be motivated to work on dismantling this mannerism, and it’s a great “low-hanging fruit” behavior to change en route to shifting my overall rigidity to one of more flexibility and normalcy.

Being autistic means that I’m hardwired to have the tendency toward certain mannerisms and ways of thinking that deviate, in certain ways, from some neurotypical ones. I’m not saying that every one of my “weaknesses” or even strengths) is attributable to being autistic; some are just my personality, and some are shared by autistic and neurotypical people alike.

Similarly, even those thought patterns and behaviors that I have that are considered by professionals to be characteristic of an autistic person doesn’t mean that all autistic people have them, that they aren’t modifiable, and that I feel I have an “excuse” for them in my diagnosis. I’m a firm believer that we are responsible for all of our thoughts and actions. Autism may make certain things harder for me or lend a propensity for me to think or act at certain way that I would not necessarily need experience if I were not autistic. However, just because I am autistic and have a certain typical autistic “symptom,” by no means should preclude me from working to adjust that behavior or mindset. In some cases, it may be extremely difficult to change, but it can still be doable with commitment and motivation.

I’m not ashamed of my autism nor trying to become “unautustic;” instead, I’m trying to stay accountable for my actions and pursue self-improvement in areas that I feel will make me happier, healthier, or a better person. Not all of the things I’ve identified about myself that I’d like to change en route to this self-improvement have anything to do with being autistic. In fact, many, like being more positive and more patient, have nothing at all to do with autism and everything to do with just being me. As much as I have personal heroes and people whom I feel are pretty perfect, I believe that no one is perfect and that everyone can benefit from taking an honest look at themselves and doing self-improvement work throughout their lifetime.

I have a quite a few areas that I’m currently working on, some are minute, some are significant, some are concrete, and some are intangible thoughts and feelings. One of these many areas for me is rigidity of mindset and behavior and I’m attacking it from different angles (and different degrees of challenge) and taking a multi-pronged approach. If today it means trying several new utensils with an open mind and good attitude, so be it. Sometimes amassing “wins” over trivial things can help build momentum to triumph over the more significant or resistant-to-change things. It’s Monday, and I’m only on day two of being sick from contamination, so it’s perfectly reasonable to go easy on myself today and set an easier goal. One step at a time in the right direction is still better than staying put.

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