Unusual Interests: Calendar Calculation and More #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 21 in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I will be writing about my unusual interests. You see, like many autistic people, I tend to have interests that are intense and unusual in focus.

As a child, I was advanced for my age in math. When I was around six, my father taught me to do square and squareroot calculations. He used a set of squares (which were really computer chips) to teach me, laying three in one row and then squaring it to nine. I loved this.

When I was eight and the kids in my class were doing multiplication tables, this would be boring to me, as I had all tables from one to twelve memorized already. To make the activity useful for me anyway, I chose to start with the table of nineteen. Don’t ask me why I skipped thirteen to eighteen, but I did.

When I was a bit older still, I taught myself to do calendar calculation. Most people not familiar with autism I encounter have never even heard of that skill, which is a common savant skill in autistics. It involves calculating on what day a certain date falls. Usually, this skill is presumed to be memory-based, but I actually knew the rules for doing it. I also learned about the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1582 and took those ten days that were skipped into account when working with dates before then. I have a newspaper article from late 1999, which I still treasure, titled something like “the fight about time” in Dutch. It explained why the year 4000, unlike other centennial years divisible by 400, shouldn’t be a leap year. How fascinating!

Later, I developed other “unusual” special interests. For example, I used to draw maps when I was around ten or eleven. I always drew Italy, though I knew a lot about topography in general.

When I was in the psychiatric hospital and touring potential supported housing places, I had no idea about their location, except which trains and buses to use to get there. I wasn’t as good with topography anymore. I at one point had most bus routes in my province memorized from Wikipedia.

Soap: The Fun of Bath and Body Product Making #AtoZChallenge

The First Soap I Made

Welcome to day 19 in the #AtoZChallenge. I’m so excited to share today’s topic, as for today, I will be talking about a special interest of mine.

In the summer of 2016, I discovered soap making. An online friend of mine, who is also blind, had been doing it for years, but I hadn’t given it much thought. Then I decided to buy a starter kit. It contained melt and pour soap base, colorants, fragrance oils, a mold and other supplies you would need. I went about making my first soaps and they turned out okay. I need to say here that I’d tried a ton of other crafting hobbies before, including card making, polymer clay and jewelry making. Though my jewelry turned out okay’ish too, all my other craft projects turned out rubbish. I didn’t notice it at first, so I had some reservations re my soap making too.

The good thing about soap making, is that the result, even if it isn’t visually appealing, can be used. I have several soaps that were too bad for gifting, but I use them in my bathroom.

I cannot make soap completely independently (yet). I have tried, but then my kitchen became a huge mess. However, my soaps usually turn out pretty good if I get some help.

Besides soap, I’ve made body butters and lip balms. I like making those too, but they’re more work. I’ve also tried my hand at body lotions, but they never turned out good. I still would love to make those someday, as their visual appearance isn’t as important as with soaps.

The friend I mentioned above doesn’t use colorants in her soaps. I am still figuring out how to work this thing out, as white soaps don’t appeal as much to sighted people, but with colorants, you have to be careful to match the color and fragrance. I’ve made a few big mistakes in this respect, including a purple soap with coffee fragrance.

Four Skills I’m Pretty Good At #Write31Days

Welcome to day 15 in my #Write31Days challenge on personal growth. Today, I have another list post for you. One of Lisa Shea’s journaling prompts on self-esteem has us write about our skills. What things are you pretty good at? Here goes.

1. Writing. I’m by no means a bestselling author – I have only had one piece of writing published in a book so far. I also make a lot of typeos in my writing. Overall though I consider my writing to be pretty good.

I started writing at about eight-years-old, wanting to become a children’s fiction author once I’d grow up. Now my husband is one of my worst critics when it comes to my children’s fiction, saying my stories aren’t very imaginative to say the least. Then again, when he compliments me on my blog posts, I take it all the more to heart.

2. Calendar calculation. You didn’t know that’s a skill? It is! My husband can’t tell whether October has 30 or 31 day without looking at the calendar, so I’ve got to believe that calendar calculation is a skill. It refers to being able to tell what day a given date in the past or future falls on. I’m not nearly as good at it as I used to be some twenty years ago, but am still pretty good.

3. Researching topics of interest. When a topic captures my interest, I can research it for days on end and will quickly get to know a lot about it. As such, I know a lot about psychiatry – more than some so-called professionals would like me to know. The flip side si that I cannot convert all my knowledge into practice. For example, I know a lot about soap making, but after those first few attempts, I haven’t tried making soap on my own again.

4. Relating to other people in a unique way. Particularly to people with cognitive, intellectual or developmental disabilities. I consider myself pretty good at relating to my fellow clients at day activities. As such, I have been known to come up with some ideas for sensory activities.

What skills are you pretty good at?

Dear Autism Parents: On Unconditional Acceptance

I just read an essay in What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew and it touches home with me. In it, the author, Haley Moss, mainly describes how she feels parents need to ucnonditionally accept their autistic daughters. She particularly emphhasizes the need to support the girls’ special interests even if they’re not age-appropriate or girly. Boy, do I want to tell my parents this. It’s too late now, as I’m 32 and have half a lifetime of conditional love behind me already.

Moss herself too was encouraged to develop age- and gender-appropriate interests as a child. She recounts a fourth grade memory of being advised to trade her rare cards for Bratz dolls. I have no idea what they are, but I remember in fifth or sixth grade also being encouraged by my mother (in not so subtle ways) to trade my Barbie dolls for pop music CDs. After all, Barbie dolls may be girly but they’re not deemed appropirate for an eleven-year-old.

The negative effects of one such incident, like Moss experienced, can be undone by a greater occurrence of open acceptance of the autistic’s special interests. For example, Moss’ paretns eventually affirmed her interest in video games. In this respect, I felt generally okay about my interests in fifth and sixth grade, because, though my mother did not support my playing with Barbie dolls, my father did support my drawing maps.

As a general rule though, I have commonly felt only conditionally accepted by my parents. This is reflected in constant victim-blaming when I was bullied. They were at least somewhat consistent in that, in that at least my father spoke negatively about the intellectually disabled girl whom I bullied too. Of course, he set an example of ableism by doing this as much as my parents did by victim-blaming me.

When I went into college to major in applied psychology, I still got my parents’ reluctant approval. After all, though my major wasn’t that well-liked by them and my college wasn’t as prestigious as they had wanted for me, it still was college. Since having experienced my breakdown in 2007, it’s pretty clear my parents are not there for me anymore. That’s sad, but it’s true.

The saddest part about What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew is, unfortunately, that those parents who most need to hear the messages in it, will not read it. My parents don’t even think I’m autistic despite my having been officially diagnosed half a dozen times. Other parents may’ve gotten the diagnosis but choose to join the likes of Autism Speaks and shout “You are not like my child!” at every autistic adult trying to educate them about acceptance. That’s so sad. However, if some parents are helped by this blog post or by the book in showing unconditional acceptance to their children, that’s already good.