Language Translation

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's Not What You Think It Is.

As a child, I would walk into a room and if it was filled with people,  I usually walked out as quickly as possible.  It was hard for me to be around other people.  I couldn't explain why.  I didn't understand what was going on inside of myself.  I just knew that I wanted to have quiet time and space to myself.  In a home of 11 children, that was a hard thing to accomplish.

I have spent years trying to learn about myself and why I am the way I am.  I do not have a degree and I have only completed 3 full semesters of college (and almost every class I took was a music class).  I have studied and read (on my own) much about music as well as a little about law, physics, psychology, biology, and communication.  All of these things gave me great information, wonderful insights, and mind-blowing correlations...but no answers as to why I was different.

Then one day, while driving my truck (and I mean a real, 18-wheel truck), I blacked out for a nano second.  I was taken from behind the wheel and had to go through three months of tests.  While being tested to find the reason I blacked out,  I was diagnosed with 3 other things.  Two of them were fairly easy to understand and were physiological birth defects that could not be changed.  One was more difficult for me.  I was told I had Asperger Syndrome.  I didn't know a lot about it at the time, except that the few people I had known with it were very non-social, a little odd, and obsessed about one particular thing.  I was social.  I had a hard time going to school because I couldn't keep my interests narrowed to one thing.  But I was, however, quite odd.  It took me almost 4 years to accept that diagnosis.  But when I did, WOW!  Not only did my life change, but the lives of everyone around me have changed.

I am very high-functioning, but I have insights to the Autistic world that seem to be uncommon.  The biggest life-changing perspective came about 2 years ago.  I had been working for nearly 3 years with a friend who was helping me to understand emotions.  We literally spent hours and hours everyday talking about feelings.  She would say something, ask me how I felt about it, and then go through a list of emotions.  I would listen until she struck on the one that would hit something inside of me and then we would talk about that emotion.  Sometimes I didn't know what the emotion was that she was naming and so she would put it into a picture for me.  Things like, "I feel like a kid whose kite is really flying for the first time when suddenly the string snaps and the kite is blown away."  From that description, the word "disappointment" began to mean something to me - it became more than just a word.

After years of this, I had some amazing, personal experiences that helped me learn to open up my heart again.  Wait.  Did I say again?  Yes, yes I did.  I have gone back over my own life as well as tested this theory on every "handicapped" person I have met; it has yet to be proven untrue.

As a child, the reason I would get out of the room as quickly as possible had nothing to do with anything the others around me could see.  It was what was unseen that bothered me.  There wasn't too much color, too many patterns, too much noise, too much music, too much activity.  It was the emotions in the room.  My "meltdowns" were not caused by one of my 5 senses being overly stimulated.  It was the over stimulation of something that most mother's would never think of.  I could feel everything, every emotion that was in that room.  Of course, as a little child I was not conscious of my own emotions and was even less so of others'.  It would have been impossible for me to come to understand my own emotions amidst the jumble of the other emotions all around me.  The meltdowns and shutdowns are survival techniques to keep from literal insanity.

Imagine being 3 years old.  You walk into a room with maybe 7 people in it (including you).  One person is angry because dad wouldn't let her take the car.  Another person is sad because her boyfriend is 20 minutes late.  Another one is trying to psych up his energy before heading out to his wrestling match.  Another is so tired because he didn't sleep much the night before.  Maybe someone is elated because the girl he likes wants to go out with him.  Someone else is feeling stressed and overwhelmed by all of the school projects due tomorrow that have been procrastinated.  You are feeling very calm and happy, having just seen a very beautiful flower in the bed outside.  Now add to that, upon entering the room and feeling all of those things, your own new additional feelings: bewilderment, frustration, stress, fear, anxiety. 

Put all of those emotions into one container and feel them all at the same time.  Can you understand it, make sense of it all?  Imagine what it must be like to try to understand those feelings as a toddler who doesn't even understand his/her own emotions yet.  I did the only logical thing to do.  I decided my "feeler" was defective and shut it down.  Then (again this is only my theory) the neuro-pathways that had been used to discern and understand emotion were reassigned elsewhere, much as a child who is born deaf or blind.  The brain says, "Okay, those links are no longer being used.  Let's not waste some perfectly good neurotransmitters.  You and you are reassigned to logic.  The rest of you, focus on ...."  And the reprogramming of the pathways begins. 

It has taken years of conscious work to learn to reopen my heart and have access to it again.  I still cannot tell you how I feel at the drop of a hat.  It has to work it's way down from my head to my heart.  I still get confused about whether what I'm feeling is my own emotion or if it belongs to someone else.  I still have days where I will be in a funk for several hours before I realize that it isn't my "voice" for that emotion.  Meaning, the picture of that emotion is not something I would ever feel, not in that way. 

Each emotion carries a little of the attitude and personality of the person it is coming from.  Sometimes I know exactly who it belongs to the minute I feel it, other times I spend days trying to figure out what is going on.  It is not easy, but it is often very miraculous.  When I am in large groups, instead of thinking about "meltdown" I start to think about how to ground myself.  I focus on feeling my own feelings or if I am there with someone I know, trust, and who knows me well, we have a signal.  That signal means I need contact to help me get grounded.  I find my own feelings first.  Then, standing next to a friend and having some sort of physical contact with them allows me to pick up on their feelings more than anyone else, it's sort of like turning up the volume.  After a short time (moments to minutes depending on the environment we are in), I am able to continue and interact.  But without that time, bring on the meltdown!

I guess what I am trying to say is that most people who have a "special needs" label are just more aware of what is unseen than those who are "normal."  I have also found that the more severe the inability to interact with things on the physical plane, the more attuned that person is to the things that are unseen.  I am currently working with a child who is aware of the feeling of not only the people around her, but the earth itself.  She can feel how everything feels and it directly affects her body.  She got sick out of the blue.  She had not been exposed to anyone who had been sick, there was no reason for the immune system to be down (normal sleep, supplements, eating, etc.).  There was found that a small water pipe directly in front of their home had a crack in it.  The day it was fixed, she was well.  Again, no explanation as to change in anything except the pipe being fixed.  I have since tried other things with her.  The day they mowed the lawn, she had a very hard day.  When it was raining, she was ecstatic, and then she got a stomach ache.  As we walked outside she would pause occasionally at different vegetation.  She would walk up to a tree, put her foot at it's base and her hand on it's trunk.  She would stand there for 3 minutes.  Then, off she would walk again.  A bush.  She would back into it, sit on the ground, and rub the leaves back and forth over her face, as though she were letting the bush hug her.

And this is just one girl on one day.  Some people call me crazy.  Some people think I'm "out there."  Some people think the whole thing is a lot of nonsense.  But I have been on a crowded subway in New York City, standing room only.  Felt an emotion that made me feel like I was angry at God, feeling betrayed by God.  I knew I wasn't feeling that way when I got on the subway.  So I borrowed the foot of my friend standing next to me.  With my shoe touching her's, I was able to ground myself.  Then I started looking around the car.  I zeroed in on a woman.  She was smiling at people, even offered me her seat when we made eye contact.  Her eyes smiled, not just her face.  She bore not one sign of feeling the emotions that were overwhelming me.

But I've done this enough to trust what happens.  I sat next to her when the seat opened up and began a conversation with her about the book in her lap.  I waited for some indication to know what to say to her, how I could help her.  We came to the northernmost stop of the A train.  We got off.  She started up the stairs and I asked if she was in a hurry.  She said no.  I asked if I might have a few more minutes to talk with her.  She came back down the few steps and I began saying things that I had felt.

Up to this point in my experiences with people, it is my "disability" that allows me to know when someone needs help.  What comes after this is not me, my "disability," or dumb luck.  It is the Spirit of God working through those who desire to help His children find Him and find their path in life.

I told her that God was real.  That he did hear her.  That the answers she was seeking seemed to not be coming, but that if she would keep her heart open, they would come.  If she would seek for God, He would give her answers in places she did not expect them.  I told her that God knew that what she was going through was very hard, even seemed impossible to face.  He knew her anguish and her struggle to find Him in all of this, and He heard her prayers.

After I said all of that she began to cry and brought to our attention that her eyes were closed when I began to speak to her on the train.  I said I had almost not begun talking with her because I thought maybe she was trying to sleep.  She said, "No.  I was praying."  She told us how she had just then prayed and told God that she really wanted to believe.  She just felt so alone and abandoned by Him and there didn't seem to be any answers coming.  She told Him that if He could just give her some way of knowing that He did at least hear her prayers, that she would try to keep going.  Then she told us about how she had just recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  How it was affecting her life and her fiance and all that they hoped.  She spoke of doubt, discouragement, disillusionment, and fear.  By the time the conversation was over she had faith, hope, possibility, and courage.

This woman was a total stranger to me, someone I have never before nor since laid eyes on.  When we learn to work past the stigma of the weakness and turn to our Creator for direction, He truly does magnify us and make weak things become strong.  That which was my greatest sorrow as a teenager has become my greatest joy as an adult.

I have a gift, not a disability.  It comes from God, not from a defect.  It is part of my mission, not a handicap.  It is a blessing and a privilege to use, not a curse and a burden to carry.

I'm a person who can feel the feelings of those around me.  The physical world is not as real to me as the ethereal world is.  When I meet a person, I couldn't tell you the color of their clothing let alone the color of their skin.  But I could tell you about their eyes, and their heart; their greatness and their sorrows and pains.  And why can I do all of this?  I'm an Aspie and I see the world through God-colored glasses.

*This is a blog about my own life and my own experience.  If you choose to follow anything written here, you do so without any claim on me for problems or complications that may arise.  I am not a doctor.  I have no degree.  I am not a professional.  This is my perspective and experience, that's all.  If you don't think you should do something on here, then don't.*


  1. This is such an interesting thing to read. I am not religious, but the way you describe being overwhelmed by others emotions is fascinating. When people speak about autism and sensory issues, this is never on the list. However, I do know that my autistic son feels emotions VERY strongly. I'll have to do some thinking about this.

  2. This gives a very different perspective. My 10 yo son with asd is very sensitive to others feelings and I often think he takes all of our emotions on board. Reading this post reinforces that even more! Very interesting insight and thanks for sharing.

  3. Tara, what a beautiful job you have done telling your story. You have given me sooooo much insight into my grandson's world. Different isn't bad it's just different. I truly understand now why my grandson is so very attached to me, I honestly believe he can feel all the love I have for him and I also believe he can feel how very important he is and always has been to me. I have felt an overwhelming attachment to him since the day he was born. I have always thought it was because he is my baby girl's first child {she was 21 when he was born but she is still my baby} and that I saw him take his very first breath, but I am starting to believe it is because he is a very special gift from God to me. I have asked God for some time now to please let me know what my purpose for being here is. I believe it is for this precious precious child. I intend to devote the rest of my life to him and to spread the word about autism. So I want to thank you so very much for sending me the information on your blog. May God continue to bless you so that you may bless others.

  4. Very interesting Tara! I admit, I have limited knowledge of Autism in the real world, because, honestly, the information is always changing, and is very subjective. But this is insightful. I would love to see it in action, but what you have said here rings true within my being.

  5. Tara,

    Thank you for the insightful post! You've got me thinking now. My daughter is 4 years old and on the Autism Spectrum. Your description of being overwhelmed by feelings seems to fit her. She has always been overwhelmed by large groups of people. I am in particularly reminded of her reaction to her fathers funeral. She had just turned 2 and absolutely refused to go into the building where we were having his funeral. It seemed like she was totally overwhelmed by the amount of sadness there.

    I will have to watch her closely for other signs of this and again I thank you for your insightful post!

  6. Thanks to each of you for your support of this blog. I am glad it is at least thought-provoking if nothing else.


  7. Tara, I was doing a report on Autism and ran across your Blog, I am a grandmother of an autistic 4 year old, he is my only grandchild, and like most I cry daily.When I read your story I was so overwhelm until I could not cry, I am a very religous person and at that particular time that is what I needed to read, thak you very much, and keep writing.

  8. Tara, although I can't call myself very religious, your post on feeling emotions is something I have experienced too. I could never rationalize fully why I also had such high anxiety after being around a group of people or after doing something exciting or just different. I cried when my soccer teammates got hurt, or experienced an overload of emotions for a number of other reasons I couldn't fully understand. I also am slightly shy but very social in nature, yet need lots of down time and quiet or I get overwhelmed and frustrated. Hearing you explain it that way makes so much sense to me. I have told very few people but I am on the spectrum as well. My 7 year old son has a diagnosis of high functioning autism, and I wonder if this is how he is experiencing the world as well.

  9. Tara, thank you- and whatever led me here -a grandson has ( finally) been diagnosed. I SEE aspects in all of us at varying degrees.
    Personally as a child I could "hear" those fallen -birds, kittens, the drunk lady down the street...and felt compelled to go "find' them. Meaning I was spanked a lot....and confused...and did it anyway.
    Later I questioned what did I mean "hear" ? Since it seemed to be either in area of my heart or all over Body .
    Visually bombarded by images- which I used as an artist.
    Emotional minefield- nearly passing out at PEP rallies in school...and eventually avoiding places like Bars .
    Yet there is also a seeming social part of me ? Like a switch ?
    I am now a near recluse- two sides of property is heavily wooded...and the wild things come up. I always spoke to everything the same as conversations with people. Sometimes they respond back. Then go on.
    That is my lesson in all of this...then go on.