People often ask why Autistic people line things up and put them in order. While I don’t know what a doctor would say, I have Autism and here is why I do it.Here is a look inside my “need” to organize things:
I just came back from the Portland Library. Now maybe it’s not a big thing for most people, going to the library, but to me it is. Last year, my favorite library, closed up, put 90% of it’s collection into storage, and ran operations out of their basement, while the old building underwent a massive over haul. A little over a month ago, the library closed down completely so they could bring their massive collection out of it’s year long storage and put it back into circulation in the brand new library. My library is open again – OMG! the $10million expansion is AMAZING! It’s three floors of 2 million books! It’s like I died and went to heaven! My month and a half long library withdrawal panic attacks are over! I was there 4 hours and I still only got part way through the building. Uhm, they closed for the day so I had to leave, other wise I’d still be there.
And today I got my first look at the new library/ It is so HUGE! OMG! I love it! The best library in the state is ten times better than before – I could live there and never go home again; and get this – new addition to the library includes a COMIC BOOK ROOM! OMG! A COMIC BOOK ROOM! I love it! And a picture book room – a whole room devoted to picture books! hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them! I could live in that room. And of course, I’m glad to see all my old favorite books back in circulation too. It’s like being reunited with long lost friends seeing these books brought back out of storage.
And people wonder why I don’t mind driving 2 hours to Script Frenzy meetings? HELLO! Biggest library in the state! I’m there every week anyways! I’ve practically lived in the building for the last 20 years, it’s my home away from home – you have no idea what hell it’s been for me since the library closed. One of the worst symptoms of Autism, is I can’t deal with change on any level – extreme OCD and adherence to routine, so when my weekly 20+ year library habit got taken away, I was going bonkers with major meltdowns over it. I didn’t realize how bad my library addiction was until the library shut down – but it’s back, and bigger, with loads more books.
But everything is remodeled, so I’m going to have to start at the first book and go through all 2 million of them all over again to memorize where they are again. I can’t stand disorder and confusion, and not being organized. Everything has to have a place of it’s own and it’s always suppose to be there in it’s assigned place and not move from there. That’s one of the reasons I love libraries – they catalog EVERYTHING. You know exactly where everything is. You can walk in, and there it is – everything all alphabetized, cataloged, lined up in nice straight even rows, and all in order. No confusion, no disorder, unless of course people miss shelve the books, than I have to take them all down a re-shelve them right. I hate it when people miss-shelve books or leave them laying on the floor or table. My going through every aisle re-shelving books is half the reason it takes me 5 or 6 hours to go to the library to pick up one book.
But, in the old library, I knew where everything was. Where everything belonged. But now non-fiction is in the basement and fiction is on the first floor, and now there’s a DVD room and a Comic Book Room, and a Picture Book Room, besides all the other rooms, and nothing is where they’ve been for the last 20 years, and all that new stuff I’ve never seen before – it’s like an atom bomb went off inside my head and chaos has taken over, and I can’t deal with it at all. I see everything not where is has been for the past 20 years and all I can think of is how much I want to just pull down those books and put them all back in the same places they used to be in. Well, I can’t go through the library and put all the books back in their old places, now can I? Well, I suppose I could, but than they’d throw me out of the library! So, I have to start all over again, and go through each aisle one at a time and re-memorize the whole system all over again, but yow – Maine’s biggest library! 2 million books, I mean do you have any idea ho long it takes to memorize where 2 million books are supposed to be at!?
I’m lost in the library if I don’t have their entire collection cataloged and memorized in my head. 2 million books – it took me well over a year to memorize where they all were before, and now they are all moved so I have to do it again. I will be spending many hours of many days at the library memorizing their catalog this summer. Well, at least I have my summer planned out ahead of time this year.
It’s not just the library though. I’m lost anywhere, until I’ve walked around every inch of the place several times and figured out where it is that everything is supposed to be. Stores that rearrange thing every month drive me mad, because I have to go through this whole process of finding everything all over again. WalMart does that. Every time I go to WalMart to get writing paper, it should always be in the same aisle. I like to walk into the store, go straight to the paper and than head back to the register. I hate it when I get all the way to the back wall, and, the stationary department is no longer there, instead the electronics is there. Than I have to wander all over the store trying to figure out where they moved the paper too, and I finally find it down front where the cat food used to be. Now I’m wonder: Where is the cat food? I find that down where the baby department used to be! If WalMart could just find a layout they like and stick with it, I’d love it. But about every three months, or about four times a year, WalMart turns the store inside out and moves all their departments to all new locations, and it’s Where did they put it? all over again. I hate that.
Most places I go, people hate me. They tell me I’m annoying or in the way, or whatever, but not libraries. Stores like WalMart and such, can’t stand it when I go through the store re-shelving and organizing things – they say they have people they pay to do that so the customers don’t have to. Well, if they have people paid to do it, why than are the shelves all messed up and out of order? I mean, how am I supposed to buy a can of Bush’s chick peas when there’s another brand’s kidney beans sitting there instead? I can’t. Just one can out of place like that messes up my whole day, and I can’t think about anything else. Even hours later after I go home, all I can think about is that one out of place can. The only way I’ll get that out of place can out of my head is if I go all the way back to WalMart, and take that can and put it back where it goes, but than I’ll see another can out of place, and another, and another, and before you know it, I’m just re-shelving the entire store! It’s part of the reason I don’t go shopping very often, because just running in to by a single can is an all day trip for me. Shopping is not good for me – I obsess terribly over having everything where it goes, and I can’t think straight if I see something not in it’s proper place.
People rarely invite me to their houses for the same reason. There’s this one family, used to invite me over every few weeks, but, in their living room is this wall of VHS and DVDs movies, like hundreds of them. We’d all sit down in the living room, but I couldn’t hear a word they said, or even see them when they was right there next to me! All I could see what those DVD cases out of place. I can’t explain it, but it was like those DVDs were getting bigger and bigger and going to fill up the whole room, if I didn’t fix them. I’d have to alphabetize the whole shelf. Than they had this Budgie (bird) living on top of the shelf, and I’d take her out of her cage and sit on the floor talking to her. I’d totally forget that there were any people there in the room with me. It was like it was just me and the bird and that shelf of DVDs and nothing else. They’d get mad and say I was being rude, but I wasn’t, I didn’t mean to upset them. I didn’t even know I’d done anything wrong. I’d always be so baffled and confused over what people would be getting angry with me for. I could never understand it at all, because I thought every body looked at those DVDs and saw them the same way I did. I thought I was being helpful. I didn’t know back than that I had Autism, so I’d get depressed and upset, because I couldn’t understand what it was I had done wrong to get them so mad at me. Now that I know about Autism, I looked it up to find out what it was and how it was that it made me different from other people, I studied about it, and now I realize that me cataloging everything and losing track of time and people around me, is what it is that gets people upset, because now I realize that “normal” people don’t do those things. I try to ignore things shelved wrong, but it’s like all those unshelved items have neon lights on them that are so bright they blind everything else around me, and they only way I can shut them off so that I can see everything else, is if I re-shelve them in the right order.
This ain’t nothing new either. One of the earliest things a parent notices about any form of Autism, is that the child is obsessed with keeping things in order. As soon as they are old enough to walk, they start lining up all their toys: from biggest to smallest, or alphabetically by name, or in categories by subject, or by rainbow-order color. I did this. I did this a lot.
When I was about 3, I had a set of wooden blocks. I lined them up, from one end of the house to the other, by shape and color. All the rectangle red blocks came first, followed by the red square blocks, followed by the orange triangles, than the orange circular pillars, next the green square pillars, and finally the long blue road blocks.
The fact that I can, 30 years later, not only remember that I did it, but also remember in what order I put them, is another common factor in Autism: a photographic memory and the ability to remember almost anything instantly as soon as I see it, and than never forget it ever again.
At around 5, I took an interest in baby dolls after each other my grandmothers and my mother all bought me a baby doll for my birthday. My three dolls were always set in order: the one with brown curly hair first, her name was Cristine and I would only dress her in blue; the one with long black hair second, her name was Colleen and I only dressed her in yellow, Natalie was last. Natalie was a bald preemie that drank and wet herself, and she was the one that I took with me every where. I always dressed her in white.
One of the things I read most often is parents noting that their AS child is attracted to crayons, colors, and drawing. So much so that when they pick up a crayon and start drawing, they completely shut out the entire world, unable to see or hear anything that is going on around them. I can testify to the fact that this is true. I can not explain it, but drawing is a must. It’s like eating or sleeping or breathing – I can’t survive without it.
I don’t know when my love of crayons started. I can’t remember a time when I did not always have crayons at my side. I also don’t remember a time when I didn’t dump out my crayons on the floor and line them up from red to indigo. I also do not remember a time when I have gone to a store, and walked past a box of crayons without buying one. It may be one of my worst obsessions and I’m not sure what triggers it, but it is impossible for me to walk by Crayola Crayons in the store and not buy them! The end result is, well, I have a lot of crayons! I’ve spent 30 years buying every crayon I see, and than coming home dumping them all out on the floor, and lining them up. It’s like, I can’t go on with anything else, until I have first found some crayons and put them in order.
Of course, it’s not just crayons – it’s colored pencils, oil pastels, tubes of paint, felt tip markers, glitter paint, and scented jelly pens too. I just buy all of them. I completely love the thousands of colors they come in, and I can not pass up a color that I do not yet have or risk running out of a color I do have. I take them all out, line them all up – red to indigo like the rainbow – and than spend hours sitting on the floor drawing and painting. I’ve been doing this since I was about 2 years old. Today 30 years later, I still do it, only now I get paid to do it because I’m a professional artist and sell my work now.
but as you can see, it’s a lot more than just me organizing people’s DVD collections or obsessing over misplaced cans at WalMart. But than there’s the library to consider too.
Most people are annoyed by me. I understand that now, though for most of my life I was confused about why that was. Not every one is annoyed by me though. Librarians love me, because I go in and start shelving books – not a one of them can remember the system the way I do. It takes them hours to re-shelve books- I do it in only a matter of minutes, because I don’t have to look anything up – they are all in my head. In most parts of my life my Autism is hell and disruptive – in a library though, it’s a blessing of extremes. And that’s just Maine’s biggest library I have the collections of five other libraries memorized – I know which library has what, where.
Ask me to mingle at a party, give you change, have a conversation with a stranger, or work with a team, and I’m lost; but send me into a library or ask me to restock a store’s shelves and there is no one who can match me. Unfortunately my Autism prevents me from getting a job at the libraries, due to a requirement of a college education, something that is not possible for me. I’m great with words. I can’t make heads or tales of numbers. College requires 2 years of algebra, and I can barely count, let alone get past addition, and subtraction forget it, so no college for me It’s frustrating, because there are so many jobs I excel at, but are barred from getting because I can’t attend college. Autism is frustrating because it make me uneven – I’m extremely overly good at a few things, but lost when it comes to everything else. Like the organizing things – it makes a 5 minute shopping trip a 4 hour nightmare, but it makes me a librarians dream come true.