From the category archives:


Discovering friendship

by Henk ter Heide on Thursday March 4, 2010

in Autism

Steve Pavlina revisited his idea about ordering things from the universe.
A few years ago when he talk about this subject it felt a bit out there, so I didn’t take it very serious. But this time he said something that actually meant something to me.
“What would happen is you order a meal at a restaurant and changed your mind before you have gotten it?”
His answer was that if you keep changing your mind you will never get any thing to eat.

That struck a note with me. I realized that this is something I’ve been doing the last few years. Maybe even on purpose.

For years I’ve been dreaming that I would like to have some friends in there early twenties.
I’m not quite sure why. But mostly because I can relate to them.
People my age are usually in a relatitionship or want to be in a relationship and I don’t want to be in a relationship.

Actually I would want to be in a relationship but I’ve found that being autistic means that my ideas about relationship differ from most non-autistic people. So to get a relationship I would have to find a gay guy of my age who’s also autistic.
What are the changes?

But anyway. Back to friendship with gay or straight guys in there early twenties.
15 Years ago I had three friends of that age.
One after an other, spanning about 6 years.

But after the third I stopped trying to find new friends.
It took too much out of me.
I felt as though they didn’t play by the rules and that I had to fight constantly to get them to visit me.
After six years of fighting with people who where supposed to be my friends I just gave up.

But now I’m starting to understand how the world works. And especially how I work and how autism influences the way I deal with friendship.

There are two main differences in the way I deal with friendship.
The first is that I don’t have as much need for close contact as non-autistics do. And secondly rules are far more important to me then to most non-autistics.

I like to be in a friendship where I see a friend every 6 to 8 weeks.
But of course to non-autistics once every 6 to 8 weeks means a very shallow contact. Which means that when I try to get them to visit me they sometimes have other priorities.

15 years ago I felt trapped by rules I never understood. But now I think about them I realize that those rules aren’t that important.
Are gay people allowed to befriend straight people? Of course they are.
Are people in there late forties allowed to befriend people in there early twenties? Of course they are.

The strange thing is that I actually know quite a few guys in there early that seem to be friends.
For years I’ve been wondering why it is that a guy in his twenties would want to befriend me. But I’ve concluded that it might be because I’m truly interested in them. Maybe it’s also something about needing a father figure.

Until now, though, I’ve hardly ever followed through. Mostly because I have been distracted by exactly the problem Steve Pavlina points out.
I feel like I’m in a restaurant with thousands of interesting dishes. I’m having such a hard time deciding which dish I’m going to sample that I never try any one.


Burning circuits

by Henk ter Heide on Tuesday March 2, 2010

in Autism

For years every time I felt home sick I would imagine myself roaming the halls of my old boarding school. While I walked through those halls I could remember them very clearly. Three dimensional and in color.

I always assumed that I had such a clear memory of the place because it made a big impression on me. It was only a few years ago, after I had discovered that I’m autistic, that I realized that I can remember every thing so clearly.
I not only have a clear, thee dimensional, color image of every place I’ve ever been. But also of every place I’ve ever seen on TV on in the movies. Even places I’ve only seen in my imagination after having read a description of them.

So for the last few years I’ve been thinking that it should be possible to visit places in my memory. Like a way of getting through the day, if I have less then interesting work.

But it never worked for much longer then a minute.
After about a minute I would feel very tired and start talking to myself.
Apparently for some reason I didn’t really understand, visiting the images in my memory took a lot of energy. I just couldn’t keep it up for very long.

So every now and then I try it. But I have never had much luck visiting images until yesterday.
I’m not sure why. But since yesterday I can visit every place I want to visit.

The main difference seems to be that I can now recognize why it’s difficult.

Turns out that visiting places in my imagination evokes very strong feelings in me. Almost to the point that I can’t stand them.
Now I recognize this it’s clear to me that I’ve had this before. Only thing is that until now the feelings where so strong that I couldn’t even feel if they where good or bad feelings.
I only had the feeling of burned out circuit.

Now I recognize the feeling as something good I can visit any memory I want to.
So today I’ve been enjoying a few childhood memories. And the strong feelings that accompany them.
I’ve even remembered the sandbox we had in our back yard when I was about 6.


Finding the limit of my thoughts

by Henk ter Heide on Sunday July 5, 2009

in Autism

Thinking about my thinking process.

  1. Processing abstract information
  2. Finding the limit of my thoughts

So I had figured out that I talk to myself to solve abstract problems. I figured that since the behavior has a purpose there should be a natural border. Some place to stop talking.

BTW When I say I’m talking to myself that’s not completely true. In my fantasy I’m having a discussion with some one who is an interested party in the problem I’m trying to solve.
I tell him the story of the problem plus every solution I’ve found up till now.
Sometimes I get stuck and I will repeat the same few sentences over and over for hours. Sometimes even for days.
You can imagine how annoying that can get.

It took me a while but I finally found out that there is actually a very obvious answer to this question.
For me the whole world is connected. Every problem is connected to every other problem – I’m told that this has either something to do with being autistic or with having a visual thought process – So when I start analysing some problem I can’t stop because the problem goes on and on.

But I can greatly reduce the number of problems I have to solve if I simply apply the rule that every problem I solve has to improve my life.
So Dutch unemployment crisis, as interesting it might be, is not something I should be thinking about. Same holds true for the famine in Africa.
But Promen’s (my employer) embezzlement of reimbursement of travelling expenses is a problem I should try to solve. Not only because it is costing me money. But there’s the simple matter of people doing what they are supposed to do. I should follow the rules and so should upper management. (What can I say. I’m autistic. People acting the way there supposed to, is more important to me then money 🙂 )
(More about this when I’ve solved it.)

So I’ve been living by this rule for a few days and it helps.
A bit.
After a few days I found that even when I limited myself to problems that actually influence my live. I still spend a lot of time talking to myself.

Turns out that I’m somewhat impatience.
When I run into a problem I tend to think about it until I’ve found the first 10 solutions. Then I implement the first solution.
But instead of waiting to find out if the solution works I continue thinking about new solutions. Which is a waste of time because the first one usually works.

But some times it doesn’t. Some problems are a little more complicated. Like the problems with my embezzling employer. And that is when I run into the real problem.
Turns out the there is no logic in the way I solve problems. Possible solutions come at random intervals.
There’s no way of knowing if I’ve found every solution or whether there are still a few more.
And as I said sometimes I get stuck and repeat the same few sentences over and over again.
Sometimes I follow a train of though to it’s bitter end. Only to find that it wouldn’t work.

And then I stop.

And I have no idea whether I stop because I’ve reached the end of a school of thought. Or the end of a series of solutions.
Or just stop because I don’t feel like thinking abstract anymore.

The thing is that if I stop because I’ve reached the end of the school of thought or the end of the series of solutions. It would imply that I do know how many solutions I might expect.
If that’s the case it stands to reason that me getting stuck has more to do with my own annoyance then with my thinking process.

To Be Continued…


Processing abstract information

by Henk ter Heide on Wednesday June 17, 2009

in Autism

Thinking about my thinking process.

  1. Processing abstract information
  2. Finding the limit of my thoughts

In my last post I wrote that I expected that post would be a little further apart in future. This one is taking even more time then I had expected.

On the up side I have figured out that my very annoying habit of talking to myself is actually a symptom of my autism.
Having a visual thinking process means that I can’t think about subjects I can’t visualize. Things like “feelings”, the word “goals”, “business deals” are to abstract to visualize.
I’m not able to think about them except by talking about them.

Accepting that this is a symptom of my autism means a few things.

  1. It means that I have to accept that I will never get rid of this habit.
  2. It means that I’ll have to accept that I can’t draw as much as I would want to. Because I can’t think visual at the same time that I’m processing abstract information.
  3. But it also means that I need a better understanding of this process. There must be a natural boundary. A point where I’ve solved the problem I’m working on and should go back to thinking visually. That’s what I’m working on right now.


Interpreting fear

by Henk ter Heide on Monday March 30, 2009

in Autism

Examining some feelings that prevent me from drawing.

Eye problems

Twenty years ago I tried my hand at studying to be a programmer. I went to school for a year and got the basic papers you need to get a job. Then I went on with studying on my own to get a perspective on a better job.
It was then that I run into a strange problem with my eyes.
Every time I picked up my books to do some studying my eyes would go out of focus and the letters on the paper would get vague. At the same time I felt very tired. Although I didn’t know why I felt tired I assumed it had something to do with the eye problems.
Although I had my eyes examined I never found out what the problem was.

Examining a feeling

My involuntary holiday of, coming up to, 4 months as a result of breaking my hip gave me a lot of time to examine a few things you never get to.
So I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter, a lot of time thinking about several problems we have at my job, and examining a frighting cold feeling I have in the sauna and when taking a hot shower.

I don’t know about other people with broken hips, but I found that it became very easy to take really long showers. Sitting on my shower chair. Not having a lot of interesting things to do. Not having any appointments. I found I could easily sit in the shower for two hours.
Which would have been very nice if it wasn’t for the cold feeling on my back I always have when taking a shower.
I tried making the water hotter, as I always do, but that didn’t help. It never does.

But since I didn’t have a hell of a lot to do I decided that I might as well examine what was going on. Why I would feel cold under a hot shower.
Although it was very frightening I tried to concentrate on the feeling. It took me two weeks but I finally realized that the feeling I had wasn’t cold but the feeling of water running along my skin.

I also realized how it came about that I misinterpreted the feeling.
In autistics the part of the brain that recognizes feelings doesn’t work as it should. Which makes it very hard for us to recognize our feelings.
It has happened that I only found out what I was feeling by going by the authority of other people.
Someone would tell me: “I think you feel such and so”. And since I didn’t know what I was feeling I took his word for it.

In this case I learned to interpret the feeling I was having standing on the edge of the swimming pool on a cold Saturday morning 40 years ago, by listening to what people told me.
“You must be cold”. Yes I must be.
In reality it wasn’t cold that I was feeling. It was the sensation of wind blowing along my back.

Dealing with panic

Of course this blog isn’t about recognizing feelings. It’s about drawing, what I learn while drawing and what I need to draw.
I like to draw.
But being autistic I don’t really recognize that feeling. I interpret it in the same way I interpret all my feelings. In this case by the fact that I can’t get myself to stop drawing.
I don’t draw very often so after a time I tend to think that I don’t need it any more and store my drawing stuff away.
But every time I do, I get new ideas of drawings I want to do and get my drawing stuff back out.
But then I can’t get myself to sit down and draw.

After I figured out that I misinterpreted the feeling I have in hot showers, I thought that it could very well be that I also misinterpret feelings that have something to do with drawing.
So now I’m examining several annoying and frightening feelings of which I don’t think they have very much to do with drawing.
Yesterday, for the first time in twenty years, I ran into my little I eye problem. While using Twitoria to unfollow inactive Twitter profiles I got very tired and my eyes went out of focus.
At first I though that I should stop and relax for a moment but then I recognized what was happening to me. I was experiencing some type of panic attack. So I went on with what I was doing and after a while the feeling past.

Knowing what the feeling is I now realize that it’s something I have quite a lot. While writing this kinds of entries for my blog for instants.
Translating the pictures in my mind to words is hard, sometimes even painful. Many a time I’ve stopped writing and walked away with the feeling that it would go easier when I came back. It never did.
Writing this entry I also felt the need to walk off but knowing that I was experiencing a slight panic attack helped me to go on. Although the writing process is still hard to do, the panic attack did pass.


Paying attention in school

by Henk ter Heide on Saturday February 23, 2008

in Autism

Dealing with the feelings I get when I change my plans.

Do you ever have the feeling that you wish you had paid better attention in school? I have that feeling regularly.
In the drawing course I did early last year I was advised to practice hashing and cross hashing but since I thought I wouldn’t need it I didn’t listen. So now I’ve reached the point that I have to learn the technique I don’t know how I’m supposed to go about it and what my goals should be.

But I also have the feeling that this isn’t the real problem. If I only wanted to know how I should go about practicing hashing I could look it up on the Internet or find a book about it.
I won’t.
I won’t because this is a feeling I have quite often. Usually after I had to change my plans. Which has me suspecting that this has something to do with being autistic. I just need a few days to get used to the fact that I’m going to do a lot of practicing and blog about practicing.

If I still have this feeling in a few days I still can find information on the technique.

{ 1 comment }

Getting things done

by Henk ter Heide on Thursday January 3, 2008

in Autism

Discovering that a curse can turn into a blessing.

Dancing a little to get passed the feeling of restlessness helps me a lot with the drawing I started yesterday.
I’m now recognizing that I always felt afraid of …. something every time I tried to start with something. But now I know what caused the fear.

The feeling of restlessness was only part of it. The other part was the feeling that every thing I do is wrong.
As it turns out that feeling is right. Sort of.
At the moment I’m making a very nice drawing of a chair. The only problem is that it isn’t the chair that I’m trying to draw. It almost looks like it but the drawing has dozens of little mistakes.
In my mind the drawing doesn’t look like the chair I’m trying to draw.

For years I solved the problem of always having the feeling that everything I do is wrong by purposely adding mistakes. Which of course caused it’s own problem. If you’re planning to produce less then your best why bother at all?
Now I’m realizing that this is just the autistic curse of seeing detail.

It feels like something of a two edged sword: At the moment it’s very annoying that I feel the need to erase every line I draw and re-draw it four or five times before I’m finally satisfied.
But in the long run it will probably improve my drawing skills.


Not feeling warmth

by Henk ter Heide on Thursday December 20, 2007

in Autism

I’m experiencing some problems thanks to our revolutionary new heating system.

A few weeks ago when I drew a perspective of my green chair I was planning to do an other one without the pillows. I didn’t because my day job took so much out of me that I was just to tired. But now I’ve been on holiday for a few days and I’m well rested so I should be able to do the drawing.
But it’s too cold.

The Netherlands is going through a cold spell with temperatures of 8 degrees below zero Celsius, which is very cold for Dutch standards. Of course I’ve heating in my house so that shouldn’t be much of a problem. But it is.

As part of the renovation my landlord upgraded the heating system in the building where I live.
I used to have a very simple system. When it was cold you turned the heating up and within a few minutes it would get very hot. Then you turned it back down and it would cool down again. Then you would turn the heating back up…
But thanks to the upgrade we now have a system that should keep your house at a constant temperature for the least amount of money.
They used all kind of trick to achieve that. From using a thermostat to varying the temperature of the water in the central heating system.
We’ve even been advised never to turn the heating off. To always keep the thermostat at the temperature you like even when you leave your house or go to bed.
Turning the heating down when you leave and up when you come back would cost more money then just keeping it on all the time.

So it’s quite a revolutionary heating system.
But not for me.
The problem is that my sensing of warmth doesn’t work as it should.
Last year I already discovered that I’m unable to feel heat on my back. When I wear a thick jumper or go to the sauna, cold shivers run down my back.

Now I’m discovering something that I suspected for years: Constant temperatures don’t feel constant to me. I feel as though the temperature is constantly dropping while my thermometer tells me it’s not.
Up till last year the temperature in my room felt as though it was constantly changing. Which actually was the case. Some times my room felt very hot and my thermometer would tell me it was hot. And sometimes my room would feel very cold and my thermometer would tell me that it that it was slowly dropping. Although it was always hotter then it felt to me.
But now it always feels cold. Even when I turn my thermostat up to the maximum temperature I still feel cold. (Although according to my thermometer it’s 23 degrees C.)
I only feel warmth the first few minutes after I’ve entered my house.

I’m tempted to either creep up to the heating or lie in bed the whole day. But experience has taught me that I get cold when I try the first and get bored stiff if I try the second.
So at the moment I just sit at my computer doing a game to pass the time and hoping that the cold spell will pass as soon as possible.


Something came up

by Henk ter Heide on Saturday December 8, 2007

in Autism

Discovering that I can deviate from a habit without being at a turning point in my life.

I might as well give up. My life is a failure.

I used to sport every Monday and Friday. But now it’s gone.
Last week I was thinking about going to the sauna. I didn’t but by the time I decided not to go it was to late to go sporting.
This Friday I had to go out to buy a new coat and next week I’ll have to go to the autism club.
That’s it. No more sport.
And if I can’t succeed at sporting twice a week then I won’t succeed in drawing and writing a blog. I might as well stop with both.

This is been going on for whole of my life. Eventually I fail at everything I ever tried. My mother is always reminding me that I’m a failure.
She’s right. But I wish that she would stop saying it.

I just caught myself going down familiar a slope.
But for the first time in my life I realized something about habits:
I’m autistic. I need my habits. I need it that everything goes the way it always goes.
But although it feels like the end of the world to deviate from a habit, it isn’t.
I’ll go on drawing and writing and although I’ll only sport ones next week the week after everything will return to normal.


Shortcuts: Thinking and drawing in shorthand (Drawing: Symbol drawings)

by Henk ter Heide on Tuesday December 4, 2007

in Autism

I’m finally getting some ideas about the difference in thinking processes between autistics and non-autistics.

Some 20 years ago I read somewhere that people who are autistic can’t think in symbols. I didn’t know that I was autistic myself and I didn’t understand what they meant. Don’t autistics understand symbols like the dollar ($) sign and the Euro (€) sign?
When I found out that I’m autistic, last year, I understood even less.

The book about drawing with the right side of your brain was very surprising for me.
I hadn’t expected that there would be such a big difference in the experiences I had and the experiences that were described in the book. I didn’t quite get why the faces/vases drawing would be so hard for non-autistics. But what really surprised me was how hard it apparently is to draw portraits.
I just draw what I see. I might get lost in the details. Maybe I don’t think it’s a very good portrait because the details don’t match, but I don’t make the stupid mistakes most people apparently make.

Last week my employer wanted so speak to my councelor to learn something about autism.
We met in a cramp office with an cheap, old, dented and cracked table which we filled with the arms and hands of four people, 4 plastic coffee cups each with one plastic spoon, one dairy, two notepads and a few odds and ends.
My councelor told my manager and a manager from human resources a little about autism. Hopefully they learned something from it. One of the things my councelor described is how autistics see a lot more detail. He started out by saying “we see a table with a few sheets of paper” and continued with a description of what I saw.
“A table with a few sheets of paper”?????
Is that all that you see?????

Thursday my department at work had to wait a while to get the next order. The supply room kept telling us that we would get the order in a few minutes. So we waited and waited. In the end it took a few hours.
While we waited one of our interns drew a little. This guy is 16 or 17 years old and mentally disabled but he draws very good.
He started out with a cartoon styled St. Sebastian using very strong bold lines.
Then he tried to draw a portrait of me. Before he even started, he told me that he couldn’t draw very well and proceeded with waverly lines to draw something that didn’t even look like a face (or at least in my eyes). But he thought it was quite good.
Then I left to do something else. When I return an hour later he had filled a few sheets of paper with strong confident drawings.

I finally got it.

I think I misunderstood what was meant by symbols. Not only the signs that people use to point out the road to the city or the way to the toilet but the whole condensing of ideas people use to make it easier to observe and think about the world.
I don’t see the condensed world. I see every little detail.
I’m at odds whether condensing the world is an advantage or a disadvantage. But it doesn’t really matter since you can’t choose your thinking process.

The interesting thing is that the same happens when non-autistics look at a drawing. They don’t see all the detail I see. They just see a symbol.
If it has a trunk, branches and roughly the right colors it must be a tree. The shape doesn’t matter that much.

I think that this was what had me frightened.
There is no way I can draw all the detail I see. Not only because I don’t have the skills but, more importantly, I don’t have the patience. But if most people can’t see the details I don’t have to draw them.

Symbol puppets
Symbol puppets

This may seem like a children’s drawing but for me it’s something I’ve never done. I’ve never realized that you can just take a few circles to symbolize eyes and mouth.

Symbol trees
Symbol trees

These trees represent something I’ve been trying ever since I started with drawing.
On route to my work I come passed a lot of trees like these two. Especially now in fall a lot of leafs has fallen off. So on the one hand you see very nice green, yellow and orange colored leafs and on the other you look right through the tree and see a blue and yellow sky in the background.