Stiff: The Curious Lives of Autistics*

(* with apologies to Mary Roach)

My autism diagnosis actually came about as the result of my seeing a new therapist for depression, a condition I’ve coped with, but never fully addressed, for my entire adult life. My wife helped me work up a list of potential therapists, and it’s due to her insight that the candidates all had backgrounds in autism. I was halfway through my intake session with Dr. B before the subject even came up, but once it did, she said she was 60% sure that yes, I was autistic. Asked how she could be so sure so soon, she said she got her first major clue as I was first walking into her office: apparently my arms don’t swing the same distance as my legs when I walk. It seems this is an example of me imperfectly mimicking behavior by observation, getting near to the form of the thing, but not quite nailing it.

Since that initial observation, I’ve been a little more mindful about letting my arms swing freely as I walk (my wife says it’s a very “me” thing to do, this effort to correct what for most is natural and unconscious behavior), but I find it very easy to pull up one or both shoulders—as I’m resting my arms on my recliner’s armrests, or leaning on a table…whatever—and then keep them somewhat raised. It reminds me of something my dad taught me when I was learning to drive: let your arms hang freely from your hands on the wheel, or else you’ll tire out your shoulders. Well, being aware now of this issue, I’ve also grown aware of how sore my neck and shoulders are all the time! I’ve actually known about that for a while, but had always attributed it to the martial art I’ve practiced for thirteen years. Instead, now I wonder whether it’s due to the way I’ve carried myself for over thirty years!

Sadly, regular massages are a little beyond my reach at the moment, so I’ll have to settle for staying mindful of the issue, and hoping the affected muscles will loosen up some over time and relieve me of that ache.

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