At 40 years old, I found out that I might have been having a neurological condition, though I can yet afford an official assessment and diagnosis. In the meantime I shall call this condition “AS”. I spent time reading about “AS” and it made me realise that the signs and symptoms were prevalent throughout my life. It is like these writers know exactly how I have been living my life though we have never met before. I start this “Weirdly Wired” series to document about my life experiences with the symptoms which all these while I thought were “normal”.
A BOY THAT NEVER FIT IN
I always wondered. Is it because I am ugly? Just like the ugly duckling? Was I physically weaker? Was I not smart enough? I somehow could not fit in. And when I tried, it all felt just weird.
My mother said I started walking when I just reached one year old. She said it was faster than normal. Yet, I walked on tip toe. I remember this. I walked on tip toe till I was maybe 5 when I was in kindergarten. I always got scoldings to walk properly. I finally did, but walking on tip toe still feels more natural till today. It feels more comfortable and I have more control. Which made me realise too that I have a weird gait until today. Every time I watch a video of myself walking, it look weird. Like I don't stride my legs forward but rather push them backwards. I had problems running long distance during the army and my mates would always say that I am lazy to stride forward. Tried as I might but they still say that I didn't. Apparently, gait and tip toe are symptoms.
Another thing about legs that I kept getting scolded about was, swinging my legs when sitting on a chair. I don't understand this. Why was I not allowed to swing them? People say that it is a bad habit. But swinging and rocking felt normal. It may have been therapeutic but at that time, it was just fun.
A trivia for legs, I cannot skip. As in skip with a skipping rope. I cannot dance. I cannot play the drums when the pedals are involved. Basically I cannot coordinate my legs with my body at the same time. I can play football though as I don't need to coordinate my legs with my hands.
I don't really like many children toys. Like figurines or cars or kites or guns. I liked toys that I can arrange. I had a lot of those small toy soldiers. I would arrange them in order or arrange them like they are in a battle formation. I had small toy animals too that I would arrange them in some manner like in a zoo or in a jungle. I liked blocks too and arrange them to look like buildings or in some order. Basically I liked arranging things. But most importantly, they must make sense. You cannot put a recce soldier with binoculars in front of the formation. There must be some people covering him. You cannot put a tiger beside a polar bear. Things like that. When I was slightly older, I had table soccer toys. I didn't actually like playing them. I just liked arranging them in various formations and admire them.
But I like stuffed toys till today. Not all kinds. Just those that I feel I can trust and I can talk to.
This is where I realise, I don't fit in with people my age at that time. I really don't like playing with them or with my cousins. I hated the games they play. They make up their own rules as and when they liked. There was no order and I hated them. We played outdoor games like in the playground or void decks or beaches or parks and I realise I always got bullied because I didn't understand their sudden change in rules. While I was questioning myself, why should there be only scissors paper and stones in a game when there are many things in the world that can break a pair of scissors instead of a rock or a blunt scissors cannot cut a thick vanguard sheet, they would change it to black and white palms and before I knew it, I would be the one assigned to chase after them or look for them as they hide. It was tiring and utter nonsense. Not to mention, always confusing. And I hated running.
SYMMETRY AND PATTERNS
I was obsessed with symmetry. I looked forward for symmetry lessons in school for me to understand how symmetry works. Everything has to be in order. There must be symmetry and balance. Put 2 soldiers to the left, there must be 2 other on the right. I get disturbed when I don't see symmetry. Even till now, I get disturbed when my students cannot see symmetry and 2/3 rules when taking photographs.
But there are things that are not symmetrical. I had to find a way not to be disturbed by it. And that is by looking for patterns and pictures and images. Like a carpet with some non symmetrical design in my room. My mother said that they were leaves but I saw clearly in the design that there were 3 medieval Chinese soldiers in full armour. Or if I see tree bark designs (which are obviously not symmetrical), I would see them as a maze or road networks for ants to pass through.
I read everything. I started reading before I was 2 years old and had my library card at 2. I just could not stop reading. I read everything that I could see. I prefer the Malay language as the pronunciation is as how it is spelt. I hated the English and Arabic language as there is no order and consistency. When I was in madrasah and we learnt to write and read Jawi scripts, I always get annoyed with the teachers as there was always no consistency in spelling. As for English, things like why “bus” is spelt with a “u” in the middle and not “a”? Any why is “busy” pronounced as “beezeey” and not “baseey”?
Anyway I read everything. Books, newspapers, sign, captions, wordings on things like shoes, toothpastes, plastic bags etc. I personally enjoyed reading history, facts and maps. I love them. I love the details in them. I memorised maps and proudly share them with my parents and uncles and aunties. Of course my parents would agree with me. But I remember that everyone else never took me seriously.
There was once when I was 8 years old. A bunch of old folks were talking about the upcoming MRT plans. This was in 1988. I was just sitting and playing alone but I could hear them talking. They were wondering why the Jurong East station had 3 tracks. They came out with various reasons like one of the tracks lead to the depot, a spare track, an emergency track etc. I couldn't take it and told them that it was for a northward extension to three more stations, ie. Bukit Batok, Bukit Gombak and Choa Chu Kang.
The whole living room roared with laughter. I remember this very clearly. They laughed at me. They said... what Gombak? You think this is Malaysia? Gombak is in Selangor! I was very upset. Little did they know that I memorise the map of Malaysia and Selangor too. But I was only 8 in a room of adults and I couldn't say anything back.
THINGS THAT I HEAR
Not only did I memorise maps. I could memorise things that I hear. I would repeat them when I hear them. I thought it was just a habit. But I found out that it is also a symptom. Repeating things that I hear. Either loudly or muttering them. Thus with constant repeating, I could memorise lines from movies and songs. I would say them over and over again, word by word, with its exact intonation. Initially it was funny to my relatives but soon they got annoyed of it. I can say out every line in P Ramlee movies down right to the tone, speech pattern and voice register. I memorised songs I hear on the radio and TV. I was actually repeating them. I wasn't like really singing them. I was just repeating. But since they were songs, it sounded like I was singing them. My father always said then, “Ini semua pandai, ngaji tak boleh.” (Good at memorising all these but I cannot read the Arabic words in Quran lessons.) It was not that I could not read them. I just dislike them because there is no order. How can one letter sound differently at different times? But if you let me hear them, I can memorise with ease. Father realised this and sometime later, he bought cassettes of Quranic verses for me to memorise.
Anyway I didn't particularly enjoy my childhood years unless I was at home. I enjoyed being at home. Travelling, mixing with cousins, going to school, trying to mix with people, trying to make people understand me, disorder in people's behaviour are all very very disturbing. But I thought that they were all normal and I just have to adapt and not be a troublesome brat.
There are many other symptoms that are prevalent throughout my life that are not exclusive to when I was a child. Maybe from next week onwards, I will post things according to symptoms rather than the age period.
NEXT WEEK : Sensory Overload
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).