On My Autism

I originally wrote this in another online space, but I’ve reread it and I wonder if it could help someone in the same state of mind who can’t quite articulate it (as I was for a very long time). I present this to you.

I wanted to write out some thoughts about my autism. In one way, it’s a means to talk to you about it. In another, it’s for me to articulate something externally so that I can make sense of myself, of my mind in comparison to yours. Now that I know I am autistic, much of my past has come into focus as crystal clear. What was chaotic, incoherent, and confusing now makes more sense. Not entirely, but it makes more sense than it did before. I know I’m inside of something, a process of understanding, a movement toward greater clarity. Of course, there will never be complete clarity but no one, neurodivergent or typical, ever really has pure understanding.

In reading Unmasking Autism by Devon Price, Ph.D., I was able to label behaviors & patterns of thinking I experienced as autism. Before, I might think of them as “my brokenness,” “my wrongness,” or my “inadequacy.” Now, I understand that my autism has never been a weakness but an alternate wavelength. My struggle was in trying to adjust that wavelength to mimic other people’s, which is what led to struggles. The whole time I was supposed to be going with my own flow, engaging with the world on my terms. Now I am. It’s baby steps, but I find my confidence growing and my understanding of myself and the people around me sharpening.

I may be preaching to the choir, or maybe you don’t know, but autism has been seen physiologically in the brain. We’re all born crying, screaming little humans with hyper-connected brains. As time goes on, those neural connections prune themselves to become more efficient. For example, a baby cannot tell you it is hungry until the pathway between that need and the ability to know and speak the word are clear. For autistic people, the connections prune at a slower rate, and for some functions, they barely change from birth into adulthood. As a result, sensory information is processed differently. It is why we’re neurodivergent; we diverge from what has been labeled the “norm.”

My autism manifests itself in several ways. I have sensory issues. Alarms trigger an intense panic sensation, so if a smoke detector, fire alarm, or other loud klaxon goes off, my pulse quickens, my blood pressure rises, and a sense of fear manifests. Some foods are repulsive because of the sensory feedback I get. White onions make me nauseous. On the other hand, I can eat green onions just fine. It’s primarily textures that are the difference. Despite not being very healthy, processed foods are easier for me to swallow because they have a manufactured consistency. Fruits & vegetables are more complex because one piece of fruit might be completely different from the next. That inconsistency makes me wary of them. I can look at certain foods and acknowledge that they look appetizing, but my tongue doesn’t always agree. I’m pushing myself, though. I want to enjoy as much as possible, but I also have to be kind to myself. Some foods I just won’t ever be able to do.

My mind and body are not always in sync, especially when I am doing something that involves concentration in multiple ways simultaneously. When my father first tried to teach me to ride a bike, I didn’t have the coordination; balancing myself & moving & paying attention to my surroundings as I moved overwhelmed my 7-year-old brain. I got yelled at because I cried, and he never tried to teach me again. Years later, I taught myself how to ride my bike. I decided I wanted to know. I got on it, fell off, got back on it, and now I can ride a bike. When it came to learning to drive a car, I felt all the same things but even worse because it’s a much more dangerous thing to do. It didn’t help that my dad tried teaching me with a manual shift. So I had to pay attention to mirrors presenting things backward. I had to flip the image in my head to understand and think about where my feet were with three different pedals (brake, gas, clutch), remember the stick shift, pay attention to the lines on the road, and pay attention to my speed, and pay attention to the speed of the other vehicles. I cried. It was a lot. I got yelled at. He never tried to understand or teach me again. By that time, I was used to him giving up on me. Years later, he would give up on me completely. Oh well, his loss. Because I’m a pretty interesting, fun person.

When I feel my autism most is when I am in a public setting. If I meet you for the first time, I will not speak much. I do not intend to be rude, but I don’t know what to say. I need to figure out what you want to talk about. I know the things that are my fixations and trust me, I can talk about those for days. But I’m also mature enough to understand you may not want to talk about them. So I need to learn how to start a conversation that gets you talking. Most people don’t have things they are passionate about or don’t bring up. Neurotypical people may keep those close to the vest because they feel shame for caring about an interest. Capitalism has this way of making us think anything that doesn’t create profit has no value. But our passions have more value than anything we do for money. We should get paid for our passions.

I saw someone on TikTok explain it so well. When I am in a social setting, I feel like I am on the set of a television show. I see the artificial nature of where I am and the interactions happening around me. It’s like I can see I am on a set and everyone seems to know what to say. They got copies of the script. No one gave me one. I try to fake it, but I can tell they know. But their behaviors often read as phony to me. It feels like they are trying to be someone they are not. Throughout my life, without realizing it, my brain has been lumping people into two groups. I got annoyed with one group and the other; I was intimidated by them. That first group was the people trying hard to fit in and make others like them. The latter group was genuine people. I was intimidated because they were so real & honest. I was afraid they would see I was awkward and unable to keep up. But I always think of those genuine people so highly, some of them I haven’t seen in years, but they are embedded in my memories forever because I was able to see a “real person.”

They talk about “high support need” and “low support need” regarding autism. I think those labels are still much more fluid than they seem. I was thinking about how I always had difficulty talking to women in college and trying to figure out why. Not wanting to be rejected was likely a reason. But I now understand it was also because when I looked at neurotypical flirting with each other, being affectionate, to me, it looked so forced & embarrassing. It seemed to work for them most of the time, but I was afraid if I tried it, then they would see right through me. They would know I was a fake. When I met my wife, it was online. We communicated first through writing and eventually moved to talk on the phone. Being able to start things by writing my thoughts out gave me space to think about what I wanted to say. In a verbal conversation, it would be odd if there were long gaps between people talking to figure out what to say next. We expect verbal interactions to have a specific flow. When you’re writing, you can take more time. You can think about what the person said and construct a response that better matches your thoughts. I often wonder if I was forced into speaking as a child by my parents, that my natural inclination was to be non-verbal. If life had been different, I might have been an autistic person using a tablet to share my words. But that didn’t happen.

There’s so much happening in my head that most people will never know about. I’m always curious; I want to know more about things. I love to make connections between ideas, building towards a considerable understanding of what it means to be alive in this world at this time as me. Ariana is the closest I have ever been to another human being; she knows me so well that I don’t even have to speak sometimes; she just knows. She’s even said she feels like she picked up on my language over the years and, in many cases, can speak for me when I am unable to.

One thing I have come to know is that I love my autism. I think it has made me a better person. It acted as a sort of shield against the things neurotypical people are conditioned to accept but are actually wrong. Because my brain spends so much time analyzing things I think other people gloss over, I have come to see inequality in so much of society. It makes me furious because I think of people like me, those who maybe can’t articulate themselves like I can, and how they must suffer in silence, be ignored, and become invisible. My autism makes me a better person than I would have been without it. When people talk about “curing autism,” it infuriates me. That’s eugenics; that’s a call for genocide. I am not disabled because of my autism. I am disabled because so much of society refuses to accommodate the needs of autistic people. We make glasses to help people with poor vision. We make wheelchair ramps for people who use them. We have created cochlear implants for the deaf who choose to get them. We created sign language so that those same people have the means to communicate outside of themselves. Autism is no different. I think the world is improving regarding this disability, but there is a long way to go. In the meantime, I will keep embracing who I am. I am not ashamed of myself. I think I’m a person worth getting to know. It’s a loss for the people who think otherwise.

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