Last year I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition, and I wrote about some of my experiences until that point. My life is full of negatives, so today, I wanted to try and pull some positives out of my situation. Forgive me for the sheer amount of rambling before I get to the actual point of this post – congratulations if you make it to the end!
Currently, I’m in my mid-30s, and my life has been at a standstill ever since I became an adult. Every attempt to step forward ends with me two steps back. I’m embarrassed by it. It fills me with shame every day, knowing that I am not achieving and enjoying the life milestones that my peers do, despite (as of last year, at least) knowing that it’s due to disability and not character defects. These feelings intensify with each day that passes. I hate being asked questions about my current situation. What do you do? Where do you live? Are you married? Do you have a family? What are your hobbies? I don’t want anybody to know the answers to these questions because they remind me that I’m a failure. I’m a mess, unable to move forward due to a complete lack of proper support.
When I was a child, I assumed I had a bright future. I was kind, thoughtful, came from a good family who loved me, lived in a warm home, loved to read and learn, and people would often say I was mature and intelligent for my age. Why wouldn’t I go on to live at least an average, happy life? Instead, I find myself trapped with no apparent way out. I’m not eligible for help to move forwards because one singular bigoted and ignorant woman motivated by financial incentives and having never met me has decided that I don’t have any difficulties in day-to-day life whatsoever because she says so, therefore I don’t meet the criteria to access precious support resources. Some people need it even more than I do, which is the mindset I have been forced to focus on. But why do I feel like I’m forever making sacrifices and concessions for people who are worse off than me, and in return, I’m always left in perpetual suffering? When is it going to be my turn for once? Half of my life has already been stolen from me, and the only apparent option I have left is to cut things short by ending it all – a battle I already fight every day. Is this it for me, just constant distress until I die, whilst people tell me I should be more grateful for what I have or that things will improve?
People often make assumptions about my capabilities based on what they have seen or experienced in a short space of time. It frustrates me when somebody tells me they think I can do something because they’ve seen me do it in the past. They may well have seen that – perhaps on a rare ‘good’ day – BUT they didn’t see or know of the anguish that came along with it. They didn’t see me downing alcoholic spirits beforehand to prepare myself. The shutdown I experienced during the activity. The self-harm injuries from punishing myself in an attempt to relieve the distress. The burnout from masking for so long. The hours I wasted in bed recovering, staring at the wall or ceiling because my brain and body were too broken to function. All this is unseen and unmentioned – so it doesn’t factor into their judgement of me whatsoever. You might say that if I don’t tell them, how are they supposed to know? And that is true – but I’m not comfortable being pressured into sharing sensitive and private information when my first answer of “no” should always be sufficient. A mental health nurse encouraged me to become more assertive over the past few years. To stop giving in to people who would push me into doing things that would only benefit them but have significant adverse effects on me. I’m a people pleaser traditionally, but I also know how I’m affected by things better than anybody else, so I started saying “no” to people without feeling a need to give them a reason – because they shouldn’t need one. I’m still learning this skill, but I’m getting there.
Ultimately, when I say I’m autistic, that statement should give you absolutely ZERO information about me. It does not confirm anything. It does not tell you my support needs. It does not mean I fit any of the stereotypes you see on TV. You shouldn’t be able to tell anything about me from that one (very diverse) word. It should, however, be an indicator that you may need to be patient with me and exercise a little empathy because my struggles may not be evident to you. Perhaps that’s an appropriate way to treat every person you meet – regardless of neurotype – the world definitely needs more compassion and open-mindedness at the moment.
There are times when I wish I hadn’t been born autistic. I’d love nothing more than to live a regular life without the everyday struggles that autism brings in this horrible, ignorant world where everybody thinks they know better. That’s not possible, though, and even then, I’d be a completely different person if it was.
Thank you for sticking with me thus far; I’m finally coming to my point now. It’s times like those described above when I need to remind myself of the positive traits that autism brings to my character – to try and restore some balance against all those adverse side effects that stem from being misunderstood and unsupported. I’m writing today to give some power to those positive neurodivergent traits – the things that make me who I am, which I can genuinely feel some pride in. It’s not often I can talk about (or even feel) things I actually like about myself, but here we go:
Disclaimer: This is only my personal experience and not necessarily a shared experience by other autistic individuals.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
I see the details that others often don’t – it makes me an excellent proofreader, and I can usually spot things like spelling mistakes quickly. I also notice changes easily and am accurate and precise with everything I do.
I have pretty good long-term memory recall. I can’t control what I do or don’t remember or when, but it usually sticks around in my memory if it is related to a topic of interest. I often recall car number plates, postcodes, dates of minor events, details that others have long forgotten and useless bits of information.
A few times, I’ve come across somebody struggling with a task, and my brain has come up with a unique, alternative or innovative way of solving the problem, and they have been grateful for my input. This also ties in with my organisation skills, as I am good at recognising issues that could arise in the future and coming up with ways to prepare for them.
INTEGRITY AND RELIABILITY
I can’t help but be honest. I am, genuinely, the world’s worst liar. Even white lies leave me feeling guilty as if I’ve abandoned my principles. The one lie I’ve learned to use often is “I’m okay”, but nobody believes that anyway. Regarding my reliability, if I’ve told you I will do something, you can depend on me. I have previously described my masking as me being fake or a liar, but I feel that’s a different kind of honesty – more of a survival mechanism.
I will never be late unless it’s out of my control – in fact, you will commonly find me arriving an hour early, waiting just around the corner for a more appropriate time to ‘pretend’ I’ve just arrived.
I DON’T WEAR ROSE-TINTED SPECS
This ties in with the honesty trait, I think. I can completely abandon any personal bias to look at a situation from different or neutral viewpoints. I do it with politics, pandemics, TV shows, people, you name it. Instead of looking at what I wish was the solution for my personal needs, I look at the bigger picture – weighing up all the pros and cons. When I give feedback, it is always honest. If I am critical, it will always be constructive. I can even be critical about what I love, and I won’t ever apologise for giving my honest, unbiased thoughts. It has also helped make me a good script editor and assessor in the past – I had definitely mastered the art of the “criticism sandwich”.
A STICKLER FOR THE RULES
I got through school without ever having after-school detention. I’ve always followed the rules – it just feels like the right thing to do. I will even follow rules that impact me negatively. As time goes on, I’ve realised that the people who break the rules seem to live more prosperous lives than I do, which doesn’t seem fair. This has made me look at rules more critically instead of simply accepting them without question. Who makes the rules and why? Is this rule logical or petty? What is the reason why we must wear pink on Wednesdays?
Autistic people stereotypically have very rigid beliefs that are difficult to change – and whilst this may be true for many aspects of my life, I also find that I never stop wanting to learn more, which I feel translates into open-mindedness. I may disagree with you, and I may strongly dislike what you say, but I won’t punish you personally for having different beliefs from me. I can wholeheartedly accept our differences and still hold a civil conversation with no intention to try and change your mind. I am, however, always open to having my mind changed (within reason, of course…).
This one is hard to write – it makes me feel big-headed because I’m not confident enough in my abilities to call myself an “expert” on anything. I think this is why since childhood, I have always found online communities so beneficial, as I can talk about these niche topics with people who are genuinely interested in what I have to say, which I don’t often find in real life. I will happily dump information on you for hours, long after you’ve fallen asleep through boredom.
FAIR, JUST AND PRINCIPLED
I have a strong sense of right or wrong, fair and just – tying in with my strong moral principles (and likely to have caused my Twitter followers a groan or two every time I get on my soapbox about a disservice to others that I am furious about). I apply this to things like my political beliefs, basing them on what is morally correct, not for my personal benefit.
In 2020, research was carried out using autistic and allistic (not autistic) people from Brazil aged between 14 and 25. While the findings obviously don’t represent ALL autistic or allistic people, it is interesting to see if there is a difference between the two. To summarise briefly, participants were given a choice to either a) support a bad cause for monetary gain or b) oppose the bad cause and miss out on the money. The option was given in two settings – public, where everybody would know what you had done, and private, where nobody would ever find out what you had done. The findings suggested allistic people were more likely to support the bad cause than autistic people and even more likely to support it if their decision remained private. Autistic people were less likely to support the bad cause, and their responses stayed the same regardless of the setting – autistic people were too concerned with their principles and morals. This research is so relatable to me and my beliefs – even back to my childhood – and allows me to link my bold moral stances to autism. Here’s a fun illustration of the research, and here’s a summary of the findings.
I don’t yet know how to trigger this manually, and it doesn’t happen very often anymore. If I get into something (usually special interest-related), I REALLY get into it. I will forget to eat or sleep because my attention is focused on this task, even if the end goal of the mission is meaningless. It will be the only thing I can think about for days. It’s great for getting things done; I just wish I could control it.
THRIVE IN MY OWN COMPANY
Whilst I appreciate the company of the right people at the right time – and fully understand the benefits of having other humans around me – I am fully content being in my own company. I love it. It’s when I’m most productive. I think it’s a good thing that I can entertain myself for long periods without relying on other people to provide stimulation.
I never follow the crowd – and I constantly challenge the norm. My points of view are original and belong to me. I don’t jump on trends just because other people have done, and similarly, I don’t jump off them once everyone else gets bored. I often gravitate towards the underdog in many situations, in that the things I love always seem to be deemed unpopular by the majority of society.
There’s a myth that autistic people aren’t capable of empathy, but that’s not entirely true. I have bundles of compassionate empathy and emotional empathy, to the point where I overwhelm myself with it and have to scale back for my own wellbeing. I struggle more with cognitive empathy, where I need to understand what people are feeling or thinking so that I can communicate with them – I often get this wrong, despite trying desperately hard to train myself through my interest in psychology.
So I did it; I found some things I like about myself, and they all stem from something generally considered a curse. Would I prefer to be neurotypical? My life would certainly be easier, but I’m not sure why I should be the one who has to change. Why does the world struggle so much to accept people who are different? I’ve masked enough throughout my life to benefit everyone else – it’s everyone else’s turn to adapt for me now.