I have been musing for a while about how to do more writing about my autism. The truth is, the more I read about others’ experiences, the less I feel qualified to discuss any over-arching patterns and that is usually one of my super-powers, drawing connections that others don’t see between seemingly unrelated topics. Autism is humbling in that way; everyone is SO unique that we can often defy patterns. And I do not want to be the one to autism-splain to others with their own experiences.
So then I think I should just talk about myself, which is also problematic. Why should I talk about myself when what I have to say couldn’t possibly be valuable to anyone else? Why should/would anyone listen to me? What is the purpose and function of my story? And how can I tell it without revealing too much? What does “too much” mean? How do I share without oversharing and making others uncomfortable? (I’ve spent most of my life trying not to make others uncomfortable.) You can see how paralyzing these thoughts can be.
It was only after a personal trauma and an unhelpful lack of understanding/accommodations at my workplace (due to “policies,” I’m told) that I completely lost it at my therapist’s office. I had been going to therapy on an off since my college years. At this point, I had found a good person to work with, who helped me identify and process my emotions (normally suppressed for the aforementioned comfort of others). I was diagnosed with ASD level 1, formerly known as Asperger’s about 16 months ago, in my 40s, as a result. This allowed me to force my workplace to give me the accommodations I asked for, all of which was more days/times working from home. I work in the tech sector, so this isn’t a huge cost to the company other than their perception of how people SHOULD be effective employees. BTW, none of their assumptions apply to me. They believe that because I APPEAR human, that I must be like every other human they’ve ever run across. Little do they know.
I have been observing humans my whole life. Observing and mimicking. I have the ability to appear as appropriate for the context in almost any situation. At a party, I will appear to be having a good time, floating around from group to group, talking with everyone, even though this is not how I would normally choose to spend my time. I can hold a credible conversation about most sports (less MMA, NASCAR, etc.), the stock market/investment strategy, world events, people’s pets, kids, work, politics, music, cultural events, etc. Most of the time, I can even suppress my urges to just walk away in the middle of the conversation, physically removing myself when I get bored. I imagine this is an impulse many autistic folks can relate to. Again, in my case, it’s about preserving the comfort of the people around me. Ensuring they still have a reasonable impression of me as a “normal” human being.
It’s just that I also have super-powers that would make most people uncomfortable. And most people don’t understand or recognize them as super-powers, or anything other than, at best, personality quirks. Here are a few small examples:
- I have “supersonic bar hearing.” At a noisy bar or restaurant, I am able to hear and recognize (and be distracted by) any song playing in the background, even when most others can’t even hear that there is music playing.
- I have technicolor dreams. Most people talk about color being washed out or faded in their dreams, but my dreams are typically extremely vibrant, even more so than real life. They remind me to keep on the lookout for beauty in my surroundings at all times.
- I have a photographic memory. If I am reading a book and run across a passage that is particularly memorable, I will often remember, if not the exact page number, at least roughly how far into the book the page was, whether the passage was on the left- or right-hand side of the book and where on the page (top, middle, bottom) the passage began.
- I can play saxophone, mostly by ear. If there’s a song on the radio that I know (by that, I mean I’ve heard it all the way through a couple times), I can pretty much figure out and repeat it back on my sax. But playing songs in a key that is different than the original always sounds off. So if I can figure out what note it starts on, I can typically noodle my way through the whole thing in short order.
- I have “maps in my head.” I can learn my way around a new city in very short periods of time and I can usually reroute myself to anywhere I’ve ever been, even after years. As far as the city I’ve lived in for years, if you give me an address, I am likely to be able to drive myself there with no need for navigation. I can tell you 5 different routes from point A to point B and which will be quickest or shortest or closest to a third point, also accounting for the traffic patterns and time of day.
And these are just the small, non-threatening ones. 🙃
So, if I haven’t made everyone uncomfortable with my thoughts here, and how would I know since I don’t get any comments or feedback, maybe I will do this again and share more. If you are part of the autistic community and you can relate to any of this, please do comment and let me know. Anyone can comment, of course, but I especially would like to hear from other autie brothers and sisters. And in another post, I might share other ways that I feel my life has been blessed by my autism. My hope is that these stories will help others who may be suffering to reframe their experiences in a positive way.