My Autistic Brain

Acceptance, asd, Taking off the mask

Oh, hello there. It’s been awhile.

5 points if that sentence reminded you of that Staind song “It’s Been Awhile”. :-p

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about what autism is for people.

More specifically, what it is for me.

Because, I figure, the more I understand my own autistic brain, the better I can help those around me understand me and ensure we have a happy balance between my needs and theirs.

So, I have compiled a list of what I think are some of my autistic traits.

I don’t know how many people in my daily life read this blog, but maybe they will read this and learn some things about me that don’t generally come up in conversation.

And, of course, maybe it will help you as well, my kind reader, feel less alone in this world because you, too, are autistic or love/respect someone who is.

Or maybe you’re just lurker.

Or stalker.

Whatevs.

Anyway, here are some characteristics of my autistic brain:

  • I interrupt in conversations pretty frequently — just don’t really understand when it’s my turn to talk
  • Let’s not get into the massively high levels of anxiety I get as soon as I walk out the front door because the outside world is truly difficult to understand and process
  • I have a hard time understanding social greetings and niceties, small talk,  etc., and have a hard time figuring out how to reply (I have learned a set of bank questions I use but they don’t always work if something happens that isn’t on my “script”)
  • I understand many things literally. “It’s raining cats and dogs” –> I literally picture cats and dogs coming down from the clouds like rain
  • I have dyscalculia and very likely dyspraxia though I haven’t been formally tested. This was raised as highly likely during my autism assessment
  • I really don’t like being touched during social greetings. Kisses on the cheek make me crisp up like a dried leaf. I’ve gotten better with hugs but I am crawling up the walls any time I enter or exit a social situation
  • I can feel electricity. Not sure if that’s an autistic trait or not
  • I have a heightened sense of smell
  • My sensory profile is grossly above average for sensory sensitivity and sensory avoidance, and mildly above average for sensation seeking but this is very “sensory” dependent (i.e., it’s on my terms and only for a very small selection of things and for a very limited amount of time)
  • I stim during meetings at work or when I am starting to get overwhelmed by crowds, conversations, general peopling, when I’m excited or bored, etc. I try to keep this hidden but I’ve become more open about it in recent months
  • I think I have a heightened sense of touch, which plays into the social greeting thing. Often times, things touching me for an extended period of time (clothing, for example, or contact) physically hurt
  • Routine. Routine. Routine.
  • I’m not a particularly imaginative person. Never have been. People think I am but all I ever did was mimic what I saw on TV, movies, observations from other people, etc.
  • I. Notice. Everything.
  • I am very black and white in my thinking and often either have “too much” empathy (if that’s even a bad thing) or not enough
  • SPECIAL INTERESTS FTW. I don’t want to go into those on here though because I would never stop typing if I did!

This is nowhere near a complete list and I am still learning about all these things on my autism journey. It feels kind of good to list them out though, even if it’s just to reflect on.

Autism is very unique to an individual. If you know one autistic person, that does not mean you know them all. It is really important to make the effort to educate yourself about the autistic spectrum and discuss it with someone you know who may be autistic. It can only improve your relationship with that person. 

As I always say, there isn’t any shame in neurotypical or neurodiverse behavior. We’re all having this human experience together. 🙂

Oh, What It Would Be To Have A Heart Made Of Armor

Taking off the mask

I feel like a ghost most days.

This feeling intensifies when I am in a very social situation with people in loud, chaotic, multiple-conversations-happening-at-once setting. I have a very difficult time functioning in this type of setting, no matter if the mood is happy or not, so I don’t really engage and end up usually shutting down.

This, naturally, confuses most people and I usually end up getting asked if I’m okay or will be mistaken for being aloof, shy, upset, detached, moody, etc.

Then I become a ghost.

This happened recently. I was struggling to be “on” after having a really exhausting day in terms of too much “people-ing” and sensory overload in a busy city with huge crowds, etc. I couldn’t engage enough. I probably should have spoken up about the problems I was having but didn’t. The company knew about my diagnosis so maybe they should’ve spoken up, too.

Regardless, this kind of stuff triggers the fight-or-flight response, making me want to disappear from everyone and everything.

I found a really good article from the National Autistic Society regarding autism and loneliness. It is spot on and perfectly depicts my own feeling on this subject.

I’m learning that these down-to-the-bone-marrow feelings of isolation are probably linked, in a way I suppose, to the shutdowns.

While I feel my particular autism has many strengths, communication is one of the areas where I do find it to be a disability.

Casual conversation.

Making and keeping friendships.

Social interaction.

I am going to be 35 on Monday and I suffer just as much as I did when I was a child when it comes to integrating into a social “norm” setting and maintaining friendships.

I am very good at “camouflaging” this, when I have the energy to, so anyone who has met me in the last few years won’t really notice or will be mega surprised to find out about my autism.

But those who knew me before then–before I mastered my masking techniques–won’t be surprised at all.

And masking is utterly exhausting.

I have written before how I don’t want to wear these masks all of the time. I want to be who I am and have people understand that I am different and that I need some guidance on how to effectively “fit in.”

I have not been wearing these masks lately but few people around me are changing and, in some cases, the “friendships” are getting worse because some people refuse to talk to me about my autism diagnosis and refuse to adopt a social situation that will help me communicate without shutting down (i.e., something a little more quiet or with less people).

Not masking is making me feel more isolated than when I am masking. But when I mask, I feel like I am inauthentic and why hide who I actually am? I don’t think it’s inappropriate for me to address when I am having troubles due to ASD and kindly request if we can move somewhere more quiet, for example. Usually, people are okay to do this, but some aren’t. And the ones that aren’t, I guess, aren’t really worth my time in the first place.

Is it unhealthy for me to think that, because I am trying to compromise by improving scripting (or “chitchat”) skills by asking, what to me, are useless questions with no meaning to help “neurotypical” people feel comfortable, people should compromise on helping me in social situations by being a little more sensitive to my disability with communication?

Am I asking too much? I genuinely don’t know if I am or not. It would be helpful for someone to tell me so I can appropriately address the situation(s) in the future.

It’s unfortunate that a lot of my sensitivities are very socially focused (overly-sensitive sensory sensitivity and sensory avoidance) but that doesn’t mean I don’t like people or lack a need for human interaction.

I do need it.

And I’ve tried.

Am trying.

And will keep trying.

Even though it hurts sometimes.

But, I guess, those who are actually interested in my good qualities and the friendship I can offer will talk about this with me. People who show complete apathy, avoidance or other negative responses aren’t really worth the energy I have to expend to keep trying.

Or may they do care but aren’t sure how to talk about it with me.

To  communicate in a world where most people, “neurotypical” or not, are already pretty poor at communicating is hard. I mean, we are all just children with hurt feelings inside adult bodies, right? We should probably be more mindful about addressing those hurt feelings, talk it out and move on.

A quote by Nita taken from that article by NAS I linked to earlier, who is also autistic, goes like this:

“I am autistic, but I am no less worthy of friendship than anyone else.”

Those. Words. Exactly.