If you weren’t already aware, I have Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism. I thought I should make that clear, seeing how April is Autism Awareness Month. So now you’re aware that I’m an Aspie, that Asperger’s is a form of autism, and it’s April. Good.
[Note: This post was originally published on April 1, 2013. A lot of terminology has changed, and I was dealing with a lot more internalized ableism back then, so there’s a lot here that is actually ableist. I’m leaving the piece mostly intact to demonstrate how so much growth is possible once you learn from other members of the autistic community. I am changing some of the gendered nouns from the original post because I no longer identify as a cis woman. I’m a type of nonbinary called genderfae, which, while feminine-leaning, means I am not a woman. And I don’t use the term Aspie anymore because it is problematic.]
What we simply call autism is actually an assortment of various neurological disorders, collectively know as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). On one end of the spectrum, we have people like my cousin Johnny who has been nonverbal all his life and requires constant supervision. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people like me, who somehow managed to go all the way through childhood and more than a decade of adulthood before discovering that they were even diagnosable because we’ve been getting along just fine. Many Aspies like me always knew they were somehow different, but never quite understood why or how. People called us weird, and we had trouble making and/or keeping friends, but otherwise, we seem just like neurotypical people – “normal” people like most of you.
So what exactly makes us different? Well, every Aspie is different. Your stereotypical adult with Asperger’s, the one you probably picture when you think about it, is Sheldon Cooper from TV’s Big Bang Theory. But women (and other non-cis-men) tend to manifest symptoms that are much different than what (cis) men manifest, and there’s as many individual differences as there are individuals.
I can only tell you what Asperger’s Syndrome is like for me.
What is it like to be this autistic person?
I can be hyper-focused on something, or trying to focus on a task can be like trying to catch water in a colander. I can be lost for minutes or hours in thought. I actually take extra anxiety medication at bedtime because I can’t shut down my brain. The ruminations and intrusive thoughts can keep me awake for hours, even though I take other medications to help me sleep. BUT this can also work to my advantage in my creative endeavors. Sometimes, it’s a difficult balance.
Emotional. I am very, very sensitive. But I have trouble expressing my emotions. My last few years in therapy are a testament to that. It is very difficult for me to express myself verbally, and I hate crying in front of people. It is easier for me to write about my feelings than it is to do it any other way.
Literal. I will analyze to death the exact words someone speaks to me, often forgetting that not everyone means exactly what they say. In my head, I hold them to their exact word, and I get very upset when things like, “We should do this again sometime. Maybe next week,” turn out to be scripted language that wasn’t meant to be taken literally. And when next week comes and the other person is busy, and the next week, and the next week… It’s not pretty for me.
Dear God, am I stubborn. A friend once told me I am a “competent businesswoman who knows how to get what she wants.” That’s because I can never let anything go. This is often a problem, but most people only ever see the results that make it seem a virtue.
It’s hard for me to interpret other people’s motives or remember their preferences. I have been taken advantage of so many times and in so many ways because I misconstrued a boyfriend’s or an associate’s intentions. As for other people’s preferences, it’s often embarrassing for me when I don’t remember what a friend doesn’t like – to do, to eat, to talk about. I can’t always tell when someone’s lying to me. I’m usually pretty good at detecting sarcasm, though. Despite the stereotype, I get it. Of course, I have a deadpan reaction sometimes that makes people think I didn’t “get” it, and they try to explain it to me, and then I explain that I was just playing along… It’s awkward.
Introverted. I am very shy…in person. My online persona is as friendly and outgoing as I wish I could be in real life, but I’m just not comfortable at it offline. I need breaks from social contact. But one thing you should know – just because a person is shy and withdrawn doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in being friendly. Being excluded from things hurts. I like to be included, but I’m not generally proactive about that. I envied the popular kids in high school, but I just wasn’t built to exude the same sort of confidence that came naturally to them. Consequently, I often think that approaching people is going to bother them. Even if we’re friends. (So if you see me at a conference or something, let me know if you have room at your table at lunch. Even if we talk online regularly, I’m probably still intimidated by the notion of asking to hang out with you.)
While we’re at it, I may as well confess that I don’t generally identify myself as autistic. I prefer the Asperger’s label because it’s more precise. Better yet, Aspie. I like the sound of the word. It’s succinct, and it’s got flavor. Say it with jazz hands… *ASPIE*
Odd. Yep, I’m an odd duck. When I was in the sixth grade, my friends and I formed the Weirdonian Society. Membership required eating a mint chocolate chip sundae with butterscotch, which we considered a weird combination. I could write a few thousand words about other weird things about me, but that’s not really what I’m going for here.
Never satisfied. I’d actually written over 1,000 words for this post before I decided to scrap everything after the subheading because there was no way I could finish what I’d started without writing a novella. I can guarantee you, I’m not happy with the final version of this… but I can’t stay up all night to work on it.
Not much different than you. Sure, I’m socially awkward. But there are plenty of neurotypical people who are socially awkward. In fact, you might not even know I was autistic if I wasn’t always telling people I am. Heck, I didn’t even know it until last year! So please, don’t judge what autistic people of any age can or cannot do. Many of us can do pretty much what anyone else can do. And some of us even do it better. 😉
P.S. I hate the autism awareness ribbon with all the puzzle pieces on it because it’s too visually busy. Seriously, people. Autism often comes hand in hand with sensory issues, and you make our ribbon overstimulating? Gah.
Read my Big Fat Medical Update for more details.
2 thoughts on “I Am an Autistic Person”
I suspect I am an Aspie like my son. So many things I’m seeing in him seem to click with my life.
Have you ever seen the movie ~THE LIFE OF PI~?
It changed me forever…..I am like Pi.
Can so relate.