Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What is Being Autistic Like?

Recently someone asked what being Autistic is like. It is different for everyone, so please bear that in mind. My experience will not be everyone’s experience. Also, I swear a lot as a coping mechanism, so I apologize for that ahead of time.

For me it’s like… I wake up in the morning and everything is so bright that the sun may as well be in the fucking room with me. Incandescent light sources are no better, each like its own tiny star shining right in my eyes.

Next are the colors, I’m actually lucky here, because I can’t see all of them. They are so, so vibrant. Beautiful, but they make it difficult to focus. What should I look at? I don’t know, it’s like a god damned Van Gogh painting all the time.

Next are the sounds. I’m actually somewhat shielded from these now, having lost most of my hearing in 2007. That said, it used to be like waking up in the subway. The TV, people talking at you, dogs barking, and so forth were like listening to music through headphones but the only volume setting is MAX.

My clothes, plush baby fleece and soft vintage cotton, feel like sand against my skin. Each time I move it’s like that awful feeling when a cat licks you with it’s tiny barbed tongue. The pressure of my blanket, which I ironically cannot sleep without, feels like the weight of a whole other person laid on top of me. Many people also have sensitivities to taste and smell. I am not one of them.

It’s so easy to become overwhelmed if you aren’t really, really careful.

My perception of time is awful. It makes food preparation a nightmare. I have to set timers for everything or it gets burnt or forgotten about. One minute? May as well be an hour. I won’t know the difference. I wear a watch and am surrounded by clocks but Dyscalculia means I can never trust I noted the time correctly. Autism does not immediately mean you’re a math/number prodigy, which seems to be the biggest misconception out there.

Next, do I have something to do today that requires I follow instructions? Following directions intended for people who think and process everything differently than you do can be challenging. There are multiple ways to interpret most instructions, multiple solutions to every problem. I may take longer to reach the same conclusion simply because I took the long route to it rather than the most direct, because the more complicated way of doing it was more interesting to me. A lot of NT people get hung up on the how, rather than the fact that the ideal result was reached.
When setting out to complete a task I must always ask myself: Do I have the time to complete this thing in a single sitting? Being unable to finish something  is one of my biggest meltdown/shutdown triggers and to avoid that, I’d rather just put that thing off than risk be interrupted doing it. So some days I don’t get much accomplished.

Do I have to work with others? Are people demanding of my time or attention? This is difficult to deal with persistently. I need to maintain a lot of personal discipline and outside influences take away from that. Imagine that you are studying for a very important exam and there is someone in the room talking about the weather while you’re trying to read. This is what everyday conversations can be like for me.

This is a primary reason I’m so fond of text-based communication. I can partake when I’m capable of it. It comes off as really cavalier and robotic, but it’s just a way to deal with being overwhelmed from the moment I wake up in the morning by literally every.little.fucking.thing.

To cope with all of the above, I may at random intervals sway, vocalize, or lose myself to a task that seems trivial to the outside observer (listening to a song on repeat, scrolling tumblr, stringing beads, etc.) and not want to do anything else. My disinterest in outside tasks isn’t because I don’t want to partake but because I recognize I’m about to reach BS critical mass and need to take a fucking step back before I’m really miserable.

There are a few things that I am hyper-interested in. These are commonly referred to as special interests. You probably assume you have these too, maybe you like BSG a whole, whole lot. I promise you though, that you do not like it as much as an Autistic with a BSG special interest does. It’s not the same. I could talk to you about my special interests for literal days without pause, whether you seemed interested or not because I’m so intrigued by it I won’t notice that you aren’t. Even if you tell me as much, I might continue talking about it anyway because it’s hard to fucking stop. Have you heard about this thing? IT’S SO DAMNED COOL. You don’t like it? Well, here are 99 reasons that you should. Cited with sources.

A lot of this probably sounds negative, but it really isn’t. I’m used to it, I’ve been living this way all my entire life and so long as an outsider doesn’t give me shit, I can lead a perfectly happy day-to-day life because I know my boundaries. Any bad experience I’ve had in regards to being Autistic has been because some other person couldn’t grasp that Autism effects more than 6 year old white boys who love trains and math.