Hey, I'm high-functioning autistic. No, I'm nothing like Rain Man (don't take me to Vegas, I'd be worse than useless and, for reasons I'll make clear, that place is autistic hell). Here's what our deal actually is to give y'all a better insight into what goes on in an Aspie* mind.
*That's what we call ourselves, as well as HFAs (high-functioning autistics), autistic and neurodiverse - you guys are 'neurotypicals', or 'NTs'. I know the idea of learning new labels can seem a little daunting and complicated at first, but if you can learn the name of everyone in the Avengers movies, you can probably learn this too.
1. We're Not All the Same
I've already touched on how I'm not Rain Man (seriously, someone needs to make more movies about autism), but I also hate to break it to you that I'm probably nothing like the one other autistic person you sorta know either, on account of being an individual with my own interests, experiences and personality.
Also autism is a HUGE spectrum, and within that there are different types of autism, and within THAT there are some people who experience some associated difficulties but not others. So, with all of that in mind, if I was just like your autistic third cousin, that would be one hell of a statistical anomaly!
Oh, and especially if the other Aspie you know is a man - autistic women can present very differently to men, which is why...
2. Women Can Fly Under the Radar
By age one, I could say over 100 words, but, aged 30, I still struggle to use those words without pissing someone off.
I was an academically bright kid, but spent most of my childhood mimicking the NTs around me (with varying degrees of success) in order to hide the fact that felt like I was from Mars and had no idea what I was supposed to say or do almost all of the time. This imitation game involved a lot of outdated slang and poorly assembled outfits. Tubular.
Because we're often academically gifted, because learn to 'pass' (sort of, until we slip up), because we're emotional and empathetic (go on, give me an excuse to cry - I love a good cry), because we talk - a LOT - and because our cultural image of an autistic person is a mathematically adept trainspotter, when we're often creative types, lots of us go undiagnosed until adulthood, if at all.
3. We Tell It As It Is
If you want the cold, hard truth, ask me for my opinion when I'm off guard. As an Aspie, my brain only intuitively knows how to deal in facts, and I have to constantly remind myself that NTs need their facts gift wrapped for them to protect their feelings.
By the end of a long day, I'm all out of wrapping paper. Anyone who catches me when I just can't be bothered to mask will probably find me terribly rude, braggy or overshare-y, but that's only because I'm exhausted from all my overwhelming success, I'm having the mother of all periods and I'm not interested in what you're saying, 'K?
4. We Love to Laugh
We have a weird and unique sense of humor that not everyone gets, but when we're funny, we're really funny. Often not on purpose.
5. We Can't Always Tell When We've Messed Up
Once, I had what I thought was a lovely day out with a friend. We hugged goodbye at the station and I skipped home, smugly congratulating myself on a rare successful social interaction.
My friend then immediately blocked me on every social media channel.
When I asked her what had happened she said "if you don't know, there's no point in telling you."
I had no. Fucking. Idea. It's been two years, and I still have no idea.
We're not the best at reading facial expressions, so when our bluntness gets us in trouble, we can't always tell that it's happened at all, let alone why.
The opposite is also true. If someone is frowning, I assume it's because I've upset them in some way, when people (apparently) frown for a multitude of reasons that probably have nothing to do with me. I recently avoided a friend for a fortnight because they'd spent our whole hangout with their brow furrowed. As it turns out, they had gas.
6. We Don't Like Eye Contact
What is it about staring into disgusting, gooey eyeballs that you people love so much??
7. Some of Us Have Unique Skills and Obsessions
Autistic people tend to have special interests or obsessions. My overall special interest is writing, but I've gone through lots of obsessive phases. During my photography phase, nobody was safe from my camera (nobody was complaining about their awesome Facebook profile pictures either, I might add).
I once painted every piece of furniture in my house pink or pale blue during my upcycling craze.
I disappeared with my instruments for days at a time when it was songwriting, having to be reminded to regularly eat and wash.
This means I have a wide skill set, that is mostly of no use to anybody. Unless one of y'all has a chair that needs painting?
8. When We Crush, We Crush HARD
Give me any ordinary, mediocre man and my rich, Aspie imagination can turn him into a Greek God who looks like a Hemsworth brother and has a personality tailored exactly to my long list of very specific needs.
No romantic interest can ever match up to the fictional one we can create for ourselves, but that doesn't stop us from daydreaming and yes, maybe obsessing a little.
We're also totally unsubtle. I'm happily married and I got together with my husband by pretty much following him around and telling him I was his girlfriend. Mercifully, he agreed.
9. Sensory Issues Are a Bitch
Imagine a noise you really hate. Now amplify that dislike by 100 and imagine you feel that way about most noises. Now imagine that most normal light conditions are too bright for you, that smells and tastes can be overwhelming or trigger nausea or headaches and that large crowds can induce overwhelm and panic.
That's my reality - see what I mean about Vegas being Aspie hell now?
We also like to dress for comfort, so we either look scruffy or feel constantly aggravated.
There's a sort of Aspie uniform - comfy, soft clothing, dark glasses and big, over-ear noise-cancelling headphones - the overall effect is that I look totally unapproachable. Yay!
10. We Can Seem Spoiled
I don't like things a certain way, I need them a certain way. And if things go wrong, if I'm suffering from sensory overload or my routine has been disrupted, I melt down. And when I have a meltdown, it looks like a tantrum.
It's not a tantrum, though. It may look alarming, but an autistic meltdown is a physical thing - it's just what my body needs to do and trust me, I am ALWAYS exhausted and totally mortified after the storm passes.
11. We 'Stim'
I can't count the number of times in my life I've been told to sit still. Stimming is a series of self-soothing movements that release energy and help avert a meltdown. They happen when I'm stressed (I jiggle my leg, tap my fingers together, wring my hands or stroke my hair) and when I'm excited (I can jump up and down, punch the air, clap, flap my arms).
Stimming can be very revealing of how I'm actually feeling. If you're telling me an anecdote and I'm rubbing my hands together, it means I'm desperate to get away from you, but I have no idea how to gift wrap that fact. Sorry.
12. We Burn Out
One party can steal two more days of my life lying in a dark room recovering. As Aspies, we need to recharge after we've had to socialise or if we've been overstimulated.
It's a bit like how y'all get hangovers after partying hard, but for us, partying hard is showing up to the party at all - partying *is* hard.
13. We're Great Workers, But We Struggle to Keep Jobs
I am diligent to the point of teacher's pet-ism, but stick me in an open-plan office full of fluorescent lights, ringing phones, noisy printers, boiling kettles and background chatter and my battery will be drained before we even have a chance to get into the minefield of social interactions.
Jobs in customer service aren't ideal (turns out they did want that last comment gift wrapped), jobs with animals are great until they die (Aspie catastrophe - we fucking love animals) and jobs in tech are fantastic if you're wired that way, but lots of creative Aspies are Not. Fucking. Rain. Man.
We're happiest working from home, in our best business PJs, and showing our faces for the occasional short meeting (where we apparently cannot wear our business PJs to these, no matter how many pizza slices are on them. Ridiculous.).
14. We REALLY Care, We're Just Not Always the Best At Showing It
I care - I care SO much. I care TOO much. Think Leslie Knope on crack.
Unfortunately, I'm not the best at expressing it, so I often over or under-do it. My verbal enthusiasm, without fail, sounds like sarcasm, and showing it comes in the form of a grand gesture so OTT that would make Gatsby uncomfortable.
Because I care so much and I'm not great at winning people over with my sparkling personality, I can be overly generous. It's very easy to take advantage of me, and it's important for me to tell everyone I meet that so they know not to do it. Obviously.
15. We're Sick of People Questioning Our Diagnosis
Thank you for your opinion, casual acquaintance whose first encounter of autism is, well me telling you about it just now. I'm glad you find labels unhelpful, because you won't mind all the labels I've been mentally giving you since we started talking.
I'll be sure to let the clinical psychologist who diagnosed me based on lifelong social and sensory issues, after an in-depth assessment, know that she's a moron and that some dude thinks everyone feels like I do sometimes so I'm not autistic after all. She's going to be SO embarrassed.
Being diagnosed as high-functioning autistic brings out all the assholes - the anti-vaxxer assholes, the 'can't you just try harder' assholes, the 'don't use this as an excuse' assholes - but it's also liberating, wonderful and reassuring.
As an Aspie, I've known I was different my whole life - and that's totally rad. Boss? Bitching? Whatever. I now know I'm not broken, I'm different - and not one turd with an ill-informed opinion can ever make me feel less than again. Stick that on your gift-wrapping counter and wrap it.