Sunday, December 30, 2012

My personal views on autism

Ok, so this is not a subject that I usually talk a lot about, but in all honesty it really should be. It's always been sort of something that unless you're someone I'm fairly close to, you're not likely to even know about me. For the most part I have come to grips with it years ago, but there are still issues that I have and will in all likelihood always have. What I'm talking about is autism. I was diagnosed as being a high functioning autistic when I was 12 years old, What is now referred to as Aspergers syndrome.

If you ask the professionals what this means, they will tell you that it's a neurological disorder that can affect emotional development  motor skills, learning ability, and a host of other things affected by brain development  There are a host of studies and papers on the subject, and if you would like to read more, let me know and I'll do what I can to get that info to you.

This however is what autism means to me. I won't be giving you scientific stats or big psychological explanations about autism, I will just be telling you how it affects my life as I see it.

First off, I am honestly one of the most intelligent people I know. Now I don't say this to brag, as there are plenty of downside issues that counterbalance this. One of those counterbalances is the fact that I'm also one of the gullible people I know. I've gotten better about it as I've gotten older, but I still fall for some stupid shit sometimes. These things would seem to not go together, but in my world, it's just a part of life.

Subtlety and abstract ideas more or less elude me. I really need structure and order to truly feel comfortable. Open ended questions send my mind into over drive as my mind tries to evaluate all possible answers Even a simple question like "what would you like for dinner?" can send my mind into cartwheels. For me, a much better question would be, "would you like beef or pork for dinner?". It sets parameters that limit the number of answers that my brain has to deal with. I tend to take things literally, I have to constantly catch myself on this one. So many people speak figuratively these days, that it can be maddening. I do much better, and I'm much happier, when someone tells me in no uncertain terms what they want, or what is expected of me, or if they keep their questions to ones that can be easily interpreted in only a very narrow way.

My brain does not have a built in off switch. It's constantly going a million miles a minute. Most of the time I just can't keep up with it. It's not like a.d.d. or a.d.h.d. where you're constantly off on a different tangent, it's more  like a though just keeps expanding into new and limitless possibilities  all springing from a single initial idea. My mind wants to explore every idea to it's very end which can be good and bad. The good side of this is that if I am studying something, or trying to learn something new, I can and do focus like a laser on whatever subject has my attention. So if something truly interests me,  I almost become obsessive over learning about it. On the down side, I can and do quite easily become so focused  as to exclude everything else around me. I get so bad that I forget to do other things that are important, or that I have already planned. I've gotten so obsessed about things that I forget to sleep or eat, and even bathe at times. It's as if I've become stuck and can't break away from whatever my brain is working on at the time. Even when I do break away, if my brain doesn't feel as if it's finished, it will constantly be going back to that one thought.

Something that goes along with not getting subtlety and abstracts, is that I have a really hard time picking up on body language. Most people learn to understand body language naturally as they grow older, it just comes naturally to them. Not so for me, I had to actually take a psychology class on the subject, and then spend years studying it to be able to pick up on body language that most people don't even think about. Even with all that, most body language is subtle and passes right over my head. It's sort of like being in a foreign country where you only speak a few words and phrases and no one else speaks your language at all. It really makes you feel like an outsider.

This has always made meeting someone and dating very difficult as most flirting is pure body language and most of it just doesn't even register with me. The times that I have been involved with someone, it can be even worse. Imagine being at home alone with your significant other, you're feeling romantic, and you try to make it known without being blatantly obvious about it, but you can't tell if your being well received or not because  you aren't able to pick up on the subtle body language that most people wouldn't even think about. Does she want to cuddle up and maybe have a little fun? is she blowing me off? I can't tell, it all looks the same to me. Or worse, your significant other is flirting with you and in the mood, but you don't even realize it. It can make for a mad lover who doesn't understand why you have shunned their advancements. Even when I explain my problem to some people, they just don't seem to understand  how I can be with someone and not know when they want attention. It can be horribly frustrating, and has been the reason for more than one relationship ending.

Another issue that sort of dovetails in with this is the fact that I am very uncomfortable being touched by people I don't know. I honestly can't explain why, but it can be a very traumatic thing for me sometimes. It took me years to even feel ok with a hand shake. I really need to get to know someone for a bit before I can feel right with even a hug or simple contact. Having said that, I also love physical human contact, even crave it at most times, but I have to know a person and feel comfortable with them before I can really feel ok with it. Things like a pat on the back, someone touching my arm to get my attention, or other such casual contact can sometimes really freak me out. As much as I try to get over this I just can't.

I also have a hard time making eye contact with people I don't know. I have the same kind of reaction to this as I do to physical contact. I have worked hard on this for years, and I can do it, but it makes me feel horribly exposed.

I have a hard time dealing with stress. Most people, from what I understand, shed stress as they move away from it. So as a stressful situation relaxes, so do the people involved. I don't work that way. As I build up stress, it just builds, it doesn't reduce as the stressful situation fade. So if I go through a stressful situation, I hold that stress even after the situation is long over. Each new stressful situation just adds to the already existing stress and just becomes worse and worse until I can go someplace quiet and and alone and work my way through each item that has piled up. It can sometimes take me a while because my mind has to go through everything and be able to set it aside.

If I can't get away from everything for a day or two every few weeks, I can actually get to a point that I just shut down. Basically my mind just says fuck it and just quits functioning altogether. I more or less go on autopilot, I do what absolutely has to be done, and beyond that just nothing. I can't think, I can't feel, my mind retreats into itself, and I just can't do much more than exist until I get a chance to break the chain.

I've basically felt like an outsider my entire life. To most people I just seem like a bit of a nerd or geek, or that awkward guy that is really nice, but... My life has been a constant struggle to try to fit in and not quite succeeding. I'm not complaining, not anymore, in the last few years, I've pretty much learned to accept me for me, and embraced my unique weirdness.

One thing that has made a big difference for me is the internet. On the internet I am at an advantage to most people. A lot of people have a very hard time interpreting intent and emotional content of other online. This is something I have dealt with my whole life in reality, so I'm used to wandering a world where misinterpretation is just a normal part of daily existence. I already know how to diffuse a touchy situation due to a misunderstanding. I've had to be ready to do so as long as I can remember. It's much easier for me to be myself online than it is in real life because my mind works well with out the nonverbal ques that most people have become dependent on. I don't need to see the body language of other to guide me as to what someone is trying to express. It's actually been a bit liberating to finally have someplace where I have a slight advantage over so many others.

There is a lot more to it like the fact that I am naturally very detail oriented. Where most people can't see the trees for the forest, I have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. I have a hard time seeing the whole picture and tend to get lost in the details. I don't tend to be very time conscious, I have to constantly check the time or I will completely loose track of when it is. I'm absent minded, my short and midterm memory suck, but my long term memory is outstanding. I don't like large groups or crowds, they make me uncomfortable. I don't adapt well to changes in routine, but I love discovering new things.

I'm sure there is more that I should be including in this, but right at this moment I can't think of anything. It's weird to me, because I know what most of my issues are (I'm sure I have some I'm not aware of), and I understand most of my issues, but I am not capable of  correcting them. My brain just does not work the same way as a neurologically normal persons does, so I will never be able to react or behave like a neurologically normal person.

I hope this helps some of y'all understand me, and a little about autism from the perspective of someone  who deals with it personally. I'm sure others who deal with being autistic will see things differently, but this is how they are for me. If you have any questions I'll be happy to do what I can to answer them, or try to direct you to someplace or someone who might have answers for you. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts.


  1. Hi Mark,

    This is a wonderful post! I appreciate you sharing your inner world and challenges with me. Isn't it wonderful how being online helps us all to become a part of a unique community? In person, I have no problems with body language or touching others or being touched but what I adore about online communities is being able to touch others with your mind and deepest feelings that sometimes aren't spoken face to face. Keep writing, you're really good at it! :)

    Happy New Year and love,

  2. Mark you almost describe me perfectly! Although I've never been diagnosed on the Austism spectrum it's always been pretty clear I'm not 'neurologically normal' and I'm okay with that ;)