Monthly Archives: November 2013

I am autistic. This is ME!

This post was created for the “This is Autism” Flashblog, located at  http://thisisautismflashblog.blogspot.com

As background, last Monday, “Autism Speaks” told the world that autism is:
. . . living in despair
. . . fear of the future
. . .exhausted, broken parents
. . . lost, helpless, burdensome children
. . .  a national emergency

Since I wouldn’t normally describe myself in any of those ways, I’m joining lots of other autistic bloggers to write about my own autistic experience… I am autistic. That is the diagnosis that I received this past summer, at 44 years old, and that I have been processing since. But when examined closely, “autistic” is really just a label that is used to describe a subset of people who are different from “the norm” in how we sense, experience, interact with, and think about the world in which we ALL live, autistic AND allistic.

Autism is the label that is applied externally to people who experience some of a constellation of unique ways of being, sensing, thinking about, and interacting with our world. When I look inward, at myself (something I probably do more than many of my allistic acquaintances) I do not see myself as autistic, any more than I see myself as tall, or fair-skinned, or red-headed, or any one of a thousand other ways that I might be described by others. No, I simply see myself as… well, as ME!

I’ve enjoyed reading several other posts today from other autistic bloggers who have used a style in which a brief example is given, followed by the phrase “this is autism,” or “this is MY autism.” So, following the lead of the many talented autistic bloggers who have gone before me, this is ME!

I am blessed to have excellent language skills. Too blessed. When I was three years old, I corrected my grandmother’s grammar… at the dinner table… in a crowded restaurant… loudly…

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

I care for animals, and plants, and things, and people in roughly equal measure. If you are the snake I saved from a glue-trap, or the turtle I cleaned of pollutants, then you may feel grateful. But if you’re the spouse that I forgot to thank, or the coworker who’s birthday I ignored, then you could feel resentful or angry. I don’t think about your reaction any more than I think about the reaction of the turtle or snake or piece of furniture that I rescue from the rubbish bin.

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

I count everything. Twice. And then again. The tiles on the floor at the doctor’s office. The panes in the windows at church. The steps in this flight of stairs. The number of seats in the row at the theater. The lugnuts on each wheel of the truck going past me. So if I’m not listening to you, it may be due to being lost in a sea of numbers. They are comforting to me, and the routine of saying them inside my head helps calm me down.

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

I need to know things. No, I mean KNOW things. I am not comfortable “assuming” something is true (or false) because of a glance, or innuendo, or humorous comment. I need it to be clear to me, not “maybe,” not “might be,” not “perhaps,” but yes or no. So please don’t be offended when I ask you to clarify something you just said… in MY mind, it must not have been clear!

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

I like many different foods, but have to be careful in eating some of them too quickly or without plenty of liquid accompaniment. If I’m too rushed, those foods “stick” in my esophagus, which makes it impossible to swallow. That is a frightening feeling!

This is ME, and probably NOT my autism, but perhaps my eosinophillic esophagitis.

I love to play games. QUIET games, where only one person talks at a time, where order and logic are benefits. Trivia games are a favorite, so we’ve been collecting them. There are currently twenty-eight different versions of “Trivial Pursuit” on a rolling bookshelf in our livingroom.

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

Emotions confuse me. When a person says one thing, but does something else, I don’t understand. I’m not very good at reading facial expressions. I have a hard time telling “angry” from “tired” or “content.” And I have an even HARDER time telling them apart when I’m the one who is experiencing those emotions. They sort of all feel really bad, or really good, or kind of blah.

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

I can’t stand the feeling of some textures. Do you know how most people seem to react when fingernails drag on a chalkboard? Yes? Well, that sound is how velour fabric feels to me. Not very good!

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

I find it annoying when people don’t do what they’re supposed to do. When they don’t follow rules, pay attention to road signs, adhere to their self-established schedule. When a box labeled “24 pieces” has only 23. Or when it has 25. When my lunch plate at the local Chinese restaurant looks NOTHING like the picture in the menu from which I ordered it.

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

I like to talk about the things I like. Some things which might seem unusual to people who don’t know much about them. And when I get started talking, it is easy for me to lose track of time. And just. keep. talking. Regardless of whether the target of my talk is still paying attention, or not. Only if they begin snoring loudly might I finally pick up on the hint.

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

When I do a task, I really NEED it to be done right. Whatever “right” means to me, at the time. So if you ask me to “straighten up” the network closet, don’t be surprised when, a week later, I’ve re-run all the cables neatly into rows, punched them down into tidy patch panels, accurately labeled them all, created a map and index of them, and published a laminated user guide to all the things in the closet. Also, don’t be surprised that there is still some clutter in there, because I was so intently focused on the network parts, that I didn’t even SEE that other stuff.

This is ME, and maybe MY autism.

So you see, I am a unique person… someone who has good times and bad, someone who is a father, a husband, an employee, a helper, a competitor, but who is also at times a loner, an outcast, an oddball, unlikeable, annoying. Just like everyone else in the world that we all share.

This is ME, my autistic self.

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Autistics Speaking Day 2013 – Being Myself

For perhaps the first time in over forty years, I am being myself. I am taking a break. Pausing for a few hours, and just being me. Setting aside the exhausting work of trying to be the person that my allistic acquaintances expect me to be.

You see, I’m autistic.

I’m successful in my work, I’m the father of two wonderful children, and I am autistic.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to fit in, but until recently, I didn’t really understand why I’m
different. I’ve struggled to understand what people mean when they say things that don’t make sense to me, and I’ve agonized about trivial misunderstandings for days. I’ve gone to unimaginable extremes to avoid conflict, because in conflict I fear that my differentness will become a weapon to be used against me. I’ve thought and thought about things that many people would probably consider trivial, yet thought nothing about things that they seem to worry about a great deal.

And this past summer, I finally learned why.

Because I am autistic. My mind works differently.

In order to succeed, I’ve spent most of my life subconsciously compensating for the ways that my mind works differently. I’ve tried to behave like the many non-autistic people with whom I must interact. Ignoring the odd looks and blank stares at my failed jokes. Counting everything I see, absorbing patterns, getting lost in details. Struggling with words and feelings, experiencing powerful emotions but not knowing how to describe them or react the way allistic people do.

And yet, most people I know would not recognize me as an autistic person.

Eccentric, weird, aloof, or perhaps even reclusive. But not autistic.

Because I have unknowingly worked very hard to hide behind a caricature of myself. An allistic version of me. A facade. A fake.

The real me, the autistic me, has been here all along. And it feels good to be able to drop the charade, to just be myself.

Until I have to leave the house again, when I will put on my mask, slip back into character, and try to blend in with the alien expectations of this strange world that is my home.

For the time being, I am myself. I am relaxed, and comfortable, and enjoying some quiet time with my spouse. And I am me, not the character I often play, or the person that society expects me to be, but my happy, eccentric, autistic self. And that feels good.

Happy Autistics Speaking Day!