Hi. I’m Jax, I’m 44, I have 4 children, a slightly embarrassing IQ (it’s just a fact, kind of like my height) I’m 5’5″ and autistic.
That last one is one I’m still bashing around.
“You don’t look autistic.”
Um, thanks. (What does autistic look like? No, you’re right, I’m not Dustin Hoffman.) The thing is, autism affects more than 1 in 100 people. And we’re right across the range of human abilities, from genius, to severely learning disabled. Which means that the odds are you know an autistic person yourself.
Autism is defined as a spectrum disorder, and now includes Aspergers. From the National Autistic Society website:
Asperger syndrome is mostly a ‘hidden disability’. This means that you can’t tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas. They are:
They are often referred to as ‘the triad of impairments’ and are explained in more detail on page 3.
While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.
Unfortunately, despite rumours to the contrary, *not* all people with Aspergers are all also geniuses. (Yes, a local GP actually said this to me recently.) In fact, no disability comes with a compensatory super power, and I’ll thank people to stop suggesting they do. (No, blind people do not have automatically acquire bat hearing. And so on.)
What does autism mean to me? Well, it means that all those years struggling with anxiety and depression because I felt so different, and alone, and just didn’t really understand people, they feel kind of a waste. Not a complete waste, because when it comes down to it, I’m not that unhappy with where I am now, but all the same, I could have done without feeling quite so alien. Like being different was something I was doing on purpose, to spite people.
It’s not on purpose. It’s just who I am. And I’m more and more comfortable with it every day.
My diagnosis means that I can relax more, and perversely, because I make allowances for things, I suspect I seem less autistic than ever. I’ve never met people’s eyes – I have an inbuilt excuse in that I’m also half deaf and lipread, so I am looking at people’s faces. I feel no guilt over avoiding velvet (hair standing on end at the mere thought of the stuff!) and I accept that after a few hours in large groups of people, I’m going to want to go and sit in a corner, I don’t force myself to do otherwise.
I’m finding ways around the anxiety. There’s a great post here from Louise that covers the base anxiety state really well (among other things!), so I won’t go into it in great detail. (Note Louise does discuss superpowers. That’s her choice. Another thing about autistic people is we’re all individuals, and we get to look at and describe ourselves and our disabilities differently. Ain’t that cool?) I’m still working on ways to organise myself – at times the hyperfocus/ obsessional interest can be great (see: learning to draw) at other times it can rather get in the way of day to day life. Executive function is hit (if you don’t know what executive function is, I recommend this series from Musings of an Aspie) and while one day I *will* work out how to timetable myself, it won’t be today. Or tomorrow.
What else? Part of my autism is an extreme focus on detail. I can get lost in detail. On a computer system, I need to take it apart in my mind to understand it to be able to work on it. Means I don’t hit the ground running particularly fast, but when I do, you want me on side. I’m *good* at this stuff. (No false modesty either, just straight up honesty.)
Do I have any advice for the non autistic world?
Yes. Give up on the myths. We do have a sense of humour. We can be creative. Not all people with aspergers are genius. (Gah!) We think we’re not the weird ones – we’re straight forward, what you see is what you get. What’s weird about that?
So the next time you see someone stumped in the supermarket because everything has moved! And it’s all gone! And my plan, my meal plan, it doesn’t work, and did you see that light is flickering and why oh why is there writing on the floor as well?? Just be a little more understanding. That toddler having a meltdown may be doing it because they can’t handle the overload of the environment. And that middle aged woman with a permanent frown line might be standing there shaking because it’s all a bit much, but she’ll get there.