In the Mind of a Man on the Autism Spectrum
Here is what my autism looks like…
Selfishness, self-centeredness, self-involvement.
I am an ice king, I move through the world like a young Vulcan moves through a human city, stoic, solid and apparently untouched.
I am the arrogant one, the annoying one, the one most likely to hijack a thread or a conversation and to loop whatever you’re talking about back to me.
I am the reclusive, the introverted, the loner.
I am the third seat bassoonist in the symphony of society, always unsure of the rhythm, eternally out of key. I fade in and out with varying levels of skill, I play my three notes and then retreat to a safe distance, watching, waiting to see if I am going to be accepted or if I have brought the music to a crashing halt and a scolding is imminent.
My lack of rhythm is ironic in that I tick to my own beat, tic-ing in various ways, some so subtle as not to be noted, others so loud that Oppenheimer would wince at my explosions.
I am both creator and destroyer of worlds.
Some of us swim in oceans of art, in seas of words, in colors more vibrant than a Van Gogh hallucination; others wrap ourselves in ourselves. I take my butterflies inside to play.
They say I feel nothing. Frequently I feel too much. I love too hard, I take a conversation into fragments, diagramming and re-diagramming and seeking that one tiny flaw and beating myself with it, long and hard, until days, weeks, months, years later I take out the much battered sentences and show them to the person I spoke the words to and they wonder what I am thinking of. Them. I am thinking of them. And they, well, they think about me, so science says, for about 17 seconds on average.
Or it, I am thinking about it. The “Black Beauty” steam trains of India and the narrow gauge rails that crisscross the country starting in the far north near Nepal, moving south to the sea. I think about the signals and the whistle stops, and the whistle itself, smooth barrel of high pressure sound trapped within it’s tempered tolerances, smooth walls, quiet until the conductor pulls the chain and breaks the pipe, cracks it open. Do you not know about trains? Let me tell you about trains. Steam trains, electric trains, maglev trains, let me tell you again, and again, and eternally…
I do not live in barren white expanses, I decorate the walls of my mind, but I rarely, oh so very rarely, let you in.
And when I do – feel blessed.
This is what my autism is.
Sensorum in flood tides. Information in Force 12 winds.
I hear your words. Oh, yes, I hear them. And the squeak of your chair, and the rustle of your shirt, and the man chewing at table two, and the woman farting at table 10, and the little boy who wants to go home “now please?” and the glass-packed muffler on the street rod outside, and, oh, wait, is that a train?
There is so much data, so much to fill each second. So much that it hurts. It claws at me. It reaves my inner walls and makes me look for psychological plywood to batten down my hatches.
And sometimes it is too much.
You say to me, “My words are more important than your trains. My words are more important than your words. Be nice. Don’t hit. Obey the rules. Smile. Laugh at my jokes. Remember this, remember that. This is important!”
And you drown me in your words.
And so I melt down.
On the best of days I take myself home and I rest. I read quietly or think about the trains in the Punjab.
I wonder why your words are so important, I wonder why the fork goes on the right. I wonder why you want to shake my hands, see my eyes. These things are arbitrary things. Not like Watt’s steam engine, not like pipes, and condensers, and metal stresses. Trains are real. Trains are concrete.
Manners are just more rules, and what are rules, words and what are words, sounds.
Social conventions. Mass hallucinations. Subject to change and flux and, God help me, fashion. Different from country to country, heck, from town to town. All strains on some theme for social groupings.
Not for me.
But I want to please you. I want to fit in. I want to learn. I want to love and to be loved… and so I study. I think. I memorize. I adapt. (Yes, we can do that. ) I take lessons. I do therapy.
But it is hard.
I recover slowly. I run out of spoons. Be patient with me.
After all I am being patient with you.
Image via Thinkstock.