I wanted to write a post about what it’s like to live life on the autism spectrum. I was initially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in elementary school. In high school, the school psychologist changed this to PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified).
Please be aware, anything I write here should be considered to be from my own experiences. People on the autism spectrum deserve to be able to speak for themselves, and I do not want to overwrite anyone else’s experiences. Other people who are autistic have their own experiences and perspectives and deserve to be heard. I can only speak to my own experiences.
So that all being said, what is life actually like for me? Well, imagine if you had chronic allergies. You are allergic to so many things, that the littlest particle of dust, or a piece of pollen could set you off. Well, as a person on the spectrum, I am hypersensitive to things that might not bother some other people.
Someone touching me unexpectedly feels like I’m getting the wind knocked out of me. Large crowds can be very overwhelming for me, and make me feel like I’m being suffocated to death. Likewise, sounds that wouldn’t necessarily bother some other people can feel like fireworks going off if in my head. I’m sure you get the picture.
Going through my day, I can often feel overwhelmed and set off by even the littlest things. Sometimes I’ve had to leave college early, because I am just too overwhelmed to stay on campus. People on the spectrum are often accused of having no emotions. On the contrary, we can experience too many emotions, and this can overwhelm us easily.
Being social is much harder for me. It takes a lot of effort and energy on my part to put myself out there and be with my friends. It takes even more energy for me to introduce myself to new people. I’ve been blessed to have a small group of close friends who love and care about me. Still, putting myself out there in social situations can be taxing.
When I meet people, I don’t always make eye contact. Sometimes when I do look at a person, I’ll look at their forehead instead of looking them in the eyes. It’s just too hard to keep eye contact for me. Other times when I’m in a group of new people, I’ll just sit by myself silently, because I am too intimidated to get up and say hi, or I just feel too overwhelmed to do anything about it.
Both of these things — hanging out with my friends, and being with new people — take a lot of energy on my part, and quickly make me tired and exhausted. Being social with others takes a lot of time and effort on my part. Many times it is just easier for me to sit in silence and be alone than be social with others. Sometimes I do a good job with being social for a little bit, but then have to leave because I just lack the energy to continue.
If you looked at me when I’m in public, you might notice some peculiar things about me. When I’m sitting in a chair, I like to rock myself back and forth, or flap my hands. I don’t do these “stims” for fun. They are a way for me to cope and adjust myself to the overwhelming emotions I feel on a daily basis. When I am standing up, I like to pace as a way of also coping. Many people criticize my pacing, but I think it helps me cope with all the emotions I feel. I’m not going to stop harmless types of stimming that help me cope. My perspective is, unless the stimming is dangerous, let it be.
So what happens if I become too overwhelmed by something? I’ve developed a pretty simple coping skill. I just leave the situation or area that’s causing it. For example, sometimes I leave a building at school or a class early if something is bothering me too much. What happens if you can’t leave, though?
When an autistic person is pushed to their breaking point, and is overwhelmed, it’s called a meltdown. Every autistic person has their own version of it, but for me its usually involves tears, and sobbing. Years ago, when I had depression, I was often easily overwhelmed, and would sob uncontrollably for hours. Today, I’m happy to say that because I’m more resilient, and have better coping skills, that meltdowns are rare. When they do happen, I typically calm down within a few minutes.
Now, the last thing I wanted to write about is my special interests. I have two: Pokemon and Harry Potter. I do not understand why everyone does not love Pokemon and the Harry Potter books like I do. If Harry Potter and Pokemon were the only things I could talk about, I would. Except, I’m not socially oblivious anymore. I’ve had years of therapy on social skills, and I realize most people do not share my interest in Harry Potter and Pokemon.
When I talk about Pokemon, sometimes it sounds a lot like a monologue. Very little real conversation takes place, and this can often be a problem. I can proudly say that with effort, I can hold a conversation and dialogue with other people on other topics.
This is basically what my life is like in a nutshell. Remember, these are my own personal experiences only. For other autistic people, it may be different. I am only speaking for myself. I just wanted to share what daily life is like for someone on the spectrum.
Follow this journey on Michael’s Portfolio.
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Thinkstock image by jokerpro