How I See the World as an Autistic Person
Do you have a smartphone? Is it capable of taking a burst of continuous photos? Open it and point it at something moving like your pet or a car. Take a burst. Now open up that burst and see the minute differences that between each photo, each frame. That’s how my brain reacts when I look at something but the bursts are faster, a lot faster. That’s why I can’t keep eye contact. When I look into your eyes, I see every single change in your irises, every minute contraction, the changes in the way your eyelids move, everything. My mind takes in all that information in seconds. It gets to be too much if I have to maintain eye contact. So I’ve learned to stare at the spot between your eyes instead. It helps me fake it when I need to.
I’m in a supermarket. I have my earphones in and a list on my phone telling me exactly what I need. The sooner I get out of here, the better. The earphones block out the hum of the fridges and the freezers (neither of which have the same noise frequency), that child throwing a tantrum because he can’t have sweets, the yelling parent, the vibration of the electric strip or LED lighting, the colors and all the choices. It leads to my senses being overwhelmed and makes it difficult for me to focus. The earphones and my Irlen lenses help to reduce the impact of the stimuli. But I also use a wheelchair because of chronic pain conditions, and if someone knocks it, they set my pain off in a flare and it adds to things. I can melt down in the shop. It may look like I’m having a temper tantrum, but I’m really not. I just can’t cope with it all. I’m honestly doing my best.
Loud noises startle me, but it’s constant overlapping noises, sights, sounds, smells etc. that overwhelm me. Crowded rooms can be a nightmare. Crowded streets can be even worse. If I am going anywhere, I need an escape route. I need to know I can get away and breathe. I don’t smoke, but sometimes you’ll find me outside with a smoking friend at an event, just so I can get away from the noise. I’ll be vaping CBD to calm my anxiety and reset my stimulation levels. It also helps reduce my pain levels.
Autism charities tend to focus on children with ASD. They don’t tend to focus on adults, unless we are classed as “low functioning.” But that’s an insult to those described as such, especially when they are treated poorly by those the charities leave in charge of their care. The truth is, everyone on the spectrum is on it for life. We all need support, but most adults no longer get it, unless we are extremely fortunate. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t worth it.
I love my life and I love my brain. I love that I can write books people appreciate that take them to far and distant lands. I love how I sketch portraits with attention to detail. I love that I see the connections in things most people don’t notice. I find it fascinating when I come across a television show or book that challenges me until the very end. I usually have thrillers and cop shows worked out within the first few minutes, so when I find a show where I don’t, it’s amazing to me. I love that I know facts others don’t. That I remember things from years ago as if they were this morning. My obsessions with science fiction and cartoon characters give me a getaway from the humdrum of a world which has become very dark politically.
My stims might look confusing to you. When I tap my head or rub my leg, pull at my scarf, fiddle with things, hum nonsense tunes, make random noises, grab the hem of my sister’s soft jacket, I’m using that sensory stimulation to help me make sense of the world. I’m releasing my tension and focusing. I made the decision last year that I would stop masking and just stim if I need to, and it’s been the best decision I could make for me. I won’t apologize for it. Stimming is a beautiful thing. Everyone does it; mine are just more pronounced.
Life on the autistic spectrum might be different to life for others, but it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s challenging, sure, but show me a life that isn’t. I’ve never known any different, and it’s the same for a lot of others out there. So please, just because you don’t view the world the way we do, don’t assume it’s all bad.
Read more on N.A.’s blog.
Getty image by Deberrar.