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When Autism Feels Like Being on the Wrong Planet

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Imagine you are a member of a lost race whose spaceship somehow managed to crash-land on a foreign planet. You find a strange, unseen beauty in your surroundings but are taken by surprise by the people you encounter. They look just like your people, only they act differently. Their language is the same as yours, but they speak it in a way that is nearly incoherent to you. They expect you to understand, cherish and honor their customs and traditions, but you simply do not understand the purpose. They often demand things from you, but you are unsure of how such demands are to be satisfied, as you cannot comprehend their words. This so-called “defiance” is not taken well by these aliens. They wish for you to blend in with them, to use the odd word combinations they use, to move the way they do and they even try to make you wear the tight, scratchy, and impractical garments with which they adorn themselves.

You want to go home. Living in this world takes far too much effort, and their attempts at assimilation are unsuccessful. The people believe you to be unintelligent, but you know that this is not the case. You are intelligent and sane, just not by their illogical standards.

Then, you find it. Whether it’s a hobby, sport, book, film, show or band, you find it. You fall in love with it immediately and immerse yourself in it. For such a simple thing, it gives you meaning. With this valuable thing, you do not need to understand the world around you. All you need is it, and you are complete. It is your way of reaching out in hopes someone will see your worth.

The scenario you just read likely seems to be a science fiction piece; something meant to confuse, rather than to relate to. However, this analogy is the most accurate way that I can describe my experiences as an autistic person. Autism is a highly misunderstood concept. Some believe it is a disease; others say it’s a mental illness. However, neither of these are true. Autism is a neurological disorder of which the cause is unknown. Autism often causes difficulties in social interaction, learning and conforming, causing an autistic person to quickly be ostracized.

I did not know I was autistic until my current age, and this revelation came to explain so much I did not understand about myself. I now know why my fourth grade teacher called me out for not being able to understand basic directions. I now know why my attempts at social interaction were teased and rejected. Most importantly, I know I was not broken. Despite what I was constantly told, by both my superiors and my peers, I was not a lesser being.

Sometimes I think of my home planet as a place where things make sense to me, and I am no different than anyone else. Then I remember what I’ve learned throughout the years. I think of all of those who loved me despite my differences and helped to guide me through this foreign land, and now I realize there’s no place I’d rather be but here.

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Thinkstock photo by Koya79.

Originally published: October 16, 2017
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