I'm Proud of My Autistic Superpowers
As a for-the-most-part, somewhat-well-adjusted, almost-adult-acting autistic individual, I find (to my frequent frustration), that I do possess an autistic trait which oftentimes is perceived by others to be a particularly peculiar penchant for the awkwardly intense and punctiliously pedantic parsing of words.
By parsing, I mean that I sequentially and painstakingly analyze the meaning of each word I hear literally one-word-at-a-time, each an entity in and of itself first, and separate and apart from the sentence as a whole, which I perceive only as an afterthought, while the entirety of the utterance is no more than a string of words, which may or may not be connected.
Believe me, it’s as exhausting and tedious to do as it is confusing and complicated to explain.
Also true, this narrowly focused parsing gets me into trouble all too often in daily conversation with others, as I often miss the overall meaning of what is said to me.
Compound that with neurotypical conversation constantly colored with non-literal meaning, hidden intent, subtext, innuendo, metaphor, satire, or sarcasm, and I get hopelessly lost in the details.
However, as you will read later on in this story, this autistic tendency to parse words can be seen in a new light that shines with greatness!
Sometimes Things Aren’t What They Seem to Be…
If conversations were forests and words were trees, to answer this old riddle:
“If a tree fell in a forest and no one is around to hear it fall, did it make a sound?”
Ask your autistic friend — they will probably be the one who heard it fall, as they in fact were already there staring with unflinching hyper-focused awareness of that very tree to the exclusion of all others — there was just no one there to see them.
“So, sometimes things just aren’t what they seem to be, or aren’t what we believe them to be. Then again, sometimes they are just what we need them to be.”
Why is that?
Well, bear with me, if you will, while I parse it out…
Mother Teresa is quoted to have said:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
I’m not sure I agree with how this is typically interpreted. Just what are these great things you are referring to that not all of us can do?
Let’s Parse This One Out…
In the common sense, things like wealth, fame, and fortune come to mind, but the body of scientific and pragmatic evidence has proven again and again that none of these things instills a real sense of happiness in anyone.
Unhappiness is certainly not a good thing, and by no measure is the absence of happiness a great thing.
Sure, if your short list strategy for doing “great things” is:
“I will be something or somebody where there is a zero sum possibly of ever being said to be something or somebody.”
Well, I have news for you, as you either have delusions of grandeur, or at the very least are severely challenged in goal direction.
Likewise, even if you know yourself well, have realistic expectations of yourself and your goals, yet aspire to reach beyond them, you may still not achieve greatness in the traditional sense.
But, no worries, just keep Mother Teresa’s mantra forefront in your mind. Repeat it over and over again as you robotically dole out change to the endless stream of passing cars in your little freeway hut, and while you’re at it why not keep telling yourself:
“I never did anything great but, I must be the change that I want to see in the world! Well no, not that kind of change, and actually its other people’s change, but it’s such a small thing and easy to do, and I just love makin’ change!”
It was Mahatma Gandhi who said:
“You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Like Mother Teresa, I’m not sure I agree with how this is interpreted. I would like to have a word or two with Mr. Gandhi about what I must and must not do.
With that said, my vision of Gandhi has surely been somewhat misled.
Do I sound cynical? Perhaps, come across thus far as a mean Mother Teresa/Gandhi bashing tollbooth belittling bore?
Gotcha! Meant to!
“What I really want you to know now is that I truly believe that no matter what we do in life, no matter how small it may be perceived by others, as long as we are truly happy doing it, then we have indeed achieved greatness.”
After all, we are the sole proprietor of our own happiness. No one else owns it, nor should we ever allow anyone else to measure it. It’s easy to count money if you have it, and if you have enough of it you can even hire someone to count it for you.
But to measure the happiness that any one individual experiences in life is so subjective and personal to the individual that it inherently precludes all known systems of measure. There exists no certain number of human experiences whose summation will exactly equal happiness.
“Happiness can’t be counted, but ironically it is exactly that which counts the most.”
That last sentence can be frustrating if you are autistic, given our frequent need for exactness, but just maybe we are more open to the inexact than we realize. After all, we live in a predominately neurotypical world, and heaven knows, every NT I’ve ever met is anything but exact.
The neurotypical bent towards feeling-based reactions and behaviors, the impulsive go-with-the-flow mentality, and so-called instinct-based decisions, all the while being completely void of any routine or scientific fact-based evidence to steer their course of actions, all seems so befuddling to the autistic sense of order, right?
But, the important thing is: We autistics learn to deal with it. In just the same way, we learn to be happy — because for the typical atypical autistic, true happiness is learning. We naturally yearn to know everything about everything, and we do it super well, and we do it at the speed of a bullet.
As a less condescending, more upbeat counter to Mother Teresa’s advice, I would offer that in fact:
“Great things are small things done with great love.”
Note: Here’s where I think to myself:
“I should like that better.” My therapist always says: “Think positive!” Whatever that means! This next one’s for you, Dr. D.
Yantcwot and My Irritating Friend
There is this irritating choice of words this irritating friend of mine frequently uses when she is going to try to do something challenging. One day she calls me on the phone very excited about a new bathroom vanity cabinet she purchased from IKEA, tells me how beautiful it’s going to look in her bathroom, relates how confused she is about the nine-page assembly manual, yet at the same time so very anxious to put it together that she hurries me off the phone with:
“I gotta go. I’m going to see if I can’t put it together.”
Click. I look at the phone puzzlingly with that confused dog head-tilt movement and an empty comic book bubble over my head, as if it will explain to me what I just heard. I then think two things — in true to form autistic order:
Yet Another Neuro-Typical Conversation Waste Of Time
2. Why didn’t she say:
“I’m going to see if I can put it together.”
That would be more optimistic. But that’s just my therapist talking — or is it?
Let’s turn another phrase…
There’s another old idiom: “The Devil is in the details” which refers to a situation where what seemed at first simple to do then becomes exceedingly difficult to do once the hidden details are uncovered.
We are all familiar with how frustrating this conundrum can be. What most people don’t know is that this old adage has its origins way back in the 1800s; then worded:
“God is in the detail,” meaning simply that details matter.
Note: And it’s here where I definitely think to myself:
“I do like that better — being autistic, I am without a doubt over-the-top all about detail.”
Putting It All Together
Well, you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to go a little further. Well, so far we have Word Parsing. We have Yantcwot. We have Detail. We have Small Things. We have Greatness. We have Positivity.
But, just what rabbit hole am I leading you down into? I’ll explain.
I believe we autistics have an advantage over neurotypicals when it comes to being happy. Why? Because we have all these superpowers! Here are some that many of us have:
- Word Parsing – Many autistics have a superpower ability to analyze the usage and meaning of words, sentences, paragraphs, and phrases at an extremely advanced level. Yes, it’s tedious, but it makes us a much better listener than the neurotypical. Oh yes, certainly a superpower ability.
- Yantcwot – Being autistic, we can often spot a neurotypical conversation that contains no substance like an eagle in the sky spots its tiny prey on the ground from a mile away. We autistics know we have much better usage of our minds than to waste time on mindless chit-chat. Therefore, unlike neurotypical people, we autistics often have the advantage of extreme efficiency in the management of valuable resources of our brain. This too qualifies as a superpower.
- Happiness – We are the sole proprietor of our own happiness. So, no matter how much our neurotypical family members, friends, or colleagues make comments or complain about how much time we spend on our “special interests,” we know these things make us happy. The fact that we know it makes us happy and the very fact that it is referred to as a “special interest,” in my book gives autistics an edge over the typical neurotypical, who spend their lives trying to find just what makes them happy. We already know that. I’d definitely call that a superpower.
- Detail – As I related earlier the old idiom: “The Devil is in the detail” originally meant “God is in the detail” and that details matter. Whether you are secular or religious, we know that historically, details do indeed matter. Many autistics have an extremely acute eye for detail — way above and beyond the neurotypical. We see, hear, and notice every single detail about everything. We also have hyper-sensitive senses (even the sixth one, many would argue.) So, that tree that fell in the forest that no one heard? Well, we noticed every single detail about that too. I’d say that’s a superpower indeed.
- Small Things and Greatness – Mother Teresa had it wrong: Great things are small things with great love. It can be challenging to be autistic. We experience the world with much greater amplitude than the average neurotypical and simply getting through each moment of each and every day feels like the world is a battlefield. Some days, just to get through one small task can be overwhelming. But, if we can get through just one small thing, we have achieved greatness. And we can do these small things with great love too.
- Empathy — It’s a myth that those with autism don’t have emotions, empathy, and can’t experience love. We, in fact, often experience all of these qualities with tenfold the intensity of many neurotypical people. We experience the world with unique perception, and fight to accomplish even the smallest of things no matter what happens, and continue finding our way through adversity each day. We try to ward off the stigma that remains still present, to find our way through a world where neurodiversity is too often absent – and we overcome not because of our differences, but in spite of our differences. With all of these obstacles, what then summarizes our success is the small things we do with love, and instilled deeply within each of us is a powerful sense of greatness in believing in ourselves, while standing firmly in place believing that all who are autistic possess this exceptional superpower.
- Positivity – Summing up all of the above superpowers we autistics possess means we can certainly say with great pride that:
“Autism is positivity in its greatest form.”
This story originally appeared on Artfully Autistic.
Getty image by Sergey Nivens.