Autism is the Key

My husband always says you can find me in the logic. My actions are always reasoned. There’s always a clear pattern to follow.

What that meant, before I knew I was autistic, was that all of my logical conclusions about who I am were deeply flawed. That I misjudged and misconstrued both my own motivations, and other people’s.

Here are some examples of some vastly different thought patterns from before and after diagnosis:

Why do people not warm to me?

PRE: Because I’m not likeable. Because I’m not interesting. Because people just don’t like me.

POST: Because I can’t do the unconscious processing behind social interactions. I won’t be projecting things in a natural way, and I won’t pick up on the subtle nuances of other people’s movements. This leads to people thinking I’m closed to them because that’s what I’m projecting.

Why do I find it so hard to go to new places?

PRE: Because I’m a coward, other people cope with this everyday, for me it is likely to wipe me out. Because I’m stupid, everyone else feels the same as me, I’m the only one struggling to cope. Because I’m weak and cannot deal with normal changes.

POST: Because it involves a lot of processing and creating new schematics. My brain needs to register and build an image of each room and its place within the building. This goes from placement of switches, to windows and chairs and people. Other people don’t do this. 

Why am I so tired after socialising?

PRE: Because I’m lazy. 

POST: Before socialising I will spend time rehearsing possible conversations in an attempt to reduce the lag between processing what has been said and my response. I will construct different conversations with different people. If it’s in a new place I will also have to build my plan of it as I arrive. I will spend the time consciously processing every interaction in an attempt to understand what is going on and respond properly. I’ll also be consciously projecting my own body language too. All this effort requires down time to deal with the effort involved.

Why am I reliant on alcohol at a social event?

PRE: Because I’m a loser who cannot have fun without drinking.

POST: Because alcohol both reduces my inhibitions about how I’m projecting myself, and reduces my ability to process information. Without the ability, or the inhibition about getting things wrong if I don’t have the ability, social interaction is not as exhausting and does not make me as anxious. The downsides are that I’m more likely to not register when someone is not enjoying my company, and to hold court on my interests. The next day, when my processing powers return, my excellent memory will provide me with the details of interactions for me to analyse. This will often lead to a realisation that I got things very wrong, and will create shame.

Why am I being bullied at work?

PRE: People don’t like me. I’m putting in as much effort to work hard as I can. I’m producing more work than anyone. It’s unfair. I don’t understand why people are always trying to bring me down a peg or two when I already think so little of myself.

POST: No matter how well I think I might be masking, I get things wrong. People think I’m aloof and arrogant because of my projection. Added to my working hard, they assume I think I’m better than them. The problem lies in their perception.

Why do I get so overwhelmed by going to somewhere everyday like a supermarket?

PRE: Because I’m lazy. Because I’m unable to do simple tasks that other people find easy, so I can’t be as good as other people, and I can’t work out why I can’t overcome this.

POST: Because the sensory overload brought about by loud, brightly lit, crowded spaces, causes me to shut down. Because it is physically exhausting to have to cope when there is so much to deal with at once. Because knowledge of previous overloads causes stress.

Why do other people seem to need constant interaction whilst I’m content without as much?

PRE: Because I’m antisocial. I should force myself to be more sociable to try to normalise myself. Because I’m an introvert.

POST: Because they’re different. Because socialising is genuinely exhausting with some people. Because I’m not reliant on the same things that they are. I am sociable and extroverted in the right company. I am not antisocial.

Why do I believe such obvious lies?

PRE: Because I’m a gullible idiot.

POST: Because I find body language hard to read, I’m less likely to be able to distinguish between deceptive projections and real reactions. Because I do assume that everyone thinks the same way I do, I assume people won’t lie just because I wouldn’t. I’m not stupid.

Why do people assume I’m being aloof when I’m trying my best to be friendly?

PRE: Because they don’t like me. Maybe it’s the way I walk, talk, my accent, my clothes, my appearance.

POST: Because to a neurotypical I appear aloof. My body language is not matching my intentions.

Why do I struggle to change my course when I’m engrossed in something?

PRE: Because I’m stubborn. Because I don’t listen properly. Because I ignore people, even when I don’t mean to.

POST: Because the autistic brain gets entangled in the problem it is dealing with, and this means it can shut everything else out. This makes switching between things hard. It just takes a bit more time.

Why do I panic when someone is late or plans change last minute?

PRE: Because I’m neurotic. Because I’m overanxious. Because I’m selfish. Because I’m overemotional.

POST: Because the structure of my day is created every morning. When the plans change unexpectedly it is a denial of my reality. My brain struggles to make sense of what is, when it differs from what was planned. I’m ok if given notice and space to adjust. That’s all I need.

This has meant a dramatic change not only in how I process things, but my own view of who I am is radically different. The logic can now be found easily. It’s all there. All my motivations are clear. 

It doesn’t absolve me of personal responsibility for my actions, but it does mean I can predict where my difficulties will be, and can stop the constant self-flagelation when I don’t react to things the way other people do.

Whilst I’m well aware that my personality plays a big part in how people react to me, I can now understand why certain patterns exist. Without constant, negative comparisons I am happier than I have ever been.

Many friends have told me over the years that their first impression of me differs enormously from the person I actually am.

Autism is not a puzzle piece. Autism is the key to the puzzle. It’s the explanation I’ve been searching for. The only one that doesn’t conclude that I am just not as good as other people at being a person.

49 thoughts on “Autism is the Key

  1. Reblogged this on Under Your Radar and commented:
    So, so good – it’s a great comparison of before-awareness and afterwards. Everyone questioning why autistic people need to know what the deal is with us should read this. The payoffs of putting it all together are exponentially greater than any drawbacks — and it’s amazing how finding things out can smooth over years and years of self-doubt, blame, and recrimination.

    Knowing you’re on the autism spectrum is liberating, not disordering.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I don’t know how you do that – it’s like you pull all the spaghetti thoughts out of my head and create this eloquent, elegant five star dish that just makes perfect sense. I hope you put your writing into print some day. X

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Keep prodding me. I wrote a fiction book with an autistic lead in it earlier this year. I should be editing it. I hate editing.

      If people really want it, I’ll get on it 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Hey Rhi, I thought I’ve never again read anything straight out of my own unsolved mind.
    Amazing how much the thought patterns of an autistic mind are shared by autistic people (wow…, I just discovered the obvious 🙂 )
    As I read through your post, I ticked all points, with some liberating sense of relief.
    And as a matter of fact, I’ve had the other week my little victory over a recurring problem, namely participating in trainings, which in my case (I am a trainee) are many…
    Everyone knows the way trainers have people switch tables to join different groups for different tasks. It was always my dreaded time, leaving me stressed to the snapping point, compensating with “jokes” which barely did any good. As this time I decided to be “myself”, I told the trainer about my condition, and asked her to leave me at the table with my colleague, who knows about it, and was happy to support, until my mind recorded every detail of the room, all faces and individual movement patterns. She was very kind and understanding, so I felt much better. I also brought special earplugs which I used intermittently when the otherwise “normal” noises became too much to cope with.
    And lo and behold, this training was so much different.
    Thank you so much again for sharing these points which have become an important part in developing my understanding and developing of new, less distressing coping strategies.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s so fantastic! Well done for explaining what you need, and brilliant that it was listened to. The adjustments we need are relatively small, but make such an enormous difference.

      Just lovely.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi, your article is so me! I’ve been diagnosed 4 years ago, but I keep answering all those questions with the first answers. I’m lazy, I’m stupid.. I try to think otherwise. But usually I really can’t see that other way of thinking. I’m going to save this article, thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It takes a bit of practice to change those voices. Even now I sometimes slip back, when I’m exhausted by something that everyone else has taken in their stride.

      But if I want to carry on doing the things that I enjoy, it’s much better (and less exhausting!) to accept that I will be tired afterwards, and to plan for that rather than fight it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG!!! I just read this post and IT’S TRUE FOR ME! I have the same experiences as the author of this post does since I’m an individual with autism! What really got my attention to read this post was the rainbow key since prismatic happens to be my favorite mix of colors. I have no idea that my experiences are THAT relatable! Now I know! Even though I did know before because of my aim to making history throughout my life. This is awesome!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wow… Excellent article, thank you so much for putting into words what we go through everyday with such accuracy! I’ve diagnosed myself a few months ago and I’m not the happiest version of me yet, but your article helped me realizing that I’m getting there, accepting my difficulties. Now I’m going to read voraciously the rest of your blog 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is such a brilliant post. I’m trying to get diagnosed at the moment (very difficult as an adult in the UK going the NHS route). I’m starting to realise I’ve been very hard on myself for a long time, particularly when it comes to social events and being in bright, loud and busy places. Thank you for your perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. My goodness Rhi, quit running around in my mind. 😉
    Brilliant piece. (agáin)
    I’ll print it and read it every day, maybe thát’ll help me come to the “after” conclusions. (still haven’t mastered that skill, but I’ll gét there, some fine day. 🙂 )

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 😊 you will. It’s so hard after a lifetime of thinking and being told one thing, to suddenly realise it wasn’t that at all. I still have to remind myself of things all the time. Hopefully one day it’ll sink in properly 💐

      Like

  9. Thank you, Rhi. At the end of a day where the spectrum feels like its biting, reading your blog is a balm.
    Yesterday’s teaching highlight: An auditor visited. I’d known she was coming and was quite prepared. My interview with her done, the auditor asks to speak to one of my students. I teach the lowest level Language Arts class in an adult ed program. I called to one of my spectrum students, “Come talk to this scary lady.” The student laughed and came over to chat. And it all went fine. My realization later was that by creating the atmosphere I do in my classroom, the spectrum students (as well as the second language learners) have an opportunity to learn how to deal with facetious style humor which abounds in the world. Okay, maybe the facetious humor went more than one way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 😄 humour is a balm too. It takes away the fear and is a wonderful way to see the world.

      Thank you. That might be the best compliment I’ve ever received. I would love to be a balm provider 💐

      Like

  10. I just put this on my homescreen which otherwise i like to keep tidy and empty. but i will keep reading this article until all the pain and confusion from 57 years without having a clue about my condition will have gone away. I only got around to diagnose myself after falling in love with someone who very clearly is “on the spectrum” ( undiagnosed like myself, we are slow in Europe …).
    me, being a medical doctor ( don’t laugh!) understood his condition immediately and only then i questioned myself what was so different in him from me. nothing.

    and suddenly everything makes sense. and everything is easy and free.

    please accept my heartfelt ‘thank you’ for all your brilliant writing.

    and still. so weird. i should have known. I even wrote a big historical novel once about a woman doctor in ancient China who could not speak.

    still. weird.

    love, christine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard so many tales of people who know all about “autism” not realising that they are autistic.

      I worked with autistic teens in my twenties for a while. I found it very easy to relate to them and communicate, but it never once occurred to me that I was autistic too.

      It’s strange how strong the internal assumption that we are all the same is. It’s why I can’t blame non-Autistics when they assume I think in a certain way. I used to assume that they thought like me, but were just better at doing some things than I was.

      I’m very glad my writing has helped.

      Thank you
      Rhi

      Like

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