The following essay was written by Tina Sheers and printed here with her permission.
Autism is a human neurological variant, which makes our lived experience more intense. This makes us have less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. These intense experiences are sensory, such as sounds, touch and smells. Our minds tend to register more information. Although each individual autistic experiences autism differently.
Autism for me is a communication problem. I take words as they are said without the hidden meanings, sarcasm or jokes. Social communication is a learned behaviour, it’s something I have to work at, and it does not come naturally. I need extra time to process what you have said to reply to you. My brain is thinking usually much faster than I can say the words. So most of the time my sentences are jumbled or I use a collection of phrases I have stored and use those instead. Also, when processing conversation, I am also processing sensory stimuli intensely. The overhead fan, the car going past or other people talking, the smell of someone’s sandwich all have to be accepted at the same time as your words. This is why I avoid eye contact if I can, so that I can block out any extra input I’m experiencing.
Anxiety plays a huge role in my life. Most of the time though, I’m not sure what is actually making me feel anxious. I have trouble computing the cause. If you ask me what’s wrong, I won’t be able to pinpoint exactly what is wrong. Don’t assume that we can voice our needs and wants, no matter how verbal, able or eloquent we appear.
My facial expressions are not my thoughts. I tend to have a blank kind of relaxed looking face, and yet, on the inside, I may not at all be relaxed. Most of the time I can keep things ‘bottled up’ for a period of time and then I may appear to ‘explode’ over nothing. I have usually just reached my limit of holding it together and can no longer do so.
There is a misconception of ‘bad behaviour,’ but the behaviour is often an end result of a series of events. Sensory issues/misunderstandings all build up to the point of ‘exploding’. Stimming can help regulate some of these intense feelings. Stimming can appear as hand flapping, pacing, vocalised sounds etc.
Since I was young I have had the ability to zone out during overwhelming times or noisy events. This is when I think people suggest autistic people are in ‘their own world.’ I’m in your world, I’m just finding it too loud/painful.
Many of us like to have intense interests; these interests are comforting. Many also like to categorise things and remember facts or sort, stack and line up objects. We can also find different uses for things that others may never have thought of. This is because we do think differently.
Most autistics I know do like their own company because we do need to separate ourselves from others to recharge our batteries. But we do experience loneliness. We have the same hopes and dreams as any other. Many still want to be invited to birthdays and events. We just need to have a little help to achieve that sometimes. I’m sure a parent of an autistic child would accompany them to a party to help out and prevent any misunderstandings.
I like to know in advance of any change in my routine that I have already played out in my head of what is happening. I like to know so that I can change the series of events like editing a movie in my mind. I then can try to work out what may be expected of me in those situations, so I can pre-plan who I may see or what conversation might take place. This is where social stories can be great for young autistics.
There can be other conditions that can also be present such as ADHD, etc. It is important to note that not all autistics experience autism the same. Some may be non-verbal while others may have a huge vocabulary. Some may love to socialise while others prefer to avoid it at all costs.