Autism is a spectrum.
It’s a big spectrum with many people on it. Some exhibit “classic” autistic traits whilst, for others, those traits have been dulled or changed by life experience.
Today I’ve been querying my place on the spectrum. I’ve been asking who I am.
Each of us is, of course, individual. You don’t meet two of us who are exactly the same. We may share certain commonalities but our personalities and experiences are very different.
There are some savant like individuals. Geniuses. There are some who are designated “high functioning” and some who can barely talk or who are incapable of caring for themselves. But we are all autistic.
I was diagnosed (twice) with Aspergers. That very label pushes me towards, or into, high functioning. That’s a phrase I loathe. It makes me uncomfortable because (a) it implies some higher intellect or skill set and (b) to me it implies that I’m somehow better than those who are low functioning.
Trust me when I say that I have days I barely function at all!.
I find my identity questionable by the fact that I so rarely identify with what others on the spectrum say. I don’t get it. Leave aside the knowledge that many have about autism and other topics that are closely linked. Leave aside the technical knowledge displayed and the use of high functioning language to make points or argue a particular stance. I don’t have any of that.
But a simple comment will get me thinking. An observation. A picture that’s commented on.
And perhaps my isolationism within the spectrum is compounded by the fact that so many of these comments are supported by others who will agree wholeheartedly and say things like ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking” or “I couldn’t have put it better”.
And I’ll be thinking “Seriously ?” Or “I don’t think that at all”.
Perhaps it’s about support. I notice the same small groups of people agreeing with each other. Re-enforcing each other. Banding together. There’s that support of that autistic viewpoint.
There seems to be that common ground.
Now, of course we are all individuals. I simply may not see it that way for a number of reasons. 1. I don’t care or have zero interest in that view,
2. I don’t understand the view for technical reasons,
3. My experiences of life are such that I hold an opposing of different view.
Part of me doesn’t want to say anything because I know the odds are against me. I know I don’t have or won’t have support for my views so I withhold them to avoid conflict within the community. Part of me doesn’t say anything because I simply chalk it up to experience. My experience and accept that others may experience things differently.
And perhaps that’s it. We are similar but different.
My struggle with my autistic identity is, in part, down to a lack of perceived support within the community. The fact that my interests don’t gel with others so I lack commonality. The fact that I am not talented enough at anything by which I can promote myself and thus gain a level of acceptance or interest.
It’s also down to a late diagnosis. A diagnosis after years in which the real me has been submerged under neurotypical behaviours that are alien but now almost comfortable due to the dulling my true autistic self. I’ve never really expressed me because family, job, life in general have dictated otherwise. Being truly autistic would not be acceptable in those roles.
Deep down I know I am Autistic. I exhibit those traits. I dislike social interaction, don’t get small talk, avoid eye contact, don’t make friends, have very narrow interests and very specific ones, have sensory issues surrounding smell, taste, touch, noise and lighting. I stim. I take things literally. I don’t get jokes (although I laugh at my own). I’m told I have a very quick wit based on puns and wordplay (apparently my humour is intellectual not base). I am clumsy, have a poor gait, can be loud, act inappropriately in public (that’s others opinions, not mine. Dancing with the shopping trolley in the supermarket is cool!) and the list goes on.
I do know my identity but I just can’t get it out there. I can’t release it. It’s like being trapped inside my own body. It’s subdued but it wants out.
So yes, it’s a question of identity.
I’m Patrick, I’m 51, I am diagnosed with Aspergers. I am Autistic.
And perhaps, one day, I’ll find my place.