Autism and Intuition

I’ve been reading a book about the gut microbiome that has led me to some very interesting realizations. In this book, the author talks about the possible connection between different gut microbiomes and mental health diagnosis, including autism. I’ve yet to really reach the part that explains the interaction between the two, but just the idea that there might be some interaction got me thinking. This book also discusses the physiology behind our “gut” instincts. Apparently that is more that just a turn of phrase. We really do receive physical signals from our guts that effect our decision making process. Or at least… some of us do.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to look up if there was any correlation between autism and lowered levels of intuition. I was excited to discover that indeed there is! I found many different research articles pointing out this interesting phenomenon. One of which stated: The ASD group produced less intuitive responses, and the degree of ASD-like traits showed a negative correlation with intuitive responses and positive correlation with reflective responses on the CRT. Together, these results are consistent with ASD being associated with reduced intuitive reasoning and greater deductive reasoning.

I was honestly thrilled and relieved to finally have an explanation for my apparent lack of intuition. All my life, the idea of “following your gut” or “trusting your intuition” didn’t make much sense to me. I never quite understood what people were talking about when I heard things like this. Yet it is such a common part of our language, that I kind of just let it go and assumed it was just something people said. One of those things that didn’t really mean anything specific, but had more of a personal interpretation that would mean something slightly different for everyone.

Then in recent years as I got more involved with spiritual practices like yoga, there was that idea of intuition again. Now it seemed to be something more real and tangible that I just wasn’t taping into. I couldn’t understand why I was not receiving any of these gut signals. I honestly can’t recall a single time in my life when I made a “gut decision” on anything. Even then I would hear things insinuating that meant I just wasn’t trusting my intuition. But that never fit me either. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust myself. There was nothing to trust or distrust. It has always been radio silence from my gut. The voice of my intuition has never spoken to me, so how could I learn to trust it?

Understanding that gut instincts and intuition are real things and I simply don’t have them, has changed my entire perception of the world and the way others make decisions. It finally makes sense why many of the people I meet in life make so many decisions that I cannot fathom. They are using an entirely different mechanism than I am. Now I see that while all of my decision are very calculated and logical, because I am solely using my deductive reasoning skills, others have another source of input that is completely alien to me. It makes much more sense now how and why someone could make a decision that, to me, seems utterly nonsensical. They are factoring in information from both their brains and their guts, whereas my brain has always been all I have to go off of.

Not only is this new insight absolutely fascinating to me, it is also rather comforting. Sure, I’m a bit disappointed to know I may never understand this experience, it’s reassuring that it isn’t because I’m not trying hard enough or because I am cut off from myself. People often ask me why I would even want to seek out an autism diagnosis, and this is a perfect example of why. There are so many aspects of myself that I have lived most of my life feeling bad about. I can’t even remember a time where that little voice inside my head wasn’t asking, “what’s wrong with me?” or “why can’t I just be normal?” Understanding the role autism plays in my personality and mental traits, is reassurance that my differences are not personal failings. I don’t have to keep struggling and trying to be like everyone else. I’m not like everyone else. But I am also not alone. There are so many other people out there like me who have the same difficulties. It’s such a comfort to know that there is nothing “wrong” with me. I’m just running on a different operating system. And that’s okay.

Intuition and sixth sense: How to train your gut feeling

High Functioning Autism

At my office, autism has been on our minds a lot since the release of Love on the Spectrum, Season 2. My friend and I can’t stop discussing it and how much we genuinely love the people on the show. However, it is somewhat hard for me to discuss from a neutral position. If you’ve read a lot of my posts, you may already know that I believe I am on the spectrum. I’ve mentioned this to my work friend, but he seemed to shrug it off as if I was mistaken. I’m one of the many people that are just starting to be diagnosed later in life who “don’t look autistic.” My friend sees the way I behave and how well I manage interactions and daily responsibilities and assumes I couldn’t possibly be autistic.

But that’s part of the problem. It’s why so many people like me go undiagnosed for so long. Autism Spectrum Disorders are just that. They’re on a spectrum. Many people with high functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s, are able to fly under the radar for most, if not all of their lives, especially when these individuals happen to be women. People assume we function just the same as everyone else, but no one can see or hear what goes on inside my head. Even though I am able to appear “normal,” no one knows what immense effort that takes. How much time and energy I have to invest in learning the correct social etiquette for different situations, how awkward and anxious I can be when caught off guard or placed in an unfamiliar social environment. The only reason I am able to mask my struggles so well is because I am also extremely intelligent. Even though I don’t have the natural intuition for social cues, I have worked tirelessly to teach myself throughout my life.

Autism is still a fairly new disorder, and I have faith that we will be able to understand it better as time goes on. We have already made a lot of progress. However, I find it frustrating, given my experience with autism, that it is used as an explanation for a lot of the struggles for people who are autistic and low-functioning. In my opinion, their autism isn’t necessarily what is making it so difficult for them to function in society. It plays a part, but I think there are a lot of cooccurring disorders that are also playing a role, as well as the difficulties faced by those with general intellectual disabilities and low intelligence. If you have an IQ below 70 you are going to have a lot of struggles, regardless of whether you’re autistic or not. I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to pin it all on autism, especially given that there are so many people that function so much better with the same disorder.

I think this misunderstanding and/or misdiagnosis does a lot of damage to the general public’s understanding of autism. My friend at work actually mentioned a potential “cure” for autism. I know he meant well, but I was still slightly offended. I don’t want my autism to be “cured.” I value my differences. Autism is an important part of who I am as a person. Would I be an atheist or a vegan if not for my autism allowing me to disregard social norms and societal expectations? I can’t say for sure, but I have to think it’s at least a possibility. It seems like a lot of the vegans I follow online sooner or later come out with an autism diagnosis. Of course correlation (especially anecdotal) doesn’t prove causation, but it’s an interesting theory I’ve been mulling over for awhile now.

I’ve heard a few autistic individuals refer to it as a superpower and I am inclined to agree with that description. They are certainly drawbacks and I often wish that I could “just be normal,” but if I had the choice, I doubt I would change myself to fit in better in the world. Society sees autism as a tragedy. How sad it must be to not understand these treasured social norms. But for those of us living with autism, we could care less about your social norms. You’re perplexed why we don’t understand, and we’re perplexed why you think they make sense.

I love myself for exactly who I am, autism and all. And I hope that the day comes where I can afford to be formally diagnosed. I also hope the day comes when I won’t have to fear disclosing my autism to others. I am simultaneously fearful that they will think there is something wrong with me, or that they may think I’m not really autistic. I am very selective with who I confide in about this conclusion I’ve come to. I haven’t even told my boyfriend about it. Honestly whenever I do get tested I think he should be as well. His older brother is definitely autistic, although undiagnosed, and autism does have a genetic component. God only knows if I’ll ever discuss this with him though for fear of offending him. I am equally fearful that he will look at me differently when I disclose my own autism.

The increasing number of people being diagnosed with autism and the sheer amount of it I see in my own life, leads me to believe that it is a valuable part of human evolution. And it’s nothing new. It’s just starting to be more understood and recognized. Autistic people are important. Our contributions are important. Our perspectives are important. I’m sure plenty of the eccentric, brilliant people that have made important contributions in the past would have been diagnosed as autistic if they were alive today. There is no “cure.” And there doesn’t need to be. I don’t think of it as a disorder at all. It’s just how some people are, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

Autism is My Super Power. Lettering. World Autism Awareness Day. Quote To  Design Greeting Card, Poster, Banner, T-shirt Stock Illustration -  Illustration of design, campaign: 125997775

Shake It Off: Autistic Traits

As some of you may already know, despite no formal diagnosis, I fully believe that I have “high-functioning” autism. Although this self-diagnosis has given me great comfort, I’m very careful about who I talk about it with. A lot of people don’t believe me and respond with a surprised look. I don’t blame them, before I looked into it, I wouldn’t have believed me either. The way autism is portrayed in the media isn’t the way mine looks. I am able to blend into society quite well. I’m like a duck, gracefully gliding along the water. No one can see how hard I’m actually working just below the surface.

I don’t necessarily want to talk about my autism today. I want to talk about the way I view autism in general. I’m not quite sure how the autistic spectrum was determined. The two ends of it appear as totally different disorders in my opinion. How not being able to speak or live on your own and having trouble understanding social cues can be classified as the same disorder never ceases to amaze me. It made more sense to me when high-function autism was called Asperger’s. Anyway, when I refer to “autism” from here on out, know that I am speaking mainly about high-functioning autism.

I guess I’m biased, but to me, a lot of the symptoms of autism seem to be more natural than “normal” behavior. For instance, I’ve always thought it strange that human beings are expected to make eye contact with one another. In the rest of the animal kingdom, direct eye contact is a threat, a sign of aggression. I don’t blame myself for getting anxious and having to make a concerted effort to look someone in the eye when talking to them. The rest of the natural world seems to agree with me that this is not a great idea.

Another common trait of autism is not quite understanding or falling in line with social customs. However, most of these things have been arbitrarily created throughout the centuries. It seems more bizarre to me that most people appear to have inherent knowledge about these rules of etiquette. How should one be expected to know, understand, and accept things that continue to change throughout history and geography? Perhaps autism wasn’t discovered until recent times because in the past there actually were things like cotillion and other ways in which people were formally educated on how to properly behave in society.

The final autistic trait I’d like to comment on is often referred to as “stimming.” This is when a person does some form of repetitive motion in response to strong emotion, either positive or negative. One of the more common forms of stimming is hand flapping. This is one of the key factors that causes me to believe I am on the spectrum. I have had the urge to do this for as long as I can remember. I remember my mother advising me not to do it and my sister teasing me about it as a young child. Since then, I’ve learned to control this behavior in front of others. However, I still have the strong urge to move or flap my hands after a stressful or exciting event. As a teenager, while sitting on the classroom floor, my friends asked me why I was always rocking side to side while we did so. This was another form of stimming that I hadn’t even realized I was doing!

Even more so than the other things I’ve mentioned, I think stimming is actually a natural, beneficial behavior. I hadn’t realized it until hearing it discussed on a podcast the other day, but animals will often be seen doing something similar. It’s quite normal to see a dog shake their whole body after something stressful or exciting happens. I have seen many different species of animals doing something like this. It is a way to discharge excess energy or stress, a way to quite literally “shake it off.” It even makes me wonder where that expression originally came from. Perhaps I wouldn’t be such a tightly wound, anxious individual if I hadn’t been discouraged from doing this self-soothing behavior by society.

I’ve started to see my autism as something to be embraced, rather than just something that sets me apart from most of the people around me. It makes me feel more in tune with the natural world and other animals. To me, society is what’s strange, not my behavior. I’m simply doing my best to assimilate into this painfully artificial world human beings have created. From now on I am not going to stifle myself. When I have that overwhelming urge to shake, I’m going to shake without shame. I’d much rather fit in with the rest of the animals than humans anyway.

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Emotional Intelligence

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I have always considered myself a highly intelligent person. It is one of the only things that I am proud of. I can feel extremely threatened when this aspect of myself is called into question. Until very recently in life however, I didn’t consider that there are different types of intelligence.

I have a friend whom I believe to be very smart. Yet she never did well in school, and there are some things she’s done or said that normally I would consider quite dumb or foolish. Eventually I realized that while this friend may not be “book smart” she has a high level of emotional intelligence. This explanation satisfied me, and I didn’t think much more about it until years after this realization.

When I ask myself the question “Do I have a high emotional intelligence,” the answer is a resounding “no.” The answer isn’t surprising to me as I’ve never been very good with people or handling my own emotions. I was surprised, however, that I’d never even thought to ask myself the question before.

I was thinking about this deficit a lot today. So I decided to take an emotional intelligence test on Psychology Today’s website. Even as I was going through the questions, I could tell I was not doing very well. My result at the end was only 57 out of 100. A grade I never would have received in school. Unfortunately you had to pay to learn anymore details. But it was enough to confirm my suspicions about myself.

In my opinion, this is yet another piece of evidence that I am on the autistic spectrum. It is hard for me to admit to myself that I have this huge lack of knowledge and understanding. I cannot believe I have gone my entire life without realizing this. Not only that, but I have no idea what I can really do about it. Perhaps this is something a therapist would be able to help me work on somehow.

I suppose at least now I know and can take this into consideration as I go about my life. As someone who has been called a “know-it-all,” on more than one occasion, it is quite humbling to discover this handicap. I hope that in the future I will be able to improve in this area.

Questions

One of the reasons I suspect I may be on the autistic spectrum is my inability to comprehend and/or engage in small talk. Ever since I was a child, it has always seemed boring and nonsensical to me. I didn’t (and still don’t) get the point of saying: “How are you?” “I’m fine.” “Nice weather, today!” Or just asking random, vanilla questions for seemingly no other purpose than to fill silences. I do hate awkward silences, but I seem incapable of generating these space fillers that come so easily to most people.

Part of the reason it seems to be so difficult is because I am not really interested in having those types of conversations. I feel like I’m being phony. Asking people questions I don’t really care about the answers to. It’s like putting on a show. It’s a lot of work for me. It’s tiring. And maybe I sound cold. Do other people genuinely care about the answers to all those generic questions? I’ve just never had any interest in talking for the sake of talking. The silence is only awkward to me because I feel like other people are expecting me to talk. I supposed I quickly got tired of hearing people say “you’re so quiet!”

There are questions I’d like to ask people I don’t know yet. I realize that each of us has our own universe within our head. I am fascinated by the different things people think and their perspectives of the world. I like to know about people’s pasts too and how that has influenced who they became. The problem is, I don’t really know when the appropriate time is for learning those things about a person. I guess that stuff is usually divulged organically through other conversation. But often if I just wait for that to happen I find myself stuck in a limbo of surface level interactions.

I have a hard time remembering to ask questions, because the questions I’d like to ask are too random and possibly inappropriate, offensive, or insensitive. And as I’ve said I feel weird trying to make small talk. So instead I usually end up talking about myself a lot. Sometimes I wish other people would do this too. That way I could know what interests them, what is important to them, get a good idea of who they are. I always get along best with extroverted people that easily fall into talking about all sorts of topics and branching out from there. I’m absolutely hopeless at carrying on a conversation with someone who is quiet and reserved. It’s almost palpably painful for us both. I find myself wishing social etiquette would allow me to just remain silent. I guess that is rude though…

I want to make a list of some of the questions I’d really like to ask of people I don’t know yet. Maybe someone reading this could tell me if they’d be okay to ask or what context I could give them to make them okay. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  1. What is the last dream you can remember?
  2. What is your first memory?
  3. Do you believe in God?
    • Why or why not?
    • How has that impacted your life?
  4. Have you ever done any recreational drugs?
    • What have you tried?
    • What was your favorite and why?
    • Why did you try them initially?
  5. Are you afraid of dying?
  6. What was your childhood like?
    • What is one impactful moment from childhood you remember?
    • How do you think it’s affected you?
  7. How do you see yourself?
  8. How do you think other people see you?
  9. How would you like people to see you?
  10. What is something you’re passionate about?
  11. What was the most difficult time period in your life?
  12. What was the best time period in your life?

These are just the first questions that came to mind. Some seem more appropriate than others, but I wouldn’t know how to sprinkle any into conversation naturally. Maybe you could suggest some more interesting, yet normal questions to help me chat with a new person. Can any of you relate to this type of discomfort? How do you handle it? I’ve definitely gotten better at faking it with time and practice, but I still don’t think I’m a very good conversationalist. I’m not sure that’s really something you can learn.