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.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

People Pleasing

Stop People Pleasing! A People Pleaser Self-Love Intervention

Whether I like someone or not, it’s really important that they like me. I have an overwhelming desire to be liked by anyone and everyone I encounter. Even if I hate someone, I will be devastated if they hate me back. I really have no idea why I care. For the most part, I don’t like people anyway. Why does it matter so much to me whether or not I’m liked? Perhaps it has something to do with anxiety and my fear of confrontation. It does seem safer to be friends with everyone in that regard.

Today I’d rather talk about the problem with people pleasing in general rather than my own pathology. People pleasers like me try to become whoever they believe the other person would like them to be. Sounds simple enough. But how can any of us really know what someone else wants? We may spend years cramming ourselves into a false persona when the person we are doing it for would have preferred who we really are. Or maybe they secretly find us extremely annoying, but mask their true feelings out of politeness. No matter how hard you try or how “good” you become at winning people over, you can never really be sure of what someone else wants. Knowing this, your best bet is always to just be yourself. You’ll never be able to make everyone happy. But if you remain true to who you are, at the end of the day you’ll at least have your integrity.

Otherwise what happens when you are in a room full of people? Whose needs do you cater to? You may find that the person you are with friend X is someone that friend Y would utterly despise. Then what are you supposed to do? I suppose in that situation I choose the persona that fits more closely with who I really am. Any backlash from the other party is buffered by knowing that I have the friend I prefer there to have my back. Yet you always run the risk of being found out as “fake.”

That term always interests me. What does it really mean to be fake? I always hold true to my main beliefs no matter who I’m talking to. We all have slightly different versions of ourselves that we present for different situations or occasions. At what point does it become fake though? We all have to be a little fake in order to conform to societies standards.

The biggest issue my people pleasing has caused me is when it comes to my work. Social work is not a great field for people pleasers like me. No matter how atrocious the parents or clients I deal with are, I desperately want them to like me. I once brought cigarettes to an old man I worked with while he was in the hospital, because I was afraid he’d be mad at me if I didn’t. I really struggled the other day not to agree with this mom who was outraged that she got in legal trouble for giving her 10 year old daughter a tattoo! These types of situations are incredibly hard for me to navigate.

As someone who is probably on the autistic spectrum, I learn most of my interpersonal skills from direct observation. I think the only reason I’m as good at blending in as I am is because I watched so much TV growing up. It may not be the best reference for real life situations, but it does give you a good idea of how to talk to people in a wide variety of scenarios. I am always eager to observe someone else in a situation that I would have no idea how to respond to. Luckily I’ve gotten the chance to watch our therapist at the office for the last few years and learn from her. I would love to be a fly on the wall of her therapy sessions and meetings with the parents so that I could absorb even more.

At the end of the day, however, no one is going to be liked by everyone. No matter how good of a communicator you are. Eventually we all have to accept that we just aren’t going to get along with some people. Rather than continuing to practice the best ways to be liked and accepted by others, I’d like to spend some time finding out how to like and accept myself. Maybe ultimately that is what makes a people pleaser, someone who needs external reassurance in order to feel okay with themselves. Unfortunately any positive feedback rings hollow when you’re simply playing a role.

About people-pleasers and how to stop being one – Miss Lovage

Autism Pros & Cons

I want to preface this by stating once again that I have not been formerly diagnosed. However as someone who identifies as being on the spectrum, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding this disorder. For the majority of my life, I really had no idea a lot of the things about me where signs of autism. I assumed that I couldn’t be autistic. After all, I was a relatively normal, functioning, contributing member of society. And autistic people are easily identifiable, highly dysfunctional, handicapped human beings aren’t they?

I think this is what most people tend to believe. I am ashamed to admit that it’s what I believed. Even with an education in psychology. Until one day I stumbled upon a video on YouTube about high functioning autism (formerly known as Asperger’s) in women. The video caught my eye because the thumbnail was of a young “normal” looking girl. I thought to myself, “I’ve got to see this. There is no way this girl is autistic. Is she just trying to get attention?”

But as I watched her video I was stunned. Only then at the age of 25 did it even cross my mind that I might be on the spectrum. The things this girl were describing were things I had experienced my entire life. At first I was afraid and repelled by the label, but also simultaneously excited and intrigued. Perhaps I had finally found an explanation for why I am the way I am.

Since that day I have been more aware of the behaviors I exhibit which may be due to being on the spectrum. While there are some that are definitely a hindrance, others I am quite happy to have. In the end I don’t think I’d “fix” myself even if I could. Let me explain why.

Cons:

I think most people are aware of the negatives that come with autism. There is a certain social ineptitude for one. I’ve struggled to learn how to fit in with other human beings my entire life. And while I think for the most part I am able to successfully camouflage myself, it is still a quite tiring part of each day. Things that come naturally and almost unconsciously for most people require a lot of thought and effort for me. This leaves me exhausted by social situations most of the time. Not to mention it created intense social anxiety for the majority of my life.

Another annoying downside is being highly sensitive. It is comforting to have an explanation finally to why I am so intensely bothered by the strangest little things. I still remember one day around the age of 4 being absolutely hysterical as my mom tried to put my socks and shoes on. I was VERY particular about the kinds of socks I would tolerate. If there was a pronounced seam along the toes I simply could not stand it. I was not a fussy child and was always well-behaved, but this discomfort would inevitably cause a massive meltdown much to my mother’s confusion.

Even now I have a strange fixation when it comes to the sensation of wet strands of hair. I just cannot handle the feeling of loose, wet strands coming off in the shower and sticking to my bare skin. I dread every moment of washing and brushing my wet hair. It always produces an intense physical revulsion.

Pros:

Despite the drawbacks however, there are a few core aspects of my personality that I believe I have autism to thank for. My lack of social skills has the benefit of also creating a more open and skeptical mind when it comes to accepted social norms. There are a lot of aspects of society (such as eating animals) that I am able to see from an unbiased perspective. I am able to view the world and social practices logically without any emotional attachment or social influence. This is something I have always been proud of. Many of my core values and high intelligence are things I believe I owe to autism.

I believe this is what contributes to my strong sense of justice as well. Black and white thinking certainly has it’s drawbacks, but I do appreciate that it has seemingly also given me the courage to live by my convictions. I generally don’t care much about the social stigma attached to something. I will do what I believe is right regardless. I am compelled to.

So in the end, I am grateful to be on the spectrum. I am grateful for the person these differences have allowed me to become. And I am so SO grateful to finally have a reason for why I have always felt so separate and unlike everyone else. It is a great comfort to know I am not alone. There are plenty of other people in the world just like me, with the same struggles and the same strengths.