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.

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.