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.

Black & White Thinking

One of the things I’ve realized about myself after starting to suspect I am on the autistic spectrum is that I tend to have trouble seeing the gray areas of life. This hasn’t been an overall negative thing. In fact, I believe it is the reason that I am able to stand so firmly in my beliefs. A compliment someone gave me once that I’ve always particularly liked is that I “have the courage of my convictions.”

I think that this has contributed a lot to my decision 8 years ago to go vegan. I have seen a lot of other women, such as Greta Thunberg, who are not only vegan, but autistic as well. I would love to see some research into whether or not this is a trend. I believe the autistic brain may be more able to avoid cognitive dissonance in some ways. When I turn my mind toward a subject like animal agriculture, there is a very stark contrast between right and wrong. Once I had the information, I found it simply impossible to imagine continuing to participate in such a clear atrocity.

So in some ways I do feel my autistic traits (whether I would truly fit the diagnostic criteria or not) are some of my greatest strengths as an individual, things that I am quite proud of. However, understanding this tendency for black and white thinking has also allowed me to realize how I am hindered by it.

Like most aspects of autism, this becomes more of a problem when it comes to social situations. Human beings are one big gray area that despite my best efforts, I am still struggling to understand. It makes it quite difficult to form meaningful relationships with people when you are constantly viewing them as either all good or all bad. Either someone loves me or they hate me. I matter to someone or I mean completely nothing at all to them. See the problem? Neither of these perceptions is very often the reality. And even though I’ve come to recognize this, it doesn’t change the way I view the world.

I find myself constantly going around in mental circles when I am given contradictory signals from the people in my life. I just can’t seem to comprehend that both signals can be true and valid. Someone can be cold to you from time to time and still love you. Just because a person does something hurtful or inconsiderate towards you doesn’t mean that they think you’re worthless. I know that this is true because I can see these contradictions in myself. I have been terribly cruel to people that meant the world to me in the past. But that didn’t mean the feelings I had for them were a lie. Yet it’s hard enough for me to reconcile these strange scenarios within my own heart and mind, let alone deciphering them in someone else.

This seems to lead to rather rocky relationships with other people and even effect the way I view myself. It’s often hard for me to accept someone demonstrating negative behaviors can still be a good person. I also struggle immensely in that regard when it comes to my self image. Sometimes I love myself and feel like I am incredible. Other times I dwell only on my flaws and mistakes, thinking it impossible that any good exists within me at all. Exaltation or condemnation, there is no in between.

I truly hope it proves to be beneficial to have at least begun to realize when I am being influenced by this black and white thinking. Perhaps with practice I will be able to overcome the negative impact this has the potential to inflict on my future relationships.