On the Spectrum, and What It Means to Me: Part Two
In my last post, I left off talking about Autistic Burnout. I recently came across another blogger’s post that explained their experience with Aspergers and Fatigue, which is a real issue. Those of us on the spectrum deal with a great deal of stress because we have to process much more than more Neurotypical people.
Growing up, I always needed more downtime than my younger siblings. I needed to be alone, in my room or riding my horse. I needed either quiet, lots of sleep, or the right sort of sensory input to help me to recharge. Luckily, I had horses, I had a huge back yard and lots of trees to climb, and lots of outlets where I could go out by myself.
The problem is, we can’t always escape as we need to. Life doesn’t always give us those opportunities. And sometimes, even if we have downtime, if we are in stressful situations day in, day out, no amount of downtime will help us to recharge.
In this way, many of us on the Spectrum relate to The Spoon Theory. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Spoon Theory, it is basically the idea that those of us with chronic illnesses have a limited number of spoons each day. Every task we do through out the day costs us a spoon, so we must carefully decide what to spend our spoons on.
And while this theory works during times of stress for those of us on the Spectrum, it’s not a perfect fit. Very likely because Autism isn’t an illness, our brains are just wired differently. I rather like Luna Lindsay’s Splines Theory for Autism.
People with Autistic traits often have trouble with transitioning. Routines and predictability are comforting, even if the routine doesn’t make sense from the outside. The world often doesn’t make sense, or takes extra effort to process, so having some level of control and predictability, as well as plenty of time to adjust in order to redirect can be very helpful.
So, much like Luna Lindsay’s Spines theory suggests, changing gears for me can be difficult. It might come out looking like anxiety, a need for control, or resistance to change. The reason being, while some Neurotypical people adjust easily to change, many people on the Spectrum can really struggle with it. And it’s not always as simple as it seems.
For example, my son and I can stay out all day in the city, going with the flow, adjusting our schedule, deal with bus transfers, last minute bathroom quests, all with relative ease. We go out with a basic idea of what we will be doing, and are able to go with the flow, and neither he or I have a difficult time. This is because this is something we do quiet often, we’ve built up a routine around these sorts of outings. Adjusting and going with the flow in this situation IS our routine, our normal.
While our all day excursions might seem like it would cause sensory overload and a whole host of other issues, we know we will come home and have a chance to relax. Our home is our sanctuary. Plus, we often ride the bus, which is pretty relaxing as well.
So, back to how this effects me personally. I have trouble with change at times, shifting gears can be hard. For me, often, shifting gears means dealing with the unpredictability of other people. I like to be on my own. I do well by myself, free to make my own decisions without having to worry about the challenges of another person. It can seem like a desire to be controlling, or even come off as being judgmental, when in fact, I simply need things to be a certain way for myself, for my own comfort and peace of mind.
I don’t purposely mean to step on toes or be overbearing. I have no desire to show people up or show off. I simply need to do things a certain way for myself, and often times, I talk about it, because talking myself through things help. My son and I both do a lot of self talk. It can seem downright repetitive at times.
When I was reading Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes, I found the story of Henry Cavendish particularly fascinating. I related very well to how he was seen as anti-social, eccentric, and unemotional. Despite this, or perhaps because of these traits, he instead, focused on his work with an extreme attention to detail. And though he focused so intently on his work, he did not do it for prestige or attention. He did for the sake of doing it.
It is this aspect of Autism that I think it is important to consider. It is not that we lack social skills, that we have a deficit, but we simply lack an interest. The communal desire to fit in does not interest many Autistic people in the traditional sense. It is not that we don’t like or care about people, we’d just rather focus on other things.
Figuring out all the ins and outs of the social world takes far more of our processing time and focus, and in the end, it’s not of that much interest to us. We still desire love and understanding and acceptance but we don’t need it or even view it in the same way that Neurotypical people.
So the next time you spend time with someone who talks your ear off about one topic ad nauseum, or deal with someone who might come off as having no social graces, who might be blunt or seemingly rude, who doesn’t look you in the eye, or actually tells you they have Autism or Asperger’s, take some time to get to know them. Reserve your judgment, be patient, be kind, and realize that some of us work on a slightly different operating system.
Those of us who have Autistic traits are often held to the standard of fitting in to the Neurotypical world. Wouldn’t it be nice if more Neurtypical people made a greater effort to fit into and understand the Autistic perspective?