“So… what’s it like being autistic?”


It’s a question I get asked once in a while. Sometimes it’s a silent question because people think it’s rude to ask, but even I can tell they’re curious.

“So… what’s it like being autistic?”

Well, from my perspective it feels completely normal. Why? How should it feel?

I really don't know what kind of answer you were expecting.

I really don’t know what kind of answer you were expecting.

 

I can only describe this from my own point of view. So, to those reading this who are not on the spectrum, please don’t make the mistake of assuming this applies to everyone. And, to those who are on the spectrum, don’t be surprised if not all of this applies to you (although you may find there’s more common ground between you and other autistic people than you think).

There are bad points and good points. I’ll leave the good bits until last.

 

The bad bits

Having Asperger’s means that everybody else is really weird, but somehow they have the nerve to tell you that you’re the odd one out.

It means taking that extra second or two to work out that someone’s being sarcastic. And in conversation, a second or two can be a long, long time.

It means appearing silent in group conversations because of that extra split-second it takes to form the sentence in your brain, during which somebody else has spoken up.

It means missing out on subtleties, not catching on to inside jokes, and people eventually saying “ah, never mind,” when you ask what’s so funny.

 

Never Mind

Well, screw you then.

It means people thinking you’re uninterested in them because you’re not looking at their face.
It means you alienate people for no obvious reason.

Having autism in the 90s meant growing up believing you were the weird kid. It meant professional psychologists writing down “slightly odd personality” in their reports. (Yep, that actually happened when I was ten.) It meant that my social skills were only lacking because of my own immaturity. After all, if I could read, write and do sums, how on Earth could I be socially inept unless I chose it?

Having autism means being the 1% that’s different. (I mean it literally. 1% of the general population is on the spectrum.)

It means being in a group where 81% of you aren’t in full-time employment.

It means a 70% chance of having another neurological condition too.

The good bits

Having autism means being relentlessly focussed on the things you love.

It means having the right mindset to solve a great big maths problem, or wipe the floor with someone at chess. It means you get to experience the absolute joy of being a geek for beautiful things, and it’s wired into you from Day One of your life.

It means seeing things with ruthless logic, and being able to spot the weirdness in society that some people take for granted. (For example, who the hell decided that tying something around your neck made you look smart for an interview? Do people really think less of you if you don’t walk into the interview wearing a noose? And if there’s just one potato left, what’s the point in letting it go to waste just to pretend you’re being polite?)

Potatoes. You are correct.

Strategically it’s always better to grab the second-last potato. It’s the last one that’s socially acceptable to take, so you’re pretty much taking the last one without anyone knowing it.

It means never, ever forgetting people’s birthdays. Occasionally, it means remembering what happened on 23rd January 2002. (That was a Wednesday, by the way.)

It means your family sees you as the unquestionable authority on what happened and when, since nobody can dispute your memory.

It means you can memorise pi to dozens of decimal places without any particular technique (I once knew it to 50, but I can only remember 31 right now). More importantly, it means you enjoy it!

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028

My record was 50, but once I discovered you could measure the circumference of the universe down to a single atom using 49 decimal places, I stopped bothering. Even the 50th serves no practical purpose besides showing off at parties.

Some days I go to bed and thank the Lord for giving me Asperger’s. Other nights I go to bed wondering what the hell He was playing at. But let’s just say that every time I come up against a maths problem or sit down at a chessboard, I feel just a little bit thankful for being the weird kid.

Magnus Carlsen, world chess champion

YEAH! Who’s mentally inferior now?!

Autistic people walk among you. We’re roughly 1 in every 100. We don’t all suffer severely. We don’t all rely hopelessly on repetition and routine. We don’t all hate being touched or hugged. We don’t all rock back and forth mumbling the same sentences again and again. Some of us are high-functioning, non-disabled, clever and friendly social creatures, who just seem “weird” to the people who decided what normal is like.

Besides, I get to see the world from a different angle. And despite the occasional social difficulty, my angle is awesome.


 

If this article changed your perspective at all, or resonated with you in any way, feel free to leave a comment. There’s probably a share button around here too.

Chris Bonnello is an autism speaker, available to lead talks and training sessions from the perspective of an autistic former teacher. For further information please click here (opens in new window).

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Picture credits:

http://imgarcade.com/1/confused-child/
(Although I’m sure they didn’t take it themselves. If you’re the owner of this, please tell me so I can credit you.)

http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/2856654/Never/

yet more roast potatoes

Happy Pi day!

https://chessmusings.wordpress.com/category/blitz-chess-2/
(Disclaimer: Magnus Carlsen does not have autism. That said, most professional chess players do seem to have a healthy level of Asperger’s.)

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14 Comments

  1. “It means you alienate people for no obvious reason.” This really resonated with me! I have two sons who have Asperger’s, and recently learned that both my husband and I most likely do as well. All my life people just…haven’t seemed to like me. I mean, I’ve always had a few close friends, but, in general, I just seem to have that problem. And I’ve always wondered why. At any rate, I loved this post, and look forward to more. I learned about your blog from Carol Anne.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks a lot for the comment! 🙂 I can empathise- I was very much the weird kid at school, and none of the older kids ever wanted to be seen with me. I was very fortunate in having plenty of people caring about me though. It meant there were a lot of positive relationships to focus on, no matter what strangers thought of me. That helped a lot.
      Wishing you guys all the best, especially your boys. Thanks again for reading. 🙂

      Post a Reply
  2. Oh, logic! Sometimes I don’t know whether it’s a blessing or the worst of all abilities. I write online, and commenting logically about some nonsense someone else has written inevitably gets me accusations of being full of myself, snobbish, unfriendly, throwing my weight around, being insulting, etc., etc.

    Post a Reply
    • Ha, yes. 🙂 Some people don’t want a logical response- they just want to rant their own opinions, and Heaven help anyone who DOESN’T SHARE THEM. 😉

      Post a Reply
  3. This is a wonderful article, thank you. The only bit I don’t relate to is “You never forget anyone’s birthday”. That’s never been the case for me, in fact I’m much more likely to forget everyone’s, outside of my immediate family.

    Post a Reply
    • Ha, I suppose that’s another important fact about autism- that we’re all so different to each other! Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the article. 🙂

      Post a Reply
  4. Great article. However, I have a huge problem with asexuality being referred to as a ‘bad thing’. I was only diagnosed with Asperger’s within the last year, but I figured out that I was asexual at the age of about 15. As such, I’ve been more heavily involved in the asexual community, in particular doing my part to help with awareness. So I know that people who do experience attraction often find the concept of lacking that to be a bit weird or even disturbing. But, I can assure you, to an asexual person that lack of attraction is perfectly normal and natural, and is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Asexuality is a sexual orientation like any other. (Indeed, studies have indicated that 1% of the population may be asexual.) It’s just that instead of being attracted to ‘Men’, ‘Women’ or ‘Both’, we’re attracted to ‘Neither’. And not being attracted to anyone doesn’t mean I’m missing out on anything, just that I experience human interaction in a different way.
    So I would ask that you please treat asexuality with the same respect as any other aspect of a person’s identity. After all, no one deserves to be told that something they consider a large part of who they are is a Bad Thing.

    Post a Reply
    • Looking back, I may have phrased that clumsily. My apologies.
      Honestly, I’m still wondering whether or not I’m asexual myself. (I had no idea it would be so difficult to tell! Been struggling with the question for literally years.) So yes, if I phrased it in a way that made asexuality come across as lesser, please accept my apologies.

      Post a Reply
  5. What I want to know is what it is like not being autistic.

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  6. I would also like to know what is it like not being autistic?

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  7. Yes, what is it like not being autistic?
    Let’s rephrase the question this way….. What’s it like being absolutely “normal”, having no attributes that make you any different from all those around you? Doesn’t it get boring having no special features about yourself?

    Post a Reply
    • Maybe that blandness/sameness that neurotypical people feel is what drives their racism, sexism, and other judgmental-isms that dominate our common culture?

      We get to feel special because we’re special. They have to invent “race” and “gender” and then keep down the “other races/genders” (etc) to feel the way we feel every day.

      Post a Reply
  8. Hello, NT here. I enjoyed reading your blog, thanks. I was looking for a text that explained autism a bit, something that feels useful and practical, to provide a bit of training to staff that work with people with ASD but also cognitive delay. I find difficult to make sure that people understand that what you are telling them about people with autism is not set on stone and that every person is different. I apologise in advance if the terms that I use are not the taste of everyone. It is quite tricky these days to use words that are not going to make anybody feel insulted. I loved your example about the potatoes, so true!! Finally, I also wanted to say that I would love to offer to explain how does a NT feels, but then, I am not sure if I would be a typical example. We are also all different. However, I could try to explain how some examples apply to me in particular. Hopefully soon Asperger or HFA will stop being considered a disability towards, maybe, a borderline personality disorder (I know it is still a negative concept, but I think it would be better).

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  9. After about 4 references in about 6 articles, I’m really want to know about that potato thing now.
    On an unrelated note, I can’t right-click the links to open them in a new tab, and when left-clicking they seem to choose wheter to go into this tab or a new one randomly, anyone knows any reason for that?

    Post a Reply

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  1. Asperger Syndrome: 50 important facts about having mild autism | Autistic, Not Weird - […] We’ve been over this before. […]
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