On April 2nd this year, World Autism Awareness Day, I decided to offer a little insight to some of my Facebook friends. Their responses were actually what inspired me to start Autistic Not Weird in the first place (and its Facebook page, which opens in a new window).
I hope this helps people who are curious.
(Edit, 23/12/17: To me, his article is a nostalgic look back on what my outlook on life used to be. After the following years of writing for ANW, it’s interesting how my writing style has changed, as well as my opinions on life in general, my liberal use of the word “bloody”, and my view on what it means to be autistic. With that said, I won’t adapt this article. Partly because of the huge number of people who have told me they empathise with it, and partly because every word I typed at the time, I meant. 🙂 CB)
So, here we go! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I genuinely loved writing it.
Fifty Important Facts About Having Asperger Syndrome/”Mild” Autism:
1) The rest of you are weird. We are completely normal.
2) You definitely know a few autistic people. Maybe you don’t know it, but you do. Maybe they don’t know it either. We’re 1% of the general population, which is higher than it sounds.
3) Autistic people aren’t always similar to one another, for exactly the same reason that non-autistic people aren’t either.
4) 81% of us aren’t in full-time employment. Personally I’ve spent less than two years of my life being one of the 19%.
5) If you have it ‘mildly’, you’re at the awkward midpoint of being ‘normal enough’ for everyone to expect the same from you as everyone else, but ‘autistic enough’ to not always reach those expectations.
6) The above means that a LOTof things are ‘Your Fault’. They’re not actually your fault, but they are definitely ‘Your Fault’.
7) If you don’t notice that a girl is interested in you, it’s ‘Your Fault’. Not theirs for not bothering to actually tell you.
8) If someone drops an extremely subtle hint and it goes over your head, it’s ‘Your Fault’. Not theirs for not bothering to actually tell you.
9) If you ask people whether they want the last potato and everyone says ‘no, that’s fine’, it’s ‘Your Fault’ if you take it. You should have read them correctly and interpreted their ‘no’ as a ‘yes’. Because that’s what normal people do, apparently.
[2018 edit- these days, I’m notorious for my “last potato rant” which I occasionally give during my talks. It’s a subject I feel quite strongly about!]
10) We find it difficult to read people, and that’s ‘Our Fault’. Meanwhile other people find us difficult to read, and that’s ‘Our Fault’ too.
11) 70% of people on the autism spectrum have something else as well (ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, for example). Special needs and neurodiversity are often a bit of a Venn diagram.
12) Some people with autism are the nicest, most kind-hearted people you’ll ever meet. Other autistic people are dicks. You know, because we’re people.
13) Telling others about your autism is difficult. Sometimes because they don’t know what autism is (or have clichéd ideas), sometimes because they don’t know you very well so they’ll see you as a walking syndrome, and sometimes because you’re just bloody nervous about talking about it.
14) My specific diagnosis is ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ rather than ‘mild autism’. But it’s difficult telling people you have Asperger’s because it ends with the word ‘syndrome’. People are wary of syndromes. I don’t like using the phrase ‘social learning disorder’ either, because it ends with the word ‘disorder’.
15) So if you’re not going to tell people about your autism, the only way not to be seen as awkward or having poor interpersonal skills is to pretend to be like everyone else. And when you fail because that’s not how your brain works, it’s ‘Your Fault’.
16)Hints don’t work. Just bloody tell us. (Seriously, on my first ever date the girl wanted me to pay for her lunch, so instead of just asking me honestly she hinted that she didn’t have enough money for food and for the bus. I just smiled and said “don’t worry, cheesy chips are only £1.75!” She did not appreciate it, even though it was a valid response to what she had said.)
17) If I do things at my own pace and use my own methods, I invariably succeed. If I go at the pace others tell to go or use someone else’s methods, I can crash and burn rather horribly. Guess whose fault it is when I do?
18) Our spoken grammar is not always up to scratch. I slur my words, and say them in the wrong order when I’m nervous. My last job interview (at a library) failed at the very first sentence when I started with “I think I’m fit for this writer because I’m an aspiring… oh, wait, let me start again.”
19) Eye contact is overrated. People say I act unnatural when I talk to them, but to me it’s unnatural to stare right into someone’s eyeballs just because everyone else is doing it.
20) If we’re taking a long time to phrase something correctly, then bloody let us finish. Sometimes it takes us a while.
21) Some of us (myself included) have a very slightly slower processing speed: it might take us an extra second to realise you’re joking, for example.
22) I always take an extra second or two to start talking, for the above reason. In groups of four or more people I’ve been known to ‘not talk’ for a full fifteen minutes despite always being a split-second away from breathing in to speak before someone else beats me to it. It’s like being interrupted non-stop for fifteen minutes, except people don’t know you want to speak so you’re not allowed to be annoyed with them.
23) The ‘taking things literally’ thing is real. Obviously I know it’s not really raining cats and dogs, but if you say something that’s not an idiom I’ll assume that you mean it.
24) We’re great in bed.
25) Just kidding. We have a sense of humour too, you know!
26) Yes, we can be geeks. We excel at it, and enjoy every minute.
27) It’s very easy for autistic people to misread someone’s signals, sometimes resulting in hilarious consequences.
28) Then again, it’s very, VERY easy to accidentally trespass into someone’s comfort zone. I’ve lost a number of valued friends this way, as a teenager and as an adult. It’s a problem we want to cure ourselves of, but just can’t. (For the record, since writing this I’ve written an article about the difficulties of comfort zones. Like all links on this site, it opens in a new window.)
30) Getting two bouts of therapy was NOT My Fault. It was other people’s for making me anxious about not meeting their social expectations, and not being bothered to meet me halfway.
31) Not all of us have the memory thing, but when we have it, boy do we have it. When I was in Year 2 (7 years old) I decided to brainstorm all the dinosaur species I knew from memory. I stopped when I reached 91. (I have a bunch of other examples that will either impress you or freak you out, but I’ve known autistic people- some with real learning difficulties- who can tell you what the day was on April 17th 1962.)
32) If you think I’m ignoring you in the occasional conversation, please don’t take it personally. I can only focus for lengths of time on things I find genuinely interesting. (And even now I’m not being rude- I may truly care about you as a person, but not always about the subject at hand. Everyone has to endure conversations they’re not interested in- I’m just the guy who can’t fake interest as convincingly as everyone else. This makes me rude, rather than the people who pull it off and successfully trick you.)
33) It’s easy to trick us as kids. As a child I had no concept of other people lying to me just because they thought it would be funny.
34) I mentioned earlier that autistic people are very different to each other. So please don’t assume after reading this that everyone with mild autism is a geek, or a maths wizard, or can play great chess. Those are my own strengths, and others have strengths that I do not.
35) Those who are further along the spectrum than me can often act up and some can even be aggressive. This is not because they’re nasty- it’s a standard response when the world makes you really anxious and you haven’t yet developed the social skills or coping strategies to deal with it. Counting to ten only works with those who never get so anxious that they can’t count to ten.
36) Asperger’s is sometimes called ‘Wrong Planet Syndrome’, because it often feels like that’s where you were born- on the wrong planet, among a bunch of aliens who don’t function like you do. So when I say that we’re normal and you guys are weird, that really is how it feels!
37) Being born on a different planet can feel pretty isolating and lonely. Especially if none of the aliens understand your culture, or even think it’s something to be discouraged, feared or cured.
38) There is no cure, by the way. There may be treatment to help us overcome obstacles, but there’s no cure for autism for the same reason there’s no cure for having a brain at all.
39) Most of us don’t want a cure. Yeah, it’d be nice to have better social skills, but we’d rather not sacrifice the greater part of who we are in order to get them.
40) ← Forty is one of my favourite numbers. It’s in the 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 20 and 40 times tables, which means you can use it for a load of different useful things. I think 60 and 120 are more useful though, and I have a soft spot for 72. And 24, since it’s nearly as useful as 72 but easier to work with.
41) We work better when things are specific. Sounds obvious, but the less margin of error there is the easier things are to do.
42) Like everybody else, autistic people shine when given the chance to play to their strengths. When the world dares to meet us halfway, we do brilliantly.
43) Personally I’m like a very fast car with very slow acceleration. I’m capable of some great things, but it often takes me a while to get there.
44) Asperger’s did not stop me from getting a maths degree, followed by a teaching degree. [And, since writing this article, a creative writing degree too!]
45) Asperger’s did not stop me from becoming a primary school teacher. [After I left teaching, it didn’t stop me from switching careers to autism advocacy, through speaking engagements or through Patreon support.]
46) Asperger’s did not stop me from captaining my local Boys’ Brigade group for five years and counting, and being one of the youngest captains in the country (I was 25 when I took over).
47) Hopefully, one day I’ll be saying ‘Asperger’s did not stop me from publishing a book’. And it certainly didn’t stop me from starting Autistic Not Weird (both the site and its Facebook page). In fact, it’s partially responsible for it.
I wrote this back in April 2015, back when I got anxious and failed interviews for a living. These days, writing for Autistic Not Weird is actually my job. This fairytale twist is entirely due to those who support me via Patreon in exchange for perks and rewards. As a thank you to these amazing people, they get exclusive content – including extensions to my more popular articles.
Underdogs, a near-future dystopia series where the heroes are teenagers with special needs, is a character-driven war story which pitches twelve people against an army of millions, balancing intense action with a deeply developed neurodiverse cast.
Chris Bonnello is a national and international 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). Autistic Not Weird on Facebook