Owning Autism

Owning Autism

Is my autism a blessing or a curse? How do I see it myself? That’s a difficult and important question and I will try to answer it.

It is easy to focus on the deficits that autism causes me: the difficulties with social interaction, the over-reliance on routines to shape my life, the utter confusion I feel sometimes when I cannot understand people. Then there are my associated issues with sensory processing, alexithymia, anxiety and depression.

I could go on: many of you reading this are familiar with the ways in which autism and common co-morbid conditions can make it so difficult to even get through a “normal” day out in the world.

There are people I observe on Twitter and other social network sites for whom autism is a burden. Some of them dream of a life without the myriad obstacles in their path. I have had times in my life before I was even aware of autism as a condition when I despaired of ever being able to fit in. When I became so frustrated by my own failings that I felt desperate enough to consider suicide.

I can’t claim that I had any moment of clarity where I understood. No epiphany for me. I simply got away from the environments that were causing me to feel that way. I never used to be half so introspective as I am now: I never examined my own motives and was not very aware of my needs or desires. Things had to reach crisis point before I even realized that I had a problem.

It is only with hindsight and the knowledge that I am autistic that I am now able to look back on my past with enough insight to allow me to explain why I was that way. Why I had the problems with people. Why I always felt different, an outsider.

But also why I have always had such strong, almost obsessive interests. How this drives me to seek knowledge and learn new things. It’s why I’m so good at my job — at least when I’m not under the doctor for an episode of depression.

As I have grown older I have continued to learn. I’ve learned ways to cope with a lot of my issues and most of the time I get through with few problems. This didn’t happen overnight and there were missteps along the way. I had support and help from a number of people. I have no idea why but people seem to like me and offer to help me when I need it.

That’s the thing: people seem to like me. But more than that I like me. I have come over many years to accept the way I am as integral to my identity. This doesn’t mean I believe I am perfect or that I have no problems. Far from it. It means that I recognize that I am the sum of everything that makes up my body and mind, good and bad.

To deny any part of that, even the part that makes me want to run away and hide, curled up in a corner, when everything gets too much to handle, would be to deny part of what makes me who I am. I find I cannot blame autism, or anxiety, or anything else for my problems: my problems exist and I try my best to deal with them.

So to answer my own question, I do not see my autism as either a blessing or a curse. It is simply the way my mind works, for better or worse. It is an indivisible part of me: I accept and own it, internalize it. By doing so I rob it of the power it had over me as an external entity to be feared or hated, to be fought.

20 thoughts on “Owning Autism

  1. Lots of food for thought here! I agree with you that autism is simply the way my mind works. It would make as much sense to me to see my womanhood as a blessing or a curse. It’s simply me, and it’s what I use to shape my life.

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    1. The curious part for me is that I even see my anxiety in the same light: instead of wasting effort fighting against the way I am I can work out ways to live with it. It’s a perspective thing: concentrating on how I might be able to achieve something instead of why I can’t.

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      1. I agree. It’s a controversial subject, because I can also totally understand the reasoning of people who were abused for example, to say that this is NOT a part of them, that they are who they are DESPITE what happened to them. But I find that for myself, I lean towards a more buddhist, holistic approach where all my experiences, both active and passive, make up the totality of who I am right now. And reading and responding to your words makes me a slightly different person than I was 10 minutes ago. For me it’s all about incorporating that in an ever-changing image of “what is me”. And working with it, not against it. Because that would be fighting myself.

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        1. I know it’s controversial, but you know me: I just write about my own experience without applying value judgments. I’ve been leaning towards a holistic view for some time now, and I did recognize the parallels with Buddhist philosophy. I never could accept the mystical elements of Buddhism though.

          One helpful paradigm shift in my thinking was when I realized that I am not static, that I am changing and evolving. And that I can influence my direction to a certain degree through small, incremental changes, learning and building and (hopefully) growing.

          (Sometimes I sound so positive I want to slap myself!)

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          1. Positive is good. 😀 (Even though I say the same thing very often, lol).

            And yeah, I’m the same way about the actual belief structure of Buddhism. It just doesn’t fit me. I have intense desires and disappointments. But I don’t see that as a source of suffering. It’s more a sense of accept what you can’t change, and change what you can. And be thankful for all the life that surrounds you, in all its shapes and manifestations.

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  2. Good post. I have actually only yesterday discovered that there is a group of people out there that actively “fight” the idea of neurodiversity. I mean not just like those who in their desire to ‘cure’ autistic kids will spend so much more time, money and effort on dubious therapies and research that may be important but will never profit their kids in their lifetime… No, people that are actually angry about the attempt to take inclusion and equity efforts a step further to transform it in real acceptance.
    I do understand how the perception of ‘autism’ can be very different, for each individuum and especially from the outside, for parents.
    I can’t follow people who talk about ” the gift of Asperger’s” or think (as one friend said to me) “children with autism are all beautiful people”.
    I see my child’s difficulty in social context every day, it’s not exactly a gift? He is beautiful not because or inspire of autism but because of who he is.
    I am trying to be a pragmatic person, I have been through a lot of stuff even before autism came into my life. Fighting something in its very existence is paralysing. I believe people who concentrate still on defining the good or the bad of autism are in a grief-like, standstill position.
    I don’t know enough about the biggest advocates of neurodiversity to judge if their approach overwhelms other people somehow but I think, just like you say for yourself, that acceptance goes a long way to see the whole of a person and work on making things better for everyone.
    And it’s interesting that you talk about people who have been abused @autisticook, as its true, everything shapes us, and can make us grow. Accepting whatever makes you different as a part of us doesn’t mean it has to solely define you.

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    1. Yeah, it’s like… I’m not my label and at the same time everything of me is. How to explain it… OK, take for example executive functioning, which I hadn’t even heard of before I started my diagnosis. Turns out it’s a common issue for a lot of autistic people. So, I have executive functioning issues. But alongside of that, I can also simply be lazy now and again. But when I stop being lazy, I still have a hard time getting started on things. It’s just the way I am. Not everything is a problem. Not everything is a gift.

      I just thought of a gift analogy, actually. Learning how to unwrap your gifts. Because we need to learn how to do that. And how to interact with the person giving the gift. (Which in this analogy would be autism giving the gifts of acute senses but also executive dysfunction and things like that). Erm. I don’t know where I’m going with this. But it’s not about the gift. It’s about how you handle the exchange. And that is something we need to learn.

      (Now that I think of it, it’s a crap analogy. Because you can’t insult autism itself by refusing the gift. Or give something in return. Oh well).

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      1. Lol. It’s OK. I feel that many approaches and attitudes that are so fiercely debated in the context of autism apply to any odd difference humans have. It’s not black and white, good vs bad.
        It takes both, reflection and experience, to figure it out and to simply focus on your life rather than the difference. In the case of autism though, it appears to me that a lot of guilting and rejection hurts a lot of people, pushes them to wrong, sometimes damaging approaches. Reading the insights of adult autistics helps me a lot not to fall into these traps.

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      2. All analogies break down at some point or they wouldn’t be analogies: they’d be the thing itself. I was going to try to come up with an alternative analogy, but there’s no point because I understand yours.

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        1. Hi, just plugged into this line of comments…first, love the original post because it humanizes what has become a very academic enterprise – autism. I’m a special educator in elementary and it amazes me how lost families, advocates, teachers, school districts become in the academics of autism. I always was taught “meet them where they are at” but that’s not good enough anymore. Yes, there are these proponents of neuroplasticity and “curing” autism, but would we try to take the quirk out of any other child without autism? We have to accept people as they are and stop trying to perfect humans; we are fallible in every way. And, as for executive function, it plays a part in many disabilities. My daughter has problems with executive function and she struggles with dysgraphia and dyscalculia (spelling and math). What I’m saying is that I very much appreciate your discussion because it gives me hope that my thinking isn’t just “anti” establishment. I believe first is to help any child with a disability love and accept herself, and then work to help her succeed despite challenges. And, yes, every single person could benefit from this approach. Thanks, you brightened my day!

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      3. All these aspects of me: autism, anxiety, depression but also caring, compassion — every facet of my mind is something I have to live with. I have no choice about that. What I do have a choice about is whether or not to accept the way I am. Acceptance makes it easier for me to live with myself. This does not mean that I am happy about some of my limitations but it does mean I recognize their existence. This allows me to think about them, think of ways to work around them without running straight into a wall of frustration and anger that inhibits reason.

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  3. This post and discussion came at just the right time. For a long time I thought of autism as an obstacle to be overcome, and I still feel this way at times (just today, in fact, after a draining trip to a crowded store). But I am slowly coming to a place of acceptance and trying to work with the strengths and the limitations that I have. I do have a lot of empathy though for those who feel it is a burden (along with admiration for those who see it as a gift).

    “It is an indivisible part of me: I accept and own it, internalize it. By doing so I rob it of the power it had over me as an external entity to be feared or hated, to be fought.”

    This is really insightful, that seeing autism as part of yourself lessens it’s power over you. I’ve never thought of it that way.

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    1. I know that some people are unable to see their autism as anything other than a burden, and there are other who see it as a gift. I see both sides but walk my own path. I’m not saying it will suit everybody. But I’m glad you found it positive.

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  4. Good post and discussion. I don’t know if I’ve accepted it yet the way you describe, but it’s definitely something to strive for. Theoretically I adhere to the holistic view described, but I find it difficult to actually really accept that. Thanks.

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  5. Great post. I’m starting to accept myself as is, and I’m resolving a lot of hurts I didn’t even know I had growing up. It’s so much easier to move on from and own up to any mistakes I think I made and work on improving them next time.

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