This blog is about my own experience of my autistic behaviours.
I’ve seen and read lots of lists by other women and these have helped me identify as an adult with autism (Samantha Craft’s list being my favourite). You can find these and other links on my page, “Am I autistic?” here
Feeling different from the majority and being in the minority is a daily struggle of understanding, communication and self identity. Many of my personal experiences match those of other autistic women. I have knowingly attempted to hide or mask certain behaviours because, like other girls and women, I wanted to be accepted, to be comfortable. Not being accepted is isolating and bewildering..
I’ve craved to belong. Looked for ways to belong. The relief of discovering my autistic identity is huge. I feel like I’ve found and am now accepting myself. I’ve stopped needing to ‘fit in’ and I’ve started to recognise and to understand behaviours called “autistic”. I’ve been able to talk about these with others, avoided painful misunderstandings, have become an advocate for neurodiversity whilst truly valuing qualities in my life I previously despised..
One of my favourite quotes from my buddhist practise is from a letter written by Nichiren Daishonin, who was alive hundreds of years ago; “Your practice of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of the sufferings of birth and death in the least unless you perceive the true nature of your life. If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, then your performing even ten thousand practices and ten thousand good deeds will be in vain. It is like the case of a poor man who spends night and day counting his neighbour’s wealth but gains not even half a coin . . . unless one perceives the nature of one’s life, one’s (buddhist) practice will become an endless, painful austerity.”
My autistic identification has helped me to stop looking outside – at what I perceive my neighbour’s “wealth” to be – and redirects me to perceive the wealth of my own inner life. The innate qualities, wealth, or the strengths in my own life is what I need to crave.
I feel one of the extensive issues for me (with autism) is being somehow unable to grasp or “see” my own behaviour as communication. I focus on words, I focus on visual images.
The area of unseen reciprocal interaction seems very weak to me. Because I don’t understand or interpret my own, or others’ behaviour in the same way the majority of people (Neurotypicals) do, it’s easy for misunderstandings to arise.
Some of the ‘stars’ of the constellation described as autistic behaviours are:
- Black and white thinking – linked to logical outcomes, missing ‘grey’ areas, tending to look for a ‘purpose’… who, when, why, how? Lots of logic here.
- Cognitive thinking styles – visual thinkers; verbal specialists and pattern thinkers. My thinking is heavily visually based, relying on the inner eye for pictures, snapshots, that instantly capture the object or essence of a ‘thing’. I need to communicate this picture backwards and forwards which can be a difficult two-way conversation. Worse with a larger group.
- Strong focus on details – aiming for thoroughness and accuracy. This can end up sounding like too much detail, analysis paralysis or even tiresomely pedantic. But I love detail!
- Associative thinking – linking one thought or idea to another (I do this visually). Detail is important here; red car? big or small? sporty or city? how detailed do I need to get before I can properly visualise what you’re talking to me about? This type of sifting and sorting of ideas can lead to astonishingly good solutions, ideas and breakthroughs. I find it easy to create flowcharts… Excel spreadsheets relax me.
- Communication – poor at reading or picking up on tone of voice, body language, and I have a tendency to express thoughts and emotions differently than may be expected, as I depend on the previous four listed above.. Unsurprisingly I am very shy of communication, if anything, I’d rather avoid it and dodge the painful consequences.
Throughout my life, I feel these ‘stars’ shine brightest within all the myriad human behaviours I possess.
A quote from NAS website states: “Autism is characterised by marked difficulties in behaviour, social interaction, communication and sensory sensitivities. Some of these characteristics are common among people on the spectrum; others are typical of the disability but not necessarily exhibited by all people on the autism spectrum.”
Here’s just a small selection of famous individuals who were/are known to have autistic characteristics – or who identify as autistic:
- Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
- Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
- Benjamin Banneker – African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer
- Tim Burton – Movie Director
- Lewis Carroll – Author of “Alice in Wonderland”
- Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
- Emily Dickinson – Poet
- Paul Dirac – Physicist
- Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
- Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
- Temple Grandin – Animal Scientist
- Daryl Hannah – Actress & Environmental Activist
- Thomas Jefferson – Early American Politician
- Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
- James Joyce – Author of “Ulysses”
- Stanley Kubrick – Film Director
- Michelangelo – Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Poet
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Classical Composer
- Sir Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Astronomer, & Physicist
- Jerry Seinfeld – Comedian
- Satoshi Tajiri – Creator of Nintendo’s Pokémon
- Nikola Tesla – Inventor
And here’s how some of my autistic behaviours exhibit as difficulties in our neurotypical world:
Making friends – I have been pretty blind to the difference that someone being ‘friendly’ is not the same as someone ‘being a friend’. Generally, I find it difficult to make and keep neurotypical friends. I’d like to modify this by finding and choosing friends on the same wavelength. As my friend, Lady Ferrari says, “It’s too much trying to be friends with people who judge me”.
Speech – I find it difficult to have unstructured (without knowing the purpose) conversations with more than one person. I get into far too much boring detail. The person I’m talking to becomes impatient, I’ll start to become anxious. My voice can pick up speed and tone, I can become too intense. My voice may sound like I’m becoming.angry or harsh – but actually this is rooted in anxiety and a desperate attempt to connect ideas before I am misunderstood.
My short-term memory is affected, I have to say what I’m thinking or I lose the thread of what I’m going to say. The timeframes for communication run out.
Once I have a picture in my mind, I may communicate it it a blunt or straightforward manner. Sometimes people say this is refreshing, that it cuts through the ‘crap’, at other times people can find this language too blunt or even rude..
I struggle to use ‘flowery’ language – itss not a choice it’s a result of my cognitive thinking.
A thought can become a blunt comment in an instant. It can feel as if the speech just launches out of my mind, a bit like how I read Tourettes described.
I would prefer to focus on my ability to communicate through writing. I enjoy writing! I enjoy organising my thoughts into patterns.
Most of my behaviours work fine in a professional environment, I’ve learned how to do a really good job. I simply wouldn’t be able to do a job that required a social personality. And now I’m not tempted to try, I see that as wisdom!
Social Hierarchies: For some reason (probably linked to perception of identity) I don’t ‘get’ social hierarchies and I tend to speak to people in the same straightforward manner, regardless of whether their job is to serve me (as a customer) or they’re the Chief Executive. This can create complex difficulties where hierarchies are valued.
Both these issues are difficult for me to tackle. Autistics are infamous for treating their bosses like their co-workers… How do I appear? Too forward? Aloof? Rude? If someone in a position of influence or ‘power’ takes a dislike to me, life can become very difficult.
Stubbornness: When my personal code of ethics is vexed, my bluntness and stubbornness can turn me into a human bulldozer. I want to focus on this. My ability to stick to a subject and to persevere has proven many times to be a strength. What I want to reduce is the activity of the bulldozer. I need to work with compassionate friends who who can help me with that.
I learned if I was expected to speak at a business meeting, I needed to make sure I knew exactly what the objective of the meeting was, I’m brilliant at planning meetings. Anything else is small talk and now I accept I’m not good at small talk. I pay attention to detail and focus well on outcomes and objectives. Being able to contribute my strengths to a team and winning business are enjoyable and measurable. I can see I’m doing well..
How this affects me
With my focused ears, I listen to words being spoken very carefully. When something’s actually said, I generally take it at ‘face value’.
My black and white thinking usually leads me to accept that the words a person is speaking is ‘hard truth’. Rather than looking for any hidden (grey) meaning, I can often just accept those words. Having that kind of thinking means not understanding a bigger picture or motive behind what that person might be trying to communicate.
In social situations, information can be delivered in different ways. There’s the direct, sharing of information and the indirect which is not linked to the subject at hand. Subtle hints at subjects just don’t “work”.
In relationships, I have a tendency not to argue and I can become overly passive – if I have accepted words at face value. It’s like I need a translator of the reciprocal mind.
Through my life, I’ve experienced someone saying ‘you shouldn’t have said that’. Fear of my own bluntness, misunderstandings due to my reliance on visual thinking… these have accumulated in my life, repeated experiences have created patterns of, and strengthened my negative self image. All I have been able to do is to try and stop these behaviours. For some time, until this year, suppression and fear ended up rendering me almost totally mute, hardly able to say any words at work, at buddhist meetings, in groups and even in one-to-one dialogues.
This isolation, led to severe anxiety and depression.
My experience of mutism is that I want to say words but can’t. I can feel paralysed and the words just won’t come out of my mouth. If I try harder, I may start stuttering.
I gravitate towards people who are outgoing and who don’t mind that I’m quiet or shy. I like to let people I trust to take the lead.
I assume this is difficult to understand… WHY can’t I just train myself to change my communication, be less blunt, be more relaxed, learn social nuances? I’m sure people wonder why I can’t just change these behaviours if I want to.
For me, that question is similar to asking someone who is very tall to live in a home designed and built for someone very short. I don’t think my “life” fits that kind of space or purpose.
My mind feels like it works on so many levels, checking and catching patterns and colour, seeing details and stopping to admire the ‘view’. I feel happy thinking in this way. I find it stimulating.
Since I have learned about autistic ‘constellations’ of thinking, I have been able to become much more understanding.
Mind you, I’m still being prescribed anti-depressants which is helping me at this time while I build up my strengths again.
What the Experts say
I read experts suggest that people who are identified as autistic, have no understanding of others, that I have no understanding of myself and even have inaccurate self-views. I hope the points above help to challenge this. (ref. source here)
I’ve also read that researchers seldom assess the self-views of individuals who are identified as autistic – this I find simply astonishing.
It’s as if “experts” have “discovered” I have thoughts and feelings, but without involving me in the discussion. They’re off having had a chat about me and decided I have no self-knowledge or capacity to engage in social interactions.
One of my frequent questions, is a baffled “why are they doing that?”. It sounds like the experts are doing the same… only I’m in the minority.
I have found that many people with “autistic” brains (me included) just don’t have any interest in talking about popular TV programmes, celebrities, outward directed shows of affluence and superficial discussion. I hope that’s not a measure for ‘deficit’.
What I’ve found is, by identifying and learning autistic behaviours in myself, I’ve become more self-aware in communication. It’s as if I now carefully watch myself. My son finds it hilarious these days when I apologise for transforming from quiet doormat into ‘The Bulldozer” because of my compulsion to get to the point – or to facts in a discussion.
Because we both have the courage to talk about it, our relationship has deepened.
My son is, thankfully, kind and compassionate, I’m very fortunate.
I’d like to develop more kindness and compassion for others too. I recognise that.
It takes me quite a while to search around and find something to admire in superficial conversation. I find it helps if I get my phone out and go into a quick analysis until I find a little thing to spark my interest. There’s always something. Although I can’t keep the two-way conversation up for very long. Plus its rude to look at your phone during a conversation, right?
My life experience is often like a game of Snakes and Ladders
Have a great day!