How my life is shaped by ASD

brain exploding

This is how I have coped with life. It may or may not help others.

Having only been diagnosed in later life as being affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, I am now reluctant to mention it to friends as reactions range from disbelief to dismissal. I missed the window to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome because it has now been removed from the official diagnostic toolkit, but it’s still the best shorthand description of where I find myself.

There are elements of your personality or your brain wiring that you can never change, but you can find workarounds for some of the problems they present. Some solutions I found early in life, some I am still perfecting.

Eye contact
Always awkward, but if you look at someone’s nose it seems to them that you are looking at their eyes. This causes me less stress and they are happier because I appear to be engaging with them.

Physical touch
This took a long time to cope with and is something I still find awkward to initiate and with which I am still sometimes uncomfortable. I made major leaps forward by joining a theatre group when younger who told stories through physical movement and voice. Interpersonal touch was required in this process, but as it was in the context of ‘playing a part’, I became, to some extent, more comfortable with it.

Reading facial expressions
Studying cartoons was really helpful to me. The artist has to convey emotion in a few deft strokes of a pen and exaggerates each facial expression. My reference data from this study is not infallible, but I now get it right maybe 75% of the time.

Hyperfocus or obsession (talking too much)
I still haven’t got control of this one but now recognise, sometimes a little late, that I need to shut up sometimes. Very few people are really interested in anything other than having their own beliefs reinforced.

Social interactions 
I have a tendency to be too serious, to take everything too literally and to ask for explanations on any opinion that someone holds. When you have a compulsion to ask interrogative questions it is often assumed that you hold the opposite viewpoint – when all you’re trying to do is understand their attitudes.

When I remember, I now ask shorter questions, leave lots of silences and accept that most people occupy immutable positions on religion, politics and gender issues. They are not going to question or even logically justify their own long held views.

Attention to detail
This is a benefit as well as a hazard. It’s possible to get so involved with detail that you lose sight of the wider picture. Reminding or questioning yourself as to why you’re so engrossed can help add perspective. On the plus side, that kind of dedicated concentration can pay dividends in some areas.

I love good comedians. I think I have quite good sense of humour. Where I can trip up is with the unexpected joke, the quip introduced into a conversation. It’s difficult to ‘switch track’ from serious to funny and it sometimes takes a minute for me to realise a comment was a joke. When the unexpected intrudes into a conversation I often replay the previous few seconds in my head to check if I missed a change of tone.

Changes in patterns and routines
It’s in my nature to think things through, to see the road ahead as clearly as possible. When someone changes a plan it’s extremely unsettling because I have to rethink all the detail again.

I try to take a step away and see whether there is logic to this change (other people find it easy to be impulsive). I don’t like changing well thought out plans simply because other people are happy to ‘wing it’. I haven’t really solved this, other than to engage in work where I can plan independently.

Collecting and listing
These are habits (obsessions) that are not uncommon in non-ASD people too. The difference is probably in the zeal, focus and the way they can dominate your life. I have found that the more collections I allow myself to indulge in, the less any single collection dominates my life. I still don’t fully understand this one.

Depression and confusion
All sufferers of depression are probably familiar with the internal cry of ‘but there’s no point’. After years of avoidance, prescription pharmaceuticals have eventually helped me.

I always assumed that if you made a good friend it would last a lifetime. I still don’t understand why not, but sadly it doesn’t seem to work that way. It’s not easy to become close enough to someone to trust them. When they subsequently ghost you, it’s impossible to understand why. I presume I’ve done or said something that offended them. 

I have found that it’s easier now if I don’t consider anyone a long-term reliable friend.

In General
You have to accept that people don’t find you easy to get on with at a social level – however ‘normal’ you try to be, it never quite works. Accept yourself for who you are. Ignore the perfect friendships others appear to have (possibly an illusion anyway). Find something that will interest you for a lifetime. Write a blog, not to become famous, but to clarify your thoughts.

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