Autism is a lifelong neurological disorder with no cure, which causes information processing difficulties, communication issues and social functioning differences for the affected individual.
Let’s break that down:
- Lifelong: Autism is something you are born with. I was born this way. I will die this way. My autism is a condition for life. It doesn’t go away. I will not grow out of it. It’s for life. Autism is for life.
- Neurological disorder: A neurological disorder is defined as “a disease of the central and peripheral nervous system”. That is, in autism, our brain is structurally different to yours. The connections between my brain and body systems operate differently to yours. I think differently. I interpret things differently. I process things differently. Being a neurological difference, this is my anatomy and physiology. We are neurologically different to you; we are neurodivergent.
- No cure: There is no cure for autism. Positive-thinking will not remove autism. We cannot take a pill and stop being autistic. We cannot even take medications to reduce our ‘autisticness’ (like one might do with mental health issues). We cannot have an operation and stop being autistic. We cannot change our diet and be less autistic. There is no “fix” for this. There is no cure. I’m not sure why you’d want to “cure” autism, but there are treatments to help us cope in the world. These are primarily behavioural and cognitive, but nothing cures autism. We cannot be cured. This is how we are. This is the way it is for us. It will not change.
- Information processing difficulties: The ability to seamlessly and correctly perceive/ receive, process, understand, and act on *any* information coming into the brain is something most autistics struggle with. I know most of you filter and process information automatically and find it effortless. For us, processing information is not always automatic and definitely not easy. We are sensitive. Sensory overloads impact us, your emotions impact us, too many decisions impact us… and when we feel emotional, we struggle to process much of anything (this is where meltdowns/ shutdowns kick in). We organize information differently to you, we integrate information differently to you. We think DIFFERENT. In short, we do not process information like you do.
- Communication issues: The ability to seamlessly and appropriately receive, process, act on, and respond to words you speak in conversation is something most autistics find hard. It’s not that we do not think intensely, or do not have complex ideas. The struggle is to meet you in the the way you create conversations and to live up to your expectations of a certain flow, cadence and turn-taking. I know most of you find communication easy, but we often do not. To us, your way of communicating is confusing. We, on the other hand, find it normal and easy to jump around topics; you stick to the topic. We interrupt when excited about the topic; you think that’s rude. We communicate differently to you.
- Social functioning differences: The ability to seamlessly and ‘appropriately’ engage in and understand social cues, social behaviours and unspoken norms is something autistics find deeply challenging. I know non-autistics find social functioning mostly easy, and perhaps you do not enjoy social flutterings, yet you know what to do and what is expected of you when/ where/ how. Social functioning is not always clear to autistics. While we have brilliant and seamless relationships and conversations between ourselves (autistic-to-autistic), there’s something about trying to reach non-autistics that poses a struggle. Our experience of social functioning in the world is different to yours. We do not operate like you do.
- Affected individual: That’s [me].
[Autistic-Me] and [Your view of me]
Autism is me. I am autism. There is no separating the two. But that does not mean I will shirk my responsibility for bad behaviour.
I know I am autistic. I know what it does to my ability to connect. So I *do* genuinely try very hard to not come across as bossy, forceful, negative, or to hurt you.
Sure, sometimes you will think my actions are “bad behaviour”, or that I am being rude, inconsiderate, inappropriate, or hurtful. What you’re seeing is the outcome of my autistic experience.
A note on diagnosis
Without an understanding of WHAT I am (autistic), and WHAT is causing these issues I experience (autism), how can I change it?!
Many autistics struggle in relationships and in their understanding of their world prior to diagnosis. A diagnosis can really help us forgive ourselves, gain compassion, and deepen out understanding of our experience. It can also provide brilliant resources and the ability to develop good patterns an strategies of coping with some of our symptoms.
It took me till my late 30s before I received a diagnosis… so I spent most of my childhood and young adult life just feeling like there was something inherently wrong with me.
Having the diagnosis of autism at first worried me: I thought I’d be this weird person with a terrible disorder… but then I read about it and went to events and talked to other autistics. I know see that it’s not a death sentence but a beautiful acceptance of Self. The diagnosis gives me peace now. With this knowledge comes a compassionate understanding of my childhood; of my experience in the world.
My autism makes me see the world differently to others. And that’s a special thing!
How my autism affects others
I know autism can affect my ability to connect with non-autistics. I know that sometimes my actions, words and feelings will seem odd to you.
Yet, please hear me: I *do* genuinely try very hard to not come across as bossy, forceful, negative, or to hurt you. I also take ownership of my actions and if I hurt you, and I will apologize for hurting you.
The thing is, my neurological condition (autism) directly affects the way I process information, the way I communicate, and the way I understand social functions. Now, I’m not saying I blame autism or that I am faultless if I hurt you at times, yet I do acknowledge that being autistic affects my relationships with others (because in relationships we process information, communicate and partake in social engagements).
I try really hard — every day — to communicate better, to communicate well, to communicate using language and visual cues that enable positive experiences
So, I want to make it clear: I know my autism means I will probably create frustration in others, or give them experiences of being ignored, bossed around, treated “antisocially”, or any other myriad of stuff. I know that this happens, so I try really hard — every day — to communicate better, to communicate well, to communicate using language and visual cues that enable positive experiences….
We autistics are trying hard!
However, despite my extensive self-work, just sometimes my autism gets in the way, and sometimes my communication issues mess things up, and sometimes my social functioning differences impact others.
I get it. My autism —a lifelong neurological condition with no cure — creates these situations, but I do my absolute best to minimize the damage to others and maximize understanding, connection and positive relationships.
Autism is a DIFFERENCE, not a dysfunction. You’ll find most autistics you meet are struggling to be the best they can be. Yes, we see things differently to you. We interpret things differently to you. Yep, sometimes that can be frustrating, but this is who we are. We are autism. Autism is us. It is our identity and our make-up.
Remember we are trying to communicate, trying to be part of the world, and giving things a go.