My recent post on autism has brought over 1,500 people to this blog and became one of the most popular posts I have ever written. This makes me very happy because, for the most part, people get their information about autism from TV shows and articles that depict it as laughable and pathetic on the one hand and tragic on the other hand. In fact, it is neither. Autism is a way of being that has its advantages and its drawbacks. Different people experience it in a multitude of ways and relate to it differently.
The kind of insensitivity to autism that I made fun of in my post is caused by the lack of reliable, anti-sensationalist information about the experiences of people with different forms of autism. This is why I want to share with my readers how I experience my autism on a daily basis and what it means to me. Also, I am hoping that other autistics will read this and decide whether some of my techniques might work for them.
As I mentioned earlier, I have "good days" and "bad days." On bad days, it becomes more difficult to manage my autism, while on good days I make use of a variety of strategies that make it difficult for most people who know me to guess that I am in any way different. In this post, I will describe the techniques I use on my good days, of which today was one. I remind you that my form of Asperger's is pretty severe, which means that not everybody who has it needs to go through a similar routine.
Before I leave the house to go to work, I need to imagine my route several times and in a very detailed way. Even though I take the same bus to work several times a week, I can't just leave the house without going over this entire trip in my mind. If I do, I might end up pretty much anywhere in town, which happened before. So I repeat in my head several times the things I have to do to get to work: "To the bus stop, get in the bus, get out on campus, then to Starbucks, then to the library, then to my office, then to my first class on the first floor." I also have to check on my wallet, keys, cell phone and Kindle very often, otherwise I will definitely lose them. So every 15-20 minutes I go over my "wallet-keys-cell phone-Kindle" routine.
This morning, I had to call a doctor's office to make an appointment. I'd been putting off this phone call for weeks because talking on the phone to strangers is still one of my biggest challenges. I need to know exactly what they will ask me and what I will respond because otherwise I might get flustered and forget answers even to the simplest questions. Once, a person I was talking to asked me my name and for a horrible 30 seconds or so I had no idea what to say. So I faked a fit of coughing that allowed me to figure out what the answer was. This is why I'd been suffering from an ear-ache for weeks instead of calling a doctor. I wish such things started being handled over the Internet.
When I arrive at work, I know it's highly likely I will meet colleagues. It takes me a while to recognize even the people that I know very well and especially to remember their names. So every morning I prepare a couple of phrases that I can say as soon as I see a familiar face. This gives me time to get my bearings, realize who the person is and what they are called. Usually, the sentences I prepare have something to do with weather. Today, it was "Finally, this horrible heat is over." I keep repeating this sentence in my mind all the time I walk to my office and say it every time I meet someone I know.
Today, I had two committee meetings with people I had never met before. When I was younger, nothing terrified me more than having to meet a group of strangers for the first time. Nowadays, however, I manage such situations perfectly well if I have had a chance to prepare for them. I do little practice routines in my head of what I will say when I come in and what I will do if there is an unpleasant pause in the conversation. Of course, there is a huge problem of remembering the names. The first thing I do when somebody tells me their name is forget it completely. I've tried different things that would help me retain people's names but nothing has worked so far. I get so concentrated on saying what I need to say when meeting someone that everything else just escapes me completely. While I am in such meetings I have to make sure that I don't get distracted too much from what is being discussed and avoid making weird faces at people and giggling at inappropriate moments. That's doable but it requires effort. It's also very hard knowing when it's my turn to speak. People often think I'm rude because I interrupt them. It would be great if everybody finished their utterance by saying "That's it" or "I'm done." I often do that myself in case anybody else in the group has a similar difficulty.
All of my meetings today went very well. If you were to ask anybody who met me today whether they thought I had autism, I'm sure nobody would have the slightest idea. Of course, all these things made me so tired that when I went home I fell asleep immediately. Still, it's a small price to pay for the great benefits that autism brings to my life.
Many people who know me closely are incredulous when I tell them I have Asperger's. As you can see from the description of my day, I made a choice to make my autism as unnoticeable to others as I possibly can. If, however, you don't feel like doing all these things to prevent others from noticing, then you definitely shouldn't. There is no "correct" or "incorrect" way of being autistic. My way works for me but if you choose to relate to it differently, that's great too.
Questions and non-hateful comments are welcome.