Howdy, Hunters! Today I have a topic I’d like to talk about that I thought would be interesting: ASD. I inherited it from my dad, and was diagnosed when I was little. So I’m going to talk about what it’s like being “on the spectrum”, as well as talk through some of the symptoms.
But first, let me educate you a little bit! *throws on cliche schoolteacher outfit and produces a chalkboard from thin air*
ASD — short for Autism (or Autistic) Spectrum Disorder (also known as simply “autism”) — is a developmental disorder in which the brain is sort of “wired” differently, resulting in “quirks” which include difficulty with social interaction, speech delay, abnormal body posturing, repetitive behavior and stimming. They’re “trapped in a bubble”, so to speak. As much as I don’t like it, I live out that cliche every day of my life. 😛
It’s called the “spectrum” because the severity of the condition varies from person to person. Here’s a little chart:
And yes, I did just go through all the trouble to draw it for you. You’re welcome. 😉
Let’s start with the far right extreme: low-functioning. When a person has low-functioning autism, the symptoms are more prominent and more impairing than in higher-functioning individuals. Because of this, many people on that side of the spectrum need specialized schools or jobs. It doesn’t mean they are any less than neurotypical (non-autistic) people, it just means they have difficulty processing information that neurotypical people can.
On the other side of the spectrum, high-functioning autism is less severe, therefore people who have it can often attend regular schools or have a regular job. They may have “quirks” such as stimming, extreme obsession or poor eye contact, but in general they can perform tasks like a neurotypical person could. The extreme left of the spectrum (the red area of my drawing) has its own name: Asperger’s Syndrome.
I basically have Asperger’s, meaning I have very high-functioning autism. I used to be lower-functioning as a child as I had a speech delay, but I’ve gotten over that. I’m high-functioning enough that people usually don’t realize I’m autistic at first glance unless I tell them, or unless they’ve known me for a long time. My communication skills are relatively good. In fact, I think I’m the only extroverted autistic person I know. o.o I’m not bragging or trying to put myself above lower-functioning people, by the way. I’m just relaying my experiences.
Now I’m going to go over some of the general symptoms of autism and talk about them a little.
1. Abnormal body posturing and abnormal facial expressions
I’m not sure how much this symptom applies to me, but sometimes when I’m talking to someone and they say something surprising, I’ll react and act surprised and all the normal stuff etc. . . and then after the surprise thing has passed, even as the other person is talking about something else, I’ll replay the surprise moment in my head and make more surprised faces. It’s like I’m making a comic book inside my head and I’m imagining what my face will look like on the page in that moment.
Again, I don’t know if that’s normal or not. Most of you are neurotypical — so do you do this too, or is it an autism thing? I really don’t know. O.o
2. Poor eye contact
Ohhohoh, yes. I know this one all too well. I can not maintain eye contact with most people. It’s really overwhelming for some reason, like I feel pressured or something. I end up just looking at something else, like the person’s hair or clothing or maybe not even the person at all if I’m distracted enough. I don’t mean to look uninterested, I just can’t make eye contact. I still do my best to listen to them and even respond to what they’re saying despite it all.
3. Deficits in language comprehension
I don’t really experience that very much other than the occasional expression or joke that I might take literally. Or if I’m distracted or not paying attention, hahah.
4. Speech delay
I had speech delay when I was little. It was how I first got diagnosed, in fact. Once I did learn more or less how to express myself, I often just echoed whatever other people said. Especially my mom. She would ask me something simple like “How do you spell the word ‘light’?” and I would look up at her with a twinkle in my eye and reply, “How do you spell the word ‘light’, Mommy?!” Usually it was my way of saying “I don’t know the answer”, but I think I repeated things even if I did know the answer. Like sometimes when I was stuck on a playground structure or something, instead of yelling, “I’M STUCK!” like a normal human being, I would yell, “ARE YOU STUCK??” because that’s what my mom would ask me if I was stuck. X’D
I’m over all that stuff now. As least I hope I am. 😛
5. Inappropriate social interaction
I guess it depends on the context. For a lower-functioning person it might mean slapping another person or pulling their hair etc. For me. . . I’m just a little wonky. It’s hard to explain — I’m just really bad at acting normal. What might be humor to me is definitely not humor to someone else. I still have yet to understand exactly how you neurotypical people thrive. 😉
Short for “self-stimulatory behaviour”, stimming is repetition of movement or sounds. It’s common in autistic people throughout the spectrum. We use it to combat over-stimulation in places with lots of noises and distractions, like in a crowd of people or next to a road with cars. We get overwhelmed (or over-stimulated) with noises and bright colors and movement very easily. We have trouble processing our surroundings. The stress builds up to a point where we can no longer sit still or stay silent, and we channel our excitement through movement. Bouncing up and down, flapping one’s arms, making gibberish noises or even banging one’s head against a wall are common examples of stimming.
I don’t have severe stimming, at least not in public. If I’m watching a movie or listening to someone talk, I might lean back and forth, bounce my legs or play with something I’m wearing (like a necklace or bracelet etc.), but I haven’t gotten too much attention about it as far as I know. And if I get too over-stimulated I just head to the bathroom and cry (especially if I’m also emotionally overwhelmed).
I’ve been leaning back and forth almost the whole time I’ve been writing this, actually. Especially when I listen to my voice in my head reading it. 🙂
7. Trouble expressing emotion
I’m a little strange for an autistic person in that I have absolutely no difficulty identifying, analyzing and addressing my feelings. However my dad and my sister, both of whom are also on the spectrum, don’t share that ability. Both are pretty introverted, and both have strengths in things other than identifying emotion. This doesn’t mean they’re human Spocks, by the way. They feel emotion by all means, they just don’t have the ability to understand where the emotion comes from like I do.
8. Sensory overload
UGH. The wet blanket of nearly every single social event I’ve ever attended. Sensory overload often results in over-stimulation and stimming. For me it mostly results in a sensory shut-down. It’s similar to too much electricity blowing a fuse; too many stimuli causing part of my brain to sort of turn off.
It’s awfully annoying when you’re trying to be part of a conversation. Everyone else in the conversation is reacting to each other at the right moments, laughing at jokes, etc., and I’m just standing there staring at nothing in particular. I’m fully listening to the conversation, but I’m also aware of the music booming away in the speakers, the boys in the corner of the room playing pool, the way the lights cast shadows on the objects on the walls, the trees blowing in the wind outside the window, the other group of people having a separate conversation, the lights, the sounds, my own breathing, my hands fiddling with the folds in my clothes, everything that’s going on around me is demanding my attention and concern. I don’t have the time nor the energy to react. . . why is she looking at me? Are her lips moving? Is she talking to me??
“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. What did you say?”
As you can imagine, it’s led to a number of awkward moments as well as a truckload of insecurity. What fun. 😛
And because I was thinking of it, here’s a picture I drew years ago depicting sensory overload.
In case you can’t tell, the screen says, “Processing. Please Wait.” Come to think of it, I want to redraw it. . .
9. Ritualistic behaviors
I know some autistic people like to arrange and/or touch something in a specific order and they get upset if they can’t do it or it’s out of order. I don’t really do that myself. However, when I feel the need, for whatever reason, I press my hand to my throat kind of hard. . . and then rub that hand into my face. I literally have no idea why. It’s pretty random. But it makes me feel better for some reason, like I’m cleaning a mess or unclogging a drain or something. It’s weird. And I do it over and over again.
10. Narrow or extreme interests in specific topics
In a previous blog post I mentioned that I used to be obsessed with Vector from Despicable Me. That likely had something to do with my autism. I was pretty convinced back then that I would adore physics for the rest of my life because of Vector. Vector was the coolest villain to have EVER existed. For a full eighteen months or so, it was Vector this, Vector that, Vector EVERYTHING. It was bizarre.
And all that was just the tip of the iceberg. When I really like something, I create stories about it in my head and then daydream them for hours at a time. I have a Google Doc page full of little cinematic daydreams I made up all about Vector and his friends (including me).
To this day, I still do it. Not about Vector, obviously, but about anything that I’m interested in at the time. You have no idea how many dramatic little Aetherlight scenes I’ve accumulated over the past year-and-a-half. 🙂 If you’ve ever daydreamed a cinematic sequence in your head, we autistic people (or at least my sister and I) do that as well except intensified to a point where we basically have a whole world floating around in our brains, and we dwell in that world. This, in my opinion, is what the “trapped in a bubble” cliche is all about. It’s like being a writer without the writing bit.
The worst part is, it tends to warp the reality a bit, which really isn’t healthy. I have had more than one incident where I’ve been crushed when something happens outside my expectations with whatever my interest is. Like when a game I like doesn’t work anymore, or a celebrity I like says a cuss word. . . little things like that that impact me in a huge way. It’s like heartbreak. The older I grow, and the longer I dwell in my little worlds, the more it’s becoming clear that the worlds are unstable, like a planet without a core, on the verge of collapsing under its own gravity. And the more I learn about God, the more I come to realize how much I need Him, and the infinite peace and the real love that He offers and provides.
I’m going to finish off today’s already-long post with a poem I wrote last year. Some of you might have already seen it on Kingdom Pen.
Being autistic means
That my mind is constantly spinning,
Constantly asking questions
That perhaps no one else would ask
Stories are born faster
Than my mouth can speak,
Than my hands can write,
Than my racing mind can register
I’m at a permanent loss for words
Being autistic means that my heart
Beats hard and loud
Desperately wanting to break free from this uncontrollable world
And whisk to a land,
Where dragons and TARDISes exist,
And where every element is at my fingertips
My heart sucks me to these worlds like a black hole
And even if I try,
I can’t escape
I always end up
Back in that fascinating, irrational and wonderful sanctuary Universe
Being autistic means that there is a nonstop fire in my limbs
It burns and stings
It sizzles and rages
I need to let it out
I can’t possibly sit still
My limbs twitch
My heart is unshackled by the movement
It spread its wings and flies
Back, once again, to that little Universe
Being autistic means that,
Although my heart and mind run free in the Fantasy,
They tend to swim through molasses in the Reality
And by “swim through molasses,”
I mean “plunge down a waterfall”
Balloons! They pop
Alarms! They blare
Stay off, stay away
Escape the fray!
Hang on, she’s speaking.
She’s looking at me!
“I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”
Being autistic doesn’t mean
That I’m helpless,
That I’m hopeless,
That I can’t talk or solve problems,
Or that I’m a trigonometry expert
Because autism isn’t a disease,
It’s a difference
And I’m not just talking about me
I’m talking about the tens of millions of others
Who share this fascinating quirk
We are like others,
But we see the world,
And think thoughts,
Like no one else does,
Through a unique lens
We are not limited
To thrashing limbs,
Or eyes that seem to stare into deep space
They don’t define us
For we are God’s workmanship –
Every one of us
Every atom, every cell
Every quirk and every flaw
(Although it’s not really a “flaw” at all)
Being autistic means that life is difficult,
But with God’s power,
We stand up
And the whole way through,
Never stop dreaming
Originally published on Kingdom Pen (kingdompen.org)
Do Tell! Did you learn something new today? Do you know anyone else on the autism spectrum? Do you have any questions or are you confused at all about anything I talked about? If so please comment below and I’ll try my best to clear it up for you! 🙂
This post was well over twice my usual post length. I hope I didn’t bore you to pieces. o.o I’m going to summer camp next week, so I’m not a hundred percent sure I’ll have a post for you then. But I hope you have a wonderful week! ‘Till next time. . .