One of the things I really want to focus on with my blog this year is to create more autism awareness content.
I want to use my platform as a place to dispel some of the stereotypes and misconceptions around autism because let’s face it, there are a lot!
So, as it’s World Autism Awareness Day today, I thought what better time to start.
Autism is a spectrum, so no two people are the same
Every person on the spectrum is different, it’s why it’s called a spectrum in the first place.
While there are common traits that most of us share to some degree, how those traits manifest and affect our day-to-day lives can drastically differ.
For example, I personally find that my autism makes working in a traditional job impossible to cope with.
I’ve had several different jobs over the years and never lasted longer than six months in any of them for a variety of different reasons, such as how negatively it affected my mental health, and just the sheer number of meltdowns some of them caused me to have each week.
The annoying thing was that I actually enjoyed some of the jobs, in fact in one of them I received a commendation for fixing something that would have caused a ton of problems for the department if it hadn’t been sorted out, and I was really sad to have to leave both the department and the people there, even if it was ultimately for the best.
It’s the main reason I ended up becoming self-employed, and while it comes with its own challenges – mainly around communication and finding clients to work with – in the long run it’s been so much more beneficial for my mental health, and I’m able to work with my autism, rather than having to work against it.
On the other hand, Chris loves his job as it combines his love of driving with helping people, and while he’s mentioned how he wouldn’t mind doing freelance video editing one day, he works better with a set structure and routine in his day, and isn’t the best at organisation or time management, so would probably struggle a lot more with being self-employed than I do.
That’s just one example, but there are plenty of others that I could include.
While there has been a lot more education around neurodiversity over the past few years, especially on apps like TikTok, there does still seem to be this general assumption that all autistic people are exactly the same, and therefore expect you to say and do certain things based on the experience they’ve had with another autistic person.
That’s like expecting all people with blue eyes to love avocados, just because you once met a person with blue eyes who loved avocados…
There’s isn’t a “look” to autism
If there’s one phrase I’ve heard more than any other it would have to be “you don’t look autistic” and while I know it comes from a genuine place and people generally mean it in a nice way, it really is more of a backhanded compliment than anything else.
But there have also been times where people have said it almost as an accusation, implying that I look and act too “normal” to be autistic, and must be faking it for attention – another thing I’ve been told, which is just laughable to anyone who actually understands autism!
When I first found out about my autism I had no idea how to respond to any of those things. While I love a good argument and will step in to protect people I care about without thinking, I hate confrontation when it’s about myself.
I would mostly just ignore the comment and try to move the conversation on, reply with something bland like “oh, don’t I?”, or just try to smile.
These days I’m a lot less passive, usually responding with something like “why what does an autistic person look like?” which usually throws them and they don’t know how to answer; because the simple fact is autism has no “look” – it’s neurological, not physical.
While it might sound a bit harsh, and sometimes it is if that person is being intentionally nasty, it’s actually a really good opening to help educate people and break down why so many of the stereotypes are wrong.
We all have different special interests
Also sometimes called “obsessions”, special interests are a common aspect of autism where you basically have an intense interest in a specific topic or topics.
Sometimes these interests can last for a short period of time, like the few months when I was a teenager where I was obsessed with playing the keyboard, taught myself how to play all my favoutire songs by ear (I can’t read music), and then one day just lost interest and never picked the keyboard up again.
Although I actually found my old keyboard a few weeks ago, and it turns out I can still play most of the songs I learnt, so that’s a bonus!
Then there are other interests that stay with you for life, some of mine being Ancient Egypt, The Tudors, Norse Mythology, and True Crime.
I actually taught myself basic hieroglyphics in primary school because I wanted to be able to read what was on the inscriptions in the books I was reading without needing to look at the translation in the image caption.
Don’t ask, it made sense to me at the time…
Everyone’s interests will be different, and while there are the stereotypes that autistic people all love trains or are great at maths (thanks for that one Rain Man…) it’s definitely not true; I only just managed to scrape a pass in my Maths and Statistics GCSEs, so I defiantly missed the memo on that one!
Many people actually use these special interests to their advantage, as can be seen when autistic writer and blogger Pete Wharmby asked on Twitter if anyone had managed to make a living from a special interest.
There were people who were working as software engineers after teaching themselves code, a tattoo artist who loved art, and an architect who loved building things in Minecraft as a kid!
This ties back into autism being a spectrum, just as every autistic person is going to be different, so are their special interests.
Sure there are some that are more common than others, like trains, plants, or animals, but there are still specific niches in those topics.
I know someone who could tell you literally anything you could ever want to know about snails, but doesn’t really have any interest in other animals, as well as an amazing lady who can talk to you for days about poisonous plants; how to grow them, what part of them is poisonous, and how the toxins kill…
Kind of cool, kind of terrifying if I’m being honest…
Women are autistic too
Even now, it still seems to be a widely held belief that autism is more common in boys than girls, but the truth is that women are generally just better at “masking” or passing as neurotypical, and get missed in childhood.
This is what happened to me: it was actually another autistic person that realised I was on the spectrum and told me about autism, encouraging me to look into it more and telling me all the traits he’d noticed I had.
I was in my 20’s at the time had gone my whole life to that point not understanding why I was so different to everyone else, or why I struggled with things that other people found “easy” or “normal”.
I had learnt at a young age how to mimic other peoples behaviour so I didn’t draw attention to myself and could fit in reasonably well, even if I didn’t understand the point of the things I was doing like small talk, or actively made me uncomfortable like maintaining eye-contact or going up to people and starting conversations.
Unfortunately, this kind of bias also comes in when you’re trying to get a diagnosis, and many women end up getting misdiagnosed with things like borderline personality disorder, depression, or anxiety.
The amazing Beth from Just A Square Peg has a great post about this which you can read here, and I know from personal experience when I went for my assessment that the guy I had basically said he didn’t believe women could be autistic and tried to tell me I was “just a bit anxious”.
He also refused to believe anything I told him because I didn’t have a parent with me at the assessment to corroborate what I was saying, even though I was almost 24 at the time.
I’m sure you can imagine how well that went down…
To be honest the whole process was horrendous and I was so angry and upset that I phoned up and cancelled the whole process, as I couldn’t face going through that two more times, especially as getting a formal diagnosis wouldn’t really help me as an adult as there’s not really much support available for autistic adults.
Being autistic can be great
This is obviously not always the case for everyone, and I’ll admit there are times where autism can be a nightmare and I actually wish I wasn’t on the spectrum because it would make my life easier.
But that’s mostly because society is set up with neurotypical people in mind, not neurodiverse ones.
Meltdowns are hell and can knock me for days or even weeks afterwards, making everyday tasks next to impossible and draining all energy and motivation out of me.
Struggling with communication doesn’t affect me too much with this blog, as it’s my space and I don’t have to worry about oversharing, info-dumping, or accidentally saying the wrong thing without realising it (thanks to the wonder of proofreading and editing), but when it comes to communicating with clients or talking to people in real life, that’s where the problems begin.
But even with all the negatives in mind, I honestly love being autistic most of the time.
I have the ability to hyperfocus on things I’m interested in, which helped me get a First in my undergrad at uni and a Distinction + an award for outstanding achievement on my Master’s degree.
I can remember pretty much everything I read or watch, which is a bitch when it comes to trying to forget all the insults and bad memories from school, but amazing when it comes to winning quizzes!
Obviously, I know that not everyone will see things the same way as me, and that’s okay.
I know people on the spectrum who hate and resent how difficult it makes their lives, and I can only speak from my own personal experiences or those that other people have shared with me.
I know how lucky I am that I can function fairly well in my day to day life, and that I have really supportive parents who accepted my autism long before they knew what it was.
They supported my special interests, buying me books on the topics I loved and listening to me excitedly info-dump on them without complaining.
Although it probably helped that we’ve since found out that both of them are also on the spectrum, so that would make sense.
My autism makes me a lot like a cat in many respects; I can kind of survive on my own but someone really should supervise me – I’m not joking when I say I actually managed to burn soup one time!
Are you autistic or know someone who is? What is the one thing you wish people understood about autism?