What it’s like to be autistic
I posted this on reddit in reply to someone asking about what it’s like to be on the spectrum. It ended up being really long so I thought I’d repost it here just for sharing’s sake. Slightly edited for formatting, but otherwise untouched. Also if this actually ends up getting reblogged, this post is SFW but be warned that my Tumblr is often NSFW and I don’t tag shit, so remember that if you get curious and look at other posts.
As always, individual experiences will vary, and no two autistic people have the same life experiences or symptom expression.
These are my own.
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Different person here, but still on the spectrum (aspergers).
For me, in description rather than just declaration of the actual diagnosis, it’s many things.
It’s having no social intuition and relying on consciously analyzing social situations in order to navigate them. Constantly being unsure if you’re saying the right thing, or if you understood what the other person was saying if they were being figurative. Having extreme issues telling the difference between what’s literal and what’s a joke. Accidentally offending people by saying something you thought there was nothing wrong with, but was actually a major social faux pas. Rarely having the right words to say when you’re supposed to be speaking, and always having too much to say about things that it is obvious that nobody else seems to care about. Also, it is difficult to learn and understand and continually interpret appropriately when you’re socially expected to be dishonest. Until countless bad experiences broke me of it, I assumed the average person was far more honest than they actually were - it took until my early 20s (I’m 25 now) to start to clue in to the fact that neurotypicals lie constantly, and that not only is this normal, it’s expected. I had always been someone who overshared and avoided mistruths (it’s often said that aspies actively seek and expect truths and facts), and it took a conscious effort to break myself of this social incongruity. I still overshare more than a normal person, to a great degree.
It’s being unable to natively read body language. Imagine that you went to Mexico with Spanish as a second language, and only started to learn Spanish as an adult. Maybe you even got pretty good at Spanish, but yours is still not perfect. It’s not natural to you, it always seems to take a second longer for you to “get it” compared to native speakers, and many things which are commonplace conversation to any native speaker always seem to get lost on you, no matter how many times you hear it. You’ll always be missing something. For me, it’s quite like that with body language - it’s artificial and disconnected, it doesn’t come naturally, and it’s an intentional effort to really try to both convey yourself in a socially expected fashion and an active attempt to understand others’ body language beyond the most basic of examples. Body language feels like a second language to me.
It’s having difficulties processing and tolerating environmental stimulation and sensory input (especially sound, in my case). Some things that don’t bother anyone else will bother the fuck out of me, especially particularly strong or strange bad smells, or overstimulating lights or color patterns, or extremely loud but varied noise (loud consistent noise doesn’t bother me, but if it’s varied it drives me insane - this is part of why crowds are awful), or particularly unusual textures and tastes (I’m the pickiest eater I know because I get extremely strong negative reactions to bad textures and tastes in my mouth, to the point where I will gag if I try to force myself to eat something that’s very unpleasant). Touch can be pretty bad too - “weird” feeling objects, especially slimy/wet/cold things, feel incredibly awkward and unpleasant to touch or be in contact with most of the time (this is probably why I waste way too much water doing the dishes, in addition to my perfectionist nature and germophobia/aversion to uncleanliness).
Processing sound can be especially difficult - I am not hard of hearing, but I genuinely thought that I was before I learned of my condition. I can hear extremely quiet things just fine, but I have great difficulty discerning details when there are many noises in contest, which leads to me having to ask people to repeat themselves constantly in mixed (and especially noisy) environments.
Eye contact. Important enough that it deserves its own subheading separate from body language. Simply put, it doesn’t come naturally. I will often have entire conversations with people without ever looking at them, and unless I am consciously forcing myself to make eye contact, if I ever speak about something at length I will inevitably avert my eyes in some random direction without ever thinking about why I’m doing so, or even noticing that I’ve done so. Further, direct eye contact induces a lot of anxiety, stress, and unpleasantness - particularly with people that I am unfamiliar with or not on friendly terms with, eye contact can be downright painful.
Speaking of anxiety, social anxiety is very often comorbid with the autism spectrum. And it’s awful. It’s terrifying to interact with new people with no preexisting social context, and still kind of scary when there is a social context. I get tremors when I have to make phone calls or write important emails, I tap my feet and pace around with my phone in hand like an idiot walking aimlessly. I briefly worked as a cashier at a dollar store, and quit very quickly because I was having panic attacks and nearly vomiting just from having to make constant direct social interactions with a steady flow of strangers with a performance expectation (handling money accurately while being watched). And it’s more than just communication - this sounds silly, but I literally cannot dance in front of other people - like, in private it looks silly but I can *technically* do it, but in front of other people, I will freeze up and be unable to do anything if I try, as if I am paralyzed or frozen in place, minus nervous fidgeting or twitching. And in general SA is so pronounced that it could have its own entire post dedicated to it.
On the note of OCD that you asked, there exists some small overlap sometimes, and I definitely experience on a mild level the neurotic paranoia and compulsive feelings that are commonly associated with it, but I would not say that I have OCD, just some symptom overlap.
And there’s so much more to it (this is probably ~half? of the things? ish?), but I’m getting to an awfully long post already (far longer than I expected to end up writing), and I’d rather not make people read even more wall of text. I hope this helps feed your curiosity.
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I probably should have rewritten this for tumblr, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to reassemble it. I think it mostly stands up without major changes anyway. Just wanted to share.