avatarBrittany Luckham

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20 “It was the Autism All Along” Realizations

When my Autism journey began it was a shock to the system. My brain couldn’t keep up. I was learning all this new language and information that finally allowed me to understand myself. More so, I was reviewing my past and putting all the pieces together for the first time. My life started to make sense as more pieces fell into place and realizations cropped up.

It’s a liberating feeling, honestly, that oh, that’s why I do/did that.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are 20 of my Autistic Realizations.

Photo by Esther

1 | Formal Speech and Communication

I always did well on essays and school papers, now I know why.

It’s not at all uncommon for Autistics to communicate more formally, even when the conversation doesn’t call for it. I think this is in part because we value clear and direct communication so highly. It is also an attempt to be understood, rather than misunderstood as we so often are.

I feel as though I overcompensate. In an effort to be as clear as possible and use the “right” words I end up skewing the key message I’m trying to convey. It might seem like a lose-lose situation–and sometimes it is–but I am comfortable with the way I communicate and it has benefited me on more than one occasion.

2 | Motion Sickness

For years, and for as long as I can remember, I have struggled with motion sickness. Particularly car rides, no matter the distance. I recall my mom driving me to the hospital for routine check-ups and arriving pale and nauseous.

Turns out, Autistic individuals are prone to motion sickness due to our sensory sensitivities. Thankfully, I only react this way when I’m the passenger, not the driver.

3 | Issues with Clothing

My pants had to reach my belly button. I could not stand cuffs on shirts or pants. Tucking a shirt in was also a no-go. All clothing tags were removed upon purchase.

As a child, going shopping was not always a fun experience. How my mother put up with me, I have no idea, but somehow she made it work. Or rather we made as many alterations to my clothing as we could and then I suffered with whatever was left. I still remember forcing myself into low-rise jeans in 7th grade because it was the only thing available in stores [shudders at the thought of the despicable fashion trend returning].

This is, again, due to sensory sensitivities. Many Autistic’s despise tags on clothing or need loose necklines to feel comfortable.

4 | Hanging Upside Down, Spinning in Chairs, etc.

Turns out, this is called stimming. Stimming refers to repetitive behaviours and motions to self-regulate excess energy and emotions. This subject is a tough one for me because I was so high-masking by the time I received my Autism diagnosis that I was no longer stimming at all.

As a child though, I’ve come to remember I stimmed all the time. I’d hang upside just to see the world from a new angle, or lay under the ceiling fan watching it circle around. I also had some unhealthy stims: chewing on my hair, which is why my mother had it cut to chin-length in 4th grade. I also remember chewing on pencils. I don’t know what that was about.

I mostly stopped stimming for the same reason many others do: I received negative comments about it. I was told to stop, it was annoying, or weird. Thankfully, I’ve learned to open up again and stim much more freely.

5 | Attachment to Inanimate Objects

I’ve been accused of lacking empathy, and yet it turns out I have hyper-empathy. The way I, and others experience this, is seen more in relation to inanimate objects. Growing overly attached to or personifying stuffed animals and plushies, anyone?

Just a few weeks ago my cat knocked over my favourite candle and I just stood there in shock, completely heartbroken. It actually took me time to process the incident because my brain reacted like something truly terrible had happened–instead of, you know, a candle breaking.

6 | Forgetting to Eat and Take Breaks

I now know why my mother made me eat every 2 hours as a child. One, I would eat small portions throughout the day rather than whole meals, two, I was a picky eater, and three, if someone didn’t put food in front of me, I probably wouldn’t have eaten at all.

This is related to something called interoception. In a past post, I explained that interoception is being aware of the internal sensations of your body such as hunger, thirst, the need to stretch, etc. In Autistics, there is often a noticeable lack of this awareness.

This explains why I all-too-often forget to eat until my hands are shaking and I feel faint. Sensing those internal sensations doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to consciously think about it. One thing that helps with this is having a set meal plan, even down to what I have for snacks. This way I don’t have to think about or waste time making a decision if I go too long without eating or drinking anything.

7 | Intense and Specific Interests

I got deep into MBTI and personality types in high school. I can still rattle off a ton of information about it. This is something called a special interest. Specific to Autism, a special interest is often an intense and specific or niche interest. Typically, Autistic’s will learn as much information as they can about their interest, for example, dinosaurs or plants, or psychology, however it can simply be watching the same tv show again.

I often wondered why, when I went to look something up, it could easily turn into days falling down an internet rabbit hole and sometimes blossom into a full-blown “special interest” as I have come to learn.

8 | Exhaustion and Fatigue

This is a big one. In high school I would see my peers going out after school, sports and extracurricular activities, or going to the movies, or shopping. I would get home, change into pj’s, curl up in bed, and scroll on my phone. I was always tired, and with no idea as to why.

This is related to my masking and sensory sensitivities. I was experiencing so much overstimulation at school all day that by the time I got to the safety of my home, I didn’t have any energy left in me.

9 | Social Anxiety

Somehow, I was never really diagnosed with anxiety, despite having so much of it growing up. Though, with masking, I suppose it became harder to tell I was feeling any anxiety as I learned how to hide it.

Social anxiety is extremely common amongst Autistic’s and it’s often quoted that it feels like, “everyone has access to a social rule book, except us.” It leaves us feeling out of the loop and unable to casually and quickly connect with others.

10 | Picky Eating

I was such a picky eater–and my parents knew it had nothing to do with the taste, but the textures of different foods. My dad recalls having to peel grapes because I couldn’t handle the texture of the skin.

This has everything to do with sensory sensitivities and issues. I mean, I still can’t eat mushrooms, because it’s not about the fact they don’t taste like anything, it’s the slimy texture of them when they’re cooked.

11 | Organizing All The Things

It has come to my attention that we like to sort and organize things. It makes our brains happy. The common example is lining up toys. However, I have always loved to organize things. Books, my clothes, the kitchen drawers and more obscure things like sorting Skittles by colour and eating each colour in a specific order.

12 | Repeating Words and Phrases

I had a phase in 5th grade where, whenever I looked at a map, I’d point to Alaska and repeat the name of the state. This is called echolalia and is a form of vocal stimming. I did this because I just liked how the word sounded and felt in my mouth (if that makes any sense).

13 | Shy, Blunt, Know-It-All

These were all common labels I was given as a child. In truth, I was shy because of my social anxiety because I’d learned it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something and be called a “know-it-all.” Of course, one label was just replaced with a different one.

If you’d like to read more on my experience with this you can read this blog post: Autism and Our Unsatisfying Labels.

14 | Being in my Head

Part of the reason I’m a writer is because as a child I had a big imagination and would often get lost in my head creating stories. Ever heard the phrase, “they’re in their own little world?” I tend to experience the world internally and process things alone.

This can also manifest as dissociation or “tuning out” of the world around you to combat over/under stimulation.

15 | Conveying Emotions and Feelings

I am very much a thinking person over a feeling person. Until I had the language, the best I could come up with when asked how I was feeling was “ok” or “I don’t know.”

This can sometimes be attributed to alexithymia, which is common in Autistic’s. Generally, it is a broad term to describe problems with feeling or recognizing emotions in oneself and others. It’s a bit like having poor interoception. I have a hard time sensing what I’m feeling in the same way I have a hard time sensing when I’m hungry.

16 | Poor Reaction to Change

My family and I are about to leave for a two hour drive to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousin in another city. The plan was to go and drive back in the same day. At the last minute I learned we were actually staying overnight. I bawled, I was so caught off guard. I was also 15 years old.

One thing I’d like to point out is that change, whether good or bad, is still change, and I can have similar reactions to both.

17 | Not Quite Fitting In

In hindsight, I recall feeling like I’m standing back and looking in on my life. I always felt a touch disconnected from the world around me and often wondered how people made it all look so…easy. To make friends, to give a presentation in front of the class, to go on dates, to make small talk, etc.

Because an Autistic’s brain is wired differently than is considered typical, we process the world differently. Neurotypicals enjoy small talk, while for many neurodivergents, and Autistic’s specifically, we struggle with making small talk and don’t often see the point of it.

18 | Watching Movies/Shows Over and Over

One of my qualifiers for determining my favourite movies is how often I can watch them over and over again without getting bored. I once watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier three times in one week.

This is due to several factors. One, the show or movie can be a special interest and engaging with it can recharge our batteries. Two, the mere familiarity of it can help us calm down at the end of a long day. Three, it can be a hyperfixation. This is similar to a special interest, but doesn’t last as long.

19 | Misunderstanding Certain Phrases or Metaphors

It’s often said that Autistic’s can’t understand sarcasm. I’ve, personally, rarely struggled with this. What does get me are “common” sayings or metaphors. If I’m hearing one for the first time I struggle to put it together under the context.

For example, “the pot calling the kettle black.” Apparently this is a situation “in which one person criticizes another for a fault the first person also has.” I was so confused when I heard it the first time, my brain could not make sense of it.

20 | Generally Being Awkward

Missing social cues. Speaking formally. Mumbling when I talk. Generally being awkward was a staple of my childhood. For the most part I saw nothing wrong with my behaviour, but the subtle disapproving glances and looks those around would give me spoke volumes.

Thankfully, I was never bullied in school, but I know it’s an all too common experience for most Autistics. This goes back to the missing rule book and being in our world. When I was diagnosed I finally understood why I felt so different from my peers. I had the language to explain this why, both to myself and others.

Read 20 More “It was the Autism All Along” Realizations.

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