Before you start reading this, perhaps drawn to it because you know someone who is autistic, and if you get to the end of the first paragraph and you are struggling to grasp what I am saying (in which case I assume you are possibly not), I respectfully ask you, as someone who has tried to understand your kind of mind for the last 50 years, please keep reading and see where you get to by the end. I am trying to throw a few rope bridges across the void here…
Imagine, a mind that is like a seed exploding into life each day and which surveys a landscape that is almost brand new in its potential every time. In that surveying, it has to choose how and in what direction to grow, this way, that way….so many choices as to be almost paralysed by all the options. So it chooses structures against which to climb and to which to attach its endeavours. And yes, often, it does choose same or similar structures as yesterday, since it is still the same seed, having its own personal preferences, its repeats and fixations. Yet it is in that renewal of choice…over and over again…that its landscape is retained in all its freedom of breadth, height and, yes, confusion and overwhelm; like some sort of conceptual Garden of Eden; allowing “new beginnings” to reoccur instead of having been “done with” so many eons ago that it is now supposedly stuck with one set of fixed consequences. This gift of renewal lies at the very heart of such an approach to mind structure.
The pitfall; in that early time, straight after sprouting from its shell, such a mind is extremely impressionable with a lot of things vying for its attention. But over the course of a lifetime made of zillions of such rebirths, with very much comparison and mental note taking, it gets to notice which forms seems to be of a higher order, which hold some sort of sacred geometry at their core, and which are chaotic and destructive, the snake eating its own tail.
So it is for the neurodiverse (ND) Aspie mind, all in the course of one lifetime…or at least my Aspie lifetime. I realise I have spent that lifetime working with outside structures, from subtle and unseeable patterns to trying on many different ideas and perspectives, to actual grids in the landscape, maps and roads, architecture, pictures, patterns, habits, hobbies and obsessions. To have to rely on such external things to give me my form….like a bean sprout that must have a trellis upon which to realise its full potential…probably sounds like a weakness, a flaw, a life with no backbone and yet, looked at in reverse, the alternative seems to be to have to carry so much inherited rigidity within and to then wrap a world of belief so tightly around yourself as to be held in a corset that sends my Aspie mind into shudders.
In that alternative scenario, which is the neurotypical (NT) scenario, the following is how it seems to me…and, I do concede, it can only ever “seem” as it is not my way. The seed wakes each day to a familiar landscape; really more of an interior, a room, for it has walls and ceilings. It may not appear like that since often those walls and ceilings are made of glass; giving the impression of far flung vistas…but try moving very far outside its limitations and it will soon know, from the crack of its head against that ceiling, that it has hit its outer limits. That seed is more of a greenhouse plant and, though it looks the same, seems (even) to thrive in an orderly way, it knows deep down that it is not the same as the wild seeds. In fact, it distrusts the wild seeds, calling them weeds. In no time at all, it internalises those same structures as it lives surrounded by so that they are carried within as much as they are carried without; which is the double insurance that it will live to those limits all its days since it no longer realises it is held in by them…
Even should it manage to crack the ceiling open, on some so-called “unhappy” (really “breakthrough”) day when extreme crisis pushes it way beyond its usual limits, and having been born to this version of reality, it will probably fear the world beyond that crack so much that it still hesitates to leave the “safe” domain of that limited but familiar world or, at least, not for long…believing it could never thrive without its walls and ceilings. Like the elephant that still thinks it is tied to the tree, it may sit there in conceptual docility for an entire lifetime, fondly remembering that one era when it popped its tip beyond the cracked ceiling to experience the wild and unruly world “out there” amongst “weeds”; before pulling back into a world more ordered, predictable and, in simplistic terms, fathomable.
One of the reasons such a world is easier is that there are not too many decisions to be made on a daily basis; things run to their course and focus can be taken off the matter of daily conundrums such as where to grow, how to grow, what brand new thing to explore. Rather, without these distractions, it can get on with the matters of consuming, competing and surviving. All of the rest is taken care of via a series of belief systems – those walls and ceilings – so all its focus can be inward directed to “what makes me more popular than the next seedling” and “how do I get the prime position with most of the light”. They do this because their walls and ceilings have duped them into thinking love has to be earned and that survival is a fight to the death and so these “interests” consume all of their daily energy; thus there is no surplus left for the vast sea of other things to consider “out there” beyond the box of belief. Should they happen to overextend, their inherited belief systems and those of their fellow seeds prune them back like a sharp warning “not to go there”. Yet one of their core beliefs is that this is how things should be so anyone who does not conform, for instance the seedlings that grow beyond the walls, is deemed to be misguided, disabled, retarded, broken…
Yet such things as consume the greenhouse plants are utter trivia to the seedling “out there” who has other things…far too many things…to fixate upon; there is such non-compute between these two ways of being that it is fairly hard for them to communicate except when the outdoor plant bows its head to join the indoor plant in their orderly domain of little matters. Yet, as I said, they are not without their own fixations (we all need some sort of structure to our lives), though their special interests are located though resonance, choosing frameworks and patterns for their thinking to climb upon according to the gauge “this feels most like me”…at least for now.
This, of course, changes dramatically at different times…no need to expend all the energy of an entire lifetime growing only in one direction…so, like the unruly weed, they can look back and find they have somehow managed to get into everything in that lifetime and yet, oddly, found it all comes back to the One same source; all of it traceable back to their own consciousness and, through that, the Oneness of the universe to which all structures and patterns, ultimately, lead. And because they keep noticing this trend, they gain a sense of that universe in action more quickly and consistently than those seeds kept within the walls who have to break out of those walls and glass ceilings first…
So, why do they still need structures upon which to wrap their shoots, like an eager bean plant seeking the trellis? Because all life requires structure to manifest as form…and because they grow extra tall and extra wide, often in all directions, poked into many things…curious, fickle, (often) deemed disabled by societal measures for who can work with such a changeable and unruly thing and, truly, the jack of all trades and master of nothing. Yet they have a sort of mastery of “being a fragment of the universe” in form; for the universe itself knows no limits, is not trimmed off before it gets started, nor limited by any sides to any boxes.
This is my world and, now I see it all the more clearly through the trends of Asperger’s, I notice how, in those first few minutes upon waking each day (and even more so in certain circumstances that would overcomplicate this post), my mind flays around looking for structures upon which to climb. I first noticed how this was the case a very long time ago; that is, how I truly relied upon the external to fixate upon in a way that didn’t seem to afflict other people I watched and so (for most of my life) had assumed this trait of mine was “wrong” or a sign I as “broken”; as were my impressionability and my propensity to attach to obsessive interests and thoughts. As a well-functioning adult, I was meant to be self-contained (right?) so my mind should just wake up and get on with “normal” things like every other person. But then I noticed how such people only did this because they kept their early morning thoughts much smaller than mine (yes, mine which always seem so much more e-x-p-a-n-d-e-d after my night of sleep…an airbag gone off in the night…which now struggles to fit back in the shell of my head) and because of their fixed belief systems, which they used to keep their thoughts manageable, predicable and run-of-the-mill.
I simply don’t seem to have those safeguards; I have to take that active part in choosing my focuses each and every day. So if I can’t be bothered, if I am lethargic and fed up, just wanting to leave my mind to its own devices like other people seem to do, it will fix to whatever stupid thing comes its ways; somebody else’s fear grid, their worry tower, the chaotic shape of a spiralling information twister that comes in from social media or the news decimating all in its path, the swoosh swoosh swoosh of traffic sounds outside the house and the ceaseless vibration of the fridge. Yes, it will attach to tension and rigidity drummed up by the tissues of the body in order to give itself physical pain to attach to; and to scenarios out there in the world that tear the heart apart with such emotional pain or monumental world-scale issues to worry over until every part of me is demoralised, sick and weary, if this is what it takes to find structure to hang myself off. Or, I can focus my mind according to my own direction; can offer the grid of my chosen rituals, such as yoga, mantra and beautiful, coherent music rhythms, the bird song outside my window or the little two-step dance I do across the kitchen as I assemble my juicer and ritualistically get out the celery, the ginger and turmeric, the cucumber and the knife, splish splash and five paces here, six paces back, gather my book, my notes, my table in the window, sit down, breathe and then write. Its why the slow and ritualistic way I start my day is so very important to me…and meanwhile my thoughts remain expanded and, if I’m lucky, I will manage to get a few of them down, like catching butterflies and persuading them to sit while I study them (I can never hold them for too long; nor would I want to).
Structure is everywhere; this is what people don’t see when their sources of it have become so habitual that they utterly disregard any underlying effects. Caffeine is a very potent structure – most people don’t seem to know that, thinking that all its power is in the way that it is serves as a stimulant but no, primarily it is a structure-device that they reach for in order to climb their thoughts against something sturdy at the start of the day….until they over-use alcohol and sugar-crash to shear off their growth tip lest they bash against the ceiling. Sugar is also a structure…up up up until its built-in NT mitigator kicks in; since it is guaranteed to crash its user as much as it ever built them up and well before the end of the day, a self-pruning device hidden in its very mechanism. I never did get on with that sugar-gorging NT trait and I now suspect it is a theme of autism that sugar is both craved quite fervently yet best avoided because, seeking structure as we do, that attraction-point is there yet to indulge in a source of structure that is so unreliable is not helpful…at all…to the exquisite yet often fragile sensitivities of someone on the spectrum (sugar’s “crashing” effect is like a sledgehammer). I found myself horribly addicted to sugar and “white” carbs in my earlier life and this is one to be aware of if you recognise it in yourself or a family member you care for. And though I still do the caffeine thing, for me it has to be from matcha or other high-purity green tea or cacao and I use these, deliberately, in just the right amounts at the appropriate times of day…yes, as they were once used, ceremonially….to rituals of my own making; mindful and oh-so respectful of their power yet wary of enslavement to their addictive qualities or the pitfalls of excess in either case. There are other forms of structure that I use far more instinctively and powerfully than these…whereas NTs rely on substances quite heavily, I notice.
Most of all, I give the tip of my daily growth spurt its free rein to look around itself at all the unlimited landscape and big big sky of my unfurled awareness and then I consult with it; where does it want to go today…lead me! There is nothing much that is unconscious in it (I now notice those places where I still conform to thoughts that are not truly mine…); the majority of my inherited belief systems having been identified and dismantled (something which was almost easy for me to do as they were never a good fit). Now unleashed, my mind takes me on a daily adventure, enabled by my trust in it and I thank my stars for the freedom it affords me; the breath of fresh air beyond stifling walls. For years, I tried…oh how I tried….to conform to all those neurotypical belief systems but it was an imprisonment as real as any made of concrete.
Now, like riding a flying carpet or on the back of some giant bird, no two days of this inner landscape of mine are the same and yet I am also mindful that, at some point, I would do well to land and deal with matters of the physical world so I plan pitstops where these can occur; punctuation marks in my day for food and interaction, practical things; yet I could never be induced to live in that neurotypical house again, not even with pretty walls of glass. This unbridled way of being (now I no longer criticise myself for being atypical and “wrong” compared to everyone else) is truly how I get the best out of my neurodiverse life. This expansion has, inevitably, taken me off into “spiritual” skies and has been one of the most transformative things in my lifetime; only to realise I knew all this stuff all along (but had tried to forget it to “fit in”). On that note, I would caution that, if an autistic person you care for starts to touch upon spiritual topics you don’t relate to, please don’t disparage them or try to tell them they are wrong. There is every chance they are “on to something” you have yet to fathom (maybe they will help you to get there…if you want to) but this spreading of their wings is critical to who they are beyond the conventional physical and mental “measures” that only seem to limit them (though NT eyes). Removing the sense that any of my traits signified “failing”, in comparison with others, was the final hindrance to my sense of wholeness removed and that has been the work of this past twelve months.
That’s not to say the NT mind structure is wrong, either, but its not my mind structure and I had confused myself, for years, by assuming it was. Oh, and by the same token, an NT cannot presume to fully understand the workings of an ND mind nor to diagnose them as “broken”. Of course, an NT can still burst out of the box, making this the point of their life’s work (as many of them do) but, I now realise and own, I was born outside of the box….and then frustratedly “wasted” a lot of years trying to fit in the box…and therein lies the difference when it comes to an Asperger’s mind compared to others classed as neurotypical. Between these two mind-sets there is a quite different set of gifts and challenges; and I won’t presume to be able to explore the NT version so deeply as I can the ND (not even having been a pretend NT for so many years…). Late diagnosis could so easily have left me feeling stranded in no-man’s land but actually, in realising I have – really – been exploring my own particular wiring all my life (often through my bafflement with it, before I knew what it was), I discover I have found my life specialism; also my gift. Because I have truly come to regard this state of mind as giftedness; it is such a precious gift, to think beyond the walls and to rebirth and unfurl the mind every day, without being contracted to societal, intellectual, genetic and other structures to the same degree as most people are but, rather, a consciousness that is free to choose those structures according to our ever-evolving highest understanding and feelings of coherence and, yes, love…for life and for other. For there is is so much abundant love to be found when life is no longer about lack and limitation.
Now, “being this way”, unbridled and unapologetic, not to mention filled with such respect for its highest attributes (without denying its considerable challenges…but I am gaining a more coherent and complementary grasp of those too, through ND eyes) is the source of such joy and excitement on a level that is quite impossible to describe using typical descriptors and so I won’t even try. I encourage others NDs to consider sampling this for themselves by trusting in their own innate guidance enough to follow their interests and curiosities beyond the walls of conventional thinking, just so long as they don’t harm anyone else (a caveat I add tongue in cheek since those on the spectrum are probably the least likely to harm others by intent…though we might accidentally do so on the path of our great enthusiasm), however unique those passions may be. To me, it all speaks more of evolution than disability and if we seem a little odd, a little wooly in our direction, then imagine how other species looked when they branched out in new directions; the amoeba about to double its cell quota, the whale to get out onto the land. This is all quite wonderful stuff to be realising about ourselves (and for those who work or live with such people to realise about them). The more I read about these kinds of traits, in tandem with exploring my own, the more I am quite convinced that those with autism are a key part of the expansion acceleration of human consciousness at a crucial stage in the process.
Recommended reading, to open up the discussion around autism “beyond the walls” of conventional thinking:
“Autism and the God Connections: redefining the Autistic Experience Through Extraordinary Accounts of Spiritual Giftedness” – William Stillman.