Full spectrum

I think I confuse some people, no less myself, because in some areas I am extremely high-functioning. I’m gifted, which can seem to contradict my autism because people tend to focus on those highs and also because I’ve learned just so many hacks and adaptations in order to seem to be coping far better than I am. Also because of this foible, I do need to be met by highly-intelligent, quick thinking, probing, high intensity people to feed that part of my intellect and to save me from crashing into boredom or frustration; a problem I’m having in my search for a therapist as, so far, none of them feel right and I know there’s no point even starting again unless I find my match this time. I’m also highly organised once engaged, I mean really strategic, handling some really complex situations that might floor other people; a skill set that was my resounding strong point in some otherwise disastrous jobs and which is currently being highlighted again as I prepare to relocate to a different part of the country to start a different kind of life. And I can be eloquent (if I can write it down); can articulate things that others struggle to get to or express, plus I see into things, discern patterns, make connections, explore outside of the box.

Yet in other areas of life I have massive deficits and struggles; such as socially and environmentally (see all my other posts). I struggle with some fairly basic things such as digesting food or being in a crowd. I display bafflement at “rules” and suffer from exhaustion from socialising and sensory overload in noisy and bright spaces or where there are too many people or EMFs. I experience difficulty identifying my own emotions and have a strong need for routine. I struggle with social cues and unspoken behaviours, take things too literally and I sometimes (often?) think in black and white. I’m much too trusting and frequently over share, am too blunt and lack social graces. I maintain high standards of others and get disappointed very easily. I run away or slam the door on awkward situations rather than face the music when I have an issue to get off chest. I’m blind to faces, social etiquettes and hierarchies. I actively prefer to be alone most of the time and won’t be held accountable to others who demand I make contact or check in at regular intervals, even when there is nothing to say. I have no patience with small talk. I have major handicaps of communication unless allowed to use writing as my primary method (and even there, I sometimes alienate people with my tone, directness or extreme verbosity). I can be highly verbal in short bursts when inspiration strikes but then shutdown into a non-verbal state for hours or days on end when that spark inevitably burns out (mostly, I avoid talking to excess as it uses all my spoons). I’m not good at dialogue, I information dump and often fail to see when the other person is bored or uncomfortable. When hyperfocused on my interests, I mostly disappear into mute absorption and expect everyone to tiptoe around my need to be left alone. I forget or overlook some very obvious things and live in a bubble of almost total preoccupation. Interruptions and distractions can lead to meltdowns. I’m sometimes a hazard to health and safety, even to personal hygiene when fixated. I easily get stuck in a rut. I lack the kind of “adult functioning in the world” sensibilities to get by on my own so I lean heavily on my person. I’m as inconsistent as the wind and refuse to be held to account or another person’s schedule. I can’t hold down a job or most friendships or even a responsibility for very long and have massive demand avoidance issues.

This mixture of extreme highs and lows illustrates the spectrum that I am and is fairly typical (with different strengths and weaknesses) for everyone on the spectrum. Because spectrum doesn’t mean I live at this high functioning end and some other autistic person lives somewhere in the middle or at the bottom. It means we are all a range, within ourselves, and some of those highs can mask the lows (a primary reason for missed diagnosis). One trait can overcompensate for a shortfall; for instance the ability to mimic other people’s behaviour (as I did for years, socially, to blend in) or because your teachers are so blinded by your intellect they miss, therefore don’t accommodate for, your considerable struggles as they do for other kids. You therefore exhaust yourself overcompensating for, or masking, your own struggles for years, burning yourself out by having to work twice as hard as everyone else just to get by and meet expectations. The “higher” you are on some area of the spectrum the proportionally higher the expectations you will succeed, externally and internally because you imbibe those parental and academic viewpoints very early in life and they become the yardstick of success or failure.

Therefore, just as your mask starts to slip in middle age, as is classic (especially for previously undiagnosed women) you also have to deal with an abject sense of failure and anticlimax as you compare what was once expected of you against where you actually got to on the path of achievement. Your whole identity is suddenly under review as you face up to your autistic status, perhaps for the very first time and, meanwhile you’re hit between the eyes by the pathos of this…you were never really that person they thought you were, which you took on at face value, but rather this other person with such a wide mixture of gifts and challenges they almost seem to cancel you out.

Yet in ceasing to be blind to the full spectrum of yourself anymore, you unearth another gift snd it’s the acceptance of diversity. Not only are you divergent compared to other people; you are also diverse across your traits and there can be such catharsis and grace in discovering that, making peace with it. Somehow it makes you a rounder person, a more accepting one, a least affected or guarded one because there is strength in being honest about who you are and owning what can and cannot be altered. You cease to blame yourself by making false comparisons with other neurotypes that perceive the world in a whole other way to you; no one here is wrong, just different and your experiences, your highs and lows, are just as valid as anyone else’s. So you can’t be wrong-footed any more and you’re no longer leading a life of pretence or “seems like”. This is flesh and blood you and you are real, from one end of the rainbow to the other, so you work with it; no apologies, no overcompensating and no more hiding.

2 thoughts on “Full spectrum

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