Communication, Intelligence, and Autism
by Eden of @the.autisticats
Yesterday was the first day of my senior year of High School. I’m mostly taking humanities courses, including AP Chinese, AP Literature (Lit), and AP Government and Politics (Gov). My teachers from last year recommended that I take those courses, so I chose to do so. I think I’m capable of handling the workload, or I wouldn’t have selected the classes. Yesterday, however, I was reminded of the reasons I was initially hesitant to choose those courses.
At this point it would be useful to notify the reader that I have two main academic accommodations, for my autism and ADHD. The first accommodation is time and a half on all major assignments like essays, tests, and quizzes. The second accommodation is permission to type assignments on my school-issued chromebook, instead of handwriting them. I need time and a half because of my delayed processing speed, and I need to type things instead of handwriting them because it’s extremely difficult for me to match my hand’s motion to my thoughts. As in, I can’t focus on the fine motor skills and coordination it takes to write at the same time as I’m focusing on what I want to say. So my handwritten work tends to be disorganized and disjointed, lacking cohesion and the necessary details to support my argument. My typed work, however, flows much more nicely and is much more understandable than the jumbled mess of ideas I produce through handwriting.
I think this is similar to many nonspeaking autistic people’s experience of the fine and gross motor skills required to speak. For many autistic people with poor motor control, it is impossible to master the coordination necessary to form words in one’s mouth, much less say what one actually means when focusing so hard on making a sound. I have read accounts of nonspeaking autistic people who say that sometimes they focus so hard on forming a word, they forget what they originally intended to say. So, what comes out might be totally different from what they meant when they started the process of speaking. Because of this, nonspeaking autistic people are often assumed to be unintelligent, non-thinking. But not being able to express one’s thoughts coherently doesn’t mean that one lacks the ability to think coherently. Thinking is one thing, expressing thoughts is another.
I am primarily verbal, and though I do periodically lose the ability to speak, I find it easier to coordinate the muscles in my throat and mouth than I do to coordinate the muscles in my arms and hands. However, my speech is not immune to the perils of poor motor control. We’ve already established that my handwritten work is mediocre at best compared to my typed work. By that same token, I type much more eloquently than I speak. I think this is something most autistic people relate to, because we exercise much more conscious control over our muscles than neurotypicals do, and consciousness can only stretch so thin before it has to pick and choose what aspects of our present reality to attend to.
Often times, I have too many thoughts that are moving too fast for me to catch them and funnel them into my mouth, which causes me to stumble over my words. The same is true when I’m handwriting. And, because my thought process is associative and visual, the sentences that come out might not necessarily be in the right order. When making simple remarks or comments to my friends, I will often say two things in the wrong order. I will think one thing, think a second thing, and then verbalize the second thing. After realizing I only verbalized the second thing, I will verbalize the first thought that came to mind. A hypothetical example might be, if I was sailing with a friend and water got in the boat, I would think, there’s water in the boat, it needs to be bailed out, let’s get a bucket. But I would say, “Let’s get a bucket. There’s water in the boat.” I suspect that these patterns of speech occur in varying degrees among people of all neurotypes, but I have noticed that I say things in the “wrong” order much more frequently than I say them in their proper sequential order, and have not observed any neurotypicals who do this with the same frequency.
Maybe it’s because the first level of thought for me is mostly sensory-perceptual, so it hardly registers as “thought”. In the example mentioned above, I see the water, know it’s there, visualize what needs to happen to get it out of the boat (bailing water out with a bucket), have a verbal thought prompted by the image (we need to get a bucket), and then verbalize what is necessary to communicate in order to solve the problem (“let’s get a bucket”). Only after I verbalize do I realize that the person I’m speaking to might not know why I’m suggesting that we get a bucket, which prompts me to explain the reason: “there’s water in the boat”. Sometimes, however, I fail to clarify what the reason is. It could be because I’m tired, or because I’m simply unaware that the other person doesn’t know what I do about the environment. When I suggest things or make comments to people who don’t know the reasons why I’m saying what I am, they can become confused about my intentions.
When speaking, it is difficult for me to express exactly what I want to say in exactly the manner I want to say it. Alongside trouble with speaking in a linear, easily understandable fashion, I have trouble regulating my tone of voice and volume. Something I intend as genuine but playful might come off as bitter, and something I intend as sarcastic might be interpreted as serious. I might say something intended as a joke to my friends much too loudly, or something important for others to hear much too quietly. This is because I tend to focus much more on the content of my speech than the manner in which it is delivered (again, my consciousness can only stretch so thin before it has to select what aspects of reality to pay attention to), and because it is difficult for me from a motor control perspective to perfect the exact vibrations that produce specific tones of voice for different emotions and contexts.
Tone is more ambiguous in writing, however, and volume isn’t an issue- unless the reader makes their internal voice start yelling or whispering, which is their prerogative. And, hypothetically at least, one can take as long as they desire to polish a piece of writing until it is ready for public consumption. Writing is more comfortable, therefore, and feels more natural to someone like me who can’t always say what they mean when speaking. When writing, it’s okay that my thoughts are all jumbled, because I can go back and edit the way they are presented. I can tidy up the rough edges, saying exactly what I want to say, exactly as I want to say it. The process is deliberate, intentional. There are no mistakes and no stray threads in a fully fleshed-out piece. It is cathartic and beautiful, and though nothing I write is ever perfect, the feeling of uninterrupted, near-perfected self-expression that the process gives me is something that no other art form can replace. But writing, as wonderful as it is in theory, is difficult without a keyboard.
These difficulties with processing speed and motor control present challenges in daily life, but I feel their effects most heavily in academic settings. Yesterday in AP Lit, my class was given an impromptu writing assignment. The question was something broad and simple, asking us to relate a specific passage in our summer reading book to the style and message of the book as a whole. Our teacher handed out lined pieces of paper for us to write our responses on. I was caught off guard. My chromebook had died earlier in the day and I had gone to the library to charge it during lunch, but none of the chargers in the charging station were working, and I had forgotten to bring my own. I had assumed that, since it was the first day, this was probably no big deal. I realized how wrong I was when I found out that I would have to handwrite a response to a vague question, formulating an argument and adding in supporting details, with no editing tools at my disposal (except my eraser) and the threat of hand cramps looming over the horizon. I could have asked the teacher to lend me his laptop or charger, but I figured I might as well go with the whole handwriting thing. After all, it was only the first day of school, and this was a minor assignment.
Well, I tried. I don’t know if what I did qualifies as failing, but my sheet of paper, though it was filled front to back, contained substantially fewer words than those of my neighbors. It was also predictably disjointed and devoid of details. I think the reason I have such trouble incorporating pieces of supporting evidence into my handwritten work is that I don’t have the mental capacity to connect them to my main points. I only have the capacity to make my main points, alongside some randomly dispersed observations and insights about the written work I’m analyzing; and though I usually throw in some direct quotes just for good measure, there’s no guarantee that they make sense in the context of the paragraph. Anything other than that is too much for my brain to handle while also focusing on the task of writing itself. The ability to go back and edit, add in, and switch around bits of writing is also essential to making my points coherent. Otherwise, everything is scattered all over the place. Unfortunately, save erasing entire paragraphs in order to add in extra sentences or change the existing ones, paper doesn’t lend itself very well to editing. Typing circumvents these problems. All I have to do is memorize the layout of the keyboard, remember how words are spelled, and poke at things. Poking requires much less coordination than handwriting.
I know that these challenges have no relation to my intelligence, or my ability to think clearly and coherently. However, my slow processing speed and motor skill differences do interfere with my ability to express my knowledge and understanding of any given situation. This disconnect between what I know and what I can express has the potential to lead others to believe I am less intelligent than I actually am. However, I express myself decently enough most of the time that the majority of the people I interact with know I’m intelligent. But then, it surprises them, and they don’t understand what’s going on, when I struggle so much with things like handwriting an essay. They don’t understand why I stay after class to finish math quizzes that take other people 25 minutes, why I have to stay after school to finish Chinese unit tests that other people finished with time to spare.
They don’t understand because in neurotypicals, processing speed and verbal intelligence, alongside motor skills, are in the same general area. Most of the time, they are within 15-ish points of each other, as subscores in an IQ test. In my case, however, my verbal intelligence is a whopping 32 points above my processing speed, and my motor skills are lacking. Although my processing speed is average, it lags significantly behind the rest of my mind and is therefore a relative impairment, especially in high-level classes. This is one of the main problems with measuring IQ in autistic people- our scores on various subsections of IQ tests can vary widely, making the overall score (the average of the different subsections) a somewhat irrelevant and inaccurate way to understand our actual abilities in different areas.
I’m not sure what insights I want to distill at the end of this piece. Perhaps this is because I think much more frequently about the physically disabling conditions I deal with, since they present the most immediate challenges to my everyday functioning. Autism and ADHD are background noise a lot of the time. However, a few times each day, something will happen that reminds me that I’m autistic. Sometimes the reminder is not only that I’m autistic, but that I’m disabled because of it. That I simply cannot do some of the things my equally intelligent neurotypical peers can do, at least not in the same way that they do. Attending my AP classes yesterday was one of those reminders. I don’t usually think of my autism as a disability, because it is more of a way of experiencing and interacting with life than anything else. But the way I experience and interact with life doesn’t always fit seamlessly into the machinations of the world, because the world isn’t set up for people like me. So I have to find creative ways to work around those roadblocks.
I think what I want to say is this: I’m struggling, as I grow older and more independent, with the reality of being developmentally disabled. There are many explanations for why I’m disabled, everywhere from my doctor’s office to the classroom where my mom teaches sociology. But for the first time in a long time, the “why” doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is how I’m going to deal with this. I need to learn how to cope with my emotions on the subject, and how to navigate the world in order to reach my fullest potential. Accepting my limitations for what they are is difficult. It’s hard to be in a classroom full of people who can handwrite essays and write them well, who ask you why you’re typing, who ask you what took you so long the other day on that test. Maybe it comes down to me being too concerned about other people’s perceptions of me. Too concerned about their evaluations of my capabilities, my intelligence, my worth.
I may be autistic, but I’m not immune to internalized ableism. Not caring (in theory) about social norms and attitudes, and thinking they’re ridiculous, doesn’t stop me from feeling their effects. Intelligence is valued in this society, and being able to quickly and effectively communicate one’s thoughts is right up there with it. Value gives things worth, gives people worth. And what happens to autistic people’s self esteem in a society like ours, where not being conventionally intelligent or communicative results in negative value judgements from other people? I suppose at a certain point, I’ll just have to stop caring about what other people think. I should not base my sense of self worth on my ability to do exactly what neurotypicals can do, exactly how they do it. That’s ridiculous, because it is impossible. I am not neurotypical and I never will be. So I just need to accept that what I do is different from what others do, and know that there’s nothing wrong with that. It will be difficult to fully extinguish self-doubt, and I know it will crop up at various times in my personal and academic future. But at the end of all this musing and moping about, I’ve gained a newfound determination to live the truth of Temple Grandin’s famous quote:
“I am different, not less.”
Autism and Decentralized Thinking
by Eden of @the.autisticats
Autistic people are exceptionally creative and original thinkers. Some might view this as a paradox, given that we can also be quite rigid and particular. Our routines and perseverations may appear rather uninspired to the average observer; one might assume that eating the same thing for lunch every day is anything but a hallmark of creativity. Upon further investigation, however, both our originality and our rigidity have a common basis in our decentralized, sensory-based thinking process.
Neurotypicals, when in a given environment, use the information they’ve gathered from previous experiences to inform their perception of the current situation. They start with concepts and apply them to circumstances, rather than starting with circumstances and linking them to concepts. As details filter in, neurotypicals fit them into a pre-formed hypothesis about the environment. They apply concepts learned from past experiences onto new experiences, which saves them the trouble of having to learn new concepts every time they experience something new. This process is efficient, but because neurotypicals only gather a few details before filling in the rest with their pre-formed mental schema, they often miss important details, or end up applying generalized concepts to situations where those concepts don’t actually make sense. This top-down, centralized way of thinking is quick and efficient, but it can stifle creativity by relying too heavily on past experience.
Autistic people, in contrast, cannot help but start with our immediate circumstances and build our way out from there, because of the way our sensory processing system works. Rather than coming into situations with preconceived notions of what’s supposed to happen and then acting on those notions, we never have a concrete idea of what’s “supposed to happen”, because every new situation is a new situation. We just have to feel it out. We absorb and sift through hundreds of details, parse out the patterns that link them, then draw our own conclusions from those patterns. That process takes longer, but is often more accurate and yields more novel conclusions. Autistic people see the environment for what it is, and while our pattern-finding technique is no less subject to bias than neurotypicals’ generalization technique, it does tend to take more aspects of concrete reality into account.
Our decentralized approach, linking together different senses and aspects of our circumstances until they create an understandable concept, is more labor intensive than the one-size-fits-all method neurotypicals employ. It becomes exhausting to constantly sift through new stimuli and new situations, never knowing quite what to expect. Autistic people cope with this by creating routines for ourselves. That way, even though much of our day will be spent figuring out new things and discovering new patterns, we will always have something to fall back on, a break, where we know what to expect and everything is the same for once. Routines are the one area of life where autistic people can apply generalized concepts to the environment and acheive specific, expected results. Without routines, we become lost in an ocean of tiny things we’ve never seen before, each one demanding our attention.
Autistic perception can be overwhelming because it incorporates a much larger data set than neurotypical perception. It is also inherently decentralized and non-hierarchical. No detail is more important than another. This non-hierarchical processing extends to much of the rest of our concept of the world. It is difficult for autistic people to understand social hierarchies and power differentials, because we tend to perceive every person in our environment as equally important, and equally deserving of our attention. This can give us an anti-authoritarian edge, and is perhaps why autistic people don’t instinctively defer to those older or more powerful than us. We are often labeled delinquent, disrespectful, and uncooperative by teachers and other authority figures. I believe this is because we don’t see why we should listen to them any more than we should listen to ourselves. We are people, after all, and no person is more important than another.
We also tend to be quite confident in our assessments of the environment. Once we reach a conclusion, by connecting the webs of dozens of data points, we are very assured of the validity of our conclusion. This is because we have taken multiple aspects of the environment into account, evaluated how they overlap, and deduced their meaning from there. So when our conclusions are challenged by neurotypicals who are glossing over details we know exist, we see no reason to go along with their view of the situation. Autistic people, therefore, have an “emperor has no clothes” quality about us. If I am sure about something, it doesn’t matter if others disagree or disapprove, I go ahead and say it.
I think these are positive qualities that should be celebrated, not punished. Every situation is unique, and instead of relying too heavily on our past experiences and preconceived notions, we approach every challenge with fresh eyes. Our solutions to problems and our ideas about them are therefore more novel and creative than those of neurotypicals. It takes us longer to reach those solutions because of how much data we have to sort through, but the solutions themselves are often valuable enough to make up for that lost time.
Right now more than ever, humanity needs autistic people’s help to solve the greatest crisis that has ever been faced by our species: the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg has already stepped up to the plate as a clarion voice calling for the rich and powerful to start listening to scientists that know more than they do. She doesn’t care how powerful they are, because they’re wrong and science is right. Autistic people around the world have a unique opportunity at this moment, to showcase our strengths when they are most needed. It is time for us to start ruthlessly calling out the inequalities and unjust hierarchies we see around us. We must relentlessly challenge the status quo, speak truth to power, and envision a new reality where humans live in harmony with each other and the earth. Utilizing our creativity and sensory-based processing, autistic people have a key role to play in building this new world. So let’s get to work.
Autism and Ego Boundaries
by Eden of @the.autisticats
I stare at people. By that I mean, intensely observe specific people in public places or at social gatherings. This quirk of mine has been pointed out by numerous people over the years, most of them exasperated family members suffering from secondhand embarrassment. My wide-eyed stare is never mean spirited or judgemental, but others contend that it can be quite unsettling. When I stare, I am almost never aware of it. Likewise, it seldom crosses my mind that, just as I can see other people, they can see me looking at them.
In navigating the world, I tend to observe humans the same way I observe objects, plants, and animals. That is not to say that I’m oblivious to their humanity; rather, that I view myself and other humans as integral parts of the environment. Because I feel no psychological separation from the environment, I observe people as though I am a wall, a chair, or a bookshelf; as though I cannot willfully affect them, and as though they will not notice me. For most of my waking hours, I do not have a clearly defined ego, or sense of self. This is because I am intimately connected with the environment through my senses. I find it difficult to distinguish between myself and what I feel, the things I sense and the things themselves. So, instead of feeling like a “person”, a step above the things I sense, alienated from everything but myself, I feel like part of the environment. Staring at people, then, doesn’t feel like staring at people. It feels like being an invisible, irrelevant, unobtrusive observer. Like a perceptive pincushion or a curious curtain.
Like many autistic people, I have weak ego boundaries. That’s another way to say that I “lose myself” very easily, whether that be in an environment or an activity. Losing myself psychologically and losing myself physically go hand in hand, so my proprioception is generally pretty dismal. How can I know where I am in space if I feel like I am space? Having weak ego boundaries that fluctuate based on environmental circumstances can be difficult to manage. More often, though, it’s just confusing and awkward for other people.
My mother and sister like to remind me of one fateful night a few years ago (I was around 15 at the time), when we were dining out at an Irish pub in Boston. We were seated upstairs, with my mom and sister on one side of the table, and myself opposite them. The staircase ran parallel to our table, on my left, and the upstairs landing was behind me. I was right next to the railing, which was presumably there to keep me from falling 12 feet onto the stairs below and breaking my neck. I could see a little bit of the ground floor in front of me and to my left, when I looked down. If I turned over my left shoulder, I could see people walking up and down the stairs.
While we waited for our food to arrive, I looked around the room. I absorbed the pub like a sponge, soaking up the deep red ceiling and carved wooden chairs, the colored glass lights and flickering candles. I melted into oblivion, became part of the room. Then, behind me, I heard a noise. A man and a woman got up from their seats, and made their way towards the landing of the staircase. I looked over my right shoulder to see that the woman had long black hair, and was wearing high heels. She wobbled as she walked, and the man, who I assumed to be her boyfriend, held her arm to assist her. I thought she might be tipsy or drunk. Their trip to the stairs took over a minute, because the woman was having such trouble walking. Instead of looking away after 10 or 15 seconds, I watched the whole procession, craning my neck to look over my shoulder. My mom hissed, “Stop staring!” but I was much too curious to stop, and besides, there was no way they’d notice me.
They arrived at the landing, and began making their way down the stairs. I pressed my forehead between the bars of the balcony, to look down at them as they went. As I observed, my face was completely blank and expressionless, and my eyes were open quite wide. I wanted to know if the woman would fall, and if the man seemed trustworthy enough to be helping her. The man helped the woman down about 5 to 7 steps, before pausing. Then, he turned his head, and looked up at me. This was quite shocking, as it hadn’t occurred to me that it was even possible for him to notice or care about my existence. I continued staring at him, frozen, in curiosity and amazement. Then, he smiled.
His smile seemed confused and forced, a sort of “Hi, I notice that you’re staring at me, this feels really awkward and I’m not sure what to do about it, so I’m going to smile and hope it diffuses the tension of the situation.” Instead of smiling back, as a gesture to say, “Oh right I’m sorry I’m gawking at you, how silly of me, please carry on and have a good day,” I continued to stare blankly at him.
At this point, my sister whispered, “Oh my god, smile back!!” Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I was much too surprised and taken aback, first by being noticed, and second by being smiled at. So I sat there immobile, forehead pressed between the bars of the wooden banister, my eyes boring holes into his soul. The man’s face fell.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person so bewildered. His smile vanished and a small confused frown appeared instead, as he looked away from me and back down the stairs. I turned towards my mom and sister, and discovered the looks of horrified embarrassment etched into their faces.
“Why did you do that?” my sister asked, plainly mortified.
“I don’t know,” was my honest response, “I didn’t think he’d see me.”
One might think an experience such as that would begin to curb my staring habit. Interestingly, my brain seems incapable of remembering the consequences of ego dissolution. Or perhaps I do remember what happens when I lose myself, but I can’t avoid it, because of the nature of my sensory processing system. And once my ego is dissolved into my surroundings, I’m incapable of conceptualizing myself as anything other than an observant object.
What's It Like?
by Eden of @the.autisticats
I cower behind my mother. A strange woman is at the door, opening it for us to enter. She has blonde hair. Her dress is blue. I smell a pool nearby. Maybe it’s in the backyard. Is she rich? The woman smiles at me and says hi. I don’t smile back. I don’t speak. She looks at my mom, searching for an answer. My mom laughs nervously and ruffles my hair.
“Oh, she’s just shy.”
A girl comes up to me on the playground. She asks me what I’m looking at. I tell her I’m looking at a dragonfly’s eye. She’s intrigued. Awed, even. She asks me how I can see so close. I tell her I don’t know. She does not know that the sun is too bright. She does not know that the playground is too loud.
“I wish I could be you for a day”
I’m trying to put on tights for church but they’re getting tangled. My hands are stuck. Which side is the front? I cannot see where they begin. I cannot see where they end. They are white and it hurts my eyes. I try to put one leg on and the tag scratches me. My mom comes into my room. She asks me what’s taking so long. I tell her I don’t know how to put the tights on.
“What do you mean you don’t know how?”
I try my best to get up on time. I get dressed. I eat breakfast. I brush my teeth. I still have to pack my backpack. My limbs won’t move fast enough. I fumble with the zipper of my sweatshirt. I drop my binder on the floor. I still haven’t found my socks. My sister yells through the house.
“Hurry up, you’re so slow!”
There is a new girl. She is the daughter of my mom’s friend. She looks scary. I mean normal. She looks normal but it is scary. She is scary because I don’t know her. I don’t know anything about her. How do they expect me to play with her like I’ve known her my whole life? I only met her ten minutes ago.
“Yeah she’s fine, she just has trouble meeting new people sometimes.”
I ask for my dad to move over and make room for me on the couch. I say please. Maybe he doesn’t hear me say please, because when I say it again he gets agitated. He says no. I don’t understand why. I ask again, irritated. He says no. Why can’t I sit here? I said please. I wanted to be polite. I tried to be polite. Did I say something wrong? He tells me that my tone was rude. I didn’t know. I didn’t want to be rude. I try to tell him. It escalates and I yell because I don’t know what’s happening and it’s all too much. I’m stuck. Standing against the wall, slapping my thigh again and again and again and again and again until it stings, feels like it’s on fire.
“Quit acting like a two year old!”
I am on the playground. There is a tree. I love the tree. I learned about different religions yesterday, from a library book. It taught me how to leave an offering. I ask my mom for a quarter. She gives it to me. I put the quarter near the roots of the tree. It is for the tree. I leave. A boy runs over to the roots of the tree. He looks at me and smiles a devious smile. He takes the quarter and runs away. I chase after him, I yell at him to put it back. That’s the tree’s quarter, I tell him. You can’t take it. But he takes it anyway. He and his sister run to the top of the playscape. They laugh, looking down at me, taunting me. I scream and cry and I yell at them to put it back. My head hurts. My mom grabs my arm and drags me away. I hear the kid shouting.
“What’s wrong with you!?”
It is the superbowl. I am in the basement. I bounce my feet together, on top of each other. Over and over, bounce bounce bounce. Touch release touch fly back up, again again again. I cannot control this, but it feels nice, good. It makes me happy. My dad frowns at me.
“If you keep doing that you’re gonna have to leave.”
I get into the car. My head has pressure inside of it. A balloon is in my brain, it wants to pop my skull. I push down on my head. I toss my head back. I squeal. It’s the only thing that deflates the balloon. My sister scowls at me.
“Stop making that sound!”
I am at school. I am taking a math test. I breathe. X= 3b+2a. A loud shrill noise assaults my ears. It scares me, and I jump, leaping from my seat. It’s the fire alarm. It’s so loud, too loud. It blocks my thoughts it blocks my mind I can’t even see through the noise. I clap my hands over my ears. Please stop make it stop let me get out of here. Hurry, hurry the line is too slow the people around me are slow they are relaxed I want to run away from this. They are in my way I can’t escape the noise it drills holes in my head my ears are ringing. A friend is next to me.
“Why are your hands over your ears?”
I’m four years old. I can’t go to the grocery store right now. That’s not part of the routine. Nobody told me this would happen. Why doesn’t anyone understand? My mom tells me I have to go anyway. I will not allow it. Nobody else is home, she says, I have to take you. I scream because now is not when this happens. Not when this is supposed to happen. She picks me up, I kick and shout and cry. I try to get away. She holds my hand firmly and pulls me along the sidewalk, on the way to the car. I voluntarily flop to the ground, on top of the dirt. I wriggle to get away. She tries to pull me up off of the ground but I am dead weight. A neighbor walks by.
“Is she okay? Do you want me to call someone?”
The lunchroom is too loud. I cover my ears and stare at the table. It changes and inverts colors as my eyes stay focused for too long. I hear conversations three tables down. I smell all of the food, everywhere, from everywhere, at once. Tuna and peanut butter and squash and spring rolls and orange juice and spaghetti and pinto beans. They converge. It’s nauseating. Someone says something to me, I think. Maybe they didn’t. I don’t know. There it is again, my name.
“Is something wrong? Are you okay?”
Someone learns that I am autistic. They ask me,
“What’s it like?”
But how do I explain my entire existence?