Someone suggested that I compile all of the essays I've written on Tumblr and put them all in one place as downloadable PDFs, so that's what I'm doing now. They're listed in alphabetical order by title, which is still tedious but hopefully not as tedious as it would be if they were just randomly plopped everywhere. These are all free, obviously, and you can print them out, cite them, send them to people, etc. But if you have the ability and you want to tip me/ provide me with some financial compensation (seeing as I'm going to be college student in the fall), my Venmo is @Eden-Summerlin and I would very much appreciate it.
What Is Autism?
by Eden of @the.autisticats
What is autism?
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that affects every aspect of a person’s cognition, embodiment, and experience of the world. It is not a disease, and it is not a bad thing, it’s just a different neurotype. Autism alters a person’s sensory processing, social interaction, motor skills, emotional regulation, and many other things. It is caused largely by genetic factors, with at least 81% of autism likelihood being determined by genes (Pearson). The diagnostic criteria for autism includes: altered sensory processing, difficulty with social interaction, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors and interests.
Autistic people process much more sensory information than neurotypical people (Remington, et al), so our experience of the world is sometimes confusing and chaotic. We observe details more acutely than other people, and sometimes have trouble generalizing concepts because of this heightened perception. Neurotypicals usually only use a couple of examples before generalizing, for example, being told that an orange cat and a black cat are both cats, then seeing a brown cat and knowing that it’s a cat (even though it’s not orange or black); whereas an autistic person might need more examples of different colored cats to understand that a brown cat is still a cat, because we notice and place more importance on the details of the animal (color, ear shape, etc.) than we do the gestalt (shape and general mannerisms of the animal).
Because we perceive so much sensory and emotional information, we can often become overstimulated. In order to regulate our sensory and emotional processing, we do what’s called “stimming.” Stimming is short for self-stimulatory behavior, which is any repetitive motion or action that soothes us or provides us with the sensory input we need. Everyone stims, for example by twirling their hair or tapping their foot, but autistic people stim more often and more obviously, because we have so much more to regulate.
Is autism a “male” condition?
Autism is diagnosed more frequently in cis males than in women, trans & nonbinary people, with the estimated ratio of autistic cis males to cis females being 3:1. However, many professionals speculate that the ratio is actually 1:1, meaning that equal numbers of males and females are autistic. Women, trans & nonbinary people are currently and historically underdiagnosed, due to a difference in presentation and masking ability, as well as the fact that most diagnostic criteria is centered around the male-typical presentation of autistic traits (National Autistic Society). Additionally, recent research suggests that a substantial percentage of autistic people are gender-nonconforming, nonbinary or transgender, indicating that gender variance is more common in autistic people than in the general population (Strang, et. al).
Do autistic people have empathy?
The short answer is yes. There are two types of empathy, cognitive empathy and affective empathy (Wilkinson). Cognitive empathy is the ability to accurately predict how another person must be feeling based on context clues, whereas affective empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling. Autistic people often have extreme affective empathy, and are very sensitive and responsive to people in obvious distress (Brewer). Cognitive empathy is sometimes a struggle for us, and it’s not because we don’t have the ability to think about how someone else might feel, it’s because we have trouble understanding how a neurotypical person would react to stimuli. We are often said to lack “Theory of Mind,” but really, we lack “Theory of Neurotypical Mind.” Our “Theory of Autistic Mind,” however, is intact. How many neurotypical people do you know, who can accurately understand and predict how an autistic person is feeling in a given situation, based on context and body language alone? Several studies have shown that neurotypical people are impaired in their ability to understand how autistic people are feeling and what they’re reacting to (Milton). It could be said, therefore, that neurotypicals lack Theory of Autistic Mind, as much as autistic people lack Theory of Neurotypical Mind.
Should I say “person with autism,” or “autistic person”?
Although many non-autistic people refer to us as “people with autism,” the vast majority of autistic people want to be called “autistic.” We like identity-first language, not person-first language. This is because autism is integral to who we are as people, and it shapes every aspect of our experiences and interactions with the world. Just like you wouldn't call a gay person a "person with gayness" or a black person a "person with blackness" you wouldn't call an autistic person a "person with autism."
We know there's nothing wrong with being autistic, so there's no reason to distance ourselves from reality. Just because some neurotypicals use the word "autistic" as an insult doesn't mean we should concede and agree with them that being autistic is bad.
Separating a person from their autism implies that there is something inherently wrong, bad, or sub-human about being autistic. Overly emphasizing the humanity of autistic people implies that our humanity is up for debate, and that autism would disqualify us from human status if it were viewed as a core part of our identity. It implies that there's a neurotypical person hiding "underneath" our autism.
Calling someone a "person with autism" is like saying "I know you're autistic, but you're still a (neurotypical) person underneath." If you called a black person a "person with blackness" that would be like saying, "I know your skin is dark, but you're still a (white) person underneath." This makes the standard of humanity based on neurotypicality, whiteness, etc. This is why autistic people reject "person-first" language. It denies us humanity as autistic people. We aren't neurotypical, just as black people aren't white, and gay people aren't straight. That doesn't make us any less human.
What are some areas autistic people excel in?
Autistic people are extremely skilled at pattern recognition. We perceive small details and link them together, observing how they form complex systems of patterns. This ability to recognize patterns, and sort items or concepts into schema associated with those patterns, is called systemizing (Baron-Cohen et al; Smith; Chan; Khazan). We also have an enhanced perceptual capacity, meaning that we can perceive and process more information at once than neurotypicals can (Remington; Mottron et al). This is useful in situations where attention to multiple stimuli at once is required, and means that we notice more of the world around us than neurotypicals do.
Our capacity to perceive is enhanced, and so is our perception itself. Autistic people are much more sensitive to sensory stimuli in general, and have been proven to have very acute visual and auditory perception (Bonnel; “Enhanced Motion Perception”; Mottron et al). Autistic people also have a heightened ability to discriminate between pitches, and are much more likely than the general population to have perfect pitch (Sarris; Stanutz; Bonnel). One other music related strength is that autistic people have an exceptional short and long term memory for melodies (Stanutz).
Not only are we more perceptive than the general population, we’re more creative and original. In a study done on autistic people and neurotypicals who were told to think of novel uses for a paperclip and a brick, although the autistic people generated fewer responses, they came up with more original, creative ideas (Cohen).
Autistic people also tend to be less prone to the effects of implicit social bias on the basis of race, gender, and other characteristics. While autistic people cognitively understand stereotypes, and often exhibit some implicit biases, the overall magnitude of those biases is reduced compared to those of neurotypicals (Birmingham).
“Autism and Gender.” National Autistic Society, National Autistic Society, 8 Aug. 2019, www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/gender.aspx.
Baron-Cohen, Simon et al. “Talent in autism: hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 364,1522 (2009): 1377-83. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0337
Birmingham, Elina, et al. “Implicit Social Biases in People With Autism.” Psychological Science, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2015,
Bonnel, Anna, et al. “Enhanced Pitch Sensitivity in Individuals with Autism: A Signal Detection Analysis.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, vol. 15, no. 2, 2003, pp. 226–235., doi:10.1162/089892903321208169.
Brewer, Rebecca. “People with Autism Can Read Emotions, Feel Empathy.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 13 July 2016, www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-with-autism-can-read-emotions-feel-empathy1/.
Chan, Amanda. “Autistic Brain Excels at Recognizing Patterns.” LiveScience, Purch, 30 May 2013, www.livescience.com/35586-autism-brain-activity-regions-perception.html.
Cohen, Barb. “Autism and Creativity.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 18 Dec. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mom-am-i-disabled/201612/autism-and-creativity.
“Enhanced Motion Perception in Autism May Point to an Underlying Cause of the Disorder.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 8 May 2013,
Khazan, Olga. “Autism's Hidden Advantages.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 4 Oct. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/autism-hidden-advantages/406180/.
Milton, Damian E M. “Autism, Counselling Theory and The Double Empathy Problem.” Kent Academic Repository, University of Kent, 2018,
Mottron, Laurent, et al. “Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in Autism: An Update, and Eight Principles of Autistic Perception.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 36, no. 1, 2006, pp. 27–43., doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0040-7.
Pearson, Catherine. “Genetics By Far The Biggest Factor In Autism Risk, Study Says.” HuffPost, Huffington Post, 17 July 2019,
“People with Autism Possess Greater Ability to Process Information, Study Suggests.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 22 Mar. 2012,
Remington, Anna M., et al. “Lightening the Load: Perceptual Load Impairs Visual Detection in Typical Adults but Not in Autism.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, vol. 121, no. 2, 2012, pp. 544–551., doi:10.1037/a0027670.
Sarris, Marina. “Perfect Pitch: Autism's Rare Gift.” Interactive Autism Network, Interactive Autism Network, 2 July 2015, www.iancommunity.org/ssc/perfect-pitch-autism-rare-gift.
Smith, H. and Milne, E. (2009), Reduced change blindness suggests enhanced attention to detail in individuals with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50: 300-306. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01957.x
Stanutz, Sandy, et al. “Pitch Discrimination and Melodic Memory in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Autism, vol. 18, no. 2, 2012, pp. 137–147., doi:10.1177/1362361312462905.
Wilkinson, Lee. “Affective and Cognitive Empathy in Autism.” Best Practice Autism, 1 June 2019, www.bestpracticeautism.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-empathy-myth-in-autism.html.
Strang, John F, et al. “Increased Gender Variance in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24619651.
There are certain common phrases, like "What's up?" or "How's it going?" that have no direct logical answers. As an autistic person, being asked either one of these two questions is usually quite stressful. See, I know how I'm supposed to respond to a simple "How are you?" or "How was your day?" There are straightforward responses to those questions, there are scripts. I could respond with "I'm good, and you?" or "It was fine, how was yours?" and they'd say "It was good," and we'd smile and walk away, or move on to more interesting conversation topics. But with questions like "What's up?" it's not logical or appropriate to respond "I'm good, and you?" because the response doesn't fit the question. The question is, "What is up?" And that, my friends, is a mystery.
When faced with a "What's up?" my go-to response as of late (and by that I mean for the majority of my life) has been "the ceiling," or "the sky," depending on the location of myself and the other person. Other times, I say something like "I'm standing in this line with you." These are humorous yet logical responses to a question that has no clearly defined answer, if the question is to be interpreted in a manner faithful to its intended meaning. From what I've observed of neurotypical conversation, the question "What's up?" invites a myriad of completely different responses, each valid in their own way. An answer could be the classic "Not much, what's up with you?" but a more sophisticated and honest answer might be "I just finished a math test," or "I'm headed to my sister's basketball game." The problem for me is, I don't know which response to use in any given circumstance, given that the responses to "What's up?" are usually specific to the respondent. Additionally, sometimes the question isn't intended as a question at all. Sometimes, it's intended as a greeting, and the person asking the question doesn't actually want a response. Even if the question is genuine, the person probably isn't super invested in hearing about your day, so you have to limit your reply to a short sentence with a return question.
Not knowing which short sentence and return question to say, if any, is a problem exacerbated by the fact that I can't tell reliably when a person is asking the question genuinely, or as a greeting. So, to avoid incorrect or unwanted answers, I limit my replies to short and simple references to the sky, ceiling, or other aspect of our shared environment. I simply don't have the energy or willpower to figure out what it is that every "What's up?" -er wants from me in my response, so I don't give it to any of them.
I get frustrated and confused whenever I'm asked a ridiculous question like "What's up?" And yes, it really is a ridiculous question. It's illogical and has no clear answers. Why neurotypicals have universally decided that it's a good conversation opener is beyond me. There are no rules, no scripts, no reasonable and clearly defined boundaries for what to do in a "What's up?" situation. Yet, literal answers to such a question are deemed "wrong" and socially unacceptable. People who answer "the sky" or "the ceiling" are frowned upon for not putting in the effort to maintain the facade of amicable social interaction that is so clearly beneficial to both parties and entirely necessary for the day to move forward. And that is precisely the reason why I continue to answer the way I do. I don't care about that facade.
Sure, I'm perfectly happy to play along when there are rules, when I know that I'll be successful if I follow the script, and that perhaps my day will be slightly enriched by a smiling interaction with an acquaintance. But should that aquaintance decide to make my life exponentially more difficult by choosing to play a game with no rules, in which I could be penalized for an arbitrary reason that was never spelled out beforehand... in that case, I will simply refuse to play.
I rely on scripts to get me through the day, and I have nothing to hold onto but concrete reality when an un-scriptable question or comment comes my way. My experience of life and social interaction is detailed and intense, and this constant feed of sensory, social, and emotional input is often chaotic and overwhelming. Without scripts, I have no navigation tools to row through the choppy waters of socialization that come with the five minutes before the bell rings at the end of class, or an informal greeting in a coffee shop. There's so much information to sort through at any given moment, so it would simply take too long for me to formulate a completely original response to every question people ask me, in the time frame allotted.
If I don't remember my scripts, I end up simply failing to respond. I can't count the number of times someone has said something to me as they passed me in the hallway at school and I only registered what they said three seconds after walking past them. By that time, it's too late. So I have to be prepared with my "Good!" s and my "Fine, how are you?" s. But what happens if the person walking by, who I might not even recognize at first, asks me "What's up?" Chances are, I won't respond at all, and they won't even know I heard them- not for lack of trying, but because I simply can't.
Neurotypicals and allistics: be clear and direct when communicating with autistic people; and if you're not going to be clear or direct, at least make sure we have adequate time to respond. I promise you, we're not being robotic or dull or emotionless because we want to come off that way. Our world is a lot more colorful and chaotic than yours, and we need your help to navigate it.
So, please don't ask me "What's up?"
Look above you and find out for yourself.
by Eden of @the.autisticats
It was a warm day in Illinois at the end of August, two weeks before Michelle was supposed to leave town for college. The day prior, she had texted me to ask if I wanted to have a picnic at Greenwood park, to see each other and say our goodbyes before she left. That sounds like fun! I’ll ask my mom, I replied. My mom was eager for me to get out of the house, so I let Michelle know I could come. A few hours later, she asked if it was okay for her best friend Natasha, and Natasha’s boyfriend, Brandon, to tag along. That’s fine, I said, ask them to bring some food as well.
Michelle picked me up from my house in her red sedan the following afternoon. I carried an old blanket and a reusable grocery bag full of picnic food to the car, where I saw Natasha in the passenger seat. I sat in the back seat with Brandon, who looked like he’d been out in the sun, as Michelle pulled out of my driveway. I put my bag and blanket on the car floor and buckled in, then caught him eyeing my worn-out sneakers and baggy green sweatshirt. I eyed him back, noting the blue friendship bracelet on his left wrist, and wondering if that meant I should feel less intimidated. Natasha turned around in the passenger seat to look at me, tucking her dyed-blonde hair behind her ear as she smacked and chewed on a piece of mint gum.
“So who are you, again?”
She turned back towards Michelle, unsatisfied with my answer.
“We go to school together,” said Michelle, keeping her eyes on the road.
“Well, went to school together. School is over now,” I corrected her.
Natasha sat back in her seat, then took out her phone to check her reflection. As she rearranged a few stray hairs and applied lipgloss, I noticed that she had a lifeguard whistle around her neck. She seemed like the lifeguard type. I sat quietly for a few more minutes, peering out the window at passing cars and fields, before realizing that I didn’t smell anything other than the Mexican food at my feet.
“What food did y’all bring?” I asked.
Silence. Then Michelle took pity on me.
“There are some sandwiches in the trunk. I don’t know what else.”
“Okay, that sounds good… I brought bean and cheese burritos, and some chips and guacamole. I made all of it this morning. I think y’all will especially like the guacamole. It’s my grandmother’s recipe. She passed away earlier this year, but my mom already knew how to make it, so we didn’t lose the recipe with her.”
“Wow, that’s sad,” Natasha remarked without feeling.
“Not really. Eating her recipes makes me feel close to her even though she’s gone. It’s like she becomes part of me, or something,” I laughed, “Maybe when you eat the burritos you’ll feel that way too.”
“Um… I hope not,” said Natasha.
I saw Michelle give Natasha a brief look. The kind of look that says, I know how you feel, but leave her alone. Or maybe, I’ve talked to you about this. I knew I must have said something wrong, I just didn’t know what.
“Yeah maybe not, since she’s not your grandmother,” I tried to correct myself.
None of them responded. I kept quiet the rest of the car ride.
Michelle and I had been neighbors when we were kids. She lived across the street, and my parents encouraged me to play with her often, so we did. I’d go over to her house for after-school snacks and weekend playdates in elementary school. She liked to control the games we played, and that was fine with me because I wasn’t really sure how to play them anyway. We were close in elementary school, but less so in middle school, when she moved to the other side of town. In high school, she only acknowledged me when she knew none of her other friends were around. I was mostly okay with that. I took what I could get.
We didn’t talk much at school, so the majority of our contact was over text. I initiated conversation most of the time, sending her memes I thought she might like. She usually responded with an LOL, or haha! Something like that. The last time she had invited me to do something was junior year, to come over to her house for a Halloween party. I was dressed head to toe like a phoenix, with a mask covering my face, so I’m not even sure anyone recognized me. That was my first party, and my last. The odor of alcohol and inescapable pounding of the speakers overwhelmed me, so I ended up hiding in Michelle’s bedroom closet. She found me there after everyone else had left, when she was looking for her bathrobe. Once she’d gotten over the shock of seeing a giant phoenix crouched beneath her clothing rack, she offered to drive me home. So I was surprised when she invited me to go on a picnic, but it would have been silly for me to decline, seeing as I hadn’t done anything social for the entirety of the summer.
We parked in the gravel lot outside Greenwood park. There weren’t any other cars, which made sense because our town was small and mostly rural, and it was a Tuesday afternoon. The park itself was a large field overgrown with weeds and wildflowers, and it didn’t have a playground or anything. It was just a park. A piece of public land that people went to when they felt like being outside in nature, which wasn’t hard to do where I lived anyway. Maybe that’s why it was so neglected. People had other places they could go.
Everyone unbuckled and got out of the car. I picked up my grey blanket and bag of burritos and stood outside the car door, waiting for Michelle to get the other food out of the trunk. She took out a white styrofoam cooler with a red handle, and nodded her head towards the park entrance. We passed through the old wooden fence posts that lined the front end of the field, and headed to a spot in the clearing. The park was surrounded on three sides by a dense forest, mostly of oak and birch trees. Michelle stopped walking at a spot around 15 yards from the forest, where we could still see the car. We all looked at each other, and I realized that I was the only one who had brought a blanket, so I laid it down for all of us and took a seat. It wasn’t terribly big, but it would have to do.
Michelle sat down across from me, then Natasha and Brandon on either side. The two of them sat as close to Michelle and as far off the blanket as possible. I was used to that sort of thing. Michelle and Natasha started chatting about college, and I learned that they’d be going to the same school, in Santa Cruz. Then Natasha turned to me.
“What about you, where are you going to college?”
“Oh, um… I’m- I’m not going yet. I’m taking a gap year,” I said.
“Why?” She frowned.
“Because… well, I’m just not ready yet. I’m working on regular life stuff first.”
“Oh. Got it.” She smiled, but her eyes were cold.
I got four burritos out of my bag, one for each of us, and unwrapped the tinfoil on one of them. I started to eat. Michelle saw me, then took out some sandwiches from the cooler. She passed one to Natasha, who passed it to Brandon and took one for herself.
“Does anyone want a burrito?” I asked.
No response. Then Michelle.
“Maybe later, after my sandwich.”
Natasha and Michelle talked about things best friends talk about, and how excited they were for California. Brandon chimed in occasionally, and I learned that he was already in college, in Arizona. He’d flown back to Illinois for summer break, to see Natasha and his family. I finished my burrito, and took out the chips and guacamole. I’d put the chips in a Ziploc bag and the guacamole in a tupperware, both of which I opened and placed in front of me on the blanket. There was a lull in the friends’ conversation, so Brandon took out his phone and a bluetooth speaker.
“You guys down for some music?”
“Yeah, totally,” said Natasha.
Michelle nodded agreeably, and I said nothing. He started playing his music, placing the speaker on the center of the blanket, near my guacamole and chips. It was mostly rap, with a few of the year’s hit songs mixed in occasionally. I didn’t mind the music itself, but it was too loud for me to enjoy it. I sat through the first song, then a few more, but the drums and bass were really starting to bother me. Each thump and sharp edge of the snare drums hit me as a violent crashing wave, but the three friends seemed fine. Their conversation had resumed, gotten louder to compensate for the noise. I watched them as their voices distorted. Sound ate its way into my skull and my muscles tightened in response, as if that would keep it from pouring in. I needed the music turned down, or I would have to walk away. And I didn’t want to walk away.
“Brandon, could you please turn down the music?”
No response. I made brief eye contact with Michelle, but the friends continued to talk.
“Brandon, could you please turn down the music?” I asked, louder this time.
“Why?” Brandon turned to look at me.
“Because it’s too loud,” I said, flinching.
“This is too loud?” He repeated, picking up the speaker and thrusting it closer.
The sound surged over my head and I began to drown in it.
“Yes! It’s too loud!” I shouted, scrambling off the blanket.
I must have kicked my guacamole when I tried to escape the speaker, because the next thing I knew, it was upside down on Natasha’s white jean skirt. She stared at me, eyes wide open. Brandon dropped the speaker.
“What the fuck?!” Natasha yelled, “What are you, a spaz? Are you retarded?”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Michelle looked frozen, and I wished I was too. Prickly heat built in my face and chest, the rattle of snare drums in the speaker piercing my ears and making me dizzy. I needed to make that sound go away. Turn the music down. Please could you turn down the music. Please turn the music down. Please, Brandon, turn down the music. A sob escaped as I reached onto the blanket, picked up the speaker, then threw it as far as I could. Brandon yelled, and ran after it. I couldn’t see very well anymore. Everything was blurry because of the tears. I barely made out a red-faced Natasha putting her lifeguard whistle up to her mouth.
“Was that too loud for you? What about this?” Her voice echoed.
Then she was on top of me, in the grass, blowing her whistle in my face. I heard Michelle yelling for her to stop, but it might have been my voice instead. The ringing and the pain kept coming and then Brandon was above me too, and I was hot and sweaty in my stupid green sweatshirt in the August sun, and my tears and mucus were hot as well. Brandon put his left hand on my shoulder and pushed me harder against the ground.
“Why would you do that!? You broke it!” He roared.
I tried to push him off but he was too strong, so I leaned over and bit his forearm, tearing off the blue friendship bracelet, then spitting it out. He howled in anger and pain as he recoiled, and I howled back. Natasha’s palm struck my cheek so I grabbed her arm, yanking her closer and then scratching her as she tried to pull away. Michelle must have yelled something severe at them, because they backed off slightly. I rolled onto my stomach, pulled myself off the ground, then sprinted towards the woods. They shouted after me.
I didn’t stop running until my legs gave out and I collapsed on the forest floor, spiderwebs in my mouth and on my hands. Birds sang and squirrels hopped through the branches above me like the world wasn’t falling apart, but it was. I sobbed, picked up a stick and stabbed it into the soil, twisted it around and bent it until it broke. Memories flashed and swarmed, on rewind and replay. I was four years old, when I asked two girls in my pre-k class if I could sit with them during lunch. They said no, and I asked why. “Because you’re weird,” one of them said. I grabbed a handful of leaves off a nearby shrub and tore them all to pieces. I was eight years old when I was diagnosed with autism. The psychologist told my parents I was lucky, that I was “very high functioning”. I pulled myself up against a birch tree, shaking, and wondered what he would say if he could see me now. I was six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven years old when my parents pinned my arms to my sides as I cried, rolled me inside my favorite blanket and sat on top of me as I struggled for air, gasping, “I can’t breathe!” My mom was Natasha, my dad was Brandon, and I couldn’t escape them. Turn down the music. “Is this too loud?” Spaz. Retarded. I screamed, the power of my voice ripping my chest apart and sending tremors down my torso, tremors that kept coming as I lay there, sobbing in the dirt.
I thought I might be trapped forever in that whirlwind of time and memory, but the forest was quiet and peaceful, and it slowly eased my body. I leaned into the birch tree and took some deep, shaky breaths. A chipmunk scurried in front of my sneakers, carrying an acorn in its mouth. It stopped for a moment and peered at me curiously, before scampering off. I wiped the tears from my face, and began to trace my fingers along the roots of the tree, touching each bump on its rough grey skin and letting my fingers dissolve into it. As I caressed the roots, I watched a procession of ants take small bits of leaves and tiny seeds back to their anthill. Some ants did not walk in line with the others. One of the stragglers was carrying a particularly large seed on its back, in a meandering path towards the same destination. I pondered the existence of the wayward ant, and hoped it would make it back to the nest. I sighed in exhaustion. There was a blanket of moss several feet to my left, which I pressed my hand into before lying down and resting my head on it. I turned my face so I could see the glow of sunlight around each soft green tendril. My fingertips grazed the edges of the moss, and I watched carefully as the little leaves bent down, then bounced back.
A shiny blue beetle crawled up my arm from the moss, waddling slightly as it walked. I smiled, picked the beetle up, put it on my forehead, and looked up at the branches of trees. Each tree trunk diverged into branches, which expanded into fractals; imperfect tributaries of translucent flesh and solid bone. The bones swayed and bent at the whimsy of clambering animals, as the flesh shimmered in the wind. I let myself sink deeper into the soil, and breathed. I wasn’t sure how I was going to find my way back to the park, because I didn’t know where I was. I wondered briefly if I would be lost forever, but I thought that was unlikely. I knew I could follow the sun, which was a sort of relief, but it didn’t really matter. I was in no hurry to leave the forest. If Michelle cared enough to find me, she would. If she didn’t, I was happy to let the other animals care for me instead.
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?