For those who don't know me, I'm autistic. I've been a developer for the better part of a decade.
I didn't find out I was ASD until 19, and didn't reconcile with that until years later. These posts will be a combination of advice I've given to those who are like me, as well as a letter of sorts to my past self who could have used a lot of it.
I write these posts in the hopes that someone like me will find value in knowing a very simple and very important truth about ASD:
You are not alone, and you are loved.
Loud Loud World
For autistic people the world is so very loud, and I fear that this has led to a very common misunderstanding of our experience.
It's not that we lack the capacity for things like listening, eating, empathy, or so many other skills as much as we're in a near-constant state of being overwhelmed by everything around us.
This post is less about solutions, and more about my experience as a disability. So many would like to frame what I have as a "superpower" but deny the handicaps I face, so I'd like to take this time to write on the struggles I face on a daily basis.
I Can Hear Everything
A common complaint of myself as a child is I was never paying attention, would frequently ask folks to repeat things, and in general just not "hear".
Ironically I was also mocked for having near supernatural hearing abilities. If my name was mentioned or any other trigger word for a hobby I would hear it, even clear across a room.
The misconceptions of the first section are a direct result of the second. It's not that I couldn't hear, but that I heard too much.
My brain is constantly on, and I experience everything at once. I can't turn it off, I don't know how and there aren't any great solutions I've found beyond noise cancelling headphones and moving out of noisy environments.
Heck, I can hear electricity in the walls. Did you know it makes noise, because I certainly do. A short in an electronic device will scream at me, and with it my focus goes right out a window.
I'm most certainly not ignoring you when you're talking, in fact I'm reminding myself to pay attention in my head on repeat, but if a loud noise or something troubling happens my attention is gone. You could talk about my favorite hobbies and I'd still twitch at anything around me happening, try as I might to stop it.
In elementary school I was quite viciously mocked for smelling things, including by a teacher who egged it on. A lot of trauma in me realizing who I was could be traced to teachers like this, but back to the point I could smell anything around.
If lunch was being prepared I could tell you exactly what it was (if I'd experienced it before), what burned, what flavor the gum under the table probably was, and whether or not my classmates had just been to gym class.
Just in the past year I'd smelled rain and heard a dropping that led me to find a small leak in one of the doors of my home.
It wasn't unusual for this to make me slightly sick, as scent is very closely tied to taste.
Any more I've taken to a habit of wearing a certain amount of cologne as a centering scent to try and distract me from doing this. Most of my coping follows a similar strategy of dulling my senses.
Some would call me a picky eater, they're probably right. If something is unfamiliar to me it's overwhelming, and certain textures and combinations for some reason will make me physically sick.
The annoying part is that I don't always know what those textures or combinations might be.
It's been a perpetual fear of mine that I might offend someone by not being able to eat their cooking, so many times I'll try anyways and end up making myself sick for a few days afterwards.
Back in college there was an eating competition where they gave us tacos with lettuce. Those who know me would know that that's one thing which will absolutely make me visibly sick within seconds, so I had to drop out.
This certainly does not make it easy to find a balanced diet, and trust me I do try. It's also why I order the exact same thing every time I go to the same restaurant. I know it's safe, and safe matters a lot to me, which is how I cope.
Now I'm not at the point of epilepsy, but flashing gifs and reactions will wreck my concentration. I'm very happy that Slack added an option to turn them off or I'd never get anything done.
My vision isn't perfect, I wear glasses, but any visual stimulus around me sends my head into full alert mode. It's also why you'll catch me closing one eye outside, or closing both if I'm thinking.
Touch and Feel
There are even fabrics and various textures that if I touch or have to keep on I get very uncomfortable with. Fabric tags, wools (especially socks), seams, and other things some folks can ignore will drive me up a wall.
If there's so much as a small pebble that gets into my shoe it's going to annoy me the entire day until I get it out, including ones embedded in the bottom of my sole.
People have called me a robot for years, slightly monotone voice, and a seeming absence of cognizance of emotions. Sure, there's some truth to that, I don't social well all the time and I had to learn those rules the hard way.
What isn't true, however, is that I don't feel. Quite the contrary.
I have to turn off news, social media, and stop talking to people because once I hear problems I become deeply invested in fixing them. My mind is hard-wired like that, I want to help, and I'm far too easy to bait into things.
As a result I've had to become exceptionally cautious in how much I talk to others outside of close groups. The real annoyance is I can feel their pain, but I have no idea how to respond appropriately, so rather than try I frequently have to wait and internalize that pain which is not healthy.
I hate that I cannot fix everything, so instead I try and focus on what I know I can have an impact on and direct my attentions there. Doesn't help that sick feeling though knowing how much more pain there is in the world.
I have no concept of time. People at work would disagree with me on that and comment that I show up early to things, know exactly when things are happening, and am generally on top of it.
That's only because I have alarms for everything, calendar reminders, sticky notes, and entire systems meant to keep me on track. I adhere to strict schedules, and should I break those schedules I'll burn out hard and lose my sense of self for at least a few weeks while I recover and recalibrate.
It's a similar reason to why I despise phone calls and synchronous events which require presence, as they'll ruin the entire rest of my day for getting anything done.
The irony, as it tends to be, is that all of these systems got me promoted into roles where it's my job to be on top of such things.
When the world is too much, when anxiety gets to me, and when I just can't turn it off my body will eventually take drastic measures and start me into a series of migraines that will have me laid up in bed for at least a full day, often times two to three days.
As I get close to that point I will be very short tempered and intentional with my time, trying to jettison anything and everything that's not completely relevant to tasks at hand that are required to get done. I start going into lockdown mode to protect myself, and if I miss I'm going to be out of it for potentially multiple days.
If I keep ignoring it? Burnout is a very real threat for me, and one that I have to be exceptionally cautious of. Some would say enjoying what you do is a cure, but if anything that's the curse which has me constantly flirting with the line where I'm not coming back for a good couple of months beyond rote and repetition.
If there's one thing I want people to get out of this, it's that I'm a whole human. You don't get all the benefits of autism without the drawbacks, and the drawbacks make you no less valid of love and acceptance.
Over the years I've had great success in the industry, but many would erase my disability, and in doing such they would discriminate against those with similar issues. To only write of the good, and never the bad, would be dishonest.
So I wrap up today by saying that I'm me, flaws and all. It's a loud loud world out there, and we do our best to participate in it.
Top comments (3)
First, thank you for the article. I appreciate the opportunity to understand better where some of the people around me are coming from.
“I hate that I cannot fix everything, so instead I try and focus on what I know I can have an impact on and direct my attentions there.” - great strategy, ASD or not.
The irony, as it tends to be, is that all of these systems got me promoted into roles where it's my job to be on top of such things. - Oh gosh, hang in there!
Again, thank you for sharing your experience with me.
My son is ASD (borderline) . and I can't express in words how great a service you are doing with these posts .. I can't thank you enough or praise you enough. you are not only helping people understand ASD people but also helping the parents and care givers so so much. again .. thank you SO much !
love and prayers ♥
Hi thank for writing the article I stumbled across your articles. As i'm working on a startup for PWD (People with Disabilities) & able individuals to be part of tech. I'm gonna read all your articles to get more understanding on it.