Living With Autism
A Spectrumite blogger shares her tactics and tips.
I’m so glad to know and find that there has been an increased awareness in autism over the years, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you, Betty Confidential, for the opportunity to “speak out.”
(Ed note: Spectrumite means one those who are on the Autistic/sensory needs spectrum).
I’ll be the first one to tell you that being a spectrumite both has its advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious disadvantage, of course, is the inability to easily interpret social clues and situations. Over the several previous jobs I’ve held, I could have easily been voted as the one, “least likely to hang out with the cool crowd at a bar.”
The irony is that I’m innately social by nature –so much so, that being alone makes me panicky. A lot of the people I know who are on the spectrum want friends and relationships, but are often unsure of how to go about this. Being a beauty and travel writer has been a great blessing, and so has my innate stubborn nature which makes it less likely for me to “throw in the towel.” Over the years, I’ve become better at understanding the “social rules.” You may have seen the movie, Adam, which is about a charming high-functioning Aspergian who is overtly friendly. Yes, he doesn’t know when to shut up!
As a kid, I was quite OCD about my piano playing. I practiced every day for 9-10 hours, and gave recitals playing Beethoven sonatas and Chopin scherzos when I was nine and ten years old. In its best form, autism allows people to excel at a single subject, and spectrumites are often happiest when they can talk about or practice their chosen topic for hours at a time. This also means being little aware of the more “normal” activities in life, such as hanging out, watching movies, eating and in some instances—sleeping!
I remember when I was eighteen years old, giving concerts at a summer retreat in Rome. I was practicing for ten hours a day, in addition to memorizing passages in Latin. One lady came up to me and said, “Please show us you are human.” It never occurred to me that others were not wired the way I was.
I will credit autism for my being so persistent and going for my goals, no matter how difficult they may seem. One of the ways I wanted to fit into society and be normal was to just imitate and do everything that others were doing (if you’ve seen the movie Temple Grandin, you’ll realize that this “observational” trait is something spectrumites use along the way to conform). Now I feel I have more of a balance of work and life: plus, I eat healthily and quite enjoy it, especially from my second job as a freelance travel writer.
One issue – and this is an issue with many spectrumites – is moderation. It’s very hard to know when to “stop” because every little thing can take a life of its own and easily become an obsession—which is an excellent thing and a bad thing too, especially for maintaining relationships. At some point, in order to grow, autistics would do well to realize that perfectionism can be a negative factor for growth. As with anything, it’s easier said than done.
Most people on the spectrum like predictability. They like to know where things are at a given time, and that “uncertainty factor” creeps them out. As a beauty and travel blogger, predictability is often thrown out the window for me! While I’ve tried to be more flexible over the years, I won’t lie: unexpected events and tasks from people that I haven’t “planned” make me quite nervous, although I’m learning to let go a little. It comes down to the way the brain processes information – it’s wired to be stuck in a routine and all my life I’ve been trying hard to form new connections.
Has this tactic of forming new connections, taking risks and pursuing a work/life balance worked? Absolutely! I’m so grateful for my life the way it is right now—and also for my friends and my husband of over ten years. It takes a lot of extra work to “pretend to be normal,” as John Elder Robinson wrote, but the journey has been well worth it.
My tip for those living with autism: be kind to yourself, and go one step at a time. If you find you need help and assistance, communicate as best you can to those who can understand you. Have a routine and write it down and stick to it so you’re not “walking on eggshells” all the time. And this may be the hardest – but love yourself the way you are. We may be albatrosses on the ground, but I sincerely believe we were born to fly.
Charu Suri is a freelance beauty and travel writer, who has her own personal travel blog, Butterflydiary.com. She has started a series of concerts to benefit autism, as well as a weekend travel company called SensoryTravelNetwork.com that plans organized weekend trips for spectrumites to venture out and make friends. Contact her at email@example.com