Of the following autistic behaviours, I manifest (or used to, when a child) about 90%. I’ve added in a couple of extras just so you don’t know exactly which ones are mine.
Extreme touch aversion
Scratching when distressed
Abnormal colour response
Abnormal sound response
Meltdowns when overloaded
Extreme distress when routines are changed
Difficulty with eye contact
Inability to understand concepts like flirting
Late language acquisition
Inability to pick up on non-verbal communication
Extended periods of concentration on a single task (4, 5, up to 8 hours)
Difficulty processing complex emotional conversations in real time
‘Google pictures’ visual memory
It may come as a surprise to some people, but it’s perfectly possible to live independently and cope with all this. It just takes an enormous amount of effort.
Female autistics often manifest differently from the male version. Many of us tend to be word focused rather than number focused. We can have extremely good recall of conversation – even when unable to fully process its content. Apparently if our living circumstances allow, 85% of single autistic women have one or more cats.
We mirror the behaviours of people we interact with (this is really spooky when you actually notice that you’re doing it). We have far more scripts for social interaction, especially in any social space we are forced to inhabit regularly, such as the workplace. We are more likely to understand metaphor, humour and emotional behaviour.
Although my father exhibited some autie traits (including being an engineer!) my mother’s family has the stronger autistic genetics. I think at least one of my cousins on my father’s side is teetering on the edge of the spectrum.
I would estimate that when I’m in public, 75-80% of my concentration is focused on passing as normal. That means filtering out the sensory overload from my surroundings (50%), suppressing ‘wrong’ behaviors (20%), keeping my true emotions tightly locked down (10%).
The remaining 20% is left for trying to process what people are telling me and trying to figure out what they want from me, plus actually synthesising information on a cognitive, clinical level so I can do my job.
It’s not easy.
And if I lose control it can take a long time to regain it–and I’m talking days here, not minutes, or even hours. The sheer effort of maintaining control is painfully evident when I have to slowly build up the walls again. People notice; there’s nothing I can do. I pass it off as tiredness, or a headache, or a virus. It overflows into everything; I can’t focus, I can’t write, I wander around the house, picking things up, putting them down. The waste of time enrages me, but I am helpless, useless in a way that only adds to my self-loathing.
This is why I avoid people who play Poke the Autie. I simply cannot afford the consequences, the distress, the loss of days of valuable time. I can’t afford the risk of having a meltdown in public, and the professional and employment effects.