autism and core values

I recently took a free “values assessment” and WOW was it obvious it was written by a neurotypical.

Apparently four of my five top values are:

  • Peace/calm
  • Certainty
  • Security
  • Financial stability

These are amazingly boring and not representative of me at all.

They’re representative of my AUTISM.

It reminds me of a video review of Love on the Spectrum where the person says, disliking thunderstorms isn’t a quirky character trait, it’s part of REAL SENSORY ISSUES.

My therapist would probably insert here that it’s impossible to separate me from my autism. And I get that. But this values assessment was still wack. Many autistic people prefer structure, order, routine, predictability, etc. over spontaneity, surprises, and chaos! It’s just how our brains work!

Yes, peace and security and financial stability are important to me. I love schedules and order. But that’s not who I am. There are tons of other possibilities for core values, including some I think are a bit more accurate:

  • Pleasure
  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Beauty
  • Love
  • Loyalty
  • Honesty
  • Uniqueness
  • Compassion
  • Growth
  • Friendship

I hope eventually neurotypicals understand that autism isn’t a quirky character trait or a list of likes/dislikes, it’s sensory and communication stuff that isn’t a preference. IMO, it’s the equivalent of telling someone, “Oh, your core values are food and shelter and clean water!” No, those are just basic human needs. It’s accurate on a very basic level, but it doesn’t tell you ANYthing about the person’s unique likes/dislikes.

I imagine it would be similar for folks with ADHD. Their “core values” according to the assessment might be variety, stimulation, excitement, change, etc. because that’s what gives them dopamine! But that doesn’t fully explain what’s important to them.

Yes, I’m autistic. That tells you SOMEthing about me. But it doesn’t tell you everything, much less what my core values are.

autism and flirting

Ugh. Do you ever just get mad at yourself for being autistic? I am, right now.

I tried to flirt with someone last night and it did NOT go well.

As an autistic person, most (if not all) of my understanding of social norms and expectations comes from TV, movies, reading stuff online, and observing others (rather than some neurotypical intuition).

In my observations, teasing seems to be a major method of flirting. You gently tease the person about something, they blush and get all cute and embarrassed, you look at each other with the heart-eyes emoji, and bam, you’re in love. (What could go wrong! Eek.)

I tried to tease a love interest about their choice of beverage last night, since it was unusual. But it didn’t get the desired result. So I tried again, more playfully. (A mistake, I guess?) Then they just seemed irritated. Finally I was like, OK, this doesn’t seem to be working.

Then I felt that familiar cocktail of icky feelings: shame, anger at myself, frustration. Why do I have to be autistic? Why can’t flirting and relationships be as easy as they are in the media? Why didn’t I intuitively know the best way to flirt with this person? Why is so much unspoken in interpersonal relationships (and why can’t it be spoken for those of us who don’t pick up on subtext)? Should I have said something like, “Sorry I accidentally insulted you–I’m autistic and not good at flirting”?

It goes the other way, too. When people have teased me in the past, I’ve thought, Aha! THIS IS FLIRTING! When someone teases someone else on TV/movies, it means they’re interested in them romantically. But alas, it wasn’t true. Either the person didn’t like me romantically or just never acted on it. (WTF, movies and TV? Why do you keep steering me wrong?)

I’m trying to give myself grace for being who I am. There’s nothing wrong with me, or being autistic. The right love interest will understand. But it also sucks sometimes.

autism and city noise

Loud noise = bad. (This seems to be the autistic consensus.)

But there are a lot of OTHER noises that are annoying and disruptive, at least to me.

I grew up in a quiet suburban neighborhood. When I moved to a city, my new coworkers asked me what I thought of the city so far. “There are a lot of sirens!” I said. (Not the answer they expected. Thanks, autistic bluntness and social awkwardness!)

Now I live on a busy street. (It was quieter when I moved in, but over the past few years, it’s gotten busier.) Here are some of the disruptive noises/sounds:

  • Marches/protests (good, but noisy nonetheless. fewer now, but almost every day in summer 2020)
  • Ambulance and fire truck sirens
  • General traffic noise like cars whooshing by
  • Occasional car crashes–loud screeching brakes, honking, yelling/arguing
  • People walking by playing music or talking on the phone loudly
  • A lunchtime food truck playing music to announce its presence
  • Dogs barking
  • Car alarms–someone parks on my street whose car alarm is really sensitive and goes off regularly
  • Trash and recycling trucks going by weekly, with sounds of bins clattering and being emptied

When I first moved here, some people asked about the traffic noise. “I just tune it out and pretend it’s the ocean!” I joked. I tried to convince myself it was fine. (And for lots of people with less privilege than I have, it’s not a choice. Affordable housing is in noisy, less desirable, more polluted areas!)

But now that I type all of those out, it makes me realize it might be good for my autism to live somewhere quieter. I’ve been lowkey thinking about moving recently but haven’t taken any action because MOVING IS STRESSFUL and CHANGE IS SCARY. Moving would be a huge life disruption, not to mention expensive!

Plus, I always bought into the “city living is cool, suburbs are stupid” thinking. “Cool people” lived in cities, and “boring people” lived in suburbs. City people valued art, non-chain restaurants, walkability, ~shopping local~ and all that stuff, whereas suburban people were mindless cookie-cutter lemmings who didn’t care about the planet and drove huge, gas-guzzling cars and ate at Applebees.

Yikes. Pretty gross oversimplification, right?

Not only is that black-and-white thinking (which I’m working on moving away from, slowly), but it doesn’t take into account ALL THE REASONS someone might live in a city or suburb. The suburbs are cheaper and you get more space. Maybe you’re a parent (I don’t know why you’d make that choice, but whatever) and the suburbs have better schools or something. Maybe it’s closer to your job. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And to be honest, living on a quiet street where I actually have a parking space (OR GARAGE) is pretty appealing. Maybe I’d get distracted less, since I work at home. Who knows? Maybe it’s something to start looking into.

***

P.S. Again, I realize I have a TON of privilege to even CONSIDER a) moving at all, and b) moving to a quieter area. Lots of people don’t have those options at all.

autism and narcissists

(Not to be confused with my post on autism and narcissism!)

I was watching a video about narcissism and skimming through the comments when one jumped out at me:

Yikes. It’s so true.

I’ve known several narcissists, from friends and relatives to bosses, and each one is toxic and gross (while appearing charming). I don’t think being autistic attracts narcissists–I don’t blame myself for other people’s suckitude–but I definitely see how narcissists can prey on autistic people.

For me, being autistic means I constantly question my reality and look for cues from other people. What am I supposed to be doing/saying/feeling right now? How do I “mask” to look “normal” in this situation? What is an “appropriate” response? Because being my autistic self, unmasked, often opens me up to teasing or being misunderstood.

I think that makes it REALLY easy for narcissists to gaslight autistic people. If I’m used to questioning myself and second-guessing my instincts because my brain works differently, a narcissist can take advantage of that and say, “You’re not understanding this” or “That’s not what happened” or “I never said that.” Or even “You’re not picking up on the subtext.”

Ah yes, it must be MY fault since I’m autistic and the narcissist is neurotypical, right? /sarcasm

I’ve never told the narcissists in my life that I’m autistic, either because I only got diagnosed in the past couple months (yay! finally!) or because I just didn’t trust them. I don’t think it’s a good idea, because a narcissist will take ANY vulnerability you show them and use it against you. I’m sure if I disclosed to former bosses that I was autistic (had I known) they would’ve used that to question my judgment or perception of events. The last thing anyone needs, autistic or not, is to give narcissists fuel to belittle us or trash-talk us to others.

It’s been a long road, but hopefully I’m finally learning to trust myself, my instincts, and my experiences, even if narcissists and/or neurotypical people tell me I’m wrong.

autism and concerts

Ahhh, concerts: a perfect storm of sensory overload (bright flashing lights, loud noise, other people’s bodies smashing into you) and unpredictability (how long will it last? will there be one opener or TWO OR THREE? where are the bathrooms? what if I get tired?).

Lots of my friends LOVE concerts. So I went with them because shared interests and bonding and fun! Who doesn’t like to get all glammed up for an exhausting night that takes at least a day or two to recover from?! (Me!)

I’m finally realizing I never have to go to a concert again. YESSSS!

Or if I do, I can choose to only go to concerts with assigned seating. (Although I have been to a seated, ticketed concert where the seats were really hard and uncomfortable and small, so I felt awkward the whole time and worried about taking up too much space. Boo.)

Anyway! Concerts have SO MANY unwritten social rules, and I think that’s one of the reasons they make me so anxious. Rules about…

  • Bags: You have to do XYZ with your purse/it can’t be X big/someone has to search it before you come in/you can’t bring in X with you (water, snacks).
  • Drinks: You can/can’t buy a drink for your friend. If you have a drink, you can only stand in a certain place.
  • Areas: Once you’ve walked into one area, you can’t get back into it if you leave. Can you come back inside if you go outside for air/a smoke?
  • Bathrooms: What to say and not say while waiting in the bathroom line. How long to take in the bathroom.
  • Merch: How to behave in the merch line, how quickly to decide on merch (do they have the shirt you want in your size? WHAT IS YOUR SIZE??? how much will it shrink? what if you love the design but it turns out the shirt is scratchy?), how much merch is too much or not enough (lest you risk hearing, “She spent HOW MUCH on merch?!” or “You waited in line all that time for a STICKER?”)
  • Sitting down: Seats are assigned/not assigned/can or can’t be saved. You can’t sit down on the dance floor even if you have low blood sugar because someone might step on you.

I, much like small children, need things like alone time and quiet and snacks and water. Concerts make those impossible and expensive. (Even then, after paying $10 for a bottle of water, where do you put it if you don’t want to drink it all at once? What if you leave to pee during the best or last song? What if you can’t find your friend in the sea of people after peeing? What if strangers get mad at you for shoving your way BACK to your friend after leaving to pee? I AM JUST TRYING TO STAY HYDRATED.)

Oh god. I’m getting overwhelmed just THINKING about all the concerts I’ve been to.

I hate to feel like a buzzkill or a party pooper or whatever. Neurotypical people seem to have the attitude of, “What kind of monster doesn’t like concerts?”

You know what’s great? Sitting at home being comfy with my own snacks and drinks, listening to only the songs I like WITH NO STRANGERS SINGING ALONG, not being shoved accidentally, not having to stand in one place for four hours, not worrying about parking or public transit, and no one blocking my view with their large head/phone.

And if I want live music, there’s always Tiny Desk Concerts! 😉

autism and groups

[Update: She mentions Autism Speaks as having a “nice resource” at about 53 minutes in, which was really disappointing, so I lost some respect for her, but the video still had some helpful info.]

I’m watching a great presentation about autistic women and girls by licensed clinical psychologist Erica Rouch, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Virginia:

I had to pause it 25 minutes in and write this post because she mentioned groups, specifically that autistic girls can struggle with friend groups (as opposed to one-on-one).

I hate groups and always have! Group projects at school were THE WORST because I either had to do most of the work or nag other people to do stuff, and young girls learn early on that nagging is bad because it means you’re like a sitcom wife, a one-dimensional uptight stereotype. (Thanks, sexism.) But if you do “more than your share” in a group setting, you’re “not a team player” and don’t know how to communicate or share the load. (I didn’t! I had no idea how to communicate or share the load!)

Erica Rouch, Ph.D.

Anyway, friend groups were especially brutal. It seemed inevitable that smaller clique-y subgroups formed…and I was not part of them. In high school, some of my “friends” would skip class to go to tanning booths, and I couldn’t understand why. (Why would anyone choose skin cancer over photo class?! Photo class was great. You get to work quietly by yourself. No group projects!)

But in high school, even missing the smallest event or interaction means you’re not in on the joke. Doing my own thing or being alone, like I wanted to be, meant sacrificing valuable social capital. I needed to be there for the inside jokes and the secrets and the ~memories~ (eyeroll) that would be hinted at in the yearbook. It can become a vicious cycle: skip or get left out of one thing, then it snowballs into “I just don’t feel as close to her anymore, you know?” I was torn between the desire to fit in (and absorb the latest ~teen lingo~ to use as my social script) or feed my inner introvert. Spoiler: it sucked.

Even now, groups make me ANXIOUS. I used to obsess over making sure everyone in the group had a chance to talk, and I’d awkwardly ask quiet people questions to try to include them. (Cringe.) Sometimes it’s hard to speak up and contribute to a group conversation before it moves on to a new topic and my carefully rehearsed thought is no longer relevant.

One-on-one friendships are SO MUCH BETTER. It’s way easier to know when to talk! (Not always easy, but easier than in groups.) I only have to focus on one person instead of several, so I get less overwhelmed and drained. I still need alone time to recover after, though.

I’m in the process of getting assessed for autism (YAY!), and I guess there’s a chance I’m not actually autistic at all. But a lot of the pieces seem to fit.

autism and politeness

There seems to be a common perception–or misconception?–that autistic people are rude, unintentionally. We’re blunt because we don’t get the subtleties of social interaction, the various nuances that communicate things between neurotypicals.

I’ve certainly said my fair share of blunt things that have startled people, things people thought were jokes that I meant seriously.

But I also won a “Most Polite” award in sixth grade. (HOW CAN BE how can this one human entity contain such a contradiction I MUST BE AN ALIEN etc etc etc)

Being neurodivergent doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and personally, I was REALLY affected (cough, traumatized) by being raised in a super-conservative religious environment. I was basically incentivized to be as “nice” and cautious and polite as possible, so I didn’t offend anyone, “sin,” or go to hell.

So when I saw the tweets above about politeness, they REALLY hit home. My politeness, which hopefully peaked in sixth grade (I can only hope to now be a rude-y judy who gives no fucks, despite the fact that I give more fucks than I would like), was a survival mechanism. I had ZERO desire to be proper or fancy or courteous, I just didn’t want anyone to get mad at me or call me out for being weird anymore than they already did.

I think there’s value in being kind. But that’s not the same as being “nice” or “polite.” What’s the saying, do no harm but take no shit? I like that a lot better than politeness!

autism and bridge-burning

I recently saw this great quote from Holly Smale, a woman who was diagnosed with autism at 39:

Accessibility: Image is a screenshot of a tweet from @HolSmale that says, “I love how ‘bridge-burning’ is considered such a negative autistic trait. You know what I call it? Recognising toxicity and cruelty and distancing ourselves from it with clear and distinct boundaries. Get those bridges burned, guys.”

I always thought my bridge-burning tendencies–and overall tendency to see things in black and white–was due to a very religious upbringing (good vs. bad, heaven vs. hell, THERE ARE NO GRAY AREAS!).

But this tweet made me think, What if it’s actually–or also–autism?!?!

I have ended friendships. And from ~the outside~, maybe it seems cruel. But to me, it’s self love. Like that Maya Angelou quote: “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Granted, it often takes me to the third or fourth time someone shows me who they are. But I’m working on not feeling guilty for cutting people off. There’s no rule that you have to be friends with the same people your whole life. (Wouldn’t that SUCK?!)

To me, it seems kind of like decluttering. If my space is full of clothes or trinkets or furniture that I hate, or even just don’t really like or use anymore, there’s no room for new things I actually LOVE. Not that people are disposable commodities (I add that disclaimer so I don’t sound heartless…and also because people aren’t the same as products). But I only have so many spoons, and so much mental/emotional energy to spend on friends, so I don’t wanna waste any on people I’ve outgrown. (Does that sound harsh? I wish I didn’t care about sounding like an asshole.)

Part of my brain is really judging me right now and like “Ooooh, YOU see relationships as transactional and have a scarcity mindset! Why can’t you just have a zillion friends and unending love for all of them, like a waterfall of good vibes?”

That voice is stupid, though. My life isn’t some ’70s rainbow unicorn postcard fantasy. I’m an introvert, and I get tired, and I’m still working on trying to mask less/recovering from masking when I do. Plus it’s cold and it’s dark and it’s winter and COVID and I only want like 3 friends, OK?

Sorry this post got so ranty. I don’t know why I feel like I’m judged for burning bridges. It’s a very helpful and kind (I think) thing to do. Why string someone along? Why half-ass a friendship?! It’s kind of like dating someone out of pity–it’s actually not very nice at all.

So yes, I burn bridges occasionally. And I’m gonna try to stop feeling guilty for it!

autism and narcissism

A neighbor recently mentioned Dr. Ramani, an expert on narcissism, so I started watching some of her videos and reading about the different types of narcissists.

Then I got freaked out that maybe I’M a narcissist.

(I also read a blog post saying if you’re worried about being a narcissist, it proves you’re not one, but I’m not entirely convinced by that.)

When googling signs of narcissism, I noticed an overlap with autism. I can’t be bothered to make a fancy Venn diagram, so a table will have to do:

NarcissismBothAutism
Punish people for saying no, hurt people on purpose, arrogant, jealous, need admiration, charming and social, desperate for external validation, entitled, blames others, avoids feelingsAppear to lack empathy, want to control situations, can seem oblivious, rude, or condescending, can be critical and sensitive, might have issues listening or initiating conversation, might seem self-absorbedHave empathy but might not show it, hurt people accidentally, need structure and routine, oblivious to social subtext, not overly manipulative, not as reliant on external validation, struggle to identify feelings (alexithymia)
Sources: Good Therapy, Elemy, Leon’s Existential Cafe, Psychology Today, Kenneth Roberson, Living Autism

(Please note, I’m not a therapist or mental health professional, just an avid googler.)

It me.

This post on Leon’s Existential Cafe makes a good distinction between autism and narcissism:

“The individual with autism doesn’t understand that she’s harming someone, whereas the narcissist doesn’t care and, at worst, aims to do so.”

Leon also points out that it’s not OK to be a dick on purpose and blame it on being autistic. (Agreed.)

On Psychology Today, Susan Heitler clarifies the difference well too:

“Autism and narcissism are not all one syndrome. Narcissists generally are not autistic. And folks on the autistic spectrum are unlikely to have a narcissistic personality disorder…The main overlapping area of difficulty occurs in social interactions—in listening to, understanding and responding appropriately to others.”

There’s also this ~ academic paper ~ (oOoOOoohhhh) about autism and narcissism, which says:

[T]he gulf between autism and pathological narcissism is vast…[the narcissist’s] social dysfunctioning is the outcome of conscious haughtiness and the reluctance to invest scarce mental energy in cultivating relationships with inferior and unworthy others…The autistic patient often wants to be accepted socially…He just doesn’t have a clue how to go about it.

I’d definitely say I’m more socially awkward/oblivious than haughty. So maybe I’m just autistic and not a narcissist? Let’s hope so!

autism and spatial awareness

I’ve always been clumsy.

My parents worried about what the people at church would think of the bruises on my shins from running into things. (It doesn’t help that I bruise easily.)

High school PE was awful, particularly volleyball. I cringed whenever the ball came my way. Same for when a soccer ball soared toward me in my 20s during a soccer game I’d been persuaded to join. Kickball, golf, any sport was miserable. I got used to making fun of myself for being so bad at sports, laughing at myself to distract from how uncomfortable I was.

I always chalked it up to “having no hand/eye coordination” or “just not being athletic.” I figured it was just further proof I was destined to be an unpopular nerd, and I had no problem with hanging out in the library instead of a gym or field.

Even today, I bump into doorframes, hit my head on things, and spill drinks on my couch. It’s easy to think, ugh, I’m suck a fuckup or a ditz or messy or any other negative label.

But maybe I just have poor spatial awareness because I’m autistic!

I didn’t realize this til I was reading a novel about an autistic woman who also constantly bumped into things, especially when she was nearing autistic burnout. It’s definitely worse when I’m tired or stressed or anxious! A huge lightbulb went on for me.

Children who struggle with knowing where their bodies are might bump into walls, run into windows, and may appear very clumsy…Kids with proprioception problems are often awkward physically and may have challenges with some sports or athletics.

Clear Child Psychology

Makes me wonder how many of my “flaws” are just part of being neurodivergent, instead of me being lacking.