As an autistic person, there are a lot of things running through my mind while I’m sitting on the couch, watching The Big Bang Theory with my dad. I think about all the sensory details in the show, and the sensory details around me in the room. Are there too many things on the couch with me, taking up my seat? Is the room too hot? Too cold? Do I have enough milk ready to sip?
But there’s one thing I really think about, and that’s this: “Is Sheldon Cooper an autistic character?”
A few weeks ago when I sported my cat ears headband for the first time after buying it, my professor asked, “Why do millenials love cat ears?” I thought about it, and it’s a good question, and a trend that does seem to be on the rise – but not one I can comment on.
I can answer why I’m in love with cat ears, though, and why I would wear them on a headband. It all comes down to special interests, which are perhaps the best (in my opinion) aspect of being autistic, and probably one of my favorite things about life altogether.
This post will deviate from my blog’s main topic, but I do continue this relevant to who I am as a person and to my identity, which this blog has a lot to do with. Many people in my life or people who see me passing by consider me automatically to be a confident, self assured person with a solidified self-identity. I can see why. I wear tulle skirts, rainbow socks, an entire arm full of glittery colorful bracelets, and I’m openly in a same-sex relationship. But I also know that gaining any confidence whatsoever has been a struggle for me, especially because of my marginalized identities, and this is a struggle that I feel is really summed up by my name change.
It’s been four months since I decided to make the change and told my family and friends what to call me. For me, it has been four years since I decided in my heart that I would need to do this someday. Four months doesn’t seem very long, and in the grand scheme, it isn’t. But there are a few things that have happened as time goes on that are working really well for me.
Let’s start with a disclaimer. I’m not an expert on relationships (or autism). I’m just an autistic person who has studied communication and psychology a bit in college, who has also been in a romantic partnership for almost 6 years now. As much as my friends think I am a relationship expert because of this, I am not.
But I do know quite a bit about the minefield that is being in a relationship as an autistic person. In all honesty, I don’t think dating an autistic person is any harder than dating a non-autistic person. We all have our baggage; some people are bipolar, some have borderline personality disorder, some people are just socially anxious, some have temper issues. Autism just carries a lot of baggage specific to many of the common traits and symptoms/expressions (whatever you wanna call them) of our autism.
Often enough, disability advocates and disabled people don’t have the space to express the great things about their lives. People expect a lot of complaining from us, and a lot of “This is why certain things are unfair.” And that’s true. Being an advocate for autistics means that I see the holes in society where autistic people fall through the cracks; I see ableism where it exists, I see how things could be better. I take care to point these things out because changes won’t be made unless people do.
But I don’t get a lot of space to express how wonderful being autistic is sometimes. That allows people to forget that it’s a part of me that I cherish and not something to be “cured of” or “fixed from.”
While growing up, Amy had a very hard time socializing and was often nonverbal and catatonic. Amy would sit in one place in the same position for hours, maybe only changing it up to rock back and forth. Amy forgot to eat until she was starving. She forgot to drink water and became dehydrated. She was terrible at regulating her own body’s needs and would forget to pee until she was basically peeing herself, and always had trouble sleeping. Amy’s now an adult. She has a hard time expressing her own needs sometimes and doesn’t know how to ask for help, like if she can’t find something in a store. It takes all of her energy to do things that require a lot of senses at once, like shopping. If she is going shopping, she has to take a list and another person she trusts with her, because it is too hard to remember to purchase everything she needs and how to navigate the store and where her car is parked all at the same time. Amy experiences meltdowns if she has too many sensory things to process at one time, and during a meltdown she will scream, cry and be unable to move from the spot until she regulates. Amy frequently experiences burnout when she’s over-exerted herself and sometimes forgets where she is, feels hazy and confused and works basically on autopilot for days or weeks at a time.
While growing up, it was clear that Sarah had a knack for patterns. She could read a story and then create a story of a similar structure even though she had difficulty learning the formal processes of English in class. Sarah could remember endless facts and would recite them ad nauseam to her family and peers. Sarah created elaborate worlds from her own perspective, complete with characters, plots and fantasy elements and she would make drawings and 3 dimensional models to go with the stories. Sarah is now an adult. She’s in the Honors program at her college and is working on an honors thesis, where she essentially creates her own class for 6 credits and works with a professor one-on-one. Sarah is taking 6 classes this semester and has 3 part-time jobs and a 2-hour-per-week internship. Sarah tutors at the advanced level in several places on her campus. Sarah regulates a lot of her sensory issues well, and has turned a lot of her Sensory Processing issues into a running joke with her friends so she no longer feels self conscious about them. She has a lot of friends at school and a lot of people use the compliment, “You don’t seem like you have autism.”
Which person do you think is high functioning autistic and which is low functioning?
I’ve wanted to write a guide to autism as it exists for me, to clear up what it can mean to have autism, talk about myths, and also discuss why I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Originally I wanted to share information like this during April, widely known as Autism Awareness Month, because of how harmful misrepresentation and misinformation is during that month. However, unfortunately, it is still very unsafe to reveal that I’m autistic to the general public because of how the public treats autistic people. It’s one of the only things about myself I’m afraid to be open about, along with being trans* (for safety reasons mainly—LGBTQA* and people with disabilities are at a much higher risk of being the victims of violent crimes—but also because I have no plans to socially or medically transition, and I don’t want to take being trans* away from the community that really deserves it, those who identify with it openly).
Hopefully, this post can serve as an introduction to me and to my autism. This blog is intended mainly to revolve around topics relating to autism, autistic people and my experiences as an autistic person. However, my other identities might come up sometimes. They might be interrelated, or my autism might have an affect on another identity or issue in my life. For example, if I post about a college course and how aspects of my autism affect studying or the like, my identity as a college student will come into play. For that reason, I believe an introduction is necessary. And also because it’s great to see a whole person beneath words.
I’m Alaina. I am 21 years old and currently a senior at a state university in Massachusetts studying English and Communications. I’m an Honors student. I’m bisexual and in a committed relationship of over 5 years with my girlfriend, Macey, who may come up in personal anecdotes about my autism. I identify as female but my gender identity and expression are interesting to say the least. I grew up north of Boston and I live with my dad and my fat cat, Winston Michael Leary, lovingly known as Fat Winnie. I name everything I own, including giving my cats middle names and naming my electronic devices and such. I am a rape and domestic abuse survivor and I speak openly about rape culture. I have also been in recovery from self harm and an eating disorder – anorexia, purging subtype – for two years this September 1st. I am an ENFP and a Pisces, both of which I think describe me absolutely perfectly.