But there’s another side of that coin. Sometimes an easy excuse can make us too complacent. I’m speaking from experience here. Unlike a lot of us, I got my diagnosis in my early teens. But I ignored it for over a decade.
My parents were relatively supportive. But I didn’t get much help along the way. I went to a high school for the “emotionally disturbed” with no autism-specific supports and not many autistic classmates to be friends with. I’ve tried and failed at enough jobs to know that the next one isn’t going to be different. I struggled through college and grad school without disclosing to anyone. I got kicked out of one program and a kind professor from another one told me I’ll probably never be a fashion designer because of my “personality.” He was worried that I’d be insulted. But at that point I was relieved.
After six years of failing at almost everything, I’ve just started to accept what those three words: autism spectrum disorder – actually mean.
Now we all know old people love to tell millennials how lazy we are. The autism community is no exception. Temple Grandin herself scolds us about using autism as an excuse for not pushing ourselves. I think that’s short-sighted and callous of her honestly. A lot of us aren’t capable of working hard and sustaining our tenuous mental health at the same time.
But she’s right about a few things. Higher-functioning autistics tend to be detailed and logical thinkers. We think outside the box by necessity. With those skills we could easily turn to advocacy. Autistic self-advocates are gaining traction in the media. Mainstream websites like VICE, Pacific Standard, and The Establishment are now covering autistic issues from autistic writers pretty regularly. And of course we can advocate for other things too. If we’re not working full-time we can research our special interests to our hearts’ content. The great thing about the Internet is that you can find someone to pay you for almost anything.
And yes, some autistic people aren’t stable enough to do that. But if nothing else we can throw ourselves completely into our hobbies. I have a friend who can’t do much, but he loves Star Wars. We might be disabled in our interactions with people. But many neurotypicals are disabled in their interactions with themselves. They can’t derive real pleasure from anything that doesn’t involve other people. I guarantee neurotypicals would envy how fully we can absorb ourselves in a book.
My biggest regret is that I’ve let autism hold me back so much. When I’m not depressed and self-pitying, I think I’m actually a pretty interesting person. I managed a well-known store with a gloriously eccentric owner. I also ran a monetized sex humor website. I’ve had a robust social life with my fellow weirdos and a few campy gay guys who got a kick out of me. And that’s not even touching on my love life.
I’m not saying I couldn’t have done more if I didn’t have autism. What I am saying is that even with autism I’ve still squeezed some real joy out of life.
It wasn’t consistent though. For many years I didn’t do jack shit. It was a pattern: I’d fail at something because of autism; then I’d get depressed and let other opportunities pass me by because I thought I’d fail at them too. Then I’d get even more depressed because I wasn’t doing anything. I became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Pride was a problem for me too. I refused to ask for accommodations. I wish I could go back and smack my stubborn-ass self in the head.
Most of us aspies are interesting. Sure, we have setbacks. Enough to stop us from doing a lot of what we want to do. But the autistic brain is pretty good at compensating for its flaws. Our “unique way of thinking” might be more out of necessity than a deliberate act of disobedience, but it’s still something for us to be proud of.
I don’t want to sound like I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. I’m not sure I’ll ever be at peace with this fully. I think I’ll always miss the years that I’ve lost. I’m also still coming to terms with the fact that I can never compare myself to neurotypical people.
And I wish more than anything that I knew how to come off as likeable. People don’t feel comfortable around me. I hate that. I hate it and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop.
But I’ve got other things going for me now.
I’ve been waking up earlier. I’ve been reading novels instead of comparing myself to people I don’t talk to anymore on Facebook. I’ve found a friend group who accepts me as I am. They’re not the cool kids I fantasized about when I was younger, but we’ve always got something to talk about.
The main thing we have to remember is that we’re not that different from everybody else. Autism or not, we all have to make sacrifices. The older we get, the more we’ll see that “regular” people have as many regrets and missed opportunities as we do. And I guarantee you that if we think about it, most of us armchair autists can find plenty of things in life that make us happy.
*Image from adventuretravelnews.