I have traits of autism apparently. I’m told these traits have been glaringly obvious to others on the spectrum and yet today I met the first ever person to call me on it. Now, as so many things fall into place, I am stunned that it was never glaringly obvious to me!
I met with a work client, Ben, to discuss how the use of digital technology can improve the service offering of his charity and what impact it could have upon the service users. This gent was quite tech savvy and said he was ‘excited’ to have my organisation teach digital inclusion skills to the staff and volunteers.
Something about Ben just seemed to click with me and I talked animatedly, in full speed, at length, in a ridiculous number of relevant and seemingly non-relevant directions. It flowed so well simply because Ben could keep up and join in with every subject matter I raised. At no point did he look baffled or overwhelmed by my conversation and often added his own take on the subject. I found myself so into our conversation that I interrupted him – a lot – to tell him my experiences so that the words fell out of my mouth, instead of my head (I’m having a real struggle with memory and recalling words lately). I NEVER interrupt people normally. I am a listener, offer practical advice and solutions and then either get bored or frustrated by the person then switch off or leave. I could have talked to Ben all day!
The thing was though, we had talked about digital techie stuff for the first hour, but it was the second hour that was the real eye-opener. I had made several references to my Son during our techie talk which Ben had picked up on, such as his uber genius at technology, his utter frustration at not having anyone on his intellectual level to talk to, his exhaustion at humouring people who had no idea how to converse with him and how isolated he is from his peers, and family, through his own preference. He is not sad or lonely, he is loving and very aware of the emotions of others but can only tolerate others in very small doses; but given the choice he prefers his own company. He is practical minded and always has a solution to a problem. He is happy as he is, does not need me to fix anything, doesn’t want me to create events or days out and does not need mine, nor anyone else’s company to enjoy his day. Why have I never accepted this until now?
Ben surprised me by being so open immediately and informed me that he has Tourette’s and autism. As he discussed how he was as a child, my relationship with my son ran like a motion picture through my mind; there were so many similarities it was spooky! I then heard about what amazing achievements Ben has made in his life, incredible, admirable things that would be the envy of most entrepreneurs. His autism, whilst making his life stressful and sometimes overwhelming, had provided him with the ‘traits’ which made him single-minded, driven and ultimately successful. As Ben informed me, his approach to engaging with people, projects and social situations might be different, but he has learned how to achieve the same desired results.
As the conversation was drawing to a close – purely due to the fact my parking ticket had 3 minutes left – when Ben, careful not to offend, told me that he had observed a number of autistic traits in me. I of course was not offended, but I was intrigued enough to think “I’ll just pay the parking fine” and sat back down again. He told me that he had noticed that my level of animation when we talked shop was heightened to the point of appearing fake. Ohh.. brutal honesty, ok, bring it on.
He then noted that I had a short attention span, was very intelligent (happy with that one) and spoke with openness and honesty about my personal life, without sugar-coating, apology or embarrassment. We talked a while longer and so many of the traits of autism rang true with me that I left the meeting feeling exhilarated. There is a reason that I have always been socially awkward, always felt on the outside and loathe being with groups of people unless I am related to them.
I am now reading back on how I described my son a few paragraphs ago and am realising, that I was also describing myself however neither of us necessarily fit neatly on an autistic profile, there are a number of non-autistic traits in us both too, therefore, do we really need to concern ourselves with a label? In addition, with the spectrum being so incredibly wide, and given the general public’s limited knowledge of how autism affects people, can a label ever give a reasonably accurate depiction? For example, the generalised thought is that people with autism struggle to communicate. My son barely spoke for the first 4 years but now never shuts up. His conversation is way above my head and he knows it. I have a Masters degree, a teaching qualification and numerous other diplomas but my Son thinks I’m an imbecile!
According to the National Autistic Society, there are *around 700,000 people in the UK who are on the Autistic spectrum and it is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and experiences the world around them*. Some of these individuals and their families prefer to have an official diagnosis as it helps them to make sense of the world around them and some don’t. If you are reading this and wondering whether you may be on the spectrum yourself, try completing an online test such as this one from the Deal With Autism website but please dont get hung up on the results; its for guidelines only, not a diagnosis.
Yes, having a medically diagnosed condition that requires a label can help greatly when understanding our support needs and how to access help, benefits etc. but other labels outside of this are, in my opinion, limiting, unhelpful and temporary. Everything around us changes and we change with it and we deal with those changes in our own unique way. I have a lot of ‘traits’ of a lot of different disorders, but I also have a lot of ‘traits’ which I am blinkin proud of too – these all smushed together to create me, as a whole person; just unique little ol me.
Labels are given to us by other people, we do not give them to ourselves. They box you in as being a specific category of behaviour, emotion and physical state, but they cannot possibly define you as a person! These labels, no matter what they are and whether they relate to your abilities, mental or physical health, upbringing, race, religion, financial status, popularity or lack there of, these labels are attached to only a very small part of the person and bear absolutely no meaning to who you are as a whole, spiritual, loving human being!
As I said to my Son just yesterday “You are just you and I am just me, that’s all the label we need. As for our behaviours and attitudes… well that just depends on the person standing in front of us”.
*direct quote from website 14/7/18