I Still Struggle: Life as an Autistic Adult
"You don't look autistic."
It's a frustrating sentence that autistics hear rather often, or that parents hear about their autistic children.
But the truth is, I don't look autistic, or much of the time even act autistic. Most of the people that I interact with every day, even though those see me on a daily basis, don't know that I'm autistic. A total of 4 coworkers know, out of the dozens I interact with.
I'm a college graduate, independent, married, and have a full-time job where I even lead a team. I've overcome many challenges that autism has presented me with.
But I still struggle. Autism still presents its challenges for me.
I still get sensory overload sometimes. Noise and sound can be a bit of a challenge for me. Yesterday, I was having a nice Saturday morning at home, and gentle instrumental music playing in the background as we had breakfast, enjoyed the morning, and I worked on the dishes.
Eventually I reached my limit. After working on the dishes I need to rest for a while. When the pace of my day changed, the music - any music - became too much, and I needed silence.
I also generally can't filter out or ignore sound. If someone is talking nearby, I will generally be listening. It's not because I'm trying to eavesdrop, but rather because I can't not listen. I can't tune them out. My brain wants to listen to every word spoken in earshot. It can make it really hard to focus sometimes, especially at work, and I had to learn to multitask - to listen and work at the same time.
Being social can also be a struggle. While I can socialize and be part of a conversation without difficulty, I am rarely perfectly at ease doing so.
We recently had family visiting, and I found myself in my parents' living room with half a dozen people. While my discomfort didn't make me want to run from the room, it still presented itself.
I found myself staring at the patterns on an aunt's dress. It was a while before I realized that I was doing it (I hope no one noticed, especially the aunt), and I realized as a coping mechanism.
Socializing and being in a conversation for an extended period can be a challenge for me. So to control the overload, I will often unconsciously focus on some pattern in the room. I'll mentally change it, add to it, or otherwise do something with the pattern in my mind.
The Silent (Or Not-So-Silent) Struggle
So why do I write about this? Because most of this is largely invisible. Other than not making eye contact in a group conversation, most people don't have any idea this is going on inside in my head.
They don't because I've learned how to cope, and how to do thing to manage my emotions and feelings. But this is largely an adult skill.
Children, especially those with autism, have trouble with coping mechanisms like this, or haven't learned them yet, because the part of their brain that can do that is still developing.
They'll get overloaded, and they'll act on that. You'll see sensory overloads and meltdowns. They may not be able to tell you why, or explain what's going on.
So I write insights like this. I write to explain what's going on inside my head, so that you might better understand what's going on in their heads.
I write so that I might be a voice of my autistic brothers and sisters, to share what they feel but can't explain, and may not understand themselves.
Even though I have found things that help, and have overcome many challenges, my point is that I still have challenges. So don't discouraged if challenges exist.
Everyone has daily challenges, so don't give up. Don't resign yourself to them. Keep working. Keep trying. Keep learning. It will be worth it.