Spectrum

I’m autistic.

This must come as such a shock to so many, really. It’s something I’ve been using as upaya for years. It really did seem to be the best explanation for a lot of what I’ve long described as “quirks” in my personality. I used to say, back when I was in college and loved using big words for the sake of it, that I lived unapologetically in didactic mode. I’ve always had trouble shifting communication modes. I occasionally forget that I haven’t actually told somebody something if I’ve had a conversation with myself about it. I was, and sometimes still am, prone to remembering the emotional impact of an event long past the point at which I’ve forgotten what actually happened. If there were some other explanation that fit all of the available facts, I never found one.

And yet, it’s only just earlier this week that I finally formally got confirmation of my condition. It seems a strange thing to delay, perhaps, but there really just never seemed to need any kind of formalism. I lived with people who understood. I had my life structured such that I didn’t need to worry, and I do mean “structured.” I went into I.T. as a profession, which is pretty common. Sure, I had a few crises along the way, but who doesn’t? I upset a few folks, but sometimes that happens, right? Maybe I caused a ruckus every so often, but that’s just… normal. Isn’t it?

Clearly, the answer is no. I recently had a rather nasty fight with a roommate over… well, a great many things, but ultimately at the end it was about the way I occasionally talk down to other people and express negativity about my friends’ capacities. And apparently I do. And yet, in a four-hour conversation with Keet about it, I did it three times and never even noticed I was doing it. When it was pointed out to me, explicitly, in the moments after having said something terribly crude and insulting, I… didn’t notice. I hadn’t seen it coming. And by the end of the talk, I was in tears, not at how terrible a person I was, but at the unfairness and stress of being asked to police my speech in ways I just couldn’t tell were a problem. I totally believe that, if somebody like my wife were to say to me, “the thing you just said there can be construed as terribly rude,” I have no reason to doubt. And yet… I just couldn’t tell I was doing it. I literally didn’t understand.

Hitting the limit of one’s capacities is a terrible, terrible thing. I haven’t been so distraught in a very long time. I’m not used to thinking of myself as being incapable. Unskilled, sure. Uneducated, possibly. I can even cope with incompetent; everyone has to start somewhere, and some things I just don’t have the time to get better at them. This, though, was flat-out lack of ability, not just to get good, but to understand what “getting good” looked like. It feels like in this area I have no means to progress, because I don’t really get what I’m doing wrong, and without being able to spot the mistakes, I can’t really see what needs fixing. I’m not saying there’s nothing here to fix. There is, surely; enough people were willing to say as much. I just… can’t. And I feel bad about it.

The diagnosis changes nothing. As I said, I was already using it as a short-cut in some conversations to help facilitate the level of conversation that I actually need to effect change. I once had an HR representative call me in to talk very concernedly at me for fifteen minutes about “a problem” without ever once actually saying what the problem was, and it wasn’t until bluntly said, “I’m a high-functioning autist; I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please tell me what I did wrong so I can stop doing it.” Then, suddenly, she was willing to stop talking around the problem, and for those of you who want to know them, ask behind closed doors and make sure you haven’t eaten recently. Most of the people I know already understand my behavior in the framework of the spectrum. A word on a formal piece of paper somewhere is just a word; it doesn’t change who I am, how I act, or how the people I know relate to me. I’m still quintessentially me.

The diagnosis changes everything. Having the declaration on a piece of official paperwork is a relief beyond measure. My claims all these years weren’t just a deflection or a deception; they were the truth, albeit unconfirmed until now. I’m not just ignoring things I don’t want to hear; I really didn’t hear them, or didn’t process them even if I did hear. I’m not patronizing and dismissive; I’m clueless, which is eminently more understandable and forgivable. I meant it when I said I never meant to hurt people, but sometimes I don’t know how to do otherwise, and I don’t even know that I’m doing it. My quirks and weird responses to things aren’t just me being awkward for no reason; there’s a cause to which I can point that resists the easy dismissiveness of being an asbo. It’s a marker saying, “yes, you’re crazy, but in a way that we understand.”

I’m still going to work on trying to offer advice to people before they’ve asked for it. That, at least, I understand, and I can try to do something about it. That’s such a small portion of communication, but if it means something, I offer it freely. You’re not problems to be solved, any of you; you’re my friends. I do want to solve your problems, perhaps with the same level of enthusiasm that Clippy had for writing business letters. However, I’ll try to wait until you’ve asked for help. No guarantees, though. I love to offer assistance.

He brought home the bacon, so that no one knew.