Monday, November 18, 2013

This is Autism (Sunfell)

Written by and originally published at Sunfell

Systems and patterns... everything is part of a system, and everything in that system has a pattern. That was the first thing I understood, and that was the first thing that made me 'different' from my peers. Patterns, rhythms, sorting, systems- they fascinated me more than frilly dresses, dolls, playing house or 'being a lady'. "Being a lady" meant that no, I could not go and chase lizards or look at bugs, or talk incessantly about them to anyone who would listen. Or talk about astronauts, space exploration, ancient Egypt, crystal radios, weird stuff you can do with cornstarch, geology, or stereos. Nobody wanted to listen to a little girl talk about much of anything- little girls were supposed to be sweet and quiet, not asking a ton of questions about everything. Little girls were supposed to be pretty and graceful, not gawky and unkempt, with 'clumsy, awkward hands' (as my grandmother observed to my mom within my earshot). Little girls were supposed to be 'attractive' to boys (not act like one, which I often did), not have their noses buried in books or overtly display any semblance of intelligence that would be off-putting to men. I studiously ignored all these illogical, arbitrary rules. Sometimes, I was punished for doing so, and made to wear the itchy tights, the scratchy dresses, the smelly 'home perm' lotions that made my hair pretty. I stoically endured these things, having learned very early on that temper tantrums were severely punished. I learned how to use charm and my insatiable curiosity to bull past the 'girl rules'. Playing dumb (but asking very smart questions) was one of the best talents I acquired as a young woman. 

This is autism.

Everything has rules. And for me, most of the rules having to do with things like electronics or computer systems, or other things made sense. But for people? People were a mystery. If I did not smile, I was wrong. If I smiled, then the person I smiled at would interpret it wrong- especially men. I quickly learned that it was far better to put on a stoic, neutral, Vulcan face than it was to smile at any man. I learned that 'small talk', while horribly boring for me, could be scripted in such a way that I sounded 'natural' to people I dealt with. No one was interested in 'real talk'. I learned that there was some kind of dance of bodily and facial expression that I had not learned because listening to people gave me better information than looking at their often mystifying faces. Why was their voice telling me one thing, and their face something different? Which was the truth? Reconciling these conflicting things took me years to master. Now, I am a walking lie and bullshit detector. I can now speak 'people'- with my own accent. 

This is autism. 

My keen ears pick up sounds that normal people apparently cannot hear. I am capable of listening to a computer's hard drive, or a car's engine, and telling if it is malfunctioning or not. Poorly mastered music, and low-end MP3s are torture to my ears, as are certain female voices. Fans and ventilation systems in places determine whether I will inhabit a place, or flee it. They make noises that impact the tone of the room- and a minor key or worse, atonal, dissonant sound can make even the prettiest room unbearable to be in. There is a frequency range that sends my hands flying to my ears- and other frequencies and sounds that make me have to suppress a strong urge to bolt. Babies and small kids, dogs, two-stroke engines, loud restaurants, certain PA systems, even vacuum cleaners- although my desire for cleanliness does outweigh my hatred for the sounds the vacuum makes. On the other hand, I also have a penchant for picking up subtle nuance in music, and enjoy poking around in places like SoundCloud to find tracks that I then like and promote. I have proto-hipster tastes- tuning into artists before even the hipsters have heard of them. I am quietly proud of this. 

My senses of taste and smell are nearly as keen. My sister uses my talent to figure out what spices are in certain mixes. I am rarely wrong. 

This is autism.

I am a human GPS. Give me a map, the local time and date, and a good sky with at least one horizon and I'll be dialed in within moments. Even crude maps work for me. But all maps fascinate me, and reconnoitering is one of my favorite things to do. My sense of direction and place was so good that my military colleagues would squabble over who got me for 'shotgun' on deployments, because we never got lost when I was along- no matter where we were. This later became handy on business trips, and my boss would send me out to conferences a day early to scout around and get the lay of the place. I seem to have an internal compass, and always know which way north is. 

This is autism. 

Magic, metaphysics, and the multi/metaverse have always fascinated me- much more interesting and dimensional than the boring, flat, canned scripture spoon-fed to the masses. I dove into the occult like a seal into water, learning various systems, styles, and ultimately, the underlying Pattern and Current. I found systems within systems, patterns within patterns, multiverses, bubble universes, build-your-own microverses... it was fun! It still is. I accumulated many trappings, books and titles along my journey- like lint on velvet, and ultimately rolled them up and pitched them out. I have no title today, my tools are minimal, and the Patterns manifest themselves when I choose to filter for them. They never fail me. Perhaps this fuels my Human GPS skill. Who knows? I learned how to write my name in runes, hieroglyphs and Theban. I can write it in Vulcan, too. But there is magic in all alphabets, and numbers, and stars, and the patterns between stars, planets, cat whiskers, computer software, playing cards, tarot cards, billboards, random pages, and even those silly, crudely drawn sidebar ads that infest the Internet. Magic has a sense of humor. So do the Small Gods. Laugh, damn it!

This is autism. I expect that many Adepts and Mages have more than a little of it- who else would be patient enough to create 2-D representations of 4-D universes, set up attraction beacons, and create a space between for interaction with denizens of other universes? People who are capable of spending days, weeks, even years, examining every permutation of Patterns, and creating workable systems from them, that's who. 

This is autism. 

Words, language, concepts, nuance, fluency, books, thoughts- I'm full of them. I love language, and writing, and reading. I remember reading my first word, "Sony", and being so proud of myself. And picking out words and short phrases from my father's Stars & Stripes paper, and asking him and my mom what 'detante' meant. I was 3. I was a reader in kindergarten. Reading and writing come easily to me; speaking, especially outside a mentally rehearsed script or persona is quite another. Stress, cognitive overload, and the personal perception that I am somehow 'wrong' often mutes me in one-to-one situations, especially when I have to parse, translate, and respond on the fly. When I am very upset, I cannot speak at all. Yet, I am also capable of holding a room full of people rapt as a speaker. What gets me to the podium, and past the dreadful feeling from looking at all those eyes is the understanding that, for the next few minutes, their attention is mine, I own the room, and the energies all flow one way, from me to them. But I do not take questions- my mute-button would again be apparent.

This is autism. 

I always felt that I didn't quite fit in with the rest of humanity- my interests and passions were often radically different than everyone else's. Not in a negative way, but in a way that made me realize that I was the one with the differences. I came to understand that my intelligence level was far greater than that of my peers, although I felt like an idiot a lot of the time, because people did not make sense to me. I sought to learn why this was- I had muddled through my life into middle age, gradually learning the people rules, while simultaneously becoming truly adept at computer, system, and network rules. Why was I a 'genius' in one respect (computers, electronics, technology), and a total klutz in another (socializing, dating, mating, etc?). I had to know, and sought out matching patterns for my own experiences. I found the most matches in the realm of autism- specifically Aspergers Syndrome. Not all the patterns matched, though- the bias was extremely male, not all the parameters applied to me, and my forced socialization as a girl had done a lot to sand off the rougher edges that males apparently still had. I was hiding in plain sight. And there was nothing about empathy or emotional sensitivity in any of the early stuff I read- I found the world overwhelming in that respect, and relationships extremely difficult to endure past a certain point, and required extended periods of solitude to reset my head after extended socialization. 

This is autism.

I have a gift- a great gift- for understanding technical things. But I still have difficulty with social niceties. I still need to have things written down for me, because when I try to listen to instructions, I am so busy listening that I don't hear them. I still keep a relatively stoic, Vulcan demeanor about me, which used to land me accusations for being 'stuck up', along with my disdain for small talk. I've countered that with developing a persona that is full of humor, sly, sometimes snarky observances, and direct addressing of problems. As a result, I am well liked by my peers and colleagues, and people look forward to working with me. I am fortunate to be in a job where my quirks and eccentricities are accepted as part of being a computer geek. I am slso fortunate to have my own private office, with a door I can mostly close when the people-noise gets too much. I made plenty of mistakes as a younger person, but have learned from them and landed on my feet. I am keenly aware of how fortunate I am- there are people who cannot keep jobs, in spite of their talents, because those rough edges haven't been sufficiently sanded down, or they've not found an accommodating workplace. 

I would not trade my quirky brain and its noise-intolerant arrangement for anything. It is inconvenient sometimes, but for the most part, I am fine with who I am. I know that people like me- curious, intelligent, systemizing, orderly- have helped to make this world a better place. While I may lack the inventive spark (except maybe verbally or musically) I make up for that by having the talent for Fixing Things. I like Fixing Things. 

This isn't autism. This is me.


  1. Sunfell, your voice comes out beautifully in this post. I can identify with quite a few things, especially when it comes to needing time away to decompress after social or sensory overloading engagements.

  2. I wish I knew you when I was growing up :-) ..... I didn't find my "voice" until 2 years ago and I just turned 50 a week ago. I always knew exactly who I was and didn't dwell on being different, weird, strange for a female, not normal, Crazy, UNTIL, I started listening to other Peoples Voices that didn't say a damned thing that made sense to me, though I still had to Listen.

    Now, I listen to Me and only Me, first ..... That's the GOD in Me and now I Know my core autistic personality Is a Gift!

    That is AUTISM! We are Autism!

    And I believe Indigo is just another Name :-) for This Gift!

    Thank you for your Words! I 'feel' better now O:-)