I often read this narrative online, “So-and-so overcame their autism and succeeded at something.”
It makes me feel uncomfortable.
It makes me worry that one day someone might say, “Rhi overcame her autism to write”, which would be to fundamentally misunderstand both me and my autism.
One of the positives of autism can be hyper-focus. When I find joy in something, or it piques my interest, I can put everything I have into it. Everything. I may forget to eat and drink, because everything else fades into the background. If I have to do something that would normally be outside of my comfort zone, if my focus is taking up all my processing, I’ll barely notice the issue. All my cobweb thoughts are being thrown in one direction. I’m entangled.
If I can force some structure onto it, then I can maintain that level of dedication relatively easily. So long as I’m making sure I eat and drink and wash and get outside for a time, I will be ridiculously productive for as long as my interest lasts.
That’s my autism giving me that. It’s not a savant-skill, it’s just the way my brain works.
My writing is how it is because of autism. I write because one of the things that my autism gives me is an intermingling of senses and words.
For me words are shapes and feelings and numbers, all rolled into one. Each sentence is a rolling undulation of balance and emotion. Writing is joy. Words are feelings. Not in a metaphorical or symbolical sense, but in a real and immediate way.
I write to empty my head of my constant cobweb thoughts. I write because my mind is never empty, and if I don’t let the words go then they start to echo. I write to understand myself better.
My autism compels me to write. It compels me to sing everywhere I go. It compels me to dance.
The idea that anything I do is done separately to my autism is being unfair to my processor. Nothing I do is done behind autisms back. I don’t sneak off and leave it at home for a while. I don’t send sneaky messages when it’s out of the room.
I’m autistic. It’s not something to overcome. Sometimes it’s annoying and gives me extra work to do. Sometimes it’s productive and let’s me do a day’s work in an hour.
I have never heard anyone say that someone neurotypical overcame their natural lack of hyper-focus to train and achieve something. But they do, every day, and I’m so very proud of them for it.
You don’t hear it said about stereotypical autism traits either. No one overcomes their autism to be good at maths. Should we be saying that those autistics who are terrible at maths (and there are many) have overcome their autism to be awful at it? It makes about as much sense.
I overcame my autism to finally make that important phone call that I’ve been putting off for weeks. I overcame my autism and got to sleep at a reasonable hour. I overcame my autism and bought a pint of milk. These are the times when I have to push back against my autism. Housework, self-care, sorting bills, going somewhere new, these are things that grind against my natural impulses. These are my battle-grounds.
It’s not that coping mechanisms won’t have been an important part of an achievement, but they’re to do with the audience or the lights and sounds. They’re to do with the construct surrounding the skill. They’re all barriers placed in the way of that person. They’re the bits that could be dismantled if anyone felt like doing it.
This blog is my place without barriers. There’s no filter between you and me. I haven’t had to network or build relationships with anyone. I haven’t had to reach out to people through phones or face to face. I haven’t had to speak to editors or publishers or agents. It’s just me.
Which is why I have files full of words that sit and gather dust. It’ll always be easier to write than to reach out.
If ever I do, if ever I get to a point of entering an inspirational narrative, don’t forget that what I overcame were the interactions. What I surpassed were the social games that I don’t understand. Never my autism. Never that.
This afternoon I shall clean my toilet in an inspirational fashion. I’ll add a flourish for good measure, and you can guarantee I’ll be singing as I do it.