035: Being Autistic

"Being Autistic," anonymous

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.

I’m an 18 year old college student and I have autism.

I didn’t grow up with a diagnosis. In fact, for a lot of my life I pushed aside the idea that something could be “wrong” with me. I grew up hating myself a lot for having these issues and not being able to put words to what was wrong. It’s still hard trying to accept that I have it, and I’m still scared to admit that I have it to important people like my professors and my managers.

People who don’t have autism would have a hard time telling that I have it.

I learned to hide when I feel overstimulated and I learned what kind of faces and responses I have to make when people talk with me. The most frustrating thing is that even though I try to hide it people can still tell that something is off. People will think that I’m in a bad mood or that I’m being serious when I’m actually joking, or they’ll think that I’m joking when I’m actually trying to be serious. I get confused about how I’m supposed to act around people and that makes it really hard to make and keep friends.

I remember my first day of Kindergarten. If you asked anyone else like my mom or my teacher they would say that I was very friendly and outgoing, and that I immediately went up and started making friends with my classmates. They’re not wrong really since that’s what I was trying to do! I just had no clue how to start so the way I talked to people followed a basic script that kind of went like this:

  1. Find someone, literally anyone who looks friendly, and introduce yourself by saying “Hi, my name is ______, do you want to be friends?”
  2. Wait an agonizingly long period of 15 to 20 seconds for the other person to process the question and come up with a response (usually a reluctant or confused “Sure?”)
  3. ??????
  4. FRIENDSHIP?!?!?!

And I repeated that the entire day for at least the first few days of class. At the time I didn’t think it was weird to act that way. I thought that everyone else was just as scared about making friends as I was and that they also didn’t know what to do. I learned pretty quickly that my method of making “friends” was strange though, and then I was completely lost. If that’s not how you make friends, then how are you supposed to make friends? I mean, that’s how it worked on Sesame Street so isn’t that how it’s supposed to work in real life too?

Apparently not.

I was really really lonely in grade school. I didn’t really learn how to properly make friends (by sharing interests and taking the time to bond) until late middle school, but my friendships were still weak. Making friends is also only half the battle, and I have a lot of trouble maintaining friendships. On average, my friendships in high school would last somewhere between half a year and a year before we would get in arguments and stop talking to each other completely. I don’t know if I’m just stubborn or too sensitive, but apparently there’s some secret to getting past arguments that I haven’t found out yet.

Being autistic isn’t completely bad though!

Socializing is hard, but a huge plus is that I have great focus on things that I really enjoy. I know a lot more digits of pi than the average person does. I can ramble for hours about music theory, or exoplanets, or my favourite show and all the fan theories people have made about it. And I have gotten better at socializing and dealing with overstimulation. I’m able to live on my own and take care of myself, and since I got to college I actually made friends that understand what I’m going through and are really patient with me.

I think the biggest message I have for other autistic people is that it’s okay to not know things! And it’s okay to be “socially inappropriate” for not looking someone in the eyes when talking or actually responding honestly when someone asks how you are. We are who we are, and we’re awesome even if other people don’t understand it.


About the art:

I'm pretty thankful for this survivor sharing their story because we haven't had anyone with autism share their experience yet and I think this was a wonderful exploration into what it's like to survive in such a life.

The inspiration for this piece was somewhat simple. I wanted to bring in the puzzle pieces, which are the symbol associated with Autism awareness, as is royal blue. So I made those two connections. And yet, I encountered an issue when I tried to print all the letters in black because it wasn't very legible.

But Katy didn't want me to give up on the piece, so they went in with a few different colors to paint over the letters to use some color that would stand out better. I suggested this coral pink color and it looked great! So Katy finished that out for me, which was relieving because I thought the lettering was too tight to do a shadowed layer, but Katy believed in it!

Alas, glad we were able to make a very cool piece of art for this survivor and I hope it inspires more folks to share their stories!

- Craig.