Autistic Spectrum Digest (Autism) Issue 22, September 2015 - Page 50

Today I'm now 32 years old, and a lot has changed. Two years ago, after some difficulties at work, my partner decided to share his suspicions that I might be on the autism spectrum. I knew little about it at the time, but it was a hypothesis that seemed to explain a lot, and seemed worth exploring. Sure, the subject had come up before a few times, but it was always as a joke, an exaggeration of my behavior. I never thought that label applied to me. One problem is that autism is usually represented in a very uniform manner in popular culture. Movies like Rain Man feature autistic savants who, although they have extraordinary abilities, live in a completely different world, and sometimes aren't verbal. The autism spectrum is much more diverse than those stereotypical examples. After I started researching the topic, and reading books on autism or autobiographies by autistic people, I realized how much of it applied to me. It took a bit longer (and a few tests) to get a confirmation from experts, and when it came, many people still had doubts. The question that came up the most often was "But how was this never detected before?" Autism is generally noticed at a much younger age, and it seemed that for most of my life, I had managed to disguise myself as "neurotypical", meaning someone whose brain works similarly to most people. The current prevailing hypothesis to explain this, based on an IQ test taken as part of the evaluation process, is that I am privileged to have higher-than-average intellectual capacities, which have allowed me to partly compensate for the different wiring of my brain. One way to illustrate this is to use a computer analogy: in a way, my CPU runs at a higher frequency, which has allowed me to emulate with software the hardware that I'm missing. What this also means is that it can be exhausting to run this software all the time, so sometimes I need to be by myself. As you can imagine, realizing at 31 that you are on the autism spectrum changes your perception dramatically; everything suddenly starts to make sense. I've learned a lot over the past two years, and this increased metacognition has allowed me to look at past events through a new lens. In this essay, I want to share with you some of what I've learned, and share my current understanding of how my brain works, notably through my experience as a Wikimedian. One caveat I want to start with is that autism is a spectrum. There's a popular saying among online autistic communities that says: "You've met an autist, you've met one autist." Just keep this in mind: What I'm presenting here is based on my personal experience, and isn't going to apply equally to all autistic people. 50