Built Different: Proudly Autistic

Last year, at the age of 32, I was afforded the opportunity to go through a series of tests to determine that I am on the autism spectrum. Thanks to the extraordinary benefits from my employer, Custom Ink, I was able to undergo this process with limited disruptions to my personal and financial life. Without Custom Ink, I would have waited even longer to discover my true potential. 32 years is long enough to wait, and this blog post will address common misconceptions about what it means to live and exist on the autism spectrum. I will post another series of blog posts about how great a place Custom Ink is to work in the coming months. So stay tuned!

You cannot possibly be autistic, you’ll talk to anyone

There’s a lot to unpack here. As a kid, I was so inquisitive and curious that while attending Camp Great Rock my first year I was given the “Most Inquisitive Camper” award. My curiosity and inquisitiveness did not end there. I often take things very literally, and will often ask “What if?” questions inspired by these literal thoughts. For instance, back in the 2010s, a man on a dating site informed me that he found me so attractive he’d plant a field full of me. In Heather’s mind, I imagined hundreds of tiny Heather’s immediately attempting to claw their way out of the ground because they did not wish to be planted by this man.

It’s true that as a kid I would approach anyone and begin a conversation, so much so that my parents go-to response would be, “I take it she’s talking your ear off?” I remember once thinking that I would, one day, bore someone so much that their ear would literally fall-off mid conversation because they were that bored. To this day, that has never happened, yet the fact that my mind perceived it as a possibility is a sign that autism (or something like it) should have been considered years ago. Yet, I had to wait 32 years to discover that my mind is neurodiverse.

You are so creative and knowledgeable

Why do people consider the idea that knowledge and creativity cannot exist in autism? There is a long, complicated history with the idea of savants and creative powerhouses in autism. Savants and creative powerhouses are, by and large, limited to the perception that society has of males on the autism spectrum. However, Autism looks different in pink (and heels). Rather than being labeled “autistic” several other labels were thrown my way growing up: precocious, talented and gifted, creative, inquisitive. All of these are, in my opinion, misnomers for Autistic.

Your stories and novels are filled with nuances, doesn’t that go against the nature of autism?

My character’s experience nuances because I have experienced nuances. However, it took me years to truly understand what nuances were. For a long time, I thought nuance simply meant acknowledging that every person is built different, with different likes and dislikes. I never truly understood this until I began watching films, reading books, and having nuanced conversations with my church youth-group. I discovered that while humanity was definitely nuanced, I was the one build different. People didn’t process the world the way I did. Most people didn’t need to make a connection to an event from history, or from their personal life to connect to someone empathetically. However, I often connected better with people this way.

If you are autistic, it’s very mild and you’re very high-functioning

One of my pet peeves is being called high-functioning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned living in this autistic body for 32 years, it’s not that I’m high-functioning. Rather, I am survival oriented. For myself, and so many others living with autism, we spend our childhoods in a constant state of survival mode, going from authority figure to authority figure searching for that sense of otherness to go away, to reveal itself. We often give authority to people who have done nothing to earn it, often maintaining a larger-than-life perception about authority well into adulthood.

Does that sound high functioning to you? It shouldn’t.

I was just really, really good at masking. Too good. So good that I gave my entire childhood away for a chance at normalcy that never came. For me, my childhood paved the way for a fraught and anxiety-filled adolescence and early adulthood. Over the next few blog posts, I will break down how my childhood and the trauma I endured framed my identity growing up.

Over the next several months, I will share my story with you all about what it means to be an autistic individual. I live, breathe and work on the autism spectrum. It is a spectrum–some days are better than others, and some days I feel like I’m on another planet all together. I will reveal how I choose to show up on the spectrum, and how I connect with others.

Feel free to connect at any time with questions.

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