The best way to understand the condition, is to hear from people who live with it.
In 1943, child psychiatrist Leo Kanner published a paper detailing his observations of children who were extremely intelligent, but who had some unique characteristics, including “a powerful desire for aloneness” and “an obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.”
He named their condition “early infantile autism,” a term which had originated with Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, who referred to certain symptoms of schizophrenic patients as “autism.”
Since those first children were described as autistic over 70 years ago, thousands of people have been diagnosed with autism, and our understanding of the condition is changing all the time. Now, we are more likely to think of autism as just one more condition that falls under the umbrella of “neurodiversity,” along with things like dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Conditions that fall on the autism spectrum are characterized by difficulty with social situations and communication, and a compulsion to engage in repetitive behaviors, as well as specific strengths and sensitivities.
The best way for “neurotypical” folks to understand what autism is, however, might be to hear from people who live with the condition themselves. In honor of World Autism Day, here are quotes, sourced from online, that provide a peek into the lives of women who’ve been diagnosed as falling somewhere on the autism spectrum…
1. Passing as “normal”
I “pass” as a normal person in most ways – but I have all kinds of mental habits that no one would ever guess about.
2. A support system is key
It can be overwhelming sometimes. But it’s not unbearable, once you find a support system. I have great friendships and a great relationship, and I have people in my life who aren’t afraid to let me know if I’ve made a social faux pas. Really the only miserable thing is the fact that I want to cry my eyes out whenever I’m even slightly embarrassed.
3. All or nothing
You tend to be kind of all or nothing in your emotions. You don’t notice you’re getting mad until you’re through the roof. You don’t notice you’re sad until you feel happy and you feel the relief. Stuff like that. Normal people have a billion shades of emotions, while you have a few very powerful, beautiful emotions.
4. A little bit quirky
I will probably never seem completely normal, but I can pull off “quirky,” and I’m fine with that. I would never want to be friends with people who couldn’t handle a little bit of quirkiness anyway. I do have to consciously remind myself of social rules a lot, though.
5. Not a girly-girl
I hate being feminine. I went to get a facial and I was so uncomfortable with the silence and the quiet music. Feeling pampered or cuddly and emotional is not something I like.
6. Keeping the weirdness under wraps
I do not tend to attract a lot of people who want to socialize with me, although they don’t blatantly reject me either. My husband and I socialize on a regular basis, but if it wasn’t for him, I probably would have a very limited social life. If I followed my real inclinations, people would think I was a real weirdo, and I really mean that.
7. Obnoxious as hell
I had some radical and somewhat socially unacceptable political views through college, which I have grown out of with age and experience, and I was very vocal about it. I have not one single friend from my college years, when people are expected to make lasting friendships for life. Frankly, in college, I was obnoxious as hell.
8. Fast and efficient
I find that my attention is more focused than most people’s. If I’m paying attention to something, I’m paying attention to it completely. I completely tune out the world whenever I’m engrossed in something, and multitasking is very difficult for me. For example, it’s hard for me to drive a car and talk at the same time. This has a big upside, though, since I tend to be really fast and efficient with whatever I am focused on.
9. Getting into hot water
I am not an empathetic type of woman. If someone tells me their problems, my natural reaction is to try and find a solution. And frankly, I don’t really want to hear how people “feel” if they aren’t willing to do something about it. I have to admit this does get me in hot water sometimes.
10. Strange behavior
I have learned what is socially acceptable in the broad sense, so I know that a woman standing alone in the woods 10 feet off the trail not doing anything for an hour, except peering under the branches and smelling the leaves or the air, or inspecting the bark of a tree, would be considered strange! (I do these things, but I try not to let anyone observe me doing it…)
11. Easily overwhelmed
It’s not that I lack the social skills others have, it’s just that I had to learn them actively, and have to keep them in the conscious part of my head, whereas others can do this subconsciously. It’s why my mind is easily overwhelmed in social situations, and it’s not easy to keep a train of thought going when your train of thought consists of what for most people flies under the radar completely.
12. A stronger than average reaction
Things like loud noises hurt, so I know I have a hypersensitivity. I realized more recently that I have a hypersensitivity to touch, because while I was under the assumption that everybody hated stuff like tags on their shirts and the texture of bread crusts and stuff as much as I did, I learned through observation that I have a stronger reaction than average.
13. Change is hard
I hate changing my living arrangements and have been known to continue to live in less than optimal apartments just because I [didn’t want] to move. I need to know where everything is so it doesn’t get lost, so I get really annoyed if people don’t put things back where they came from.
14. A good life
I live a happy life and have a great husband and great kids. I am successfully employed and expect to continue to be so. The friends that I have now are true friends for life, having been collected over a period of many years. They may not fill a room with their overwhelming numbers, but these are people who are true and trustworthy. I think that’s pretty good.
Featured image via unsplash.com. Quotes via autism-help.org and reddit, edited for length and clarity.
Join the discussion: What experiences do you have with autism?