Hello, Side Spin Media family! It’s been a while. So, let me reintroduce myself. My name is Keith Richards. I’m 33-years-old, and I have high-functioning autism. That last bit is why I’m here today. Recently, I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. For me, it’s still difficult to understand, but it makes sense at the same time. So, today, I would like to shed light on the realities of autism and how it affects my everyday life with this new information.
First, I feel it’s important to breakdown what autism really means. As a start, the numerous autism conditions now all fall under one diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Yes, just as every human has something that makes them unique, everyone with ASD has something that makes them unique as well. However, there is a general sense of understanding among people who have ASD. Similarly, there is an unspoken connection between people who suffer from depression. While our lives may be different, our struggles are the same.
Years ago, my specific diagnosis would be known as Asperger syndrome. Because I have Asperger’s, I tend to struggle with social interactions. Also, I often have restricted interests, which often leads to distinctive strengths. Some of my restricted interests include sports, politics, video games, Harry Potter, and the number eight. Unintentionally, I railroad conversation with these interests.
Also, someone with Asperger’s may have incredible focus and attention to detail, but they also may struggle with hypersensitivity, anxiety, and depression. In my case, I struggle with major depression and anxiety. In short, individuals with Asperger’s (ASD) communicate differently than others, which is one of the harshest realities of autism.
As I said before, I’m 33-years-old. For 10 of those years, I’ve been married to the most amazing woman I could ever dream of. One of my realities of autism is that relationships can be complicated. Traditional standards of intimacy and ASD are like oil and water. They just do not mix. How do you explain to your spouse that you do indeed love them, but kissing and holding hands is just not your thing? From personal experience, I can tell you that you either can’t or you don’t.
From my perspective, even just a friendly touch on the shoulder from my wife would make my skin crawl. Not because I don’t love her, but because it’s an involuntary reaction. As you can likely guess, the constant shrieving did not make my wife feel good. Since exploring ASD, we have come to a mutual understanding. As much as physical touch makes me uncomfortable, I have to think of how it makes others feel. She understands my reactions better and knows where my reactions stem from.
Conversely, my wife now sees that some of my actions or mannerisms aren’t intentionally hurtful. Sometimes, I just can’t help it, which is not an excuse. It’s just one of the realities of autism. Knowing that I have ASD helps my marriage in the sense that we now know that a lot of give and take is required. Knowing where to give and where to take is now a challenge that we tackle together.
One of my biggest challenges with ASD is my struggle with hypersensitivities. These hypersensitivities can be to light, sound, or taste. In my case, I struggle with repetitive sounds, tastes, light, and textures. Growing up, it’s difficult to explain to your parents that certain foods make you physically uncomfortable. For instance, I love the taste of most fruits and vegetables. My downfall has always been their texture.
Along with having restricted interests, I also have I have restricted interests in food. While I know a balanced diet is essential, there are certain foods that I gravitate towards because they are familiar and the texture does not turn me off. I like the taste of fruits, but the texture drives me insane. So, to compensate, I drink a lot of smoothies. Another one of my realities of autism is learning to compromise on things normal brains would not have to. This is present in my hypersensitivities of taste, texture, and sound.
Six years ago, I learned just how much my hypersensitivities affected my life. My beautiful daughter was born six years ago. Living with a six-year-old when you have ASD hypersensitivities is extremely difficult. My kid loves to play with slime. I, on the other hand, would rather throw the slime in the closest trash bin. Preferably, if she could throw the slime away for me, that would be ideal.
At six, it’s hard for me to explain to her that the sound of her rollerskates puts my anxiety into overdrive. It doesn’t make sense to her. Until recently, it didn’t make sense to me either. I could not possibly expect her to understand why she needs to take her skates off. Instead, I attempted to deal with it, which just made things worse. It leads to me being short with her and impatient.
Just as there is give and take in my marriage, there is give and take in parenting. While I could easily just not let her wear the skates, one of the realities of autism is that I have to learn when to compromise more with my kid. So, when she wears her skates, I go upstairs and listen to music or play video games. To many, it may not seem like much, but for someone with ASD, it’s an extraordinary effort.
Truthfully, what it all boils down to is just because I have ASD, I am still a person, but I am different. For me, it’s not an autism spectrum disorder. It’s an autism spectrum difference. The frustrations of communicating to me can be challenging, but it is on my end as well. I seek to belong, but I don’t know how.
One of my biggest fears in receiving a diagnosis of ASD was being treated differently. While there are things that are different about me, I’m the same. I, along with all others with ASD, just wanted to be treated like other people—I just need a little help connecting.