April has been labeled as Autism Awareness month but it is not very helpful just to be aware of autism. What is needed is autism acceptance by the NT world. Acceptance of autism involves understanding that we autistics are neurologically different but EQUAL. Autistic awareness is just another example of ableism at work. Organizations such as Autism Speaks push the notion of awareness as the first step to developing a “cure” for autism. These misguided notions need to be changed. Autistics can’t be cured. There is nothing to cure. In this case awareness is obvious. Acceptance is an act of human love and respect. Spread the word!
I believe that we autistic folks may struggle with a delusion of permanence. It has been documented that autistics struggle with something ending perhaps more than NTs. All people want, at times, for something to not end. All humans go through a stage of feeling invincible. We cannot see ourselves ending or dying. Later, we gain enough wisdom to understand that we all die.
With the above in mind, here are a couple of permanence delusions that I struggle with: I find myself thinking about an old friend and I think about contacting then, without understanding that they were my friend 60 years ago and that I haven’t had contact with them since! I don’t seem to be able to envision that we are not friends. This view holds for all the friends I have had over the years. Then there is my seeming inability to understand change in aspects of social behaviour. It appears that I keep thinking everyone sees the world in the same way as I do. WHOOPSIE! Now that’s a potent delusion.
I believe that these delusions come out of a way that I, as an autistic, cognitively construct my mental world. My view is based on what we would call an egocentric view of the world. The weakened ability to view the world from another’s point of view seems to be an issue. This point of view is strong amongst autistic folks. Any feedback on this issue would be most appreciated.
A few weeks ago My separated partner told me that she was being “courted” by someone. Over the next two weeks her contact with me dropped. I began to worry and started to have feelings of abandonment, which many autistics struggle with. I became more and more upset emotionally. Then, about a week ago, I was resting after my daily hike when I suddenly realized that I was seeing my life through delusional eyes. The delusion was that life has fairytale endings. My partner told me almost two years ago that she could not see how she and I would be able to have a physical intimate relationship since she is an NT and I am autistic. These were her words. I did not believe it, even after all those years of failure on my part. My delusion prevented me from seeing the truth.
My theory is that because I have difficulty with the Gestalt (the overall picture of an event), and due to my difficulty seeing someone else’s point of view, I could not generate a negative outcome. Thus, I generated a delusion that “love conquers all”! Silly me!
Now, I am more aware of what is realistic. My partner and I talk very openly about our lives and we do it in a way which is gentle and safe. She has explained to me that she and I may not be together as physically intimate partners, but that we are a “package deal”. We are a family.
I think that the point of this is to look at ourselves as honestly as possible. In that way we can avoid delusional thinking.
Two or three days ago I began to realize that my walking might never become normal again. When I walk with a cane I do well. Without the cane, not so much. Also, my separated wife announced that she “has someone courting her”. She assured me that I am an integral part of her life and that she wouldn’t abandon me.
So, now I am dealing with some big changes. I am trying to understand and, at the same time, accept it. The problem is that now I am seeing myself as an old cripple, which is not correct. I think that it’s easy to feel sorry for myself. True acceptance brings peace. So, I believe the major job of acceptance needs to be based on self-love, a skill that I am just learning. Hopefully the lessons will come without too much anxiety and effort. I just need to stay focused on who I am and why I will succeed.
Recently, I was asked to contribute to a collection of writings about autism and ageing. The request contained guidelines for content, etc.. I found it very demanding, due to the structure required. I am still writing the piece.
While trying to figure out what to write and what to leave out, it occurred to me that there were two major variables operating that shaped my development: Awareness and acceptance.
I was unaware of my autism until I was 70. My behaviour reflected my ignorance. I was seen as an egotistical, cold, controlling person. I didn’t understand why I was the way I was. Once I became aware of my autism I began to see myself differently. Acceptance has taken me a long time, but it has happened and now I am comfortable with my autism.
Awareness and acceptance really are the key to living comfortably with one’s autism.
A major issue, from my point of view is the role addiction plays in folks on the spectrum. I have struggled with addictions for decades. However, I need to be clear that an addiction is not the same as a “special interest”. Addiction is characterized by a cycle of behaviour. First, there is the presence of stress which raises the level of anxiety, or excitement. This leads to the addictive behaviour, such as drinking alcohol or taking a drug like tobacco, OR playing a computer game. Some types of internet activity, such as online pornography can be very addictive, as can online gambling or shopping. This is a generalized description of addiction. Special interests are not addictive.
Some of my addiction struggles have included opiates, cigarettes and most recently, online pornography. I had always liked porn. I thought it was harmless. Then, there is an underlying issue of my penchant to want to hide. There was security knowing that I could hide from stuff that I could not handle, like crowded rooms or loud noises. Later, in adolescence, we would play war in a huge park, and I would always set up as a sniper. I could hide and see them but they couldn’t see me. Online porn allowed me to hide from reality and still “participate”. The reality is that what I hid from included my family, my work, and everything that I was doing. This began in the mid 90s when online porn first began to appear, and before it was found to be potentially addictive. I still struggle at times especially If I am very anxious.
For me, the major issue is how does my autism affect these behaviours, if it does? The answer, as best as I can see is yes, there is an interaction between addiction and autism. Autistics are known to have very high levels of what is called “baseline anxiety”, or the level of anxiety when not stressed. I am a high anxiety person. Addictions are self-reinforcing. When we do the addictive behaviour, we are rewarded (e.g. opiate or nicotine or an orgasm or winning a hand or game) for that behaviour. Autistics generally prefer very predictable situations. Addiction behaviours may serve to help provide this sense of predictability. Whenever I have had a lot of unpredictability in my life, I have found myself struggling with addiction issues.
I would be very interested in how addiction has affected other autistics, regardless of their age.
I have already written about the terms Autistic, Asperger and disorder. The labeling effect is strongly associated with our perception of the meaning of the word. An example is the word Asperger. It can mean a disorder, a neurotype found on the autistic spectrum, or even a form of autism that is “superior” to other expressions involving types of autism.
When I recently went to my G.P. for a follow up on my spine surgery, she used a term that startled me. The term was geriatric. It was used in the context of geriatric services and making sure that I was signed up for them.
I know that I am 74 years old. But, I don’t see myself as old or elderly! It doesn’t fit my image of who I am. I need the services because of my surgery, not because I am geriatric!
As has been said, “We are what we think we are”. I am a 74 year old autistic man, currently recovering from surgery and I intend to continue being physically very active as soon as it is possible.