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Life Advice to Younger Autistics, Part 1

Childhood is a period fraught with pitfalls and confusion even for many neurotypical (non-autistic/non-neurodivergent) children. It's that much more difficult when you're part of a miniscule neuro-minority that is severely misunderstood, and treated with disgust and fear more often than with acceptance and understanding in the mainstream, even by so-called autism charities. Autistic children are often stuck being square pegs that are expected to fit through a round hole, with no idea why they are experiencing so much distress trying to squeeze through when their peers just glide right through it.

Being an autistic adult who has been through that misadventure and has overcome numerous autism-related challenges (many of which I had no idea I'd need to be ready for) while slowly coming to understand that I had unintentionally been given the wrong instructional manual for life, I have come to acquire some unique wisdom. As such, I thought it might be helpful to put together an all-purpose advice article for any younger autistics, including and especially children, who may stumble upon my little online tree house. Just a bunch of general things that I really wish someone had sat me down and told me as a child.

I need to say right off the bat that I don't consider myself to be some sort of profound oracle of wisdom. In spite of my age, I have never once won a martial arts tournament using a deadly ancient fighting technique, saved a town from the reign of a rogue Shaolin monk, or won a kung fu battle by chugging liquor until I temporarily achieved the state of Wuxin. The fact that my understanding of life's milestones seems to be based entirely on Chinese kung fu movies is also probably not a terribly promising sign either. But having gone through the confusing gauntlet of an autistic childhood, I do feel that I know a number of things that are worth sharing.

If you found this page directly via a search engine or another outside source, and find some of the terminology confusing, I have an entire page dedicated to autism-related terminology that may be of some help, and will make a point of linking to it as things come up.

Considering the nature of this article, I should probably get this out of the way right off the bat: the problems that autistic people in general face are rooted in the widespread misinformation and stigma around autism, not in neurotypicals being some villainous group that is out to get us. "Everything understood is everything forgiven" to quote an old Russian proverb. Despite many negative experiences, I have met more than enough neurotypicals that have been nothing but kind and accepting towards me regardless of my autism to know the truth in this, and I sincerely hope that I do not unintentionally cause anyone to feel otherwise.

In the interests of (relative) brevity, I decided to split this article into two parts, with the second part being readable here. Knowing me, this paragraph will stay here until I update it a year or two later.

Autistic Pride Symbol There is nothing wrong with you - If you've been diagnosed, you and your parents have surely been subjected to all sorts of offensive propaganda about how you're "disabled", "disordered", and/or "diseased". Perhaps someone has even gone as far as to label you a tragedy or a burden, or to tell your parents how much they pity them for having a child such as yourself. Someone whose knowledge of psychology could be significantly expanded by them briefly glancing at the cover of a Psychology 101 textbook, may have even claimed that autism doesn't exist, and you're just the way you are because your parents didn't discipline you enough.

Up until the past century, medical knowledge of autism was limited to "Annaleah talks funny and hates looking people in the eye, but she's good with the animals and can work in the fields without a break, so it's not really a problem" or "our little Joseph was abducted in the dead of the night by forest trolls and replaced with a non-verbal Changeling child!"

Autism only truly began being studied at the start of the 1900s, and was not understood well enough to be defined as a spectrum encompassing many different kinds of people "until the mid-1990s. For most of the existence of the term "autism", it exclusively defined what is now labeled as "classical" or "low-functioning" autism. Typical and highly intelligent autistic people were either diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (which is also part of the autism spectrum), diagnosed with ADHD, diagnosed with a personality disorder, or not diagnosed with anything at all.

Since a depressing amount of doctors and mainstream voices do not bother to stay up-to-date in their field, the old and outdated definitions of autism are still very widespread. It doesn't help that there are powerful charities ("autism speaks") and industries (the clinics and practitioners peddling trauma-inducing so-called therapy known as applied-behaviour analysis) that rely on the lies of autism being an extremely negative phenomenon for their very existence. As is often the case, lies have a much more powerful megaphone than the truth whenever money is at stake.

Although it has a vastly quieter megaphone than it should as of this writing, the truth has spoken, and it has said that autism is a neurotype. That is, a different, natural, harmless way of brain-wiring. According to the Intense World theory, which is backed up by actual science instead of hysterical fear-mongering, autism is differentiated from neurotypicalism by hyper-connectivity across the brain, which results in a radically increased amount of brain activity all across the board.

This basically means that the same stimuli produces far stronger and more intense reactions in our brains than in typical people's brains, and is why we are more emotional, more perceptive, and more liable to become overloaded in intense environments and be unable to tolerate sounds, smells, tastes, and other sensations that most people don't mind. That nausea-inducing food stench that no one else minds? The uncomfortable feeling that makes you involuntarily dart your eyes away when making eye contact? That's your brain not being able to process the excessive amount of information that it is receiving.

I've used this metaphor multiple times in other places on here, but it's the most accurate one that I have been able to come up with so far so I will bring it out once again: we are essentially running the real world on a much higher graphical setting than neurotypicals are. In some situations, this is a boon, and we are able to excel at certain tasks and derive incredible enjoyment from stimuli other people may not think twice about. But it also means that situations that bombard us with more stimuli will overload our brains and make us unable to function properly, or potentially not function at all. Also, we seem to have an HD eyeball graphical textures mod installed, because looking into people's eyes automatically makes our graphics card start smoking.

You're not struggling in social situations because you're an idiot. You're struggling because attempting to process all of the metaphorical graphical input from people's faces, eyes, body language, and tone of voice is using 110% of your metaphorical CPU's resources, and you don't have any left over to properly regulate your own eye contact, tone of voice, and so forth. This is also literally why you may come out of a conversation with no idea what the other people just said to you.

You may feel better knowing that, while we communicate differently due to how our minds are wired, autistic people don't have trouble communicating and empathising with each other, while neurotypicals are just as bad at communicating with us, as we are with them. You're not stupid because you can't intuitively absorb neurotypical social norms. You're essentially a cat stuck in a dog pound, wondering why everyone keeps trying to sniff your butt to understand you (or pathologically staring into your eyeballs rather). I wrote an entire article on this phenomenon, which has been termed the double empathy problem.

Autistic Pride Symbol You will never not be autistic - With the vast majority of autism resources online focusing exclusively on autistic children, it can seem from a distance that autism is a childhood phenomenon that vanishes by the time a person turns 18. Again, autism is a neurotype, meaning it is as fundamentally a part of you as anything can possibly be. This is the reason that virtually all of us choose to be called "autistics" or "autistic people", as the mainstream label "person with autism" is inherently incorrect.

Not only will you never stop being autistic, but the only thing that you will achieve in attempting to do so, is complete emotional self-destruction, if not worse. You're likely familiar, consciously or subconsciously, with masking as a neurotypical. Or in other words, hiding your natural autistic behaviours and sensitivities, and doing your best to adapt your every mannerism and behaviour to be socially acceptable by neurotypical norms. I cannot deny that this is sadly necessary in many cases, but I do need to say that this behaviour becomes less and less sustainable with time and often culminates in crippling autistic burnout.

I suppose that, as a drinker, my attitude towards masking is essentially the same as my attitude towards alcohol and drugs. I am strongly against alcohol and drug use (more on this in part 2), but I understand why some people may have to rely on them, and can only remind them of the consequences and urge them to abstain as much as they are able to.

I myself have become increasingly openly autistic in my own life, but with how drastically attitudes vary in different places, and how unique every autistic person's situation is, this is not a course of action that I can, in good conscience, advocate for anyone else to do unless they very strongly feel safe doing so. There are certainly some relatively safe compromises that can be made, however, including some socially acceptable or covert forms of stimming (which I will touch on later).

Regardless of how necessary masking may be, it's important to remember that, again, you aren't masking your autism because it's a bad thing, but because society currently views it as a bad thing. Some autistic people jokingly refer to the practice of masking as "Aspieonage", as we are almost like a spy from a foreign culture going undercover as one of the locals to avoid detection. There are many proven reasons to be proud to be autistic, many of which I outlined in this article on the subject.

No, you will never be "normal", but I personally don't view that as being a negative. For one, I feel that "normal" is a pointless word that exists largely to be thrown around as a slur to attempt to "other" and stigmatise anyone who does not entirely conform to arbitrary social standard. The Devil's Dictionary's side-splittingly witty definition of the word "Mad" sums up my thoughts better on this matter than I myself could hope to.

Furthermore, "normal" can accurately be used as a slur just as easily as it can be used as praise. Divergency is neither positive nor negative in and of itself. While there is certainly no shortage of demented and vile people whom this label fits perfectly, it is equally true that the majority of the greatest minds in history have also been quite neurodivergent. In most cases, barring cases with severe cognitive issues, I would argue that autism swings very largely on the positive end of that spectrum, and is not something one should feel any shame over.

Autistic Pride Symbol Dyspraxia does improve with age - Dyspraxia, which I covered a fair bit in my second article on the Intense World theory, is one fairly common and often debilitating problem that can largely fade away by early adulthood in many autistics. If you're struggling with anything that requires motor skills, such as tying your shoes, writing neatly, or playing sports, know that there is still hope ahead, as your brain matures and becomes more able to manage all of the sensory integration required to properly perform these tasks.

In my own case, I was completely unable to tie my shoes, something I have long stopped having any sort of issue doing, until sometime in middle school, and had abysmal handwriting (despite my honest best efforts, and the efforts of my parents and teachers) even in college. Even though I actually have legible (even relatively cute!) handwriting today, back in grade school it was so poor that I legitimately cannot make out many of the things I wrote back then.

Autistic Pride Symbol Sensitivity and hyper-emotionality are wonderful gifts - It really doesn't need to be said, but I will point out anyway just in case that, yes, this sentiment goes out to both female and male autistics (much like just about everything in this section). Hyper-emotionality and sensitivity are both immutable hallmarks of autism that can often be exploited by others, whether purposefully or unintentionally, to cause us grave emotional pain, but that in and of itself does not make them inherently negative traits.

Marveling at a cold person for being immune to emotional affection is akin to marveling at the fact that a blind person can stare at the Sun without blinking, not taking into account how much they are tragically missing out on due to their impairment. Every yin has a yang, and every positive thing that one may have, carries it with the potential for pain. Having a family means that one can be hurt immeasurably by losing them, having a home means that a single accidental fire that isn't immediately put out can immediately wipe out everything one has toiled their entire life to obtain, and so on.

If you have nothing to lose, then by definition, you have nothing, and I've never heard of a remotely sane person championing a life of eating out of a dumpster and curling up in a fetal position hoping to not freeze to death during a cold night. A callous scoundrel who mocks sensitive people for having their feelings easily hurt is no different from a homeless person feeling superior because they can vandalise people's property, while they themselves have nothing that people can violate in order to get revenge.

There are oodles of benefits to being highly sensitive, including being able to read other people very well (I still swear that I can accurately feel nearby people's moods even if they're in another room and I am unable to see or hear them), having an inherent penchant towards inspiring other people with your sheer passion for topics that take you in, and being far more emotionally affected by works of fiction, nature, and life in general. A sensitive-enough person can experience the sort of intense, overpowering emotions from a story or a nature walk, that most people can't imagine feeling outside of a major life event.

It is also a boon for any creative field. Just as having extravagant possessions, such as a boat or a vacation house by the beach, allow rich people to get more out of life, so too does the heightened sensitivity of autistic people allow us to do the same, in a different way.

Autistic Pride Symbol Your feelings aren't invalid just because an adult thinks so - I still remember being a little kid and marveling at utterly mundane things my parents did, almost as if they were the acts of some unknowable elder alien civilisation. The sight of my father dressing up, combing his hair, getting his suitcase, and going off to work felt, at the time, as awe-inspiring as seeing as seeing a legendary Viking leader riding off into some glorious battle on his majestic steed. Surely, the transformation that one day promised to morph me into a being that was also capable of such feats would be utterly unimaginable.

This metamorphosis never did come, but instead I received the depressing epiphany that being an adult was a lot less of what I imagined, and more just a game of pretending to be something better than I am until I can get home and write excessively lengthy essays on anime characters, and that the vast majority of the people around me are in the same boat, if not significantly worse. What's more, against all (so-called) common sense, the two most intelligent and mature people that I have met in the past Bast-knows-how-many-years have both been in their early teens.

Want to hear a scary story? Just stop and think back to when some doofus kid you know was fooled into believing some obviously moronic story, based on nothing but some other, equally stupid kid saying it was true. That same scenario happens among adults with astounding regularity.

As mentioned earlier, there are people out there, you may have even had the misfortune of meeting them, who spent 12 years in public school, then 12 years in university, all to become a psychiatrist or a psychologist, that still believe completely, obviously inaccurate and harmful nonsense about your neurotype despite it being an important subject in their line of work. And these are just the trusted professionals that parents pay exorbitant sums of money to briefly offer their wisdom (or lack of, rather) to them!!

I still vividly remember many instances of my numerous autism-related meltdowns and freakouts as a child. Most of which were either ignored or even outright punished by adult figures, because no one could understand why I was reacting like a cornered tiger to situations that no one else seemed to be bothered by, or to stimuli that no one else seemed to mind or even notice. Surely, there's no reason other than being "spoiled" or "egotistical" that a little boy would react with a sudden outburst of violence and screaming to the revelation that a supposed wedding trip was abruptly turning into a 3-day vacation in another state.

I should add here that my child self publicly stimmed, avoided eye contact, and had a marked history of reacting to change with as much grace as a slighted grizzly bear, so the fact that not one psychiatrist I was made to see diagnosed me with autism is quite an indictment on the competence of the average medical practitioner, let alone the average adult, when it comes to autism, even by itself.

Considering women, who make up 50% of the population, are still routinely falsely believed by doctors to be exaggerating their physical pain they experience, it should not come as any surprise that autistics, a far smaller and more misunderstood group, would receive even worse overall treatment for our unique struggles that most neurotypicals cannot relate to.

In addition to the generic vitriol, you've likely also been told or overheard some manner of nonsense about how autism automatically means you're a genius (or perhaps mentally challenged, depending on the stereotype), or how you have no empathy (when you're in fact hyper-empathic), or how you're a dangerous nutcase that could snap at any moment (because everyone around you ignores your triggers until you can no longer suppress them).

Children are impressionable and, although autistic ones may be less so, almost anyone can start to go along with, or even believe, abject nonsense if enough other people appear to be convinced of it. Numerous psychological studies prove this. Yet, no amount of brainwashing, and no matter how deep it may go, can make a person's fundamental needs disappear.

Allowing your own feelings and needs to be invalidated and diminished is a blueprint towards either becoming an utterly timid doormat, or a callous sociopath who disregards everyone's feelings due to preemptively expecting the same treatment towards themselves. I've spent a long time going down the latter road during my years of not knowing about my autism and not having any understanding of what it was about me that caused me to clash so strongly with the world at large, and it's not a journey that is fun or in any way worth undertaking.

In short, my point here is: don't let anyone tell you who or what you are, or what you're experiencing and feeling, and...

Autistic Pride Symbol Don't feel bad about needing (and demanding) accommodations - Accommodation isn't a nasty slur reserved for the mouths of overly needy and quarrelsome people; it's one of the bedrocks of society. If everyone decided to stop accommodating others and to instead focus entirely on their own self-interest, civilisation would rapidly devolve into an orgy of violence. Even something as simple as going outside or to the bathroom when you need to pass gas, is an accommodation. You wouldn't pat yourself on the back for not farting in a room full of other people, but that's because you intuitively understand why doing so would be offensive to them.

The lamentable reality is that most autistic people become so used to having their own needs disregarded or downplayed that they completely internalise their own daily efforts to accommodate the neurotypicals around them. You already bust your butt to accommodate neurotypicals when you force yourself to make eye contact with them, maintain socially acceptable and friendly facial expressions and body language, force yourself to stay quiet about topics that actually interest you and instead entertain people with their beloved insipid social banter, and so forth.

In politics, there is a term called the "Overton window", which basically means the total spectrum of ideas that the general public is willing to consider at any point in time. Anything outside of the edges of the Overton window is considered radical and unspeakable. If autistic people constantly bottle up their needs to the best of their ability instead of speaking up, then these issues will not be seen outside of cognitively-challenged individuals, and the idea of a functioning adult avoiding eye contact, stimming to self-soothe, or wearing noise-cancelling headphones, will seem as abnormal to the public at large as someone talking about modern cosmology would seem to people in the 1500s.

People who have an autistic (or even ADHD) family member, relative, friend, or co-worker are often far more aware of and accepting of autistic people's needs and behaviours because these are things that are inside of their Overton window. An autistic person's needs then stop being "accommodations" or "'special' needs", and become "common courtesy" just like the accommodations they regularly provide for all of the other people in their life.

Simply because someone's Overton window does not yet encompass your issues, does not make your distress any less real or your needs any less important. A tree does fall in the forest even if no one was there to hear it, and an autistic person is still driven into a meltdown by sensory overload even if a neurotypical is unable to perceive what led to it.

One thing that I find interesting, is that in some cases, autistic self-advocacy can even prove to be directly beneficial to some neurotypicals. One example that comes to mind for me, is how multiple people began wearing noise-cancelling headphones at my workplace after I normalised the practice by being the first one to do it. Sensory hours, introduced in supermarkets in some countries for the benefit of autistic people, also received much appreciation from neurotypicals who preferred the more serene atmosphere to the regular atmosphere in the stores.

Additionally, while crippling sensory sensitivity issues are largely an autism-exclusive phenomenon, similiar issues such as misophonia can and do afflict neurotypicals. Although you may feel utterly alone in your struggle, the autistic person struggling from sensory overload, can sometimes actually be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Autistic Pride Symbol Study up on autism (and "abnormal" psychology in general) - Being fundamentally different from the overwhelming majority of the population, you do not have the privilege of "playing it by ear" in life the way many neurotypicals have (not to imply that neurotypicals do not have countless very real struggles in all sorts of areas). As such, it can be immensely helpful to learn as much as possible about autism, both from regular autistic people, and from (autistic and neurotypical) researchers, in order to have an understanding of how and why your brain works, and how you can cope with it.

There is an absolute wealth of useful information out there in the form of everything from research papers, to books, to websites and online posts by other autistic people, and I personally cannot even begin to attempt to quantify how many stunning revelations I have encountered since I began going down this rabbit hole years ago. From the Intense World theory, to polarised (black-and-white) thinking, to the angel/demon hybrid that is autistic inertia, to the reasons behind why we stim. At some point it almost made me feel as if I was not even a self-aware being before this educational journey began.

Again, it's not intentional maliciousness, but with neurotypicals comprising over 98% of the world population, society, including virtually media, are targeted at neurotypicals and towards expressing and enforcing neurotypical norms, because that is what encompasses the average person's worldview. Autistic people, especially prior to diagnosis or self-discovery, can go through life feeling like a person who sat down, ostensibly to play computer games after reading the Doom's manual cover-to-cover, only to inexplicably be thrust into Wacky Wheels (substitute any two radically different games into this metaphor if you have not played those) with no understanding that they're in the wrong game.

Learning about how your brain works is akin to finally finding the true game manual, or perhaps the meaty hardcover tome published after years of research following the game's release, that explains everything from the intricate vagaries of the social interaction gameplay mechanics, to what kind of fruit you need to give Enkoni the extradimensional priest in order for him to assist you in recovering Fovea's sword from its eternal entombment at the bottom of the Wintery Sea. Or perhaps akin to finally finding a torch after spending years/decades blindly stumbling through a dark cave and bonking your head on stalactites without any warning.

Moving beyond autism and into "abnormal" psychology in general: anxiety disorders and depression are substantially more common in autistic people, and learning coping strategies for them, if they affect you, is a must. Perhaps more importantly, personality disorders are extremely common among autistic people, and these mental disorders can cause significant issues in daily life, especially if you are unaware that you have one and perceive your thinking to be completely logical, regardless of its absurdity and the consequences you consistently face from acting on it.

Knowing is only part of the battle, of course; emotional pain is no less dire than physical pain, and learning about any disorders you may have won't fix your problems any more than learning about their chronic pain diagnosis will help someone with a bad back leap out of bed every morning. Yet knowing what the problem is, and being able to recognise your thinking patterns and act in advance to prevent too much harm, can be a lifesaver. If having a mental disorder can be compared to driving a vehicle as a narcoleptic, then education is knowing somewhat in advance when you're going to pass out so that you can frantically pull over by the side of the road.

Autistic Pride Symbol Learn how, and when, to stim - Understandingly off-putting as it may be to neurotypicals, stimming is a very valid form of self-soothing for many, if not most, autistic people. Most methods of stimming are harmless, and have proven therapeutic benefits.

Nonetheless, since stimming can make a person appear to either be severely mentally ill, or perhaps intoxicated (neurotypicals are usually only prone to more eccentric forms of stimming while under the influence of stimulants such as methamphetamines due to the mental overload those drugs bring on), it is usually a very bad idea to engage in most forms of stimming so while in view of any other people, especially an authority figure or anyone who does not understand your autism. This goes beyond the mere issue of social acceptance, as stimming in public can lead and has led to autistics being assaulted by a police officer. Thankfully however, there are some forms that have been devised that are relatively subtle.

One method that I personally began engaging in during my childhood due to being reprimanded for openly stimming, and still rely on today, is "gripping" or "curling" my toes over and over. Provided you are wearing footwear, this should be impossible for anyone to notice in most scenarios, and can be quite relieving, especially when done to music if you have headphones on. If chewing or jaw-clenching are more your forté, using chewing gum can be a wonderful, subtle way (and less harmful!) to obtain that sensory input.

Obviously, these will not suit everyone's needs, and it may be worthwhile to search around the online autistic community, which has has plenty of different methods that may work out for you. There are even forms of stimming that are used by many neurotypicals, that are not typically recognised as being such, because of how normalised they are in contrast to forms such as finger-flicking or hand-flapping. Many neurotypicals tap their foot to stim for instance, or pace back and forth across a room, or tap their pen or finger on a table, or play with their hair.