Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Discarding What Doesn't Work For Us

One persistent pattern I've noticed over the last few years, is how often and how much the things that work for NTs, do not work for us on the spectrum. Just a few examples of this are: –

1)  My favourite creativity book is ‘The Artist’s Way’, by Julia Cameron. I did its 12-week course years ago, and still refer to it often for inspiration. However one thing she recommends is a weekly ‘artist’s date’, where you take yourself out to somewhere new, as a way to ‘fill the creative well’. This has never worked for me – it just became an extra source of stress, trying to figure out where to go, how to afford it, and perhaps most importantly, going out anywhere, especially when it involves coping with other people and strong sensory input, means my creative well, far from being renewed, is actually muddied and drained. After a few weeks, I just gave up on them, but for years I felt guilty about that.

2) Many aspies have remarked, on Facebook and elsewhere, that regular methods of counselling and psychotherapy “just don’t work for them”, for a whole host of reasons. The only therapy method that seems to work even somewhat for us is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or so I’ve heard. For myself, I realised after visiting several counsellors over a period of years that I was better off figuring out myself on my own.

3)  And while I’m talking about psychology, my feeling is that the dictates of ‘pop psychology’ are also irrelevant for aspies. I don’t know how many years I wasted digging into my psyche, trying to find the neuroses others told me I ‘must’ have, as the only possible explanation for my ‘weirdness’. Now I realise my problems and behaviour were largely due to either AS, or the social anxiety that I suffered as a result. I’m not saying we don’t have psychological issues, just that they’re unlikely to be for the ‘usual’ reasons.

4) Many meditation techniques often don’t work for us either – many years ago, I attended a meditation class in Auckland. The teacher told us to ‘just watch your thoughts go by’… and I thought, how stupid! How can you watch your thoughts! This even though I’m a very visual person. I left the class in irritation, and it was many more years before I found the meditation method that works for me.

5) Our reactions to drugs are different to others – I’ve already posted on this elsewhere, so won’t go into further detail on that, but it’s a common phenomenon. Unfortunately, it’s also common that medical staff don’t understand this, and sometimes pressure us to take drugs, or more of them, than we know or sense our bodies are capable of handling, and/or they scorn what we tell them of our reactions.

6) Holidays/vacations – we’re supposed to be ‘refreshed’ and ‘rejuvenated’ by these, but so often we’re not. Instead we come home exhausted, worn-out, and needing a whole heap of quiet time in order to recover from them! Certainly I find the hustle and bustle of a holiday camp or resort horrific, as I suspect do most aspies.

No doubt you can all think of many other examples of the ‘normal’ things not working, or working differently, for you and other autistics. But none of this would be worth mentioning, if it weren’t for the fact that we so often feel guilty or ashamed whenever our reactions or needs differ from others.

Over and over again, I hear this sort of thing from my fellow autistics – “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t do _____”; or “I know I’m supposed to enjoy _____, but the awful truth is I find it horribly stressful”; or even “Is there something wrong with me, that I can’t ____?” We put immense pressure on ourselves to be ‘normal’, to make ourselves over into what we think we ‘should’ be like, or at least to hide that we're not like others, dumping on ourselves for our ‘failures’.

I know (all too well) that after years of being dumped on, yelled at, criticised, and told all the ways in which we ‘don’t measure up’, that it’s totally understandable that we should come to be just as hard on ourselves as others are. But it’s time for all of it to STOP. To stop comparing ourselves badly to NTs (or even other autistics, for that matter). Time to stop being so down on ourselves, to stop flagellating ourselves in our efforts to fit into a mold we were never designed for in the first place. It’s like trying to make a fish run, and then criticising it for not growing legs to do it with - instead of appreciating how beautifully it swims.

Because, when you think about it, why shouldn’t we differ? At the autism conference I attended last month, I listened as a doctor talked of the (at least) 234 genetic ‘loci’ that are involved in autism, and of the many differences between autistic and NT brains – in the white matter, the grey matter, the cerebellum, the cerebral cortex, the brain chemicals, the connections, on and on. So our brains are different, our bodies are different, our thinking runs along different channels, we focus on different things, we have different sensory responses, so why shouldn’t our needs and reactions be different as a consequence? Moreover, why should we squeeze ourselves into the narrow molds of ‘normal’, just to avoid surprising or upsetting – or angering – others? We have the right to simply be what we are, without feeling like a ‘failure’ or punishing ourselves for not fitting the NT mold.

For just about all of us, there’s been way too much focus on the negatives, and not what we can do, and what suits us. I say it’s time – way past time, actually - to stop forcing ourselves into false NT personas, to discard anything and everything that doesn’t work for us, to stop doing what doesn’t suit us (or, if we must do them, to not put on ourselves the expectation of enjoyment or happiness), to let all those things go without guilt or regret, and to assert our right and our need to be our true selves. Because in trying to be ‘normal’, we can only ever be ‘second-rate’ NTs. But if we accept our differences, and live them, we can be wonderfully first-rate autistics.


  1. Yes! That is so true! You have hit the nail right slap, bang, in-the-middle of the head!

    Let me tell you that I am a prime example of what you are saying.

    I grew up in a strange situation. My Mother and Father were school friends and were both from very poor, working class families.
    My Father though did well for himself, he got a scholarship, went to University and qualified as a Dentist.
    Qualifying during WWII as a Dentist he went straight into the Army as an Officer.
    Post war he joined a Dental practice and was therefore part of the professional, middle class.
    We lived in a big house but in a working class district and had little if any contact with others of that class, yet for my brother and I we were a different class to the rest of the children at our primary school. So no real friends. No outside mixing, no parties, sleep overs or any such interactions.
    Only four of us passed the 11+ exam as it was then and went to the Grammar School. Entry was around 100 per year and I was the only one in the A stream. So once again no friends. Still much of a class division was evident, looking back.

    The result of this was that I was used to being alone and had little expectation of anything else.

    I was different, by background if nothing else so accepted life as it was.

    Due to the class thing - very prominent in the 1950s I had learned that no matter how hard I worked I was never rewarded, that was just life again.

    Again at work I was always the odd one out, generally the youngest in any division and again from a different background, I just never expected to fit in.

    The result of this was that I set my own standards, I never strived to behave like other people, I was unique - I new nothing of autism or Asperger's until the age of 60, several years after I retired.

    I had no expectations of what I should do as I lived my own life and followed my own path and interests.

    I now realize what a blessing it was that I had such an unusual background; For I was unlike others, eccentric or weird but my own man.

    I did well at work and was successful blossoming as I wished to do, and following my star, if you will.

    So as I say I have lived that other lifestyle and can say that it can work. That it can work well!

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