Of snow and that ‘Everyone’s a little bit…’ thing again

Last night, over on the facebook page, I shared  a meme that aimed to dispel the myth that ‘Everyone’s a little bit autistic’, something I talked about briefly in my first blog. There are various memes about this from various different Autist’s pages, and I always share them because, in my experience, as I’ve said before, people mostly mean well when they say that, and so are confused by the negative impact that it has. So, I thought it might help to try to give you a more in depth explanation of my take on this.

Here goes. In my experience, when neurotypicals who want to be helpful say ‘Everyone’s a bit autistic’ they tend to mean something like ‘Don’t worry, you’re not alone, it’s okay’. However, what an Autist hears is: ‘You’re no different to anyone else, why are you making such a fuss?’. Now if you’re an Autist – particularly one who manages to ‘pass’ as neurotypical most of the time – this ‘Why are you making such a fuss over nothing?’ is an all too familiar record. You’ve heard it in various ways over the years, about so many different things, because so many people just refuse to accept that you experience things differently. It doesn’t matter how many times and how many different ways you try to tell them. For those people, if you look ‘normal’, and most of the time you behave ‘normal’, then it is too much for their minds to cope with that you might not be ‘just like them’. They need you to fit into the box they have created in their minds that defines ‘person’, because that keeps things safe, ordered and understandable for them – the world remains the way they think it is.

If you look at it that way, you can perhaps understand why Autists are sometimes confused when we’re told that we’re the ones who lack empathy!

For an example of how we experience things differently,  here’s how I experience going out in the snow.

First, there’s all the sensory input of all the layers that have to be put on before you even get out the door, the physical sensation of the clothes, the amount of movement that has to be done to get into everything, the difference in temperatures of shoes and coats, even things being damp from the last outing.

Then there’s the getting out of the door – the struggle with whatever I’m carrying, with gloves and hats affecting what I can physically do and see, and the sensations and feelings that this causes.

It’s important to understand that all of these things come into my awareness even if I don’t want them to. It’s not a choice.

Then there’s the stepping out into the snow, the concentration and physical control required not to fall, the sound of the snow underneath my feet, the blinding brightness of it, and the cold, the extreme cold that pierces my skin, my ears, my nose. And the wind, the noise, the sensation, the chill, the being buffeted and the sound of the things it’s moving. And all of that continuing all the time to wherever I’m going. I am aware and experiencing it all, all of the time. There is no shut out, no filtering out – it is like each of these individual sensations is a person shouting that sensation at me over and over and over.

Now add to that, that most of the times I go out I’m taking with me one, two or three other smaller autists. And they are all experiencing all of that too,  and I’m having to manage not only my own experience but theirs as well, be that good or bad. And all the holding hands and carrying bags and making sure we’ve got everything and panicking we haven’t. Because the Autist brain doesn’t stop making connection after connection after connection, even when you want it to. It’s how we are. It’s not a choice. That’s why some people accuse us of ‘overthinking’. But that’s like me accusing you of overbreathing.  You can’t help breathing as much as you do, it’s just what your body does and even if you try to hold your breath or control it, it will eventually default to it’s usual pattern. Same thing with the Autist brain and the connections it makes constantly.  It’s how we function, even if that seems to create dysfunction.

Overall, as you can see, after three snow days it’s a miracle that I am still standing!!  It’s also totally unsurprising that even short trips out into the snow lead to mini meltdowns all round. If we could, we would all sit in separate dark rooms for half an hour afterwards, but we can’t. Hence the meltdowns.

That’s the difference I think.  That we genuinely need to block out all senses to decompress after the massive sensory onslaught that is snow, even for a few minutes. Neurotypicals might be knackered or cold or need to warm up or calm down a bit,  but because of the ability to filter out, to not even notice certain things, there isn’t the processing of all that input that we have to do. It’s not a choice. It’s how we are.

Does that mean we didn’t go out in the snow? Does that mean we didn’t make snowmen or pull each other round on sledges? Hell no! We just accepted that shit was going to hit the fan afterwards and did it anyway. We just did it manageably, for a short amount of time, in the back garden, knowing there would be food and warmth nearby to re-regulate – so the level of shit hitting fans was lower than it might otherwise have been.

I should say that I’m not intending to imply that a neurotypical person isn’t going to experience sensory overload sometimes, or social awkwardness, or any number of other things which one might associate with Autism. However, I hope my example goes some way to helping neurotypicals understand that just because you experience some similar things, doesn’t mean that you are neurologically diverse. It doesn’t mean that your brain and your ways of understanding and processing are fundamentally differently structured to those of most people in society.  As the meme I shared last night says, just because you have backache and feel a bit sick doesn’t mean you’re pregnant – some of the same symptoms, whole different ball game.

The fact that you experience those things, just means that like us, you’re human. We are all living in the same world and if you can open your mind to the fact that some people are experiencing it very differently to you, then maybe we can find a more genuine understanding of one another and a more helpful way to support one another. And if we can do that, then maybe the great and complementary talents that our differently functioning brains give us – autist and non-autist alike – could be used to help us all be the most amazing human beings that we can be.



Author: royalcircleofautism

Single mum of three kids blogging about our life as autists on the glorious spectrum that the middle kid renamed The Royal Circle of Autism

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