Intense worlds within

When autistic people are not accused of being emotionless and “robotic” due to mistaking our quiet or unusual body language as lack of emotional capacity, we are often blamed as being “too much” in some way. Too intense. Too absorbed in our special interests. Too thorough in our exploration. Too passionate for the causes we champion and for things that delight us. Our opinions seem too strong. Sometimes we find we can’t “let go” of things as easily (coldly?) as most neurotypicals can, while at other times hyperfocus enables us to accomplish things quickly enough to make people around us uncomfortable. We may enjoy our favorite things long after neurotypicals have squeezed all joy out of them and crave for something new and different. Our powerful senses are not only sources of suffering and overloads. They are also capable of producing intense sensory pleasures, aka. autistic bliss, from things others may consider small and, at times, experiences of pure sensory bliss.

All of this draws plenty of negative attention. So, in hopes of being able to avoid exclusion and worse, we develop survival strategies. Bit by bit, we learn to hide ever bigger parts of ourselves. Often, shrinking ourselves, hiding our feelings, masking and muting our emotional expression in hopes of gaining acceptance becomes a second nature. The thing is, no matter how hard we try, it never becomes our first and true nature. Instead, a deep pain sets in and becomes part of our everyday life -a pain from which there is no escaping no matter how hard we try.

There still exist plenty of neurotypicals, even autism professionals who, contrary to anything they’d ever say to members of other minorities, believe that pain and suffering are necessary and inevitable parts of autistic life, especially one lived authentically. They believe our pain is a natural consequence of being flawed. Some even criticize those who talk about positive aspects of autistic experience for misrepresenting autism.

In our culture, there is a strong underlying thought that happiness belongs to only those who fit the cultural ideal of a person. Those deemed lesser are supposed to exhibit increasing signs of suffering and for members of a minority as stigmatized as autists, ”appropriate” amount of suffering is huge. Suffering is both a consequence and an expression of our prescribed place in neurotypical social hierarchy. Yet masking and withdrawing into closet is just as harmful for our mental and physical wellbeing as it is for members of any other minorities. We do so at cost of our wellness and even physical health. Even then, inside we stay the beautiful intense people who are perfectly in tune with the intense world we inhabit…and suffer.

I find such fate both ethically unacceptable and avoidable (at least in theory if not yet in practice for many of us). If you ask me, the solution to “problem of autistic people being so intense and too-everything” is not shrinking ourselves. Instead, neurotypical-identifying people should grow bigger hearts, accept the fact that humanity is neurodiverse, and learn to see the beauty in our way of being. There is a place and time for everything…including autistic intensity and authenticity. If you ask me, there is exactly nothing ”flawed” about it.

I’m not saying that autistic people should not bother to learn basic manners or try to get along well with people, or that we should refuse to accommodate neurotypical people around us when it’s the kind and considerate thing to do. What I am saying is, however, that there has to be a balance- and that balance does not look like us hiding permanently behind a cardboard façade four sizes too small. Our lives should have safe spaces and people that welcome us and cherish our authentic selves. We should have safe spaces to relax, put the mask down at least for a little while, and be the people we were born to be. We should have an opportunity to feel good about our true selves and celebrate our existence in Takiwatanga.

Also, as long the world is the way it is, I think someone needs to say aloud, that it’s not true that we are likeable only if we manage to squeeze ourselves into as small and colorless and tasteless creatures as possible. There are those who can handle intense and find passion energizing. On the other hand, no matter what we do, absolutely *everyone* will never like us. The trick is to surround ourselves with right people instead of the wrong ones. But how are we supposed to find them, if we carefully  hide our true nature and project this pleasantly average image that does nothing to spark their interest?

Make no mistake: there exist people who feel very alone if we seem to be nowhere to be found because we have carefully diminished and camouflaged ourselves to fit an imaginary mold of “normality”. There are those who find authenticity refreshing instead of scary and too-something. There are those who’d really like our authentic selves and our intense world fascinating, if only we’d give them the chance to experience it all. Also, while in real life we are often the only ones of our kind in sight, there are others like us. We are never truly alone, especially at this day and age when supportive #ActuallyAutistic community online is just a couple of clicks away. If you have not yet found the right people, I highly recommend starting from there.

Kaiao’s continuing mission is to help people understand and appreciate autistic people. If you are looking for wholesome and respectful autism understanding, look no further! Please don’t hesitate to contact me saara.reiman@kaiao.fi if you have any questions!