Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | December 7, 2014

On being different and differently autistic

I read a neat post by SeventhVoice today positing that one characteristic that all autistic women seem to share is this innate feeling of being “different” from everyone around them. I have to say, I related quite a bit to this. As an autistic person (heck, as a person), I’ve never really felt “in sync” with the people around me. I’ve always been just a bit (or a lot) different.

That feeling of difference sometimes gets less, sometimes it increases, but it never really goes away. When I was first discovering that I was autistic, I felt that “different” feeling beginning to lift. I thought that I’d finally found “my people”. I read thousands of blog posts, dozens of books and personal narratives, describing experiences of being autistic, and it was like reading a story from my life. I’d never felt that sort of connection with anyone before, and I was fascinated. I knew that this was where I belonged. But the more that I read, the more I realized how different from most of these people I really was, not in vocation, but in ultimate goals. The more I became part of the autism online community, the more blogs I read, the more people I met, the more different I felt from most of the autistic online community.

I’m a young woman. I’m 25 now, and I started blogging nearly 3 years ago, at 22. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with dozens of other young autistic women. They write compellingly, about important topics. But I’m not like them. I’m not an activist. I don’t feel compelled to write posts spewing rhetoric, to preach about politics and right and wrong. I don’t take offense and pounce when someone uses the wrong word around me (though sometimes I will take someone aside after and talk to them). My existence and worth isn’t defined from one crisis to another, trying to find a “them” to go up against. I’m not saying that my “peer group” is doing anything wrong. I simply don’t have that sort of disposition to be a part of them, and therefore, I’m different from them. I don’t feel community with older autistic women either – they’ve lived so much more life than I have, and our experiences don’t match up. I don’t have children (though not all of the older autistic women do either), and I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life to not have ever been sexually abused, homeless, or really unemployed (thus far). My experiences in life just don’t match up with those of other autistic women, and so I feel very different from that too. Plus, I’m just a lot younger, I haven’t really lived life yet.

And it’s not just the autism community online. When I was an undergraduate, I spent a good portion of my time with the LGBT community at my university. At first, we bonded over having “always felt a bit different” from everyone else. But then they found their “same” and I was left on the outside, still different. When I was in high school, I joined science team, to be with the people who also felt a bit different. They found their same, and I was still just different. Even in graduate school, my colleagues have found their “same” and I’m still on the outskirts. I’ve hung out with theater people for much of my life, self-proclaimed “weirdos” – and even there, I’m the weird one among the weird. I think in some ways, I just don’t know how to feel that “same” feeling. I think this is part of my existence, perhaps even attributable to my being autistic all my life. I’ve never found a real community that I didn’t feel that I was still different from. Even communities of people who have always felt different don’t have room for me.

Sometimes I wonder if the problem is me. That I just have no idea how to be a part of the “we”, and that I’ll never fit in. That maybe I go looking for differences because that’s what is comfortable, that is what I know. I know I’m different, so even among people who know they’re different, I’ll always find a way to stick out, to stay separate. In a sense, though, that’s what makes me who I am. I go about living my life, interacting with the world, knowing that I’m different from everyone I interact with. That means we’ll have different opinions, different wants, needs, desires. And that also means that by accepting that I have my own (different) set of needs, I also accept that someone else’s needs are different from mine, and that is ok.

In a lot of ways, I think that autistic people in particular can fall into this “different” trap. We have trouble with change, and we’ve been different all our lives. What happens when we find people who are the same? We different-ize them, because we can’t handle the idea that there are people with whom we have some sameness. In a lot of ways, this is what is wrong with the greater autism community. There’s always an “us” and a “them”. It doesn’t matter really, who the players are. Sometimes it’s men versus women. Sometimes it’s older Autistics versus younger Autistics. Sometimes it’s parents versus autistics. Sometimes it’s autistics against the charities and anyone who happens to support them. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of effort focusing on how we are all different. We look for differences because that’s all we know how to do. And we assume that unless someone is exactly the same as us, that they are 100% evil. I can think of very few people who are genuinely 100% evil. That’s not the point. Really, most people are generally good. They might not have the background or the knowledgebase that I have or that someone else has, in order to make a decision the same way I would. But that doesn’t make them evil. It means that we have less common ground. It means that we might have to work harder, dig a little deeper, to find where we agree.

A big part of the autistic existence is feeling different from those around us. I know I’ll always be just a bit different. In a way, it is very isolating. But in another way, it means that I know myself. I know what I need to be me. In accepting that I am almost always different from those around me, I have also recognized that I often have some “same” as well, even if that “same” is only a very tiny portion. I go about life with the assumption that difference is ok, and that the best thing I can do is to interact with kindness and the best intentions I can, hoping to find that tiny bit of “same”, the common ground, to foster communication and understanding.

And if that makes me different, then I am happy to be.


Responses

  1. Don’t change a thing. Ever. Be you. Be the one and only you. It’s what the world needs. Thank you.

    • Amen. Don’t change, I allow God to help me strengthen my positive points (Philippians 4:13) and make His Strength known in my weak points. This revelation has helped me “honor my limitations” as a college that could not accept me due to sensory and transportation barriers put it.

  2. This is precisely how I feel! (ironically! Finally some “same”!). I’ve passed through a lot of different communities / subcultures through my life and always been either on the outer edge, or on the edge of a small clique that was in itself on the outer edge of a community, or totally isolated by myself (there is not much good to say about the last option). I’ve observed again and again how other people “find their same” together and conform to a subculture, adopt its values and wholeheartedly channel their energy into its “US” VS “Them” battle fields. I’m scared of collectivism in general because of groups’ seemingly inherent tendency to black & white thinking, collective aggression towards some evil enemy, and loss of perspective / objectivity.

    I feel that I don’t fit into any box… in general, and also in relation to the online autism community. I was initially fascinated when discovering asperger’s (in my case the word that opened up a new understanding of my life). I suddenly discovered lots of stories that resonated with my own life story, especially autobiographic accounts of late-diagnosed female … I was looking for sameness and found heaps of it, and could use other’s concepts to define and categorise aspects and patterns of my life that had always been nameless, bring order to chaos … that was amazing.

    However, just as with any other community I’m feeling like an outsider in this one too. They are “Us” and I’m – while not quite “Them” (NTs… whatever) – I’m not “Us”, I don’t identify with the collective focus and slogans and waves of collective emotions I see unfold. I basically can’t really follow what goes on collectively, just as usual – as with any other group, and a lot of what I do pick up seems too socially orientated and touchy-feely for my taste. I’m probably more individualistic than the norm (I don’t mean “careless” or “selfish”… I have a strong sense of collective responsibility and willingness to act on it to solve collective problems)… My feelings don’t sync much with others’, neither offline or online. I initially thought my life long “outsiderness” was an aspie trait – it is certainly part of my feeling alien in general that I have so little group sync with people around me – but then to my surprise I saw that the majority of autistics active in the autistic online community seem to have strong collective sync. There is the “Tribe” identity rhetoric, activism, the many who express that they have finally found belonging “my people”), and the tendency to talk about “Us” as if “we” were all the same. Often what “Us” describes as defining “Us-ship” contradicts other “Us” definitions. That doesn’t make sense … it seems like an ongoing collective self-stereotyping full of contradictions. That was one of the first things that made me feel like I don’t belong here either. I may be “from a different planet”, but it seems like a lot of those who feel the same way are in fact all from the same planet(s)! Whereas I’m from some sort of obscure asteroid that doesn’t even have a name.

    I’ve also considered whether I’m simply automatically finding myself as an outsider in any group of people because that is the role I’m used to and have been in all my life, and I don’t know how to play any other role (fairly similar to what you described), and I think that is the case. It is partly sad, and partly a good thing… I think the presence of some “non-sync” people here and there acts as safety-breaks that help prevent collective trends from overheating and going off the rails; whereas the “sync-people” (majority) provide collective energy that make things happen.

    Thanks for writing this very powerful and relevant post. I wrote mostly about my personal perspective but I think the community perspective is even more relevant and important (I don’t feel I’m enough of an insider to discuss that in a relevant way – there’ll be others who’ll have a lot more to say or think about that)

    • Hi Anna! Thanks so much for your comment.🙂 You’ve really hit the nail on the head. I think there are probably quite a few of us who feel very “other” to the “us” of the autism community. Your perspective is very much the way I feel.🙂 Thanks for taking the time to leave it.

      • Thank you:-) I so very much appreciate that you wrote this, it makes a big difference for me.

      • Thank you for your response to this post. This is the first time I have actually read a first person account about being female, on the autism spectrum and not fitting into the “tribe” or militant mindset prototype (our way or the highway). I wonder how people such as ourselves can help those both on the spectrum and NT to understand their limited perspective and cruel comments that arise from that mindset better on our own blogs (for those of us who have them) as well as those of us who post & comment on social media forums?

      • @Autisticaplanet, thank you for your comment. I think I can see what you mean (maybe). I haven’t personally experienced any cruel comments, but of course a consequence of people acting like they are at war tends to be harsh communication … (and/or perhaps outright bullying). Unfortunately I have no answer to your question, but I think in general the best communication strategy is to try to resist the temptation to think in absolutes, and to try to avoid stereotyping people, and instead try to see every person as a person and not only a representative of whatever group/category they claim to belong to, or which I think they represent. (because of course: that I don’t fit the stereotypes I know of doesn’t mean that I am not prone to stereotyping others – and that I warn about black & white thinking doesn’t mean I’m not prone to think in absolutes myself… it is an everpresent temptation; it is so much easier).

        Also, I don’t think people necessarily want to be “helped” to understand the limitations of agreeing with the majority of the group(s) they identify with – since that agreement / collective mindset is a powerful tool that gives a lot of people a sense of belonging plus collective power to change the world in desired directions (or at least have their collective agenda taken seriously). The less nice effects – such as the hate, hostility & simplistic perspectives that tends to come with an Us VS Them mentality, rejection of nuances and complexity, and the discomfort of those who don’t fit the template, who are generally out of sync or uneasy about collective conformity, are just side effects.

        I’ll also add that while I personally feel I don’t belong in any group, other people who are in a similar situation = other “miscellaneous people” tend to not be like me (or each other)… I guess that is the nature of being a miscellaneous kind of person😦 So I doubt it is possible to make “a subgroup of outsiders of the larger population of misfits” with a shared agenda… I don’t think that would helpful at all. I can’t even think what the agenda should be. “Get everybody else to be nice to each other and to Us?” Won’t work… It would just make people feel accused without being specific about what they are accused of … Make a new Us VS Them kind of group.

  3. So… I know this is a post on being different than other people, and as of such, it seems a little strange that my response on reading this is to think “me too!”

    But I think that I have also noticed different-ness in groups. It doesn’t happen if I have just one friend, which I’ve had at various points of my life, but when I start to expand the group of people I interact with, it pops out a lot more for me. (I remember thinking about floating on the edge of groups and using that to describe it. Idk… a lot of the time, I feel like I’m sort of an outlying data point that’s part of the data set, but that might get cleaned up and out in analysis. Or one thats sort of ambiguous and not quite in one category or another and doesn’t get grouped in for the formal, final analysis for whatever reasons… [But I’m not the best at numerical data analysis or stats, so this might not make sense from that standpoint])

    And it does seem like so so so so many autistic women my age are much more activist-orientated than I am capable of being. And maybe just because there is a relatively large amount of online autistic women that I peripherally follow and large groups of people tend towards disagreement, but it seems like there is always some sort of conflict going on which is something I can’t handle. (Not to say that some of these people aren’t doing amazing important things and writing wonderful explanations for things that are helpful for me and such, but it is certainly an environment I can’t let myself stay in for long.)

    And I mean, to some extent, it probably is for me because I am different because people are different. And then I have a tendency to get concerned over if what I am feeling is a person thing or an autism thing (when really it is valid either way probably).

    But I recognize being different in the different, and worrying about not knowing how to be part of a “we”.Thank you for putting it into words.

    • 🙂 Thanks Alana. Yes, “me too”. We can be differently weird and peripherally exist together. And that’s ok🙂 I can’t function in the disagreement and activist community much at all either. But that doesn’t make us bad, it just makes us, us. Outliers in the data. Though I’m not sure that we really are outliers – I think there are a lot of us out there who just don’t know how to “fit in”, and feel pushed out.

      • I think outliers isn’t quite the right term either, but it was the closest word I could find. It is good to know though that there are other people who don’t always know how to fit.🙂

      • I think outliers might actually describe how I feel most of the time – if you cleaned up the data, I would be gone. But most people are too lazy to clean up their “data” (read: social circle or group) so I stick around for a while until they realize that they need to do some neatening up, and then they realize that I never belonged in the first place… so yeah, outlier fits me pretty well, actually.

    • I like your outlier-metaphor Alana. The outlier is an element that is seen as different = not representative of the group, and therefore kept out of consideration so as to maintain the uniformity of the rest of the dataset… The metaphor fits the context very well:-)

      Ps. Outlier: fun illustration.

  4. I am one of those older women, 59 years young in fact, but even so I feel exactly the same as those of you that have spoken here.
    My take on that is that we are introverts, even extreme introverts, and introverts do not DO groups.
    Extroverts need social action to feel energized; introverts need downtime to replenish energy. Extreme introverts tend to be loners. Add Autism to that…
    I am very happy to be alone most of the time, and ‘company’ means another person around doing his/her own thing most of the time, without the need for much conversation.
    Basically I am very boring to others, but not to myself. I don’t particularly like being thought of as boring, but… c’est la vie!🙂

  5. We are all different autistic or not. Be who you are and be as comfortable as you can.

    People in any group are not all the same, but do have some similarities and to be part of the group they fix on the similarities and not the differences.

    I am not autistic but have had throughout life not feeling part of some groups, but with me it was the degree of confidence in myself and the worry of being seen different by others.

    Since I retired I seem to have much more confidence and am more open to others. These days if they do not want to mix, then that is their loss not mine.

    So be yourself and enjoy life as it is, even when it is not easy.

    Good luck for the future.

  6. I am 35 and have never felt welcome either by those on the spectrum online or off or neurotypicals. Dr Tony Attwood, after reading about my history in an e-mail I sent, said that I was an “‘unusual’ case of Asperger’s.” I have found through my maturing Christian faith that God accepts me as His own child, faults, shortcomings and all due to my faith in Jesus. Autism doesn’t phase Him, He makes His Strength made known in my weakness. My parents were my closest friends, and my only true friend is 79. I’ve always done best with those older than myself. Even if I never make a new friend, I am so grateful for what God has blessed me with, and I am never alone with God in my life. Thank you for your post. It definitely resonates with me.🙂

  7. Don`t be sad about your feeling different. You are just being unique. Be proud of who you are. A lot of people feel that fundamnetal loneliness. Maybe it`s part of being human. Sorry my English is not so well.

    Love from a mom to an autistic teenager

  8. So true. I always felt different and had tried communicating with people on the outskirt of society, very poor and alcoholic, but I still had that nagging feeling of being different. They could handle companty better. they had social codes I couldnt quite grasp. They didnt struggle with issues I did.

    as a teen, I was suspicious of grownups, then of old fashion people, then people who weren’t old fashion. I was suspicious of many people for all kind of stupid reasons I now realize I made up for this reason precisely, used to be the outsider.

    And even in autistic forums, I still feel a bit different, because I dont even want friends or marriage and cant handle it. Autism affects individuals differently, and most people in autistic forums write about they have friends and are married with kids, or in a relationship, and it makes me feel different and isolated. like they’re a part of something I know nothing about.

    • I think non-autistic society has much to learn about accepting individuality, even among themselves. Even “NT” people are different. Psalm 139 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. God loves us for being different. That said, I often feel very isolated due to my sensory triggers. I am not a “dog” person nor can I tolerate the noise that goes with dogs and kids. When I was on You Tube, I was told by people with Asperger’s that they did suffer some degree of sensory issues, but mine basically put theirs to shame (made theirs look insignificant). I also got some sympathy. While I greatly appreciate empathy & sympathy, I would love to actually hear more from autistic adults who suffer the same strictures I do as well as those who are supportive of developing sensory friendly housing, a topic I am getting no place with. I pray and hope for these things to be true.
      Hint: Housing those with severe sensory needs (independently and semi-independently) would be a great idea for a blog post. I have addressed it on mine @ http:// http://www.autisticaplanet.wordpress.com.

  9. This post made me think of my autistic daughter. She has not found her ‘same’ with any group yet. It worries me so occasionally I ask her directly if she is feeling okay with this. She tells me she is awesome. She doesn’t seem to think that she has to be part of a ‘group’ and as long as she is happy that is okay with me. In fact it has kind of turned her into a leader in high school. Other kids who haven’t yet found their ‘same’ seem to gravitate towards her because she accepts them as they are without judgement. She has a couple of friends (also on the spectrum) and some online friends and that seems to be enough for her.

    She seems to have accepted herself as she is and I am so proud of her for doing that. I only hope she can maintain that as she gets older and is exposed to the rest of the world.

    • Hi there, I’m so sorry I just found this, wordpress put it in spam(!) so I had to rescue it. Thanks so much for the comment. Accepting oneself is the most important step to anything, and I’m so glad that your daughter is there already – in high school I was definitely not in that state of mind. Thanks for your comment, and I apologize for the delay in publishing it!

  10. ” The basic difference seems to be:

    NT Theory of Mind = Everyone thinks like me, except when shown to be otherwise.

    Autistic Theory of Mind = Everyone thinks differently from me — vastly and mysteriously — except when shown to be otherwise.”

    http://isnt.autistics.org/socialdelusion.html

  11. Hello: I hadn’t come across your blog before. I’m an ‘old’ Asperger female, and a lifetime of experience does result in a more reflective and caring point of view. Eventually, one can “get over” the “I’m different thing” and become a member of humanity. It requires seeing that there is a majority opinion out there among social humans that they are evolution’s pinnacle of perfection – they will always believe that, but we don’t have to; it’s an illusion. Only individual human beings exist and every one counts. Please visit my blog – I deal with the myths surrounding ASD and many of the unscientific assumption of psychologists.

    http://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t think the wording “get over the thing” is very fair, though. Certainly perspectives change. But that is how I feel now, and while I obviously am somewhat younger than you, telling me to “get over” it is somewhat hurtful, because it dismisses my reality.

      • I didn’t tell you to get over it, I said it’s possible. Other people reading the comment may find it encouraging to know that ASD individuals have the ability to grow and change and that disability is not a career. .

      • sweet jesus. If “get over” wasn’t awful to say, “disability is not a career” is definitely awful.

      • I think you ought to read a bit more of my blog before you decide that I will never grow or change, or that I am “disabled as a career”. Neither of these is true and I find it offensive that this is your go-to assumption. Please stop trying to tell me that I am things which I am not.

      • Okay! My advice is for people who can open their minds, not those who piss and moan.

      • Think what you’d like. All I ask is that you read a bit more before you come to (incorrect) snap judgements about me or my livelihood.

  12. Well, I guess I will have to face the fact that it will never be easy to make a deep connection. It can happen to people with autism. Well, some of us who lives with better proactive environments. Not me, unfortunately. My life is superficial.

  13. In some cases, different is good, not bad. I work for a university too. We have a bunch of geeks in our office. That’s where we’re the same. But we each have different strengths. Four of us technical guys are really familiar with databases. We know our web development technology fairly well too, but we’ve got one guy who doesn’t know much about databases. On the other hand, he’s really good at designing web interfaces that are easy to use and can produce a very polished web interface in a day or two, where it might take the rest of us a week or more. If we can design the database and create the data management layer (the code that sits between the database and the interface) in a day or two, we can hand it off to him and we’ve got something ready for the rest of the team to test in under a week.

    On the nontechnical side of things, we have people who are experts in their areas who write the specifications for the stuff that those of us technically minded people can use two create what’s needed to move the project forward. Not everyone on the team is an expert at the same thing, we’re all different. Without us all being a little different, our system would end up being one that only the author would want to use.

    Enjoy the areas where you fit together with a group, and enjoy the areas where you don’t fit in. People generally don’t agree 100% with any other person, that’s what makes us individuals. If we were all the same, how boring that would be!


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