(by an Autistic writer)
This essay by my daughter, Anne Caitlin Robinson Marsh, is excerpted with permission from my book, The ABCs of Autism in the Classroom: Setting the Stage for Success. Anne was one of the contributors to the “In Their Own Words” sections of the book. This is what she wrote about Autism from her perspective as an autistic adult:
To me, Autism is a part of who I am. It’s woven into my brain and it means the way I think is different from the norm. It’s a very fundamental difference, it can’t be separated out from the rest of me. There are parts of me that I consider important, like interests and hobbies, likes and dislikes, and if you removed that one aspect of my personality, the rest of me wouldn’t change much. If I preferred green beans to broccoli, I would still be the same me, essentially. I would still have the same thoughts and emotions, I would still interact with the world the same way. If I was less depressed or anxious, or if I didn’t have one particular obsessive compulsive quirk, if you removed one of those things from me, it would be a change to my daily life and my brain, but it wouldn’t make me a different person.
Autism is different. You can’t separate it out from the rest of me. It would require a whole new brain – a different ratio of grey to white brain matter! I wouldn’t be the same person on any level if I was not Autistic. I wouldn’t process emotions the same way, I wouldn’t engage with my hobbies and interests on the same level, I would not think the way that I think, I wouldn’t remember information the way that I remember! I would be a completely different person, and this would erase not only the difficulties that come with Autism, but all the things that I do like about myself. This is something that I think people who talk about “curing” Autism don’t understand – you can’t separate out the good from the bad. A brain is Autistic or it isn’t, and if you had the ability to wave a magic wand and make an Autistic brain not, you would be changing EVERYTHING, not just the parts that “look autistic.”
I am a lot of things. I use different labels when I interact with different groups, and those labels carry different levels of importance. To some people, it’s important that I am a writer, but not that I am a Star Trek fan. To others, it’s important to know that I love Star Trek, but it’s not important to know that I bake, or what kind of people I date. But there is no group where my Autism ceases to be a part of my identity. As an Autistic writer, I process and plan and connect things a certain way. I write Autistic characters, and I describe sensory details based on my experiences. As an Autistic Star Trek fan, I engage with the material in certain ways. I relate to certain characters (Spock, Data, Bashir) more than others. I read and memorize bits of trivia, and I find comfort in having a Special Interest that I can turn to. As an Autistic baker, I crave or dislike certain sensory aspects of the process, I like to know the science behind how everything works in the kitchen, and if I am used to doing things a certain way, I don’t like change. Having to use a different oven might stop me in my tracks, even if it’s not that different from the oven I learned to bake using. And as an Autistic person in general, it’s very important to me that the people I befriend or date understand how Autism impacts my life.
You might think, “Well, a lot of neurotypical passionate Star Trek fans obsess over trivia, and a lot of neurotypical writers draw from experience when writing sensory details, and a lot of neurotypical bakers enjoy the feel of dough or prefer a routine,” and that’s all true. (I mean, except for the part where you thought there were “a lot” of neurotypical passionate Star Trek fans.) Being Autistic doesn’t mean I’m an alien species, or a robot. Autistic people still have a lot in common with non-Autistic people, and there are things we can all understand. But there are also ways in which our experience is, even in quiet ways, fundamentally different.
Because it isn’t just the one thing. It’s the way that every aspect of the experience connects.
~ Anne Caitlin Robinson Marsh