January 27, 2017

The Essence of Autism

I was in an autism discussion group and we were talking about how anxiety can play a big part of being autistic. I mentioned that if I could do away with the anxiety part and keep the autistic part, I think that would be ok. Someone else said that anxiety was autism and it can't be separated. I'm going to have to disagree.

I get that we get anxiety for a lot of different reasons, many of them being sensory issues, some of them being social issues, and others from childhood trauma or C-PTSD. But you can have anxiety without autism, just as you can have sensory processing disorder without autism. Anxiety isn't part of the diagnostic criteria for autism, nor do I think it should be.

What I do think is that we can have it better. We can have and deserve a better quality of life. We don't have to just throw up our arms and say, "well, I'm Autistic and anxious and there's nothing I can do!" Nor do we need to hold the belief that if we manage to control or get rid of the anxiety issues, that we'll somehow lose our autistic identity. 

I really believe the essence of autism is in our brain structure - the connections it has created that are different from neurotypicals. It's deep in our chemistry and make up. It's not something that can be fundamentally changed or taken away. But I do believe there is hope and possibility to alleviate some of the most trying symptoms, like the incapacitating anxiety, and the sensory discomforts.

It's true, as adults, we can often change our immediate surroundings to suit us. We make cozy homes for ourselves, when we can. But we still have to go out in the world, which is by and large not suited for many of us. I think we have been and can continue to make changes in the outside world as well, but I also see a need for us to be able to just be more comfortable in our own bodies. That might be medication. That might mean therapy, but whatever it is, I think we should be confident that we do not have to hold on dearly to the symptoms that are holding us back in order to preserve our autistic identity.

I write this as I'm coming out of a shutdown/burnout. What I wouldn't do to be able to remain functional. I have a family, a job - I can't afford to shutdown, but it happens and I don't blame my autism. I don't think I win any autism brownie points for having them. I think I could be just as authentically autistic without them. Just because I hate my anxiety, it doesn't mean I hate myself or autism. For me, my identity isn't so tied up in that part.

What do you think? What is the essence of autism?

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