Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tiny Island

Today is the 3rd Annual Autistics Speaking Day. It also marks my third year of writing about autism. I have much to be thankful for this past year: the chance to create an animated short, to travel with the Juniper Hill crew, and to publish my second book. I am glad many of you continue to come here for laughs and insight. But often, when living with autism, there are no laughs or insight. The reality is that my daily life remains dominated by my inability to understand and coexist with other people.

I prefer to feel in control of my environment, and other people introduce chaos into it. They disrupt my equilibrium. They pop in and out, as it meets their needs and not mine. They are too fast, and too loud. Other autistic people are no easier for me to deal with than NT's. People irritate me. Or perhaps I irritate myself through my own discomfort and inability to articulate myself. Regardless, I find I deal best with others at a safe distance.

Most of my time is spent at the office or at home. I’m good at my job, and autism is a big reason for that. My work requires perfect accuracy, and perfection is what I deliver. I have a purpose in the workplace. I’ve learned the structure and I excel within it. It’s a foreign tongue sometimes, one that speaks with Important Words, like pursuant, and execute, and the delta, but I’ve become conversant in the language. I assimilate to ensure my survival.

Autistic people have no choice but to assimilate. Yet, we also desire to withdraw to our comfort zone, where we feel in control. This internal conflict threatens to drive us out of our minds, as Adam Bailey describes in a piece called Islands.
Our islands are awesome, but only to us. An island cannot simply fit into a school or workplace setting. Most others cannot feel comfortable on our islands, because it is so odd there. We cannot feel comfortable leaving our islands for very long, because it is so odd outside them.

It takes a perfect balance all the time in order to get by, and as soon as we stop working as hard, things get really difficult really quick.
Maybe in the workplace, assimilation is easier, because I have a clearly defined role. Maybe those of you who share a household also find it a comfortable fit, within easily definable parameters. But outside of familiar environments, there are simply too many unknowns. At times, sanity demands avoiding such uncertainty.

Leo Kottke sings in his song, “Tiny Island,”
I wish I had a tiny island floating in the sea.
Palm trees sway, don't get in the way, it's a tropical ease.
And everywhere that I keep my silence, no sound returns to me.
Just endless waves at the end of our days, the sighing of the seas.
Given the option, I believe I would cast off the civilized life for my own tiny island. I find solitude the most comfortable state, and increasingly, my lifestyle leaves no room for others.

I’ve grown less hopeful about autism acceptance by the greater community. I know the world will not change for me. So I have fewer laughs and insights to share with you in this space. A few successes doesn't make it easier to navigate a daily existence that drifts from mundane to chaotic. As Adam says, this is how I am, the real-life me. Man wasn’t meant to live on his own tiny island. So why does it seem so enticing?