A Personal Reflection of My Late-in-life Autism Diagnosis
By William Gilreath
I will describe my experiences in autism. I give specific examples from my perspective of being autistic. The experiences are in sensory, processing the world, and interaction with others.
My senses are like the character Roderick Usher from Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” that is, over-developed. From the story:
“He [Roderick] suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.”
I can relate to this; and Poe is describing someone with autism, but in the 19th century.
Textures and Taste
I will drown my food in condiments and seasonings, such as salad dressing, ketchup, steak sauce, Parmesan cheese, pepper. I’ve done so since I can remember.
Even name brands are not the same. I always buy one brand because it is more consistent or sublime in taste than another. Still, I will take foods and “drown” them with say crackers, shredded cheese. It adds to the flavor, but it is also “watering down” the flavor to something consistent and not so different. Otherwise, I’m eating something disgusting or gross for taste and texture.
I wear black and it is something of a personal stereotype. But the reason I wear black is because my dark clothing does not reflect the light into my eyes. I cannot wear bright clothing and a white T-shirt is only tolerable. I have a new prescription for glasses, which has helped. I used to wear my sunglasses almost all the time, even indoors.
I find the scent of flowers, real flowers, can be overpowering. I always liked the smell of marigolds, but other flowers and plants are too much. In college, the two smells that I dreaded were: the wet, soaking garbage smell in the curb from drainage issues. And then all the flowers along the sidewalk—a trail of overpowering scents.
I am an extreme; I either lock eyes with you and don’t break off, or I glance at your eyes and then look away. It is one or the other. When I do look at a person I’m talking to, I find myself watching the facial gestures, such as muscle movements, blink rate, pupillary dilation, eye movement and so forth. Often, I’m reading the person to assess their emotional state…such as if I am boring, annoying, shocking, or surprised about what is being communicated.
People are uncomfortable outside of social mores, rituals, and implicit codes of etiquette. There exists an implicit social protocol. The difficulty is I only know the social and cultural rules when I break one of them. Everything is by negation; you perceive things as “not” without knowing what.
That is the biggest thing as an aspie, autistic—you know that you’re not reading or perceiving something but not what, and it is frustrating to know this. Worse is to know it will happen again…only at what point? I have a great degree of social and general anxiety and now learning I am an aspie, I know the cause. I perceive other people in my own nation and culture as alien. I am an outsider—an android, replicant that walks among them.
Asking for Understanding
As an autistic individual with other kindred in the world, my plea and only piece of advice to give anyone reading this is simple: We need understanding when relating and communicating with us and acceptance for who we are.
William Gilreath is a software development engineer living in Oregon. He had a late-in-life-diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. William is a fan of technology, writing, and mathematics. Find more information about his books, articles, and research papers on his website.
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