The first half of this was written five years ago when I was just beginning to learn things about ASD. I answer my own ponderings in the second half.
General disclaimer for my rambling posts: I tend to switch back and forth between writing in first and second person. When I use “I”, I’m taking ownership of what I’m saying and speaking from my own experience. When I say “you”, I’m referring to the general public or specific subgroup and am speaking more hypothetically.
I know autism is a spectrum disorder. Every single case is unique and no two autistic people share the exact same manifestations. I am curious about something though.
You know how sexuality is a fluid, right? You’ve heard of the Kinsey scale? It says that an individual can fall anywhere on the scale from 0-6. One of the tenets of the theory also states that it can change over the course of a person’s life. You could potentially be born a 6 and end up as a 0 – although that high degree of fluctuation is highly unlikely, I think. It’s more likely that if you are a 4 at one point, you could be a 2 later and then a 3 after that, etc.
Anyway, back to fluidity.
As I’ve explained before, my way of understanding the world is through association. To comprehend a new concept, I relate it to something I already know. I make connections all over the place, even if they seem strange or completely unrelated to someone else, they make sense to me.
Naturally, my brain just likened the words “spectrum” and “scale”* because a thought occurred to me. Can the autism spectrum be considered fluid as well?
Fact: Autism is something you are born with. It’s a different ‘wiring’ of your brain from the neurotypical way. There is no “cure”. If you are autistic, you will always be autistic. But~ is it possible to ‘make improvements‘, like Jenny McCarthy seems to want to believe? Can you get ‘worse’? My immediate answer would be no, of course not. That’s preposterous. And ignorant actually.
I only wonder about this because I feel like the aspects of my own personal case have… increased. I have always been autistic. I will always be autistic. But in some very concrete ways, lately, I feel even more autistic than I used to be.
There is an easy way to explain it, I suppose. I became adept at masking those obvious autistic parts of me. Now that I’m realizing this is who I am at the core, I no longer feel it’s as necessary as it was in the past for me to hide those things. I am who I am. Take it or leave it, fuckers. Haha. Now I’m in an adjustment period where a lot of things I didn’t even realize about myself are resurfacing.
Before really understanding what autism really is and that I probably am autistic myself, I had to explain things away or just deal with it. Now, I don’t have to. It’s all still new to me so things are out of whack. Things that were unpleasant but had to be done before are now monumental. I’m struggling with quite a few issues now.
For example, I hate talking to people. I’ve become quite reclusive. Making conversation is so much harder for me now. It was getting progressively worse and worse over the past maybe 8ish years, but now, I feel more awkward and panicky than ever before. I find myself saying things I don’t mean exactly, passively allowing people to misinterpret me without speaking up to correct them or back track what I said, following other social constructs I hate (breaking my own rules) like laughing at a joke I don’t find funny. This bothers me immensely.
There are other examples too. I’m just tired right now and can’t think of them.
So likely, it’s not that I’m more autistic than I was before. It’s probably a combination of the settling into my new sense of self …and old age. Haha. I’m less flexible than I was in my youth.
Still, it’s something to think about. COULD it be fluid? I’m not a psychology expert. I don’t know.
The above was likely written before I had heard much about autistic burnout. Without taxing myself to explain what that is in my own words right now, I’ll just recommend that you read these 2 articles and/or watch this video if you’ve never heard of it.
Autistic Burnout: An Often-Misunderstood Element of Austim
Sometimes it can look like someone has lost skills they previously had mastered or can no longer “behave” themselves in public when they could before. It comes from spending every ounce of energy someone has to do those things to the point where they are just exhausted and can’t do it anymore. It can also happen when there are big changes in life – like moving, changing jobs, or hey, finding out they are autistic!
Five years ago, when I spending almost all my free time on educating myself all about what it meant to be on the spectrum, I was stressing my brain, using up a lot of energy on absorbing so much new information and deeply thinking through everything. Even though I enjoyed the research stage, my mind was working over everything I was learning almost constantly – even in my sleep.
I had ALSO just started a new job after having been unemployed and out of school for the previous 3 years doing nothing at home. It’s no wonder I was having a hard time doing a lot of the things neurotypical people seem to do with very little effort.
So, now, I think that your personal “level” of autism is not on a sliding scale – you are what you are – but what changes from day to day is your reaction to input and your ability to hold it (like a cup that is slowly filling up with input until it overflows). It can be dependent on the amount of sleep you had and how well your body is being taken care of (food intake, etc.), what things are going on in your life presently that might be taking up room in your cup, what the weather is like, etc. It can be anything really.
The “ability” to pass in society also takes A LOT of energy. If you’re just at home doing your own thing, you may be better able to cope with dealing with all of the daily ups and downs but if you also have to work/go to school, naturally it will take more of a toll. You’ll have less spoons that you might normally have.
In conclusion, no, I don’t think you are more or less autistic at different points in your life. You just have a fluid capacity to deal with everything.
(* I actually have a lot more to say about the difference between scales and spectrums but that will be in another post later.)