What does it feel like to be autistic?

Autism. What does it feel like?

This was a question posed to me in a facebook group today. I’m not sure exactly what the person asking was looking for, but it is actually an incredibly complex question. So naturally, I’m going to try and answer it in a short and succinct way. I want the answer to be relatable.

What does it feel like to be autistic for me?

The simple answer; it doesn’t. When I sit alone in my room, listening to music, watching TV, writing, it doesn’t feel like anything. I have been autistic my entire life, I have nothing else as a point of reference. I do not know how it feels to be neurotypical, or non-autistic. I don’t even know how being autistic feels to another autistic.

My experience is solipsistic in nature. Without that point of reference how can I know what it is about being autistic that feels so different to being neurotypical? This is me, I have never been anything else. When you ask what it feels like, I don’t know, because it is impossible for me to tell where my autistic experience ends and my general human experience begins. Autism encompasses every part of my being and always has.

I can however explain how it feels to be autistic in a neurotypical world. As soon as I set foot into the world, surrounded by other people, I become hyper-aware of my differences. Being autistic in a neurotypical world is like watching a French film, with Japanese subtitles, and I only have a GCSE-level qualification in German.

Let me expand on that a little. I have some idea of how language works, I have been using my own language my entire life; but everyone else seems to be speaking another language that I can barely grasp, and the more they try to spell it out, the more confusing it gets.

The world is full of unwritten social rules that the neurotypical world seems to intuitively know, meanwhile I am in the corner wondering when the hell everyone learnt these rules, or worse, trying to work out why these rules exist in the first place, or what purpose they serve.

Another thing that makes me very aware of my differences is my sensory profile. I smell things before anyone else, I hear noises that others don’t notice, bright lights feel like someone is shining a high-powered laser into my eyes. I am bombarded from every angle by sensory input, and yet I see so much beauty that doesn’t even seem to be noticeable to neurotypical society.

This is what I feel. It’s not a feeling I can directly pinpoint. There is no feeling that makes me go “I feel extra autistic today!”.

Asking an autistic person what being autistic feels like is SUCH a complex question. We don’t have a non-autistic point of reference. I just hope that today I have come some way towards answering your question.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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