Welcome to all of my current and new readers! If you thought covering how my autistic brain works is way too big a topic for one blog post, you’d be right! However, it is something that I want to talk about as being a person with autism basically means that my brain works differently than someone who is neurotypical, ie not on the autism spectrum.
One of my favorite sayings is if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. But, that doesn’t mean that my experience is completely different from fellow autistic people. My hope for reading this article is that if you know me personally, you can get a better sense of what makes me tick. And if you don’t (hi, I’m Steph!), then maybe my experience is similar to an autistic person you do know and this post will help you understand their life experience better. It’s a little longer than most, but as you can probably imagine, talking about your brain is a pretty complicated topic 😉 I also plan to do lots of follow-up posts on this, so I won’t go too long here, but thanks in advance for sticking with me!
My autism story
If you’re new, let me fill you in a little bit. The main thing to know is that I was diagnosed with autism as an adult about five years ago (as of the writing of this post), which was honestly one of the best things that could have happened to me.
It gave me the official confirmation I needed that yes, I was different from others, and not just in the normal, “We’re all unique” sort of way. My brain structure is fundamentally different than other people’s. And now, I can finally truly figure out what my brain likes and what it doesn’t, rather than trying to mask and blend in.
Analogy time: How my autistic brain works
So, here’s the analogy I’ve come up with. My brain is like an internet browser (pick your favorite – I’m a Safari person myself). Every task I have to do, thought I am thinking, or noise/sensation/scent is like having a tab open. If you can imagine that analogy, I typically have a lot of tabs open, as I imagine most of you reading this do on your computer/laptop/browsing device of choice.
Since having multiple tabs open is so common these days, why is that a problem if my brain is like that all the time? Well, not to get too techie here, but basically from a computer perspective, every open tab is using up part of your internet, trying to download and/or upload the info it needs.
So, every “tab” I have open is causing my brain to run even slower and have a harder time giving enough power to what really needs its attention. Plus, stimuli that a neurotypical person could easily tune out, like cars driving by, are things that my brain chooses to focus on, even though I consciously know they’re not important.
What causes meltdowns when you’re autistic
If you’re a Mac user like me, you’re probably familiar with what I call the spinning wheel of death, that rainbow ball that pops up when your computer has too much going on. For me, when that happens, it means I’m in meltdown mode. A meltdown can be different depending on what caused it. For example, if I am just overloaded with too many tasks, I may scream and stomp around. If I had one task that pushed me to the edge, I may need to sit in stillness and zone out to a favorite show for a couple of hours.
Basically, it all comes down to my brain having to deal with too much, either lots of tabs, or even one or two that use a boatload of data. It’s confusing, believe me, I know. If you think it’s confusing to read, try living it every day or trying to explain my experience. I have gone through many revisions of this post and I know it’s not quite there, but it’s the closest I can get it, so thanks for sticking with me if you’ve made it this far!
In a follow-up to this, I’ll talk about a word you may have heard: stimming. It’s what things like fidget spinners help with (and why I feel badly for kids who go to school where they were banned). But, that’s a topic for next time, too many tabs open already 😉
Thanks for reading, for visiting the blog, and for any comments or questions below! I hope you enjoy your time here!