January 17, 2021

Every part of autism

By rosieweldon

Autism is in the extremes. Autistic life is a life lived in the extremes. Black and white. Highs and lows. Special interests and meltdowns. Hyper-empathy and little empathy.

Is autism a gift? No, I don’t think so. Does autism come with some pretty cool benefits? Yes, absolutely.

But there is nothing more frustrating than someone wanting to benefit from the strengths of autism without acknowledging the cost that that comes with. The workplace is a prime example of this. A while back I spoke to AAT about the benefits of autism in accountancy. I was really torn about contributing and was very clear I needed it to portray both sides of autism. There are strengths to being an autistic accountant but being a full time accountant is also hugely challenging and I pay a price for it.

When articles like that one talk of the benefits of autism many go too far. Many insinuate we are resources that can be drained and discarded. Autistic workers are not a super employee to rinse for everything they can offer. As I said in that article, we are a double-edged sword. Yes, we are likely to provide insights and skills others may not, but we are almost certainly likely to also need support that others do not need.

It is not fair to look at an autistic person and expect to only see the positives. My hyper-empathy gives me incredible compassion and it is the fuel that drives my advocacy. It is also a constant trigger to shutdowns and meltdowns when I can’t process that emotion. It has driven friends away because I can struggle to contain such heightened emotions.

This morning I was listening to the song – At my best by Machine Gun Kelly and Hailee Steinfield. It is that song that inspired this blog.

The chorus sums up my experience of autism life:  

I shout, I swear, I get angry, I get scared
I fall, I break, I mess up, I make mistakes
But if you can’t take me at my worst
You don’t deserve me at my best

With the opening lines saying, ‘Do I gotta hide ‘em for you to wana stay?’ This song reminds me of how society is moving in a brilliant direction with autism awareness and acceptance through celebrating what we can achieve and what we can bring to the table. And that is brilliant. But please don’t let that be at the cost of expecting the autistic person to hide the other side of autism.

There are a lot of people in my life who are quick to celebrate the highs but it doesn’t mean anything unless they were also the ones who were picking me up off the floor when I hit rock bottom. Where they were also the colleagues supporting me as I went up against sensory overload and change.

An employer that supports me through the struggles will inspire the best in me. An employer that supports me through the struggles deserves me at my best.

A friend that has supported me through the lows I have faced is the most important person to be by my side as I celebrate the highs. The family members who have seen the worst sides of me but stood by me are worth more to me than words.

Most people have complicated parts of themselves. For autistic people these parts are extremes and we often can’t hide them away. They drive people away, they cause judgement.

Autism is in the extremes. Accept us for every part of who we are.

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