Yesterday I almost had a meltdown over a sweater.
As I was heading toward a nervous system overload, I thought, “Is my autism getting worse?”
Really, that question was asking, “Are the challenging aspects of autism becoming more frequent and intensified?”
Learning I am autistic has overwhelmingly enhanced my life. It’s helped me to learn how to work with my brain.
AND YET, I have noticed that some characteristics seem to increase in frequency and intensity over time.
What do I mean by that?
I’m less tolerant of certain smells.
I notice the volume of voices more acutely.
Bright lights bother me more.
I avoid more places I don’t like going (grocery stores, crowded places, etc.)
I have less tolerance for most things that bother me now - such as people who deplete my energy.
This wasn’t something I consciously realized until I read an essay on Medium by @theautist She spoke about her journey of late-identified autism and noted that some of her characteristics became stronger, such as her sensory sensitivity.
Her essay caused me to pause and reflect on my life. As I reviewed my experiences, I realized the same thing had happened to me.
I also checked in with my autistic clients about this, and many noted a similar thing.
So why is that?
I have three possible theories.
Somethings New Stays in Your Awareness
Learning you are autistic brings LOTS of information with it. Most autistics deep dive into autism and all of its characteristics with great intensity. As most of this information is new, it brings many things to the forefront of our minds. It makes sense then that we would notice things with greater intensity and frequency than before. For example, one example of sensory sensitivity is that some autistics have difficulty with the smell of exhaust. When I was newly identified, I thought, “Oh yeah, I do struggle with that!” I wasn’t sure how much though, so I was hyper aware of whenever I smelled exhaust and monitored how it impacted me. This level of awareness naturally made it seem like I was more sensitive to it, when really I was just noticing the impact more.
You’re Realizing the Actual Cause
Before I knew I was autistic, I was exhausted most of the time. Certain things would tire me out more than others, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why. Now, I know enough about autism and myself to know exactly what leads to my nervous system overload. So when I’m feeling worn out by the end of the day, I’m able to pinpoint, “Well that’s because I spent an hour with my friend, and then had to go to the grocery store, and dealt with my dog barking excessively at one point.” I know which things impacted my nervous system and why.
I never had access to this understanding before. So while it could seem like more autistic things are impacting me, the reality is they always were, I just couldn’t identify it like I can now.
You’re Putting up with Less Bullshit
Ever since learning I’m autistic, I’ve been exploring new strategies to work with my autistic mind. When I learn what supports me and what drains me, I make changes in my life accordingly. This means I put up with farrrrrrr less things that drain me. Before, I may have forced myself to go to a social event or pushed through my fatigue to accomplish something on my to do list. I now understand it’s far better to honor my energy capacity.
All of these things can make it seem like my autism is “getting worse.” That I’m doing less or tolerating less. In actuality, I’m listening to myself MORE. I’m honoring myself MORE. How can I tell I’m not actually getting “worse?” I’m a whole hell of a lot happier. My day to day is more enjoyable and I have far less meltdowns and spiraling moments than before.
All of this to day, you noticing autism sensitivities more might actually be a sign of your growth. That things are getting better.
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