Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Why Am I Like This? Understanding the Autistic Brain

I’m an autistic art therapist who specializes in late-identified autistic adults. When individuals come to me, they typically just found out they’re autistic or suspect they might be autistic. Most late-identified autistics spent the majority of their lives feeling broken and suppressing how they were feeling, thinking, or sensing.


One of the key goals in my therapeutic work is to help autistic individuals restore trust with themselves, understand WHY they experience the world as they do, and fully understand how autism uniquely manifests for them.


I like to start by explaining how an autistic brain functions. This lays the foundation for WHY autistic people sense, feel, and think differently. While science is always evolving on the topic of autism, we currently theorize that an autistic brain has more neural connections and that these connections fire more frequently, faster, and in conjunction with other neural pathways. This leads to an autistic person feeling, sensing, and thinking MORE and with greater intensity.


The constant firing of the brain also leads to the nervous system to be in a state of hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance. A hyper-vigilant nervous system has all sorts of ramifications (such as digestive problems, hyper-attentiveness to the environment, and more).


An illustration by autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld of a person wearing headphones
"Headphones for my Autistic Self" Illustration by Jackie Schuld

The combination of the brain structure/functioning with the hyper-vigilant nervous system results in the main ways that autism impacts people: senses, body, emotions/feelings, thought/ learning, passions/interests, and social behavior.


When I work with a client, we examine how autism uniquely manifests for them within each of these categories. This is a pivotal process because it lays the foundation that their lived experiences are valid. They do not have to question or doubt themselves. They can trust themselves and how they sense, feel, and think.


I choose to save the social impacts category for last when working clients. I do not believe autism causes “social problems” (in fact, I wrote an entire essay on it). Autism impacts an individual’s senses, body, feelings, and thoughts - these aspects can then influence and impact a person’s social life. For example, someone who experiences difficulty hearing when in crowds will have a hard time socializing in a crowded bar. So autism didn’t directly cause difficulty in bars, it indirectly caused it.


I strive to make this distinction clear because an autistic person can socialize exceptionally well given the right environment. Again, I am striving to deconstruct the notion that we are “broken” or “incapable” or “weird.” We simply function differently, and that is fine. With each client, we explore what social environments are challenging and what are optimal environments for them.


By understanding why we experience the world the way we do, we can begin to accept and honor our differences.

 

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter. If you would like to explore your autistic identity with an autistic therapist, you can learn more about my therapy services here.

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