Neurotypical sometimes tell me that my autistic experiences sound similar to their neurotypical experiences. This does not surprise me. As humans, I think we are more similar than we are different. I know the majority of us work through emotions, difficult times, and complicated thoughts at various points in our lives.
When I share about my autistic experiences in my essays about autism, I am highlighting how my autistic brain influences what I am sensing, feeling, thinking, or experiencing. Many neurotypicals may also sense, feel, think, or experience similar things, but the cause and influencing factors are different.
For example, I may share about how much I need my downtime. Many neurotypical people will relate to this. However, the cause may be extremely different. After a day of interacting with people and sensory overload, my energy battery is low and I need time to recalibrate before interacting with more people. This is directly due to my autistic brain and how it takes in a larger amount of information than neurotypicals. My brain is less discriminatory and thus gets tired faster. So while a neurotypical person may relate to the desire for downtime, our underlying reasons are different.
Another example of overlapping experiences is those of people with CPTSD and Autism. These two groups often experience similar feelings and thoughts (dislike of crowded places, social anxiety, intruding thoughts, etc.), however the causes are completely different. I explore this more in my essay of why autism is often misdiagnosed as CPTSD.
Why is it important to understand the driving force behind a feeling, thought, or experience? The cause allows for insight and understanding. It enables to know how to best address what is occurring, both in the present and in the future.
For example, in my above example about downtime, my self-awareness about autism informs me that it is not wise to force myself to socialize when I have reached autistic burnout. I know I need to be in an environment with as little stimulation as possible to recover. In the long run, I also know that I need to schedule my days accordingly to minimize autistic burnout. I also know that there are some situations that will overwhelm me no matter what and I need to plan downtime afterward.
It is the understanding that allows me to work with my autistic brain. The knowledge of how my brain works and impacts me gives me the foundation I need to brainstorm creative strategies. The tools and strategies I use will likely be different than neurotypicals. For example, a neurotypical person might get more energy from going out with friends or doing something active to boost their energy levels.
When neurotypical people point out to me that what I am experiencing is not unique to the autistic experience, I like to imagine they are coming from a place of connection. They are saying, “Hey, you should know you’re not alone in this.” I appreciate their desire to call on our humanity.
I want to honor their intentions and truth (for we are indeed experiencing similar things), while also honoring my truth that I know the reasons behind it are very different and that it does make a significant difference.