What is autism?

I have described autism as an ever constant need for stimulation. How did I come to speak of it in that way?

My family’s chiropractor has a son, Garrett, who straddles the line of being a nonverbal and verbal autistic. He can talk, but you have to coax it out of him. I have my own NeurOptimal system, and his family and I agreed to see what NeurOptimal can do for him. I had met him before, but then I got to know him better. To establish what autism is, I am asking myself: how am I no different than him?

I am completely different though. I am a high functioning autistic. I can talk. I went through most of elementary, high school, and college without any accommodation except my last two years before I graduated with my degree and a short stint at a special education school. When you talk to me and get to know me, I do demonstrate some tact and picked up certain interpersonal skills; you can’t tell unless I tell you. I lived on my own, took care of myself, and navigated London on my own. If you got to meet Garrett and I, there is no comparison. What the two of us have in common is autism, so what is it? How am I no different than Garrett?

To me, autism is an ever constant need for stimulation.

Garrett will self stimulate from listening to music and playing on his cell phone or iPad; those two devices are always on hand. He will play one until the battery dies on it, then move to the other. The pursuit for stimulation is right there.

I am no different because I have multiple means for self stimulation. I listen to music. I’ll read a book. I love working on hard, complex puzzles. I play video games. I play musical instruments from learning a new song to writing an entirely original one of my own. Drinking and writing a review about a craft beer provides stimulation. Driving a car ties in as well with the amount of information to dissect in order to drive myself and others around me.

Everyone does it though. We all have something that we self stimulate with. Human kind is a social species, where conversation creates a shared stimulation. On the other hand, I do not like small talk. I can do it to a point, and then I need what is going to stimulate me. It is either I find an intelligent conversation to take part of, or I pull out one of my own means that are always on me.

It is as if I have an insatiable appetite for stimulation. There is no on-and-off switch, and it is stuck in the on position. Where am I going to get it?

That is how I am no different than Garrett; the ever constant need for stimulation is always there.

The one thing I did not get while growing up is learning how to live with that. When I transitioned to adulthood, I had to experience first hand what stimulating from a workplace would do to me, and the obsession – an extreme self stimulation – it would create. After reading a couple books about autism and joining a couple autism communities, I learned how persons with autism can get overstimulated. The Human Library has enabled me to tell my story to others and businesses, and given me a means to help businesses/corporations to learn what I can share about autism and be prepared for what we can get overstimulated from.

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