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A million thoughts a minute.

By Kristian and Suzanne Hansen.

As the world acknowledged World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, an organisation called Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) proactively moved to change their own wording to World Autism Understanding Day. Aspect, a not-for-profit Australian organisation, is one of the world’s biggest evidence informed autism-specific school programmes which exists to foster greater consideration and acceptance of autistic people. As part of this globally recognised day, Aspect asked the autistic community what they would most like others to know if they find out a person is autistic. Overwhelmingly, the most important message is that no two autistic people are the same and that autism may not be what you think it is. It’s not a one-size-fits all and there is still misunderstanding and stigmatism in the public.

As the mother of my highly functioning autistic son, Kristian, I was asked to write about my own experiences. However, I felt that the more topical article would not be how I feel, but how my son feels and views his world.

Kristian, now 25, was diagnosed at the age of 8 years. We specifically chose to tell him about his diagnosis, and to this day, he freely shares his neurodiversity with others. Kristian has been very successful. Currently holding a master’s degree in Geology, he has also started his own company. I am proud to say that Kristian has been very open with his thoughts, and we are both thrilled to share, if only to help others in our community who might be in the same situation. Unfortunately, in New Zealand, we do not have an organisation like Aspect. I did a lot of searching all throughout my son’s years and we have nothing like this. Furthermore, our mental health system is absolutely not able to deal with those issues created around the social anxiety experienced by a neurodiverse young person in New Zealand. If anything, it would be great to see an organisation like Aspect here in this country, to provide this sort of support. Enough of me. Here is what my son has to say.

 

Kristian when and how did you know that you were unique to others? I first got hints of this when I figured out that my fellow classmates actively avoided interacting with me in primary school. Also, I was excelling at logic-based subjects such as mathematics and actively enjoyed them when other classmates did not.

 

How did it feel when you were diagnosed as autistic? Should we have told you?

At first, I did not know what it meant or what the implications of being autistic were. However, now in my adult life, I believe 100% that I should have been told. The information was relevant because it explained so much about my idiosyncrasies and behaviors. Even now I still have a cloud of difficulty with processing social situations and communicating with peers.

 

What did you think it meant for your future?

I had no idea what I would become or get involved with in my adult years, but at the time it meant to me that I would have difficulty processing day-to-day situations unlike the average person and that it’s OK to be like that. I’m not crazy or disabled; I just process information a little bit differently from others.

 

How do you experience autism?

Autism is like having multiple senses scream at you at once in high sensory environments. I also have an additional layer of processing and filtering to all general social interactions. It also comes with hyper-fixations on certain topics or subjects and if asked about them, I will happily talk about them until I am stopped. I also do not know why people treat me in the ways they do, and I constantly question and overthink social interactions. Is it me? Am I a bad guy? What have I done wrong? These are questions that I routinely ask myself when having standard social interactions.

 

Autism for me also means I have a million thoughts a minute. An example of a standard thought process for me might be, “Why does nobody like me?” to, “How could I mathematically do that differently?” to “What should I do with myself later today?”, to remembering one specific song lyric, and finally ending with thinking about the public transport rail network of Tokyo City. My train of thought is too fast and has too many stations and sometimes I want to get off the ride. I also find solace in patterns and consistency, and when people throw that off balance, I get upset and distressed. Order and logic are respite when your brain is so scrambled and chaotic. And finally, one of the biggest constant thoughts I have is, “Why do people do that? I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.” That has been a big barrier in developing friendships and relationships during my time here in this chaotic world and will continue to be so; I have long since accepted that. It is what it is.

 

Do you tell people that you are autistic?

Of course. It helps others to understand and provide context as to why I behave in certain ways and think the way I do. However, being neurodiverse is not an excuse for poor behaviour, so I do not use my autism diagnosis as a scapegoat for poor behaviour. Telling people, I am autistic also in some cases makes them aware, so they can make my surrounding environment and social interactions more comfortable. Those people that do are truly the good people of this planet. It is worth the risk.

 

What are the pros of being autistic?

Because my speed, intensity, and variety of thoughts are higher than average, I excel at logic-based work. I easily develop software and do mathematical operations that solve a problem. I enjoy doing so because they are based on a set of rules and logical statements which I relish. I can also be very creative and apply new techniques to existing problems or creatively identify new problems that need solving. This works in my favour as I actively work in the STEM field of subjects. To me, I consider it a superpower. With age, I have learnt the disparities in social interaction brought about from autism and I can now better compensate and adapt to these. I have applied the advantages from autism to my career, where I actively work in software development and own my own company dedicated to providing virtual reality and/or data visualization solutions to clients. I am a powerhouse when it comes to solving problems through a logic-based and reasoning approach, and I have a successful career as a result.

 

What are the cons?

Social situations are very stressful for me. I constantly find myself overthinking interactions to see if there is a hidden motive or purpose to what transpired in a given social interaction. For example, someone saying to me, “That shirt looks nice” makes me think they are ‘gaslighting’ me or negatively judging me for how I appear.

 

In addition, environments which are noisy or busy cause me stress. For example, crowded spaces or very loud venues freak me out, a phenomenon known as ‘sensory overload’. It is hard to filter out certain senses and focus on one thing, such as carrying on a conversation with another, in this sort of environment. This can be very difficult in certain situations, and often others do not realize that I am being affected negatively.

 

Being autistic also means I am more likely to develop and experience depression.

(Stewart et al. 2006) and I have gone through that personally – walking to the edge of the abyss and coming back from it. While depression is a whole different can of worms, I feel the need to point out that autistic people are more likely to develop depression due to our different perceptions of the world. As I have said my perceptions can sometimes be negative and with so much external stimuli for our thoughts today, and with the ease of access to information and social media, I am navigating a daily minefield.

 

What do you want others to know about you and other neuro-diverse people?

I want others to know that Autism is not a ‘disease’ that needs a cure, nor are we disabled people or useless to society. We are ‘differently abled’, and although sometimes certain situations do not work for us, some of us consider that we have a superpower. We are human and deserve dignity and respect. Autism can be a real asset for an individual but there needs to be more understanding of the condition, so that more support can be made available, especially for the young ones. It is OK to be autistic, and I am happy and content that I am different.

 |  The Informer  | 
By Kristian and Suzanne Hansen.

As the world acknowledged World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, an organisation called Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) proactively moved to change their own wording to World Autism Understanding Day. Aspect, a not-for-profit Australian organisation, is one of the world’s biggest evidence informed autism-specific school programmes which exists to foster greater consideration and acceptance of autistic people. As part of this globally recognised day, Aspect asked the autistic community what they would most like others to know if they find out a person is autistic. Overwhelmingly, the most important message is that no two autistic people are the same and that autism may not be what you think it is. It’s not a one-size-fits all and there is still misunderstanding and stigmatism in the public.

As the mother of my highly functioning autistic son, Kristian, I was asked to write about my own experiences. However, I felt that the more topical article would not be how I feel, but how my son feels and views his world.

Kristian, now 25, was diagnosed at the age of 8 years. We specifically chose to tell him about his diagnosis, and to this day, he freely shares his neurodiversity with others. Kristian has been very successful. Currently holding a master’s degree in Geology, he has also started his own company. I am proud to say that Kristian has been very open with his thoughts, and we are both thrilled to share, if only to help others in our community who might be in the same situation. Unfortunately, in New Zealand, we do not have an organisation like Aspect. I did a lot of searching all throughout my son’s years and we have nothing like this. Furthermore, our mental health system is absolutely not able to deal with those issues created around the social anxiety experienced by a neurodiverse young person in New Zealand. If anything, it would be great to see an organisation like Aspect here in this country, to provide this sort of support. Enough of me. Here is what my son has to say.

 

Kristian when and how did you know that you were unique to others? I first got hints of this when I figured out that my fellow classmates actively avoided interacting with me in primary school. Also, I was excelling at logic-based subjects such as mathematics and actively enjoyed them when other classmates did not.

 

How did it feel when you were diagnosed as autistic? Should we have told you?

At first, I did not know what it meant or what the implications of being autistic were. However, now in my adult life, I believe 100% that I should have been told. The information was relevant because it explained so much about my idiosyncrasies and behaviors. Even now I still have a cloud of difficulty with processing social situations and communicating with peers.

 

What did you think it meant for your future?

I had no idea what I would become or get involved with in my adult years, but at the time it meant to me that I would have difficulty processing day-to-day situations unlike the average person and that it’s OK to be like that. I’m not crazy or disabled; I just process information a little bit differently from others.

 

How do you experience autism?

Autism is like having multiple senses scream at you at once in high sensory environments. I also have an additional layer of processing and filtering to all general social interactions. It also comes with hyper-fixations on certain topics or subjects and if asked about them, I will happily talk about them until I am stopped. I also do not know why people treat me in the ways they do, and I constantly question and overthink social interactions. Is it me? Am I a bad guy? What have I done wrong? These are questions that I routinely ask myself when having standard social interactions.

 

Autism for me also means I have a million thoughts a minute. An example of a standard thought process for me might be, “Why does nobody like me?” to, “How could I mathematically do that differently?” to “What should I do with myself later today?”, to remembering one specific song lyric, and finally ending with thinking about the public transport rail network of Tokyo City. My train of thought is too fast and has too many stations and sometimes I want to get off the ride. I also find solace in patterns and consistency, and when people throw that off balance, I get upset and distressed. Order and logic are respite when your brain is so scrambled and chaotic. And finally, one of the biggest constant thoughts I have is, “Why do people do that? I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.” That has been a big barrier in developing friendships and relationships during my time here in this chaotic world and will continue to be so; I have long since accepted that. It is what it is.

 

Do you tell people that you are autistic?

Of course. It helps others to understand and provide context as to why I behave in certain ways and think the way I do. However, being neurodiverse is not an excuse for poor behaviour, so I do not use my autism diagnosis as a scapegoat for poor behaviour. Telling people, I am autistic also in some cases makes them aware, so they can make my surrounding environment and social interactions more comfortable. Those people that do are truly the good people of this planet. It is worth the risk.

 

What are the pros of being autistic?

Because my speed, intensity, and variety of thoughts are higher than average, I excel at logic-based work. I easily develop software and do mathematical operations that solve a problem. I enjoy doing so because they are based on a set of rules and logical statements which I relish. I can also be very creative and apply new techniques to existing problems or creatively identify new problems that need solving. This works in my favour as I actively work in the STEM field of subjects. To me, I consider it a superpower. With age, I have learnt the disparities in social interaction brought about from autism and I can now better compensate and adapt to these. I have applied the advantages from autism to my career, where I actively work in software development and own my own company dedicated to providing virtual reality and/or data visualization solutions to clients. I am a powerhouse when it comes to solving problems through a logic-based and reasoning approach, and I have a successful career as a result.

 

What are the cons?

Social situations are very stressful for me. I constantly find myself overthinking interactions to see if there is a hidden motive or purpose to what transpired in a given social interaction. For example, someone saying to me, “That shirt looks nice” makes me think they are ‘gaslighting’ me or negatively judging me for how I appear.

 

In addition, environments which are noisy or busy cause me stress. For example, crowded spaces or very loud venues freak me out, a phenomenon known as ‘sensory overload’. It is hard to filter out certain senses and focus on one thing, such as carrying on a conversation with another, in this sort of environment. This can be very difficult in certain situations, and often others do not realize that I am being affected negatively.

 

Being autistic also means I am more likely to develop and experience depression.

(Stewart et al. 2006) and I have gone through that personally – walking to the edge of the abyss and coming back from it. While depression is a whole different can of worms, I feel the need to point out that autistic people are more likely to develop depression due to our different perceptions of the world. As I have said my perceptions can sometimes be negative and with so much external stimuli for our thoughts today, and with the ease of access to information and social media, I am navigating a daily minefield.

 

What do you want others to know about you and other neuro-diverse people?

I want others to know that Autism is not a ‘disease’ that needs a cure, nor are we disabled people or useless to society. We are ‘differently abled’, and although sometimes certain situations do not work for us, some of us consider that we have a superpower. We are human and deserve dignity and respect. Autism can be a real asset for an individual but there needs to be more understanding of the condition, so that more support can be made available, especially for the young ones. It is OK to be autistic, and I am happy and content that I am different.