People make autism out to be scary and pitiable. But there are lots of things I LIKE about being autistic.
Focus: Focusing on an activity is incredibly energizing. You could say I have a one-track mind. I am good at certain kinds of things because it’s easy to totally commit myself to some drive and I am pretty much single minded. Thoughts are like drugs to me. A few times in my life people have commented, “You think too much,” like my focus was weird, but I love the non-stop inner deliberations. My mind is not a bad place to live. I don’t get bored. Details activize. Patterns galvanize. Repetition inspires. Focus informs the way I walk, what I notice, the shirts I wear on certain days, breakfast choices, the floor tiles and how they’re outlined, the sounds my thoughts hold that go along with my footsteps, the particular scarves and paintbrushes. I love focusing, and this is uniquely autistic. I don’t know why people look at autistic focus and think it is a sign of malalignment or something that needs to be stamped out.
Day in and day out focus doesn’t get old–from art and God and light-bulbs and their usage and how to save beetles for future generations and time travel and the Land of the Lost reruns and disability activism and medical intervention and start-up company philosophy, and all of these mapped out over days, months and years. This is how I integrate the world’s complexity with my own compulsion. I like how uniquely I think and perceive things.
Creativity: People say, “Autistic people aren’t creative. They don’t have an imagination.” That makes no sense. Autistic people are incredibly creative. We make radical musicians, artists, and writers. The way I interact with music, poetry, art, movies, theology and comic books is incredibly meaningful and means more to me than to lots of people. I spend my days painting and writing. Movies. Music. Poems. Art. City of Angels. “The Groove is in the Heart.” Ferlingetti’s “I am Waiting.” There is a religious quality to them others don’t see. I do think these kinds of art mean more to me than to lots of people. My eyes look through my paintings’ eyes. My arms latch on with my paintings’ arms.
Solitude: I love being alone. It doesn’t scare me to be isolated and I don’t need other people around to be happy. I am connected to inanimate objects, animals and articles of clothing as though they were people, and even though I really, really care about people I don’t need them around to make me happy because I’m comfortable being alone. If you talk about love, and how people need it, there are many things I love besides human beings. I can love a pen or a word or a song and it brings happiness, even more than people can bring happiness so the world is filled with all these small importance’s that go beyond whether people see me as lovable or whether I am a presentable human being.
Logic: I know it is the Spock stereotype that autistic people are uber rational, and people don’t always see it but I’m very logical—I think everything through so many times and that’s a very comforting way of living and I put a lot of energy into intellectualizing my days and pretty much work from my head in all that I do. I see things differently in the way I’m logical. People don’t always experience me as logical, but I am—you can be both logical and disorganized and creative. “Logic” refers to the manner in which a person reasons and while the way I reason may lead to different outcomes the way I think is nevertheless very clear because there are steps in my mind to all things and ways of sorting things out that take mental energy which is very enlivening, so that my mind is often filled with conclusions. Is it so bad to live by conclusions?
Aging: My experience of aging is personally incredible, and this is something I hear from other autistic people which doesn’t go in the books non autistic people write about autism. As a child, I felt much older so that my worries, hopes and life strategies felt more like adult ones. People would say, “You are precocious.” As a 50-something adult, though, I feel much younger—I’m not interested in the things of adulthood in the way many other adults are and this brings an enormous freedom in what I do and how I perceive so that I encounter life in a way that’s always looking forward rather than mired in my past, while not so pinned to the way other people think I should live and what I should do. Through my life this has caused some issues because I make decisions in a way that might not be appropriate for my age, but the mistakes are worth it because they create opportunities and if I thought the way that other people do I would be so concerned with being an adult and doing things the right way I wouldn’t be able to see the opportunities. I wouldn’t do things like painting, poetry or theology because I’d be doing what’s expected.
Gender: My experience of gender is also amazing, another thing the books often fail to mention about autistic people: that we can have differing experiences of gender. While I identify as “straight,” that I am biologically a woman doesn’t have much meaning to me because on the inside I feel I am many genders and many manifestations of gender so that I don’t carry around all these needs from being who I am or knowing how to manifest it. Many autistic people refer to themselves as “We” because to say I am “she” or I am “he” is just not accurate, too simplistic or a misrepresentation of how a person experiences themselves. I don’t really feel female and I don’t really feel male and at the same time I feel like both and that is really empowering and to simply see myself as a woman is a misrepresentation of who I am. I like that I am many things at once—gender is just part of that. The world today is moving backward in regard to these things and it may really affect autistic people, because the ways in which gender manifest are being re-scrutinized in a way that it seemed people were beginning to grow out of. That means for autistic people, who often identify with differing gender expressions, will continue to be subject to violence and discrimination. I don’t know why there is anything wrong with self-understandings that question or redefine traditional ways of being male or female. I love how I experience gender.
The only way I understand my autism as disabling, and I’ve changed around how I understand this, is that I spent so very many years disliking myself and carrying around this incredible shame of who I was because the picture of who I should be shaped by society differed so much from who I actually am and there isn’t always a way to span that incongruity. So many autistic people go through life never really feeling loved because there are so many specifications for what it takes to elicit love, so we get through things with an immense sense of deficit that can have all kinds of ramifications throughout the lifespan. But I can say that as an autistic person I have an incredible experience of love because it is not always attached to people, who can love then stop loving, or who can love with destruction or dominance in mind. For me love can also be attached to anything from a color to a sound to an activity. How many people get to be loved by a color? Or by a word or song or a painting? How many people have an experience of love that has nothing to do with other people? Now that is what it means to be loved.
About Jenny Snyder
Jenny Snyder is an autistic painter and writer who is proud to have two master’s degrees in theology and in creative writing. She now works full time painting and showing her art. She tries to put her experiences of life and of others into her work, and her paintings are both provocative and hilarious. She is a working artist who has shown around California, especially near Tahoe. Jenny has published poetry in many journals, including the American Poetry Review and Poetry Magazine. She now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Chuck. They have traveled all over the place and she enjoys going around Portland and seeing the city.
Jenny’s website: www.ramblefishworld.weebly.com