Monday I received three vaccinations: influenza, hepatitis B, and tetanus. Tuesday I woke up autistic.
The tetanus was so if I cut myself on a rusty bit of metal while digging in the dirt planting something I don’t die horribly. This seems reasonable to me — protecting me from an unlikely but reasonable hazard. Check.
The hepatitis B recommendation was based on my doctor noting that I’m part of a high risk group. Not because of my bisexuality (I have a very good doctor!) but because of my tats. He mentioned that in even the best, cleanest, most professional shop, exposure is possible. Protection from an even less likely but still reasonable hazard, as both tetanus and hep B are treatable but not curable. Check.
The influenza is not really about protecting me. I spend almost all day, almost every day, in a small room with indifferent ventilation, in close conversation with a variety of people. Or, as I like to put it, I sit in a comfortable chair in a comfortable room and talk about uncomfortable things. I owe it to my clients to avoid missing appointments due to preventable illness and to avoid exposing them to said disease. Check.
The autism is because I was born that way over 50 years ago, although not diagnosed until about ten years ago. Check.
I can run the first two sentences of this through a mental Social Interactions Flowchart™ and predict with reasonable accuracy how different groups of people will respond to them. This flowchart was built up over decades of data gathered under the aegis of “there must be something fundamentally wrong with me”. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I started to understand what was right with me.
Yes, there are some specific deficits that come with my autism. There are issues with social reciprocity. There are times of being overwhelmed by sensory input. There is a special level of exhaustion that comes with acting in ways interpreted as normal by most of the population.
But it’s the superpowers that didn’t fully unlock until I understood that while my differences were fundamental, they were not wrongnesses. Superpowers that were held against me until then. My hyperlexia, that led to years of bullying that I couldn’t understand (what do you mean I’m throwing off the grade curve, the teacher uses a percentile scale so my grade can’t possibly affect yours!). My ability to compartmentalize (possibly the most valuable skill I can have as a mental health counselor). Intense focus (no, I’m not daydreaming, I’m solving a problem). Self-soothing (no, stimming is not bad behavior, it’s preventing a meltdown). Enhanced pattern recognition (want to play chess?).
And while sometimes I will miss incoming sarcasm in a verbal interchange, thus being accused of taking everything too literally, you know that I will not lie to you. Because the number one superpower that is treated as a deficit is telling the truth. We’re told we’re tactless. That we’re rude. That we’re abrasive. But if being honest is a deficit, it’s a deficit I will gladly embrace.
(crossposted to Medium)