Touch of Grey

I’m not sure whether to say “I have a touch of autism” or “I’m at the very edge of the autism spectrum”. But there it is, plain and out in the open for everyone to see. Totally exposed and vulnerable.

I was tested for it last year. I’m in the range of just barely detectable.

When they had me my parents were over 40. I also had childhood epilepsy, which stopped presenting symptoms as I grew up. Both of those things have strong ties to autism. If they tested kids for autism back then as much as they do now, I probably would have been tested.

I don’t know how to talk about it, really. When you think of someone with autism, you probably don’t think of someone like me. So I’ve been reluctant to tell people. I’m a whole lot more comfortable writing about it. If you wish I had told you, I’m sorry. Right now I’m just wondering if some people reading this won’t believe it.

But I do have a lot of the traits associated with autism, it just wasn’t clear until I found out. That’s how life is sometimes, like a difficult riddle that you can’t figure out. Once the answer appears you realize it’s been really clear the whole time.

Sometimes I pay attention to the wrong things. Sometimes my memory picks up the weirdest details and forgets things that should be easy to remember. And I get lost very easily. I’ve been known to hurt myself when I’m really upset. And I’m sensitive to sound, simple things like hearing music while I’m in a conversation is challenging for me.

In social situations I don’t always know how to behave. And sometimes I stare at people. There are aspects of social interaction that are just common sense for other people, things that everyone knows but no one talks about. Those are the things that are lots on me. For the longest time I believed I just had social anxiety. But it’s a little more complex than that.

I suspect my affinity for meditation and other contemplative practices is directly tied to how my brain works. I sit and read books on meditation and Buddhist practice all the time. That’s not because I’m a perfect Buddhist (I assure you I am not). It’s because that’s what interests me.

In ancient cultures people like me had special roles as shamans, fortunetellers, or monks.

Just a little different.

It’s really really helped me understand myself  a lot more.

Anyway, I didn’t write this as a plea for attention, although I wonder if someone reading this will think that. I wrote it so that if there are other people like me they won’t feel alone. And because the only way to remove the stigma from things like this is to talk about it.

 

Touch of Grey

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

11 Responses

  1. I agree with you that cognitive impairment can lead to greater perception. Autistic savants, for example, can have extraordinary skill. Their ability to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else, I believe, may be a reason for this. At the same time, I wonder if Karma plays into the ability of some to get it, while others it seems to pass over? I don’t believe in reincarnation, primarily because of Shirley MaClaine and the New Age beliefs that include trying to relive past lives. But, I wonder if some people are able to see the dharma simply because of a karmic reward, not being special, just in the right place at the right time in their wheel of life? Is this a part of the Ch’an belief system?

  2. Barbara Markway

    I think there’s great power in sharing our stories and letting others know they’re not alone. Thanks for sharing yourself. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

  3. Daniel, thank you for sharing. There is so much I have to say on this subject, but I’ll leave it be. Like Barbara said, there’s power in sharing our stories. Sometimes it’s easier to write things out and not necessarily have to face an immediate gut reaction, which isn’t always representative of the person, but can still really hurt. Also, I think it’s really important that people get an idea of the many different ways autism looks and what those with it actually experience. So, thank you for sharing your story.

  4. The tests say that I’m, “On the spectrum,” as well. Like you, this might not seem obvious to everyone. Yet I have barely any understanding of or finesse when it comes to social conventions and conversational norms. This had made dating an interesting challenge over the years lol.

  5. I think it was equally interesting to know that you are on the spectrum as to know that you are a practitioner of Buddhism and the Bodhisattva. Please forgive me if I misrepresented the complexity of your dharma practice. I am unfamiliar with the faith system beyond having heard the terms used and general Google searches.

    Facts about a person are interesting, but as you said in a comment above, it is what you ‘bleed over the floor’ as a writer that is the most interesting. It is what we share with others that says the most about us. I share my vulnerabilities in hopes that others can relate and, even, in forgiveness or defense of who I am. Perhaps, sometimes, it is a cop-out or excuse that I am not a better person. The internet becomes my confessional and all who read may provide forgiveness or condemnation as deserved.

    It’s a good thing the ‘interwebz’ don’t charge for the service.

  6. My son was diagnosed at a much younger age than most and has a “milder” form of Asperger’s. He’s also quite extroverted. He still has many of the symptoms but they’re not always obvious. I think like anyone, he has found his own way of dealing with it. Thanks for the follow. My posts will vary a lot. I hope that you will like them.

  7. Hi Daniel, I have a mild form of autism, like you. I know what you mean when you say that you’re not how people can often think of autism. There are actually quite a few people like us.
    I was quite interested to read that you’re a dharma teacher. For about ten years I practiced Soto Zen under the guidance of the monks at Throssle Hole Buddhist community in the UK. I wonder if mild autism helps predispose a person to meditation because I found it incredibly helpful. Anyway, lovely to read your blog and all the very best to you.

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