On further contemplation about whether ASD is part of my personality or is it separate, I began thinking about my thoughts. I think that what human beings think about is linked to their personality which pushes me even further to conclude that ASD is a part of my personality. Obviously it is a deep complex subject. And anyway, does it really matter whether ASD is a part of my personality or not, I feel what really matters is that people understand me and my ways and can communicate with me and vice versa.
Anyway, I was inspired to write this article following on from that previous article, so here it is.
It is often said that people with autism have “different thought processes” so I had a think about this and came up with the interesting idea that all human beings have a thought cycle. The cycle looks like this:
One way that I have learned to be less affected by my high emotional sensitivity and manage mood swings is to have a calmer, more steady life. Another way that I have learned to better cope with my emotional sensitivity and reduce mood swings is to take caution about who I talk to about myself and my life. Talking to the ‘wrong’ person can make me feel worse.
I have learned that it is better for me not to say much about myself until I have gained a ‘feeling’ for those around me and their ability to empathise. The problem with talking to people who are not empathetic is the way they react to the things I say. Their reactions can be extremely hurtful and cause me to have a lingering low mood.
There are three very important factors that impact on whether or not I will have a positive and successful engagement. These factors are relevant to any and every engagement – work, hobbies, friends, dating, meetings, etc. It might be very helpful for you to recognise what these three things are. You might find you can incorporate something into a situation that you’re already finding very hard and find that it becomes much easier; or you might find it explains why you struggle with one thing yet excel at something else…
The 3 factors are:
My last blog article about comfort zones still left me thinking a lot! I started to wonder how easy it is to make something fall within your comfort zone. I mentioned that none of the jobs I’ve had have ever been a part of my comfort zone. If they had been, I think I would’ve stayed working at those jobs for a lot longer. All of this has inspired this blog article…
If you have been following my work for a while you have probably worked out that I learn a lot from graphs. I think I am a very graphic learner. They suit my way of thinking. So have a look at these graphs I have drawn:
There is some thinking that getting out of your comfort zone has lots of benefits. First, what exactly do we mean by ‘comfort zone’? It generally means the activities we do that make us feel safe and comfortable, as opposed to activities that make us feel anxious and stressed.
I think maybe when we think about comfort zones for autistic people or people with disabilities, they need to be thought about a bit differently. For example, I’m not sure getting out of my own comfort zone is always a good idea. In fact, I’d say that most of the time for me now, it’s a bad idea.
Defining your comfort zone
I personally have a small number of situations that are inside my comfort zone. My house is obviously my comfort zone. My local area is my comfort zone. The way I choose to commute, by my bike, is my comfort zone. The places that I most frequently visit are my comfort zones. My routine is definitely my comfort zone. My hobbies and the way I do them are my comfort zone. My family is inside my comfort zone. My friends are inside my comfort zone (but only in certain contexts, see later).
My places of work are probably just outside the edge of my comfort zone.
Throughout my life I have found myself in trouble on numerous occasions. I think this is because other people think that my behaviour is strange, naughty or thoughtless and sometimes the things that I do come as a complete surprise to others. But when people look a bit deeper and try to understand me, my behaviour completely makes sense. I’m no longer “difficult” but someone that is very anxious and has quite severe and complex communication difficulties.
The issues surrounding my behaviour usually happen because I have difficulty communicating with people and they have difficulty communicating with me.
I have three excellent examples I can think of. The first is when my workplace was organising the local community fair. This is a fair where local shops each have a stand and the fair attracts many people from the community. My workplace had a stand and my colleagues had asked me whether I could help out on the stand. My immediate thought was “no!” I tried to say to my colleagues that I wasn’t able to help out but somehow this communication was either lost or ignored and, as what normally happens, I ended up doing something I didn’t want to do – in this case, I ended up helping out on the stand at the fair.
We can all develop our empathy for other people. It starts with putting yourself in another person’s shoes. This means as though you were them, not as though they were you. Here are some ways you can do this.
1. Focus on the other person’s personality
When we are talking to someone, it’s common for us to forget that the other person is different to us. It’s common for us to make assumptions on what people like and dislike and, more importantly during conversation, what they might find interesting to talk about. To ensure the other person has a positive experience whilst talking to you, it’s a good idea to focus on topics that are of interest to them.
For example, I have difficulty talking to people who tend to talk only about their interests and have little interest in mine. It means that they have trouble putting themselves in my shoes. They are talking to me as though I was them, rather than as if they were me.
I was once asked by someone, “How do I know if my behaviour is because I’m ASD or is it merely who I am?” It was a good question and one that I have many times pondered over myself. There’s not a clear or easy answer.
First, we have to decide what exactly is personality. A definition is, ‘the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.’ Now, to me, that also suggests that ASD could be considered part of an individual’s personality.
I haven’t always thought that ASD was a part of someone’s personality, but views change. Today for the purpose of this article I am thinking that there is some sort of overlap…
For someone to have ASD, the criteria is that they have to have lifelong “persistent difficulties” in these areas of life:
- Social communication and interaction
- “Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests” (this includes sensory behaviour)
Perhaps our personality determines how we respond to these impairments?
But then there’s another problem of what is personality – because personality could be anything from “hard working” “patient” “sensitive” “grumpy” “quiet” “thoughtful” “cold” “selfish” “organised” “rigid” “chatty” … there are an infinite number of words we could use to describe any individual’s personality.
Maybe this therefore isn’t the best way.
Therefore, I will talk a bit about my life and compare how I react and what I do with how I think I would react and what I would do if I didn’t have ASD. This might be the most interesting way for me to discuss this. It might be best to talk about how people have described me, rather than wholly how I describe myself and also to look at how the majority of other neurotypical people are so that I can compare myself with them.
Being autistic is just one way that someone can be ‘different.’ People can be different in various other ways such as their personality, abilities, sexuality, race, age, gender… etc. These are known as primary characteristics of diversity, which are inborn and cannot be changed. There are also secondary characteristics of diversity such as where someone lives, their religion, education, how they communicate, the language they use, how they look and dress, etc. When you consider all of these factors, there are actually so many people who are different from ourselves that we come across each day.
A major contributor to having serious mental health problems, for me, is that feeling of being different. I accept that I am different but I don’t want to always feel like I am. I know that a lot of autistic people feel the same way.
So how can society be adapted to help people feel less different which in turn might improve their mental health? Here are some ideas…
People with ASD may have strange diets and atypical attitudes towards eating. A serious complication of this can be a person having an eating disorder illness. Sometimes though, these habits are just normal and make sense if you remember that the person has ASD. Here is some insight into strange diets, problematic consequences and potential strategies to these. I’ll also note some of the possible positives of atypical eating habits.