Not Caring versus Not Obsessed
When an autistic self-advocate wrote to me that I didn't take autism seriously enough (that's a paraphrase), I wasn't sure how to respond. I believe my wife would say I take everything too seriously, and that's the problem.
The next question, and maybe this is the revealing one, was: Why don't I tell my coworkers, students, and others that I am a diagnosed autistic?
It doesn't seem like that would help anything. In fact, I could see it causing problems. Plus, "autistic" isn't a label with which I was raised and it isn't a label I consider that often.
Actively being an "Authentic Autistic Advocate" (some sort of service mark or trademark must apply) would be distracting. I'm already busy being a professor, a writer, and a programmer. You also want me to focus on being something else?
If anything, I struggle with being "too many things" instead of one or two things, which seems to be the expectation.
Professionally, I don't know what I am. I love creative writing, I enjoy teaching, and I am a decent computer geek (though my skills are currently out-of-date). If I could study typography, graphic design, art history, economics, philosophy, comparative religion, fashion design, film production, music, physics, geology, biology, cooking… I'd study it all. There isn't enough time in the day to read everything I want to read and learn. I don't have time to practice the skills I wish I could master. And, obviously, I lack the focus to select one thing, one discipline, to master above all others.
My dream as a writer remains the ultimate trifecta: a Tony for best play, a New York Times bestseller, and an Academy Award nomination for a screenplay. Now, that would be amazing. Unlikely, but that's the nature of dreams.
As a geek? I'd just like to spend some time coding a few little iOS apps my wife and I would use. I haven't had time to master Objective-C and the Cocoa frameworks. I'd like to attend one of the Big Nerd Ranch bootcamps, but I'm too busy. I'll simply need to set some time aside to code.
As a hobby artist, I'd like to learn more about painting so I could actually hang my artwork in my office and not be embarrassed.
My ideal lunch with someone famous? Professor Michio Kaku. Could I also ask Neil Gaiman along? Oh, and maybe Yo-Yo Ma could join us. Imagine that trio of brilliant people talking about the role of knowledge and curiosity in creativity.
I'm sure the point is clear: I am too scattered to focus.
It is not that I don't care about being an autistic advocate. I simply happen to believe that doing well and succeeding is something of an advocacy for myself and others. If I can succeed, that's a sign that others can, too, in their own ways.
I have to focus on my projects to complete them and to succeed. I cannot dwell on what is different about me. If I start reminding myself what I cannot do, I will become paralyzed, emotionally as well as physically. It's odd, but when I remember my right arm doesn't quite work properly is when I have the most trouble with the arm and hand. I do best when I ignore my limitations.
Writing The Autistic Me is useful because it does remind me that I have odd limits. I worried tonight that the restaurant noises, especially some children running about the tables, would force us to leave. I worried while shopping that I might not be able to handle the lights, which were flickering in a snowstorm. But, knowing my limits doesn't mean embracing them. I want to learn the limits to work around them, and then ignore them.
Once I ignore my limits, I can focus on being all those other things I love being.