Autistic life, powered by special interests
A normal Monday at work. Nothing exciting happened. But I was in a good place, I felt like me. Happy, connected to everything, songs going around in my head while I sat and did my job. A normal Monday. Most people wouldn’t take much from it. To me it was exactly what I had always dreamed my life to be and I don’t take any of those ‘normal’ days for granted.
I don’t need the extraordinary to feel intense joy. I don’t need some momentous achievement to want to sing and dance my way home. Just a normal Monday. Doing what I love, working an office job in town and living in my own flat. A normal Monday. And I felt intensely happy with my life.
The first thing I do when I leave any building is look to the sky, I love the feeling looking at it gives me. Every time I walk out of the office at half 5, I look up and think ‘you did it’. I don’t take any days for granted and I am so thankful for where my life is. An average day had enabled me to revel in my heightened senses, to embrace them rather then reject them. As I walk home I notice the lines the planes are making in the sky, the dripping of water on a wall and embrace every sound and sight. When autistic people feel intense emotions, they manifest into physical actions, my body wanted to stim, and I had a walk home before I could vent any of this excitement.
Twice on my walk home I must wait at traffic lights to cross. Yes, I wait for the green man, I am autistic and have zero spatial awareness, I get hit by cars otherwise. As I am waiting my hands are in my pockets, tapping against my legs just wanting to click and clap to the music (which may or may not have been an old Busted song). I was suppressing all my stimming urges so as to blend in with the usual non-expressive office walkers. To let ‘free’ this intense need I imagine in my mind what I would be doing if I wasn’t so worried about the judgement. How I would be skipping and dancing down the street, clapping my hands and clicking my fingers. It’s a strangely satisfying visual that lets me vent some of the built-up energy.
As soon as I get home and shut the door, I click a lot. It’s the most immediate stim to release some of the energy. I switched my phone music to my PC and danced to the kitchen to cook tea. I say cook tea. I eat the same ready meal every day, but that is not the point! I still got a solid 10 minutes of dancing, while washing up, before it pinged.
Music is one of my forever special interests. My most played song is a song called Stars by a band called Skillet. I have listened to this song thousands and thousands of times. It is so much more than a song and I couldn’t begin to tell you the feeling that the tick at the beginning of the song gives me. It can calm me from the worst of panic attacks and equally excite me into a hyperactive state. Stimming to that song is the embodiment of what it means to me to be autistic.
It’s impossible to put into words what music means to me. A film called August Rush is spot on, August’s connection to music is what mine feels like: This video does a great job of showing it.
Harry Potter is my other forever special interest. I hear the words ‘Harry Potter’ in the office and my mind explodes with joy. All I want to do is grin and let out that excitement, the urge to click when I hear it unexpectedly is overwhelming. The joy a special interest can bring to an autistic person is second to none.
I am not broken because I feel so intensely, it is society that can put me in situations not designed for me, which can push me into a horrible overload response. Autistics have inbuilt ways to cope with the negative side of being autistic. We live intensely, no grey areas. I need the intensity that music and Harry give me to balance out the sensory overloads and meltdowns.
I think people misunderstand autistics when we say we love being autistic. I love being autistic, I am not glamorizing it or ignoring the detrimental effects it has on my life. But I love my connections to the world. I am fully aware of the price I pay to experience life this way, but I would not change it. Sometimes I kind of feel bad for all the neurotypicals that don’t get to live life with the intensity that I do!
To neurotypicals reading this that are doing so out of support for an autistic in your life, never underestimate the power of a special interest on us. If you want to distract us or help us cope with something then using our special interests is the way to go. Equally, don’t tease us about them, just because you see them as some ridiculous obsession, it really hurts us. We are so connected to our special interests, they are our safe spaces. Music and Harry have got me through so much. If you have nothing nice to say then just let it be. Accept they bring us immense joy and we need that sometimes.
Different. Not Broken.
Illustrations by Sanna H.