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High Functioning Autism— Different, Not Less

Autism: Different, Not Less

High functioning autism is an often missed and misunderstood diagnosis. If for all your life you had felt different without knowing why or found that what feels natural to you is often seen as ‘weird’ or ‘too much’ for others, it might be helpful to consider the possibility of high-functioning autism as a reason for your differences.

For better or for worse, you are considered “high functioning” for a reason.  Perhaps you can live relatively everyday lives, be successful in your career, and maintain relationships. But that doesn’t mean that the challenges of living with autism disappear. 

If you have high functioning autism without realizing it, you might have spent the bulk of your early lives adapting to the world and hiding your struggles to the point even you yourself don’t realize that you are neuro-atypical. 

Although the world is increasingly able to become aware of and honor diversity, the pressure to conform to societal norms remains potent in most spaces. For people with high functioning autism, who often have difficulty agreeing to social norms without questioning, this pressure can be unbearable. As a result of your inability to fit in, you may have consciously or unconsciously opted to shrink away from the world.  Gradually, you become withdrawn and isolated, which unfortunately leave you feeling empty, stuck in life, and your potential stifled. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

What is High Functioning Autism?

The term “high functioning autism” describes individuals with autism spectrum disorder who can live relatively independent lives. A person with high-functioning autism can likely communicate vocally, is conscious of social norms, and can survive (though they may not ‘thrive’) in conventional settings. From the surface, they appear ‘normal.’ Many with high functioning autism also have above-average intelligence, allowing them to work out the ‘social clues’ even when specific social and cultural rules don’t make sense to them. Thus, they can hold down jobs and maintain relationships. 

High-functioning autism is not an established medical diagnosis, and many remain uncertain as to whether it accurately describes a subset of individuals with autism or if it unproductively prevents them from seeking the help they need. Many believe it doesn’t even exist! This term is no longer used in many academic and professional circles, but as a point of discussion, it can still be helpful.

 

 

Nighfall - HF Aspergers

“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
A. A. Milne

 

Adults With High Functioning Autism: Signs and Symptoms

Although someone with high functioning autism often appears ‘normal,’ some signs may indicate that someone has high-functioning autism. These signs and symptoms are not always visible from the outside. 

Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity

Although this is often overlooked, high emotional sensitivity is a common characteristic of people at the high end of the autism spectrum. If you have high functioning autism, diagnosed or not, you may function fine daily but have difficulty managing your emotional ups and downs in the same way that neurotypical or non-autistic people can. Seemingly trivial incidents that do not bother neurotypical people may trigger intense feelings in you; A frustrating experience in the morning, such as running out of milk or being cut off while driving, can bring immense irritability and difficulty concentrating for the rest of the day. You may also show unusually intense emotional reactions to certain things— such as routine disruptions or injustice— compared to the rest of the population. 

Furthermore, many people with high functioning autism do not naturally know how to name their feelings; you may have a syndrome known as ‘Alexithymia’, where you do feel but cannot put a name to what you feel. This can affect your ability to regulate emotions, and you may feel left out of control most of the time. (Here is a separate article on Alexithymia)

Because it is not always clear to others why you are triggered the way you are, and your reaction may seem disproportionate to them, and you are judged unfairly by others and often yourself. Harsh comments might be made, suggesting that you are being dramatic, spoilt, irrational, or selfish; these unjustified criticisms can deeply hurt your feelings even if you hide your hurt.

Sensory Hypersensitivity 

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects the way the brain processes information from the senses. Studies have shown that SPD and autism overlap significantly in children and adults (Tavassoli et al., 2014). Some sensory integration issues include a dislike of being touched, being easily startled, refusing to wear certain types of clothing or eating a particular food, being clumsy, or constantly bumping into things.

Because their brains are uniquely wired, many people with high functioning autism are oversensitive to external stimuli, such as noise, light, and touch.  If you have high functioning autism, you may have difficulty filtering out all the sensory information and are bombarded by stimuli daily. This can lead to anxiety and, when overwhelmed, even nervous meltdowns.  To cope, you might avoid certain situations and become more and more isolated and devoid of opportunities in life. 

For some people with high functioning autism, the opposite might be true, where they are undersensitive to these stimuli. They may also have trouble coordinating their bodies in social spaces. These problems can make it hard for them to function in everyday life and traditional setting. 

Attachment to Routines, Repetition, and Restrictive Habits

People with ASD often have difficulty with change and transition and may be fixated on routine and repetition to cope with the chaos and unpredictability of the world around them. Clinically, this is known as restrictive and repetitive behaviors (RRBs). While almost all people with ASD share these core characteristics, there are significant differences in symptom severity and levels of functioning. In people with lower-functioning autism, their restrictive and repetitive behaviors (RRBs) may be closer to what we have come to know in stereotypes, such as rocking or repeating a particular sound.

Repetitive behaviors may look different in high-functioning autism. Someone with high-functioning autism may not have pronounced and stereotyped symptoms but still be fixated on consistency and dislike any disruption of the usual. Fixations in adults with high functioning autism may take the form of rigid routines, the need to line up objects neatly, insisting on always eating or doing the same thing, fidgeting, etc. They may not throw tantrums like children when their routines are disrupted. However, they go to great lengths to ensure that their environment and routines are structured, planned, and predictable. Still, this rigidity can also lead to an overly restricted social and professional life.

These fixations can cause confusion between the autism diagnosis and other diagnoses such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (More on OCPD in this interview here). OCPD is not OCD and is characterized by a fixation on order, perfectionism, and controlling oneself and others. But people with OCPD are usually more likely to apply their rigidity and standards to others and can come across as being quite critical and demanding. In contrast, people with high functioning autism tend to be more self-focused and primarily insist on routines and rituals when it comes to themselves. Someone with OCPD is also more likely to be perfectionistic.

Because most tests used to assess repetitive behaviors are geared toward children, adults have been left in the dark. Fortunately, a growing body of research examines how specific autism symptoms also occur in adults to allow for better diagnosis and treatment (Barrett et al., 2015).

Strong Interest or Fixation in Specific Things

As a person with high-functioning autism, you may have a strong interest or fixation on one or a few particular topics, objects, or activities. This interest can be very intense and all-consuming, and you may have difficulty focusing on anything else, even if it is something you need to do. Your tendency to hyper-focus and lose track of time may also cause you to procrastinate, underperform, or not be able to take care of yourself properly. These symptoms may also mean you get diagnosed with ADHD alongside or instead of high-functioning autism. 

Your obsessive nature means you progress quickly in one area and leave everyone else behind. This makes the world an even more frustrating and lonely place for you. Finding people you can talk to without constantly explaining things is hard. Even if you enjoy teaching others what you know, they may not be interested in diving as deeply in a topic as you do.

Many people with high functioning autism have found ways to turn their obsessions into something generative. Someone obsessed with math or music may use their obsession to become an expert in their field. Others may use their passions to create art or write novels. However, interests that are too narrow or misunderstood by the public can keep you isolated, and all-consuming obsessions can prevent you from developing other vital skills essential for life. 

Feeling Different all your Life

If you have undiagnosed high-functioning autism, you may have felt different all your life, like you did not belong anywhere without knowing why. This sense of otherness can be especially pronounced in adolescence and young adulthood, when you try to fit in but find that you do not belong or have difficulty agreeing to arbitrary social ‘rules’ that make no sense to you. 

Several factors contribute to the sense of alienation you have.  For one, you interpret social cues and body language differently, making it challenging to know when it’s appropriate to speak or remain silent in a conversation. You may also interpret sarcasm, jokes, and other forms of humor differently. And then there’s your high moral standards and tendency to be exceptionally honest and direct, which can sometimes be interpreted as rudeness. All these factors can make it difficult for you to fit into mainstream society.   You might have suffered in silence if you were diagnosed later in life. The truth is there is nothing fundamentally defective about you. It was simply a mismatch between you and your environment. 

Language Precocity

Typically, children at the lower-functioning end of the autism spectrum have difficulty learning to speak, expanding their vocabulary, and conversing. In contrast, children on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum typically begin speaking significantly earlier than average and have impressive speeches. Others may perceive those with high-functioning autism as eccentric in conversation due to their frequent interruptions or narrow focus. While fluency and precocity are regarded as positive characteristics, they can occasionally result in adverse outcomes. For instance, as a child, you may have been shunned by your peers for conversing in an “adult” manner. Your unique way of speaking as an adult may cause others to misunderstand you as a “show-off,” and the absence of a common language makes it difficult for others to appreciate your unique sense of humor. You probably find it challenging to enjoy small talks, which, sadly, is the social lubricant most people rely on. In the end, you may find conversations with others tedious or difficult to follow, causing you to avoid speaking with peers of the same age.

If you could find people who operate at the same intellectual level as you, you would be so thrilled that you would never want to let them go. You may not find them in ‘ready-made’ communities such as schools or churches, and you may have to find individuals who share your values and intellectual curiosity.

 

Giftedness and High Functioning Autism

Giftedness and high-functioning autism are often misunderstood terms. Highly gifted is not simply high IQ; it is defined by a set of traits, including overexcitabilities (Please see a separate article for OEs), intense curiosity, and sensitivity. While only a small minority of gifted people are considered ‘twice- exceptional’, i.e., have gifts/talents, and a conventionally recognized neurodivergent trait (e.g., ADHD, autism, learning disability, etc.), an even smaller proportion are considered both gifted/talented and have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. 

A growing body of evidence suggests giftedness and autism may be more closely linked than previously thought.  This is likely because many high-functioning autistic people have a higher-than-average working memory and processing speed. These cognitive strengths can help offset some of the challenges associated with autism and may explain why many people with high functioning autism can mask their symptoms until a much later age. 

Some people define giftedness purely through an IQ assessment, but most experts believe in assessing a broader spectrum of traits that ranges from cognitive flexibility to personality traits (e.g. strong sense of justice). Autism, on the other hand, is diagnosed based on social and communication deficits. Many gifted children also have characteristics of autism, such as difficulty with social interactions and inflexible thinking.  A gifted and talented student may exhibit some behaviors (e.g., extreme interest in a focused area) characteristic of ASD. However, a comprehensive assessment may reveal that the behaviors of concern are better explained by giftedness than by ASD. (Gallagher & Gallagher, 2002)

Being both gifted and autistic can be difficult to manage, as the individual may not fit neatly into either category. They may struggle to find peers who understand them or access appropriate support and services.

 

imi lo autism

“I’m not so weird to me.”
Haruki Murakami 

 

High Functioning Autism Myths and Misunderstandings

 

Myth: People with high-functioning autism lack empathy

Older research has suggested for many years that autistic persons “lack empathy.” However, in recent years, numerous studies and anecdotal evidence have sparked intense disputes around this concept. Sadly, the idea that autistic people have ‘no empathy’ continues to shape how society views neurodiversity, significantly impacting the lives of those with high-functioning autism. 

The irony is that some autistic individuals have hyper-empathy, which is a heightened sensitivity to the emotions of others. They can detect subtle changes in facial expressions and body language that most individuals would miss. 

It is not that someone with high-functioning autism lacks empathy, but they may struggle to express themselves in the same manner as neurotypical individuals. One study (Stroth et al., 2019) discovered that females with high-functioning ASD engage the same empathy neuro-networks as neuro-typical individuals, suggesting that their capacity to share another’s emotions is not fundamentally compromised.  However, due to how their empathy is felt and communicated, high-functioning autistic individuals may not be recognized for their empathic characteristics. They may have tremendous empathy but do not show it through facial expressions or conversation. Others with high-functioning autism may come at empathy through intellectual processes and use logic and reason to show their concern for others.

In reality, many high functioning autistic people feel strongly about the subjects they are passionate about and use their empathic and altruistic drive to advocate for human welfare,  animal rights, environmental protection, and other global and humanitarian issues. (AAN@, 2022)

 

Myth: People with high functioning autism do not feel or express emotions

In addition to a lack of empathy, another widespread misunderstanding is that people with high-functioning autism do not experience or express emotions. This is far from the truth. Some people with high-functioning autism can be more emotionally aware than neurotypical individuals. However, they may lack the ability to articulate their emotions, a condition known as alexithymia as discussed above. (Brewer and Murphy, 2016)

Many emotions, including fear, anger, and happiness, appear to be experienced more intensely by those with high functioning autism profiles than by ordinary individuals (AANE, 2022)  They may show their emotions less externally, or their facial expression may not match their internal state, which leads to the impression that they do not feel. A person with high-functioning autism, for instance, may avoid eye contact while happy or excited. This does not mean that they do not experience these feelings.

It is also essential to keep in mind that many people with high-functioning autism have been bullied or rejected by their peers in the past, and may therefore take them a while to trust and warm up to people or show their feelings.  

It is essential to remember that each individual with high-functioning autism is unique and displays distinct symptoms and behaviors. Just because one individual with autism expresses or does not express themselves in a certain way does not mean everyone on the spectrum is the same. 

 

Myth: Individuals with autism spectrum disorders do not need or want social connections  

It is a prevalent misperception that individuals with autism spectrum disorder do not seek social contact or interpersonal relationships. In actuality, many individuals with high-functioning autism gain some energy from being with people and want deep connections. 

Even when you are neuro-atypical, like all humans, you desire to be seen, heard, and understood for who you are.  You might be introverted and function best on your own, but that does not mean connections do not nourish you. If you are socially clumsy, however, you may have difficulties seeking the human contact you need in a healthy, assertive, and explicit way. 

The struggle with interpersonal relationships is especially salient for those with high-functioning autism, who typically possess the linguistic and cognitive skills to participate in social interactions but feel like outsiders on the inside. Even in the best-case scenario, they are often viewed as unusual or “interesting” but not as a natural part of the ‘in-group.’Many with high functioning autism have accumulated a deep sense of being excluded, misunderstood, and rejected. 

Because you are high-functioning, you frequently pass as normal, but you feel strange on the inside. Since few shares your intellectual intensity, specialty hobbies, or distinctive sense of humor, you may struggle or lose patience in social situations. Deep inside, however, you probably do long for deep and meaningful relationships.

 

Myth: People with ASD have savant abilities 

A recent study found that one in ten autistic individuals had savant ability (Treffert, 2008). These abilities are unique and distinct and typically observed in higher-functioning autistic individuals.  It is unclear, however, why some individuals with ASD acquire these talents while others do not. 

People with ASD who have higher IQs and better communication skills are more likely to exhibit savant talents, but the majority of high-functioning autistic individuals do not possess savant talents. Please remember that you have particular skills that would allow you to make significant contributions to the world, even if you do not possess extraordinary abilities that grab special attention.

 

Myth: People with high functioning autism lack imagination and creativity

This is a common myth about people with autism. But contrary to the misunderstanding, people with high functioning autism are often very creative and have imaginations that are richer than average. In particular, many autistic visual artists have a high level of skill based on their exceptional memory and the ability to meticulously create precise representations of images (Roth 2020). Studies have also found that the creative profile of individuals with autism reveals an exceptionally high level of originality (Pennisi et al., 2021). Archeologist Penny Spikins suggested that detail focus, commonly exhibited in autistic people, was what revolutionized our art scene. Her findings add to the growing body of proof that individuals with autistic traits were crucial to human evolution.

 

 

London wet

“I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
Walt Whitman 

 

Women with High-functioning Autism 

In general, autism spectrum syndrome is diagnosed more often in males than females, with the sex ratio varying from 4:1 to 2.0-2.6:1  (Rynkiewicz, 2019). Autism is also diagnosed significantly later in females than in males. Females are far more likely to have their autism go undetected since their problems are commonly misidentified or completely overlooked (Lai and Baron-Cohen 2015). This is due to various factors, including differences in social and communication skills between boys and girls with autism, the pressure to conform, and bias among clinicians. Unfortunately,  late diagnosis can have severe implications for the ability of individuals with autism to access appropriate support.

Although the signs are often overlooked, many girls with autism notice they feel different from a young age. They may have few friends and prefer to be alone rather than in groups. They may have very specific or niche interests and do not seem to fit in with their peers. Saying that, for autistic girls, their niche interests are not necessarily stereotypical subjects like math or training (although they could be those, too), but subjects that allow them to do ‘masking” in society, such as psychology. 

Research shows that depression and anxiety are the most common comorbid psychopathologies in girls with ASD (40%). In comparison, ADHD (47%) and oppositional defiant disorder (33%) are the most common comorbidities in boys (Agnieszka and Łucka 2018). Sleep problems are also much more common in girls with ASD (80%) than in boys (44%). This may suggest that girls tend to internalize their anger and stress, leading to symptoms such as low mood and sleep disorders. In contrast, boys tend to externalize their feelings, leading to apparent oppositional behaviors. These tendencies also explain why girls are diagnosed much later in life and have had to spend most of their early lives hiding their struggles in solitude. Indeed, women with ASD have been reported to make more effort to disguise their deficits (Agnieszka and Łucka 2018). It doesn’t help that diagnostic tests for ASD are developed based on the phenotype typical male with ASD, which does not include many characteristics of neuro-atypical girls. A growing body of research is, nevertheless, pointing to the reality of the existence of a female autism phenotype. There is empirical evidence that neuro-atypical girls and women exhibit higher social motivation and a greater capacity for traditional friendships than do neuro-atypical males (Sedgewick et al. 2015). However, research into gender differences in autism is still in its early stages, and there is currently no definitive account of the female autism phenotype. 

There are several challenges faced by girls with autism, one of the most significant being camouflage. Camouflaging is changing one’s appearance, behavior, and thinking to better fit neurotypical peers. For girls with autism, this often means suppressing their natural tendencies and appearing more “normal.” This can be emotionally and mentally exhausting and make them feel deeply isolated, even when surrounded by people. Because they can engage in “normal” routines and everyday activities, no one sees their pain and struggles. They may feel like they are putting on a mask or acting all the time. Sometimes, after acting in their ‘persona’ for so long and in so many facets of their lives, they lose touch with who they are, resulting in a chronic sense of loneliness and identity confusion.

 

 

High-functioning Autism and the Highly Sensitive Person

High-functioning autism and being a highly sensitive person are both forms of neurodiversity. 

Being autistic and being highly sensitive are both innate characteristics that cannot be altered but make you a neuro-atypical misfit in the ‘normal’ world.

In scientific literature, highly sensitive persons are known to have sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). A highly sensitive person tends to have: • a greater response to stress, • a greater capacity for noticing subtleties in their environment, • a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social, and emotional stimuli, • a greater emotional reactivity to positive and negative information, and • a tendency to become overstimulated more easily. 

Environmental stimulation overload can affect both highly sensitive individuals and those with autism. As a result, they may unconsciously use hiding or isolation to cope with the overwhelming world. 

Both the highly sensitive person and someone with high-functioning autism can be exceptionally empathetic on the inside, even if they express it in atypical ways or don’t let it be shown at all. 

Although there is a substantial overlap between the sensory processing experiences of autistic and highly sensitive individuals, particularly their sensitivity to sensory input, the two populations do not entirely overlap.

Autism is currently thought to affect approximately 2% of the population. In contrast, according to Elain Aron’s research, 20% of the population is highly sensitive. 

Even though sensory processing is the primary shared characteristic between autism and high sensitivity, there are variations in the manifestation of this characteristic. For example, most HSPs are highly sensitive to sensory input. But autistic individuals may exhibit either hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input, a combination of the two, or neither at all. 

Autism is characterized by a preponderance of repetitive behaviors and interests, whereas individuals with heightened sensitivity may not. 

Autism is frequently characterized by genuine, physical, and visceral difficulties in processing sensory information, they may then shut down, withdraw or dissociate as a result. The majority of highly sensitive individuals are highly attuned to their environment whether they want to or not (though many may also use shut-down as a strategy). Also, autistic individuals may be oversensitive to certain stimuli or undersensitive to others, whereas highly sensitive individuals or mostly bombarded with too much information.

Ultimately, we must remember that each highly sensitive person and individual on the autism spectrum is unique and perceives the world differently. 

 

Highly Sensitive People with High Functioning Autism are Deeply Misunderstood

In a world where people with autism are often misunderstood, it can be difficult for neurotypical people to show sympathy or empathy.  All too often, well-meaning people try to show solidarity by saying things like “I’m sensitive to sound too” or “I have rigid routines too”. However, these statements often miss the mark because they fail to consider the unique challenges you face as an atypical individual. For example, while many neurotypical people may have sensitivities to certain sounds, they can usually filter out background noise and focus on the task at hand. People with autism, on the other hand, may find it impossible to tune out distracting noises, making everyday tasks incredibly difficult. They are not being ‘difficult’ on purpose. It is a neurological limitation.

 Saying that one can relate to these challenges devalues the experience of highly sensitive autistic people. It sound as though their challenges are not genuine or valid and that they should be able to cope with them like everyone else. This is not only hurtful, but it’s also wrong.

So sometimes, when neurotypicals try to force their sympathy on autistic people, it only highlights the differences between them. Their well-meaning attempts at understanding often come off as patronizing and can further isolate autistic people who already feel different from the rest of the world.

A more helpful response must be genuine, coming from a place where one understands everyone experiences the world in their own way and that there is no one right way to be. Only when a neuro-atypical way of being is genuinely seen as just different, but not ‘less than’ , could they feel embraced and accepted. 

 

Why Even Counselling Can Hurt

When you are neuro-atypical, even places and people supposed to help can become a source of hurt and bruises. 

Many with high-functioning autism find that sometimes when they seek help from conventional doctors and psychologists, they experience something that is not only debilitating but unduly agonizing. This is because many psychologists are trained to look at people from a neurotypical perspective. They may try to assess and judge you based on what they know– public health metrics drawn based on the population’s average. If you are an outlier, these “standards” for health and happiness may not apply to you. Many of your natural, even healthy, tendencies, such as sensitivity and intensity, may be pathologized and judged. Instead of getting the help you need, you may end up feeling that there is something defective about you. These professionals may not intentionally try to hurt you, but the effect is the same. 

When you seek treatment or counseling, your counselor or psychologist may want to “fix” things that do not need fixing while overlooking what would be helpful to you. For example, they may have fixed preconceptions of what “relationships” and a “healthy lifestyle” should look like and see your atypical way of being as a sign of illness. Often what needs to be “fixed” is your self-esteem and the extent to which you can understand and accept yourself. Indeed, you may not fit into mainstream society, which can bring suffering. But the solution is not to completely sacrifice your natural self, but to find a way to be in the world and find a sense of belonging in your own, albeit humble, way.

Of course, certain things in traditional psychotherapy can be beneficial for you too. Some theories and skills, such as emotion regulation, theories of temperament and typology, and therapeutic models that honor human diversity, can be precious to the neuro-atypical ones.

If you are neuro-atypical, it is essential to find a professional who is willing and able to see you as you are, Someone who will not try to change your essential nature or force you into a mold that does not fit you. If your authentic truth does not conform to the mainstream, you must acknowledge that conventional wisdom does not apply to you. Even if you are constantly misunderstood, that does not mean you are wrong or flawed. It’s difficult to be authentic in a world that values conformity, but listening to yourself is essential.

 

Be you, as everyone else is taken.

People with high-functioning autism frequently attempt to conceal their symptoms and reduce their interests and personalities to fit in with neurotypicals. Years of hiding and putting on a front can result in internalized shame and self-hatred. If you are or might be someone with high-functioning autism, I hope you are aware that the universe created you as you are for a reason. You have so much to offer the world with your creativity, ability to focus, intensity, and unique perspectives.  But you can only bring these gifts into the world if you learn to respect yourself fully and embrace even what others see as limitations.   Suppose you can save the energy you have been expending on trying to be “typical” and invest it in manifesting the best version of yourself. In that case, you will be able to live the most fulfilling life possible, and others will also benefit. 

In a world constantly trying to tell you who you should be, only you know who you truly are. You alone know what brings you the most profound happiness and what does not.  Yes, it takes tremendous courage to acknowledge that you are in some way “different” and to stand up to those who judge, criticize, and refuse to understand. But you do not need the whole world to love you. It is more vital that you stand on your own side and invite those who understand and appreciate you into your inner circle. If you can strengthen your mind and learn always to be your own champion, even if the rest of the world views you as “this or that,” you will remain unharmed. As Oscar Wilde knows, ‘Be yourself; everyone else is taken.’ 

(Please note that this article is not diagnostic in nature. If after reading this, you suspect you may have autism, it is best to get a formal assessment form a qualified psychologist.)

 

High Functioning Autism, Imi Lo“You are the salt that adds flavor to the earth, and the whole universe is waiting to savor your uniqueness.”
Michael Bassey Johnson 

 

Learning to Shrug Your Shoulders: A Letter to the Neuro-atypical Souls

One of the most pertinent lessons of being a highly sensitive and intense person is learning to shrug your shoulders when you feel ostracised by the world, rejected by a friend, or abandoned by a lover.

We can start by acknowledging and accepting who we are to gain such strength. 

Your trait as an atypical, sensitive, and intense person is a gift. 

High functioning autism: You did nothing to get it, nor can you get rid of it. 

It was given to you at birth. You are wired that way. 

You love deeply, but you may not be able to say it. 

You see beauty where others don’t, but you may not have a pal who appreciates it alongside you. 

You have a unique sense of humor, and those who understand it are delighted by your presence. 

“A normal day” for you is a roller coaster ride for others. You have a million shades of emotions, nuanced observations, and complex thoughts at any given hour. 

Your thoughts are deep and complex. When you read a book, listen to a song, or watch a movie, what you see or hear are not merely images or sounds. But rather multi-layered, interwoven meanings and existential questions. Your mind has the ability to travel a million miles even if you sit still. 

You may not know it yourself; others certainly don’t see it, but your heart breaks when you see the world’s pain. 

You love fiercely— not just humans but nature, science, the arts, a discipline, and the world.  As a child, you were not afraid to show it. But when you realize how much your passion threatens others, you learned to hide. 

How much do we adjust our intensity and oddity to match the world’s frequency? Any intense and sensitive misfits across time and space ask this question. 

If you tell the truth, others become frightened. 

You are relentlessly giving, but not everyone can reciprocate.

You may be dismissed and judged when you try to reveal the real you, speak your mind, and express your true feelings. 

People may blatantly say you are dramatic, arrogant, and extreme. Or, they quietly retreat and passively punish you.

It takes incredible courage to stand up for yourself and be who you are.

But

Here is a crucial piece of wisdom for the neuro-atypical gifted soul that you are: 

Once you accept yourself, including everything that comes with high functioning autism, other people’s judgment, criticism, and rejection… will hurt less. 

If you can wholeheartedly accept your intensity and drive for what others see as odd, you will find it easier to navigate the world. 

Your interpersonal fragility will decrease because you no longer depend on other people’s love, acceptance, praise, approval, and appreciation. 

In the past, if a friend went silent, you might immediately think you had done “too much.” You would wonder if you had said too much, revealed too much, acted too extremely, or acted in a way that elicited their judgment. You might have fallen into the trap of self-blame and shame. You might blame yourself for acting the way you did. 

You might be unable to do anything else while you anxiously await their responses. You might wonder how you can edit your words and change your personality so that you will not be rejected again. If you had experienced family trauma in your childhood, intense feelings could arise. You might feel abandoned by the world and betrayed by those who are supposed to love you. You sink into a deep ditch of silent anger and hopelessness. 

In some therapies, you are told to eradicate the thoughts and feelings because they are ‘irrational’ and that you are ‘catastrophizing’. 

But intellectually, knowing the rejection may or may not be true doesn’t mean your nervous system can calm down. To the hurt inner child within you, even the mere chance that someone would dislike you can feel like the world is collapsing. 

Thus, rather than rationalizing and arguing with ourselves, the ultimate strategy is to parent yourself so well that you will no longer be dependent on other people’s love and approval. 

Here is a new path that will bring you more peace, freedom, and joy— the way of unconditional self-love. Having it, you no longer hinge on your peace and sanity on your other people’s timely responses to you, what they think of you, or whether or not they like you.

Learn to be yourself – intense, sensitive, quietly empathetic, restless, curious, and passionate. 

Do not pretend to know less than you do, do not hide the extent of your true feelings, and do not put yourself down before others say something. 

Make a joke even if it is not understood, cry when you feel the urge, and laugh out loud when you want to. 

Call when you want to, be warm if you want to, and speak your mind without over-editing every word. 

Express your strong opinions and respect others, tell them you are offended when you are, and it is okay to express your needs even you are not asking others to meet them. 

Authenticity is your natural ‘filter’.

If someone loves the above, they are your person. 

If not, you need not bow to their preferences and lovingly release them to find someone better suited to be their friend.

As long as you act honestly, the outcome is best for all. 

When a relationship or friendship ends, you are naturally sad and disappointed. Still, at the same time, you have learned to shrug your shoulders and know that for every person who rejects your qualities, there will be another person who will fall in love with them.

If they say you are ‘too much’ for them, then perhaps they are ‘not enough’ for you. 

Other people’s judgment cannot hurt you if you do not allow it to hurt you. 

Your intensity may mean that it is harder to find acceptance in the “general population,” but the rarity of your gift is also what makes it a gift. When you find someone who appreciates your intelligence, is excited by your processing speed and delights in your humor, you will create a space that feels so transcendental you realize you do not need the whole world to love you. 

Even if you have not found your soulmate yet, there’s no reason not to fall entirely in love with yourself.

Your rich life experience, unique perspective on the world, and deep empathy for sentient beings near and far … are all wonderful qualities that deserve love and appreciation from first and foremost yourself. 

Consider how much lonelier it is to be with someone with whom you need to edit yourself than it is to be alone but connected to yourself.

There are ways you can learn to be alone and not be lonely. 

Look in the mirror and appreciate your beauty. 

Cook a delicious meal and be grateful that you have functioning sense organs. 

Take a walk in nature and be enchanted by the colors and beauty of the sky. 

Feel in your body the deep knowledge that every animal, tree, and flower is your friend. You are anything but alone. 

Look up into the sky and talk to ‘God’, the Buddha, Allah, any higher power that you believe in, or a departed loved one, knowing that they are forever in your heart and that love never ends. 

Build a personal library and have virtual conversations with brilliant and like-minded souls near and far. 

Create a piece of art or music that expresses your most profound truth, and know that the moment someone resonates with your work is a deep spiritual connection. 

There are ways to take such good care of yourself that growing old means sage-ing up. 

Know yourself so well that you say no to that which does not excite your heart. 

Give yourself permission to receive nourishment and know that you are worth it.

Be so gentle, so loving, and compassionate with yourself that you feel safe in your own presence. 

Be so encouraging and loving that you do not believe in mistakes, only in learning. 

Accept the imperfection of friendships; enjoy what is there and let go of what is not. 

Mourn the ideal parents you never had, but vow to be the best parents you can be, even to yourself. 

Sylvia Plath did say the best way to get what you want is to be who you are.

So, starting today, when something has not gone the way you expected, when you feel judged, rejected, or abandoned, can you learn to be on your own side?

Shrug your shoulders. 

Give yourself a big hug. 

Then move on and

Rock on.

 

 

High Functioning Autism Infographic- Imi Lo

High Functioning Autism Infographic- Eggshell Therapy

 

 

This article is written by Imi Lo