Autism is my superpower

If you read my last post So I'm Autistic, you might have noticed an almost negative connotation of the diagnosis as described by the DSM IV (book of diagnosis codes used by medical professionals to diagnose autism and other mental disorders). But in today's blog, I want to explain why being autistic is amazing and explain why autism is my superpower.

SPINs is an acronym or term used in the autistic community to describe SPecial INterests. The "biased" version of SPINs is the young boy who loves trains 🚂 or dinosaurs 🦖🦕. But I'm here to tell you there are so many other types of special interests. If you knew me when I was young, then you likely knew my special interest was architecture. I was drawing houses and buildings and floor plans on the church bulletin and any other paper I could get my hands on. At age seven I could tell you more than any other kid my age about gothic revival, English Tudor, craftsman, and victorian architecture (just to name a few). I was no Frank Lloyd Wright, but for my age, it was probably strange to others. I still look at a lot of pictures of architecture, but if you know me now in my adult life you likely know that my SPIN is now Dynamics 365. (Have you heard of it? If not, or if so, I'd love to talk about it with you.) Although some people's SPINs may be strange to you, they can still be very valuable. Talking about a person's SPINS is a great way to connect - autistic or not.

This is a great segway into my next strength.

Visual thinking 
I am a visual thinker through and through. So much so, that I would say I have a photographic memory. But it doesn't work with everything. For example, I can watch a movie and literally remember none of it a few hours later, but if I have seen a Dynamics 365 screen, I will remember it. Those faceless icons with exploding heads from Dynamics AX 2012 still haunt me. 
A screenshot of the AX 2012 vendor page showing the Vendor button which is a faceless person carrying a box with a large yellow star over the head.

So, perhaps my SPIN was born from my ability to remember it all so clearly, but perhaps the other way around. (It's kind of like the chicken and eff conundrum.) This leads to my next strength.

Thinking outside the box 
I believe that I think outside the box because I am blissfully unaware that there is a box. I think this might be fairly common among the autistic community. When this is combined with my visual thinking I can make relationships between things that others don't see or consider. But this is as much a gift as it is a curse.

Thinking outside the box

Communication differences
Because my brain works differently, it often leads to communication differences. Due to the social norms of society, this is often times viewed as a "negative" trait. But I'd like to reframe how you think about communication differences. I am known for saying what I think. This can lead to hurt feelings or the perception that I am harsh or non-empathetic; but, I'd argue this is a strength. After all who doesn't want an honest friend or colleague? My communication differences also lead to a very literal interpretation of anything I am told. For me, I have adapted over the years and will just let you know if something you say doesn't make sense. When I communicate, I tend to be very literal and precise. I think this is partly why I am so good at training since I live by strict rules of accuracy. 

Autistic inertia
This leads to the final strength I want to highlight. (Not to say these are my only strengths, but the ones that I directly attribute to my autistic brain.) Now, this combination of words is likely new to many of you. So I'll use Newton's law of motion to explain it which is how I learned about it. Don't worry, you don't need to be a scientist to understand this. 

Newton's Cradle (marbles hanging from strings showing the first marble pulled back.) 

I'll focus on the first law: "A body in motion remains in motion, or a body at rest remains at rest unless acted on by force." Using Newton's cradle as the example, the marbles will just hang there unless you pull one back, but if you pull one back it will keep going until you stop it.

Once I start a project, especially if related to my SPINs, it is extremely difficult to stop. So for example, if you were wondering how I wrote pages upon pages of documentation about posting profiles, it was my autistic inertia. The downside here is that it oftentimes comes at the cost of ignoring executive functioning and poor interoception. (Two topics for future blogs.)

Likewise, it can be extremely difficult to start a new task, especially if it's not one of my SPINs or creates sensory input that I struggle with. An example of this for me is washing dishes. When you couple this with my ADHD, it can be even more exhausting. But we'll save the ins and outs of ADHD for my next blog.

I'll leave you with my closing thoughts. Remember that because I experience autism in this way, does not mean the next autistic person will/does. Avoid making biased assumptions about autistic people and learn the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues (autistic or not). Ask questions like how you can support the person, or what accommodations you can offer. I firmly believe that if we all did this, not just with autistic or neurodivergent people; if we do this with everyone; the world can be a better place.

Multi-colored hand prints with signs pointing in opposite directions that read strength and weakness


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