Tomorrow is #WorldAutismAwarenessDay, and I thought it was fitting to write a post about that on the day I send my next novel to my editor. Because I’m rarely so autistic as I am after I’ve finished a big project.
It happens the moment I click save and send it off. Like a flip of a switch, the research brain that’s been running on fumes with 74 open tabs begins to power down, and I find myself sitting on the couch with a Coke Zero, staring off into space, without the ability to grasp what’s going on in my head. My thoughts become jumbled, exhaustion kicks in, and I become hypersensitive to new impressions.
This is the wrong time to ask me what’s for dinner, because chances are I won’t be able to make up my mind and I’ll just start crying instead. Which sounds way more dramatic than it is; it’s just how decompression works for me. I need space, and I need quiet to untangle the mess in my noggin’.
At times, it almost feels like I’m drunk. I get sluggish and a bit dopey. 🙂 Because it’s a release too. All the tension from intense work starts to fade away, and that’s definitely a nice feeling!
I do wish I was better at sharing personal thoughts about this on social media sometimes, not necessarily for my own sake, but because I know there are many undiagnosed people out there who grow up thinking there’s something wrong with them. That was me for the longest time, until I was in my twenties. I process things differently, whether it’s humor or grief, my daily schedule or my long-term goals in life, the news or music I’ve listened to, etcetera. I compartmentalize like a pro, and it’s a coping mechanism to keep my organized chaos somewhat tidy.
Different doesn’t equal wrong, though. Sure, there are things that get lost in translation with neurotypical people, but mishaps are part of life. It’s partly why I enjoy writing autistic characters, because it gives me a chance to journal my own experiences behind the face of a character. So while I may not often share personal thoughts on Facebook, there’s truth in every fictional character I produce. A bit of it, anyway! It’s also a way to show readers how autistic persons might process something, or how some of us reach certain conclusions.
An added bonus, a humbling one, is having readers reach out to me—often mothers of autistic children—who worry about the future. Parents want their kids to grow up happy and have the same opportunities as everyone else, of course. Find love, work, friends, and so on. Things that no one can ever promise anyone—but the scenarios we paint, those of us who write autistic characters in contemporary fiction, can at least show possibilities. We can, to an extent, bridge a gap between questions and answers, worries and hopes. And that’s pretty cool to me.
Of course, this is still fiction. While I think extensive research is the backbone to any good book, I’m not one of those who demand 100% accuracy in every portrayal. Sometimes I stumble upon posts on Facebook and Twitter where people more or less lose their shit over something they’ve read, and they found it entirely unrelatable. Yeah, well. Someone else might relate. I’ve read autistic characters that make me cock an eyebrow and go, “Yeah, right!” But you know, we’re not all the same. Far from it. Not everyone will relate to my characters either. They’re not meant to. I’d like for my characters to stand on their own, and if someone finds themselves nodding along and thinking, hey, I’m just like that, it’s another bonus.
My point is, I appreciate authors who want to challenge themselves and write something new. They don’t need to know someone with autism, they don’t have to be autistic, just give it a go. Research and write your heart out. To me, intentions matter.
Awareness is always good. It leads to discussions and open debates.
It leads to more perspectives.
This is just mine.