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  • Riley Jay Sironen

Autism & Misunderstandings

The biggest relief from my diagnosis has been my need to ask questions and request clarification. Before my diagnosis, especially in education or peer conversations, I never asked follow-up questions about assignments, tasks, or phrasing I was confused by. Since no one else around me did this, I figured the instructions I received or that phrase I was so stuck on would eventually click for me as it did for everyone around me.

(Of course, I am sure some will see this and say, "Everyone experiences this no matter who they are, they just are too embarrassed to say something." But there is something inside a neurodivergent person that creates a larger internal conflict. Just stay with me.)

For me, two traits that I struggle with are auditory processing and taking everything that is said to me literally. Let's begin with the first.

Oh, auditory processing. I wish I had known these words so much earlier in life. Maybe I would not have punished myself for doodling all day instead of listening to a lecture or forgave myself for not remembering the details shared with me by my best friend. For example, during conversations, I would internally repeat things that were said so that I would remember important details if they were ever brought up again. I often would fail tests in school, and eventually, I was labeled with test anxiety. But tests did not cause me anxiety; I honestly just could not pull out any information said in class because I did not hear it or retain it. Since my autism diagnosis, I have solved this problem in both scenarios. In conversation, I have started to forgive myself and remind myself it is okay to ask for information a second or third time without being ashamed. In education, thanks to my university's Disability Resource Center, I use a tool called Glean. It records lectures for me, and then I spend time outside class listening to them and editing my notes. It's extra time and effort for me (as with any struggle with a disability), but it works wonders for my memory! It also helps me narrow down any questions I may have for my professor because, often, most questions are answered in the lecture; I just missed them.

Now, taking everything literally was not a trait I thought I had until I began to read about it. Considering the stereotypical symptoms, I have never viewed myself as a gullible person. Similarly, I understand and enjoy sarcasm and comedy. But those areas of communication that can cause confusion only scratch the surface. As someone who loves poetry and language, I never considered how much the non-autistic community uses phrases and wording that they do not actually mean (or at least not full-heartedly). For example, I came across a TikTok the other day (linked here) that discussed how those who are not autistic sometimes make videos saying, "This is day 1332 of me doing this thing". Naturally, to me anyway, I would often keep scrolling while also considering how on earth someone can do something for that many days in a row. It wasn't until this TikToker said, "It just occurred to me that you can lie about that number," that my brain almost imploded. While I may not be gullible (in the stereotypical meaning of the word anyway), I have definitely found myself from a young age just believing what people tell me. On a larger scale, I have constantly been someone who has struggled with religion because what I was taught as a child I always took in a very literal way. I was constantly (and subconsciously still am) afraid I was displeasing a higher power who would decide what would happen to me day by day and after I passed away based on maybe having one too many beers or, as a kid, staying out past curfew. Because of this trait, it's not uncommon that this can cause autistic people to get in trouble. Let's go back to education, for example. It is not unusual for an educator to give an assignment, give instructions, and say, "I expect you to go above and beyond." What does that mean? I am studying for my Master's, and I still could not tell you. But I can tell you that I have received many assignments back with the critique, "I expected you to provide ____," without any further explanation or evidence that I should have known that. While this is something I am still working on, this would be an example of how I began to allow myself to ask more clarifying questions when others would not think to.

Being a person in this world is not easy for anyone. Throw a disability on top of it, and a whole other layer is added to navigating it. I hope this article inspires you to realize you are not alone and there are tools out there. You just have to find what works for you.

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