Like many people on the autism spectrum, my childhood is extremely well documented. Up in the attic, there are filing cabinets full of brain scans, ambiguous clinical reports, and “behavioral observations” documenting the life of a very strange child who spent every recess walking in counterclockwise spirals around the blacktop, rarely talked about anything other than cat physiology and electronics, and preferred the company of partially-disembowled machines and technical manuals to that of other humans.
As an adult, I’m really no less strange, but now I’m in a position to explain those things. Unfortunately, the explanation tends to confuse people “You see”, I say, “the reason I do <X> is because I like doing <X>”.
Confusion ensues. “You mean, you have some compulsion where do have to do <X>?” people ask. No, I say, I do it because I choose to do it, because it’s something I like doing.
The problem, I think, is that the ways in which I experience things is fundamentally different from normal. I could try to explain the rush that comes from rubbing my cheek on a nice piece of fabric or standing on an upside-down floor mat, and the sheer joy and fulfillment that comes from constructing mental models of mechanisms, and running them backwards and forwards in my head. I could try to explain that the reason that I seem aloof and socially withdrawn is because the social world can’t possibly compare with the world of technical concepts and hypotheses and the fun of gathering information about something I care about. But I’ve found that, in many ways, this is like trying to explain the concept of redness to a blind person—it’s very hard to understand, unless you’re wired to experience it yourself.
Nevertheless, I can’t imagine experiencing the world in any other way. To go through life without the ability to hyperfocus and obsess on things, or to derive pleasure from stimming, or to experience all the interesting sights and sounds and textures that my “hypersensitive” sensory system provides seems, to me, a rather drab and grey existence.
So I’m Nicholas. I spin myself in circles, spend weeks at a time reading about the specifics of how a kind of refrigerator works, and will probably tell you all about the subtle patterns in your wall plaster. Why? Because the things that you call symptoms give me pleasure and satisfaction, and, in fact, make my life pretty fucking awesome.