It’s autism awareness month, and I was asked to answer a few questions about my experience as someone on the spectrum. The questions came from myself and other authors on the spectrum. Hopefully, by answering them, we’ll bring about more awareness. Here we go:
I always felt like something was different about me from a very early age, but I grew up when people were less aware of things like autism, and when they were aware, it was generally medication first. I don’t think my parents knew enough about it, but that was mainly because I kept my feelings to myself, and they could just write off things I did as weird only-child things. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood and a friend of mine was telling me about Asperger’s and some of the signs, that it clicked for me. It was like, “Oh, that explains so much.” Then, there were online tests, and I started thinking back to being younger, and the things I said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do, the things other people seemed to do so easily while I cringed inside, the times I was told I was “rude” or “awkward” or told I needed to “get out of my shell” at work and socialize like everyone else.
I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t. At the time, I worked at a large corporation and felt a lot of pressure to be like everyone else. When I first got there, I went to the after-meeting dinners and socialized like everyone else. I tried to stay up as late as everyone else and get through the next day. I stopped bringing a book with me to the breakfasts and forced myself to make the small talk. I don’t like small talk. I’m not good at it. I also just don’t see the point. Old Nicole wouldn’t have admitted that. When I discovered that I wasn’t “odd” or “rude” and that my brain just worked differently, it was a process, but I got to a point where I told people I needed a break and didn’t go to the dinners. I’d eat breakfast at my own table. I started telling people that I was on the spectrum and explained that they can ask me questions if they’re unsure why I said something or acted a certain way. I didn’t use it as an excuse but explained that this is who I am, and I’m good with it. I actually really love this part of myself now that I understand it. So, I embrace it.
It’s huge in my writing life. I’m convinced that because my brain works this way, it makes me write better; I think it makes me strive to write dynamic characters because I want to understand them, too, since I have trouble understanding real people at times. It also helps me write faster than most writers I know.
Kenzie from “All the Love Songs” is my only autistic character (besides Lennox’s sister, who’s mentioned but not featured). I just knew Kenzie. I understood her from moment one, which isn’t usually the case for me and my characters. It can take me a minute or two to start thinking like them, but with Kenzie, I just got her. I think I also got Lennox because Lennox got Kenzie, so that book was a very fast write for me, and I was in an “aspie fog” when I wrote it, which is what my wife and I call it when I just put on headphones and type for hours or days and forget to eat or that there’s a world around me.
My “aspie fogs” are exciting and scary at the same time for me, so I’d say I both love them and hate them at the same time. I love them because I get to just be 100% myself and write. I also hate them because I can’t write fast enough, and I’m constantly worried I’m going to “lose the thread” and not get the dialogue or scene just right, which worries me so much, that I just keep going and forget about everything else.
I’d say I also don’t like how I know I’ve been “branded” over the years. This is mostly in my professional life since I do still have a day job. I can come across as brash or tactless when I’m just saying things that others are thinking most of the time but don’t say. Let’s be honest, when we ask people how their weekend was at work, we’re really thinking about moving on to the next topic to get out of the meeting. We don’t actually care about their weekends, do we? Am I wrong about that?
That we don’t have control over some of it – it’s just who we are. You have to love all of us, including that, or it usually doesn’t work. In previous relationships, I didn’t share this part of myself with them, and it didn’t work. That wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one for me. I HAVE TO write. I think it has to do with me being on the spectrum, but it might just be me, regardless. There were times, in my past relationships, when I needed to write, but my significant others didn’t like that. They wanted to spend time together when I was in my head and needed to get the words out. My wife not only understands that, she loves me because of it. She constantly tells me – whenever I feel the need to apologize because I need to write and she wants to do something else – that she loves ALL of me, and this is part of me. You need that.
God, so much. I think, the main thing that I would’ve loved to have known is that it’s okay. Other people are like this, too, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I remember being in high school; my mom told me that my aunt was coming over after school to pick something up. When the doorbell rang, I opened the door, said hello, gave her the thing she was picking up (I don’t remember what it was), and said goodbye. Later, my mom was upset with me because I didn’t even invite my aunt into the house. It hadn’t dawned on me to invite her in. She was there to pick something up, and I gave her the something. Then, she left. There were a lot of moments like that where I wish I would have known I was on the spectrum.
Now, I just tell people. Not everyone, of course, but people I work with, mostly. I recently told my mom, and she said, “That explains a lot,” which made me laugh. I don’t lead with it unless it’s necessary. When I start a new job, and I manage a lot of people, I usually tell the people I manage, at least, so they know it’s okay to ask me how I meant something. That’s mostly because I don’t like being misunderstood, and I like directness, which others don’t always seem to enjoy.
I don’t think so. I read a lot, and it’s almost exclusively LesFic. I know there are some out there, but I don’t think I’ve read any. If I did, I either don’t remember, or it wasn’t a main point in the story. I should mention that I listen to books because I don’t have enough time to read them, so I’m only working with what’s on Audible and what I’ve found there.
Can I say my own? Or is that rude? Kenzie is my favorite, and probably always will be, but that’s because I wrote her at a time when there was a lot of “new” in my life, and Kenzie gave me the outlet I needed to help get through that.