From Frustration to Understanding: My Life with High-Functioning Autism

, , Leave a comment

A good day…

In short, sometimes I don’t notice that I function differently at all. But on days when routines are disrupted, the world turns upside down. Most days, things work smoothly, but when something unusual happens, it becomes challenging. When the grit in the eyes appears at ten-thirty in the morning, you know it’s a day when you just long for relaxation, rest, and evening.

If you Google about high-functioning autism, you’ll find numerous answers from various “scientific” institutions stating things like:

  • High-functioning autism, also known as Asperger’s syndrome, is a form of autism where individuals may struggle with social interaction, communication, and sensory processing. Yet, they may have normal or above-average intelligence, developed speech and language early.
  • A person with high-functioning autism may face challenges in social situations, including understanding social cues and nonverbal communication. They might find it difficult to read others’ emotions and respond appropriately. Despite these challenges, individuals with high-functioning autism may have strengths such as attention to detail, creativity, and high performance in specific areas.

This, however, doesn’t truly convey what it’s like to have high-functioning autism. It lacks the personal perspective. With over 20 years of personal experience living as an adult with high-functioning autism, I might offer a different outlook.

filled with frustration

Mostly, my life is filled with frustration about how things should work but often don’t. It feels like being surrounded by people who either don’t understand or don’t want to understand how things should be done. Understanding that fluorescent lights are a nuisance might not be obvious to most, but having always heard the hum of fluorescent lights in the background, I’m incredibly tired of the phenomenon.

When a new routine is introduced at work, frustration arises over how one can be so thoughtless and not consider all the consequences it brings. I understand that new routines at workplaces are rarely implemented without considering the advantages and disadvantages, but this understanding is seldom conveyed, probably due to inadequate communication. Communication is likely the biggest source of frustration for me. I prefer straightforward and honest communication without a lot of jargon. Instead of saying, “Your report is good,” one might say: “What you have done, namely written during these days, what we can call a report. It has a good structure, layout, and consists of good material. Your conclusions in the report are sound, and the report lacks things that can be improved.”

I exaggerate a bit in the above sentences, but unfortunately, it’s quite common in the workplace to use verbose language, perhaps just to seem more knowledgeable. The problem is that communication suffers, and someone like me who tries to be direct ends up appearing as if I know nothing about the subject.

In recent years, I’ve tried to be clear that I don’t go to work to attend an after-work event on Friday night. I go to my job to work, contribute to the workplace, and, most importantly, produce. The growing importance of the social aspect in the workplace is vital for me, but it’s not my priority. If I become friends with a colleague, that’s fine, but I don’t want to feel obligated to be social with everyone at work. I prefer sitting alone at 9 AM coffee break, enjoying my coffee. I need that time for a break, not to concentrate on all my buzzing colleagues. This is something I believe many miss when talking about high-functioning autism. I’m not unsocial; rather, the opposite. I’d like lots of social contacts, but all social contacts are energy drainers that I usually can’t handle every day. I enjoy being social, but I want to choose my moments.

Of course, it’s often necessary to have social contacts in the workplace. Sitting alone in your office with your own calculations is a privilege. For my part, I’ve always worked with my colleagues in one way or another, and in that case, social contacts are a must. It becomes frustrating when I realize that my work would be more efficient if I didn’t have to consider my colleagues all the time. Just coordinating two tasks that need to be done roughly at the same time can be incredibly stressful.

I worked delivering furniture two days a week in my youth and had a colleague with me in my truck one day every week. Sure, it was easier to be two when a sofa or bed needed to be carried into a third-floor apartment, but to be honest, my work was easier on the days when I drove alone. Some things you can’t do alone, but I found methods to deliver a sofa up a staircase without help. It was easier than asking the customer or my colleague for help.

I long for moments when It’s quiet

When you read forums and similar platforms where many write about their lives as autistic, you find one thing repeatedly. And that is the longing not to be alone. I can understand it to some extent. Personally, I long for moments when I’m alone, but I’ve also been on the other side. Wanting to be social is natural even if you have autism, but truly being social is challenging when you don’t understand all the hidden quirks, body language, and signs that “ordinary” people use.

Social interaction is, in any case, very demanding for me, and I’ve started to prefer having my contacts “at a distance.” Instead of calling my insurance company when I have a question, I now chat with a salesperson. It takes considerably longer, but I have the opportunity to understand what the person on the other side of the screen really means since it’s difficult to convey something with your voice tone when writing. You’re forced to be direct and clear in a different way when chatting than when talking to someone. Chatting or writing was a prerequisite for me to get to know my wife. We spoke a lot on the phone and met a lot, but I never remembered much of what we talked about. On the other hand, what we wrote, texted, and communicated clearly stuck, and that’s where I also found my wife, whom I love and care for today. I still find it easier if she would text instead of calling when there’s something important. It’s very nice to hear her voice, but the content of the communication takes a back seat in those moments. When talking on the phone, it becomes a lot of verbal diarrhea.

I understand why it’s challenging to find the answer to what it’s like to have high-functioning autism. I’ve really tried to think about how I would write to avoid ending up in the situation everyone else ends up in. All articles I’ve seen on the subject are biased and look at autistic people from the outside. But how is it to be autistic? I, who have never had the experience of being someone who isn’t autistic, also find it challenging to explain the differences. I can only see my own frustration and shortcomings, but are they specific to me with autism? Perhaps it’s that even you, who don’t have autism, have similar problems? I know there are people without autism who also prefer to be alone in their free time to make room for their thoughts and ideas. What I can see are some consequences that I suffer from because I have limitations in my ability to communicate and socialize in a socially accepted manner. Consequences like conflicts, exclusion, inability to perform my job are not uncommon for me. The question to ask might not be how it is to have high-functioning autism, but maybe one should ask, how should I relate to someone with autism?


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.