April 7, 2015

I’ve been missing from ADN for awhile, and I’ve been missing my ADN family, as well. After an extended period of illness and bedrest, I found myself very much identifying with some of the troubles that go with the #FunctioningLabelsMean conversation on Twitter. While my clinical diagnosis is “High Functioning“, I felt cognitively that I was very unable to interact with the outside world while my body was sick.

My job suffered. Instead of getting my big project work done, I was barely keeping the lights on. I was responding to reports of problems in areas that I had responsibility for, but was utterly unable to engage my stakeholders in a meaningful way, let alone make forward progress on the new things they wanted me to build for them.

And this is a really scary place to be. As a professional, I’m held accountable for my performance. But as a human being, especially as an autistic human being, there are times when I perform exceptionally well above my peers, and times where I can barely manage to remember my daily hygiene routine.

My creative work outside of my day job ground to a halt. I was no longer writing poetry or prose. No longer collaborating with other creative friends on new art. My days and nights drifted into one another, and I’d slept more hours each day than I normally would in a full week. I also lost almost ten pounds because I just didn’t feel like eating.

I started turning the corner last Thursday. I felt well enough to go into the office, but I still kept to myself. By the time 2PM rolled around, the physical exertion of just walking from the bathroom to the coffee machine to my desk was just too much. I went home. I worked from my bed for the remainder of the day.

The weather in Raleigh was gorgeous, and I’d seen the inside of my house for far too long. I set up my fire pit, a nice seat, and started reading a book. It had occurred to me that this was the first time I’ve actually read a book in weeks, which is unusual because I usually read every day.

In that time by the fire, the so-called “high functioning” brain was still not well. I was still very much living in my head, though the cognitive bits were starting to cooperate with one another again.

The breeze was unusually high for Raleigh. The smoke from the fire twisted to and fro, and so I put the book down to watch and anticipate its dance. I’ll never know why it’s so pleasing when the wind switches direction just so and the smoke would engage in these sharp twists, like ethereal whirling dervishes. I found myself perceiving not just the wind direction, but the temperature gradients, the density of the smoke, and how all of these things coalesced into a beautiful dance.

On the ground by my feet, a different sort of dance was happening. There was some bare dirt on the heavily trodden path by the fire pit, interrupted abruptly by my rain barrel sitting up on a brick foundation. Jutting out from under one of the bricks was a long blade of grass. For a time, I was the blade of grass. During times of calm, it stood confident and graceful, dutifully drinking in as much of the sun’s energy as it could while feeding the unseen structure below. That structure was, without a doubt, more complex and resilient than that seemingly fragile leaf of green standing above the ground for all to see.

When the wind would pick up, that leaf of grass would twist back and forth, looking quite odd. It almost looked like a particularly boisterous stim was taking place. But it never ripped. It never tore from the ground. Beneath that temporarily non-performant front was a complex structure of roots that nobody ever saw. Indeed, most of the grass consisted of what was unseen below ground, undamaged by the temporary turbulence of the outside world. But anybody passing by would only see that leaf in its state of turbulent upset.

I watched this leaf for awhile, probably longer than I’d like to admit. And I saw myself in it. These last few weeks have damaged my ability to interact with the above-ground world. That part of me was too busy just holding on for the wild ride. The greater part of me was whole, largely undamaged, and just waiting for the outside influences to cease their disruption.

It’s sometimes said that the most profound leaps in human ability come from the cognitive association of two or more concepts that would never normally be considered together. While we all have a different autistic experience from one another, different ways of perceiving the world from one another and from our neurotypical friends, I tend to see patterns and make associations that would often go missed by others. It’s often hard to get others to buy in to what I’m seeing, but I’ve found it’s often worth the effort to do so.

Autism is a part of my identity that I love. Being autistic comes with its own challenges, to be sure. But it also comes with a different perspective of the world that has value. Each of you have value. It is my highest hope for every one of our readers that you can find your value, and help the people around you to see the value in you. Where they may see that leaf of grass flapping in the wind, I know that there is so much more beneath the surface that makes you complex, strong, and amazing.

About the author 

Magnus Hedemark

Magnus has been in the IT industry for over 20 years, and a technology enthusiast for most of his life. He’s a verbal autistic professional, father, and husband. In his spare time, Magnus enjoys photography and riding motorcycles.

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