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There’s Something I Need To Tell You

I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time about something over which I’ve experienced every emotion I know. This is something that comes with a high level of stigma and misunderstanding, which I guess is part of why I want to make it public knowledge. I guess my hope is that if people can look at me by the end of this article and still see a valid, intelligent, stable, professional human being, that maybe it will be easier for them to see the next person in the same light. I’m not used to writing articles this personal, so I guess let’s just rip the bandaid off.

Hi, I’m Nic, and I’m #ActuallyAutistic. It’s been two years now since I got the official diagnosis, though it’s something I’ve suspected for over a decade. Even back then when there wasn’t such widely available information online as there is today, I remember searching Google for symptoms or methods of diagnosis.

Mine is an interesting diagnosis, because I’m considered “severely autistic”, meaning I exhibit aspects of the neuro-atypical brain en masse, but I also have an overly-adept sense of compensation, meaning I’m capable of hiding it from the untrained eye. Basically, I lack all ability to converse normally with people, but I have the ability to “recycle” parts of conversations I’ve heard before to appear as though I’m participating. I begin to get crippling anxiety when some part of my body isn’t in motion (stimming), but I can curb it by wiggling my toes or bouncing my knee. I have this absolutely ridiculous emotional attachment to inanimate objects, but I focus it towards my keys or my phone, so it makes sense why I keep playing with it. I can’t stand the feeling of lotion, so I just…don’t use lotion.

To put it into perspective, I would be nearly nonverbal if I didn’t learn how to memorize interactions and use them in different situations. I’m, like, super autistic. But that’s okay! Because I haven’t let it stop me from accomplishing some awesome things so far. Let me tell you some other stuff about me…

When I was in 4th grade, my teachers were concerned I was learning-disabled, because I struggled with severe ADHD, to the point of being unable to participate in class or do homework. The school psychologist suggested I take an extensive cognition assessment, which concluded that I had the logic and reason processing ability of a sophomore in college. This led to my being homeschooled until middle school.

In 7th grade I wanted to learn an instrument. I saved up money and bought a bass guitar. Moving forward, I taught myself everything to the point of playing in bands, and even teaching lessons.

In 10th grade I borrowed an acoustic guitar from a friend and over a single weekend had taught myself how to play along perfectly with a song from beginning to end.

In 11th grade I dropped out of school. Having failed almost every class to that point, I didn’t see the benefit of a diploma. I was in a talented band and was going to focus my efforts on being successful there. However, the following year, the girl I was dating told me her dad would no longer approve of us being together if I didn’t graduate on time. I went to an alternate program, East Shore High School, and completed almost 3 years of credits in about 6 months, graduating early, while simultaneously establishing a student body office and being elected president. This came prior to creating the newspaper and yearbook programs.

Stick with me, we’re almost there.

In college, working on subjects I couldn’t have cared less about, I failed. Every attempt I made at a new college ended in total failure, wasting thousands in trust fund money and student loans. However, during those few years, I had learned to play piano and drums, sing, began writing a novel, held multiple jobs at a time, and spent hours a week volunteering. After I had finally given up on going to college, I took on a sales job, being one of the more prolific inside sales reps at Vivint. When I got bored there, I went to be a field service technician, completing the 3-week training process in 3 days. I moved to Grand Junction where I was regularly in the top of my region in upgrades and service.

In 2014 I went to do door to door sales for Vivint’s internet service, achieving a decent level of success, all while becoming an iOS developer. When I injured my back, I moved back to work for Vivint corporate again on the tech support team. After that, I went to Dev Mountain’s iOS program and finished at the top of my cohort. I needed a video to help crowd fund a loan, so I taught myself video editing. I was recruited for a 3 month internship where I completed all the work they had planned for me to do in under 3 weeks.

Now I’m working full time as a developer, primarily in iOS, but I often work in other languages or on other platforms where it’s largly easy for me to pick things up and begin to contribute.

So, forgive the humblebrag. As you can see, being autistic hasn’t slowed me down; I simply needed to learn how to succeed my way. There is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein made this statement, but I love it just the same:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I will never be good at improv. It’s just not how my brain works. I’ll never understand your sarcasm or certain common phrases. But put me in front of a complex, broken algorithm and I’ll spend 18 hours straight figuring out how to make it work. I’ll never know the best way to tell you that I think you’re wrong about something. But you can rest assured that I’ve invested hours of my life thinking about it, and can give you resources and facts to support my claim.

So why am I writing this? I dunno, really. I guess, at the end of the day, I really do hope that this removes some of the stigma around ASD. I have my challenges, of course, as does everyone else on the spectrum. But there are millions of people just in the U.S. that are on the spectrum. Many of which are capable of contributing to a full time job, getting married, raising a family, and living whatever life they can dream up. But our culture is built around people who climb trees, so the fish continue to struggle.

I guess if you take anything from this article, it’s that we have a long way to go in terms of including people on the spectrum. Maybe someday we’ll live in a world where I don’t have to pretend to understand your sarcasm, or people won’t think it’s weird when I need to leave the noisy bar. But maybe, tomorrow, if you hear the word “autistic”, it can sound just a little less “disabled”. And that’s good enough for right now.