Aiden Tsen

For me, every part of my autism stems from my sensory experiences. That’s not to say that my sensory differences are the only thing I experience differently, rather it’s the root cause of my different way of viewing the world. Everything else simply followed.

The most noticeable example is that language doesn’t mesh with my brain naturally – I don’t think in words and sometimes when I’m tired, I lose access to speech and sometimes even the ability to understand language at all! Weirdly, I’ve found that my brain works better with Chinese and BSL, both of which I’m learning as second languages. I think it’s something about how visual they are and the simplicity of the sounds involved in the case of Chinese.

Another example is my differences in perceiving touch, which means that as a teenager especially I wore a very limited range of clothing. Obviously, I now dress much more brightly! That’s because I’ve since managed to find tactics that work for me. So although the autistic stereotype of only wearing one outfit in dark colours has a basis in fact, I don’t like it when people assume I’m not autistic as a result of my dress sense.

Then, as a result of those sensory differences, I had to continually adjust to this world, which isn’t built for people like us. I recently realised that I’ve been using primary data informally for years when unpicking my behaviour and sensory experiences, which means that I’m now a lot better at data analysis than a lot of people my age, even armed just with Google Sheets and my brain. I’ve gotten very good at explaining myself and my use of different terms, such as why I don’t call people or their actions racist when they are, in fact, being racist.

Due to these things, people have told me that I must be a very high-functioning person with Asperger’s, or that I must be a savant. I reject both of these suggestions. My diagnosis was never Asperger’s. And any abilities that I do have are the result of years of hard work, although genetics must play into it as well. Since I’ve only recently started broadcasting these things (only started public speaking in May!), people act surprised at the output. Yet these are things I’ve been doing behind closed doors for a long time. For better or for worse (mostly worse), it’s just what you have to do to exist as an autistic person in this world.

The worst thing people say when I tell them I’m autistic though is that they don’t think of me as autistic because I’m able to socialise and empathise with other people. I think the idea that we’re not empathetic is ridiculous – we can empathise and communicate plenty well with other members of the Autistic community. In addition, we don’t pretend that typically developing people are incapable of empathy, at least among themselves. Although this is definitely because we’re in the minority, it’s just proof of the fact that society is largely unaccommodating towards us and so we have to adjust for everyone else.

I started broadcasting these things because it’s exhausting to have the same conversations on repeat, so I’d rather people just know I’m autistic from the outset. However, doing this kind of advocacy work in the public sphere is also exhausting – I often feel that I’m required to suffer openly in order for people to take me seriously.

There are so many things about the world that annoy me and therefore that I want to change. So I do work myself very hard – I currently work 80+ hour weeks for basically nothing as a freelance public speaker, writer and artist! However, I’m starting to get somewhere: I was recently headhunted by the UK charity Ambitious about Autism to potentially give paid talks for them. And I’ve got a paid article gig with them coming up too. I’m also starting to get more work as an illustrator, which is really exciting. The portfolio approach I’ve been taking may hopefully pay off in the end!

Underpinning all of these efforts is that belief that the world can and should be better, coupled with the realisation that unless I do my part in those efforts, ultimately the effect on my own life (and others I love and care about) will be minimal. So I view myself as a channel for a number of missions relating to my existence as a person of colour, multiply LGBTQ+ person and a disabled person.

So yes, it’s tiring. Yes, I’m ambitious. Yes, I don’t think those ambitions will be realised anytime soon. But still, it’s all worth it. I will do everything in my power to change society. So that no one else will ever feel unwanted in the world in the same way I did.

Aiden Tsen

3 July 2021

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