Sarah Bettin

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My Autistic Lens

Ability to focus

If I am interested in learning something, I have unlimited energy and devotion. I am motivated from within, I am an independent learner. Meeting another person who is knowledgeable gives me immense delight. One-on-one tuition is best. I am in a state of flow when I am focused.

Pacing myself

Almost everything I do, I do with devotion. I find it hard to switch from one thing to another and I often don’t stop until I have reached some sense of completion.

Verbal and written communication

I am acutely aware of the shortcomings of verbal and written communication as a means to pass on information. I tend to mull over past exchanges and analyse them, anxious about any misunderstandings or ambiguity.

Simultaneous sensory inputs in social settings

When meeting new people, I perceive a stream of simultaneous sensory inputs, such as the tone of the voice, the rhythm of the speech, the way of moving, the pauses in the speech, etc, and this captures my attention so much that I will carry within myself a sensory imprint of each person, an impression that takes many hours to fade.

A person’s ways of expressing themselves (physically and in words) is a fascinating window for me into yet another way of standing in the world, of seeing the world.

The flip side is that I have to manage how many encounters I have so as to allow for downtime and not be overwhelmed. New social situations can be quite scary and I experience them intensely.

On the other hand, being surrounded by my family is soothing.

Being authentic versus fitting in

When with people I don’t know well, I oscillate between being reserved and conforming, versus being lively and speaking my mind. I prefer the second option, but the first one is safer if you have to fit into a corporate job for example.

I stay away from parties

I cannot adeptly move in and out of groupings and keep going with the small talk. A loud setting with lots of voices sends me into despair, I cannot easily filter out any of the voices.

I prefer engaging one-on-one with someone who goes straight into deep conversation, without noisy clatter and banging in the background. In order to focus on ideas, I prefer not to stare in the other person’s eyes. I think in pictures.

I never grow up

I don’t believe that people should fit into models of when what should be achieved in terms of growing up. I am a late developer, and that’s perfectly ok.

I learn from my child

Discovering who my child is and by doing so discovering who I am is fascinating. My child is my best teacher.

Seeing the complex

In my desire to understand a system, I try to discover all facets and details, and the more I know the more I understand how little I know, and the harder it becomes to explain something quickly to someone else without confusing them. It is hard to dumb something down, for example for management.

Finding emotional balance

My emotional self talk is not good at relativising things, and I am not a master of being laid-back. Little things are just as important as big things, and I tend to worry.
I need time to retreat and reflect. The best method is go out on my bicycle to “let the horse run”!

Seeing the relevance of the environment

The well being of a person is very much dependent on the environment around that person, and sometimes it is possible to change the environment, or move into a new environment. Knowing what environments are beneficial is the first step to personal well being. For example I know I would not be happy in a big open plan office.

Inventing routines

My strength is inventing my own systems for quality control, especially for recurring activities. This is relevant to part of my work.

Receptive to the beauty of the natural world

Perceiving the beauty of nature is food for my soul. I don’t even have to create to feel alive, just perceiving fills me with joy. The flip side of this sensitivity is that I am overwhelmed in noisy and hard environments such as shopping centres or if surrounded by urban ugliness. Presence of plants, the soil and birds gives immediate relief, as well as being able to see the horizon.

Inbuilt bullshit detector

Social rules are often based on unspoken rules, such as not saying what one really wants, or not disclosing what one does not know. Luckily I have an inbuilt bullshit detector. I hate persuasive writing, PR-talk and hidden agendas.

The negative power of language

At any point in time, whatever is deemed to be a “developmental condition or dysfunction, low-functioning or high functioning etc.” is the result of the prevailing cultural lens.

Applying pathologising jargon to describe autism or other minorities is discriminatory and counter-productive. Applying pathologising language to a neurodivergent person is similar to putting a seed in the shade and dampening its potential for reaching the sun.

The result is that autistic adults are forced to mask and hide, and autistic children miss out on growing up with positive autistic role models.

Sarah Bettin

23 September 2018