The #ActuallyAutistic Culture and Identity Project S3
Name, and/or twitter handle: Wynn, @wynneliz1
Age when you selfdx/were diagnosed autistic: 34 (self-dx, seeking formal dx)
1. Did you feel you were different from others as a child?
Yes, absolutely. I vividly remember going to daycare, thinking my mom would never come back to get me, and spending the entire time behind the couch. I couldn't even look at other kids, let alone play with them.
I was hyperlexic, so I read well by the time I got to kindergarten. I was proud to be able to read, but it made me feel weird and self-conscious that the other kids could not.
I was afraid of everything. People in costumes, my parents dying (even when I was very small), tornadoes, aliens, dinosaurs being alone, meeting new people, talking to strangers – you name it. I shut down if adults that I didn't know tried to talk to me. I would occasionally go over to my grandmother's house, and I was even afraid of her (she was a lovely person – there was no reason to be).
I had a really vivid imagination, but I usually prefer to play by myself, with my stuffed animals or horse figurines. I read constantly, and, in the case of some books, felt like the fantasy worlds I read about were much more real than the world around me. For many years, I thought that I was dreaming, and one day would wake up and discover that my life wasn’t real.
When I was around other kids, I was alternately silent and withdrawn or aggressive and bossy. I got frustrated when kids couldn't find answers in class, and compulsively answered every question I could, even though it made me feel like a know it all.
Except with my two best friends, both of whom I suspect were neurodiverse, I just didn’t connect with other kids. I felt like I was from another planet, and just couldn't understand the things that they talked about. My interests were always a year or two behind my peers - I liked “kid stuff” much longer than most of my classmates. I usually got along with adults or kids who were younger than me better than kids my own age.
It didn't get much better until high school, when I found choir, was excelling academically (academia and good grades were something of a special interest), and started to feel like I had an identity of my own, but I still felt younger than my age. I wasn't ready to do lots of things my peers were, like dating, drinking, and other things like that until college.
I started therapy after an abusive relationship in college, and it made a huge difference. With lots of CBT work, I worked through a lot of my social anxiety and established a good toolbox for preventing overwhelm, but I still struggle, and still get exhausted after extended "people time."
2. Are your parents supportive of you as an autistic individual?
I'm only recently comfortable identifying as self-diagnosed (working on formal dx), so I'm not really sure.
My mom is likely undiagnosed autistic & ADHD, though, and she always extended a great deal of understanding and tolerance for my quirks, my shyness, and my fears. She made me feel loved as I am, and that was a great gift.
3. How did you determine your ethical system?
It's actually pretty simple... I remember my mom telling me that the most important thing was to be kind to other people and to animals. That's been my guiding principle ever since.
4. In which way does your private self differ from your outward facing front?
My public self is gregarious and pretty talkative, always wants people to be comfortable, and ask lots of questions to keep things flowing. She is comfortable in front of crowds (I'm a professional classical singer, and I also enjoy presenting to meetings and the like), and while she doesn't enjoy group events, she can make it work. She has an expressive face and voice. In public, people often tell me that they can tell I'm a singer from the way I talk.
I do have a few "tells" when I'm in public... If I get really excited about something, I bounce around a lot and sometimes wave my arms. I have a few subtle stims, like shaking my foot, holding my hands together, or playing with my fingers. I get frustrated if too many people ask things of me at one time, if my musical colleagues make decisions I don't agree with, or if people interrupt me while I'm working at my day job. But for the most part, public me is poised and extroverted, and very likable.
When I'm at home, I indulge in a lot more quirks. I watch a lot of the same TV shows and read the same books over and over, I always change into my "comfies” as soon as I get home. I have a lot of sensory issues in the real world that I mitigate at home, with things like weighted blankets, dim lights, soft radio. I love routines, and I love planning out my week in advance. I get pretty upset if plans change unexpectedly, and very upset if people try to come over without enough advance warning. I mostly prefer to spend time alone, or with my fiance or my best friend.
When my fiance is home, I'm typically a bit "on,” but I'm much more comfortable showing who I really am and feel like he knows (as much as he can) the real me.
When I'm truly alone, though, I’m much calmer. My face is usually neutral. I'm very quiet, although I do have some stimming behaviors that I indulge in mostly when I'm by myself. I usually describe true alone time as “being nothing.” It feels like a pretty apt description.
5. Do you enjoy finding mistakes/errors in the production of films and television...continuity etc.?
A bit... More, though, I like to notice actors’ choices and technical elements like camera angles, scoring decisions, makeup and costume choices, etc.
I'm much more of a verbal person though, so I really enjoy finding content errors, typos, inconsistencies, poor editing, and the like in books.
As a classical musician, I’m also hyperattuned to music. I notice tuning issues, vocal production, instrumentation, and other things like that when I'm listening to music. Often, if I'm really paying attention to a movie or a TV show, I get distracted by the musical score.
6. What are the top 3 traits you look for in a friend?
Most important is the vibe. With my best friend, we just clicked immediately. It was much the same with my fiance. Something just… clicked. I thought, “hey, I recognize something in this person.”
In terms of character, I mostly look for warmth, honesty, and acceptance.
7. What are the top 3 traits you perceive as negative but are willing to overlook in a friend?
I find that I have a lot of acquaintances and casual friends who spend a lot of time telling me about their problems. I don't mind being there for people when they need me, but I noticed that in these kinds of friendships, things can get pretty one-sided.
I really prefer friends who understand that conversation should be a deliberate back and forth. I get uncomfortable if I talk about myself for too long, and I also have trouble turning the conversation back toward myself with more neurotypical friends, so a person who asks me about myself is important to establishing an equitable friendship.
Otherwise, I know that people are human, and flawed, so I don't have any other no-gos, other than truly harmful or toxic things.
8. What are the top traits you look for in a partner/traits your partner possesses?
I'm incredibly fortunate that I have a partner who is very nurturing and easygoing. He's a flexible person, which is good - I am pretty rigid about my routines and my sensory needs. He's very understanding of my idiosyncrasies, but as an allistic person, I do think that he has to exercise quite a bit of patience and doesn't always really understand what’s happening when I struggle. His flexibility really helps in these kinds of situations.
He is also a little quirky, which I love! He's not afraid to show me who he really is, and that makes me feel safe showing him who I really am. We don't actually interests common interests, but we have a similar philosophy of kindness and fairness, and we both have a goofy and irreverent sense of humor.
We are intentionally very honest about our needs, and this is important to me – especially having been in a emotionally abusive relationship with a lot of gaslighting. My partner makes it (relatively) easy for me to be honest about what I'm thinking and feeling, and about what I need.
It's not a perfect relationship, of course, but the foundation of honesty and kindness has served us very well!
9. What would you do with your life if you had unlimited funds?
I don't think I would change much, honestly. I would probably buy a nice, moderate-sized house, with a beautiful yard, and I might invest in some accommodations (sensory things, food delivery, someone to help with cleaning) that would make life easier.
I wouldn't want to stop working completely, though, and I would certainly not stop making music at a professional level. It would be nice not to have to work so much, or to worry about money, though!
And of course, with unlimited funds I would want to make substantial contributions to a LOT of good causes!
10. What does freedom mean to you? What does it entail?
At its core, I think that freedom is the ability to fully express who you are - the most fully actualized version of yourself - without fear of judgment or retribution. It would be a beautiful thing indeed to live in a world with freedom for everyone.
11. What does success mean to you?
To me, success is finding something that brings you joy and fulfillment, and being able to continue doing it at the level you choose, for the amount of time you choose.
Success in my day job has meant finding a stable, interesting job with people I enjoy, at a place where I feel I can be at least a version of myself. I don't make a ton of money, but it's definitely enough to live on comfortably, and it comes with benefits – which is huge!!
Success in my musical career has meant achieving a level of technical proficiency I can be proud of, and which allows me to express myself artistically just the way I want to. It has also meant the opportunity to work with some of the top tier musical organizations, which has meant some truly thrilling musicmaking! I feel very lucky.
12. Are you more stable/happier/productive within the structure of a relationship...partner/good friend/long-term roommate?
Absolutely. I've been friends with my best friend/platonic life partner for a little over a decade now, and it's no exaggeration to say that my life completely changed when I met her. She's the one person I can be absolutely, truly myself with, and that has had the most incredible effect on how I carry myself through the world, and how I think of myself, even when she's not around.
Finding my romantic partner, who is a very different person than she is - but so wonderful for me in his own right - has only deepened this appreciation for how much a loving trusted partner or friend can help you learn to accept yourself.
Having two people who I know I can turn to no matter what, no matter how bad I'm feeling, and who love me for exactly who I am is the greatest gift I could ever imagine.
13. Do you find it stressful to be around other parents at school functions?
(Not a parent, but based on how I am in other group situations, I'm sure the answer would be yes!)
14. How often do you pretend to not see people you know if you don’t want to talk?
Frequently! I have definitely run inside when I see a neighbor. I've even gone so far as to turn off the lights and crouch down behind my door when I hear a coworker coming up the stairs!
15. In which areas do you identify the most with other autistic people?
Sensory challenges are a big one for me. Therapy has helped me, mostly, to learn to function fairly well in society (although it does come with a huge energy cost), but sensory challenges are an ongoing issue that make sometimes make it very difficult for me to function in everyday life.
It's a small thing, but I've also really enjoyed learning that a lot of autistic people find great comfort in rewatching shows, rereading books, and the like! I don't really have other people in my life who find this solace and comfort in revisiting the familiar, and it makes me feel so seen to know that a lot of other autistic people feel this way!
16. What are the most stressful aspects of parenting an autistic child as an autistic caregiver?
17. What are the top 5 things you want your children to know about the world and why?
18. Does living off the grid appeal to you and why/why not?
I don't think so. Modern conveniences play a huge role in making my sensory life tolerable – and many of these wouldn’t be possible in an off-grid situation.
I also wouldn't want to be completely disconnected from society. As overwhelming as it is to live in the world sometimes, I do care about other people, and do want to feel connected.
That said, going off grid to camp a few times a year is one of my favorite things to do!
19. What is your favorite style of architecture and why?
I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I love for the smallish craftsman homes you find here. I like the sense of warmth and accessibility, of homecoming and welcome, that I feel as soon as I walk into these little homes.
I've never liked big homes or apartments, and there's something so comforting and cozy about this style of architecture. Right now I live in a tiny apartment, but I have dreams of one day having a little house like this of my own!