Autism and Art
Being diagnosed with Autism in your mid 20’s is a bit of a wild ride. You start to realise that all your ‘quirks’ and what made you ‘weird’ as a kid was just over-stimulation, or a lack of social understanding, or any number of things associated with Autism. You start to think back on the memories of high school and realise that the best friend you thought was your best friend was no friend at all, and the social groups you hung around with only tolerated your presence and were fairly neurotypical teenagers. You realise your comfort was found online because it was a place where your physical tics and stimming behaviors were not seen, and you could imagine you were neurotypical. You realise that the reason you have not held down a job for longer than a year and a half is due to break downs in communication, misinterpreting social cues, or not being understood by management.
You realise that you are not to blame for your past. There was a reason all along, and you were not supported with specialised help to handle your behaviors or even understand them.
And this is by no means a dig at people that knew me. I mean, I myself wasn’t even aware of my own autistic tendencies until I graduated from university. And even then I never understood the extent of it, and even today I’m still coming to terms with who I am and why I am the way I am. My brain is different. There is not a piece of me that is missing, I don’t lack anything, I simply have a different way of thinking to neurotypical people. And that’s alright.
Being Autistic, or anywhere on the spectrum, is sometimes a gift. I am able to pay close attention to things others may overlook. I may notice when something is misplaced in my home, or when someone is acting differently than usual. I can pay close attention to my animals and notice differences in their behavior, and see when my plants need attention. Acting on these things is another issue, but I notice them.
I think Autism has given me a creativity that some neurotypical people lack, too. I’ve always been into the crafts, ever since I was a kid. I always joke about Bob Ross being my true dad because my mum watched him so much when she was pregnant with me. But joking aside I think being autistic has given me something that not many people have. And it’s that difference of understanding, that difference of thinking, that makes me who I am. My skills are what they are because I am autistic.
Let’s look at hyper-focus for a minute. For those that aren’t familiar with the jargon, hyper-focus is when someone on the spectrum almost obsesses over something. For example my hyper-focus right now is my art business. I want it to succeed, like anyone else might, but I will do almost anything to succeed. I attend every class that the Princes Trust offers to do with marketing, I try to stream as often as I can, I create and create and create even to my own detriment. I stay up late just trying to work and get things done, and I love what I do. But I burn myself out in the process. I work too hard on small things and avoid the bigger picture because if I don’t get the details right then what’s the point?
hyper-focus can be a Gods send or a curse, depending on how it grips you. In the past I’ve sat at my desk for hours on end and not moved to even go to the bathroom because I have been so laser focused on a task. I frequently forget to drink water and eat, to keep up my own hygiene or to remember that I’ve been sat in the same pajamas for 4 days straight. But it doesn’t matter to me when I’m focused, because all that matters is the task. This glorious thing that makes my brain happy, and gives me all the serotonin and dopamine I could ever want.
As someone who is now chasing an ADHD diagnosis as well, you’d think that hyper-focus and lack of focus would cancel each other out. But like divorced parents, one has me for the weekends and one has me for the week days. It’s a never ending cycle of being too focused to care about anything else, and too inattentive to care about anything at all. This is why I’m desperately trying to find medication, but the GP will not let me unless I have a formal ADHD diagnosis. And I can’t get that right now because I have to go through the ‘Right to Choose’ process, which involves printing off letters and tests and filling them out and handing them in to my doctor, and that requires attention and motivation, most of which I lack due to ADHD and Autism. So you see the cycle here? It’s a loop of I need to do this task, okay the task is broken down into these steps. I cannot do this step because I don’t have X. I need to do Z to get X. I do not have the emotional or mental energy to do Z. And so, whatever the task is, it doesn’t get done.
And I struggle with this in my art as well. As a self employed artist you’d think all I do is paint all day, sell it on a platform like Etsy or something, and make bank. But it’s not at all that simple.
I am the CEO of my own company. I am a sole trader, so I have no help. I am my own creator, social media liaison, communications expert, photographer, artist, advertising department, finance department, accounting department, cleaner, organizer, scheduler, website designer, assistant, and anything else you can think of. I do it by myself. Sure, I have help from others, for example I have a wonderful friend in website building that helped me create my own website. This means I can avoid Etsy fees if I were to use that platform, and gives me a space that is totally my own and completely unique to me. But this needs funding, and through his absolute generosity I’ve been able to pay a reduced amount for my website on a monthly cost. More help I receive may be in the form of my best friend and housemate, Zack, who helps me cut up things for bundles, or encourages me to go to the post office on days where I’d rather lie in bed, or reminds me of important meetings. But I still do all these things by myself. And that’s hard for anyone, neurodiverse or not.
But it’s possible.
I’ve been in business for a year and a half now, coming up to two years in September. I wouldn’t change this for the world, I fully intend for this to be my full time job. I will be attending craft fairs eventually and physically selling my products. I will expand my art work and my services to include business events and maybe even school sessions.
I have so many hopes and dreams for being an artist, and my diagnosis is only the first step. As soon as I have my ADHD diagnosis I will be seeking medication, and that could be a complete game changer for my entire life. Maybe I will finally stop dissociating through meetings, maybe my memory will improve, or maybe I’ll just be happier that I can finally focus without my mind racing. Whatever happens, it can only be good.
If you think you have symptoms of Autism or ADHD then don’t take no for an answer with your doctor. Ask for a referral, provide your symptoms list, take the online RAADS-R test. Show them what you are and who you are, and they have to listen. For more information about the right to choose act check out this link. It’s given me a new found confidence to source my ADHD diagnosis, and is far more simple than I thought it was.
Remember you are valid. Your experience is valid and your way of thinking is valid. We all need a little assistance from time to time.