Writing While Autistic

Yesterday, in the capstone course for my MA, our professor asked us to write about our relationship to writing: the good, the bad, where we write, how we write, etc.

My relationship to writing, like my relationship to everything else, is autistic. And it’s a complex relationship for that reason.

My autism came with a side of autistic hyperlexia, which many of the so-called “experts” call a “splinter” or “savant” skill. They don’t mean this approvingly. They mean that the hyperlexic’s ability to produce torrents of words is not the same thing as communicating, that we might be able to write but surely we have very little idea what we mean.

I’ve also been told that my hyperlexia is actually OCD, a compulsion that should be suppressed or redirected for the sake of my mental health. At one point I actually started writing a short story about a woman who goes insane following this very advice.

Writing is a compulsion for me, but not in the way one means when one talks about obsessive-compulsive disorders – although the difference can be hard to explain. It’s a need the way food, sleep, and exercise are needs: basic to my fundamental health. I don’t write to avoid feeling bad; I do it to feel well. I find an intense joy in it. When I have a migraine, I write basically non-stop for the duration of the migraine. Most of what I write makes no sense, but it doesn’t need to. It is the act of writing that provides relief.

Several of my classmates said they didn’t particularly like writing, but they liked having written. I find having written to be a major letdown. My first scholarly, peer-reviewed article was published recently; after I got done crowing about how my first scholarly article was published!, I actually felt hollow. During the holiday break, I filled a notebook with fanfiction nobody will ever read; now, a week later, I’m not even sure where I put that notebook, since I’m on to a new one.

I so love writing, and have so integrated it into my life, that the next part is even harder to explain: Despite loving writing, I also hate it.

I hate it because even though I produce words at an astonishing rate, I don’t think in words. I think in complex multidimensional structures that look like fractals (but aren’t always – I’m a humanities scholar, and humans are far messier and less predictable than fractals). Writing is, for me, a constant process of translation. I’m always turning those thought structures into words. And when I do, pieces are lost, because words are inherently limited and limiting. Limits frustrate me.

And so I live in a state of constant tension: I cannot not write; writing is always imprecise. Yet it is, most of the time, a tension without anxiety. It is the easiest “flow” state I know. Writing is the definition of eustress. So much for the experts’ “splinter skill.”

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4 thoughts on “Writing While Autistic

  1. Don’t you love all these experts? I’m sure eating and sleeping are obsessive compulsions of ours that should be treated as well. I also think many experts also have an obessive compulsion: attempting to make the nonexperts look stupid & defective.

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