10 January 2015
2001: A Space Oddity
“Alien to our gender, to our culture… and to our species?” (Simone, 64) It is a lonely and alienating experience to be on the autistic spectrum, as if one is seen by others as a “Space Oddity”. David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” depicts what it’s like to feel estranged from society, which is a common experience for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome, such as myself. Sometimes when I tell people that I have Asperger’s, they ask me what it’s like to have the disorder. It is not an easy question to answer, because this is the only way of life I have known. This is my “normal”, and I feel like me. The best way to go about answering this question in a way that satisfies the person asking is to describe where I see others as different from me.
“Your circuit’s dead / There’s something wrong”
Non-autistic people usually see these differences as problems that should be fixed, as if these differences are wrong. The truth is that many people with autism and other disabilities do not want to be cured. Although I have felt lonely and have had difficulties, I have never felt that I was broken and in need of repair. I appreciate being different, knowing that I can bring a different perspective to the world. These differences are mostly social for me, with a few things affecting my ability to perform in school and in the workplace. Sarcasm and jokes are things I am unlikely to understand, as I’ve realized when peers have laughed at me for not naturally understanding that they were not being serious. My mind typically works in a literal way, so it can be difficult to remember that other people’s minds work differently than mine and that they will use different wording and styles when expressing their thoughts. They often say things that have different meanings from the literal sense of the words, or they expect what they were meaning to be inferred. This is hard for me to follow.
This difficulty of “reading between the lines” can translate into my work. In English classes, when we are expected to read literature and understand the symbolism and metaphors being used, I typically don’t detect the metaphor at all. When the metaphor is pointed out to me, and I try to think about what is being referred to, my interpretation tends to be off; I can understand something in a way that is not wrong but is also not accurate. I also struggle in my ability to interpret and express body language. I have had someone say to me that when looking into my eyes, he feels like I can read into the inner depths of his heart, but he cannot interpret me. It was the first time I realized that I might appear reserved and intimidating to other people because they cannot understand my facial expressions. And here I thought it was just me who couldn’t understand theirs.
“For here / Am I sitting in a tin can / Far above the world”
I feel like I have this disconnect between my mind and my body, or rather my inner self and the outside world. I imagine that my true self is inside my head looking through a window, trying to interpret those on the outside. It feels as if I am not of the world, but somehow in it. My body seems like just a tool that I use to try and gather information in the world around me. My body can still feel physical sensations, both comfortable and uncomfortable. Hugs, itchy clothes, certain sounds, mixed food textures, and certain visual patterns, are all outer sources of uncomfortable sensations and can be sources of stress and anxiety.
When I feel uncomfortable, it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate and function properly. Such discomfort can lead to emotional strain, which can be expressed as self-stimulatory behavior, known as “stimming” in the autistic community, or a meltdown at the most extreme. When I was uncomfortable or anxious as a child, I would hide myself under my desk, which was seen as inappropriate and distracting behavior. I was eventually given the accommodation to excuse myself to a secluded room whenever I felt uncomfortable or anxious until I felt that I was stable again. These days, I am better at overcoming situations where I feel uncomfortable, and only rarely need to excuse myself or get help when in those situations.
“Planet Earth is blue / And there’s nothing I can do”
In a world that doesn’t make sense to most autistic people, trying to have a sense of control over all aspects of their life compensates for their inability to understand and communicate with people and the world at large. Anything that alters their routine is a source of stress. I tend to be better at allowing disruption of my routine than others on the spectrum, but there are times where I get frustrated when things don’t go my way, and I become anxious or stubborn to the point where the issue takes over my day. For example, I plan to leave for classes in the morning with ample time so that I can comfortably get to classes on time, allotting for about half an hour. However, if I leave five or ten minutes later than the time I wanted to leave, it makes me anxious. I forget that I had made sure I had enough time to get to class even if I was that late leaving for school, but I still treat leaving at those times as if I were going to be late, causing me stress.
“Can you hear me, Major Tom?”
The barrier in communication between an autistic person and a non-autistic person causes a lot of the loneliness that a person with autism feels. It means a lot when someone tries to understand me, but it means even more when they actually do. I may not always be great at expressing my feelings with my spoken words, due to misunderstandings on both sides, so I try to find the best way to communicate my thoughts and feelings. However, that difference and barrier will always be there, and it would help if others would try and pass through the barrier as well.
Most people in the world want connections with others. We have been taught that the best way to attract others is to act in a typical fashion, which does not come naturally to those with ASD. Autistic people are typically no different when it comes to wanting love and connections with others, although those emotions may be expressed differently. It is still the same desired feeling. It is what makes us still human, and not a “Space Oddity.”
Bowie, David. Space Oddity. David Bowie. Gus Dudgeon, 1969. Vinyl recording.
Simone, Rudy. Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2010. Print.