Written Testimony by N.P. Saps
"Many neurotypical people assume they know the needs of a neurodivergent person better than ND people clearly expressing their needs because they are used to NT communication styles and read our body-language and speech cues as if they were NT expressions, thereby horribly misreading our intent and needs and ignoring them as a result."
Date of Submission: May 31, 2023
Written testimony by N.P. Saps, a person whose dedicated interests include the life sciences, animal figurines/effigies, rocks, crystals and minerals, linguistics and language/communications, reading, writing and poetry, and autism and abnormal psychology. They are a high school student based in Ohio. They became aware of their Autistic identity at age 14. N.P. Saps has Bipolar-2 Disorder, asthma, is queer and non-binary, and really likes fruit.
Tell me about your family background.
I lived in Northern Kentucky for the first twelve years and eight months of my life, before my parents separated, at which point I moved to Ohio with my two younger siblings and my mother. I have lived in Ohio ever since.
I have been raised primarily by my mother (though my father has had influence on my life), even before they divorced. My father has not been very active in my life, except as a power-figure to scare me into behaving and suppressing my emotions and issues. He has always worked a lot, and, in combination to him prioritizing my older sister and his sports hobby, has contributed to his absence in my life. My relationship with him (at least on my part) is strained, as he is manipulative.
My mother, having partaken in my life the most, has had a great impact on me. She has taught me everything I know about cleaning, cooking, and financial matters. I owe my love of knowledge and reading at least in part to her. So, despite our relationship being mildly strained (due to differences in fundamental beliefs), I am grateful to her for all she has done for me.
What were some of your favorite activities or interests growing up?
Reading and building with legos. Lately, I have taken up drawing and writing.
How did you typically make friends or socialize with others?
I didn't really. Being homeschooled, I never had much interactions with my peer group, so I never learned to socialize effectively with others until I moved to Ohio. When I did socialize, it was primarily through infodumping about my special interests.
What is school like for you?
I was homeschooled, so it was rather easy. I did school in the morning and then I did what I wanted in the afternoon. I have always done well in school.
How did you first learn about autism, and what was your reaction?
Okay, so, complicated story. My brother is also (undiagnosed) autistic. His autistic traits are more visible than mine, for several reasons (I have always been more of an internalizer, meaning I would just not express my needs and desires and feelings very well, so I ignored them, never expressing or understanding them. He has had more meltdowns throughout childhood than I have — mine only got recognizable as I have gotten older and had more responsibilities). Because of this, when I was around ten, I was like, “What is wrong with him?”* and promptly started researching autism. I read some of the signs and symptoms presented to me via the internet, and made the conclusion that he was, indeed, autistic. I promptly stopped researching because I felt that the signs and symptoms were too relatable for my comfort.
*I no longer think this way about autism, that was my perspective then.
Can you tell me about some of your earliest and/or most vivid memories and experiences that you now connect to your experience as an Autistic person?
When I was about five or six, I remember having a meltdown. I don’t remember much about the context, but I remember that I really, really needed to pee and I couldn’t and I had to leave and I was very overwhelmed.
People constantly called me weird and also very smart (both of these were because of my tendency to infodump). This is definitely related to persistent feelings of loneliness and monachopsis.
Never understanding why I was in trouble. Never understanding social rules. Never understanding gender or why it was important. Never understanding people. Never understanding why I wasn’t in control when it seemed like everyone else was.
Constantly organizing my food by color. Organizing toys. Organizing collections.
Can you describe any challenges or difficulties you faced before realizing you are Autistic?
Any and all body language and tone of voice prior to the age of twelve (when I started desperately trying to be human). Why weird was bad. Why I felt lonely. Why I liked things nobody else liked.
How did you cope with any difficulties you faced before you realized you are Autistic?
With my special interests. I used them for comfort and familiarity.
Can you share some of your experiences with sensory processing before knowing you are Autistic?
Generally, feeling forced to give affectionate touch to family members and adults, even though it made me uncomfortable. I didn’t have MANY issues before I started socializing and having social demands. I have always been selective about food texture. I tended to prefer lower lighting or non-overhead lighting. I wore clothes based on the level of sensory comfort they gave me. I stimmed a lot by pacing and chewing on things and climbing and running and knuckle cracking.
At what age did you realize you are Autistic?
Age fourteen. I made a friend who is autistic and began researching autism. Promptly realized, “Hey, this reminds me of me!”
Tell me about your experience coming to the realization that you are Autistic. What was that like for you?
Gradual. Mainly clicked into place when I started understanding my emotions more. Having changed my earlier mindset regarding disability, it didn’t seem that inherently bad, once I had come to understand it.
The saying is that if you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person. Tell us about your Autistic profile/flavor.
I have written an extensive document on this, which I will link here.
Now that you have this understanding about yourself, how would you say your Autistic identity has intersected with other of your identities (e.g. gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, other disabilities, etc.) over the course of your life?
I would say it has shaped my perception of gender and sexuality the most, mostly with how it interacts with understanding of social norms, and also the fact that I don’t care about social norms very much.
When many Autistic people realize they are Autistic, they learn about masking and realize that for much of their life, they have, often unconsciously, masked their Autistic traits. Was that an experience you had?
Yes. I came to realize they were making people dislike me MORE, despite them existing for me to please others. I hated myself and other people disliked me too. I feel much freer now that I have begun the unmasking process, and I really feel like my relationships are deepening and flourishing.
What changes (if any) did you make in your life after realizing you are Autistic?
I started lending myself and others more compassion and patience. I began to understand more about myself and the people around me. I began to be more confident and sure in myself and my identity. I began to understand the state of the systems we live under.
Did you share your newfound realization with family and friends? If so, how did they react? If not, why not?
I shared it with one friend in person. They were not surprised in the slightest.
Can you share a little about your current employment?
I work at a local Mexican restaurant, washing dishes. I get paid fairly well in my opinion, considering I am an inexperienced teenager. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but I’ve been making sure to give myself rest and understand my boundaries and how they relate to the workplace. It is definitely draining, but I enjoy working there.
Did you disclose your Autistic identity with your employer?
No, I do not have a professional diagnosis, so it would in no way be useful for me (because I cannot receive any sort of legal accommodations without a diagnosis). Also, I do not know their attitudes towards disability.
Can you talk about any accommodations or modifications that have been helpful to you in school or in the workplace?
Mostly, it is just giving myself time to rest when I am not working, as well as adjusting my expectations for myself.
Tell me about your relationships with family, friends, and/or romantic partners. How do they relate to and understand your Autistic identity?
They don’t, as I have not shared it with them. For visible autistic traits (e.g. good memory, infodumping, sensory issues) it’s mostly just considered part of who I am (because it is), instead of as a diagnosis that is attached to me. I think I prefer it that way, for now.
Tell me about your living space. How does it reflect your Autistic identity?
It is very organized, so it is easy to process. It is also filled with special interest stuff and things that bring me comfort.
Have you had dedicated interests over your lifetime? If so, what are they and how do they bring you joy?
I have divided my special interests into three broad categories: collection-based special interest, knowledge-based special interest, and mixed collection/knowledge-based special interest. I will have the type listed next to the interest as well as whether or not it is still a large part of my life (a.k.a whether or not I still remember much of the knowledge I learned or any of the items I collected).
1. Life sciences, mainly biology, especially mammalogy and botany. Human biology is cool too. (Knowledge-based, relevant. I will be going into either wildlife biology or nursing because of this)
2. Animal figurines/effigies, especially birds and origami animals I have folded. (Collection-based)
3. Rocks, crystals, and minerals. (Collection-based)
4. Linguistics and language/communications. (Mixed collection/knowledge-based. Not as relevant but I still “collect” any language I can pick up when exposed to a non-English language. I still have retained some of my knowledge, and I still enjoy constructing languages)
5. Legos, minecraft, and anything with wheels are all irrelevant special interests from when I was age twelve and below. I do not have the collection or knowledge I used to have. (Mixed collection/knowledge-based)
6. Writing, reading, and poetry. (Mixed collection/knowledge-based, practice-based. Relevant)
7. Autism and abnormal psychology. (Knowledge-based. Relevant)
Can you tell me about any particular strengths or skills you feel you have as an Autistic person?
I have a good memory for things I am passionate about. I am a very determined person. I am a loyal, hard-working person. I am a curious person.
What have you learned about your communication differences as an Autistic person?
NEUROTYPICAL PEOPLE TRY TO READ SIGNALS AND INTENT THAT ISN'T THERE INSTEAD OF WHAT I DELIBERATELY COMMUNICATE. Also, many neurotypical people assume they know the needs of a neurodivergent person better than ND people clearly expressing their needs because they are used to NT communication styles and read our body-language and speech cues as if they were NT expressions, thereby horribly misreading our intent and needs and ignoring them as a result.
What have you learned about your sensory profile as an Autistic person?
I have learned about how my sensory processing differences affect socialization and my lifestyle.
How have you learned to cope with sensory overload or other sensory issues that are common among Autistic people?
Stimming, taking a break from overwhelming social situations, and engaging in special interests.
How does structure and routine play a role in your life?
I like structure and routine, but unless I am very stressed, I don’t NEED it like other autistic people I know. If a plan is changed without enough notice, I will get stressed, though.
Tell me about your experiences with meltdowns, shutdowns and/or Autistic burnout.
Generally, they look like panic attacks. They happen when my brain processing gets too far behind, like when a computer overheats and explodes because there is too much happening.
Have you ever encountered discrimination, microaggressions or stigma as an Autistic person? Can you describe some of those experiences?
Any time people make autistic traits or experiences (of myself or others, fictional or real) the punchline of a joke. One time, this girl just started talking about how all autistic people are dumb, and that made me angry.
How have your relationships with healthcare professionals been affected by being Autistic?
I would say not much. I’ve always had good, compassionate care. I just don’t like when they make jokes, though. I want to get the visit over with.
How has your perspective on the world and on social norms been shaped by being Autistic?
Hugely. I probably have nearly all of the values I do because of being autistic.
How do you feel about the ways that autism is represented in popular culture and in the media?
Generally, negative. There is so little respect for autistic-coded people and the disrespect and ableism is so normalized.
What do you wish more people knew about autism?
The way we process emotions, don’t touch people when they are having a meltdown, don’t bully people for being different.
What changes in the world would make living in this world more comfortable for you?
Less background music, dimmer lights, less stigma around ear-defenders.
How has your understanding of your own autism changed over time, and what has influenced that understanding?
It’s gone from, “I am ignoring this,” to, “I am proud of this.” This is because, as I learned about and talked to autistic people, I came to a greater understanding of autism.
Can you describe any specific goals or aspirations you have for the future, and how your autism may play a role in achieving those goals?
I plan on becoming involved in environmental justice and preservation of mollusks, and my autism will allow me to have the drive and work-ethic to achieve this.