Living With Autism: Why Is It Different?

Sometimes, I wonder if I am seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world is seeing through theirs.


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It’s embarrassing when you tell someone you are on your way to meet them but then get caught up in your own world and completely forget about them–until two days later.

It’s embarrassing when you’re completely lost in the same small town you’ve lived in for the past five years because the road you usually take was blocked and you needed to turn down an unfamiliar street.

Aspie Writer, Adult Autism Is Embarrassing

Living with autism can create stress: there are difficulties that interfere with home and school life, friendship and romance, work and play, and even health.

But why?

Dr. Valerie Gaus, author of Living Well on the Spectrum, tackles this subject in her chapters on brain differences.

Two Sides Of One Coin

Dr. Gaus encourages you to see autism spectrum differences as both vulnerabilities and strengths.

When our differences cause ongoing stress in many ares of life, you can feel helpless, focused on the negatives.   However, in order to solve problems in your life, increasing your life satisfaction, you’ll need use a rational, objective approach.

Being objective, she suggests, means seeing your differences as both vulnerabilities and strengths.

Remember you have many human characteristics in common with other people.  All people in the world live with problems and stress.  And your life is not always filled with stress.

Furthermore, every person with autism has different challenges, since no two people on the spectrum are alike.

There are four major categories of differences autism can produce in your life:

  • thinking differences
  • social differences
  • emotional differences
  • sensory and movement differences

These differences can make you more vulnerable to the challenges and demands of daily life by taxing your “stress immune system.”


First, autism spectrum differences your differences cause you to experience the world different from most people around you.  As you experience life differently, you can interpret life differently and act differently than others, which can lead you to meet stressful events more often in your daily life than typical people.

Second, unless you deeply understand your differences, you may have fewer coping strategies available to you.  Without coping strategies, you’re left unsure about how to handle many types of problems and demands life imposes on you.

For example, when family members make noises at your home, whether it’s singing, chewing loudly, or scraping chairs, you may experience sensory overload and stress without much time to recuperate.

Thinking Differences

Input, Processing, and Output

Dr. Gaus uses the examples of finding your keys on the middle of your hallway floor at home to explain how human information processing works.

During the input stage, the brain receives input from sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, touch) and filters out irrelevant data; this is also called perception.

So as you walk into your hallways, and see the keys in the middle of the floor, your brain is able to filter out the wallpaper, floorbaords, or carpet; it chooses to focus on the keys, and not on those other items, so that the visual input of the keys is what gets through to the processing area of the brain.

During processing, the brain analyzes the picture of the keys, comparing it to the pictures of other images stored in memory.  From keys, to familiar keys, to my keys!  Your brain then recognizes that the keys aren’t by the hook on the door, where they usually are, and makes a guess that you dropped them there by accident.  Your brain may imagine that you’ll be frustrated looking for the keys on the hook in the future, so it makes a plan to pick up the keys and put them on the hook.

During output, you make a decision based on the data from input and processing.  You carry out the physical act of picking up the keys and putting them on the hook.

Here’s Dr. Gaus’ summary of the above:

The human brain is processing information all the time: this is called cognitive activity.

New information goes through three stages:  Input, Processing, and Output.

When all the stages run smoothly, the output is some action that helps a person adapt successfully to a situation– sometimes called adaptive behavior.

Dr. Gaus goes on to ask,

What if your brain…did not filter out irrelevant information and you did not even notice the keys on the floor?…did not identify the object on the floor as your set of keys?…did not think ahead about the consequences of not having the keys by the door?…did not make the plan to put keys back by the door?…did not keep your attention on the plan long enough to have you carry out the plan of putting the keys back in their place?

These operations of input, processing, and output work differently for people on the autism spectrum at any given time.  People on the autism spectrum tend to experience problems related to thinking differences in two categories: a) problems with management of information and b) problems with interpretation of information.

I’ll get into those specific categories in an upcoming post.

Aspie Writer ( illustrates how autism differences can create stress and embarrassment in her post, Adult Autism Is Embarrassing.  When you read her article, you’ll have a full understanding of how this all ties together.

I hope you gained a better understanding of why living with autism is different.  What’s your experience been?

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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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