Today is International Asexuality Day during Autism Awareness Month. I don’t know if there’s a day for ADHD, but ADHD is a common co-diagnosis for autistic people so I’m including it. Plus, I got to have three As in the title and there’s a nice symmetry to groups of three.
You might be aware of this tendency for autistics to enjoy patterns. When I was younger I noticed it more with numbers. A pattern of numbers can either click, which allows me to memorize them easily, or they don’t. The experience is very similar to listening to a harmonic or dissonant chord in music. Since becoming a writer I’ve noticed words are similar. I’ll write something ‘good enough’, but it will remain off until I find just the right wording. Then that dissonance resolves inside me. It is a visceral experience, both with numbers and words.
Hyperfocus is a trait prevalent within autism and ADHD. I know, ADHD? While ADHD is marked by an inability to focus, hyperfocus is also common. It’s a matter of extremes where we either can’t focus or can’t not focus. Coupling autism with ADHD makes hyperfocus an interesting experience. I can hyperfocus and still jump from thing to thing. When it works, it’s a superpower. When it doesn’t, it’s a source of frustration and stress. This is true of most aspects of autism and ADHD. Frustration or superpower depends on how well my brain is working that day.
Going back to my point about visceral experiences, interrupting me while I’m focused is physically painful. The more focused I am, the more painful the interruption. There are times when I literally recoil in pain, it can be that intense. Add to that my fear of losing my train of thought because ADHD messes with our short term memory, and interruptions are the worst!
I don’t think I’ve experienced hyperfocus nearly as much as when I began writing. I’ve often said I have to write because I feel off if I don’t. It’s true. I’m unsettled if I don’t get to work on something. Thankfully I can satisfy this need by writing notes on an idea. Again, it’s a visceral experience of feeling settled. That same feeling is my compass as I write. It allows me to intuitively write reasonably well crafted stories despite my lack of formal training. That said, my autistic brain dove head first into researching the craft of writing once I realized I was going to write a book, allowing me to fill in the education gap.
My neurology can be challenging. Hell, it’s challenging at some point daily. But what is often missed is the benefits. Autism has made it hard for me to understand people. They are illogical and confusing and often act against their best interests. In trying to understand them, and myself, I’ve learned a lot which allows me to create characters with nuance and depth, though it takes work. ADHD makes it impossible for me to focus on just one thing. I have more interests and hobbies than I know what to do with. But that means I have loads of hobbies and interests to give my characters! And where others struggle with motivation or writers block, I don’t. I may not write as easily some days, but I can always work on something
Now let’s throw asexuality into the mix. Most people don’t realize this, but a 2018 study showed that 70% of autistic individuals report being LGBTQ+. Autistics are 6 times more likely to be gender variant, whether that’s transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming. This is why we in the queer community are more likely to know autistic people.
I don’t have the statistics on asexuality within the autism community, but it’s common enough to be included in the FAQ of asexuality websites. I’m not going to try to figure out why asexulity is more common in the autism community, but instead talk about how it all works together for me specifically, and then how that impacts my writing.
I’m touch averse. I’m not totally against it, but I’d rather not be touched and touching others isn’t natural for me. Especially if I’m hyperfocused. Then I really, really hate to be touched. Again, it’s physically painful, but now it’s an external pain coupled with an internal pain. Touch is easier when I expect it. I worried this would be a problem having a child, but thankfully I not only tolerate her touch, but actively seek it out. She is the only exception in my life, and probably because I birthed her.
If you’re thinking, there’s no way I could be with someone who doesn’t like to be touched, now you know what makes relationships stressful, and why I didn’t make Ash touch averse in Rising from Ash. It’s hard enough to get people to open their minds to a relationship with an asexual person. Adding in touch aversion is something I don’t know how to handle in fiction because I’m still figuring it out in my life.
But back to asexuality. Touch aversion is an autistic trait. It does not make a person asexual. To be clear, asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction, which is different from sexual desire. I genuinely struggle to remember a time when I’ve had sexual attraction, it is that rare. I’ve had plenty of sexual desire, but my asexuality coupled with touch aversion means I’d rather take care of things myself than deal with the complications of sex with another person. There are other complicated sensory issues that I don’t have words for. Basically, I don’t know where autism stops and asexuality starts. And I’m not sure that it matters.
My neurology impacts sexuality in other ways. I suspect my propensity for hyperfocus means I just don’t think about sex very often. I’m not aware of it until I can disconnect from the 20 other things I’m thinking about at any moment. Spontaneous sex is not a thing in my world because I can’t shift gears that way. I’m in awe of people who can.
I’m lucky to have been in a relationship with my wife for more than 21 years. We’ve learned a lot of compromise, which I drew on for Rising from Ash. I work on my touch aversion to give her what she needs. And she doesn’t push me when I just can’t handle something. But there’s also a drawback. All of my experiences with dating and sex outside this relationship are from a long time ago. That means my research is reading a lot of lesbian romance!
So how does all of this neurological diversity result in my books which are predominantly about neurotypical and allosexual characters? Often it is a mystery to me. I read a lot in order to understand what is normal for other people. I also talk to people about their experiences. Then I let my brain do its thing, which involves distilling the research into unique characters and stories.
When I first had the idea for Dal Segno, I wrote Cam as autistic because I had to. I had no clue how to write a neurotypical character’s inner thoughts because I don’t know what they are. At the same time, I knew that I hadn’t read a character that matched my experience with autism. Writing purely from Cam’s perspective solved two problems. I didn’t need to share Laura’s inner thoughts and I could give people a more direct experience of autism by only providing Cam’s perspective. You don’t get a break from Cam’s questions and concerns because I don’t get a break from them in my life.
This got more interesting as I wrote Cam’s early life in Marine Awakening. Thinking back to who I was at 20, before I knew I was autistic, when I was trying so hard to fit in while also trying so hard not to be seen, was enlightening. My life was far more dysfunctional than Cam’s, so it was also cathartic to imagine that time going differently.
Having written Cam pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis, I wanted to explore what it would be like for Cam to realize she’s autistic. For me, that’s the most important part of Marine Discovery. I found myself becoming deeply emotional as I researched the process and read the diagnostic criteria. So little of it actually reflects what life is like for autistic people! Cam’s rant came directly from my reaction to the hoops autistic people have to jump through to have their neurology recognized.
A common element I included in the Marine’s Heart series is giving Cam partners who accepted her and worked with her needs. I’ve been blessed to have people in my life who support me. For most of our relationship, neither my wife nor I knew I was autistic, ADHD, or asexual. Knowing these things helps a lot, but we found a way forward. Yes, there were many times when I frustrated the hell out of her. But she seemed to understand that I couldn’t help who I was.
Based on the statistics I shared earlier, a lot of LGBTQ people are in relationships with neurodivergent people, many of whom probably don’t know they are. It’s common for women and girls to go undiagnosed, with autism and ADHD, because the symptoms present differently than in most boys. My hope is by reading my books (and others) that you’ll be able to understand your loved ones better. Or yourself. Also, learn from other autistics. Twitter is a wealth of knowledge. Reading threads about autism combined with ADHD is actually how I realized I had ADHD.
There’s a reason why all of this is important. Autistics are known to mask, which means to hide their autistic traits to appear neurotypical. It’s exhausting and often quite harmful to our mental health. Understanding our ticks and quirks and accepting them without judgment means we can just be instead of fighting our nature all the time. It’s such a relief!
Not everyone can be open like I am. It took me years of learning about autism to be able to claim it. It took a bunch more research and an ADHD diagnosis to fully understand my neurology. Being a part of each community, autism, ADHD, and asexuality, helped me see that they are all linked in ways I hope we’ll understand someday. All are natural. All have their benefits as well as their drawbacks. And all of us are unique. Don’t count someone out just because they are autistic, or asexual, or have ADHD. Maybe you won’t be compatible, but you won’t know if you assume.
Thank you for reading! I’m always open to questions. If you haven’t already read all of my books, I hope you’ll consider them. Fiction is often a more enjoyable way to learn about these topics.