By Brigitte Shipman
In this week’s insightful episode, I interview Martin Silvertant, an award-winning graphic designer, co-founder, researcher, and blogger at Embrace Autism to talk about his personal journey of growing up with autism without knowing it and being diagnosed at 25.
Martin shares his story of how he had an inkling that he was different as a teenager. He knew he had a hard time relating to people before that but when he turned 12 it seemed that his awareness opened up to see how different he was from others. Before turning 12, life seemed like a movie that was playing, Martin recalls.
He remembers that their classmates were relating to each other in ways that were not intuitive to him at all and that confused him. He had to put in a lot of cognitive effort to know how to respond and to understand what was socially appropriate. He didn’t know anything about autism at the time but he knew he was different in some way.
When he was 19, he found a website that listed a long list of symptoms of Asperger Syndrome and he was absolutely shocked that the whole list described him exactly how he was. He was later officially diagnosed at 25.
He tells how he was more focused on concepts and activities than people and not wanting to have social interactions growing up. He explains that autistic people don’t get dopamine from social interactions like neurotypical individuals do but instead get dopamine from pursuing special interests.
He adds that spending a lot of time with friends would’ve caused a lot of exhaustion because he would’ve had to pay a lot of attention to what he should say and what he felt he was expected to do.
He recalls one of his birthdays where his parents thought he was not happy with the gift he received because he did not show a lot of excitement although in fact, he was happy with the gift. He realized that he did not show his emotions in the way that he was expected, and in order to please his parents, he learned to “act up” his emotions especially on birthdays. Oftentimes, he felt like he had to put up an act even with his parents.
He says that the biggest struggle he faced on this journey was not having a sense of belonging, feeling different, and feeling wrong. He beat himself up for that until he later realized that he’s not equally good at everything but his brain is specialized in some ways and he is good at other things.
As an adult, he now feels he is living more authentically because he has learned to seek out situations where he can be more authentic and has gotten more comfortable with being himself.
He attributes his creative talent to having great attention to detail which is common among autistic people. Focus on details keeps showing up in the work that he pursues and he keeps branching out into things that fascinate him.
He feels that his strength is his creative process and that he is able to generate ideas easily and make connections and have insight in subjects that a lot of people don’t necessarily do.
He also talks about why eye contact is difficult for autistic people and people with alexithymia (which is common in autistic people).
His advice to autistic adults is to be themselves since they often camouflage or mask themselves to fit in or to be liked.
Martin gives this advice to parents of autistic individuals: question your own assumptions to keep showing curiosity in your child and their cognitive process. Keep asking questions and keep showing interest in your child and engage in the activities that they’re interested in.
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