Everything old is new again: my vocabulary transformation

Often, with a new Asperger’s/autism spectrum diagnosis/realization comes a transformation of vocabulary, too.  This definitely happened to me.  All of the old assumptions I had made about myself were now examined through a fresh new looking glass, and the terminology I used to describe various concepts and characteristics evolved accordingly.

What follows is sort of a “before-and-after”, regarding the various traits I had noticed throughout my life, and my experience with reshaping them into the Asperger’s/autism characteristics.  I’ve highlighted “old” terms/thoughts in red, and new replacement words/phrases in green.  Red doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”; it just means “old”.  And green doesn’t necessarily mean “good or better” (although it usually is); it just means “new”.  (Please let me know in the comments if that’s too overwhelming, confusing, or somehow annoying, and I’ll change the color to uniform black throughout; my goal is to help differentiate the terms in a way that’s easily visual, but if it poses an issue, I’m happy to change it!) 🙂

Previously (i.e., pre-Aspie-realization), I was well aware of my “quirks”, of which there were many.  Now I can express them more neutrally, and more specifically.  Instead of blaming myself for “being stuck in a rut“, “boring“, “anal retentive“, or “perfectionistic“, I can say that I have “a need for routine“.  Instead of being self-conscious when explaining my “super-picky scheduling rules” when it came to meeting with clientele, I can describe myself as “being anxious about meeting people“, also known as “social anxiety“.  The embarrassment and shame are gone.

Before realizing I was on the spectrum, I explained to (some) people that I would “dive in/dive down deep” or “hyper-focus“; now I realize that I’m “engaging in a special interest“.  There’s nothing wrong with “hyper-focus”, but I now know what motivates and fuels that desire.

As a child, some people might have observed me and noted that I was “obsessed” with certain things, like rocks, rainbows, and feathers.  In recent years, some people might claim that I’m “obsessed” with biochemistry, research, collecting music or individual research papers.  I’ve since realized that these are all “Special Interests” and that it’s not only OK, but also common, for people on the spectrum to have Special Interests and even collections of items related to those interests.  Yay!  I’m not weird after all.

It turns out that I wasn’t a “picky eater” after all; that would imply that I was simply spoiled and allowed to eat only my favorite foods, with no guidance, opportunities for exploration, or discipline.  Nope, I’ve since properly identified my “texture sensitivity“.

In med school, I struggled, often complaining about it being difficult to learn from “words on a page” which didn’t hold much meaning or significance for me.  I would much rather have been able to examine a picture or diagram, but alas, there weren’t many that I could access.  I was also painfully aware that I wouldn’t remember information given to me verbally, so I would hurry to scribble every word the professor said, in an attempt to create a complete written record for later, only to be met with the “meaningless words on a page” difficulty when studying at home.  I realize now that we, the spectrum people, have “difficulty forming a mental image“, especially from written or verbal information sources, and that we tend to “learn better visually” instead.

In recent years, I wondered why I needed frequent breaks (usually about 15-30 minutes every two to four hours), and thought that I A) might be shirking office duties; B) being lazy; C) being weak for not being able to muster more stamina for longer periods of time; D) ducking out to make myself unavailable; and/or E) escaping.  More recently (but still pre-diagnosis), I realized that I took these breaks when I had either A) been around people too long; B) been around one person for too long; C) been around too many people; or D) finished one task and was about to begin a new one, needing sort of a “reboot” in between.  I had realized that I was either “people’d out” and/or I needed extra time to “switch gears“.  However, this was yet another one of those “quirks” that I felt a little self-conscious about and almost felt that I needed to defend.  I knew I had to do this, but didn’t understand exactly why.  Now I know that the words for this are a need for “transition time” due to either “social fatigue” or (difficulty with) “task-switching“.

Speaking of feeling “people’d out” or having a strong desire to not be out anymore, I used to think that I was a “homebody“, a “recluse” or “antisocial“.  I’ve since realized that that’s not true at all.  I would like to have the energy/motivation to be more social, but I do get “socially fatigued“, “overwhelmed“, “overstimulated“, and I actually have a legitimate need to “recharge” in my “home sanctuary“.

All this time, I thought that I was simply “shy” or “introverted” and that if I really put my mind to it, I could overcome that.  The new replacement term is “socially awkward“.  Although less neutral than “introverted”, now that I know that it’s a hallmark characteristic of the autism spectrum, my former frustration about not being able to “just change it” has evaporated.  I don’t have to put pressure on myself to change something that I’ve since realized I have limited influence over, and I don’t have to criticize myself when I’m not successful.

Before, I thought that I was a control-freak for ordering my partner not to point when giving me driving directions.  I thought I was being excessively picky when I said, in exasperation, “don’t point!”  I have since learned that I “need specifics” instead, because I’ve always, without realizing it, “taken things more literally“.  I also know that I’m not a “hothead” or “Type A” driver behind the wheel; in fact, I’d rather be relaxed and more “Type B”.  But driving is also “overwhelming“, a “sensory overload“, leaving me feeling “overstimulated.”

I used to put myself down a lot (and others around me would do the same) because I thought I had “anger issues“.  I knew the truth: that I was not an angry person by nature, and I thought I was being given a bad rap, an unfair reputation.  I’m now familiar with concepts like “overstimulation“, “low tolerance for frustration“, “strong sense of justice“, “black and white logic or thinking in absolutes“, “sensory perception issues“, and even–if the situation gets dire enough–the “meltdown“.

I thought I was a “klutz” (“clumsy“) before; since finding out about my Aspie-ism, I know that a lot of us experience “dyspraxia“, or “impaired motor control“, or “an impaired sense of our body in space and time.”  I also know that that is part of “executive function” issues.  My former “procrastination” or “laziness” or “lack of initiative” also fell under the more-acceptable “executive function” umbrella, as did my previously-labeled “forgetfulness“, “airhead” reputation.

Poor hygiene” has never been an issue.  I like being clean.  But I clean myself differently, because of my newly-realized “water aversion” due to the “sensory overload” caused by the shower stream hitting my skin and the sensation of being wet, and I often forget due to the “executive function” issues and being “engaged in a special interest“.

Do I hate kids?  No, I’m not a “child-hater“, nor am I “abnormal“, “cold“, “heartless“, or “selfish” for not wanting children of my own.  Having children would, however, cause frequent “sensory overload” and with the “low tolerance for frustration“, this could lead to disaster.

I’m not weak when it comes to stress.  I’m not “over-sensitive” and I don’t need to “just get over it“.  I have “triggers“.  The result is not “voluntary“, “psychological“, or simply “behavioral“; it is involuntary and neurological.

Even in my late-3o’s, people observed that I was a “tomboy” who needed to “be more feminine/act more like a woman” by “dressing up more” or “wearing makeup“.  I’ve now realized that I have a “need for comfort” due to the ever-present “sensory perception” excess, as well as a legitimate “lack of desire to follow mainstream social norms“.  I can totally live with that.  People may have thought I was “ignorant” or “oblivious” or “uncultured“.  Rather, many autistic people don’t feel the need to fit in and operate based on allistic standards.

I thought I used to “turn off“, “go blank“, or “check out” when I had encountered a stressful situation, especially when it had affected me very personally.  I thought I was being a “wuss” because I would need to go off by myself.  I thought I was “too sensitive“, “overreactive“, or that I “took things too personally“.  Instead, “overstimulation“, “overwhelming“, and “higher baseline stress load” and thus a “lower tolerance for additional stress” also apply here, and now I’m also more versed in more accurate concepts like “shutdowns“.  This almost gives me the “permission” I need in order to take the time necessary to recharge after a particularly stressful situation.  Knowing that autistic people are more prone to anxiety almost makes me feel more comfortable.

To combat this stress, I thought I was engaging in simple “stress relief” like everybody else.  But autistic/Asperger’s people have a specific type of “stress relief” that is calming, therapeutic, and indeed necessary: “self-soothing“, a more specific type of which is “stimming“.

Again, red highlighting doesn’t necessarily indicate a negative connotation, although those words often have one.  Green-highlighted terms are usually an improvement, simply because they’re more acceptable and they actually describe more accurately what’s happening.  (And again, I can remove the red and green coloring if needed.)

Reality is based on actions, actions are based on thoughts, and thoughts are made of words.  I’ve learned to be really careful what I tell myself and how I phrase it.  Positivity, neutrality, or at least constructive criticism and proactivity are important, especially for those of us who have dealt with self-consciousness vs self-acceptance for most of our lives.  This is just a summary of some of the vocab transformation that has occurred during these early stages of my own journey, and hopefully this might help others as well! 🙂


  1. I started laughing while reading this, because it kept reminding me of something, and then I figured it out–it was reminding me of when I stole one of my brother’s books and read about Mao Zedong’s ‘four olds’ and ‘four news’ thing. And it just seemed like such a bizarre connection, but that’s my brain for you. *laughs* This really is a good post, though. Then again, I could say that about this whole blog–I keep reading things and going ‘Hey wait a second, that’s totally my life!’ (This post is also less likely to result in death than anything Mao came up with. Points for that.)

    Liked by 1 person

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