Back in mid-September, when the autism hypothesis was still just a hypothesis and the notion of declaring myself to be autistic was still something I considered seriously wild, I did a little experiment. Part of me is a scientist, and it seemed that doing experiments would be a good way to test the hypothesis.
I play in an orchestra from time to time that holds its rehearsals over 2 weeks, a couple of nights each week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. I was playing in this orchestra in September, leading the viola section, just at the point where the autism hypothesis was getting really serious.
So I did a bit of experimentation, controlling for all but two variables as best I could. I’d had the same amount of rest, the traffic was similar, I’d eaten similarly As much as possible was the same, except for two things I decided to change in the second week.
Week 1 – I went to orchestra. I did everything exactly as usual. I behaved as usual, acting as I have done in such rehearsals for years. I got home from the rehearsal and everything was exactly as it has been for years when I get home from rehearsals. I walked into the flat, dropped my viola in the hallway, and then collapsed onto the sofa, feeling sick and exhausted. It took an hour or so to feel well enough to sit up and have supper. Exactly as normal.
Week 2 – I went to orchestra. The same orchestra. I changed two things about my behaviour. First, I consciously didn’t attempt to make any sort of eye contact with other people except when absolutely necessary for musical reasons. Secondly, at the tea break I went and fetched a cup of tea and took it off to a quiet corner by myself, and didn’t stay in the room where most people were congregated and chatting.
Then I drove home, the same drive, at the same time. I walked into the flat, took my viola into the bedroom and put it back in the place where it lives. I then went through to the sitting room and was able to sit upright on the sofa and open the post and very soon afterwards was well enough to eat supper.
It was dramatic. A significant difference. All I’d done differently was not looked at eyes and not stayed to chat in a noisy room, full of conversations, during tea break. But how I felt when I got home was very very different.
I found it hard to believe that looking at people’s eyes and chatting during tea breaks took so much energy. It seemed like such a crazy idea. But subsequent similar experiments have all produced similar results. I really had been using so much energy to do things that I’d regarded as absolutely normal for years and years.
Furthermore, I had tacitly assumed that other people also got home from rehearsals and social events in a similar state of collapse – and I now started to wonder whether this was actually the case. It had been my normal life for so long that I didn’t even question it. For years, when I’d told people that I was tired, they had told me that they got tired too, and I believed, therefore, that what I was experiencing was absolutely normal. It now seemed that maybe it wasn’t.
It was only just over a week after this experiment that I declared the autism hypothesis to be true. I had reached the point where the accumulated evidence was so compelling that it was impossible to ignore.
I’m still somewhat startled by it all.