I talk about it a lot, mention it in specificities and veiled vagueness, treat it both like the giant elephant in the room that I wonder if everyone can see as well as the obvious flag I’m flying, as sometimes it is both, sometimes it is all things. I am Autistic, and I structure that sentence and admission purposefully. I AM Autistic, as it’s part of my identity, it is a fundamental piece of who I am, and I am proud of this. I have always been proud of this, before I even knew what it was that made me inherently different from those around me, before I knew it had a name or a label or a diagnosis. I am Autistic, and I see myself as this, rather than a “person with Autism,” as I believe that an identity first point of view shows this pride, as I cannot separate the two, as I don’t think that Autism is something I have, like a disease or disorder, it’s something I AM, born-in and vital, and I would not be me without it. All this is to say, my name is Tyler Knott Gregson, and I am Autistic. Now, what the hell does that actually mean, what does that look like to those who do not spend their time with me, witnessing it, being part of it. I’ll do my best to explain, and in the meantime, my best buddy Ash Raymond James and I actually did a multi-part series on YouTube about specifically this, and my favorite episode was when we brought my wife and his girlfriend on to discuss their perspectives. Give it a watch below when you’ve the time. If you’re listening to this as a podcast, head over to TylerKnott.com and read this post and the video will be embedded. Anyway, onward.
To recycle a descriptive thought-experiment of a metaphor or mental picture I’ve used more than any other, I will describe it as such: Imagine a room with a disco ball, strobe lights, fog machines, and all 4 walls lined with powerful boomboxes. Each said boombox is turned to 11, each is on a different radio station, some remarkably clear, some hissing with the static of being off just a millimeter on the dial. (Wait, do radios still use dials or did I just announce how old I actually am?) They are all playing full volume, in fifty thousand voices, beats, news reports, songs you vaguely recognize, songs you’ve never heard before, all at the same time. While this is happening, the strobe lights and fog machines are pumping, there’s some strange device that’s constantly outputting odd and impossibly strong odors, and while this is happening, you’re being tickled, itched, and generally physically teased and assaulted every other second by your clothing, and any other outside influences. Oh and the temperature in the room is oscillating between freezing as the winds on the South Pole and hotter than the Devil’s diarrhea. Sometimes, hell, a LOT of the time, that is Autism. There’s a truth that most people hear and immediately feel like they need to hug me (please don’t unless you’re one of those I like hugs from), cry for me, or want to set up a GoFundMe to try to say “hey, I’m really sorry, but also so beyond psyched that’s not me.”
Sometimes, it is not this way. Sometimes, Autism is like the most beautiful slow-motion footage on a nature documentary, every tiny detail of every tiny thing on the planet shown in 8K clarity, slow enough to notice variations in light, in color, in sound, smell, taste, an explosion of every single beautiful thing that 98% of the planet is incapable of noticing. Sometimes, it’s language that flows through me as though gifted from Apollo, or some really creative witch that avoided the stake and flames. Sometimes, it’s feeling like you’ve ten thousand hands when you make love to someone you cherish, that you dissolve from what you are into what they are and don’t come back until the next morning. Sometimes it’s quite literally psychic tendencies, the ability to see through all the bullshit the world, people, and circumstances offer up and only seeing the truth, like x-ray, shining out from all the darkness. Sometimes, it’s passion that blows you up like pufferfish, protecting you, and probably poking everyone else around you with how LOUD passion can present itself. Ok that’s all the time, who am I kidding. Sometimes, it’s the most beautiful thing on the planet, and changes the entire planet with it.
In truth, it’s both. It is, when reduced down and simplified, the very best and the very worst, it’s the overload of every single sensory thing this marvel that is the human body can produce. This produces great art, great frustration, and great patience for those who choose to allow themselves to love me. I oscillate, I do, from light to dark, noise to silence, goofiness to quiet reflection. I notice, absolutely everything, absolutely all the time, things you might see, things you wouldn’t even if you dared yourself to try. One thing I know I do, and again am Proud of it, is that I go so far against the stereotype that most people have of Autism, in that I feel such empathy, ALL the time, that it consumes me. I feel what others feel, often before they even know they are feeling it. It seeps into me, and I absorb it and someone else’s burden becomes mine without wishing it to be so. I feel it sometimes on an aforementioned psychic level, often reaching out to those who are hurting, lost, afraid, or unsettled, from miles and miles away, without them ever uttering a word. I believe this is a thing, I know it to be one as it’s the only way I’ve ever been. So many hear Autism and they think of cold and distant individuals, incapable of perceiving and experiencing emotion both in themselves, and more chiefly, others. This could not be any further from the truth, this could not be any more distant from my reality. I feel everything, all the time, and that certainly includes the emotional states of every single human around me. What’s more, when I do feel this, the ‘radios’ of those people turn up even louder, and beyond just feeling their emotion, I feel every single reason why that emotion exists. It happens fast, almost in a Sherlock on BBC type montage in my mind, swirls of all the elements, all the little details, all the little pieces that make up that current emotion, however fleeting. Then, before I have a chance to understand, more stimuli finds its way to me, and the process begins again. Repeat this an infinite number of times, and you have one day in my mind.
Once again, hearing this may seem like the most ridiculous way to live a life, may seem overwhelming to the point of catatonia, but here’s the rub: It’s the only way I’ve ever known. Funny what ‘normal’ can become, funny what we can adapt to. I live in a constant state of noise, noise in every sense of the word. Every sense is turned to eleven, every moment is saturated to the point of overflowing with the muchness of this wild planet, the amazing people that fill it. My ‘normal’ is most people’s nightmare, and for me it is that sometimes too.
Point is, there’s no normal, it’s just majority rules after all. While I am not, and never will be neurotypical, a word so much better than normal when it comes to ASD, the truth is, I’d never want to be. Dry up the reservoir that is my Autism, and I would no longer be me. Without hesitation, I can say that being Autistic, is responsible for every single poem I have ever written, every essay, every photograph I’ve ever taken. It’s responsible for every relationship I cherish, every mile I’ve wandered, every single memory I’ve ever made. Take it away, medicate me to the point of neurotypical behavior, and I would be a shell of a man, a blind, deaf, mute, incapable of any perception, any empathy, any understanding of this world around me. No, I say, and say again and again, no.
Autism is a superpower, and I will argue anyone who says otherwise. The parameters the world has created for how to navigate a life might not agree, but fuck the parameters. Give me a life turned to eleven, even when it hurts, give me overload, even when it’s hard. I would so much rather live a life bombarded with the breathtaking and unbelievable beauty, light, decay, dark, joy, and sorrow, than float through the middle of all things, unaware of what an absolute miracle it is to be alive.
There is so much here, so much, and I feel so lucky to absorb it all.
My name is Tyler Knott Gregson, and I say again as proud as punch, I am Autistic.
Nice to meet you.
Turned to eleven,
then higher and further still.
This is where I Live.