The Advantage Of Autism And Personal Finance

Do you have a pattern oriented mind, or are you more firmly in the camp of social thinkers who instinctively know what to say or do?

In my early twenties, I was diagnosed with autism, on what was formerly known as the Asperger side of the spectrum. After years of feeling like an outsider everywhere, I finally had something to put my wondering mind at ease.

With the diagnosis came a peace of mind to not wonder why, oh why, I never seemed to be fully included in a group, and why I had to ask other people if x was feeling y when watching movies, while other people seemed to know instinctively. By not having to think about the “why?” any more, I was able to free up hours upon hours of mental energy.

Social interactions had to be practised and categorised in mental archives. Unpredictable or angry people make me anxious and afraid.

But along with a brain that we jokingly refer to as “running a different operating system”, came a range of advantages that help in our striving towards independence and happiness.

I will not use the words “high functioning” or “low functioning” to refer to autism in this post. Those were originally diagnostic tools for psychiatrists, and were never meant to leave the therapy room. Outside, they have become derogatory and unkind.

If you want a cute yet illustrative introduction to the many facets of autism, I can wholeheartedly recommend this comic by Rebecca Burgess.

Creatures Of Habit

While most people are creatures of habit on one way or another, I believe the case to be especially so with people on the spectrum. By and large, I prefer to go to bed and get up at the same time. I walk the same way to work every day, and I do the same things first thing once I arrive (fill my water bottle, go to the restroom, check my email).

But beyond daily routines, this also impacts our finances.

At this point, our expenses are pretty firmly entrenched. Although our grocery budget still has room for improvement, it doesn’t fluctuate a whole lot. When we shop, we bring a list, and it is more or less the same items we buy again and again, plus checking the reduced aisle.

I don’t even notice the soda or candy aisle any more, I am so used to just walking past it. Ask me where a particular deli meat is or a specific frozen dinner, and I’d be completely at a loss, but I can point you to the exact shelf and row they keep rolled oats or canned tomatoes in (unless they recently moved them). I know there’s a hairdresser in the same building, but it does not even occur to me to visit them.

If you’re a creature of habit too, embrace it! So many people seem to think that a successful life is filled to the brim with activities and action all the time. I’ve met plenty of people who find my life dull, while I get exhausted just hearing about their weekly routine.

Don’t be ashamed of it, it is a great tool on the path to financial independence!

Fair disclosure: This could also be a disadvantage if you’ve created a lot of expensive habits for yourself, such as donuts or coffee runs to compensate for a stressful job.

Resilience To Peer Pressure And Advertising

I don’t know if it is because of growing up as an outsider, or if there is some mental wiring that is just different, probably a mixture of both, but most other autistic people I’ve met share a blatant disregard for peer pressure and a resilience to advertising.

Sweater too old and unfashionable? Who cares, it’s comfortable.

Other/”cool” people drinking and smoking? So what? I would rather sit here and play my game/watch the clouds/enjoy x y or z. Plus, smoke stings my eyes and nose. No thank you.

I know people can learn this resilience to peer pressure and advertisement over time, but while autistic people might have to learn and train on social skills, we seem to be blessed with an ingrained shrug against people and a society that wants us to do something we do not want to.

Example: Our current (free!) couch has the three qualities we were looking for: It is comfortable, has a neutral colour and folds out to a double guest bed.

I have no idea what year it is from, what colour is in fashion this year, or if the shape is “so passé”. It has the three qualities we were looking for. The only reason I can foresee looking for a new couch is if/when this one breaks, or if we move and it doesn’t physically fit in our new living room.

Of course, this is not perfect, as we might get pressured into doing things we do not necessarily want by the people who are close to us.

But society at large, fashion, random celebrities or the “popular people”? Wholly uninteresting, and a great advantage on the path to frugality!

Sensory Overload

I know, I know. It might look weird to list this on a post about the advantages of a pattern oriented mind, but bear with me for just a moment.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar, sensory overload is when you get overwhelmed by how many signals your senses are sending your brain to process. Most people can filter out what they don’t need, but a lot of people can’t. Autism and ADHD are two conditions known for struggling with this.

Noise is a big one for me, but it can just as easily be visual, smell or touch. For an extroverted autist, this might be shown as aggression or “throwing a fit” in order to try to get control over their environment again, and to drown out what is overloading them.

To an introverted autist (hello!), I simply shut down. I cannot block out only the thing that is overloading me, so instead, I block out everything and retract into my own head. The more tired I already am, the more sensitive I am to a sensory overload. Over the years, I have learned to keep somewhat of a lid on it if I am out and about, but there is always a price to pay in the shape of extra downtime and exhaustion afterwards.

How on earth can that be an advantage then?

Well, on the surface I suppose it isn’t. But when you live with it, you naturally deviate to calmer, and often frugal alternatives for spending your time with less sensory input.

I can only enjoy a movie in the theatre if I bring ear buds to take the edge off the sound system. Crowded restaurants with bad acoustics are a challenge on the best of days. Forget about bars, dance scenes, almost anything with flashing lights, or the city during a particularly crowded Saturday. If I can’t hear my own thoughts, you can be sure I will suffer sensory overload pretty soon.

Instead, we enjoy movies at home where the volume is adjustable. We cook at home and go for walks in the forest. Our friends are the quiet sort, enjoying board games, cooking and crafting instead of loud shouting on the dance floor or video games with lots of violent blinking and flashing lights.

Once You Get It

You cannot go back.

Of course, all autistic people are different, and it is a very large spectrum to be making broad generalisations about.

But again, for those I have personally met myself, there is the general trend that once you get interested in something, you learn as much as you can about it. And once that happened to me, it was impossible to go back to how I treated personal finance prior to discovering the personal finance blogosphere and financial independence.

Ignorance doesn’t know any better. But wilful ignorance is a choice.

Of course, to a hyper-focused autist, this is not always positive to their finances or immediate family. You could catch an interest in birds or trains or video games or any other range of activities that does not further any sort of “goal”.

This is obviously my own, personal take on the matter. I never try to claim to be speaking for everyone or even some parts of the autistic community. These are only some of the factors I have noticed that helps me in my daily life.

Other people can display one or several of the same traits and still not be autistic. I think this might be especially the case in this blogosphere where optimisation is the name of the game.

Be Teachable

Many caregivers of autistic children are told that there is nothing they can do, their child will always be non-verbal or unresponsive. But in my experience, most people can be taught. Even if it takes a long, long time. The problem is if an autistic child is considered “unteachable”, and gets put in a box where no one tries to teach or understand them either. Under those conditions, who wouldn’t stagnate?

I am a big fan of the attitude that anything can be taught, what matters is that you stay teachable. Just ten years ago, you would not believe that I could reach a point where people refuse to believe me if I tell them I am autistic.

Pro-tip: Don’t do that. It has taken me over 20 years of hard work and tens of thousands of hours of observing and emulating human interactions to come to the point where I can pass as “normal” when I need to. I still fail at it from time to time. To gloss over all that effort and learning by not believing in it is dismissive and frustrating.

Ending The Stigma

Do you have, or know someone who has, conditions that are commonly considered a disadvantage? Have you found that there are actually certain advantages to it? Please share! We encourage a diverse and judgement-free space.

The advantage of autism and personal finance

 

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29 Comments on “The Advantage Of Autism And Personal Finance

  1. This is a great post, Frugasaurus! I have an autistic brother and a son who has “social pragmatic language disorder,” which I think of as a close cousin to Asperger’s. I absolutely loved the comic you linked to. I think that many of my son’s personality traits will make be conducive to sound financial practices when he grows up–not caring what people think, being very habit- and rule-oriented (I save X% of my income no matter what). Unfortunately for my brother, who has a severe math disability, managing money is very difficult for him, so he has to rely on my parents to do it for him. Is your partner autistic as well? Just curious. Thanks for bringing more light to the awesomeness of brains that process the world differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Laurie, I am glad it resonated! I am always a bit nervous to write about specific groups, just in case someone feels misrepresented, and autism is such a huge spectrum.

      Mr. E. is not autistic, but he does have ADHD. So we’re all about neurodiversity! 🙂

      Like

  2. This is a great post! So much of what’s written about autism is by doctors, but I think we can all benefit from paying more attention to what autistic people have to say about the experience.

    I was diagnosed with autism as a child, and then a few months later a different specialist disagreed with the original diagnosis, and my mother was so relieved to have her child declared “normal” that she decided the second doctor was obviously right, and never took me for a follow up to try to reconcile the conflicting opinions. She spent the next ten years on a mission to teach me to socialize and act ‘normal’. As an adult, I’m a good communicator and good at reading people’s body language and such. But socializing for me feels like the equivalent of running a very demanding computer program – I am constantly gathering data, running calculations, evaluating probabilities. It comes at a cost for me and it can be stressful because it often feels fake. I know what I’m supposed to say in most situations, and I generally do what is expected even though it can be demoralizing to put on a show, because I know that much of the time if I reacted in a natural way, it’d go poorly.

    To this day, I still don’t know my “real” diagnosis, if any, as I have never pursued the matter. I’m able to function and that’s enough for me. But whatever the reason, I am lucky that my brain is very good at memory and pattern recognition, and I take delight in learning systems of information. Foreign languages, for one, and numbers/finances. I find it genuinely fun to sit down and learn grammar or accounting rules. I’m good at keeping meticulous records and I find great comfort in having everything tracked and accounted for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks again for your awesome response! Having at one point temped in a school with a more severely autistic child who could not pass as normal, I know first hand how much prejudice and misunderstanding there can be about this condition, especially those who cannot speak for themselves.

      I grew up as a middle child, with both my siblings in need of various special attention, so they were just happy to have a quiet child who would rather solve puzzles or read in a corner as opposed to running around screaming inside the house. I can really relate to what you say about running a computer program. Especially if I am at work or with people I don’t know that well. I’ve heard different people on the spectrum vehemently agree that the advice “just act natural” really does not apply to them!

      I am happy to hear that you’ve found peace with however your brain work. Finding a space to thrive is the thing I have found to be most valuable, with the people you surround yourself with being the most important. I love to learn nitty gritty things too, but I am so bad at languages! I keep trying to learn one in addition to English and Norwegian, but I feel like I just can’t get fluent. Keeping track of finances/things though? Just ask Mr. E. 😉

      Like

  3. Wow Kristine! This must have been such a difficult post for you.

    I mean it as the highest compliment that in whatever time I have interacted with you, I never realised your struggles.

    This is one of the best perspectives I have read about PF till now. It’s beautifully and sensitively written. I also like the positive angle that you have put autism in.

    More power to you Kristine!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words, Aparna, I really appreciate it. 🙂

      I always debate whether or not to be open about these things. I still haven’t told anyone at work after almost a year, just because people don’t seem to believe me, or think I am trying to use it as an excuse. I think they just think I’m shy bordering on social anxiety. Or weird, but most everyone in academia has one quirk or another.

      Like

  4. Glad you’re sharing some not so shiny or easy subjects! It’s easy to share happy things, accomplishments and how to’s. But stuff like is a little more exposing but so important.

    I used to feel my shyness was a drawback. One I learned that it was a mix of shyness and social anxiety, I learned to cope with the latter so I can do what I like and learned that shyness or rather introversion isn’t bad. Sometimes it’s just a perspective change.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad to see so much positive response around it!

      Interesting you comment about social anxiety and perspective change. Understanding a thing really goes a long way towards dealing with it. 🙂

      Like

      • Understanding that I was dealing with two different things and what the difference was had the effect of making me feel ‘anchored’. It didn’t resolve anything but understanding gave me a sense of footing and awareness. Then I challenged it a little at a time. It was hard but I eventually got to a point where I felt I had enough balance and now happily exist with my introvert tendencies and feel no compulsion to change. It’s not always perfect but what is in life?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was much the same. Getting a diagnosis gave me a sense of closure, and I could finally start seeing some of my coping skills as just that – coping skills. Not just a person being difficult or silly. As you say, such is life. 🙂

        Like

  5. What a way to take something that’s normally seen as a disadvantage and turn it around and look at the positive side. I may need to start a list like this for looking at my hearing loss, because there have to be some upsides there as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kristine, thanks for being brave and writing this post! I love the way you’ve described neurodiversity as “running a different operating system” because it’s so true! We can’t change our brain wiring (in my case, my anxiety/depression) so we have to learn to work with it and use it to our advantage. Having anxiety sucks, but it was my money anxiety that finally pushed me to start caring about my finances. I love that you’ve taken so many things that could otherwise be seen as disadvantages and turned them into positive things!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I am so happy you like it! I learned the operating system analogy many years ago, and having worked on windows, macs and now linux/ubuntu, it just doesn’t stop being true! Anxiety stinks, but I am glad it spurred you to something positive!

      Like

  7. A topic I’ve been enjoying reading about is that the energy drain of small decisions, such as what to wear or to eat for breakfast, takes a deduction on the a person’s decision-making capacity for the day. For example, Steve Jobs would default to his trademark turtleneck because it was a no effort decision. Same for the Mark Zuckerberg t-shirts. I’ve also read that Barack Obama’s go to suits were simply blue or grey.
    I’m fairly confident I have low level OCD/anxiety, not formally diagnosed, but implied, in a mental health workshop – I guess hands inside the sleeves of the opposite arm sitting in a workshop is a thing. The instructor said something to me like, “you understand”. Sobeit, let me be me. Mostly it just affects me, and I make an effort where it does not just affect me, and recoup afterwards. I think any sort of challenge in life ultimately gives strength and empathy, although not perfectly, and not often on time.
    A blog that covers a lot of topics, but one of them minimizing choices to maximum effect, is zenhabits.net

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, decision fatigue can take so much energy out of your day!

      I am happy to hear that you are finding ways to deal with your life, and thank you for the blog suggestion!

      Like

  8. Thank you for your honesty in this post! I love reading about how autism can actually have advantages to your finances. I’m very close with someone who has autism and no one ever knows until he tells them. I think there are definitely times it really works to his advantage too in his personal life, even though there can be challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I am so glad it resonated! I think people often disregard the people with autism who don’t show it, because their image of autism is a child rocking back and forth with their head between their knees. Which is a legit manifestation of autism, but not all autistic people are like that.

      Like

  9. Kristine, your blog will soon be added to our Actually Autistic Blogs List (anautismobserver.wordpress.com). Please click on the “How do you want your blog listed?” link at the top of that site to customize your blog’s description.
    Thank you.
    Judy (An Autism Observer)

    Like

  10. Pingback: Today’s Best: Winning Women Who Money [3/30/2018] ~ WomenWhoMoney

  11. I have taken a great interest in Autism, even though I am not autism myself nor is anyone in my family. I’ve also read that Sensory Overload is a side effect of anxiety too. Great read thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: How Disableism Has Affected My Finances | Femme Frugality

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