(Continuing from Pt1) When I look back at my own journey into health and fitness I can see a lot of similar trends. Finding my way into the Paleo diet which is a very controlling exclusionary eating lifestyle, then engulfing myself in Crossfit an extremely high-intensity style of training before finding my next special interest in Weightlifting. Pursuing excellence in these things gave me socially acceptable reasons to have a very inflexible schedule, a strict diet where it made sense to eat the same foods week to week, and reasons I couldn’t focus on work that disinterested me or make time for family/friend events. They were all socially acceptable hyper-fixations or special interests because they were seen as productive.
In chapter 5 Rethinking Autism, Price talks about how learning about our special interests as Autistic individuals is rejuvenating and stimulating. “In studies that examine the lives of autistic adults engaging with special interests is positively associated with subjective well-being. When we get to appreciate our hyper-fixations we feel happier and more satisfied with life. But for a long time, neurotypical researchers viewed special interests as an impediment to having a regular life.”
This highlights that special interests are not weighed the same. Special interests that conform to societal expectations whether that is generating achievements, devoting yourself to religion, being hyper-feminine as a woman or hyper-masculine as a male, accumulating wealth, or developing social capital are celebrated. The author uses the example that people who work 80 hour work weeks aren’t penalized for being obsessive but rather celebrated for their discipline and work ethic. The same can be said for some athletes that choose to train 7 days a week even if 4-5 would reap them better results. However if someone were to devote their time to something that is pleasure seeking and doesn’t financially benefit anyone it is seen as frivolous or even selfish the author points out. This makes sense considering we live in a society that celebrates growth and productivity and sacrifice over rest or enjoyment. This can often push people with autism into burnout.
When we try to escape from the fact that we have a disability or occupy a marginalized position that is when our masking is the most intense and where we run into the wall where our expectations outweigh our abilities to meet those expectations. The fear of being seen as apathetic, lazy, or disabled is the driver for overcompensation. This overcompensation can be impulsive because it is motivated by anxiety. An athlete or fitfluencer that is autistic is particularly susceptible to substance abuse, extreme dieting or other high-risk high reward behavior because of that, Especially when there are other areas in their life that they feel like they’re failing in or if the behavior is socially rewarded by a coach, followers or peers.
To end this two-part article I want to express my thanks to the author Devon Price. This book has been extremely healing for me and I would highly recommend giving it a read if this article was interesting to you. A brief reminder that autism is experienced on a spectrum and those that are neurodiverse are far from being monolithic. I really hope this series was informative to you and brought an original perspective that sparks your own thoughts and theories.