Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Am I Autistic Yet?” I’m about to, in This Week’s episode of the Carl King Show. Understanding is useful, so here we go.
Support this Show on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/carlking
Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Spotify
SHOW NOTES / LINKS
Morgan Foley – my favorite Autistic social media person.
Dr. Crystal Lee, Psychologist
CARL KING THE HUMAN UPDATE
Very Good Friends of Carl King, before we get started, I want to admit that I overlooked the 1-YEAR-ANNIVERSARY of this show.
I re-launched this whole thing barely over a year ago, on 7/7/22, with Episode 18. That one was called “How To Sell A F#@!ing Audio Book, Holy Mountain, and Titane.” I would probably cringe listening back to it.
I know it was unfocused, mostly improvised, and I had no actual structure for organizing my thoughts. But I committed to simply DO IT and learn along the way like I do with everything. And it’s evolved and changed quite a bit!
I’ve never stuck to a single project/process for this long. The weekly thinking and writing, which is a process of organizing my thoughts clearly, is paying off. I’ve learned a lot.
That makes this the 50TH EPISODE since the relaunch. So congratulations to me, and to you, for making it all happen.
Now. Coincidentally, This episode is going to be one very LONG Carl King The Human Update. Because for once, it’s about Carl King, The Human. No film, no music, no creativity. Instead, I am going to talk about my experiences, with what I believe to be AUTISM.
Now, I’m not officially diagnosed, but I’m looking into that. And I am making this episode for 3 reasons. First, to clarify and collect all my thoughts on it – for my own understanding. Second, it might be helpful during a diagnosis. Third, maybe it will help others understand me. And themselves.
Now here’s the tricky part. I believe I have two separate things going on that are intertwined. PTSD and Autism. So it’s hard to pull them apart and look at them separately. I’ve been in PTSD therapy for years, and that could be its own episode of the show. So today, I want to TRY to focus on what I THINK are my Autistic Traits.
Now what is my history with this, and why am I talking about it now? First of all, I suspect both of these things — some form of autism — and PTSD run in my family. I won’t go into those details here. But from what I know, there is a genetic component to both.
Second… Back in 2006, someone tried to warn me that I had “Asperger’s Syndrome.” I wasn’t ready to hear that, because hey, I’m not weird, I’m GIFTED. There’s no way the problem could be ME. My social issues are because of OTHER PEOPLE and their problems. And the name itself made me cringe. Ass Burgers? A person with burgers in their ass?
Years ago, when I suggested to a friend that I might have “Ass Burgers Syndrome,” he laughed and said, “Yo, you got a burger in your butt?” Deep down, I knew there was some truth to it. But there’s no way I could stand having the label Ass Burgers.
The good news is, the term Asperger’s has since been phased out. It’s no longer its own thing, so people with Ass Burgers are now technically included in plain-old Autism.
Third, this might seem suspect, but I started taking this topic seriously just a few months ago, thanks to the TikTok algorithm. Once I began scrolling, it didn’t take long for it to feed me an avalanche of Autism videos. And the more I saw people sharing their personal experiences and diagnosis, I went, OK, FINE.
It’s surprising to hear how many people had the same experience — of the algorithm detecting their autism before they did. And their “coming out” makes me feel safer doing the same.
Fourth, Autism describes a collection of my traits in a way that nothing else does. It connects a lot of dots for me. Personally, it’s a bit of a relief.
Fifth, in what ways am I “normal?” Well, I’m normal in most ways. If you look at the human race from a bigger perspective, maybe from outer space, we’re mostly the same. Far more than we are different. We like to notice the differences, but there aren’t that many.
I try to remember that these labels of “Neurotypes” don’t entirely define us. So as we think about this topic, don’t get caught up in false binaries and all-or-nothing absolutes.
FEAR ABOUT DOING THIS
Now here are some fears I have about making this episode:
1 – The fear that my friends and family won’t believe me. I imagine they’ll say, “Carl, you’re only being dramatic and neurotic and thinking something is wrong with you when there’s not. First, the veganism, then the PTSD, and now this Autism stuff? Why are you always trying to be WEIRD?”
2 – The fear of clients, employers, or collaborators thinking I might be incompetent or dangerous because of the cliches attached to autism. Like, “Oh, he’s autistic? I don’t want to deal with that.” And that’s unfortunate, because not only am I an extremely productive workaholic, I’ve had the same day job for 15 years, as the lead video producer for a multi-million-dollar company.
That’s all to say, I’ve helped make other people a lot of money. And on a personal level, I worry: will people avoid me or not want to be my friend? Well, the word Autism can mean so many things because there are so many flavors of Autism.
3 – This is a long shot and probably paranoia: But I fear that if someday I’m accused of a crime, are people more likely to think I’m guilty because they don’t understand neurodivergent people?
With the number of times I’ve been blamed for things I didn’t do simply because I’m “different,” — this is a valid concern. So who knows, maybe my fear will take over, and I’ll delete this episode.
THREE MORE THINGS TO KNOW
Now here are three more things to know before we get started.
1 – The necessary disclaimer: I’m no expert on autism. Don’t look to some guy on social media for scientific information. I’m a person sharing their experiences.
2 – There’s a term you’ve probably heard: “On The Spectrum.” I think there might be a misunderstanding there. According to Dr. Crystal Lee, a psychologist in Los Angeles, Autism is not a single linear dimension from left to right — from 0% Autistic to 100% Autistic.
It’s more like 8 different dimensions. (Show the flower shape graphic with multiple dimensions.) Social Skills, Fixations, Routines, Sensory Issues, Stimming, Perception, Executive Function, and Other. It’s kind of like a mixing board with multiple faders instead of just one. And there’s a saying: if you’ve met one autistic person… you’ve met… ONE autistic person.
Now, is this meme scientific? I can’t say it is. But it seems to make sense to me, for now.
3 – There is a stereotype of what Autistic people look like and act like. People like to say: “Wow, you don’t look autistic.”
Well, autistic people don’t have to “look” or “act” autistic. It’s just another stereotype, like those attached to races and genders. But it’s also hard to “see” because of something called Masking, which I’ll talk about later.
So here we go. I’m going to break my own experiences up into 5 different categories.: Social Stuff, Sensory Stuff, Repetitive Behaviors And Lifestyle, Special Interests, And Stimming.
The first area in which I have Autistic Traits is Social Stuff. Now remember, I have a lot of what you’d think are “neurotypical” traits. I love my friends and family, and I will do anything for them. I love hanging out with either one person or a small group, laughing at absurdist comedy, and having deep discussions.
If someone wants to get lunch or dinner with me, I’m all-in. But if they want me to go to a party, the answer is probably no. So I want to dispell this myth of me being anti-social and never wanting to be around people. That’s not accurate, and not definitely not nuanced.
So here we go. Around 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, it felt like all the other kids were starting to relate and communicate on a level I didn’t understand. I didn’t get their jokes and references. I couldn’t detect subtext or interpret their intentions from their behavior, so I was easily tricked and bullied.
Throughout the rest of my life, I’ve been forced to decipher and learn an alien language. For instance, through years of trial and error, I figured out I needed to smile and laugh to make strangers comfortable. And say small talk phrases. Or at least I try to.
But from a young age, I had what is called a “flat affect.” That’s when people don’t express many emotions on the surface. The funny term for it is “Resting Bitch Face.” On the first day of 4th grade, the teacher asked us to go around the room and introduce ourselves. And I said, “I’m Carl King, and I like robots.” The whole room erupted in laughter. I had no idea why they were laughing.
In 7th grade, I got the nickname “Druggy” or “Drugged.” Kids called me Carl “Drugged” King. I spoke with low energy, in a monotone. But I noticed it, too. I tried to nickname myself “Drone” because I thought my voice sounded robotic. As we know, I liked robots, so I didn’t mind.
My sister called me “her little brother in a coma.” I didn’t talk much, and I was okay playing with my Star Wars toys alone. At least, that’s how I remember it. Years later, I exaggerated the low-energy monotone voice as my Sir Millard Mulch persona.
As a young adult, I was too direct in my speech. I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to simply say all the things that are true. I didn’t have manners or much understanding of what was polite or rude.
And I didn’t know about using tact, so people kicked me out of their houses without explanation. I never knew what I was doing wrong. They just wanted me gone. I was 100% baffled by this. And I am still somewhat baffled by this.
The kids around me continued developing socially. It wasn’t until I was about 17 that it occurred to me that people could be manipulative or lie. My peers could create and navigate layers of deception as if it were normal, which blew my mind.
I was such a gullible, sincere kid. I thought: “Wait a minute… EVERYONE is LYING about things? But lying is bad! Isn’t it?” That was a major disillusionment, and it took me a while to trust anyone again. Years later, when I saw The Truman Show, it resonated with me deeply.
When I was in college, thinking it would improve my situation, I tried acting more energetic and interesting. But it came off jerky and abrupt. I laughed too loud and suddenly, at a yelling volume, and my outbursts of laughter startled people.
I also didn’t know how to stand or where to put my hands. Do I put them in my pockets? Do I put them on my hips? Just let them hang there? If I’m making a YouTube show, should I wave them around like I’m moving ideas from one place to another?
I still get criticized for not talking enough in groups. Is there something wrong with Carl? People call me “shy.” On the back of my book, my publisher described me as “The shyest guy in the room.” I never said that, and I don’t know who did. It bugged me because I’m not shy.
What’s happening is this: I simply don’t understand when it’s my turn to talk in groups. One person said something. Does that mean I now say something? Oh, whoops, another person is talking now. Now I can’t say what I was going to, because the subject already changed. And now I need to throw that first sentence away and think of something else to say.
And I mainly don’t want to interrupt or say something that doesn’t belong. Group conversations are stressful and confusing for me. I find myself constantly apologizing and asking if it’s OK for me to say something.
Neurotypicals seem to absorb this understanding of social cues at an early age, almost through osmosis. I never did.
To avoid making people uncomfortable, I give genuine compliments, act more friendly, I ask questions, and try to be less direct in my statements. I feel compelled to prove I’m harmless. Giving social cues is difficult, but I think I’m getting better. This is all to say that a large part of my social behavior is a forced skill. I can’t just “be myself.”
In the world of autism, this is called Masking. Over several decades, I’ve worked to change my social behavior deliberately. I’ve learned: “Don’t act like yourself, because if you do, you will be disliked and punished.”
So I put on a mask that appears to be more neurotypical. I try to act in a way that’s expected of me. But that’s not who I am.
People then like to say: “Everyone masks.” Yes, but not for the reason an autistic person does. I do it because I have been endlessly mocked and traumatized by simply being me. From what I understand, autistic females are more adept at this skill than males due to social pressures and other factors. That’s why earlier understandings of autism were based on studying autistic males.
Now when I’m not “masking” – when I’m being myself – I feel blank. But when I’m thinking or daydreaming about an abstract shape or rhythm, or a puzzle I’m trying to solve, I look pissed off. And when I’m overwhelmed by sensory input, my ability to mask goes away. I can’t smile, and I can’t laugh.
I look like that “little brother in a coma” again. When in that state, I can’t send the constant signal to other people that everything is ok. I shut down. In those situations, I’m panicking inside.
Because of how I “seem” on the surface, people are afraid to have fun around me. It might have something to do with my Declaration Of War on Fun, as Dr. Zoltan, in 2008. But that whole thing was only an exaggeration of the real me.
Since I didn’t feel I could safely say it out loud, I was trying to express how frustrated I was at the time, not fitting in when I moved to Los Angeles. The people around me seemed to only care about parties and networking. So I was intellectually defending my right to be MYSELF. Ironically, while wearing a wig and funny goggles.
But even when not playing a character, I’ve been called CONSPICUOUS. For example, I went to a Warrant concert in my 20s. Remember those guys with the song Cherry Pie? The singer, Jani Lane, called me out from the stage during a song’s intro. “Dude. Why are you just standing there staring? Are you OK? Do you need a beer? A joint?”
Great, now the whole audience is looking at me. Not traumatic at all. During the guitar solo, Jani jumped into the audience and put his arm around me, rocking out, and pretended to smoke a joint with me. It was an honor, but it was another example of being singled out in front of everyone for being “weird” or having something “wrong” with me.
That wasn’t the first or last time it happened. I think some people have a radar for it and want to “out” me in front of everyone. Maybe because they’re uncomfortable with someone being different from them. This, of course, led to me getting bullied in high school. Being unusual, or CONSPICUOUS, I was an easy target.
To this day, I have an intense fear of being called out by performers who do “crowd work.” You know, when they can’t come up with their own material and need to hassle the audience. For instance, I experienced severe anxiety at a Blue Man Group show in Las Vegas. In those situations, I try to make myself small and hide in my seat.
I can’t enjoy myself because I can’t stop thinking, ‘Please, please, please leave me alone.’ I want the show to be over so that I can escape. In my everyday life, I try not to attract any attention to myself or give people a reason to hassle me.
Here are some other things I still struggle with:
1 – I overlook the SOCIAL meaning of group activities. Because I think of them as a project to complete: the faster, the better. I figure, then, we can be “done” with the task and relax. I overlook the “having an experience” part. I always dreaded group projects in school and couldn’t work on a team.
Why? Because it’s inefficient. If it’s a project I want to do, I can get it done faster without other people. It’s hard for me to remember that the point isn’t to finish the task – it’s to collaborate. I’m “supposed to” be social and connected, like all the other normal humans.
Well, that’s hard for me because it splits my brain in two. I struggle to focus on two things simultaneously: working on the project AND working with others. They’re not the same thing for me. That’s multitasking. That’s why I’ve fought for a career where I work alone as much as possible, doing everything myself.
2 – When having a conversation, I forget to answer people or continue the back and forth. Both in-person and through email. I think people feel like they tossed me a ball… And instead of catching it and throwing it back, I let it hit the ground and wander. That makes them feel ignored.
In-person or on the phone, on some microscopic level, I forget to talk, and that creates little gaps that other people would typically fill. It seems that others have an endless flow. They fill space with words that come out naturally. Well, nothing comes out of me naturally in conversation. There’s nothing on the inner teleprompter. I’ve gotta go into my brain and frantically type the next sentence. Because of this, I try to rehearse sentences in my mind quickly before saying them.
3 – Eye contact paralyzes me. If I look at someone’s eyes, I can’t think. I have to look away from people to be able to talk or listen. It doesn’t matter who it is. It helps me to close my eyes to talk, so I do that sometimes in phone calls. I used to wear sunglasses on stage because seeing people’s eyes made me forget what I was playing. It’s like eye contact erases my brain temporarily.
And as extra credit, here’s a true oddity.
I don’t know why this is, but I have a major hangup with Trader Joe’s cashiers asking me if I have any plans for the evening. It’s because I honestly don’t have a good answer for them. Someone I follow on TikTok called this sudden amnesia. And that makes me super anxious. I forced myself to go in last week, and by some miracle, I got a cashier who didn’t ask me.
Last thing in this category: I want to say that I do have a high tolerance, and even a preference, for lots of alone time. I immerse myself in my thinking and creative projects, and probably only need maybe an hour a day of interaction. I try to call my mom every day, and I call my friends regularly, and I enjoy it.
So I like my important people to be “around” but I enjoy doing my own thing. It feels natural to me. I do start to get lonely if I don’t interact with people for a few days, but in general I like being in my own world. I’ve designed my lifestyle and career around that.
The second area in which I have Autistic Traits is Sensory Stuff.
As I go through my day, my brain seems to over-process my senses. Imagine if things like your hearing, sight, and touch were cranked way up, to the point of being kind of painful. Not a physical pain, but an odd sort of mental pain. It makes it difficult for me to leave my controlled environment.
So here they are:
1 – Sound. Alarms or devices beeping, cars revving, cellphones vibrating, dogs barking, music playing, or random people talking becomes amplified in my brain – even at low volumes. I can’t think and need to make the sound stop or leave the area. I go out of my mind when strangers play sounds on their cellphones that I didn’t agree to hear.
Or if a restaurant or store has their music too loud. I keep earplugs with me when I go out in public. Some places, I just plain-old can’t go in. Once in a while, a room will have too much reverb when I talk, and it confuses my brain. If I’m in those situations for too long, my brain gets zapped, I freeze up, and it can take me hours to recover.
2 – Crowds. I’m acutely aware of all the people around me. So if there are people, I’m aware of them. And I can’t block them out, especially if they’re making sounds. Bookstores and libraries, where people are expected to be quiet, are less taxing for me. But concerts or sporting events are nearly impossible for me to tolerate.
Crowds are a continual blast of white noise in my brain. Whenever I go to an event like a wedding, where rows of chairs are tightly packed, and I’m jammed up against people on every side, it’s hell for me. I don’t want to feel other people moving, and for other people to feel me moving. I don’t want to experience other people breathing or wiggling around. I can’t fly on planes without Xanax — because of that sardine factor.
3 – Rooms With No Sound and No Air Circulation. If I’m in a room, there needs to be a fan. Even if it’s not blowing directly on me. Air needs to be moving around somehow, and there needs to be a low level of ambient noise, like an AC. I can’t do anything or think about anything else if there’s no air moving or no white noise.
4 – Lights. They’re not as big of a problem for me as sound. I definitely don’t like flashing or bright lights, but the worst of all for me are those old-school office fluorescents. They pulsate and burn my brain. I feel like I’m about to faint.
5 – Touching. As I mentioned before, being in proximity to people can be challenging for me. It took me a long time to be ok with casual hugging. In high school, it terrified me. A girl once tried to hug me to see what would happen. I screamed and struggled and ran away. I’m fine with it now. But the sensation of touch can still be too intense sometimes.
6 – Taste. I brush my teeth probably ten times a day. Not because I want my teeth to be clean. Or because I’m OCD. It’s because if I don’t brush every couple of hours, my mouth will taste bad. And I won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
7 – Being Observed. When people are watching me or aware of me, I can’t focus. It bugs me when a person wanders up near me in public and gives indirect cues like whistling a tune to themselves or smacking their lips and sighing. And people walking behind me is also a problem.
Similar to this, when driving, I don’t like cars driving behind me. Imagine how ridiculous that must be. If I’m not on a major road or interstate, I pull over into a parking lot so they’ll “go away.” I do this every single day. My path, driving from one place to another, can become complicated.
8 – Broken Fingernails. If I chip a nail and have a piece hanging off, I panic. Even a microscopic sharp edge that touches my clothes is intolerable. The sensation is overwhelming as if I have cockroaches in my clothes. I keep nail clippers around in the car, bedroom, office, and everywhere else, just in case. The thing is, this rarely happens! But it’s so unpleasant that I want to avoid feeling it.
9 – Sitting in the Sun. I can’t do it. I can walk in the sun. I can bike in the sun. (Although I wear a hat and even heavy sunscreen if I’m in direct sunlight for long, like on my summer bike rides). My point is, that the sun hitting me while I’m sitting there is another very bad sensation. I want it to stop.
These are just a few examples. There are more.
I think almost everyone has some sensory thing that bugs them. A common one is nails on a chalkboard. But my list is extensive. They all feel like someone is poking my brain with a stick over and over. And that makes doing “normal everyday things” tricky. Just leaving the house, I have to think: well, which of these sensations is going to defeat me first?
There’s only so much sensory overload I can handle in one day. Maybe an hour at most. Then I’m wiped out.
It’s also difficult to predict the intensity of my sensory problems on any given day. One day I’m fine. The next day I’m not. I might think I can handle a situation, and then it turns out I can’t. And sometimes if I’m in the right mood, I can be in a loud place and have no problem at all. I know it can be hard for other people to understand.
All of these sensory issues aside, I also seem to process experiences quickly. If I DO go out to a concert, which is almost never, I might only need to see one or two songs. I get the idea. I experienced it. That’s enough for me. And personally, I don’t mind that, because more of the same thing doesn’t make me enjoy it more. That can be super confusing to others. I’m happier to go sit in the car and read.
You might meet me out in the wild and not realize any of this. People who have known me for years might not know I have these things going on. At most, you might think, Carl has some unusual rules or hangups or limitations. Or the occasional extreme reaction, like the need to leave a place abruptly.
That’s because I try to hide what I’m going through to avoid more problems and conflict. It makes me feel guilty to have these internal experiences, because it inconveniences other people.
REPETITIVE BEHAVIORS AND LIFESTYLE
Up next, we have my Repetitive Behaviors and Lifestyle.
Carl King’s daily life is predictable. I eat the same thing for every meal every day for weeks before changing it up. I’ve been that way since I was a teenager. Aside from already knowing what I like, it feels relieving and safe. So, I figure out what I like and eat it over and over.
For example: back in college, I went to the same Burger King at the same time every morning for months. I didn’t even need to order. They’d see my van pulling into the parking lot and get the food ready for me.
Without even realizing it, my current pattern is drinking a certain brand of canned sparkling water. I buy them in bulk and it’s all I drink, and I’ve been doing it for weeks.
I’m also that way with clothing. I wear my same uniform of T-shirt and shorts every day. I buy multiples of the same exact thing. Same color, same size. I want to count on my clothes to be consistent, because it would make me anxious if they were different shapes, materials, and sizes. That makes it difficult for someone else to shop for me. I have to say, I appreciate getting gifts, but don’t buy me clothes.
Now we move on to something the Autism community calls Special Interests.
These are subjects that Autistic people fixate on, such as trains or animals, or numbers. In extreme cases, they learn everything there is to know about that narrow subject, and it’s all they want to talk about.
I have gone from one Special Interest to the next since I was a teenager. I started with guitar, then graphic design, then video production, then screenwriting, then animation, then film scoring, and now making this show. Then it’s like I go back to the beginning of the list and do them all again.
At each point on the merry-go-round, I want to rebrand myself, and I think, “Ah! THIS is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t want to do those other things anymore.” And I say it every time. When in each phase, it’s all I think and talk about.
If I’m in a more manic stage of my fixation on a topic, I struggle to be interested in other things. If something interrupts or distract me from my fixation, I can get irritable. And that’s another factor that’s hard to predict.
The good part is, because of this, I’ve developed most of these skills to a professional level, and I can say I’ve had success in each. I like trying to make money from my special interests. So some of them paid well, and some of them only led to great opportunities. At the very least, graphic design and video production have each turned into long-lasting, well-paying careers. So I want to say Thank You to my tendency to FIXATE.
Now, on to this thing called “Stimming.” Which refers to Self-Stimulating. In the world of Autism, these are behaviors like rocking back and forth or doing a fluttering thing with your eyes. It’s a way of self-regulating your internal state.
I don’t think I do much stimming, except for one thing:
I wiggle my toes in patterns. My wife will ask me, what’s going on with your toes? Why are you doing that over and over? Well, because I need to. I rub my toes and feet together non-stop. I wrote this in my script: I’m actually doing it right now while typing this.
So, the question is: Am I Autistic Yet?
We don’t know. Yet.
In the meantime, I’ll work on getting diagnosed, and I will also keep learning.
If anything in this episode resonated with you, send me a message or comment. Tell me if you identify with this stuff or have been diagnosed with autism. It will let me know that other people are going through the same thing.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Show. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you consume to these dang episodes.
And if you like this show, support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom.
Thank you to my little production team, my script editor Chris Higgins and my transcriptionist Eric Alexander Moore. My Patreon patrons help me to also pay those guys.
Special thank you to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode, Sean Motley, and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for joining me, and as I always say, “I’ve gotta go to the bathroom.”