Is it OCD or Autistic Perseveration? Setting the Record Straight

People are very quick to assign labels to behaviors. When an autistic person insists on correcting your grammar, it may feel like they are shaming you. When an autistic person insists that you have taken the wrong road to get to the ice cream store, you may feel like they are calling you stupid. Knowing the source of these expressions helps the bystander coexist with the autistic person. For autistics, knowing that the world is becoming less hostile and safer for them to express their thoughts, is necessary for healthy identity.

Negative perceptions of the self are formed when people tell you to stop. Stop talking. Stop lecturing. Stop flapping. Stop covering your ears. Stop reciting pi. Stop, stop, stop. These are weapons used by neurotypicals to enforce societal norms by oppressing the autistic way of being. When the autistic persists, they call it a mental illness. They must label it because any other explanation is inconceivable.

We are told that we are rude. We are annoying. We persistently set the record straight. We should not correct others. We should not tell them that the plural of syllabus is syllabi. We should simply sit with all that information and hold it in. Like a sneeze that is threatened to exist. If you hold your nostrils, maybe it won’t escape. If you stuff your mouth with a sock and also hold your nostrils, there is a chance that you can bring on just the exact amount of internalized oppression to make this sneeze implode inside.

When you do sneeze anything, you are perceived as a social misfits. Bloggers call us fussy brats. Authors refer to us as having ADD/ADHD because we live in the tangent of our own creations, to the exclusion of the input of those around us. Being referred to as annoying, uncaring of the input of others, or persistently insisting on our ways of being, takes a toll on the mental health of the autistic person.


How OCD is different from Autism

OCD is an obsessive compulsion to repeat a task, or to be involved with a matter.  It becomes a disorder when the person is unable to withhold from completing the task. The lead-up to the task (checking the stove, locking the door) is rife with a pre-sneeze panic. It must come out. You must sneeze. Involuntary functions are aroused rather than paralyzed. It simply bursts forth like the sneeze that popped after you smelled a bunch of lillies. The person becomes more and more anxious as they repeat the task.  Trying to ignore or stop your obsessions increases your distress and anxiety, and despite efforts to ignore the urges, they keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior, and the vicious cycle of OCD.

Autistic people operate with a radically different neurological setup. The structural anatomy of autistic brains are nearly indistinguishable from typical brains. However, the neurons fire up and move through pathways that result in a dramatically different worldview. A person with synesthesia is not mentally ill if they hear a number as a color. They are not having hallucinations, but rather, experiencing a multisensory perception to a single stimulus. These perceptions are very exciting for autistic people, and quite pleasing. The autistic person is happier the more they engage in their perseverations. The person who has OCD becomes more anxious as they try to resolve their compulsions.

Engaging in the party in my head is my choice. I maintain the right to speak of the unicorns and the cats dressed in tuxedos. I maintain the right to recite pi until my pet gecko’s stares at me judgingly. You are looking at my happy place as the primary source of annoyance to you. It is not an obsessive compulsion to annoy you. I am simply enjoying the happiness that exists within my personal and private consciousness reality. When I am kind enough to share and hope to bring you into my party, you fail to grasp it. You don’t see the beautiful patterns, the philosophical ponderings, the way the undiscovered colors dazzle my mind. You are struggling, and that is okay. But please don’t put the burden onto me for carrying your challenges.