When Being Autistic Means I Can't Stop Paying Attention


Too much attention.

I have been both blessed and cursed with a great amount of attention to pay to whatever I am doing or thinking about. I can’t stop paying attention. I can’t look away. I can’t change subjects or multi-task easily at all.

I’m a classic autistic savant. I’m the opposite of ADHD. Where many people with ADHD can’t pay attention, I can’t stop. Autism and ADHD used to be opposites. Nowadays we know it’s a full spectrum. It can be all mixed up. But mine is clearly defined. I have so much attention, it’s a problem.

I am very easily distracted. Anything that happens will catch my attention. My attention drags me around like a dog. When I say I can’t look away, I mean that quite literally. For example, when I was a kid, there was this odd spot of paint on the side of this house a couple of houses over from me. Whenever I saw that spot I couldn’t stop looking at it. I couldn’t stop looking at that spot until something became between me and it or something happened to take my attention off of it.

I learned that I have too much attention originally when my fourth-grade special ed teacher was talking to the principal.

The principal asked, “Is he listening to us?”

My teacher said,”Yes, he is. He can’t not pay attention.”

It didn’t take me long to realize she was exactly right.

My attention gives me a one-track mind. My mind plows that track like a midnight coal train, but it’s still just one track. It’s very hard for me to change subjects. Almost like an engineer on that coal train, I have to stop, get out, walk down the track to the switch, change tracks, walk back, get back in control, and start up again. It is a process for me to change tasks and it takes a little while.

I often took my work home with me. If I’d been writing a program at work, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was back on the computer working on my programs from work again. I couldn’t help myself. Distractions help, but as soon as a distraction was over, I was back to thinking about it.

I often ruminate on my problems. It’s very hard for me to get off those as with anything else. I can’t leave them alone. I can’t forget about them.

Yet at the same time, anything or anyone else can get my attention as they please. I often complain to and yell at people to get them to let go of my attention. One of my pet peeves that I haven’t been able to get past is when somebody yells at me to get my attention when they already had it. A lot of times people don’t even know they had it. I’m usually paying attention to them well before they are paying attention to me.

It’s very easy for people to keep my attention. It makes me very angry when people take advantage of it. I have had meltdowns and gotten into fights because people won’t leave me alone.

On the other hand, I could not have achieved some of the greatest accomplishments in my life if I hadn’t been able to stay focused. All the computer programs, papers and stories I’ve written exist thanks to my ability to pay attention.

My attention has helped people in ways I never dreamed it would. It’s a great gift I can give to people that not many others can. If only I had realized earlier how much it means to people when I give it to them.

When I was recruiting with a 12-step group, we would go to the hospitals and mental health agencies. A lot of times there were people that were suicidal. It wasn’t unusual at all for me to have been the person that paid the most attention to them in a long time. Exaggerated or not, people remarked that I had paid more attention to them than anybody else had. Quite often, people changed their minds. They decided to stick around because of the attention I had paid to them. I am so humbled and so proud that people change their minds because I listen to them.

My attention is both a blessing and a curse, a continued cause of my problems and a tool to achieve my goals.

I’m well known for my attention. I am feared for my attention by my enemies. I’m praised for my attention by my friends. I am loved for my attention by many. Whether a great gift when given or a terrible thing when taken, there’s always plenty.

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