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Thursday, 28 July 2016



“Failure” by Michael Tolleson 7/27/16
I am autistic. Sometimes my own “normal” feels so natural to me that I forget the aspects of myself that make me different. I live my life in a world that has become familiar, but yet I really have no real place in it at all. The people that live in this world go about their lives and interact with each other in familiar and expected ways. I am not one of them. I can never be them. My wiring is not equipped to act or react the same as everyone else. What I am aware of is my heightened abilities through my high IQ and my savant artistic abilities and because of that I sometimes forget that in the huge “scale of every life” there are sometimes heavy deficits to balance out our assets. Since my discovery of my autism I have tried to be aware of the things that set my “normal” apart from other’s “normal.” Certain traits that feel natural to me are vastly different than what others experience such as my texture sensitivities and other sensory challenges.
Today, I walked into the dentist’s office. I walked into that office just as any other person does to get a couple of fillings. I have been to the dentist before in my life so I thought as a 58 year old man that I was prepared for what would happen. I informed the dentist that with my autism I have a heightened sensitivity to pain and would need extra deadening. I leaned back placed the shielding glasses on my eyes and surrendered myself to the professionals. That is when “uncomfortable” led to “bad” and then it led to “panic”. The oral dam they tried to use was latex which is one of my sensory triggers and the pain of even their minor probing shot through my skull. I fought back fear and the feeling of suffocation as they tried to stretch the latex across my mouth and lower face. I kept telling myself as I had told myself so many times in so many routine situations throughout my life that I should relax and calm down since everyone else in the world is able to do somewhere this each and every day. No matter how I approached the moment and the event, I was beyond salvation as an autism panic “spin” was is full meltdown mode and I felt trapped and ready to bolt like a caged animal. Finally I was able to say stop to the situation and explain I could not go on. I walked out of the office numbed, scared, embarrassed, humiliated, and concerned for the future.
I think there is an understanding within the autism community by those of us that live this life each day and those that are caregivers for some of us. We are different and those differences unit us with a unique understanding. I know I am one and the same with every child that cannot go to a barber because their “hair hurts,” and with every child that can’t eat a certain bread because it itches their throat, and with every child that can’t listen to their father’s sister speak because the high pitch of her voice sends shooting pains into their head. Is it understandable to most people?…no…but it is our truth and an important reality to us.
Today I stood up and walked out of a moment that threatened to engulf me in panic, pain and fear. I chose to walk out, regroup, and evaluate how to proceed for next time so that my dental necessities could be accomplished. I listened to my body, my state of being, and my wiring and made those choices. Maybe to many people the situation would appear that I failed a simple task. I know I did the only thing I was able to do at that moment when I came to terms with the fact that I am not the same as the world around me and I will never be like everyone else as I don’t respond or react like others. What I need is for others to look at me for who I am: an autistic doing the very best I can in a world that does not provide an owner’s manual for those of us with different wiring


  1. You honor me...I am humbled. THANK YOU!

  2. You're very welcome, Michael. Your paintings are all wonderfully inspiring. You are very prolific and a great example of a creative person on the spectrum. I also very much value your philosophical and psychological insights, and how your paintings invariably evolve from these