Thriving, not just surviving

Written in January 2023

Lately I've seen a few of the neurodivergent people I follow on social media talk about autistic people thriving, and how it looks like the opposite to the diagnostic criteria. There's been some interesting points made about how when an autistic person is thriving, they may not even be diagnosable based on the criteria most commonly used (although I must say that a good diagnostician should be able to diagnose autism whether we're thriving, or just surviving when they diagnose us).

I'm not sure how far I agree with this, because when I am thriving it's because I'm being more authentically autistic, or rather tending to my autistic needs. I struggle most when I'm not attending to these needs, leading to poorer mental health and a reduction in capability/ability. When I'm thriving I can go into a shop and converse with the staff and have a look round, not affected too much by lights, smells or sounds.

I'm not projecting a neurotypical persona when I do this, the chances are that the shop staff will think whatever I've said is a bit odd (often the questions I ask elicit a response that is more in keeping with me having walked in with two heads), but I'm able to do it if I can be myself. If I'm struggling, I wouldn't even attempt something like this unless it was the only thing I had to do that day (and it couldn't wait).


To the average person on the street there's no sign that I'm autistic when I am thriving (until I start talking, that is). In all fairness even when I'm just about surviving I'm not obviously autistic to a passer-by, but I'd probably be read as depressed. To a diagnostician there should be many signs I'm autistic when I'm thriving. I'll make more hand gestures, I'll probably make less eye contact while I tell you all the interesting and exciting things I've learned recently (and not so recently, as my brain tours the my often random but extremely well cross referenced information vaults). I'll keep going until you tell me to stop (or I realise I've been talking uninterrupted for a long time because that's a novel experience I am bound to notice), and then when I do stop, there'll be this massive shift in energy and I'll slump into depleted state and need some recovery time.

I might seem to be really upbeat and positive and productive, but ask me about one thing that's not on my radar for the day and I won't be able to process it. I might even get a bit short with the person asking, or seem suddenly very exasperated or stressed (in a way that's really at odds with how “well” I seemed to be doing otherwise.


So, I think to the trained eye that when I'm thriving, I'm just as diagnosable as when I am just surviving. To the untrained eye I probably also seem a bit more “off” when I'm just about surviving but not in a way that those not in the know could put a label on.


How do I thrive?

As a sort of coda to this post I thought I'd list some of the things I do to ensure I am thriving, even if it's just as a reference for myself when I need a reminder to get back on track if (or when) things go wrong.


  • Time in nature combined with physical activity. Walking is really good for stress relief, mindfulness and having a proper break from being connected to the person-world while I connect with the natural one for a bit 
  • Time for myself – at the moment this looks like yoga. I've found it great for physical pain as well as for physical and mental relaxation, and as a form of exercise. There are literally no downsides
  • Puzzles – jigsaws, sudoku, any kind of problem solving thing that uses up the anxious energy in my brain and fulfils my need for stimulation
  • Being on top of, or ahead with my to do list
  • Cleaning and tidying – mentally it helps as a reminder that I am worth looking after and it helps reduce the to-do burden (even if the task wasn't actually on a list, in fact those are the best kind because they make me feel even more productive and pro-active). Sometimes this creates a motivation wave I can surf.
  • Playing make-believe with my gang, or having cuddles with them – watching Old Bear with the gang is excellent on a really low day
  • Making some sort of positive plan for the future. It doesn't matter how big the plan is, or whether it's even that realistic, but it takes my mind out of whatever present funk I am in, and into the future
  • Treating myself to something foraged/home made. Makes me feel good about making it and brings a close to my foraging activities which are also a regulating activity




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