As I’ve been talking with people over the years, and I’ve started doing speaking engagements, there are certain questions that tend to pop up more than others as people want to know about my experiences living with Autism, or just want to get to know me in general. I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a blog post addressing some of the most frequently asked questions that I’ve been asked, and the overly complicated answers that I’ve come up with. Though in some cases I’m able to offer a simpler, less detailed answer as well.
Is it “Ben” or “Benjamin”?
The quick and honest answer is: either will do.
But some of you are perfectionists and won’t be satisfied with that answer. If there are two possible options then one of them must be the better choice. And I can totally relate to that. So I’ll lay it all out for you.
Benjamin is the name I was given at birth, but as a child I was too lazy to spell the whole thing, so I had everyone call me Ben instead. And that’s what people called me all throughout childhood and much of my adult life. I’ve always taken Benjamin as the full version of my name and Ben as the short form.
When I became an author I decided I wanted my professional name to be Benjamin T. Collier. Which is why that’s what I always call myself when working online.
So if it helps to have better clarity – I like the look of “Benjamin” in writing, and I like the sound of “Ben” in person.
But the fact remains, either will really do. I don’t have a strong preference, because I feel that both names apply to me.
Now, sometimes I’ll be meeting someone for the first time and it’s a loud room or they’re hard of hearing, so when they ask my name I will say “Benjamin” when normally in person I would say “Ben.” This is because, if someone has trouble hearing me, “Benjamin” is generally heard more clearly, whereas “Ben” gets mistaken for every single-syllible name under the sun. My name is not Dave.
How did you develop from lower-functioning autism to higher-functioning autism (or Asperger’s Syndrome)?
There are a number of accounts of individuals on the Autism Spectrum developing from lower to higher functioning autism as they got older. This is certainly not always the case, and I’m afraid I don’t know the exact percentages of how many individuals “grow out of it” or how far they develop, though those who develop out of the Autism Spectrum completely would be very rare or nonexistent.
In my case, there were two particular points in my life where significant development occurred over a short period of time, and both correlated with some sort of religious experience. The first was at the age of five, where I switched from non-verbal low-functioning autism to a higher-functioning state that would be later diagnosed as Asperger’s Syndrome. This was around the same time that I (as much as a five-year-old could) gave my life to Jesus.
The second point in my life occurred in my early 20’s when there was a night of Healing Prayer being offered at my church and I made the decision to surrender the condition to God in case He wanted to make any changes. I feel it’s important to note that this was a prayer of surrender, not a prayer request. I was quite happy with who I was and fully content to stay that way – I just didn’t want it to get in the way of what God wanted to do in my life in case it was holding me back from something. After that I went from being easily recognizable as an Aspie to people not even being able to recognize that I’m on the spectrum. And that’s how I’ve been to this day. This story is told in greater detail in my autobiography.
That’s my autograph/signature.
It’s my initials (B.T.C.) with the T intentionally done in the lower case (cross) form to emphasize my Christian standing. I had experimented with different ways of doing the B and decided it looked better without the line, so that’s why it looks like a 3 instead.
It looks Japanese.
It isn’t. But that’s the look I was going for, so thank you! 🙂
Do you drive?
I have my G1, but I’ve done very little with it. I don’t seem to have the natural attraction to driving that most guys have. I’ve wondered about this myself, if it’s an autism thing or a personality thing. I know part of my reluctance is the fear of not having the reflexes necessary to avoid collisions. It generally takes me longer than others to process that kind of information, and it simply might not be safe. However, I know I need to give it a try at some point, if for no other reason then at least so that I can analyze my experience and write about what struggles I have and why I was able or not able to drive. So this is an ongoing answer.
Do you socialize? Do you have any friends?
Yes. I have a best friend who I’ve known since I was eight. He was five at the time, so it was a notable age gap (which isn’t so noticeable anymore), but we were about the same in terms of maturity because I’ve always been a few years behind socially and a few years ahead intellectually.
Other socializing I get mostly from attending small groups or connect groups at my church. I should mention that I had a lot of years where it was difficult to find groups where I felt like I belonged. The ones that always made me feel more comfortable were the ones that made me feel okay to be myself.
Why won’t my autistic son/daughter believe in God?
Based on what I’ve heard, I’d say the short answer is: because it makes no sense.
Autistics are very logical, and the idea of a good God (most of the time this question is coming from Christian parents) is not compatible with the world autistics see around them.
Having said that, I’m autistic, and when I look at the world around me the idea of a good God makes perfect logical sense to me, as long as I assume that there is more than one will at work in the universe and not all of them are good.
For a long time I found this question not even worth addressing. Why not just ask, “Why do some people believe in God while others don’t?” Which is a much more general question that people have been asking for ages. I don’t see that being autistic should really make a difference. It didn’t seem to make a difference with me.
Regardless, this question kept coming up, indicating a pattern. So I did my best to address it in my blog post The Rare Autistic Christian. You can see the whole train of thought there if you’re really interested. Ultimately though, it’s a deeper question than that.
Will you meet with my autistic child?
The short answer is: not likely.
For one thing, this request is becoming more frequent, and I don’t have the time to meet everyone face to face. A bigger issue I keep running into though is expectations. There seems to be this theory that if you take one person with severe social problems, and put them with another person with severe social problems, they will get along. The reality is not that magical.
If your child is uncomfortable talking with strangers, they will be uncomfortable talking with me, because I’m a stranger. Autistics do not have a special way of communicating with other autistics. We are as separate from each other as we are from the rest of the world.
The biggest benefit I can offer to people in person will probably come from simply talking with the parents, sharing stories, talking about what worked and didn’t work in our own experiences. I am available to speak to groups of people, and have already spoken to groups of parents, teachers and other people interested in autism.
Oh, you’re a Speaker?
Not many people have realized this yet, but yes. I was invited to speak at the Abilities Centre in Whitby during the Autism Awareness event this Spring. I was also invited to the Anderson Collegiate highschool shortly afterward to speak to a group of parents and teachers. I am comfortable with any-sized group, and usually do the whole thing in an interview-style format.
My focus for the time being is simply to find out what it is that people want to know, and then answer their questions as best as I can. So if you have a list of questions prepared ahead of time, all the better. If not, I can just go over some of the commonly asked questions I’ve encountered so far – like I’m doing in this blog post.
If you’d like to see what I’m like to talk to, I had an interview with Sarah Newcomb on Daytime Durham that you can click to and check me out.
Are you still writing?
Why wouldn’t I be?
Okay, that answer wasn’t so complicated, so I’ll give some more details.
Currently, I’ve just self-published a sci-fi piece called Singularity, and I have another fantasy novel scheduled to come out in the first half of 2016. For additional projects, I’ve been going back and forth on what to prioritize. Between editing and revising other books, there are also two more fantasy novels that I’ve started, and those will probably be my focus for now to publish sometime between late 2016 and the end of 2018.
(My apologies if I haven’t updated this for a while. I may lose track of my blog posts.)
Where can I get your books?
All of my books (to date) are available on Amazon. For specific links, head to my Books by Benjamin T. Collier page and click on the image of any book you’re interested in.
If you know me in person though, you can also ask me to have a copy on-hand next time I see you, and I can even sign it for you. Plus, I get more money that way 🙂
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to other autistics?
Accept help from the people who want to help you better express who you are, not the people who want to change who you are.
Discerning between the two can be a challenge, and I wish I could offer instructions on that but it may be something that gets learned through experience. I myself am still learning. I’m just taking each piece of advice at a time and asking, “Is this me?” If it’s not, I try to avoid it. It’s a whole ‘nother challenge if you’re not even sure who you are, which is especially the case when going through your teen years. The things you loved as a child are usually at least some sort of indication of where your heart is, so I would go with that if nothing else seems clear.