INT. RICK'S HOME — MOMENTS BEFORE OP-ED DUE DATE
RICK (dramatic and forever in shorts & a sweatshirt) wakes up from a late-afternoon nap due to a banana intolerance and an accident made with an acai fruit bowl.
My experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder exists in two metaverses; pre-autism diagnosis, then, in my thirties, five years post-diagnosis. Though banana naps are new, I've always been hyper sensitive to... things. Like many on the autism spectrum, I am sensitive to how things sound, smell, taste and feel; I have obsessive compulsive disorder; had a learning disability as a child (as well as a delayed speech pattern); am often anxious and easily overwhelmed; have difficulty picking up on social cues; and the banana of it all (A.T.B.O.I.A) — and I guess the cat's out of the bag — the dude from Amazon's As We See It has gastrointestinal issues.
These are things that many neurotypical people can also deal with on a daily basis, and I don't bring these character traits up in complaint, but to explain that, until five years ago, I just thought I was "difficult." And, I believe, so did others. I was scared to do things... scared to meet people... scared to go places.
Since I was a kid, I have been kicked out and felt excluded. I was put in learning-disabled classes, then some sub-learning disability class that to this day I don't even know what it was. Then I needed to go to a "special school." I'm even blacklisted from taking classes at The Groundlings. I was a hyper kid, and I take responsibility for my part, but I never knew what the issues were, and I certainly didn't understand how to fix them. This continued as an adult, too. The inciting incident to my autism diagnosis was being kicked out of a friend's basketball game for being too good (just kidding; that's not why. I was playing too aggressively... but also, I mean... don't we want to win?) It was then that I realized "I'm lacking way-too-much awareness, and I need to look into this." I don't have enough words in this op-ed to explain why, but I talk about these things on my podcast, Take Your Shoes Off, if you wanna tune in. ;)
Days after I received my ASD diagnosis and learned more about it, many obstacles of my life that were previously unrelated showed themselves in a beautiful, empathic pattern. They were framed, not with a disability, but with an understanding. "THIS IS WHY I AM THE WAY I AM!!"
It was so freeing. First, by understanding the way I think, I began to learn how to talk to myself. Then, accept myself. Then, how to talk with others. Then, how to teach others how to communicate with me. What I learned was, many of the interpersonal obstacles I had weren't because of who I am, but because of the defined "typical" expectations that exist (that I was previously... and still kinda am unaware of); and if I can help reframe people's expectations of me, then our interactions will be met with understanding.
People on the autism spectrum need to be spoken to directly. I know this isn't just in our business, but a big part of our business is built on protecting egos. People's own ego, and/or their client/talent's ego. You can imagine some of the obstacles that could exist as an actor who takes things literally, communicating with agents, castings, producers, directors, other actors, etc...
I didn't realize it at the time, but there were numerous examples where a lack of shared intuition and understanding led to a lack of direct communication, which ultimately got in the way. Here's a little anecdote, for example... I don't want to share too many specifics, but some time ago, I really liked my "across the board" representation, but my personal appearance agent (for stand-up) left the agency that I was at as an actor. LONG STORY short, I started working with a PA agent at a different agency than those who still represented me as an actor. I first discussed this with my representation, was told everything was fine, then found out a year later how upset they were with me for working with a new agent.
On the surface, this is one of many millions of simple Hollywood dramas. But I bring it up because, I learned after the fact that, despite what people say to you, there are some things you just don't do (or some things that are expected of you to do). How would I know that? Where's the book that teaches me when someone says "A" they really mean "B"? Don't even get me started on dating!
**AUDIENCE APPLAUSE BREAK**
So, I have taken it upon myself to communicate to those I work closely with about my autism. I ask them to speak directly or I will misunderstand. This allows them a freedom to prioritize honesty over made-up expectations.
This has proven bountiful in my personal and professional day-to-day. But not everyone is fortunate enough to befriend someone on the autism spectrum (or at least who knows they're on the spectrum) who can help offer new perspectives. This is what excites me so much about my new show, As We See It. Watch this show. See how the things that felt defined and intuitive to you are actually only defined by your current, and ever-growing perspective. Our creator, Jason Katims, our writers, our cast, our crew — so many people working on our show are on the spectrum and/or intimately related to someone who is. I have learned that those in the ASD world are the most patient, understanding and accepting people I've ever met. Not because they have to be, but because they get to be.
Rick Glassman is a comedian, actor, and podcaster.
The statements and viewpoints expressed in the article above are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions or viewpoints of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation, or their members, officers, directors, employees, or sponsors.