What Autism Feels Like To A Person Without Autism, According To 3 People

We need to be empathetic.

Carroll and Kelly explain what it's like living with autism. TikTok via @trevorcarroll_ & @orionkelly_australia

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that impacts how people perceive and interact with the world around them. It's different for everyone who has it, and yet, it can be difficult for those without autism to truly understand what it feels like.

Three people on the spectrum shared their personal experiences in an attempt to shed light on what autism feels like.

Trevor Carroll is a neurodivergent person who posts on the video-sharing app TikTok. In a recent post, he likened his experience of having autism to describing the color yellow; there just aren't adequate words for something so subjective and relative to one's own experience. However, he gives his best shot at articulating his day-to-day reality. He explains that one aspect of his autism feels like having his senses perpetually heightened.


"Imagine when you are feeling overloaded... Now multiply that by 100," he said. 

There are days when this sensory overload magnifies exponentially, where it feels like his "body's going to shut down."



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Carroll also describes feeling as though he was dropped onto Earth without receiving any guidelines on how to socialize — something many take for granted as coming naturally. Despite attempting to 'mask' or adapt socially, he often ends up exhausted and feeling inauthentic because these interactions rely solely on observing others' behaviors throughout his life.

He also highlights another facet of being autistic — noticing minute details everywhere. It can lead him into overthinking but also allows him unique perspectives, such as appreciating patterns. From leaves to clouds and even small spiders on sidewalks, he notices patterns.

In contrast, Orion Kelly, an author and podcaster, expressed in a recent TikTok post that his diagnosis often makes him feel "bad at everything." This consistent feeling of underperformance fuels feelings of self-doubt.

"Being autistic means that you wake up and you feel like you're bad at everything you do that day," Kelly said.

"It gives you that feeling of why bother? Seriously, autism feels like, why bother?" 




He admits that while he may excel at specific skills or interests, in general, he struggles with most other tasks.

Certain traits of autism may feel overwhelming but also provide a sense of meaning.

On the other hand, Brandon Van Niekerk, in an article for Overcomers Counseling, likens living with autism to a rollercoaster ride where one can easily feel overwhelmed by sensory inputs, making the world seem chaotic. Similar to Carroll's experience, he shares that autistic people may feel disorientated and anxious in crowded settings due to sensory overloads triggered by sounds or bright lights.

Yet, on the upside of this rollercoaster ride is their ability to concentrate intensely on things they love.


Van Niekerk explains how those on the spectrum derive immense meaning from hobbies that might appear obsessive to others. "Their hobbies give them a great deal of meaning in life, and for some people, their favorite pastime may even seem like an obsession," he wrote.

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Understanding what autism feels like can help those without it forge deeper connections with those who do.

Respecting personal space when signs of discomfort are shown, engaging in conversations about their interests and abilities, and allowing them time to establish relationships at their own pace are all important aspects of interacting respectfully with individuals on the autism spectrum, as highlighted by Van Niekerk.

Empathy is key to understanding and being respectful of someone with autism.


"If you want to understand what it's like to live with autism, it's important to empathize with your fellow human beings," he wrote.

In addition to that, there are more ways to better communicate with a person diagnosed with autism. 

Nancy Musarra, a licensed clinical psychologist, told YourTango in June 2022 of some tips to better communicate with loved ones on the autism spectrum. Mainly, it's good to keep in mind that just because someone with autism acts differently to certain things doesn't mean their intentions are negative.


"A lack of apparent emotional expression does not mean they don't care," Musarra wrote.

On top of that, Musarra recommends keeping in mind that "social interactions that seem scripted or awkward are not superficial."

While these insights don't cover all experiences — they're as varied as the individuals who live with autism — they do shed some light on what daily life might be like for someone navigating through a neurotypical world while being differently wired. 

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Ethan Cotler is a writer and frequent contributor to YourTango living in Boston. His writing covers entertainment, news, and human interest stories.