Let's just start this off by saying I am not formally diagnosed on the spectrum, as of yet anyway. I hope to get an evaluation at some point. And that my experience is mine alone, so please try not to take anything I say the wrong way. I never truly knew about autism until I was 15 years old. I had a friend (let's call him Bart) who had classic autism. We are actually still good friends to this day (we are both 25). When we were both 15, I didn't fully understand autism as I do today. I knew that he needed to be reminded to stay on task, and would rock back and forth and just say things that seemed odd to me out of the blue (which I now understand is echolalia and stimming, a way he takes control of all the senses he took in and to try to converse with those around him). I also didn't know there could be all kinds of individuals with some sort of autism spectrum disorder, and how it affected everyone differently. Now I understand that individuals with autism take in everything at once: sounds, touch, sights, smells, tastes.
All of those are amplified. Imagine someone uses a really loud voice at you if they are upset... those on the spectrum may hear that when you talk to them even when you use what you think is a regular tone. They also take in a lot of information at once, which can be overwhelming. The situation is worse when they are expected to converse with you giving full eye contact. They listen much better when not expected to look you in the eyes. I know when I try to force myself to look at anyone in the eyes while listening the only thing I get in is the color of the person's eyes and not what they're talking to me about. It could also affect the way they adapt to things, routine is very important and if things were to just randomly change, it could mean chaos. I have a lot of trouble doing things out of my comfort zone. My routine consists of watching videos, playing video games and on Tuesday and Friday afternoon going to my work place for two hours. I still struggle with work because I have a lot of trouble leaving the routine I'm used too. I, like a lot of people on the spectrum, struggle with socialization. I don't tend to know when it's my turn to speak and the topics I talk about are often always on my subject of interest and is often repetitive. But to the main topic at hand, what does autism mean to me? A lot. I've made really good friends with individuals with autism/Aspergers. I gained an understanding of some amazing people who are often misunderstood because they stand out to people. And in turn I got to understand myself a little bit. Some of the greatest minds and people are on the spectrum. Dan Aykroyd has Aspergers syndrome, and so does Satoshi Tajiri (the creator of Pokemon). It was rumored that Albert Einstein may have been on the spectrum and also Wolfgang Mozart and many more. I hope the next time you see a person spinning things and talk to a person who just keeps talking about the same thing you give them your patience and time. Because if you do, you'll certainly be rewarded with meeting an amazing individual and you yourself will become a better person knowing them.