"You don't look autistic"
Today I want to talk about something a bit more specific. It has been roughly a year now since I have had confirmation that I am autistic. I feel like I have learnt a lot about myself in this time, a lot of my past experiences make far more sense to me now. One thing I have found hard however Is the reactions of others (in this case I am talking about neurotypical people) I’ve had from this diagnosis. Today I’d like to talk about two things that I hear a lot when my autism is brought up and how these comments effect me.
“oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that”
Why are you sorry? I’m not broken, just different. Because autism is classified as a mental disability it can be seen as a deficit. As though I am missing a part of my self that would make me more “normal”. This is not the case. I’m not missing anything. I’m not broken. I simply have a different way of thinking than the average person. The problem really, is the fact that the world is only tailored to those without these kind of diagnosis.
I’m going to leave a video here to explain this further, as this lady does a far better job of explaining this than I ever could.
“but....you don’t look autistic“
This one baffles me so much because I can’t for the life of me work out what “looking autistic” is supposed to be. I actually find this comment more offensive than the first, and here is why. something I have now learnt I do is a thing called masking. Masking is where you essentially copy personality traits of the people around you in order to fit into a social situation. Because I find it hard to understand others and communicate, it is easier for me to mimic the people around me in order to hide my discomfort. (this trait is more common in autistic girls and is one of the reason girls go a lot longer without being diagnosed as they are able to hide or “mask” their autistic traits) my mind was BLOWN when I found out that not everyone does this. I honestly thought that this exhausting trait was something everyone was doing. And when I say it’s exhausting, I mean it. I essentially do not relax if I am around even just one other person. Even if there is just one other person in the same room or building as me I am masking. This means time alone is very important to me. Because I need time to recharge and have a place I am comfortable to be myself. Because the world does not make me feel comfortable. So when you tell me that I don’t “look autistic” all you are doing is reminding me that I am forced to appear differently than myself in order to cope with this world. You think you are telling me that my autism can’t really be that bad because it is not noticeable to you. but the reality is I’m am overworking myself constantly to keep up that mask. It’s draining. It’s painful, it’s heartbreaking. I am trying to teach myself not to mask as much now I know what I’ve been doing. However after 28 years of being this way it’s not something I can simply turn off and it’s going to take a lot of time.
What I’m trying to say here is that because someone may not be exactly what you imagine autistic to be, it doesn’t mean it’s any easier on them or that their condition isn’t as bad. Autism is a spectrum, and it effects us all in different ways. But there is no such things as less or more autistic. ‘High functioning’ and “low functioning’ are simply a reflection on how hard we are working to fit in with a world that is not designed for us. You might think you are saying something nice by telling me I don’t look autistic. But to me it just reaffirms that you think it’s something I should be ashamed of and that you think I’m doing a great job to hide it.
please don’t say these things to us. It’s not a compliment.
I hope this rambling at least makes a little bit of sense and gives you a better idea of what these comments can feel like to us.
I hope to go into more information about how and why autistic girls tend to get a much later diagnosis than boys. Is this something you would like to know about?
love you all
until next time