I can’t really remember what it was like when I didn’t have to hide part of who I was from the world. I have been doing it for so long it just feels normal. Learning how to come across as ‘normal’ took up most of my later teenage years. Unlearning the things that had used to keep me safe from pain to allow myself to become more socially acceptable took time. Getting to grips with the oddities expected from society meant learning to put aside my own views and trying to get my head around the bizarre nature of people who aren’t driven but logic and reason.
When I tell people that I’m autistic the first response is often that I don’t seem very autistic. I get why they say this, I have spent years learning to how to come across as normal, but also people have this idea of what autistic people are like, often taken from quite unreliable sources and very gender stereotyped. I am not interested in prime number like Christopher in the curious incident of the dog in the night time. I am able to hold a conversation and am great at faking eye contact.
I struggle with the way autistic people are portrayed in the media and the lack of understanding between how it differs between men and women. People often don’t seem to understand that we grow up and learn the same way non-autistic people do. An autistic child is very different from an autistic adult. I know it is a spectrum and that what is true for me isn’t true for everyone but what people believe about autistic people and the inaccuracies of that affect me.
I’m happy to talk about being autistic and feel to some extent I have a duty to inform people of the reality of it if people like me don’t speak up who will? Parent advocates are not autistic themselves seem to forget that autistic adult exist too. Mst of the work done by charities is aimed at those who are less able to stand up for themselves ( this is obviously necessary) but it does mean that people like me are often sidelined, too autistic to fit into to general society but not autistic enough for the autistic community.
People like me are an awkward in-between. We have learnt to hide the fact we are autistic so most people will never see it but we still struggle to navigate through a world not built for us.
For the past few years, it didn’t matter too much, I had little contact with the outside world but this January I started a job.
While I would like to live in a world where you can tell someone you are autistic and have no judgment at all I know I don’t. Most people have too many misconceptions about it to something that I would tell potential employers about.
These days I’m good enough at hiding it that it doesn’t matter. I have learnt how to interact with customers properly and I know the right things to say. It seems easy enough, I basically stick to a script that has been well polished over time.
In many ways, there is no reason to tell anyone at work that my brain works a little differently. It has no impact on my ability to do my job, sure I say pretty much the same thing to everyone but it works. I’m highly methodical and organized things that most employers like. So there is little reason to risk my chances of a job by telling them. It is, however, something that it hard to keep a secret forever. I don’t have a great mental filter, I say what is in my head especially when I’m nervous or excited. I have a mental list of things I run through in my head but in a new environment, I don’t filter everything.
The other side of it is that I like to be honest. Sometimes in conversations, it can be hard to find an excuse for any slightly odd thing I say. We recently had the work Christmas party (yes, in February). I had thought that as I had only started in January I wouldn’t be expected to go but it seems I was wrong. I don’t do parties, I can’t be anywhere with loud noise and lots of people. I’m pretty good now at making excuses to why I don’t want to go and explaining a bit about my noise sensitivity issues, (although I still seem to find it impossible to just say I’m busy which would be way easier) but people seem to struggle to understand and will often keep trying to persuade me to go.
It’s not a big deal, I’m used to it, but it highlights social expectations that can be difficult for other people to understand why I wouldn’t want to go. I seem incapable of making a normal excuse, really I should just say I have a prior commitment but I never too. I end up trying to explain why I don’t want to go but avoiding mentioning that I’m autistic.
It feels silly. Life would be so much easier if people would understand that they don’t understand. If people like me could say we are autistic without having to explain ourselves and how yes we don’t seem autistic now but we are adults and have learnt to hide it as otherwise we would get nowhere in life. I want people to understand that just because I can come across as ‘normal’ it doesn’t mean I’m not autistic.
I hope this hasn’t come across too much as a lecture.
If you have enjoyed this or learnt anything from it please share so others can too!
The girl with the braid in her hair xxx