I’ve written about mimicking before (here and here, to name a couple). Mimicking other people takes on many forms. Sometimes it’s relatively mild, in which people all mimic each other to an extent in order to participate in society. Or, it can be much more pronounced, such as the annoying younger sibling who repeats every word you say just to irritate you.
For people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, however, there’s another–specific–type of mimicking, done for a specific reason. Our commonly-shared social awkwardness often drives us to observe and copy the words, phrases, actions, and/or even appearance, of someone else, in order to be accepted, in order not to stand out as a “nerd”, an “outcast”, or otherwise different. Mimicking becomes a survival strategy for interacting with the world at large.
Although mimicking in the general (not-necessarily-spectrum) sense of the word is usually more of a childhood concept (especially in terms of the frustrating parrot-sibling), it’s not necessarily a childish thing. In fact, it’s a natural human tendency, no matter what one’s arbitrary age.
And for many of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum mimicking others, whether done consciously or not, often continues to be a closely-guarded secret for surviving the non-spectrum world.
In short, it’s not a bad thing. And in fact, it’s often crucial. It shouldn’t have to be; the world should simply accept each person on their own merit, as an individual. There should indeed be more tolerance for those who might fall just outside the “bell curve”. But, society has its norms and customs and therefore, so do we.
For people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, mimicking can assume many forms as well. Maybe we’ve continued to emulate someone particularly charismatic in the workplace or in our neighborhood. Or maybe we try to post or share something on social media that got a lot of “likes” when our friend or family member posted it.
Speaking only for myself, I know that sometimes I feel like a grown-up version of my childhood-self, still trying to iron out the “bugs” in my clunky–or missing–Social App of our Asperger’s/Autistic Operating System.
I might still be looking for acceptance, acceptance I might feel like I’ve never gotten. Mimicking, in various forms, seems to be a natural instinct for me.
But sometimes, mimicking someone else doesn’t go so smoothly or work out so well. Often, it doesn’t seem like my presence packs the punch or gains the admiration that someone else’s does.
Throughout my life, I’ve watched people say and do the right things at the right times. I’ve seen them receive the right, favorable responses from the right audience.
If what that perfect person said or did was cool, everyone emulated it; it went viral, rippling out among the rest of the right people.
If what they said or did was funny, it was delivered without a hitch and everybody laughed.
If it was posted on social media, everyone liked it, commented on it, and shared it.
And yet, when I try to do the same things, it falls flat. I’m met with a silence so awkward that you can practically hear crickets. Even if you’re inside. During the daytime.
That’s not fair. That person wasn’t trying all that hard, to get those “likes” and comments. Not nearly as hard as I was, anyway. I put forth so many more times the effort than they did. I planned it all out much more carefully, and with much more thought. I tried harder, dammit, and yet, when I said or did the same thing, everybody ignored me, except for a few stray facial expressions. I couldn’t quite tell what they conveyed, but let’s just say it fell somewhere between “OK…” And “it’s not that cool when you do/say it”. It’s almost a combination of boredom and condescension.
I call those the Social ABCs; A for Awkwardness (mine), B for Boredom (theirs), and C for Condescension (theirs).
Maybe we’ll add a fourth one: D for the desire to Disappear. What the hey, let’s go one more: E for Escape route planning.
I went off on a mental tangential thought-stream and actually came up with an entire Social Awkwardness alphabet while writing the notes for this post, by the way; that will likely be my next post 🙂
I’d like to be able to offer some kind of solution, but I don’t have one, at least not yet. I thought that by now, I would have been able to construct a Charismatic, Likeable Me that the world at large might find attractive in some way. But even though I’m closing in on 40, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m not sure if it ever will.
For now, I’ll just have to practice some acceptance of my own: to accept that the general population will always respond more favorably to the “right” people, who say and do the “right” things, in the right place, at the right time. I’ll have to accept that I’m not one of those people, the Chosen Ones, the ones chosen by society as benchmarks to measure themselves by.
In a way, that’s OK, because I imagine that the pressure that would accompany such attention from general society might be too much for me to handle. Maybe the stars are lining up perfectly to shield and protect me from stress that I might not be equipped to handle. It’s true that I don’t want all eyes on me. In fact, I’d rather not. But at least a couple pairs of eyes would be nice. It would be nice if something neat or unconventional that I said, did, posted on social media, or what-have-you, could go viral once.
But maybe, and this could simply be my Inner Child talking (picture arms folded across chest, with lower lip sticking out, and saying “fine–I’ll take my marbles and go home”), that’s exactly why I seem to have little impact on the world at large, even within my own family: what I have to say, what I do, and indeed who I am, is unconventional. It lacks mass appeal, and therefore, it fails to gain mass attention.
And then I look at the “lowest common denominators” who do get mass attention. Consider celebrities, for example. They’re relatively empty. They don’t necessarily take a stance on something, work to develop something that could change the world, or possess a whole lot of talent. For every word someone says stands a chance of turning off someone or pushing someone away. The only way to really gain a following is to either keep one’s mouth shut, or say and do things that are common to–and relatable by–everyone.
I couldn’t stomach such obligation or pressure. I also couldn’t handle endlessly fending off the Paparazzi or the news media or a huge fan base.
But it might indeed be nice to be able to gain a couple of laughs when telling a joke around the office water cooler. It might be nice to hear someone say, “you know–that’s an excellent idea!” in response to a proposal or solution during a brainstorming session or a meeting. It might be nice to hear a few people say, “awesome!” and know that they clicked the “share” button when posting something on social media. Or “good point!” in response to an oddball-but-uncanny theory I dreamed up.
Maybe that day is just around the corner. It may just be a matter of audience or of peers. It might simply have been a matter of finding the right people, the right crowd, the right tribe. And since discovering that I’m autistic/an Aspie, I just might have found people that “get” me after all. 🙂
(Image Credit: Hakan Bardakci)