In the grand scheme of my life, my knowledge of my Neurodivergent neurological orientation is still fresh-ish. After all, my awareness of being autistic only accounts for 3% of my lifetime. (I actually did the math, even if I did some rounding so that I could work with nice, simple numbers on my mobile’s rudimentary calculator.) 😉
Despite the comparatively brief period during which I have known the truth, I feel as though I’ve hit a warp zone, plunging myself into another nook or cranny of the world. There are some things you can’t un-know, nor would I want to, even if I could.
That’s not to say that these new lenses don’t come with some fine print of their own. I’m reaching the realization that nothing is inherently black or white, soft or hard, warm or cold. It just is. And that’s OK.
That doesn’t mean that it’s easy, though. It’s not the Asperger’s/autism that makes certain times challenging for me; it’s the mismatch between my way of thinking (of being) and that of the world in general.
The world in general can be so silly. They make Aspergians out to be arseholes and autistic people out to be blank nothingness. They react (or act? I can’t tell) with shock and say things like “I’m so sorry” when (if) I tell them that I’m on the spectrum. Even if those people are well-meaning, their response requires a response in turn, which usually consists of giving an explanation I may or may not have the mental energy for. And, it’s an explanation that they might not even be open to receiving. Do my explanations of liberation and validation make a difference? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, or maybe they don’t right now. And maybe they will later, should any of those people stumble into an “a-ha!” moment of their own.
But as I mentioned, this takes energy. Energy I don’t always have. Words I can’t always find. Expressions that might fail to convey my truth, might fail to convince those people that I really am OK. And by then, I might not be, for their response is, as of now, the default one, based on a pervasive and global misunderstanding.
So, most of the time, I conceal my autism behind a semi-invisible cloak.
Sometimes I get the strange looks. I don’t always know what various facial expressions mean, but I know a weird look when I see one. The expression could be in response to practically anything. Usually it’s something that I said or did, something that seemed perfectly logical, perfectly acceptable, perfectly appropriate. Except that it wasn’t. Some things you can’t un-say or undo. Some facial expressions you just can’t un-make. Better luck next time.
And then some people say, “you’re autistic? You can’t be autistic! You’re too ‘normal’!” (And it is I who am accused of being too blunt? The irony (hypocrisy?) sort of baffles me.)
And some people will tend to treat me differently after I tell them. Suddenly, it’s like I magically regress in physical age, and they start talking to me like I’m a young child. Or someone not to be believed. Except that last time I checked, I was well within the realm of sound mind.
Usually, though, it’s more subtle than that. I may not have much of a body language or facial expression decoder, but somehow I ended up with a pretty decent Intuition Antenna. I can’t tell quite what their eyes or posture are saying, but there is indeed a signal coming through. And I’m not so sure that it’s a signal I like. It seems to say, “I’m treating you like a human being now because I was doing that two minutes ago before you told me, and it’s socially incorrect to treat you noticeably different now.” Kind of how some companies express their low regard for their employees by paying them minimum wage; you know they’re only paying that much because it would be illegal to pay them less.
These awkward signals are visible. It’s not like I can’t tell. I can’t decode the specifics, but the general message is (too) loud and (too) clear.
And there are some times when there are some people who tell me to “just try harder”. As if I’m not trying my best already. I want to ask them if they think I’m holding out on them. As if I’m suddenly going to fess up and say, “whoops! You got me there. Here, let me pull these aces out of my sleeve.”
And some people continue to believe that Asperger’s/autism is just an excuse. A label that one simply slaps onto their chest so that life may somehow grant some kind of “get out of jail free” card. I’d like one of those cards! I would use it sparingly, of course, but it would come in handy during an emergency. But alas, I have no such thing. Having a diagnostic label only provides an explanation for that which is already there, for that which confused me, for that which frustrated me. If anything, the realization allowed me to let myself off the hook for attributes that I never revealed to the world. But I’ve never asked the world at large to tiptoe around me. I simply want (need) to be accommodated, in tiny unobtrusive ways, a bit more often.
Some people might think I’m vying for special attention when I tell them. “Ohhhh, you’re one of those,” say their eyes, as those eyes roll inside.
This response incites an internal eyeroll of my own in return. It’s not attention that I want. In fact, the reality is, ironically, the opposite. All I wanted for most of my life was for people like that not to pay attention, but instead, to look away and ignore me. Certainly, I wasn’t all that interesting. Out of all of the elements in the chaotic surroundings, surely there was something or someone who was louder, faster, more dynamic, more fun, or more fascinating to latch one’s gaze onto. So why me? I wasn’t parading myself in front of the crowd, turning classrooms and lunchtime cafeterias into my own personal stage. I wasn’t calling any attention to myself, so why did anyone give it to me? I was the Quiet One, and now the same types of people who gave me unwanted attention as a child are the ones who would accuse me of merely using my Asperger’s/autism spectrum status for attention now. Oh, the irony. Or would that be projection? I’m almost too jaded to care.
One of the most irksome responses to my spectrum disclosure–that I’ve heard plenty–is the misguided statement that “everybody’s like that.” No. They aren’t. And it’s almost insulting to insinuate otherwise.
I’m cautious about autism disclosure these days because there are some people who might be inclined to suddenly come to see me as a “burden”, where they didn’t before. And they might never have, had I not disclosed my status to them.
I’m still “Laina”, after all. I’m not “Autistic Laina” or “Laina the Aspie” now, any more than I was before I told anyone, not even any more than I had been before I found out the truth for myself.
I withhold my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis from people in my professional career because there’s always the (likely) chance that I might lose credibility with many in my profession if I come out fully.
And the neurotypical world is not the only potentially hostile agent; there are even some (a tiny few) who are/claim to be autistic themselves who have said, “have you been officially diagnosed? Because if not, you can’t say you are.”
Although I have since been fully formally diagnosed (and dually at that), I endured that sentiment occasionally from a small-but-snobby sliver of officially-diagnosed autistic people, and I call Bullshizz on that philosophy. I get where it comes from. I understand that some people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum have been manipulated or otherwise wronged in various ways by those who are just looking for attention. I have yet to witness such a deception, but apparently it has happened to some. But even though I can empathize with the backstory behind the sentiment, that doesn’t make it right. I’ve gone there before, so I won’t go there again. Let’s just say that no one has the right to tell another person what they can or can’t call themselves. It’s fine to have an opinion, but it’s not fine to further alienate and marginalize people one doesn’t even know.
When I make the effort to open up about my truth and my reality, I’m taking a risk. Once the cat is out of the bag, I’m at the mercy of other people’s levels of tolerance and open-mindedness. I’m at the mercy of their reaction, an element which is beyond my control. I’m at the mercy of their previous experiences and current knowledge bases. There’s the very real chance that they might shut down, shun me, turn on me or turn away from me, and silently vow never to talk to me again.
Every time I disclose, I must ask myself if this is a person I’m willing to let go of, to never see again. I must grill myself about whether or not I’m OK with this being my last contact with them, before I fall off their planet and evaporate from their world.
Happily, most people don’t seem to care. Luckily, the responses I’ve described above are relatively uncommon (except for a few). Fortunately, I don’t encounter most of them on a regular basis.
But that doesn’t mean the chance isn’t still there. That doesn’t mean I will never hear these things (again). It doesn’t mean I’m home-free. It simply means that I’m not ready to tell the whole world yet. Because I think that one factor that has saved me from being met with these responses and sentiments may be the caution I’ve taken and the people I’ve chosen when deciding whether or not to speak up about being autistic. I proceed as though there’s a crack in every sidewalk, a land mine in every field, and a ghost in every machine. It might be a lonely, limiting, and deceptive way to live life, but it’s my way, and it’s the only way that I can deal with. 🙂