You ask any older autistic person, and they’ll have THE line.
The line everyone says when told that the autistic person is autistic;
“I didn’t know/you don’t look/is that’s whats odd about you?”
Do you know why that might be? And why what you’re saying is the most harmful and degrading thing you can possibly offer, that actually makes that person feel a hundred times worse?
Because they’re not just masking their inner selves from you, they’ve done it for decades. They’ve spent their whole lives, many undiagnosed, in a confusing world that chafed their sides and left parts of them raw, scarred, and hard. It left them vulnerable afraid, but able and adaptable to do whatever it takes to fit in, not be judged, and to try to find their place in a conflictive and chaotic world.
Let me use a completely different story/analogy for this to make sense which coincides with my writerly audience.
There is a story that’s gone around about how a guy went to his therapist, to complain he wasn’t good at writing. When the therapist asks how long he’s been a writer, the guys says three years. The therapist then asks him; do you expect a three-year-old to be an artist? The answer is of course not, they’re just a child. Then why lay the same expectations at the feet of himself when he’s only been trying three years?
Its meant to be encouraging for younger writers, no matter their age, that you are only just starting to learn how to do something.
A child’s autism can be seen as much more obvious because we are more aware of the signs and are better clued into the mental health of younger generations, than those who were born earlier.
Do you know what people with aspergers and autism have done their whole lives before such awareness was more commonplace, or those that still do it because they dont have access to a health system that recognizes why they are struggling?
From the time we are children and join schools and start social interaction something is… wrong.
There is an undefinable sense beyond childhood embarrassing awkwardness that tells us we aren’t like everyone else. From needing down time struggles to stimming being taken as fidgeting, we aren’t okay. But we’re made to play in a loud group of noisy unaware children who aren’t like us. We’re told we’re drama queens, unnecessarily sensitive and emotional yet in a handspan of heartbeats are chastised for lacking empathy and compassion.
So we do what we’re told; because many of us, especially women, should only do as they are told.
Don’t make waves. Make friends. Be interested in other people. Nobody is interested in you. Remember all that information. Don’t talk about those fascinating things. Find a hobby. Don’t become obsessed. Fix yourself to fit in with everyone else.
Many of us went undiagnosed, and many still do. Why? Because we did what we were told.
We’re good at it. We’re so good, women aren’t usually diagnosed until late twenties, early thirties, and many not until years later, if at all. And those are the ones who are seeking therapy, trying to find answers beyond; you’re stressed out/depressed, take these tablets and get out of my office.
We’re very good at covering up who we are. We’ve had years of practice listening to people tell us we are wrong. We build on it, learn to hold our tongues, take a step back, so by the time we’re old enough, confident enough to say; this is more than just the way I am, we’re shattered to find out the world lied to us. All those years, all that time, all that chaffing, and scratchiness, and WRONGNESS was not our fault.
We made mistakes, but we are also not at fault.
The comfort in my diagnoses didn’t give me the strength to come forward. Other people with Aspergers gave me the strength to say to people, at a time I was comfortable, my diagnosis.
And when I did, people hurt me by disregarding or pointing out my flawed nature. My wrongness.
You dont look autistic.
It’s because you taught me not to be myself in front of you. Every one of you. That if my mental health problems were invisible to you then it suited you better. And it insulted every single person on the spectrum, visible or not. It teaches everyone who can hide what they are to do so, and its still happening.
The next person I tell that I have aspergers and they say that to me, I’m going to tell them what they’re saying is harmful. If you’re strong enough, tell them its hurtful. Because there are so many people out there who aren’t confident in their diagnosis/suspected diagnosis to come forward about being autistic, let alone asking for the space they need to survive.