If you are autistic and manage to make it through school and your 20s then your not really autistic because people would have realised. That seemed to be majority consensus from the people I’ve spoken to about my own autism.
When the potential of the diagnosis came up I spoke to my line manager at the time. She was supportive but the first thing they said was ‘I’ve worked with autistic people before and your not like them’. After that I was temporarily working with another team, again I mentioned to the person who would be managing me. This time I was told I can’t be autistic as I give live training and workshops.
From friends I had a few ‘Yeah but your high functioning’ (also had this from a family member), and also ‘I couldn’t tell’ which is nice as I couldn’t tell either.
Not that I hold this against any of these people. The responses were not meant to be hurtful, but for them I challenge their view on autistic individuals. They couldn’t see beyond the years of masking, of learning how to be part of their world, of making myself fit in. They can’t see inside me, at the turmoil, the pain and the anxiety that swirls within me just like I can’t see what’s happening inside them. In their way they were trying to be nice, trying to reassure me that to them I was normal, an unintentional compliment on my masking ability.
This is what happens when we rely to much on the labels and stereotypes we have. Stereotypes are an essential part of how humans have developed. Our brain uses stereotypes as a quick reference guide, what do we know about this situation(or person) so we can try and predict what is about to happen and to quickly get the conscious up to speed. We know a tiger is dangerous so our brain makes sure this is the first thing we think about when we see them. However social situations are more complex then simply looking at an animal and trying to work out if you are in danger or not. We tend not to consider an animals personality, desires, their current personal situation etc, so we have less to consider. But when dealing with other humans we have a lot more happening then just working out if there is a threat. In fact even if there is a threat the person could be disguise it from us.
On animals I would like to say this is a bit of a generalisation, those who work with animals definitely can build a bond, and can learn even the most dangerous animals personality. I love animals and personally think we underestimate both their or so and emotional intelligence but that’s a different subject…
Back to humans. Urgh why. Sorry. Errrrm stereotypes right. So stereotyping is natural and part of our brains processing, but that doesn’t mean they are going to be right. And most people tend to take their internal stereotypes as gospel and don’t tend to challenge these internal judgments, which is really what we should be doing, asking ourself if this is correct for the person or people I’m with.
Just like stereotypes we also use labels to sort different parts of society. These labels generally fit around basic and usually biological differences such as gender, age, race, or ability. But the labels can be restrictive, gender is not as simple as the biological gender you were born with, and neurological genders are now more recognised. This causes the labels to expand to include how people see their gender. But this starts to confuse people, especially those who see gender as a biological factor and don’t understand the neurological side, which leads to misunderstanding and potential resentment on both sides of the arguments that arise as more people question what should be considered normal.
Labels have their own stereotypes and when it comes diagnostic labels it’s easy for a certain stereotype to form, especially if it’s a ‘hidden’ condition which is one that potentially comes with no outward signs like Autism, and with conditions that have only recently been discovered. So it’s easy to have an image of an Autistic person based off that kid you sat next to in school who was a pain in the arse, or the guy who had a meltdown in a supermarket, or Sheldon Cooper because that’s what autism looks like right? And if you not met anyone or somehow managed to avoid TBBT then you probably will use the symptoms or at least the known symptoms such as lack of empathy and/or socially inept (both of which aren’t necessarily true for all Autistic individuals).
So I can understand the comments I got, I was a challenge to the label and it’s stereotypes in their head, I didn’t fit so they questioned it, or some cases tried to refute it, and I hope that next time they will be less set on their stereotypes having met me.
The label also doesn’t really do justice to how differently individuals experience conditions like Autism. For example I like to think I am generally good at reading people, using facial expressions, body language and voice tone. However I don’t know what to do with that info, so I might recognise your upset but not know what to do to make you feel better. I also struggle to recognise if a situation is the right time to discuss the emotions I’m picking up, or even if they want to discuss it. I am sure I’ve annoyed so many people with my constant ‘are you ok’?
And that’s me. But some people with Autism will struggle to pick up any of this, and some will be able to do it better then me or slightly worse then me. Like some people with Autism can find loud or certain pitch noises painful, I personally don’t but instead struggle to filter out all the noises around me. Both are caused by the way the brain processes sensory input, and in both cases caused by to strong an input from the ears, but they show in different ways. It doesn’t make me more or less autistic then the other person, it just means I need different support for this particular aspect of the spectrum.
And this is why the labels and stereotypes can be dangerous. I am one autistic individual in a world full of individuals. My needs, my struggles, my success, my fuck ups, they are all mine, and have nothing to do with any medical diagnosis or other label you might want to give me. I didn’t seek a diagnosis because I wanted to be labelled in anyway, or to have an excuse for my actions, or to be treated as a stereotype. I wanted the diagnosis because I wanted to know about myself and for me the certainty of a medical diagnosis is what I needed to be sure.
And it’s complex, because autism is part of me, I can’t remove it and still be the same person as I am now. So I am the label but the label isn’t me. And that’s what we need to remember, we are individuals, and shouldn’t just be seen by the labels and stereotypes we enforce onto ourselves.
I do want to say not everyone gave these sort of responses. Those closest to me asked how I felt about the diagnosis and have accepted me for who I am and are helping in allowing my masks and walls to come down. To these people I will always be thankful for accepting me as me and not just seeing the labels I have.