Autism makes me vulnerable and I don’t always want to share it.
I got diagnosed because I wanted to confirm my truth, but also because I felt it was vital for “invisible” autism to become more visible in society.
How could I convince others that diagnosis and acceptance were important if I had not even taken my own advice?
I’m proud to be neurodiverse, I am. I understand more about how my brain works, why it makes me creative, why it makes me so emphatic. But it also makes me gullible, clumsy, and easily worn out. It makes me awkward with my co-workers and strangers making small talk. It means I’m sensitive to stimuli that other people don’t even register.
It’s okay to be introverted (easily confused by social norms, fond of animals, always reading) yet completely different to be “out” as an autistic woman, even though it involves completely the same things.
Not everyone who has an invisible disability realises it; they just internalise that they are “weird”, or an introvert, or a “Highly Sensitive Person” or an Empath, and go through life as a weird but neurotypical, non-disabled person.
Even knowing about autism, or perhaps because I thought I knew about it, I went undiagnosed for years. My social skills were present, I could talk, I could perform well in school…the many ways that I was over-worked were easy to hide. My incessant doodling was just my personality, my need for comfort and lack of care for social norms was just personality.
Because my disability is invisible, I have the option to hide it.
I can pass as “quirky” instead. There’s enough depictions of the manic-pixie dream girl, lost in her own world, sensitive and unique, charmingly naive and outspoken, that I can be accepted, even only partially. I can hide my discomfort until later if I have to. I can either avoid direct discrimination or draw attention to my “flaws” and my differences. I can be autistic by “choice”, or be seen as a neurotypical oddball by default.
It’s not just about masking, although I’m constantly doing that, calculating my moves for optimum workplace harmony and bypassing my “asocial” natural instincts.
It means staying silent about my limitations and weaknesses, my vulnerability and my “flaws”.
We live in a society based on presenting a flawless face as far as possible. Hiding my failings doesn’t remove them, and doesn’t stop me feeling shame, but it does protect my image. It’s easier being employed, it’s safer, and there’s less risk of being patronised or underestimated.
Society has a long way to go, until the autism pride movement, visible on the internet mainly through popular activists like Autistic Not Weird and movements like ActuallyAutistic, reflects safety in real life.
To be safe in real life, I need a lot of things to change about people’s attitudes to disability in general.
We need to accept not only superficial differences or special talents, but weaknesses too. We’re coming a long way with accepting difference, but to make the big structural changes, we need to take “deficits” and start to value and respect them.
I don’t get anything from differentiating myself from other people with deficits, because if we pick and choose the deficits we respect, we’re drawing an unnecessary line between the worthy and the people we shouldn’t bother with.
Imagine a world where everyone was allowed to have their failings. Where being equal wasn’t conditional on ability, or strength, but inherent to everyone regardless of ability. We’d enjoy our individual strengths, contribute without having to push beyond our individual limits, and respect everyone as part of a greater whole.
Thanks for reading! I feel like this week I’ve been really aware of the impact of my autism on me at work, every time someone turns the radio on and I have to sneakily turn it down, every time I walk into a door because of my proprioception (balance), and every time someone asks “hows things” and I have to remember to ask them back! I have actually told 2 people, and I wouldn’t feel bad if it “got out”, but I definitely feel a pressure between disclosing and just getting on with it, to avoid the possibility of awkwardness…
Anyone else still in the autism closet at work? Or do you have a different disability that you’re keeping hidden? How do you cope and disguise your problems? Or are you out at work, and if so, did that go okay and do you recommend it?
More like this:
- How To Like Yourself Even When The World Says No
- My Life As A Potential Label Stealer (Autism) (fun fact: this is from before I was diagnosed! 🙂 )
- Social Model of Disability: Autism