The Life Autistic: Why We Wear the Mask

11205992_10153264471137246_1891784946827250391_n.jpg

For those of us on the high-functioning side, we’re sometimes accused of faking our autism.

But more often than not, we’re having to fake being “normal.” 

That’s where ‘masking’ comes in.

Masking is where autistic people drastically adjust their behaviors to mask their symptoms. Some of us do it more than others.

Things like finding a spot on someone’s face to stare at to approximate eye-contact. A painstakingly-rehearsed repertoire of small-talk to give off the appearance of social comfort. Mimicking normal behaviors. Finding places to sit or otherwise be occupied so we’re not caught pacing, flapping, or otherwise repetitively twitching while we talk. Reaching out to others out of the blue. Doing research on people we’ll be meeting so we can find ways to get them talking so we don’t have to.

Why? To pass as normal. To retreat from awkwardness. To fit in. To be accepted.

It’s exhausting. I don’t know how you neurotypical people do it.

But I know how do it. I’ve needed a mask, something that goes beyond Hunter.

My mask is practically Batman (or Daredevil, as befits the image). It’s become its own thing nowadays.

You may have seen it.

It’s why some people think I’m a great raconteur, an entertainer, and (at work anyway) a well-connected, gregarious individual who can light up a room and spin the conversational wheel of fortune around the table.

But that is itself a mask, an emblem, a symbol.

My mask has a name: H2.

. . . to be continued

The Life Autistic: Why Apologies are Hard (and how you can help!)

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 10.23.45 AM.pngSaying “I’m sorry” is hard for neurotypical people.

It’s not that hard for us.

“What?” you say. “Dude, you just said apologies are hard!

Yep, they are.

What’s the phrase, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it?” It’s different for autistic people, because there’s an added dimension that defies our solving:

It’s not how we say we’re sorry; it’s that others cannot tell if we’re sorry or not.

I’ve spent a good bit reading up on how to voice apology without qualification, excuse, keeping it simple enough to admit wrong and relay why it wronged another.

But for us autistic people, it doesn’t matter. Why?

People assume we don’t feel sorry.

I get when it’s a hasty apology, or when it’s just words coming out to diffuse tension, or something insincere and excuse-laden.

But we hear things like:

“You don’t sound like you’re sorry.”

“I don’t think you understand what you did.”

“You should feel worse about this.”

People, people, people — help us out here.

If we’re owning our blame, conveying that we wronged you and elaborated on why, and we’re apologizing, without qualifications, to make peace and seek genuine restoration in doing better, then please accept that.

Please.

It is difficult enough for us to navigate emotional and empathetic gaps, but we’re not heartless people. Please don’t assume our heartfelt apologies are any less sincere because we’re half-robot.

There’s a line that sticks with me in Moana, when Maui apologizes to Te Fiti.

“Look, what I did was …. wrong. I have no excuse. I’m sorry.”

The sad reality: if Maui was autistic, no one would believe him.

The Life Autistic: I Walk Through the Uncanny Valley

Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 4.00.05 PM.png

Ok, if you’re not familiar with the phrase and concept of ‘uncanny valley,’ go read up.

Back? Cool.

Being autistic is like being living in an uncanny valley.

Why?

We humans are most comfortable with humans who act like humans and robots who act like robots. Mixing the two together creates an eerie revulsion that jars our expectations and freaks us out.

And of course, how do people describe us higher-functioning autistics? Monotone. Focused. Cold. Rational. Unemotional. 

Robotic.

Instead of thinking it was always personal, or that it was my weight, acne, whatever, I should have just rationalized it as “Oh, duh, these people have a reflexive avulsion to humans with robotic tendencies!”

If only.

We’re not robots. We’re just different.

Where many would become derailed by emotion, we won’t. Where others make poor decisions based on anger, spite, and hate, we don’t. Where some bask in the warmth of others and feel the benefit of feelings, well, sometimes we can’t.

We’re no less human. I’m no less human.

I might not look you in the eye. I might flap and jitter while walking and waiting. I probably won’t get worked up about hot-button, emotional topics. And my elevated prosody isn’t your computer’s dictionary talking.

I can’t help that you’re revolted. And I also cannot pretend to be a normal human the way normal humans don’t have to pretend.

If you can, try to see beyond the uncanny valley.