It still takes many people by surprise that I “function” normally.
That I “get sarcasm.” That my reactions are mostly normal. That I empathize, embrace people, and try to have a good time.
It begs a good question: “How can you be autistic without acting autistic?”
The better question: How do you think we pass as normal?
There’s a good post I’d refer you to on Autistic Masking – our practiced art of adapting to what others would consider and judge to be normal situations.
You never really grow out of autism — you just learn better how to cope and adapt to where normal meets norms.
Things like practiced conversation, pre-rehearsing, active listening, walking in just the right spot in a group, “going with the flow,” leaving my glasses off to make better eye contact, making good exit points, asking lots of open-ended questions — these are almost survival skills I’ve had to practice over time so I can exist with others without warding them off.
I have a week-long business trip coming up, and I’m dreading it.
I’ll be meeting what I feel is like a hundred people for the first time, people I’ve known virtually for years. And they all like to party and have a good time.
And you know I’ll pop up here and there and be genuinely amiable, crack a quality joke or two, come across as halfway normal.
But that takes a lot of acting behind the mask.
Where I have to be excruciatingly intentional about the time I spend.
The group size and composition.
The proximity to my hotel.
The relative odds of certain groups of people staying out later relative to others.
Pushing off enough work projects to where I can exit gracefully on my own terms.
Folks, this is the reality of the many autists in your midst, us ducks paddling feverishly above the waters you deftly sail across.
Fine tuning and baking the clay of a polished mask to where we dare tread among good ol’ regular folks, because we want to try. In many ways we are far apart, but we want to play the part.
And it’s often our finest role – playing a normal version of ourselves.