Mishaps in Masking: How Autism’s Double Life Gets Confusing

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There’s someone at work who is just “insanely learned and brilliant” — they’re also my kind of person: quick-witted, uses big words, laughs at my jokes, keenly perceptive.

For example, when I told her I majored in English, she was probably the only one to ever ask what my concentration was, where I went to for undergrad, along with a host of other “second gear” questions that go beyond the typical “oh, that makes sense.”

But she said something last week that short-circuited me for a solid minute.

But first, let’s talk about masking. It’s kind of a thing among those of us who’ve cultivated or patterned a persona or other modeled behaviors that obfuscate (mask) our more ‘obvious’ autistic traits — whether out of fear, reprisal, concern, or a whole host of things.

For me? I’ve a more gregarious, outgoing front, enough of one to where people assume I’m far more of a socially-adept entertainer than I am. I don’t do well with silence and quiet awkwardness, so it’s easier for me to slither into a more humorous skin and ease tensions with light comedic touches and get others talking and energetic. It’s just easier.

But that’s not quite me. 

Me and my team try attend this person’s lectures and workshops as much as possible, because she’s cool, brilliant, and perceptive. She asked how we were all doing.

Small pause.

I hopped on camera to break the ice with wry comment.

“I’m here,” I groaned, in mock moroseness.

“Oh, I’m glad you came on camera,” she remarked. “I know how much of a quiet wallflower you are in general.”

I stopped, brow furrowing, trying to reconcile within a fraction of a moment what she meant.

While I can speak sarcasm fluently, I’m far from proficient in reading it. And this definitely sounded like sarcasm, even if I knew (for myself) that what she said was more patently true than it wasn’t. My brain was about to crater and splatter matter on my camera, so I had to intervene

“Oh, you DO know that H2 is the social persona here. Hunter’s definitely less so.”

We all laughed, and in my case, nervously; I’d barely managed to avert a crisis while still deftly papering over the interruption in my understanding.

In the moment I couldn’t tell whether she was using her super-perception to bring out a more true aspect of myself or whether she made a well-meaning and funny joke about the ‘me’ that most people interact with. I got a good laugh out of it, so all’s fine!

/takes mask off

The Lives Autistic are hard and often confusing, especially when people mistake you for who you really are.

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