“And you said you just got a new dog — I forget which breed. How’s she doing?”
No, I remembered.
It was a Blue Heeler. I remembered laughing inside, thinking it was ‘Blue Healer.’ And I also remembered, because I’ve seen them before. Their color isn’t actually blue. It’s like a blue French Bulldog. Or the color ‘merle.’ It’s a pattern. And I remember them (Blue Heelers) as Australian Cattle Dogs. I often think of them as Australian Blue Heelers. On this one, I wasn’t sure whether the full name was used. But people seem to just go with the shorter version.
Point being: I remember.
But see, that could scare people. It often does. People mention these throwaway details, the appurtenances of the story, like they’re the barely noticeable accessories of the narrative. The “big thing” I’m supposed to remember.
And that’s the expectation: when we go through the small-talk dance, I am expected to go through the motions. To remember “new puppy.” No – she was adopted. So, “new to them.” It was important enough to mention, but not critical that I remember.
But I do.
Pretending that I don’t is just autistic masking.
It’s almost like an anti-mask. Either which way, there’s very little room to wear it right.
If you remember too many details, you’re a creep. Too few, you’re a dummy. Too precise, you’re a robot. Too imprecise, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
The Life Autistic is an exercise in finding when to pull back or pull over this mask. And that is a tiring endeavor.
I’m working my way out of that.
The other day, I asked a stakeholder how their newer cat (a Hemingway, which I knew, but didn’t mention) was getting on with Louie (whose name I did mention). Those are specific details. It’s specific enough to be off-putting to most, especially since those two cats don’t come up in every conversation.
But I remembered. And I’m going without that mask more often.
Here’s some of the masks you’ll likely never notice — except now you will.
Feigned imprecision. People ask me about numbers. I’ve learned to be more “round.” It’s 25%, even if in my mind I know it’s actually 24.73% and am thinking that in my head. It comes out as 25%.
Limited depth of interest. You ask about my current favorite artists: I’ll stop at three. If I’m feeling my more autistic self, then I’ll check my list and give a dozen. That’s too many. Then it sounds like I’m just showing off. I’m not. I just listen to a lot of music.
Simplifying. I’ll try to use simpler words. I don’t always say strident or vituperative. Bitter is fine. And, y’know what, no — strident is a good one. I’mma use that.
Unmasking is an ongoing thing for me, for other autistic people. It’s been such a long exercise that it almost feels part of me — too much so. I’ve used the phrase “drill in” and almost forgot that I’d reflexively say “inculcate” instead. My ambient music lists would often once run deeper when compelled; now I’ll usually just say “Steve Roach, and, well, stuff like that.”
This is a process.
The dog’s name was Velvet.
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If you want to know more about masking, you’ll enjoy this:
2 thoughts on “Pretending to Forget (and other autism masking tricks you don’t know)”
I remember the details most of the time. To me, if someone thinks I’m a creep, then perhaps it’s on them to consider that at least I was paying attention. It took me about 30 years being me to even understand that I was “masking”. I do the number thing too. “Oh it’s about half the people.” I’ll say, but really, to be precisely 52.3%.
These days, I am who I am. Many people don’t have time for me, nor do they really want to understand, so I’d rather just be myself than twist myself all around trying to help others get “comfortable” with me. Wrong or right, as if there really is such a thing in this context, the other neurotypes can put in a little effort and practice a bit more understanding.
If I’m going all into angles, and dry details, I do catch that and curtail the specifics in recognition that others may be used to something more cut and dry, so we can all make an effort as far as I’m concerned.
Much love to my autistic friends out there.
Hi, my son 8years old keeps talking to himself specially at school at recess. 2 nights ago he broke down in tears because he doesn’t have friends. Kids at school think he is weird. This is when I started to search on google to find something or someone that might help him and I found you.
Thank you for what you are doing.