The Life Autistic: Is High-Functioning Autism just a Shield?

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I recently came across some autism-related news; it’s unfortunate the autism mention came in defending one’s poorly-chosen actions:

“I understand I came off as super rude but I’m rude and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

[Becky] said she suffers from Autism and that having Obregon stand outside her home made her feel trapped.

“As somebody with autism I’m extremely uncomfortable with having strangers in front of the house,” she said. “It’s extremely triggering to have to walk out and see a stranger there. To me, this person might attack me, I don’t know.”

As I read this article (and the, uh, interesting takes that followed), it got me thinking about the all-too-fine lines between ‘autism as a reason for actions’ vs. ‘autism as an excuse.’

I’ve even had to endure some difficult conversations about to what extent I “hide” my negative actions (brusqueness, directness, ignorance, insensitivity) behind my autism.

That line of thinking both makes and misses the point:

Autism is not a shield, nor is it meant to excuse our worst attributes.

I’ve had episodes similar to Becky’s, thankfully with less racist/ableist optics.

I’m not proud of when I’ve yelled and cussed at people, or when I’ve ever lied, or grabbed the last piece of cake.

Some actions are just bad, and autism doesn’t explain them away.

Autism doesn’t justify racism, prejudice, lies, grift, or many hosts of other sins.

In fact, it doesn’t justify anything.

Things like ‘rudeness’, ‘insensitivity,’ and ‘brusqueness’ — now that is where autism gets its bad rap.

But do I get a pass on those? Do I get a “Get Out of Civility” free card?

No, and I shouldn’t. And I won’t use a shield for that.

Instead of a shield, I’d rather have context, something that moves my stance from “Don’t Blame Me” to “Do Understand Me.”

 

 

The Life Autistic: One Word We HATE Being Called

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Imagine you’re a horse.

A horse with a mission: “Run as fast as you can around this track three times.”

And off you start: saddle, blinders, gate, whistle – go.

The best horses run; they gallop with single-mind, pounding heart, focused and intentional.

But that focus isn’t always innate — that’s why they wear blinders. To keep their attention on the task at hand, to eliminate distractions, detractions from that mission, that task.

Now what if you’re next to this horse in the race and he jerks his body into you, slamming into your leg? Or maybe he veers right into you without noticing, shoving you off course?

Of course, you blame the horse, right? He should have been paying attention. He should have been more aware of his surroundings.

No.

Now imagine you’re autistic.

Whether you give it or get it, sometimes you have a mission. It’s mundane. You, being normal, don’t understand why it’s so important to put away a pile of socks — but it IS. 

Your focus narrows, your blinders are slipped aside your eyes, and off you work.

You don’t stop. You keep going. You’re not making the decision to ignore people or things. They’re not getting your attention. You’re barreling through people without seeing them as obstacles — you’re just not seeing them.

This is why people call us a thing, something that speaks to output and ignores the input.

Inconsiderate.

Don’t call us that. We hate it.

Being ‘inconsiderate’ implies too much maliciousness, willful self-absorption, and frankly, that gives us too much credit. We’re not some haughty, off-putting villains.

We’re autistic. We’re focused. We have blinders. They’re just there. 

We’re not excusing the output. We’re explaining the input. 

We get that it can cause problems. Trust me, if I could yank the blinders off at will — I would.

Don’t blame the horse.

Perhaps reconsider what it is to be inconsiderate.

 

The Life Autistic: Why We Can’t Just ‘Unmask’

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Sometimes I wish I could live more of my life as more of myself. Many of us feel the same.

“So, uh, live life like yourself then, duh,” some neurotypicals may say.

Yeah, if only.

Many of us mask because we have to.

Here’s why I can’t just rip off the mask and ‘be myself.’

1: Feelings can’t be switched off

“Hunter hurt my feelings with his comment, but I know he wasn’t trying to be insensitive, so I’ll try to be understanding and let that slide,” said no one, ever.

It’s not fair of me to expect everyone to “get me” and adjust their reactions appropriately. It’s also not license for me to be a jerk, either. I don’t want to be reviled and shunned any further, so my mask is one that helps me to talk less, listen more, and say even less so that I don’t come across as abrasive.

2: Quirky oddball loners add tension (and I hate tension)

It’s cringing and awkward when that one dude in your group just isn’t talking, not making eye contact, and isn’t emanating a cool enough vibe to be alluring. I’m usually that one dude. But I can’t stand feeling like that person, so I keep my mask on to glide past it.

It’s a well-crafted, precisely-rehearsed social navigation facade, replete with banter, some medium-grade jokes, and enough chatter to cut the tension, the kind of tension that would be taut enough to cut if I were unmasked and in my element.

3: I’ve succeeded too well with the mask (and not at all without it)

As I look back on the highlights of my life, work, career, and more, they’ve more fallen in the ‘Batman’ category more so than ‘Bruce Wayne.’

I’m not fond of the superhero comparison, but H2 is the caped crusader, the vivacious raconteur, the ebullient knight, better at events, the guy with the hair, almost popular at work, tolerable in life. And Hunter Hansen just . . . isn’t.

I can’t be my version of Batman without the mask. Not yet, and I don’t know if ever.

 

 

The Life Autistic: Why We Wear the Mask

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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