Tuesday 4 April 2017

30 Days of Autism Acceptance: Day 2


Day 2:

Talk about passing and/or being out.  Are you out as autistic?  How have people reacted?  Do they treat you differently after they found out?  Do you attempt to pass?  If you do try to pass have you experienced autistic burnout from trying to pass?

I am out to pretty much everyone as Autistic. It's generally one of the first things I mention to people when I initially meet/contact them, because we interact with people differently. I need them to know that I can't read their face or body language to pick up that I'm boring them when I go off on one, so they need to flat-out tell me! A simple: "Katherine, this is quite boring for me; can we change the subject?" will do! I'd be surprised if anyone on my Facebook friends list didn't know that I was autistic! It's not something I hide and it's not something I want to hide. 

When I apply for jobs, I obviously have to mention that I'm a wheelchair user because of the practicalities off it - no point applying for a job that's on the fourth floor with no lift or turning up for the interview to find that that's the case! With the autism, that's obviously a much more difficult thing regarding disclosure. Again, that's something I'll post about in more detail at a later date. I generally do disclose my autism diagnosis, but with emphasis on how it enables me to do specific aspects of the job really well.

I've had a range of reactions to my diagnosis. My mum was originally sceptical and gave me the "But you're not like any of the kids I taught who had an Asperger's diagnosis..." (She was a maths and PE teacher prior to retirement in 1997, though she carried on doing supply for a few more years.) I bought her a copy of Asperger's and Girls - which I highly recommend and will at some point do an in-depth review of on here - and although it took her a couple of years, she has now accepted it and does occasionally tease me about it! 

I often get the oft-heard and much-frustration-inducing "But you don't look autistic..." Argh! If I'm feeling particularly snarky I'll inquire what "autistic" looks like and usually get silence and confusion as a response. Some people do fit what people think of as "looking autistic" - awkward gait, slightly odd posture, certain facial expressions - but that's hardly a definitive guide! Interestingly, quite a few people I know have said that I do present as autistic or at the very least that there's something "off", "odd" or "unusual" about the way I present; they're usually people who've had quite a lot of contact with autistics. I was helping two of my uni friends, James and Joanna, move into their flat when they first moved back to Exeter and Joanna's mum was there; she works with people with special needs and within 10 minutes of meeting me she'd taken Joanna aside and, in reference to me, asked, "Katherine is autistic, isn't she?" This always makes me smile!

Unfortunately I do also sometimes get the reactions of: "Are you sure you're autistic?" or "But you can't be autistic because XYZ..." These reasons are fairly varied, including: 
"you're female" 
"you have a degree"
"your degree is in English Lit"
"you have a boyfriend [prior to my marriage]/husband"
"you're sociable"
"you have friends"
"you do things with OTHER PEOPLE" (shock horror!)
"you're too high-functioning"
"you don't have a support worker"... 

I have sometimes been treated differently after people have found out my neurology. My mum was initially a bit more protective and some people have been a bit patronising. One of the reasons I tend to disclose right at the start of meeting someone (other than to ensure there's no accidental offence etc) is because people often have a narrow understanding of autism and I want to show them that we're not all high-support, low-IQ, non-speaking, computer-obsessed, asexual, rocking, shrieking monsters; I want them to learn that we are as diverse as neurotypical (NT) people, that we are members of society just like them. Part of acceptance is NTs recognising our diversity and that we are far more than just their sterotypes.

Passing. I don't do it. I don't try to pretend that I'm something or someone or not. I decided that when I was six and my classmates tried to get me to speak like them (I grew up just outside of London but my mum is from Lancashire so I've always had a bit of a Lancs accent). I tried it for about a month and realised it felt wrong, that it wasn't me, so I stopped. I'm not going to change something about me just to "fit in" and if they don't like that, tough; it's their problem, not mine. To be honest, even if I tried, I don't think I'd be able to maintain it for more than a few minutes so I'd soon give myself away!

When I was younger I think there was an element of subconsciously trying to pass, but if it was there, it didn't last long. I am me, and however much people around that may dislike it, however much they may bully me into trying to conform, it won't work. Going back to the accent thing, some of the girls at my secondary school mocked me about it a lot, and I think they thought that if they mocked me long enough and often enough, I'd change my accent to be more like theirs. It had the opposite effect - I deliberately strengthened the accent, partly to assert my Lancs identity and partly to stick it to and spite them! I'm a Lancs girl through and through.

I don't think I've ever experienced autistic burnout from trying to pass as NT, but it's something I don't know much about so I'd have to get back to you on that.

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