I was born autistic. I’ve been autistic my entire life. And, I will die autistic.
This information shook my world view when it finally came to light, just before my 30th birthday.
I often relate my story to The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen and the poor little swan who grew up believing he was an ugly duck. His knowledge of the truth, and my finding the truth (that I wasn’t a “broken non-autistic”) were both life-changing events.
Suddenly I had the answers to my questions. I understood “me” in an entirely new way. I felt reborn. It was exciting to understand finally. Knowing there were many like me when I had often felt like “the lone weirdo” was comforting.
I am not a freak, not a failure, just autistic.
The nasty names I had for myself began to melt away.
It explained so much – my difficulties, the trouble in school, at work, with my peers, and in relationships. The constant misunderstandings and feelings of people “putting words in my mouth” and assigning meanings to my actions that weren’t there.
It was all just a perspective problem. My perspective was different, and people often (myself included) assume everyone has the same point of view.
Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t understand how differently two people can perceive and experience the same world or situation. I had no vocabulary for sensory processing differences or stimming. I thought everyone had these same issues with lighting and the environment. All I knew was that the rules said: “No sunglasses or hats indoors or at school.”
I thought we were just supposed to “tough it out.” I had no idea supermarket lighting didn’t send STABBING PAIN into EVERYONE’S EYES.
I finally understood how to take care of myself.
I was ready to implement new plans, buy my strategies would often be resisted by commentators, who argued that I “didn’t need to do things in a new way” because I “couldn’t possibly be autistic” or “wasn’t really autistic.”
We tend to think gaslighting is an intentionally malicious act where one person is attempting to manipulate or gain more power over another. They cause the victim to question their sense of reality. Is it possible for someone to unintentionally or accidentally gaslight another individual? If it’s accidental, is it still gaslighting?
Whatever it was, it made “coming out of the autistic closet” very difficult. It seemed like everyone I tried to share with wanted me to keep this new information to myself. Reactions ranged from “no, you’re not” and “are you sure you want to admit that publicly” to “this makes SO much sense” and “everything makes sense now.” The last two comments were from a friend who’s known me since pre-school – long before I ever learned to mask. She had the same reaction I did. People who see me today can’t fathom how far I’ve come or the work it took to get here.
“I would never have guessed you were autistic.”
It’s supposed to be a compliment, but it’s not because it implies there’s something wrong with being autistic in the first place.
I pick up a mask and hide who I am in certain situations because I know that acting in my usual way, just being myself, can get me into trouble sometimes. I dream of a day when no autistic has to mask and tend to avoid people and situations that require me to hide.
Although autistic people with well-developed masks may do better in certain situations compared to autistics without masking skills, masking comes with a substantial cost and may lead to physical exhaustion, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and burnout.
This is why the unmasking of an autistic after late discovery is so important.
We may need to unpack and rediscover ourselves and our autistic nature. We may have to learn to stand up for ourselves when people dismiss our needs because we’ve been dismissing our own needs for too long. We may have been taught to repress our stims, or that sensory protection is “socially unacceptable.”
After years of searching, wondering, feeling weird, broken, and defective, I had the answer – I was autistic. I finally understood myself, had the answers to my questions and was excited to share this revelation with the world. I was simultaneously a whole new person but also the same person I had always been.
However, I now had a new problem, getting people who have always seen me one way to challenge their view of me with this new diagnosis. “You can’t be autistic,” people say followed by some reason that doesn’t even mean anything concerning autism (unless you only know the lousy media stereotypes).
I knew I wasn’t alone in this phenomenon – how many other autistic people have been told: “You can’t possibly be autistic”? How many ignorant reasons? Time for the magic of the internet. . .
#ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics – have you ever been told “you can’t be autistic”? What reason was given?
‘You cannot be autistic, you are nothing like my four year old nephew.’ I turn 50 this year and for the past 45 years no one ever compared me to four/five-year-old children! That was until I came out as autistic. Now it is the most common response to telling them I am autistic.
Monique Craine. @MoniqueCraine
Being married. Being ‘pretty’! Being able to hold a conversation. Being on twitter. Being able to do TV. Being female. Being able to write for a living.
Laura James, @Girl_by_the_Aga
Regularly. Because I don’t look like a young boy with no spoken language who is having a meltdown. Or because I’m not in a care home.
Indeed not. Difficult to run international organisations whilst living in those.
Ann Memmott, @AnnMemmott
Basically being capable of something.
Damian Milton, @milton_damian
Because I can use the internet. That one has been said multiple times.
Antonette Tatro, @AutisticTitan5
‘You can’t suddenly start saying you’re #autistic!’ & ‘You can’t be – we’d have noticed!’ From work colleagues.
‘You don’t sound autistic to me’ from medical professional who’d never met me, on the phone.
Cos Michael, Autistic Autism & Ageing Consultant, @autismage
I had actual therapists and psychiatrists saying, “…But, you have EMPATHY, so you can’t be autistic.” For over a decade it was pretty much the ONLY reason I couldn’t get a diagnosis. Like, multiple doctors sayin’ straight to my face: “You have empathy, so you CAN’T be…”
Josh Jones, @jonestowne
Reasons I’ve included but not been limited to:
I wasn’t like their autistic nephew.
I’m not nonverbal.
I make eye contact.
I wasn’t in Special Ed in school.
I went to college.
I was married.
I have children.
I’m “too high-functioning”.
I “don’t look autistic”.
I’m “not screamy” (?)
The Disaster Autist, @Mr_McQwerty
Read more #AskingAutistics articles by Christa Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
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