Television networks and streaming services have made big bank on seemingly obvious or blatantly literal autistic “characters”. Big Bang Theory and The Good Doctor are just a few of the more popular sitcoms and dramas revolving around autism.
Are all autistics like those main characters?
Anyone with autism, me included, has probably been asked if we relate to or act like the main character of one of these shows. I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until my mid-thirties. So, of course, when I first started sharing my diagnosis with others, they often asked me if I was like Rain Man. When I firmly stated that I was not, people proceeded to ask me if I had any special tricks. “Special tricks” are savant skills many assumed all of us on the spectrum acquire once given our magical autism diagnosis.
People seemed genuinely fascinated by my diagnosis.
I got weird questions all the time. Before my diagnosis, people thought I was odd, introverted and often annoying. After, I was fascinating and mysterious. Of course, that all changed when people found out I didn’t have any autism tricks up my sleeve. Excitement quickly deflated when I couldn’t recite movie scripts word for word or count random objects in mere seconds.
Sometimes questions were weird or offensive.
I was questioned about everything and anything people had seen or heard autistic characters act out in movies or television shows. The weirdest, and probably most offensive question, I got was about robots. Not if I liked robots, people wanted to know if I acted like a robot. At first, I could not fathom what the person meant about acting like a robot. Then, naturally, the woman asked if I had emotions and feelings because she had heard autistic people act like robots without regard for others. I was flabbergasted by this remark. She even went so far as to ask if I had ever cried any real tears. Really?!?!
Of course, I have emotions I stated rather bluntly. I may not process my emotions like typical people, but I still feel every single emotion in this human condition we all live through. Yes, I have cried!
Okay, I will admit that often my voice is flat and blunt and abrupt. I don’t often put any emotion in my voice when speaking to someone, but I’m not a robot. I, like many autistics, also handle emotional feelings in a totally different way than typical people. I will admit I have laughed at a funeral (maybe more than once). I’m not laughing because someone died and I’m a monster, I’m laughing because it’s sometimes hard to process and sort out my emotions in stressful situations. It’s definitely misplaced laughter, but it happens. I often notice that my two daughters on the spectrum have difficulty with stressful emotional situations too.
Sometimes we go through the whole range of emotions in less than sixty seconds.
There are times when autistics are in sensory overload and we can’t process are emotions. Often times, when I’m in intensely social situations, I just show or represent one flat emotion the entire time I am at an event. The reason is that socializing is incredibly difficult. I’m doing the best I can to be present and part of a social scene.
In a way, I guess a number of us with autism are acting all the time.
We are trying to act normal or typical so we don’t stand out in a crowd. We are trying to act uninterested so people won’t approach us. We are often trying to act so normal, that we aren’t true to ourselves. So, maybe we are like those people on TV. Maybe we don’t always want to be noticed as the weird person who acts like that one specific character you’ve seen on a favorite sitcom or drama. Or maybe, we just want to be accepted for who we are. Even if that means I’m just a regular autistic person who doesn’t do any special tricks. I mean I can’t recite every line of the US Constitution, but if you take the time to get to know me, I might just surprise you. I do know a lot about Harry Potter.
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