Autism Can Be Anybody.
I always thought autism was only the kid who couldn’t look anybody in the eye and freaked out when something sudden like the lights turning off or somebody yelling happened.
I often envisioned autistic people as the super genius at levels neurotypicals could only dream of while having the social skills of a traumatized child.
Then I met Angela.
Angela is an autistic woman I work with at my 9–5. She’s smart on a level I can comprehend, and she’s honestly much more socially adept than I am.
For a bit I hated Angela.
I thought autistic people had trouble socializing. Yet for a while it seemed in these situations she was the butterfly while I myself was the caterpillar.
Even when she had moments of misunderstanding or awkwardness she simply explained that she was autistic. Everybody immediately would give a nod or response of understanding.
From what I noticed this transparency even gained the respect of most people she interacted with.
While I normally would try to mask or speed past my awkward tendencies, this girl was straight up unapologetically embracing them- and it worked in her advantage!
I hated Angela because I envied her.
Compared to me, on the outside at least, she seemed so carefree. Free of social anxieties, free of silly worries of crossing blurry social boundaries, free of fear of judgements and betrayals, simply free.
One of the first times I’d actually spoken to her myself she told me about her being autistic. I tried to hide my surprise but to no avail. She noticed and giggled at my response. I couldn’t help but mention how “high-functioning” she seemed to be and how I honestly did not know such a thing was possible.
I had apologized for my response since I did not mean to come off as offensive or ignorant, still, I would not be surprised if it had come out either of those ways.
This unintentional offending, to be specific, tends to happen a bit without my knowledge always as to exactly how.
She reassured me that my response was completely warranted as she received it often with much less remorse.
Without even thinking I mentioned how I had wondered in the past if I could be autistic.
There’s not too much representation out there, but I remember watching a show called “The Extraordinary Attorney Woo!” centered around autistic lawyer Woo Young Woo. This brought about my initial curiosity. I quickly became attached to the show and her character and found myself pondering over small similarities between the two of us.
I would eventually dismiss these thoughts as I had come to the conclusion that these similarities were much too small to really be of any significance.
Yet as I stood here in front of Angela I began to feel that very same feeling of awe laced with curiosity and even a bit of jealousy seeping in.
She responded that it was very possible I could be autistic without knowing, as she hadn’t known for most of her life until a slightly recent diagnosis. She then went on to explain how especially as a woman, any type of acting out in a way that is deemed as dramatic or unordinary is something that is typically seen as an issue that needs to be corrected immediately.
After all, as a female you are expected to sit quietly and look pretty, right?
Not to suggest that men don’t face their own challenges with destructive societal expectations, but still. I never really thought about the possibility that gender could have much to do with it.
That treads the lines of another issue entirely though. For now let’s stay focused on the subject at hand.
That, though, treads the lines of nearly another issue entirely – for now let’s stay focused on the subject at hand.
You see, as a child, tests and school always came to me easily. On the other hand, being social often felt like a test in itself. It seemed harder for me compared to others. Yet I wouldn’t dare ask for help in fear of looking “dumb” or receiving unnecessary retaliation.
Due to this I had to basically study other socially adept people in order to slightly understand things like social cues, boundaries, facial expressions, etc.. Otherwise I just stayed quiet.
For the longest time I didn’t realize this wasn’t “normal”. I thought everyone experienced this struggle. That it was just a part of the human experience. At least until recently.
The more I educate myself on the topic, conducting my own research and speaking to like-minded people (such as Angela) I become more and more confident in my suspicions.
I have no desire to self-diagnose, yet in my head it feels like finally finishing this puzzle I thought I’d lost the pieces to years ago.
(I am currently in the process of seeking out an official diagnosis to be sure. I think of it as searching for the final piece of the puzzle.)
Everything throughout my life, all of my “shameful” experiences, actions, and feelings are finally starting to connect. They’re finally starting to become less shameful and more so understandable.
As I learn about more surrounding the topic, I realize I’m definitely not the only one who has experienced this. Sadly I will not be the last either.
Autism is shown in a variety of ways. It is a spectrum and most definitely does not present the exact same way in every person. Some exhibit more symptoms than others, while others (especially while masking) may not even seem to outwardly show any symptoms at all.
Even more so if they themselves, as well as their environment, are completely unaware and unintentionally ignorant to the disorder and its many symptoms.
The solution to this? Simple. Become aware and spread said awareness.
Learn about it, as you’re doing now. Speak on it. Educate yourself on it, then go on to educate others.
Many will not listen. Some may even retaliate against you for this. Do not let this stop you.
Through all of this, somebody will listen. Somebody will relate. Somebody will cry tears of joy as they believed they were completely alone up until this point.
Of course, this spreading awareness goes for autism as well as any other mental disorder. I’ve struggled with others as well myself (depression, anxiety, PTSD) yet autism seems to consistently have the thickest cloud of ignorance surrounding it in my experience. That is why I made writing on this specifically my priority. I will, however, touch on the other topics in the future to come.
While new generations have increasingly been shedding light on the topics of mental illness altogether (thankfully), there is still an abundance of darkness that needs to be dispensed.
I have no doubt we will persistently enlighten everything and everyone until nearly all is visible and comprehensible.
I just came to the conclusion that writing this article would be, in a sense, my own version of me upgrading my current flashlight.
Talking about it is one thing — like simply picking up a flashlight — an effective tool regardless.
Yet once said and done, the words are gone to the world – except to the ears of those who were present to listen. Even then they can become twisted and distorted with time. This way, through writing, they can last throughout time in all their originality for the world to see.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this. It has been a journey of self-discovery while developing the courage to even dig deeper into the matter at all (never mind sharing some of my findings with the world).
If you relate to any of this, again, do some research. Look deep into yourself and your past. While it will most definitely prove to be difficult at first, it may change your outlook on yourself and life altogether in the end.
It may just help you find enlightenment. On that note, I will leave you with a quote:
“Enlightenment is not a change into something better or more, but a simple recognition of who we truly already are.” — James Blanchard Cisneros