So today I thought it might be fun to talk about my own experience as a person on the spectrum, opposed to being a parent of someone on the spectrum. Throughout my life I have been called a lot of different names due to my autistic characteristics, but this was the most humiliating….. “creepy”.
I was 18 years old and I had just left high school. My father had helped me obtain an office traineeship with a contact in the industry he worked in. In this workplace I had already been the subject of bullying by other young women who thought I was a ‘snob’ because I couldn’t manage small talk and didn’t understand their interests, but that sort of stuff I was used to from high school (sigh). No, this time the bully was a 60ish year old Managing Director who should have had more sensitivity.
To give you an idea of 18 year old me…… I was super smart, hard working, a great problem solver, a quick learner, reliable and honest. I also happened to be very awkward, socially anxious, could not look people in the eye or make small talk. I generally just answered people with as few words as possible, and never initiated conversation. Now as a 35 year old woman, I still feel exactly the same way on the inside BUT I can fake these skills pretty well on the outside.
So back to this Managing Director…. One day he called me into his office just to tell me that I needed to look people in the eye when I spoke, otherwise it was too creepy. I was shattered! I thought I was doing pretty well to have made the adjustment from high school to work so quickly. Anyhow…… I was desperate to fit in so I tried my best to change this about myself. I started off by making eye contact for just one second, gradually increasing the duration of eye contact. The big problem with this was that it has never become automatic, so I am concentrating of making eye contact instead of listening properly. It’s ok if I am having a casual conversation, but if it’s something complicated or technical I have to look away to listen properly.
These days I work in an environment that accepts my quirks and just lets me be myself. It is much less tiring. I have largely gone back to not looking at people directly when they speak (depending on the situation) and it is freeing. I also don’t try and mask things like my stimmimg, my routines, repetive behaviours or fascinations. I feel as though I deserve the right to be an authentic version of myself, and feel comfortable with who I am. I also think that rather than expecting autistics to change their ‘different behaviours’ via therapy, it should be largely up to the rest of the world to accept people’s authentic self as long as their authentic self isn’t hurting anyone. Just so I am clear, I definitely don’t think all therapies and interventions are bad…. for instance my son has been non-verbal until recently where is now just starting to talk. This skill is super important, as are self-care skills that an OT might help with. But all of the other stuff like stimmimg, routines, eye contact, oddly specific ways of making grilled cheese……just accept people for who they are. Appreciate the diversity in life.
Would love to hear how others feel about this….