Living with an invisible disability: autism
When I tell people I’m autistic, as with many high-functioning individuals, the response I usually get is, “you don’t look autistic.”I get it, it’s confusing for people who haven’t noticed and it’s awkward for those who have. I want to fit in and look neurotypical. Yet, when people tell me I don’t look autistic it feels dismissive as if they assume that my autism is not severe enough to matter because my struggles aren’t visible. I want to “pass” but I also want people to know what I’m struggling with. I want both.
I wonder what people expect autistic individuals to look like. Autism doesn’t affect looks. It’s probably that they expect all autistic people to act in an obviously awkward, or socially oblivious way. I can’t look at toothpicks on the floor and instantly know how many there are. I’m not a math genius. I don’t carry a notepad in my pocket with all the social rules I’ve learned so I can correct people when they’re wrong. And I don’t talk about trains all day long. Autism is not as entertaining as it’s portrayed in movies, and while my disability is invisible to all but those close to me, it affects my life daily.
I want people to acknowledge that a lot of work goes into me looking “normal” and trying to fit in. I’m glad the work has paid off and that I often “pass,” but when people say “you don’t look autistic,” it’s not really a compliment. And when they don’t take full account of my autism, people expect me to behave like everyone one else: to make eye contact, chit-chat with the cashier, be able to stay calm and happy during loud noises, to not be too blunt, to be able to understand social cues and to do things that are easy for most like going downtown or going grocery shopping.
The truth is, those things are incredibly hard for me, I do it, but it takes a lot out of me. Through the years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to blend in, learning tips and tricks to fit in. But sometimes, despite my best effort, I can’t.
I wish people remembered that no matter how invisible my disability is, it’s always with me, and always will be.