If I had a dollar for every time I heard “but you don’t seem autistic at all” or “I couldn’t even tell you were autistic” I could fund the construction of a life size replica of Peach’s Castle from Mario 64 on the moon.
These comments don’t offend me; they’re not meant maliciously and I don’t take them as such. But I do think it’s worth addressing.
Public awareness of autism has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 30 years; where once it was something most people hadn’t even heard of, its existence is now common knowledge. Most people today are very “aware” of autism. That battle has been more or less won. What we need to work on now is better understanding and acceptance of autism.
In many ways, I may not fit the stereotypical image of autism. (For a start, I look nothing like Dustin Hoffman circa 1988) When in public, I can come across as “normal”. Indeed, this is why it took until I was 19 to get a diagnosis. But this is essentially an act; a meticulously constructed, manually operated façade that can be exhausting to maintain.
Were these same people to see me in the privacy of my own home, or when I’m having a meltdown, I suspect I would fit much more neatly into the stereotype of what autism looks like; I flap my hands and gallop around the room, I make funny noises and blurt out random words.
Not only does autism manifest very differently in different people, it can also manifest very differently within the same person based on the situation.
I may not “seem autistic” when I’m buying my groceries, but I also might seem “mild mannered” to people who haven’t seen me get blue shelled in Mario Kart. It all depends on the circumstances. When I’m too stressed to maintain my social camouflage, or when I feel comfortable enough to shed it without worrying about getting harassed, I can go from zero a hundred faster than Sonic the Hedgehog on half a kilo of sherbet.
My social façade is a lot like pants; something I’m happier without but have to wear in public to avoid being given a hard time.
But even if we discount such conscious attempts at control, my autism constantly ebbs and flows on its own. Even if I never had to mask it, it would still vary from one minute to the next.
The spectrum is not only broad; it’s also fluid. Not only does every autistic person have their own place within it, but that place is not fixed, and a single individual can cover a wide and diverse range.