“But you don’t LOOK autistic……”

No one has ever actually said this to me. Yet. Because I was only diagnosed 4 months ago and am not yet “out” to many people. I’d know they were trying to be nice, because who wants to look autistic? What is an autistic look anyway? If someone did say it to me, I think I’d be quite chuffed, because I do think I look autistic; I have an odd gait, unusual mannerisms and a look of the rabbit-caught-in-headlights about me. If I’m smiling, I’m trying too hard, I look all toothy, and if I’m not smiling I look anxious.
If you met me for 5 minutes
You probably wouldn’t notice much unusual about me. I can make eye contact, I can smile, and I’ve been practising small talk for the last 40 years so am not too bad at it.
If you met me for half an hour
You might suspect I’m a little strange without being able to put your finger on why. I may make too little eye contact, or too much. I may not quite have the “give-and-take” of conversation right: I might interrupt or change subjects if something doesn’t interest me. I may speak in a monotone and use very few facial expressions or gestures, and the ones I do use may appear odd to you. I’ll probably do the classic autistic thing of hand-flapping and fidgeting with my fingers although I’ll be trying not to!
If you spent longer with me
You would notice that I “zone out” and shut down after a while in social situations. I can go an hour without saying anything unless spoken to directly; this doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or even am feeling distressed or uncomfortable, I just literally have nothing to say. If anything with an emotional content is discussed, these things will be especially noticeable. I will not know how to respond. That’s just me. If you can get past this, you will hopefully also notice that I can be good-humoured, positive, upbeat, funny, friendly, supportive, caring and deep-thinking.
You cannot tell an autistic person by their looks. You need to spend time with us and only then will you begin to understand.

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