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Aspergers,  Blog,  Mental Health

How People With Autism Fake It

It’s been a while since I posted but recently the mere anticipation of writing has brought about instant mental paralysis, until this morning when I spilt an entire cup of coffee – the second in a fortnight. To put it succinctly, I lost my shit.

After howling, sobbing, railing at the world, my husband (in absentia), and myself, while cleaning up the shards of pottery and pungent mess, I spilled my anguish and frustration out into my notebook and one thought led to another…

‘Where are all the adult autistics?’ they ask. I’ll tell you where. Hiding in plain sight.

I feel like a fraud whenever I discuss my Asperger’s because here I am, this put-together, functioning, articulate woman who expects people to believe her when she says she’s autistic. “You don’t look autistic.” They tell me brightly, half compliment, half reassurance. But really… how could they possibly know?

They don’t see my brain seize up and shut down when I drive a route I haven’t taken before, even if I’ve been driven there a hundred times by someone else.

They’re unaware I work so hard to suppress the physical symptoms of a hair-trigger fight-or-flight response – the thudding heart, tunnel vision, and inability to process external stimuli that must be subdued before I get to the checkout girl, the receptionist, the client I’m meeting – that I give myself headaches and stomach pains.

They don’t see (or feel) the anger and frustration when yet another stupid, clumsy move results in a spill, a breakage, a bruise.

They have no clue the reason they haven’t run into me for a couple of days is because I’ve been holed up, burnt out, empty of the strength needed to be out in the world.

They don’t hear the voice in my head shouting, “noooooo” as I agree to playdates, meet-ups, coffee…

How could they know anxiety is my constant companion?

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that I dislike people (well, not all of them anyway), or don’t enjoy company, a good chat, a chance to ‘connect’ with another person. If we bump into one another and spontaneously get together for coffee, chances are I’ll come away feeling ‘lifted’, happier afterwards than I was before.

But The Prospect… the tabled encounter with time beforehand to imagine all its possible versions, the lulls in conversation, the mishears and missed meanings and multiple opportunities for a misstep in the minefield of social proprieties… that’s what does me in. The stage fright. I feel sick just thinking about it.

My best defence is to take the other extreme, to not let myself think about it, navigate it in real time and see how it goes. But this takes a concentrated effort and leaves me drained afterwards.

Seriously, don’t try and tell me everyone feels this way when faced with human interaction.

 

A woman in a white dress with her back to the camera facies a wall of photographers
Image courtesy of Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com

 

A piece in Slate the other week asked why some kids with autism seem to grow out of it. The article appeared to contradict its tagline when it quoted clinical psychologist Catherine Lord, an autism expert at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City saying, “There’s just no evidence of that at all,” and surmising either most of those children had been misdiagnosed and never had autism to begin with, or that they continued to have autism with less obvious symptoms.

Duh! Of course their symptoms grow less obvious. We all learn to censor ourselves as we age. How many adults do you see farting audibly with unabashed impunity in public spaces? You don’t need a PhD to know children take their cues for cultural values, normality, even accent, primarily from their peers, constantly shoe-horning emergent personalities into a socially palatable mould. Funny looks and snide comments provide clues for working out what’s cool and what will leave you eating lunch alone.

My Aspergers isn’t severe enough to override the natural inclination to assimilate. I have a good idea what’s expected of me (through watching and imitating others) and that knowledge, by its very existence, leaves me no choice but to comply – otherwise, I’m being rude and inconsiderate, but the idea of speaking my mind is alluring. Remember the film “Liar, Liar”, where Jim Carrey plays a dishonest lawyer forced to speak nothing but the truth when his son wishes he would stop lying for 24 hours? I LOVED that idea – the freedom of it! No complicated little dances around the elephant in the room. I wish I had that excuse.

Finding the balance between being genuine and causing offence is something I’m way off mastering, I seem able only to work in extremes. I can do ‘Blunt’, or don the mask and become ‘Someone Else’. Grey areas are tricky. But even as things stand, affecting the behaviour appropriate to any one of a million social situations cognitively instead of instinctively is hard work. Keeping up the performance is exhausting, and over time, soul-destroying. I worry I’ve lost the animating spark of the ‘true me’ and become a pliant automaton instead.

Many people think those of us with moderate Asperger’s are ‘faking it’ and just need to ‘man up’. “Everyone’s somewhere on the spectrum” they joke, implying everyone’s a little bit autistic. Comparing their ‘autism’ with our very real neurodiversity and dismissing the differences between us only increases the pressure to ‘act normal’. What they don’t realise is that they’re half right – we ARE faking, but it’s not autism we’re faking, it’s neuro-typicality.

Guess the joke’s on them.

Images courtesy of shutterstock.com

92 Comments

  • Susanna Perkins

    So painful to read about, I can’t imagine what it feels like to live it. Your description is remarkably like another I heard recently, from someone I’ve known for decades, very sociable, bright, witty… I had no idea the compensations he’s constantly making, and I’ve known him since he was quite small…

    • Renee Giusti

      This piece resonated so, so deeply with me. I’m 44, and I’ve been struggling to “assimilate” my entire life. Like many other people my age, I only noticed these Asperger’s traits in myself when I was researching for my 7 year old son. It all makes so much sense now. To this day, I have been brushed off by people who just don’t want to try to understand. So frustrating. I’d rather be alone with my son, because at least we understand each other.

      • Angela Weddle

        When I arrived in San Antonio nearly 6 years ago, my autism was a lot more obvious. As my art and poetry gained me social acceptance and circles, and later friends and lovers that left me confused about social situations, and hinted or were direct about certain situations, I picked up cues. I went from having very few friends to this active social life, and even people looking up to me. From people saying you have Asperger’s, don’t you? To people saying you don’t seem autistic. It’s draining. It’s not that I’m faking it. I’m still blunt. But I realized that people are fragile, even neurotypicals. And I don’t want to lose all of my friendships, though at times I miss being what I thought was the lonely girl with no friends. So, I self-censor more. I talk way less than I used to. I hold thoughts in. I find myself resenting people in my head, where at one time I would have just said you’re lazy, or whatever the case may be. And I find myself exhausted. The worst part of learning those social cues, is that I can’t go back. Unless I move away somewhere. I can’t say, I didn’t know that would hurt your feelings. I am mad at people for teaching me these things and taking away my total honesty and leaving me with this internal struggle, quite frankly. I’m mad that I blend in more. I’m mad that people don’t see how hard I struggle anymore. Is the trade off for social success worth it? I am constantly asking myself. I feel like I want to run away. So, I go into depression and sleep. I don’t answer a text or the phone sometimes. I make myself socially participate because I tell myself it’s good for my depression. Remember when you were isolated. But I don’t know. I just know I’m tired. Before I was in my own world, and now I feel corrupted by the knowledge of this new one.

    • Darlene

      Is there a particular part that is confusing you? Many of us on the spectrum feel this way so it just makes sense to us but perhaps it is less clear from a different perspective. Its like acting, you plan out and prepare yourself to be the character, and while in that part appear to be the character rather than yourself, but when the scene ends you go back to who you are and need downtime because of all the unseen effort that goes into playing that part. Only, unlike with acting we’re not pretending to be a character from a play, show or movie, we’re pretending to be ourselves as someone who naturally understands social norms and doesn’t have sensory processing issues and anxiety and such even though we actually do have to deal with these things. Does that analogy help at all?

    • becca4334

      Undiagnosed until I was an adult I would always ask my mother why people did certain things, such as why boys didn’t wear make-up or how people know how to wear ‘stylish’ clothing. I rarely noticed hair or clothing trends and as long as I was clean and had weather appropriate clothing (black-grey shirt, jeans with or without sweater) I was content. My mother tried to explain stuff like this to me and usually commented why I didn’t already know this stuff. I never knew that people just KNEW this information. I often stare at people (apparently inappropriately sometimes) in order to figure out what they are doing in public and WHY (I can be overly logical) they do it. I’m 30 and I still am learning to be a functioning human. I never knew people thought any other way then I did, I just assumed I was an idiot because they were learning this sort of thing better then I was. I’m not an idiot, I’m just a bit neuro-diverse 🙂

  • annethewriter

    Hi Aisha, I was pleased to see the notification of a new Expat Log in my inbox this morning but sad to see why it’s been a while. Your frustration is palpable, as is all your writing. All I can do is send positive energy and healing virtual hugs and encourage you to keep writing… this blog is your world and you can be your honest, sometimes brutal (as you say but I don’t think so :), self whenever you want. If someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to read it. ox Anne (I loved Liar Liar too)!

  • Amanda

    Can I ask when you were diagnosed? I am considering seeking diagnosis (aged almost 42) since my son’s diagnosis earlier this year. Learning more, and in particular, how it presents in females has been like a comedy cartoon lightbulb pinging on.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      I was diagnosed a year ago at 39 after my youngest daughter was. Researching on her behalf I found a lot of material that described me. And you’re right, that’s just how it felt, that sense of sudden illumination was the equivalent of ‘a comedy cartoon lightbulb pinging on’.

  • Catie: Imperfect Mum

    Absolutely loved every word of this really well written post. Thank you for writing this and increasing understanding of what people with ASD go through daily. I hope you can find some structure and peace. As mum to an autistic son I have heard many many times, he doesn’t look autistic. I just don’t think people know what to say but it’s hard. I will follow your blog with interest!

    • Aisha Ashraf

      I agree with you, it is very difficult to know what to say. There’s so much talk of presuming competence, models of disabilty, ableism and person-first language it makes you wary of opening your mouth and saying the wrong thing. I suppose we could do to be a little more forgiving on both sides.

  • Joe

    I feel like this and haven’t been diagnosed with anything. I don’t know what is better to be diagnosed and have a place or just feel different from everyone all the time and quite lonely even though I manage to have a relationship and hold down a job.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      Oh Joe, I feel for you. Although helpful, a diagnosis doesn’t change anything, it’s just the starting point for some difficult growth and self-realization. I hope you find the answers to your questions and your relationship gives you some respite from the isolation.

  • Karen May

    I’m also an adult with autism, and just wanted to say that I completely identify with what you’ve written, and you write it so perfectly.

  • El

    Hi Aisha,

    I read an article recently on how neuro-diversity is addressed at GCHQ. Your post and that article go a long way to helping raise awareness of the differences we embody and what individuals deal with every day. These differences can offer great benefit to the world while posing significant personal challenges.

    Good luck with your journey.

  • susieq777

    You write so well, Aisha. It was a pleasure to read this. My chronic fatigue syndrome-addled central nervous system means that while I’m neurotypical, I can really relate to the worrying in advance about social situations and the relief when you don’t have to be at them. I feel like that even as an NT so it makes me shudder to imagine how much more stressful it would be having to do that cognitively.

    Laughed at the fart line. Imagine if we all walked around farting out loud. It would be funny, and disgusting 🙂

  • mamadeb

    For years, decades, I assumed I was faking being a good person because I knew I was faking something. Took a couple years after my diagnosis (in my late forties – I’m 52) before I realized what I was faking was everything else.

    Still don’t know who I really am. Except the person who dropped a box full of matches for no reason and had to fight for the words to explain why I just screamed to my husband.

  • Chelsea

    It’s amazing to read another humans thoughts put into words that express my own personal experience, and the experience of so many other adults I know who I can only assume also fall somewhere on the spectrum. Thank you for publishing this so that others such as myself may feel validated and less alone with their existence!

  • Lucy Brennan

    I got my Asperger’s diagnosis 3 months ago (at the age of 31). It’s a relief to find people who understand and can describe it! I didn’t know for most of my life that I was faking anything, that other people didn’t also consciously calculate how to act by observing others. I didn’t even know that that was what I was doing. It took a lot of reflection to become self-aware enough to figure this stuff out and work out why after being a high achiever at school and university I was finding working so stressful and exhausting. Suddenly all the clear cut rules and expectations had gone and I was lost. I quit my job after 6 months off sick with full on breakdown/anxiety/depression. Since then I’ve travelled and been back to uni for a year, hoping to get back into employment now but it’s a pretty daunting prospect!

    • Aisha Ashraf

      I think a lot of the difficulty lies in knowing something’s not right, but not having a way to communicate it. I had days when it was a struggle to go to work in the morning (also many days when I set off only to lose the fight with my instincts and be unable to get off the bus), but I felt ashamed because I thought I must just be lazy – imagine. I know now I’m a lot of things but lazy isn’t one of them.
      I hope you can find something that channels your skill areas but doesn’t take a toll on your well-being. Another commenter here mentioned her husband is autistic and a chef – the job is perfectly suited to his strengths and needs. I’d never have thought of that, but once she explained it seemed so obvious. Good luck with your search.

      • Howard

        I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was accused of being “lazy” and “lacking motivation”, when in reality I was working far harder than any non-autistic could ever imagine! The irony is that the more successful you are at “faking it”, the higher the expectations of others are, and the harsher their judgement whenever the mask inevitably slips. Eventually the strain often leads in later years to complete physical and/or emotional breakdown (in my case, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). It also led me to finally be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder after 56 years of “hiding in plain sight”.

        • Aisha Ashraf

          I can’t begin to tell you how many times I put myself down for the same things – because my life was based on learning through imitation I soon learned to tell myself what I knew other people would say. But even though I believed it enough to affect my self-esteem, something never added up – I couldn’t understand why I was like this – it never rang true. That was back in my early twenties. Now, here I am at forty, after twenty years of believing in my character shortcomings, trying to reassess my life with this new information.
          I agree with you about the strain of long term performance – things I could make work years ago now induce physical warning signals after no time at all. My body literally won’t let me do it anymore.

  • Jennifer

    I could tell people who are thinking I seem so “normal” that I spent my childhood speaking to adults and a few calm, intelligent kids in my class. I started getting sick in high school, so people didn’t notice so much that I didn’t socialize. In college I could physically manage classes, homework, and pretty much nothing else. Which is why I have been here in my parents’ house until today. Diagnosed a bit over a year ago. I didn’t seem Autistic at the first 2 1/2 picnics (if you meet but are inside but it’s picnic stuff but it rains over 3 inches during the event, and you think like me, you end up having attended 2 half-picnics, because now that I think about it our kick-off “tailgating” event got washed out and we found a corner inside), the first board game/pizza night I’ve attended that wasn’t entirely relatives, a cocktail/fundraiser, and 2 other things it was despite the fact that I’d never done them before.

    • Deborah

      I applaud your courage in these new social events. Being in your parents’ house can give you a safe place to retreat to after venturing out for the first time when you don’t know what to expect. You’ve been brave to try new experiences with people you don’t know. I hope you had some fun!

  • chloelifeunexpected

    This has been a welcome read this morning. My partner has aspergers and he has learnt over time to ‘fake it’. I can’t imagine how hard he works to pretend to be neuro-typical.

    When he’s tired or stressed he can’t fake it anymore. Not that we want him too anyway, but he’s under the impression that he has to act a certain way because society and family and friends expect it.

    He works in a fast paced, high pressure, long houred job but this is actually a breeze for him! He’s a chef and he feels that he can actually be himself in this environment. He can have socially unacceptable outbursts, he can have his routines, he can be a perfectionist in his own way. He doesn’t have to be polite or ‘put on a show’. He can be literal. It’s being home with my daughter and I and out in the real world that’s tired and stressful!

    He has to work hard to understand our toddler. She can’t speak and be literal, he has to try and guess her cues. He has to try not to be inappropriate at dinner with friends (although over time he’s starting to realise that they are his friends and he can be himself).

    It must be so hard. I am so glad you’ve written this, not only to raise awareness to neuro-typicals, but also to show other people with aspergers that they’re not alone. I will be showing my partner this later and I know he’ll find comfort in realising other people have the same struggles.

    Chloe.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      Your comment fascinated me Chloe because as soon as you explained how the requirements of your husband’s job fit perfectly with his aspergers it seemed so obvious. It made me think of all those who are pushing themselves to function in a way that isn’t available to them, and how the right career could make all the difference.
      I’m glad you found this helpful, partners of those of us on the spectrum are frequently in the dark about what’s going on and we’re not always able to find the words to help them understand. I’m alexithymic, which means I have difficulty identifying, understanding, and communicating my feelings – we often joke if you want to know what’s wrong with me I’m the last person you should ask as I’m usually the last to know.

  • yvonne

    Baffles me how adults get diagnosed as my GPs in several areas over the years have no interest in me but someone in my early teens labelled me in my notes as ‘Personality disorder (Not otherwise defined)’ and I just get told I am sensitive or neurotic. I am married to a man with Phd who is somewhat the same and again no diagnosis?

    • Aisha Ashraf

      I had a similar journey to my diagnosis. After a depression-filled adolescence I was diagnosed in my twenties with Borderline Personality Disorder. Yet even after I no longer ticked the boxes for BPD I was still experiencing difficulties that interfered with everyday life. And yes, many’s the time I’ve been admonished for being over-sensitive, as though there is some government approved level that we all must stick to.
      I actively sought out someone who had experience diagnosing ASD and asked my family doctor to refer me. If it weren’t for that, I’d still be beating myself up for my perceived faults measured against a neurotypical scale.

      • Beverly

        “Devoured HSP info back in the day….my problem is that so many “diagnosticians” who bill themselves a certain way for physical health issues; i.e., holistic or integrative, are just not,….so I am concerned that someone who markets him or herself as Spectrum savvy, may not really be at all….a matter for prayer, since I reached my wits end many, many, many years ago….thanks for the beautifully written article….

  • Lauren

    I loved this post I can relate to it 100% that feeling of having a foot in both worlds and the reactions people how when I finally tell them I’m autistic . The act of passing although very handy comes at a great cost and your post described it so well thankyou.

  • ailbhel

    The description of social interaction leaves me breathless with recognition. Wow. You are apparently in my head, and in the pit of my churning stomach, lucky you. Thank you.

  • Melissa

    Thank you for this! My son has Asperger’s, and for a long time I’ve wondered if I did, too. Your blog post pretty much convinces me that I do; much of what you’ve described is so familiar. I’m still trying to find out where I fit in this world, and what kind of work I’m suited to, now that I’m starting over after divorce in my late 40s. I’d like to pursue a formal diagnosis, just so I can point to something and say “THIS is why I’ve always felt like I’m on the fringes; THIS is why social niceties don’t come intuitively for me; and THIS is why I’m going to lose my mind if you don’t fix that buzzing light in the office.” Have you found that having the label has made a difference for you, just to yourself?

  • Pratishtha

    The other day I had an altercation with parents over how; “I am perfectly normal to have any disorder”. If I make it a point of elaborating on my Asperger problem; two things are bound to happen; I come of as an attention seeker or I have too much time on my hand to ponder over baseless issues.

    I can’t agree more with you on the subject. It was very aptly written, and thanks for sharing such a brilliant piece.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      ‘Attention seeker’ and ‘having too much time on your hands’ (which roughly translates as ‘lazy f**K) are typical explanations by people who have no wish to understand in case it requires something of them, or who feel your condition is something to be ashamed of. Thanks for commenting and don’t let them shut you down.

  • dancingbeastie

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful piece of writing with us. As the Neuro typical mother of an Aspie kid in his early teens, I found it fascinating and really helpful. He has to work so hard to try to figure out what the NT world means, with all our metaphors, figures of speech, body language etc. which he has to learn like a foreign language. He is diligent, careful, perfectionist (like his mum, poor boy!) and sometimes just worn out by the effort of living in the foreign country of the neuro-typical. So I do sympathise with the effort that you have to make. (In fact, although NT, I’m an introvert and a sufferer from M.E. – and I almost shouted with recognition at your description of social interaction! 😀 )

    But I hope we (meaning the NT majority) are moving towards a greater understanding of what people on the Autistic spectrum bring to the world. My son has a natural gift for mechanical engineering and a meticulous approach to work: I’m quite excited to see where this takes him. He himself found the diagnosis of AS to be liberating: now he understands that he is differently wired from most of the people he knows, and that’s fine. Before the diagnosis he felt something was wrong, and that he ought to be like everyone else. Now he is happy in his own skin, and comfortable explaining to people that he has Aspergers. I hope and pray that this attitude will carry him safely into adulthood.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      I felt the same as your son, that my diagnosis finally freed me of the damaging, demoralising beliefs about my own character defects – the feelings of worthlessness, failure and inferiority – and the pressure to be something I knew I wasn’t inside. Unlike me he has a supportive and informed mother to back him up when he needs some understanding, I wish him luck but I don’t think he’ll need it.

  • Cass

    I’m 15 and I’ve been in and out of therapy for a couple of years helping me deal with a whole load of different things such as depression, anxiety, phobias and paranoia, and I related to this article immensely.
    I think this constant faking and pretending is the reason my psychologists will inform me that a behaviour is odd, or say that I’m very sensitive, or ask me if I get scared when I’m somewhere busy, or confirm that they think I’m neurodiverse but none of them will say anything more.
    I have very strong interests in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and neurology, therefore I know what an ASD is, and when I first learned about female asperger’s it seemed to connect so many things for me. All these little things from psychologists, the constant isolation at school, (even as a younger child where I used to play more with some kids it was always with a ‘me and them’ attitude, never ‘us’, I just copied them.) The way my family laugh at the way I do some things, my narrow interests, my terrible fear of change, my constant ‘fiddling’, my dislike of being touched… I could go on.
    But I don’t think I’ll ever find out if I’m on the spectrum or if something is wrong with me, or if I’m just a very strange person because I am an excellent faker. I began reading about human behaviour and psychology in an attempt to understand others, I have a written profile on almost everyone in my life, I know other people don’t do this. I think because of the constant observation (I’ve been in my current school for about 6 years) of the same group of people for so long I give the impression of understanding them normally, although sometimes I hear some of them saying I’m unusual or other things that they think are wrong or different about me.
    Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so good at faking it and someone would notice my struggle and tell me what’s wrong, then I could look at making it easier or making other people understand.

  • Dee

    I so relate to this post! I began studying autism in the 70’s, my how theories have changed! I have seen myself on the spectrum for decades, and I now work as an aide with autistic and disabled children. I have never been diagnosed, not sure if I want to be. People look at you when you say, I only drive certain places. I have lost many friends when I could not manage to plan a day out, and stick to it. The thoughts on what it could/will turn out to be are often overwhelming. And clumsy, and often trying to remember things like eye contact, or not cringing at an unexpected hug…that’s me!

    • Cass

      What’s it like working with those kids? I see myself on the spectrum and the people who I relate to most in the world are mostly females with asperger’s, and I’ve been offered work experience in a school for autistic children. (I’m 15 but I’ve studied psychology at undergrad level due to strong interest) I mean I’m nervous, I’m going to be ‘high functioning’ compared to these kids but I’m not sure if I should be looking after them, I have mixed feelings about kids, while I wouldn’t say I dislike kids or would dream of being nasty to one I’m also not sure I want kids. But it’s such a great offer and experience to put something on my CV long before others my age and meet some people who may be more like me. I guess i just need to work up the nerve to do it.

  • Rikard

    Hello.
    Wonderful and informative piece of writing. Especially the bit about faking being neurotypical. I can really relate due to being diagnosed as an adult (and realising where that feeling of not having been given the manual to life came from). In a way I have been lucky though: my childhood interest, that strong all-consuming passion of an interest, was human behaviour. Ever since then (soon half a century) I have been gaining insight into the ways of the neurotypical.

    The irony of the situation is that I am a teacher of social & political science, as well as english, and I am always the person that the out-acting, strange boys and girls flock to. One thing I try to teach, and please don’t take this the wrong way, is that to minimize conflict one has to learn the rules of the game. After all, the NT’s are normal based only on crude majority, so it makes sense to learn how they function. Otherwise we cannot make them understand us. Building on that, one can then create a niche for oneself, where any compromise is on your terms and with your consent.

    Maybe it is because I’m from a country that had sterilisation for autistics (and other ‘retards’ as the technical term would be if translated) on the books well into the 1970s, maybe it is because of the widespread prejudice that we are either prodigies and savants (though socially awkward) or psychopaths. I feel comfortable roleplaying with the NTs, if only to avoid their ‘othering’ of me. Of course, beeing a large bear of a male also helps; it makes the NTs read me according to prejudiced notions of masculinity and authority.

    With the hope you don’t mind the wall of text (it means your text really hit home, otherwise I wouldn’t have felt inspired :))

    Comradely greetings from Sweden,
    Rikard, teacher

  • Melanie Robson

    The truth is, some fake it so well , we even convince ourselves. Living the struggle of a hundred men and only showing the one, the majority will feel most comfortable with…. live in color

  • Rosie

    Thank you for expressing this so clearly and so beautifully. I am fighting my way toward an official diagnosis, no easy feat when you live at the bottom end of Britain’s westcountry (postcode lottery, anyone?) after a great deal of research has convinced me that I have Asperger’s. Yes, on most days I can fake a certain degree neurotypicality, enough to fool many into believing I am a relatively confident person – maybe a little quirky, but hey, aren’t we all? – who never had a panic attack in her life. But when I’m tired, stressed, or upset…all my careful masks and defences come away. Which is why I am still hurt by my parents’ accusations of faking it when people are angry with me. Of course it’s going to get worse when I feel attacked!
    Sigh.
    Anyway. I really enjoyed this post. It made me feel a lot better about my own situation. Thank you!

    • Aisha Ashraf

      We must be doing a great job fooling everyone when, in times of difficulty the tears DO flow, THAT’s when we get accused of faking it. Glad the post helped you feel better – sometimes we’re so good at hiding things from others we end up wondering if we’ve got it wrong ourselves. It’s then that a little external validation goes a long way.

  • Stephen Williams

    Like what you are saying, ‘our’ Sorry my masks get stronger the older I get ‘different mask for different social situations. But it’s hard to remember how many mask failed before the right mask formulation started to work for me. My sons have now started to build their mask, but I can’t help them because its trial, error and emotional tears, only support. By putting yourself in uncomfortable public situations do you develop these mask ‘be fearless’ otherwise you will never shine and never be heard ‘I can except failure (look at it as a lesson in social skills), It just means I try again until I eventually succeed and that always feels ‘Good’.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      Thanks for the encouragement – I particularly liked the idea of viewing my failures as lessons in social skills instead of letting them define me personally. Objectivity has never come easy to me.

  • Stephanie New-Johnson

    “I worry I’ve lost the animating spark of the ‘true me’ and become a pliant automaton instead.”

    Spot. On. I’ve been trying to undo some of my learned behaviors in order to feel more like myself because I felt like this constantly. It’s difficult to override the conditioning, the panic that sets in at the idea of doing something I’ve consciously labeled as Bad. Anyway, thank you for sharing. You explained things with clarity and candor that is appreciated.

  • Tom O'Neill

    I was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2008. I think I’ve improved my social skills a lot, especially in the last decade. I find social skills are like an onion, under each layer is a new layer, there is never an end to learning social skills, which I don’t see as a bad thing.

    Using those skills can be a lot of work, as I have to use them cognitively rather than with intuition much of the time. I’ve become more aware of my limits, and when I need to take a break to recharge.I don’t think of this as faking anything, I’m trying to communicate and function effectively is all, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. This drives the perfectionist in me crazy, but perfectionism is mostly a trap, a tool that’s a useful servant but a bad master.

  • Angel the Alien

    I feel this way too! I hate telling people I have autism, not because I’m embarrassed by it at all, but because I hate when they try to argue with me about it! “You can’t be! Are you sure? I can’t tell at all! Who told you you were autistic? It might have been a misdiagnosis. I don’t think you are.” You cannot tell, from knowing me for twenty minutes, what I go through on a daily basis!

  • Tanya

    This is all me. Thank you. Currently trying to write notes ready for what I hope to be an assessment eventually. Just need to get past the Psychiatrists that keep saying “No, you don’t seem autistic, you have good eye contact and social skills” Gah! I have reprogrammed myself to do that! Sigh x

    • Aisha Ashraf

      I just kept a running list in the back of a notebook and every time something I do, or have done, occurred to me that I thought was evidence of ASD I jotted it down. It was invaluable when I was sitting in front of the psychiatrist who, on hearing I suspected I was autistic, said, “And what evidence do you have to support this?” I had three of four pages of examples to share with him.
      Good luck!

    • Pratishtha

      I had an academic presentation yesterday; everything seemed fine for the first few seconds after I started off. A little after the fourth slide in my presentstion I went blank, my mind was too frozen to comprehend anything at that moment. My academic supervisor who was accompanying me gave me an annoyed look.I really wanted to tell everyone present there, that it takes double or sometimes triple the effort to carry on activities involving social transaction for us aspies. Not that people will get it straight away even if I did,especially in my country (India) where mental health issues are still a taboo.

  • CC

    Oh, gosh, this mattered so much. I’m on the spectrum (in the U.S., “Asperger’s” is no longer a diagnosis) and I’m in law/policy. Giving speeches and all that is a breeze – it’s the small talk that’s an absolute nightmare. I’m also alexithymic, as many of the commenters here seem to be, and it doesn’t make it any easier to tell when I’m tired or about to melt down. And I cannot count the number of people who have told me to just “deal with it”, to just “(wo)man up” and how “everyone has to do things they don’t want to do.” I’m 33 and was diagnosed only at age 28. Couple this with being very poor and I wind up just being exhausted and sad.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      Yeah, the “everyone has to do things they don’t want to do” really annoys me, at the very least because I’m not fucking four years old. It’s as bad as the people who say “Well, we all have our up’s and down’s” to someone who’s bipolar.

  • Bonnie

    I have observed my son’s Asperger’s becoming less obvious in some areas. As it was explained to us, when he clearly understands the reason and benefit of changing a behavior, he makes a “new neural pathway” that gets him to The desired place.

    A neuro typical person may observe and copy behavior. My son needs to learn the reasons for that behavior, then follow through often enough to make the “new neural pathway” the default response.

    II’m sure I’ve slaughtered the explanation, but that’s the way I understood and have observed and experienced it with my son.

  • M.T.Noah

    THIS IS ME. But I hit a huge wall in 2011 and I can’t at all PERFORM ANYTHING. I also don’t know who I am (at a gut level) as that was NEVER acceptable so, why bother thinking about it? I have no structure now to build a life around without a job, but i can’t hold one due to the inability to fake normal, or get one due to the inability to BS nicely in interviews. On the other hand, I’m so much healthier mentally now than I ever was when i was lying all the time to make inflexible, uncaring, noncompassionate gits (the vast majority of the world) happy and keep myself safe from their inevitable, unconscious, and constant abuse.

    I did not grow out of it. I took acting lessons. And I was GREAT! My life deserves an oscar! And I’m too tired to do that anymore. So I’m pissing eveyrone off right and left. Oh well. Your turn to pretend to like me folks. (BTW, I LOVE humans who do not do socially constructed things SOLELY BECAUSE THE WORLD TELLS THEM TO. Those who choose to be housewives because they LOVE IT and it sings to their soul — or whatever it might be — THOSE WHO ARE TRUTH TELLERS, however uncomfortable the truth — I’m behind the GENUINE 100%. Oddly, most of those don’t seem to be any of the NTs I’ve met in my lifetime.)

    Sorry, I’m old, sick of being marginalized, ignored, and just generally fed up with being unacceptable even when I was PERFORMING THE NT ROLE TO PERFECTION.

  • 수사나

    I am not an Authist, at least not diagnostized, I haven’t taken test to prove it… I did took one online, It appear I have hogh probability of been an authist… may bee I am just shy, I thought, therefore I made my mother answer the same questions without telling her what it was about, she is not very social, and still she appear with low probabilities of being an authist, there is a clear big difference, I feel identify with all I constantly rread nline about, I took mw a while to get the couragee to tell my mom aboutt the tes, what itt was, but I still think she juust thinks II am very shy. like you said, you may say I AM AN AUTHIST, but they wont believe it, and I say to my self, how ddo they know? they don’t see me sttrugling in the inside, how I fell about each thing. I don”t carre about what must peoople my age care, I am 21, I belong to a reeligious group wwho dont act like the reest oofff the societnd I have shy ffriiends, but still I am diffeereentt from allthem. I shut in my room, I dont likke intting, at the same time want to interact, I jjusst don’t know how nor want to do the same things the other ones does. probably from thaat, I have depression, I also havve ansiety. I told my parents I have ansiety, I couldnmention the deprressiion I am beingserious. they maay thing, tt I donup becaause hen I sat to go to a meeting because I dont know how too act, they say you learn that, they just don’t understand how difficult that iss for me and think I aam just being negative at not accepting the society. I have friends,, many, butt II am not close to any of them, just one because sshhe is alsso kind of shy and have similar interest, many similar inteereest. I can only talk about those things I care, but not the general things everyone must at least know a little. people don’t understand that I have a problem and need serious help, may be is just a slow degree of auttism, but I am not at the same range than others. I am intelgent, of course, I love numbers, I love reading, I love to play with rubiks, I memorize things like the number PI, I try tto seee patterns in everything.. could I diagnostice myself as an authist? II wish I coulldd have someone to open up to, the most I can do is post this anonymously, but I would like to speak to others who feel as I do, I would feel more comforttable with you than the society sourranding me.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      So much of what you describe is familiar. Thanks for sharing it here. There are groups you can access on facebook (Adults With Aspergers is one) where people post about day-to-day issues arising as a result of autism. As well as holding a mirror to my own experiences I hadn’t even thought to articulate, they serve to demonstrate just how vast the spectrum is and and how many of us there are slogging along behind our masks. It gives me courage to try and be a more authentic person, and to look for the authentic person in others. Everyone’s walking uphill.

  • sam

    Thank you for writing this.I have always felt so Alone surrounded by people where no one understands. Till I started reading blogs online and realized I’m not alone at all.words from people like u have and will help people like me who feel their voice can’t and won’t be heard.it makes it OK to be me because I know now there are others out there who really do get it they are living it too.I’m surrounded by “the normals” who think I can walk and talk so how could I be disabled. I wish all my pains fears and anxieties I have because of autism was as plain to see as a wheelchair but its not so I guess that must mean it doesn’t exist right.because of writers like you I don’t have to hate myself anymore for not being the norm and not understanding how to be.

  • Neil Cheese

    I carry a little book with me when I travel. In it, I have written help pages for things I struggle with. When things fall apart and you are sat in the middle of an airport, crying and cuddling your teddy bear, it really helps to be able to open it to a page and give it to anyone offering assistance.
    Once when I was at an airport I was wearing an autism t shirt. Someone came and sat near me and asked if they could talk to me about it. First thing they said was “I didn’t realised that adults had autism.” My answer was “Yes we do, but many years of learning to hide it can allow us a degree of blending in, until it all goes wrong.”
    I have many stories of kindness afforded to me over the years when things have gone wrong.
    Lovely to read many of the things I feel.
    Thank you.
    Neil (Aged 53)

    • Aisha Ashraf

      Thank YOU Neil for sharing your experiences. I don’t know if you carry an iphone or ipad but there’s an app called EmergencyChat that works in a similar way to your notebook if you’re so inclined. You can use it to communicate through text when you’re too overwhelmed to speak. You can set an initial message to show someone explaining your situation, and you and they can use the screen to message back and forth if you wish.
      Great to hear from a fellow ‘older’ aspie 🙂

  • Athena Blakely

    I love the picture of your mask. My mask is black and gold. I have a picture of it hanging in my workspace. It is my reminder that I do better in the world when I play from behind the mask. However, sometimes I really get tired of wearing it. Yes we are all faking! We are faking being NT! But we all do it oh so well that we don’t seem believable as Autistic people. We need our own versions of the academy awards. We could join the group that has taken the approach of not caring if they offend or fit in but that really limits what we can accomplish in this world. I think I will keep my mask. Maybe I will get a couple of new ones that are a little more flamboyant but I will most likely always speak from behind the mask.

  • Tom

    Saving this article, it’s one of the best ones i have read. Struggle in the same ways you have written, though my medicine has been to shut myself off from everybody else, it’s the only way to avoid feeling like you are dying for days / weeks in advance of having to meet in even the most ordinary of circumstances. No matter how hard I try it’s just easier to be myself, to be blunt but honest and hide away; which surely doesn’t bring people closer to you, but by the same token is genuine which i think i can live with.

    Wouldn’t advocate isolation as it’s rather lonely but i guess not everybody can pretend to be part of the mould.

    Self service checkouts are a godsend.

    • Aisha Ashraf

      Oh Tom, bless you!!! That comment about self-service checkouts…
      Isn’t it ironic that despite our shared discomfort, and the empathy we can feel for one another, we’d never be able to give each other in person the support that we can so readily pour onto a keyboard.
      Hang in there, it’s definitely a journey discovering exactly where the line between honesty and the discomfort we’re prepared to put up with is for each of us.

  • Joanna

    I have just discovered your blog, and WOW. Your words are beautiful and grip my heart. My son is 6 and is Autistic. He’s the most wonderful, unique person I’ve ever met. We LOVE his uniqueness, but I’m so fearful that the world will make him second guess his beautiful self and heart. Please keep writing and sharing and giving the world an insight into your heart and mind. I’m now a BIG fan of yours.

  • David

    You experience anxiety when doing novel things, and anxiety in social situations. That sounds like a form anxiety. These are relateable to many people btw, things like social anxiety, and uncertainty are not exactly absent in ordinary people. It seems like the only difference is the magnitude of emotion. I’m not saying because I don’t understand that its not real, it’s just that what you describe here, doesn’t sound like a unique mental condition.

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