“You Don’t Look Autistic” Isn’t a Compliment.

My friend Hannah and I look nothing alike but we both look autistic simply because all autistic people look like themselves. Autism is a part of a person’s identity. There is no one look that autistics must have to match their identity.

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When you say “you don’t look autistic” it’s not a compliment and here’s why;

 

  • I am autistic. I know my identity but you’re questioning it. That’s incredibly uncomfortable, especially given that this comment is usually presents itself in a situation where the person receiving such comment feels the need the grin and bare in response. We don’t feel as though we can present a defence against the comment.
  • We must sit with that discomfort in a place where we are masking for extended periods of time until we can process it comfortably.
  • That comment reminds us of our ability to mask despite not wanting to have to mask to begin with.
  • It can be divisive between those who can mask well enough to get the comment and those who can’t when we just want to be a united community.
  • It reinforces a harmful stereotype. Need I say more?
  • It’s a concept that simply does not exist. It’s a misconstrued concept of how you think autism should “look” as compared to the educated knowledge that no two autistics are the same therefore you can’t have any one image to project.

 

Please stop using this harmful language and be an inclusive ally.

 

I am autistic therefore I look like I’m autistic even if it doesn’t fit your stereotype image. Just like I look like a Caucasian without looking like every other Caucasian.

Autism Acceptance Day 2020 – Unmasking

Last April, during Autism Acceptance Month, I told the world I’m autistic and proud. (You can click here to see the original post) That pride stands strong. However, I also said I would do my best to quit masking and that’s been harder than I imagined.

 

When you’ve been masking, without even knowing what masking is, for 20 years it’s hard to just stop. It’s engrained in your day to day systems. While yes, in my last post I mentioned that you can make mistakes while trying to mask it’s still a thing that, at some point, you start to automatically do when faced with situations that you believe involve the need for masking, which is most situations.

 

My masking stops me from stimming when anybody, even my own mum, is in the room, it stops me from talking about my special interests especially to the degree they interest me, it makes me stay quiet when I hear an offensive joke/comment because I can’t go against what society says, it makes me agree with whatever is suggested because I can’t be trusted making decisions as I don’t want to disrupt normality or upset anybody and I don’t make the jokes I want to because I worry only I will find it funny. I mask my emotions in various situations because my emotions aren’t the ones that matter here.

 

All of these places others above myself and prioritises them and their social comfort above my own. It minimises myself as a person and belittles me. Masking creates a new identity that isn’t me.

Those are ideals that are hard to break. Convincing myself I’m worth the same amount of space as neurotypicals (NTs) is a slow process for me and my low self-esteem. Identifying what parts of me come from masking and what parts are genuinely me is a complicated process and projecting my newfound self is possibly the scariest part. I truly do have to dig through all the “socially acceptable” rubbish to find the me I’ve hidden and learn who they are.

 

At times it’s all a thrilling process, getting to learn who I am means exploring new things or things I once had interest in but had to leave behind. I get to unapologetically recreate myself into the person I want to be and feel most comfortable as.

 

At times it’s incredibly uncomfortable. I have to face the feelings I’ve suppressed, and the feelings masking has embedded in my heart. I have to deal with the fact I’ve lost time that I could’ve spent being myself and helping others feel better about themselves instead of hiding like I did. I worry about my loved ones not loving the “new” me. I’m becoming unapologetically myself while still having to be aware that masking is a safety mechanism that protects me from the abuse of ableds and NTs so I realise I can still never be myself at all times.

 

I’m creating a new computer system but have to keep the firewall up.

 

The real Renee wants to focus on the small joys this is bringing me so far though. Therefore, I find it worth continuing to unmask. It’s just going to take more time and work than expected.