Why keep quiet about our autism?


People often fear what they do not understand.

And they often attack what they fear.

And they can be cruel when they attack.

So, needless to say, I keep my distance from others. In general. Like the penguins in the picture above, hanging out away from the rest of the crowd.

Even when I am in the midst of them, I keep my distance. Some notice it, and they object. They want me to share with them… share with them. Why? What’s the point? What purpose would that serve? Whenever I do try to share with others, they don’t get it, generally. And they react badly. So yeah, why bother indeed?

What is it with people who want you to bare your heart and soul? Don’t get me wrong – I used to do it all the time. And I learned my lesson. Disclosure of my most vulnerable areas has generally not gone well. Especially the autism piece.

I’m not going to run around telling everyone “Hey, I’m an aspie! I’m on the ‘high-functioning’ end of the Autistic spectrum! Woo hoo!”

I’m a woman, and I know better. I’ve learned that Earthlings do not deal well with that kind of stuff. Because, after all, that makes me different from them. And different, in their view, is wrong. Scary. Intimidating. It’s pointless, really, to try to explain to people. If you know, you now. If you don’t, there’s probably not much I can say that will enlighten you.

And that is why (in real life) you will very likely never, ever know that I’m in any way an Aspie / autistic / whatever. I have better things to do with my time and energy than facilitate your personal educative process.

At least with a dolphin, you can see that they're different - and that's perfectly okay.
At least with a dolphin, you can see that they’re different – and that’s perfectly okay. It’s even a good thing!

I recently switched to a new therapist. The last one, as well-meaning as he was in terms of executive function rehab, was not up-to-speed on his women-on-the-autistic-spectrum reading. He specialized more with ADHD folks and focused on executive functioning issue, which was why I saw him. I had — you might say — some unproductive experiences with members of law enforcement, bosses, creditors, and other people who are lawfully entitled to tell me what to do, and I was in pretty hot water for a few years. He helped me wrap my head around my decision-making process. He helped me develop a decision-making process, period. And I owe him a lot, in terms of my life gaining some semblance of normalcy.

But he got a better position half the country away, so we had to part ways.


It wasn’t such a terrible thing, though, because as much as he helped me in some areas, in others he was… well, kind of useless. I don’t want to be mean, but I get frustrated when I think about the handful of times I brought up my Aspie traits, and he dismissed them because I’m “too social” and I have too developed a sense of others, to be on the spectrum. He’d worked with boys with Asperger’s before, so he had a perspective. But if you’re even mildly exposed to the recent research on the differences between male and female phenotypes, you’ll know that the qualities that show up with male aspies don’t always carry over to females. And vice versa. There can be overlap, and some males can show “female” traits (and vice versa), but basically, it’s known now that women on the autistic spectrum

He didn’t get that, though. He was Old School. Quite.

But then he recommended this new therapist who works with ADHD folks, as well as autistic kids, and I thought, maybe because she’s more involved with actual autistic folks, and she’s female, she’ll get it. But it’s been a while since I started seeing her, and there’s no sign of any recognition on her part about autism playing a role in my difficulties.

I guess I camouflage a little too well.

The other day, I was roaming around Tania Marshall’s website, and I came across a link there to this webinar:  The female autism conundrum. What a great, great resource – I watched the webinar and was really struck (and moved, nearly to tears) by the information covered there by intelligent people who clearly had an interest in helping those who could use some assistance. It was a tough webinar to watch, because I was in a semi-public place, and there was a man sitting near me who not only kept picking at his nose and chewing his fingernails, but also seemed interested in seeing what I was watching.

Fortunately, I got through it without either getting nauseated by his nervous tics or breaking down in tears while he watched. And at the end, I felt both relieved and immensely frustrated. Because the things that they talked about — the conundrum of women on the “high-functioning” end of the autistic spectrum, passing as completely normal while they suffer tremendous internal stress — sounded so very familiar.

Camouflaging, or keeping quiet about your Aspie experience is pretty much a hallmark of many an Aspie woman’s life, from what I’ve heard and read. And personally, I’d hazard to say that it’s a requirement.

rulesFirst of all, as women, we are constantly reminded about how we should act, what we should do, how we should be. Life is an ongoing etiquette lesson for us. The rules are spoken and unspoken, but they are rarely missed by us. Not a moment goes by in public, where we are not under scrutiny because we are women. And the social enforcers can be both cruel and vindictive, if we don’t play along. Seriously, if men had to live under the kind of watchful societal eye as we do, they’d probably lose their minds. With men, a “boys will be boys” mentality rules, while women are forced in myriad ways to toe the female line. So, to let on that we’re different, to act the way we feel, to let it all hang out and just flap and jump and twirl and tic and do all those odd gestures and movements (my eyes scrunch together, and my head sways up and down)… well, that just invites ridicule and censure. It’s much easier and much less exhausting to suppress or mask our behaviors and oddities, than to deal with the social fallout.

Get with the program, or get left behind
Get with the program, or get left behind

Secondly, basic social functioning aside, if you want to get ahead in the world, you can’t be all autistic ‘n’ such. There is a ton of prejudice against any kind of difference, and given how little the general public knows about autism, anyway, our kind of “oddness” is especially frightening — and if you want to get ahead in the world and do justice to your intelligence, you’ve got to NOT be frightening. Or alarming. Or socially indelicate. In some fields, you can get by with it, but let’s face it — men prefer dealing with women to whom they have a favorable sexual response. Men prefer women who (to be blunt) help them get — and keep — an erection. I’m not sure how many men get turned on by women whose eyes dart rhythmically to the upper left and back and then scrunch tight, as their head sways up, down, left and right. Or women who blurt out the things that are pressing to be said — in a loud and sudden tone that makes everyone within 50 feet jump with alarm. So, yeah, I keep that under tight control. I like the idea of advancing in my career. I dislike being labelled a “freak”, and being pushed to the outside like I was when I was a kid.

Where do I begin/end, and where does my environment begin/end?
Where do I begin/end, and where does my environment begin/end?

Thirdly, I’ve become so adept over the years at masking my idiosyncracies and keeping myself under tight wraps, I honestly can’t tell half the time, socially, what’s really me and what’s an act. So, the whole idea of trying to explain to another person what my experience is like, and being able to let down my guard around anyone — even a seasoned professional who’s an expert in all things autistic — isn’t something I can even imagine. I’ve tried, at times, to just stop masking, but it’s too stressful, it feels too dangerous, and I can’t do it for long. Small wonder, I keep to myself on the weekends and evenings. It’s just a relief to be alone by myself, without anyone watching me and becoming alarmed at my behaviors. Even my wife (God bless her) gets uncomfortable with my oddities, so most of the time, it’s easier for me to not be around her at all. I hate to say it, but as much as I love her (with all my heart), she’s a big part of my problem. But that problem’s easily solved by keeping to myself, in my “lab” filled with papers and books, my childhood collection of Matchbox and Hotwheels cars and my souvenirs gathered over all the years of my work and travels.

It's always your move, when you're flying under the radar.
It’s always your move, when you’re flying under the radar. And winning isn’t always winning.

Lastly, it’s pretty hard to get anyone to take you seriously, if you’re smart enough to cover up as well as I — and so many other women — do. We’re truly experts at this, a veritable army of Mata Hari’s who manage to keep it all together at a steep personal cost. The better we are at it, the better we pass, and the better we pass, the more reward there is for it… and the less reason exists for anyone to suspect we are anything other than neurotypical Earthlings. We’re so smart! We’re so pretty! We’re so well-spoken and we have such a keen sense of others! How could we possibly be autistic! Impossible!

Yah — no thanks. I think I’d rather get all my fillings replaced in one sitting than let down my guard with anyone and try to explain my situation — and I HATE going to the dentist for all the usual Aspie reasons.

So, why do we cover up? Why do we conceal? The above reasons are only the tip of the iceberg. We women on the spectrum have a million different excellent reasons to never bring it up… none of which you’ll probably ever find out in person.


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