There are tons of reasons that women conceal their Asperger’s / ASD / Autism. We conceal our “tells” for very good cause.
It can have to do with fear of ridicule, wanting to fit in with others you want to be friends with, needing to mesh well with your social circle for the sake of camaraderie and friendship, or wanting to avoid the weird looks and questions that invariably come up with you — as a little girl — start acting in ways that are “unladylike”.
For me, one of the biggest factors in concealing my Aspie traits (my “tells”, which will tip anyone off to my situation), has been my tactile sensory issues — intense, extreme sensitivity to touch and contact, which turned even a hug or a touch on the arm into something that felt like a hit – a strike – a blow.
Literally, I felt like I was constantly being beaten. I grew up in a very demonstrative family, with a mother who was hyposensitive and needed constant contact with everything around her. She needed so much contact, she would not even try to avoid bumping into things. She just slammed around to her heart’s content. I suspect, all these years later, that she’s always had her own tactile issues — but she was less sensitive, where I was over-the-top sensitive.
Both my parents were loving, as well as very young and insecure. So, they craved human contact. Bad news for me. Nobody around me wanted to beat me (altho’ I was spanked a couple of times when I was a little kid — until my dad realized that I never had any idea why I was being spanked, and he decided it wasn’t an effective deterrent). They really just wanted to reach out and make contact with me. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt like a slap. Or a punch. Or an attack of some kind.
My parents did, of course, have to make contact with me, when I was little — to pull me back in line, when I was running around, to get me to stop moving, to discipline me, to sit me down… I was a super-active kid, like a little Energizer Bunny, and they had to do something when I was out of line, which happened a lot.
Also my mom was prone to not noticing what was going on with me and my sister, and she usually let us run wild until we overstepped our bounds. Then she would grab us and push-pull us where she wanted us to be. I have a scar on my upper right arm, where she made a grab at me, and I barely avoided her grip. But her sharp fingernails got me. She’s never had a great sense of others, I have to say, and the same goes for her sense of space. She’s not the most graceful creature, God love her, and we kids also frequently got to be too much for her.
For me, that kind of interaction was like getting a beating on a regular basis. And a lot of the post-traumatic-childhood traits that my therapist friends love to chalk up to abusive parents, are actually more closely linked to my tactile sensitivities and my intolerance of even the slightest touch.
If I told my parents this, they would be devastated, I’m sure. I sincerely believe they never ever wanted to hurt me, and if I told them just how much they had hurt me over the course of my childhood, I just don’t think it would help them at all. They’re not young — in their mid-70s — so why taint the last good years of their lives with something they never even knew existed.
But for me, it’s a different story. And realizing just what my experience was about, all those years ago, as well as at present, is tremendously freeing. It explains so much, even if it does hurt like hell.
And it also explains something that’s puzzled many people over the years — How can I possibly be an Aspie, when I show no outward signs of my difficulties?
The thing is, there are signs, but nobody notices them. I hold a folded up tissue or napkin/serviette in my clenched fist and rub my thumb over the end of it continuously… out of sight. I rock when I am completely alone and no one can see me, and I twitch and swivel my head and roll my eyes a-plenty, when I am out of sight of anyone who can take issue with it (including my wife).
When I am out in public, I keep it all tightly under control, because I learned over years and years of being controlled / disciplined / borderline-beaten, that if I stood out as odd or “let myself go”, there was a chance that someone would grab me — and that was excruciating. The crazy thing was, the “hits” came out of nowhere. I was just going along, doing my thing, being my little freshly autistic self, and then WHAM! out of nowhere, a hand would land on me and feel like my bones were breaking… the skin was peeling off my bones… I was being pummeled with a set of brass knuckles.
Of course, if I reacted, it got even worse. The more I struggled and tried to get away, the harder the grip became, the more forceful the pressure, the more excruciating the pain. I couldn’t protest, I couldn’t escape, I couldn’t do anything in the face of that overwhelming pain, other than tolerate it.
And learn to tolerate it, I did. I was always a quick study. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the one way I could avoid making the unexpected “hammer of the gods” even worse was to become stoic. Not react. Not let on how much it hurt. Not ask for mercy. Not act as though anything had hurt me at all. I couldn’t resist. That was futile, and every time I tried (I was very small for my age, till the summer I turned 13 years old), I lost.
So, I just got used to the pain. There was no escaping it, so I just acclimated to it. I idolized people who could handle pain. I modeled my behavior after them. I looked up to people who could take a beating. I loved the Timex commercial about “taking a licking and keep on ticking”. That was my ideal. That was my main goal in life — to be impassive and unmoved by even the the most excruciating pain.
And when I fell on pavement and scraped a bunch of skin off my right forearm and had chunks of gravel embedded what remained, I picked myself up impassively and jogged for home, where I locked myself in the bathroom, picked out the gravel, washed the would, and poured rubbing alcohol on it to clean it even more. I watched my face carefully to make sure I didn’t grimace, and I was nearly able to tolerate the pain of the alcohol without cringeing. Almost. I sucked in my breath and shuddered, but I didn’t cry out.
At least there was that.
So, yeah. There’s a reason I don’t let on about my Aspie “tells”, if I can at all help it.
To reveal it might expose me to contact — painful, painful contact. And I learned long ago, that that’s NOT what I want.