People are always looking for a way to explain autism. I often get asked what it’s like to have autism. How can I possibly answer that question? I don’t know what it’s like to have a neurotypical brain, so how can I possibly explain the differences between my brain and yours? My thoughts, feeling, , anxieties, actions, reactions, behaviors, etc. are not strange to me. Autism is my normal. This always brings about the next question asked, how come I don’t act/behave like someone with autism. In other words, how come I seem so normal? The answer to that is simple – I watch people. I know that sounds creepy but in reality it’s how I have survived and thrived in life. To make it a little less creepy, let me explain what that looks like from my side.
When I enter a new situation, I am quiet and reserved; not because I’m shy but because I don’t know the norm so I’m observing your norm. I pay attention to how you act. Are you being formal or informal? Are you joking and laughing or do you have a serious tone? I pay attention to your body language. Are you standing straight, tall, and rigid? Or are you more relaxed, arms crossed, knees bent? I pay attention to the conversations taking place. Are words being carefully chosen? Or are you just saying what comes to mind? I pay attention to reactions. It takes me several observations of similar situations before I will step into the new situation feeling like I can mimic you. Reread that last sentence and notice I said I feel like I can mimic you. This is not the same as feeling confident of my interaction in the situation. Confidence is something that is rare for me to feel in any situation. I can mimic confidence and from what I’m told, I do it very well. However, I never truly feel confident. I need constant reassurance from those I trust to know that I’ve made the right (“normal”) comments, decisions, and suggestions. Even after that reassurance, I replay the entire event in my mind over and over. I look at places I said something that may not have been quite right and find a replacement for the next time I’m in that situation. I think about different actions/reactions and how it could have effected the outcome, positively or negatively. Is that different from how you handle a new situation? If so, then that is one way autism makes me different.
So why do I look and act “normal” to the casual observer? The simple answer is because I have learned to adapt to most situations. What appears as normality on the outside, is actually the ability of my brain to assess and record situations then use those ‘recordings’ to navigate life. Does every person with autism do this? Probably not. We are all unique, just like you. We change and adapt in our own ways. I have become an expert at mimicking which helps me appear like I’m put together and confident. Only those closest to me ever see my insecurities.