Can an Autistic Person Look Normal?

Someone on Quora asked "Can you be autistic and look normal?" This was my response:

  1. Clarification: Do you mean “Can an autistic person go through everyday life without people noticing they are autistic?” If so, then yes. It is possible. It depends on the person and the context.
  2. On invisiblization: However…is this a good thing? I am an autistic person who often slips under people’s radar. It kind of sucks. There are definitely some privileges to passing like I do (i.e. not being an immediate target for anti-autistic or anti-disability hate), but there are many disadvantages that make it really hard to move through social, professional, and family circles without feeling like a burden or a liar.
  3. Personal examples:
    1. Clarification: Do you mean “Can an autistic person go through everyday life without people noticing they are autistic?” If so, then yes. It is possible. It depends on the person and the context.
    2. On invisiblization: However…is this a good thing? I am an autistic person who often slips under people’s radar. It kind of sucks. There are definitely some privileges to passing like I do (i.e. not being an immediate target for anti-autistic or anti-disability hate), but there are many disadvantages that make it really hard to move through social, professional, and family circles without feeling like a burden or a liar.
    3. Personal examples:
      1. I am a professional musician/composer/performer who has learned to perform my ass off, both on stage and in life — when I have spoons. By studying other people motions and interactions intently, I have been able to pass as neurotypical in many circles...but again, only when I have spoons to keep up the act. Because I can “act so normal” sometimes, the moments I can’t hold it in anymore are much worse, both personally and in terms of other peoples’ reactions to them. I just come off as being as asshole, being super rude, dramatic, lying, etc.
      2. Generally, though, I come off as a weird/blunt/humorless/not-emotionally-in-touch/selfish person to many people. People think that before reading me as autistic. So…yes, I look “normal but mean” to others. I’d rather people know that I’m autistic and well-intentioned and just have a different way of moving through life.
      3. If you saw me in a short spurt, or even in a public video, Instagram, or onstage, you would not think I was mean or cold. You may even think I’m warm and engaging. Like I said, I’m a performer. I know to always ask about the other person, smile and nod, say certain things, do certain things, and plaster on certain facial expressions. It’s not natural. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to connect with the other person. If I’m feeling more talkative or pressured to talk, I often end up asking a person two zillion tiny follow-up questions on seemingly insignificant details of their stories, and it’s 1. how I get through a conversation in the easiest way possible, and 2. part of my nature to need all of the details in order to build a cohesive story, opinion, and response. There’s usually no purpose to knowing all the details; it’s just mentally stimulating, and I prefer to hold onto facts rather than more nebulous things like feelings. When I’m relaxed and just enjoying someone’s company and I know they won’t judge my autistic ways, I often just stare off into space, say nothing, say too much, let my sentences trail out, disappear and come back, check my phone or do something with my hands while they’re talking, ask questions but then suddenly stop, sometimes don’t even face them, rarely laugh at their jokes, and I have a completely bleak/blank look on my face. I often don’t say goodbye and will just…walk away when I’m “done.” At the bottom of this post are two casual photos of me. The first is a pic of me genuinely feeling really happy and grateful. The second is a pic of me purposely evoking a “happy and grateful” expression for fans. It took a lot of shots for me to get the pose and the “activated sparkly eyes” thing down. Again, I’m not saying my positive feelings were fake; just that my real face wouldn’t visually convey that to others.
    4. Gender: Many people are starting to realize that females (and non-binary folks) may not present the same markers of autism that boys do, leading professional to miss their diagnosis. This article by Dr. Joel Schwartz is helpful. TL;DR version is that girls are more socially motivated (pressure, society etc) as a survival skill, so it’s more common for those of us (that are able to) to try really hard to develop and wear that socialized costume.

 

Hope some of this helped!

I'm genuinely happy in this photo.

I'm genuinely happy in this photo.

I am plastering on an intentional positive face here.

I am plastering on an intentional positive face here.