Why not tell people you’re autistic?

The title of this blog is a partial lie. I’ve told lots of people I’m autistic in the past, but no one really understood what this meant.

Responses have ranged from seemingly indifferent denial “I don’t think you are, you make eye contact all the time”, to the more bizarre response of my sister; “Oh…you know Uncle Chris is bisexual, you sure it isn’t just that?”.

In my frustration with some of these responses, I challenged those who were so quick to refute my admission to complete the sentence “Autism is…”. They shuffled awkwardly, shrugged or made a casual reference to the film “Rain Man” (damn that movie!).  It became obvious very quickly that many have a strong opinion of what autism is without actually knowing. So strong is this opinion that contradicting crude stereotypes seems to actually cause offence.

What about doctors you may ask. Surely trained professionals know better. While doctors have been aware of my family history of autism and after having told them I’ve had to quit my job partly due to near melt down situations, the response is usually unhelpful. There is really no advice or help for adults from general practitioners until it becomes a severe problem (i.e. depression, substance abuse), plus I can make eye contact “so you can’t be that bad” (more on the many problems with this statement another time).

It is for this reason I no longer disclose to anyone. Talking about autism hasn’t always been negative. Charities and volunteer organisations have been helpful. This blog is not designed to advocate non-disclosure, this has many drawbacks, but rather until people know what it is, I find for me at least there is really no point.

Through highlighting some of my experiences, this blog might help with this misunderstanding. First let’s dispel some myths.

– Yes I can make eye contact. I taught myself  around age 10 and learned how to cheat this if it does become difficult.

– Yes I can be sociable, people love a good listener who offers logical advice. In fact , find the right subject and I won’t shut up.

– No I’m not obsessed with an obscure subject matter, though I do have an obsessive nature towards things in short bursts of days, weeks and occasionally months.

– Yes it is a real thing. I assure you, having a public melt down or alternatively a “shut down” as an adult is nothing but humiliating.

– No I don’t have superpowers. I have a good visual/spatial memory but nothing Rain Man like (damn that movie again!)

– Yes I’ve struggled/struggle with language, mostly as a child, but I have an essay based degree from a world leading university, so I cope somehow.