This article was originally published in 2015.
As someone on the Autism Spectrum, I’m always aware of the fact that I’m an atypical living in a largely neurotypical world. I see the same world through a different lens, and my brain runs on a completely different operating system. That’s as irrefutable a fact as saying that the sky is blue, or that the grass is green. It’s just the way things are.
As such, I have to adapt. I’ve often been told that I have a flair for the dramatics, and that I could be an actor. That makes sense—seeing as how I essentially act every day of my life. And the kind of acting I do can be a lot tougher than a role in any Hollywood blockbuster or Broadway show.
I am, by nature, a very blunt person. I’m brutally honest, opinionated and outspoken. I have almost no filter, my demeanor can at times be stiff or robotic, I have a tendency to clench my hands into fists, or wring them together, my appreciation for Japanese culture has brought about a tendency to bow slightly when meeting someone, be it on greeting or on parting, as is the Japanese custom, and my hearing impairment has, at times, caused me to have to lean forward with my head turned to the right so that the better of my two ears can pick up every word someone says.
These are just some of the social idiosyncrasies that are a part of my everyday life. To me, they make sense. They are my natural reactions, and I have reasons for all of them, but they also make me seem as though I’m moody, temperamental and unapproachable, which is the furthest thing from the truth once you get to know me.
That’s why, when I’m in public, I’m forced to wear a mask. Think of it as an invisible version of the kinds of masks people wear to masquerade events, or on Halloween, because that’s often how it feels. I relax my face, keep my head facing forward, let my hands swing with open palms at my side, fight the urge to bow, and bite my tongue unless I’m spoken to, often humming a melody to keep my mouth busy. Above all, I make a concerted effort to look at things from a neurotypical perspective.
Of course, that can be easier said than it is done. Especially considering the fact that my brain is wired in a completely different way than the majority of people.
It’s why I prefer going out with at least one other person, if not a group of people. It keeps me somewhat distracted so that I’m not over-thinking every interaction or process, and the person or people can correct me when they see me slipping into some of my more atypical behaviors or patterns that many neurotypicals would consider awkward, eccentric or off-putting. Sometimes, my family (all neurotypical) will even mimic my behavior so that I realize exactly what it is that I’m doing.
It works pretty well… at least, most of the time. After all, I’m hardly infallible, no matter how often I wish that I were. And on those days, I have to say that whoever wrote that classic line about how there’s no place like home into the script of The Wizard of Oz back in the late 1930’s, could not have been more accurate.
Wearing a mask is never an easy thing, especially for someone on the Autism Spectrum. We’re creatures of habit, and we crave structure and routine. Any deviation from those routines can be difficult, to say the least, but we live in a predominantly neurotypical world, and adapting to that world is a necessary evil, if we ever want to get anywhere. Sometimes, you’ll have no choice but to put on your mask, and deal, as unfair as that may seem. It is my hope however, that with all the recent coverage and conversation surrounding the broad spectrum of autism, we’ll eventually be able to leave the masks behind… except perhaps on Halloween.
In the meantime, for any parents, guardians, friends and family of people on the Spectrum, I encourage you to remember that ASD is a completely different operating system, and that every behavior or routine has a purpose, no matter how nonsensical it may seem. Create a comfortable environment where the mask can come off and the person can be themselves. They wear the mask enough in public anyways.
And for any neurotypical who may see it fit to look down on someone with ASD, I implore you to ask yourself this:
If the roles were reversed and being on the Autism Spectrum was the societal norm, would you be able to wear a mask too?