I read the recent psychology article on being ‘authentically autistic’ with interest. The current climate seems the most accepting to date, in which to be authentic in this way. The current ‘#bekind’ movement, the increasing acceptance of minority groups, and the increasing awareness of autism as a neurodivergency, certainly means this is the most accepting era that autistics have experienced, to date. But of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. There is a LONG way to go, in terms of autism education and awareness, although great steps have been taken. (For example, with the recent news about the UK’s NHS mandatorily training of their staff in autism and learning disability. (Isn’t it surprising that this wasn’t in place previously!)
However, alongside this positivity, there is a flip side – for example – there are a great many individuals supporting behavioural therapy to suppress their families’ autistic traits; plenty of people who (inaccurately) describe their autistic children as ‘vaccine damaged’; and a large, ambivalent group whose paths do not cross with autism, who are unsurprisingly uneducated about the neurology.
Examining this author’s ‘authenticity’, I was diagnosed in my 40s, and as an autistic adult, my friends and family know about my diagnosis. In my professional capacity, of course I present as an actually autistic person; but it’s not something I shout about on a day-to-day basis, and yes, there are many people on the peripheries of my social experiences – e.g women I nod and smile to at the school gates, friends of friends – who do not know I am autistic. (Read about the author HERE).
Am I being unauthentic by not sharing it widely? I do not think so. I see some autistic individuals who must have quite extrovert personalities, and seemingly ‘put it out there’ at the first opportunity, e.g. chatting to random people in a queue, or letting staff members at an event or facility know they’re autistic. It’s admirable, and it helps raise awareness of autism, particularly the fact that autism is everywhere; we’re your friends, teachers, friends’ spouses, colleagues, etc.
However, that level of sharing does not come naturally to me; I’m not the sort of person to disclose personal info on a whim, unless it is relevant. And frankly, with the large group of people in the world I mentioned who are still uneducated, I don’t want to have a quick, superficial conversation with them about my own autism when I am buying coffee, or travelling on public transport. I don’t want to wear a funny T shirt with an autism slogan. I don’t see that it promotes acceptance – awareness maybe, but of what? Awareness without understanding isn’t necessarily useful. I’d welcome an actual conversation and will gladly help to educate them if they’re open to this; but a quick, transitional encounter isn’t for me.
With the people in my outer periphery of associates, of course I would discuss my autistic needs at the appropriate time, but I don’t put it out there for no reason; does this make me less authentic? Some people would say so. Likewise, I don’t advertise lots of other personal details to other people, for example my age, my religious tendencies or gender identity. I feel this situation or choice regarding sharing and over-sharing is more to do with extrovert versus introvert, then authentic autistic versus non-authentic autistic.
Here’s how I believe I am being authentic. To this author, being authentic means that the people who need to know, know about my autism. I’ve for example started an adult education course, and of course I am open there about my autisticness, which is very liberating. Although I work for myself, if I were to apply for a job within the workforce, I would definitely disclose it to bosses and colleagues. I definitely prioritise autistic self-care, and if that means not going to a social engagement, leaving a family event early, or explaining to family or friends that I am feeling overwhelmed, facing shutdown or am ‘peopled out’, so be it. As a late diagnosed autistic, I masked for years (unintentionally), it’s what we do to fit in. But now I am conscious of not masking, as much as I can, as it’s too depleting.
One of the problems with being #authenticallyautistic is that this means showing our true feelings and emotional states, as they relate to autism; and if we are late diagnosed, this is not something we are likely to have done previously. The fact we are late diagnosed probably means we have been camouflaging or masking for years, and these behaviours are entrenched. One of my biggest challenges regarding not masking is for example simply keeping up the expected levels of social courteousness when I am overwhelmed or tired. It’s usually strangers; for example the clerk on the end of the phone at your bank; the fellow dog walker; the shop assistant; the bus driver; all of the people we engage with regularly, and sometimes engage in pleasantries and small talk with. Being authentically autistic would sometimes mean I would be seen as being incredibly rude; e.g. not smiling, not looking at their faces, and refusing to talk, if that’s what my emotional state made me want to do. That’s not kind, so I ‘mask’ with them, not to make myself fit in, but so as not to upset others. So in this example, I am not being authentically autistic and showing my true feelings and emotional state, as this may upset others, and spoil their day.
To summarise, I think we should all be as authentic as possible, whatever our neurologies. Some days, that may be more authentic than others! We can only ever do our best.