Knowing You’re Different as an Autistic Adult
I’ve always known I was different. I could tell since I was a kid.
I didn’t know until I was in my mid-30’s that I’m autistic. That helped explain a lot. I now write many, many essays that explain how I experience autism and how it makes me different from the neurotypical population.
AND YET, it is still sometimes hard to see how I’m different.
My autistic friend, Jen, and I recently started a talk show about autism called “Autistics Unscripted.” For 20 minutes, we pick a topic related to autism and talk about it unscripted. We both thought this was a fabulous way to discuss topics that impact autistics, as well as show a visual of what it is like to be autistic.
We recorded four episodes and they felt great.
A week later, I sat down to watch the first one that Jen put together on YouTube.
I was horrified. I could see absolutely everything that is different about me. I could see when I take over the conversation. I could see when I space out. I could see when I squirm in the chair.
I’m no stranger to public speaking. I’m actually great at it. But this talk show was different. I wasn’t refined. There was no rehearsing, refinement, or outline. It was just extemporaneous … and it was like watching me in real time.
And for some reason, all I could see was the flaws. To see the things I have tried to mask or control so many times - the fidgeting in my seat, the eye contact, the back and forth conversation, the staying present, and more.
Then there was the level of vulnerability I was sharing in the conversation (you can check out the episode here to see what I mean). It’s like someone is just listening in on a conversation with my best friend, because that is exactly what was happening! It was horrifying. I knew I made sense to my friend, but would other people understand or still like me? All of my old insecurities about belonging and acceptance reared their head. For autistics that spend their entire life being “different” or “weird,” I think these are common insecurities.
Even though I understand the psychology behind everything I was experiencing, it was still hard.
I wrote out an entire list of my concerns. I spent a full two hours talking to Jen about them. I’m lucky enough that she’s a wonderful listener. Sometimes someone just hearing you and validating you is enough.
Lucky for me, Jen also reminded me that everything the show brought up for me is exactly why we’re doing the show. We want to show how we naturally are - and that it’s ok. I get self-conscious about my way of interacting because I fear others will think I don’t care or will like me less. Like they’ll look at my little quirks and proclaim, ‘See, you’re not listening!”
Jen gently pointed out that everything I explained shows how hard I am trying to stay connected. That all of my fidgeting is in an effort to stay present. She acknowledged that being autistic, our brains will wander. It’s about how we bring them back to the present and reconnect.
Her simple reframes helped me shift from “I’m different and that’s bad” to “I’m different and look at me working with what I’ve got.”
This is not some Cinderella story where I tell you I’m now fully confident and empowered about doing these episodes. No, I’m still nervous and a little weary. BUT, I’m also excited. I’m excited to have these conversations. I’m excited to reach out to other autistics who might feel as I do. Who might also conversate in similar manners or struggle with similar things. That we can all know we’re different… and that “different” doesn’t have to come with any judgment.
If you’re curious, please check out the show here.
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