The Shame that Often Accompanies Adult Autism
I recently hired a personal assistant to help me with personal and business tasks for a few hours every week. As an autistic individual, I thought my assistant could help me with the tasks that I hate, such as shopping and errands.
She’s been wonderful and a huge help, but I’ve found embarrassment coming up in me as I ask her to do things. It feels embarrassing to pay someone to get my groceries or run my errands simply because I don’t like to do those things.
It’s the same autistic masking and camouflaging issue I’ve had my entire life: it feels uncomfortable that the things everyone else does on a regular basis are deeply unpleasant for me. It feels uncomfortable that I am uncomfortable.
My assistant is currently on the way to my home. For the past three weeks, she has been helping me at my art therapy studio. She’s been meeting me there to help with a few tasks, and then leaving from there to do errands.
Today, I am opening up my home for her to help me with tasks like hanging a screen over my door, cleaning out my AC units, and helping me make decisions about how to best re-organize and spruce up the space to fit my autistic needs. There are also things that have been really bothering me that I’m excited for help with, such as how to handle my dog’s crate that gets in the way in my tiny 417 sq ft apartment.
And yet, the thought of talking to her about it makes me want to cry. The fact that I need help, that I am overwhelmed by such a small thing as a dog crate, makes me want to cry.
Will I be able to talk to her about the crate without getting upset?
Will she understand why it is so difficult for me to make a decision about something so seemingly simple?
That my mind overthinks every possible decision?
Will she understand that the decision of a crate is more complex than it seems? Should I keep it for training?
Where will Egon put his bones?
Do I need a dog bed if I don’t have a crate and where will that go?
Do I really need a dog bed he won’t use?
Won't I need a dog bed if I’m going to teach him to go to his bed?
This is normal for me. A seemingly simple decision erupting into a constellation of thoughts. I want my assistant to break me out of them, that’s why I’m paying here to come here and help.
And yet, the thought of welcoming her into my home is deeply overwhelming. It is my safe space and I am afraid of being judged. After a lifetime of being othered and different, it’s nice to have safe havens. Places I don’t feel the need to mask or camouflage. Where I can just do things my way.
As I’ve struggled with handling these tasks over to her, I’ve found myself doing more and more of them myself. Shame is trapping me. It’s preventing me from asking for help FROM SOMEONE I PAY with the things I don’t like doing.
This is how powerful shame is. Shame is common in late-identified autistics because most of us grew up with the distinct feeling that we were different and it wasn't ok.
It’s why I think therapy is so important for newly identified autistics. Sometimes we need extra support to shed the pain and impacts of living as unidentified autistics the majority of our lives. I’m an autistic therapist who works with late-identified autistics, and I STILL go to my own therapist. Support is good and necessary - especially with such a hard topic as shame.
I thought I was doing pretty well with shedding shame. And then my personal assistant brought it right back up to the surface. The upside is that when something is on the surface, we can see it and it is ready to be healed.
Follow Up Note: I originally wrote this essay in April. My assistant only worked with me for one month, but it was a wonderful opportunity for me to work through my feelings around shame and support. I feel far more at peace now with my differences, being seen as different, and requesting support when I want it.