'How Autistic Are You?' Don't Ask Me That!

You are asking the wrong question.

I hate talking face-to-face about my autism to people who do not know me. I get comments like, “Well you must be one of those ‘higher-functioning autistics’ – since you have a house and a good job. Your life looks great. There is nothing wrong with you.”

In general I am a pretty happy and positive person. I’ve worked hard to learn to love myself as I am and have made efforts to eliminate all negativity and bad people from my life. I smile all the time, even if I am not feeling well or having a bad day.

Technically my smile is more of a grin or smirk – no teeth. If I force teeth it’s like that scene from the movie “The Terminator” where Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to learn how to smile. I wish I was exaggerating. I can smile with teeth if I am genuinely happy about something, but this is one thing I cannot fake.

What they don’t see are my struggles. They don’t know that sometimes I am panicking on the inside or going through sensory overload right in front of them. How could they?

Growing up undiagnosed, I learned to hide these things. Nobody sees me freaking out, knows when I am having stomach issues or if my head is pounding from the florescent lighting of the office I work in two to three days a week.

I don’t complain. I smile, push forward, pull up my big girl panties and do what I have to do to make sure I am able to provide the best possible life for myself. I have a good job because I work hard.

My mother allowed me to start working at the age of 12. I started out with jobs like cleaning. She told me to always stay busy, find something to do. If I am on the clock I need to find work to do. So I did.

I put my heart and soul into everything I do — that is why I have a nice home and a good job — not because I am a “high-functioning” autistic. Honestly, I am not a fan of these high and low-functioning labels.

People say I am high-functioning because I have well-developed coping mechanisms, which basically means I keep all my struggling hidden to myself to make neurotypical people feel comfortable. Because I can pass for “normal,” blend in and be one of “them,” I must be high-functioning. How offensive!

Please do not ask autistic people (or their parents) how autistic they (or their child) are (is).

This would be the number one question on my list of things not to say to or ask an autistic person.

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