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Why Autism Is Like Being From Another Country

I came across a scenario that thinking about it, seems to be a good way to explain one of the core challenges of autism. Say you were born and raised in another country, e.g. Sweden. You’ve spent your entire life there, but with a lot of effort you have learned to speak English really well, and by watching and listening to people on TV, you have learned to speak with a perfect American accent. It’s not natural for you to do, it’s still an act and it still takes a lot of effort and occasionally you will mess up, especially if you are tired or stressed.

Let’s say you decide to live in America. People around you make the assumption you are American because you speak so well. Occasionally however, you will make a mistake – a weird grammatical error, or maybe not know something basic like where California is. If you were speaking in a Swedish accent, people wouldn’t think a thing of it; it would be totally acceptable and expected for you to make that kind of mistake. However, because people assumed you were American, they are taken aback. They think you are weird or something is wrong with you – how could you possibly make those kind of mistakes?

With autism, communication and social skills are often not your native language. It’s an act you have to put on that takes effort. You may be able to pretend very well, but you will make mistakes, and when you do, neurotypical people wonder how it’s possible to make those mistakes because it’s something that’s supposed to be natural. It might be easier if autism had an accent.

Getty image by Bete Noir.