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When I Feel Like I'm on Stage as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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As a woman with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, my greatest show is pulling off the impression that I am “normal” or neurotypical. I cannot count how many times my condition has been dismissed by the scathing words, “You don’t look autistic!” These words are comparable to a punch to a gut. It’s assuming autism can be easily identified. Whenever I go to work, I have to put on my greatest performance as a neurotypical.

At the register, I am full of smiles and crack a few jokes then and there just to make someone happy that day. In my head, however, my mind is a raging hurricane, bombarded with fears that the customers may figure out I am autistic based on my sometimes poor eye contact and mild stereotypical behaviors such as humming or moving my foot around. You may believe this fear is irrational, because it is, but being raised in a family that didn’t take my diagnosis too well makes me feel extremely insecure about myself and my disability.

While growing up, my family never accepted that I was autistic. To them, it was comparable to being diagnosed with a deadly disease. If I ever displayed stereotypical behaviors such as rocking back and forth, humming, or sometimes slightly moving my arms around, I would be met with unkind gazes and disgust. It was almost like my condition was taboo and my behaviors needed to be extinguished immediately to prevent my family from facing reality.

I have essentially been taught to behave like a neurotypical based on my negative experiences during childhood, which still follow me to this day. When I am trying to socialize with others on my socially distanced college campus, it’s like I have to prepare myself emotionally and physically. A mental script of the “do’s and don’ts” of conversing with others around my age rushes through my mind like an actor giving their best effort to remember their lines during a play. Sometimes, I have to imagine myself talking to someone and analyzing what I am saying to prevent embarrassment and confusion. Passing off as neurotypical at college is truly a draining performance, since my brain and body are giving their best efforts to prevent me from deviating out of the social norms.

I have had doctors and therapists claim I may be misdiagnosed with autism due to how impressive my act is on occasion. Apparently, despite all my past experiences with wrong diagnoses and signs of autism that were missed, it simply cannot be true if I can converse so “normally.” Hearing this makes me so flustered and frustrated because it’s diminishing my condition and what I have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s essentially saying “you don’t fit within my stereotype of autism, therefore, you cannot possibly have it.”

My performance of a neurotypical may sometimes be convincing, but it is all a show filled to the brim with emotions and severe stress. Until society is much more accepting of the neurodiverse community, my acting as a neurotypical will keep receiving encores and my play’s curtains will never close. The show must go on despite how I feel as a woman with Asperger’s.

Getty photo by Ranta Images.

Originally published: May 25, 2021
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