A few days ago, Autistic Aloha wrote post about being born autistic and, hence, having been autistic long beofre his diagnosis. I want to write today about one issue which he raises: the idea that autistics appear more autistic after they’ve been diagnosed. I have myself been accused of this, and I say accused because people inevitably see it as something negative. I also have been told that I use my autism diagnosis as an excuse to act more autistic while having the ability (judging by my prior appearance) to act more NT.
This is assuming first that acting NT is always better than acting autistic. I personally don’t think so: unless the autistic is exhibiting dangerous behavior, there is no need to assume that something is bad just because it looks autistic. I know that autistic behavior makes NTs uncomfortable, but so what? Some NT behavior makes me uncomfortable, but I have no right to tell you to stop acting NT.
Even going along with the idea that autism is intrinsically negative, who are you, neurotypical observer, to judge whether an autistic is truly capable of acting more NT than they do post-diagnosis? What if the autistic, like I myself, has always felt gravely overburdened by the expectation of normalcy, and is dropping the façade for their own mental health? This is very commonly the case. After all, especially in cases of adult diagnosis, many autistics come into services because they’re burned-out, depressed or otherwise suffering. I have met few autistics who seek help for their autism (not just a diagnosis for self-understanding) because they’re flapping their hands, having difficulty making eye contact, or misunderstanding neurotypical humor. I myself sougt help because I was having terrible meltdowns due to overload. Now as I said, meltdowns are dangerous, so I can see why you’d want me to unlearn those, but I’ve been told I was appearing more autistic for being more reactive to sensory input without becoming aggressive. This was in turn said to be a case of me using autism as an excuse.
Well, I’m not saying that autistics by definition cannot use their autism as an excuse for misbehavior (yet see above for my take on autism as misbehavior). They can and do. What I am trying to make clear is that perceived excusing may be something totally diffferent even in cases of harmful autistic behavior, such as meltdowns. This does not mean the autistic should be allowed to continue to melt down. However, if you assume the meltdowns are willful, you’ll employ a totally different intervention than if you assume the autistic is responding to genuine overload or burn-out.