Tag Archives: Burn-Out

“Just Blind”: My Experience With Passing and the Resulting Burn-Out

Last May, I wrote my first post in the 30 Days of Autism Acceptance. I never followed through with the rest of the challenge, but today, I’m inspired to write on the day 2 topic, which is passing and autistic burn-out.

There is a lot of societal pressure to look and act as “normal” as possible. Passing is the situation where people who don’t belong to the “normal” majority appear as though they do. This may refer to disabled people appearing non-disabled, but it also refers to people of racial minorities being perceived as white or to queer people being perceived as straight.

I never fully passed for non-disabled, because I’m blind, but I did try to pass for a long time. People however often could tell that I had some kind of disability even if they couldn’t tell what it was. Interestingly, besides not passing for sighted, I don’t believe I could ever fully pass for neurotypical, except to those who believe an autistic appearance is normal for blind people.

In addition to appearing normal, disabled people are also pushed to achieve those things that are deemed “normal” in society. That is, except when you look so obviously disiabled that people judge you to be too “low-functioning” for that, in which case they usually greatly underestimate your abilities. I may write about that at some other point. There is a lot of pressure even from within the disabled community to perform as well as non-disabled people do. I see this particularly in the blind community, except, once again, when a person is seen as severely disabled enough not to need to achieve.

Until I was twenty, I was almost universally perceived as “just blind”. Oh and presumably extremely intelligent. As such, I had to perform according to my intelliigence, so I had to go to a mainstream, high-level secondary school. All my problems there were chalked up to either my blindness or my high intelligence.

At age twenty, I resided in an independent living training home for the disabled, which had originally been set up specifically for the blind, so most staff had some expertise on blindness. It was there that it first became apparent that I’m not “just blind”. I was referred for a diagnosis and diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in March of 2007. Eight months later, while living independently, I completely fell apart. I experienced autistic burn-out. Yet many people still see my diagnosis, my burn-out and my subsequent voluntary admission to a psychiatric hospital, as an elaborate way for me to manipulate people into giving me care.

I never fully recovered from my burn-out, in the sense that I went back to living a “normal” life for a person who is “just blind”. I was in college in 2007. Now, even though I’m out of the institution, I have no plans of going back to full-time education or finding a paid job. Though I may want to attend some part-time education or do volunteer work in the future, I’m now happy to be at a day center doing sensory activities. I am also glad that I was finally approved for home support yesterday.

In this sense, I did in fact recover from my burn-out. I mean, I did not return to the life that essentially caused me to burn out, but I do think my life is meaningful. In fact, I am happier now than I was when I still passed for “just blind”.

Appearing More Autistic After Diagnosis

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 fa├žade 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.