So… I have been a discovered (no longer calling it “diagnosed”, complete misnomer) autistic for two years.
There has been much adjustment, exploration, and relative adventure (from the comfort of chairs and laptops mostly, more now than ever I do not give my “fuck bucks” to things I do not give a fuck about, which includes being outside).
I have a good autistic friend who I met via ausitic womens meetings. We understand one another’s autistic-ness: to her I’m not weird at all, and for her I don’t bat an eye when she hides under my desk from the world.
We work well together too. We bounce autistic theories off one another. So much so we are in the process of re-writing the “female-male Autism” debate/debacle for a journal: it’s simply not as simple as gendering autistic experience.
We’ve also collaborated to create a pre- and post-diagnostic support programme, replete with online resource support, for suspected autistics on campus.
I am more “me” for the first time in forever. I shaved my head, something I’ve always wanted to do, because I hate hair – sensorily hair’s a pain in the arse! And with people understanding I’m autistic, and my understanding I don’t have to look neuro-typcial, “bzzzzzzzzzz”.
The bad and the ugly…
Well, pre-discovery I was perceived by others as cold, stand-offish, and unapproachable, but also confident, intelligent, and capable. Now that I have disclosed to all and sundry (for one reason or another, somewhat with the optimistic belief that others would be more understanding of my “quirks”), however, I find myself more often than not being patronised, belittled, and underestimated (coveted PhD funding notwithstanding, apparently).
I find myself in the odd position of knowing the two sides to pre- and post-disclosure, and finding that others perceiving me as unapproachable, yet smart, preferable. I am also deeply saddened and kind of pissed off that people are genuinely and disappointingly living up to my fears and the stereotype: non-autistics, with no first-hand experience, assume basic stereotype beliefs and prejudicial attitudes about me.
I optimistically (and naively) thought disclosure would improve people’s attitudes and behaviour toward me, make them realise that I appear unaproachable, but am in fact bereft of small talk (and such). Instead, I am at times spoken to by others as though I am a child, as if my age and intelligence decreased when they discovered I am autistic.
As a researcher of stigma, this is the epitome of irony.
I do note, however, that some people I have contact with have either not changed their opinion of me, nor their behaviour toward me, or have made positive realizations and adjustments to (e.g.) understand me, and on the odd occasion, include me. To these people, I thank you (could you just have a word with the others? That would be great, thanks!).
As a final thought: I will continue to be my awesome autistic self. I mask a little less now that I can give myself the freedom to be autistic, without just feeling ashamedly and painfully “odd”. I just wish the environments I find myself in would hurry and catch up to being more accepting of the me beneath the neuro-typcial mask.