January 2, 2019

I’ve written about how it can be challenging, and sometimes damaging, to camouflage autistic traits. But I want to clarify something.

Autistic camouflaging isn’t evil. It’s a language – a way to communicate.

Yes, it can feel stressful and unnatural to speak a new language. It requires extra concentration, and it’s easy to make mistakes. But it can also occasionally be useful.

When I vary the rhythm and tone of my voice to sound more normal, it says, “I want to present information in a way that holds your attention, because I care about engaging with you.”

When I resist expressing excitement through flapping or dancing around, it says, “I am mature enough to handle the work I’ve been assigned.”

When I make eye contact with pedestrians, it says, “I see you. You’re safe. I’m not going to run you over.”

However, communication isn’t meant to be a thing one person does for another. Ideally, it should be something two (or more) people do together.

So I look for opportunities to translate my language. It isn’t possible in some cases, like between drivers and pedestrians. But when I can, I try to explain to others what my actions mean.

My closest friends know that the more focused I am on explaining a complex idea, the more monotone I’ll become, and the less I’ll be able to pay attention to their reactions. But they also know that once my thoughts are out, I’ll be eager to hear theirs.

My coworkers know that stimming helps me focus, and they don’t judge me for using a fidget toy during internal meetings.

My family knows that even if I’m not looking at them, I’m listening.

Communicating across neurotypes is like communicating across cultures. One side can’t be expected to do all the work. But when we don’t have the chance to explain ourselves, I hope we’ll assume each other’s intentions are good.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.