May 9, 2021

My body knows what it needs. But I’ve spent most of my life fighting it, because if I give in, people might perceive me as a threat.

Percussive movement, such as stomping my feet or whacking my palms on my thighs, is threatening because it looks like violence.

Sudden movement, such as stretching out my arms and fingers after curling them up just moments before, is threatening because it startles people.

Facial movement, such as wrinkling my nose or squeezing my eyes shut, is threatening because it looks like an expression of thoughts and feelings that are mysterious at best, and offensive at worst.

Childlike movement, such as swaying or flapping, is threatening because overt playfulness in grown-up movie characters is used as a mark of insanity.

In public, I tend to mask my most unusual movements. In private, I’d prefer to drop the mask, but I find it surprisingly difficult. I don’t have an easy way to toggle between battle and surrender, control and acceptance, vigilance and ease.

One way to circumvent the problem of switching would be to aim for authenticity everywhere. That’s terrifying to me.

But I feel empowered when I think of all the autistics who don’t mask – and couldn’t, even if they tried. Making peace with my own body, and explaining my behavior as I do, may help create a safer world for them.

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.