Or, Surprise! It’s more than just not making eye contact or small talk!
I haven’t talked much about being Autistic lately on this blog. So I figured I should.
A couple months back, about halfway between now and when I first came out to my mother (who has been nothing but supportive since I came out), she took me shopping for clothes, and brought along a friend of hers, H. She said, recently, that H thought that, on seeing me being comfortable being out, that I no longer seemed Autistic. This is emphatically not true. It speaks more of the shallowness of her knowledge of what it is to be Autistic than to whether or not I am that my ability and enthusiasm for small talk, my smiles, and eye contact are all of it.
The traits of Autistic people that get the most attention in the broader society are the ones coded as most socially unacceptable. None of these are actually understood by people who don’t experience them, even the ones positioned as experts. Overt stimming is simply seen as an undesired behavior without addressing why. Meltdowns from sensory overload are mistaken for tantrums. Our social behavior, recognized persistently as an absence of allistic social behavior rather than a specifically Autistic behavior, is the most recognized, and also not understood.
To me, my more socially-oriented traits are best understood as a subset of sensory traits. In group conversations when I am not actively included, my being slightly slower than allistic people to process things can leads me to being shut out from contributing because I never have a response in a gap in the conversation, for instance. Small talk is a learned skill, and just because I’m (in the right circumstances) socially comfortable does not mean that I’m not autistic.
And the other cognitive parts are still there. My executive function is only barely recovered from when I burned myself out. My memory and ability to hyperfocus on things are still there. Just about all that’s changed is that I can socially pass better than I could before, because I’m no longer adding on the burden of pretending to be a man.
I’m still recovering from burnout, I’m still unemployed because of burnout, and it’s hugely invalidating, and a dramatic misunderstanding of what it is to be Autistic, to say that just because I get read a certain way, that I don’t fit the stereotype, that I might not be.