My response to “you’re not REALLY autistic, are you?”


I went through most my teaching career without talking about my Asperger Syndrome. I imagined every negative outcome; people questioning my ability to teach, children in my class wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me, parents asking the headteacher why they’d knowingly hire a teacher with a disorder, and so on.

But the reaction I perhaps feared most was belittlement.

You see, it takes a great deal of courage to open up about issues that reside in your head. Whether it’s your neurology, mental health issues, or anything else that can’t be seen except on doctors’ notes. And if there’s one thing worse than the fear of being shot down for opening up, it’s that once in a while someone actually shoots.

 

When I told Autistic Not Weird’s Facebook community that I was writing this article, a lot of people became interested. [All links in this article open in new tabs, by the way.] The ANW community is made up of autistic people, parents/relatives of autistic people, teachers/doctors/other professionals, and people with no links to autism but want to learn. So it’s quite encouraging that such a diverse community is uniformly concerned about this, and not just those who are autistic themselves.

 

I can only imagine the amount of good I could have done for autism awareness/acceptance if I’d felt able to talk about my autism in mainstream classrooms. Instead, I only opened up when I worked in special education, in classes where almost every student was autistic. They would get it, even if nobody else would.

But, now that I’m a public speaker on autism issues, a published author and a writer by trade thanks to my Patreon supporters, I’m no longer a shy guy who’s afraid to mention autism for fear of other people’s reactions. So this article’s written for those who are afraid to speak for themselves, and it concentrates on the hurtful line of argument “but you’re not REALLY autistic, are you?”

 

Wait, people actually say this? Who, and why?

Yep, I’m afraid so. Because I can talk about my autism, there are people who think I’m less ‘qualified’ to do so. Obviously this presents an enormous problem for autism awareness, and is extremely damaging for autism acceptance.

 

It’s quite clear who these people are talking about when they say “REALLY autistic”. They’re referring to those with extreme visible needs and those who will need lifelong care, like many I’ve known professionally. (And those who, usually unbeknown to them, I know and love in my personal life too.)

As the other infamous phrase goes, I “don’t look autistic”. (I wrote an immensely sarcastic retort to that line of argument too, funnily enough.) When autistic people like myself are seen not just talking, but sitting rather than rocking and making eye contact even though we’re not supposed to, those with severe learning difficulties are immediately referenced in order to make our claims less believable.

I do wonder how these individuals feel about being used to belittle the needs of others. I doubt they’d be on board with it. Then again, their opinions are usually valued even less than mine.

 

Below is a quick list of those I’ve known to make these remarks, and their typical motives:

 

Well-meaning family/friends: This is usually a form of consolation; a badly-phrased but well-intentioned sentence of support. And for those who aren’t (yet) well-versed in autism understanding, it’s easy to inadvertently say something that’s not as helpful as they intended. (For anyone wondering what to say and not say to your autistic loved ones, I’ve written another article about that here.)

 

Vague acquaintances (and not-so-well-meaning family/friends):

Whereas some people might intend “you’re not really autistic” in a sympathetic manner, others use it to be contentious. In these cases, the line can be translated to one or more of the following:

  • “You don’t match enough of the stereotypes for me to take you seriously.”
  • “I don’t see your struggles, therefore they probably don’t exist.”
  • “You’re just calling yourself autistic for attention.” [And definitely not because a psychiatric professional literally diagnosed you with it];
  • “I’d rather not have to make an effort to respect your needs.”

There’s a common experience among parents of autistic children: that once your child is diagnosed, you learn who your real friends are. Those unwilling to accommodate your child’s needs will quickly find a way out of your life. And it’s similar for autistic adults too: a diagnosis can often be an effective tool for working out who truly has your best interests at heart.

 

Some parents/relatives of severely disabled children: You’d think that autistic people and parents of autistic children would get on, right? After all, there’s a nice amount of common ground and priceless opportunities to learn from each other’s perspectives. But in far too many places on the internet (and offline too), there is a deep divide. In my opinion this ‘us and them’ attitude is both counterproductive and utterly pointless, and we should just stop arguing amongst ourselves because it’s just embarrassing to watch. But among the myriad of horrible words each side throws around, there are some parents who try telling us our experience of autism is less ‘valid’ because we can literally speak for ourselves.

I try not to respond harshly to parents of severely disabled autistic people, since their comments often come from personal hurt- and often, as mentioned above, from being let down by a lot of people even within their own family. And in my experience, dialogue is a better response than yelling.

With that said, none of the above makes belittling my own difficulties any less hurtful to me.

 

Very few autistic people, ever. Generally speaking, we know how much it hurts to have your very real (but invisible) needs belittled. We tend not to do it to each other.

 

So with the above in mind, here’s my counter-argument.

Here, have a pun. Just please don’t use it as evidence that I can’t be autistic because I understand jokes.

 

Why my autism matters

There seems to be a common misconception that ‘high-functioning’ autism is the Holy Grail of neurodiversity. As if it’s “autism without the difficulties”. As if we were “born with a disorder but got away with it.”

This leads to people telling us that we shouldn’t talk about autism as if we’re “truly” affected by it, like those who are nonverbal or intellectually disabled. (Those are two different things, by the way.)

I’m not going to enter any ‘autism contests’. I’ve known and worked with enough visibly disabled autistic people to not compare my challenges to theirs, or theirs to mine.

What I am going to do is reveal how non-linear the autism spectrum is.

 

During my first year in special education, I worked with two different groups of autistic teenagers. One group were surprisingly similar to me in terms of their personalities, except with mild-to-moderate academic learning difficulties. (Some, to be frank, didn’t have ‘natural’ learning difficulties at all: they were just bullied out of mainstream education.) The other group had severe learning difficulties, were all nonverbal and needed intimate care.

It was a job that gave me a wide breadth of experience: helping 16-year-olds with their GCSE mathematics one day, and toileting/changing profoundly disabled teenagers the next. And among the many things I learned was this lesson:

Being ‘mildly autistic’ does not mean you’re mildly affected by your autism.

Some autistic people are affected by their difficulties more than others, that’s for sure. The misconception is that academic or speech difficulties are the sole indicator of who finds autism challenging (or, even worse, which autistic people have the ‘right’ to feel challenged by it).

 

In both my personal and professional experience, I’ve found no direct correlation between lack of learning difficulties and lack of woe for the autistic person. Allow me to explain.

One student I worked with closely was a 12-year-old boy with very severe learning difficulties, who needed adult support with literally every part of his life. I was acutely aware of his severe and lifelong needs whenever I worked with him, whether I was changing his soiled pads, getting pushed around by him in the corridors, comforting him in his anxieties, or riding in the back of an ambulance with him.

And all the while, I felt conflicted. As much as I worried about his future prospects, it was difficult to feel sorry for someone who was just so unbelievably happy.

Didn’t see that coming? I’m serious, this lad was a trooper. Even in the face of anxiety, severe epilepsy and the struggles that come with severe learning difficulties, he was the happiest young person I’d ever known. At the age where most young people grow a sense of boredom or apathy towards their childhood interests, he was the only 12-year-old I knew who had retained the wisdom to know that this world and everything in it is awesome. Honestly, I kind of admired him.

 

Meanwhile, on other days I’d work in the mild-to-moderate classes, and have in-depth conversations with students who only had their needs recognised by the grown-ups after they’d attempted suicide at least once.

Yeah. It’s like that at my end.

I came to leave that job when the school found itself with a £550,000 deficit, so they came up with a “forward-thinking initiative” which involved forcing half the staff to leave. The vulnerable students were left with half as many adults to look after them, but at least the money was safe.

 

Of course, there were also children with severe learning difficulties who found their whole lives to be challenging or frightening. There were also academically capable students with fairly high self-esteem. My point isn’t that one group has it better or worse than others (like I said, there’s no point in autism contests). My point is that autism-related challenges are more complex than people think.

In fact, feel free to take a look at this article: Why ‘High Functioning’ Autism is so Challenging, by Lisa Jo Rudy. It’s a very, very accurate piece.

 

It’s quite inconvenient that all my issues are so subtle. When I tell people I’m autistic, all they can see is a regular guy with no visible deficiencies except an unusually big nose. What they don’t see is:

  • My social anxiety;
  • The difficulties of predicting the ‘rules’ in any given social situation, whilst intensely fearing the consequences of getting it wrong;
  • My inability to pass job interviews like I’m expected to, because the process is designed with the non-autistic majority in mind;
  • Being blamed for my failures by people who think I’m not ‘supposed’ to struggle;
  • The crippling intensity of feeling too much empathy for those I love (we do feel empathy, by the way, and the sooner that misconception dies the better off we’ll be);
  • Being a bully magnet at school;
  • My adulthood years of feeling like a trespasser in everyone else’s world.

(This does not include the struggles that other individuals like me experience, such as extreme sensory issues, chronic sleep disorders, struggles to adapt to change, comorbid conditions such as OCD and ADHD, and far more complex mental health issues than mine.)

 

Imagine, if you will, living with the above challenges and summoning up the courage to talk about them. The other person then judges your exterior and claims you can’t REALLY have problems.

This is basically why this article exists.

I’m happy to say that, thanks to a lot of support from a lot of people, not all of the bulletpoints above apply to me these days. I no longer feel like a trespasser, and I’m now self-employed so I don’t have to face job interviews. And all it took was becoming an award-winning blogger/speaker with an international following. Our issues aren’t balanced out easily.

 

The sad truth is, just because you can talk doesn’t mean others listen to you. The world has many people who disregard autism-related insights from people like me, whilst claiming to support those with severe communication difficulties. (The irony being that if such people later became able to express themselves fluently, the same ‘supporters’ would then dismiss their opinions just as readily as mine.)

 

Why public perception matters

More than once, I’ve had autistic people tell me they wish they were “more visibly autistic”. Because, after decades of learning how to imitate the non-autistic majority, their needs are so subtle (in front of other people, at least) that they’ve either been disregarded or disbelieved. They tell me that if their autism had been more blatant, their difficulties may have been noticed instead of their strengths but at least they’d have been noticed at all.

 

It’s difficult to argue against that, to be completely honest. And it’s quite telling that, even though visibly disabled people are defined so deeply by their weaknesses that their strengths are usually ignored (or assumed not to exist), there are ‘high-functioning’ autistic people who would willingly adopt that kind of lifestyle because of how others have treated them.

It’s kind of how I tried to change my personality at secondary school to appease those who were bullying me, except in a much more profound way.

 

Also, we don’t need the general public to try driving a wedge between visibly autistic people and the invisibly autistic. The autism community is divided enough, as I described earlier. And while we make ourselves busy trying to address that unnecessary divide, we should also be helping the rest of the world to understand that there are more than two manifestations of autism. Right now the world knows the Sheldon Cooper stereotype and the Rain Man stereotype. (Leaving aside the fact that one of those is humorously familiar but not to be taken seriously, and the other should be seen as a piece of 1980s autism history rather than anything that bears relevance to today’s understanding.)

But there are those in the middle who are neither savants nor intellectually impaired. Neither supremely intelligent nor lifelong disabled. People in some kind of middle ground whose brains just think differently, whose additional needs have been pushed behind their smiling faces by decades of social training and a desperation to meet the expectations of others.

 

In summary:

I have to admit- there have been times when I’ve been made to feel guilty for ‘not being autistic enough’. (Not truly feeling guilty, but being made to feel guilty.) I mean, how dare I talk about the difficulties of being autistic, with my fantastic ability to act in public as if my difficulties don’t exist?

But I’ve come to realise two important things: firstly, that I shouldn’t wish extra difficulties on myself in order to justify my autism to people who are clearly committed to misunderstanding me.

And secondly, I’ve spent enough of my life being discouraged from expressing myself. Those years are over now, and I’ve earned the right to be listened to.

 

I am really autistic, whether people like it or not. Whether it’s convenient to them or not, and whether I meet their expectations or not.

More to the point, I’m really autistic whether I like it or not. Whether it’s convenient to me or not, and whether I meet my own hopes and dreams or not.

 

And although it may not be obvious from this article, I’ve grown to like being autistic. The difficulties may suck, but once you get past other people trying to define who you are (and who you aren’t), once you stop forcing yourself to be ‘normal’, and once you start defining yourself by your strengths rather than by your weaknesses, being yourself is pretty great.

 

So that’s it from me: on the topics of defining yourself by your strengths and being free from normality, feel free to take a look at my 3-Minute Autism Advice series written for autistic people young and old, and here’s another link to Autistic Not Weird’s Facebook community too. Finally, writing for ANW has become my job now thanks to my Patreon supporters, so if you’d like to support my work in exchange for some lovely rewards, here’s the link.

 

Take care,

Chris Bonnello / Captain Quirk

Chris Bonnello is an autism speaker, available to lead talks and training sessions from the perspective of an autistic former teacher. For further information please click here (opens in new window).

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24 Comments

  1. Rather than labelled as mildly or severely autistic where autistic characteristics have varied significantly (eg hyper or hypo sensitivity to stimuli), we should really state the specific difficulties or challenges that the PWD faces eg with intellectual or learning disability, anxiety, hypersensitive to noise, light, smell, touch, nonverbal or communicates with AAC,
    My son for instance is autistic and with ID but he does not mind any level of noise, light, crowds, he travels in public transport and attends concerts and sporting events and extremely social.
    It would help others to understand what the challenges are and how to assist each other

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  2. This is amazing to read. It’s great as a parent of a boy with Autism, to get insight into life later on. It’s sad that there is this need to give ‘levels’ of Autism from some people. End of the day Autism or Autism and it effects every individual in their own way and to their own extent. It’s sad you’ve had some of the comments you’ve got x

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  3. Chris, thank you for such an insightful post. This is the first time I’ve come across your site and it’s won’t be the last.
    I’m a parent of an amazing young lad who is autistic. Max is ten years old and his speech is becoming clearer by the day. The point you made about the 12 year old boy’s happiness rang very true to me – my Max may have his issues to bear, but in general he is one of the happiest, and emotionally free people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. There’s no worry of what will other people think – he expresses how he feels, regardless of how it may be taken. He’s taught me so much throughout his life already and will continue to do so.
    Ahem, sorry for the ramble. As you can see I’m very proud of my son! <3

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  4. Absolutely spot on! Thanks as usual for your total honestly, can’t be easy digging deep in to memories like that. So proud of you 🙂

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  5. Thanks for another insightful post. I’m still trying to figure out the best response to my well meaning family when they refer to my 16 year old aspie son saying, “He’s so much better now.” I think they just mean he’s matured and learned some useful self control strategies but I sometimes wonder if they think he’s on the verge of growing out of his autism.

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    • Hi Lynne 🙂 That’s kind of a tricky one, especially if they have it in their heads that autism is the source of his difficulties (which it may be), and resolving his difficulties becomes synonymous with “being less autistic”.
      I’d be tempted to keep talking about how his autism impacts him but in a positive way- how he’s managed to turn his autism to his advantage, and is playing to his autism-related strengths rather than being held back by autism-related difficulties.

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  6. Brilliant post, you explain all of this so well, thank you. There’s no such thing as mild neurotypicality either 😉

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  7. A brilliant post. As a teacher who works with academically able autistic students, who are definitely not mildly affected by their autism this matters. Often my most ‘able’ students are also my most anxious. More awareness definitely needed. I also totally agree that autistic adults and parents need to work more closely together.

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  8. Fantastic post. I’ve been lucky enough to mostly know people who are much more likely to say, “Oh, that explains it,” than, “But are you really?” when I tell them I have autism. I don’t know if that first one is better overall, but it’s better for me. That said, I definitely know what it’s like not getting the help I need because I don’t “look” autistic. I’ve had teachers who refused to make any accommodations for me, and now that I’m in college people will often give me what they think is really helpful advice that’s either useless or really stressful to me, because it involves social interaction. Plus, there’s the whole thing where it feels like everyone just expects me to know how to do certain things without being taught, but I don’t, and I need help, but I don’t know who to ask for help, or even how to ask for help, and I’m not even sure if this is an autism thing or just imposter syndrome, but the autism sure isn’t help and what the heck am I even on about anymore?

    So…umm…yeah. Not getting the help I need sucks.

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  9. Brilliant post. Thanks so much for writing this. I feel like this often – I have Asperger’s and OCD and people have made numerous remarks to me about how I don’t look Autistic or they can’t tell from looking at me that I am. These have generally been well-meaning, but what is it they say about good intentions?

    It really does feel sometimes like being high functioning should, according to the world, mean you’re less Autistic and therefore, in less need of services. I’ve tried to get additional assistance from services but been denied because I speak too well, I would not fit their criteria and therefore not be eligible.

    And let’s not get started on everyone’s flippant use of OCD.

    But this is a great post, thanks for writing. I used to want to be a teacher myself when I was a kid, but I didn’t think I could because of my Asperger’s. Such a lovely surprise to see this isn’t true. 🙂

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  10. Thanks again for a superb article. I hear this alot as I have 2 high functioning Aspie daughters who ‘look normal’… Thanks for helping me to make sense of how to respond to this. Keep up the good work!

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  11. Very very well written article. I cannot tell you how many people I have heard say about my two sons “you don’t look autistic’. Yet, they don’t live the life they live or the realities we face as parents on a daily basis. Autism and all it’s associated challenges are real. If some could just walk a day in our children’s shoes or a mile I’m the parents.. thank you for this article?

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  12. So well writen, thank you for this text! 💙💚❤️💛// Cecilia from Sweden

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  13. Fantastic article! I can relate quite strongly to your experiences; I don’t live with a diagnosis of Autism, but I live with a few other mental health diagnoses as well as ADD. There’s a similar issue of “If you’re able to express yourself and be effective in your life, you must not have _____”, or a disbelief of the diagnosis.

    It can even happen with professionals, partly because they only see their patients/clients at their worst, so they don’t see what recovery, wellness and happiness look like. Also because the professionals tend to spend most of their time with the most complex/challenging/serious conditions/situations.

    My personal feeling is that because there are so many risks in disclosing our diagnoses, the only exposure people are aware of tends to be with those people who are struggling the most, and who cannot hide what they’re dealing with. As more people like yourself become able to share their experiences and perspectives, the public will gradually become more aware that the stereotype is not the norm.

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  14. I’ve been told this too. Women with Asperger often do a better job at hiding it and blending out.

    No one sees me flapping because I don’t flap in public. No one understood the reason for my shutdown, staring into space, and unable to speak or respond once when I was faced with too many changes to a plan. My friend said, “Oh, she’ just tired. We’ve been walking a long time.”

    I’m very high functioning. I’ve been working in the same job for years, living on my own. But who knows the challenges I’ve faced when looking for a job, that I was terrified of the noise, the bullying I’ve suffered? People don’t see many things.

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  15. Thank You Chris! This is such a brilliant and insightful post!!!

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    • Thanks very much! 😀

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  16. I admit I am one of those who wants her child to grow into “invisible” Autism. He is 5 now, and I guess my secret optimal outcome for him would be if others don’t see him disabled.

    Let me explain…I am an NT woman who has never been bullied and always accepted during my school years. Then I moved to the US, and I feel a constant misfit, 15 years already. I am the queen of sarcasm, reading between the lines, etc

    I recently got fired by a person who often sat in my office, had lunch with me for years, and shared very intimate secrets about weaknesses in his personality.
    Then the day after the busy season, he called me in his office, and without any warning, he said your work is not good, you are let go.

    Going back through my job history…this happens to me again and again. I am too honest and straight forward, and the American society has this unwritten rule book, where everyone says obvious un-truths and you have to learn to deal with that.

    Example: Oh we really liked your friend that came to interview here today.
    Then I open the feedback and they all said stuff like “I am a mild NO, Mild Yes, so I will put a No for now, but depending on the feedback of the others, I can be Yes.

    Seriously!

    This type of sneakiness causes trouble to lots of NTs too.

    So I guess just simply reading the way you describe HFA, I don’t really visualize how the struggle is greater than the struggle of an NT person.
    We also struggle socially…you know.
    I guess the only way to recognize that you struggle more…is if something in my gut tells me…something is wrong with this individual.
    It sucks, but we are all animals in this world…and we have some instincts that are ingrained in us.

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    • Yes, it is true, we all struggle socially at some point or another. Even NT’s find themselves “on the wrong foot” in one group or another and yes, living in America can be a huge challenge for anyone. But, honestly now, if you were to return to the UK you would re-adjust quickly.
      Your current situation is awful. You are at a point where you feel that you can trust no-one in your professional life.
      Now consider living in a world where every single person you come across is totally unpredictable.
      I can only speak for myself, but I am a total outsider wherever I go. As a child , I was a bully-magnet. I never, ever fit in. Even when I believed that I had finally found a niche, there was always a point when some one would yell : “Why can’t you be normal?”
      It got to the point that I would literally pray that I would not be “the odd one” whenever I joined a new group. A bit of a pointless exercise really, because I just knew that the group would inevitably single me out – it was only a matter of time. Being a woman, I just became silent. I still tend to melt into the background. I am hyper-alert – all the time. I watch myself in social situations. I then go home and spend the rest of my time analysing and re-analysing the entire evening which is like a film on constant action replay in my head.. Who did I speak to, what was said and what did they mean? Was there a rolling of the eyes? How did they stand? ( I am hopeless at reading body language. I know that it is important in communication, but I cannot “get it”) I get so trapped in a never-ending spiral and it is almost impossible to escape my internal editor. I watch for “the signs” of looming trouble and yet, there is nothing I can do to avert disaster. I have no idea just when public consensus decided that I was “out”. I cannot even see “it” coming. It just hits me when I realise that the friendly people of yesterday have become decidedly unfriendly and they close ranks….. Yesterday they were smiling but today I am the rather bad punch-line of a really mean joke…
      Summing up: Many autistic people live with constant anxiety. Dealing with NT’s is very, very exhausting for people with problems reading non-verbal clues and body language and ToM issues. To them, NT’s are unpredictable and can be perceived as potentially dangerous.
      (and don’t get me started on living in a world which is too loud , too bright , just too everything…. Even your own clothes stab you in the back)
      I lived my life like this for over fifty years and it was exhausting.

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      • I understand. Yes, this is different. I had a perfect fit for a very long time, and I thrived by trying to be the “most popular” person. I was very successful.
        I am not sure what kind of skills one needs to be popular, but I had it all figured out in my country of birth. I definitely didn’t hang out with people who can ruin my social status…and so I apologize to you for that. I remember I had to be friends with tall skinny girls who come from good families, and look very well. Sounds so stupid, but thats what we all did…it comes from within.

        And I am such a nasty stereotypical NT…because look at me, reading your note, explaining how hard it is to be constantly bullied and misjudged, and yet, all I can think is…hm…this Autism thing must not be that bad…if one can write so well and with so much internal understanding…

        Let me ask you…when you are in company with other HFA people, do you feel more at ease?
        i wonder if the main problem of ASD population is that they are just minority?

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        • Thanks for the compliment. 😉 The understanding comes from spending lots of time on the sidelines reading books . The writing comes from being detail oriented and looking for the best way to express one self (obviously inspired by reading lots of books)( and a tendency to be very verbose).
          Autism is what it is. It has positive aspects and less positive aspects.
          No, I would not say that you are a nasty NT. NTs are not by definition nasty, they are however quick to jump to conclusions when confronted with some one who is noticeably yet inexplicably different.( Some autistic people find one-on-one interactions with NT’s alright. We just cannot bear being surrounded by large groups of you. 😉 and any long, intense contact with NTs means that we require a long, long nap 😉 )
          As for feeling at ease, yes I do feel more at ease with people who understand me. That means I feel comfortable with autistic people and people who “get me”. ( I don’t like to differentiate degrees of autism because, though we are all different, we share the same way of thinking. We can relate to each other. We see the world from similar perspectives.)
          As for the main problem the ASD population has, well I would have to leave that one open. There are many, many different opinions on that one.

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          • Ok, thats fair. Thanks for helping me understand.

            I am trying to reconcile where does the difference between “autistic traits” and “autism”.
            I constantly see folks who have clear ASD traits but they don’t seem disabled by these at all.

            My former boss who fired me had such a strong eye for details, that he constanly asked his staff to redo things again and again. He was extremely inefficient and everyone had to work till midnight for him…He was always a loner in school, no friends or hobbies beyond work. He had a family but he preferred to go home at strsnge hours like 3pm…so he can enjoy his home when it was empty. He didn’t care and actually disliked staff to socialize with each other as he could only care about prodictivity. He hated crowds. Really disliked vacations and new places, mostly worried about the hotel bed and pillow. He wanted his furniture to be placed in pedantic way…etc. What was REALLY unusual is he is accountant, and you need to see your clients often, talk to them, etc. He always sent me with the saying “I dont care about their weddings or funerals, they will stay with me because I produce the most correct tax returns”. He was wrong…lots of clients left, and he was uncapable to get new ones at all.

            Sounds quite autistic, right?
            But he was fully capable of understanding others’ intentions. He was successful in manipulating others…exmpl…he would drop subtle threats to staff so that they constantly feel on edge and mildly threatened about their job. He made deep analysis of people’s personalities in attempt to motivate/force them to work very long hours(70/wk).

            So could one have autism but without obvious inpairments? Is it possible that lots of folks are out there, undiagnosed?

            I REALLY struggle to understand the difference between “some asd traits” and fully ASD.
            All I have is the statistics of massive under employment for ASD adults, yet I do see quite “successful” people who are actually helped by lots of their traits in the new work place.
            What NT will want to work 70 hours? We need time to hang out with other random NTs 🙂

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            • Your ex-boss sounds like a nightmare! Of course, no one wants to work 70 hours, nor do people want to work under duress. Your question is really complex and I am not sure that I have the knowledge to explain things adequately.
              I will give you an “in a nut shell” of what I have learned about Autism.
              Autism is defined as a pervasive developmental delay. (Delays in learning to speak, etc. This has some rather interesting consequences for the individual. Kids can be brilliant in some ways, while being far behind their peers in other ways) Autism is the way the brain processes data, which is very thought to be very different to the way the NT brain processes data. It affects the way autistic people think (best described as binary thinking, ie. Black/ white or yes/no thinking. ( I will not embellish this theory any further. )
              Diagnosis is based on behavior and social skills (symptoms as described in the DSM 5, (these could be defined as the infamous “autistic traits”. Both autistic people and NT’s can display these traits (which makes it so confusing!)
              The presence of sensory issues ( eg. extreme sensitivity to touch, light or sound, or even hyposensitivity eg. does not respond to extreme pain) is a new criterium.
              The diagnosis of autism requires a large series of tests and interviews which determine how many traits the person has. (which you are undoubtedly familiar with ) There are cut-off points, so a person may have many traits, but still not have enough traits to “qualify” as autistic. These tests also determine how autism impinges on the ability of the patient to function in every day life. ( which would determine to which extent the person is disabled)
              Another confounding factor in is that diagnosis depends on the way the individual “patient “is perceived by the health care professional (not to mention how experienced this professional is in diagnosing autism)
              There are also no biological markers in the blood which can be used to diagnose autism.
              Theoretically, a functional brain scan would be the most effective diagnostic tool, but it has not yet been determined which patterns of brain activity reliably and unequivocally indicate autistic brain activity.

              The lack of empathy to which you are referring is not only a trait in autism. Autistic people do feel empathy – they experience affective empathy ie. they do care about people. They just don’t know how to read non-verbal signs of distress (they lack cognitive empathy)
              To keep things simple (and for the sake of brevity (LOL)) I will sign off now.

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  17. Thank you SO much for this informative and insightful article. I’m a woman on the autism spectrum, and I didn’t receive a proper diagnosis until I was 35. It has been a non-stop, uphill battle, and it took a complete nervous breakdown for me to finally get my diagnosis. You’re right. “Mild autism” means YOU (the universal “you”) experience my autism mildly. I, however, do not have it so easy.

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