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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity

Tal Anderson: Finding My Voice through Acting

Tal the Child

I was a happy child. Quiet, but very happy. I didn’t actually speak until I was almost 4, and by then I had learned to sign to communicate. One day, though, I just started to ask for things verbally.

School, in general, was hard because I spent a lot of time catching up to everyone else. I didn’t ask questions, and I had a harder time with expressive language and processing, so I ended up reading more, and writing. Well, typing, actually, because my fine motor skills were also an issue, and still are.

I always felt like my brain worked faster than my mouth. So, instead of trying to communicate and failing, I just internalized my thoughts a lot. I couldn’t respond fast enough to questions people asked, and it was frustrating. I always thought this was what caused my high social anxiety… but now I don’t know what came first (the chicken or the egg). All I know is that I had a hard time expressing myself, so I was very anxious about having to talk to people — and because of this, I didn’t have many friends who weren’t “family friends.”

My two younger brothers were my best friends throughout childhood, mainly because we were always together and because we understood each other. The oldest of the two is also autistic and very introverted, so once I began to speak, I started giving him words like a script so we could interact with each other. We would spend hours pretending and acting out our favorite movies and later on, scripts I would write for us. I guess it was kind of like my first role – “sister friend.”

I have very supportive parents and family, and I have been fortunate to have access to therapy, education, and support throughout my life. My parents always pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to try and do new things, and this helped me become brave and determined. I realize that I am very lucky to have this, but for me it was critical to me being able to find my place in the world.

Tal the Teen

When I was ready to go to high school, my parents began to really emphasize that I needed to work on socialization and communication more because they wanted me to be able to function at school, and I could tell they were worried about me being able to stick up for myself.

So I asked for books (of course) to help me with this. They got me lots of books, but they didn’t really help. They helped me understand “why” I was having difficulty, but they didn’t help me solve the confidence issues, and that was like a giant wall standing in my way.

So, my mom hired an acting coach to come to the house to do improv acting with me. We worked on improvising situations I had never experienced, like trying on clothes with a best friend, or going out with people for pizza, or talking to someone on the phone about what I did last weekend. I was “acting,” because I had never done these things, and in the process, I learned how to actually do those things.

After a few months, I felt a lot more confident and would take social risks in addition to the other things I had learned not to be afraid of (food, physical tasks, etc…). Then one day I realized that what I was doing was very similar to what I had been doing my whole life.

I was pretending, but I was just older now.

Back then, this saved my life and gave me courage and confidence to venture into the world. It helped me through high school and eventually college, but over time I learned that pretending was not the way to go. The acting and improv training was a tool that I used to get me to the place where I am now – a place where I have a voice and I am confident enough to use it.

Tal the Actor

I get asked all of the time what challenges I face as an autistic actor, or what it is like being autistic in the entertainment industry – and at first I thought about this and really tried to separate out the typical challenges actors face from the ones I face as an actor with a disability.

I now realize that I am #justTal, and that includes the little girl who didn’t talk until four years old, the non-social and studious college student, and the hard-working, and continuously-training actor.

Ultimately, acting teaches you to be present and truthfully in the moment, and my beginnings in acting were all about being truthfully present in those situations. I am thankful, because those skills help me to not only be fully present in my roles as an actor, but also to be fully present in my life as myself.

The Tal that I am now knows who she is and what she wants her role to be in the world, but I still struggle, I still process slowly when I speak, and I still, every day, get pangs of panic and anxiety when I have to do something that involves talking on the phone or socializing.

The main difference between the Tal from my childhood and the Tal I am today is that I am no longer afraid to explain it to people, and to let them know what I need to make the situation more comfortable.

I started acting to help me find a voice to communicate with others, and it has given me so much more. The voice I now have is one that allows me to speak for myself and others with confidence.

What’s Next

The next step for me is learning to use my voice to help others through my work in the entertainment industry. Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of people on the big screen who reminded me of myself. I believe it is really critical to have representation in the media, because I think it can lead to more inclusion in real life.

I think that no matter who we are, we all deserve to turn on the tv and see people who we can identify with. I am so happy that I can help be a part of that and can use the voice I found through acting to do it.

Someday, I hope to be able to help others boost their confidence, learn to love who they are through acting, and be fully present in their lives. For now, though, I am still working on my own skills, moving forward, and learning to use my voice to speak my own truth.

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