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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity
Autism neurodiversity

A letter to Authority

Dear Authority,

Due to the implications and the mental labor required to mask ourselves and mirror your demands, our existence is incompatible with all forms of you that attempt to control our autistic neurotype.

Therefore, the true acceptance of us will require the revocation and restructuring of your power over us in schools, workplaces, psychiatric offices, the judicial system, and other institutions. As it stands, your power over us is exploitative and abusive.

Here’s why.

First, as human beings, there are three main ways in which we can carry out day-to-day social roles and identities: 1) We can be our true self, 2) we can be a person who somewhat resembles our true self, or 3) we can pretend to be someone else entirely.

With that said, outputting the true self is relatively easy for most people but not for us. At least not under your control. We are not allowed to be our true selves while under your power. This is due to the widespread denial of how our brains and bodies function, as opposed to the brains and bodies of people without our neurotype.

It’s probably impossible to be our true selves all the time and this is due to your expectations for all of us. Most people can somewhat resemble themselves, but that is not the case for us in particular. We can either be ourselves or pretend to be someone else. We don’t have the option to water ourselves down for the purpose of meeting your arbitrary demands, as others do.

From home, to school, to the workplace, interacting with you has always required us to mask our natural behavior, forcing us to become a metaphorical social mirror. Once we practice mirroring enough, this mirror ends up blocking off our freedom to act independently. Simultaneously, it gives us the ability to deliver behavior that you expect, and approve of. Masking and mirroring is all for your convenience! Respect and acknowledge this truth.

From “proper” facial expressions to “saying the right thing” to “walking the right way” to the countless other social norms we are forced to analyze and reciprocate, we mask our inability to naturally detect these social norms. Instead, we cognitively decide on our social output. All for you. Consciously and even sometimes subconsciously.

And without this masking and mirroring ability, you gaslight and frequently abuse us until we submit to masking. So the intention behind masking and mirroring is very much for social survival under your power.

Furthermore, not all of us can mask. Some of us are privileged with the ability to mask and mirror, although that ability can dwindle away over time.

For those unable to mask at all and who therefore cannot mirror your demands, you label their existence as inferior to those who can. You then say that they have high support needs. And you tell them and their family to “get help.” That “help” involves offering them various compliance training “interventions” falsely advertised as “therapy.” Then, you treat them as people who are a burden to their peers until they learn to mask their neurotype.

Therapy for us is a false advertisement because every single session we go to is centered around the expectation that we will eventually learn to constantly mask and mirror without any external accomodation. Unfortunately, a therapist’s job ends when the time comes for your need to be questioned. Afterall, they’re just doing their job, which includes being a professional gaslighter on your behalf.

“Just keep trying harder!”

~Authority

Why are you like this, Authority? Why is no one allowed to consciously question you?

To further illustrate your role in therapy: If and when one of us cannot maintain the charade of masking and mirroring, you label us as someone with high support needs. Now we’re wondering… Is this because the society you rule over lacks the resources to ensure the well-being of all people, so it’s important for you to single-out those of us in need of support so that our existence can be further exploited once you force us into a metaphorical box? Because it sure seems that way.

We get it. We see you.

So basically, we are only considered “adequate” human beings if— and only if— we are able to mask. Otherwise, you catagorize us as people who “need improvement.” This notion in particular incites discrimination from those who use you as a reference to claim authority over us. They use this reference to generate an expectation of us.

The expectation is that unless we are able to mask and behave in the way you expect, we are percieved as a flawed human being. This is a result of the value of our existence being gauged by highlighting our shortcomings rather than accentuating our strengths.

As human beings who mask our condition, we’ve already attempted to adapt to our surroundings. But it’s not enough for you. It’s never enough. We’re out of mental resources, and it’s now time for the social environments you rule over to be acknowledged and addressed.

It’s also important to note that our ability to mask can and will fluctuate in “functioning.”This is due to three main factors: the cognitively strenuous nature of the masking/mirroring process, the demands of the social environments you rule over, and how your environments adapt to us.

Now, let’s define you, Authority.

Dictionary.com states that you give a person or entity “the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.”

So by definition, you are being abused yourself by someone else’s attempt to arbitrarily control other human beings. This is inherently problematic, but especially problematic in the context of masking because it means that you are constantly being used, or abused rather, by people who attempt to control and coerce us into masking our natural behavior.

Masking is the only way that you will accept us as human beings deserving of respect. And you’ve proven it time and time again.

Again, masking and mirroring is a social survival mechanism that occurs mainly in order to appeal to you. If we start acting how we naturally do and feel, you punish us. When we mask, people love us. We’ve tested this theory on you and it’s true:

When we give you what you want to see, hear, and feel, you suddenly value us and want to associate with us. When we don’t or can’t mask and mirror, you label us as “regressive” and tell us to “get help.”

In reality, the only people who need to get help here are people who wear your label and fail to acknowledge that we are forced to mask in order to achieve social cohesion and appeal to your preferences.

And then there’s this assumption that we “get better” when we can exhibit normalcy. This is a mythical and ridiculous assumption. There is no such tangible concept as “normal.” The fact of the matter is that when we exhibit “normalcy,” it means that we’ve mastered the techniques required to mask ourselves into so-called “acceptance.”

Respect and acknowledge that feat, but also respect and acknowledge that masking isn’t a permanent solution for us. It’s exhausting and causes intense mental anguish. This reality is ignored by you, as with everything else about us.

You’re a snake that feeds on itself.

For us, the concept of “I” is not allowed to exist in the presence of you because you expect arbitrarily defined and “accepted” behavior. Any deviation from “accepted” behavior results in social ostracization and other forms of punishment, from being secluded and restrained in school, to being discriminated against and terminated at a job, to being incarcerated, etc.

The idea of you, Authority, must be intervened upon and dismantled as a social construct. You exist in the name of social arbitration and controlling who we are, and you must cease your abusive operations. The gaslighting and abuse of human beings in general must stop.

If a massive restructuring of authoritative social constructs does not occur, then you will continue to inadvertently coerce us into masking, thus exploiting our unseen survival mechanism. You will continue to do this to the point of us constantly shutting or melting down, and sometimes spiralling into burnout.

We know this because it already happens. And when it does, the people behind your label gaslight us and tell us that we’re not trying hard enough, leaving us helpless and allowing you to reign free.

We are done being mentally abused. We’re done being subject to a continous loop of striving for social perfection.

But you, Authority, are not ultimate the one at fault, because you are a mere idea. A concept. A social construct. The ones responsible for the subjecting us to a life of masking are those who utilize your power. You are being used to perpetuate a cycle of abuse, and it makes sense, because the civilization we all live in only happened because you were first abused yourself.

So when will the cycle end?

Signed,

Many, many, many autistic people

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5 Responses

  1. From its first draft form to this final piece of writing, the communication here has developed into something truly powerful. You are delivering a much needed message to the NT world and to society and I think you have done so, effectively. The personal cost of masking and mimicking is high. Too high. So many of us get burnt out by the time we are supposed to be reaching our prime… and hardly anyone knows or notices. This article is a fantastic bit of education and advocacy! Thank you.

  2. Thank you everyone for reading! Here’s further elaboration of this letter’s meaning:

    The premise of this writing is that the personified authoritarian entity mentioned is present in all facets of society. This can be observed by first identifying how obedience of this entity is formed in a chronological manner, prior to defining it. This chronological “road map” is as follows:

    1) Children who are identified by the establishment as autistic, and otherwise neurodivergent are trained to obey this authoritarian entity via masking.

    2) Obedience of this authoritarian entity is first established in early childhood. The autistic child learns to mask in “therapy sessions” such as, or even resembling, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

    3) The masking ability is then reinforced in adulthood by threat of social and furthermore, financial ostracization.

    4) If any individual autistic person cannot mask, then they are punished via seclusion in school or job termination, for example.

    This chronology highlights a dilemma: Due to established expectations on this road map, there is currently a so-called acceptable level of masking required before an autistic person is considered “unable to function independently”, or a similar label.

    As an ultimate result, the burden of autistic existence is held against autistic people ourselves because our social skills are based on observing and reciprocating expectations, both consciously and subconsciously.

    To conclude, with this road map, we may be able to identity, define, and then address the abuse of authority over the autonomy of autistic people and furthermore, of all people.

  3. This is incredible to read. I was reading just nodding along to all of it. You’ve articulated it all amazingly and put into words what I would love to be able to say but couldn’t. Felt so alone in feeling this way for so long, apart from one friend who feels the same way. Thank you so much for this!

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