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A photo of Australian-based Autism support specialist, Kristy with a group of people who are dressed as Stormtroopers from 'Star Wars'

Appearances can be (so very) deceiving.

autism behaviours communication neurodivergent socialising Jul 01, 2021
I'm a PDA autistic (Pathological demand avoidance).
This means that my social connectedness; my ability to engage with others naturally and to make eye contact gives the impression that I possess a higher level of social "ability" than what is expected of me.
As a PDA autistic, my "special interests" (my passions) have always been centred around people.
I am socially driven and motivated; and my interests revolve around psychology, philanthropy, sociology, politics, culture, social justice, neurodivergence & neurodiversity, and the performing arts.
People-centred interests.
I've been asked many times during my life by friends and other autistic people how I socialise so well.
One weekend, a good friend and I attended a function together and I found myself during the break, immersed in a circle of people.
I appeared to be chatting away happily. Asking questions, nodding in the right moments, raising my eyebrows to show interest, widening my eyes to express that I was impressed or surprised and laughing away every now and then.
Around ten minutes later, my close friend who is also autistic asked me "How do you do that? You're amazing!" and we laughed about how she stood on the outside of the circle, not speaking and not engaged at all.
Here's the truth:
In that entire exchange amongst those women in that circle with all of that noise and the overwhelm of that energy of each being and all they "carry" with them; with the heater turned up far too high, with a line of hungry guests lined up in my periphery and I, worrying and feeling gross amounts of empathy for them; with the organisers storming around in a panic due to the lack of food...
I was in complete overwhelm.
I was holding so much tension in my neck and shoulders and could feel a migraine fast approaching.
Yes, I socialised.
But I didn't connect.
And as an autistic person, I prefer connection over socialisation.
I prefer one person. Two people at best.
Anymore than two people is a definite no thanks from me.
You know what happened in that circle I stood in?
I heard one abbreviation. "NDIS" which stands for National Disability Insurance Scheme here in Australia.
I have absolutely no idea what else was said. I just stood there, nodding and smiling, laughing and using my face and body to engage.
And I passed.
I always pass.
I am a professional masker. An autistic adult.
I am always pretending that I understand far more than I actually do.
Most of the time, I have no idea what's going on when engaged in groups, classes, meetings or crowd settings.
Family dinners, school pickups. No clue.
My auditory processing means all sounds are incoming at the same volume and velocity: loud.
I can't hear people.
My brain runs off into web thinking with trivial offshoots from keywords, taking me back to childhood memories or putting together next week's dinner menu-all in my head, all while the other person is talking.
I am an exquisite masker. Not an excellent socialiser.
If I don't understand a sentence, an instruction, a direction, a question, a task, a joke, I just pretend.
I will literally never ask a stranger for clarification in the moment. I wing it because the moment does not allow for the processing time I require as an autistic person to understand what they meant when they said that thing.
Across a screen, even better.
I can safely process, assess, take a step back and I am safe.
As a PDA Autistic, making myself vulnerable or not knowing something immediately is not something that my brain perceives as safe.
I am not "high functioning" or "mildly autistic".
No autistic person is.
We are exquisite maskers.
- KF

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