Hello all my wonderful readers and followers!
I am drinking a nice cup of coffee while I write some of my observations and thoughts about passing. I hope you enjoy the read!
Autism is an invisible disability. There is no universal visible clue. Though some use a mobility aid, assistive technology and other tools, many of us go through our days and our lives passing as non-disabled or neurologically different.
Do we really pass though?
Most autistic people can recognize our own kind very easily. It could be by the way they stim, lack of eye contact, body movements, their speech or whatever it may be. We all have our ways of finding those like us.
I know mine very well. My voice can be very monotone, too loud or non-existent, my atypical eye contact and I think my over all awkwardness especially in social situations. If you happen to miss all of that in my presence, well then it is only a matter of time before I have a social mishap.
However, regardless of these differences no matter how small or big, I manage to go through my life passing, or at least convinced I am hiding my true self.
The concept of passing comes from racial identities. Passing is often practiced in certain societies when being part of a certain racial group can lead to discrimination. In Nazi Germany, some people of Jewish ancestry would pass as Aryan or some people of African ancestry would pass as Arab or Native American in the USA to avoid discrimination or to save their own lives.
Autistics are often said to pass as ‘neurotypicals’ or ‘normal,’ especially those on the higher end of the spectrum. Many, if not most autistics make a conscience effort to pass. A few examples would include not stimming in public, giving the right answers on a job application, or going out with a group of friends instead of staying home and curling up on the couch with your favorite movie.
Is passing good or bad? I think that is a tough question and maybe depends on the individual.
If passing on a job interview is the only way to get hired, well being able to get a job is good and keeping a job is even better. Even though most jobs claim to not discriminate even if and when they do it is a long battle to prove (they can simply just interview another candidate for the job and not call you back. They can cut back your hours without firing you and other invisible ways) when in reality they cannot accommodate your differences or invisible disabilities. As a consequence, autistics often feel pressured to pass in job screenings and at their jobs.
With the stigma that still surrounds autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a lot of adults living with ASD try to pass in most areas of their lives. They may only disclose such information with close loves ones or people who know them best. Sometimes autistics will only disclose their differences on a need to know basis as well. Disclosure of such personal information or feelings can be very hard and have negative consequences. Passing has become sort of like a second nature for a lot of on the autism spectrum. I have grown up learning a lot of tricks to pass as ‘neurotypical’ and I often do it without thinking especially the more experienced I got from living in society.
Are our differences or invisible disabilities really hidden though? I assume it is a lot less hidden than we think.
I think autistics can successfully pass short term and in small increments, in fact a lot of us have mastered it. We can pass at an interview, a family gathering or other public events. Some of us can hold up this persona for weeks or even months on end.
However, we cannot pass in life long-term.
For every hour or so we pass at being ‘neurptypical’ we spend hours trying to recuperate. After a full week or almost full week’s work, we spend the whole weekend trying to recharge. We juggle classes like our other peers, but are ill from being so overwhelmed by midterms.
Instead of being labeled as autistic, I am often referred to as weird, goofy, rude, awkward, selfish or something else. If I was successfully passing would I be referred to as any of these terms?
Is it worse to be called autistic or any of the other labels mentioned? When I think about it that way passing seems less appealing. You honestly believe it is better for people to think I am rude or selfish than autistic? I don’t think so.
The older I get, the more I learn to accept myself, discover myself and my experiences the thought of passing seems more appalling than actually appealing to me. It increasingly becomes less useful as well.
The pressure to pass can be very overwhelming and difficult for those living with ASD. It robs us of our true selves and disguises us as something unflattering. It really leaves us stranded somewhere between a fictional of normal and who we really are as people.
I am off to listen to some music. If you have any thoughts on the topic or things you would like to add to the conversation feel free to share your input in the comment section.
Side Note: I also don’t think passing is helping the stigma attached to autism and does no favors especially for those who can successfully pass. In fact I think it can have many negative consequences and it will be us who ultimately pays for it. So maybe a bit more of such thoughts in another post. 😃