I’m one of the inbetweeners.
No, not a character from the popular British sitcom The Inbetweeners. I’m one of the people diagnosed on the autism spectrum who doesn’t seem like it. Sure, when I was three and organised my Legos by colour and size, that may have been a giveaway. Or when I mainly spoke in quotes from The Simpsons.
“But you don’t seem autistic!” they say. Good point, Captain Obvious. I wonder why.
I had the traits you may think of as a kid, but moving through the world as an “adult”, I find it difficult sometimes to identify myself as a person on the autism spectrum. To be frank, I don’t always feel connected to my diagnosis, since I don’t remember much about it or my “autistic traits”, being only three years old when the diagnosis began.
Maybe it’s because I’ve gone through 13 years of the mainstream schooling system.
Maybe it’s because I’ve learned to communicate through acting – hence why theatre is my “special interest”, and also my major at university.
Maybe it’s because I took the bigger steps when I was little through early intervention, and only remember bits and pieces of my meltdowns and sensory overload.
Maybe it’s because I now call those meltdowns “panic attacks”, and it seems more understandable to those who try to help me.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t fully connected with being an Aspie.
I don’t outwardly fit the criteria for a person on the spectrum. I also don’t outwardly fit the criteria for a neurotypical person.
I’m an inbetweener.
Internally, of course I know I’m the way I am because I’m an Aspie. I don’t think it’s regular to get so worked up about the thought of a hypothetical panic attack in a mosh pit. Nor is it regular to have your friends create a “sarcasm tag” so you don’t take offence to their jokes. However, I have somehow managed to make a mask that is difficult even for me to detect. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve become too comfortable acting “neurotypical”. More comfortable being a mold of a personable, energetic person as opposed to being my reserved self. How does that work?
Sometimes I don’t feel as though I’m “autistic enough”. A silly thing to think, really, given that it’s a spectrum and all. I feel like I can’t always connect with others like me. I also feel unable to connect with those who are neurotypical. Maybe it’s because I’ve recognised that everyone is their own person. There’s only so many traits we can share with others before they lose their uniqueness. I wish I could share difficulties with other people on the spectrum. I know them, just not well enough to sit down and find similarities. This leads to me often moving through life feeling misunderstood.
I enjoy doing things that were once difficult for me as a child. I like to go out with friends, see shows and socialise. I like talking to small or large groups of people. I love hugs. I enjoy attempting to use sarcasm in conversation. I can sometimes understand idioms, and when I don’t, I think it’s funny and strange. I can laugh at myself, because some things I do are silly. I like to talk about feelings and emotions with people. These things show me that maybe I can live in a neurotypical world.
Sometimes though, when I focus on my thoughts too much, my mind tells me that I can’t live in a neurotypical world. I dwell on how I don’t fit the “autistic box” or the “normal box”. I’m the literal representation of a square peg in a round hole. I guess that means I’m outside of the box, since I can’t fit in it? Maybe we’re all outside of the box because we’re square pegs? That’s neurodivergence for you.
Recently I noticed something about thought processes that made me think about how I interact with others. On a week-long trip with my boyfriend and his friends, I recognised that I was much happier around others and with my mind occupied. Being alone led to snowballing thoughts, second-guessing myself and catastrophising hypotheticals - all of these thoughts relating to how I combat my anxieties of being on the spectrum.
LISTEN: Melinda Hildebrandt on the moment she found out her daughter was deaf. Post continues below.
I thought about who I am as an Aspie more when alone, and less in situations that required me to put up the bubbly, energetic and personable facade. I found this an interesting observation. I’d come to trust my facade in front of others more so than my independent vulnerabilities when alone. I actually thrived from social circumstances, didn’t feel drained, but felt more tired when my head moved in circles pondering my untameable intricacies.
So, for the inbetweeners. The people on the autism spectrum who don’t always feel like it. Those who feel more comfortable with others. Those who know they’ll never be neurotypical. What do we do now?
I think this question for me is answered by another question.
How can I recognise my neurodiverse and neurotypical traits combining to make me, me?
It’s called a spectrum for a reason. I don’t know specifically where I sit on it, but that’s OK.