This comic actually touches upon two things (though, I hadn’t intended to do that). My main point is the “mask” we put up, and then I realized that it also lightly touches upon taking things/expressions literally.
On the shorter note, people on the spectrum have difficulties distinguishing between normal tones and sarcasm. There’s also trouble understanding expressions (like “two birds with one stone”), allegories, and metaphors. When I first heard the expression “apple of my eye”, I pictured someone’s eyes reflecting apples, for example.
When I had to read stories in high school on allegory and symbolism, it all went over my head. “Watership Down” is one of my favorite novels, but I still don’t pick up on the symbolism which is apparently in the novel. I’ll explain all that in further detail when I do a comic which actually delves more into the subject. The main subject I was trying to explain with this comic is autism vs society.
Though these days there are slightly more allowances for someone autistic to “be themselves”, and some of the habits are accepted a little better, it’s not perfect. When I was growing up, there was absolutely no accommodations/acceptance for autistic behavior unless one was severely autistic or had an intellectual disability or physical disability to go along with it.
Basically, then (and even now, though it’s getting a little better), there’s no place in society for me. So, I had to don a mask and pretend to fit in once I graduated high school. I had to pretend to be an independent adult…had to struggle with the overwhelming stimuli created by driving and running errands, be expected to act and function like a “proper” adult, and conform to society.
It was exhausting.
I’d get more tired doing a 20 minute trip (this includes the driving) to the supermarket than I would going to the rock gym for two hours, or going on a four hour hike.
Recently, all the demands got to be too much, and pushed me over the edge; I had what’s apparently called a “burnout”. I was just too tired of trying to keep up with society’s demands, my parents’ demands, going out and/or socializing.
It got to a point where I thought I was becoming more autistic, because I suddenly lost the ability to do all those things (driving, shopping, etc). My senses would get overloaded much easier than before, and it was harder than ever to get motivated and stay focused.
I often had to bring a “stim toy” with me (typically a plushie) to appointments because otherwise I’d start to freak out as every single dang waiting room seems intent on flooding their patients’ eyes with fluorescent lighting while surrounded by white walls for it to bounce off of easier.
I’m still in that “burnout”. Granted, after pretending and wearing a mask for so long, and trying to live up to expectations and being forced to fit into society, I’m surprised I didn’t have a burnout sooner.
Forcing someone who’s autistic to fit in where they don’t, or pushing them too hard, can eventually cause a burnout. I’m still expected to put on that proverbial mask of mine whenever I go out somewhere. It’s worse with the label of “high functioning”, because MORE is expected of you, so that mask has to be firmly in place and on almost constantly.
From first hand experience, I can tell you right now that’s not a good thing. I think it’d be great if we (those of us who are autistic) can make society realize what they’re doing to us and in the very least, be allowed accommodations and acceptance so that we don’t have to constantly wear a mask, or fail to fit in with their trials.
Why should we be forced to conform to society, when we didn’t fit into those rules in the first place? It’s really not right; what happened to “equality”? I’m definitely not saying to be violent about it, but the more society learns just what their pressures do to us, the more they might realize that they stifle us.
If a normal person gets stressed out and pressured at their job, it’s 100 times worse for someone on the spectrum who is trying to pretend to be that normal person. Often times, employers don’t realize they have someone on the spectrum as an employee; some employers won’t even give someone a chance if they walk in with a job coach, or put down on their application that they need accommodations. As a result, the mask is put on, and the pressure is tripled for us to be “normal” when we’re clearly not.
People on the spectrum can bring a lot to the world. However, if we’re forced to conform to society, all of that is suppressed. There could be geniuses in their own subjects under those masks, unable to do anything with it because society forces us to keep those masks on.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to wear masks to fit in. We’d be accepted for who we are, quirks and all.
By: Nikki Jeanette