Hey everybody! Ultimate Oddball here. I wanted to do a special blog post for this week where I share the script for my upcoming ‘Thoughts On The Spectrum’ video which comes out Monday. It details the various ways I learned to blend in with neurotypical society, and also examines whether it’s important or even beneficial to do so completely. It’s not the final version, as I will likely change or add a few things. Hope you enjoy it!
Today I’m going to talk about blending in. Many autistic people have had to wrestle with the idea of copying neurotypical mannerisms in order to better blend in with neurotypical society. Everything that is considered “normal” can be learned and mimicked with time and effort. From vocal inflection and tone, to body language and euphemisms, it’s possible to study and reproduce all of it. The question, then, is not necessarily whether it’s possible, but whether it’s right to expect autistic individuals to change each and every mannerism in order to fit the expectations of others. I don’t personally believe that it is.
Because I was diagnosed so late in life, I had to learn to make adjustments myself. I studied sales techniques books to learn how to be forward and social in an appropriate manner, as well as how to look like you’re making eye contact by staring at the bridge of the nose. I studied self help books to learn how to improve my patience and compassion for others, and also deal with negative thinking and behavior. I read literature and poetry extensively to learn more about language, especially the nuances like figures of speech, as well as to help improve my vocabulary. I watched people, on television and in real life, and payed close attention to how they interacted with each other, how their voices moved; when they went up in tone, when they went down, how much energy was put into speaking, whether they projected or not. I learned to project my voice through singing. I improved my hand eye coordination and fine motor skills through playing musical instruments. I did these things and much more, because at some point I sat down and categorized in my mind the list of things I felt made me inherently different from the average person, the things that I felt I needed to work on, and I found ways to improve them. Many of these things were incredibly helpful to learn, though I now feel that some of them aren’t necessary, specifically forcing eye contact and modulating my voice in a more typical fashion.
Much of this is still programmed into my daily interactions. When people talk, my mind goes through a checklist. It studies what’s said and analyzes it. Does it seem sincere? Is it literal? What is the emotion behind it? I study everything and everyone, so sometimes my response may seem a bit delayed. If you use a figure of speech, my brain has to consider both the literal and non-literal meaning, though I’ve taught myself to go with the non-literal version if it seems like the literal version doesn’t make sense at first glance. This is how I learned to deal with euphemisms and metaphors. There are many little workarounds and tips that can help, but it’s important to keep in mind that adding things to this checklist effectively adds more strain to my mind, and it’s likely that this is the case for others as well. At some point there is a trade-off where the list becomes so long that keeping up in conversation becomes too difficult for me. This is why I try not to overthink things more than my already anxious mind does.