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Written by:
December 22, 2020

What it’s like to be autistic

Last updated on October 5, 2022

Last year I was diagnosed (at age 56) with what’s now called level 1 autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—previously called Asperger syndrome.

Realizing I’m autistic put a lot of things in perspective for me, but for you to appreciate how I feel about it, you need to use your own imagination.

22 ways that describe
what it’s like to be autistic

To get a sense of what it’s like, imagine the following:


You are in a foreign country. You’re still learning the language,
and need to translate everything you hear and say.


People refuse to speak to you in your own language,
and mock and correct you if you speak that language.


You are in a foreign culture, where everything people do
is slightly different from what seems right to you.


Whenever you get some part of the language or culture wrong,
those around you single you out and make fun of you.


People unconsciously avoid you because you are different from them,
even when you use their language and try to fit in (camouflaging).


Even when people don’t avoid you, they often do not attempt to understand
why your translation of a word or action did not match their expectations.


Even when people don’t avoid you,
they hurt you if you fail to understand them.


No matter how hard you try, you’re not always able to predict
when you will get some subtle nuance wrong.


Even within your own home, or with your own family,
there is no escape from this.


The more you get things right, the more people spend time with you,
and therefore the more likely it is you will get hurt.


When people say they like you or are your friend,
you never know whether it’s you that they really like.


When people say you do something well,
you never know whether they really mean it.


People say that you don’t have any feelings,
because of the times you got something wrong.


People say that you’ve deliberately deceived them
by translating things into their language and culture.


People say that you deliberately hurt them
because you didn’t translate or do things exactly how they expected
you to (but also never truly make it clear what they do expect).


People say it’s your fault that you are like this,
and you should try harder.


People say you are rude because you
occasionally fail to understand them.


People say you are lazy
because you are tired all the time.


People with autistic children call you a fake,
because you’ve learned neurotypical culture,
and can speak their language enough to get by.


People are forcing children like you to act and speak as they do
by ridiculing them and working them to exhaustion.


An entire set of people feel exactly like you do about this,
but are hidden within the community.


You are told you are mentally ill and deficient,
rather than simply being different from the majority of the community.

Assuming you can stretch your imagination across this particular drum,
then that should give a little idea of the rhythm of what it feels like to be autistic.

If you are looking for a community, consider joining our Facebook group:

Embrace Autism Community


This article
was written by:
A safety engineer, and amateur poet who lives with his wife in the suburbs of Melbourne Australia. Father of two young adult daughters, both of whom have left home. Diagnosed on the spectrum in his mid-50s, and believes that insight enables the ongoing enrichment of all his relationships.


Although our content is generally well-researched
and substantiated, or based on personal experience,
note that it does not constitute medical advice.


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