One thing I’ve noticed about myself, even before I received my diagnosis and realized that I was autistic, is my tendency to try and adapt to the environment around me. I touched on this very briefly in a previous blog when I talked about mimicry, an ability a lot of Aspies learn in their childhood. According to several online resources, mimicry is one of the main reasons that a lot of Aspies, particularly girls, are not diagnosed early, or at all.
We live in a society where image is everything. People, specifically young people and teenagers, are very conscious of the way they present, what is stereotypically “cool” and what isn’t. And this can vary between different cliques and groups; for example, Anime enthusiasts will think listening to Gackt and other Japanese artists is the only acceptable way to enjoy music, whereas metal heads will hate on you if you don’t like Iron Maiden or Dream Theater, and ‘gangstas’ will only listen to R’n’B, hip-hop, etc. If I were to approach a group of punk-hardcore enthusiasts and proclaim my love of video game music, they would laugh me back out of the door.
And yes, I’ve actually studied this. Human behaviour and psychology is a sort of fascination for me, maybe because my thought patterns aren’t exactly the same as those I grew up around. I know a lot of autistic people, particularly children, are oblivious to what is ‘socially acceptable’, and although I don’t always know how to act or what to say or what’s ‘appropriate’, I have done my best to study human behaviour and trends so that groups of young people will accept me.
I’ve grown up around all different kinds of cliques, the most predominant being the ‘scene’ kids, ‘gangstas’ and ‘musicians’. The majority of my friends and Roomie’s friends fall into one of these three categories, and I’ve learned what to say and what not to say to ensure that each group accepts me. Most of this consists of, of course, lying.
For example, if one of my ‘gangsta’ (I’m sorry, I really can’t think of a better word for this) co-workers asks me if I enjoy clubbing, I used to typically respond with a ‘yes’. I would even list a couple of clubs in town, most of which I have never been to, which I would call my favourites. With my ‘musician’ friends, I will act as if I am too busy to go to random shows despite really wanting to, even if I don’t want to go, because I know that it’s ‘not cool’ to not want to go to a show and listen to live music. If one of my ‘scene’ friends asks me if I’ve heard of a band, chances are I will carefully lie and say that I have, because I don’t want to appear stupid and not ‘in the know’. Learning to adapt to one’s surroundings and mimic those we are around and are friends with seems to be imperative for an Aspie who wants to fit in, unless you happen to be blessed with friends who will accept you no matter what.
And so, I learned to lie.
Lying is a dangerous, dangerous way to socialize. It puts me on edge and makes me uncomfortable, but it used to be how I lived throughout my teenage and young adult years until very recently when I decided that I was allowed to be who I wanted to be, at least with my closest friends and co-workers. There’s always the fear that someone will call you on it without realizing that you’re lying. For example, if I were to lie about having heard of a band, or understanding a slang word (the meaning of which I have no idea), and someone were to ask me to explain it to someone else, I would be in trouble.
Lying about slang and certain things I was naïve about was definitely something that got me through my entire childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood, even up to today. I remember being with friends when I lived in Alberta, and they had used coke the night before. Now, being naïve, I thought that ‘coke’ and ‘crack’ were the same thing – I had assumed that ‘crack’ was just a slang word for ‘coke’. So I mentioned something about them snorting crack, and I will never forget how hard they picked on me for weeks afterward for that. I’ve never really understood the adult, sex- or drug-related slang, but I’ve always played along as if I do, laughed at the jokes I don’t understand, not wanting to have to admit my lack of knowledge in front of a large group of people.
I spoke to Some Aspie (@izmyaspieshowin) on Twitter to get another fellow Aspie’s input on the trait some of us have where we fight to blend into our surroundings. I requested their opinion on the subject, and I would like to share it with you. Although it’s somewhat different to my own experiences, where I am aware of who I am but hide it, I saw a lot of similarities in Some Aspie’s tendencies and experiences, and my own;
“I chameleon. I find myself adapting to my environment like Randall from Monsters, Inc. just to fit in. I have less of an idea who I am, because I don't have an antenna for that, so I think I draw from what is around me to know how to act. I think in an effort to relate to people, and not come off so mean, uncaring, or unfun, I try to act like them some, to not seem too copycat. I have learned quite painfully at times that who I am is not understood or accepted, so to avoid pain, I act different. Not fun, but better. I still don't see why most people follow the same paths. When someone does something they consider "out there" they make fun, or label you. In reality, Aspies are quite smart, and paying attention to why and how they do things can be a secret weapon. I am seen as almost psychic.”
Since my diagnosis, and the acceptance of who I am as a person and my own desire to be true to myself and be proud of who I am, I have fought to break my habit of such intense mimicry and lying, and only use it in situations when I need it (formal events, meeting new people who are particularly judgmental, etc). The recent trend that it is ‘cool to be uncool’ seems to have helped me a lot in that I can palm off my weirdness and most people seem less fazed by it.
Still, the ability to ‘chameleon’, as Some Aspie put it, will always be a tool that I have to help me in situations where being myself simply isn’t acceptable, and where I honestly have no idea how to act on my own.