“Be yourself,” we are often told, when we are worried about fitting in. Ironic advice, when you think about it. Be an individual, to feel comfortable among many?
Being yourself, when you’re an Aspie, can get you in heaps of trouble. A poorly timed meltdown, a missed signal, a split second reaction, can form a lasting impression. “Be yourself,” but not your whole self, lest you offend someone.
Being yourself is sometimes not advisable. There are times we must fit in to survive. We want to fit in at school, or with the company culture. We want to be polite. We want to hang onto valuable relationships.
So we develop different versions of ourselves that we trot out as needed. But being phony takes energy. In squelching authenticity, we fragment. We start to doubt who really is our real self. Is “the real me” so great, if it’s so often censored?
Being yourself, when you’re a person with autism, can mean asking for accommodations or special treatment. This is a struggle. We often think of equal treatment as the ultimate goal of autism awareness, but is that really possible? What we often ask for is to be the exception. We want to be the one who doesn’t have to play dodge ball. We want to be the one who doesn’t have to get up and do a presentation.
Sometimes we can negotiate deals in exchange for being ourselves – do more independent reading that we like, and less outdoor recess that we don’t. Yet in so doing, we further emphasize our difference from the norm, rather than blend in.
There is no easy answer. We learn this from a very early age. Be yourself, or be accepted: we often must choose. And the unanswerable question is: If I cannot be myself, then who can I be?