Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

To Be You, or Not To Be You

“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?


  1. If there were no aspies, there would be no one to counteract "groupthink". Post inspired thought. As there is a ying and yang, a dichotomy to most everything in this world, we must have our place, even if it feels very uncomfortable at times.

  2. As the NT wife of a wonderful Aspie man, I greatly appreciated this post. I watch him struggle with this hourly. It's painful to see when you don't have the tools to help. I'm sharing your post with everyone I know so they might gain insight into his world.
    Thank you

  3. This question is at the core of it all, isn't it? I honestly believe this to be a universal question, although perhaps more problematic for people on the spectrum.

    I don't believe that I am NT, but I'm not autistic, and I also struggle with this. I try really hard to be myself, but even so, I find myself coming up with different "characters" for different situations. (And sometimes I choose the wrong character.)

    Although, truthfully, I don't think you can be someone other than yourself, so maybe your true self is the sum of your characters, plus your inner core, and not just one presentation of yourself?

  4. This is the argument I could have with Temple Grandin. She likes to say Aspies are natural actors. That's true to a certain extent, but I keep losing my script! :/ Probably has a lot to do with my level of either anxiety or angst.

  5. You're right, it's such a hard issue, but you explain it eloquently. For me, I feel like I do things that are "not me" sometimes, but I don't have a separate persona like I've heard some autistics say that they have. Often I'm not completely honest about my mental state, but is this "me being me" and just failing to say something, or me pretending to be someone else? Sometimes I feel like I'm read as someone that I'm not even trying to be. Does that have a name? ;)

  6. Brains - excellent point, and it can be uncomfortable to go against the group - we have to carefully consider whether the odds that we are right outweigh the risk that we are wrong.

    #2 - Thanks for your comment - I'm glad you could identify with this.

    Stimey - I'm sure that NT's struggle with this as well, and I agree our "characters" are part of our self, for better or worse.

    Niko - Well said - I keep losing my script as well.

    Ily - Certainly -- along with who we are "trying to be," others may read us in some other way entirely... good grief...

    I wrote this post in advance of traveling for several days with co-workers who I didn't know very well, and I'm happy to say I was able to "be myself" and have a very enjoyable time with the group.

  7. So true! An NO ONE should have to play dodgeball!

  8. I am the mom of a 10 year old aspie and I really really was moved and enlightened by your post. Thank you for posting this! I didn't really think or see things in this way but you have helped me gain a greater understanding that I can give to my son now!

  9. Being myself for me is rarely advisable. I was diagnosed with AS when I was 50 (I am 58 now). I thought that being diagnosed would help my husband understand. But now I get, "AS is NO excuse for acting like that/ being like that.....". He still expects me to be 'normal' (what is normal? He is absolutely paranoid about germs and other things..... so is he normal?).

    I've stopped going to parties with my family, because sooner or later I ALWAYS say or do the 'wrong' thing, and get glared at. So, parties are not enjoyable for many reasons, but this is one.

    I can be myself with some people, but never quite. The only one I can REALLY be myself with is my older brother, because he is just like me. So, we can just 'be' with each other. But he is in Germany, and I am in Canada.

    So, I prefer to be all by myself. I can only be myself alone. Which I rarely am able to be.

  10. It's tough for me to be anything but myself and It has caused trouble for me throughout my life. I just don't have the "mask" ability.

    If I could blend in better, I would. I'd hate to feel like I'm losing myself though.