“You don’t look autistic.” Those dreaded words that so many of us have heard. And the quick retort, either out loud or more commonly in our heads, “Autistic people don’t have a look.”
Or do they?
I find that though there isn’t a discernible look, it easy enough to pick out autistic people in a crowd. Some people have dubbed this ability “A-dar”, which I think is a catchy way to describe it. I have no idea what it is. It’s not a sixth sense in that I believe you can develop it. It’s more about being clued into the subtle signs that someone is autistic.
To the “untrained eye”, because they don’t exhibit BS superficial stereotypical “autistic” behaviour, a lot of autistic people get that aforementioned dreaded phrase hurled at them. But, they do actually “look autistic” if you know what you’re looking for. It may be a subtle flap of a hand, a surreptitious stim, a certain way with words, a way of sitting or walking.
These were my thoughts last night when I attended a mixed group of autistics and non-autistics. Adults and children. I mentally said to myself “this person is autistic, that one isn’t”, with utter confidence that I was right. My A-dar was switched on.
I often amuse myself with my A-dar. Picking out random strangers and imagining becoming friends with them. I’d never approach them though. What could I possibly say? “Hey, I know you’re autistic even if you yourself haven’t figured it out yet”? “Hey, your mask slipped”? That’s not going to happen. Some of these people are parents of autistic people. I want to say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, hint hint”. But I don’t.
Hopefully they will eventually come to realise that they are autistic. And maybe if the more subtle features of the “Autistic look” were more widely known, it wouldn’t take them as long.
Not every autistic person is “obvious”. Some naturally display more subtle features. A lot of us work very hard to hide, to mask, to suppress things. But if you look very closely, really observe us, you will see our true autistic natures. I do believe we always give it away eventually. And A-dar helps us find each other.