A Pair of Autistic Shoes

You know the expression, to understand a person you have to walk a mile in their shoes? Here’s a pair of autistic shoes for allistic/non-autistic people to try on.

On magazine covers while waiting in check-out lines I’ve seen “How To Get a Guy” or “Be Better at Flirting in 2 Weeks!” or “Lose 10 lbs With One Simple Diet Change” or other similar types of behavior modification suggestions. Tips on how to act differently than is natural to the reader. Have you tried something like that? How much more effort did you have to put into it, trying to act differently than what came naturally? Did it eventually become second nature, or did you drop it because it was too much to have to worry and think about?

That’s what it’s like to be autistic. So many things that neurotypical do without effort, without having to think about, things you do naturally, we don’t. So you think you’re asking us to act in a way that for you seems effortless, but for autistics they have to be putting in that effort every second they’re around other people. And it doesn’t ever really become natural or second nature. It has to be thought of every time while around people, while also having to process what they’re saying with their words, what they’re saying with their body (which often contradicts their words), what they’re saying with their face (which can confuse things even more), while timing your eye contact amount so you look interested but not too interested (don’t want to accidentally flirt or appear aggressive), while dealing with the sensory assault of competing noise sources/lights/other irritants. That’s what it is every single time. Throw in co-morbidities of anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and a history of getting it wrong, being told how wrong you were unkindly, being laughed at for believing what someone said with a straight face and dead pan, or being ridiculed and good gracious, why would we ever want to leave the house??

Be labeled “high functioning” and you’re expected to act like a neurotypical; to be indistinguishable because otherwise you make people uncomfortable with your different-ness. This is called “passing” as in “passing for a neurotypical” and it’s energy draining exhausting. That’s what one mile in our shoes is like.

(Edited to add: all the shoes in the picture belong to an autistic person. Not just the adorably mismatched pair.)

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