Remember the 1994 film, The Mask, starring Jim Carrey?
It was one of those Hollywood blockbusters that tried to examine something serious in a slapstick way.
We all wear them.
Last night, I watched Chris Packham’s recent double documentary about autism, Inside Our Autistic Minds.
In the first episode he told Flo’s story; a young woman who, in her spare time is an improvisational comedian.
She was diagnosed with autism later in life, as, is more common for women and she masked.
I had not heard of this term.
Interestingly, my 16-year-old daughter knew all about it.
Masking describes a behaviour where the affected person recognises that their behaviour is not like that of others and thus copies or mimics to blend-in, to not appear an oddity.
Essentially, you have people who mask, who appear like everyone else and those who don’t, who are seen as the odd-balls, outsiders, geeks, or freaks.
Some of this becomes confusing when autism is combined with learning disability.
The documentary discussed, Murray, son of former Radio two DJ Ken Bruce.
He also has autism and cannot speak. (An ironic twist of fate when your dad is a radio talker). He is non-verbal or, as the programme described, non-talking. There is a difference although I wasn’t clear what. Chris described the reality that many people who have autism who are unable to talk also have severe learning disabilities. Murray has normal intelligence as articulated by some emails he sent to Chris and the part he played in creating a short film about his life.
It is confusing.
I also found it interesting that there was no mention of neurotypical or neurodivergence. I had thought these were common terms in the world of autism; perhaps not.
Blindboy talks about his autism frequently on his podcast.
I suspect some of the complexity arises from the nature of autism in that it is not an absolute, as it exists on a spectrum, there are those who have aspects of the disorder and those who have more than others, traits, they are called and frequently in conversation, people (I’d always considered neurotypical, although perhaps not) would say, ‘I’m a bit like that,’ as if, because of a certain behaviour they could lay claim to a component of the diagnosis.
I was thinking this last night when I reflected to my recent, ‘I’m just a quiet guy’ blog.
I wrote about my undulating personality. Where, depending on the circumstance I can be outgoing and extraverted and at other times the silent guy. Two different people in one existence. Like a Transformer (the American cartoon type).
I don’t want to return to an analysis of myself as I have said enough.
I remember years ago contemplating this and comparing it to something out of Kabbalah.
The notion being, that he (or she) who is at one with the understanding of the mystic nature of life (the part in between heaven and hell or mind and body), the enlightened individual, is able to be their true selves, such that they behave and appear in a certain way regardless of circumstance; their mood, behaviour, appearance, opinion or thoughts are constant, stable.
For such a person, their ego is of adequate robustness to allow them to demonstrate their weaknesses and strengths as one, with little variation.
The corollary being, me, with my quiet guy and outgoing guy am far-away from this.
And so too the person with autism who exists in a world that is set to an different rhythm, that processes information, sights and sounds in ways that vary from the majority.
It is hard to say.
You see, we are all individuals, unique unto ourselves.
I was caught by Chris using an old dementia adage about autism, ‘when you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism’ – this is often used for those living with dementia.
We, that is, society or people, want to clump others together into handy groups that allow us to categorise or process – lefties, Tories, golfers, teachers, tailors, football supporters, whatever, as if, the collective term removes the individuality; this is not reality although we can’t help ourselves.
It is one of those human traits that are hard to avoid.
And so, autism. Neurodivergence. Variation. Oddness. Mad to be Normal (RD Laing). All exist on the same wavelength of what it is to be human. To be human and not be odd is, well, odd. We are all vulnerable. We are all primates, we like our bananas and our beds and playthings, we are primitive and sophisticated, we are hairy and naked. Me, you, everybody.