Passing is an interesting concept. Before I learned about autism and started reading up on it, I was familiar with the term only in the context of race. And to tell the truth, it still whizzes by me as something to consider when thinking about autism and Asperger’s. One of the taken-for-granted traits of females on the spectrum is that they are better than males at passing. Girls are more likely to want to please, to be part of a group. They are also thought to be better at “faking it”. And failure to pass is a source of considerable unhappiness.
I’m not questioning any of this, but it doesn’t ring any bells with me. As I look back over my life, I can see that there were occasions when I wanted to do some of the things that my age peers were doing. More often, I was stubbornly going my own way. It was paradoxical, really, because I was an extreme introvert, and also very shy to start with, and my deliberate refusals to do the “right thing” often made me stand out in uncomfortable ways.
What I can see now is a girl who, for the first few years was frightened and confused by school and by the activities that seemed to be normal and even enjoyable for other children. My goal was to retreat and remain unnoticed, as much as that was possible. And yet… Where did the ability to “defy” the normal ways of behaving come from? The pressure to be normal came from my mother as well as teachers, so it wasn’t as if I had any psychological support.
What I can see now is that I was developing an unusually early sense of self-identity. There were no Barbie dolls or Disney princesses when I was growing up. TV didn’t exist, and movies were few and far between. There were no models for me to follow — except… Fairy tales. If I had one real obsession, right through junior high school, it was folk and fairy tales. Those were where my models lived. Heroic characters, both male and female. I didn’t realize how powerful an effect they had on me until I read an article, many years later, by Bruno Bettelheim. Yes, he of the terrible “refrigerator mother” who was responsible for her child’s autism. But when it came to understanding the impact of fairy tales, he was spot on.
Let me not forget: there were also no autism diagnoses. With all this as background, I sometimes wonder if the current emphasis on diagnosis and support is always a good thing. For the majority, very possibly. Even necessary. But as this blog has mentioned before (and will mention again, ad nauseum) for a small population of spectrum inhabitants, it might be interfering with normal emotional growth and the construction of a strong, life-affirming self-identity.
That’s all I’m going to say about it right now. It’s one of the topics I’m still mulling over, and it will come up again, hopefully more fully developed. Is “passing” a valid goal?. Can the attempt to pass short circuit individidual development? In the meantime, it’s here to provoke thought and introspection.