Sometimes I feared the mask would slip, that I would be discovered, but I seldom was — although sometimes in conversation, someone would develop a puzzled look on their face.My boyfriend called me “adorably awkward,” but in earlier years at school, my awkwardness had never been adorable.There’s a feeling of coming out, of revealing something.
It was easier for people my age, particularly men, to see my weirdness as a trope, as opposed to a complex neurological condition. My current boyfriend understands that I can’t read body language all the time; that if he is annoyed he must state it verbally and calmly; and that clattering resentfully around a messy kitchen, say, will not pass on the message that it is my turn to clean, but simply asking me for help will.
Also, he must tolerate my asking if he is angry when he is not.
” I met Francesca Happe again a few years ago at The British Library, where we had coffee.
I was working with Graeae, a theatre company with an aesthetic of disability, and I was interested in creating a play about what it meant to be in the borderland of autism — peripheral to the nucleus of autism, but nevertheless close enough to be affected.
In the years between twelve and nineteen, I had taught myself a lot — forcing myself to go out and read faces as you would a foreign script, learning to figure out certain movements and postures.
But it did not come naturally to me, as it does for most people.
The language of the body, that which makes up an estimated 60% of communication, was almost closed to me.
So instead I fell back on words — the safety of which I could understand, as their clarity left nothing to puzzle over or decipher.
For a couple of months, I was sent to a special residential school for kids with behavioural problems, which was terrifying for all sorts of reasons I won’t go into here, and completely wrong for me.
This story perhaps illustrates how far I had come since the age of thirteen, and why it was easy to lie to myself at University — to say that I wasn’t really autistic anymore, or that by learning about social graces I had somehow “got over it” or “got past it.” I was a nineteen-year-old with long blonde hair, doing a degree in English Literature and living away from my parents in University flats.
Rather than causing complete oblivion to anger, this created anxiety for me: “Are you angry with me now? As neurotypical folk can probably imagine, there is something rather scary about not being able to identify facial expressions, especially one as important as anger, and not being able to could easily lead one to a state of permanent anxiety.