Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Third Glance


We want April -- Autism Acceptance Month -- to matter, to help further acceptance and understanding of autistic experiences, happiness, and rights for autistic people of all ages and abilities. We will be publishing your Autism Acceptance posts and pictures all month long. If you want to participate, contact us at thinkingautism at gmail dot com. -TPGA Editors

On the surface, I am a young PhD student, studying my absolute favorite subject. I am independent from my parents. I am asexual. I have a super cool secret life based on a hobby I have. I can speak in English, and I know French, and some American Sign Language. I am a voracious reader, both of fiction and non-. I love playing the piano. I am Autistic. And I have a story that wants to be told.

At first glance, I pass. I can enter into the neurotypical world and it looks like I’m doing well. It looks like I’m normal, successful, and all-around a good example. I graduated college in two and a half years, with honors, while most people -- including my parents -- thought I would flunk out in a few months. I’m a research scientist, in a wonderful lab, doing what I love to do, and I even get paid for it.

I live independently, and I can take care of myself. I have good “life skills”: laundry? I’ve been doing my own since I was four. Cooking? No problem, I am able to make at least one real meal every few days, and can fake the rest with cereal and sandwiches and leftovers. I’ve learned to manage money and can pay all my own bills on time. I’m rules oriented. I’ve never missed a deadline, because I know that it is against the rules. I’m not violent, and don’t have obvious, visible meltdowns in public. I’ve been trained, meticulously, to be invisible, to not be a burden, to exist without being seen or heard or even acknowledged.

Because when you take that second glance, you see that I can’t pass. That I flap and jump up and down and babble incoherently when I’m excited about something. That when I’m tired, or scared, or thinking really hard, I curl up and rock. That I don’t make eye contact, and that I typically communicate in a very one-sided way. That I wear the same thing day after day after day. I have eight fleece jackets, because I like the way they feel on my skin, and I wear one every day, because if I don’t the strange textures on my skin make me so uncomfortable that I can’t function. That I jump at the slightest sounds and I always know who is entering the room. That I need to have a routine and lists and written reminders and timers to function. That I often forget to eat or drink because I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing that I don't notice hunger or anything else. That I’m so sensitive to textures that when I do remember to eat, it’s often the same thing over and over again, because I can only tolerate a few foods.

The second glance is the one that most people stop: I’m too weird for them, and it’s an effort to be near me or friendly to me, or even to acknowledge that I exist. In our society, “different” translates to “difficult” and difficult situations and difficult people are simply swept under the rug with the philosophy “if we just ignore them, they will go away.” I can pass just enough to be read as “normal” at first glance, and to be made invisible and a nonperson at second glance.

But then there’s the third glance, the one that most people never bother to take, but it is the most important one, the one that captivates you, and turns that fleeting glance into a good long look. I am the person I am today, because there are a few people who took that third glance. And they saw a compassionate, excited, quirky person. They saw someone who is brutally honest, exceptionally aware of her surroundings, keenly observant, meticulous, interesting, and fiercely passionate: someone who is worthwhile, and who will be a loyal friend, if you give her the chance. They saw a person, because they took the time to really truly see.

I’m hoping that you will take that third glance. Not just at me, but at everyone in your life. I hope that sharing my story, I will help you to see beyond that second glance, and to understand the people you at first brush aside because they are too different. I’m lucky because I have words that I can use to express how I think and feel. But these words are new to me and I am still learning how to use them. I am still learning how to take that third glance at myself. So learn to take that Third Glance and open your eyes and really look at those around you. And in doing so, you will come to know amazing, passionate people. And take that third glance at yourself and discover the wonderful person under your own skin. Because everyone deserves to be seen.

© E (The Third Glance) 2011 | A version of this essay was originally published at thethirdglance.wordpress.com and is reprinted here with permission from the author.