A consequence of everything being about "children with autism": no one thinks about the adults. They desire desperately to make us indistinguishable from peers (using a very interesting definition) and then as soon as we meet that goal, we're allbetternow. No one spares a thought for the adults who, years ago, were declared to have made the goal, hit the holy grail of "normal enough".
Indistinguishability isn't a moment though. It is an unending job, and it gets more and more complex as you age. Demands keep increasing: academic demands, including those that require figurative language and abstract thinking, increase. Time management demands increase. As we grow up, we are expected to take on more responsibilities at home and eventually move into our own homes. We're expected to get a job, do that job, maintain our own homes, all at once.
And maintain that visage of normal. We always say autism is developmental delay, not developmental stasis-and indistinguishability cannot be static either. The Allistic Emulator software we run on our Autistic operating system needs constant attention. Have you ever run an emulator program? Like all of them, mine is slow, it is buggy, and it takes up processor power that'd be better off being devoted to another task. And it constantly needs upgrading to perform anywhere close to spec.
When I was 6, I could play a board game with only slightly more meltdown potential than the other little kids. I could make reasonable, if messy, facsimiles of the art projects we did for every season in my first grade class. In structured activities-and so much of a 6 year old's life is structured-I could kind of pass. I was on the sloppy, reactive, and odd side of the bell curve, but I was on it.
At 30? Board games have largely given way to to unstructured conversations, where turn taking is marked not by handing over the dice but by nonverbal cues. The length of turns and what a turn includes varies moment to moment. Talking too much, not enough, oddly? Gets noticed. Not catching nuance? It shows. Echolalia? Stands out. Auditory processing problems are interpreted as not caring. The skills that make you slide by in first grade are not enough in adulthood. There's nowhere to hide.
If there is anything I learned from How To Be A Real Person In 1000 Data Sheets, it's that hiding is essential. Being noticed is the end of the world. When I gave a shit about my safety & about the people who taught me this--which was everyone in my life in my youth, as that's how these things tend to work--I was constantly upgrading my emulator. Constantly relearned more in depth performances. It made me tired, anxious, cranky, and it failed frequently. The failures were distinguishable in the worst kind of way.
Failures were marked in tears. In full on meltdowns. In self loathing and self injury. Inability to do anything--eat, sleep, move--because of exhaustion and inertia. Did I mention self loathing? Severe anxiety. Self isolation (if I do it first they can't!). Intimately detailed, ritualized recitations of all the ways I failed at being a human being. Because keeping up the act of humanity is what is required to be thought of as human. How very Lovaas.
So much energy was put into being a real person that I didn't have the cognitive capacity to do as well as I could at any of a number of things. Between the day to day facade and flat denial of my visual support nerds, all my learning bandwidth was diverted into running my shitty, self defeating emulator. My shitty shitty emulator did not help me do well in school. It is so stilted that it actively impeded my ability to socialize. But the whole "normalcy as top priority" stuck, even as my mother was hitting me for my grades or the disaster that was my room.
Because it was a condition of being treated as an almost person? I thought everyone worked this hard. I didn't know it was effortless for most people. I didn't understand how they did it and everything else. I didn't know why society picked this as it's normal, as the standard. The refrain of my childhood, "just be normal!" ingrained itself that far. They had me convinced that everyone has to choose that, that everyone is putting in all that effort all the time.
I was 20 when someone finally told me that I could be a kickass autistic or a shitty fake NT. It hadn't completely occurred to me that it was an option! It had to be an option shortly thereafter, because everything went to hell at once, but "be your true self" had never even crossed my mind. It took a while to find my true self. It takes effort to make my true self stand tall and proud.
Real me has friends--something I was told that I had to keep the act going to make happen. Real me has a bit of a job. Real me is getting good grades in school instead of spending energy on figuring out all sorts of interpersonal things. Real me functions better, albeit weirdly, because real me acknowledges and acommodates support needs.
Indistinguishability is tyrannical, because once you achieve it, it is the goal of every moment-to not be distinguished. That is no way to live a life. That actually isn't a good goal at all. If the best prognosis you can possibly get is "will spend life hiding and exhausted", you need to rethink your plans for that individual. Hiding is no way to live.