The aspie effect

I had one of those moments yesterday, when someone looks at you, looks closer, then seems to try not to flinch backwards. Does that happen to other people too? It always worries me as, in real life, I think I look quite safe.

I don't wear my special llama hat to go to the shops, I do wear all the items of clothing people usually expect to see. I don't talk to myself when people are close enough to hear, I try to remember not to pull faces when I'm distracted.

Yet sometimes, seemingly through no fault of my own, people behave as if I might attack them, bite, suddenly sing or maybe just tell them a personal anecdote. I tend to think of it as my witch-effect. It's how I imagine they'd look if I turned out in full regalia - black cloak, cobwebby dress, holey stockings, scary shoes, pointed hat, cat on my shoulder, broom under my arm. Then I'd expect people to cringe or change direction.

As it is, I'm what I think of as ordinary. I'm short, I wear glasses, my clothes are usually unremarkable. I'm a woman of a certain age whose hair is possibly reaching the scary stage of long - but surely not scary enough to really scare people?

I do like to wear hobbit-type boots (though before anyone jumps in, yes, I know hobbits don't wear anything on their feet). My bag is an anime-homage that I found on eBay and I sometimes decide it's more important to match colours than styles.

So what? None of this is enough to make people flinch, is it? I do wonder.

Sometimes, small children react this way, but not very often. It's almost always the adults. I have to say, when it comes to little girls I often have the opposite effect. I've had small girls look up at me and their faces light up as they pass, delighted smiles making me smile in return. I call this the witch-effect too, as most small girls would be excited to see me out with the broom and cat. And no, I haven't got to the bottom of the delighted reaction either.

I think it comes down to one simple reason, for which I don't yet have an explanation: other people see something in me that I don't see in myself.

What could it be? Would it be something I'd want to know about? Could I use it to my advantage in life? Would knowing make me more self-conscious and less likely to cope? Would it change my life?

Do I simply look different, in a way that is so familiar to me and to people who know me well, that none of us sees it anymore? Is it like having a dearly loved aunt with a giant nose: you see the lovely, gorgeous woman who makes life brighter for everyone, but strangers see a little old lady with enormous nostrils.

Perhaps what I need to do is have someone follow me round and tell me what I do, or film me so I can pick over it obsessively and critique myself on my life skills. No, heavens no, can you imagine? How awful to see yourself that way, to realise how you look to others and then find out there's little you can do to change it. Self-critiquing very quickly turns to self-criticism and we do enough of that already.

I've mostly come to terms with it now. I do like seeing little girls grin up at me as they pass: each time that happens, I feel like I made a new friend. I don't mind so much when people react like I'm a worry. I've come to terms with being different and, if they feel that way, then we probably wouldn't be friends anyway, so why bother myself about it?

If I'm perfectly honest, readers (and I wouldn't tell everyone this), I don't mind when people shrink back. I feel that a small, magical part of me has tweaked a tiny, primeval part of them. They suddenly realise that not all people are the same and it worries them. I just smile a little wider and bend a little closer when it happens, to show them I mean them no harm. Of course, this doesn't always assuage their worry, but it does give me some practice in letting people further into my personal space.

I take it as yet another instance of all those times growing up, when people felt it was okay to point and comment on me, on the clothes I wore or how I felt like being that day. Children and teenagers feel free to comment on others in a way that doesn't happen as often with adults - at least they are, in some way, honest with you.

So now, as an adult, I'll let them away with the flinch or the step back or the quick frown as they take another look at me. I will smile back and let them look a bit longer. Let them do what they like and maybe, if they look long enough, they'll stop being worried at the difference and notice that I'm smiling at them.

That's when you hope that people see beyond whatever it was that caught their eye, to the person beneath. As aspies, we're so often concerned with what goes on under the surface, at the same time as being distracted by what is obvious on the outside. Let other people have the same chance, to see what is obvious, and then to look beneath and see the real you.

If it doesn't work and they don't see you, let it be. Sometimes, it's easier just to smile and talk back to them, pretending you didn't notice their discomfort. You may see them again and get a better reaction. That doesn't matter either.

Readers, what really matters is behaving in the way you would like others to behave towards you. If we keep on smiling, keep on talking and don't use bad reactions as a reason to turn away, then maybe other people will see how we are and carry a little of it with them as they move on.

And if all else fails, just be content with the ones whose faces light up as you pass by. They are the ones destined to be your friends, in this place or the next.


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