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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.Hearing this from Francesca was a relief; I realised it was something I knew but had denied for years, in favour of adopting the socially acceptable quirky image — think Zooey Deschanel as Jess in a mould which was a fairly good fit at times, even if it was also false.
We were lying on a bed in a University dorm, a girl and boy who at nineteen were taking our first tentative steps into the world of relationships. It meant that while I was bright, and loved reading and chatting, I struggled desperately to read social signals.
” 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.
I didn’t rock in anxiety, I didn’t speak in a monotone, I laughed and danced and engaged with people, showing interest in their work and passions.
Here the common misconceptions about autism were both my ally and my enemy: they allowed me to hide, and to embrace a status as “off-key yet normal,” but they also damaged me by giving fuel to the lie that I was just a bit odd, making it all the more difficult when it blew up in my face with someone yelling: “What the hell is wrong with you?
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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.