Can the brain shift from autistic functioning to neurotypical functioning on a random or even deliberate basis?
Saying that autism in a given individual can come and go is like saying a woman’s pregnancy can come and go.
It’s like saying that a neurotypical can sometimes have episodes of autism.
I’ve been diagnosed with Level 1 ASD, and I have something to say here.
To an observer, my autism may seem to come and go. If I’m lying in the dentist’s chair with nary a stim, carrying on small talk with the hygienist who’s preparing things, I can pass as neurotypical (NT).
If she’s commenting about the weather, and I comment back something relevant, or she notices I have an issue of People Magazine in my hands and comments about how beautiful Jennifer Lopez’s face is, and I comment back, “Yes, she has Golden Ratio proportions,” this is pretty easy stuff for me — as an autist — to sustain during that prep time. I seem “normal.”
There’s not enough going on in this setting to reveal my neuro-wiring. There’s no need for me to stim.
I’m not in the mood for info-dumping or over-explaining something. I’m not in a situation that’s going to bring out my autistic traits.
In this, and many settings in which I’m not thinking much, I’m NEUTRAL. Or let’s say…”neuro-neutral.” It’s neuroneutrality.
To an observer — if they know I’m autistic — my autism has “gone.”
But this is only an illusion. It’s still there. It’s always there. I could also be in full-on autistic mode while lying there calmly.
That’s because ASD occurs internally, unseen by NTs, not just externally such as in the form of stimming, odd facial expressions or mannerisms, blunt comments, unemotional responses in emotional social situations, repetitive speech, etc.
While I’m lying there “looking” all nice and NT, you have no idea what’s going on inside my head.
For example, while the hygienist is prepping things, I’m focusing on the grimy looking sticker-label on a nearby piece of equipment, thinking of how unsightly it is, and making a point not to look in that direction, and wondering why nobody has scraped the damn thing off.
I may be experiencing internal distress over the motorcycle noise that keeps passing by just outside the window that faces a busy street.
But my internal thought processes may also be pleasant. I could be watching a squirrel outside that window, as would many NTs.
However…one of my special interests is flicker fusion rates. As I’m watching that squirrel, I’m thinking all sorts of things about flicker fusion rates, even imagining I’m that squirrel — trying to keep hidden while on a tree trunk as a dog tries to race around the trunk to catch me.
I’m seeing the dog move in slow motion, because my FFR is much higher than that of a human’s. This is why the dog can never get around the tree fast enough to see my entire body…
Or, I may take my mind to that light gravity planet where I’d have superhuman strength compared to the humanoids who’ve evolved on it.
Or, I’d imagine I’m a visitor from a heavier-than-earth gravity planet. Here, I’d have amazing strength, and while the hygienist is talking about her plans this weekend, I’m seeing myself outside leaping over hedges or atop cars.
I might be rehearsing future conversations in my mind — to make sure I get them perfectly right when they finally happen.
I might be going through all the possible names for males that begin with K-O such as Kody, Kole, Kolton, Konnor and Kolby. They’d have sisters named Kortni, Klovis and Korrie.
I might be discreetly studying the hygienist’s facial features and hair texture as I try to figure out her racial breakdown.
She has light caramel skin, green almond-shaped eyes, a thick nose and golden-blonde fluffy hair. What IS she? I’m fascinated!
Is she one-quarter Polynesian, three-fourths white? Maybe one-fourth Hispanic, one-fourth East Indian and one-half white? Maybe one of her parents is half-black?
Meanwhile she’s still talking about her weekend plans and has now asked me what mine are. I get that a lot from neurotypicals.
So I tell her, “No, no plans this weekend.” I don’t care if she thinks I’m pathetic for not having any plans for a weekend that’s forecast to be all sunshine and in the 80s. I’m more interested in her name tag: Serenity.
Oh SPELL it like everyone else! Why can’t parents think outside the box and spell it Serennitie, Serenittey, Cerennity, Cerrenity, Cerenitti, Sirenitee, CereniTee, Serenyti…
The hygienist has NO idea that any of this stuff is going on inside my head while I lie there calmly with the People Magazine issue in my hands.
So just because I’m not rocking, flapping my hands, chewing on a pendant or talking nonstop about airplane runways doesn’t mean that my autism is dormant or temporarily shut off. My autism never “goes” anywhere. It proudly lives inside my brain. It is ME.
Autism doesn’t come and go, just like NT doesn’t come and go.
I might make my autism “disappear” by making sure that I don’t noticeably stim in public, speak out of turn, info-dump, and make sure I do engage in social rituals such as smiling, nodding, asking people about themselves, chuckling when they chuckle, etc.
Yes, I can put on that act (mask). And if I try hard enough, I can fake NT for a brief period.
However, many autistics, particularly women, are prolific at passing as NT for longer periods.
But their ASD is still there. What comes and goes is the masking. Unfortunately, if masking doesn’t “go” often enough, then a burnout will result.
We can’t make autism go away no matter how skilled we are at masking.
It’s like a man trying to make his skinny body go away by wearing a thick muscle suit. He’s still skinny under there. The suit eventually makes him hot and sweaty and weighs him down.
• Autistic people see the world differently.
• We process information differently.
• We have a different operating system.
• Autism Spectrum doesn’t come and go any more than the baby inside a woman’s belly can come and go.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder.