It’s a tunnel. The tunnel is fairly non-descript. You know it’s a tunnel with a road through it because of the cars you see and hear around you. You know it’s probably in mountains at lower elevations because it looks dry and barren all around before you enter the tunnel.
This is the Queen Creek Tunnel. It is along Highway 60 in eastern Arizona, between the towns of Miami and Superior. If you are heading west on this road, shortly after you exit the tunnel, you will exit Devil’s Canyon, and the desert floor will lay below you.
Superior to Miami has been probably my most favorite drive in the entire country. The formations through the canyon are a sight to behold. There are so many interesting things to look at. The drive it self is engaging as it twists, turns, and changes elevation. Eventually you pass through the small community of Top Of The World, only then to head back down in to Miami.
One of my more favorite parts of this drive is the Queen Creek Tunnel. I’d love to drive through there with a window down and honk my horn just to listen to the way it echos. It makes me happy.
This is one example of one of the things I would do that was out of the way and didn’t bother people. I didn’t have to worry about what others thought, except for the random other vehicle that would be in the tunnel with me at the same time.
As an autistic person, I don’t always have that luxury. I’m often around people that won’t, and may never understand me. That’s always too bad considering the effort I put in to trying to understand them. So I would mask. Yeeeessssss, everyone masks to some extent, but for me, I’m often taking guesses at what I am doing. It doesn’t feel natural. I don’t understand it, and I learn nothing in the process.
Masking is an exhausting process. There’s no time to be able to turn it off. Our “eccentricities” are not so easily written off by others as they are when it’s a non-autistic person. In the times behaviors aren’t written off, sometimes some nicety is used to communicate the desired change in behavior. It is full of subtext. This subtext is something you’re likely to pick up on if you are a non-autistic. However, for autistic people, those chances are slim. It’s real sapping trying to figure out what someone wants out of us when they won’t tell us.
There is a campaign that has started this week, led by some prominent people in the online autistic community. It’s called “Take The Mask Off”.
The topics and discussions are designed to educate about masking, what it is, and the effect on autistic individuals who must mask in the current society.
Since learning that I am autistic, I have gotten to the point I rarely mask anymore. I’m sure those close to me have seen that. It doesn’t change what I think about people. I just can’t always interact in THEIR desired manner. It’s not healthy for me. I will still make “social adjustments” here and there. However, these actions are by rote, and I still don’t always understand them. But I do understand that these adjustments help make others more comfortable.
Please take in all the content for the #TakeTheMaskOff campaign that you possibly can over the next six weeks. Maybe it can help you learn more about autistic people, why they are the way they are, and be able to communicate with them a little more on their level. After all, this world is about compromise. A little push. A little pull. We are ALL better off when we meet in the middle.
Also published on Medium.