In last week's episode of Modern Family, the Genius Daughter, Alex, is visiting a university. A stereotypical nerd strikes up a stereotypical, socially awkward conversation. Then, he pauses and says "Well, I have a touch of Asperger's. No I don't. I just said that so you'd think I was interesting."
This sounds like it would be a terrible thing to say out loud. Autism is a horrible condition that affects millions everyday. But... Confession: I absolutely know what he means. I said to Husboy just the other day that sometimes I feel like I'm mildly autistic even though I know I'm not. I hate making eye contact with strangers and the thought of having casual conversation makes my blood pressure spike. I have to do breathing exercises when people touch my things or get into my space bubble uninvited and too many noises and lights make me want to dive head-first into a sensory deprivation tank (which is why I spend my workday with headphones on). These things do not make me autistic.
I also like to sing and color. Science museums are like paradise to me and I spent last week being jealous that two of my good friends were at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without me. Just like the previous "symptoms" do not make me autistic, these do not make me five-years-old.
What I understand is the desire to give your actions a label. Instead of having to explain that you are socially awkward and don't mean to be rude or short, you just let the other person make assumptions about you that may or may not be accurate. Saying "I'm autistic" is just easier. People know what autism is, or at least they think they do, and suddenly your eccentricities have an explanation. You are no longer responsible for your actions. The stress of interaction is eased because any misstep will be blown off.
The problem, of course, is when you don't have autism (or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or Bipolar Disorder or a handful of other problems) and you can't explain your personality quirks with anything other than "That's who I am." "I don't have OCD, but I really need you to clear the microwave timer when you're done using it." "I don't have Bipolar disorder, but my mood swings can make you feel awkward and talk about me behind my back." (I actually do have Bipolar Disorder, but that's another post). At that point you're rude, brash or just crazy, not otherwise specified.
Here's what I haven't figured out yet: What do I do about it? At what point can I ask people to just accept these behaviors as personality traits? My mother taught me how to behave and how to treat other people. I grew up in the South where I was taught how to be hospitable whether I meant it or not (complete with an old-fashioned "Bless your heart!"). But when is it okay to turn that off and be yourself without having to worry about your every (mis)step?