5 Things I thought were social anxiety, but are just autism

Autism is a neurological development disorder that affects one’s everyday and social life in such a way that is functionally disabling — even if it does not seem so at a glance.

Discussions in the autistic community have been leaning towards calling it a social disorder instead of sticking with the “neurological disorder” bit.

Learning more about autism, especially with all the autistic-led research going on these days, has helped me develop more awareness of my own behavior and differentiate between what is anxiety versus what is the autism or a trauma response.

Turns out, I’m full of trauma responses and autistic traits, and my anxiety is pretty typical. After being raised to ignore my emotions and view anxiety as all bad, finding out that anxiety is also a good thing was life-altering.

GIF baffled pink what?

And with that, here are some things I’ve since realized are actually autistic traits — not specifically anxiety.

1. Feeling uncomfortable in social situations

New or unpredictable social situations disrupt my typical script and prevent me from self-regulating properly. Simply put, I do not feel safe in new social situations.

I used to think and believe this was anxiety and dismissed my behavior as shyness, like my family told me, but it’s not anxiety.

Stuffed cat buckled into front car seat, colorful wallet
Comfort objects are common in adults who have unhealed trauma.

I wasn’t fearful of those situations. I wasn’t uncomfortable because I was scared, but because I didn’t know how to present myself as a masked autistic person.

I didn’t know how to be myself on a planet that doesn’t allow people like me to be ourselves without thinking we need to be cured.

Around family, I could easily fold into the beautiful origami butterfly. Eventually, I just stayed that way — folded up, paper falling apart. Around other people, that version of me always wanted to feel safe enough to unmask around them.

GIF face in hands

Scripting helps me feel safe. Asking, “What do I say?” or going over what I’ll say isn’t anxiety, but rather something called autistic scripting.

It is literal scripting — I was going over my lines in hopes that no one will utterly reject me because I am not neurotypical.

And then I unmasked, and the greatest fear of masked autistic people came true: My family thought I was cray-cray and rejected me by insisting I wasn’t myself and needed mental help. My boundaries weren’t respected, either.

Scripts help autistic people function in society. If you want us to stop, you’ll have to create an autistic-friendly society.

2. Stuttering

Sometimes, I do trip up on my words because my brain doesn’t process language like everyone else or at the same pace.

I think faster than I can speak.

  1. I think of what I’ll say
  2. My brain has to send the message to the part of me that actually speaks, while also sending the words to the part of the brain that processes spoken language
  3. I have to actually say it

It’s like playing telephone, but with yourself.

So I often wind up tripping over my words, using the wrong words with similar sounds or completely different words all together, and it doesn’t matter how slow I speak or how much I practice saying the words.

It happens. That’s my reality.

And similar happens with my hearing, as I have auditory processing disorder, which makes me Hard of Hearing.

But I don’t stutter because I lack confidence or am too shy to speak “normally”. I stutter because that’s just the way my brain processes language.

Out of everything, I wish the world would stop criminalizing stuttering. It doesn’t mean I’m lying or lack confidence. It’s a stutter. Get over yourself and stop devaluing people for their disability.

3. Scripting conversations in my head

A common behavior among autistic people is scripting. Autistic scripting includes:

  • Mimicking GIFs/meme images/specific character reactions
  • Playing out conversations in their heads
  • Practicing how to smile in a mirror
  • Quoting movies, TV shows, song lyrics, memes
  • Studying movies, TV shows, music videos, etc. to determine how to behave

Non-autistic people often mistake autistic scripting for “delayed echolalia”. Scripting is not related to echolalia; it is a form of autistic masking.

It may look like:

  • Asking what to say in social situations to people
  • Not knowing what to do when people deviate from the script you practiced
  • Watching the same videos repeatedly until you have a grasp on a character’s behavior

Autistic scripting is not social anxiety. It’s simply an autistic person needing the comfort of familiarity and predictability — two needs autistic people need to feel safe and secure.

4. Connecting with people who share similar interests

I don’t have many friends who don’t share my same interests. I don’t know what to talk about or what to do with them.

It’s not such a bad thing, either, because my friends are OK with it. We can go months — sometimes even years — without chatting, and our relationship still goes strong. This is what works for me. The people who stick around don’t take issue with it, either. 💓

Previously, I perceived this as social anxiety because I was told that social anxiety = only having friends who share similar interests. But this isn’t the case at all. I’m not befriending clones; I’m befriending people.

Literally, the way you make friends as an adult is through similar interests. Too often, everyday behaviors are pathologized when people find out they’re from a neurodivergent person.

5. Easier communication with fellow autistic/ADHD people

Neurodivergent people tend to flock together. Peer-to-peer information between us is flawless.

Autistic and/or ADHDers have a special kind of connection:

  • Autistic people often get on much better with other autistic people. This is not the rule; it’s just the commonality.
  • Autistic and/or ADHD peeps tend to balance each other out.

Both groups form a sort of camaraderie that works quite well in regard to friendship and functionality. They empathize well with each other, because they share similar lived experiences. There is a lot of overlap.

This phenomenon is because of the double empathy problem, which makes relating to people with different perceived life experiences difficult.

Social anxiety is a debilitating fear of social situations, especially in regard to other people’s judgment. Unlike autism, social anxiety symptoms come and go.

The two are often mistaken, but dismissing autistic traits as “anxiety” is a form of gaslighting that causes detrimental effects to one’s entire well-being.

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Comments on this post

I thought I was the only one that seemed like that. Like someone writing about me and wonder if it’s a predefinition someone else has spent a great deal of effort in conditioning me to be that way or am I just as they all seem to say, a fool.
Why is it that people don’t understand how everything works mechanically? If I was physically blind, I would understand people as well as a lab rat does.
Thanks. It’s nice to know I’m not totally alone.

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