Tag Archives: irrelevant pity

To Pass or Not to Pass…

This post is inspired by The Myth of Passing by Cynthia Kim, and The Lie of Social Skills Training by Jodie Van.

Because passing is a myth. So often what we’re doing when we’re passing is simply keeping a lid on our natural tendencies. And sometimes we’re not even doing it very well.

The Myth of Passing by Cynthia Kim of Musings of an Aspie


Cartoon blue pony with rainbow mane and tail walks a tightrope between cliffs
Image: “Tightrope Walk” by Orfearus

What does it mean to pass?

“Passing for normal” if you have a disability, means to mask your disability enough so that so called normal people don’t notice it. For example, if you are deaf but so skilled at lip-reading + hard working at getting by that people forget or don’t realise you are deaf, you’re passing.

They may instead think you are weird though, if they presume that you can hear what they can hear, and think you “ignore” information selectively or even worse, that you are playing social games with them.

Worst of all, if you tried to compete on equal terms in a hearing world as deaf you’d work hundred times harder than everyone else and still not or barely do as well as them on their terms. You’d be in a constant battle to try to piece together information from disorganised bits and hang on to the shared hearing-reality with your fingernails while your errors accumulated. And if you were to work that hard everyday to just try to meet basic expectations, you’d probably soon burn out.

With deafness, the problem is obvious and no one really expects a deaf person to compete with the hearing in a hearing world. No one expects a blind person to pretend to be able to see either.

With Aspergers/high functioning autism which is what Cynthia wrote about, the situation is complex, because many autistic adults are capable of appearing normal and social – to “pass as normal”, at least some of the time and in certain situations.

Jodie has in The Lie of Social Skills Trainin listed some of some key factors that make it difficult for aspies/autistics to socialise on normal terms:

  • sensory processing lag meaning you can’t process the conversation fast enough to keep up
  • trouble turning visual or abstract thoughts into words
  • literal-mindedness leading to misunderstandings
  • lack of executive function for keeping track of social engagements and who’s who
  • reduced amount of energy available for socialising, because so much is drained processing sensory input
  • not necessarily having the same pop-culture grounding as others, thanks to our often eccentric skills and areas of interest

Any one of those things could get in the way of socialising effectively, even for the most socially adept person. Most people on the spectrum have several of those things going on, and some of us have all of them.

The Lie of Social Skills Training by Jodie Van of Letters from Aspergia

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Parties & Irrelevant Pity

Recently* my husband and I were invited to dinner by someone from Church. Also invited was the pastor and another pastor, who are my husband’s hunting buddies, and their wives.

old clipart of dinner party around a table, to pairs, man raising to toast, black and white drawing

I don’t usually* go to dinners because of my noise sensitivity and to be honest, even without that problem I doubt I would attend many dinners because I’m not really into the social side either, such as mingling with other wives and chatting about random topics. Dinners are ‘just not my cup of tea’ as I explain to some people.

In this case, however, the dinner was held very nearby where we live … just a few houses down on our street, and that made it harder to make a socially acceptable excuse.

The pastor tried to persuade me to come to the dinner, even if just briefly, so I could entertain the other pastor’s wife or something like that. Now, that isn’t a good role to put me in in any case. Out of all forced conversations I can think of, expected wife-chatting is one of the most awkward, and with the noise level there was likely to be in there (I have been there before) that wouldn’t work at all, not even for 10 minutes as he suggested. So I politely maintained my “No Thanks”.

Dinner Day

The day of the dinner came, and it happened that I wasn’t working at that time. I work variable hours, and I didn’t have to go that evening.

The pastor dropped by our house and asked again if I was working and asked me to come. I politely declined, but started to feel quite guilty about it. While my husband dressed up and walked the few steps down to the dinner, I just relaxed at home, increasingly conscious about the fact that it does not look right in the eyes of the community. However, I trust my husband to explain so nobody would take it personal.

When my husband came back from the dinner later in the evening, he said that it had been very noisy, a bit too much even for him. The host has a high pitched voice which she uses eagerly for melodramatic effects, and I would have hated it, he said.

So I ended up being perfectly happy with my decision to stay home, where I had enjoyed myself with undisrupted computer time.

‘So Sorry for You’…

Come Sunday, I met the dinner host in Church, and she said that she felt so sorry for me. My husband had explained to her that I couldn’t come to the dinner because of my over-sensitivity to noise, and she assumed that I must have felt terribly lonely and left out.

She made a comforting face expression and spiced her words with high pitched (ouch!) empathetic vocal sounds, and wanted to give me a hug. I froze in my position where I stood, awkward and hard faced of discomfort, just wanting to shield myself against the intrusive emotional drama that was coming at me. And unwarranted hugs! No thanks!


clipart of depressed black cat sitting at a table with a portion of spaghetti

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that people are inclusive and care about others’ feelings. It feels much better to not be at a party when invited than when not invited (as in “we don’t think you are worthy of our company”). It is just the parties and dinners themselves I’d rather be without, and I am fine without being there.
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