• Callum

Autism and "Acting Your Age"

We've got another fantastic blog written by the talented writer Callum, also known as Autistic Callum on Instagram @adulting_with_autism. Today, Callum discusses autism and "acting your age". He talks about his own experience with this issue, which we found very relatable. We found this a really good read and we hope you do too!

Introduction

For as long as I can remember, I have been told that I don’t act my age. What fascinates me about this comment is that it seems to preface other comments alluding to how I act much older *or* much younger than my age; there doesn’t seem to be a universal or widely held perception of my demeanour. For context, I am currently 25 years old and am regularly told that I am "old soul" with a restrained and formal demeanour, and carry myself like someone in their 30s. I am also regularly told that I have a youthful vigour, a demeanour that implies innocence and a unique posture that would indicate I am in my teens.

Whilst any person of any neurology can be misperceived as being older or younger than they actually are, it seems autistic people disproportionately experience these misperceptions, so I am certain autism plays a role here, for reasons I delve into in these.



Autism & "Acting My Age"

Several months ago, I wrote a post about how it is common for autistic people to not look their age (according to how society seems to view age). In response, I received hundreds of affirming comments from wonderful members of the community, many of whom wished to expand the conversation to discuss how they are often told they don’t act their age. These comments were on my mind today and I thought this might be an interesting topic to discuss.

For as long as I can remember, I have been told that I don’t act my age. What fascinates me about this comment is that it seems to preface other comments alluding to how I act much older or much younger than my age; there doesn’t seem to be a universal or widely held perception of my age. For context, I am currently 25 years old and am regularly told that I am "old soul" with a restrained and formal demeanour, and carry myself like someone in their 30s. I am also regularly told that I have a youthful vigour, an aura that exudes innocence and a unique posture that would indicate I am in my teens.



As odd as it may sound, people are more likely to place me at 18 or 32 years old than they are my actual age of 25. It greatly intrigues me that a person who carries their self and acts as consistently as I do can provoke such polar opposite reactions. I am certain that autism plays a key role here - for me and for many other members of the autistic community who relate to this experience.

For example, when people hear the calm, quiet, flat voice that I use to avoid triggering my noise sensitivity, they tend to think I’m calm, cool, quietly confident and unshakeable in a way that only an adult who has lived a long and full life (or at least young adulthood!) could be. Or they think I’m shy, unsure of myself, lacking identity and wholly uninterested in what’s being discussed in a way they consider to be typical of teenagers.

When people analyse my posture, they mostly see one of two things; me sitting rigidly because I’m hyper focused, analysing something deeply or in a dreamlike state, or me constantly moving around due to GI challenges and physical discomfort as a result of how my body is processing the environment I’m in. If they see the former, they usually think I’m elegant and restrained, but if they see the latter they generally assume I’m fidgeting, not paying attention and acting in a childlike manner.

When engaging in a conversation with me, people generally receive very considered responses from me that are lengthy and hone in on particular details that a literal interpretation would register. They mostly interpret my responses in one of two ways; the first being that I have given a surface level, unrefined, overtly long, unnecessarily detailed and poorly focused response that a young and inexperienced person might give, and the second being that I have given a considered, appropriately detailed, eloquent response without a single stutter, in a way only someone wise, experienced, cultured and (most likely) older could give.

When people pay attention to what I’m doing, they commonly see someone who is focused, determined and an "outside the box" thinker, or someone who focuses too long and too hard on the "wrong" thing, producing unexpected, unwanted and "ill-fitting" outcomes. If they see the former, they generally think I’m older and wiser, but if they see the latter they think I’m younger and less experienced.

The underlying theme throughout all of this is that people often relate my autistic differences to common NT actions. Because there are very few NT reference points (as NT people’s different neurology means that they act and present differently than I do), my actions and presentations are oftentimes compared with those of people who fall outside of my age bracket - in particular those who are predisposed to similar movements, albeit for very different and often age-related reasons that do not apply to me as an autistic person. If you relate to any of what I’ve described, this could be what you experience.


Do you find people often perceive you as being older and/or younger than your years?

If so, why do you think that is?


Please note: I love the concept of age being a social construct. I recognise that on a physical and biological level, it is often useful to keep track of one’s age, but I’m personally uncomfortable with the idea of placing a number of expectations on people based on their physical age. I think this mindset contributes a huge amount to societal issues, including (but not limited to), sexism, ageism and homophobia. For this reason, I don’t feel a sense of pride when people tell me I appear older or younger, merely confusion, and a little concerned about how this may influence their (probably unrealistic) expectations of me.

 

Thank you Callum for sharing this & your own experiences with us, it is greatly appreciated! If you loved this blog, be sure to follow Callum on:

Instagram: @adulting_with_autism

Twitter: @AutisticCallum_


We hope everyone who reads this has enjoyed it and learnt something new. Be sure to share with others in your life so they can learn more about autism.


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