Passing is a term used by various minority groups. In the context of autism, it means that, although we are autistic, we pass for, come across as, someone that is neurotypical. This sounds like a perk but actually this means we are having to mask heavily in order to fit in with people that are different to us, neurologically. It takes a lot of mental effort – it’s exhausting. Passing as neurotypical at work, for instance, can mean we come home and have absolutely nothing left, with the potential for meltdowns and burnout.

Passing is not the healthy answer for us. We shouldn’t have to fake it in order to be accepted. When we tell someone that we are autistic and they say the old classic oh! You don’t SEEM autistic! It does at least two things in our heads:

1) It feels like they’re intending to pay us a compliment, despite the fact that we deserve to be proud of being autistic – different, not inferior.

2) It can undermine our true identity, particularly if we are self-diagnosed or are suffering from a touch of imposter syndrome.

It’s confusing, insulting and I have no idea what the right thing is to say in this situation. Passing is probably not something to aspire to, though often it can feel essential. It’s likely that those of us with non-visible disabilities all do it to a certain degree, simply because it’s not everyone’s business to know everything about us, unless we choose to let them. Often this is because we know that the declaration that we are autistic, whilst vastly improved in the past five years, still carries stigma, and we have no idea in advance who is going to be cool about it and who is going to be weird about it.

An outdated way of explaining this would be to say that autistic people that can pass are ‘high-functioning‘ and those that cannot are ‘low-functioning‘. Fortunately, since Asperger’s has no longer been a recognised diagnosis, these unhelpful distinctions are less commonly used, though they are, sadly, still used by many neurotypical diagnosing professionals.