Several years ago, I had the opportunity to collaborate with an autistic author who was doing research for a book that he was writing. Because of his popularity across the internet, I received easy access to several discussion boards. One representative thread that he started examined whether it was proper to pursue an autism diagnosis on historical figures while another thread pursued the appropriateness of self-diagnosis. It soon became evident that the discussion boards were dominated by a few individuals trying to talk over everybody else. In email conversations with some of the members, it was doubted whether these individuals had an autism diagnosis. My author friend explained the phenomenon as follows, “If the person is not on the spectrum, then we have self-deception at best along with a great deal of inner confusion if s/he believes that s/he is. If s/he is quite aware s/he is not on the spectrum and is pretending it begs the question of what the motives are for this behaviour. Either way we are in the realm of psychological distress – if not worse. Even if they expect to profit in some way from making such a false claim, it still suggests mental instability of some kind to me. And profiting by pretending to be ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘disabled’ in some way relation to the regular world just sucks.”
Many times, these intrusive individuals exemplify aspects of their personality that prompt problems for themselves and for others. Despite being maladaptive and toxic to those around them, these personality traits tend to run a chronic course. This leads to social problems which are then blamed on their so-called autism. Unrecognized by the person their behaviors are self-defeating and tend to get worse under stress.
One famous “autistic” author had the habit of dominating any and every conversation in which she participated. Her books described markedly strange and uncommon symptoms. In one instance in which she was sharing the stage with another autistic author, she stood up and slapped her co-presenter across the face, quite violently. “That is the way I greet other autistic people”- she explained. If there was an artistic exhibit or a poetry reading of autistic authors anywhere around the world, she would send her entries confident of having an easy win. I remember a congress regarding art and creativity in autism celebrated in London many years ago. There were international entries from autistic individuals and our “autistic” lady friend sent many examples of her work. According to the judges, she probably had the talent of a fifth grader in both poetry and painting.
Asperger’s initial description of autism was that of a psychopathy, a term now used for antisocial personality disorder. Although such a term is in no way representative of autistic individuals, it is representative of some individuals that camouflage themselves as autistics. In effect, their discussions on boards often exemplify problems in emotional regulation and a great degree of callousness to the necessities of other participants. They say things intentionally meaning to hurt other members of their group but showing no real concern about their words or actions. Indeed, they are often irresponsible, and impatient with other members. One person in particular that I remember saw himself as a “free and enlightened agent”, and as such, someone who did not have to follow the rules preset by the administrators of the discussion board.
A red flag that somebody is camouflaging as autistic is a display of rapid emotions and mood swings which cannot be controlled. These individuals can be overly sensitive to criticism and lash out at people. When they calm down, they react as if nothing happened. They idealize select other participants but switch quickly to devaluing them. You never know which person will be coming to the discussion board that day; around them you must walk on eggshells.
Most autistic individuals that I have met provide a good first impression because they are sincere, truthful, and honest. They do not talk to me as if I was their audience. Much to the contrary, they are agreeable, humble, and very conscientious. By far they shy away from trying to be the center of attention. Individuals with toxic personalities who stand in a soapbox trying to dictate policies for autistic individuals may be the rotten apple in a barrel. The thin veil of their camouflage may hide a serious personality disorder.
Casanova MF. Autism Updated: Symptoms, Treatments and Controversies. Amazon Publishing, 2019.