Mette Harrison
5 min readMay 11, 2022

Autists Can’t See What We Can’t See

One of the realities of growing up autistic, in a largely autistic family, was how impossible it was for me to see the skills that I lacked. I lacked social skills that meant I got bullied, I got the impression from my largely autistic family environment that this was normal and impossible to change, and that my skills academically were all that would matter for the rest of my life. It pains me sometimes to look back and realize that the family members who had social skills were often mocked for these skills because those things were “stupid” and “unimportant.”

For most of my early life, I was utterly unaware of the entire social world. I sort of knew it was there, but because I couldn’t interact on that level, a lot of what went on there was invisible to me. And it would have been incredibly difficult, perhaps impossible, as well as painful, to convince me that I needed help to see my own deficits. I’m aware, looking back, that people tried to tell me what they could see about my deficits, but I partly refused to listen and mostly couldn’t hear them because those things weren’t real. It would be like trying to explain a religious experience to someone whose internal compass is atheistic. People said that social interaction, social hierarchies, social rules, social communication was real, but I had no way of verifying this except by my exclusion from it.

If I had tried to tell my father, for instance, that he was autistic, he would have angrily rejected the notion. Like me in high school, he kept bumping into social reality when he didn’t understand work situations that had a social component, but he was stubbornly resistant to seeing that it was due to a problem in himself. And sometimes I see his point and will argue that autism isn’t a deficit, it’s another way of seeing the world and being in the world, that we shouldn’t have to learn your neurotypical way of seeing and being unless you’re willing to do the same for us autists.

But it’s also true that this blindness about the way that other people interact makes it difficult to participate in or understand a huge swath of human experience that is considered normal and is part of the worlds that I am bad at fitting into. Politics, work sphere, group projects, on and on. It IS real, and me not understanding it handicaps me. Me not even seeing it exists is a different kind of…

Mette Harrison

Autist, Ironman Worlds triathlete, Writer, Right-Brained