Atypical Autistic Traits

Challenging stereotypes and describing some lesser-known Autistic traits

A lot of non-conforming and marginalized people are misdiagnosed in healthcare, (including mental health) and psychological diagnoses.

This includes female-presenting people (including cis-women), transgender folks-basically anyone in the LGBTQIA2+ community — people of colour, people impacted by poverty, immigrants, and many others.

Identifying someone as Autistic can be difficult, especially if they mask well, because autism is a behaviour-based diagnosis: meaning, it’s identified based on clinical judgement, behavioural assessments, self-reported behaviours, and observations.

Unfortunately, many clinicians still hold out-dated, stereotypical ideals about what it means to be Autistic. This further perpetuates the difficulty in identifying people who have atypical presentations of autism.

Also, the DSM-V criteria for Autism sucks, so it’s easy to see how clinicians are being poorly trained to properly and accurately identify autism.

Atypical atypicals

Disclaimer: This information is just that — information. It is not intended to be diagnostic or conclusive.

Autism is different for every single person, but sharing a common neurotype means we do share many common traits.

I recently came across an old tumblr post from 2015 outlining some atypical Autistic traits, and I identified with it so very much.

As people who haven’t really felt seen or understood for much of our lives, it can be extremely validating and comforting to realize so many others share similar experiences.

I made some updates to the original post and am sharing it here since it meant so much to me, I am hoping others will also find it helpful.

There are four categories of atypical Autistic traits described:

  1. Appearance
  2. Intellectual
  3. Emotional
  4. Social

Appearance and personal habits

  • Dresses comfortably due to sensory issues and for practicality.
  • Will not spend much time on grooming and hair. Hairstyles usually have to be ‘wash and wear’.
  • May have an eccentric personality, which may be reflected in appearance.
  • Is youthful for their age, in looks, dress, behaviour, and tastes.
  • Usually a little more expressive in face and gesture than some other Autistic people.
  • May have androgynous traits, may identify as non-binary.
  • May not have a strong sense of identity, and can be very chameleon-like, especially before diagnosis, may have previously been misdiagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as a result.
  • Enjoys reading and films as a retreat.
  • May use control as a stress management technique; rules, discipline, rigid in certain habits, which will contradict their seeming unconventionality.
  • Usually happiest at home or in other familiar and predictable environments.

Intellect and vocation

  • May have been diagnosed as Autistic when young, or may have been thought of as gifted, shy, sensitive, etc.
  • Often musical, artistic, and creative.
  • May have a savant skill or strong talent(s).
  • May have a strong interest in computers, games, science, graphic design, inventing, things of a technological and visual nature.
  • More verbal thinkers may gravitate to writing, languages, cultural studies, psychology.
  • May have been a self-taught reader, been hyperlexic as a child, and will possess a wide variety of other self-taught skills as well.
  • May be highly educated but will have had to struggle with social aspects of college. May have one or many partial degrees.
  • Can be very passionate about a course of study or job, and then change direction or go completely cold on it very quickly,
  • Will often have trouble holding onto a job and may find employment daunting.
  • Highly intelligent, yet sometimes can be slow to comprehend due to sensory and cognitive processing issues.
  • Will not do well with verbal instruction — needs to write down or draw diagram.
  • Passions and special interests are not necessarily considered “unusual”.

Emotional and physical

  • Experiences intense emotions and is considered emotionally sensitive.
  • Anxiety and fear are predominant emotions.
  • May be more open to talk about feelings and emotional issues than people with typical autism.
  • Strong sensory issues — sounds, sights, smells, touch, and prone to sensory overload. (May not have taste/food texture issues.).
  • May be prone to bouts of depression.
  • May have been diagnosed with mood disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, while the autism diagnosis was missed.
  • Often have mild to severe gastro-intestinal issues (e.g. ulcers, acid reflux, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac disease, and so on).
  • Stims to soothe when sad or agitated; rocking, face-rubbing, humming, finger flicking, leg bouncing, finger or foot tapping, etc.
  • Similarly physical when happy. Engages in happy stims, such as: hand-flapping, clapping, singing, jumping, running around, dancing, and bouncing.
  • Prone to anger or meltdowns; sometimes over seemingly small things due to sensory or emotional overload.
  • Has a strong sense of justice sensitivity. Hates injustice and hates to be misunderstood; this can incite anger and rage.
  • May stop speaking when stressed or upset, especially after a meltdown. May have a raspy voice, monotone at times, when stressed or sad.

Social and relationships

  • Words, actions, and tone are often misunderstood by others.
  • May be perceived as cold-natured and unfriendly.
  • Is very outspoken at times, may get very fired up when talking about passions and special interests.
  • Can be very shy or introverted; may be non-speaking or minimally-speaking.
  • Like people with more typical autism, may shut down in social situations once overloaded, but is generally better at socializing in small doses.
  • May even give the appearance of being skilled or comfortable socially, but this is a form of masking.
  • Doesn’t like to go out much. Will prefer to go out with partner only or children if they have them.
  • May not have many close friends, and will not conform to gender stereotypical activities with friends.
  • If they like someone romantically, they can be extremely, noticeably awkward in attempts to let them know (i.e. may stare or call repeatedly, “fixating” on the person).
  • Often prefers the company of animals (but not always due to sensory issues).

Feeling seen

Special thanks to P3A’s Life Resources for sharing this post on Tumblr.

I’ve been working in the social services and mental health fields for over 20 years. I have a couple of related degrees, and have been specifically reading about and studying autism and ADHD for over five years.

The more I learn, the better I understand myself, my son, and any neurodivergent individuals I meet.

Once the initial shock of “OMG, I have ADHD, and this describes me exactly!” wore off, I continued learning, but had a lot fewer of those lightbulb moments.

This has been the first thing in a long time that has screamed “I SEE YOU! YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” and it felt very good. I hope this can offer similar comfort to, and will resonate with, others like me.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

When you join medium, as a member you’ll have access to unlimited reads for only $5 per month. If you use my referral link, I’ll earn a small commission, and you’ll earn my undying gratitude.

Author’s note: If anyone knows an updated link for P3A’s Life Resources, I’d love to link to their social media or writing, and direct some traffic their way. I tried searching, but came up empty.

Related Stories

The DSM-V’s Autism Criteria Sucks

How To Know If You’re Autistic

Things That Made Me Go “Duh!”

Published by Neurodiversity MB

Jillian has Child and Youth Work diploma as well as a BA in Psychology. Jillian worked on the front lines of Social Services agencies from 2003 - 2012. Jillian has taken numerous continuing education courses and has attended various workshops focused on supporting neurodiverse children, in particular children with ADHD.

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