The conversation on mimicking other people tends to be oversimplified

In the autistic community, there is a lot of focus on mimicking others, understandably so. However, I tend to find the conversations on mimicking to be oversimplified and not exploring the true depths of mimicking.

There is more depth than meets the eye for mimicking. First you must consider who you are. What are your interests? What languages do you use to communicate? Are you verbal? This is important because depending on the answer to these things, you may not be able to mimic successfully in an environment. If you primarily use Spanish to communicate, but everyone exclusively uses English, your ability to mimic goes down drastically because you do not fit the local cultural norm. If you are nonspeaking or are like me and have periods where you are semi-verbal, you do not fit a communication norm in most places and so generally get excluded. This is one aspect that I do not see discussed enough- if your communication style is radically different than the local norm in regards to speech, you will most likely fail in regards to mimicking others.

There is another side of who you are that I have not discussed that is also extremely important. These are things that society uses as common categorizations of who you are. Your age, race, disabilities, religion, things of this nature. This is very important. Would you mimic someone who is portraying your cultural beliefs in a very negative light? That depends not only on how strong your cultural beliefs are, but if you are part of a group with significant power and how your culture is viewed by the ones with the most power. It might be unsafe to not mimic and take a stand at refusal. You might get harassed or physically beaten in some cases. Disabilities also come into play as to whether mimicking even works. For example, if you have cerebral palsy, your attempts to mimic might fail because your posture and movement might differ. For some disabilities, it might not matter how hard you try because you differ over a certain hidden threshold and so will never blend in.

Your gender and sex also factor into mimicry as well. If you are age 10 and are a binary trans white guy, you might want to mimic white guys because that matches who you are. However, some people would penalize you from doing this because they’re sexist and do not acknowledge your gender. They would also likely misgender you in the place and attempt to make you more gender conforming to a gender that does not suit you. If you are like 9 year old me looking up to some white guys in class because you like how they portray masculinity, now in addition to watching out for sexism, you must also watch out for racism. Some of the ways white boys show masculinity might get fists thrown your way with no one caring because “you acted out of line”.

There is another important thing to talk about as well: The setting itself. If the setting is overstimulating you, this makes it harder to mimic other people. Additionally, different settings have different norms. I have more leniency with mimicking other people in a psychology group than I do in a math group. However, I get far more leniency rambling about math in a mathematics group than I do in a psychology group. This also influences what I talk about in each group to mimic. Generally speaking, people with a psychology degree are more willing to discuss how the field perpetuates racism than people with a mathematics degree. Part of that is psychology people being more aware of racism, but part of that is norms within the field itself.

This is to say that it is a lot more complex than meets the eye. Maybe you are mimicking because you get heavily rewarded for it. Maybe you are mimicking because you will be severely punished otherwise. Maybe you are mimicking to stay safe and avoid harassment. Maybe you can’t mimic because you use a wheelchair to go places and the local area is very ableist and belittles you. I want to see more autistic people explore this depth as to how mimicking other people varies.

To give an example, I talked earlier today with another person and how they never felt scared to infodump about the topics they like. Sure, they had pushback and rude comments, but it was never visceral fear. This person is a white guy and gets treated differently because both gender and race are different as well as the environment itself. I have had visceral fear before with infodumping because I have had other people threaten to punch me for liking mathematics and that I should know my place. Different norms, different identities, different results. I actually found this person’s response enlightening because I did not realize that not everyone experienced fear when infodumping. This is how we can learn from other people with the discussion on mimicry. A variable he did not have to consider I did and an assumption I made was wrong.

So that’s where I would like to see the conversation on mimicking go from there. Exploring some of this nuance in more depth. Yes, this will cost us all a lot of spoons and trust me I’ve expended like 5 making this post, but I think we would be better for making the effort to see how we all got influenced from the places we lived and from our own identities.

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