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Hannah Gadsby has said that she was told she was “too fat” and “too female” to be autistic.
The Australian stand-up comedian is best known for her live show and Netflix special Nanette, in which she discusses and deconstructs the nature of stand-up comedy.
In an extract from her new book Ten Steps to Nanette published in The Guardian, Gadsby revealed that she had been diagnosed in her thirties, but had struggled to share it as “my experience did not match the popular understanding of autism”.
“I was right to be cautious, because when I finally did start telling the world of my diagnosis, the dismissals came thick and fast,” she wrote. “I was told I was too fat to be autistic. I was told I was too social to be autistic. I was told I was too empathic to be autistic. I was told I was too female to be autistic. I was told I wasn’t autistic enough to be autistic.
“Nobody who refused me my diagnosis ever considered how painful it might have been for me, and it got really boring really fast.”
Gadsby explained that she had often felt like “an alien who has been abandoned on Earth and left to muddle my way through life”.
While she said didn’t identify as being nonverbal (a subset of autism where people struggle to speak), she did have selective mutism and would lose her ability to speak when overwhelmed.
“When I told Mum I was autistic, she said: ‘Yeah, that makes sense. I always knew there was a lot going on inside you, but I just couldn’t get in. You were like a tin of baked beans and my tin opener wouldn’t work on you,’” she said. “It’s a tidy metaphor, especially if you know that Mum does not like baked beans.”
She continued: “I wish more than anything that I had known about my ASD [autism spectrum disorder] when I was a kid, just so I could have learned how to look after my own distress, instead of assuming my pain was normal and deserved.
“There is no one to blame, but I still grieve for the quality of life I lost because I didn’t have this key piece to my human puzzle. But until someone unlocks the riddle of time travel, little me will have to flail and fail their way through the world for 30-odd years.”