Acting is a gift which seems to come naturally to many people with autism and Asperger's syndrome yet only a select few follow it as a career.
Dan Ackroyd and Daryl Hannah are some of the most obvious and vocal examples but there are plenty of others.
We are always acting
I have a theory that people on the spectrum tend to be good at acting because they spend so much of their daily lives acting - and from a very early age. For example, it's true that autistic people often don't get jokes (although you rarely hear us complaining when neurotypicals don't get ours).
Young people quickly learn that it's easier to "act like you got the joke" than it is to take the brunt and embarrassment of being the only one who didn't. We are quite often called upon to "act amused". Then there are those sad and solemn occasions where sometimes we feel intense waves of emotion - and sometimes we don't. Again, honesty in these situations leads to ostracisation. Sometimes it's simply better to "act sad" or "act shocked".
We are taught to act
The most successful people on the spectrum are those which have had early intervention lessons such as speech therapy and social role-play. These lessons teach us how to enunciate, how to add tone to our otherwise "monotone" voices and how to display the various facial expressions that our peers want to see.
It's all about helping us to overcome our social obstacles and "fit in" but at the same time, they're great acting lessons.
Stimming helps with accents
Then there's our love of quotations and vocal stimming, It's not something that everyone on the spectrum does but a surprising number of people do. We quote from our special interests but we don't tend to copy just the words, we copy the tone and inflections - and the background ambiance.
We'll quote a phrase from a film, with word-perfect inflection and often with any accompanying beeps, whirs or musical notes.
For example, I'll be talking to a friend about a project at work and he'll respond with a booming "im-pressive!". Other people around me will gloss over this strange tone, categorising it as a yet another bizarre speech inflection but I know better. I'll instantly recognise the tone and formation as Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker during their battle in Cloud City. Sometimes I'll even respond with; "...and I'm full of surprises too".
My friend and I have whole conversations which are made from quotations and speech patterns from a smattering of films - often to baffled stares from those around us. We're also usually quite good at vocal sound effects too - not just animals but lightsabers, explosions and even vocalised music. It's all stuff that we use for stimming anyway. It feels good to make those noises.
I've heard people say that in many countries, the people on the spectrum speak with a different accent. In my case, since I prefer to watch British rather than American television, I've often been asked if I'm British - even while holidaying in the UK.
Making a life out of acting, not a Career
A lot of autistic people are very good actors and some will make a career out of it. Some will act on stage and screen while others will find employment in careers which use other skills. One thing that's interesting though is that acting is a general skill which will help in a lot of situations.
We've already looked at some examples of how "acting normal" can provide protection from social issues. It's a skill which should be developed and encouraged.
If your child's school offers a drama class, a debating team or some other public speaking option, please give your child a chance to use those opportunities. You may find them willing to go but if not, at least try to encourage (bribe?) them to give it a try. Sometimes they need a gentle push to try something different. Acting is a skill that will serve them for life.
The Importance of Breaks
There's one last thing that bears mentioning, especially since so many people are "acting normal" all day every, every day in their jobs.
Acting can be very tiring work, so you can't expect a person on the spectrum to "act normal" all of the time.
People who are doing a lot of "acting", regardless of whether it's for film or real life, will often find that they need to take more sensory breaks and alone time than when they're not acting.