On Not Being a Duck


Imagine you find yourself at a lake filled with ducks. No other people around, just you and the ducks. 

You might spend a lot of time watching the ducks, learning their mannerisms and language, trying to understand their society. They’re fascinating creatures. But it’s often hard to understand. Duck behavior is not logical; at least, not logical to you. You are not a duck. It must be perfectly logical to the ducks. 

Occasionally, some of the ducks will notice you and come up to you. They quack at you, trying to interact with you. You’ve observed them enough that you can even guess at what they want. But when you try to quack back at them, it’s terrible. You’re just not equipped to quack properly. It’s a feeble impersonation at best, and the ducks are confused and unsatisfied. You feel foolish for even trying.

You wish you could explain to the ducks that you mean no offense, it’s just that, well, you’re not a duck. But you don’t know how to tell them. And you doubt they would understand anyway.

Over time it gets better. You learn how to quack much better. Sometimes you even sound like a real duck. At least, they’re convinced enough that they seem to accept you. You think to yourself, hey, maybe I am cut out to be a duck. 

Other times, you are reminded just how much you are not a duck. They invite you to go swimming with them. You can swim, sure, or at the very least stay afloat. But you can’t swim like a duck. They paddle effortlessly around with their webbed feet. They dive gracefully, and the water simply rolls off their backs when they resurface. No amount of observing them will ever give you their abilities. 

You try to tell yourself that it’s fine. You didn’t drown, after all. And the ducks even welcome you to come swimming with them again. But you also feel ashamed and inadequate for not being able to swim like the ducks can, frustrated that you will never, ever be able to swim like the ducks can. 

And then there’s the flying. You know you can’t fly. No matter how much you watch the ducks, no matter how good you become at imitating other duck behaviors, you just physically can’t fly. 

The ducks don’t seem to understand it. They seem to think it’s a choice you’ve made. To them, you’re just that strange duck that doesn’t like to fly. You still wish you could make them understand that you’re not a duck, you’ve just become adept at certain aspects of imitating one. But maybe it’s for the best that you don’t say anything. Maybe they’d think you’re crazy. Worse, maybe they’d be angry at you for pretending this whole time. 

So instead you just say nothing and keep pretending. You’re very good at it by now. But it can still be difficult at times. There are days when your throat is sore from the quacking that still isn’t, that will never be, completely natural. You still get exhausted from so much swimming; you’ve become a strong swimmer, but you just can’t keep up with the ducks. 

When they go off flying, you try to console yourself with all the things you can do that ducks can’t. You’re far, far better at walking on land, for instance. For a moment, you even feel superior. You could outrun any duck in a footrace! But footraces don’t matter to the ducks. And, if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re not sure footraces matter to you. You really just want to fly…


16 thoughts on “On Not Being a Duck

  1. Such a true metaphore. Impossible to explain it more accurately. A good way to show NT how it feels to be an Aspergian. Thanks for sharing!

    Enviat des de l’iPhone de la Nini Gili

    > El 3 febr 2020, a les 9:29, Aspergers From The Inside va escriure: > >  >


  2. I started to cry because this post describes my experience with humans so well. My Mom always called me “the ugly duckling” who would grow up into a “beautiful swan”. She was referring to the fable. I always felt hope as a child when she affirmed me in this way. My bio-father was mentally ill, and in fits of rage when I was an infant, I sustained head trauma, coma and partial avulsion of the tip of my nose making an ugly scar. Cruel kids kids called me “hook nose” growing up. I grew tall fast, beyond the heights of all the boys by 4th grade. By high school, I was nearly 6 feet tall. A fast metabolism made me (Popeye’s) “Olive Oil” skinny, another nickname. Lucille Ball followed in high school due to my antics, all unintentional, I assure you. I was voted the friendliest student my senior year because I was able to “mask” so well, I could interact with every “clique” , i.e. the nerds, the brainiacs, the jocks, the misfits, the druggies, etc.
    But my swan transformation was contingent on an inner “swan revelation” rooted in my God-given value all humans possess. It had nothing to do with my outer appearance or behavior or acceptance by people. At 57, I am beginning to feel like the swan my mother said I’d become. My genetic make-up is swan DNA, not duck. Ducks are precious and talented. But swans are too. Knowing other folks are out there who have struggled their lives-long to fit in with much rejection, helps me spread my wings in a glorious display of uniqueness, without fear of human opinion, set free to be the me I was born to be.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you very much for this wonderful story. I was moved when I read it.
    I’m 71 and just recently discovered that my being different is called “Asperger” and I’m desparately trying to make people understand why life can be so difficult. But they don’t believe me, they only see the duck on the outside, that I’ve become by trying to fit in for 70 years. Maybe NT people will understand your duck story.

    All the best, José

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow, this article resonates with me on several level. When in elementary school, when walking home from school every day I stopped and sat by a duck pond at a park. Now I know that’s how I destressed; facing my parents was even scarier than school. At home I insisted that I was a duck named “Emil”, the name being reflective of being “atypically gendered”. My parents were super worried that I’d been abducted (they had a bit of money and at that time in our country several abductions of children for ransom were prominently displayed in the news. So my parents bribed me with little playmobil toys to come home right away after school.

    Fast forward a few decades. My mom gave me a book by a storyteller and psychologist entitled “Women who run with Wolves”, probably because she realized I had a “wild nature”. Out of all the stories in the book the only one that resonated with me at the time was “The Ugly Duckling”; that story so described my experience that it made me cry.

    Now I definitely found some “swans”, or maybe “fellow humans”; not sure they are aspie but they share professional interest, respect me, and share traits of ADHD. Unfortunately due to being married (to someone else) I cannot have a deep, intense friendship or relationship with them. Now 51 years old, I recently self diagnosed with both Aspberger’s (maybe even pda, but not sure yet) and ADHD.

    Thank you sooo much for validating my experience through this article and your videos. The amount that neurotypicals validate each other without realizing it (the neurotypical priviledge) is just staggering. It is WAY harder to come out of the “mental health closet” than it was to come out of the LGBTQetc. closet. It hurts so much that my best friend ( I don’t think I’m her best friend) cannot even bear the thought of forsaking her heterosexual privilege, never mind even grasp any of the other privileges she has. When visiting this summer she berated my reactivity, stubbornness, lack of eye contact and other social skills deficits and showed little interest in footraces (for me that is boat designing). Then she flew away. After 27 years of hoping she might be of the same species, it finally sunk in that she is a duck and I am not…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I heard our host mention something like this on his YouTube channel after the algorithm had directed me there, and that, among other things he said, made me start thinking I very like have undiagnosed ASD. I’ve since taken many tests, always coming out significantly on the Asperger’s end of things, and my reading makes me more and more convinced. I have definitely always felt like an alien or a changeling or something similar. Unfortunately, where I live in South Florida, there is no diagnostic specialist within a hundred miles to do formal diagnosis, and given my own experience in Florida, I’m not sure how well it would go even if I did. If feel quite lost, have no real friends, am divorced, lost my medical license (among other, worse things) and my kids don’t see me and my son won’t even communicate with me. I’m glad for resources like this (I like blogs a bit more than videos) but I still feel a complete lack of any community or support of any kind, and things are becoming worse rather than better. I’m very tired. But thank you for this story. It’s practically perfect.


  6. Spot on and very understandable for me as a NT, that nevertheless always felt beeing an outsider. My sister was Asperger. I would have loved to share this story with her.


  7. exactly how I feel everyday of my 42 years of life, your videos started to pop on my YouTube screen a few weeks ago and I first watched that one called 7 signs of Autism in men, wow, now I’m here at the blog reading things that are spot on with my life, I’ve never felt so alive, I’ll be looking for help in the next days that’s for sure, one thing that always bothered me is that I can’t look people in the eyes(it feels like I’m disrespecting them), much more than always failing in finishing studies or having long relationships with people that I loved but somehow things (myself) were always slipping through my fingers.
    I’ve just read the text from Mr. Robert Dewaele and that is the story of my life, doing treatments for Bi-polar disorder or ADHD and taking a lot of medicines that never changed me at all.
    I want to thank you Paul very very much for the energy you’re putting into doing this for the world!!!
    thanks so much matey!


    • I came here while researching irregular gait in aspies (I’m duck-footed). Didn’t get the answer to my question, but got a truer parable instead. Thanks. Sometimes an understanding voice during an injury is a better salve than knowing why the bone is broken.

      Liked by 1 person

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