Thank you for writing this, Danielle. I was well into my middle years--and my career as a psychologist--before I realized that I had always been somewhere on the spectrum, though never far enough from NT to be diagnosable. I had a terrible time learning to read faces or suss out what others were expecting of me. I experienced a lot of shame.
Two points I'd like to throw out, hypotheses I developed in my years of psychodiagnostic practice. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
First, many features of autism come from difficulty regulating the intensity of emotional arousal. The sensitivity is not just present, but it's often overwhelming. Having someone mad at you--or even simply disappointed--can feel catastrophic and lead to shutdown or meltdown. Autistic people often recoil from any kind of confrontation for that reason.
And second, although the neurodevelopmental differences of ASD represent real obstacles to social learning, those obstacles are not usually insurmountable. One can learn to make eye contact, read social cues, tolerate noxious stimuli, and generally push back against the boundaries of their comfort zones. It sounds like you have done a lot of that, as have I.
We have a lot of work to do to educate the NT world. If they only knew how much ASD folks have to offer.