13 June, 2015

Sensory Issues

Something like this happens:

1. I'm in college, in a psychology class, where the professor tells us that Autistic people don't care about other people. We only see them as objects to get something from. (She knows I'm Autistic and she's taught Autistic students before.)

2. A friend of my friend informs her that I will never care about her because I'm Autistic.

3. One of the most popular books in the world is about an Autistic character who doesn't care about people and wishes that everyone else in the world would die. I see people reading this book all the time, including people I'm close to, and it has been recommended to me so I can learn more about autism.

4. After a mass murder, I hear people speculating that the murderer must have been Autistic.

Something like this happens: my feathers are ruffled. I feel hopeless about life; I feel like I can't trust anyone. I want to confront the person who said something. I don't want to feel obligated to be nice to them. I feel betrayed if the person was someone I liked and trusted.

If I talk to anyone about this, most people respond calmly and cheerfully. Even close friends and family aren't hurt or angry on my behalf. They have no emotional reaction--they often seem a little bored that I've brought up something so trivial--and if they even intellectually condemn what happened, their focus is on telling me that it isn't so bad.

The person didn't mean it like that.

Well, a lot of people have that misconception about Autistic people. They just don't know any better.

I shouldn't be so sensitive. I should get over it.

They wouldn't think that if they got to know me.

Mysteriously, the last statement--a compliment--is the one that bothers me the most.

Why be modest? No one else is going to say anything good about me once they know I'm Autistic. So I'll admit that I'm a kind, caring person. It's certainly the way I am most often described by people who don't know I'm Autistic. As I leave a room I sometimes hear people exclaiming, "She is so sweet!" I always do my best to be kind and polite to everyone, I volunteer, and I've chosen to take care of other people for a living.

I'm pretty much as far from the Autistic stereotype as I could get. So yes, it is probably true that if certain people were forced to spend time with me, they would eventually have to admit that I care about other people, and maybe they'd even start to wonder if this is true for other Autistic people (but I doubt it; exceptionalism is a hell of a drug). Yet somehow this fact is completely inadequate and unsatisfying to me in every way.

For many people, there's a duality between disabled people--an abstract group--and the disabled person you know. People just cannot get their heads around the idea that ableism really does affect their disabled friend or family member. How can a nice pink-collar Manic Pixie Dream Girl like me possibly be affected by the idea that Autistic people are serial killers? I'm obviously not a serial killer if you get to know me!

The rub is obviously that most people don't know each other and that most acts of discrimination aren't committed between close friends or family members. I'm supposed to be comforted by the idea that my friends and family members know I care about other people, and completely desensitized to the fact that doctors, therapists, potential employers, police, judges, or jurors might think I don't.

Even if you put aside situations where I could be concretely hurt or disadvantaged because of those stereotypes, there's still the daunting task of having to convince new people in my life that I care whether they live or die. Specifically, the fact that it's completely horrible to assume I don't care about that; and the fact that I shouldn't have to prove something so simple; and the question of how, having proved I meet a minimum standard for decency, I'm supposed to settle down and be friends with someone who assumed I didn't.

I've been thinking about this whole thing a lot lately, and I do feel a lot more friendly toward these responses than I once did. I think, if people care about me, they think it is kinder and more comforting to believe that these things don't matter; that I'm just a cuddly Autistic snowflake floating around and those kind of ideas can't ever really hurt me. I am their friend, their family member. They know I'm a nice person (even if their ideas about Autistic people in general are negative) so everyone must know that I'm a nice person (even if their ideas about Autistic people in general are negative). I must be safe and equal; if someone cares about me, it feels nicer to think that I am just silly and oversensitive, than that I could actually face discrimination for being Autistic.

14 comments:

  1. I think your responses and concerns are pretty valid. People, on the whole, are remarkably thoughtless sometimes. I mean, since we are now both thinking about this, how "caring" is it for a professor (who is supposed to be modeling the act of evaluating information) to know you, presumably recognize your kindness, and still make a blanket and dismissive statement about "all" autistic people? Okay. I will now stop co-ranting. Mostly, I'm sorry you have to go through so much crap.

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  2. I agree that it is very insensitive to be lumped and presume that we are all the same. To be talked about as if you aren't there. If you met one autistic you have me one autistic. Most so called experts don't what they are talking about anyways. You are unique person. No matter what label you have at present.

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  3. Succinctly and well put. As another on the spectrum, I can empathise with your frustration.

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  4. " No one else is going to say anything good about me once they know I'm Autistic. "

    This seems a little strange.

    I have plenty of good things to say about plenty of autistic people, including my wonderful daughter.

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    1. Because of the preconceived and perpetuated idea (see the professor) that autistic people are uncaring, difficult, suffering and even dangerous, it is sadly not strange at all.

      Indeed it is common for people with no knowledge of autism other than the untruths they've heard, to see nothing good. They often, upon learning one is autistic, actively search for the "bad" and/or dismiss that person as such.

      They write off any opinions or ideas they have, often about the very experience of being autistic, as faulty or incorrect because they have been led to believe that autistics lack the ability or intelligence to do so.

      They dismiss their very real personal experience because "experts" have said otherwise or because they have not seen it themselves.

      As friends and allies of autistic people, we need to recognize and acknowledge that this is their experience and take an active role in supporting them, helping them be heard, and changing the common perspective of others.

      Delete
    2. Because of the preconceived and perpetuated idea (see the professor) that autistic people are uncaring, difficult, suffering and even dangerous, it is sadly not strange at all.

      Indeed it is common for people with no knowledge of autism other than the untruths they've heard, to see nothing good. They often, upon learning one is autistic, actively search for the "bad" and/or dismiss that person as such.

      They write off any opinions or ideas they have, often about the very experience of being autistic, as faulty or incorrect because they have been led to believe that autistics lack the ability or intelligence to do so.

      They dismiss their very real personal experience because "experts" have said otherwise or because they have not seen it themselves.

      As friends and allies of autistic people, we need to recognize and acknowledge that this is their experience and take an active role in supporting them, helping them be heard, and changing the common perspective of others.

      Delete
  5. #notallNTparents

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  6. If you have met one person with Autism you have met one person with Autism.

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this Amanda. My 17 year old son is autistic and fights a lot of the stereotypes as well. It is completely stupid to be judged for being autistic because I have learned, everyone has some diagnosis, no matter how invisible. Personally, I have severe depression and people are very harsh critics when you "come out" to them (i.e. coworkers, bosses) so it doesn't surprise me that this could happen to you and my son. You have to be so careful who you self-identify to. People like you who start the discussion will help foster understanding little by little. Thank you for being so brave.

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  8. One would expect a Professor, of all people, to know better; but there I go assuming again: compassion, kindness, awareness, & acceptance, from the 'Higher Educated'.

    After my partner (who's on the spectrum) spoke at an open mike night during a local Autism Pride Week Celebration - the Wife of a guy who used to be an Autism Therapist both were sitting in front of us; the Wife turns & says, "I was so amazed what a great job "J" did, so eloquent, etc." (my first thought was, what was she expecting?) Telling me this right in front of my partner, I was shocked, and outraged that she was talking about her right in front of her!? *AND* from someone who should know better!

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  9. It is utterly amazing how much people assume that a person living their everyday life who also just happens to be autistic needs to be completely separated and put "over there" every generation has a thing. When my brother was born tge size of a number 2 pencil and 5 months early the fecking Dr on all his infinite wisdom and spiffy 3 piece suit said to my parents if he survives, he will never speak, sit, eat, talk or live a normal life. It would be better if he died. Well talk to the hand A hole because he's now an elite level paralympian. I will fight tooth and nail to break down these wholly unnecessary walls so my 8 year old can be confident sharing his Aspie superhero identity with his friends, go get em honey!

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  10. It is utterly amazing how much people assume that a person living their everyday life who also just happens to be autistic needs to be completely separated and put "over there" every generation has a thing. When my brother was born tge size of a number 2 pencil and 5 months early the fecking Dr on all his infinite wisdom and spiffy 3 piece suit said to my parents if he survives, he will never speak, sit, eat, talk or live a normal life. It would be better if he died. Well talk to the hand A hole because he's now an elite level paralympian. I will fight tooth and nail to break down these wholly unnecessary walls so my 8 year old can be confident sharing his Aspie superhero identity with his friends, go get em honey!

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  11. The book you're talking about--I've read it, and liked it a bit--always frustrates me in terms of how people interprete it. The main character of book, as I read it, was not just autistic, but incredibly, deeply, horribly depressed. A lot of his thoughts, numbness, and apathy are the exact sort of thing I thought when I was mired in depression for years. But people attribute that shit to autism.

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