19 February, 2010

Passing As Ethics is a World

Or, the Only Useful Thing Glee Ever Did

Disability Blog Carnival #63--Relationships
(due tomorrow, you should write something!)

Autism is not all about being bad with people, even though that's what most people think (once you can talk). A lot of people are bad with people in different ways, but they only want to talk about us. How they can make us better. What they don't know is that being a person who was once bad with people is its own punishment. That is, it's a whole new way of being bad.

I suffer from a syndrome. It's called Passing As Ethics. I made it up, though, so I can call it whatever I want. Sometimes I call it Us vs. Them or Them vs. Me. None of these names do a good job explaining the whole thing, just parts of it. It consists of a collection of false beliefs. Or, exaggerations. Conclusions badly reached.

Fact: Autism Spectrum Disorder people look sort of weird to normal people, and some things are harder for them. To a Passing As Ethics sufferer, this means: the way ASD people do things is worse than the way other people do them--->ASD people should feel guilty if other people can tell there's something weird about them--->ASD people should feel guilty for stimming--->if a normal person isn't interested in something an ASD person says it's because the ASD person is monologuing--->if an ASD person isn't interested in something a normal person says it's because they have no empathy--->a friendship where one person talks most of the time is not a real friendship--->if a normal person doesn't like something an ASD person does, the ASD person should stop--->the opposite is definitely not true--->well, I think you get the idea.

All kinds of people can suffer from Passing As Ethics. A mother who brings her extremely sound-sensitive kid into a grocery store, then gets angry at him for crying, is a PAE sufferer. A teacher who tries to behavior-modify kids out of stimming or using big words, because it's "weird," is a PAE sufferer. And an ASD person who is unable to speak up when her classmates are saying things about ASD people that aren't true, because she doesn't think she can explain in less than four sentences, and she's interested in ASD rights, so if she talks a lot about something she's interested in, that would be monologuing, and that would be wrong--well, I prefer to say I have PAE, it doesn't have me. Who the fuck am I kidding, yeah it does. It has me really bad.

This post isn't about PAE in general, though. It is about how my disability affects my relationships. I think that talking about PAE in vague terms would be confusing, so I will just use specific examples instead.

Like most people who are writers, I like to talk about things I'm writing and things that have happened to me, especially if something is a good story. In a writing workshop, I met a boy named Noah who thought I was a very good writer, and I felt the same way about him. Noah and I haltingly came together out of mutual admiration, and began spending a lot of time together. We told each other about things we had written and interesting things that had happened to us. Although, I guess I talked more.

The semester came to an end and Noah didn't apply for another workshop. He said that he didn't feel ready to be in a workshop again. Early in the next semester, Noah decided that even though he wanted to be a writer, workshops made him feel self-conscious, and he was going to major in Psychology instead of Creative Writing. I bugged Noah about this, both because I wanted to be in more classes with him, and because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do. I always worry that I'm not as interested in other people as I should be, so I felt good about myself for being such a fan of Noah's writing. I made an effort to express this as much as possible; for example, I would introduce Noah to people by telling them that he was a good writer.

I started sleeping in Noah's room because my roommate and I were proving not to be compatible. Noah went to bed early and got up very early. When he got up, he would write for a while on his computer. When I asked to look at what he wrote, he said no. One night when Noah was asleep, I opened his computer and read his stories. A few days later I said, "Hey, Noah, would you be mad at me if I went on your computer and read your stories? Because I did and they were really good."

Noah felt very uncomfortable about what had happened. He told me that I couldn't stay in his room anymore, and for a while we didn't see each other very much. I was very upset of course, but I was also stunned. I hadn't imagined that Noah would be so upset that I had read his stories--and if you insist on reading this as a typical ASD lack of empathy, then I can't stop you. But the reason I was stunned was that I had a conviction that showing interest in another person was morally right. I had been worried about my friendship with Noah because I thought that I talked too much about my writing, my life, and my interests, and Noah mostly listened. I thought that I needed to make the friendship more balanced by learning more about Noah.

Well, I guess this does show a lack of empathy, but it's the PAE kind. The same lack of empathy that a mom shows when she takes her sound-sensitive child to the grocery store is what I showed to Noah. I expected Noah to react like my idea of a normal person, to react positively because I'd done something normal. This expectation was horrible because it showed no understanding of the person Noah actually was--a person who was self-conscious about his writing, and furthermore had actually said he didn't want me to read it.

This is one of the shittiest things I've ever done to another person, and is probably my best PAE story. However, lots of little PAE events occur when I interact with my roommate, Laura. I say things to her, and she doesn't answer me. When this happens, I think that Laura hasn't answered me because I was monologuing or saying something weird, and she thought it was boring or annoying. This makes me feel guilty and embarrassed. Then I feel annoyed at Laura for making me feel that way. I think that she's lording it over me because she's a normal person and I'm a freakish ASD person who doesn't know how to say the normal thing. Sometimes I just feel bad inside my head, but other times, if Laura expresses surprise about something I already told her about, I snap, "I already told you; if you didn't want to listen, that's your problem."

In my nonfiction workshop, they say you can't worry about making yourself look bad. Here goes: Laura is actually deaf in her left ear. I've lived with her for ten cumulative months in freshman and junior year, and I've known about her deafness since probably the first week. Yeah, that's right--I get mad at someone for not listening to me, even though if I actually thought about it, I would know it's because she can't hear me. I feel like there's some Normal Person vs. Freakish Disabled Person conflict going on, even though the lack of communication is actually caused by the normal person having a disability, and not even knowing that communication is being attempted.

I never thought of Laura as having a disability until I saw a person like her being insulted in an episode of Glee, a show that basically exists to insult disabled people. It turned my head around. The sheer irony and ridiculousness of me being embarrassed and angry about being disabled when Laura doesn't answer me because she's disabled is starting to make me realize how bad my PAE is, and how much I want it to stop. Well, I've been working hard at not noticing whether I'm normal or not, and Noah is helping out, too. "If I have something to tell you, I'll tell you" and "If I want you to leave, I'll tell you" are now staples he uses when talking to me. The other day I told him about ASD stuff, for hours. Apparently this is interesting. The whole time I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did.

Passing As Ethics doesn't just affect the sufferer. If you have PAE, all your friends have PAE too. But there is hope--with the right support, individuals with Passing As Ethics can improve and actually treat people like humans instead of Normal People to fear and resent.

I am trapped in my world of Passing As Ethics. But my friends are trying their hardest to pull me out.


  1. Wonderful.

    I've often thought ...

    Well actually, being interested in other people is neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong.

    Some people have more of it than others, and some people express it very differently.

  2. This is interesting.

    I have a problem which is somewhat similar but not quite the same thing in that I find that as a person who's always had somewhat limited social skills, I've often had conflicts and problems in my relationships with people. Which has often taken the form of people getting mad at me to the point of not wanting to be my friend anymore, because by the time I've realized they were angry it had already gone too far. Or maybe they were never my friend to begin with and I didn't realize that because I wanted to be their friend so badly that I didn't see the signs (this used to happen to me more when I was younger).

    But the upshot is that enough times, people have gotten really angry with me for reasons that generally didn't make too much sense to me (at least it didn't make sense for the degree to which they got angry) and it often felt like it came out of nowhere. Which has had the effect of making me worry far more than the average person about people getting angry with me. Which winds up causing its own problems, because I'll worry a lot if I think I messed up, or if they seem unfriendly for some reason, and I'll always be worrying if this time I've totally blown it for good.

    Which I've realized I've got to stop doing, because it doesn't do any good to worry about stuff like that, because it doesn't actually prevent it from happening anyway. I'm not the kind of person who's good at knowing things without being told, so that's always going to cause problems. And I have just enough social skills to get me into trouble. But worrying about it all the time just stresses me out and does me no good anyway, so I have to find a way to stop.

  3. I am this way about first impressions. I have been told numerous times that the first impression somebody got from me was WAY different from how I actually am. Which I think is true a lot of the time and is why it is hard for me to make friends because I have to wait till the person gets to know me before they change their impression of me. My problem is that I automatically assume that a person I meet is going to get the wrong impression and I am very defensive and sometimes overly friendly to try to overcompensate. That probably just makes it worse, I should just be myself and not assume that someone is going to get a bad impression of me before I even speak.