So the month of Autism Awareness/Acceptance is nearly at and end for another year and at some point we will hear about how successful the campaign has been. For me in the UK this will be from the National Autistic Society, they have been running the “To Much Information” campaign and recently have focused on asking what people will change to support/help autistic individuals. Now I want to be absolutely clear I am a member of NAS and support the work they do on the whole and am greatful for the difference they do make.
That said I seriously question the difference that is made and whether these campaigns are successful, My lived experience would suggest otherwise. I do not yet live in a world where I am even allowed to be a fraction of myself or where I can openly say “I am autistic”, not that I am lambasted for saying this, it might be easier if I were. No the the first reaction is usually denial. Things like:
- Are you sure?
- You can’t tell.
- You seem normal?
- Everyone’s a little autistic aren’t they?
This often is a process that is replicated each time “they” find out something new from me, the most common response to someone asking about how experience something and me telling them is “I’m like that too, everyone is a bit”. These responses are supposed to be empathic, supportive and caring. They are not, they are phrases that come from that person perspective and that attribute their assumptions to in this case me.
1) Are you sure? = Oh no that’s so sad, are you sure that’s it I want it to be something else. To be clear I am not dying, I have not suddenly contracted some life ending illness, disease or condition. I have always been autistic, I just didn’t know before.
2) You can’t tell = I’ve seen Rainman and some documentaries on TV and you don’t seem like that. Well I’ve watched lots of films and TV programmes and you don’t come across like most of the characters either, what’s your point?
3) You seem normal? = See above. I cannot say this enough, I am normal. Autistic people, Neurodiverse people and disabled people are like you and everybody else normal. Why can is it so hard to see the other side of this statement? If you say this to anyone you are calling them abnormal and complimenting them because you didn’t notice. You don’t get to be offend be someone being upset by this, you just don’t.
4) Everyone’s a little autistic aren’t they? = It’s ok you’re like the rest of us. I don’t need to be like the rest of you I generally (not always) like being me and no you are not. Think of it this way if it helps, if you where glasses you are not a “little bit blind”. If your response to that is well technically I am then would you say to a blind person “I wear glass so I’m a little bit blind”. If you wouldn’t, think why not and apply this to autism or any other disability. If you would, I don’t know what to suggest, maybe phone a friend or ask the audience.
I may be all indignant about this now but I am no less guilty. I am a white cis male and if you had asked me about discrimination or stereotyping then I would have acknowledged its existence and told you things were much better than in the past, such things where not that much of an issue anymore. This meant, I don’t experience it and I don’t do it (I did, almost definitely still do at times but wasn’t/ am not aware). I would have defended myself against any and all assertions that contradicted this belief and seen it as an attack. At this point all I can say is I’m sorry I was ignorant and whilst I may still make mistakes I try very hard not to and to be considerate.
The amount of discrimination and impposing of views and “norms” came as a rude awakening for me and I am painfully aware that I am still a white cis male, so experience less of this than most and am afforded more leyway in pushing back successfully against it by society as a whole. I always thought that if someone did something or said something to you that you felt was not ok then you should just say so, after all there are protections in place that allow you to stand up for your rights?
There may be in theory but in practice it’s not quite the same, people’s actions are rarely blatant and in my experience not intended to cause harm. For me an example would be my diet, at work it’s a standing joke for everyone that I don’t eat very healthy and that what I do eat is fairly bland as well. I can’t eat at work without at least a few people commenting, this my not seem like a big deal but imagine the same “jovial” comments almost every day for 15 years, it’s not fun and that’s before I get to some of the reasons why my diet is like that.
- I have an oral allergy syndrome that results in some fairly unpleasant side effects if I eat some uncooked or unprocessed fruits or vegetables.
- Strong smelling or tasting foods make me feels sick and being in the same space a some smells physically hurts.
- I am often exhausted, making a sandwich or meal takes spoons, grabbing a packet or packets of crisps or ready to eat food less so.
- The texture of many foods also induces a want to vomit
- Add the pressure to socialise and noise at mealtimes and for me it’s a nightmare.
This subject is the most consistent but not only joke I face almost daily, I have shared some of my issues with colleagues and these have been woven into the humour. As I said I don’t think for a minute there is malice but it hurts, it makes light of something I find debilitating and upsetting and I don’t feel I have any power to say anything, I feel like if I am upset by something it is my issue and that I am attacking somebody unreasonably and this all adds to the anxiety I experience all the time and makes coping even harder.
Accepting others is not allowing them to be present, it isn’t know they exist or that you need to be considerate. Accpecting others I believe is reaching a point were you don’t adapt what you see as normal so that others can share your experiences but rather see everything as normal so that we can each have our own experiences.
Aspie and Proud