I have often heard it said that autistic people have an extreme need to feel control. I have also heard that discussed in terms of anxiety, which often goes hand-in-hand with autism for Asperger syndrome.
I have a slightly different theory about this…
I would like to suggest that it is not always control that we seek in our world, rather a sense of participation in our own lives that is specific and unique to us and our abilities.
Those of us on the spectrum are keen observers of our world. We like to figure things out. We like to identify the rules for how things work, and we like to abide by those rules. However I don’t think that the rules orientation is necessarily always about control. That is how I often hear it discussed, but I think that there’s a piece to it that has a lot more to do with our eagerness to participate in life and in keeping with the principles that actually make things happen. When you know how things work, and you know how to make them work, it can be incredibly empowering, as well as inclusive, to participate in those rolls and patterns in ways that make you a sort of co-creator, rather than a hapless victims at the whims and mercies of the often indifferent, hostile, dismissive world around you.
It is often my perception that neurotypical individuals are quite content to not have any idea how the world works… to not actually be involved in collaborating with the environment around them, to help it move forward. I know a lot of NT people who are perfectly happy to sit around at home on a summer night, watching television or just watching the world go by from their front stoop, but that to me is about the worst thing that I can possibly imagine. There is so much to be done! If I know how things work, and I have a chance to help create the world around me, I’m sure as hell not going to sit around watching TV or sitting on my porch just saying ,”Hi – howya doing?!” to people walking by. I’m going to get involved. I’m going to take part and I’m going to have some involvement in what’s going on.
This sort of invested involvement takes place on the micro and macro level. As a result, you’ve got people operating within companies to create products and services that the whole world wants to use, and you also have individuals who — through watching the world around them — have figured out how participate in the creation of the world they inhabit on many different levels. It’s like farmers learning to predict when it’s going to rain and probably how much, so they can get out there and plant while the weather’s good, and make hay while the sunshine’s, before the rain starts.
I’m not sure if I’m even explaining this very well, but the bottom line is, the autistic/Aspie need for sticking with rules and regulations and abiding by certain patterns isn’t just to take the edge off our anxiety. It actually gives us the ability to participate in life and to play a role in the world unfolding as it does, according to its specific rules and guidelines.
Neurotypical people seem to get things done by interacting with each other and coaxing or controlling or manipulating or inducing or incentivizing other people to do things for them. But we on the spectrum are much more autonomous, as well as much more hooked into the underlying processes of life, versus how we can get other people to do things for us. Socially, we are so often left out, and to be honest a lot of us don’t even care about participating in the social games the most NT people play, but we still want to be involved in our lives. We still want to be involved in how the world works around us.
So maybe it’s not just control that drives us. Maybe we just want to play an active role in our own lives.