Greetings from the land of #autistic false equivalencies

unequal sign
Things that seem equivalent in my mind are often not

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the neurotypical world often uses our autistic strengths against us.

The world seems to love to tear us down. Maybe it’s because neurotypicals need to sow seeds of doubt in others to feel better about themselves. Maybe it’s because the non-autistic world in needs to “put us in our place”, when it’s intimidated by our autistically prodigious skills. Maybe it’s just mean-spiritedness. Or people not being very smart. Or thinking life is a zero-sum game, where you can’t have something, unless someone else has nothing.

Where you can’t be happy, unless someone else is unhappy.

Where you can’t feel smart, unless everyone around you looks stupid.

Where you can’t get ahead, without putting someone else down.

I’m not sure where that impulse originates – maybe from an emotionally impoverished childhood? Maybe it’s the impact of a world where supposedly scarce resources are hoarded by a relative few, and the rest of us have to fight over the crumbs. Dunno. And to be honest, I’m not sure I care.

Anyway, what I want to talk about today, is how my logical mind gets turned around on false equivalencies – I make a connection in one sense, and then I make another connection that seems related, but it’s not. And then I get all turned around about what is really what, and what I need to do with that information.

Let me give an example.

When I was a kid, I thought that being hit by an adult was punishment for doing something wrong. I was spanked as a kid, both at home and at school. The message I was always given was that I was being hurt because I did something wrong and needed to be punished.

It hurt. So, in my mind, being hurt by an adult meant I was being bad. And if I was being bad, then by extension I was a bad person. Because I’d also been taught that only really bad people do bad things repeatedly.

The thing is, touch was painful for me.  So, so painful at times. A light touch. Or the grip of an adult’s hand on my skinny little arm, to get me “back in line”. Painful contact often didn’t directly correlate to any actual wrong-doing on my part. But I thought, If I’m being hurt by that adult, then they must be punishing me. I must have done something wrong. And because I keep being “punished” with painful contact, then I must keep doing things wrong. So, I must be a bad person.

And I ended up believing that not only did I do bad things, but I was a bad person, all-around, who deserved to be punished. Because, well, I was clearly bad. Only a truly bad person would deserve to be punished as often as I felt I was.

Another example, is me deciding that I was stupid.

I had a hard time understanding what people said to me, when I was a kid. It was a combination of:

  • Being completely wrapped up in my own world and consumed by my own intricate thoughts.
  • Not paying attention to the world around me and how people were relating to me, because I had so much sensory input to process.
  • Not being able to distinguish sounds that people made. Unless I was specifically paying attention, everything sounded like the parents in the Peanuts cartoons — I heard wah-wah-wah-wah “trombones”, not words.
  • Short-term memory issues, that caused me to forget what others were saying to me, within a few minutes of them saying it.
  • Slowed processing speed, which made it hard for me to figure out what people were saying to me, and figure out how to respond.

So, when people would talk to me, I wouldn’t catch what they were saying, and the parts that I did catch, I forgot pretty quickly. I walked around in a confused daze for years and years. Only in my late 40s, did I actually get help with that, and it’s made a huge amount of difference for me. I just needed a specific type of help, but I never got it when I needed it most.

I guess maybe I was a bit disabled when I was a kid… and then for years and years after I became an adult. That’s changed a lot, now, but I had some pretty serious deficits when I was younger.

Because I didn’t understand what was going on, and nobody around me did, either, they all told me I was stupid, I was lazy, I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was being obstinate, contrary, difficult. I was a discipline problem. I was a dumb-ass. I was an idiot. All sorts of things — except what I really was.

Everybody else seemed able to handle things perfectly fine. They could have conversations. They could get along — understand and make themselves understood. I hid my issues as long as I could. I couldn’t let on, just how much trouble I was having, or people would treat me like a “retard”. And yes, they used that word, when I was growing up. So, I was always under the radar, keeping my difficulties under wraps, closely concealed… thinking all the while that I was stupid, I was an idiot, I was good for nothing. Because everybody else could talk to each other so well, so easily. And even if they weren’t particularly smart, they could still get by.

Not me, though. I couldn’t manage it. And I covered that up with every ounce of strength and resources that I had.  All the while, thinking that I was a good-for-nothing, useless loser who couldn’t even hold a conversation.

Those are just two examples from my life. There are many more, but I’m getting upset just thinking about these, so I’ll leave it at that.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-40’s that I started to put things together and realized the problem wasn’t with ME, it was just with how my system worked — or didn’t. And I realized there were things I could do about my issues, now that I knew about them. It took me a long time, but I am figuring it out, at last.

And I’m giving myself a break.

On top of that, I’m realizing just where my strengths lie — and realizing that I have strengths, to begin with.

And I think a lot of autistic folks are in the same situation as me. We have so many skills, so many strengths. But we get caught up in trying to function in the dysfunctional neurotypical world. And because we don’t share the same characteristics (or all the same dysfunctions) as non-autistic folks, we get caught up in thinking that there’s something wrong with us.

There’s not. It’s just a mismatch. And our strengths are generally not recognized or valued by non-autistic folks and the wider neurotypical world.

That’s exactly why I strongly support and advocate us autistic folks sticking together, developing our own understandings, our own culture, if you will. The neurotypical world can’t/won’t accommodate us nearly as much as we need. We have to make our own provisions.

And finally get free of our false equivalencies, which tell us stories about ourselves that simply aren’t true.

We need the truth. All of it. About ourselves. We need to live the truth of how amazing, how talented, how skilled and dedicated we are. There is so much that’s positive about autism – we need to live that out-loud and plainly, for each other to see.  So, let’s do that.

Like… now.

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2 thoughts on “Greetings from the land of #autistic false equivalencies

  1. Thanks. I’m trying? I am and have always been happy about the way my brain enables me to not just do well, but truly excel at some things. And that not only can’t be separated from being autistic, it’s almost certainly a facet of it. My counselor told me the other day that she sees her primary role as helping me come to terms with the reality of being autistic and help me accept myself, appreciate my strengths, and stop beating myself up over things that are difficult for me but don’t represent something “wrong” with me. I’m not at fault for being who I am. She said she’ll continue to suggest and provide tools that look like they’ll be helpful for anything I’m struggling with. But when it comes to autistic living and interacting with the rest of the world, I’ve pretty much already done everything in the standard set of recommendations on my own with both social skills and understanding and techniques for managing repetitive behaviors and restricted interests (to use the clinical terms). I always knew I was different, but when I really examine my assumptions, I always thought that in a general sense everyone else experienced the world more or less as I did. And they were just all better than I was at employing the tools and techniques I had learned. None of this was fully thought through, but I’m pretty certain I never even considered that others might not need any of those tools at all. And there are layers of that built up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      I totally hear you about thinking everyone else is like you. I thought that for years and years — that I was really no different from others, they just didn’t realize it. I got some strange looks from an old girlfriend of mine, when I said, “Sure, I’m just like everyone else!” I could never figure out what that look meant…

      Yeah, the build-up. Like lacquer, one almost invisible layer after another, adding and adding, until we’re well-encrusted in our varieties of interpretation.

      I’m not sure if I should work at removing the layers, or factor them in and polish them up, so I can see through them — wavy and foggy as they make my vision.

      Never boring, that’s for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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