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.