How I get #autistic accommodations (in White America)

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Updateautistsix just raised an excellent point that this situation could be cultural. And I agree. It is cultural. It’s White All-American, not All-American in general. Let me fix that in the text below.

Woo hoo! I just checked my Social Security statement, and it looks like I won’t necessarily be destitute when I get to my 70s. Now, this is assuming there actually IS a U.S. Social Security Administration and money – which is not a safe assumption, these days.

But I’m pretending that all the money they’ve removed from me over the years is going to be there when I need it. Let’s just pretend. For the sake of taking the pressure off.

But enough about that. I want to share a little thing I learned about how to get accommodations for autistic myself, when things are rough with me.

I can get pretty marginal at times — intense pain, off-balance, terrible sense of where I am in space, slow processing and reaction, a sharp temper that explodes out of nowhere, highly sensitive to light and sound and touch.

Times like those, I need to get accommodations and relieve some of the environmental pressures that are making everything worse.

The problem is, I can’t actually ask for them.

When I tell White All-American people I’m having trouble — even with my spouse — they get defensive and frightened. Something about my vulnerability triggers them big-time, and they not only start getting antsy, but they treat me like I’m less intelligent, less with-it, less capable, overall. As though an upward spike in my needs turns their world upside-down.

I’ll spare you my rant about how immature and “snowflake-y” that reaction is. That’s just how things turn out, at times. Especially with White Americans, who seem to have this zealous, almost religious devotion to the myth of self-sufficiency and fierce independence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m White, too, and I am fiercely independent. I’m most comfortable being self-sufficient. But everybody needs a little help, every now and then. And that includes me.

What to do?

Well, I just turn the tables, and rather than being a victim in need of assistance, I position myself as the master of my own situation, who’s managing my life pro-actively and being positive and masterful and ever-so-in-control, so I can “knock it out of the park”. As much as I hate sports analogies when it comes to living my life, and I detest using action verbs to describe a relatively blah, ordinary activity (like saying “jump on a call” for making a phone call)… well, that’s the vernacular of my environment, so I guess I’ll defer to the conventions.

White Americans seem to respond best to pro-active and positive spins on things that make me look like I’m “on top of things”. (I hate that expression, too, by the way — it messes with my literal mind — but I’ll use it nonetheless… vernacular and all.)

Here are some examples that work really well for me:

  • Rather than saying, “Oh, ouch! That sun is so bright and hurts my eyes!”, I put on my sunglasses and strike a pose with my back to the sun.
  • Rather than shrinking away from others when they reach out to touch me, I take the initiative and make contact with them first, before they can get to me.
  • Rather than asking for shorter working hours at the office, I schedule calls first thing in the morning, so I have to take them at home — or I block off time at home to work on things that don’t require me to be in the office — and I organize my daily schedule around my own needs.
  • Rather than dreading being interrupted and startled by someone talking to me when I’m not ready, I get pro-active and address others before they talk to me. If I get ahead of it, I set the stage for the interaction, for the exchange. And I get to set the tone of the conversation, which All-American neurotypicals just love. They love to have something to react to, so I give them that. I “run” the conversation, so they get to be part of a social interaction — and I do it in a way that lets them be successful. Oh, how they love following a leader — so I play that role, and they really respond well. I don’t always get what they’re saying in response to what I say, and our exchanges don’t always make any sense to me at all(!), but at least I can complete the interaction successfully.
  • Rather than telling people about how exhausted I am, how I can’t think straight, and I’m in intense pain, and I just need to collapse in bed in a completely dark window, I tell them I’m prepping for a big day tomorrow, and I’m going to get some extra sleep so I’m at my absolute best. Nobody needs to know how vulnerable and absolutely beset I am by everything. If they do find out, they get way too nervous for my comfort. They don’t know what to do. Ahem… Uh… Ahh… Er… So, I spare us both the awkward situation and spin it in a different direction that makes me look good.

When I actively reframe my vulnerabilities as points to pro-actively manage (with the illusion of CONTROL), and I assertively do just that — manage them — it puts me in a positive light and it also sets me up as the kind of person that others can depend on. I set the tone of the situation, which White All-American neurotypicals respect. And I get to dictate the terms of my demands.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with my vulnerabilities. They don’t embarrass me. They don’t horrify me. They are what they are — weaknesses, deficits, vulnerabilities. But I’ve learned from a lifetime of hassling with clueless people who spook easily, that I can get accommodations much more easily and more effectively, if I frame them as demands I’m making in order to operate at peak level, rather than just making do to barely get by.

And there we have it.

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8 thoughts on “How I get #autistic accommodations (in White America)

  1. perfect strategies.
    i too noticed that if telling to NTs too much or somehow the wrong kind of details they get all antsy and defensive.
    i love that i can expand a bit further some aspie discoveries with my husband. “people overdose”, “it’s too loud, bright, cold and too many people” are legit excuses to leave a place we both understand.
    i keep my dark shades on all the time out of home and usually dob’t bother explaining any more (if prompted, “they are prescription” and “my eyes hurt” will do).
    also nice my other half understands many texture things, whether food or clothing.
    a few of my strategies for dealing with aspie things, in addition to shades:
    – sleep management. it’s vital
    – sensory downtime, especially for sight and hearing. no loud background noise home
    – sharing new things you learned, anything relevant to your life. needs the perfect recipients though. also “how was your day?” kind of small talk – the family i grew up in didnt have that. on the same context ive learned that eg talk about weather can really be about sharing emotions; “it’s been a lovely weather this week” also means that you’ve had a good time (took a few decades to figure that out)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      Thanks – I think the trick is really to give NT folks something to react to. They do much better when they are following someone else’s lead. And they accommodate you a lot more when you demand it (with a certain flair) than if you’re subordinate.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Boo yah! That sounds like a damn fine plan for pro-active self help.

    I could not help but giggle when I read of you getting the cold shoulder when you voice a need for help. It has been my experience as well. It takes a lot for me to be reduced to asking for help, as I am guessing the same for you. It makes people, in my case, incredibly defensive and I feel distaste coming from them. I am not sure if I am reading those people right, but if I am on the right track, I truly wonder why this happens. Why get defensive and show abhorrence at being asked for help?!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. the sum of all my tics

    These are good tactics and a sound strategy, sneakily organizing your schedule around your own needs…Oh wait, NT:s do it all the time, it’s part of why it is so much harder for us neurodivergent folks. You and Superman otoh have to disguise yourself as Clark Kent to get a moment’s peace.

    In terms that actually make sense, I wonder about the way you frame your successful tactics. Should you be able to simply ask for support, when you require it, and get it? Sure. People should make sense.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      Why, yes. Yes, they should be able to simply ask for support. I think it all depends how capable people feel about helping others – which reflects how they feel about their own capabilities. The more self-confident a person is, the easier I find it to ask them for assistance. Still and all, it’s awkward and can backfire, so I “spin it” when I can.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: tea and sympathy | the sum of all my tics

  5. I don’t know if its cultural, my experience is kind of the opposite I get further by admitting I’m Autistic and asking for help. I let the people assign problems as due to a weird illness; not any fault of their own, and give them a clear way of helping. This seems to leave them with a confidence boost (I first noticed this with a daughter when she was very obviously impaired). It could be a cultural difference I live in Australia; our cultural stereotype is mateship and looking out for the other guy. It certainly doesn’t solve all the problems.
    Aren’t NTs so weird?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      It is odd… Actually, I think the “American” designation is really only about White folks — I think we’ve got other non-white ethnic groups that respond more favorably to people in need. I should probably qualify that in the piece. Think I’ll go do that right now… you’re right. It is very cultural. At least, that’s what I think.

      Liked by 1 person

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