#Autism always existed. It’s the world that’s changed.

construction workers hanging on rebar
I’d rather be doing this, than sitting at a desk all day. Alas, such is not my lot at this time.

Once upon a time, the world I inhabited was regulated. Regimented. You got up at a certain time, you had your shower and your breakfast, and you went to work. Everybody did, in fact. And you went to work at a manual job — factory work, making things, repairs, farming. Or you had a service job — nursing, teaching, ministering, feeding people at the local restaurant. There were other “professional” jobs, of course, but those were few and far between, and you didn’t actually have to do accounting or web development or data science or some other sort of advanced science to A) make a living, or B) hold your head up in the world.

You worked your regular job according to pre-ordained principles. If you had a manual job, you could see how well you were doing, each day — how much you produced, how well your product turned out, how much hay you baled or how many gallons of milk you poured into the bulk thank. And when you were done with everything that needed to be done, each and every day — the machines were shut down, the tools were put up, the bulk tank was cleaned out, the lights were turned off and the door locked behind you — you went home to your supper, your evening routine, and sleep.

Then you got up and did it all over again.

Part of me longs for those days. Especially for the jobs that involve a lot of heavy manual labor, as well as clear parameters of what needs to be done, and what constitutes success. For this Aspie, those are the magic ingredients for a happy life — hard, hard work that makes you sweat, routine that doesn’t change, measurable results, and the knowledge that you’ve done something tangible to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

Now, things are very different, and I’m left to my own devices, to provide the kinds of supports and structure that really works for me. It takes work. It takes a different orientation. And my own needs don’t always make sense to others. They don’t translate well to neurotypical folks, who seem to think that structure and hard work are optional… or should even be avoided. It’s hard to function seamlessly in this world, to have the kind of flow I need to have in my days. Stuff is always coming up to throw off my cadence, my routine. My workdays are punctuated with non-stop interruptions and changing priorities, to the point where it’s pointless for me to plan on anything, depend on anything, or even expect to get into a flow state while I’m at work.

I’m not the only autistic one who feels this way, I’m sure. And I wonder if maybe part of the reason we’ve seen such a “rise” in autism, is due to the changes in society and culture, which have erased the once-hard-and-fast features of everyday life that used to stabilize and orient folks on the spectrum.

Thing Then Now
 Exercise Part of everyday life, part of doing your job You have to make your own, on your own time. No exercise built into our everyday lives – in fact, quite the opposite.
 Routine  Part of everyday life, part of living your life. Everybody did it, and that was that.  Everybody just do whatever they danged well please! It’s all personalized and customized and spontaneous. Woo hoo!
 Tangible results  Hay bales, head of cattle, pieces produced on the line, a repaired car that starts up, etc.  It’s all intangible, now. Hard to know, from one day to the next, if what you’re doing even matters to anyone.
 Roles and Responsibilities  Hard and fast. Everybody expected to adhere. Not always a great thing, but still existed. You knew where you stood.  Who can tell? I mean, it’s great to have self-expression and not be driven to suicide over not fitting the mold – that’s a big improvement. But it’s still more disorientating than it used to be.

See what I mean?

I’m not saying I want to go back to the days when “men were men, and women were women”, or when racism was the order of the day, pretty much universally. But I am saying that this modern-ish world is fairly well devoid of the things that really stabilized me as a kid and helped me manage my autistic issues.

And I wonder if autistic folks growing up after 1980 actually struggle with their autism more, because they never had those kinds of structures and elements in place. I wonder if this doesn’t make autism all the more obvious, because society has stripped away the very things that used to help us find and preserve our place in a regularly functioning world?

Of course, things are always changing, and so many of the changes that have taken place are actually really, really good.  Perhaps the answer is not so much going back to how things were, but rather understanding the benefits and purposes those elements served, and making sure that modern-day autistic folks (especially kids growing up) have those kinds of supports in place.

  • Exercise
  • Routine
  • Tangible results
  • Roles and responsibilities

I know it’s not fashionable to enforce those things on growing kids, these days. It’s not common practice, anymore, to enforce much of anything on kids growing up — and that’s a shame. Because a lot of us autistic people really need them.

We need them a lot.

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11 thoughts on “#Autism always existed. It’s the world that’s changed.

  1. This field was intentionally left blank

    (My mobile’s WP app ate my previous reply before it posted – ugh 😡 – so I’ll try again now that I’m on a real computer)

    You bring up excellent points and fascinating ideas! I think you very well may be onto something! I wonder if this lack of structure and predictability make kids subconsciously more anxious, and the perceived uptick in noticeable behaviors in autistic people (especially kids) could be due, at least in part, to the long-term, low-level (or not-so-low-level) stress response that occurs as a result?

    I also wonder if kids these days are experiencing sensory overstimulation by the insidious rise in general environmental stimuli, such as LED billboards, jam-packed shopping areas, fast-moving animations on TV (even the news graphics used; the news no longer consists of a person reporting the facts from behind a desk, with maybe a TV-monitor-looking thing with a graphic over their shoulder; now, they always have to “go live” everywhere, and the banners and tickers and transitions/animations can become really overwhelming). And of course, I wonder if the ensuing stress response causes kids to “lash out” or “withdraw further”, thus making autistic behavior more obvious. (LOL I think you’ve just inspired a blog post 😉 )

    I’m frequently (more-than-frequently) amazed and impressed by your insight, and I love your cerebral, balanced logic! It’s refreshing, and calming-yet-intellectually-stimulating (in a good way)! I love your writing, girl!! :)) ❤

    Liked by 3 people

      1. VisualVox

        Maybe another sort of pathologizing normal human reactions to an environment that’s innately hostile to them? It’s complicated, of course, so let’s not simplify it with a DX and a handful of pills.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Done with that autism spectrum “disorder” business – Aspie Under Your Radar

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