So if you missed my Monday post, let me fill you in. In a one-sentence summary, I talked about the harmful effects of stereotypes, and the importance of positive representation. I’m a little biased I suppose, but I think it was a pretty good essay. In writing it, it got me thinking about which autism stereotypes I fit, and which ones are definitely not me. It was actually really interesting. If you’re up for a session of introspective self-awareness, I highly suggest it!
1. Autistic people can’t live independently: The last time I lived alone was my first semester of college, all the way back in 2005. To say that it went badly was an understatement. I spend most of my time hiding under my bed, I forgot to eat, and I had to drop a class because I just plain couldn’t find it. Thank goodness I met my wife that first semester. Even when we were just dating, she had an innate talent for recognizing how she could assist me. She’s been called my interpreter to the world, and I think that’s one hundred percent accurate. But still, my caseworker has advised her not to leave me alone for more than 24 hours. If everything went exactly to plan, I’d be fine, but if something went wrong, if my routine was messed with, we could end up in a position where I forget to eat or go to the bathroom. I’m working on independence in Occupational Therapy, but right now, it’s not my strong suit.
2. Autistic people sit in corners and rock: Ok, so it’s not always in a corner, but I am totally a rocker. Interestingly, I have different rocks for different things. If I’m rocking side to side, there’s no need to worry, because it usually means I’m just bored. If I’m rocking front to back though, that’s problematic. It means I’m overstimulated or that I’m about to melt down. Luckily, there’s are several people who can interpret my rocks and intervene if necessary.
3. Autistic people connect more to animals/object than people: Ask my wife to tell you the story of the time she threw away my shoe box. It was early in our relationship, and she hadn’t yet experienced all of the autistic quirks that I come with. She threw away the box from my new shoes, and I sobbed. For two hours. I felt so guilty that they might think that I didn’t believe they could live up to their potential. So clearly, I experience hyper-empathy with inanimate objects. And it’s not just your standard ‘my stuffed animals have feelings ‘ (they do!), even statues and cardboard boxes have feelings. My favorite street sign’s name is Oliver and I say hi every time I pass him!
4. Autistic people don’t make eye contact: So there are a lot of people who would say that this answer isn’t accurate. That I do make eye contact. In fact, they saw me do it last week, and am I sure I’m really autistic? I know I’d break their tiny little neurotypical hearts if I told them that every time they think I’m making eye contact with them, I’m just staring at the bridge of their nose. This knowledge might destroy their fragile little minds. All this being said, I can make eye contact. But it’s not intuitive, and reminding myself to do it every 10 seconds takes up a lot of energy. It’s also a bit uncomfortable for me, so I only really do it with people I know really well. Since they know me as well as I know them, they don’t find the sporadic eye contact weird. They’re just happy that it’s genuine.
1. Autistic people don’t have friends: I considered myself very lucky because I’ve never experienced bullying. Or if I have, I didn’t realize that’s what it was. This is a viable option, I’m not the most observant when it comes to social stuff. But as unaware as I am about socializing, I have always had friends. Granted, I’ve never been the one to start the friendship. The pattern in my life has been, an outgoing and extroverted person decides they want to be friends with me, and initiated contact frequently enough that eventually, it becomes part of my routine and a friendship forms. On top of being extroverted, many of these people have a talent that I wish more people had- the ability to accept that my social skills are atypical and my connections hard won, but they are still good. It may be difficult to be my friend sometimes, but there are upsides too.
2. Autistic people are savants/intellectually disabled: For whatever reason, people have a tendency to think that autistic people have either very high IQs or very low IQs. The idea of an average autistic is almost as much of a white whale as the idea of an autistic adult. This sort of makes sense to me. Autistic people are only of interest if there’s something different about them. Which is totally unfair to those of who haven’t been given the Hollywood treatment. Autistic savants are rare and are not even a little bit like the ones shown in movies like Rain Man. And intellectual disabilities have been separated from developmental ones for decades now. Essentially, some people do have both, but a majority only have one or the other. I test well (the tests are mostly puzzles, and I love puzzles!), but my IQ doesn’t measure my social abilities, my ability to live independently, or my mental health. This is a problem that diagnostic professional are still working on, but since we won’t get any new changes until the DSM-6 comes out, we’ll just have to advocate for ourselves.
3. Autistic people have no sense of humor: In my opinion, very few autistic people fit this stereotype. Even if someone’s humor isn’t exactly your standard fare, it’s still considered humor! That being said, some types of humor are more accessible than others. Sarcasm can be hard for some people, not just autistic people either! It requires tracking and recognizing a lot of different communication queues, which takes time. There have definitely been times where I realized something was sarcasm 15 minutes after the fact; it took me that long to put it all together. I definitely use humor in my day to day communication. It often makes more sense to me than small talk and other types of interaction. Not to mention, making someone laugh is a really good feeling! Especially with people I know really well, being able to target their sense of humor makes me feel connected.
4. Autistic people are suffering: I am not suffering. No matter what certain organizations would lead you to believe. Are that parts of autism that are painful? Yes. Frustrating? Double Yes. Confusing? Triple Yes. But those aren’t autism things, those are life things. And when I say these things, there are always people who will pop up and say “Well you don’t count. You’re not one of THOSE people with autism (note the use of person-first language. Ugh.) You’re not one of those poor souls who can’t speak or communicate or wipe their ass or love their poor suffering parents. They think this because they’re not looking at this from a neurodiverse viewpoint. Speaking is not the only way of communicating, and I can only speak from my own experience, but when I need assistance with things, it doesn’t feel like suffering. It’s just the way things are. Some autistic people may feel like they’re suffering. And that is their experience, and it’s a thousand percent valid. But I’ve been the way I am for 29 years, and my life is my life. It has its ups and downs. And downs don’t necessarily mean suffering. At least not for me.