Yesterday, thanks to the Emir of Qatar (not a joke), was World Autism Awareness Day. I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months thinking about the two sides of Autism, and what they mean to me, as someone who’s on the Spectrum but sort of manages to camouflage it. Most of us on the Spectrum go through this process to get to a point where we can blend in, and utilize the abilities Autism gives us while compensating for the difficulties. But the difficulties don’t totally go away, and the fact that we have to go through a process of blending in sort of shows that there’s still a challenge Spectrum people face, along with everyone who deals with mental abnormalities, in finding acceptance.
The thing that’s most striking about Autism is that it makes group dynamics almost impossible; we tend to thrive in environments without defined hierarchies. There’s a conception out there that people on the Autism Spectrum are anti-social, and that’s definitely not true, but we express ourselves best in environments that we can control. When we try to fit into another person’s system, or become a part of an already-existing one, we struggle. It’s one of the reasons why savant talents exist, because we usually learn best by teaching ourselves. And none of that’s an issue; where it becomes an issue is when people try to force you to do things their way, and you’re not able to do it. That’s why there’s a need for acceptance.
I think there’s an issue, though, with how we frame the problem. Tolerance is a good thing, obviously, but nobody in their right mind actually “hates” Autistic people. Most of them time, when we’re mistreated, it’s not because people actively dislike us, it’s because people naturally experience some antipathy towards things they don’t expect. People on the Autism Spectrum tend to provoke negative reactions not because of their identity, but because we can behave in unexpected ways. When I’ve felt mistreated due to my Autism, I’ve never thought that it was because anyone had any personal hatred towards me. It was because I did something that caught them off-guard and they didn’t know how to deal with it.
Tolerating identities isn’t going to have the same effect when you’re dealing with nuerodiversity, because you’re not dealing with prejudice so much as your dealing with your own natural reactions. If people want to treat Autisic people – and people with any other mental condition – better, the best way is to just judge people less. Don’t dehumanize people who piss you off. Joe Biden has this great quote that people should question judgment, not motives. We on the Spectrum have to do that a lot – if we got personally angry at people who didn’t really understand our perspective, we’d spend most of our time just sort of sulking and hating the world. So we have to be patient with people. By the same token, neurotypical people can try and be patient with us, too.