Disclaimer: This is another “Spectrumhood is fine, mmmmkay?” post. I respect that not all of us on the spectrum feel this way. Please know that I’m not attempting to speak for all of us (other than that I hope that one day, all of us can be comfortable with who we are and not ashamed); I’m speaking only for myself and some of the Aspies/autistics with whom I’ve interacted in some way who feel as I do. I also realize that this post may portray me as an arrogant arse. That isn’t my intent, but then, from my perspective, I communicate sometimes-politically-incorrect thoughts in a direct manner, and people who don’t like it are too sensitive ) 🙂
Some people might confuse the word “pride” with a simple refusal to be ashamed of (or a simple feeling of positivity or at least neutrality toward) their status or situation. People might see an Aspie/autistic who isn’t ashamed of–or making an attempt to hide–their spectrum membership, someone who feels OK with who they are. Or they might even read or hear an Aspie/autistic comment positively about this characteristic. Those outsiders might think, to themselves or out loud, “they’re proud of being an Aspie; that’s silly.”
I have a few thoughts on this scenario.
The first is, being comfortable with who you are isn’t necessarily the same as being proud of it. Being comfortable with yourself the way you are is a feeling of neutrality, tinged with some positivity. It means you don’t feel that, outside of normal personal growth and evolution, you need to change. It’s a certain satisfaction. By contrast, pride is when that comfort and peace are taken another step further, into more of a perspective of varying degrees of superiority in comparison to others. I’m not necessarily saying that either one of these is bad, good, or any better or worse than the other.
The second thought that came to me is that I understand that our personal neurotype is something we’re born with, like our gender or ethic background. Some may say that it’s silly to be proud of a characteristic you’re born with, can’t help or change, and didn’t “earn” or achieve yourself; thus, being proud of such a trait may seem ridiculous. That may be true; however, here’s a “devil’s advocate” point: gender and ethnicity are physical window-dressing; the latter is literally skin-deep. On the other hand, one’s neurotype runs deeper, shaping us invisibly, influencing who we are, how we think, what we do, and how we do it.
If the warm-fuzzy self-esteem movement of the 1970s (or thereabouts) taught us that “we’re OK just the way we are”, almost tinged with an advocacy of being proud of ourselves, then my question is this: how could our neurodiverse status not play a major part in that “just the way we are” status that we’re supposed to be OK with, and even possibly proud of? And if the answer is that it would (which I’m sure in undoubtedly is), then maybe it’s not so silly to be “proud to be an Aspie/autistic” after all?
My third thought is, I guess I’m a little “guilty” at times of being proud to be autistic/an Aspie. Why?
I, for one, am glad that I think differently and (so the stories go), in general, more complex. I’m glad that I can hyper-focus on a particular topic and explore it very thoroughly. I’m glad that I can hyper-focus on a task or project, systematize it, and (once I finally complete it), take satisfaction in that it was done to the fullest of my ability. I don’t give up halfway through or settle on “meh. It’s good enough.” If I’m going to do it, I do it. It’s carefully planned and thoroughly completed. I’m glad that when the project or task is finished, it will be more complete, comprehensive, and more accurate than it would be if I were allistic. I’m also glad that when I’m through studying a particular topic, I will probably have a generally more thorough working knowledge of that topic, and I’m likely to retain the information better.
On a social level, I’m glad that I don’t feel a social pressure “to be seen” somewhere trendy, or with the “right” people. I’m glad that I don’t have much of a use for small-talk, much of which can be useless and time-wasting. I’m elated that I don’t have much of a tendency to play mind games, manipulate or deceive people, say one thing and mean another, or dish out compliments that aren’t genuine. I’m glad that I can be trusted to be taken seriously because I say what I mean and mean what I say, or I don’t say anything at all. (Whether or not an allistic person actually does take me seriously is another question altogether, though.)
I’m glad that I simplify and de-stress my life by implementing routines, constructing calm and quiet environments, and maintaining a short list of close friends and family with whom I chat and interact for longer periods of time than I do with everyone else. So I don’t talk much with people I don’t feel as close to; so what? I personally think that some of the other people chat too much, and about meaningless topics. (That being said, I’m not judging them for doing this; it’s right for them. I’m simply saying it wouldn’t be right for me.) On the other hand, so I talk a lot about various subjects with people I am close to: again, so what? At least I make the time to interact with them personally instead of fooling myself into thinking social media is an exact substitute for genuine social interaction and personal contact.
So I have special interests that might seem odd to someone else: and again, so what? I find these special interests more constructive, practical, interesting, and sensible than allistic “deities” like sports, shopping, celebrities, fashion, makeup, or even organized religion. (No offense meant to anyone here who is a member of organized religion; again, I’m just saying that it’s not for me.) So I wear comfortable clothes; I find them more appealing and time-saving (“time-saving” meaning that I don’t feel like I have to get “dolled up” just to leave the house).
This all means that I’m not only comfortable with who I am, but that I am also “proud”, in the sense that I have decided that my way of doing things is better (for me) than others’. Since My Way of Doing Things has been so heavily shaped by an Aspie filter, then I guess that could theortically suggest that I may be proud to be an Aspie, proud of my Aspergian traits.
Is that so bad?
Apparently, for some non-autistic people (not all, just the less tolerant), it is. Those particular non-autistic people can’t stand us. They don’t understand why we do what we do, they don’t care, they’re not interested in any kind of interaction with us, and sometimes what they perceive as our “weirdness” threatens them. (You know the “type”; a glaring example is the bully at school who makes fun of all the quiet, smart kids. In the adult world, another ominous example is the attempt by the mainstream to, instead of recognizing our gifts and talents as individuals, slap us with allistic-made pathological labels, tell us we need to be “fixed”, and that until a “cure” comes along, we need (allistic-designed) “support”. More on this latter point in a near-future post.)
Apparently, for advertisers, our neuro-type and our increasing comfort with it is a bad thing, too. Since we’re practical, sensory-sensitive, and critical-thinking people who refuse to be slaves to trends, we usually don’t generate much revenue, especially for the more pointless beauty products, layered clothing, etc. We’re a lot less likely to go to the mall on a shopping spree. (Notice that there are few TV/radio/newspaper ads for durable, sensible products that appeal to the upper end of the intelligence spectrum.)
We (Aspergians and autistics) ALL should be self-comfortable and even somewhat proud. (This isn’t to say that allistics shouldn’t be as well, but while I’m not trying to be mean or too exclusive, let’s face it: allistics are 99% of the population, with an obvious majority, and they enjoy the privilege that automatically comes with being part of that majority. So, right now, my focus is exclusively on those on the spectrum, and this post is meant to be a message for us.)
We all should feel legitimate, valid, and at least equal.
We all should feel able to recognize our strengths and gifts.
We all should give ourselves permission to accommodate for our unique needs and seek support when necessary.
And at the risk of sounding cliche and passe, we all should feel OK to be who we are, and that we are OK the way we are.
And, as long as the sentiment is kept “in check” so as not to devolve into snobbery, it’s OK to feel a sense of pride, because we do have something unique to bring to the world. We do serve not only an individual purpose, but also a greater one. We keep the world on its toes. Our generally-introverted natures bring balance to a world full of extroverts. Our focus ability balances out those with the attention spans of fruit flies. Our systematizing ability brings order and efficiency to the world (think Henry Ford, who is said to have been an Aspie).
To be the best we can be and to feel comfortable with the result is a human rights issue.
And we’re every bit as human. 🙂