Autism/Asperger’s is a human rights issue.
Myths, misconceptions, and outright lies continue to surround our neuro-type. I’ve written (a lot) before about how we’re often picked on or bullied in school, simply because we’re perceived as “brains”, “geeks”, “nerds”, “wallflowers”, “outcasts”, or simply “shy” or “weak”. We’re often criticized by our families, friends, and relationship partners. Sometimes, we’re ignored, abandoned, or disregarded by these people. And we’re certainly ignored and disregarded by society. And that is despicable. There’s no excuse for any of that behavior towards anyone, let alone a group of people are are simply Different. But that’s what the previous post was for. This post is a possible idea for a solution to counter at least some of that.
The truth is, we’re people, too. We have goals, thoughts, dreams, feelings, loved ones, desires, and needs. We have empathy. We want to connect with (at least a few) people. We want to learn things, do things, talk about things, have fun, and experience life. Just like anyone else. And we deserve everything allowed to everyone else, whether it’s marriage, children, home-owning, the opportunity to apply for a job, education, friendship, love, acceptance, attention, contact, and compassion.
Another truth is, we’re individuals, too. No members of a group are all the same. Pick any group–Latin Americans, teenagers, southerners, people with Celiac Disease, the elderly, women, attorneys, even Democrats or Republicans–and there’s going to be a huge variation among the members of the group. It’s almost difficult to imagine the “stereotypical” member of any of these groups because your brain already instinctively knows that no two members of that group are exactly alike, and thus it’s tough to conjure up a prototypical image. The same applies to Aspies/autistics. We’re all different, too. And we deserve to be considered individually, as human beings, and treated as such.
I propose a Bill of Rights of sorts, for those on the spectrum. I encourage the world to accept and adopt these, just as we’ve accepted the dominant position of the allistics and learned to function in such a world. I ask for a few small provisions/concessions to be made for us.
Before I get started, I need to add a bit of “fine print”. First, I don’t claim to speak for all of those on the spectrum; as always, I can only speak for myself, and what follows is strictly my opinion. Second, I also understand that not all of us need all of these things. Each item might be more important to some than to others. And third, I understand and admit that some of these things are kind of a “pipe dream”, but they’re my “pipe dream” nonetheless. So here we go…
The Spectrum Bill of Rights:
Section 1 – Our Existence:
…..A right to be accepted as we are, without belittling, judgment, criticism, assumptions, exasperation, impatience, intolerance, or annoyance.
…..A right not to be ignored, dismissed, doubted, or second-guessed. A right to be taken seriously and at our word.
…..A right not to be bullied, attacked, teased, cast out, made fun of, put down, assaulted, discriminated against, or otherwise victimized.
…..A right to “stim” as needed, provided of course that the stimming activity doesn’t cause harm to anyone or otherwise negatively impact anyone else.
Section 2 – Communication:
This is broader than it appears at first glance; communication takes on many forms. The possible communication forms are many–your preferred form might be verbal speech, written words, pictures, gestures (like shaking/nodding one’s head, a hug or pointing to an object), sign language, music, other art forms, or just about anything else (or any combo of methods) that portrays a message of any kind.
…..The right not to be restricted to communicating in a form that is not natural or comfortable to us, and we should have a right to communicate using a method that comes more naturally to us. This doesn’t mean it’s “our way or the highway”, but more of a give-and-take, compromise, or switching between forms. The effort to communicate effectively should be made on both sides.
…..A right to be listened to and understood, a right to the recognition of the communication method and its message as valid and real (as opposed to just being “written off”). We deserve to feel truly heard and taken seriously, without undue skepticism.
…..A right not to communicate if we’re not ready, able, or wanting to at that moment, also. We should have a right to Just Be. We should have a right to sit and think through what we want to say, and respond slowly, if we need to. We deserve the right not to be pushed, prodded, or hurried along. We should have a right not to be pressured (especially as children) to “go say hi!” even if we know that person. Sometimes we have to prepare to communicate; we should have the right to take the preparation time we need.
Section 3 – Physical and Social Contact:
…..A right to not have physical contact forced on us. Personally, I’m OK with hugging; in fact, I usually like it, especially from people in the Inner Circle of my life. Other Aspies/autistics, however, may not be able to handle it. When in doubt, ask. At the very least, move slowly and respect their response, without judgment, taking it personally, or reacting with indignance or other negative emotion.
…..A right not to feel pressured for sexual intimacy or any related activity (such as foreplay, kissing, etc). Personally, I cannot stand the idea of someone else’s saliva, nor can I stomach the idea of someone’s private areas near my face. I’m incredibly sensitive to smells and tastes, and I abhor fluids, so yeah…these activities would be a nightmare for me. Also, many of us are not “kinky”, and we may not understand nor derive the same thrills that others do from these activities. For me, dry kissing, however, is fine, especially if it’s on the head, cheek, hand, or someplace similar.
…..A right to be able to trust what someone is saying, to take them at face value, without having to mind-read or “read between the lines” at what they’re not saying, and a right to not catch flack for “failing” to pick up on sarcasm, hidden meanings, over-politeness/tact, or double-speak. Basically, a right to be able to be comfortable in taking other people at their word and trust that they’re being genuine.
…..A right not to be forced to make eye contact all the time, and a right not to be distrusted for looking away. We deserve to be free from assumptions made by other people that we must be lying or hiding something just because we’re not staring into their eyeballs 24/7.
…..A right to decline a social invitation if our energy/stress levels aren’t up to it. If possible and not-too-inconvenient, we should have the option of cancelling a previous engagement with relatively short notice, if it doesn’t negatively affect anyone. We should definitely try to keep last-minute cancellations to a minimum, lest we earn the reputation for being “flaky” or risking incurring real costs to someone, such as in the case of a reservation, for example. However, if it’s a trivial just-for-fun meeting and it wouldn’t put anyone out to cancel if our own internal circumstances change and we decide not to venture back out of the house after all, we should be able to do so without being looked too down upon.
…..A right to set limits for ourselves on the types of places we go, how much of a crowd or noise level we’re willing to get together in, whether or not we can handle the presence of children, and other factors about the environment. We should also have the right to set internal limits on how many people we’re willing to meet up with. For me, it depends; if it’s very close friends and/or family, I can handle about five people including myself. If it’s someone I don’t know well, I probably only want to get together with that one person at first and get to know them on my own terms, without being distracted by the presence of anyone else.
(I realize that what I’m going to say from here on falls more in the “pipe dream” realm for most, but hey–one can dream!)
Section 4 – Schooling:
…..A right to a type or format of schooling that considers, encourages, and develops our unique talents and gifts; strengthens our challenges or weak spots; considers our sensory and processing concerns; and provides a truly effective learning environment.
…..A right to access and admission to advanced programs, such as Honors Courses, Gifted & Talented programs, college prep programs, or an otherwise enriched environment. (This also includes the right to vouchers for these schools so that these better-suited schools could be attended at no cost to–and thus no financial burden on–the parents or guardians of Aspies/autistics. When I say that the spectrum is a human rights issue, I mean it, and having to shoulder extra tuition just to be able to go to a more appropriate school than the run-of-the-mill local public school is a huge form of discrimination.)
…..A right to one-on-one or small group schooling, or perhaps homeschooling or homeschool network schooling.
…..A right to accurate, up-to-date, relevant aptitude testing to identify even the more uncommon strengths and gifts.
…..A right to “test out” of classes or entire grade levels, so long as the aptitude testing demonstrates clear competence in all the knowledge and skills required.
…..A right to formal education in sometimes-unconventional subject areas that could help us a lot in real life, such as entrepreneurship, self-employment, apprenticeships, and internship opportunities. These could also include extra guidance in critical thinking, problem-solving, and original thinking.
…..A right to a variety of elective classes and subjects to choose from.
…..A right to abstain from recess, team sports in Phy Ed, “group work”, or any activity in which one must interact with too large a group to reach a consensus at the cost of reaching the right answer. Too many “brainy” Aspies tend to find themselves being the only ones actually willing to take the assignment seriously and do any of the required work, so we end up “pulling” the weight of the group by getting stuck with all the work. This especially includes a right to opt out of the ridiculous Common Core.
(Yes, I understand I’m probably going to catch some flack for that last item, but I firmly stand by it. I fully realize that a lot of us are going to have to work with other people at some point in our careers and other parts of our daily lives, and I understand that school is one of the main avenues in which we learn to do so. But I firmly believe that in the past 30-40 years, there has been way too much emphasis on “group work”, and too many bright people have been forced to waste time and disproportionately take on tasks in a group project, because they’re under pressure, knowing that their grade would otherwise be at the mercy of the other less-motivated members in their group.)
Section 5 – Career Preparation:
…..A right to relevant, realistic, helpful, and supportive career advice and assistance in searching for jobs or careers at which we could excel or thrive. “What Color Is Your Parachute?” should be required reading, especially with an emphasis on how to examine a particular career and “twist” it to carve out a niche for oneself, essentially designing/creating your own job/career.
…..A right to be taught competent job-seeking skills by professionals who are aware of and familiar with the specific characteristics on the spectrum. The topics covered might include interviewing skills, such as how long and specific one’s answer should be, how to appear to make eye contact without discomfort, how to choose interview and job clothing, how to discern what should go on a resume, etc.
…..A right to an efficient and speedy interview process, during which proper communication is maintained in terms of status updates, follow-up interviews, the next step in the process, etc.
Section 6 – Career Environment:
…..A right to an office environment free of common triggers, such as flickering fluorescent lights, loud chatter, overwhelming food or trash smells, harsh chemicals, perfumes, and other strong scents, etc.
…..A right to consistency, especially in terms of procedures, policy enforcement, etc.
…..A right to timely communication, advance preparation (if possible), and clearly-stated communication. Memos and meetings should always outline any problems or concerns directly and clearly state reasonable goals for solving the issue.
…..A right to fair, honest, and trustworthy performance reviews, covering topics such as genuine feedback, constructive criticism, specific plans for improvement, as well as praises for jobs well done.
…..A right to be heard and taken seriously, especially in the case that we’d like to offer to management an idea that may make for a smoother, more efficient, more productive, or just-plain-better environment.
…..A right to an environment in which gossip, rumor mills, or cattiness is not tolerated.
Section 7 – Life, The Rest of the World, and Everything Else:
…..A right to a list of competent professionals who specialize in time management coaching, financial planning, job and career coaching, or just life-in-general coaching.
…..A right to reasonably-priced housing options free of certain common triggers, such as excess or prolonged noise (barking dogs, loud young children, loud car or home stereos, etc), or excess/bothersome lighting (be it a certain color, flicker pattern, placement/location, etc).
…..A right to request that an apartment complex’s management company change out light fixtures or light bulb types according to the needs of the spectrum tenant, and to do so in a timely manner (such as within [x] number of hours or days), without negative attitude. (This should also be extended to say that it should be entirely illegal for this to result in discrimination against people on the spectrum, whether it be in the form of refusal to rent, or charging higher rent prices.)
…..A right to (at least a couple) of (realistic) quiet shopping hours, free of screeching children or loud music (the latter could also apply to restaurants, especially between the lunch and dinner crowds, a time period in which they usually don’t turn the music down much).
…..A right to low-cost, safe, efficient, and convenient public transportation. For many, including myself, driving is a major stressor, but a bus that comes by at any time from 20 minutes before to 20 minutes after its scheduled time, once every 30-90 minutes, only takes us halfway home, and doesn’t even turn down the (fairly busy) thoroughfare that we live on, does not cut it. And don’t get me started on the one-foot-wide, claustrophobic bicycle lanes.
I had fun writing this!
I may even go so far as to design I have designed an idea/prototype for an Aspie/Autistic Utopian Town and what the world might look like if our Asperger’s/autistic neurotype was the majority/dominant type in a near-future post. 🙂