I’ve been blessed to meet Aspie/autistic people from all over the world, including different regions of the United States, as well as Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Wales, India, and many other areas. We’re all from different cultures–and yet…
…those of us on the spectrum all seem to have our core neurotype characteristics in common. Although our individual external societal cultures “flavor” us to an extent, they almost seem (at least, to me) to have a bit less of an effect or influence than they might have on allistic (non-autistic) people. In general, we seem to have more in common with each other than we do with the societies in which we live, and even sometimes our own families.
Truly, we, the people of the spectrum, have a culture of our own.
Wikipedia (link to “Culture” entry) uses an outstanding definition of “culture” – “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired…as a member of society”.
Aspergian/autistic people have our own spectrum-shared “version” of all of these attributes. In a way, underneath the external culture to which we are born, Aspie/autistic people are members of our own society.
I’ll go through the cultural attributes listed in the Wiki definition, and share my thoughts on each one.
Knowledge – We tend to know a lot about our neurotype; most of us have researched the “condition” fairly thoroughly, memorizing the lists of traits and tendencies, both advantageous and challenging. We also tend to know exactly (or almost exactly) which characteristics apply to us, and which ones don’t. We share a common understanding that even though a trait may not be expressed in ourselves, it may be present in another Aspergian/autist.
We’re also all-too-aware and all-too-familiar with the difficulties and challenges we face, the uphill battles we fight, the majority-engineered currents we push against, the prejudices we encounter. We’re aware of our shortcomings (they’ve probably been recited to us ad nauseum by parents, teachers, counselors, and the like), and hopefully we’re aware of our talents and/or gifts, too.
Becoming a member of the ActuallyAutistic blogging and social media communities has revealed to me exactly how much shared knowledge exists! In telling our own stories, we often also–unknowingly, at time time–tell those of other people. This is because we often have shared histories, shared memories, shared pasts, shared experiences, and shared emotional responses. We are definitely not alone; we have each other. However unique or unusual I think one of my experiences is, there is someone else on this earth who has gone through the exact same thing!
Belief – External society typically equates “belief” with some kind of religious or spiritual philosophy. I’ve met Aspie/autistic people of all religious persuasions, as well as those who aren’t religious at all. I’ve met Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Pagans, atheists, deists, Quakers, Wiccans (which isn’t necessarily the same as Pagan), Hindus, agnostics, gnostics, and people who don’t identify with any specific religion, but consider themselves spiritual in nature. As for myself, I’m pantheist, flavored by equal parts Pagan (Ancient Egyptian pantheon), Buddhist, and Hindu (Shakta/Shaivite “sects”).
But our beliefs go further than whether or not we believe in a Supreme Being of some kind. Most of us also “believe” (or embrace) the neurodiversity paradigm. Many of us perceive our neurotype as being a “normal” (i.e., non-pathological/non-problematic) variant/variation. Some of us (including myself) hold the belief that the “rest of the world” is, at times, prone to being obnoxious, childish, narcissistic, loud and in-your-face, simplistic, judgmental, and sometimes a little pointless. We often find ourselves experiencing exasperation, irritation, sadness, or fatigue in response to–or as a result of dealing with–the world at large.
Art – We have an entire wave of artists of all types. Perhaps the biggest tribute to this is the website The Art of Autism (link to site). These folks are a non-profit organization out of California who feature autistic art of multiple types.
But that site (as awesome as it is) is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg; we have all types of artists. Painters, sketchers, and musicians are less obvious, but they’re there. Michael Tolleson (link to official site) is an excellent example of a self-described autistic savant artist; his paintings are phenomenal!
Another talented painter goes by the handle “LetsGetReal2016” and features her paintings on her blog (link to her blog). Amy, someone I’m also blessed to call a friend, is also a gifted sketch artist (link to her blog’s “art” category, although the entire blog is terrific!).
AutistiX (link to official site) is an all-autistic rock band.
Lest we not forget that writing is an art form, too…well, simply search for “aspergers (or autistic) adult blog” or a similar term (or search elsewhere on this site; I’ve linked to many!) and you’ll discover a vast ocean of superb literary-artistic talent!
Morals – The moral compass of the spectrum is different. That doesn’t mean it’s “off” or somehow “wrong”; our compass still points North–it’s just that “North”, for us, is in a different spot. Which is totally fine. It seems (to me) that in “the rest of the world”, the “stereotypical” issues like abortion, religion, marriage, “family values”, drug prevention programs, sex education debates, sexual orientation, national security/defense, conformity, etc, tend to be more prominent (or at least, more prominently discussed).
By contrast, it seems (again, to me) that more Aspie/autistic people tend to place ableism, accessibility, fairness/equality, nonviolence/peace, sexual freedom/non-binary, non-conformity, etc, in higher priority. We value independent thought and we generally don’t feel a “need” to be all up in everybody else’s business all the time.
There are offenses that are not tolerable (nor should they be). Cracking jokes or heckling someone with a disability is unforgivable (which is also how I see it), and likely to draw permanent ire, and a proverbial tarring and feathering. There are sensitive words that some tolerate, and others don’t. Some are more prone to triggers (words, concepts, pictures, sounds, etc, that “set us off” in one way or another) than others. Our lexicon is different; the world at large is probably not even aware of the concept of ableism, much less the word, the existence, the pervasiveness, or its ripple-effects.
We tend to see people as they are inside, looking past the physical surface. Many of us don’t perceive gender the way the “rest of the world” usually does.
Law – Because we’re sparsely-but-globally spread out across geography, this is tricky; autistic/Aspergian people don’t have much (if any) representation in our governing bodies, and very few laws or statutes actually consider our needs. This is largely due to the fact that only 1% of the population is on the spectrum and thus, we’re gravely outnumbered and overshadowed. But some of the points I mentioned in the “Morals” section could be considered unwritten “Laws” among the community, which should be abided by when interacting within the community.
Custom – We have our own customs, too. For most of us, eye contact is uncomfortable and for some, it’s because it may be perceived as a potential threat. Eye contact, while held in high-esteem by the world at large, isn’t usually necessary in the autism spectrum community. Shaking hands is viewed in a similar way–prized by the allistic world, while not necessary (and in fact, may be perceived as rude, intrusive, or overwhelming) among Aspergians/autists. We typically don’t place much importance on either neurotypical custom.
In our culture, it seems that we’re quite social–and even close!–online. In a “mixed” (neurotypical and neurodivergent) group, however, we might keep very much to ourselves, saying little.
Other customs may include altered circadian (day-night) cycles, self-soothing or focusing activities, pursuing areas of intense focus, etc–all the while living and letting live. We understand that our own self-soothing/focusing activities, primary interests, or sleep schedules may not be those of another, and I have yet to see anyone in the Asperger’s/autism community judge or criticize those of another.
Other common Aspie/autistic traits may be considered customs, too – such as the lack of need to “dress up” for each other; we typically understand our shared need/desire for comfort. We’re also often OK with being alone. We prize quiet, ambiance, and downtime. We don’t value extroversion as much and thus, we tend not to think anything “weird” about people who choose to stay in instead of going out. We often like to read. We often interact with animals. We often share a concern for nature.
In our culture, “the news” headlines are often less important to us; what matters to us is different. News headlines might focus on international conflicts, local violence, up-and-coming TV shows or movies, the latest trends and fads, or other events. Those typically don’t pertain to us as much. Rather, it seems that what’s important to us diverges from the mainstream. Some of us might get our news from “Wired”, “Consumerist”, or international outlets (in the US, BBC is considered a semi-“alternative” source).
Language (not listed above; my addition) – I added this category because different cultures often have their own languages, too. In a way, so do we. Our language may be different. Some of us speak, others don’t. Some of us express ourselves in visual art forms, movie lines, gestures, poetry, music, or other ways. Many of us are very honest and straightforward, often being accused by the world at large for being “blunt”.
But in our (Asperger’s/autistic) culture, we don’t “talk around” something (unless, perhaps, we’re engaging in creative expression or a similar activity). We’d rather “get to the point”. While the world at large places higher value on “niceties” and “pleasantries” and “diplomacy”, we place a higher value on honesty and remaining “free of BS”. We’d usually rather call a spade a spade, telling it like we see it.
Refreshingly, “game-playing” (involving “head-games” or “mind-games”; i.e., manipulation) is generally simply Not Done. Passive-aggression is extremely frowned upon.
Other Aspects – The Asperger’s/autistic community has its own activist segments, who champion more intently for the rights of people on the spectrum. We also have a segment that may identify as “nerds” or “geeks”, terms that are typically worn with at least some amount of pride.
There’s a political faction, and there are subtypes – some are more liberal (some extremely so), others are more libertarian (again, some extremely so), others are decidedly apolitical, and a few (at least, from what I’ve seen) are more conservative (although usually not to the extreme).
One common thread that pretty much all of us share is that no matter how difficult life can be, most of us wouldn’t want to change our neurotype! And that makes me smile inside – to know when it comes right down to it, we’re relatively comfortable with ourselves…and we deserve to be! 🙂