I might prefer to be quiet and observant. That doesn’t mean that I’m defective or weird.
It might mean that I don’t feel like talking. It may mean that the subject matter of other peoples’ conversations may not interest me, or I might feel I have nothing to add to the conversation and therefore, I’m just being polite by remaining quiet. But to some people, that introversion or politeness is interpreted as “impaired socialization”.
I suppose I could barge into peoples’ conversations. Despite having no knowledge of the topic and nothing worthwhile to contribute, I could conjure up my two cents and boldly toss them into the conversation ring. At least then, I would be perceived as extroverted. I might look ridiculous and silly, but hey–I might stand a greater chance of being “accepted”.
Tell me – is it really all that desirable to be “accepted” by a world that assumes that my politeness is a social impairment?
If a neurotypical person did that, sure, they wouldn’t be held up as the pinnacle of societal ideals (extroversion is preferred), but at least we wouldn’t call it a symptom. They would simply be considered “quiet” or “shy”.
I might prefer to deal with the (semi-obnoxious) world around me by analyzing and systemizing. Analyzing helps me interpret and hopefully make sense of the world, and systemizing helps me put it in some semblance of order. Where there are more sense and order, there are less anxiety and awkwardness.
Sometimes all of this analysis and…systemisis? is amusing, sometimes it’s an advantage, and sometimes it presents an obstacle. It doesn’t mean that I’m lazy or dreamy. It might simply mean that I might fail to make eye contact or accidentally tune out.
Sometimes my brain detaches from my body and its immediate surroundings, and it floats into the ether, off on a tangent, perhaps a single word that I had heard. Or the patterns in the carpet. Or the wind blowing ferociously through the trees. Or whatever. My brain astral-projects itself to distant lands and times, to distant people and events, making me look… well, distant.
I reckon that my brain is trying to create some grand library or encyclopedia of everything, neatly card-catalogued and correctly time-sequenced.
During this time, during all of this dry, mundane analysis and organization, I can also be highly inventive and creative. Ideas strike like lightning bolts at random, in the midst of sunny skies.
I suppose I could abandon my idea-dreaming and organizing and simply sync my brain to the same gear to which everyone else is tuned. At least then, I would come across as “engaged”. At least then, I would make eye contact, and I would have a greater chance at blending in with the sea of “average”.
But what would I be giving up to do that? What would that cost everyone else? One of the grand visions on my bucket list is to write textbooks and give lectures/presentations that would transform at least a sector of medicine, and perhaps change the western world’s view on the autism spectrum. If I abandoned my thought-train, all of that would evaporate.
Tell me – is it really all that necessary to make eye contact and down-gear my brain to be “accepted” by a world that’s too lazy to brainstorm or put the universe in order? Should I worry about scoring points with a society that fails to value unconventional intelligence? Is it really all that desirable to be “accepted” by those who insist upon a sea of uncreative mediocrity, a world of clones that appear to do little but gush over celebrity socialites and copycat each other? Is it all that special to be “accepted” by a world in which my personal worth is based on my ability and willingness to conform to the masses?
If a non-autistic person did this, we would simply (usually goodnaturedly) call them “a geek” or “smart”. But what if we suddenly found out that they were on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum after all? Suddenly, those activities would considered “presentations” of “symptoms” like “impaired socialization”, particularly “difficulty making eye contact” or worse, the groan-inducing “lack of empathy” charge.
I might be uber-interested in a particular topic (actually, I have a whole list of them). That doesn’t mean that I’m obsessed.
It might mean that I want to delve into the subject matter a little deeper than meagerly strip-mining the surface. I might want to learn it a bit more thoroughly. I might want to truly understand it, and to engage both creative and logical sides of my brain while doing so. I might even want to remember it for longer than a few minutes!
That means I’ll have to spend more time and energy in the learning process. That means that I’ll try to obtain my information from a variety of sources, which probably means collecting a set of books or visiting multiple websites (or both) during my deep-sea info-dive.
I suppose I could do what the world at large appears to do and read a few FunFacts from a couple sources, forget most of them after a few minutes, and then be on my merry way. I wouldn’t have truly reached a significant understanding or appreciation of the topic, but at least people wouldn’t think I was obsessed or possessed. At least people wouldn’t chide me for my library.
But tell me – is it really all that necessary to achieve “acceptance” from a superficial world that doesn’t seem to value any substance or long-remembered knowledge? A world in which the attention span of fruit flies (literally) outranks that of humans?
If a non-autistic person is interested in something, the world probably wouldn’t think twice about it; they’d simply call it a “hobby” and forget about it. But when autistic people do this, it’s considered a “fixation” or a “preoccupation with unusual objects or subject matter”, and it’s automatically “abnormal”.
I might prefer not to wear uncomfortable clothes or makeup. Tight, confining clothing and greasy, powdery makeup are sour pills to swallow for those with sensory sensitivity. So, I might be a bit more honest in my preference for comfortable clothing and au naturel skin, and I might be a bit more adamant about exercising those preferences. I might prefer to abstain from caking layers of goop onto my face or cramming my feet into ridiculous-looking shoes, just to look “hip” by contemporary conventional standards.
But for some (many?) people, that sparks any one or combination of several assumptions:
- that I’m immature and haven’t “grown up” yet;
- that I’m clueless, uncultured and unsophisticated;
- that I must be an unhygienic slob because I’m not “taking care of myself” like “normal women” do;
- that I must be depressed, given my perceived lack of self-care;
- that I must have low self-esteem because I don’t insist on revealing every curve;
- that I must be lazy, because I don’t fancy spending all that time getting dressed up; and/or
- that I must automatically be gay because I’m not a girly-girl.
So if I don’t feel like squeezing my body into contortionistic clothing or slathering gunk on my face, then somehow there must be something wrong with me?
If a neurotypical person did this (such as, oh, pretty much all men, who get to dodge expectation-to-wear-makeup bullet and also get to wear comparatively more comfortable suits that are fitted well for them), no one would bat an eye.
But since I’m a person (and a biological female) on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I’m not as likely to be granted such latitude. My “hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli” puts on a Symptom Suit. It is now part of my “pathology”.
Tell me – is it so important to be “accepted” by people who do not look beyond the most superficial of attributes and judge books based on covers? If I must heap layers of chemical crap (so-called (stereotypically) “female” “war paint”) in order to be accepted, then do they even deserve to see the real me? (Am I important or significant enough to even deserve to ask that question?)
My characteristics, traits, and attributes are just that: characteristics, traits, and attributes. My neurotype is not, in itself, a “disease” or a “disorder”, and my personality traits/attributes are not “symptoms”. They’re traits and attributes, just like my wavy (read: frizzy) hair, blue-gray eyes, or the freckles I had when I was a kid, or my 8.5 shoe size. My personality traits are every bit as much of who I am as my physical ones. They’re no less valid/legitimate, and no more pathological. They just differ starkly from an odds-ratio of 50 to 100 other people.
We live in an era of long-established “I’m/you’re OK just the way I am/you are” warm fuzzies and lip-service payment to the acceptance and embrace of diversity. As such, part of me is actually surprised to see the world at large fail so egregiously to take those of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum seriously. And yet, the other part of me nods with jaded cynicism, almost as if it’s a given that we continue to be sidelined.
But the atmosphere is changing. Surprisingly long strides have been taken and high hurdles surmounted in a surprisingly short period of time. A more complete transition, I’m sure, will be slower in coming. In some regions and sectors of the population, we may encounter resistance for a while.
But the push and pull, give and take, yin and yang, are all part of the process. And I suppose I would rather see a gradual, more fully-incorporated transformation that gains wider acceptance as people open their eyes and minds in slow motion. A drastic, rapid time-lapsed photographic jolt that is forced in an about-face top-down manner would probably do little but bring about greater resistance and even hostility in response. I wouldn’t want to be resented just as I’m (we’re) starting to bloom on our own. Slow and steady wins the race and all that. Something about a tortoise and a hare…
But I fully believe that it will happen – a day in which our neurological wiring is no longer considered a disease and our personality traits are no longer considered symptoms. There will come a day in which we’re not ostracized just because we express an affinity for an unusual subject. There will come a day when stereotypes are busted and conventional lines are blurred. I’m even betting that it might happen in my lifetime.
Until then, I’m giving myself permission to relax the attempts to gain “acceptance” from the world at large and just Be Me whenever I can. ❤
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(Image Credit: Minjae Lee)