I have a confession to make: I don’t know what my new yardstick should be.
Some may scratch their heads and wonder, “yardstick? What’s all this talk about yardsticks?”
I think I need to back up and explain.
A common metaphor I’ve noticed while reading books and blogs involves the concept of a yardstick; as Asperger’s/autistic people, we often feel a sense of inadequacy or even failure when compared to the neurotypical world. We get the message that we don’t exactly “measure up”. The message itself could be a nagging internal feeling that comes from inside ourselves and makes us uneasy, or it could be a hint, subtle or not, from someone else, or it could even be an explicit criticism launched at us by others. This message is conceptualized and embodied in a vague and intangible “yardstick”, typically synonymous with the word “standards” and usually within the context of not “measuring up” to that used by the rest of the world.
People on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, particularly those who are diagnosed on the spectrum for the first time as adults, often express the relief they/we feel in finally receiving confirmation and validation that frequently accompanies such a diagnosis. “Finally!” we exclaim; we’ve been vindicated. This is usually followed by a series of stunning realizations: such as, well duh–of course we “came up short” when pitting ourselves against the standards and constructs of the world at large. We had, inadvertently and innocently, been using the wrong yardstick, an inaccurate and impossible set of standards.
Neurotypical people don’t know better, so they measure everybody by the same yardstick. Everyone is under scrutiny; everyone gets judged. What they fail to do is factor in the one or two out of every 100 people they may come across who don’t (and typically can’t) fall somewhere on that yardstick. Of course, they don’t realize that they shouldn’t judge everybody by the same yardstick. They don’t know that people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum don’t have a place on it (it’s semi-irrelevant to us). And since the odds ratio is so small when set to the scale of average daily life, people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum usually remain overlooked, forgotten, unconsidered, and written off as “weird”.
So when we finally discover that we’re on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, and that our lack of (or difficulty with) “measuring up” is finally realized, we also often make the concurrent discovery that we’re not alone!–other people on the spectrum frequently echo the same experience.
The virtual alternate yardstick becomes our mascot, our battlecry. And, I think, rightfully so. After all, many of us have/had been trying for years, even decades, to “measure up” to what society believes is acceptable and ideal. We often gradually become depressed over the years, convinced that our healthcare providers are right when they say that it’s a simple matter of brain chemistry. That’s probably true for some (even many), but I wonder: for those of us experiencing depression, for how many of us might it actually be due to an underlying psychological sensation of “failure” and hopelessness that accumulate after years of trying to meet impossible ideals? There is an undeniable dissonance between the way we operate and what the rest of the world values/expects, but apparently the world at large had never gotten that memo.
And apparently, before our Asperger’s/autism spectrum discoveries, neither had we. There’s no blame or shame in that, of course. The herd that is society at large makes the rules; what they say goes, and we hardly ever have the privilege of knowing that there’s another way–an equally valid–way of being, and an alternate yardstick to be measured by: a yardstick of our own.
Suddenly, post-Asperger’s/autism discovery, adults in their 20s-through-70s are suddenly realizing that “no wonder I felt inadequate! I wasn’t even being judged on the correct merit system!” And we adopt the concept of “the right yardstick” vs “the wrong yardstick” as a catch-phrase in our newfound lexicon.
What a fabulous moment! The moment you realize that there’s a whole different system of measurement, and that other (really awesome) people accompany you on it! It’s like cheering heard ’round the world.
Lately, I find myself doing a lot of reflecting, because I’m approaching the time of year which, during this time last year, I was living out my final (and increasingly frustrating) months as an undiscovered Aspie/autistic person. I was already all-too-well-versed in the neurotypical yardstick. And I could no longer deny or ignore the fact that I was “failing”.
The neurotypical measurement system values extroversion, socializing with friends, advancing in one’s career, subscribing and adhering to stereotypical gender roles, talking about politics and sports, giving two fluorescent blue turds about trends and Hollywood celebrities, and conforming to the masses.
Contrarily, I am introverted, I socialize online, I’m currently relatively unknown in my career, I despise stereotypical gender roles, politics make me irritable and/or anxious, I couldn’t care less about sports/fashion/famous people, and let’s just say that I didn’t–and don’t–think too highly of the conceptual masses.
Well, so far I’m zero for, like, seven. Big red “F” on my Report Card of Life.
Or is it?
I count myself among those who express relief and elation at discovering their spot on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum and their newfound proverbial measurement system of alternative virtual yardsticks. Yay us! I felt so liberated that I cried, countless times, over the course of the first two months alone. The tears were those of healing, of lightening up, of burden reduction, of loads of stress and shame and ostracism melting away like warm butter.
Which brings me to my current confession…
I have a new yardstick! It’s shiny, new, and untainted. I haven’t made any virtual math errors with it yet, nor have I swung it at anybody. Awesome!
But… when I press myself for additional details, I draw a blank. My brain has reached the end of its thought-track, like walking down a desolate country road, only to approach its abrupt end.
What does my new yardstick look like? Does it play music? What color(s) is it? Is it iridescent? Tie-dye? Polka dot? A 3D hologram? A circuit board? An energy spark? OK, that was a lame attempt at humor, but you get my point. 🙂
What is my new yardstick? What alternative standards does it embody? What should I now measure myself up against? What have become my new values and ideals?
What do I get to do with my new yardstick? How will I be measured? How will I measure up? How accurate will it be?
Do I get to swap out neurotypical criteria for values and attributes commonly shared among people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum? Do I get to add my own to the list?
- Can I replace the neurotypical insistence upon being outgoing with my own criterion of introversion, and be judged on my ability to be a kind introvert instead?
- Can I substitute the neurotypical preoccupation with current events and sports with my own preoccupations with biochemistry and music?
- Can I trade in the neurotypical interest in comparatively shallower famous people like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West with my own interest in eccentric famous people like Nikola Tesla, Temple Grandin, and Henry Cavendish?
- Would I be able to exchange the general NT criterion of socially-expected empty pleasantries and small talk for that of deeper and more meaningful discussions?
- Rather than judging me (and expecting me to judge others) based on clothing coordination and other elements of superficial physical appearance, could I now be scored on my ability to see past/through those outward layers and peer into the core of the real person underneath?
- Instead of being judged on how well I conformed to the herds of the masses, would I now be evaluated based on my ability to be authentic and genuine?
I’m rather enamored with the idea of adhering to a more genuine and more eccentric batch of values, a more congruent ethical and intellectual code. In fact, I catch myself becoming rather excited about it.
So what if the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to it yet. Maybe they will someday (at least inclusively or additionally), or maybe they won’t.
The world at large will proceed as it will, slowly changing and yet clinging to the same old.
And yet, it won’t.
The world is forever altered. It can’t go on exactly as it has been. It can’t go on exactly as it would have had more of us not realized our Asperger’s/autistic natures. And as more of us step up to the microphones (either literally speaking, or virtually speaking, by way of our computer keyboards and such), together we will combine into one voice that is both single and multiple at the same time. A light, if you will, with a bright focused center beam, but bands and sprays of many beautiful sparkles of all kinds, glittering in the periphery.
Personally, I might be in the periphery for now, but I do like to glitter*!
*(Yes, used as a verb.)