Autism Awareness Month is coming. Soon, all the world will co-opt a mysterious blue hue, which is a questionably-intended, definitely-misguided mission.
I don’t know a single person who isn’t aware of the existence of autism. And outside my circle of friends and a precious few select professionals, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t have the completely-wrong impression.
The so-called “charities” (I’m talking about the not-so-good ones here; certainly not all of them are like this) and the so-called “experts” have etched their mark. Their message is out there, so loud and so clear that often, one can’t help but trip over it, and their impact is formidable. They’ve said their piece, but the first problem is, it’s not just “inaccurate”–it’s wrong. The second problem is, they keep saying it. Ad nauseum. That will get its own post, probably several.
Having heard the term and understanding and embracing what it truly means are two different concepts. And in cases like these, the two often run diametrically opposed.
The majority of those on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum live in a world of “except”. We’re the exceptions to the rules. Some of us have been called “twice exceptional”. We’ve been “excepted” from society, from childhood games, from having friends, from the popular crowd, and from various activities, back when we were striving for participation and inclusion.
Somewhere along the way, many of us have given up, eventually coming to “except” ourselves. Sometimes this is a voluntary action; other times, it’s a matter of resolution, a conclusion of exclusion, meaning that other options have been attempted and ruled out, where all that is left is to remain a “loner”.
This is another area in which autism remains stubbornly associated with psychopathology; when we’ve tried to fit in and take part, and we’ve failed over and over again, and we resign ourselves to the idea of being alone, usually because it hurts less to be alone than it does to endure bullying and criticism and taunting from our peers, we get branded “loners”.
And of course, that’s what “they” also say about those who have become psychopaths, sociopaths, serial killers, etc. Jeffrey Dahmer was “a loner, who kept to himself”. And his story runs parallel with so many others later discovered to be deranged violent criminals. The fictitious-but-convincing connections drawn by some with pull and clout between the violent, deranged criminals, and autistic people make me shudder and cringe.
And so the story goes. Nobody got the memo that there are different types of “loners”. I was a “loner”, too, but I never hurt anyone or kept anything truly twisted in my refrigerator.
I was simply “excepted”. As in, “everybody except me”. Like so many other autistic people have been. Many of us were (and many continue to be) shunned. It seems like the rest of the world can detect those of us who operate on a different frequency. We’re harmless, of course, but hardly anybody knows that, because hardly anybody has taken the time to look beyond the label, if we had one–or our quirky “weirdness”, if we didn’t.
All this time, I was trying to be accepted. I wasn’t asking for the moon and stars; all I wanted was for people to get to know me for who I was, and decide that that was OK with them, that we could coexist without incident.
Acceptance is when people know who you truly are, and they’re OK with you as you are.
It seems as though that was too tall an order to fill. Too much to ask for, too lofty a goal. For reasons I’m not sure I’ll ever decipher, people simply don’t operate that way. They seem to buck up against anyone who differs from the herd, even if that difference isn’t bad, and even if the outlier isn’t trying to rub anyone’s nose in it.
Because the Authentic Me was unacceptable (also for reasons I may never understand), I was faced with two possible choices: practice some acceptance of my own, accepting the fact that they constituted the Inside and I was left on the Outside, and continue to exist as such; or, I could begin to bend and shape myself into someone else with the intention of gaining acceptance.
A silent, sidelined, third party observer would’ve thought I was pursuing the Holy Grail, or perhaps trying to harness a unicorn. “This” persona didn’t work, but neither did “that’ one. What gave? I could never quite figure it out.
Trying to guess what the rest of the world (which at that time constituted one classroom and my family) wanted was like trying to reach a rainbow; I could run and run, and it would still never get any closer. I could see it, plain as day, but it was a shared illusion, created by the bending and separation of light. In the end, I found myself utterly exhausted, no closer to my goal than I had been from the beginning.
It’s interesting how two words can sound so much alike, and yet, hold opposite meanings.
I haven’t yet figured it out. The non-autistic population is so close, and yet, so far. I can reach out and touch them, but I can never reach them. It’s as though we’re forever separated by a fourth dimension.
That’s not necessarily as gloomy as it sounds. I’m used to the lack of understanding; it’s all I’ve ever known, and I’m not nearly so hell-bent on stooping to a limbo pole common denominator in order to be universally accepted by the masses.
That’s not to say that I’ve given up entirely, however. My work life demands that I continue to bend socially to accommodate the norms, customs, and expectations of the world at large. That’s OK; it is what it is. I also have plenty of cool neurotypical friends, family members, and acquaintances, who do accept me as I am, which is awesome.
At this point in my life, an interesting motif has emerged. Rather than investing the bulk of my energy into the act of contorting myself into a Presentable Me so that I don’t find myself “excepted”, I take that energy and redirect it toward positioning myself strategically such that I find myself in a place in which I’m “accepted”. The amount of energy expenditure is probably similar, but the latter is much more fruitful, constructive, and satisfying. 🙂
(Image Credit: Joe Reimer)