Autism Awareness Month is almost over.
Does that mean that the rest of the world will revert back to a state of unawareness on May 1st?
I hope not, but…
1 – I’m pretty sure that if people are indeed more aware, they won’t be as obvious about it. Maybe that’s a good thing, or maybe it’s not;
2 – Maybe I would prefer the world to revert back to their March 31st level of awareness. Because maybe the awareness gained during this month is counterproductive, irrelevant, and/or even harmful.
Awareness is a moot point anyway, for a few reasons.
1 – It might be a simple increased awareness of the wrong thing. I don’t want the world to be even more aware of the stereotypes. That only results in more division, more misconceptions, and more resistance work to do from our end.
2 – Awareness doesn’t automatically lead to acceptance. As one becomes more aware of something, they may form negative feelings toward it. The ramifications of this can be powerful and devastating. Just ask Muslim Americans how well greater publicity worked out for them. Legislation passed, committees sprouted, and people in dark suits came knocking to investigate. Computer systems spawned, and collected massive amounts of information, assembled into profiles and watch lists.
No, as things stand, we don’t necessarily want more awareness. We need to add some fine print first.
Awareness itself must be raw and neutral, without bias or preconception. It must be accumulated with an open mind. It must embody and include the whole Asperger’s/autism spectrum, not just cherry-picked examples, held out as mascots for the world to shun and fear.
That kind of awareness, the kind that births otherness and fear, actually impedes true awareness. It gets in the way. It stalls progress. It closes minds. It incites emotion.
But it does make money. For a select few. Grants pass, dollars redistribute, as initiatives are formed. You might be watching me, Mr Trump and Cabinet, but I’m watching you, too. You’re under a scrutiny you may not be aware of. It’s nothing to fear. But we’re people to be listened to, and worked with. We’re growing.
Awareness is only a good thing if it’s the right kind. It’s a prerequisite for all other steps, but it’s a vulnerable, wobbly part. Like Luke Skywalker during the early and intermediate stages of his Jedi training, it’s all too possible to get sucked in to the Dark Side.
Acceptance is an important second step. It has a stronger, more proactive ring to it. But it sounds so end-game to me. It seems to convey the message “OK, that’s it; we’re done. Mission accomplished.” Not necessarily on the part of the Asperger’s/autistic community, of course. We’re not intending to stop there.
But for us, the Asperger’s/autistic people, the word “acceptance” might carry a different meaning and a different set of assumptions than it might for the non-autistic world. The resulting picture that the two neurotypes have in mind might wildly diverge.
It almost seems like a state of resolve, of reluctance, of a sigh that says, “well, we guess you’re here to stay. We have no choice but to accept that.”
The way in which some non-autistic people (particularly those in some kind of position of authority or power) might interpret the word “acceptance”, that sentiment could indeed be likely. Our desire for acceptance, while a hugely noble and necessary one, might backfire with an exasperated, “OK fine. You’re accepted.”
I don’t want that. I don’t want any of us to be made to feel (or treated as though) we’re relentless nags who simply kept yapping (because we’re not), and “accepted” simply as a means of shutting us up, and silencing us once again. “Accepting” us, not for our benefit, but for theirs, because they’ve “let” us have our way.
I know that that’s not where any of us are going with our advocacy, our blog posts and tweets, and other efforts. And I don’t want us to be misconstrued to be by other people who hadn’t listened with open ears in the first place.
Because if they let out this exasperated sigh, then the “acceptance” doesn’t actually count. It’s lip-service, once again. The same old, same old. Nothing will have actually changed. No transformative efforts would have paid off, resulting in the true transformation we seek.
I think it’s probably going to take more than that.
That’s not to say that acceptance isn’t important–it is–but it probably shouldn’t be considered a stopping point.
Asperger’s/Autism Appreciation, while it might sound cheesy and contrived to some, might be a viable progression, taking us further toward our goal.
Autism Appreciation could manifest as an appreciation for the specifically-autistic traits of autistic individual known personally to a non-autistic person, or it might manifest as an appreciation for autistic traits in the general autistic community by the non-autistic population at large.
The concept of appreciation specific to autistic traits might not be popular with everyone, including people within the Asperger’s/autism spectrum community.
There might be discomfort toward this idea. In fact, there might be resistance.
Because an unfortunate potential side-effect of this Autism Appreciation concept might include a hint of “othering” in reference to non-autistic people. I might (frequently) be guilty of that myself, but it’s not a goal of mine, and in the end, I don’t support any sentiment against non-autistic people.
Another potential pitfall involves the perception of some that this could come across as inspiration porn.
Carried out properly by both neurotypes, neither possible hazard would actually materialize.
But humans are far from perfect. People give impressions, and people receive impressions. This impression-trading has the potential of going south.
So, I would like to kick off my part of this effort, however small it may be, with constructive examples of Autism Appreciation.
The first example is our own recognition of our own positive traits. It’s been pointed out to me in conversation with other autistic people that so often, we just do what we do, without realizing how significant our contribution is to the world. So many of us are artists, science geeks, inventors, computer geeks, advocates, writers, health advocates, and so much more.
I’m a musician, a human biochemist, a healthcare practitioner, a writer, and now, apparently, an advocate at times.
For me, my Asperger’s/autism spectrum neurotype makes it this way. It gives me the extra focus I need in order to see these things through. It gives me the endless curiosity, the relentless drive, and a different manner of time management (lol) that makes it possible to think the way I do. (There are indeed non-autistic people involved in all of these activities; I don’t have a monopoly on any one of them. But I’m pretty sure that being autistic colors the way in which I approach these subjects.)
But I’m just one example, one perspective, one individual.
And even though I’m different from everyone else, I’m also no different from anyone else.
Everyone is different. And yet, we’re so much the same–so much is shared. Our humanity makes it so.
I’m not interested in othering. But I also realize that in appreciating my own autistic traits–the thought patterns, the straightforwardness, the introversion, the repetition, and so on–I’m appreciating characteristics that are predominantly autistic and thus, not allistic/neurotypical. And that’s where the “othering” vibe might rear its head, whether in my own head, or in the eyes of a non-autistic person.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think I have an idea…
I think it’s OK for me (and any of us) to appreciate our autistic characteristics, the elements of ourselves that are considered to be autistic. I don’t think that necessarily takes away from neurotypical people or puts them down or casts them out in any way. Not unless one neurotype sends or receives such a message. Each person has control over how their message is sent, and each person has control over how they receive and interpret incoming messages. Both ends of the communication line should take care to send and receive with accuracy. If we all do that, Autism Appreciation can be pulled off without a hitch, without anyone feeling slighted, without any feathers getting ruffled, without anyone feeling Less.
As we appreciate our own autistic characteristics, we can teach others. Yes, my perfect pitch probably has something to do with the fact that I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. So does my ability to pour over lab work and interpret every little detail very patiently, zooming in on the micro-realm. So does my ability to do this for hours. So does my ability to write and write. And this applies to others as well.
It doesn’t mean that neurotypical people aren’t talented. Everyone has some kind of skill or talent. It doesn’t mean anyone is better than anyone else.
A good example of Autism Appreciation is taking shape in the head-hunting of autistic people by some forward-thinking companies who recognize that certain jobs are excellently suited for certain people. Given the nature of progress in its infancy, I’m sure that for the time being, these are stereotypical companies seeking stereotypical autistic people with stereotypical characteristics for stereotypical jobs. However, as is also true for the nature of progress, the situation probably won’t stay that way; the focus will dilate and the appreciation for autistic traits will broaden. Stereotype-based limitations won’t last forever.
This is only the beginning. Let’s see it through. All year-round, every year. 🙂