Asperger’s / autism and microaggression 

I don’t remember how I came across the term “microaggression”, but apparently I did, and I’m guessing that it was a post on Facebook or Twitter made by someone who is on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.  I can’t recall if it was posted specifically in reference to Asperger’s/autism, but I do know that as I researched the microaggression topic in more depth and learned more about it, it seemed as though it could be quite fertile ground for the experiences I’ve had as an Aspergian/autistic person and heard about from other people on the spectrum.

I was a little surprised when I went on a Google safari in search of more information on how microaggression might intersect with Asperger’s/autism; I couldn’t find much.

So, what the hell; let’s change that.

In typical Me-Form, let’s start with defining the vocabulary.

In the USA Today article “What are microaggressions?” Derald Wing Sue, author of the book “Microaggressions In Everyday Life” defines microaggression as:

“the constant and continuing reality of slights, insults, invalidations and indignities visited upon marginalized groups by well-intentioned, moral and decent family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, students, teachers, clerks, waiters and waitresses, employers, health care professionals and educators.”

Isn’t that exactly what many of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum encounter every day?  (Please note that I’m basing this on my own experience and the Twitter tweets, Facebook group discussions, and especially blog posts that I have personally come across, which may or may not be a representative sample of the entire Asperger’s/autism spectrum community.)

Consider the first part of the definition alone: “the constant and continuing reality of slights, insults, invalidations and indignities”.

Is that not what so many of us write about and lament over?  I can’t tell you how many posts and comments I’ve come across that specifically describe this phenomenon with firsthand experience.

When I would talk to my family members about my different health symptoms, I would sense the ghost of an inward eyeroll.  On the outside, they gave the appearance of nodding, listening, agreeing, sympathizing, but on the inside, you could almost hear them saying, “uh-oh; there goes Laina again, on another one of her wild-goose theories.”

This held double for my Asperger’s/autism spectrum disclosure.  I’m not ignorant; I can sense these things.  I might not interpret or translate their meaning perfectly, but I get the gist of the vibe.  It’s for this and other reasons that I went for my formal diagnosis.  Someone can only be subjected to doubt and skepticism for so long before they start resorting to laborious processes to prove points.

I’ve heard so many stories from autistic parents of autistic children who are regarded with legitimacy and respect from other parents and school administrators…until they open up about their own status on the spectrum.

Then there are the folks who, during a conversation with other people, disclose the fact that they’re Aspergian/autistic, and experience a complete change in demeanor in–and treatment by–the other person.  They describe it as a talking down or even like they’re being talked to like a child.  These were adults who were having a perfectly ordinary conversation a split-second ago.

These are just a handful of specific stories from people I know personally or have personally come across.

This doesn’t begin to canvas what goes on on a grander scale.  Words and phrases like “disorder”, “disease” (in 2004!)”, affected by”, “devastating“, “illness”, “mental impairment (!) (in 2015!)”, “pathogenic mechanisms“, and so on, pervade the general conversation about autism.  The old-school-style medical literature still maintains that it’s a problem that must be solved.

Some people on the spectrum have taken this a step further: if autism is a pathology, and we’re inherently autistic as part of the definition of who we are, then “they” must be under the impression that we’re disordered, broken people (to paraphrase their general message).

With so much negativity continuing to come from the world at large, which is primarily a non-autistic one, built according to non-autistic thought and dictated by people so convinced that their neurotype is “normal” and that everyone who deviates from that “norm” should be classified under groupings of arbitrary “disorders”, then it’s no wonder why we/I might at times appear to have a chip on our/my shoulder(s).

How are these words not a form of microaggression?  How are these attitudes, whether perpetrated and perpetuated by people in our own lives with whom we’ve had personal interaction or those in the Ivory Towers making up the “rules”, not examples of “the constant and continuing reality of slights, insults, invalidations and indignities”?  Isn’t that exactly what microaggression is?

For non-autistic people (hi!!), I would like to invite you to engage in an exercise with me.  Some (probably most?) of you have done this before (but if not, please don’t feel bad), but whether you have or not, please bear with me and humor us both. 🙂

Consider, if you will, that you’re visiting a different country.  The language sounds similar, and you can pick up the words themselves, but the meaning is different.  The culture, too, is different; giving someone a “thumbs up” or an “OK” sign by hand is actually considered akin to giving someone the finger or insulting their mother or inviting them to participate with you in a lewd act. Mannerisms are different; suddenly you have to watch how you’re sitting so as not to inadvertently send the severely insulting message that you hold them in lower esteem than that of the bottom of your shoe.  Phrases, practices, customs, and business procedures are full of potentially devastating and extremely embarrassing (but invisible!) potholes that may land you in very hot water, with no friends or support.  You speak gingerly if at all, but mostly you sit back and observe, just to be on the safe side.

That’s kind of the way I perceive the world and the approach I feel I must take in interacting with it.  It matters not that I live in the same culture into which I was born and raised; it often feels awkward and clunky to me just the same.  I might as well be a foreigner.  My levels of understanding and competence feel the same.

The response from others, however, is less forgiving.  There is less leeway.  I live in the US, and I’m fairly obviously a “native” American, whatever that entails.  I reckon that to mean that it’s immediately recognizable that I speak the language, complete with the local dialect.  I blend in as well as anybody else.

This creates certain expectations within other people.  They likely assume that the rest of the cultural package is intact as well.  They come to expect that I’ll meet the other social benchmarks, such as a firm handshake and unwavering eye contact.  They’ll expect me to meet the other cultural criteria as well, and I’ll receive odd expressions and a distancing vibe from them if (when) I don’t.

Suddenly, my differences make the unintended transformation from simple quirks into “symptoms” of a “disorder”, for which it is assumed that sympathy or even pity is in order.  The default position is that I’m broken, defective, diseased.  After all, my collection of traits is recognized and categorized in a diagnostic index of “mental disorders”, after all.  The rest of the song goes that I must therefore be incompetent, not of sound mind, the rebuttal of which falls on unlistening ears because everything I say is automatically suspect.  After all, to be autistic is to be “locked in”, somehow warped and disabled.

I personally don’t think that my spectrum status is a defect.  It’s simply a part of me, an explanation of my various idiosyncrasies.  There are certainly days when I feel limited by what I can do, but that feeling primarily rears it head when I’m trying to swim in a world that, relative to my perspective, seems incredibly odd.

The principal driving force behind this feeling is not a disdain for the way I am or a desire to be like “everyone else”; it arises from the everyday language, responses, misconceptions, and assumptions made by others, and the implications thereof.  It can really wear a person down when to simply be themselves is considered to be “affected”, when to dare to reveal my quirks is met with objection and rejection, and when my alternate way of being is constantly (and inaccurately) associated with being mentally ill and continuously results in the inability to be taken seriously.

I call upon the world at large to dilate its collective mind.  To check its terminology at the door.  To check its responses, attitudes, and bias.  To check its neuro-privilege.  To replace certain words and lines of thinking with healthier, more contemporary viewpoints.  To actually put its money where its mouth is and celebrate the diversity it claims to laud.  To celebrate diversity also means to not merely accept but embrace neurodiversity.  There is, after all, “diversity” in “neurodiversity”. 🙂

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45 Comments

  1. I swear I learn something new from your blog every week. I was just talking about this in an abbreviated way last night.

    Very insightful and scientific data, Laina. I thank you for always filling in the blanks for me. ✨🌺💥👏🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Serendipity! I have a half-finished post which I started a few days ago in which I was going to mention “micro-aggressions”, and I would have finished it by now if I hadn’t suddenly thought of the post I’ve just posted. I was thinking along similar lines but it’s different, so I’m still going to finish it. Totally agree with you, of course.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Bravo❣👏👏👏 You even missed every “term/word” pothole😏 The exercise of imagining being in a foreign country is awesome & such a perfect way to explain it👍💖 Well done my awesome friend😍🎉💞💐 Great post!!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Some micro aggressions I have encountered are functioning labels “high functioning”, “mid functioning”, and functioning age labels (i.e. “functions at the level of” arbitrary age under 18. I am an adult.).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. good points. NTs don’t see their constant critiques of our faults as microaggressions, just like their rolling the eyes thing or similar behavior is obviously just something else (yea sure).

    the body language comparison is a good one. and it’s exactly like not speaking the body language of those around you natively. yep, learned to troubleshoot and translate body language from books. still haven’t often mastered the what people mean when they say something as that is usually so different too. at least in the cultures where people can’t stand being honest and direct. so not only i feel that constant smiling and fake friendly voice of many americans is fake so i can’t get a clue of their emotional status easily, but i also fail in trying to understand what they are trying to say when they talk about something else.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your comment! Yep, I can relate to everything you said 😊 When I’m not smiling, it usually means I’m content. But apparently, to many people, my facial expression comes across as crabby. Except that I’m not; I’m just relaxed. So when I was working in a position that surrounded me with lots of people, I learned to paste on a perma-smile. The problem is, I was actually *less* happy/content/relaxed because I was constantly monitoring myself, reminding myself to smile. Irony lol. My facial muscles actually kind of ached at the end of the workday lol 🙄😤😜

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      1. And NTs have all these lies about how fake smiling will make you happier. Ffs. Maybe overanalysing others facial expressions makes everyone more miserable….
        I can*hear* if someone speaking sounds happy or content, in a genuine way. Don’t need the ability to see their face for that. And for the many jobs where the fake smiles and fake interest are needed, it doesn’t sound right. So as a recipient, I’ll smile even less. It gets always so frustrating to be around people you don’t know well, so I’m relaxed only with friends. So if I’m for once not wearing shades, they didn’t obsess where my eyes point, what my facial expressions might look like, or what kind of “tone” i have. When in public, i try to put on a more typical tone so the nts will leave me alone but it feels so fake, i hate it.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I am working on a post right now about micro aggressions. I am also looking into how social model and medical model correspond with it. I took a class this semester that was eye opening even to me. I will post about my experience with that as well. Preview: it’s where I learned about Neurodiversity.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “So, what the hell; let’s change that.”

    well, that box is opened. in related news, a tunnel near seattle just collapsed on a bunch of nuclear waste, so an emergency is declared. if youre reading this and living in seattle youre probably fine– (too early to say about next year, but youre probably fine then, im sure theyll do whatever they can, or most of it, or whatever.)

    personally i think microaggressions are just about the worst idea weve ever come up with (well, nuclear waste, the 2-party pseudo-cracy, nazis, and the chinese government are still worse.) what is a microaggression? some background is necessary.

    americans are the worlds most uptight, politically correct people in the solar system (and hopefully the galaxy.) the whole concept of “microaggressions” is sort of a call to perpetual war against all slights of any size. if its still going to be going on when i old, please shoot me in the head right now. really, theres only so much crazy in the world i would want to stick around for. really, go ahead– should i stand against a post or just up against a wall? i mean, if this nonsense keeps up im going to be up against one either way, for “crimes against someones feelings.”

    the problem with that is that i cant control your feelings, so putting me in charge of them isnt just, or even sensible. and if you want peace, to hell with the whole idea. microaggressions are nothing but a slightly delayed call to escalation at the slightest perceived offense. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJQtozWKCyg

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s definitely truth to this! In general, I agree with you. And although Americans tend to be the loudest about it, I’ve witnessed much of the same from the other side of the pond as well. It’s one of the reasons I don’t get on Twitter much anymore. About 2 minutes in, I’m saturated. Bombarded by whiny nitpicky tweets from both hemispheres. To the point where I’m almost afraid to say anything because I’m sure I’ll get piled on for using some common word that is suddenly “forbidden”. Argh. It just takes too much energy. I’ve got a post coming up about that very topic, and I expect you to like it 😉😉💖

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “To the point where I’m almost afraid to say anything because I’m sure I’ll get piled on for using some common word that is suddenly ‘forbidden’. ”

        thats the one. like if we are all going to be better people, thats not the way to get there (and even if it were, im just not interested in doing it that way.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Exactly 👏🏼👏🏼😊. I understand that words shape thoughts, which shape action, which shapes the world and all that. But yeah, we’re talking about everyday freaking words here, the type that even the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has deemed fit for public television! Stuff people say without a second thought because it’s That Common. And they’re hardly considered offensive. They might have held a different meaning in a long-gone time period, but they’ve lost that meaning entirely in contemporary society, and most people don’t even know about the original meaning. I’ve been chewing on the post I wrote about this topic since October of last year. I finally wrote it last week. I kept chickening out. But then I thought, “what the hell”. It’s scheduled for posting/publish in 5-6 days. 😉💚💙

          Liked by 2 people

  8. It’s like, “as long as you act like us and don’t mention any of your problems, you’ll be fine.” This is also partly the reason I became whitewashed as an Asian.

    Before I got diagnosed, I forced myself out as a suspected autistic because I knew my manager would bully me on my performance improvement plan. I was hoping she would back off. She didn’t, and the bullying only got worse. I got accused of things I didn’t do, and was attacked for not being able to talk enough.

    When I was diagnosed, the bullying came from HR, too. They sent a list of questions to my doctor that I felt were leading questions designed to kick me out and requested complete medical records, which is unnecessary and not required by the EEOC in the US. So then the bullying became some weird way to manipulate me into doing unethical things, because they thought I took things literally and would listen. I refused, and refused to request any accommodations, and instead of being asked why I did what I did, they allowed the bullying from my manager to continue.

    Very glad to be leaving in a week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, friend 😊. Yep, you’re not alone; I have too. (For the record, hopefully I haven’t inadvertently contributed to that in a negative way for anyone in any way 💓.). Yeah, I started noticing a subtle change in the fall that didn’t bite me in the arse until winter and early spring. Now the shift feels more complete; I lost a lot of people (on Twitter, hopefully not on here!) and at least I now know who my real friends are. 💜. It would have been fun to stay more unified and less militant, but meh. Many of the people on social media seem to be very angry, and that’s just not me, nor is it something I want to invest my time or energy in 😊. I admit I’m not all rainbows all the time but I try to stay logical and balanced and above all, real 😊💖. Are you sensing something similar to what I described, or has your experience been different? 😊💚💙

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  9. So happy I stumbled upon your blog. Iv learnt something new already! I’m keen to learn more about Aspergers/autism as my young niece has recently been diagnosed. I know every one is different, but I really want to try understand the world from her view point 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi! Thank you so much for your comment and for your introduction! How cool! ❤️. I’m so excited that you’re finding the blog useful 🤗. You’re what I call The Really Cool Aunt and I would bet your niece is pretty awesome as well 😉💪🏼💖

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! Yes, I like to think I’m the cool aunt 😄 she really is awesome! My daughter (21month old) is OBSESSED with her and asks for her daily! My niece struggles to communicate her frustrations so anything I can do to help would be great. Love your blog, looking forward to having a proper snoop in the morning…..when my toddler alarm clock wakes me at 7am! 😂 💗

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Awesome!! Hehe there are *a lot* of posts on here lol 😉. I hope you find them helpful! I’ve collected and categorized most of them (from March and before; I need to update lol) in the page of the menu titled something like “Essential Reading”; hopefully that’ll help with navigation 😉💜. For the record (and this goes for anyone and everyone), please feel free to like or comment on “old posts” if you like! Everything is fair game 😉💖🌟💖

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post! My husband and daughter have Aspergers, my son, autism. They are the most amazing people I know! If you ever want a straight answer, go to them, they care so very deeply about people, but are almost incapable of lying. They are amazing! 💛💛💛💛💛

    Liked by 1 person

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