Lisa D. (chaoticidealism) wrote,
Lisa D.

Permission granted; you may proceed.

With autism, there's one thing that's improved the lives of autistic people more than anything--more than education and therapy and any amount of diet-juggling, medicines, and questionable treatments:

Permission to be autistic.

Sounds weird, right? Because you're going to be autistic whether you like it or not; so what does it matter if you have permission? But it really is important.

Talk to the man on the street--preferably one who hasn't got personal experience with disability--and he'll have a vague concept about disability, difference, and weirdness that goes something like this:

Being the same as everybody else is good. Not exactly the same; because the little diversions from the norm, like a different color of hair or a different career or a cute accent (from not too far away, please), are what make you who you are. But being too different is bad. It's something you have to overcome. After all, Hollywood is always right; and there are so many movies about the shy, geeky guy turning into a stud; all the movies about the ugly-duckling junior high girl becoming the prom queen. And what's even worse is if you're different in a way that gives you limitations. That's something you have to overcome. You have to look as normal as possible; and, what's more, you should try to prove yourself to be superior because you're so gosh-darn determined! Spinal injury? Run a marathon! Blind? Become an artist! Deaf? Music simply must be in your future! If you're disabled, you have two choices: Be cute and innocent, so we can protect you; or be amazing, so we can admire you. Be a normal, average person? No way, impossible--you're disabled! You can't be normal!

Gagging yet? It gets worse.

What happens, for example, if a weird or disabled (or both--autistic, anyone?) person internalizes that idea? You get a lot of things; and none of them are good. You get people who insist to themselves that they have to be savants; they have to be simply wonderful; they have to achieve, overcome, be extraordinary; or they don't count for anything. (Aspies are particularly prone to this--the damaging stereotype of the genius Aspie is problematic for those whose IQs are 'merely' normal.) You get other people who think to themselves, "I'm disabled; I'm not capable of much at all; other people have to protect me." All in all, you get people who base their worth on something other than just being human.

So give yourself permission to be autistic. If you calm down better by rocking than by taking a deep breath and counting to ten, then rock. If you have problems with speech, who says you have to constantly verbalize everything? Type; sign; whatever works for you. Give yourself permission not to hide your weaknesses, weirdnesses, and idiosyncrasies.

Give yourself permission to be yourself. You're proud of your collection of Star Trek action figures? Don't hide them in your closet. You like to memorize bus schedules? Don't pretend you don't know where the bus is going. Enjoy puzzles? Feel free to bring your crossword book with you wherever you go.

You don't have to look normal; that takes up a lot of energy, and if it's not worth it, then don't do it. There's something to be said about communicating with the NT majority; but remember that communication--not camouflage--is the goal. I remember learning colloquial speech in college--and then, two years later, realizing just how little I was actually able to communicate in NT-speak. Nowadays, my speech is a patchwork of communicative but pedantic Aspie-speak and a lot of NT-style "filler" that doesn't mean much. I switch back and forth just about every fifteen minutes. Looking back on it, I probably shouldn't have tried to mimic NT-speak at all; I look more normal when I use it, but my communication efficiency--and functioning level--is lower.

Autistic pride? Yes. Good idea. After all, it's who we are, and for most of us, it's a bigger part than culture, gender, or age; so why not be proud of what makes us different, what makes us ourselves? But there's a point at which autistic pride can get problematic.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen forum posts along these lines:
"I ran a marathon, composed five symphonies, memorized the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and got a medical degree--all before the age of ten! And because I'm autistic, that means autism isn't a disability--in fact, we're the next step in human evolution!"

Well, okay, that's a bit exaggerated, but you get the idea.

Bragging is OK, in small doses; so that's not the problem I'm talking about. The trouble comes when you get too much into the 'shiny Aspie' persona. You start to base your worth on how much you accomplish, on those unique autistic strengths that you possess.

So what happens if you whack your head too hard during one of those autie head-banging sessions? What happens if, for whatever reason, you lose some of those skills? And what about people who never had those skills to begin with? There are an awful lot of people out there (including me) for whom autism IS a disability despite the perks, and a substantial subset of those people have weaknesses numerous or profound enough to need 24/7 assistance--you know, the kind of person the doctor shakes his head about and says, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Johnson... but he'll never have a normal life"?

(Digression, but what's so important about a "normal life" anyway? The President doesn't have one; neither does the bum on the street corner; neither did Beethoven or Luther or Joan of Arc. I don't have a normal life; but why would you want a normal life? Go to school, get married, work, have 2.5 kids, retire, and die. How is that any better than any other life, simply because more people, at least in America, live like that than any other way?)

Question: Take away those Aspie skills... take away your communication ability and your math-whiz genius and your encyclopedic knowledge of insert-special-interest-here, and what's left?

Answer: A human being--a creature of infinite value.

You don't have to think yourself defective; nor should you think yourself to be superior. You are simply human, like any other human; and that in itself is something to be proud of.

Give yourself permission to be yourself--no more, no less.
Tags: autism, disability, identity
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