Q: Why do you "bash" autistic people who want to learn to be normal? Why do you encourage them to be autistic?
A: We encourage people to “be autistic” because we’ve tried faking normal ourselves, and it led to a lot of pain. We want to spare them that.
I was raised by a mom who was totally in denial about my autism. She taught me to believe that I was not really autistic, that I was actually lazy, strong-willed, and bad-tempered. And she taught me that the only way to accomplish things was to try harder. If you couldn’t do it, you weren’t trying hard enough. She would look at me, laugh, and say "Just do it!" as though I were pretending I couldn't. Sometimes she said, "You're so smart." She meant, "You're too smart to have an excuse for not being able to do this." And every time I took advantage of a good day and managed to do something that was difficult for me, as an autistic person, to do, she took it as proof that I could do that thing whenever I wanted to, and was just being contrary when I couldn't do it on command.
Well, I got out on my own and I wasn’t ready to take care of myself. I could neither use a bus nor drive. I couldn’t order at a restaurant. I couldn’t cook for myself. My sleep schedule was completely out of whack. I didn’t take regular showers. And I had never made a friend. I'd made friendly contact with others; many people were kind to me when I was a child. But I had never actually made a friend.
According to what I had been taught, the solution was to try harder to be as normal as possible, to tell myself that if I wasn’t fitting in, it was my own fault and I needed to change. Well, I tried. I tried to take care of myself, hold jobs, go to college. I pretended I was just lazy, strong-willed, and bad-tempered. I was burning out, but I didn’t know what to do other than try harder. I got to the point that I broke down mentally and ended up in the hospital. Twice.
Autistic brains are not meant to operate the way neurotypical brains are, and doing things the NT way is often not the way that works best for us. Forcing ourselves to go to crowded social events is not going to help us look normal; it’s just going to make us shut down. Whereas, conducting business one-on-one or even by e-mail is much more natural and easier for someone on the spectrum, and that way we actually get things done. Forcing ourselves to “sit still and stop fidgeting” can handicap our ability to think and process information; letting ourselves stim can free our minds to work efficiently. And so on.
For those of us who are “high-functioning” and can theoretically look normal for a few minutes or hours at a time, it’s a lot like trying to force a profoundly deaf child to lip-read and speak. Oh, they can learn it; the trouble is, it takes so long to learn it that they have no time to be a child. Even once they have learned, they’ll always have a harder time reading lips than a hearing person will have with listening to speech. Sign language is much more natural for that deaf child, even though it’s not the typical way people speak.
Now imagine being forced to do the equivalent of lip-reading in every area of life. There’s a reason autism is called a pervasive developmental disorder: Not just language but every little part of how you think and act and communicate is atypical in autism. You can try to mimic normal, but it’s always going to be slow, difficult, and exhausting. Or you can do things the way your brain was meant to do them, be your own person, and reach your own potential in your own way. Focusing on what works should be the goal of autism therapy and education, and what works is often as atypical as our minds are.