Tell Us What's Great about Your Autism! Yeah, right…

"Tell us what's great about your autism! What's your special gift or talent? What's your superpower?"

Really? Clearly the sender (probably using an automated mailing list) isn't familiar with my blog, public statements, or other writings. I don't have superpowers, no special gifts, and no unusual talents that I would attribute only or primarily to my autistic traits. Some talents might be associated with autistic traits, but they might also be tangentially related to genius, effort, parental upbringing, or who knows what else.

I've written repeatedly that I do not consider autism a gift. Not even close. I don't buy into the whole "Being disabled forced me to be better!" sloganeering. If you had to be injured to learn to be nice to other people, or an injury led you to some belief in a Supreme Purpose to life, that's fine. But my autistic traits are generally a pain to live with, literally and figuratively.

Tell you what's great about my autism? It doesn't impair my daily life as much as autism and other disabilities might. Autism is something I struggle to overcome and work around, not something I embrace like a badge of honor. I am not ashamed of saying that what makes me different from many self-advocates is that I'll loudly proclaim I wish I could be more "normal" in ways that would improve my life and make the lives of others easier. That's not disliking who I am either, it is disliking the seizures, migraines, ringing in my ears, and other daily frustrations.

I've written so often on this, that I'll resort to quoting myself:
I don't deny my limits. I know I cannot do some things.

There are definitely physical impairments I have that might not apply universally. To assume I am only writing of my unique neurology is a mistake. I am physically disabled; these are mild limits and do not affect my daily existence.

The neurological differences I face are not a "gift" most days.

In "neuro-diversity" communities, there are those who deny autism is anything more than a difference. These are a minority, but a vocal minority nonetheless. The logic of these activists is to challenge and resist public misconceptions of autism, especially within the high-functioning / Asperger's syndrome subcategories.

It is definitely a disability to be unable to handle mass transit, many public spaces, bright lights, loud sounds, strong smells, and so on. It is not a mere "difference" to be stuck at home many days, unable to tolerate the sensory overload of normal existence.

Yes, I am different, but I'm also disabled.
— from http://theautisticme.blogspot.com/2010/06/different-vs-disabled.html
As I've explained, "The Autistic Me" is only a portion of me — a reference to the annoyances of autism and the frustration that accompanies some of the traits. I would rather be known for my creative writing, teaching, and academic scholarship. Being known for being autistic? No thanks. I don't want special treatment; don't let me use "autism" as an excuse for any failings that I can overcome.

Let other people embrace and celebrate autism. I'm not rejecting it, but I'm always working to understand, compensate, and overcome. Success is not built on surrendering to or accepting your weaknesses. Some people, including myself, simply have to work harder — much harder — at some aspects of daily life.
1. I am a "success" neither because of nor in spite of my "autistic" traits. I am a success because my wife, parents, extended family, and friends help me and I try to help them when I can. Success is a team effort, whether you're "normal" or not. Plus, no one is normal.

2. Autism does not define what I do for a living as a writer or teacher. I'm not in charge of anything autism-related at work, and the freelance writing seldom addresses autism or other disabilities.

3. Autism is a "disability" not a blessing or some special gift. So what? The list of human "impairments" is long, and almost everyone begins life and ends life with some level of impairment. Find ways to adapt, not ways to surrender.

4. Stereotypes of autism are unhelpful. The savant mythology, in particular, follows many of the college students I meet. They have to explain to peers, and some instructors, that autism is not synonymous with "Rain Man." Unfortunately, the media love unusual stories, so the "freaks and geeks" become the template for autism.
— from http://theautisticme.blogspot.com/2011/11/autistics-speaking-day.html
As I have also written, I cannot celebrate "autism" because the label includes serious, horrible, physical, intellectual, and emotional impairments. When you watch a non-verbal teenager pulling out hair, biting herself, you can't celebrate that. I recently watched through the window of a steel door as a young adult rocked, screamed, and spit. I asked what he had done to be so punished. I certainly do not support isolation, restraints, or any harsh interventions. The medical supervisor told me the young man had bitten the face of another resident. I can't even begin to describe the horror and disgust I felt.

What might have caused someone to bite another person's face? Was there a misunderstanding? A sensory overload? An urge to communicate, but not the means? I have no idea, and I don't believe the facility staff had a clue, either.

So, what's great about my autism is that it isn't the autism of someone in a medical facility. I am able to speak up and ask questions and try to help that person and others. Celebrating autism isn't going to help, though. Understanding it better might.

I wish nobody had to be secured in an isolated room. Ever. There has to be a better way to help people. But is that way through "acceptance" or something else? I happen to believe the answers will be found in medical research. Yet, even calling for more research sometimes angers a small segment of the activist community.

Nothing's great about autism. It simply is a label for some of my traits. Let others celebrate and call autism "great." I'll stick to calling it a part of my existence. The traits have shaped my life, and rarely for the better.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing the other side of autism that might help me understand my son better.

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  2. Nice to meet other bloggers on the spectrum. I agree that traits of autism are some of the many personality traits that make up an individual (good and bad) ranging from exceptional attention to unique details to intolerance for even small groups. I also blog about my experiences on the spectrum at http://touchedbyanalien.blogspot.ca/

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