During my 6 years of experience at university, I have always lived in residence. If I had lived at home, it would take me 45 minutes to drive to university. The reason I live in residence is because it I prefer the easy access to university. I like that it only takes me 5-10 minutes to walk to school and class. This year in particular I find that living so close to school is good because my thesis project sometimes requires me to be in the lab at difficult hours of the day.
This is not what I want to talk about, though. I want to talk about the “Autism Acceptance is…” sign that I see more or less every other day as I enter the residence building.
The reason I want to talk about it is because my thoughts on this are not clear cut as I suspect they ought to be. I do want to stress that I appreciate the idea behind it. However, I think that is the only thing I should feel when I see this sign. Instead I feel a mix of thoughts and emotions. I have so much to think and say that it all coalesces into a mess of thoughts and ideas that are so unclear that I can’t convey anything.
As such, I have decided to compile a few of my thoughts so that I can at least form a clear stream of thoughts instead of just a foggy mess of nothing.
Some of these are hopeful thoughts and ideas. The overall message behind this is one that I can appreciate. Some of the individual messages are nice too. “Treating autistic people as people” is my favourite, because I believe in treating everyone as people. Through my own experience, I have also come to learn that the autistic mindset allows for the fulfillment of a variety of niches in society so long as we get the chance to adjust to it.
Some of these fill me with cynicism. Anything starting with “the radical notion that…” immediately fills me with the instinct to roll my eyes because my first thought is “Is that really a ‘radical’ notion?” So I don’t like “The radical notion that autistics are people”. I don’t see this idea as a radical notion. Besides, we already have “treating autistic people as people,” which says the same thing without immediately making me roll my eyes.
A few of these are along the lines of “Allow autistic people to do the things that autistic people do.” Stimming, echolalia, and I guess loud hands (I have never heard of loud hands before). I can understand that. I stim on occasion. I use a form of echolalia as a technique to help me learn (so I suppose it isn’t truly echolalia). I think that something like this is good for young autistics, or autistics who have more difficulty with the condition.
But one one hand there is helping autistic people so that they can better adjust to society so they can become constructive members. On the other there is simple coddling. “Stimming together?” I don’t understand what that means, but my immediate thought is that it sounds ridiculous. It sounds to me like autistics and non-autistics should stim together. Even if it means autistics should stim with other autistics, it still sounds ridiculous to me.
I don’t think I could explain stimming to anyone. I can only hope that other autistics already understand, but I will try. It’s sort of like scratching a psychological itch. I make a particular motion, and in doing so I scratch an itch in my mind. I instinctively know the motion I must make, and fortunately for me I don’t tend to have to take an action that makes me stand out overly much. I can hide stimming in everyday action. When I stop the stim, the urge to stim increases, as if I am used to the motions and need it to continue.
Stimming is not a group activity. I stim when I am psychologically itchy. I don’t get psychologically itchy when other people are trying to scratch their own itch. I stim when I need to stim and only when I need to stim. I don’t find groups of autistic people so we can all stim together. I don’t go to non-autistic people and talk about stimming and try to get them to stim with me. They don’t feel the itch that I do, so what’s the point?
Am I missing something here? Why am I focusing on this so much? I suppose it’s because I see it and think “Wow… that’s really dumb.” To me stimming is a personal thing. I mean it’s not like people who are physically itchy go find other people and all scratch their itches together, right? Am I wrong? I don’t know, but it occurs to me I am hung up on a small detail.
It’s kind of the same thing with “joint echolalia”. I do it when I feel like I need to do it. Other people doing it with me doesn’t make me feel more comfortable, as though everyone understands. It makes me feel self conscious, as if I am being patronized or pandered to. The last thing I want is to feel like I am being pandered to. Pandering feels fake to me, and there is enough fakeness in people’s actions as it is.
I suppose this leads to the big picture of why I look at this sign and am filled with cynical thoughts along with hopeful ones. Some of these messages come across to me as wrong, but I suppose it is good to disagree. If everyone agreed on everything, then what would be the point of interacting with anyone?
As I said, the part I like best is “treating autistic people as people”. It can be difficult for us to adjust to and understand society, but part of treating people as people is to understand that not everyone is perfect, and to help with the things they are having trouble with. I think the best way to go about it is to help autistic people on an individual basis instead of introducing massive campaigns and bring about big change all in one fell swoop. Let me share a few things that I think would help people like me.
If I am ever doing something wrong, you should tell me so that I learn. If I do not understand why, you should explain it to me so that I can understand. I am without the tools required to understand certain things about society and interaction between other people that most take for granted, but I can learn them like any other if you are patient with me. Explain to me what is okay now and what I will need to grow out of as I grow older, because I want to fit in and be a constructive member of society.
Perhaps I can help those who wish to help me, except I would help with issues that are within my grasp. We are all different, and so things intuitive to me may not be so intuitive for you, just as the opposite is true.
Maybe one day, I may be able to share my condition with others, and have it be accepted as another way some people think. I suppose it depends on what people learn about it in the future. The autistic condition comes with its difficulties, there is no doubt. However, those of us lucky enough to be able to function in society have things to offer. Perhaps sharing my condition is the way that advancement begins, but I can’t say for certain. For now I’d still rather still keep it behind my mask for the most part.
Perhaps signs like the above – for all of the nit-picks I may have about them – are part of the answer. If it begins with discussion, then a sign like this is good in the overall scheme. Maybe some people will decide they wish to discuss after reading the sign, and even if they get things wrong they will at least get things right.