Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Born Autistic, Raised Neurotypical

TRIGGER WARNING—ableism. Lots of it.

Imagine you are born to a family of humans (shouldn’t be too hard, right?). They raise you, love you, and teach you all there is to know about being human. There are also Aliens that live on your planet that look just like any human, and everyone knows they’re there. However, there are certain commonly held beliefs humans have about these Aliens.

You grow up hearing things like these—the Aliens aren’t very smart, except when it comes to math—then they’re as smart as a super computer. Some of the Aliens can’t talk, but the ones that do talk with an impediment. Both the speaking and non-speaking Aliens do a lot of screaming (or so you’ve heard). They rock back and forth, watching kids shows on the television well into adulthood. Looking at yourself, you have no reason to think these Aliens are related to you in any way.

But you know you don’t quite fit in with humans, either. You’re struggling to get by in the world. You feel intense anxiety, you rock from side to side, and you keep feeling like you’re missing out on some important details of conversations even though you are capable of repeating what a person just said verbatim. You’re doing well academically, except in math. You have friends, and everyone knows Aliens like to isolate themselves from others.

So it doesn’t make sense. You don’t make sense to yourself. You’re not a Centaur—Centaurs have hooves and are very hyperactive—they run around the room when they aren’t supposed to, repeatedly tap their hooves on the floor, and generally get themselves into trouble (you should know, one of your best friends is a Centaur).

Eventually, you collapse under the weight of your own struggles, and seek help from a therapist. The therapist listens to your troubles, and after a few sessions with them, they suggest you go to a lab and have a DNA test performed. “A DNA test? Why?” you ask. The therapist replies, “Because I have good reason to believe you are at least part Alien.”

You don’t believe it at first. You’re not an Alien. No one told you were an Alien. You’re not intellectually stunted like an alien. You’re not good at math like an Alien. You’re not anti-social like an alien. You don’t even have a speech impediment! As sure of these facts as you are, you go to the lab, and have them perform the test. A week later, your results are in, and you are half Alien, half human.

You never thought that could happen. But here you are, lumped in with the bumbling buffoons known as Aliens. You go home and read more about what it’s like to be an Alien, and what you can do to change that. In the midst of your quest for knowledge, you find a support group of Aliens and parents of Aliens who are having many of the same troubles you are. You are amazed that so many of the Aliens you are talking with are actually smarter than most of the humans you know. You meet other half-Aliens, and pretty soon everything you knew about the Alien population is changed.

For those of you who had trouble reading through the lines, this was similar to what it was like for me to find out I was on the Autistic spectrum.  I went through most of my childhood being told I was smart for my age, but other than that I was just a “normal” kid who was suffering invisibly.

I often think of an episode of South Park titled “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson.” Randy, the father of Stan (one of the main characters), gives an uncomfortable answer on the Wheel of Fortune when presented with the letters “N_GGERS” and the category “People Who Annoy You.” The correct answer was NAGGERS, but I’m sure you all can figure out what he chose instead. Everyone in the black community is outraged, and in the midst of all this, Stan tries to make things right with one of his black friends at school, named Token.

Repeatedly, Stan tells Token that he gets what he must be going through, and why he gets it, along with why Token needs to forgive his father for being foolish. Token refuses to accept the apology, because Stan fails to understand what the problem is. Stan keeps thinking about the problem, and is flustered until the end of the episode when he has an epiphany.

He approaches his friend and says, “Token, I get it now. I don't get it. I've been trying to say that I understand how you feel, but, I'll never understand. I'll never really get how it feels for a black person to have somebody use the N word. I don't get it.” Then, Token smiles and replies, “Now you get it.”

I thought I knew what Autism and other disabilities were like, but I didn’t really until somebody told me that I was disabled myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be compassionate to those who were disabled before I knew—I just didn’t get it.

What I have found is that in order to be able to fully appreciate another person’s problems, you need to have first-hand experience with those problems. I will never know what it’s like to be black, or what it’s like to be a man, or what it’s like to be a neurotypical or anything I’m not—and while that doesn’t mean I can’t feel compassion for people who battle with problems related to their own specific situations, it does mean I am limited in knowing how they feel, and what I can do to be supportive.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a neurotypical. I know the values that I grew up with being raised by neurotypicals (and people who were presumed neurotypical), and the way our society views people with developmental or intellectual disabilities. The values I grew up with were taught to me by neurotypicals, but the experience I have is with being Autistic in a neurotypical’s clothing. I am a half-breed in that regard.

I want to be an ally to both neurotypicals and Autistics. I may not know what it’s like to be a neurotypical, but I figure the best thing I can do is be on their side since they make up the majority of our population. I draw the line at being on the side of an abusive person—whom that abuse is being directed towards is not relevant. Other than that, I tend to see most things as being said with pure intent.

I may not agree with pro-cure agendas, but I try to keep in mind that the people who are in favor of this only want to make life easier on their child (and themselves). I don’t have to agree with it, but if I am to engage neurotypicals with my own viewpoint, the way to do it is not by telling them that they’re bad parents for wanting a cure for their Autistic child (which by the way, they aren’t). The way I would do it is by giving them alternatives to a cure, and a healthy dose of reassurance that their child is a beautiful and unique person, and that we need more people like that, not less. I might tell them about AAC, and the kinds of opportunities that could open up for their nonverbal child. I would want to do anything but antagonize the people I’m trying to persuade to see things my way.

I want to be the best advocate I can be, and that I believe I can do that by being a good friend to both neurotypicals and Autistics. Good friends listen to each other, give advice, and have each other’s back. They often call each other out on their misconceptions, but do so in a loving way. I want to be your friend.  If you have anything you’d like to talk to me about—questions, comments, or something of that sort—please send it along!

That’s all for this time! If you have any topics you’d like to hear me discuss on this blog, please comment (on here or on the Molotov Med Cocktail Facebook page), send me a Facebook message, or e-mail me. I greatly look forward to it!


  1. Have you ever read Square 8? This reminds me a little of something she wrote on her blog, "I

    Consider the square who wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t say hello. Circles continue to believe that the square has failed to communicate. The square is further excluded. Next time, maybe, no one will say hello to the square. The circles might create a mythology wherein the square inhabits its “own world,” oblivious to the rollings around of the circles. Some will want to rescue the square, others to vilify. To a larger group, the square is simply invisible.

    This is only the starting point of one set of consequences. The square does not live in some separate world, but in the circular world, where majority rules. If an action (or inaction) is deemed to mean certain things, if most shapes have agreed upon the meanings, this becomes a thing elevated to the status of “reality.” The square notes that not saying hello equals rude, indifferent, uncaring. Less capable, less intelligent. What are the other qualities and behaviors that go with these concepts? How can the square go about completing some sort of package that would make sense to other shapes, perhaps becoming visible again, a part of “reality?” "

    1. That was a great piece, thank you for sharing! I had not heard of Square 8 before, so thanks for passing her blog along. I think we had some overlapping themes, so it was nice to see another take on it.


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