Saturday, September 17, 2011

Disablism Among Autists

I'm caught between notions of inclusion/neurodiversity and notions of how difficult it is to change some responses to socially untypical behaviors.

Or to put it less delicately: Some people are hard to be around. I can be hard to be around. The reasons for this are so numerous it's useless to even try. This being 'hard to be around', at my core, is not okay. It's not okay to feel frustrated about and/or avoid a person.

There are people who I have a hard time with. Some of them even want to be my friend. But so, how do I respect those limits but not just be like every other asshole who doesn't want to be around person X?

There are so many hurting and lonely people, who, it seems to me, could maybe change some things but it's not like they're assholes they're just missing some part, and maybe they don't need to change, they certainly don't have to change, but I can see that something about them is making a giant barrier between them and other people. Like, with body odor -- people avoid a person with body odor, but it's so delicate a topic and since no one is close enough to have a trust-bond to tell them, they just never get told.

There are so many versions of body odor, many of them behavioral, and I am at a loss as to how to deal with my psychic pain when I find myself recoiling and unable to tell the person why I am doing so. It's not like I owe them a reason, but I sense that for some people, whether ignorant, mildly aware, or fully aware of what distances them from others, I know there is not enough trust between us for me to share even an inkling of what I'm thinking about them. I feel I'm a bad person. I know I'm not, but I can't figure out how to deal with my discomfort.

As much as this is torturing me, I'm so aware of how problematic the terms high and low and functioning are, and there are people, other autists, who I associate with that use those terms, and in ways where they are saying they want to have social experiences with some kinds of persons and not others, and this feels wrong. But I know what they mean. And in all of that I glimpse the broader problem in a new way, how typical people can justify disablism, justify trying to change/cure/eliminate autism and/or not accept behaviors. That we're all just trying to control the kinds of social experiences we have.

I get really unhappy when I serve rude, impatient people at the cash register. I want to shake them and say, 'Don't you realize, that the more of a crank you are to me, the less you treat me like a person, the more you go around treating every service person you encounter the way you treat me, YOU ARE REINFORCING your perception of shitty customer service. You will find more and more opportunities to treat other people like shit, bully them, complain about them, and on and on, and you will feel no better for it. No. In fact, your suffering is the only constant in that equation."

It's kind of like that.

I know some autists who are direct with other autists about the behaviors that they find unacceptable. I can't do this, and I somewhat admire it but I can't decide if it's rude at times. Maybe it can be. For example, "You are staring at me and that is making me uncomfortable. [Please go away]."

Maybe it's the 'go away' that spills into rudeness. I just say nothing, however, which starts to make it difficult for me to be in spaces where I inevitably end up in overload because of so much intrusion (like staring, or pressing at a topic that I'm politely trying to end, or not getting clear cues like 'I need to leave').

I bet this is way disorganized. I need to sleep, I have a big day tomorrow before I head to a three day retreat. But I felt I wanted to share. I am really chewing on all of this, and to top it all, my workplace is doing diversity and inclusion training in the upcoming month. Which I'm pleased about. And also painfully aware that I walk a fine line every day. I'm not 'in the closet' about autism at work, but I don't really talk about it either. I am constantly on the verge of sharing more publicly. I kind of said something about it offhand a little while ago, in the breakroom. It was all fine, but I fear if I was being treated weirdly because of that information, I wouldn't know it.

And in the realm of my own awkward or socially difficult behavior, aside from one person, no one is really giving me any feedback on what I might change. So I remain painfully unaware of, partially awkwardly in control of, and fully immersed in that which is my autism.

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