Monday, September 24, 2012

Just Because I'm Autistic Doesn't Mean I'm Wrong

I'm usually quite willing to disclose my autism diagnosis to people I've just barely met. I feel no shame about it, and would rather they know right away not to expect NT behavior from me. But there is one situation in which I don't like disclosing my autism.

The situation is this: the person does something which bothers me. Part of the reason it bothers me is autism-related. However, in my opinion, the behavior is problematic whether or not the recipient is autistic.

My fear is that if I explain how my autism interacts with the current conflict, they'll take this as meaning that I'm just misunderstanding the situation because I'm autistic, and my criticism is based on a lack of understanding of NT customs. It couldn't possibly be that I could understand those customs and think they are wrong, because obviously I'm a developmentally disabled person so I don't understand certain things as well as non-disabled people.

An example - when I was 15, after several years of homeschooling, I went for a year of high school. During that time, one of my classes was Spanish class. In Spanish class, I got into an argument with a teacher when he was trying to teach us the phrase 'people in [X country] speak [X language].' I took exception to that because within any country, there are some people who don't know the majority language (eg immigrants), and some people who don't know any language (eg babies and some disabled people).

Obviously, literalism plays a part here. Autistic people have a tendency to take statements as they are, rather than inferring meanings based on the assumed intent of the person speaking and the social conventions of the surrounding society. Although I don't misunderstand idioms like 'it's raining cats and dogs' (though I do think of both the literal and figurative meaning pretty much simultaneously) in more subtle circumstances I show literalism. For example, when I went to the hospital recently because I fainted in the bus depot on the way to university, one nurse asked me 'where did you come from?' I replied with the town I currently live in, which is not the one my university (and that hospital) are in. He replied 'no, I mean, did you come from emergency?' (A few moments later I told him I was autistic, so he wouldn't mistake my odd behavior for a brain injury.)

But it's not like most people would say 'people in X country speak X language' and mean 'most people in X country speak X language'. As a member of an invisible minority, I have seen firsthand how people forget the 'most' in more than just speech. Except for a few people knowledgable about autism, virtually no one will look at someone who shows autistic-style social misunderstandings and think 'maybe he/she is autistic'; they just think the person is rude. Except for a few people, virtually no one will look at someone covering her ears at a concert and think 'maybe she has auditory sensitivities'; they'll just think she's showing a dislike of the music in a fairly rude way. People can even fail to consider that the person who didn't respond when they talked to her back might be a Deaf person rather than just rude. Sure, people may not know about autism, but almost everyone knows that some people can't hear. Yet still, when interacting with a normal-looking stranger, they automatically assume that he/she is a hearing person. (And non-disabled in general.)

So, I see serious implications to forgetting the word 'most'. It's not just non-literal language. It has serious implications for how we perceive members of invisible minorities. With the language example, I suspect it could be frustrating to be a white person who doesn't speak English fluently (say, a recent immigrant from some non-English European country) in a predominantly English-speaking country. Until you speak, no one will consider that you might not know English. (Even if you speak, some people can have little or no accent and still have limited fluency in a non-native language, which many people don't consider.) It's probably easier, in some ways, to be a non-white immigrant who doesn't speak English fluently, because people will look at your physical appearance and assume you're an immigrant and therefore might not know English. (Which is frustrating for people who were born here, but can be helpful for those who really are immigrants.)

That's just one example. There are other things, other areas in which my autism could help me to understand that something is problematic. For example, our society taxes people's executive functions far too much, and doesn't pay enough attention to developing those skills. I'm a bit of a 'canary in the coal mine' for this issue, given how weak my own executive functions are, but everyone has limits to their executive functions. How many people could be physically healthier if we made use of research into executive functions to help them keep to a healthy diet and exercise regularly? (Most people try high-intensity lifestyle changes which overtax the executive functions, resulting in them reverting to old habits.) Or inform people's attempts to quit smoking, or cut down on other addictive and unhealthy habits? Or prevent credit card debt - credit cards are essentially a marathon run to your executive functions.

Diversity of opinion is a good thing. And people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses (mentally ill people get this even worse than I do) will see things differently. Sometimes this can be a disabling misperception, but never forget that seeing things differently can also mean being right where others are wrong.


Blogger RhythMates said...

I recently had a problem with this. Someone assumed that I couldn't understand their "voice" in a text message because of Asperger's, which I am not diagnosed with, but is commonly believed that I have. The person texting me was being demanding, butting into my business, and I refused to comply with her expectations of understanding and empathy. I was very straight forward and she thought speaking to me in person would "fix" the situation, but she was not forthcoming by herself about her infraction so, talking to her in person was not in my favor or hers. She apologized because I was angry, not because she thought she had made a mistake. I don't consider this method a real apology, never have, never will. I gave it a few days and decided to unfriend her on Facebook. I wrote her a note explaining it in a course manner that carried over from the text conversation. She became livid and accused me of misinterpreting her texts because of Asperger's, which was not the case. I read black and white plain English which I am very good at interpreting. I have never derived abstract alternatives to plain English, but I am a good with generalization thinking. She completely boggled me with her interpretation of Asperger's as not having the ability to read plain English. This is what I deduced.

11:45 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home