You do you, I’ll do me. That’s how it’s supposed to be…
I saw this image this morning and it resonated so strongly I had to share.
So often I’ve seen quotes and memes emphasising that Autistic people are ‘Different not Less’. Which of course is true and correct but that is rarely how we are treated in real life.
A Different Neurology
Most people are born with the typical brain you would expect to see in a human being. They have typical developmental, intellectual and cognitive abilities. Many (most) refer to this as ‘normal’. Normal, grinds my gears. There can be no normal if we are committed to diversity and inclusion.
Autistic children and adults are under constant pressure to behave like the neurotypical (or NT) majority, to appear ‘normal’. We are expected to adapt, conform, follow social rules and standards that AREN’T our rules.
The NT majority for whatever reason, think their way is the right way and not meeting their expectations means we are labelled as difficult, rude, bad, mad, uncooperative and over the top.
Even those neurotypical individuals who are well educated about Autism, and have good intentions, are disappointed and frustrated by our behaviour because it doesn’t match how they think people ‘should’ behave.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the people I know, love and respect are neurotypical. It’s rare that NT’s are deliberately dismissive and cruel. But very few truly understand and respect the neurological differences of the Autistic community. And that is so, so hard to live with on a day to day basis.
I’ve lived my whole life being told the way I feel is wrong, my emotions are wrong, my reactions are wrong. Not only is this exhausting but as someone with lifelong mental health challenges and a Bipolar 2 diagnosis, it is soul destroying. It means I struggle to trust people, rarely feel accepted or that I belong and am under real pressure to mask, pretend, and ‘fake’ my behaviour to please others.
Equity not Equality
There is so much talk of equality, equal rights. But equality means everyone is treated the exact same way, regardless of their needs or differences.
What Autistic people need and deserve is equity. Equity means each individual is given what they personally need to succeed. For example, equality would be all offering all children a place in school. Equity would mean ensuring each child is given a school place where the environment and style of learning can be adapted to meet their individual needs.
D is for Discrimination
Think about this. If Autistic people were seen as a different culture, our customs and practices would be studied and respected.
Yet we are constantly discriminated against, often worse than any other minority group. The vile hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community is at least spoken about in the media, there is a good level of social awareness. But people with Autism and especially Autism and learning disabilities, are openly treated as ‘less than’ and our access to a suitable education, work and healthcare is severely restricted.
The medical profession classifies us as disabled, yet we receive few if any concessions or assistance like a physically disabled person would.
In my work as an Autism trainer I consistently find that my lived experience of Autism and professional expertise as a trainer are hugely valued and welcomed. However, my Autistic behaviours and ways of working can frustrate the people I work with. My obsessive attention to detail, need for control and struggle with ambiguity mean I ask a lot of questions, need a lot of context and am very opinionated. I often feel like other professionals want me to be an Autistic person ONLY when I’m designing and delivering training and a neurotypical person in all other aspects of the job!
Our Autistic brains are different to the typical human brain but you can’t see our differences. We look just like you. So even when you are told we are wired differently, your brains unconscious bias revolts against the way we think, feel and act.
You tell yourself you understand, that you are making concessions for us, flexing your rules; but if you do so with resentment in your heart, then you are still guilty of discrimination.
We will never feel safe or trust you nor will we feel accepted if you can’t let go of the idea that your way is the right way. Because it isn’t. Your way if ONE way. Not the only way.
A Different Future
I doubt things will change significantly in my lifetime and my hurts, the rejections, the judgements, the burden of being misunderstood, is tattooed all over me now like scars. But my hope and focus is that my sons will have a different experience to me. I am raising them to understand their neurology, the good and the not so good. I am teaching them to advocate for themselves. I am showing them how to look after their mental health and make lifestyle choices that will protect them from emotional and sensory overload. I am teaching them they are different, NOT less, and to educate or ignore people who judge them. I am celebrating their uniqueness, their strengths and their passions every day so they never have to feel the way I’ve been made to feel.
What Part will you Play?
You can play a part in this change by educating yourself on Autism and Neurodiversity. You can teach your brain and open your heart to embrace our differences and squash your unconscious bias. I’m not saying it will be easy. I can see why neurotypical people think we are awkward, difficult and frustrating. I have a very patient, loving, (sometimes infuriating!) neurotypical husband who has experienced more than his fair share of stress trying to understand me and our children. We are raising two very different but equally strong willed Autistic sons together, who make us cry, pull our hair out, laugh our heads off and burst with joy in equal measure. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Add two different neurotypes into the mix and of course it is harder, because different minds don’t think alike!
I don’t think there’s a magic formula and I don’t think it’s a one way street. One of the things I’m teaching my sons is about social rules and expectations because I want them to integrate in society and appreciate the typical customs of others. I also see how hard it’s been for my husband trying to understand my neurology when he has been brought up to believe there is a ‘normal’ and a right way for people to behave.
What I do know is there can be no normal in an inclusive society. That there is more than one way, no right way. And that no one has the right to judge the correctness of another persons thoughts or feelings. My brain and my heart belong to me as does yours to you. But TOGETHER, we could achieve truly amazing things…