Vulnerability

One of the things recommended to me when I was first diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition was to carry around an ‘Autism Alert’ card. I didn’t much like this idea, but I acquired the card and it’s been sitting in my handbag ever since.

When I first got the card, I didn’t really want to engage with the information it contained (basically a short guide to autism and how people can help). After all, I’d managed by myself for years – I just needed to come to terms with my diagnosis and then I could go on managing in the same way I’d always done.

Now it’s clear to me that I can’t go back to managing in the same way. I need to find a new way of being; of accepting this life as a person with autism.

So it seemed appropriate to take another look at the card. Most of it wasn’t new – I’ve been reading extensively about the condition over the past few months. But there’s a section at the bottom that I hadn’t looked at properly before, as it relates to legal and criminal justice issues (so I didn’t think it was relevant, as I tend to abide by the rules; I’ve never even had a speeding ticket). And this section contains the sentence

Anyone who has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum is defined vulnerable in law under the terms of the Mental Health Act 1983

I’ve no idea how that particular provision relates to me in practice, and hope never to have to find out! However, it got me thinking about the whole topic of vulnerability. This is something that’s been mentioned to me by a few people (and came up again today). Although I like words, this is a word I’ve always resisted. I find it quite negative and have been reluctant to accept that I have that particular weakness. But then I looked at a dictionary definition.

Vulnerable adj.

  1. Exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally
  2. (Of a person) in need of special care, support or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect

[Source: Oxford Dictionaries Online]

Which is… all fairly accurate. More accurate than I feel comfortable admitting, anyway.
  • I am vulnerable because I don’t pick up on social cues, yet long to be liked and accepted, which means people can hurt or manipulate me very easily
  • I am vulnerable because I get overwhelmed by sensory issues or emotions, and can’t control my behaviour at times
  • I am vulnerable because I can’t tell when to hold things back and when to share, which can lead people to know things about me that they can use against me
  • I am vulnerable because I’m not able to work out who I can trust

In some ways, it’s just another word connected to this condition that I’ll have to learn to live with. In others, the concept scares me. Because I’m starting to realise how much people can – and do – hurt me now I’m not hiding any more. But, short of isolating myself (and I am already too isolated), I don’t quite know what to do about that.

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