I was not intending to write anything today. But my normal Saturday morning habit of reading the news online while waiting for my therapy appointment has thrown up a bit of a curveball.
My reading matter of choice tends to be The Guardian website (largely because it’s about the only newspaper that’s not yet gone behind a paywall – other than the Daily Mail, which I refuse to read). It’s normally quite good escapism from what’s about to come.
But today, it’s not quite so relaxing.
Today, on the front section, there’s a lot of paid for content about autism. It’s been sponsored by the National Autistic Society, so should be relatively accurate.
I’ve read it. And I don’t recognise myself in any of the content.
It’s good, in a way, that it tries to dispel at least some of the stereotypes around people with autism. At least it’s not perpetuating the myth of the autistic individual as some kind of technology / maths genius.
But I found the content depressing – because the narrative is still around ‘look at what these people can do even though they are autistic’. It is still making people with autism ‘other’. It is still making autism the defining feature about an individual.
Some people with autism may feel like that. I don’t. Autism is part of me, not the whole. And although it’s often challenging navigating through this world that is often not welcoming to people with the difficulties that autism creates, I still feel very much part of the world, not separate to it.
In some ways I am possibly different to many people with autism. I’ve always had an intense interest in people and want to understand how they work – not just to hide my own differences, but to learn about people in their own right.
Through my desire to understand others, I’ve learnt the social rules and conventions of the non-autistic world. I’ve learnt how to read other people, albeit in a different way to most people, and to take account of other people’s feelings and needs. And that world is still where I feel most comfortable.
One example: I find the written communication styles of many of those who work with people with autism to be uncomfortably blunt. One of the so-called ‘truisms’ of people with autism is that things need to be spelt out very clearly. And it’s true that I don’t like ambiguity. However, I’m used to the social niceties of the non-autistic world and I become anxious if I receive communications that don’t conform to those.
Campaigns like this one, which highlight differences, don’t make my life any easier. I don’t want to be seen as ‘other’. I don’t want people to make assumptions about what I can and can’t do because of my condition.
I feel increasingly caught between two worlds. I certainly don’t want to have to go back to hiding my differences – I am not even sure that is even possible. I no longer have any doubts about my diagnosis, or any fear that someone will turn around and say that there’s been a mistake. I am confident in my identity as a person with autism.
But I’m also myself, not just my condition.
I suspect that culturally I will always feel more comfortable in the non-autistic world. The social niceties and conventions of that world are also part of my identity.
However, if the focus is always on difference, I don’t know how long that will remain an option.