Have you noticed how no matter how hard you try to explain autism to non-autistics, and the differences between us and them, they insist on relating everything back to themselves, and saying infuriating things like: “I know what you mean”, and “Everybody does that”, and the ultimate in minimisation, “We all have our little quirks.” Quirks? QUIRKS?!!! You call not being able to understand what people are talking about, on account of being so literal-minded, a bloody quirk? And how “quirky” is it not being able to read body language, facial expressions, and work out tones of voice? And, I have to say, having no common sense (and I mean none whatsoever, not just a slight lapse every now and again that’s only related to some areas of life, or a temporary blip due to tiredness or some such thing) has to be the quirk of all quirks! Do you know I’m forty-three years old and I only just found out where my hips are? Seriously: I’ve been measuring the wrong bit for years, and thinking I’ve got very narrow hips!
Just watch their faces crease into a smile when you tell them that (about having no common sense, I mean, not that you’ve got narrow hips!), and then change to a look of what I’m assuming is perplexity ‘cos they can’t quite get their heads around the idea that what they’re looking at is a sense-free zone! Let them try relating to that! But I guarantee they will, in some way or another – chauvinistic men will assume that it’s down to me being female, and women will decide I’m just exaggerating, or that it’s ‘cos I’m in need of nurturing to enable me to grow up and out of it. How, may I ask, do you grow out of being common-sense free? It’s only now, as a consequence of finding out that I am autistic, and admitting to not knowing a great deal about life, that I’m finally beginning to learn about all those things that other people just pick up along their journey through life, and take for granted that we all do the same.
Well welcome to the confusing world of the autistic! It only took me about thirty-four years to find out that you actually have to touch your genital area in order to wash it, either with a flannel or a soapy hand (your own, preferably, unless you’ve got someone with you and you’re multi-tasking – not a thing I’m able to do!) I thought that just sitting in the water would clean it, but apparently not ‘cos there are those hidden bits that have to be prised open by hand! (I am, of course, talking about women’s bits here: I have no idea about male genital anatomy, so please don’t try prising anything open unless you know what you’re doing, or have had the advice of someone who knows what they’re talking about!) Oh, and I also had a ‘thing’ about not liking touching that part of me, which made me very squeamish about the whole idea.
And, I hasten to add, I had to be told by someone (my non-autistic best friend, from whom I find out everything, and without whom I'd be totally lost): I didn't have a sudden, spontaneous attack of common sense, like being struck by lightning - a "Eureka" moment, just in case anyone out there is ready to point out that here's a sign that one day the wiring in my brain might straighten itself out - in short, I might get 'better'!
The problem, as I see it, is not that they don’t understand autism, but rather that they think that they do, especially once it’s been explained to them. If they could just accept that they don’t understand it, and stop trying to relate it to their own experience, we might actually find a way to communicate better. It’s how my best friend and I do it. She accepts that I’m autistic and that it’s down to the wiring in my brain, and not the thinking in my mind (which can be changed, albeit very slowly!); and that, therefore, no amount of trying to bridge the gulf between us by comparing herself to me is going to help. And it ABSOLUTELY, DEFINITELY isn’t going to change me or the fact that I cannot understand the whole social world or connect at an emotional level the way that NTs do.
Basically, you’re never gonna love me “better”, so quit trying! I’m tired of people, well-meaning as some of them are, trying to encompass me into the fold of humanity and make me one of them: it’s suffocating, and I already have enough bloody problems trying to separate myself out from the rest of the world, and find who Lisa is. I copy – and not, I might add, through any willing or conscious desire to do so! It’s got to be one of the most annoying, and frustrating, aspects of my autism, and I am constantly having to fight to hold onto any sense of my own identity.
So please, give me a break. Stop telling me you know what I mean, when it’s patently obvious that you don’t, especially when you’re one of those people who think that what I’ve got is some kind of illness, and that I’ll get better soon – all I need is a bit of encouragement, and to try harder! I don’t want to disappoint you, but you could be waiting a very long time for that to happen. I’d been waiting for forty-two years, and I’m just as bewildered now by the world and its people as I was the moment I arrived here. Better just to accept that you’re clueless and I’m sense-less!
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."