Apr 11, 2012 0 Share

There's No Place Like Home

Puzzle pieces on highlighted page of diagnostic manual.

Being an Aspie means having a few pet peeves. One of them is people making all sorts of grand pronouncements without knowing diddly-squat about how we actually live. 

Yes, we do things that people find offensive but (arguably) shouldn't. Stimming, talking bluntly, laughing when no one else is, that sort of thing. News flash: So do many NTs. Intolerance and oversensitivity is an equal-opportunity game. 

So we'd like people to be a bit more tolerant. Hooray for tolerance! 

Some people—especially parents of Aspies—take it a couple of steps further, and insist that we're not really disabled. Paraphrasing Hamlet—you may remember, the guy who couldn't make up his mind until it was too late—they say that nothing about being an Aspie is bad, but other people's thinking makes it so. 

Hmmm … so all we have to do is wait until everyone else gets around to liking and accepting us? No problem, I'll just bring a lunch! 

Look, I know you hear all sorts of complaints about your children—including some complaints that are uninformed, stupid or even bigoted. Sure, we could use more enlightened people … just ask any African-American. Or any Jew. Or any poor person. Heck, we all run into pompous, presumptive prigs every now and then. 

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that every single personal complaint anyone has ever made about an Aspie's behavior is unjustified. Let's also assume that every single Aspie is perfectly unselfish. 

As Aspies, we tend to need stuff like:

  • People describing things in exhaustive (not to mention hair-splitting) detail;

  • Situations staying the same—or if they absolutely have to change we get advance notice and of course someone needs to tell us what's going on and why;

  • Quiet settings;

  • People being OK if we wear things like our shirts turned inside-out (because even when the tags are cut off they hurt), or different kinds of clothes from everyone else;

  • A place to study or work that's not under fluorescent light. 

And so on.

Why would we need to ask for these things in the first place? Why aren't they already features of normal life? Because they cut into stuff most people prefer. Like being able to summarize something in a few general words and having it understood right away, flexibility and “turning on a dime” (especially these days), efficiently using scarce space for many students and workers who aren't exactly monks, harmonizing people through dress standards and uniforms, fluorescent lights, etc. 

This doesn't mean we shouldn't ask for help. It just means TAANSTAAFL—There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. The cost can be shifted but someone will have to pay it, in terms of money, time, group morale and the like. 

And if we are unselfish, then we should care about what we put other people through on our account. Yes, involuntarily (at least to some extent) on our part. That's what makes it a disability. 

So when you focus only on those who refuse to accept us, that's a bit like saying that paraplegics aren't really disabled, it's just that society happens to like people who can move quickly on their actual feet. 

By all means, let's keep in mind all the things we can do well—maybe even on average a little better thanks to some Aspie traits like attention to detail, persistence and loyalty. And yes, parents, please of course love us and protect us with all your hearts—most of you will do that anyway. 

The model here should be a lioness—not an ostrich. We can put on ruby red slippers and click our heels three times while chanting “Autism is a difference, not a disability” all we want. At most, we're only fooling ourselves.