Hi! Starting with the elephant in the room – I’m trying to be back. Yes, it’s been some five years. Right now I’m just trying to get my brain thinking in blogging terms again. Turns out there are indeed some topics about which I have Things To Say. That said, I am very VERY interested in hearing about what you would like to see me talk about (or see anyone talk about). I can’t guarantee I’ll take every topic, but I really want to get ideas bouncing around in my head, and I really appreciate anyone who can help with that.
And now, on to the post itself.
I have so many thoughts on this particular matter, but in this instance let’s start with a study. (Disclaimer – I have read the abstract, but not the paper itself as reading full scientific papers tends to be a bit above my level) Here is a pubmed link to the abstract. To summarize the summary – some scientists did a study on information transfer between autistic people and neurotypical people. They did this by basically having different groups play a game of telephone with a story, and then seeing how much of the story remained intact by the end of it. They had chains of entirely autistic people, chains of entirely neurotypical people, and chains with a mix of autistic and neurotypical people.
The findings, which I imagine will not surprise a single autistic person, were that autistic people transfer information to other autistic people just as well as neurotypical (NT) people do. The problems happened in the groups that were mixed autistic/NT people. THAT was where information was most often lost. To me, this seems obvious, but I have definitely learned that this is NOT obvious to many NTs.
Now as we all know, autism is defined in terms of deficits, not differences. There are SO MANY aspects of this I could rant on, but I’m really going to try to focus on interpersonal interactions for this post. There is certainly plenty to say even on that.
This concept of autism as a deficit shows in how when autistic people are confused by something NTs do, it’s because we are deficient; we don’t understand. It shows in how when NTs are confused by something autistic people do, it’s because we are deficient; we are confusing. It shows in how often NTs are extremely aware of any tiny thing they do to accommodate autistic people, but are completely unaware of the measures autistic people take to accommodate NT society. Am I uncomfortable in a loud and chaotic environment? Do I struggle with sensory overload? I am deficient. Does an NT struggle and feel uncomfortable in an environment structured for me? I am still deficient. It is ALWAYS my deficiency.
So I like seeing a study like this, which actually does an excellent job highlighting the problems with this way of thinking. I think the best way I have to explain my thinking here is to tell you about some things people have told me in the past.
See, years ago I had NT friends, but only a few autistic friends. I knew I felt very comfortable with my autistic friends and we were able to communicate in a way that I could not with NTs, but it was pretty clear that my NT friends didn’t see that and weren’t aware of it. I would occasionally express that I thought it would be really nice to be in a relationship with an autistic person. From my perspective, it would give me intimacy with someone who thinks and functions much like I do. Someone who speaks the same language as me, metaphorically speaking.
Well, not everyone agreed with me on that. I was told, very bluntly, that that was a terrible idea, because I am just sooo rigid, and require sooo much flexibility from other people to accommodate my rigidity. That was honestly incredibly hurtful to hear, and I never quite knew how to respond to them. (it’s hard for me to get words to work in moments like that. It’s why I write) They were clearly extremely aware of any bending they did for me, and were extremely unaware of all the bending I did for them. And I did a lot of bending for them. But it seems that anything less than fully adapting myself to NT norms and standards counted as “rigidity” to them, and since I am unable to fully adapt to NT norms and standards, only NTs can deal with me. Yeah, I’m a little lost on their logic at this point.
In any case, I am in a relationship with an autistic person now, and it’s going exactly how I thought it would – MUCH EASIER than relationships with NTs. Our communication is better than my communication with NTs, we understand each other better and more easily than between myself and NTs. It aligns very well with what that study showed, which is no surprise to me at all, but might be a surprise to the people who told me that autistic people couldn’t possibly be in relationships with each other.
I have no idea if those people even remember saying that to me. I’m still close to one of them, and I still remember their words and how much those words hurt. It’s satisfying to finally have science on my side, supporting what I’ve been trying to say all along.
We need new ways to look at autism. The deficiency-only model is flawed at its core, and it seems that science is finally starting to notice. I hope it continues.